Published on January 16, 2016, by

Before I move into my 33rd year, I want to end on a high note: the best thing that happened.

Define Good sweater

Grif in his Christmas sweater

It was two days after Christmas. Tim & I always leave a couple presents at home to open when we return from visiting family. It stretches out the holiday and gives us some alone time to open anything special (or embarrassing or too big/breakable to travel).

Our tiny tree, squeezed in among the remodel mess

We opened our big (luggage for me) and breakable (a coffee siphon for him) gifts. I gave Tim his ‘special’ gift, a very spendy leather wallet with a custom engraved guitar pick inside. He nervously handed me a small bag.

Inside the bag was a wrapped box. And inside the box…

the ring

Yep, we’re engaged!!

How amazing is that?! I completely did not expect it. In fact, whenever I call Tim my fiancé, I feel like I could possibly be dreaming.

Kissing atop the Eiffel Tower last year

Kissing atop the Eiffel Tower last year

Because I get to marry my favorite person, my travel buddy, and my best friend. Nothing could be better than that!

img_6039

 
Published on January 15, 2016, by

Well, it was quite a… year. I mean, it was definitely a year, right around 360-something days. I couldn’t say it was a great year, though some great things did happen. I am hesitant to say it was a bad year. It felt like a really long year, that’s for sure. And yet the time raced by so quickly, I can barely remember what happened. This year was a bit of a hit-and-run – it was over so quickly but it left me feeling shaken and sore.

Last year, I said I wanted 2015 to be the year of strength. It was, but not in the way I had intended. My strength was all in holding it together. The only muscles I worked were of the carrying-burdens sort – I was weighed down by work, school, volunteering, and other projects. I got sick, I got better, I got sick again. I worked and worked and worked. I stopped posting on social media, I didn’t see many friends. I burned out and then discovered that I had some special reserve to keep me going. I did what I needed to do and, in that way, I was strong. But it certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself at 32.

Being so busy caused me to neglect my list (and, at times, my wellbeing) so there’s not a lot to cross off. It’s been 7 months since I’ve even posted anything! I often think about my poor, lonely blog, sitting here, collecting virtual dust. Then I have to rush off to go somewhere or finish something and I forget about it again. Even now, I should be doing BIO homework or starting my COM paper, I need to do laundry, and I just heard Tim’s car pull in… it never ends!

Maybe I’ll feel better about this year upon reflection? Let’s see. Here’s the progress I made in 2015:
Woodland Zoo Penguin#6. Touch a Penguin – Did it!  In Seattle, at the Woodland Park Zoo. Crossed that one off!

#13. Fix My Credit – Making definite progress. I’m not ready to call it just yet but things are moving in the right direction.

#15. Complete a Half-Sleeve of Tattoos – I’m halfway done… and out of ideas. So this one is on hold but I did make progress on it this year.
img_6582#17. Build or Repair Something – In October, we started remodeling our kitchen. Though we’ve had someone helping us, I’ve done a lot of work myself. I demolished the floors, assisted with putting in new tile, disassembled and painted cabinets, etc. This has been a huge project and a ton of work. When it’s done (hopefully next month?), I will celebrate by crossing this one out.
img_6656#20. Volunteer – Yep, for an entire year! I’ve maintained at least 8 hours every month at AAWL and I plan to continue that this year. I love it, it’s like free therapy.

#23. Get My Degree – Most of my non-work time (and, let’s be honest, some of my breaks and lunches as well) were spent on this goal. I racked up 24 credits and my GPA is (totally bragging right here) 4.25. I’m already back at it and, if I maintain my pace, will be able to hit strikethrough at the end of 2017.

#28. Read 300 Books – I am sitting at 69 books right now which means I’m still behind. But I have 29 more books than I did last year, so… that’s something.

#30. Work on this Blog – Does 4 posts count? Wait, this one makes 5!And, while I didn’t make any specific progress on my travel-centric goals, I did get to go on a few adventures: Vegas, Seattle, Carlsbad, Disneyland, Chicago, and Sedona. That’s not bad!

Overall, my 32nd year was a tough one. Some GREAT stuff came out of it but honestly, I’m glad I can move on to 33. I predict another year of hard work though my hope is that I improve my balance and have a little more fun.

 
Published on June 20, 2015, by

Our visit to Seattle in March was probably one of the luckiest vacations we’ve had. What do I mean by lucky?

Katie & Tim in Seattle

I was not lucky as far a photos went – I looked terrible most of the time. But that’s okay!

  1. The weather was beautiful – sunny and high 60s almost the whole time! Our Seattle friends told us it was a total fluke.
  2. Speaking of friends, we got to see two sets of wonderful people.
  3. The cherry blossoms were in bloom, which is odd for March. It made the city extra gorgeous!
  4. We did almost no planning and the trip ended up being fantastic anyway.
  5. I managed to talk a Woodland Park Zoo employee into letting me touch a penguin.

Katie Touches A Penguin

YES, THAT’S RIGHT! I get to cross Thing #6 off my list! I’m pretty sure it was against the rules and I probably could have gotten my fingers nipped but I did it. And let me tell you – wet penguins pretty much just feel like fish. But I loved it anyway. The penguin I touched was named Carmine and now we’re best friends.

Seattle is a great tourist town, especially if you’ve got friends living there who will let you crash in their spare room. There’s a lot to do, it’s fairly easy to use public transit, and there are plenty of recognizable landmarks to Instagram. It’s actually one of those places where I think it’s better to be a tourist than a resident. We didn’t have to deal with the really annoying parts of Seattle, like the traffic or the cost of living (or even the rain!), and it didn’t bother us that everything was so expensive because we’d planned to splurge anyway. The city was beautiful, we had great tour guides, and we had fun doing all the stereotypical Seattle stuff.

We bought a Seattle CityPass and it definitely saved us money. It also gave us extra motivation to go to few places we would have otherwise skipped. I would highly recommend getting one if you plan to hit all the major attractions! We visited:

Gasworks ParkView From Gasworks Park

Very cool park that was super busy when we were there. People were tossing frisbees, playing football, flying kites, walking dogs – I’ve never seen that many people in Phoenix park in my life. The view of downtown Seattle was excellent and the people watching was even better.

Kerry ParkView From Kerry Park

We never would have found this supposedly famous photography spot if it hadn’t been for our lovely tour guide, Chad. This is up a hill somewhere but it offers an amazing view of the Space Needle and Mt. Rainer. It hardly a park – more of a strip of sidewalk with a statue – and it was packed with other tourists. We still got some great pictures!

Discovery Park

Tim and Stephanie try not to get lost in the massive Discovery Park.

Tim and Stephanie try not to get lost in the massive Discovery Park.

The friends we stayed with for the first part of our trip live right next to Discovery Park so we got to wander around it a bit. We didn’t even see 1/10th of it, but it was a very enjoyable walk. Coming from a place with no trees, I’m awed by any forest area at all. My only criticism is that the maps from the visitor center are terrible. If you plan to go, get an offline map and plan better than we did (bring water, for example) so you can maximize your time in the park.

Ballard LocksBallard Locks

Close to Discovery Park, this is another touristy gem we would have missed if not for Stephanie and Chad. When I heard about it, I thought, “It’s a gate for boats, who cares?” Well, it turned out to be pretty cool. There’s (another) park and a botanical garden (which was free, though kinda lame), a salmon ladder, and you can see boats go in and out of the locks. It’s also next to the Ballard district, which is a hip shopping area that’s great for strolling. We ate at an excellent Puerto Rican restaurant called La Isla – if you go, get the house special mojito, it’s fantastic.

Woodland Park Zoo

This was my favorite monkey because he so clearly had an attitude problem.

This was my favorite monkey because he so clearly had an attitude problem.

I touched a penguin here, so it’s a winner in my book. Though I’m a big fan of anything animal related, so I probably would have enjoyed the zoo regardless. It’s not the biggest or most modern zoo, but it’s well laid out and has some interesting animals and exhibits. You can get a bit closer to the animals than some other zoos I’ve been to – for example, the bear viewing window was so close to where they were sleeping that I finally realized BEARS ARE SO SCARY! They have knives on their fingers, it’s terrifying. Because Woodland Park is on the small side, it was easy to see the whole zoo in just a few hours. Despite the cold and the sheer volume of toddlers, we had a very enjoyable afternoon. And, oh yeah, I GOT TO FEED PENGUINS YOU GUYS. (Sorry for all the yelling.)Feeding Penguins

Just in case you ALSO have the incredibly odd life goal of touching a penguin: Woodland Park Zoo’s Humbold penguins are on display year-round but they only offer the penguin feeding experience from September – May. Be sure to check their daily calendar before you go!  It costs $5 and you get three or four little fish to hold over a railing where the penguins will take them from you. The penguin handler will call penguins over (by name!), tell you a little bit about them, and answer your questions. (Some of my questions included, “Can you hug them?” & “What if I picked one up?” and I found out that while they wouldn’t like either of those things, they will back up to your legs and sit on your feet so you can scratch their bellies. At that point I died from cute.) The lady working that exhibit when I went was less than enthusiastic about her job – she seemed baffled as to why I, an adult, would pay $10 (yes, I did it twice) to feed penguins that she described as dirty, smelly, and bratty. But this worked out to my advantage since she was inclined to, uh, relax the safety rules. I asked if I could touch one and she said, “Well it might nip you but I don’t care, go ahead.” Thanks, disinterested penguin lady! My strategy was to hold the fish in one hand and pet with the other and I was safe! If you go with the intent to pet one of these little guys, make sure the handler you talk to is actually cool with it or be prepared to run right after.

Pike Place MarketPike Place Market

I didn’t know a ton about the market before we went outside of flowers and flying fish. The market definitely has both of those things, so I wasn’t disappointed, but I wish I’d known two other things: 1) The market is actually a collection of buildings laid out across multiple levels, so if you can’t find the thing you’re looking for, cross the street. 2) The market is kind of like a giant yard sale. There are storefronts that are just filled with junk. Never saw that in a travel magazine!

Fish at Pike Place

This is what I thought the market would be like!

It was worth going to the market for the experience and for the food. On our first trip, we went to the Pike Brewing Company which had good atmosphere plus decent food and beer. The second time, we visited the famous Pike Place Chowder Co. (solid but overhyped – definitely not the best chowder in the country but still a good meal) and Rachel’s Ginger Beer, which is a restaurant that only serves artisan ginger beer. It was good, expensive, and completely up its own ass, which we decided was a perfect metaphor for the Seattle food scene. So what was the best thing we ate at the market? Both times we made a stop at Daily Dozen Donut Co. which is a little stand across from an Italian grocery store. You’ll recognize it because they have a donut making machine right on their counter! Get them fresh and cover them in cinnamon sugar – they’re incredible. We ate two bags and I still wish we’d had more. Perfect for strolling and snacking!

Seattle AquariumAt Seattle Aquarium

I loved the Seattle Aquarium! It was probably one of the highlights of the trip for me. It’s not huge, there isn’t a ton to see, but it’s focus on local wildlife is great. It’s built out on a pier and they have touch tanks that are designed to be filled by ocean water! You can see the water pour in with the tide. That was pretty cool. The Seattle Aquarium is also home to that famous octopus whose attempted escape went viral, a fact that seemed to delight a lot of the visitors. He’s like a local celebrity! I also learned that there are birds that both fly and swim like penguins. Is that something I should have known as an adult? Well, I didn’t.

 

Uhhh, you okay, dude?

Uhhh, you okay, dude?

 

My favorite part, though, was the sea otters. The sea otter is my spirit animal – they’re silly water ferrets that like to hold hands, c’mon. The otters spent a whole lot of time cleaning themselves and it was hilarious to watch, well worth the cost of admission. The aquarium is walking distance from Pike Place Market so there’s no excuse for missing it!

Space NeedleSpace Needle

The Space Needle, Chihuly Museum, and EMP Museum are all located on the same block (called Seattle Center), along with a little food court, so we did them all in one day. We started with the Space Needle because we’d heard the lines could get really bad later in the day. We went on a drizzly weekday morning and didn’t have to wait at all. The view was pretty good – it was a little windy but we managed to get a few good pictures. Seattle is a pretty town, especially when it’s clear enough to see the mountains. Much like the Eiffel Tower, it was cool just to be somewhere so iconic.

Chihuly MuseumChihuly Museum

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the glass work of Dale Chihuly, even though I acknowledge that he’s kind of a dick. In fact, I should probably change that to say: I love the glass work that comes from Chihuly’s workshop. Because really, he doesn’t create any of the pieces himself, and he acts more as a businessman than an artist these days. Chihuly is controversial in the art world and so was  his museum – many Seattle residents didn’t want him to build it in City Center. I don’t live there so I won’t comment on his use of the space. I will just say that I thought the museum was beautifully designed and featured some of his work in an absolutely optimal space. The inside of the museum is dark with black, reflective surfaces, so the colored glass dominates your vision. That design also makes it easy to take pictures that look like they came out of a brochure:

Chihuly Boats

The outside was less impressive. I feel like those pieces worked better in the sunny desert environment of the Desert Botanical Garden than they did in the overcast, uninteresting Chihuly garden.

The reflection of the space needle was a neat touch, though.

The reflection of the space needle was a neat touch, though.

But I still enjoyed seeing some new things I hadn’t seen before. It was worth the trip for me as a fan of glass art, that’s for sure.

EMP MuseumLabyrinth Display at EMP

My best advice for the EMP museum is to skip it. It was laaaaaaaaaaaaame. We went because I’d read that they had a Science Fiction Hall of Fame – Tim is a huge SF fan (and writer) so I thought he’d really enjoy that. We found out only after getting in that they’d closed that exhibit (even though it’s still listed on their website), along with a few others. Taking it’s place was a Star Wars costumes exhibit that we actually paid extra to get in to. It was mostly from the new movies and I’m not a Star Wars fan anyway, but I guess it was nice to be so close to something that once touched Ewan McGregor’s body? We enjoyed approximately one exhibit, Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic. It was a collection of costumes and props from various fantasy movies, presented in an interesting, imaginative space. They had an equivalent exhibit for horror fans called Can’t Look Away, but a bunch of artifacts were off display and it just wasn’t very interesting. The music exhibits were meh and the indie video game exhibit was way disappointing – almost half the games were broken. I wouldn’t go back unless it was free or something.

Ferry Ride

Can you tell he was cold?

Can you tell he was cold?

We should have done this the first day because it’s a great overview of all the Seattle sights. We did it on the last day and it was kind of a snoozefest. Also super not ideal in the cold/rain.

Capitol HillSahar & Her Sweetie

No, not a government building. Capitol Hill is the hippest neighborhood in Seattle. My friend Sahar lives close by and she was kind enough to show us around. Though we didn’t see very much of the neighborhood, it did seem like a very cool place. Plus the food we had there was great – ramen at Samurai Noodle and ice cream from the highly recommended Molly Moon’s.  The ramen was so good that I’m still craving it. The ice cream was great because it was ice cream (possibly my favorite food?), though I’m not entirely sure I understand the buzz around the place. The salted caramel I had was excellent but the coffee flavor was gritty because it had coffee grounds in it, bleh.

Umi Sushi

Best sushi I’ve ever had. Really.

Speaking of food, we ate EVERYTHING. We had sushi three times. THREE! The first time was at a revolving sushi restaurant called Blue C – decent and not too expensive. The second time was at Fugi, a fancier place with even better sushi. The third time was at Umi Sake House and it was SO AMAZING OMG. If you like sushi and you’re in Seattle, you have to go there. The ambiance was great and it’s probably some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. It was spendy, but not more so than anything else we ate while we were there. The other culinary discovery of note was the Dark & Stormy cocktail. Ginger beer, which is practically non-existent in AZ, seemed like it was everywhere. The cocktail combined artisan ginger beer with rum and I, a strictly girlie cocktail kinda gal, LOVED it.

Oh, I should also mention – we switched from crashing with friends to a hotel partway through our trip (so as not to be a total burden) and the hotel we stayed at was a total winner. Belltown Inn was located between City Center and Pike Place Market, which was way convenient, and they put free water, sodas, and popcorn in our room. Oh, and it was affordable! I would highly recommend it.

Us on the Space Needle

We hardly planned anything, we made no attempt to live like locals (who probably wouldn’t be caught dead at city center), and we dropped a ton of cash, but it was still a near-perfect week. Should out to Stephanie & Chad and Sahar & Richard for being such wonderful hosts. Seeing them was really the best part about our wonderful trip.

 
Published on April 11, 2015, by

I can’t believe how fast this year is going by. Did I say the same thing last year? Probably! This time last year, I was in Belfast, just starting my grand adventure there. This year hasn’t been quite as exciting, but I’ve been travelling and working on two of my biggest goals, so it’s not nothin’!

The goal taking up most of my (non-work) time right now is #23: Get My Degree. Homework, homework, homework! I forgot how much time school required. It’s pulled me away from this blog, craft projects, social time, and all sorts of things. Going to ASU Online is particularly difficult because the classes are just 7 weeks long, so it seems like there’s a lot more to do each week. The upside is that if I don’t like a class, it’s over really quickly. The downside is, I may turn into a weird hermit. But as I keep telling myself – it’s going to be worth it! I’ll be so proud of myself when I’m finished… I just have to figure out how to juggle everything so it doesn’t end up taking another 10 years.

In the short-term, I’m proud to say I got an A+ in the first class I took and that I’m on track for at least an A in both of my current classes. I’ve enjoyed the material I’ve learned and I’ve been able to apply some of that knowledge directly to my job already, so I feel like I made the right choice by selecting Communication as my major. One of my biggest issues with school before was simply having no direction. Now that I have the direction, I’ve got to keep up the intensity and then, boom, success. Learned that from my Leadership class!

The other thing I’ve been up to is #20: Volunteer. When I’m not at work or school, I’m at Arizona Animal Welfare League, walking the doggies. I LOVE IT!

The best part is, of course, the bottomless pools of love the dogs give me (and all volunteers). They’re always so happy to see me! That’s a pretty amazing feeling. The second best part is the unstructured nature of the job – I can go in when I want, I don’t have to talk to anyone if I don’t want to, I get to choose which dogs I want to visit, and I get to pick the activity I’d like to do with them. It’s been such a wonderful experience for me. Honestly, it’s a little like free therapy – a safe, inviting space where I can relax and be myself, where I don’t have to worry about judgement, where I get to love and be loved in return. What a beautiful thing!

The hardest part is getting attached to the dogs. There are some that I would love to take home. I won’t – I already promised Tim I wouldn’t – but I want to so badly. When they do get adopted (and they do at an amazing rate – AAWL adopts out more than 35 dogs a week), I’m happy for them and just a little bit sad for me. But there’s always another dog to fall in love with!

That was kind of a long post just to say… I’m oh my god so busy. Once again, the blog is last on my list of priorities. I need to write more about Europe and I absolutely have to tell you all about the trip to Seattle (it resulted in yet another crossed-off goal)! But school work and the shelter pup get first dibs on my time. Really, I need a strategy for writing shorter posts more often. Any of my blogger buddies have tips? I welcome suggestions!

 
Published on February 10, 2015, by

Bruges was a truly lovely place and I would highly recommend it to anyone travelling in Belgium. Here’s the practical information about our stay and some advice if you decide to go:

Train Platform in Brugge

The train ride from Brussels to Bruges was cheap and very quick, just a couple of hours with nice scenic views.  If you happen to be in Brussels, you could absolutely make a day trip to Bruges, though I’d recommend giving it more time if you can – it’s small but there are so many nooks and crannies to discover.  Plus it is super beautiful at night!

Giant Clock and St. Christophers

We stayed at St. Christopher’s hostel, which was a 15 minute walk from the center of town.  The hostel was very cool, with a giant clock in the lobby and a bar on the ground floor.  Sadly, despite the cool factor, we didn’t love it – the beds were super uncomfortable, the bathroom was smaller than one you’d find on a cruise ship, and the shower required you to press a button every 2 minutes to keep the water on.  Oh yeah, and the breakfast buffet consisted of… just rolls.  Seriously.  Just.  Rolls.  But it was clean, the staff was friendly, and it was VERY affordable, so I’d still say it was a good pick.

No need to worry about how to get around – pretty much everything in Bruges is walking distance. We did take a bus for 3 euro to get us from the train station to our hotel when we arrived and again when we left. Other than that, we left it all up to our shoes. If you’re very comfortable riding on cobblestone streets with cars (we weren’t), there are also many affordable bike rental places, including one in St. Christopher’s. For romance factor, though, you can’t beat a horse-drawn carriage!

Pot of Mussels

Food in Bruges wasn’t the greatest.  It was particularly over-priced and most of the restaurants had similar menus – typical of such a touristy place.  You can get the quintessential pots of mussels just about anywhere.  We chose a place on the main square so that we could admire the view.  It wasn’t bad, but we probably could have gotten similar food anywhere.  We certainly ate our share of mediocre food in Bruges and paid dearly for it.

Brasserie Cambrinus

We had one great meal at a place called Brasserie Cambrinus. It was still spendy but completely delicious – plus they had 200+ beers on the menu.  It took us forever to choose one!  It’s honestly the only non-chocolate food recommendation I could confidently make.

Eating A Waffle

As for chocolate recommendations, I have two!  First, get yourself a waffle.  Stat.  We were there for two days and I ate 2 & a half waffles.  I wish I’d had 4.  The best waffle stand is on the main road between the square and the clock tower.  It sounds vague but you can’t miss it.  Just follow the smell!

europe 117

If you want some real Belgian chocolates, you must go to Chocolatier Dumon.  I got this recommendation from Rick Steves and it really paid off.  The woman behind the counter was very nice and we bought a box of mixed chocolates for less than half the price of the ones in Brussels.  And they were 10 times as good!  Some of the best chocolates I have ever had – and that’s saying something.

Dumon Chocolates

On that sweet note, we say goodbye to Bruges!

 
Published on January 17, 2015, by

Hello from Las Vegas!  Tim & I broke our birthday tradition yet again and decided to go to Vegas instead of Disneyland. I guess I have to stop calling it a tradition, huh?

Birthday in Vegas

Anyway, Vegas is fab and we’re having a lot of fun celebrating… well, ourselves! I am 32 and tomorrow Tim will be 31 (which, I told him, is a good thing since 31 has been one of my very favorite ages) and we’re happy, healthy, employed, alive, all that good stuff. Once again, I’m grateful to be another year older.

And I’m grateful for The List and this blog, which helps me regularly think about how to get what I want out of my life. As for the year ahead, I simply want to remain open to every opportunity to enrich myself (and cross off things on my list). I’ve signed up for volunteer work and school has started, so 32 is already shaping up to be a busy age! I’m excited to see what fun & adventure this year will bring!

 
Published on January 10, 2015, by

It’s hard to say goodbye to being 31. It’s been so very good to me. This age has brought me more adventure and insight than most. 31 was a year of travel, of discovery, of fearlessness, of happy. I feel like I accomplished a lot this year, not least of which was spending a total of 12 weeks overseas. One whole quarter of my 31st year was spent in another country, how amazing is that! A dream come true. I also managed to cross 3 things off The List and make progress on 6 more, which feels like a productive year to me.

Here’s what I did at 31:

#9: Do Something That Scares Me

Uh, I did a bunch of scary things this year! I lived way out of my comfort-zone. My intention for the year was to be fearless and I accomplished that in a number of ways, detailed in my previous post here. I would say the scariest in terms of thinking I might die was walking across Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, while scariest in terms of totally embarrassing myself was karaoke at a drag night in Belfast. Pretty much everything in Belfast was a test of my fearlessness, so yeah, I feel confident that I can cross this one off. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop scaring myself though!

karaoke

#10: Sing a Song at Karaoke

I can cross this off twice! Did it once on my birthday and again in Belfast, as mentioned above. And I can’t wait to do it again!

#13: Fix My Credit

In Progress: While I don’t think I can cross this off until I’m in the 800’s, I have made a LOT of progress on this front. I continue to responsibly use credit cards & managed to get a car loan at a decent rate. Feeling positive that I’ll be able to cross this one off in the next year or so!

Watercolor Compass Tattoo

#15: Complete a Half Sleeve of Tattoos

In Progress: I added a large compass to my right arm in October and I’ll be getting a labyrinth right after my birthday! I don’t think I’ll be done for another few years, but I am working on it! Very glad I found an amazing artist in Kaitlin Dutoit!

#21: Get A New Car

Yep, I did that, though it happened in the worst way. It’s been a few months and I really like the new car, but I still kinda miss my old one.

#23: Get My Degree

In Progress: This is BIG NEWS!  I was actually waiting until it was for sure to blog about it. I got accepted to ASU, I got approved for reduced tuition (since Tim is an employee), I’m all signed up – and classes start on Jan 12th!!! I’m on my way to being a real college graduate… sometime in 2018, that is. And then, I think, on to grad school. My ultimate goal is to get a Master’s degree in Adult Education so that I can continue to be a corporate trainer at a higher level. It’s a job I stumbled into last year but I love it so much that I finally (FINALLY!) chose a major! WOW!

#28: Read 300 Books

In Progress… but way behind. I read some books this year, but I didn’t read as many as I would have liked. Currently I’ve read 40, so I’m behind pace by a whopping 20 books. I’m going to really need to focus to hit this goal in another 8 years! I think it works out to one book every 2 weeks? To give myself a boost, what with starting school again, I’ve decided to count textbooks. I love being the one that makes the rules! If you want to see what I’ve read, you can check my GoodReads list here.

europe 238

#29: Travel To 10 Countries on 3 Continents

In Progress: Scratch off SEVEN countries on one continent! This year, I visited the UK, Ireland, Brussels, France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.  Just three more countries on two continents to go – it actually sounds achievable!

#30: Work On This Blog

In Progress: Once again, I would have liked to write more this year. It’s amazing how hard it is to find the time and the inspiration. Of course, I’ve got a lot to write about the trip. And I’d love to re-explore Belfast, since I blogged on Bokeh instead of WordPress. I was hoping to be able to port those posts over, but no luck so far.  Otherwise, well, we’ll see what 32 brings – hopefully more/better content from me!

One last thing to note: On my birthday last year, I posted Pharrell’s “Happy” video and said it would be the theme song of my year. I’m either psychic, lucky, or the universe has an interesting sense of humor. The song became an unofficial jingle for my company (internally) and they’ve filmed several dance videos to it – I’ve heard it well over a million times by now! I also sang it with my buddy Brandon at karaoke, heard it often on the road, and it’s been on the radio like crazy. I can’t escape it! Luckily, I still like it – every time it comes on, it reminds me of that promise I made to myself on my birthday. I know Pharrell is problematic and probably everyone else in the world is burned out on that song, but it really has made me HAPPY this year!

In summary: Thank you, age 31, for being so damn good to me.

 

 
Published on January 1, 2015, by

Happy 2015!  The new year is a great time to reflect on what you want out of life, which is why so many people create New Year’s resolutions.  Well, I don’t care for resolutions. Instead, I like to set a New Year’s intention. Less of a list, more of a theme. Resolutions make you “should” on yourself, they bring you down if you break them. But having an intention just shifts your thinking. In a way, it’s easier & more productive than making a list (says the woman who started a blog based on a list, haha) because it can take any form. You choose a part of yourself you want to grow and you don’t have to do anything more specific than considering your intention and trying to act on it. The actions can be large or small, significant or insignificant, and still add up to change.

My intention for 2014 was fearlessness. When faced with an opportunity to set fear aside, I acted with my intention in mind. I was mostly successful! It was at the forefront of my mind when I decided to do karaoke, to work in Belfast, to cross a rope bridge on rocky cliff, to backpack in Europe, to continue driving after my car accident, to do an obstacle course, to be more honest. My year was better because of those experiences and if I hadn’t been actively thinking about fearlessness, I might have missed out. I can honestly say that I am more fearless now than I was a year ago.

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For 2015, my intention is STRENGTH. I want to be stronger in any way I can. Mentally stronger – I want to learn more, read more, be more productive, and invest in my mental health. Physically stronger – I want to lift weights, see muscles, and eat healthier. Spiritually stronger – I want to meditate, practice yoga, and explore my spiritual side.  When given a choice, I want to choose whatever option is going to make me a stronger person.

What I don’t want to do is beat myself up for being weak. I think many people, myself included, have a habit of thinking strength stems from pain. Stress a muscle, hurt it, and it will get stronger. Well, we have to quit thinking the same process applies to mental health. Mental and emotional suffering doesn’t build strength, contrary to a million “inspirational” quotes (seriously, don’t even get me started on things like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and similar insulting tropes); instead, strength is what we use to overcome suffering. I have learned that the strength it takes to deal with things like tragedy, depression, and anxiety comes from love, positivity, support, self-care, openness, forgiveness, kindness, and (counter-intuitively) vulnerability.

So I am going to love myself this year. I know the more I tear myself down, the harder it is to build back up. Anxiety, in particular, can dig me into a bleak mental hole. I need to stop negative thought patterns before they start so that I don’t end up in that hole as often. That is the very first thing I’m choosing to do with strength as my intention. The second thing? Well, the best part about having an intention is you don’t have to think that far ahead.

I think this will be another great year. I am excited to see where it takes me; I am open and receptive to any and all good. Welcome 2015, my year of strength.

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Published on December 17, 2014, by

“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?” – Harry, from In Bruges

Have you seen the film In Bruges?  If not, stop reading this blog and Netflix it ASAP!  The movie is a wonderful black comedy that stars the little city of Bruges, Belgium.  Part of our decision to go stemmed from Tim’s love of that movie.  But could the real thing compare to the movie sets?

Bruges From Above

Uh, yeah.  It was BEAUTIFUL.  Stunning. Charming.  And yes, totally fucking fairytale.

Bruges Square

Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which means it’s a place of historical and cultural significance.  Why?  It’s location, on the northern coast of Belgium, made it a busy trade center and the influence of diverse cultures is evident in the architecture, art, and language of the area.  The buildings are medieval, elegant, adorable, and OLD.  When you live in a state that’s barely celebrated its 100th birthday, seeing buildings that have been around since the 14th century makes a huge impact.  We couldn’t get enough of the scenery – in fact, we spent most of our time just wandering around, staring open-mouthed at how absolutely lovely everything was.

Bruges Windmill

We explored the windmills near our hostel first – a sight many people miss when visiting Bruges because they’re far from the main square.  Walking along the canal and looking at the giant windmills was the perfect afternoon stroll.

Bruges Clocktower

The whimsy of the windmill park was matched by the medieval charm of the city square.  There’s almost too much to look at – the Gothic government buildings, the giant clock tower, the quaint little shops, all encircled in swan-filled canals.

Bruges Bridge at Night

You’ll stand there and think it couldn’t get more magical, then you’ll see the main square at night.  Everything is lit in yellow, it’s quiet and dreamy, and the lights sparkle off the water.  It looks like a movie set, too perfect to be real.  As an American fed a diet of cinema and advertising, it felt (and this wasn’t the first time I’d feel this way on our trip) like Disneyland.

Bruges Restaurants

Bruges Street

Bruges Fountain

Keep in mind that I don’t use photo editing software – Bruges simply looks this good, even better in person.  We didn’t DO a lot, so there’s not much to write about; we SAW a lot, so our Bruges journey is actually best shared in photos.  We saw…

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A castle that was actually a drawbridge! How fairytale is that? And it was just up the road from our hostel.

Bruges Canal

Canal streets, just like Venice!

The clock tower, looming over shops.

The clock tower, looming over shops.

A prettier town hall than any I'd seen before.  The statues that decorate it are all completely unique!

A prettier town hall than any I’d seen before. The statues that decorate it are all completely unique!

Clock Tower

The clock tower…. again.

A church that claims to house the blood of Jesus.

A church that claims to house the blood of Jesus.

Tim took a picture inside even though it wasn't allowed.  Shhhh, don't tell Jesus.

Tim took a picture inside even though it wasn’t allowed. Shhhh, don’t tell Jesus.

A bar they in which filmed In Bruges.  They weren't open either day we were there - guess we will have to go back!

A bar they in which filmed In Bruges. They weren’t open either day we were there – guess we will have to go back!

Is this the clock tower again?  Yes, because we decided to climb it.

Is this the clock tower again? Yes, because we decided to climb it.

We saw the bells!  They even went off while we were there and we got to see the mechanics that make them chime.

We saw the bells! They even went off while we were there and we got to see the mechanics that make them chime.

We also got the best view of this charming little town.

We also got the best view of this charming little town.

We saw the city at night, completely deserted.

We saw the city at night, completely deserted.

And we saw it by boat - which is highly recommended, by the way!

And we saw it by boat – which is highly recommended, by the way!

There were lots of swans.  And lots of swan poop!

There were lots of swans. And lots of swan poop!

And we saw the dog!  The famous Bruges dog, who naps in his window and watches boats float by.  What a life!

And we saw the dog! The famous Bruges dog, who naps in his window and watches boats floats by. What a life!

And that’s a short summary of Bruges! Our next city is a big one – Paris! Getting there wasn’t easy, though I guess we had an easier time than Ray… (That’s a reference to the movie.  If you didn’t get it, watch the dang movie already!)

 
Published on November 11, 2014, by

I’ve been trying to decide how I wanted to configure my posts about Europe.  Should I write in chronological order or should I write about whatever inspires me at the time?  I think the reason it’s been difficult to choose is because Brussels, the place we started and ended the journey that I loved, was so absolutely uninspiring.  It might be the ONLY place on the trip which, if given the chance, I would not visit again.

Katie in Brussels

We chose to fly into Brussels because it was less expensive than flying in to Germany (when the plan was still to visit my aunt), not because we were particularly excited about any of the tourist attractions there.  I barely did any research since we’d only be there a day, but I did get some feedback from friends who had been – they mostly said it was dirty, dangerous, but still kind of pretty.  I couldn’t IMAGINE how Brussels could be dangerous – I thought it would be a cute European village, all old buildings and chocolate.

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I was so wrong.  It was a city just like any other major city, with the griminess, uneasiness, and homelessness included.  Perhaps because our first event was getting utterly lost in Midi station trying to find our trolley, the immediate impression of Brussels was… yuck.  It didn’t improve much after finding our hotel, as we proceeded to get utterly lost on our way to Grote Markt (probably the second most popular tourist destination after Manneken Pis, a statue of a boy who pees) and ended up in a very sketchy neighborhood.  The problem was that my map was in French and all the street signs in that area were in Dutch.  It took me a while to figure that out, sad to say.

Grote Markt

When we eventually did find the Grote Markt area, I have to admit – the buildings and architectural details were stunning.  But there was a beer festival going on in the middle and it was also jam-packed and loud.

Mannekin Pis

After walking around for a while, seeing that oh-so-famous peeing boy (which is WAY smaller in real life than in depictions – why is this thing famous again?), we finally stopped for lunch.  What better than Belgian frites?  Well, pretty much anything could have been better.  Our first meal in Europe was a total disappointment.  The frites were boring and the sausages tasted like wet cigars.  YUCK!

Belgian Frites

After lunch, we did more walking, and as we ventured outside of the main tourist area, there was a little relief from the crowds and we enjoyed it a bit more.  Little flashes of beauty started to seep in.  The window displays for all the shops were gorgeous!  Chocolate jewels, piles of fluffy meringues, artfully stacked cookies of every variety!  Sweets as art is something you know I can get behind.  I wanted to eat everything!  So, burdened by choice (and by outrageous prices – Brussels was easily one of the most expensive cities we visited), I settled for some chocolates from Neuhaus that bordered on run-of-the-mill, despite the price tag.

Window Display in Brussels

We returned to our hotel room, exhausted.  I should mention that the hostel we stayed in, the Meininger, was one of the best of the whole trip.  It was spacious, the beds were not awful, the shower was great, and the breakfast was top-notch.  While I’d avoid Brussels in the future, I would stay with them again in another city.  Highly recommended!

Meininger Hostel in Brussels

Our room may have been too comfy, because I couldn’t avoid napping.  Unfortunately, we slept right through the closing time of the restaurant where we planned to eat.  We took a recommendation from the desk clerk and visited a French bistro close by.  It was a punch in the wallet, but it was excellent.  Mom had a delicious lamb, I had beef confit, and Tim had white fish with squid ink pasta.  We were all very happy after that, and returned to our hotel for more wonderful sleep.

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In the morning, we ate at the Meininger’s breakfast buffet, which was lovely (and included cream cheese, which did not exist in Belfast), and then we retraced our steps to the awful Midi station, to continue on our way to Bruges.  Considering the confusion about where/how to catch the trolley into town when we first arrived, I expected the process of catching the train to Bruges to be a nightmare.  Luckily, it was cake!  We activated our rail passes, found the next departure time for Bruges, got on the train, and we were whisked away to a much different, much better side of Belgium!