Year So Far…

This year has been crazy and I blame it all on this post. I had read someone's 101 in 1001 (101 things to do in 1001 days) and that, combined with Wait But Why's post made me feel behind. How in the world could I accomplish everything I wanted to on earth with such limitations? So I decided to create my own bucket list. One hundred and one things in one thousand days seemed overwhelming, so I started simple: five things to accomplish before my next birthday, in six months. And then I got to it!

I succeeded at following through on two out of the five things, but wow! Those two things (visit a beach, do something cultural every month) were … amazing. Breathtaking. Life-altering. Earth-shattering. Just … wow. My life will never be the same, and I am so grateful that I got to do those things!

Today, for the last #AugustBreak2016 prompt, I decided to take a look at my year and what I've accomplished both pre-WOW! (January, February) and post-WOW (every month since…)! :)

January

Dresden, Germany (January 2016)

Despite my claim that January was a pre-WOW month, my husband and I started off the year with a bang! We traveled to NYC on points with Delta for Christmas night, spent the weekend in NYC doing everything Christmassy we could think of before taking off on a plane to Paris, France. We continued our Christmas-trend as we worked our way through Strasbourg and on into the new year visiting friends (and their friends and family) in south Germany before heading off to Prague and Dresden. I kept blog writing simple since I was recovering from a stressful Christmas season. I wrote reviews, read books, and discussed in detail the lessons learned from travel to Europe, the emotions I conquered (or felt) during travel, and threw back to day 1 in Paris (which was probably one of my favoritest days from the whole trip!).

February

Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic (January 2016)

As soon as we returned from our travels abroad, I noticed a letter in the mail: I had been served notice that I was to appear in jury duty. For the first time ever. :( Asking off from work was the last thing I wanted to do after having just returned from vacation, but I did. And on that fateful February day, I appeared in the courtroom bright and early. I convinced myself to pack a snack and a water bottle since, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't eat a thing for breakfast that morning. The mere thought of breakfast made me feel sick to my stomach. :(

Once at the courtroom (where food and drink weren't allowed), myself, along with the 20 other jurors were assigned seats in alphabetical order. The room remained silent as the police officers on duty and courtroom secretaries introduced themselves. Just before the judge arrived, still feeling sick to my stomach, I got up to go to the bathroom where, unfortunately, there was a line. :( I sat with my back against the wall hoping the nausea would pass. Was this just nerves? ?? After only a few minutes of waiting, my body couldn't take it anymore. I ran to the trashcan. A kind, elderly woman came over to comfort me telling me not to be worried; she had been anxious before her first jury duty too. She made me feel better. :)

I went back to the courtroom a little lighter on my feet thinking that maybe now I could sit patiently without feeling sick.

As it turns out, that wasn't the case. I got dismissed from jury duty due to my job, but rather than enjoy my day off, I found myself in bed. ALL. DAY. LONG. *sigh*

I was last sick in 2013, and I rarely get sick, so it was beyond irritating to be down for the count. The worst part? The weak feeling that comes with being sick stayed with me for nearly the rest of February. I thought I'd never get over it. :(

Meanwhile, on the blog, I was struggling to keep up with the fast-paced Loveblog challenge. I was struggling to connect with you all, my readers, and yet I, also, wanted to provide useful information that would be worthy of reading (and not merely a journal). I'm not sure I ever found a balance, but I did think it was nice breaking from my typical blog dance of fact, fact, opinion.

March

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom in Orlando, FL (November 2015)

March was the month of #30Lists. I am definitely a lists gal. :) Justin and I explored Cathedral Caverns in Alabama and I had the opportunity to review Gwen Stefani's This Is What the Truth Feels Like and Germany for Beginners (among other things). We also went to a book talk for Ryan Gravel's book Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities. The talk was boring, but it was good for us to support the reclaiming of "infrastructure", as Gravel's calls it, within the city of Atlanta. Being there made us feel as though we were a part of something important. :)

April

Dresden, Germany (January 2016)

Even though most of April A-Z ;was written in March, it was still a big time-suck. I wrote comments and people responded. :) That's what you are supposed to do during that challenge, right? ;)

We went to another book talk on the subject of career success. Despite the fact that I follow this blogger's travel blog, we ended up not purchasing his book. Justin thought he was filled with phooey. So.

Onward and upward.

May

Bowen's Island, SC (May 2016)

The first weekend in May, we attended my brother's graduation! Woot!

And this was followed up with us being in Charleston for the second weekend in May where we celebrated Justin's mom birthday and Mother's Day. It was quite the excursion. :) We had fun sharing a few of our favorite spots with Justin's parents.

With the challenges brought on by February's #LoveBlog, March's #30Lists, and April A-Z, I felt like I was on top of my game with blogging. My favorite posts were: The Places I've Been (round up of my favorite images from my travels), Tasting Rome a cookbook review, The Intensity of Visiting the Louvre For the First Time (or how not to do it), and Coastal Beaches Wanderlust (beautiful beaches on the east coast that I had dreams of visiting. Fernweh ftw?) Also, I asked Justin for his travel opinions via a survey and reviewed a small, local town near me that I dream of calling home.

Our month concluded with a BIG trip exploring the Carolinas, seeing the coasts of Charleston, Hunting Island Beach State Park, Beaufort, and Hilton Head followed up with a trip to the mountains of Asheville NC. We were dodging a hurricane on Labor Day weekend, so all of the diving that ensued was well worth it.

June

Beaufort, SC (June 2016)

I considered our late May/early June trip through the Carolinas to be my cultural event for the month. :) And I followed up with that on the blog with thorough reviews of all-things Charleston including restaurants, activities, plantations, and hotel recommendations. I dissected one of my favorite cities providing you with all of the juicy details you need for planning the best vacation there ever!

Meanwhile, I found myself filling up two months of blog posts as I prepped for a busy vacation-filled July. As if that weren't enough, I stumbled across a new blog template and started working on a blog re-design. It still needs work, but I think it looks better than it did before…

July

Raclette NYC in NYC, NY (July 2016)

Justin and I started our month with traveled to NYC, where we got to see New Jersey fireworks and enjoy yummy raclette cheese! Then, we continued on to Paris, and the Brittany coast of France where we met up with friends. I did have a lot of fun writing about wacky (and not so) national and international holidays on the blog. My favorite posts included this post featuring many of the Beatles' songs (that I couldn't get out of my head for days afterward!) as well as this Hot Air Balloon throwback, a Savannah, GA walking tour, and my fun review of Ellen's Stardust Diner (NYC).

August

Brittany, France (July 2016)

As if July wasn't busy enough, so far this month we have gone to Myrtle Beach (SC) to visit family and Fort DeSoto/Madeira Beach (FL) to visit friends. We've also planned a Labor Day getaway to Callaway Gardens and Savannah, GA for my nephew's birthday. I've edited a lot of beautiful images from our travels (1, 2, 3), got to write about oranges, and was retweeted by Raclette NYC. All in all I'd say it's been a good month. (And you should see the number of blog post ideas I have for the next few months!)


So, yeah, you can kind of see where the WOW in the past eight months occurred. I've been busy and taking advantage of every single moment that has been offered to me. No regrets; just fun.

What have you accomplished in the past eight months? Anything exciting? Does Wait But Why's blog post on the topic of life-shortness give you as much anxiety as it does me?


* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's August Break. Today's post was written with the word "August was…" in mind (day 31).

Circle Line: NYC Sunset Cruise

At the beginning of spring, Justin and I found a good deal at Hoteldeals.com for a hotel in NYC for the weekend of July 4th. Loving the idea of a good deal AND a trip to NYC, I immediately booked. What was there to lose? We could always cancel!

As it turns out, we didn't have to cancel. The hotel noticed what happened and cancelled on us. Or, rather, they said we had been charged the wrong amount and would be charged X amount more. If we weren't ok with that, we should do nothing. If we were ok with that, we would need to log in and pay the extra within a specified amount of time.

Given that the hotel itself wasn't that great, we let it go.

But the problem with me is that I don't just let things go. If we say we are going on a trip, I begin to get excited and start imagining all of the possibilities. Visiting NYC for the July 4th fireworks went from an eventuality maybe to an on-my-bucket-list must-do-right-now. You seriously cannot tease me with travel. I cling to it like a moth to a flame!

And so I held onto this idea of travel to NYC for July 4th, but then I added to it. France for July 14 also? Heck yeah! And happy birthday to me! (I like to think we only went because it was my birthday wish, but the truth is, my husband probably just didn't want to argue with me. And he probably had a secret desire to return to Europe as well…)

The problem was: when I started making plans to visit Paris for July 14th, despite the fact that I had hotels and flights to NYC, the whole trip to NYC started to sound less appealing. I mean – NYC? … Paris? Where would you rather go? Obviously the one that costs the most and is farthest from you, amiright? ;)

I always say that NYC is full of life. It's exciting, it's magical, and it's a great place for people watching. And I love people-watching!

Paris, on the other hand, is beautiful. Historical. Pretty. Gorgeous architecture. Loads of history.

And while I am absolutely head-over-heels in love with both cities, when planning a trip to Paris, it is mighty hard to focus on activities you will do while in NYC.

So what do you do when this is the case? You place ALL of your energy into the trip that is coming first, blocking off the second trip from your mind almost entirely. The goal is to find a way to fall in love with city 1 again before you venture off to city 2. Which is what we did.

One activity I love doing most while on trips are boat tours at sunset, so that's what we planned. Idid research to figure out which boat tour would be best, then started booking. Although Circle Line wasn't necessarily the best, they were the cheapest. And a boat tour is a boat tour. I just had to hope and pray it wouldn't rain that night and the sunset would be pretty. I imagined a calm evening where Justin and I go have a fancy dinner, meander to the boat slowly, find the perfect viewing spot, relax and take pictures, then go have dessert following. Great idea, right?

Here's the way our evening actually went:

- OMG! We only have an hour before we need to be at the boat! I need my camera and a jacket! Do we have time?
- We'll take an Uber from the hotel. It'll be good.
- OMG! Is that the line for our boat?!?!?! We'll never make it! We should have been here an hour early! (Tickets say get there 30 minutes early. The line definitely doesn't look like that when you arrive. But no worries. The line moves.)
- Oops. Forgot I was wearing a purse around my neck. Guess they didn't notice it either? (Security checks your bags. Have your bags open and ready for inspection when you get to the front of the line.)
- The people behind us got stopped? Does that mean we are the last to board our boat? (Yes.)
- No seats up top. Can we stand outside on the deck? The Circle Line windows are gross and covered with salt. (Answer: yes, but hurry! When everyone else realizes they can stand on the deck, you will be fighting for a spot to see!)
- Want a drink? (Don't go. Justin stood in line for 30 minutes or 1/3 of the ride before giving up. The line didn't move.)
- Sunset! Statue of Liberty! All of the buildings and bridges! Squee!
- Flip flops. Boat hole. Ocean waves. Wet feet.
- Summer night on the water = cold.
- Lack of food beforehand = hungry.
- End of trip. Boat docks. Race to get in line to disboard. Find first Uber driver possible. Return to hotel for warmer clothes before going out to eat. (Lots of things are closed, because NYC actually does sleep despite what you may have heard…)

In conclusion, the Circle Line boat tour was absolutely amazing! But you should plan better than me. Do take the time to eat before you board the ship. Do arrive to the docks early. Do wear warm clothing (or dress in layers, even in the summer!). Do bring your camera. Do not bring knives, guns, bombs, or anything else you think might be against regulation. And definitely consider the weather when you book, Circle Line tours go on whether in rain or shine.

The tour lasted approximately 1.5 hours and takes you by many of NYC's landmarks. 

If you've been to NYC before and perhaps you're getting tired of the same old same old, give a boat tour a try. It will give you an entirely new perspective of NYC and, if you're lucky, you'll get a beautiful sunset view of the city as well! Win-win! :)

Statue of Liberty


Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

Empire State Building

Gothamist

Not the Manhattanhenge. :( But close…

Jersey City

Long Island

Manhattan Bridge

again

Brooklyn Bridge

One World Trade Center


Hope you enjoyed my spiel about the Circle Line tour and how I fell madly in love with NYC again! We had an amazing time (aside from being cold, wet, and hungry) and the tour definitely gave me a new appreciation for the city and it's beauty.

Have you ever taken a boat tour of a city? Would you consider it?

Justin and I also rode in a schooner for a second sunset boat tour while we were in NYC. Images and review of that experience (which was entirely different from this one) will come soon. :)

** Linking up to City Trippers Mummytravels.com and Wandermum.co.uk

Suitcases and Sandcastles
Linking up with Oregon Girl Around the World,
Suitcases and Sandcastles, and
Untold Morsels


Click here to join the link-up!

* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's August Break. Today's images were chosen with the word "evening light" in mind (day 30).

Orange You Glad It's Friday?

Remember when I shared all of the lime-tastic recipes last month? That was a re-post, but one I was only too glad to share again! In the time since I wrote that post, my husband and I haven't gone crazy and purchased a big box of oranges, but for the August Break challenge, if we had had time, I would! And that, my friends, is what this post is dedicated to: oranges. The following is what would happen if we went to the grocery store and bought a case of oranges. :) For research purposes, I kept myself limited to dinner; I think we all know that an orange-filled breakfast would be easy to come by! (Orange juice, an orange mimosa, or orange tea + orange sweet rolls ftw?)

Let's begin with drinks.

Even though we all know fruity drinks are the tastiest, there aren't many dinner cocktails or mocktails I could think of when I first started putting together this post that are made with oranges. I mean – orange juice and mimosas, duh. But those are typically breakfast drinks. What would be something typically had with dinner?


Let's try Blood Orange Lemonade (for the lightweights in the family) or Hurricane Punch (for those of you that want a bit more of a kick). Now it's possible you are making these drinks during the summer, since it is August, and blood oranges may not be around. If that's the case, consider substituting regular oranges for the blood oranges and you should be good!


Kids in the family (or even wannabe kids) might prefer a mouthwatering orange creamsicle float (with a bit of aperol at the bottom to make your inner Justin sing). Be sure not to get too full though! Dinner is yet to come! :)

For appetizers, I settled on two things that could argumentatively be considered dips or desserts, but for the sake of blogging we will call them appetizers since they could be served at a party as appetizers…


Orange Creamsicle Fruit Dip and Orange Fig Jam (to be served with bread or cheese) at your service!


And if a delicious orangey flavored bread is what you are seeking, check out this recipe for Orange Honey Flavored Cornbread! Yum! … But don't forget the Sweet Orange Butter to go on top!

Now, it's time for dinner! :)


My go-to would probably be the delightful Orange Chicken, but I thought I'd search out other options as well. (Do you have any idea how many orange chicken pins there are on pinterest?!?) Non-orange chicken dishes I found included yummy Orange Sticky Finger Ribs, and, for all you vegetarians out there, consider making a Honey Orange Vinaigrette to go on a refreshing salad.

While I'm partial to rice and broccoli, I did find a few surprisingly unique side ideas for you orange fans out there.


Consider Orange Sweet Potatoes or Citrus Rice to change up your dinner routine and surprise your family.

Before everyone goes their separate ways, take some time to savor a delicious dessert


made up of Easy Glazed Orange Bundt Cake and Homemade Orange Sherbet Ice Cream.

Is that a good day?

I think so. :)

What are some of your favorite orange-flavored recipes? Will you be trying any of these delicious treats? … Have I convinced you to go buy a case of oranges? :)


* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's
August Break. Today's post was written with the word "orange" in mind (day 26).

So You Think You Can Ride In My Car??

Photo credit: chintermeyer via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

Last fall, almost a year ago to the day, Justin and I had to go car shopping. My car was, according to my boss, dead to her.

It made sense, really. My car had given me problems three times in two weeks; of course it was either me or the car on the chopping block.

Practically sobbing (or at least considering it), my husband and I walked into Suntrust Bank and applied for a car loan.

"How much is the car you are looking at?" the man at the desk asked.

"Uh…" Justin and I looked at each other. We hadn't seen a single car yet. We didn't know what our budget was (although we had an idea) and frankly, I simply didn't want to go car shopping. We were close to having our credit cards completely paid off and our next focus would be student loans. All of the student loans (which, of course, we were already diligently making extra payments to). We didn't need a car loan on top of all that!

We came up with a number that the Suntrust guy plugged in. He told us that we would know something by Monday which was code for "you were denied". Frustrated and confused, we walked away.

Our only remaining option was to go through the car dealership once we found a car we liked.

And we did. And they gave us credit. At a very good rate.

But the point of this story is not how much Suntrust sucks. (And it does.) The point is: I didn't want to spend money. I didn't want a loan. I didn't actually want a new car. But if I didn't get one and had another car problem, I'd lose my job. So decisions had to be made and money had to be spent. I didn't have a choice. #FirstWorldProblems?

We bought a used 2014 Mazda 6 with 15,000 miles (and leather, powered seats!) for the same price as the dealership was selling a 30,000 mile more beat up version of the same car. Good deal? Decide for yourself. For me, it was a solution to a problem. It meant more debt, but it also meant I could keep my job. Can you really put a price on keeping your job? (I'm sure you can, but that's not an issue for today's post.)

I won't even tell you how much hot tea was consumed before my first day back at work. I had to control my nerves as I drove a new-to-me car that wasn't yet paid off at highway speeds.

With all of that (the money spent, my anxiety about driving the car) in mind, I wanted to keep the vehicle in as good of condition as possible for as long as possible, so I created a few rules. :)

Photo credit: Mike Hiran Photography via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

1. No food or drink in the car. Ever. Unless I say it's ok.

Long seven hour drives to Myrtle Beach that begin at 6pm at night? Ok, Starbucks coffee is fine. For the driver. Just don't keep me up when we get to the hotel! And I will have your head if you spill it!

Picking up food to bring home? Okay… but no eating in the car! And maybe if we put the food in the trunk my car won't actually smell like the food. Plus, we can leave the windows open in the garage and let the car air out overnight. :)

2. Don't put your feet on the back of the driver's or passenger's seats!

This isn't such a big deal for grown-up backseaters, but kids seem to love doing this. I always end up with mud everywhere. *sigh* And the more I remind them, the more they forget. I swear they just want to drive me insane. And this is when I tell their mom, "you are why I can't have nice things!" ;)

3. If driving my car, don't follow other vehicles too closely.

I don't like the idea of pebbles being knocked up and into my windshield. And what happens if the other driver comes to a stop very quickly and you don't respond as fast? NO.

4. Brake nicely.

The harder you brake, the easier and faster the car brakes wear. I like it when my brakes stop just by barely touching them. Have a soft foot and I will like you (the driver) much better! (And perhaps allow you to drive my vehicle again at another time. But don't count on it!)

5. My car must be waxed with black wax.

It's a black car and shows absolutely everything! I was so frustrated and humiliated to already see knicks on my beautiful, brand-new (to me) car. Luckily, black wax fixes all of the problems. Yay!

6. Going to the beach? Car must be washed immediately upon returning!

Rust for the no!

7. Not so much a rule, but my father found plastic mats to put over the backseat carpet mats. The idea being that the plastic would help me keep the carpet clean longer and prevent any nasty stains from kids shoes setting in. Unfortunately, the plastic mats are a bit too small and move around enabling the kids to place their nasty shoes on my clean carpet. See #2.

8. I also temporarily considered putting a sheet over my backseat. You should try getting sunscreen out of leather. 😳

9. As another preventative measure, I bought seat gap fillers to fit in between the front seats and console. I was hopeful that we would keep any debris from falling between the seats and getting lost in the car abyss. Plus, I dropped one too many things between the seat and console in the first week I had the car and got aggravated; in some cars it is easy to find lost items, but this car is not one of those.

10. And to get my list to number 10, my husband adds "No peach milkshakes from Chick-fil-A. EVER."

In our last car, literally every time we ever got a peach milkshake, it spilled. In the car. EVERY TIME. We could be as careful as ever and it would still find a way of toppling over. Or the cup would break. Or something.
So, no peach milkshakes. EVER.

Have you ever been really particular about something new you've bought? A new car, a new sweater, a new phone, or anything else? Have you ever tried desperately to save your new item from mishaps only to have those mishaps find whatever it is you are trying to protect? Share! I'd love to hear!


And if you're up for it, join in and create your own list for #TopTenThursday! Then link-up at Tamara Gerber's (Confessions of a Part Time Mom). She posts a new challenge every week. Try it; you might like it! :)

* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's August Break. Today's post was written with the word "peaceful" in mind (day 25). In other words, break my rules, and I will not be at peace with you! :)

France Travel Emotions A-Z

Having just returned from a French vacation almost a month ago, I decided to put together a list of emotions and stories experienced from that trip. It's my way of summarizing my vacation – the good, the bad, and the ugly. :) Of course, in the future I will go further into detail, but for now I thought listing my emotions and experiences A-Z style could be fun. Call it a throwback to A-Z April, if you will. :)

Plouha, July 2016

A – anxiety.

Stubbed toe. It hurt. I had to sit down, so that I wouldn't faint. But no big deal, right? A stubbed toe? Seriously?

Two hours later, toe starts turning blue. Share my concern with the hubby. I over-react to everything. He pokes at the toe, decides it's not broken. We move on.

Another hour later, a friend notices my blue toe. She asks "Is it broken?" I tell her no, using all of my inner-strength to believe what it was my husband said. The toe is turning more and more blue/purple as the day goes on, and it's really starting to worry me. But it's not broken. It can't be.

At the end of the day, the only other person we are traveling with, the same guy that made fun of me for being in pain over my blue toe earlier (jerk!), asks if it's broken. The toe is now almost completely blue/purple.

That's it. I lose it. Any inner-strength I had? Gone. And I know I'm over-reacting. I feel sick to my stomach and like I'm going to faint. Maybe Justin is wrong; maybe my toe is broken. It's not like Justin is a doctor…

Friend realizes his mistake. Says to drink wine and eat sweets. Is that anything like being told to take a bath? (In my experience, all men say "take a bath" if they think a woman is stressed out. Like that really helps! Psh!)

Either way, I can't consume a single thing more. And there is no tub. I'm worried and can't gain control of my mind, so I google.

Nothing good ever happens when you google (in situations like this).

Google says that blue toes are never just blue toes. If your toe has turned blue from being stubbed, it's losing oxygen and you need to visit the emergency room stat! If you don't, you will lose a toe.

Luckily, Google was wrong. I didn't lose a toe.

But I did deal with anxiety. Thanks Google. :(

B – burned.

I put sunscreen on, but I mistakenly put on too thin of a layer. End result? sunburn. Woot. Luckily it didn't hurt. I was just very rosy for a bit. Then brown. Eh. Could be worse. :)

Mont Saint-Michel, July 2016

C – curious.

Isn't that always how you feel on trips to new and exciting places?

D – disgruntled by the music on the radio in France.

I heard DNCE's "Cake By the Ocean Floor" only once during my entire trip! And it was just starting as we were getting out of the car. :(

Instead I got to hear Imany's "Don't Be So Shy" over. and over. and over again. Is that song even played on US radio stations? It doesn't seem upbeat or G-rated enough. :-/

E – excited.

Our trip to France to see the Bastille Day fireworks and French beaches (with friends) was a dream come true. It was nearly everything I could ever want all wrapped up in a vacation. I was thrilled to be going, and the trip (once there) didn't disappoint. :) I'd happily go back and relive it, if that was even a possibility.

F – fickle.

Of course I was picky during this trip. When am I not? … But when someone says "you're picky", you start to wonder what they mean. Was it said as an insult? Or … not?

I see "picky" in two different ways:

1. Not being open to new experiences. Closed off. Living a sad, sad life.

2. Choosing very specific experiences. Getting the best that life has to offer and not settling for anything less. Choose your own adventure, if you will?

I like to think of myself as someone from the second category. I may not try everything, but I tend to make good, well-informed decisions when I do.

G – grasping.

At the end of day one in France, I was exhausted. A combination of jet lag and waking up early was settling in. But! I couldn't go to sleep. I had to wait on the Bastille Day fireworks! That was our main reason for coming to France in the first place. :)

Feeling like a rag doll due to my immense exhaustion, I pulled a chair over to our hotel room balcony, in which we could see the Eiffel Tower from. Positioning the chair sideways, I leaned against the back of the chair with my knees to my chest, my head resting between my knees and the back of the chair and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. It was the perfect position for a very tired me to watch the fireworks from.

I was definitely grasping for energy though.

As soon as the fireworks ended, I made a beeline to the bed where, fully clothed, I laid down and fell asleep. Almost immediately.

It was comforting to be surrounded by so much magic and beauty. It was, as almost all good experiences are, like the childhood magic of going to Disney World, but in real life and not dressed up as a theme park. Truthfully, I cannot imagine a more perfect way for us to have ended our first full day in France. (Except that there were a lot of those while we were on vacation. I did a good job planning!)

H – hot.

And not in the sexy way.

More in the I left 90ºF weather so that I would be cooler in 70º weather, so why am I sweating like a pig? way.

Seriously. Why?


Île-de-Bréhat, July 2016

I – informal.

When I was packing, I was trying to keep my luggage minimal and only pack what I actually thought I would use/wear. Remembering past experiences, I decided against packing heeled shoes. My first time in Paris wearing heals left me with blisters and practically falling all over myself due to the cobblestone roads we found ourselves on. And traveling with friends? Well, they never take time to change for dinner. Plus, we were going to be in a beach town. Surely flip flops with a dress can't be too uncommon, right?

Well, it is. Sorta.

Even if Europeans go trampsing around in their birthday suits on the beach, they actually seem to care about their footwear in public. Argh.

J – jolted into real life.

While in the train station waiting to head toward Brittany, France, Justin ordered, in French, a quick lunch for us to take on the train. As he walked away from the sandwich stand, a glass bottle of fruit nectar fell out of his bag hitting the ground and breaking. As he went to clean it up, the lady at the sandwich counter tried to be friendly and helpful, but when she realized neither of us actually spoke French she gave up, exclaiming, in English: "You're in France! Speak French!"

That is the first experience I have ever had where someone has actually gotten angry with us for not knowing their native language.

Yes, I agree that I should learn French. That was never a question. But the truth of the matter is, I went into this experience without any expectation that she could speak English. I wasn't asking her to revert to my way or my culture, I was just (we were just) doing the best we could to respect her culture and way of life with the little bit of knowledge that we did have.

From that experience, I could see and understand why Americans think the French are rude.

Overall, I still think that, for the most part, the French are wonderful. Kind, generous, sweet. I don't speak enough French to know when or if they are talking bad about me, so I just go on by the way they treat me. A waiter going out of his way to give me the WiFi password is in no way rude or condescending. People offering to speak English to us and give us directions when we are lost is also very nice.

Of course, it only takes a few "bad apples" to give the French their reputation. Either way, I will continue to return to France and Paris. I have experienced far too much "good" there to consider otherwise. :)

K – kind.

Justin says this is what I was when I called my grandfather to wish him a happy birthday from France.

And it must be true, because I really had no interest whatsoever in calling anyone. I never do.

L – laid-back.

When traveling with friends, you have to take on a laid-back approach. There may be a few things on your must-do list (see the beach, watch the Bastille Day fireworks), but the trip is not entirely your own to control. If your friends pick out a crazy red and green apartment from AirBnb, unless you have any true objections, go along with it; why not? It may be better than it looks. Besides, who cares where you lay your head at night?! (Unless there isn't any air conditioning…)


Gardens of Versailles, July 2016

M – magical.

That moment when I saw the sunset over the gardens of Versailles for the first time. :) It's like being a kid and spotting Mickey at Disney World, only much, much prettier. Definitely worth getting a glass of expensive French champagne to celebrate the moment. :)

N – nervous.

We were traveling with friends. And those friends just happened to have car trouble. So one decided to take the car to the shop while the rest of us went exploring.

In my experience, that's just not what you do.

When you travel with others, you stay with them. Through thick and thin. Going to get the car fixed or shopping for wedding gifts that no one took the time to get before traveling.

So when it was suggested that we part ways, my mind was blown. How will we meet up again? How do you explain where you are?

Turns out there is a button on Whatsapp where you can share your location.

Aren't you glad I told you? ;)

July 2016

O – orderly.

That's what it felt like packing for this trip.

Of course we used our packing cubes, but we also used ziplocks for toiletries. And each necklace had to be separated so that it wouldn't tangle with any of the others. Putting together our luggage was like putting together a puzzle.

And we did it again and again and again as we went from hotel to hotel to hotel. It's especially crazy when you start adding in souveniers. You have to actually work at not forgetting anything.

P – private.

That moment when you say "It's a long story…" and your husband, in front of your friends, is like "we have time." Argh. :( The whole reason I said that it was a long story was because I didn't want to tell it. Duh. ;)

Q – questioning.

Any time our European friends suggested doing something that isn't typical of America, I felt "questioning" and confused. "Why are we doing this? It makes no sense…" Until it does. I feel like there are a lot of European "quirks" that I would miss out on, or overlook altogether, if there wasn't someone from the EU there with me showing me the way.

R – restless.

I'm used to sleeping in a temperature controlled 68ºF climate, so when Justin and I found ourselves in a different non-temperature controlled climate with hard beds, sleep was a bit more fitful. (Not that soft beds would have aided in that experience.) I temporarily considered sticking my pillow case in the freezer before going to bed. :) How do people live without AC?!!

On the upside, it meant our days started earlier. No one likes to waste a good vacation day. :)

Gardens of Versailles, July 2016

S – spoiled.

That moment when you teasingly ask for two pieces of ice (out of five) and get it while everyone else only gets one. :)

Or when you suggest going to the Palace of Versailles to see fireworks and your husband is on board.

For that matter, getting to visit France for your birthday.

Yes, I'm spoiled.

#BestHusbandEver #BestFriendsEver #BestLifeEver :)

T – tasty.

Red sauce. Mmmm…

At one of the restaurants we went to, we ordered a crépe with ice cream, peaches, and "red sauce"; it was amazing. Probably the most unique thing I tried in France, this time.

I also was surprised when I ordered an omelet with fries for lunch. It was the fluffiest omelet I have ever had. And since I'm not a huge fan of eggs, it was surprisingly delicious too.

French food is the best.

U – under pressure.

As soon as we had an idea about when to travel to France in our head, I went from having hardly any work to having my days filled to the brim with activity. I had been asking my boss for a schedule for weeks, and she gave it to me right as I'm picking travel dates and figuring out flights. And that schedule? It didn't provide for any travel research time… So I was stressed. Thankfully I'm married to an awesome guy who keeps my head on straight even when I feel like I'm about to lose it. I planned what I could, in detail, and left the rest to fate.

And it worked out! So yay!

Mont Saint-Michel, July 2016

V – volatile.

Me = always assuming the worst.

So when someone says "Yes, I want to travel with you. I'm doing X, Y, and Z; you can join me or not" I get defensive. I'm thinking But you said you wanted to travel with me? How is it fair that you get to choose all of the activities and I get to choose none? Furthermore, if we are traveling together, shouldn't we do activities together?

So, I respond something along the lines of: "we don't have to travel together if you don't want to…"

And the response I get back is "I do want to travel together; why don't you understand me?!" (or something like that.)

lol.

And so my emotions were up and down and up and down again.

Language and translation is confusing. Especially when you are me and always assume people think the worst of you.

W – weary.

Up until the last day, I had the "I'll sleep when I'm dead!" mentality. I was excited to get up every morning and go on a walk with the hubby to get bread from the bakery. What would they have today? Then, we would go and go and go… I'd read in the car, because how else can you get through a 700+ page book on vacation? Destinations would be hot and miserable, even at 70ºF. There would be walking, climbing, exploring, and picturing.

By the time it came time to board the plane for our return home, I was legit weary. Before the plane even took off, I fell asleep, unable to keep my eyes open one second longer. My husband had to wake me for meal-time. Luckily, we arrived home at 8PM, so I went from sleeping on the plane to sleeping in my bed. It was a great way to end a very active trip! :)

Ploumanac'h Lighthouse, July 2016

X – xoxo.

Buying souvenirs for my nephew. <3.

Getting an extra ice cube in my water. (This was a big deal for me!)

Having unique dinner options prepared just for me.

Getting hugs and hearing words of encouragement from my husband after a stressful work text. <3.

God preparing beautiful sunsets to end my day(s) with. :)

Y – young.

Playing at Le Village Gaulois, an African village based on the children's comic Asterix and Obelix, was one of the more childish things we did in France. And yet, even so, it gave Justin and I a keen awareness of the differences between childhood in France and the US. We got to explore, play, and have fun. And at the end of the day, we were probably better for having had the experience. Nothing brings out the curiosity in a person, which is useful to have when traveling, like childhood play. :)

Z – zealous.

That's how I felt knowing I would get to see the beautiful French beaches. While I was worried about not having as much time to plan as I would have liked, I knew that we would have fun no matter what. And truthfully, no American beach (that I've seen) comes close to the loveliness found on the French coast.

So that was our trip to France and the 26 emotions/memories I have associated with it. During travels, have you experienced some of the same emotions (excited, anxious, weary)? Would you ever consider summarizing a trip in this way?

Souveniers

Justin and I aren't big on souvenirs. Typically we carry far too much with us going, and weak me resists any temptation to add to that weight on returning. As hopeful-minimalists, we try to keep the souvenir purchases to a minimum, but there is one type of item that I simply can't resist getting my hands on.

Books. :)

I love the idea of buying books in different languages because they are "unique" and "different". These "other languaged" books are hard to find at home, and I like that they encourage myself, my husband, and my nephew (proud aunt!) to grow in our language learning skills.

During our last trip to France, my husband and I picked out the following four books for my nephew, who is about to turn 1. The books all use really simple, repetitive language and offer different textures on the pages for kids to feel, keeping their interest for all five pages. I love that the books are hardback with stiff pages, perfect for the age when child-chewing is at it's peak. My one wish is that these books came with audio cds or .mp3s so that American children, like my nephew, would be able to learn the correct pronunciations for the French words, something that even I (an adult) am finding difficult with while following along with Coffee Break French.

Où est mon hamster ? by Fiona Watt & Rachel Wells

Où est mon chaton ? by Fiona Watt

Où est mon monstre ? by Fiona Watt & Rachel Wells

Où est mon cochon ? by Fiona Watt & Rachel Wells

Meanwhile, my husband and I have been attempting to work our way through Le grand manuel du pâtissier. It's a French pastry book providing lots of pictures to aid us in our translation. So far, the only recipe we have actually worked our way through has been Madeleines, which ended in disaster. :( We anticipate continuing forth in our effort to learn French and French cooking, but currently travels have kept us out of the kitchen and struggling to keep with life. We anticipate future French cooking attempts to turn out much better (especially with Madeleines) since we now know better what we are doing. :)

Le grand manuel du pâtissier
by Mélanie Dupuis & Anne Cazor
Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to mention a few German books we got our hands on before our trip to Germany ended last January.

Hörst du das? Die Ritter

Der Maulwurf und der Fisch by Katrina Miler

Die Ritter seems easy enough in a complicated way. The buttons on the right make sounds that allow one to easily skim through the page while still getting an idea of what is going on, even without any German language background. Obviously reading this may be a bit too complicated for a non-German speaking mom, but it should be easy enough for German-language exposed aunts and uncles to help their nephew get through. :) Worst case scenario, we can just make guesses at what we think words mean. Usually that's good enough. :)

Der Maulwurf, on the other hand, definitely seems intense mit vielen Sätze (with many sentences) filling up each page; however, we had to get the book since Der Maulwurf is a well-known children's cartoon character in Germany, or so we were told. :) We also got a train set, with the characters from the children's series, that our nephew has already figured out! I guess some things come more naturally to children than others. ;)

Das Kochbuch Schwäbisch Hall

My husband and I picked up Das Kochbuch Schwäbisch Hall, for ourselves, of which we've only used once thus far. We made spätzle with the book, and nasty-tasting spätzle at that. Perhaps our future cooking endeavors will be more fruitful since I am a bit picky when it comes to spätzle, even without the German language completely throwing us off.

While Justin and I haven't had the most success getting through these books that have weighed down our luggage and added to our travel stress, I love having books in my home that encourage reading, learning, and cooking. I'm grateful for the experiences traveling that have enabled me to bring these books into my home, and I look forward to sharing what I learn through the use of these books with my nephew, family, and friends.

Do you have a favorite type of souvenir to bring home when you travel? Do you think I'm crazy to purchase books in languages I'm not fluent in? ;)

* I'm participating in Susannah Conway's August Break. Today's post was written with "squares" (or rectangles?) in mind (day 22).