family

For Laycee

This past weekend my family lost our dog, Laycee, who was a vibrant, beautiful member of our family for nine years. It was a hard day, one that we’d dreaded, but ultimately knew had to come, and we are happy to know that she lived a good life, full of love, both given and received.

When thinking about how I could honor Laycee, and the love that we all receive from pets that come into our lives at just the right time, I knew I had to turn to my sister Natalee. She had such a special relationship with Laycee, that my mom often interchanged their names in conversation. They were destined for each other, and just as any love story changes the world, so too did theirs. And so, as a final goodbye to our pretty girl, I wanted Natalee to tell their story.

This is what she wrote:

 

To My Perfect Angel,

It was a chilly day in early December of 2010. My whole family piled in to the car and set out on what ended up being a long, confusing drive. I don’t even remember the story my parents told us about where we were going, but I do remember feeling slightly concerned that the deserted, off the beaten path location we eventually found ourselves in might be the place of the Koehn family’s demise. I later found out Kim and our brother Troy were feeling the same way. Much to our delight, however, we soon learned that our parents had pulled a fast one on us! We hadn’t driven out there to meet our doom, we had driven out there to get our first family dog!

Soon we were flooded with the exciting and overwhelming scene of dogs barking, tails wagging and eyes begging to be chosen. I remember being in total disbelief. I had wanted and asked for a dog for SO long. I couldn’t believe we were actually getting one! We immediately dispersed and started looking for the one we would take home with us. Troy liked a black lab with giant paws and an even bigger personality. Kim loved all of them. I had no idea how I would ever walk out of there with just one.

 Until you walked over to me.

 With your head slumped down and your whole body shaking, you walked up to me, you let me pet you, and you stole my heart. My whole family saw the instant connection, and not 10 minutes later we were walking back to the car with you in my arms.

I know it sounds cliché, but that day changed my life. It was the beginning of winter break in my senior year of high school, and those days were truly some of my worst. I was in a dark place, and the punches were only just starting to be thrown my way. But you made all the difference. No matter what happened during the day, I had a loyal, loving, anxious little angel waiting for me at home, never questioning my character or making me feel like I wasn’t worth anything. I had a companion. Trust wasn’t an easy thing for either of us, but I had yours, and you had mine.

As it turns out, my parents knew what they were doing all those years they said no to letting me have a dog. They knew the right time, and the right pup, would come along. And for me, that was and will always be you. See you soon my precious angel. I’ll love you forever.

Learning Internet Slang (Part 4)

There are few things I enjoy more than tracking down new slang words and phrases to quiz my friends and family with. Not only do I love seeing the reaction of my poor, unsuspecting victims contestants, but I love hearing the creative responses they give as they try to figure out what on earth these words and phrases could mean.

For this installment of Learning Internet Slang, I enlisted the help of my sister, and our cousins, Spenser and Ashlynn, who we recently went to visit in North Carolina.

Here were the results:

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1) Boomer

Urban Dictionary Definition: A person from the baby boomer generation, or really anyone who is older than the person using the word; usually used if said person is being annoying or talking shit about a younger generation.

Spenser’s Guess: Baby boomers?

Natalee’s Guess: I first thought of baby boomers, but then I thought maybe it was the new “banger.”

Ashlynn’s Guess: Old people.

Me: So you use it when someone older is complaining about something the younger generation does, and the person from the younger generation would say—

Ashlynn: —okay, boomer.

Me: Exactly.

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2) NSFW

Urban Dictionary Definition: Not Suitable/Safe For Work.

Spenser’s Guess: I don’t know what this one is.

Natalee’s Guess: Not safe for work!

Ashlynn’s Guess: Do not open this email at work because it is probably dirty.

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3) Don’t @ me

Urban Dictionary Definition: A phrase used on Twitter when you say something and you don’t want people to respond directly to you because you don’t care what people have to say about your opinion.

Natalee’s Guess: Don’t come for me, don’t judge or attack me for this, I’m posting it and owning it.

Spenser’s Guess: Don’t come at me with your second tier shit, my shit is right.

Ashlynn’s Guess: Don’t blame me or involve me, don’t call me out.

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4) Finsta

Urban Dictionary Definition: A combination of the words “fake” and “Instagram.” When people have a “finsta” they post pictures they only want their closest friends to see.

Spenser’s Guess: A fine gangsta, like a good looking gangster.

Ashlynn’s Guess: When you want to say Facebook and Instagram but heaven forbid don’t want to use two separate words.

Natalee’s Guess: A fake instagram account, or secondary account.

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5) Weird flex but okay

Urban Dictionary Definition: When someone proudly boasts or brags about something that most people would find either awkward, irrelevant or just plain weird.

Natalee’s Guess: I feel like this is a strange thing to be showing off, but go for it, I guess.

Spenser’s Guess: You are strange, but I don’t want to get into it.

Ashlynn’s Guess: When someone is into something that you’re not into, and it’s a little out there but you’re supportive because you’re like, “Hey, I like you. You don’t suck.”

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6) Humble brag

Urban Dictionary Definition: A form of self-promotion where the promoter thinks they are, almost subliminally, bragging about himself in the context of a humble statement or complaint.

Spenser: I’ve never heard of this in my life. I mean, those words are two completely different things.

Natalee’s Guess: Is it like, I’m trying so hard to make this as simple as possible for you but I have so much going on?

Spenser’s Guess: Maybe it’s, I thought I was the best but it turns out I’m just really good. For example: I’m the best at rock paper scissors, I’ve literally never lost, but you beat me, so good job.

Ashlynn’s Guess: When you casually brag about something and you try to seem like it’s not a big deal but you know that it’s awesome.

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7) VSCO girl

Urban Dictionary Definition: a term used to describe a girl with a specific look; she wears oversized t-shirts or sweatshirts with Nike shorts; has Vans, Crocs, Birkenstocks, and wears a shell necklace; she always has a Hydroflask; she can’t leave home without a scrunchie and her favorite car is a Jeep.

Natalee: Did this start on TikTok?

Me: No.

Natalee’s Guess: Oh, well then this might be wrong but: a girl on Tik Tok who wears giants sweatshirts and sunglasses and is an influencer; someone who is considered cool but honestly looks kind of slouchy; they’re not trying hard, but somehow they look perfect and have 8 million followers.

Spenser: V-S? C-O? What in the hell is that? Look, I just tried to type it in my phone to write down my guess and it autocorrected to bacon.

Ashlynn’s Guess: She loves a good scrunchie. She dug the 90’s and loves big bold colors and fun outfits.

Spenser’s Guess: Okay I have two guesses. 1) a very successful colorado girl. 2) a 2020 version of a disco girl.

Ashlynn: Like the millennial version of disco person?

Spenser: Exactly.

Me: *gives the definition*

Spenser: Wait, what does VSCO stand for? I’m looking it up. Visual Supply Co? Oh, guys, it’s a photo editing app.

All of us: OOHHHHHH.

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8) No cap

Urban Dictionary Definition: no lie; to tell the truth.

Natalee’s Guess: No capitalization. Everything I’m saying is very unexaggerated and deadpan.

Spenser’s Guess: Oh, I got it. No guns allowed (as in no busting a cap) this is a street fight. As Ron Burgundy might say, the only other rules are there is no touching of the hair or face.

Ashlynn’s Guess: It’s a command. As in, stop yelling, you’re using capitalization to express a lot of angry feelings and I want you to stop. No cap. No need to yell. I’m right here and can hear you fine.

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9) Bet

Urban Dictionary Definition: same as “for sure” or “okay.”

Natalee’s Guess: This is a shout out to Troy Bolton, aka Zac Efron, I’d bet on you forever.

Ashlynn: I’m sorry, what? So you’re saying this is a direct reference?

Natalee: Yes, it’s the song he sings in the second High School Musical film. It’s iconic.

Spenser’s Guess: I took it the exact opposite. As in, “bet”, it’s a 50/50 chance, you could be right or you could be wrong.

Ashlynn’s Guess: It’s when someone is saying, “This is the truth that I’m telling you. You can bet on it.”

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10) Slaps

Urban Dictionary Definition: to describe something that is incredibly good, usually music.

Natalee’s Guess: Someone did a good job or said something that everyone likes so they say, “Slaps my man, good job.”

Spenser’s Guess: It’s a new high school dice game. It’s a combo of craps & jacks. Maybe they say, “I’m gonna be beat you at slaps, and buy some VCSO scrunchies with the winnings.”

Ashlynn’s Guess: “Yeah, great job, man.” It’s like a high five but without putting your hand in danger [of germs].

Spenser: Like a verbal high five?

Natalee: Slaps, my man.

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Bonus) CEO

Examples of the correct usage (if you were referring to me or my blog): CEO of teaching friends and family slang. CEO of italics. CEO of writing the blog the night before posting it. 

Me: On this one I want you to guess how it’s used, because the definition (Chief Executive Officer) is the same.

Natalee’s Guess: Maybe when someone does the best video of a certain challenge on TikTok or something. They would say, “You’re the new CEO of this challenge.”

Spenser’s Guess: A title that is given to the most popular boy or girl in the school. Like, “you are the CEO of this class.”

Ashlynn’s Guess: A person who wears the pants in the relationship, “the CEO of the relationship.”

 


 

Read the previous version of this post here.

 

My Favorite Moments of 2019 (List-cember #9)

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it approximately 600,000 times: this year was busy!

But within the confines of our crazy calendar, there were so many good moments. And I don’t just mean big, fancy moments. Some of my favorite parts of this year were the small but meaningful bursts of joy. The cozy, perfect moments that I’ll undoubtedly be thinking about when that ball drops tomorrow at midnight.

For me, these were those moments:

1) Meeting Lyra

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I have long been afraid of holding babies. They are just so fragile and so perfect and so little, and the thought of holding something so important in my hands (especially when it is not even my something) has always terrified me. But in January of this year, one of my lifelong friends had a baby, and she encouraged me to overcome that fear when met her little one for the first time in the hospital. That moment inspired me to write this blog post and I will remember it forever.

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2) A Ball at Spring Training

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My family went to Spring Training in March for the first time this year (which you can read about here.) and easily one of my favorite parts of the trip and of the year was when my friend Mel, after trying for innings on end, got a baseball from one of the players. Not only was it a joyous celebration of perseverance, but the resulting footage includes a look of fuming jealousy from her neighboring fan, which makes for an all around perfect video.

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3) Finishing the Marathon

There are many moments of the marathon that I would deem “defining,” but perhaps my favorite was crossing that finish line and seeing my 6 foot 2 brother standing among the crowd. I was so proud and relieved to be finished, and seeing a familiar face to welcome me to the otherside of that journey was truly great.

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4) Mom Scores a Goal

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Some of the best memories I have of my family are the slow, ordinary days where we are just spending time together, which is why this moment from May stands out. My mom, sister and I had gone to visit my cousin Brittney and her family in Arkansas, and we spent one afternoon sitting outside, drawing in sidewalk chalk, and playing soccer. At one point we set up a challenge between my mom and my little cousin Landon. While Landon won in the end, the crowd (of me, Natalee, Brittney, and baby Nora) went wild for this goal scored by my mom.

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5) A Circular Celebration

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In June my family got the opportunity to go to Europe, and among the many jaw dropping, awe inspiring moments of that trip, was this one. My cousin Taryn (which, if you didn’t read the blog I wrote about our trip, is the whole reason we went) finished writing a long tedious essay that would complete her study abroad program, and we did what any family would do when they’re in England and about to head to dinner but need to take a moment or two to celebrate this accomplishment: we formed a circle around her and and jumped up and down, chanting, “We are proud of you, say we are proud of you! Hey! Hey! Hey!”

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6) That Eiffel Tower Sparkle

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Upon arriving in Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, my most prominent and low key embarrassing thought was, “oh my gosh, the Eiffel Tower is actually real.” It’s not that I thought we’d been lied to all this time, but the realization that I was really, truly seeing it in person was so unbelievable that I was having trouble accepting it all as reality. This shock and awe only multiplied as we sat on the grass in front of the tower and watched as the sun set, the tower glowed gold, and then started to sparkle.

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7) Axe throwing in Vegas

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For my brother’s 21st birthday, a group of us went to Vegas with a list of things we were looking to accomplish in order to properly celebrate his milestone. Among the items on that list was throwing axes. After almost an hour of learning and practicing, we decided  to document our newfound skills, and showcase our ability to hit the target. What makes this moment one of my favorites, is that the video recording is almost four minutes long, (three of which we fail miserably) but when we finally do all hit the target at once, we all threw our arms up and yelled, “first try!”

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8) You’ve Got Ice Cream

About two years ago, on a visit to Arkansas with my mom and sister, I discovered the magic of Blue Bell ice cream. Upon arriving home however, I was very disappointed to discover that it is not sold in California. But for my 29th birthday, I was floored to find a box from Blue Bell waiting for me. My parents had all of my favorite flavors (including the holy grail, Salted Caramel Cookie) shipped to me and it. was. EPIC.

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9) Pop the champagne

Last year my cousin Cory married my now cousin Amanda, and this year they were able to purchase their first house! I was so happy and honored to be there when they popped champagne in their living room, that at the time had little more than a table and some folding chairs, but is now a beautiful, cozy home.

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10) The Dodgers Take Game 3

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For a Dodger fan, the 2019 playoffs were rough to say the least. But before we had our hearts broken, we had our hopes up, and on the night of Game 3, me, my sister, my cousin Taryn, and my best friend Allison were walking into a concert at the Honda Center as the Dodgers entered the 7th inning. As we made our way to our seats, I was streaming the game through the TBS app on my phone, which I’d downloaded while waiting in line, and we asked multiple employees if they could turn on the game, all of whom turned us down. So as we went to the 8th inning and then the 9th, the four of us stood out in the hallway, crowded around my phone to watch us close out a victory.

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11) The Frozen North Lake

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In November, my family made one of our annual trips to Bishop to squeeze in a weekend of fishing before the season closed. On the Saturday of the weekend we were there, we parked our car and hiked in to one of our favorite fishing spots, only to find the lake frozen solid. While this obviously prevented us from fishing, it did little to deter our fun. We spent a solid half hour throwing loose pieces of ice onto the lake and watching them shatter and glide across its surface.

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12) Sending “The Hulk”

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On the same trip to Bishop, my brother, who is an avid rock climber, had his sights on a boulder at Happy Boulders known as “The Hulk.” After spending a few hours attempting the climb on Friday, he was determined to return, so on Sunday afternoon, me, him and my sister headed back to Happy Boulders on our way home, where we watched him try time and time again until he finally reached the top!

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13) Eli’s Last Game

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To cap off the year, at the beginning of this month my family took a whirlwind trip to New York to see our favorite football team (the New York Giants) play for the very first time at their home stadium. We went the week they played the Dolphins, which wound up being one of only 4 games we won this season, and on top of that, it was our longtime quarterback, Eli Manning’s, probable last game with the team. We couldn’t have picked a better game!

Note: Please leave all Giants hate at the door, thank you.

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14) Coming June 2020

At our annual family Cookie Baking day, my cousins Spenser and Ashlynn gave my grandpa (and all of us, really) a very special gift: the news that we have a new member coming in June 2020! On Christmas Day we found out that the little one is a boy, and while we already know his name, I’ve taken to calling him Meatball for now.

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15) Meeting Luca

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Since I started this list with a baby, it seems only logical for me to end this list with a baby! And in true bookend fashion, I got to meet one of my best friends’ new baby, Luca, just this past week, and even though he is handsome and perfect and practically impossible not to want to hold, it was still a big deal for me to do so without fear. And as I looked down at him and his big curious eyes, I couldn’t help but feel every good moment of the year capsize in this one moment. It was a busy year, but it was a good one. I got to do so many great things and love and be loved on by so many great people. I’m very thankful for the life I live and I feel so honored for the opportunity to live it.

Here’s to 2020, I hope it’s full of wonderful moments, big, small and everything in between. Happy New Year!

A Christmas Quiz (List-cember #6)

We are less than a week away from Christmas, which means that most schools are closing for winter break.To celebrate that, I thought I’d take us back to school for a minute for a little Christmas quiz.

I invited/politely forced my sister and two cousins to participate in a friendly Christmas themed quiz in order to win bragging rights and familial pride. What started as a cordial match quickly became a heated quest for Christmas glory.

Here were the results:

1) What kind of Christmas does Elvis Presley sing about?

Answer: Blue

Natalee: (singing) Bluuuuuuuee…Christmas without you….

Amanda: Wait, should I give a different kind of answer? I’m going to say he’s devastated by the thought of his loved one not going to be with him on Christmas. So that’s my word. Devastated.

Cory: Maybe he just likes blue Christmas lights.

Point awarded to Natalee. 

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2) What is the name of the Grinch’s dog in the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

Answer: Max

Amanda: I know! I know!! MAX!

Point awarded to Amanda.

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3) In which century was the Christmas tree first used?

Answer: 16th century

Natalee: The 1300’s! So, the 14th century.

Cory: 16th.

Amanda: I’m going to say the 18th century.

Me: It’s the 16th.

Cory: HA HA.

Amanda: Okay, now it’s on.

Point awarded to Cory.

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4) What is the name of Rudolph’s dad?

Answer: Donner

Natalee: Ugh, I know his girlfriend’s name.

Amanda: Oh my gosh. You can totally–

Natalee: –Prancer! Wait, no.

Amanda: No, they said it in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer when they introduce the mom and dad.

Natalee: He’s one of the reindeer.

Cory: I feel like it’s something really bland like…Steve.

Me: Yes, Steve the reindeer.

Amanda: I’m gonna say Donner.

Natalee: Damnit, that’s right.

Cory: Dancer, Prancer, Donner, Comet? Is Comet the father?

Me: It’s Donner.

Amanda: YESSS!!!!

Natalee: I knew it right after you said it.

Point awarded to Amanda

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5) What is the best selling Christmas song ever? 

Answer: “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby

Natalee: Mariah Carey, All I Want for Christmas is You.

Amanda: *shakes head* I’ve heard this before. I heard it on KOST 103.5. It’s not Mariah and it’s not White Christmas, but that was everyone’s guess.

Cory: (singing) Feliz Navidad.

Amanda: I’m gonna go with Jingle Bells. 

Me: It was White Christmas.

Amanda: Damnit! You know, maybe that’s why I immediately thought of White Christmas…because it was the right guess.

No point awarded. 

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6) In Home Alone, where are the McCallister’s going on vacation when they leave Kevin behind?

Answer: Paris. 

Natalee, Cory & Amanda: In which one?

Me: The first one.

Natalee: Europe! Um….we just watched this. France?

Cory: Where did they go in the first one? I know in the second one they go to Florida.

Amanda: Dangit, I was thinking Florida.

Cory: Well she takes the bus with that guy to find him and they’re in the snow…Canada?

Amanda: Niagara Falls?

Me: It was Paris.

Natalee: YES!!!

Point awarded to Natalee.

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7) What well-known Christmas carol became the first song ever broadcast from space in 1965?

Answer: Jingle Bells

Natalee: (singing) Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus right down Santa Clause Lane.

Cory: It’s Jingle Bells.

Amanda: Oh Holy Night.

Point awarded to Cory. 

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8) What Christmas beverage is also known as “milk punch”?

Answer: Eggnog.

Cory (before I even finish the question): Eggnog.

Me: That’s correct.

Natalee: Hey! Wait until the question is complete.

Cory: I’m sorry, there’s just no other Christmas beverage.

Amanda: Yeah there is. There’s cider.

Natalee: There’s peppermint shit.

Cory: It’s eggnog.

Point awarded to Cory. 

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9) In the early 1800’s, the first gingerbread houses were reportedly inspired by what famous fairy tale?

Answer: Hansel & Gretel

Natalee: Shrek! I mean, no.

Amanda: She said Shrek. She commits to Shrek!

Natalee: I was thinking of the gingerbread man!

Amanda: I’m gonna go with Hansel & Gretel.

Cory: Alice in Wonderland.

Natalee: Goldilocks & the Three Bears.

Point awarded to Amanda.

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10) Which one of Santa’s reindeer has the same name as another holiday mascot?

Answer: Cupid

Cory: Cupid.

Me: That’s correct.

Natalee: That was so fast. I was only on Vixen in the song.

Point awarded to Cory. 

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11) In the movie Elf, what was the first rule of The Code of Elves?

Answer: Treat every day like Christmas

Cory: Treat every day as Christmas.

Me: *nods*

Amanda: DAMNIT CORY.

Natalee: OH MY GOSH.

Me: Cory is coming in and slaughtering you guys.

Point awarded to Cory.

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12) How many gifts in total were given in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song?

Answer: 364

Natalee: Ugh, this is math.

Me: NO CALCULATORS.

*Amanda, Cory & Natalee start mumbling as they do mental math*

Natalee: 76!

Cory: 78.

Amanda: I think…120?

Me: Amanda is the closest. Remember each day they get all the gifts from the previous days as well.

*a collective nod*

Me: So Amanda gets the point.

*Amanda smiles while Natalee and Cory nod a little bitterly*

Point awarded to Amanda.

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13) In the movie A Christmas Story, what was the name of the neighbors’ whose dog ate the Christmas turkey?

Answer: The Bumpuses

Natalee: Oh shit.

Amanda: I’m going to go with a classic…

Natalee: The Chungs.

Amanda: A classic…Max.

Cory: Steve.

Me: It was the Bumpuses.

Natalee: So I was the closest.

Me: Absolutely not.

No point awarded.

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14) On average, what day do most Americans put up their Christmas trees?

Answer: The weekend after Thanksgiving

Natalee: The day after Thanksgiving.

Amanda: The Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Me: You guys can both be right.

Point awarded to Amanda & Natalee.

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15) On average, what day do most Europeans put up their Christmas trees?

Answer: Christmas Eve.

Natalee: Christmas Eve.

Cory: First week of December.

Amanda: Two weeks before.

Point awarded to Natalee. 

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16) What does Clarence get for accomplishing his task in It’s a Wonderful Life?

Answer: Wings

Cory: A new show.

Natalee: His life back.

Amanda: He becomes a better person.

Me: He gets his wings, y’all. Clarence is the angel.

Amanda: And with his wings he becomes a better person.

Natalee: Well I was right about the actual man, he does get his life back.

No point awarded.

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17) Which company was the first to use Santa in an advertisement?

Answer: Coca Cola

Amanda: COCA COLA!!!

Natalee: Oh my gosh. That came out of nowhere.

Amanda: I know this, well, because I just do.

Point awarded to Amanda. 

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Final Score

Amanda: 6

Cory: 5

Natalee: 4

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Congratulations to Amanda for being crowned this year’s Christmas Quiz winner!

If you are interested in Christmas trivia, I found these questions (and more) here, here and here. 


 

Check out more List-cember posts here. 

17 (More) Things that Inspired Me This Year (List-Cember #3)

Last year I decided to make this a bi-annual post, so I can have two editions of all the happy, cozy things that made me smile, cry, laugh, etc. throughout the year.

In case you are new here and a stickler for clean numbered lists (i.e. lists that are multiples of 5 or 10) and are wondering why on earth I would choose 17 of all things. 17 is my favorite number and my family kind of goes hard in the favorite number department.

With that being said, you can check out the first 17 here. 

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1) This quote:

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2) Ashlyn Sailsbury

I found Ashlyn through Kristin Johns who I mentioned in a previous version of this post, and she has quickly become one of my favorite people to follow on Instagram. She is so funny and sassy and genuine and she shares the adventures of her adorable, fun family in Copenhagen. 10/10.

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3) This song by Ella Henderson

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8) Daisy Jones & the Six

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This was such a great book! Even though it was fiction, it read like a Rolling Stone interview and I was hooked the whole time. Plus the writing was absolutely brilliant. Here are some of my favorite lines:

“Don’t count yourself out this early, Daisy. You’re all sorts of things you don’t even know yet.”

“Life is about who is holding your hand and, I think, whose hand you commit to holding.”

“Acceptance is a powerful drug.”

 

 

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9) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I mean, Mr. Rogers played by Tom Hanks? I loved it before I even stepped foot in the theater. It’s such a good tribute to a wonderful man and a great reminder of how much we can do for someone simply by being kind.

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10) This writer who gets it

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11) The Try Guys

I have been following the Try Guys for a while now but this year I really dove head first into their content. I started listening to their podcast The Trypod which always makes me laugh, and I kept up with their YouTube videos which always brighten my day.

Here is one of my favorites:

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12) My sister

Raise your hand if you’ve been going to school for 600 years and have spent that time working your ass off, borderline losing your mind, and definitely questioning if any of it was worth it. Now raise your hand if you overcame every obstacle that was put in front of you, grown into an incredibly smart, well spoken, badass Speech Language Pathologist that will undoubtedly go on to do great things.

Natalee, please raise your hand.

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13) The Grapes of Wrath, which inspired me to write this blog post.

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14) Mitch Albom

I read my first Mitch Albom book last year and immediately fell in love with his style of writing, so this year I read three more of his books and they continue to make me feel all the feels. One day I hope to write something that moves people the way his books move me.

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15) Glamour Friendship Test

This is such a sweet, hilarious series and this episode is absolutely one of my favorites.

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16) Iliza Shlesinger

I first found Iliza last year when a friend highly recommended her Netflix special, Elder Millennial. After watching and loving it, I was very excited to see that she released a new special in November of this year called Unveiled. Spoiler alert: it is just as good. Not only is it hilarious, but she is so well spoken and has so many good messages within her comedy, she is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

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17) Food Forward

This is one of my favorite local nonprofits to volunteer for. It benefits such a great cause and is run by such lovely people, so if you live in Southern California I would highly recommend checking them out!

 


 

Check out previous versions of this post here, here and here.

Check out more List-cember posts here.

From One to Ninety (And Beyond)

It was 12:30 p.m. and I was sitting at a table, breaking a cookie into a bite-sized pieces as I sang happy birthday to the man of the hour. With big eyes, he looked out at all of us, not sure what to think or what to do. His mom held a candle in her hand, the small flame flickering in the afternoon breeze, and she and his dad stood in front of him, encouraging him with puffed cheeks to blow. Instead he reached for the candle, noticing when we laughed, and again when his mom blew out the candle for him and we clapped. Then his eyes shifted to the cake before him and he dug in.

At 4:30 p.m. I was sitting on a couch, spooning my way through a hot fudge sundae as I talked baseball with the man of the hour. He donned a Dodger hat, and the rest of us wore jerseys, shirts, and hats to match as we all watched our favorite team play their final game of the regular season. A cool breeze snuck in the back door, making it easy for us to sit close to one another as we whispered stories or shared them with the whole room, the light and easy conversation the kind that Sunday dreams are made of. Then, with timers set and everyone in their place, we took a group picture to commemorate the day.

It was a one-year-old birthday party and a 90-year-old birthday party, back to back. My sister and I attended both, with a minor costume change in between.

As we celebrated Berkley, we watched as he pointed at balloons and curiously poked his bare feet into the grass in the backyard. We told him all the reasons there were to celebrate and looked into his beautiful eyes, excited for all that they were destined to see.

As we celebrated our grandpa, we barbequed Dodger dogs and passed around Cracker Jacks, recreating one home inside another. We glanced from cousin to aunt to sister to parent, thankful for all that my grandma and grandpa have built, and hopeful that it will only continue to grow. We hugged my grandpa, knowing 90 is not nearly as easy as one or 20 or 40 or even 89, and we looked into his beautiful eyes knowing that they’d seen so much.

I myself have had 29 birthday parties. Some have been small, some have been slightly bigger than small. Some years I feel pressure to do something special, something exciting, while other years I’m perfectly content doing absolutely nothing. All that I hope for, all that we can ever hope for, is exactly what I found at both of these birthday parties: love.

For birthdays mark both an end and a beginning, and we want that transition to be shared with people, in places, surrounded by all that we love. Over time, those people, places and things may change, but if we’re lucky, we’ll always have that love. From the time we’re only one year old and we aren’t even sure what love is, to when we’re 90 years old and we know that love is all there is.

So, to you on your birthday (whenever that may be) I wish you love. For your first birthday, Berkley, I offer you love. And for your 90th birthday, grandpa, I thank you for love. For you’ve given it to me, to all of us, and each and every year, we watch it grow.

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 dejeuner 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.

 

 

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 to Piccadilly Circus, which is like the London equivalent of Times 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.

Castles, Cliffs, and a Horse Named Peppy (Our European Adventure: Day 2&3)

Friday June 14th, 2019:

Upon meeting our Airbnb host Carmel the evening before, she gave us a rundown of the house she’d so graciously rented to us for the next two nights. She also gave us a guidebook of the area and pointed out some of her favorite things that we might want to add to our itinerary.

Waking the next morning, feeling only slightly disoriented by the fact that we were on vacation in Europe and not at home getting ready for work, our group made breakfast in the kitchen. Carmel had provided us with a wide variety of snacks, including waffles (that weren’t frozen?), fresh fruit, and something called “breakfast pudding” that none of us were brave enough to take out of the refrigerator.

Our first stop of the morning was Belvedere House Gardens & Park—a Mullingar locale that none of us had heard of but came highly recommended by Carmel.

The morning offered slightly cloudy skies and a chill in the air none of us were quite ready for, but we bundled up and headed out, my dad and Uncle Bruce taking the wheel and bravely setting off the on “wrong” side of road once again.

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Being a Friday morning, Belvedere House was not overly crowded, and we were able to saunter and explore at our own pace, flipping the hoods of our raincoats off and on as the rain came in spurts.

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We took a tour of the house, marveling at its architecture and grandeur, and then we walked the grounds and strolled through the fairy garden.

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Overall it was a very charming and welcome start to our day, and the perfect pit stop en route to the day’s main attraction: the Cliffs of Moher.

You know, these old things.

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We spent a good two hours here, blessed with a sunny sky and only periodic gusts of high wind that made my dad close his eyes and ask us to please stand at least 4 miles from the edge.

Among the many (hundreds?) (thousands?) of pictures we took, my sister and I made sure to get another hair by the Cliffs shot, paying homage to those we took a few years ago.

And I got to recreate one my of my favorite shots from our trip—this time with my brother in tow.

Quick sidenote: Can we talk about how tiny my hands look compared to his?

From the Cliffs of Moher, we headed to Galway, my cousin Taryn’s favorite city from her stay in Ireland, and she took us to her favorite pizza place (Mizzoni’s) and her favorite bar (The Skeff).

As we hung out and listened to live music from Vicaria Band, my sister and I introduced the gang to our favorite Irish born drink: Jameson and ginger ale, which aided in our table’s karaoke performances of Britney Spears, Tina Turner and Darius Rucker (among others).

The drive back to Mullingar, while a little long and dark, again landed us in a place to call home, and the group of us sat around the living room, sipping on nightcaps and laughing our way through the memories of the day. This was our last night in Mullingar, but Carmel and Fintan promised to send us off with a bang, and at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, that bang arrived in style.

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Saturday June 15th, 2019:

BANG.

Okay, so it wasn’t really a bang. It was more of a knock. Two or three of them. And then a call into the house: “Peppy and I are ready for ya!”

As you might (never) have guessed, Peppy was a horse, and Fintan ushered us outside to meet him, and take us on ride in the Peppy-drawn carriage.

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Pro tip: if you are ever given the opportunity to go on a carriage ride through the Irish countryside, say yes. There is truly no better way to start your morning.

After each family got a ride, we loaded back into our cars, waved goodbye to Carmel and Fintan (and Peppy) and got on the road to Cork.

Just under three hours later, we pulled into the parking lot at Blarney Castle.

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Now, Blarney Castle was a favorite from our last trip, mostly because of how beautiful both the castle and the grounds are, but also because of the undeniably funand for some, understandably terrifyingprospect of kissing the Blarney Stone to receive the “gift of the gab”. For a full recap of what that means, you can check out this post, but to keep it brief: you lie on the ground, have an Irish man help you more or less hang off a ledge at the top of the castle, and then kiss a thousand year old rock.

Legend says that after you kiss the rock you will be blessed with eloquent speaking abilities, though for anyone afraid of either heights or, more commonly I assume, being held over a ledge one hundred feet in the air, the sheer anticipation of kissing the rock can bring out profanity as eloquent as anything I’ve ever heard.

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To come down from the excitement/danger/fun/terror (depending on the person) we walked around the grounds, once again surprised by how beautiful everything is, though slowly getting used to the fact that Ireland is simply, consistently, even reliably beautiful. (Hear that, Irish tourism department? Reliably Beautiful. Call me.)

Our hotel for the night was the River Lee in Cork. While it was tough finding accommodations that fit a group of nine, or even a family of more than three, the River Lee was beautiful and we settled in nicely to three rooms, each with three single beds. (I found a great deal on Orbitz.com!)

We also enjoyed—one could argue too much—the hotel restaurant, where we spent a large chunk of time eating and eating and drinking and eating before heading out in search of one (or three) Irish pubs, where we spent the rest of the night drinking and drinking and laughing and dancing and singing our hearts out.

One request, Ireland pubs: play more Whitney Houston.

Other than that, you’re perfect.

Uh, Hey, We’re in Ireland! (Our European Adventure: Day 1)

June 13th, 2019:

So there we were. Overstuffed backpacks making our shoulders ache, wheeled suitcases constantly hitting bumps and threatening to topple over, and ankles far too bare for the unexpected wind that welcomed us into the Dublin morning. After 13 hours of travel, my family had landed in Ireland and were making our way to our European rental car, which promised a complete shattering of muscle memory.

Our plan was to make our way around Ireland in four days. We had decided to forego a bus and a designated schedule in favor of a terrifying adventure on the wrong side of the rode, a passionate new dedication and reliance on the design of Apple Maps, and the freedom to stop for pee breaks whenever we wanted. The pro and con list really could have been a novel in itself.

So there we were, in our just big enough car for a family of five with five suitcases, five backpacks and a lot of emotional baggage provoked by sleep deprivation. But alas, my dad started the car—from the passenger seat, so it seemed—and we skittered into the streets of Dublin, each of us wondering if this was such a good idea.

Now, for any of you who have read my blog before, you might know that my sister and I went to Ireland a few years ago. And if pictures from that trip are any indication, we were disgusted to be back. I mean, imagine having to look at this for a SECOND time.

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Aside from simply wanting to visit this friendly, welcoming and beautiful country again, our main reason for making Ireland our first destination was to show my mom, dad, and brother the country that had stolen our hearts. We wanted them to see what our (pristinely executed) slideshow from three years ago couldn’t. And although we showed them ridiculously unmoving, definitely not borderline spiritual photos like this:

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…they still agreed to come along.

Our first stop after landing was the Guinness Storehouse, (pro tip: buy your tickets online in advanced to save money, skip the line and get a free pint!) where my sister, Natalee, and I had previously become “certified Guinness pourers.” We were excited for our family to achieve this status so we could finally stop looking down on them.

Our reservation was for 4:30 p.m., and although we landed late and took a few (or six) wrong turns trying to navigate our way through the city streets, we were still running a little early by the time we parked in a nearby parking structure and made our way to the front door. So to kill time we headed to Harkin’s, a pub in walking distance from the Storehouse, and dove headfirst into some burgers, beers, and Irish coffees.

As we ate, we met up with the other half of our adventure crew: the Stevens. My cousin Taryn had just finished up a three-week study abroad program in Ireland and was the catalyst for our entire vacation/hijacking of her family’s vacation. What started as a “wouldn’t it be crazy to meet you in Ireland?” was suddenly a very real, “uh, hey, we’re in IRELAND!”

Once we finished our meal, we made our first walk as the newly imposing yet undeniably fabulous group of nine. We took our tour of the Storehouse, were all successfully certified (and recertified) and shared our first (and free!) pints of Guinness.

To my absolute unsurprise I still hated it.

Back at our car, we were met with our first dose of pure luck and (undoubtedly) heaven sent Irish hospitality. Being from Southern California, you’d think we’d be better equipped at reading street signs and might notice that our parking structure closed at 7:00 p.m. To our great fortune however, even though it was nearing 8:00 p.m., a security guard just so happened to be walking by and was able to unlock the gate, saving us a €100 retrieval fee, and a whole lot of over exhausted family angst. Slainte, you broad, Irish angel.

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In the planning of this trip, we had a lot of conversations about how we wanted to get around Ireland, where we wanted to stay, etc. My sister and I had previously taken a clockwise route around the country, making pit stops in five main cities (Dublin, Cork, Gallway, Londonderry and Belfast) and so initially I assumed we’d do the same thing. However, in looking up lodging, I found that that route was going to be pricey. So, instead we opted to pick a city in the middle of the country to act as our home base—at least for the first couple days.

Which is how we wound up at the gate of this Airbnb in Mullingar.

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photo credit: Airbnb (check out the profile and rates for this place here. It’s way more affordable than it looks!)

Though it was a bit of a trek, the hosts, Carmel and Fintan, were incredibly charming and made us feel so at home that we were able to unload, unpack and crash—hard.

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As I lay there in the moments before falling asleep, with the Irish countryside sitting right outside my window, the trip became both real and completely unfathomable all at the same time. I knew we’d made it, to both this country, this house and this adventure, but I also wondered if I’d wake up the next morning and it would all be a dream.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.