Monday, November 16, 2015

Thoughts on the Terrorist Attacks from a 20-Something Year Old

I think, in my young American life, this is the first time that something "big" has ever hit me so hard. Yes, I was alive during 9/11 but it did not seem real to me. It was on the TV. And everything on the TV was fake, right?

It's not just Paris. There have been attacks all over the world recently. There have been so many natural disasters in just the past 6 months. There are thousands of victims of other circumstances - homelessness, domestic violence, bullying. And it's hitting me all at once.

There is a feeling of hopelessness that comes over me every time I think about the terrible recent events. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to take care of the millions of children who will sleep on the streets tonight? How am I supposed to raise the funds for new homes that hurricanes and earthquakes have destroyed? What am I supposed to say to those who have lost loved ones? What is expected of me?

Nothing. Nothing is expected of me. Actually no, I'm expected to change my profile picture to France's colors to show my support. And I understand why..but what about the mass shooting in Kenya? What about the earthquakes that happened over the summer in Nepal - where people are STILL struggling to survive day-to-day? There are too many disasters for me to change my profile picture to one country's colors and not feel guilty about it. I do support France, but I support everyone else, too. Changing my picture to France's colors feels like I'm brushing every other attack under the rug, and I don't feel comfortable doing that.

And even if I did change my profile picture, I know that I would not feel any better. The uneasiness and the fear that is inside my heart as I blindly scroll through dozens and dozens of articles about ISIS and bombings and terrorist attacks has not gone away since Friday. I scroll, I scroll, I scroll. Because all I have in front of me is my screen and since I can't do anything, I just want to know everything.

If you look at my recent internet history, it will show you that instead of sleeping, I am googling ISIS and instead of taking my lunch break, I am reading CNN articles. I scroll, I scroll, I scroll.

I had plans to go to the gym today. But my heavy heart screamed at me because there are thousands of people in this world who would give anything to have a "normal" day today. To have a day where they wake up early, go to work, and then hit the gym on the way home. This "normal" life that I have lived daily suddenly fills me with feelings of selfishness. Who am I to have this "perfect" life? Who am I to live life "normally" even after these attacks?

I am changed inside. Part of me wishes that I could go back to normal and absentmindedly go for a run and then shop at some thrift stores before going home to cook myself a vegan, gluten-free meal. I cringe at myself.

But the other part of me is thankful for this chance to grow up. For this opportunity for me to actually, literally, physically get down on my knees before God and PRAY. For those who are directly affected, for the countries who have some serious decisions to make, for the fear that is consuming so many people's lives. To repent for those who have made terrible comments, ignorant posts about how it's a certain religion's fault or it's a certain country's fault. To ask God to give me wisdom, because I don't know what to do. There is nothing I can do.

All I can do is pray. And scroll, and scroll, and scroll.

Monday, September 21, 2015

One Year Local: Three Month Update

It has been hard for me to define what shops count as independent. One of the main reasons that I am doing this challenge is to try new cafes, restaurants, and shops, instead of just sticking to what I'm used to. So some of the independent shops that I have found and love do have several franchises, but I still feel good about it. I am branching out, supporting small franchises, and making new memories!

It has been so fun to find hole-in-the-wall places that serve phenomenal coffee, hire a great staff, and have the coolest interior design. I've also found several places that serve burnt coffee, nothing vegan, and are overpriced. Oh, well. You win some, you lose some.

I have also been searching for friends' Christmas presents at farmer shops, thrift stores, etsy stores, and independent shops. The gifts are so much cooler, and often, so much cheaper! They are also one-of-a-kind!

Here are some of the best local, independent places that I have found in the past three months of my One Year Local challenge.

One of my favorite small franchises is Rock 'n' Joe's Coffee. I have been to three different franchises all over NJ and they are all SO different. Some have macarons, some have their own special brand of soda. They all have their own complete style and feel, and I love that about them. They also have the BEST iced coffee I've ever had, hands down, no competition. 

There were so many vegan, gluten free options, including fresh pressed juices. This was some of the best Mexican food I've ever had, and my "Orangeade" was made fresh with oranges, lemon, and agave. I cannot rave enough about how good this place was, and I can't wait to go back.

For a friend's pre-wedding breakfast, she introduced us to Tomato Pie Cafe. I had their gluten-free quinoa pancakes, and they were SO good. The artsy, woodsy feel of the restaurant was perfect. I wish I lived closer so that I could go back!

For a coffee date, Tori (she gets photo credit) and I tried Burlap and Bean for the first time. They had gluten-free, vegan cookies for me, and plenty of other pastries for Tori to try! I ordered their dark roast and just put some cream and sugar in it. It was probably the best cup of coffee I've ever had at a cafe. Tori's latte was way too sweet and she wasn't a fan of the doughnut (although it looks incredible!), but I'm definitely up for trying it again! It's also only just a short drive from my town.

Every weekend when the weather is good, my town hosts a farmer's market. It is so nice to see local farmers and get to support the community. I also love getting the chance to eat organically for not crazy-expensive. Just remember to bring a bag, because the first time, I didn't and I ended up carrying my mushrooms and cucumbers around in just my hands, and it was a little embarrassing.

This has been one of my favorite cafes for years. I always get their vegan, gluten-free honey mixed berry muffins. It is such a great place to meet up with friends, and they have a bunch of games and books to entertain yourself with. They also sell fantastic paintings and pottery made by local artists.

I need to promote this etsy shop. One of the most inspiring women I've ever met started this etsy shop while living in Nepal. I bought that bear print in the the left top corner, and I am obsessed with it. There are so many great prints, and I am always amazed by her talent. These make fantastic presents.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Summer Re-Cap

Lots of dates.

Lots of books.

Lots of crossing things off my bucket list.

Lots of hikes.

Lots of new cities.

Lots of exploring new places.

Lots of beach trips.

Lots of green smoothies.

Lots of driving.

Lots of museums.

Lots of crisp nights.

Lots of local cafes.

Lots of farmer's markets.

Lots of celebrating friends' marriages and successes.

Also starting a new job as a second grade teacher!

Also..fall doesn't start til September 23rd. So it's still summer, and no one can stop me. More hikes, more coffee dates, more parties, more traveling!

Follow me on instagram to keep up with my fall adventures!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Reasons Why I Hate Hiking Alone

I can see why the thought of hiking solo would sound enticing. Clearing your head, finding yourself, and all that. But for me, an extroverted extrovert, with an imagination too big for my own good, hiking alone is another form of torture. There are so many reasons why, but I will expand on just a few.

On my recent expedition to find Mount Joy (which is adjacent to Mount Misery, one of my favorite trails), I discovered my lack of skills in the art of map reading. So I set off on a different trail, hoping to find Mount Joy on the way. This trail was a paved path, which happens to be my least favorite kind of trail and was full of strollers and dogs and old men without their shirts on. I mean, it was hot out, but not that hot.

Anyway, here are some reasons why I hate hiking alone. I always like the idea, because it sounds awfully romantic, but there are only so many cute chipmunks and pictures of trees that can be taken before I lose my mind. Also, have you ever realized the danger of a twenty-something-year-old girl hiking alone through the woods? If you've ever seen an episode of Law and Order: SVU, and I have seen all of them, it is not uncommon to either a) get kidnapped or b) get murdered.

Did I mention the fact that there were a lot of old man jogging without their shirts on? If that's not creepy I don't know what it is. I had to pass an old man who was walking by himself with his shirt off, admiring the view. And then I realized, as I was speed walking passed him in my spandex capris, he was probably enjoying the view even more. And that's when I knew I was about to be killed.

But I was already too deep into my hike, too dedicated to quit, and too intent on finding Mount Joy. I took a self-defense class in college, so I put my knowledge to good use by surveying what I had on me. I had both a set of keys, which seemed promising, and a full water bottle, which also seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately they were both in my backpack, and it would be a little too obvious for me to take off my backpack and hold my water bottle in one hand and my keys in the other, with my empty backpack bobbing up and down. So I did the less obvious thing and continued to speed walk, checking behind me every six or seven steps.

Unfortunately this paved path that I was on went through an open field, not through the woods as I had hoped. The field gave me no protection as I imagined trying to run and hide from this inevitable killer. Speaking of running, I can't do that. I've been trying to build my stamina at the gym, and I have gotten up to four minutes straight of light jogging. My boyfriend always says he's proud of me when I hit anything above my average two minute running spree, but I know he's just saying that because he's trying to win brownie points. So I stick to speed walking, with my water bottle sloshing in my backpack with each step, making me slightly annoyed but mostly just nauseous. I really wished this trail was through the woods, because I have seen The Hunger Games a time or two. I even read all the books. If anyone knows about scaling a tree or hunting a deer, it's me. I've studied Katniss and she knows what she's doing. I mean, come on, she's been in the Hunger Games twice now (spoiler).

Entrance to Mount Joy's trail.

Fortunately for me, I finally found Mount Joy and it's a skinny little path through the woods - my favorite kind of trail. Unfortunately for me, my water bottle is still sloshing and it is beginning to sound an awful lot like feet scampering through dried leaves. So I continue my hike, still checking over my shoulder every six or seven steps, and I'm trying to enjoy nature and clearing my head and finding myself or whatever. I have finally calmed down enough to start to enjoy my hike when I see more hikers. Yay, I'm not alone in the woods anymore! But then I realize, more people means more crazy people which means more murderers hiding in the woods.

During one of my many over the shoulder checks, I notice not one, but two men approaching from a distance. I was lucky enough to have taken my water bottle out of my bag for a drink, so I at least had some sort of defense mechanism. I have two options a) hide in the trees and let them pass or b) run. Since I obviously can't do plan B, hiding in the trees is my only option. Which shouldn't be hard, because I've seen The Hunger Games a time or two. When I peek back over my shoulder, because it had been seven steps without a check, they are far too close and have already seen me. One even met my eyes, how dare he. So I resorted to speed walking, and because I had been speed walking for the past two and a half miles, it's starting to get a little hard to breathe. With that said, the first man passed me, and nothing happens. I neither die nor get kidnapped.

With a slight boost of confidence, I checked over my shoulder to see how this other stalker is making out. That's when I noticed he had a dog. If there was even a slight chance that I could outrun a human, I know I could never beat a dog. And besides, I'm more of the cat person. I heard him closing in on me and I casually switched my water bottle to my dominant hand, so that my biggest hit might actually throw him off balance slightly (if he's very weak and if I'm very lucky.) Before he even passes me, I heard a Learn Chinese Yourself audio tape that he is listening to and to make me feel even safer, I notice that his guard dog is some kind of little poodle or something. I don't know the exact breed because, as I told you, I'm a cat person. I even snuck a picture because I knew no one would believe me.

Who takes a tiny dog on a mountain hike? Don't their little legs get enough exercise walking from the food bowl to the water dish each day? Needless to say, I no longer felt endangered and I switched my water bottle back to my left hand as an ancient peace symbol.

Anyway, as much as I love nature, which is enough to desire to go on a solo two and a half hour hike, it is rather boring when the danger of being murdered and/or kidnapped is gone. So I wrote this in the notes section of my phone as I finished my hike for two reasons a) to hopefully be used as a future blog post or b) on the slight chance there is still a murderer/kidnapper still waiting in the woods to get me, there will at least be an amusing story for my friends to remember me by.

Update: I finally found my car only about a mile away from where Mount Joy's trail ended. I made it home tired and sweaty but mostly unharmed, except that my shin splints from high school basketball started acting up again.

I also realized that I didn't exactly give you a list of why I don't like hiking alone, but hopefully you will be able to pick a few reasons out of this terribly long story. Also, quick question. Would you like to be my hiking partner? Because I'm never going alone again.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Local Adventures : Best Places in Pittsburgh

I've been wanting to check out Pittsburgh for the longest time. So when the opportunity came to spend the week with one of my best friends, who happens to live half an hour from the city, everything worked out perfectly.

The drive was a tough one of over five hours, but it was beautiful! We passed so many state parks (it took everything within me not to pull over) and the whole drive was through mountains. I was amazed at the countless amount of trees. I praised throughout the whole drive.

In the city, we hopped around from coffee shops to the prettiest stores all while honoring my One Year Local challenge. Everything was perfect. Amy knows me so well and I couldn't help but wish I lived closer.

I was also able to visit some friends from college and get to know Amy's sweet family. (And her cats. Which may have been my favorite part.)

The drive was beautiful and green the whole way.

No. 14
Classy and smelled so good, but I was mostly obsessed 
with that brick wall. Check out this independent boutique here.

Mt. Washington
This was my favorite night. If you're in Pittsburgh, 
you have to see this view! Get the info here.

Roxanne's Dried Flowers
I would have honestly bought everything in this store if I could.
I ended up with a French garden print that I've been wanting for
years, and the cutest succulent for my classroom. Check it out here
- you'll love it!

Espresso a Mano
Such a cute coffee shop and located perfectly next to so many
cute shops and boutiques! If you're in the area, go here!

Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange
Located in the heart of the Strip District, this place is filled (literally
filled) with coffee beans. Half of the store is full of mugs, tea bags, and 
accessories. And baskets and baskets of coffee beans! If you're here 
in the summer, try their lavender lattes! And if you're vegan like me, 
order your drink with CASHEW milk. It's the best.

Point State Park
Tons of events are held here, or you can just come here to relax in the
park. I loved this area and I wish I could have stayed longer. Click here
for more information.

  • Choose a good driver. The roads are extremely tricky, with windy streets and bridges literally everywhere! 
  • Bring cash! Places like the Carnegie Museum of Art is cash only for parking. Also, I had to charge my card for every time I street parked, so my statement has several one dollar transactions. Which isn't necessarily bad, just annoying!

Let me know if I missed out on any good attractions, and I'll make sure to hit them next time I go! I know there will be a next time because I already miss Amy so much. Also, check out Amy's blog here. It's beautiful, just like her!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Let's Be Honest about Social Media

I'm hardly on facebook, and I check twitter randomly. Some days I post three times and sometimes there are weeks between posts. And if you've tried to keep up with my blog, you see that I post very, very sporadically. But I love instagram. I love posting snapshots of my days because when I look back, I get to experience those memories all over again.

I have heard many people upset because their life isn't "instragram perfect". And that is the part I don't understand. I instagram to keep memories, not to impress other people. Because one knows what is going on on the other side of the picture.

For example...

We were so excited to try this cute taco and smoothie
stand, and we sat down at the outside seating..until we realized
we were sitting right next to a huge heap of trash bags. And it
started to smell. So we wandered around until we found
a random bench and it was right next to a stoplight so everyone
who stopped at the light got the privilege of watching us eat our tacos. 
Not a pretty sight. But a pretty picture.

Posted a healthy breakfast. Took two bites, and here's
a fun fact. I hate blueberries. I tried to stand it for the antioxidants
but I ended up eating around all of the blueberries. So don't
think I'm healthy. Because I'm not.

Nick and I bought this towel together and celebrated as if
we had picked out our first house together. Then I took this picture.
Then a bird pooped all over it.

Actually, this brunch was awesome for me. However, my friend's
 coffee tasted so nasty. Like unbelievably nasty. I think the cream 
must have gone sour. It tasted like chemicals. But when I see this
picture, I have to laugh at how incredibly awful it was! And how
incredibly good mine was. She's the sucker here.

While I appreciate people telling me that Nick and I are a
cute couple, let me just be honest and say that I only took this "artsy"
picture because we tried to take selfies so many times and they
all looked SO bad. We cringed and deleted them right away.
So our feet looked better than our faces.

Nick picked these gorgeous flowers for me on our walk and I
fell in love with the way I arranged them. So I took a picture, had a
sneezing fit from all of the allergens, and immediately threw them
outside. Sorry, babe.

I read the first chapter like three times, and I was still confused
so I stopped reading. Also, my reading glasses make my eyes hurt.

My life is not perfect. I take fun pictures to capture memories. I go through my feed and laugh at all of the crazy memories and the imperfect situations. Don't ever wish to be someone else based on their travel posts, twitter feed, or instagram likes. Take pictures for yourself, for your memories. Or don't take any pictures at all. Just don't base assumptions off of social media. Because birds poop on everything and blueberries are gross.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Twenty Dinners: Call Your Friends for Dinner

I rarely post a picture of the inside of the book. But to be honest with you, the first time I went through this cookbook Twenty Dinners, all I did was look at the pictures. If you are a fan of Kinfolk or Oakmoss then you would love the vibe from this book. It is all about fellowship, bringing people together, making good use of natural light, and picnicing every chance you get.

Just as the title suggests, this book is a collection of twenty dinners, complete with drinks and desserts. The menu changes with the seasons so that you can use the freshest foods.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to make use of these recipes as I am trying my best to be strictly vegan and gluten free. I do recommend this book to anyone else, as I guarantee, all of these dishes would be delicious. My mouth is watering just thinking about some of them.

Also, I have to warn you that this book is not for fearful beginners. Dishes such as Lavender-Infused Olive Oil-Poached Cod and Pan-Seared Squid make me feel intimidated, and I am an adventurous cook. There is also a lot of alcohol use in this book, which always leaves me with a blank stare, as I know nothing about alcohol, cooking with it, or drinking it.

But honestly, I am in love with this cookbook. The gorgeous pictures of fellowship around a dinner table inspired me. I am figuring out which weekends I am free, wanting to call friends for dinner. I am eagerly awaiting my boyfriend's return from Los Vegas by preparing a huge brunch menu, all inspired by this book.

Through Blogging for Books, I was given a free copy of Twenty Dinners by Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

One Year Local

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love challenges. When I get a good idea or a desire to do something, it'll probably never happen unless I set a goal for it. I have cut out chocolate for a year, completed my 21 before 21 challenge, and done a bunch of other things when there was a goal or a time limit or a prize at the end.

I have been wanting to support local businesses more. There are so many reasons to do this. It helps the economy of your town, you get to discover restaurants and stores that you would have never known about, and you avoid the greasy fries at McDonalds. 

This idea came to me only a few days ago, as I explored West Chester, a town about 15 miles away. The downtown was lined with cute little restaurants, cafes, and shops. I only recognized one chain (a Starbucks, of course) amidst all of the local shops. The shop right next to Starbucks was a little stand that sold tacos and fresh juice. While the latter sounds good to me, the number of people in Starbucks (coming in and out, dozens already seated) compared to the number of people lined up at the taco stand (one) was terrible. 

I have always thought about it and encouraged my friends to try downtown restaurants instead of going to chains, but I have never committed to doing it. Knowing my reputation of actually doing things when there is a time limit or goal, I decided to eat local for one year. 

I have already found so many independent restaurants that are fabulous. My favorite Thai restaurant, my favorite burger place in Philly, my favorite cafe, my favorite vegan restaurant - they are all independent. 

Although I started a few days ago, I bumped my official "start" date up to June, just because it sounds better and is easier to remember. From June 1st 2015 to June 1st 2016, I will be choosing local restaurants to eat at and local cafes for coffee. While I am sure I will still shop at grocery stores and Target, I will keep my eye out for local stores and farmer's markets that I can also shop at.

Exceptions - When a big group of friends, or the bridal party of my best friend's wedding, or a family friend's big family all decide to eat out - I am not going to miss out just because they go to Applebees. I'm going to spend time with my friends, even if they vote on going to a chain restaurant. This happens rarely and to me, it is more important to make memories with your friends than prove a point and complete a challenge. 

However, when it is my choice, or when I am going out with a few friends and I have a big say in where we go, or when I go on a date with Nick (I already convinced him to try this with me), I'll try somewhere independently owned. 

I know some of you aren't able to commit to a whole year, but if you ever discover an independent restaurant/cafe/store, write a blogpost about it to encourage your local friends to try it. Comment with your link below - I'd love to see it! 

Follow my instagram here and my twitter here as I'll be sharing each time I discover a local shop. Use the hashtag #oneyearlocal whenever you find an awesome independent restaurant or store, I'd love to see what you all discover! 

About the picture at the top, for all of you coffee addicts, you probably recognized the green straw. Yes, it is a carmel macchiato made with coconut milk from..Starbucks! A few days ago, I used up my Starbucks gift card (so that I could have no excuse to cheat). I had to photograph it because it was my last purchase from a chain for (at least) one year. Here's to one year local! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Student Teaching Memories

I spent my semester of student teaching in a 95% White, high class, suburban elementary school. With SMARTboards and computers in every room and an iPAD cart, there was no lack of resources. However, I have never seen so many hurting, needy children as I did in my second grade class.
Let me remind you that the children in a second grade class are either seven or eight years old. There were students in my class who were anxious, clinically depressed, and severely overstimulated. No seven year old should be taking anti-depressants. I sadly heard the words, "I'm stupid. I never do anything right" from more than one of my students. No seven year old should believe that about themselves.
But what the perfect place for a Christian to be! To show these children the love that they clearly do not receive at home. To pat them on the back and ask about their day. To look them in the eye. To pull them into the hallway and let them cry about their feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear. To just listen to them, when it’s clear that their parents are far too busy.
I definitely feel like I was put in this class for a reason - a reason that goes far deeper than teaching the long E sound and how to use a ruler to measure. Every morning as I drank my coffee and prepared for the long day of teaching, I would pray for each student by name, knowing that most likely, I am one of the only people who are praying for them. For some of them, I am the only person to say, “You’re smart” and “You did well” and “You’re not a bad kid.” Every day I felt thoroughly used by God, and I am so thankful for this experience.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Prayers for Nepal

It's been one week since the earthquake that killed thousands in Nepal. My heart broke for them as I cried and prayed. All of my friends are okay, but I find it hard to rejoice in that, when I know that thousands of other people died. So far the count is close to 7,000 and it is still rising.

Most of these thousands who died weren't Christians. We know this because way less than 1% of the population are Christians. Most are Hindu or Buddhist, a small percentage is Muslim. So besides a handful of people who might have heard of Jesus before, the rest of the thousands all died without knowing Jesus, some without even hearing his name.

And I can't peacefully drink my coffee or wash dishes or go for a walk without feeling the weight of all of those lives lost. I wish I was there, finding people, saving people, sharing with them the good news.

I think of all of the people I saw - the old man spinning his prayer wheel, the little girl who held my hand as we ran through her village, the sweet family who we stayed with in Tukche. Are they alive? Did they know?

Things like this happen all the time. Earthquakes and tornados and hurricanes. But it's never affected me because I never had a connection there. I spent a whole month last year, living with Nepalis, learning their language and culture. To know that some of them are gone breaks my heart. To know that most of them never knew Jesus breaks my heart even more.

What can I do before the next disaster? Before more people die without knowing. Before the next murder or the next child sold into sex slavery. What can I do to save these people before it is too late?

My heart hurts as people speed by me, drinking their Starbucks, bluetooth in their ear. What can I do before the next car accident, before the next divorce, before the next death.

I feel the urgency of spreading the gospel more than ever before. Everything within me wishes I was in Nepal, but commitments and college debt have tied me down for the time being. I can't wait until the time when God sends me and uses me to reach the unreached, to share the good news before it's too late. To love the locals before, after, and maybe even during the next natural disaster.

But until then, I'll pray. I'll pray with the urgency I feel that more lives will be saved. That those who survived the earthquake will find food and shelter and water. I'll pray for workers who can go now - that God uses them in amazing ways.

And I ask you to join with me in prayer. I'll share some pictures of my time in Nepal. Pray for them, pray for their villages. Pray for all of the unreached.

This morning as I write this post, this is the most recent news report. The video and pictures are heartbreaking. Click here to watch and read.