Adventures in Florida: A Weekend in St. Augustine

When I turned 25 just a few months ago, one of my first orders of business was to plan a trip to St. Augustine in the New Year. When I was a child growing up in South Florida, St. Augustine played a big role in my fourth grade education, as the oldest European-established settlement in the country and the first overnight field trip destination my classmates and I ever visited. I visited the town in passing a few times since, but wanted to spend more time in St. Augustine this winter.

In early January, my mom and I packed our bags and took a short road trip to the nation’s oldest city, where we would stay for the weekend.

LightnerMuseum

Our first stop was the Lightner Museum, which was originally the Hotel Alcazar built by Henry Flagler. Aside from the gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and picturesque landscaping, the museum boasts collections of antique musical instruments, sculptures, paintings, the stained glass art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and several other historical and science exhibits as well.

LightnerMuseum

During our visit, we were also able to see the hotel’s original spa and Turkish bath areas. However, nothing was more festive and exciting than our lunch at the Cafe Alcazar, a restaurant located where the indoor pool used to be. I loved my hummus salad almost as much as the cafe itself, and would highly recommend grabbing a bite there for an elegant and unique dining experience. (After all, how often do you get to eat lunch in a swimming pool?)

Cafe Alcazar

After the Lightner Museum, we walked over to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Of course, my mom and I drank from the Fountain of Youth, so now I’m hoping to be young and beautiful well into my nineties. If I’m still blogging by then, I’ll let you know how well the fountain really worked. :)

Fountain of Youth

We roamed around the park for the afternoon, visited the exhibits, watched a few videos on the discovery of the settlement, and fell asleep during the observatory show (okay, that was just me!). I also made a few unlikely friends.

Fountain of Youth Park

Seriously, these guys were everywhere!

After checking into the hotel and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we ended the night with a Ghosts & Gravestones ghost tour. I have always been a fan of ghost tours, and this one did not disappoint! We stopped at the Lighthouse Park and at the Old Jail, where we were visited by an old (slightly terrifying) prisoner. We had a fantastic time, all while learning about some of the more macabre history of St. Augustine.

Castillo de San Marcos

The next morning, we headed out to the Castillo de San Marcos, the country’s oldest fort that was owned by several nations at different points in history. It was an incredible experience to walk through a place that survived so many wars and attacks, in the footsteps of so many others before us.

Castillo de San Marcos

After the Castillo, we enjoyed a quick lunch in the Old City before heading back home. I had a wonderful weekend with one of my favorite traveling companions, and would recommend St. Augustine to anyone planning a vacation. :)

For a recap of my other Bucket List adventures, click here!

Have any of you been to St. Augustine? What were your favorite experiences?

Link Love Wednesday: Goat Cuddlers Wanted

a6dc09ca9c131ce46ff4c903ec1f1c2eHappy Wednesday! :) Hope everyone is having a fabulous week. In my little world, I’m working on crossing a few more items off my 25 at 25 Bucket List, applying for graduate school, and figuring out some exciting upcoming travel plans. What have you been up to? As always, feel free to share your favorite recent links or plans in the comments section below!

Things I’m Loving Lately

What are your favorite links from the week? Share your latest finds in the comments below!

Turmeric Scrambled Eggs

One of my biggest struggles on the Whole30 over the past few rounds has been making sure I get enough protein into my diet — and the easiest source of protein for me has been eggs. Eggs are a fantastic superfood, can be hard-boiled in large batches for portable nutrition, and don’t require the same level of attention as handling raw meat.

Of course, eggs get a bad rap by Day 10 of a Whole30, as we start to grow sick of the monotony. After all, many of us feel like we’re eating Gaston-level portions of eggs! When I’m not following Whole30, I love scrambling my eggs with a little cheese, but because my diet is currently dairy-free, I’m stuck with a really boring breakfast.

Recently, I started experimenting in the kitchen to make a better, more flavorful scrambled egg dish. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory, while cumin is a good source of iron and may be beneficial for diabetics and asthmatics. This “recipe” is so easy that I can barely call it a recipe, but too delicious not to share!

Turmeric Scrambled Eggs

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • A few shakes of turmeric (to your liking)
  • A few shakes of cumin (to your liking)
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Melt your ghee over medium heat.
  2. Crack in your eggs and stir.
  3. Sprinkle on turmeric and cumin to your liking, and mix.
  4. Scramble until eggs are as well done as you prefer.
  5. Salt to taste.
  6. Serve.

If you try this recipe, let me know what you think! Please share and subscribe to my blog for more recipes, Whole30 resources and other goodies!

Keeping It Frugal: Fun Ways to Enjoy the Weekend

Keeping it Frugal: Fun Ways to Spend Your WeekendIf you’re anything like me, you marched into 2016 armed with New Year’s Resolutions and high hopes for an incredible year. On this blog, I often discuss my journey to better physical health, but one aspect of wellness that we don’t always talk about is financial health.

If you haven’t set your New Year’s Resolutions yet (hey – we’re only 11 days into 2016 anyway!) and you can’t figure out what areas to improve upon in 2016, your finances are a great start. Nearly everyone I know, regardless of salary and socioeconomic background, admits to eating a few too many meals out at restaurants, spending $150 at Target when they only meant to buy paper towels, and going over budget simply to hang out with friends. Why not work to change that — to save money for the moments that really matter?

Luckily, there are still plenty of ways to maintain a social life without breaking the bank. (For other FREE tools for managing your finances and saving for the future, check out Personal Capital.) :)

  • Attend local community events.
    I live close to several expensive tourist attractions, so it can be easy to overlook all of the amazing local events and lesser-known attractions from time to time. That’s why I love to check my county’s convention and visitor’s bureau website for free or cheap upcoming events in the area! From art shows to film festivals, many cities offer an awesome variety of activities that will appeal to multiple age groups and interests. Check Facebook as well for event ideas near where you live.
  • Visit an educational venue.
    Take a trip to the zoo, a museum, the planetarium, or a wildlife sanctuary. Many of these places have a relatively low admission price (I spent $6 last month to attend a planetarium show) and even offer student discounts for those of you who are still in school. This gives you a chance to broaden your horizons and learn about something new, and can be just as fun to do with friends and family! My friends and I had such a great time visiting the planetarium last month that we even decided to attend the (free) Winter Sky Festival they are hosting this weekend.
  • Participate in community service.
    There are few greater feelings than the way you’ll feel by giving back to others less fortunate. You don’t need to write a big check to make a difference in the world — there are a lot of kind things you can do to help others. My parents volunteer for a food pantry and an animal rescue, so when I visit, I often join them to pack food or help out with the rescue dogs. Volunteering your time can be a lot of fun to do with your family and friends, but it can also be enjoyable even if you go alone.
  • Go outside.
    If weather permits, spend some time out enjoying nature. Go to a park or beach, grab a frisbee, have a picnic with friends, go on a hike, or just spend sometime outside together with a refreshing change in scenery. Not only is this an inexpensive way to hang out with friends, but it is also scientifically shown to make you happier and more productive. :) Who knew?

What are your tips for a frugal but fun weekend? Share your suggestions in the comments section below!

Link Love Wednesday: Go Away, Caillou

caillouHey there, readers, and happy new year! I hope everyone had a fabulous time celebrating with friends and family, and that you are all settling in nicely to 2015 2016. (I think it will take me until about March to get that right!)

The new year has been treating me well so far, and I’m looking forward to all the opportunities and adventures ahead. To kick things off, let’s dig into the first Link Love of 2016!

Things I’m Loving Lately

  • Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show Master of None. This show is incredibly accurate for twenty-somethings, and the episode about the crazy things that women have to deal with really hit close to home for me.
  • This amazing Whole30 compliant Thai Curry recipe. I’ve been making it at least once a week.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Amazing page-turner so far!

What awesome links are you finding this week? Share your latest link love in the comments section below!

2015 Book Challenge Results

keep-calm-and-love-reading-64Happy New Year, friends! I hope everyone has had a wonderful first few days of 2016 and that you are keeping on track with your New Year’s Resolutions. I have a few health and wellness goals this year (don’t we all?), but one of my annual goals is to make time for reading. :)

Reading a variety of genres and authors exposes you to new perspectives and can make you a better writer! Every year, I share my recap of what I read the year prior, as well as links to the blog posts that some of these books inspired.

Below are the books I read in 2015. (Click for recaps from 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.) You can keep up with the current list for 2016 by visiting the Book Challenge page at the top menu or by clicking here.

Books I Read in 2015:

1. The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero (1/12/2015)
2. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick (1/29/2015)
3. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (2/3/2015)
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (2/9/2015)
5. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (3/21/2015)
6. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (3/22/2015)
7. Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth (5/18/2015)
8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (5/22/2015)
9. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan (5/24/2015)
10. Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov (6/4/2015)
11. Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell (6/6/2015)
12. Winkie by Clifford Chase (6/11/2015)
13. I’m Only Here For The WiFi by Chelsea Fagan (6/18/2015)
14. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (6/23/2015)
15. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (7/6/2015)
16. Dating Up by J. Courtney Sullivan (7/24/2015)
17. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (9/23/2015)
18. The Mathematics of Love by Hannah Fry (10/1/2015) — Unique Holiday Gift Guide for All Friends
19. When The Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (11/12/2015) — Adventures in Florida: Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
20. Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle (12/11/2015)
21. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (12/13/2015)
22. Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich (12/29/2015)

Have you read any of these books? Any suggestions for 2016?

Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments section below!

Blog It Forward: Spreading Acts of Kindness

oscar-wilde-smallest-act-of-kindnessI am constantly amazed by the acts of kindness people bestow upon the world.

We often notice the darker side of humanity, as stories of discrimination, assault, murder and other atrocities flood our news channels. The media rarely covers those happier moments, the beauty beyond the madness, and so we tend to overlook all of the wonderful things that people do to help one another.

We’re a little jaded that way.

Like many of you, I often lose sight of the goodness in others. But on one especially stressful day at work, as I waited in line for lunch, I was reminded of that goodness in a small but powerful way. I was picking up food in the cafeteria of my old university, when the customer at the register had his credit card declined multiple times. As he fumbled around in his wallet for any spare change he could find, the cashier asked him to step aside while she took care of the next student in line. When that customer went up to pay, he said to the cashier, “Please add his meal to my tab.” The first student (a total stranger) thanked him profusely and offered to pay him back, but the second student replied, “Don’t worry about it. I hope you’ll do the same for someone else one day.”

His words resonated with me and helped renew my faith in others. Sure, his actions only cost him about $10, but their impact was much greater than that. By paying for this student’s meal, he made a stranger’s day even a little bit better.

bif_badge_250x250Acts of kindness have always been important to me, which was why I was extremely excited when Wayfair.com invited me to participate in their Blog It Forward Challenge. I have been asked to share one of my latest experiences of giving back during the month of December, and in return, Wayfair will donate $50 to Habitat For Humanity. How cool is that? :)

Earlier this month, I read about Safyre, a little girl who lost her family in an arson attack and was left severely scarred. I cried when reading her story — losing your family at any age would be incredibly painful, but I can’t imagine how that would feel to an 8-year-old girl. This year for Christmas, all Safyre wanted were some Christmas cards to fill up her tree.

Of course, I had to send Safyre a card. Her story went viral, and she has now received millions of cards, gifts, a trip to Disney and even gifts from Katy Perry. My card is just one of those several million, but I still believe that each and every one of those cards made a difference in that girl’s life. It brings me so much joy to see how many people around the world came together — often with seemingly small acts — to do something so big for this girl.

As the final part of Blog It Forward, I have been tasked with tagging two blogger friends to share an act of giving back on their blog before the New Year. Nicole and Jen, are you up for the challenge? :)

I encourage everyone to be a little kinder in the new year. Volunteer your time. Pay for the person behind you in line. Talk to someone you wouldn’t normally talk to. Donate to a cause you believe in. Look for new ways to make the world a better place, and always look for the good in others, even when it’s hard to see.

bif_badge_600x220

Adventures in Florida: A Night at the Planetarium

As some of my readers know, I created a 25 at 25 Bucket List for my 25th birthday back in September, consisting of 25 things I hoped to do over the next year. (Want to know how it’s going so far? Click here!) One of those adventures included a trip to the planetarium – something I hadn’t done since elementary school. I’ve always been interested in astronomy, as well as the mythology used to explain many of the stars in the sky, and I thought that a planetarium visit would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that there was a planetarium just a few miles up the road at Seminole State College! The Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium costs just $6 for an adult ticket (free for SSC students and $4 for seniors, K-12 students and students from other colleges), and offers a variety of public shows to choose from.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium

Two weeks ago, my friends and I decided to get into the holiday spirit and attend the planetarium’s Star of Bethlehem show, which we learned is one of the most popular seasonal shows for planetariums worldwide. The show focuses on the story of the Magi and the birth of Jesus, as well as the scientific theories behind what the “star of Bethlehem” could have possibly been.

I enjoyed the mix of science and religious folklore throughout the show, and appreciated that the narration never became too preachy or alienated any of its audience. Instead, the show allowed for viewers to decide for themselves what to believe about the star, and encouraged viewers not to turn science and religion into a mutually exclusive either/or scenario. My friends and I are from different religious backgrounds, but the show appealed to all four of us and we all left having gained new historic, religious and scientific knowledge.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium

Based on my experience at the Star of Bethlehem show that night, I will definitely be returning to this planetarium for other shows in the near future! In January, I also hope to attend the free Winter Sky Festival that the planetarium will be hosting. What a perfect way to enjoy a winter night in Florida!

What’s on your bucket list this year? Have you visited the planetarium recently? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

Sautéed Green Beans & Diced Tomatoes

In many circles, I am known as a picky eater. This is sort of a silly thing to be known for, and I hate when family members bring it up, but since childhood, allergies and food sensitivities have made me hesitant to try new foods. (I’m also half convinced that I am a super taster!) However, several rounds of Whole30 have opened me up to a lot of new foods, especially vegetables, that I never really bothered to eat in the past. Green beans are a veggie that – when prepared the right way – I have grown to love!

Sautéed Green Beans with Diced Tomatoes

For those of you who still are skeptics when it comes to green beans, test out this recipe as soon as you can! Green beans are a great source of nutrition that can take on a variety of flavors, and this recipe is a great way to incorporate a few different veggies into your diet. I love sneaking extra vegetables into my side dishes! This dish serves one — adjust your quantities accordingly!

Sautéed Green Beans with Diced Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup green beans, stems removed
  • 2 tbsp petite diced tomatoes (for convenience, I used the canned kind)
  • 1 tbsp diced water chestnuts
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • Salt and garlic to taste

Instructions:

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil and add in your green beans. Cook on medium for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and strain. Pat green beans to dry.
  3. Over medium low heat, melt ghee on a skillet.
  4. Add green beans, tomatoes, water chestnuts, garlic and salt.
  5. Cook on medium low for 20 minutes or until desired consistency.
  6. Remove from heat and serve!

If you try this recipe, let me know what you think! Please share and subscribe to my blog for more recipes, Whole30 resources and other goodies!

Adele, Please Stop Calling

ct-hello-video-from-adele-20151023Dear Adele,

Hello. How are you? I’m doing really well, but I’m a little sick of your popular single, Hello. I’m a longtime fan of yours — we’ve chased pavements together and even set fire to the rain (which I never thought was scientifically possible until I heard your song). I love your music. But the overall message of Hello is a little unhealthy, no? If no one is picking up, maybe it’s time to stop calling. Thanks!

Your Fan and Disgruntled Blogger, Valerie

*

UnknownIf you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of Adele’s incredibly popular new song, Hello. Don’t get me wrong. Her voice is as beautiful as ever, and the song is certainly catchy. It’s the message I’m concerned with.

For those of you who don’t listen to the radio or aren’t familiar with Adele’s music, Hello tells the story of a person who is still heartbroken years after the relationship ended. She continues to reach out to her ex to apologize for the things she has done to hurt him (she “must have called a thousand times”), but he never picks up the phone.

What alarms me is the number of people who really seem to relate to Adele in this song. Don’t get me wrong – I completely agree that breakups suck, and I know that people deal with them in different ways – but when you want to get over someone, calling them constantly is not the way to do it.

There’s a lot of passive aggression in the lyrics of this song, regarding the fact that her ex is no longer torn up over whatever she did to wrong him in the past. In my experience, time and distance are the best ways to get over someone, and continuously reaching out to that person will only set one or both of you back in the healing process.

o-GHOST-570It comes back to a few age-old questions: Can we create closure while keeping our exes in our lives, or will this only create more heartache? Is it better to talk to them periodically, or completely shut them out?

I’ve been in both situations, as both the heartbreaker and the heartbroken, and closure hasn’t always been possible. I’ve had exes who tried to contact me multiple times after the relationship was over in order to reconcile in some way and apologize for wrongdoings, but at that point I had either moved on or was in the process of moving on, so meeting up with them for coffee wasn’t going to do me any good. While in some situations it’s okay to remain friends with an ex, I also don’t see the point in trying to rekindle old flames when things didn’t work out the first time.

On the flip side, one of my exes completely vanished after our breakup, and as difficult as that was for me in the moment, the lack of communication made the breakup that much easier to get over. It was like ripping off a Band-Aid — the pain was immediate and intense, but then it went away and I moved on. If he had started reaching out to me to say “hello from the other side” a la Adele, it would have been a lot harder to get over the whole ordeal. Instead, the disappearance was a blessing in disguise because it gave me a healthy dose of reality.

Closure comes in many forms, but sometimes a lack of closure has its own way of closing a chapter in your life. Adele’s narrator calls her ex under the pretense of closure, possibly without realizing that her call could open up a whole lot of wounds for him. The song is a one-sided conversation of which I’ve been on the receiving end one too many times, and it’s ultimately never particularly helpful for either party.

Friends, readers, and Adele: Stop calling your exes. If you’ve done something wrong, use the lessons you’ve learned to find ways to better yourself for the next relationship, and let your exes do the same thing. :)