Asheville Adventures: A Day at the Biltmore

During my North Carolina vacation last month, my friends and I decided to take a day trip to the beautiful city of Asheville. After a two-hour drive from our hotel, our first stop was the Lexington Avenue Brewery for lunch.

Things To Do in Asheville, NC

Brice’s brother had suggested the brewery prior to the trip as one of the best sandwiches he’d ever had, and the place did not disappoint. I ordered the chicken caesar salad — a safe though seemingly boring choice — and was surprised by how delicious it was! Never will you hear me rave about a caesar salad more than I did that afternoon (and for the rest of the trip). We were excited to learn that a percentage of the proceeds from our meals actually benefited the local humane society. It was nice to enjoy a delicious meal while giving back to a great cause!

After lunch, we meandered around downtown to check out a few of the shops. At one point, we spotted this gem, which I may forever regret not purchasing.

Asheville Take 1 05

Our afternoon continued at the Biltmore Estate, a highly anticipated point in the trip. This mansion was built by the Vanderbilt family and reawakened my dream to someday marry into old money. If the Moses Cone Manor was Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, then the Biltmore Estate was definitely Thrushcross Grange.

Things to Do in Asheville, NC | Biltmore Estate

For a single admission price, we had the opportunity to tour the 33-bedroom/43-bathroom mansion. The Biltmore features a bachelors’ wing, an indoor pool, a gymnasium, countless kitchens, a breakfast room, and a Halloween room with bizarrely terrifying artwork. We also strolled through the gardens and the greenhouse. Most of the plant life in the gardens was still dead from the winter, but the greenhouse was in full bloom.

After touring the grounds, we drove over to the Antler Hill Village and stopped in the winery for a wine tasting (also included in our admission). While my palate isn’t exactly sophisticated enough for reds, I enjoyed the Century Sweet White wine that the winery had to offer. Harry, Brice, and I had a lot of fun rating the different wines and filling out our comment cards.

Things To Do in Asheville, NC | Antler Hill Winery

We ended our day with dinner at the Noodle Shop in downtown Asheville. I enjoyed a curry chicken while we listened to live music outdoors with a scenic view of the city. If you’re stopping in Asheville and have any Chinese food cravings, the Noodle Shop is a must-try!

Things To Do in Asheville, NC | Noodle Shop

The verdict: Asheville is a cool, artsy city with great food and beautiful architecture. It is the perfect place to stop during any North Carolina trip!

Cheers Before Mountaineers: Adventures in Boone, NC

Sometimes a change in scenery is exactly what you need to experience before you conquer the world. At least that’s what I told myself earlier this month, as my friend Brice and I jetted off to North Carolina just a week before my graduate school interview and a guest speaking appearance. It was my first time leaving the state of Florida since 2012 (something I made sure to prioritize on my 25 at 25 bucket list this year!), and the perfect opportunity for us to visit Harry, one of our best friends from college.

Harry moved to Boone for graduate school a couple of years ago, so we were excited to visit his new stomping grounds and create brand new memories in such a beautiful place. Of course, the photos and descriptions from all of my Pinterest research didn’t even begin to do this mountain town justice.

Adventures in Boone, NC

We took the roads less traveled as we hiked through the woods and forged new (unpaved, possibly dangerous) paths. We sipped strawberry-flavored imitation moonshine on the side of a mountain. We crossed a mile high bridge, said hello to a bear, and decided that nearly everything is a metaphor when you are in the wilderness. Being with two of my closest friends truly made the trip nothing short of an adventure.

For those of you planning a trip to Boone or the surrounding areas, here’s a quick recap of what we did!

Adventures in Boone, NC

Howard’s Knob.
This mountain has the best view of the town and was the perfect place for us to get our first taste of Boone. Our visit to Howard’s Knob was when it truly hit me that we were in completely new terrain, and that mountains were not just some vague shadows in the distance. (Bonus: There was still snow on the mountain, so a snowball fight just might have taken place.)

Adventures in Boone, NC

Moses Cone Park.
First of all, if your last name is Moses, then you’re basically breaking the law if you don’t visit Moses Cone Park! Though we did not go inside the house (pictured above), we felt completely haunted by its beauty. It reminded us of Wuthering Heights, and we half-expected to see the ghosts of Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw. From the house, we followed the winding trails for a few miles and found ourselves at Bass Lake (all to a very inspiring soundtrack of Taylor Swift and Donnie Darko music), before beginning our treacherous journey back to Moses Cone Manor. There was not a single bad view in sight, and there was something so invigorating about being out in the crisp air among nature.

Adventures in Boone, NC

Linville Falls.
We took the intermediate and advanced trails to various lookout points to see the waterfalls of Linville Falls. Just look at the picture. Do you even need another reason to go?

Adventures in Boone, NC

Grandfather Mountain.
Grandfather Mountain is not named for the many old men who inhabit it, but for its shape — from various angles, the mountain looks a lot like the profile of a man. This stop was nearly an all-day activity. After driving in, we purchased a CD that guided us on our way. We stopped at various lookout points and rock formations, took a tour of the museum, and visited a few animal friends: a bear who came out of hibernation for us, two very happy otters, a mountain lion, and a pair of eagles. Soon, we crossed the Mile-High Swinging Bridge (yes — we were a mile above sea level!) and stood at one of the peaks. It may not have been the smartest decision to do this while wearing Vans (and I swear the wind almost took me!) but it was truly a breathtaking experience that I would recommend to all visiting Boone.

During our time in North Carolina, we also spent a day in Asheville, which I’ll discuss more in a future post.:) For now, I leave you with this quote, which perfectly summarizes our trip:

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, and leading to the most amazing view.” – Edward Abbey

Reigniting The Spark: How To Get Your Health Goals Back On Track

Reigniting The Spark: How To Get Your Health Goals Back on TrackFor many of us, the beginning of a diet program can often feel like the beginning of a relationship. We’re excited to embark on something new, enthusiastic about the changes in our lives, and looking forward to the possibilities ahead. Of course, after that honeymoon period runs its course, sometimes it can be difficult to maintain that same level of enthusiasm toward the program, as we become complacent or begin to recognize the uncomfortable moments more often than we used to.

I began experimenting with a paleo lifestyle back in 2014 by completing my first Whole30, and since then, the program has played a significant role in my health and wellness. However, I sometimes struggle with motivation and consistency, and find my health journey to be a work in progress. The more that I talk to others in the Whole30 community, the more that I learn that a second, third, or fourth Whole30 can often be much harder than the first, because many of us do have difficulty staying on track even after we’ve experienced positive results.

Sounds a little counter-intuitive, right? Luckily, I’ve dedicated the better part of 2016 thus far to really focusing on ways to re-motivate ourselves once the magic wears off. Read below for my tips on keeping up with your program and remaining empowered even after the honeymoon period is over!:)

Reigniting The Spark: How To Get Your Health Goals On Track

How To Get Your Health Goals Back On Track1. Dedicate time for meal prep.
Let’s face it — eating healthy can be time-consuming! You’re preparing most of your own meals from scratch, avoiding a lot of the quick but nutrient-deficient shortcuts a lot of us fall victim to. Because of this, it can be so easy to give up after a long day of work and other responsibilities, and order takeout instead. An easy way to save time and take out a lot of the guesswork is to create a meal plan ahead of time and do a lot of the prep work early. For me, Sundays are the perfect day to decide what I’m going to eat each day (and yes, I do incorporate my social outings into that plan), buy the appropriate foods at the grocery store, and begin prepping those foods.

So what does “meal prep” mean to me? Typically, I’ll put on some vintage Keeping Up With The Kardashians (or another show that entertains me but doesn’t require too much concentration), and set aside an hour or two to chop up veggies for dishes I’ll eat throughout the week, wash fruit for easy grab-and-go access, and hard-boil some eggs to have a convenient protein source available at any time. Your meal prep can be as elaborate as you choose — some like to prepare all of their meals to reheat, and that works too! For me, having my veggies pre-washed and pre-chopped makes it easy to just throw them on the stove or in the oven later in the week, and saves me a ton of time!

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2. Make things exciting in the kitchen.
Browse Pinterest for cool recipes you can try (check mine out here for inspiration!), or invest in a new kitchen gadget you look forward to using. Find ways to spice things up in the kitchen — literally! When I started to grow sick of scrambled eggs, I started adding cumin and turmeric for a bold new flavor profile. When I’ve enjoyed a new ethnic dish and wanted to make a healthier version of it at home, I’ve often searched “lightened up __” or “paleo ___” to expand my culinary horizons. Figure out those routine favorites that you can make quickly and regularly, but continue to branch out so that things don’t become too stale. Why not aim to try one new recipe each week?

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How To Get Your Health Goals Back On Track3. Incorporate positive mantras into your program.
I’ve struggled with body image issues for as long as I can remember.  Since I was in middle school, I always associated health and weight loss goals as something negative, something to be ashamed of, instead of as a way to improve your overall well-being. A few months ago, I decided to flip the switch on that mindset by giving myself motivational notes to wake up to each morning. These quotes and messages give me a positive affirmation to focus on throughout the day, and remind me of how far I’ve come. The notes were so successful for me that they even went viral on the Whole30 Instagram page!:) I try to create new words of encouragement for myself each and every month.

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4. Hide the scale.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve let that little number either make or break your whole day. One of the rules of the Whole30 program is to not weigh yourself for the entire 30 days, but over the years, this was the rule I always broke. I found that if I wasn’t losing weight fast enough, then even if I felt other positive changes from my diet (better skin, more energy, etc.), I often gave up halfway through the month. This January, I finally stowed the scale away in my guest room (out of sight, out of mind) and fully avoided it for the entire month. Taking a break from weighing myself multiple times per day was extremely helpful for me and showed me just how unhealthy my relationship with the scale truly was. If you consider yourself overly dependent on the scale, I challenge you to hide it for a month!

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5. Find accountability partners.
Use social media or find people in your real life with whom you can be accountable! I belong to a few private groups on Facebook, some dedicated to Whole30 and some more focused on clean eating as it differs by individual, and having a strong support system makes it that much easier to stay on track. Whether you join one of those private groups or simply find a gym buddy to keep you on your toes, find others who are just as health-focused and turn to each other!

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What are your tips for staying motivated? Share yours in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: Be a “Resolutionary”

I stopped by the East End Market in Orlando a few weeks back as part of my 25 at 25 Bucket List Challenge. Ever since it opened back in 2013, I have heard great things about the market’s merchants and cool, artsy atmosphere. When I turned 25, I decided that a visit to the market was a must.

East End Market

For my first visit, I decided to check out one of the East End Market’s classes — and my selection did not disappoint. My friend Beth and I attended an expo event called Be A Resolutionary!, which provided free classes throughout the morning and early afternoon. The classes were mainly centered on health and wellness, and were designed for those hoping to stick to their New Year’s resolutions (hence the name “resolutionary”).:)

We started with an hour-long barre class. I’m no stranger to yoga or pilates, but this class kicked my butt! I learned that it’s a great way to work out those small muscles you don’t usually focus on, but maybe not the best exercise option if you haven’t worked out in a while. (I could barely walk for the next few days!) Still, it was a fun experience — the energy was upbeat and positive, and there were modifications for all comfort levels. (I just happen to be stubborn and don’t always modify my exercises when I should.)

After the class, we hobbled over to the courtyard for the first presentation of the day. “How To Live, Love and Move” by Nikki Blanton from Our Sole Intent was a great reminder of the importance of movement throughout the day, and she focused on the power of connection through your body, your heart and the Earth. The presentation also piqued my interest in essential oils, which I’ll be attending another seminar on later today!

Skyebird Juice Bar | East End Market

After the presentation, we popped into Skyebird’s Juice Bar for smoothies. I tried Skye’s Fave, a mix of almond milk, kale, banana, blueberries and chia seeds, and it was a delicious pick-me-up! We loved our smoothies and appreciated the Mason jars they came in, which we were able to keep. The juice/smoothie bar is vegetarian and vegan — perfect for those trying to avoid dairy, which can be difficult at a lot of smoothie places.

We visited two other presentations throughout the day as well. “Greening Up Your Home,” hosted by Porch Therapy, focused on the health benefits of having plants in your home. As someone with a lot of allergies and a not-so-great immune system, this was definitely something that appealed to me. I had no idea that there could be so many toxic chemicals like formaldehyde in our homes, or that indoor plants could make you both happier and healthier. A houseplant will be one of my next purchases, and I’m excited to learn how to care for it!

We ended the day with “Resolve to Eat Healthy” with Dr. Samadhi Artemisa. I really enjoyed her food demo (I had never tried a kumquat before!) and learning about heirloom plants and the importance of eating locally. Her presentation definitely encouraged me to start looking for local farmer’s markets to get the most nutritional bang for my buck, and I was excited to learn more about how to keep my body healthy.

Overall, we had a fantastic time at the East End Market, and I’m looking forward to my next visit!:)

Readers, have you ever taken a class at the East End Market? What are your bucket list goals for the year? Share in the comments section below!

Be My Valentine: A Letter to My Younger Self

Strange and Unintentionally Funny Vintage Valentine's Day Cards  (1)February 14th lingers just around the corner, but for the first time in five years, I will be single on Valentine’s Day. For some, the thought of not being in a relationship at this time of the year can be downright depressing — and for a long time, this held true for me as well. After all, for melodramatic teenage Val, every year that a boy didn’t send a carnation to me in English class practically felt like a year wasted! It’s interesting to see how much our perspectives can change over the years. This post is a love letter to myself and to everyone else out there who is still searching.:)

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Dear Younger Me,

I know that not having a boyfriend feels like the end of the world, especially at this time of the year. I also know that you won’t believe me when I tell you it’s not. You have a lot of exciting opportunities in your life already (and I wish I could tell you about all the adventures you are going to embark on in the not-so-distant future!), but you still base a large chunk of your self-worth on your relationship status. For that, I’m truly sorry.

Because of that, you aren’t particularly picky right now. In fact, you would likely allow someone to treat you poorly 80% of the time if you had their love and positive attention for 20% of the time. I know that sounds harsh, but over the next few years, you will ignore a lot of red flags and accept some pretty harmful behavior in order to avoid being alone. You will receive flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day, but the person who gave them to you won’t necessarily be that best friend and support system you need and deserve.

By getting into a relationship mainly for the sake of being in a relationship, you stop trusting your inner voice and start accepting things that you should know in your heart are not okay. By muddling through something that doesn’t make you happy, you end up breaking your own heart and putting a strain on other close relationships in your life.

I wish I could shield you from some of the bad decisions I know you’ll make over the next few years, but I truly believe that what you’ll learn from them will only make you stronger and more resilient. Still, that knowledge doesn’t make a toxic relationship any less toxic, and knowing what I know now doesn’t mean I can just turn back time.

I’m writing to you at 25 now, and (spoiler alert!) we’re single again. Valentine’s Day is in just four days, and the beautiful flowers in my kitchen are not from a secret admirer; they were just a gift I bought myself a few days ago. I wouldn’t mind being in a relationship again, but now that I have a clearer picture of what I want, I’m not willing to settle for less than I deserve. I’m not spending Valentine’s Day alone — I’m spending the long weekend with loved ones, and I couldn’t be more excited. I do things because I want to do them, not to earn someone else’s approval. I spend more time creating fun memories with old friends and cultivating relationships with new ones.

I am technically alone on Valentine’s Day, but I’m not lonely. I know in my heart that another relationship will come along in the future, and in my quest for true happiness, that relationship is just one part of the equation. Besides, who knows what our future self will be writing to us in a few years?:)

For now, please be kind to yourself and remember that no situation is permanent. Enjoy your single time, learn from the rocky relationships, and appreciate the good times. Don’t let your friendships fall to the wayside. Remember that you deserve a lot better than you often allow yourself, and never allow fear to strand you in a harmful situation with no way out.

All my love,

Valerie

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!