Author: Kimberlee Koehn

Hello, my name is Kimberlee. Yes, there are two E’s, let’s not get into it. I love traveling, writing, hiking and sweet potatoes. We can go ahead and be friends now.

31 Good Things that Happened in July

Hello and welcome back to another edition of All the Good Things, a monthly series where I highlight all the good things (get it?) that happen in each 30-day (or so) span. I hope it can be a reminder that amongst all the well known bad, there is a lot of undercover good happening in our world.

Let’s dive right in

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1) Gwendolyn Christie submitted herself for an Emmy—and got nominated

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2) This police department accepted animal shelter donations instead of cash for parking ticket payments

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3) Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw’s son Charlie made the most of his time at the MLB All Star Game

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4) This South Korean water polo team celebrated their first goal

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5) People in Ethiopia planted over 350 million trees

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6) Netflix announced it will remove all forms of smoking in its original programs rated TV-14 or lower

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7) This man sent a heartfelt text on his wedding day

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8) This girl found a…familiar dog?

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9) Miss Virginia 2019, a biochemist, was crowned after doing a science experiment

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10) This incredible paper airplane took flight

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11) The first trailer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood came out

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12) The Be My Eyes app allowed volunteers to help the visually impaired

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13) This duet:

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14) These kids wrote their dad an incredible obituary

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15) France started forcing it’s grocery stores to donate their leftover food rather than throw it away

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16) This 12 year old made bow ties for dogs in animal shelters

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17) This man turned a bus stop into a full blown experience

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18) This man caught a wave

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19) These brothers started a candle company and donate some of their profits to the homeless

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20) Lizzo dominated this tiny desk concert

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21) US federal agencies pledged to go paperless by 2022

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22) This dog joined in

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23) New Hampshire passed a bill to offer free period products to students

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24) This carpenter used his life savings to send 33 strangers to college

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25) This Seattle Mariner shortshop made an incredible throw

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26) This dog tried his best to “shake”

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27) This noise sensitive student got a silent standing ovation

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28) This dad was sent on an errand by his daughter

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29) Stranger Things actor Dacre Montgomery shared this inspiration Instagram post

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When I was a kid, I was lost. I had a really tough time in school. I was a big kid who loved drama. I never got passing grades, I wasn’t popular or a gifted sports player. Girls were never interested in me. I suffered from anxiety from a young age. I was distracted and I wasn’t focused. But I had a dream, I was lucky – I knew what I wanted to do. And every night I went home and I focused on THAT. I visualised a future where my dreams became a reality. When I was 15 I failed my high school drama exams. When I was 16 I was told I needed to loose weight. When I was 17 I was told I should go to drama school and train. When I was 18 I was fired from my job. When I was in drama school I was told to leave. When I had a DREAM – I was told it wasn’t achievable. Well, you know what…. I lost weight, I went to drama school and I never stopped wanting it, I never stopped being curious. I never let the failures get me down. Because I believed in myself and I never let anyone tell me otherwise. You can do anything you set your mind to. So, go out there and get it!

A post shared by Dacre Montgomery (@dacremontgomery) on

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30) Olympic hopeful, Heptathlete Chari Hawkins, shared some inspirational words

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31) And this cat napped hard

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Wanna know the best part? There is SO much I didn’t include.

I can’t wait to see what August brings!

You can view the last edition of this series here.

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My Brother’s 21st Birthday in Vegas

Last Monday my little brother turned 21 years old. To celebrate, we did what many have done before us: go to Vegas. While the idea wasn’t necessarily original, we were determined to make the weekend one of a kind.

So, on Friday afternoon, as our navigation finally ticked down to those last final miles and we saw the strip come into view, we sat up in our seats and got ready to kick this thing off right. How, you might ask? By hurling axes.

Okay, technically throwing axes, but when you’re handed an axe and the freedom to launch it at a target, you dig deep and channel any dormant rage that might have been previously unaddressed, you take the recommended lunging step, and you hurl the damn thing.

After an hour of therapy axe throwing, we made our way to our hotel for the weekend: the Palazzo.

Three quick notes on the Palazzo

  • A beautiful hotel with luxurious suites that make you feel wealthy—and include buttons that make the curtains open and close so when you jump and clap you are reminded that you are not.
  • It’s located towards the end of one side of the strip so many of the other hotels are a bit of a walk, which can be good and bad. Good because you get your exercise in and walk your alcohol off, and bad because your bed is so far on your walk back at three in the morning.
  • Did I mention the curtain buttons?

Being his very first time in Vegas, we thought the best way to introduce Troy into its universe was to give him the chance to lose some money. So after dropping off our bags we headed down to the casino to teach him how to do just that.

He learned that slot machines are not something you understand, just buttons you push and cheer when they light up; he learned that sometimes machines speak to you and sometimes losing is inevitable; and he learned that drinks in the casino are free. (That last one really floored him)IMG_2471

That night, after a quick and easy dinner from the food court, the six of us freshened up and got dressed for our first evening out in Vegas. Troy’s outfit was the easiest, because it was assigned to him: a white t-shirt that said “It’s my 21st Birthday!” on one side, and “SIGN ME!” on the other.

Call back to what could have been a great joke: his outfit was asSIGNed to him.

Moving on.

If you ever go to Vegas for a birthday, bachelor/bachelorette party, or any other specific celebration, I highly recommend this T-shirt experience. Not only does it take away the responsibility of choosing what to wear, it also gives you the opportunity to meet and interact with a wide variety of people. Also, is there a better social experiment than seeing what people decide to write when handed a sharpie by a stranger? No. No there is not. By the end of the weekend, Troy’s shirt was adorned with advice, names, questionable drawings, and just plain incredible one-liners.

Troy’s 2nd assignment of the weekend was bingo.

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My cousin Spenser made this card with tasks that Troy had to complete in order for each square to be crossed off and ultimately create bingos. In the event of a bingo, someone had to take a shot. Some of my personal favorites to witness were “do the Captain Morgan pose for 1 minute”, which resulted in some very confused looks from the passerby, “get a picture with a fellow ginger”, which was completed when we ran into a group of incredibly welcoming Irish people, and “get a blackjack”, which Troy managed to complete in three hands at the blackjack table.

While not included on the bingo card, we also made sure to get Troy a Fat Tuesday, just so he could say he’s had one, and he diligently carried it around for the remainder of the night.

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When Troy was in Kindergarten, his class had a stuffed animal named Ruby the Rhinoceros and each week one of the kids got a chance to take Ruby home. Throughout the week, the kids would document all the adventures they took with Ruby and then bring her back and show the class. As we walked around Vegas and I saw Troy carry that Fat Tuesday, I thought of Ruby. I thought about Troy taking his Fat Tuesday back to class on Monday and telling everyone about the hotels they toured together. About the casinos and showgirls and drunk guys yelling, “WOOO” for no reason. About O’Shea’s bar where we played beer pong. Or the slot machine where Troy won most of his money back and two strangers came up and high fived him. What a show and tell that would be, huh?

Anyways.

Around 4:00 a.m. we turned in for the night (morning?) and if I remember correctly, my last words before falling asleep were, “I can’t wait to eat tomorrow!” So clearly our priorities were still firmly in tact.

At 11:30 a.m. the next same morning, we sat down to eat at the MGM Grand Buffet. I for one felt like I could have eaten the table, but I didn’t because French toast was also an option. We hung out, ate, and talked about the comparative size of the human brain and the human heart while sipping mimosas, as you do, and then we made our way over to Top Golf.

Since it was almost 1:00 p.m. and a ripe 108 degrees, the wait for a bay at Top Golf was only 30 minutes, so we put our name in and walked over to the bar area, where we came across a beer pong table. Cut into a hexagonal shape, there were six beer pong pyramids that would allow three games of one-on-one beer pong to be played. We could have done that. However, being the true innovators we are, we invented what will now forever be known as Assassination Beer Pong, in which all six players compete at once. Look for it on shelves soon—and when you find it let us know so we can sue for copyright.

Once our bay was ready, we played an hour and a half of golf. And while we probably won’t be competing at The Masters anytime soon, the free birthday donuts Troy was comped were, dare I say, a hole in one. #golfjokes.

We spent the rest of the afternoon gambling and snacking, and then around 8:30 p.m. we sat down at Beer Park, a rooftop bar and grill where we ate burgers, played Uno and watched UFC Fight Night—a very strange yet fulfilling combination.

From there we headed to the minus5 Ice experience at the Venetian, where we were given parkas and gloves and led into a (literally) freezing room with tables, benches, and thrones all made of ice. We ordered drinks that came in cups made of ice, and Troy did a luge shot that involved him sucking the alcohol through a straw as it traversed down at block of ice. It is a small room, but the experience is what you make it. We had an absolute blast, and my cousin Amanda and I tried our hand at on site reporting, which we’re assuming will get us an audition for ABC.

That night, after a doing a few more rounds in the casino at our hotel, most of us were ready to turn in. But with only a handful of squares left on his bingo sheet, Troy and Spenser headed to Caesar’s Palace. When they arrived at our hotel room only a short while later, we were surprised, but not nearly as surprised as when we heard that Troy’s bingo sheet had gotten them kicked out of Caesar’s! In what appeared to be a case of a grumpy security guard, Troy was able to cross off a bingo square we didn’t even know he’d need.

As we loaded up the car the next day, we all had that familiar Sunday in Vegas feeling: tired, but chock full of new stories to tell. I can only hope we’re still telling them years from now—most likely arguing and embellishing and interrupting each other with finite details, but always in the end, being able to sum it up with five lasting words: it was a good weekend.

BAWAGA: A New Mindset

I talk a lot about inspiration on this blog. Whether it be my own ideas, lessons I’ve learned from others, or words and phrases I’ve picked up anywhere and everywhere else. I’ve talked about mantras and mottos that carry me through rougher days (i.e. It’s Not Time to Worry Yet and Just Live the Day) and I’ve talked about mindsets that motivate me to push myself forward (i.e. Shout Your Strong and Opening the BIFC Door)

Today, I bring you yet another mindset, that comes straight from the first baseline of Dodger Stadium.

It was a hot afternoon in May and a small group of us were there to see the Dodgers play the Mets. Seated in field level seats right next to the foul pole, we were very close to Dodgers’ right fielder, Cody Bellinger, who, in case you haven’t heard, is having the season of his life.

“He’s such a badass,” my sister said as he warmed up after hitting another homerun.

“You might even say he’s…a badass with a great ass.

Badass with a great ass. (BAWAGA, if you will)

Obvious thirst aside, this stuck with me. Not necessarily as a quality we should give to others (sorry, Cody), but as a mindset we should take on for ourselves.

Let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to like—let alone love—ourselves all at once. For me personally, I have moments of love, sparks of that hey, I dig that about myself, but very rarely (if ever) am I walking around thinking, “man I love my brain and my spirit and my body, I am just the total package.”

But what if I did? What if we did?

What if we pursued that total self-acceptance on a daily basis? What if we woke up thinking and believing, I am a badass with a great ass, I can do anything and then went about our day? How would that change the way we viewed our world? How would it change the way we treated others? How would it change the way we approached obstacles?

For athletes like Cody Bellinger, they need to take the field with a BAWAGA mindset, even on days when they don’t feel like it. If they don’t, they leave room for both doubt and the confidence of all of the other players to stand in front of them. And when all of that is blurring your vision, it’s impossible to play to the best of your ability because you don’t believe it exists.

The same goes for us regular (non-professional baseball playing, MLB record breaking) humans. We all have the ability to “play” at our best ability, but first we need to believe that our best exists. We need to go into each day with positivity and motivation and we need to look in the mirror with love and admiration. We need to appreciate all sides of ourselves—including the backside ayyyy—and remind ourselves that we can do anything. Why? Because we’re badasses. And not only that, we’re badasses with great asses.

Is it corny? Yes.

Is it cringy?  A little.

But does it secretly motivate me to go out there and kick some ass? Sure does.

21 Things to Tell My Brother on His 21st Birthday

In an unbelievable turn of events, my little brother turns 21 today.

What.

I mean…

WHAT.

It’s going to be weird forever, especially when July 2078 comes around and he turns 80 and I will once again say, “WAIT, WHAT?”

21 is a milestone in everyone’s (or at least every American’s) life and I’m so excited to get to celebrate it. It means he’s moving into a new chapter that will hold brand new and exciting adventures.

So as we move towards those exciting adventures, little brother, I just wanted to give you a few pieces of advice that I picked up both on my way towards and in my time since turning 21. I can only hope they bring you the motivation and encouragement they’ve brought me, and that they send you into this new year feeling full.

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1) Don’t be afraid to be afraid—that fear moves you forward.

2) You don’t have to know the ending when you’re still in the middle.

3) Helping people helps you.

4) Your time will come, just be patient and keep working hard.

5) Don’t ignore opportunities that look different than your expectations.

6) Sometimes all you can ask of yourself is small steps forward.

7) Never stop pursuing the new.

8) It’s never too late to find a new hobby.

9) People will always judge you no matter what, so you might as well be yourself.

10) Your life matters more than you could ever realize.

11) You always have more blessings than you think.

12) Give every day the opportunity to be great.

13) It’s okay to have bad days.

14) Don’t be afraid to push your limits and don’t let yourself be pressured to ignore them.

15) Always. Keep. Trying.

16) When you take the time to really get to know yourself it’s easier to introduce that person to other people.

17) When you love yourself it’s even easier.

18) You are capable of great things.

19) You deserve great things.

20) One of your greatest responsibilities in your life is to fail and make mistakes.

21) You are completely and totally loved.

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Love you, and happy birthday! heavy-black-heart_2764

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10 Easy Ways to Learn Something New Every Day

If you are like me, you love learning. You love dropping fun facts and (as subtly as possible) saying look what I can do! And while 12 years of grade school might have given us somewhat of a distaste for the long winded, multiple choice kind of learning, these days it doesn’t take much for us to learn something new. Oftentimes it will just find us in the middle of an average day and that little light will go on in our heads saying, hey, I didn’t know that!

Call me a nerd but that is a rush.

I love that feeling so much that I actively try to learn something new every day—as many times a day as possible. Any little tidbit of new information I can find, I grab it and hold on tight, and then wait for the perfect opportunity to say, “did you know…” to my friends and family.

So, if you can relate to any of that, or if you’re just curious what kind of information I’m consuming on a daily basis in an attempt to turn my brain into its own Mary Poppins’ bag, here are 10 easy ways to learn something new every day:

 

1) Subscribe to a podcast

I went on my podcast app and counted, I am subscribed to 32 podcasts. THIRTY-TWO. Is this extreme? Am I an addict? Don’t answer that. I love all of my podcasts and I listen to (not all of) them every day. They cover just about every topic in the book, making it easy and fun to learn about a little bit of everything. Some of my favorites include: Ear Hustle, Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet, and Heavyweight

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2) Click on the Google logo

You know how Google often has those decorative versions of their logo on their homepage? Did you know that if you click on those you can learn about the historical icon or event they are honoring? Talk about easy access to fun facts.

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3) Subscribe to an e-newsletter

There is so much information on the Internet, both good and bad, so it’s nice to have someone else wade through it and give you the highlights. I’ve bounced around between newsletters, trying to find one that best fits what I’m looking for and right now my favorite is Next Draft. An email is sent every weekday after lunch and it is organized into ten bullet points of both important current information and interesting articles you might not have read otherwise.

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4) Watch a documentary (on Netflix, Hulu, or even YouTube)

I know, I know, we all have good intentions when we scroll through and add documentaries to our queues, and we all promise to watch them next time because we’re just not in the mood right now. But I encourage you to take a chance on one when you’re looking for something to watch. There is so much good stuff out there! Some of my favorites include: Evil Genius on Netflix, Three Identical Strangers on Hulu, and You’re Not Allowed to Die Here on YouTube.

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5) Go outside

I know this sounds obvious, but there’s no denying it. Our houses and apartments and dorms are wonderful and cozy and safe but there is so much to see and learn when we get outside! Just the other day a group of friends and I walked out to look at the moon and someone held their hand up and said, “did you know that if you can cup the moon in your right hand it’s a waxing moon and if you can cup it with your left it’s a waning moon.” No, I did not know that. But will I now drop it in any conversation about the moon? You’re damn right I will.

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6) Look up a new recipe

One of my favorite things to do is cook, and I love looking up recipes that I can put together with things I find in my fridge. Lucky for us, the Internet is CHOCK-FULL of recipes thanks to all of the wonderful food bloggers of the world. From breakfasts to desserts to gluten free tea party recipes, there is something for every occasion, just waiting for you to dive in.

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7) Download a language learning app

Learning a new language, or at the very least becoming familiar with key words in another language can be so valuable, both in every day life and when you travel. There are tons of apps out there that can teach you practically any language you can think of. My favorite is Duolingo, because it’s free, easy, and fun to use. Plus, an adorable owl named Duo sends me cute reminders to do my daily Spanish homework and it excites me.

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8) Take a different way home

If you do a lot of driving for work, either as part of your job or just in commuting to and from, try a new route. Turn one street early, or get off on a different exit. Expand that mental map and see where different roads lead, you never know what you’ll find along the way!

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9) Ask questions

Whenever you think to yourself, “I wonder how…” or “what is that?” or “when was..” pursue those answers. I can’t tell you how often I ask a question out loud and then immediately Google it. Even if they are little, seemingly meaningless answers they are something and you never know when you might need that something in the future.

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10) Listen

This doesn’t just call for putting on your listening ears, as my mom would say. This calls for using all of your senses. Put your phone down. Pick your head up. Look around, listen up and interact with the environment around you.

17 Things that Have Inspired Me (So Far) This Year

During List-cember—a series of list based posts I do in December—I usually post a blog that lists 25 things that have inspired me throughout the year. I used to only post it once a year, but in July of last year, I realized that there is never really a wrong time to share inspirational things.

So, I’ve made it a biannual thing. And since it’s already July (lol, what?) it’s that time of year! Let’s dive on in.

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1) This 2019 game plan by @hannahbrencher

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2) This song by Maren Morris

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3) This line from the movie Unicorn Store:

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4) The Dawn Wall & Free Solo (and pretty much rock climbing in general)

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5) This #10YearChallenge post by Julianne Hough about finding your authentic self:

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6) This video by Liza Koshy that was equal parts hilarious as it was a fun celebration of peoples’ (weird, but impressive) talents:

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7) The Rise Podcast

I got into this podcast last year, but some episodes from this year have really hit me in the feels. 1200x630bb

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8) You’re a Badass by Jen Sincero

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Some of my favorite quotes from the book are:

“How you do one thing is how you do everything.”

“Put yourself out there and you never know what you might learn that will inform your next move, or whom you might meet that will present you with your next opportunity.”

“Do your best wherever you’re at.”

“Everything you do along your journey contributes to where you’re going.”

“Get to the point where you have both unwavering faith and unwavering gratitude for that which you desire.”

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9) This reminder:

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10) The 30 for 30 podcast

(Especially the episode “Six Who Sat” which got me fired up for the marathon.)

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11) The LA Marathon

I wrote an entire blog post to commemorate my experience running the LA Marathon this year and I could probably write 10 more.

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12) Jenna Marbles

She makes videos on YouTube just doing things she likes/has always wanted to try/thought might be funny, etc. and I love it! Here are two of my favorites:

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13) This:

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14) Booksmart

Namely the friendship between the two main characters and the fact that they talk to each other like this:

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15) “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

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16) The US Women’s National Soccer Team

Because, obviously.

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(Photo credit: Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

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17) This flow chart from Girl, Stop Apologizing

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Here’s to another six months of inspiration heavy-black-heart_2764

Just a Reminder that You Matter

Over the weekend, Disney Channel actor Cameron Boyce died. He was only 20 years old.

While I wasn’t familiar with all of Cameron’s work, I had seen him in Grown Ups and The Descendants series and knew he was a talented guy. When I heard of his passing, my heart went out to his family, unable to comprehend a tragedy of this magnitude. I also thought of his friends and fans and costars and I read through countless tributes and emotional farewells. Then, yesterday, I saw this video posted by his Descendants costar Dove Cameron.

Watching the video, your heart can’t help but ache. Losing someone is impossibly hard, especially someone you love. But as I listened to her describe Cameron and all of the wonderful things that made him him, and all of the reasons why the world was better because he was in it, I couldn’t help but wonder if he knew.

We spend so much time in our lives trying to better ourselves and succeed and move forward and win and improve. We focus on our flaws and our weaknesses while other people marvel at our strengths.

Dove Cameron mentions how kind Cameron was and how that kindness helped not only her, but everyone he showed it to. She talks about how much darkness he saw her through and how much light he brought into the world. More than anything, it seemed, she just wanted to express how much he mattered.

He mattered.

I hope he knew that.

And I hope you know that you matter.

You matter.

The world is a better place because you are in it. And the world would be worse without you. You are making a difference in people’s lives. You are changing people’s lives, just by being you.

You are exactly what someone needs today. You are the reason someone has that memory to smile at. You are the reason someone has the courage to do something they never thought they could.

You matter.

So be kind, love each other, and allow yourself to be loved in return. Shine your light and let the world marvel.

Goodbye Paris, Hello World (Our European Adventure: Day 10&11)

June 22nd, 2019:

It would take a long time for me to ever get used to sleeping in, yawning and looking out the window of my hotel room to see Paris, but with the warm welcome it had given us over the last two days, I looked out at the already sunny city, tipped my imaginary, bed head filled hat, and said good morning.

There were no concrete plans on the agenda today, just nine people ready to see the city and their iPhones ready to help them do it. So we set off from our hotel and walked down the streets of our new temporary neighborhood to O Coffee.

Since the group of us was so large and the restaurant was so small, we were met outside by the kind, Australian owner, who offered to take our order and prepare it for takeaway. We got five avocado toasts, four banana breads, a few coffees, a couple orange juices, and an apple juice, and then the owner threw in some madeleines for us to try. Everything was absolutely delicious and I could not recommend this place more.

As we ate, we came up with a plan:

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Starting at the Arc de Triomphe, we would walk down the Ave de Champs Elysees to do some shopping and sightseeing, and then follow the Seine River all the way up to Notre Dame. It was a three mile walk that we figured would be more like five when we added in browsing steps, but we were ready and the day was beautiful and so we finished our last bites of breakfast—and I spilled most of my apple juice—and then we were off.

The Arc de Triomphe is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Built to honor the lives lost in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, it is imposingly stunning. It is also the center of one of the scariest intersections I’ve ever seen in my life.

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The Champs Elysees reminded me of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Huge designer stores lined the street and they tempted you to come in and spend money you definitely didn’t have. At one point we walked into a Sephora that made me say, “I can’t believe we haven’t reached the back yet.” On top of that, the street was freckled with beautiful greenery, including this little patch that I actually volunteered to have my picture taken in.

The Grand Palais, while we didn’t go inside, was gorgeous and made me want to go to Rome, and the Petit Palais made us all laugh because the phrase “small palace” is one that both contradicts itself and doesn’t exist in our day-to-day vocabulary. If I ever make my way back to Paris, I will go inside these beautiful museums, but for this day, we fell in love just looking at them.

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The Pont des Artes, the “bridge of arts”, is most famously known for the love locks people used to clip to its chain link. In 2015, all of the locks were removed because they were too heavy for the bridge and were causing parts of it to crumble. This however, has not stopped people from clipping locks to other bridges. On our walk, we came across a bridge named the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, which has started to collect locks of its own.

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The Louvre was something my museum loving heart was over the moon to see in person. After seeing pictures of it and hearing references to it for my entire time as an undergraduate art student, actually finding myself in front of it’s famous pyramidal structure was pretty surreal. We didn’t go inside, but only because we decided to save that for the next morning when we could buy tickets in advanced and skip the lines. But since the courtyard was so pretty and the nearby restaurant, Le Café Marly, came so highly recommended, we decided to have lunch there.

I ordered what had become a favorite of mine in French cafes, a croque-madame, which is a fried ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. I didn’t take a picture of any that I ate, but to give you an idea of this true gift to humankind, please look at this photo from this recipe on foodnetwork.com:

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IMG_7494Sainte Chapelle was one of the only places that we took the time to stand in line and go inside to see, and I’m so glad that we did. I had heard that it was a beautiful church, but nothing really prepared me for how beautiful. We walked around on the first floor thinking it was amazing, but when we climbed the stairs to the second floor the line of us gasped in a row like dominoes. I was speechless.

Notre Dame, while tragically having been damaged in a fire not long before we arrived, was still gorgeous. Even as someone who doesn’t know nearly enough about its history and the grandeur that it has held in the city for so many years, my heart ached looking at the large pieces that were missing and the construction that was going on trying to repair it.

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As a final stop to cap off our day, we walked to Berthillon ice cream. It came recommended from a friend of my aunt’s, but it was clear when we got there that this was no well-kept secret. Multiple shops holding the same name were open mere meters from each other, and all of them had lines out the door. I got one scoop of dark chocolate and one scoop of salted caramel (because #saltedcaramelforever), and while they were delicious, I was bummed by the shop’s “no free samples” policy and I still think about the fig ice cream I left behind. #I’llneverfig-etyou

Now, I understand this next part might bring shame/judgment/open mouth gapes but I’m here to say that we did it, we don’t regret it, and we would 100% do it again.

That night, after getting back to our hotel and showering, napping and freshening up, we went…back to McDonalds for dinner. I know, I know, we’re in Paris, what are we doing at McDonalds two nights in a row? And to that I say: LIVING.

I will tell you right now, Parisian McDonalds is better than American McDonalds and there is absolutely no way you can change my mind. After having an iconic egg mcmuffin the night before, my sister and I both ordered the goat cheese chicken wrap and then I ordered a Kit Kat McFlurry. I mean, how dare you, Paris. How absolutely dare you.

We then walked back to Eif and took a seat on the lawn to watch him sparkle. Because what else can you do when you’ve had a wonderful day besides end it with a dose of pure magic?

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June 23rd, 2019:

For our very last day in Paris, we woke up a little early and immediately made our way back into the city.

Since we hadn’t truly experienced a Parisian sidewalk café, we took a seat at Café de la Comedie and took in the beautiful morning. My sister and I ordered the breakfast special which was the equivalent of the petit dujour we had in Epernay and I was in absolute bliss.

From breakfast we walked over to the Louvre, where I’d purchased nine tickets online the night before. NOW, listen carefully here because apparently this is a mistake that people make all the time.

In buying nine tickets, I apparently flagged us as being a “group”—as a note, this label is given to any amount of people greater than six—and as a group we were apparently required to be assigned a guide and were supposed to meet said guide in the “group reception area”. So when we got in line and our tickets didn’t work, we were sent to this area where a man behind a desk told me there were no guides and it would be impossible to get one and I should not have bought “group tickets” if I did not want a guide. Oh, and also my tickets were non-refundable and that he couldn’t do anything to help.

First of all, no.

Second of all, if this happens all the time, don’t you think that’s an issue you should deal with, Louvre?

Third of all, we’re in Paris, I paid good money for these tickets and I WILL be going inside.

Needless to say, after walking up and down the stairs a few times and talking to four or five different people, we were eventually let inside. And was it worth it? YES.

I was floored by both the art and the museum itself. Once I was in and amongst the work, my frustration with the (clearly poorly designed) website and the (not nearly as helpful or sympathetic as they could have been) staff, melted away. I also got to say hi to Mo, though she seemed a little busy with some other fans at the time.

From the Louvre we headed to lunch at an Australian café called Café Oz and it was…well, a conundrum you might say. The menu was a hodgepodge of options including burgers, risotto, and chicken parmesan—all of which we ordered by the way—and they had a picture of the All Blacks (the New Zealand national rugby team) on the wall, which is practically a sin in an Australian themed bar. Like I said, a conundrum.

For our very last night in Paris and the very last day of our trip, we decided to go out in style. We had 8:00 p.m. reservations on a Seine River Cruise and we’d paid €5 extra for front row seats—which was totally worth it! For an hour and a half we glided along the river, seeing the sights from a whole new angle, and seeing the people of Paris enjoying their evening as much as we were.

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We saw friends chatting and laughing and comforting one another. We saw couples sharing snacks and smiling and staring off into the setting sun. We saw people walking and running and biking and salsa dancing. We’d all had a different day, and yet we were all here, in Paris, watching the same sunset, so that we could wake up again tomorrow and start over.

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As sad as we were for our trip to be over, we were happy to be going home. It was going to feel good to be back in our own world, in our own homes, in our own beds and get back on our own schedules. But as we watched the Eiffel Tower light up for the final time that night, I took note of all of the people around me. Maybe some of them would be leaving tomorrow too. Maybe others had only just got here. Maybe others just moved here and others still had lived here their whole lives.

No matter our stories, no matter our backgrounds or our likes or dislikes, we were together in that moment and we were sharing the awe of the Eiffel Tower. And even if none us would ever see each other again, there was still something special about that moment. It was our own little piece of history that we’d always share. Just like our trip will be something that the nine of us will always share. In the grand scheme of things, these 11 days will be a blip, but to us they will mean the world. And at the end of the day, it’s about remembering those moments because those moments are the world.

 

 

When in France… (Our European Adventure: Day 8&9)

June 20th, 2019:

So, as you can probably imagine by now, THERE. WE. WERE.

Our suitcases were upstairs, tightly packed and (miraculously) zipped, and we had twin taxis scheduled to pick us up at 10:30 a.m. for our 1:15 p.m. train. We were headed to Paris and I was fully intending to have bread at every meal.

The prospect of taking what my sister began calling the “submarine train” from London to Paris was a little unnerving. But we were all excited and I couldn’t wait to see it in action…

…so naturally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, we were in Paris.

I’ll admit, this nap was a little more off putting than most. It’s one thing to wake up in another country, it’s a whole other thing to wake up in a country whose first language is not your own.

Our group waded through the crowds at the train station, trying to figure out where we could go to find information on where we should go. Then, after some thorough footwork by my dad and Aunt Tracy, and the help of a nice French man who spoke English, we all purchased metro tickets.

Now, I’m not here to start any arguments, but I will say that the Paris metro is, just, well, not as great as the tube in London. We packed our way in, trying not to run over any French feet with our suitcases, and kept our eye on the map, counting down the stops until our own.

Once we were off the metro and back above ground, we trekked through the streets of Paris in search of the Adagio, and when we arrived we were surprised to find we’d been given a room with THIS view:

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After the shock of that (kind of) wore off, food was obviously our next priority. So as soon as we were unpacked and freshened up, we were back out on the city streets, soaking in the Parisian sun with arms outstretched and smiles spread wide.

Le Pareloup came recommended by Google, and if I could recommend anything it would be the egg mayonnaise, which are hardboiled eggs cut in half with mayonnaise on top. YUM.

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After dinner, as the sun made its final descent into the horizon, we walked to the Eiffel Tower, which was only a mile or so from our hotel. On our way there, we stopped at a pop up pastry shop and ordered waffles and froyo, and then took a seat on the lawn and waited for the magic to start.

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Once the sun was officially down (at around 10:00 p.m.), the Eiffel Tower, who we immediately started calling “Eif”—because yes, we nickname everyone and everything—started to glow a deep yellowish orange We oohed and awed and took around 1000 pictures, and then settled in for part two.

Then the wind started to pick up.

Dressed in our sun soaking clothes, the breeze came as an unwelcome surprise. We began to bundle and huddle and pace, counting down the minutes until 11:00 p.m., when Eif would really shine. And though it was tough. Though we were shivering and chattering and all out whining for the time to just move faster, the moment that clock struck the hour and Eif started to sparkle, everything else kind of melted away.

We sat in stunned silence, all of our eyes reflecting the glistening lights and we smiled.

Oh my gosh, I thought to myself. This place, this tower, this city, it’s real. It’s real, I’m real and I’m here. I’m actually here.

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June 21st, 2019:

Our first morning in Paris started early. Making our way back to the train station, we grabbed a light breakfast at Starbucks and then boarded the train to Epernay.

Located in northern France, Epernay is known for its champagne houses, including Moet Chandon. My Uncle Bruce and Aunt Tracy are huge champagne drinkers and had long considered visiting Epernay a bucket list experience. So we’d booked a tasting tour with Moet Chandon at 4:45 p.m., but decided to get to Epernay early so we could take our time and explore the city beforehand.

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Our first stop was breakfast.

We found Le Khedive on our walk into the city from the train station, and upon taking a seat at a large table outside, our waiter placed this sign next to our table:

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The petit dejeuner, “little breakfast”, consisted of a hot beverage (tea or coffee), a glass of orange juice, a croissant, and two pieces of bread with butter and jam. So, you know, basically everything good in life.

Almost everyone at our table ordered the petit dejeuner, and to go along with it, we ordered two bottles of champagne. Because you know what they say, “when in France, eat carbs and drink champagne—even if it’s 10:00 a.m.” And for the rest of the day, we did just that.

Time moved both slowly and quickly as we sauntered up and down the streets of Epernay, stopping in at different champagne houses for tastings.

We went to Collard Picard, where we sat on the back patio pretending we were sipping champagne in the countryside of France—oh wait, WE WERE.

We went to Paul-Etienne Saint Germain, where we divided into groups and ordered three, three glass tastings that each included detailed descriptions and specifically instructed tasting orders from the host, and after each round we would vote on our favorites and cheer when we liked the same thing.

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We went to Michel Gonet where we began talking a little louder and laughing a little easier and when we ordered a second round of tasters the host misunderstood it as seven bottles to purchase and we had to kindly decline his beautifully wrapped bags of champagne.

By the time we made it to lunch, we were all feeling champayHEYHEY, if you catch my drift, and we binge ate our food as if it was the last meal we’d ever be given in our lifetimes.IMG_1941

(in case you’re wondering what “champayheyhey” looks like)

From there, we headed to our 4:45 p.m. tour with Moet Chandon, where we got to learn a little history about the champagne industry we’d been ever so supportive of during our day in Epernay. With two more samples there, we capped off our afternoon and walked back to the train station to board our train home.

Since the wind was blowing even harder that night, we decided to forego a visit to Eif, even though he was looking ever so handsome as we passed him in the Uber ride back to our hotel. Instead, we decided to close out our day of elegance and sophistication in the best way we knew how: ordering McDonalds for delivery.

As I sat in my sweatpants eating my Egg McMuffin at the table in our hotel room, looking out at our expansive view of the city, I thought to myself, damn, this is luxury. And then I ate one too many french fries, and went to bed.

Salted Caramel & the Buck (Our European Adventure: Day 6&7)

June 18th, 2019:

So there we were, boarding a plane in Ireland. It would be a short flight. Like, 10 hours shorter than our flight to Ireland and I was determined to soak in every minute.

So naturally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, we were in London.

My mom, sister and I had been to London before, but it was over 10 years ago and the only thing I remember is hiding in a red phone booth from the wind, and the time we all got separated on the tube and thought maybe we’d just be lost in London forever.

So while we weren’t a wealth of information on the city and its history, we did know how to handle the tube. We knew to move quickly and mind the gap, and we brought that wisdom to our group of nine as we boarded at Heathrow Airport.

For my dad and Uncle Bruce, the tube, while slightly overwhelming at first, was a welcome change to the high anxiety driving they’d been doing for the last five days. So when I showed them a screenshot of the directions to our hotel via maps and they realized they just had to sit back and relax, I think I visibly saw three or so years added back on to their life.

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Once we made it to our hotel, we checked our bags into the luggage room (because that is apparently a thing in hotels that I am just finding out about now?) and then headed to Nando’s.

If you are unfamiliar with Nando’s, it’s a South African restaurant chain (popular basically everywhere except the US) that specializes in Peri-Peri chicken. When we walked in, our waiter told us to pick our chicken, pick our spice level and pick our sides. Most of our group chose the Lemon & Herb spice level (I went with plain because #babytastebuds) and then our side selections included garlic bread, fries, roasted veggies and corn on the cob. It was all delicious and I miss it already. Unfortunately for my fellow US dwellers, as of now you can only find Nando’s in Chicago and DC. #nandNO.

Being a group on foot now, after finishing our lunch, we again pulled out our phones for directions, this time to some nearby landmarks. We were prepared to walk off our lunch—if only to earn an even bigger and better dinner.

Our first stop was Hyde Park.

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Having spent the last five days in Ireland, our awe-tolerance had gone up. We weren’t going to be impressed with just anything. But as we walked into Hyde Park, we couldn’t help but “wow” and “okay, beautiful” and “oh my gosh” our way through the expansive green gardens and scenic pathways.

At one point a man ran by us, seemingly on a casual afternoon run, and I audibly gasped, thinking, he gets to run through THIS every day? An average run for me consists of a high school, a Subway, and that one house with a really great tree.

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Nevertheless, we made our way through Hyde Park, stopping in at Kensington Palace, the Wellington Arch and Royal Albert Hall to take all the touristy pictures and make all the touristy comments. I apologize to anyone and everyone who might have overheard our terrible British accents. We were just trying to sound classy and charming and less, you know, DUDE than we do back home.

(Which you can tell we are nailing in this photo)

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Our ultimate destination of the day was Buckingham Palace, which we almost immediately started referring to as “the Buck.” I can’t tell you why, because I honestly don’t remember which one of us started saying it first. But I like to think it was our way of making the prospect of seeing such an iconic building more casual.

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Once we’d thoroughly exhausted our cameras in front of the Buck, we all suddenly became very aware at how tired we were. Unbeknownst to us and our touring ways, we’d walked a total of almost six miles and were desperately in need of a nap.

Vacation pro-tip: a perfect itinerary always leaves room for a nap.

So, we hopped back on the tube, officially checked into our hotel, and promptly crashed for about an hour.

Right around 7:00 p.m., we headed out in search of food and landed at Phoenix, where the food was delicious (I highly recommend the Chickpea burger!) and our drinks were even better (if you’re into sweet drinks, try a Strawberry Woo Woo—trust me.)

Afterward, we moseyed our way into Snowflake Luxury Gelato where we learned—and I can’t stress this enough—that Salted Caramel is the best and only flavor you should ever order, thank you and goodnight. (The thank you being for Snowflake Luxury Gelato for their gelato service, and the goodnight for every other gelato flavor because take a seat.)

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June 19th, 2019:

When planning our trip to Ireland, I spent a lot of time booking things in advanced. But when it came to London, our group decided to play a lot of things by ear. So as we ate breakfast at our hotel Wednesday morning, I was Googling possible plans for our day in between bites of a croissant and sips of a mimosa.

“Okay,” I said, holding my phone up to our group like it was a tri-fold presentation in a high school science class. “Picture this.

I then took them on a hypothetical journey of our possible day, complete with dramatic hand motions and an aptly timed announcer voice. When I received an overall enthusiastic nod of approval, we all stood up, got in a circle and did a youth soccer hands in! cheer to send us off.

Okay, so we didn’t do that last part, but honestly, we should have.

Being tube regulars now (or, you know three timers) we walked to our nearby station as casually as if it were the frozen yogurt place down the street from our house.

“Where are we headed first?” my dad asked.

“Harrods.”

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The department store giant that is Harrods was something that I’d only ever heard about and never thought I’d actually see. But now, having been there and spent a hefty amount of time walking around/getting lost inside the seemingly endless collection of shops, I understand why it’s a “you have to see it to believe it” type of places.

There was whiskey literally more expensive than my entire livelihood. There was champagne that shot confetti when you opened it. There were jackets and scarves and gloves so soft that I almost got emotional. But perhaps the most fascinating thing we found among the twists and turning of the Harrods hallways were these displays that allowed you to squeeze a rubber handle you might find on a perfume bottle and lower your nose to the mouth of what looked like a trumpet so you could smell whatever was displayed under the glass dome. My favorite was “leather glove.”

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From Harrods we took the tube the Piccadilly Circus, which is like the London equivalent of Time Square. People moved in seemingly every direction and cars and double decker buses drove in what I can only describe as complete chaos. We stared up at tall marquees and listened to a street performer sing Ed Sheeran and trick naïve tourists into thinking that Beyoncé was arriving shortly to perform “Perfect” alongside him.

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For lunch we ate at St. James Tavern, and then we got back on the move, navigating our way through the misty London day to Westminster Abbey. On our way there, as we were passing through Parliament Square, we noticed a long line of taxis, none of which were moving. Then, when the man in the first taxi started to move, every single taxi to follow began honking. Turns out, there was a full-blown taxi protest happening in front of Parliament. We would later learn (from our own taxi driver) it was in response to the rise of Uber and the damage it was doing to their business, and while I can’t make any comments on this since I don’t really have the grounds to, I can say that the protest itself was pretty badass.

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For our last site of the day, we got off the tube at Tower Hill to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We also had plans of seeing the Crown Jewels, but discovered the exhibit had closed a mere 15 minutes before we arrived. By that time however, nothing could get us down, because the sun had come out and was glistening off the River Thames, making our afternoon in the city absolutely beautiful.

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That night, we walked to Santorini—the Greek restaurant near our hotel, not the city 2,000 miles away—and if there was ever a time to say I miss a specific food, I can truly and honestly say I will dream about their fried feta rolls for the rest of my life. Cue that middle graduation song that makes everyone cry.

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Knowing it was our last night in London, we decided to go HARD…

…so we went back to the same gelato place because #saltedcaramelforever.

We then finished the night with a few drinks at the Beachcomber. And as we made our final walk back to our hotel, I was happy to commit all of the sites and sounds from the last two days to memory. In fact, as I glanced up and down the streets of what had become our temporary neighborhood, I imagined what it would be like to call this place home.

It’s a weird feeling to imagine yourself living and growing in a different city, different country, different continent than your own, but there’s something about falling in love with a new place that makes you think it might be possible. That’s not to say I got home and repacked my bags or start international job-hunting, but it was a good reminder of just how big our world is. There is so much to see, to learn and to experience. And in those new discoveries we find new pieces of ourselves. So should you ever get the chance to travel, be it one hour from your house or thousands of miles, go. See more. Do more. And learn. Always learn.