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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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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Porto, Portugal

After the adventurous night ride on the train, I was feeling exhausted but happy to finally get out of that horrible, hot, train car.
We arrived at 6 am in Porto, Portugal.
Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t check into our Airbnbuntil about 3 pm. But, our host for our Airbnb was so accommodating, and would be allowing us to drop our things off with his neighbor Isabel, who was also his cleaning lady, until we could check in later.
So, we trekked off in the misting rain to find our place.
After a few wrong turns, probably due to our collective lack of sleep, we found the cute little street where our town home was. Isabel met us there, and she spoke maybe a hand full of English words. She was very sweet though, and showed us where we could store our back packs in a shed filled with cleaning supplies and other things.
While we were doing so, two other neighbors popped out to say hello to us, and they were some characters! They were both dressed in their pajamas still, and Angela (the only one who spoke English) had slippers on and a robe and all! She helped us speak to Isabel, and then the two of them showed us on a map the things we needed to go see in Porto.

Pouring in Porto

We were lucky that our entire trip so far it had not really rained, so I was not too discouraged about the rain in Porto. But, it literally rained alllllll day.
We left the Airbnb and the cute ladies in pajamas, and found a small cafe that was open. We charged our phones, ate pastries and drank fresh juice, and made a plan for where to go explore.

Figuring the subway was our best bet to get around, we purchased some tickets and took two stops down to the historic city center of Porto, called Liberdad Square.

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We explored lots of buildings, churches, and streets all over. Everything there was so incredible! The architecture influences in Porto seemed to be mostly from the Gothic and Romanesque periods.

Despite how many chapels we actually walked through (too many to even remember honestly) what I do remember is how each one was unique in its’ own way.

Even the sidewalks had beautiful tiled and mosaic designs within them!

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As the rain continued to fall harder, we continued to walk around town. We stopped into an amazing train station with incredibly intricate tiled mosaics all around the walls and the ceiling, admired so many darling streets and alley ways, and we even came across the famous bookstore Livraria Lello, used to film scenes in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. (Although, sadly, you had to wait in line for over and hour to go in and pay ten euros! Definitely not worth it…) The other sites were just as magical in Porto as the staircase inside that bookstore anyway.

More Porto Rain, and Dealing with Pain

The rain continued misting heavier as we made our way up to the top of the hillside that overlooked the Duoro river. We went that way because we wanted to check out the famous Porto Cathedral.
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Looking at the Duoro River from the view at the Porto Cathedral
The cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Porto, which was fully completed in 1737. The inside was gorgeous, filled with arching ceilings and beautiful columns. The giant wooden carved doors were something to behold as well… and even though the signs said not to touch them, we all definitely did. (#sorrynotsorry)
By this time my left foot was throbbing (the one I injured the first day in Barcelona.) I also was beginning to get a migraine from the lack of sleep, and had some lady cramps coming on; quite the trifecta of pain guys!
Heather finally received a message from Isabel that the Airbnb was cleaned and ready for us! So we happily headed there, glad to get out of the rain and rest for a bit.
We were greeted once again by Isabel and Angelina and the this lady whose name I don’t think we ever learned. But they were all so welcoming and sweet! they hugged us and welcomed us, and it was so genuine and comforting that I honestly would probably go back and stay with them and I feel as if they would remember me! That’s how friendly and welcoming they were.
The town home was the nicest place we stayed our entire trip! A 2 story town home, the bottom floor included a full sitting room with a giant flat screen tv and just about any blu-ray or dvd you could think of, flanked by 2 large and comfortable couches. Connecting next was the kitchen, which they had graciously stocked with bread, fruit, and some meat in the fridge. There were also several types of teas and coffees on the counter, and some fresh juice in the fridge. The full bathroom was right next to the kitchen, and was also stocked with shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hair spray, and just about anything else you could think of!
Once the ladies left us we headed upstairs, and I took the bedroom with two twin beds (that was clearly meant for children since it was filled with toys and children’s books) and Heather and Jess took the other room with the queen size bed. We passed out and took a much needed nap.
I was hoping after we woke up I would be feeling better, but unfortunately I was feeling much worse. So, much to my disappointment, I chose to stay in for the night so I could have the energy I wanted for our next day in Sintra. Heather and Jess ventured out, and I’m sure they were happy to have some alone/romantic time without their little #sisterwife shadow following them around!
I took a shower, iced my foot, and found some ibuprofen for my other ailments. Warming up some tea from the selection in the kitchen, I settled onto the couch and watched a blu-ray. As much as I wanted to go explore the city more, I knew I needed to listen to my body and take the night off, especially if I wanted my migraine to go away.
Once Heather and Jess returned we all headed upstairs for bed. The next day we were heading to Sintra, one of the places I had been looking to the most! I couldn’t wait!
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