Help Find a Cure for ALS

My Uncle Seth is one of my biggest heroes.

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From Left to Right: Seth, Ellie, Jayne, Amy, Jake (Not pictured is their oldest son Sam)

I only met him about 4 1/2 years ago; he is married to my biological Aunt Amy. When my sister and I found our birth mom, we were introduced to her entire family including Seth and Amy and their adorable kids.

Seth was diagnosed 8 years ago (in 2010) with ALS , which is a degenerative disease that affects the muscular and nervous system.

He jumped to action, and co-founded ALS Crowd Division of the CrowdCare Foundation. ALS Crowd helps aggregate and share the latest research and allows patients to connect with one another; it also offers information about treatment options and supports research and development of new ALS clinical trials.

Beyond being one of the funniest, wittiest, most poetic, and kindest people in my life, he is also one of the bravest. And I find so much strength and inspiration through him and his family members more than I think they will ever know.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go meet up with them in Portugal, along with my biological grandparents and my other biological Aunt Debbie, as they embarked on an international adventure to further their reach with ALS Crowd collaborating with Project MinE. I jumped on the chance to spend time with them there.

Being around them, and feeling their positive energy and light, and seeing the good work and progress they are making in the medical world with ALS research truly is remarkable. It makes me want to do more and help them with their cause!

If you are wanting to know more about ALS Crowd or Project MinE click on either linked site to check out their initiatives and to see how you can help!

To Seth, Amy, Sam, Ellie, Jayne, and Jake: Thank you all for being the incredible humans that you are. Your light, your love, and your courageous hearts inspire me (and I know so many, many others!) to do more, to be more, to make this world a better place by any means possible. I am proud to know you, I am proud to call you family.

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Dollar Flight Club

If you’re anything like me, you dream and fantasize about traveling more than anything else!

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Sintra, Portugal

For years I wasted so much time NOT traveling, because I was worried about spending the money, and taking the time to search for flights. It all seemed like so much effort and I honestly was scared!

But thats the thing about dreams… they have to scare us a little bit! If they didn’t, then they wouldn’t be worth dreaming about in the first place!

The Road Less Traveled… Literally.

Here’s where that sinking feeling of FOMO or regret comes in; thinking about all the amazing traveling and exploring I could have already been doing!

If I only knew what I know today, I could have checked off so many more places on my world bucket list!

And what is it that I know? Keep reading below as I share my (not so secret) ways that you can make your travel dreams a reality… and spend less money doing it!!!

Dollar Flight Club

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The secret is literally in the name of this organization : Dollar Flights! Meaning, you will save so many dollars booking your flights through them!

Now you might be asking yourself, “Is this for real?” or “Will I really be able to save up to $500 on international flights?”

The answer is YES. Seriously!

Dollar Flight Club is an incredible, not to mention EASY, way to save on thousands of flights around the world!

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Lisbon, Portugal

How It Works

Dollar Flight Club is a flight deal alert subscription service that helps 500,000+
people save money on airfare. Subscribers save over $500 USD per international
ticket on average. The goal is to help subscribers see more of the world and enjoy
experiences they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise!

Easier than checking a bag my friends!

Dollar Flight Club does all the work for you, searching various sources online to find the best deals, which get sent directly to you in your inbox. Literally, your next trip is just a click away!

Why Pick Premium?

So now you might be wondering about whether or not you need the Premium account, as opposed to just sticking with the basic free one.

Honestly, both are great options! Either way, you will be getting amazing flight deals to help make your travel dreams a reality.

BUT… here are a few major reasons why you should consider going Premium.

The Premium Perks

-Every single flight deal for your departure airport… Which means 4x more than Free   Members, and you’ll be more likely to find a flight that works for you!
– The option to filter by specific departure airport(s).
– 4x mistake fares and secret deals (And mistake fares are a MAJOR KEY to traveling for less!)
– Instant SMS text alerts
– Get deal alerts first, before free members
– No ads (just straight flight deals)
– Premium Membership Partner Perks

See? Premium is where it’s at, and I think it’s about time you #treatyoself and sign up today!

Join Dollar Flight Club Now

Joining Dollar Flight Club has been one of the best decisions I’ve made so far in 2019. Not only that, it’s helped me truly make traveling the world a reality!So what are you waiting for? Do you not want to see the places you’ve been dreaming of? Do you not like saving money on flights that you can spend instead on the incredible things you’ll see and do around the globe?

My friends, join me as I seriously start checking off my entire bucket list! Sign up with Dollar Flight Club, I promise you won’t regret it. You have money to save and the world to see!

Pack you bags, buckle your seat belts, and airplane mode on!

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Sagres, Portugal

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Sign up today with Dollar Flight Club

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Home Is In My Heart

I recently went on a trip back home – to the Philadelphia suburbs where I grew up!

I haven’t been able to go back for almost 3 years, and I have been aching for it so much.

So, when I managed to find a $250 RT ticket from Salt Lake (absolutely unheard of!) I jumped on it and was on my way!

Her Heart Is In Our Hearts

I spent my first night back in Wallingford, PA with my mom’s best friend and her husband. We spent hours catching up, and reminiscing about my mom and all of our memories from when we all lived down the street from one another. We laughed a lot, and we cried a lot too.

I needed that, I desperately needed to spend that time with her and feel as if my mom were in the room with us too, laughing at the old stories and remembering all the good times. Being around her, I feel so close to my mom because she carries a huge piece of my mom inside her heart and I needed to be close to that for even just a few hours; it was so healing and so vital.

My heart felt a little less heavy from sorrow and a little more full of joy after I spent that time with them.

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The Court House in Media, Pennsylvania all decked out for the holidays 

Holidays are the Hardest

After Thanksgiving, my heart has been holding this heavy sadness for my mom – I mean, I miss her all the time but the holiday season is always just a little bit harder. After dinner was done and all of my siblings and I left my Dad’s house, I went home alone. But, instead of going straight home and putting on some holiday movie by myself, I decided to take a detour and go visit my mom in the cemetery.

I brought her a Diet Coke like I always do, because it was her drink of choice. It was freezing, about 29 degrees and it was very dark except for the few grave-sites that had lighted fixtures on them around me on the hill.

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Cheers Mom. Miss you everyday.

There in the darkness I cried – and not just some tears, I full on ugly cried. I felt pathetic, but I think I needed to let it out and feel my grief in that moment. Sometimes I try to hold it all in and just deal with it, when in reality I need to own my pain and my sadness and feel it – really feel it. Because the reason it hurts so damn much is because I loved her, so damn much. And that love will never change.

My House

The next day before meeting up with a friend, I had to go see my childhood house. I can’t  go to the place I grew up and NOT go see my house!

I drove down the familiar roads, not even needing GPS even though I haven’t lived there for 15 years; it is all just so deeply ingrained and I remember it all!

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I will never forget this house!

Finally pulling up to my house, I pulled the car over across the street and just stared at it. I wanted to go knock on the door and ask if I could go see the inside of it, but I didn’t want the people who live there (in MY house) to think I was some kind of crazy person.

So, instead, I sat across the street and admired it, remembering so many memories as they all rushed over me. I lived there from 18 months to 18 years old, so almost half of my life! Remembering the girl who lived in that front window, she seemed like such a ghost compared to the girl sitting in the car now.

Feeling so sentimental, and still missing my mom and my family being all together for so many years in that place, I was suddenly crying there on the side of the road. And I’m sure anyone driving by must have thought something was wrong; but I mean, wasn’t there?

And one man actually was worried, and he stopped his car next to mine and waved me to roll my window down. He was a gray haired older man with an incredibly kind smile, although his eye full of concern.

“Are you ok sweetheart?” he asked in his thick Delco accent.

“Oh… yep! I’m Okay, thank you!” I responded, feeling stupid for crying on the side of the road trying my best to wipe my face.

“Are you lost? Can I help you with directions somewhere?” He offered.

I wanted to respond no, because I knew where I was and where I needed to go, but in the moment I responded, “You know, I am a little lost. But I think I can find my way.”

“We all get lost from time to time, but remember there is always someone around that can help you find where you need to go!”

After profusely convincing him I was ok, he drove off, but his words stayed with me.

Lost But Not Forever

I stayed there in front of my old house for awhile, just thinking about life.

That man’s kindness and his words meant more to me that I think he could have known in those moments we spoke.

The truth is, we are all lost sometimes – but not forever. And we even lose pieces of ourselves too – but they aren’t lost forever either; not always.

And just like that kind man said, there is always someone around who can help us find where we need to go.

Finding My Way Back

This trip home for me, I hoped would help me recover pieces of myself that I have lost. This town, and area, was where I was raised, where I figured out the beginnings of who I was and what I wanted.

Important steps and parts of myself were created and developed here; some of my most painful memories also culminated there. But you need the hard times to help you see your own strength and resilience, and to appreciate the good times more.

Going back to your home – to your roots wherever they may be – is important. It is an necessary place to return to occasionally, to feel that part of yourself again. If it’s been lost, you can try to replace it where it all started.

Or if there are painful things associated with your home, you can also go to face those old demons and finally let them go. This is also an important step on the road to self-discovery.

Home Is In My Heart

I ended that portion of my trip to the east coast with a dinner in Media with 3 of my closest girlfriends from high school.

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We laughed, reminisced, and caught up with each other. I hardly ever get to see them, and every time I do it is magical and so healing to my heart. I am continually grateful that we are all still friends and keep in touch, even though we live so far apart.

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3 of the best women on the planet

That night as I lay in bed I thought of that old saying:

Home Is Where Your Heart Is

And as sappy as I always used to think it is, it is so valid and so true; especially now that I live so far from the place I consider home.

My home is inside my heart, I carry it with me everywhere. My friends, my family, the places I hold such fond memories of, the ones I’ve loved and the ones I’ve lost too; they’re all in there in my heart.

So maybe in a way I’m not really lost, I think those pieces of myself are still in there inside me, they’ve just become buried under everything else that I’ve been facing and dealing with.

But my home, the place where the real “me” resides, is always with me in my heart.

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Walking through Linvilla Orchards in Media, PA

 

Show Some Compassion

Do you know what the word compassion means? We throw it around often.. but do you really know what it is?

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Showing compassion for someone or something is literally showing your humanity for them, loving them and caring for them like we all should be doing anyway!

WCD

Today is World Compassion Day, which was started to help make changes towards how all creatures big and small are treated on this planet.

The first WCD was on November 28, 2012, and according to Wikipedia:

The first WCD was held in Mumbai, India in the presence of the 14th Dalai Lama on 28 November 2012. It focused on the need for compassion towards animals and all living things on this planet. It brought to India, Humane Society International, an organization that works in the area of animal welfare.

What an incredible way to maintain kindness towards all the creatures existing on this planet with us!

How to Show Your Own Compassion

In honor of World Compassion Day, and how much I love all the creatures of the earth, I wanted to give you guys some options as to how you can help! Here are some conservation, preservation, and support organization geared specifically towards animals!

The Ellen Degeneres WildLife Fund

Click here to head to the website to check it out fully, and to donate to this wonderful cause to help save the gorillas!

Here is the mission statement as stated on the website homepage:

The Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund was established to support global conservation efforts for critically endangered species. Building a permanent home for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is the first initiative of the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund. This project will permanently secure the future of wild gorillas in Rwanda by building on successful field conservation efforts, while empowering the people living near the gorillas to thrive in relationship to their own ecosystem.

In 1967, Dr. Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Virunga mountains to protect and study the endangered mountain gorillas.  Although Fossey’s life was cut short, her work lives on in the people and programs of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and its continuing conservation success story.

World Wide Fund For Nature

Click here to check out their website, and to donate by adopting an animal!

From their website:

Support WWF’s global efforts to protect wild animals and their habitats with a symbolic species adoption.

Project Aware

Click here to read more about their conservation efforts in our oceans around the world!

From their homepage:

Today, Project AWARE is a global movement for ocean protection powered by a community of adventurers. We connect the passion for ocean adventure with the purpose of marine conservation to create lasting change.

Supported by this growing movement, we envision a world where the ocean doesn’t need protecting. Our local actions collectively protect the most vulnerable marine species and decrease pollution. We work together for a clean, healthy ocean – and we have fun doing it! Join the adventure!

Wildlife Conservation Society

Click here to donate and help conserve habitats around the globe that are threatened!

From their website stating their mission:

WCS’s goal is to conserve the world’s largest wild places in 16 priority regions, home to more than 50% of the world’s biodiversity.

This is outlined in our 2020 strategy, which positions WCS to maintain its historic focus on the protection of species while developing an ambitious plan to engage with a rapidly changing world.

The challenges are greater than ever, but with the focus, dedication, and passion of a committed staff—combined with a unique mixture of field, zoo, and aquarium expertise—WCS will continue to set the bar for science, conservation action, and education that has driven our success in protecting wildlife and wild places for over a century. We hold ourselves to the highest standards, adhering to core values of respect, accountability and transparency, innovation, diversity and inclusion, collaboration, and integrity.

The Humane Society of the United States

Click here to donate and help save all local animals in shelters as well as wild animals living around you!

Their mission statement to help animals:

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s most effective animal protection organization. With you by our side, we take on the big fights to end suffering for all animals.

Save the Animals

At the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing: compassion. We each need to do our part to love one another to make this world a better place: human to human, and human to animal too.

We are all co-existing on this planet, so why not make it a better place for all of us to be in? Love makes everything bearable, and better. So show some love today for those creatures who need our help!

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Face to face with one of the beautiful gorillas in the volcano mountains of Rwanda this past summer 

 

 

Rwanda Part 2: Lake Kivu, Kibuye, & Kigali

(Read Rwanda Part 1 here to catch up!)

June 15 Lake Kivu in Kibuye – The Cormoran Lodge

Waking up under the large mosquito net on our king size bed that Heather and I shared, I rolled over and could see the sun poking through the closed curtains from our balcony. I got up and opened them, letting the full views pour into our room.

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View of the other tree houses from our front balcony 

This spot in the city of Kibuye at The Cormoran Lodge, overlooking Lake Kivu, was one of the most beautiful places ever! We woke up quite early (not by our own decision) because Steve and SueAnne were talking pretty loudly out on their balcony below us around 6 am, but with a view like that I couldn’t really complain.

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The view from our back balcony onto Lake Kivu

After breakfast in the resort restaurant again, our group split up: Steve, SueAnne, and Anne headed into the nearby town to do some shopping. Heather, Poppa, and myself walked down to the dock to catch a boat with Mr. Kirenga.

Our destination was: Napoleon Island, so named because of how it’s shape resembles the hat Napoleon famously wore.

The motor boat was small, with a roof overhead, and could fit about 8 people. Our driver was a cute local triathlete named Ken. Hoping to see him in the Olympics someday!

The ride to the island was so great, stopping first to see some local fisherman unpacking their boats from a long night of fishing on the lake.

Then turning out towards the open water, we passed some other resorts currently under construction on a nearby hill, and a gigantic private home which is apparently owned by a man from Germany, and houses the king when he comes to Lake Kivu. It was pretty impressive.

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The private home where the King stays

We stopped at a small island covered densely in trees, when we saw a cute little furry face pop up from a branch. It was an adorable Vervet Monkey, and as we came closer he also came closer. When we reached the shore he hopped right onto our boat and checked us out.

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Waiting patiently for treats

According to Ken, he is notorious for visiting the tourists on the boats because he is hoping to get some treats. He walked around the boat, looking into all of our eyes hoping we would feed him. He sat patiently for a moment or two, and then when he realized we had nothing for him he left looking very disappointed, and watched us pull away from the trees.

As we got closer to Napoleon Island, Ken told us about a local farmer who brings his cows to the island everyday to graze. The amazing part though, is he ties them to the back of the boat and they swim behind it! I had no idea cows swam!! Plus they were really cute cows 🙂

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Blurry from the boat.. the farmer and his swimming cows!

Ken led us up the hiking path, which would bring us to the real reason we came to the island: the fruit bats!! The hike was pretty steep and rocky, but it only took us a few minutes to reach the bats.

But don’t worry, you can hear them the minute you get on the island, because there are over 5 million fruit bats living there!

Once we reach a good enough spot, Ken started clapping his hands and ALLLLLL the bats woke up and started screeching and flying around. It was incredible!

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After watching them for awhile we hiked back down to the boat. I ended up slipping once and fell right on the edge of a rock, which bruised my lower back pretty good. Poppa also ended up falling too! Heather and I were pretty sad we couldn’t prevent him from falling, but he assured us that he was just fine!

Going back to the lodge, we ate some lunch and then all went to take some nice long naps. Heather and I then decided to put on our swim suits and go down the the little sandy beach area and enjoy the sunshine. We didn’t dare swim in the lake though, because Poppa scared us pretty good about the parasites in the water that will get into your skin and cause itchy uncomfortable bumps, kind of similar to swimmers itch.

Everyone eventually joined us down by the water, except for SueAnne who went and took a late nap. The others decided to all go kayaking, so Heather and I watched them from the shore on our lounge chairs.

We met a few girls who were also staying there, who all work for the UN and are stationed in the Congo. I was so inspired by them and their work, and their passion to help those in the Congo.

Later after dinner, when everyone else had gone to bed – Heather, Poppa, and me talked for awhile just the three of us. We talked very intimately about our birth mom Sherri (Poppa’s oldest child) and when we were conceived and then put up for adoption. I had never heard the story from Poppa’s point of view, and it was such a tender and wonderful moment to have with him and Heather. I will forever be grateful for Sherri and her ability to make the best decision for us at the time, which was to put us up for adoption. She and her entire family hoped that one day we would return to find them, and when we did 4 years ago it was such a magical moment I will never forget. The Hales are just another extension of my family now, and I feel so blessed to have all of them in my life again.

June 16 Back to Kigali

The next morning we left the beautiful lodge on the lake to head back to Kigali. We stopped first at the local market to SueAnne and Anne could pick up their dresses they had made by one of the seamstresses. Their dresses were cute!

While in that market, a younger boy, in his 20’s I think, tried to pick pocket me. I noticed immediately, and he was not successful. I just smiled at him and walked away. It was so funny because I wasn’t angry at all, I honestly felt sorry for him that he felt the need to steal from me. I wished I could have just given him some money, but I didn’t want to start pandemonium with all the little kids who were following us “mizungus” around (white people).

About an hour into our ride home several of us needed to pee, so we pulled off into a small village. We each took turns running into the awful, dirty toilet room; held our breath and peed as quickly as possible over the open hole on the ground.

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This lady selling mangos right outside the “bathroom” we stopped at

Walking back to our car, a very handsome local man named Iman started talking to Heather and Anne, and offered to show us the market located just above the bathroom on the hill. We said “YOLO” and followed him, because we wanted to experience a local market without any touristy items.

We were definitely the spectacle in that market! Everyone stared at us immediately, and then wanted us to come look at their goods! Iman kept talking to everyone in Kinyarwanda  and we were pretty sure several times he was making jokes about us because they kept laughing at us! But it was all in good spirits so we couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves too.

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I bought a few of these African bananas in the market.. they were one of my favorite things to eat in Rwanda! Soooo much better than normal bananas! 

SueAnne ended up buying 2 drums covered in spotted goat skin. When she started drumming on them with her hands an elderly Rwandan lady got quite a kick out of it, and laughed so hard at her! We honestly must have seemed so strange and out of place to them!

The drive back to Kigali was beautiful, passing by many villages, seeing so many hills, and a gorgeous waterfall.

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We also made a brief stop to see the famous Hotel Rwanda once we got back to Kigali. Now, it’s actually called Hotel des Mille Collines  and has been renovated since the genocide in the 90s.

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The manager of the hotel during the 90’s, Paul Rusesabagina, helped hide and save over 1000 Tutsi refugee lives. Although now it is just a renovated hotel, it was still important for us to go there and see it.

If you’ve never read or learned about the genocide in Rwanda, do yourself and favor and study it. Just like the holocaust, and any other genocide that has occurred, it is important to educate ourselves about it so that we never forget and change history from ever repeating itself.

I will write more about the genocide in my final post about Rwanda, when we visited The Kigali Genocide Memorial.

We checked back into The Flame Tree Hotel around 2 pm, and decided to go meet by the pool for a swim with Poppa because it was incredibly hot and humid outside.

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However, the pool was ice cold! Poppa was the bravest of us, and went all the way under and swam two laps. I couldn’t bear to go past my waist!

Since Poppa had been the bravest we decided he had earned himself some Fanta Fiestas! He was pretty disappointed when they said they were sold out and only had Fanta Lemon, so he settled for those instead.

We all ordered soup for dinner and called it an early night.

June 17th Kigali

This day was a Sunday, so we decided to go check out the local LDS Church. According to Poppa; the current President of Rwanda, Kagame, had abolished all practicing religions from taking place. This was because there had been many different “pastors” and “bishops” who had come in after the genocide to start new congregations, and took these people’s money and disappeared. As if the Rwandan people hadn’t been through enough! In order to control his people no longer being taken advantage of, Kagame just abolished all publicly practiced religions.

So, in order to continue meeting every church had to abandon their original churches and worship houses, and find other places to do so in secrecy.

For the LDS congregation, they were sharing a space to meet inside a local hotel’s conference room with 2 other Christian churches. However, every month or so they had to change locations so the government wouldn’t shut them down again. These people are faithful to keep moving around just so they can worship together!

The meeting we attended was interesting, but so full of love and kindness. The members of the congregation were welcoming and friendly, and almost all of them made an effort to come say hello to us! I myself was pretty obsessed with this little girl who was sitting on the same row as us, with a matching dress and headscarf just like her mama! She was too shy though and wouldn’t come see me or Heather, much to our dismay.

Leaving church, we went to a few markets. There was not much else to do in Kigali that day, so we thought we might as well shop!

We stopped first at a smaller market, but it was where we ended up all buying things. Each little “store” basically had the same items, but with small variations. I was very picky with what I wanted to buy and lug all the way back on the long flights, so eventually I decided on a cute basket that I would hang over my bed at home.

We went to another market, this one specializing in fabrics and seamstresses. It was an absolute MADHOUSE. It was inside a giant warehouse, and literally from the floor to the ceiling, each small “store” was covered with all different bright patterns and colors. The vendors were almost ravenous to have you come buy from them, pulling you in all directions to come see their stuff.

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It’s super blurry but gives you the idea! Those rows of fabrics go back further than the eye can see! It was insanity! 

Immediately I felt overwhelmed with anxiety, feeling so closed in on all sides. While SueAnne became engulfed in a sea of vendors, Heather and I broke off from the crowd and went into a less enclosed aisle. I ended up buying a cute head band from a local vendor named Tom, who Poppa also bought a cute pair of pants from for Dianne back home.

Figuring the Alders would take awhile, Heather Poppa and I went back to the hotel since Poppa needed to connect with one of the local residents at the Kigali Hospital where he would be working the next week. We ordered some grilled cheeses and Poppa shared some fun medical stories from all of his career in the international  infectious disease medical world, while we waited for the resident to show up. Unfortunately for us, it is normal for Rwandans to add mayonnaise to grilled cheese, so I was worried we would become sick from it. (Spoiler Alert: none of us did!)

Leonardo the resident finally showed up, and Poppa gave him the laptop and cords he had brought for him from Utah. He seemed in awe of Poppa, and was so honored to be working with him. Poppa is just amazing!

Then we helped Poppa pack his things into a taxi, and headed down the street to the MTM building to get some money from an ATM machine, and get some ice cream. Because if there’s one thing you need to know about my Poppa, it’s that he loooooves his ice cream!

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It was delicious! We all chose chocolate.

Dropping us back off at Flame Tree, we said our goodbyes to Poppa. He would be heading to his fancy hotel by the hospital, where he would be working with the residents for the next week.

I knew I would miss him on our next adventures heading to Akagera National Park, and then to the volcanoes to see the gorillas, but I was so excited for what lay ahead for us!

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Rwanda Part 1: Kigali, Butare, Nyungwe Forest

Looking back on our incredible trip to Rwanda, it sometimes feels like a dream that we even went and experienced what we did!

My heart is so full and grateful for what we saw there – and I am forever changed because of it too. Not to sound too cheesy, but this was a place and an experience that changed my life for the better.

June 9, 2018

Heather and I decided to drive ourselves to the airport, since all the Uber drivers close by were charging a ridiculous $75 rate. With that type of payment, we decided we might as well park at the airport ourselves since it would cost us about the same in the end.

We met up with our biological grandfather Devon, or Poppa as we call him, and met our fellow travelers – Steve and SueAnne Alder (very close and dear friends of Poppa and our grandma Dianne) and their daughter Anne.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the Alder’s would become some of my favorite people on the planet, and I think some lifelong adventure friends!

We boarded our flight which was departing at 10:45 pm. I was feeling a little nervous since Heather and I were not able to sit by each other on this leg to JFK, and it didn’t make me feel any better when we took off and flew through some of the worst turbulence I’ve experienced on a flight! The poor Japanese couple sitting next to me probably heard about 20 straight minutes of unadulterated swearing that would make even the most weathered sailor blush.

June 10

Needless to say, we made it in one piece. We landed at JfK at 6 am, had a 3 hour layover, and then boarded our next flight on Qatar Airlines. The flight was 12 hours to Qatar, but it was one of the nicest planes I’ve been on! Even in coach the seats were large, had spacious leg room, nice tv’s with thousands of things to watch or listen to, and more food than I could eat.

I did sleep for most of the flight, thanks to my Xanax. But somewhere along the way my eyes swelled horribly from my eyelash extensions I had done the day before. I seriously looked like an alien, and I frightened the flight attendant to the point where she brought me bags of ice constantly to bring down the swelling.

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I’m in the hat. Trying to hide my swollen alien eyes ha ha

We landed in Doha, Qatar in one the most luxurious airports ever! Apparently it’s the 5th largest in the world! We had a brief 1 hour layover, and then re-boarded and landed 5 hours later in Entebbe, Uganda. We were almost there!

June 11

Kigali

From there we flew to Kigali, Rwanda and landed local time at 2 pm.

Customs was a breeze, and the visas were cheaper than we had originally thought ($30 instead of $50.)

We hailed 2 taxi vans, and headed to our first hotel in the city. Our drive through the streets was so eye opening! I loved the energy of the people, the modernness of the buildings against deep rooted culture; there were amazing people everywhere in bright African patterned clothing carrying enormous items on their heads, lots of traffic of cars and Moto taxis, and sweet babies wrapped in cloth on their mother’s backs! It was wonderful, I couldn’t wait to see more.

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One of the many down town market areas. Lots of traffic and people!
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These Moto taxis were nuts. I would have tried one, but I was worried about getting fleas or lice from the helmets that you have to wear! Also.. probs would have died on one in an accident so there’s that too!
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I was so impressed how the things the Rwandan women could carry on their heads while also carrying a little one on their back!

Flame Tree

We arrived at Flame Tree, and were pleasantly surprised with how nice it was! I honestly had no idea what to expect with anywhere we stayed, but the entire hotel grounds was beautifully decorated and landscaped, and each room was a private town home with 2 floors, a full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, and wonderful AC (it was so humid!).

Heather and I took a brief nap, then showered off from all the traveling. It was one of the those showers that just rejuvenates you (even though Heather’s shower was ice cold!)

We met up with the group for dinner in the dining hall. I ordered vegetable soup and some bread because I was worried about trying anything too risky just yet. It ended up looking like pureed baby food, but honestly was so delicious! Poppa ordered pizza and I also stole a small slice.

And the bread… can we talk about the bread in Rwanda?! It is to diiiiieeee for! The Belgians colonized Rwanda in the 20’s and they must have shared their bread making skills with the Rwandan people or something!

We went to bed around 9 PM. And when I say went to bed, I literally think I passed out as soon as I laid down!

June 12, 2018

The Drive to Butare

We woke up early the next morning around 7 to eat and then meet up with our tour guide for the trip Mr. Kirenga, who would be driving us that day to Butare. I highly enjoyed my oatmeal with cane sugar, as well as some deliciously smooth hot chocolate.

Mr. Kirenga has known my grandparents for several years, since they used to live in Rwanda and went on many expeditions through his tourist and birding company. He seemed like a very nice man, and we packed all of us and our bags into his giant 8-person Land Rover safari jeep, which he had rebuilt from the 1970’s.

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Mr. Kirenga is on top loading things up with the help of an employee of Flame Tree. Steve Alder is waiting patiently to get in the truck.

We were so excited to start our journey!

The drive south to Butare took about 3 1/2 hours, and took us through some beautiful country roads and villages. Rwanda is called the land of 1000 hills, and I could definitely see why with all of the rolling green hills.

Seeing first-hand how these people live in pretty poor conditions was a bit disheartening, yet they were some of the kindest and happiest people! We felt like celebrities, because we stuck out like sore thumbs there and everyone would smile and wave at us as we drove past.

The children started shouting, “Mizungu” at us. We asked Mr. Kirenga what it meant, and he said it means “white person.”

The King’s Palace

Poppa insisted we make a brief stop on the way to Butare, at The King’s Palace. We walked through the reproductions of what these incredible huts used to look like, finding the customs very fascinating. They were also incredibly smart about the way they built and designed the huts!

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While the King’s Palace was cool, I was way more excited to see the King’s cows!

Their horns are MASSIVE!! I wondered how in the world they held their heads up! But they were such sweet docile creatures, and they have the cutest faces! The handler walked around with this sage smudge stick to ward off the pesky flies from their faces. He also sang to them, which whenever he would sing they would all stop what they were doing and walk towards him. It was so cool!

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Gotta take a selfie with these cows! Also.. notice the still swollen eyes…

Butare

We arrived in Butare, which is one of the largest cities in Rwanda with the largest University. It was very busy!

We ate at the famous ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ that Poppa loved when he and Dianne lived there. They lived in Butare in 2014-2015. Our eyes were larger than our stomachs, and we ended up ordering most of the items on the menu! It was delicious but we couldn’t finish it all.

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Heather had the great idea that we box up the leftovers and she gave them to a woman who was begging by the gates of the restaurant with a small child on her back. She didn’t speak any English, but we could understand her gratitude as she kept patting her hand over her heart and had tears in her eyes.

As we walked towards the local market, there was another woman who was literally crawling on her hands and knees because her feet were crippled and she could not walk on them. The image of her crawling through the crowds will forever break my heart.

The market was insane! And clearly they were not used to having Mizungus there! Also, I had shorts on (almost to my knees) and apparently they are not used to seeing that much skin either because everyone stared blatantly at my bare legs!

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The tall building was the inside market; each floor filled to capacity with vendors and items. It continued out back, with food and everything you can imagine for sale.

People sold everything there; utensils, fabric, food, furniture, toilets, clothes, and jewelry. One merchant pulled Poppa aside and said, “Hey Poppa! I have something for you!” and pointed to some extravagantly designed boxer briefs. We had a good laugh about it.

The Drive to Nyungwe Forest

Light was fading, so we needed to head towards Nyungwe Forest where we would stay the next 2 nights.

This drive was one of the worst of our trip. It was 4 1/2 hours through windy jungle roads, most of them unpaved or riddled with giant gaping holes. There was also construction halfway up the canyon that caused so much chaos.

One section in particular has very uneven, dusty, and crowded with villagers. A gigantic dump truck that was filled beyond capacity with what looked like mattresses, drove by us and nearly tipped over on top of us!

The windy roads made us all a quite car sick.

Finally, we made it to our hotel called The Top View Hotel. We were relieved to be out of the car, and at such a nice 5 star resort again!

Heather and I headed to our room, which again was a separate town home. We were in #1, Volcano. Ours was all the way at the end of the walkway, on the edge overlooking a valley down below. It was night time, so we were excited to see it in the morning.

Our large king size bed was covered with a mosquito net, we had a good sized bedroom, and a door that opened onto a deck overlooking another side of the canyon.

As we laid in bed we heard wild African dogs howling all night in the jungles surrounding us, but we quickly fell asleep again; and an especially nice surprise? The hot water bottles placed at the feet of our bed under the covers to keep our feet warm and toasty!

June 13, 2018

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Waking up the next morning at 6 am to see the sunrise was the best decision we could have made. The light coming up over those jungle hills, the sky water colored with red and orange hues; it was absolute magic. I stood there and almost became emotional, wondering how I was so lucky to be in such a beautiful place as that.

In the daylight we could finally see the grounds of the resort too, which were equally beautiful.

We had a luxurious breakfast on the veranda of the main building; more hot chocolate, some African spice tea, toast and jam, and cheese omelettes.

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We drove back into the jungle, to head to track the Colubus Monkeys. At the Nyungwe Forest Visitor’s Center we met up with our guide, Christof. He was a handsome young man from Rwanda who received his education in France and returned back to work.

Back into the truck and towards the large tea fields we went, and turned off onto a small dirt road heading directly towards the jungle. We got out and walked towards the tree line and were very lucky because the family of Colubus Monkeys was right there!

These black and white monkeys are so cute! It was a good sized family, with 2 adorable little babies!

It was apparently time to eat, because they were climbing and jumping around the trees, stuffing as many of the tree fruits into their mouths as they could! It was pretty funny to watch them. The babies were entertaining as well, jumping and wrestling with one another all over the trees. Their tiny squeaks they would make sounded like a dog squeaky toy!

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They looked SO soft! And they had the cutest little faces

Christof told us that they whole family helps to raise and take care of the babies. But, whenever a male would grab them and try to hold them they would squeak out loudly and wriggle free from them. I asked him if they were hurting them, and he said “No, the males just do not know how to hold the babies and they don’t like it.”

Sounds… pretty accurate!

After watching them to our hearts’ content, we headed back to the hotel for a lunch of sweet corn soup and rolls with goat meat. I of course, declined to try the goat meat.

Heather and I took a 2 hour nap, and then met up again with everyone to go do a jungle canopy walk. Driving an hour further into the jungle we pulled off to the canopy headquarters.

Here we were placed in a hiking group with a cute couple from Denmark, a strange girl from the Netherlands that currently lived in Jamaica, and our creeptastic tour guide named Dauph who would NOT stop licking his lips and staring only at me when he talked to the group. (Like STOPPPPP though!)

The hike was completely downhill to get there, so I knew heading back would be challenging for Poppa and SueAnne and Steve.

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The entire hike was beautiful

Making it to the canopy walk, I felt like we were staring at a bridge that had been constructed in the 1920’s; it looked old and I wondered if we would be the last people to ever walk across it!

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But, our group motto had become “YOLO”, as I had taught everyone the night before. So, we yolo-d our way across. (Or as SueAnne said it, “Yellow!”)

The first section of the canopy walk was shorted and not as high off the ground, so we made it to the first tower no problem. The second section across was incredibly shaky, and about 300 feet off the ground!

It also didn’t help that Poppa was shaking the bridge on purpose (trouble maker!)

My hands shook and I definitely got a little light headed, but it was really exhilarating to walk across there, and to look down into the jungle!

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Dauph told us we could keep going the way we were to get back to the hiking trail, or we could go back across the bridge. We hesitated for a moment and Poppa decided to tell us that “No one I’ve ever brought here has ever taken the sissy way back… but if you guys really want to we can.”

So of course we turned around and went right back over the bridge! We refused to be the sissies!

The hike back up was quite strenuous, and Poppa took it slow and steady.

Then on the way back to our hotel, Mr. Kirenga’s truck broke down. Anne, Heather, Steve, and myself got out and push started it for him then walked the 5 minutes to the hotel. We worried the truck would not be able to drive us the next morning to go see the chimpanzees.

We had another delicious dinner, and then all went to go get some sleep. While Heather and I walked to our room a GIANT moth flew in front of us and I screamed and ran like a crazy person because I was convinced it was a bat! Ain’t nobody got time for rabies y’all!

June 14, 2018

Tracking the Chimpanzees

Waking up the next morning at 5 am was rough. We met in the lodge sleepy eyed, enjoying some hot chocolate, African spice tea, and some butter cookies.

Mr. Kirenga’s car was not able to drive, as we feared, so he rented us a car with a driver. Now when I say car, I mean… a tiny awful thing that we all had to cram into.

It was a Toyota Picnic. What the hell kind of car is that?

The back seat needed to fit 3 people when it was very clearly only meant for 2, so it was not a pleasant 2 hour drive east. We were all a bit grouchy to say the least.

My favorite part of driving through the remote village was seeing all the adorable school children in their uniforms on their way to school. They all waved at us! We were once again the stars in the Mizungu parade.

Despite the uncomfortable driving situation, we were going to track chimpanzees so  we were still excited. We pulled in front of a mall building which had a small store with souvenirs, and this was where we were to meet our porters. Christof was our guide again, which we were happy about because he was fantastic.

A group of porters stood by with walking sticks, all hoping they would be picked for our chimpanzee trek. It is customary for every woman to use a porter, but of course all of the men in our group got one too so they could pay them.

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Anne, Heather, and I joked that we felt like it was The Bachelorette, having to hand our bag to the porter of our choosing and ask, “Will you accept this backpack?” I chose a young man named Varun, and he was very helpful! I tripped quite a lot over the vines and underbrush of the jungle when we trekked through.

And when I say trek, I mean we literally ran at times! The trouble with chimpanzees is they are very wary of people and like to avoid them. So we started out slowly hiking upwards into the jungle to where the trackers were radioing in on the walkie-talkies. The trackers had been following this particular family of chimps since the night before.

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The jungle was amazing! Just being there was incredible

They were heading right for us, so we stopped and waited silently for them to pass by us. It was so interesting how quietly they moved through the trees, because we literally did not hear them coming until they were nearly on top of us!They came within about 20 feet, and the male in the lead turned his head and looked right at us! Then they RAN.

So of course, we ran in pursuit! It was quite exciting to run full speed though the jungle after this elusive little family of chimps. (And this is where I tripped a ton!)

We made it back to the main road, and Christof had us stop because he said the family would be crossing the road to get to the other side of the jungle and we would be able to see them very clearly.

2 minutes later they crossed about 10 feet in front of us, and it was breathtaking to see them! They were much larger than I expected, and unlike the chimps you see in movies or at zoos these ones were all black, even their cute little faces. There were 6 adults and one little baby holding onto its’ mama’s back.

The chase was on again, and those chimps are stupidly fast! We were running full speed again trying to keep up with the trackers, Christof, and doing so while trying to not trip and sprawl out into the jungle! It was so exhilarating!

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This is what we ran through. See how it looks like there’s no path? It’s because there wasn’t! This is why I tripped constantly!

We caught up to one of the males, who had separated from the family and was chilling up in a giant Ficus tree, feasting on the fruits. Apparently they are like oranges, and he was stuffing as many as he could at a time into his mouth.

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I know this is a terrible quality photo.. but it was so shadowy where he was I had to lighten it up to see him!

We sat down and watched him for about 30 minutes, enjoying seeing him in his natural habitat. He put on a show for us, climbing around, hanging by one arm, and even peeing for a steady 2 minutes with an impressive stream off the tree! We were all very impressed.

My favorite part was that Poppa in all of his years spent in Africa had never tracked a chimpanzee before. So seeing his face light up as we watched him in the tree was worth it all for me

We finally left our friend, and made the hike back up to the road. It was very steep going back up, so we sent extra porters to help Poppa.

Heading to Lake Kivu

We packed the newly fixed truck, and said farewell to our resort at the top of the hill.

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Steve suggested to Mr. Kirenga that we find a place to eat in a local non-touristy town so we could see some of the culture without tourist traps.

There was definitely something lost in translation between them, because he took us an hour out of our way to eat at what looked like a country club resort in a ton called Cyangugu overlooking the southern tip of Lake Kivu; right next to a big touristy market.

Steve was very grouchy about it, and to be honest we all were because he added extra time onto our trip to our next destination. But, the food was good and the view over the lake was gorgeous!

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View of Lake Kivu from Cyangugu

Across the water we could see the Congo, and it was mind-blowing to see how many houses and buildings were crammed against one another on the hills.

After we finished eating, we started our 4 hour trip to The Cormoran Lodge, our next resort on a northern part of Lake Kivu’s shores.

The drive was much prettier (and much less car-sick inducing) than the trip from Butare to Nyungwe Forest. we started throwing out our empty water bottles to kids on the road because they want them to use for drinking water. It was a fun way to pass the time, and they were always excited to get them!

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We finally pulled into our resort after the sun had gone down, and we were each led to our amazing tree house rooms. This resort to me, resembled the Lost Boy’s tree house from the movie Hook. You know what I’m talking about?? It was such a cool place!

We enjoyed some dinner in the restaurant (where Poppa discovered his new favorite Fanta flavor, Fiesta) and then we all headed to bed.

I was so excited to see what more adventures Lake Kivu had in store for us!

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(Next Up: Rwanda Part 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding My Passion

I still feel like I am recovering from the jet-lag from Rwanda, and I’ve been home for over 10 days now! I’ll start going through my journal and pictures to do a break down of my trip soon, so I can share all of my tips and adventures for you from such a magical and wonderful trip!

While reaclimating back to normal life and my routine here has been something of a challenge, the real struggle has been trying to readjust my focus in life to something with more purpose.

I don’t mean that to sound to vague, so I’ll explain what I mean below.

Poppa, the Rockstar Doctor

One of the coolest parts of this whole trip was getting to experience it not only with my twin sister, but also with our biological grandfather “Poppa”- who we have only known for 4 years (* I’ll have to post about the whole story sometime, but we were adopted and only met our birth mom and her family 4 years ago*)

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Heather Poppa and me outside our hotel in Kigali, Rwanda

He has lived his entire professional career working in the field that he has such a passion for – Infectious Disease. Traveling and living all over the world, he has made incredible impacts in the medical field of infectious disease and has touched so many lives in the process. Poppa and our grandma lived in Butare, Rwanda for a year in as he helped with the local hospital and medical program there as well as in the capitol Kigali.

To sum it up, it was amazing to see him return to the place where he lives his passion. He LOVES working in the infectious disease field, and meeting one of the local medical residents who admired him and looked up to him was so inspiring.

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Christoph our guide, Heather, and Poppa admiring a Colobus Monkey in the trees

Also getting to spend so much time with him in a place he loves so much, was such an amazing experience. This was his last trip to Africa, since he is geting up there in age, but this was his 37th trip over there! This trip literally exhausted me, I can’t believe he’s done this 37 times!

And some of the hikes we did were very difficult, and he handled them like a champ! Running through the jungle chasing a family of chimps in the Nyungwe Forest is no easy task, and when we finally found them he had the biggest smile on his face as we watched them up in the trees!

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Our group with our wonderful porters and trackers after the hike in Nyungwe Forest to follow the chimpanzees (Poppa is all the way on the right)

Not to mention, on top of a very funny sense of humor (with one of the best laughs on the planet), Poppa is one of the most patient and kind people I have ever met. He loves and accepts anyone and everyone, and I wish I could exude even a fraction of this type of love too.

Seriously, Poppa is a true rockstar! I look up to him and admire him in so many ways. Seeing just a small glimpse into Poppa’s life and experience in Rwanda, truly inspired me in my own.

How Can I Live My Own Passion?

This has been the question that has haunted and plagued me for the last 2 years. Figuring out what I really want to do in life.

But really though… how the hell do people figure this stuff out?!

I feel the way I did when I started college and was deciding on what to pick as a major. How was I supposed to know what I would want to study for the next 4 or so years, let alone do the rest of my life? It always boggled my mid that people knew already – some knew since they were little! I didn’t end up officially declaring a major until my junior year, switching from a journalist emphasis to Creative Writing/English. Even then, I still wasn’t 100% sure.

The thing I discovered on this trip, was that something inside me was forever different. Not to sound super cliche, but this trip literally changed my perspective on my life and life in general in the world. I had this growing desire to do something important, to do something that matters and changed the world for the better.

On our way home (an exhausting 41 hour total travel time) during our 13 hour leg from Qatar to New York City, I pulled out my journal and started to write. I was finishing up my entries about our trip and what we had experienced. But, then I started writing something new; the thoughts and feelings that had been stirred up from everything.

This entry became more of a list than anything.

The list was title “Things I am Passionate About”, and as I started to go through the list I circled my #5 item:

Making a Difference/Serving Others

I circled it, and even put a few stars around it. Because that made an impact, an impression inside me. This is what I needed and wanted to feel fulfilled in life, to push me to do more and to focus on.

The Moment It Changed

The funny thing about finding and following your life passions, is that they don’t just suddenly appear in some “ah-ha” moment. Generally, it is something that over time you realize has always been there but you hadn’t recognized it’s importance until the moment your heart realizes how much it means to you.

I’ve always found comfort and peace in serving others. That’s why through all of my own grief and brokenness I have found so much solace and recovery in volunteering and helping with charities and things that are helping humanity thrive.

But this trip, particularly as we drove through a small remote village on the way to Akagera National Park, something inside me changed. I realized how much I want to do to serve the world, to give back and to do more. The moment will forever be etched into my brain; a small clay-brick house we passed on the road with 4 small children outside in tattered rags chasing a black and white spotted goat. I can’t explain why this moment was the one to flip the switch inside me, but it was. And it has. And now I can’t turn it off, because now I know what it is I want to pursue.

Someday, somehow, I want to live my passion of serving others and making a difference. My true dream, is to travel the world doing many different humanitarian services and projects. I will find a way.

I can make a difference here as I can, but eventually – oh yes – I have very big plans!

Here are just a few ways I’ve been researching humanitarian service locally and interntionally:

Help International

Salt Lake Rape Recovery Center

Choice Humanitarian

Do you have any other good ones? Please feel free to share them in the comments!

How You Can Find Your True Life Passion

While I continue on my quest to live my true passions, here are some tips I used to help me figure out what is most important to me, and what I am passionate about.

  1. Make a list with 2 columns. One column is things you dislike doing, and the other is the thing you enjoy doing.
    1. Now, from the column of the things you enjoy, sit and meditate on each one – seriously – and decide if each one is something you could do everyday, for the rest of your life, and never get sick of it.
      1. Is it something you could read an 800-page book about?
      2. Is it something you could do without getting paid?
      3. Is it something you could eat-breathe-sleep-dream about and never get sick of?
  2. Ok, now you should have at least one thing from your original list that you feel is a passion. So what do you do?
    1. Remember that a passion does not necessarily have to be your job – in most cases it is more of a hobby or something you do on the side. But, it’s also Ok if it is something you want to pursue as your career!
    2. If it’s something you’re not particularly good at, or just sort of mediocre in, that’s also Ok! You do not have to be an expert to be passionate about it, you can still successfully reach your passions and your goal!
  3. Do some research, reach books, listen to podcasts, talk to people – who are related to your passion, or can help you towards your intended goals.
    1. Knowldge truly is powerful! The more you can arm your mind with, the better!
  4. Also, remember who you are and the impact you can put on the world.
    1. We can do so many incredible things! Each of us has amazing potential, if we can figure out what our passions truly are. Think of all the good we can put into the world! Even a little goes a long way.

I hope to one day live and follow my passion, just like Poppa. Hoping sooner than later I will be! Cheers to all of us dreamers chasing our passions and dreams!

PS. Stay tuned for my posts detailing all about Rwanda!

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10 Habits of a Boss Babe

You might not think that 106 degree weather in the Arizona desert sounds like much of a vacation, right?

Well, for me this past weekend in Scottsdale was just that!

Planning months in advance, our annual girls trip finally happened this weekend and I was so excited to see some of my best and closest girl friends. Some I haven’t been able to see in years!

And the time in the desert was just what my heart needed; 106 degrees and all!

Now, this isn’t any ordinary kind of girls trip. These woman, these 7 incredibly strong, brave, hysterically funny woman; they might never know how much I adore and look up to each of them. They are amazing each in their own way, and have all influenced my life for the better. These girls are essential members of my powerful Pride of Women that I explained in this post.

There’s a saying I heard back in the day that the people you meet in college will be your friends for the rest of your life, and with these women it could not be more accurate. I love these warrior women so much and I was so excited to spend an entire weekend with them!

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The real OG’s standing in the lobby of The Scott Resort before we all said goodbye

We were lucky enough to have found an incredible deal on newly renovated The Scott Resort (formally known as FireSky) in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona. Since we were there for their re-opening weekend celebrations, they definitely rolled out the red carpets!

This resort was SO adorable! All of the decors was cute and thoughtful, and had the coolest vibe to it. It was definitely right up my aesthetic alley!

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There were amazing light fixtures everywhere
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One of the fancy pool cabanas

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Such thoughtful decors details all over

If you ever find yourself in Scottsdale, I highly recommend this place. The service was excellent (not to mention they offer a free shuttle service to and from the resort within a 3 mile radius which saved us TONS on money that we would have had to spend on Ubers!) Plus, the location was perfect for everything Scottsdale had to offer.

We spent our time laying out in the sandy beach at their pool, shopping at Fashion Square Mall right down the street, eating at so many delicious close by restaurants like Postino, and just spending some good quality girl time together.

On our last night, we were all hanging out in one of the many cute cabanas they had on the grounds. We were girl talking and taking turns answering questions to “get to know each other’. Even though we obviously already know one another, it’s a fun way to learn more about one another and get even closer. I laughed so much that my abs were literally sore the next morning!

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All but 2 of us hanging in one of the cabanas

One of the questions we asked was for each of us to say what we thought people came to us for, and then we would take turns going around the circle saying what we each went to that individual girl for. As we went around the circle, we each expressed the love and adoration we had for one another, telling each other what we needed and came to one another for.

One we go to for wise advice about health, food, deep convos, and funny embarrassing stories. One we go to for plants and crystals, cool vibes, and is beyond thoughtful. One is generally our leader when it comes to organizing plans and trips, gives logical advice, and is makes everything fun. One is the best listener, and has the biggest sweetest heart; not to mention is funny without even trying! Another has the ability to make you feel like the most important person in the world while she talks about you and learns all about you, and has the best sense of humor. One of the strongest-willed women I know, and despite it all continues to work hard and has the ability to always see the good on the horizon. The last is incredibly sweet, kind, and has a feisty hidden personality that we all love!

When it came to me, I was so touched by the heart-felt sentiments they expressed about me too. I honestly teared up!

As a collective whole, we are one amazing and powerful group of women. My heart was replenished, recharged, and is feeling so full after seeing all of them! I am counting down the days to our next girls trip, just like Stanley counts down until the next Pretzel Day at their Scranton Dunder Mifflin office.

Success Supports Success

There’s a quote I read the other day that I loved:

Behind every successful woman

is a tribe of other successful women,

who have her back

I love this, because we as women definitely need to continue to support and raise each other up! Sometimes girls and women can be so catty, negative and cruel to one another it just blows my mind! It’s hard enough being a woman in today’s world, can’t we all just support and love one another??

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Going along with that quote, my tribe of women all support each other, and have all helped one another be stronger; whether or not we have even realized it! We are total #bossbabes. Don’t know what that is? Here’s the definition (in my own words):

A successful woman who owns a business, or owns her own life ‘like a boss.’ She isn’t afraid to get what she wants, she is in control of her life and makes no apologies or excuses for who she is. 

So, I’ve put together a list of 10 things I believe every #bossbabe woman should be doing in order to be more successful and much happier in every aspect of her life. Each one was inspired from my girl tribe from this weekend!

10 Habits of a #BossBabe

1. Have a Personal Mission Statement

This one may sound a little odd, but if you have your own mission statement, it really does help you be more successful!

Think about it, every company or successful person seems to have one:

Walt Disney – “To make people happy”

Amazon – “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers

can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and

endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”

Google – “To organize the world’s information and make it universally

accessible and useful.”

So, why wouldn’t you, a successful boss babe, have your own equally great mission statement?? Am I right?

The reason having a mission statement helps you, is because it forces you to have a purpose, and to clarify what is important to you. Through it, you express what you value most and what your aspirations are.

Also, seeing and repeating it to yourself everyday helps to drive you towards those goals, and to becoming that boss babe you know you can be!

What’s my mission statement? I’ve been thinking about it ever since I started outlining this post. For now, as it is still a work in progress, I think mine is this:

Redefine Yourself – Recover Your Pieces – Rediscover Your Life

This quote is on my main page of my blog. It sounds more like a mantra, but I think a mantra and a mission statement can be one in the same. I like it, and those are definitely things I want to accomplish in my life, and they are things I value tremendously right now.

What’s your mission statement? Feel free to share it with us in the comments below so we can see it! 🙂

2. Recite Positive Affirmations Daily

I’ve talked about positive affirmations a few times, but it’s because I really believe in them! The mornings that I read them I feel more confident, and feel more ready to take on my day. Sounds cheesy… but it’s true!

Improving your relationship with yourself is a major key when it comes to success, self-confidence, and being happy! And when you literally recite positive things, like affirmations, to yourself, you are making yourself happier by doing so.

According to the CBT (Cognitive Behavior Theory) your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all related. So if you are reciting and implanting those good thoughts and vibes into your mind, you are essentially going to make your behaviors and feelings equally as positive. The result? You are happier!

It’s science people.

What are some of your favorite positive affirmations? Here are some I’ve been reciting lately:

I have the power to create change

I am worth everything

Just be kind and brave. That’s all you ever need 

Know some good ones I can add to my list? Leave em in the comments!!

3. Recharge & Refocus

Life is pure chaos sometimes. So often I find myself feeling like I am in this insane wind tunnel, trying to focus on all the things I have to do and I can’t!

The thing that we forget to do is to recharge and refocus ourselves, so that we can have the energy and the dedicated mindset to focus on our tasks. If you are on 3 hours of sleep and needing to write a well punctuated and grammatically correct email for work, is that going to be easy for you? Probs not.

That whole “I can sleep when I’m dead” mentality may have worked when I was 21 in college and pulling all-nighters, but now in my ripe old age of 33 I know I need more sleep. Otherwise I can’t function, and I may as well be dead; but more like the walking dead because I’m a zombie.

It’s not just about sleep either though; recharging and refocusing can also be personal mediation. It’s important to take time for yourself very single day, to do some mediation. And it doesn’t need to be literally sitting cross-legged on a yoga map with your eyes closed chanting things in your head (although sometimes that is definitely needed and so helpful!)giphy-1

No, you can honestly just take the time for yourself everyday to just stop and slow down, and re-organize yourself. Think of it as a time-out during a crucial final quarter of a football or basketball game. Sometimes it gets a little hectic and they take the time out to regroup the team, and figure out their next plays; as well as going back in the game with a fresh mind-set.

So, take a time-out! 

Use time for yourself everyday to refocus your goals and your priorities, and recharge yourself!

4. Invest In Yourself

The most important investment you will ever make is in yourself.

That’s right; you need to invest more into Y-O-U!

For example, think about investing into buying a house. You shopped around and finally bought your dream home! You’ve poured so much money into filling it with beautiful furniture and things, making an necessary repairs or upgrades, and up-keeping it so it stays beautiful and feels like home forever!

Well, you are like that house. Except much… MUCH… more important!

So, to fully utilize your important investment in yourself, you need to take the right steps to keep up the value of said investment. How do you do that? There’s a lot of different things you can do:

  • Never stop learning! Take education seriously, even if you never go to college or earn a degree, just never stop learning! Because knowledge is powerful! And the more powerful you are and the more things you know, the more confident and successful you will be.
  • Fill your heart and soul with lovely, positive things. Pray, meditate, recite mantras and affirmations… whatever makes you happy!
  • Learn how to shake off the shame culture. Forgive yourself more easily, and move on. You’re going to fail and you’re going to mess up; it’s a part of life and it’s not worth holding onto. Let it go!
  • Take care of yourself on the outside too! Workout, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and sleep!
  • #treatyoself. That’s right, I said it and I meant it! If you want to treat yourself to hair extensions, lash extensions, or splurging on some expensive clothes or shoes… DO IT! Not all the time, you must have self-control, but sometimes you need to treat yourself! It will make you happier to every so often treat yourself to something nice. Also? Life is short.. so eat the damn donuts.

The bottom line here, is you are an amazing and wonderful investment, but you have to believe it and take care of yourself to continue adding more and more to your already incredible value.

Invest in yourselves boss babes!!

5. Read More – Screens Less!

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If you know me, you know I love to read books! I currently have about 5 books on my night stand I’m trying to read simultaneously… because I’m a nerd.

But, reading is important for your sanity and for your success! Here’s a list of 24 books successful people read just for some examples if you’re looking for something to read!

According to this article about Reading and Life Success :

The act of reading, particularly engaged reading, as opposed to the mechanics of reading, is a powerful predictor of life success by any measure. It is the best predictor of who goes to university regardless of socio-economic background. It is the best predictor of life income, career options, even life partner choices. And neuroscience is proving that reading fiction is one of the most powerful means of developing sympathetic individuals, with better social skills and higher levels of self esteem, resulting in increasing self improvement and prosocial behaviours.

My new goal lately has been to read more books and use my screens less – meaning my phone, laptop, and tv. It’s tough sometimes, I’ll admit it! But isn’t it scary to anyone else how reliant we are on just our smart phones alone? It’s like we can’t function as humans without a phone glued to our hands anymore.

So read more and use screens less, and you’ll find more success! It’s honestly that simple!

6. Accept Your Challenges Head On

This weekend my one girlfriend reminded me of one of her most recent Instagram posts about challenges and trials. Here’s the link if you want to see it, or below is part of it quoted:

I am going to take a lesson today from how buffalo and cows handle storms in Colorado.
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Only the strongest storms come over the ridge of the giant Rocky Mountains to the east. When a storm comes the cows see it & start to run from it. Seems logical, but the problem is they don’t move fast enough & before long the storm is over them, moving in the same direction as they are maximizing the pain & hurt
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Buffalos react much differently. They see the storm, gather together, and turn HEAD ON STRAIGHT into the STORM. Seems illogical at first thought, BUT they go the opposite way the storm is moving & make it out of the storm faster with less harm taking it head on in the long run.

If only we could be brave like the buffalo, and head straight on into our trials instead of trying to outrun them and avoid them for as long as we can.

In the long run, it’s better to face them head on. Sometimes its not easier to do so, but it is better and makes us stronger.

Just like in this post here I quoted, “What challenges you changes you.” At the time it may suck, and it might hurt, but in the end we will become a better and more successful person because of it.

Through challenges we grow, we learn, and we become stronger. So be a buffalo, not a cow, and handle those challenges like a successful #bossbabe.

7. Make Socializing a Priority

I will be the first to admit that I am the worst lately when it comes to being social. In fact, I always warn people about how I’m anti-social and to not take it personally! I’ve talked a lot about how much easier it is sometimes for me to stay home and not go out (with all my PTSD anxiety and such I explained in this post) but I know I need to be more social because it’s for my own good.

Not to mention, the more social you are the more successful you will be in life!

As humans, we need connection, affection, and communication to feel normal and happy. If you tend to be more like me, Ms. Hermit McHermitsen over here, you will feel more detached from the world the more anti-social you are. It’s just not good, you need friends and interactions!

Part of being successful in any aspect of life is having the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, and to make connections with them. Networking is not just some word people throw around for fun, it’s a real thing! And it’s really really important for success.

Apparently your success depends on the people you know, and that could not be more true! The more people you socialize with, the bigger your network reach is, and the bigger your success potential is!

So go socialize already! Make new friends, go outside your comfort zone! Network outside of your own work circle, be spontaneous, and build up your social network! All you’ve got to lose is that dent in the couch you’ve been making thats forming around your body every night you stay in and binge watch shows.

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Successful people socialize, and they’re happier too!

8. Focus on One Thing at a Time

Easier said than done these days, right? There’s always so much happening at once.

But, if you can, try to just focus in on one thing at a time.

This weekend in our round-robin of girl talk, we each said one thing we wanted to work on in our lives. I said I wanted to start making smaller goals to accomplish at a time, instead of trying to focus on one huge goal that seemed impossible to ever get to.

I think I nailed it with that, because too often we have our eyes on the big prize at the end, instead of realistically focusing on the smaller prizes that will each act as a stepping stone to get us to the end.

In the wise words of Bob (Bill Murray from the movie What About Bob?), “Baby steps!” Or can we actually change it up? How about “boss-babe steps.” Sounds better 🙂

If we can take the time to re-prioritize our goals into smaller, more realistic and obtainable goals, we can get ourselves to the bigger ones later.

And, don’t forget to celebrate yourself when you hit your goals! Go back to #4 and TREAT YO SELF!

9. Smile

I know what you’re thinking, “Smile? That’s it? That’s so easy!”

Well yes, my friends, it is that easy.

Smiling makes you feel better, and gives you confidence, and it can be shared! Have you ever done the simple test of smiling at everyone you see? Every time I do it, they almost always smile back at me. And you know what? They probably keep smiling at other people too, and so on and so forth… therefore,  a smile and create hundreds maybe even thousands of other smiles!

Once you’ve mastered the whole smile thing, then you can go about the rest of your day feeling that boost of confidence. And what do confident people do? They succeed!

Yassss.

10. Have a Big Heart

One thing that I have tried to do ever since I lost my mom 3 years ago, has been to serve others to help my own heart ache to hurt a little less. And, after my own abusive marriage and broken heart, I have reached out even further to try and serve and help others as much as I can.

The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity — Leo Tolstoy

In today’s society I feel like treating each other with kindness and love is quickly becoming an outdated habit. The world can be mean, dark, and selfish. What better way to help bring back that light than to have a big heart towards others?

I also want to continue to serve others and give as much as I can, because so many people in my life have lifted me in my own times and helped me through desperate moments. I feel I must pay it forward and do that to others, to pass it along and help brighten up the world.

Each of those girls in my tribe from my trip this weekend has helped me so many times. They give without thought, they love, they support, and they comfort. It is so inspiring to be around them, and their loving energy. It made me want to come home and do more!

And that is how a true successful boss babe should be; always humble enough to remember that she was once in the shoes of the ones who need the help.

Despite my heart being previously crushed, I will never let my love to serve others be diminished. It’s through that service I can truly heal it back to being whole again.

Total Boss Babe

Really, what it all boils down to, is you are the average of the 5 people closest to you. Looking at that aspect now, how successful, how powerful, how happy are you on average??

This weekend, my cup was running over with a 100% boss babe success average. And in my life I have so many other incredible and powerful women in my pride that fiercely love me, and inspire me to push through anything that comes my way.

With everything and everyone I have in my life, and I have no choice but to keep going towards becoming the total boss babe I know I can. And each of you can too, I believe in you!

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Golden 33

Every year around my birthday, I start to think about my life. All of it. Almost like an annual existential crisis of sorts. And these are a lot of thoughts, just swirling around my head like some heavy fog overpowering a city.
And the fog gets heavier and thicker, until suddenly it’s 3 am and I’m still awake just thinking about stuff.
Where I’m at currently and what I’m doing…
What I wish I was doing with my life…
What I realistically should be doing with my life…
Where I wish I was living…
Something dumb and embarrassing I did like 5 years ago…
Choices I wish I’d made differently, and how my life might look today if I had…
The lyrics to If I Could Turn Back Timeby Cher…
Who I was 4 years ago on my birthday…
Who I was even just last year on my birthday…
What are my passions…
Are aliens real…
I mean, clearly the list goes on and on in a never-ending swirling circle of chaos. This is why I only got about 3 hours of sleep.
But, the good news is that there is something constructive that comes from this annual existential crisis. Every year when I get into this little funk and start over analyzing my life, it helps me see more clearly that there are thing I do want to change in my life, and I start trying to plan what I can do to make those changes.

Scottish Stories

While I was lost in my thoughts last night, lying awake in my bed, my mind drifted to a place I hadn’t thought of for about two years. Scotland.
I went on an amazing bucket-list trip to Scotland; something I had been wanting to do for years. Unfortunately, I went with my ex as a sort of “last effort thing to try to save our marriage.” And if I can give you any advice, it’s to definitely not try to save your marriage with a vacation. (Because that’s just horrendously stupid! And yes… I admit it was a stupid choice to go with him.)
Soon after we came home was when the s*it hit the fan and I ended up finally breaking away from the toxic relationship for good. However, because of the timing of everything, some of my incredible trip to Scotland got a little lost in the chaos and hidden away to find as fun little mental Easter eggs that I will probably continue to find over the next few years as they resurface into my consciousness.
That trip to Scotland, as cliche as it sounds, was exactly what I needed though; because certain events and experiences there helped me realize that I did need to end my marriage. And honestly, in ways changed me forever. I think that’s what real travel shoulddo though… it should change you!
Now, I won’t go over my entire 14 day trip in one post because it’s just too much to take in with one sitting. But, I will showcase 2 stories I thought of last night that randomly happened to pop up into my chain of existential ponderings, and the “how did I get where I am?” and the “where do I need to go now?” thoughts.

The Sheep and The Mud

One of the places I had been looking forward to the most of my Scotland trip was the Isle of Skye. I had researched it for months, drooling over the gorgeous photos and just finding it so unbelievable that this place could be real. (And for the record, pictures do not even come close to doing this place justice…)
Quite literally, as we drove across the bridge connecting Scotland to Skye, we entered a place of my dreams. And I say this because, since going there, I constantly dream about it. There are several reoccurring dreams with the same locations that I have (I’ll have to do a post sometime about my dreams in general…) and Skye has become one of those places. So I figuratively and literally dream about the Isle of Skye!
We only spent one day there, and packed in everything we could in those precious hours. After starting off exploring at the ruins of the Clan Donald castle called Armadale, we wanted to do some hiking.
Studying a map, and doing some research online when we found wifi at the castle visitor center, we found some close by castle ruins we could hike down to, starting at a beach called Tarskavaig. Driving along a dirt road for about 17 miles, that we came to realize was used for herding to millions of sheep that apparently live on Skye, we found what we believed to be a good spot to park and start walking.
The thing about Scotland that is cool, is that you can literally hike wherever you want to. If it’s open land, it’s open for hiking. The bad part about that, though, is unlike here in the US, trails are not really marked so you kind of have to just find your own way.
The result? Most people get horribly lost.
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Tarskavaig Beach
 The silver lining in us getting lost was I didn’t mind so much where we got lost. We started on a rocky secluded beach, and made our way towards some green cliffs, which we climbed up to get to higher ground. Up there, we ventured through fields of sheep, passing a small abandoned home, and finding some cool caves along the way. Every where we turned was picturesque and wonderful.
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The abandoned old sheep herder’s house 
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After walking for some time, my hiking partner was becoming frustrated that we were lost. I was lost too, but more so in my thoughts and in the scenery around us. There was literally no one else around, it was as if we were in a completely isolated place in the world, and the only other living things were sheep. I kind of wished it was just me and the sheep though.
We were up pretty high, and I thought if we walked towards the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean we could maybe spot to castle ruins we were trying to find below us somewhere. As I walked towards it, I happened to step with my right leg into a deep pit of mud, which went all the way past my knee!!
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The mud pit that I stepped in was right by those big boulders by the cliff! 
So after I got pulled out, and I laughed hysterically about the fact that my entire right leg was covered in mud and my boot now weighed 20 pounds, we looked over the edge of the cliff and still saw no signs of this supposed ruined castle.
Feeling defeated, we started to circle back towards where we thought we had come from. However, we did not and ended up even more lost and turned around. Magically, as if summoned by our need for help, a man came walking down a hill in the distance. From the looks of him, he was a sheep herder. A bunch of the cute, fluffy little sheep were frolicking behind him as he walked right towards us. Waving us over, we walked towards him too.
Quickly we realized he barely spoke English. He had an incredibly heavy Scottish accent, but he mostly spoke Gaelic and we could hardly understand him. What we did understand immediately, though, was his warm friendly smile! He just beamed with joy! He seemed like one of the jolliest and friendliest humans on the planet.
I was super stoked about those sheep of his, they are these adorable little sheep with the cutest black and white legs and curled little horns:
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I tried to pet a few of them and they scampered away. The farmer laughed at me, calling them, “wee little beasties.” I just wanted to pet the wee little beasties so bad!
Realizing we were very much not from around there (sassenachs as Scots call them, which means outlanders, or outsiders) he spoke slower and was very patient with us. He waved his arms around as he talked with us, and we tried to tell him where we were trying to go. I showed him on my phone the castle ruins and he started laughing. “Ach… it’s weeeee over there!” he explained, pointing towards the far shoreline in the distance.
I managed to get some of his story of of him (from what I could understand anyway.) He had been born and raised on Skye, and had been a sheep farmer his whole life. Married to his wife for over 40 years! I I commented, meaning for it to be in my head but it ended up being said out-loud, “You must love your life here!”
He nodded actually understanding what I said, and replied with a giant smile, “I kenna the mud and the wee beasies!” He laughed and pointed at my mud soaked right leg when he mentioned mud. (Which I figured his comment loosely translated to “I know the mud and the sheep!” or maybe “All I need is the mud and the sheep!”)
Eventually, we decided to give up on this particular castle adventure, because there were other things we wanted to see on Skye before night fall came in a few hours. We said our goodbyes to our farmer friend, and started walking in the way he told us to go back.
I looked back and watched him round up his wee beasties, and continued merrily on his way. I envied him. Honestly, I did. I felt this immense jealously of how happy this man was, with the simplest life on this unbelievably beautiful island. It’s all he knew, but apparently that’s all he needed.
We climbed back the cliffs and made our way back to our car. As we began the drive to our next hike to the Fairy Pools, my thoughts remained with the sheep farmer for awhile. I wished my life could be less complicated, less out of my control, and less sad. I wanted to feel the joy that farmer felt every day. He loved his life! He literally radiated with joy! And those sheep were joyful too, frolicking and dancing all around him!
What I wouldn’t have given in that moment to feel that kind of happiness. I tried to think when I truly, really, felt that happy. It had been months.. maybe even years. It made me sad, and I started crying in the car.
He asked if I was ok, and I said I was just feeling tired from all the jet lag. It wasn’t a complete lie though. I was feeling emotionally jet lagged from years of unhappiness.
I managed to pull myself back together, to just try to enjoy the beauty of this place I had been waiting so long to see.
But deep down I knew that eventually, I needed to find my own version of wee beasties and mud that made me happy. I will never forget that farmer; he will never know what an impact he made on a sassenach visiting all the way from Utah.

Dierdre of the Sorrows

Heartbreak and despair are two very common themes among Scottish folklore, I came to discover. I think that happens in almost every culture, though, because we as humans always look for stories we can relate to, to help us through our own mess.
Well, Dierdre’s story happened into my life right when I needed someone to relate to.
It was close to the end of our trip, and we had honestly been fighting quite a bit that day.
Despite it all, we were in Glen Coe which is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in person, second only to the Isle of Skye, and that made things better for the moment (a bandaid on a bullet hole so to speak.) The rolling, green hills and expansive valleys are simply stunning. No wonder so many movies and shows are filmed here! (including scenes from Harry Potter, Skyfall, Braveheart, Game of Thrones… just to name a few notables!)
We had finished visiting the historical site of the Glen Coe massacre(which I will have to do another post about that whole place someday…) and we decided to drive eastward through the Glen Coe highlands towards our next destination of Dalmally.
After we went on a brief climbing adventure to see the shooting location of Hagrid’s Hut in Harry Potter (on which I ended up rolling down a very steep hill and sprained my ankle…but it was so worth it!!…) we pulled out a map and were deciding where to go next. Since my ex was a very stubborn person when it came to figuring out directions, I left him alone and hobbled towards The Claighaig Inn where our car was parked, to explore a little. There was some information inside the gorgeous wooden lobby, including an array of pamphlets.
I managed to grab a few random ones before I was summoned to head back out on the road. The driver was still upset with me about something I can’t even recall, so as the passenger I silently enjoyed the scenery surrounding us on the road, feeling mesmerized by the intense beauty of it all.
Remembering some of the pamphlets I had grabbed, I happened to pull out one describing the folklore surrounding Glen Coe, including Deirdre of the Sorrows. The name itself pulled me in, because in that moment I was feeling like Aly of the Sorrows, so I quickly read through her story. To paraphrase:
Deirdre was the daughter of a famous story teller, who served in the court of King Conchobar Mac Nessa in Ireland. When she was born, the high druid of the court (a magical priest of sorts), prophesied that she would grow to be so beautiful that kings
and lords would go to war over her. 
Intrigued by this, and clearly doing the kingly thing, Conchobar tore her away from her family and sent her to live in isolation until she was old enough for him to marry.
Well, Deirdre had her own ideas. As she grew close to the age of marrying, she was out hunting one day and happened to meet the handsome young warrior named Naoise. Falling deeply in love, the two defied the king and fled to Glen Coe in Scotland to be together. They made a life there, living among the valleys and the mountains
in Glen Etive.  
I wish the story had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. The king was furious and sent his army after them. It took them awhile to hunt them down, but eventually they found them and in the end Naoise was killed. 
Heart broken and inconsolable, Deirdre took her own life to be with her love, right by the river in Glen Etive. However, the legend says that she was never able to find him in the afterlife, because King Conchobar wanted to keep them apart forever; so sometimes her sorrowful cries can be heard in Glen Etive by the river. Some people even see her wandering around searching for Naoise. She never stops searching for her true love.
I had been so consumed by this story, that when I happened to look up at the road again I saw a sign to turn right for Glen Etive. “TURN RIGHT!!” I yelled dramatically (even though the turn was still another 500 or so feet ahead…)
Something was just pulling me to go there, to go see where Deirdre had spilled the blood of her inconsolable sorrows into the waters of the river. Maybe Deirdre herself was pulling me there, who knows!
Glen Etive definitely did not disappoint us one bit. The road led us into a small canyon, carving into the wet green hills and into some unearthly beautiful terrain. I was silently staring out the windows again, just intensely taking it all in.
We pulled over eventually, stopping in two different places. The first was here, by this small but incredible waterfall.
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Then we stopped here, at the iconic Skyfall location from one of the more recent James Bond films. (Everyone raise their hand who wants to make out with Daniel Craig!) (And for the record I’m raising my hand.)
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In the movie Skyfall, James Bond stands in this exact place with M (if you recognize it)
I didn’t hear Deirdre’s cries, or see her, but I think her story resonated somewhere deep inside me. I was wanting to leave a controlled life to find my true happiness, to experience the real joy I knew was out there for me. I remember standing back and watching my ex as he walked further down the road from where I stood and took the last photo, and I realized he was not my Naoise. My Naoise was still out there. Fighting back tears, I blamed it on how beautiful the scenery was, but really I didn’t want to admit to this man that I realized I was probably going to have to leave him to save myself and go after what my heart really wanted and deserved.
It was a difficult thing to come to grips with, and having those thoughts terrified me. Guilt overwhelmingly rose within me, telling me I was a terrible person and wife for even thinking those things. But at the same time, I was miserable beyond whatever sorrows haunted Glen Etive; and I thought if Deirdre was willing to risk it all to find her true happiness than maybe I should too.
I think I spilled my own sort of blood there on those river beds; feeling the beginnings of my new life path forming inside my heart that led me away from who I was with. I’ll never forget that pivotal and important moment, and a part of me will forever be left there in that beautiful wilderness. Just like Deirdre, I never want to stop searching for my true happiness.

The Golden Birthday

So here I am, on what I am dubbing my Golden Birthday (turning 33 on the 3rd! Or is that a ‘double golden’ birthday?). Since I was only a toddler on my real golden birthday, I’m pretty sure this one counts because I don’t remember my real one.

Supposedly your golden birthday is supposed to be a lucky year. I’m hoping that can be the case for me. I feel good about 33! I really think 33 is going to be a magical year for me.
I feel healthier than I have in a long time, and I’m still working towards the happy part… but that doesn’t mean my life is not full of joy! I have so much to be thankful for and everyday I realize how incredibly blessed I am for everything I have, and for all of the amazing people in my life who I love.
The good news is, I still have plenty of time to figure out my life. So despite how many more sleepless nights I may have ahead of me, thinking about everything, at least I find comfort in knowing that I still have time to sort it all out. Everyone is continuously progressing, learning, and growing; so I’m not alone on this strange road of life. So I know one day I’ll find my own Naoise, and my own sheep and mud too.
So cheers to 33!

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Forever searching for those wee little beasties 

Sintra, Portugal

Unfortunately, we had another early morning to get to Sintra from Porto.
Heading back to the train station, we hopped on and headed to the capitol Lisbon, where we would get onto a different train to go to Sintra, which is technically considered a suburb of Lisbon.
I slept great the night before in Porto, so I was awake and alert the whole time on the trains. Which was a good thing for us because if I hadn’t been, we would have missed our stop to switch trains! (Heather and Jess took a siesta on the train… sleepy heads)
The ride to Sintra from Lisbon was about another 20 minutes, and we stopped at the cutest little Train station, that literally looked right out of a Wes Anderson movie.
In fact, the whole city could be in a Wes Anderson movie; I was immediately in love with it all! The darling houses lining the Main Street (which there is only really one main road…) were all SO adorable! I found my dream house that I legit would want to move into!
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It was even for sale guys.. probably just a cool 2 mill. Not too bad! 
We walked just one block to where our Airbnb was, and we were met by our hostess. She was VERY talkative! She spoke fairly great English, and it was clear immediately she was a hugger. Also, she watched me pour a packet of crystal light into my water bottle (for caffeine) and she told me “Americans drink too much sugar! Why are you adding sugar to your water?” I mean.. she has a point!
She showed us our apartment, which was by far the oddest place I have ever stayed before. The first open room off the front door was the small kitchen and then a small full bathroom. The decors of the place was an overwhelming mixture of hippie/psychadelic mixed with honestly just some weird stuff. There was a giant hanging mural of a neon colored zebra right by the front door, and a beaded overhang on the door to the kitchen. (It gets weirder…)
The next room down the hallway was my bedroom, which apparently was supposed to be some kind of sitting room and not in fact, a bedroom. The bed was up on these strange stilts in the middle of the room, and all the walls were lined with waist high shelves. These shelves were covered with random trinkets, like seashells, dolphin statues, and some random pictures of Hindu-esque elephants and psychedelic patterns.
The next room was a “game room” as our hostess called it. Instead of having a tv in the place, she preferred her guests to interact and talk to one another. There were an assortment of card games and some books in there, none of which any of us even touched on our 24 hour stay.
Finally was the back room, which was a full private bedroom with another full bathroom. This was where Heather and Jess slept, with a big canopy queen size bed, and a random hammock hanging on the wall. There was also a strange tapestry of a smiling sun hanging above the bed on the ceiling, which Heather commented she felt like was staring at her when she was laying down.
As our hostess left us she told us in her slightly broken English to “make the most of your days, and remember as many memories as you can, because memories are what you take with you and what keep you going.”

Running Uphill

After our hostess left we realized with slight panic that we only had about 2 hours before theQuinta da Regaleira closed! There are several palaces in Sintra, but we decided upon this one specifically, because of its’ uniqueness of the house itself, and the grounds (which include an underground labyrinth!)
We only had that day in Sintra, so much to Jess’ dismay we basically speed-walked uphill to the mansion. From our Airbnb right by the train station to the estate, it was a brisk and very steep 2.6 km (1.7 mi) uphill climb. It took us about 20 minutes to hustle up there, and we made it into the grounds before they stopped selling tickets inside. Now we had over an hour to leisurely explore!

Magical Grounds

When Carvhalo Monteiro purchased the mansion in 1892 from the wealthy merchant family from Porto who previously owned it, he wanted to make it completely something of his own design. According to Wikipedia:
Monteiro was eager to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols
that reflected his interests and ideologies. With the assistance of the Italian
 architect Luigi Manini, he recreated the 4-hectare estate. In addition to other new features, he added enigmatic buildings that allegedly held symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians. The architecture Manini  designed evoked Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles.
And I can honestly say, this is one of the most fascinating and magical places I have so far had the pleasure of exploring! Monteiro is such a fantastically curious man, with some even curiouser beliefs. I had a feeling we would be more and more bewitched the more we explored.
At the entrance they gave us a map to guide us through the grounds, which also included directions through the underground tunnels Monteiro had constructed for his children and grandchildren to play in, which they referred to as the labyrinth.
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We wanted to take our time, so we started at 2 (shown in the picture above) which was the secondary gate, and walked uphill through some beautiful forested trails towards the famous Initiation Well.
Every little detail in the gardens, the shrubbery, the stone walls; it was all so impressive and magical. I keep using that word, but truly this place was just like a fantasy land, all created from the imaginings of Monteiro.
Initiation Well & The Labyrinth
Heather and I had been SO EXCITED to finally see the Initiation Well in person, and it definitely is so much more impressive and beautiful than we could have imagined.
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Enter a capThat opening in the mossy rocks is the entrance into the top of the Initiation Well
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As you walk through the rocks you enter the magical well

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You walk into the top of it, not even realizing it’s the entrance, because it is just an opening cut into a rock. As you slip through you see the architecture and you realize you are inside the well.
The Initiation Well is so named, because it was not ever intended for water but instead for initiation ritualsused in Masonic, Templar, and Tarot ceremonies. Monteiro had many beliefs, and these included some from these spiritual/cultural groups ( he was a well known self-proclaimed believer of many things, mostly Rosicrucianism)
This well also contained 9 platforms, which also were meant to represent the 9 rings of hell as described inDante’s Inferno. Also, the 9 platforms can represent the 9 circles of heaven as well. As you stand at the bottom, you can contemplate and are supposed to truly feel the disconnection between earth and the heavens as you peer up to the sky from the darkness below; and also feel the sometimes haunting closeness of hell as you feel so isolated down there. (It’s very transcendent.)
Also, seen at the bottom, is a tiled symbol of a compass overtop of a Knights of the Templar cross, which was thoughtto have been Monteiro’s herald and a sign of his Rosicrucianism. (Which I had never until writing this post, before really read about. Do yourself a favor and read the link I shared!)
The history and ideas behind this structure are beyond fascinating… but walking into it and looking down from the top was breathtaking. We started our journey downwards, taking our time to truly take in everything with every single step.
Once we reached the bottom, I took a moment to stare upwards, standing over top the templar symbol.  After admiring the view, we walking into the connecting tunnels of the labyrinth. I imagined playing through those tunnels as a child, like Monteiro’s children did, and I felt a bit jealous of this incredible place they had to explore!
We walked through every tunnel, feeling along the walls through the especially dark sections, and others we were guided by the lights that had been installed along the ground. It was amazing!
After exploring the tunnels (and stopping and scaring a few random Japanese tourists) we exited the labyrinth through the Portal of the Guardians
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Standing at the Portal of the Guardians 
Who are the guardians this portal speaks of? In my research so far I have not found any answers… and maybe this will continue to remain one of the many magical curiosities of Moderio’s methodical madness that will may never know the answers to.
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Gardens & Grottos

The Portal of the Guardians bring you to an especially incredible open terrace, called the Terrace of The Celestial Worlds. (Let’s take a quick minute to truly appreciate the creative names Monteiro gave to all of these magical places… because they are honestly amazing!)
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Portal of the Guardians taken from the top of the tower in the Terrace of the Celestial Worlds 
This was one of my favorite parts on the grounds, besides of course the Initiation Well. I felt as if we stepped out of the labyrinth and literally into some sort of mystical place from Harry Potter.
From there, we wanted to explore the Waterfall Lake grotto, leading into more tunnels and leading us out by the Unfinished Well.
Then we trekked through the Labrinthic Grotto and Leda’s Cave. Leda from Greek mythology was supposedly the mother of Helen of Troy after being raped by Zeus as he had taken the disguise of a swan (What was with Zeus taking the shape of animals and raping women?) Leda was also a popular form of art inspiration during the Renaissance period.
We stopped in gardens for a bit, and sat on a bench across from a fountain structure called The Fount of Abundance. The name itself may come from some sections of the Quran, which that alone is quite curious of Modeiro. However, looking at the tiles, the colors, and the almost random sea shells carved into it.. there may be some even deeper meanings behind it all.
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The Fount of Abundance 
 According to Alchemy Procession, (something Modeiro was also known to dabble in) these colors follow the designated order of the 4 stages of alchemy, and the water flowing in the center of the fountain can possibly symbolizing the elixir of life. Was this the fountain of youth? Maybe… but probably not. Whatever the symbolism or reasoning behind it all, it was beautiful.
We continued walking down the pathway, admiring random statues of lions and dogs (…maybe these are the guardians?…) and then climbed the tiny stair case of the Regaleira Tower which overlooks the Terrace of Celestial Worlds. We admired the above views of the grounds, and the faraway Moorish Castle, called Pena Palace, we could see up on the hill behind us. (Sadly, we didn’t have time to see both on our trip. I will for sure be back to see more of Sintra!)
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You can see the Moorish Castle on the hill behind me

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We made our way towards the manor, the gorgeously Gothic inspired mansion. Stopping to walkthrough the small Roman Catholic chapel just north of the house (…which that is also quite a curious little design considering all of the other religious symbols and Easter eggs scattered around…) we sauntered along through the Garden of the Gods lined with statues of Gods of Greek Mythology, and entered the house by climbing a northern windy staircase.
Unfortunately, most of the home was not open to the public due to current renovations. We were able to at least see a few rooms on the main floor, which were impressive and of course gaudy (I expected nothing less at this point.) I was a bit disappointed to not see more of the house, and to possibly find more curious hidden symbols throughout… but perhaps next time I visit it will be open.

So Sintra-sting

Sadly, our time exploring this amazing place had come to an end. We leisurely made our way back down the main road, enjoying the sights along the way we had not been able to enjoy the trek upwards. There were many vendors on the sides selling small trinkets, paintings, and art. I loved the random gateways to homes and beautiful mosaic walls we would pass. This town was simply magic.
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We walked through some of the darling streets in Sintra, looking through some gift shops and admiring more homes and buildings. Especially my dream home… that I want to move into immediately!
 Stopping at a small cafe, we ate dinner and especially enjoyed the witty banter we shared with our very handsome waiter. Plus, the food wasn’t half bad either!
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Later, we had quite the mishap at a French gelato place. I will let you read what happened from my sister Heather’s perspective herefrom her blog!
Poor thing, she suddenly felt very ill and went into the bathroom while Jess and I waited to order gelato. Moments later she texted me and all it said was, “Help.” I immediately freaked out, thinking this was a taken kidnapped situation, and I was about to go Liam Neeson on some thugs trying to abduct my sister!
I rushed to the bathroom, and literally kicked open the door, expecting to see some men attacking her. Thankfully this was not the case, but she had gotten pretty sick and passed out so she was laying on the floor.
Jess and I helped her home, and we decided to just go to bed. I tried my best to sleep, but there were some loud party goers outside my window and above us until pretty late. However, anything was better than that awful sleeper train from the night before!
I absolutely LOVED Sintra. I was feeling pretty sad we were leaving, because I wanted to stay and explore some more. I have promised myself I will go back, because I have to! I absolutely have to, or else my heart will never forgive me.
So until then, I will forever dream of Sintra.
The next morning we would be heading further south to the beautiful beaches in Lagos!
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