the last few months

Where has the time gone?  I feel like I blinked and 2015 is nearly over.

I’ve been at my job for five months now and I can hardly believe it!  It feels like just yesterday I was a new kid at the office, trying to overcome a massive learning curve.  Now, I feel pretty confident and comfortable in my day-to-day, and am even ready to kick things up with a new challenge or project!12122915_10154401458417715_2181525618230869685_nAlli and I have been going to a LOT of concerts.  I do mean a LOT.  We’ve seen Of Monsters and Men, Ben Rector, Judah & the Lion, The Neighbourhood, George Ezra, Kodaline, ZZ Ward and about two dozen indie/up-and-coming artists and bands.  We typically go to at least one show a week, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!  (That’s what I envisioned, after all, when I saw myself living in Nashville.)10982317_10153996084897715_3639922355980186224_nThis weekend, my best friend Maddie is visiting and I know we’ll have an absolute blast.  I’m planning on taking her to a vineyard, to my favorite coffee shop and everywhere in between.  I may even drag her out hiking!  I am so looking forward to having some in-person time with my best friend to catch up.  After all, we’ve known each other ten years and lived together for three of those years…it’s been a long five months apart!

As you can see, life’s been busy!  With only 65 days until Christmas, I know that I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be 2016 before I know it.  (And I’ll be turning 24 before then!)  It’s starting to cool off in Nashville, and I’m excited for a winter of snow, hot drinks and cozy sweaters.

chasing waterfalls

IMG_2227One of my favorite things on a Sunday afternoon (or any afternoon, really) is to hit the road in search of adventure.  Specifically, since finding myself in Nashville, TN, I’ve been disobeying the words of TLC and chasing waterfalls.My roommate Alli isn’t the most outdoorsy girl, but I’m slowly changing that!  We went to Rock Island State Park a few weeks ago and it was a blast.  We hiked a few different trails, got caught in a storm (and, momentarily took shelter in a grotto before deciding to just go for it and stripping down to our bathing suits to play in the rain and river) and soaked in the beauty of Twin Falls.  Rock Island State Park is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Nashville, but the drive was a pleasant one through winding back roads and past simple country homes.

IMG_2354Two weekends ago, we ventured over to Burgess Falls (see picture above) near Cookeville, TN.  I was really excited about this one and met with disappointment when we arrived to learn that the path leading down to access the falls had been condemned just ten days earlier and deemed “unsafe” until renovated.  We were left taking in the view from a platform out away from the falls instead of down at their base, and I was pretty bummed out about it.  To make up for it, Alli and I decided to try nearby Cummins Falls.

IMG_2368I’d seen Cummins Falls on Instagram as a popular spot for swimming and heard warnings of how crowded it would be.  Man, were those warnings right!  While the hike itself was pleasant (through a river, it took me back to my days hiking the Narrows in Utah!), once we got to the awesome waterfalls, there were just people everywhere.

I’m not super big on crowds, especially when I’m doing outdoor activities like hiking and swimming.  Kind of hard to take in natural beauty when it’s covered up by pasty humans everywhere, haha.  However, Cummins Falls was still a good time – I swam all around (even up under the smaller falls) and jumped off the ledge.  I actually wished the ledge was higher!
IMG_2370All in all, there are still a ton of waterfalls I want to hike to around Tennessee, like Fall Creek Falls, Greeter Falls and O’zone Falls.  But these three were a great start, and a wonderful excuse to get out of the city and into the fresh air.  Of all three, Rock Island was definitely my favorite and the one I plan to take visitors to in the future!

you’ll always be home sweet home to me

Oh man.  I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve touched this blog!  I always try to take it as a good sign when I can’t find time to blog.  It means I’m busy out living my life: traveling, eating good food, exploring…or in the case of the last month, moving, starting a new job, getting a new roommate…the list goes on.

I have made some massive progress on my 101 in 1001 list.  I moved to a new city (Nashville – and I absolutely love it here).  I had a picnic.  I went to Cincinnati to visit my friend Blaire, where we went to a Reds game and sipped cocktails at a rooftop bar.  I re-did some furniture (and decorated our home here – post to come).

It’s definitely been an adjustment, starting my job at Warby Parker, living in a new state…but I feel like I am in the right place at the right time.  There is so much to do here; I never have an excuse to be bored!  I’ve seen so much live music, from country (Keith Urban, Cassadee Pope, Eric Church, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Charles Esten, Thompson Square and more) to punk to singer-songwriter and everything in between.  I’ve hiked to waterfalls, taken walks around my neighborhood…I’ve even met a few celebrities!  The most notable are Ben Rector (my favorite musician, who I literally met today) and Chris “Cupcake” from The Bachelorette (which Alli and watch religiously every Monday night).

A lot of people have told me how brave I am – for uprooting from the place I lived for five years and a comfortable job and social network to move to a place where I know only a handful of people in a state I’ve barely spent any time in previously.  I don’t think I’m that brave, though.  I think I’m lucky.  Lucky that an opportunity came my way, and a cool company took a chance on me.  Lucky that my random roommate is turning out to be one of my closest friends.  Lucky that the people in this city are warm and kind.  I just feel lucky.

With that, I’m off to shower and get ready for a night out in Music City.  I promise, though, I’ll be back to blogging regularly from here on out!  I could never quit this thing.

the mountains are calling and i must go

You know those places you see all over the internet?  You see a picture on Buzzfeed or Pinterest and have to ask yourself if that place is even real or just the work of a professional photographer and Photoshop master…

Well, I’m here to tell you that those places are real, and I had the immense privilege of seeing a few of them last month on a trip I took.11026048_10153967918717715_6275458459212842099_n

I flew from Gainesville to Atlanta, Atlanta to Salt Lake City and Salt Lake City to Las Vegas.  James picked me up at the airport and we made our way to Lake Powell (Utah or Arizona, depending on where you’re standing).  To say it was a long travel day is an understatement; to say it was more than worth it is an even bigger understatement.

Immediately, this trip felt like something different than I’d ever experienced.  For one, I was traveling with someone who I love a lot and get along with very easily.  We have similar likes and dislikes and all in all, a similar travel style.  We would sleep until we felt like getting up, eat when we were hungry, stop to take pictures when we wanted to and just move at our own pace.  We also rarely had cell phones, technology or distractions so the entire trip just had a very fluid, easygoing feeling.

We started, as I mentioned, in Lake Powell.  We arrived at night so you can imagine my astonishment to wake up and see that we were right next to the lake!  Lake Powell is a hotspot for houseboats, but there were a lot of other people at the tent campground with us, too.  (And some RVs.  James must have almost accidentally driven into the “RV Dump” site five times while we were there and it never ceased to be funny.)

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There were a lot of options for activities, and we had kind of a hard time choosing.  We wound up taking a boat tour of the lake which took us around all the different canyons (including getting up close and personal with the Glen Canyon Dam).  It was so chilly and windy on the top of that boat!

We also spent half a day in Page, AZ at Upper Antelope Canyon (one of those highly-photographed and sought-after spots I mentioned at the beginning).  It was stunning!  The colors of the slot canyon are unreal and our Navajo guide, Lionel, was hilarious and a pro at giving photography advice to capture the awesome light beams.

My favorite place that we spent time at during the Lake Powell segment of our trip was Horseshoe Bend.  We went to watch the sunset two nights in a row and let’s just say, there were some mishaps!  The first night, we were running late and afraid to miss the sunset so we literally jogged hand-in-hand up and over the hills, through swarms of gnats (terrible, terrible swarms) all the way to the edge.  We were slightly concerned as we passed hordes of people coming the opposite direction, away from the overlook, but all of that went away when we got there and saw the beautiful river, skyline and panorama.  We sat down and ate chips and salsa, drank a beer and enjoyed the truly incredible scenery.  Eventually, we were the only people left and I have to say, I never really wanted to leave that spot.

We enjoyed it so much that we went back the next night!  The second night, though, we encountered some crazy winds.  Poor James was wearing his contacts and the sand was blowing so bad into them that he just covered his eyes and waited for the gusts to pass.  We wound up just cracking up about the whole situation and heading back to camp for (what we thought was) the windiest night of little sleep ever.

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When our time in Lake Powell was up, James and I headed to Zion National Park.  I have to tell you a funny story here.  On the way to Zion, I told James that I really hoped we would happen upon (in the middle of the desert) a homemade ice cream shop.  As we stopped to get gas in Kanab, I found out there was one nearby!  Called Three Bears Creamery Cottage!  I was thrilled.  We went, and it was closed.  This would be a pattern throughout the rest of our trip: Mallory wants ice cream.  James tries to make this happen.  Ice cream shop is closed.  Or ice cream machine is closed for cleaning. Finally, on the second to last night in Zion, I got my ice cream and boy was it good.

But back to the adventures…on the way into the park, I was absolutely blown away.  James stopped and we sat outside the car, just taking everything in.  It felt like something out of a movie!  The fluffy little petals from a flower that I can’t remember the name of were blowing everywhere in the wind and the sun was shining all around us.  We eventually got fully into Zion and got a campsite (this was a feat in itself, but that’s a long story). Then we set up camp, took a little nap and went out for our first hike, at the Emerald Pools!  This was a pretty easy but nice hike.  The upper Emerald pool was my favorite, and we spent a little time just reveling in the beauty.  (I know that sounds corny but that’s all you could do, really.  If Mallory Thompson is speechless on a trip you know it must be an amazing one.)

We made friends with the people at our campsite (some crazy kids named Lindsey and Fern and a few others) and spent a little time hanging out with them after dinner around the fire.  At one point, Fern climbed a tree and fell out of it, flat onto this back.  It was by far one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

The next day, James and I did what I’d been waiting for ever since I read about it online: we hiked the Narrows!  You can read all about that here if you’re curious, but basically you’re hiking in a river between canyons and it is epic.  James made the mistake of letting the girl at the outfitter talk him into renting what we dubbed the “Waders of Death” (WoD).  I, meanwhile, only rented the canyoneering shoes and walking stick, and was very happy about that.  We wound up having to stash James’ WoD along the river, hiding them under some brush so we could return them later.  I was about to cry I was laughing so hard.  He took them off and he was covered in sweat.  The whole point of him renting the WoD was because he feared he would be cold!!!  It was just ironic and hysterical and I kept making fun of him for paying an extra $20 for a sweaty hindrance.

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The hike itself was a lot of fun, having to catch each other from falling all the way into the river (ok, I was a little clumsier than he) and eating lunch with a doe on a patch of rocky shoreline.  We also sang the whole time…Disney songs, Maroon 5 songs, any songs.  I loved it.

Finally, after some truly unforgettable days in breathtaking places (with fantastic company), it was time to go back to reality.  James drove me (reluctantly) back to the Las Vegas airport, where I made my way back to Gainesville.

I have a million other things that I could say about this trip, and how everyone should spend time in that part of the country, and how I wish we had more time there, but instead I’ll just say: it was a trip for the books.

goodbye for now, florida

“Don’t shy away from your game-changing decisions.  Set your jaw, make up your mind and don’t ever look back.”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I heard Peyton Manning say these words at Chick-fil-A Leadercast the very day after I received a job offer.  The offer would take me to a new industry, in a new city…and with a pay cut.  But everything in me was saying to take the position, make the jump…MOVE.  As I sat listening to dynamic speaker after dynamic speaker, I grew more and more certain that I had to accept the offer.

I was scared, though.  They wanted me to start in exactly one month.  How was I supposed to get everything together in that amount of time?  What about the fact that I know, like, four people in that city?  Then, Seth Godin said on making a change, “It’s always too soon.  We can be prepared but we can never be ready.”  Boom.  Okay, Seth.

So I went home on Friday evening and I accepted the offer.  I took a bold leap of faith, and I have felt great about it ever since.  As I look for housing, try to pack up my life from five years spent in Gainesville and just wrap my mind around the fact that, for the first time in 23 years, I won’t be living in Florida, I have sense of excitement and eagerness.  I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

There are bittersweet parts, too.  Leaving beloved friends and coworkers behind in Gainesville.  Not having my favorite university on the planet in my backyard.  Being further away from my hometown.

998360_10152193951387715_1049502063_nBut I believe in the company I’m going to work for.  I believe that good things lie ahead.  I believe in and share their values.  I believe that their team is one on which I’ll thrive.  C.S. Lewis said, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  I believe this now more than ever.

I am so excited to start my new chapter of life with Warby Parker in Nashville, TN on June 8, 2015.  This Florida girl is headed to Tennessee!

the one where they go to the cat circus

IMG_0953Last night, I went to see a show called Acro-Cats.  If you’re friends with me on Snapchat, you may have seen video footage from the…quirky…event.

A friend of mine had an extra ticket and invited me to join her for this one-weekend-only (imagine that) show.  The cat circus is based in Chicago and travels around the country “performing.”

I walked in to the theater and took in the set: purple and glitter were the recurring style elements.  The cat ladies who put on the show all wore variations of this color scheme, including corsets and cat ears.

The show, which lasted about 90 minutes (yes, I sat for 90 minutes watching cats do tricks…) had about 12 cats in it.  It also had two mice (not a fan), a chicken named Cluck Norris and a groundhog (?!).

The cats cooperated about 50 percent of the time and the other half they just kind of wandered around the room and waited for more tuna or chicken to appear before them.  They’re not suckers.  They waited for more food in order for them to get motivated to jump through the next hoop or play the next instrument.

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Speaking of instruments…there was a band.  The Rock Cats.  They “performed” on the guitar, the cymbal, the drums, the keyboard, the chimes and the cowbell.  It was literally chaos and it was in that moment that I realized who the real pathetic ones in the room were: not the circus cats.  Not the crazy corset-wearing cat ladies whose job it is to tour with this troupe of animals.  The pathetic ones were us, the audience…the people who paid money to see this show.  While I didn’t actually pay (I’m usually up for anything spontaneous if it’s going to be free), I sat in the company of about 75 people who did.  And they didn’t just pay for tickets.  They paid for cat training kits so they can go home and teach their cats the tricks they saw.  They paid for souvenir cat ears to wear.  They paid for buttons with cats’ faces on them.  You name it, they bought it.

I left the show wondering what I’d just seen and where I’d just been.  I drove home in a stupor and knew that I had to blog about this — the quirkiest event I’ve ever been to.  One good thing that came out of going was the chance for me to use all the cat puns I have in my arsenal and have them fully appreciated…now that I did that, I think I’m good to skip the cat circus the next time it comes to town.

how i afford my wanderlust

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It’s not just my favorite bug, it’s the only one I like: the travel bug.

I’ve had a serious case of wanderlust as long as I can remember.  I’m not sure whether it’s innate or a product of how I was raised; perhaps it’s a combination of the two.

As a kid, I grew up in a family (particularly my dad and his parents) that valued travel.  From age 6 or so on, my grandparents took my older brother and I on a trip every summer.  We went to Texas a number of times, staying at a ranch and riding horses a few times a day through the gorgeous trails of hill country.  We went to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown.  We went on cruises galore, including one to Alaska.  My parents and other grandparents also made travel a priority, renting beach houses, taking even more cruises (I believe I’ve been on 9 total now), etc.

Just as often as they told us about the importance of travel for expanding your horizons and growing culturally, my grandparents told me how important it was to manage your money wisely to be able to take such trips.

Why am I saying all this?

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling.  I went to West Virginia and Virginia in February, Colorado in March and am going to Utah this month.  All of these trips involved air travel, which as we all know is not cheap.  I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends asking, “How do you afford all that?”  I’m here to tell you!

I decided at the beginning of 2015 to really take control of my life: doing the things I want to do and not just dreaming about someday.  Someday can be today if you want it to be!  You just have to be strategic.

With this decision came a realization that I needed to plan my finances accordingly.  Every month, I have $300 automatically transferred to my general savings account.  I don’t really have a plan for this money; I just know that I’m not going to touch it if at all possible and am, in some vague way, planning for the future and the unknown.  I also have $150 transferred automatically each month into a travel savings account.

I chose these numbers rather arbitrarily and will soon up them.  The beauty of automatic transfers (mine are scheduled for the day after paydays) is that you don’t miss the money in your checking account once you get into the groove.  In the instances that I’ve had unforeseen expenses, I have elected to charge something to my credit card (nothing crazy, think $100) and then pay it off immediately after my next check.

Let’s look at the big picture: even if I did no other saving, I would have $1800 in my travel savings account after one year and $3600 in my general savings at that same time.  Pretty solid!  However, I try to beat that every month.  $20 here, $60 here…every last bit adds up!

Once I’ve reached about $500 in my travel savings account, I’ll start thinking about where I want to go.  This amount works for me because by the time the trip rolls around a month or two later, I’ve accumulated more spending money after using that initial amount on airfare.  This is obviously going to be different for everyone, but here’s why it works for me: I’m young.  I’m traveling mainly to places where I have friends (read: free accommodations).  I eat (mostly) cheaply.  I find cheap airfare, often flying discount airlines like Frontier or Spirit instead of the big names.

Another reason that this works for me is because right now, my focus is on short-term, mini-vacations.  I spend about four days on most of my trips.  I’ve found that for this stage of life (where I’m in a full-time job with limited paid time off), it makes more sense (and makes me happier) to take more frequent shorter trips than one longer trip.  But again – that’s just me!

Really, I want to emphasize that travel can be accessible to you.  Make it a priority in your budget (you’ll rarely find me buying drinks at Starbucks or purchasing the latest gadget).  I know that seeing as much of the world as possible is important to me, so I’m doing what I can while I’m still young and independent (I don’t even want to think about how much it costs to travel with children…).

If you have any questions or tips for me, I’m all ears.  Happy travels!

mile-high city

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Ah, sweet, sweet Colorado.  I could write a love song for that state.

Maddie and I returned yesterday morning from a fantastic (and whirlwind) of a vacation to visit our friend from college, Tyler, in Denver.  The trip was a perfect combination of relaxed but full.  See why below!

Thursday, 3/12

We flew Frontier Airlines out of Orlando to Denver.  Tyler picked us up at the airport and dropped us off in LoDo for brunch at Snooze.  After I ate an amazing breakfast burrito (and a chocolate chip pancake on the house since it was my first time eating there), Maddie and I set about to explore downtown Denver.  We shopped around but were relatively unimpressed with all the chain stores in the area — no cute boutiques or anything like that here.  What did impress me was the number of man buns (the hairstyle, not the body part like any Facebook friend of mine over 40 seemed to think) and thick beards.  One of the most surprising things Maddie and I noticed was simply how many guys there are in Denver.  Tons.  We took the Light Rail down to Tyler’s office to meet him that afternoon.  We snuck into the lobby (following behind a caterer and dodging his question when he asked if I had a badge) but were asked to leave five minutes later by a guard…those rocket scientists can sure be stuffy!

That night, we went to a happy hour at an Italian restaurant near Tyler’s place and then to a trivia night at a local sports bar.  It felt good to be playing trivia again (as opposed to hosting it)!  We finished in 3rd place (and I was proud).

Friday, 3/13

We slept in and then headed to Copper Mountain for a day of skiing!  We actually rented our gear off-site and I highly recommend the shop we where we did so.  The guys were really cool, the gear was nice and they even gave me a free chocolate chip cookie!  (It doesn’t take much to make me happy.)

Tyler’s friends John and Ann joined us to ski that afternoon.  It’s funny…the main reason they came is because Tyler and Maddie are both self-proclaimed “terrible skiers” and didn’t want me to have to ski alone when I wanted to leave the bunny hill.  So I skied with Maddie and Tyler for the first hour or so and then moved onto bigger and better stuff.  I’ve skied before in Colorado, in Winter Park, but this was my first Copper experience and it was great!  Just because I love trying new things, I think next time I’d venture over to A Basin or Vail.

After we left the ski resort (not before having a slope-side margarita), we went to the Dillon Dam Brewery for a beer.  One of my favorite things about Colorado (and a repeated theme you’ll see throughout this post) was all the breweries!  Then we headed to Beau Jo’s for mountain pies…where we sat in the literal attic in the dark for dinner.  It was interesting and I so wish I had a photo.

Saturday, 3/14

We went to brunch at The Original Pancake House on Saturday morning with another college friend, BreAnne, before heading to Fort Collins for the day.  When we got to Fort Collins, I tweeted at Coach McElwain (who just came to UF following a coaching stint at CSU).  He didn’t reply, but Colorado State’s Athletic Department did!  I got some recommendations on where to go in FoCo for the day that wound up being really helpful.  We started at New Belgium where we had the best tour ever in spite of not having registered beforehand.  (One of my strengths is talking my way into activities/shows/etc.)  Our tour guide Dave was such a treat and it was awesome to a) enjoy like 5 free [mini] glasses of beer and b) see where some of my favorite brews are made!  We even got to see the room where La Folie, my favorite sour brown ale, spends anywhere from 1-3 years in oak barrels before it’s bottled.

After we left New Belgium, we headed over to O’Dell Brewing for even more craft beer goodness.  The tour wasn’t nearly as high-quality as Dave’s, but we were still glad to have gone.  The place was crawling with people since apparently folks in Colorado love to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day several days early.  For lunch/dinner, we went to Choice City, a recommendation from both CSU and a bartender at New Belgium.  It did not disappoint!  This also gave us a chance to see the downtown (i.e. adorable) part of Fort Collins.

In this marathon of a day, our next stop was back to Tyler’s place in Denver to change for the Colorado Avalanche game!  We met a nice guy at the train station to the game (Alex) who I bugged the whole time about hockey and Colorado and life and I’m pretty sure he loved every second.  It was mine and Maddie’s first NHL game and, although our seats were dreadful, we had a good time and the Avs won!  I even scored a new (10-year-old) boyfriend named Logan who sat next to me at the game.  Afterward, we walked a few blocks to hit the town.  We ran into more awful guys and people that night than I knew was possible (including one who told me I was “thicker than three hot cakes and a milkshake” and meant that as a compliment) but eventually found our way into a karaoke bar which was a blast.  We ended our night with a Lyft home where I (of course) shared deep thoughts with our driver Troy on his sexuality and coping with telling his ex-wife and kids that he’s gay.  Only me.

Sunday, 3/15

We spent Sunday in my favorite place of the trip – Boulder!  We shopped alllllll along the Pearl Street Mall and soaked up the gorgeous 78 degree, sunny weather.  Tyler was a trooper as Maddie and I went into shop after shop.  There was so much life on Pearl Street because of what a beautiful day it was: street performers and families and artists and dogs and locals and tourists and it was awesome.  We ate at Illegal Pete’s and made a trip into a not-legal-in-most-states shop (because it’s Colorado, you have to).  We also drove around CU’s campus, which was stunning.  I really didn’t want to leave Boulder and am pretty sure I left a tiny piece of my heart there, but alas, we had a plane to catch.

That night, Maddie and I caught the red eye back to Orlando… and it was miserable.  It was a four hour flight and I slept maybe 20 minutes because of my terrible cough.  When we landed in FL, I was exhausted but had to make the drive back to Gainesville immediately.  Well, the trip took almost an extra hour because of an awful accident on I-75 and let’s just say, I was thankful it wasn’t me.  I was so tired that I was fighting to keep my eyes open on the road — rolling the windows down, blasting AC, changing the music — anything to stay awake.  We did finally make it, though, and I had time for a 90-minute power nap before heading into work and back to reality.

All in all, it was an incredible trip.  We had weather over 70 degrees all the days except our ski day (where it snowed on us and was beautiful).  Tyler was a kind and generous host (thanks, T) and Maddie and I both are adding Colorado to our list of “places we could live.”  Success!

defending myself and climbing rocks

I woke up this past Saturday with a strange feeling.  What the heck am I going to do today?  I’ve spent so many of my past weekends traveling or going to events that I had no clue what to do with a wide-open Saturday.  I decided to seize the day and conquer some more of my 101 in 1001 list!

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I guess I should disclose, I actually conquered a bit of it on Friday night too.  Maddie and I hosted a game night at our place.  We used to host these a lot at our old apartment, but it had been quite a while.  It was good to be back at it!

Back to Saturday…Once a month, my gym hosts an instructor from the Global Mixed Martial Arts Academy.  The instructor teaches a one-hour self defense class for women where we learn about strikes (hitting with our elbows or knees) or escaping attacks.  It was intense!  We learned how to get out of a chokehold, a bear hug from behind, a knife-to-the-throat…pretty serious stuff.  It was actually invigorating to do!  Obviously the hope and goal is that I’ll never have to use these skills, but at least I’m prepared.

After class, I headed with my friends Justine and Alex to the Gainesville Rock Gym for an afternoon of climbing.  We bouldered and did top-rope climbing (after getting trained in belaying).  It was awesome!  I have been rock climbing before (on actual rocks in Alabama back in high school and on the Lake Wauberg rock wall in college) but doing it indoors was a new experience.  It was an arm workout, for sure, and a fun bonding experience for Alex, Justine and myself.

take me home, country roads

Last month, I had a great time BLAST visiting my friends in West Virginia!  My friend Jordan and her husband Evan moved there last summer and I’ve been plotting a visit ever since.  We wanted to go when we would have a chance to ski, so I found myself there in the frigid month of February.

photo[22]I drove from Gainesville down to Orlando, FL to fly out.  I flew Allegiant Air (super cheap but still good service – I highly recommend) up to Roanoke, VA.  When I landed in Roanoke, it was a whopping 5° F…talk about a change for this Florida girl!  I was wearing a t-shirt, some running pants and a light fleece pullover…but I wasn’t cold!  I actually think the excitement of being up north in the snow pumped adrenaline through my body keeping me warm.

In Roanoke, I rented a car and drove (two hours, in the snow and ice, by myself in new-to-me states) to Bluefield, WV where my friends live.  I arrived and there was even MORE snow than I imagined.  It was everywhere!

Once I made it to their house (a feat in itself…I wound up parking in a church parking lot and hauling my stuff up a giant, icy hill because the car couldn’t make it into their driveway), Jordan informed me that we were going sledding!  I was psyched.  We ate some lunch, layered up and drove over to Bluefield College, the spot of the sledding hill we’d be conquering.

photo[11]Let’s just say, my first time sledding was far scarier than I would have guessed!  I had what can only be called uncontrollable speed and wound up with a lot of snow in my clothes, ears and even mouth.  I trekked it back up the hill and did it all over again until my hands were completely numb from the soaking wet gloves.  (Bear in mind, temps were still in the ‘teens.)

That night, we ate dinner in a gas station (because, West Virginia) and drove around to some of the surrounding coal towns for a tour.  It was such a beautiful natural landscape but some of the visible signs of poverty were absolutely shocking — formerly grand homes now falling to ruins, unoccupied houses looking like their owners had just stepped out, occupied houses looking like they ought to be abandoned…it was tough to see.

photo[3]On Saturday, we built a snowman (my first ever), had a snowball fight and watched entirely too many episodes of Friends.  We also went to an event called the Winter Warmer at Jordan and Evan’s favorite local bar/restaurant.  I’m pretty sure the entire under-30 Bluefield population was there…it was live music and lots of beer.  Tough to resist!  I even made a few local friends (which Evan would tease me about the rest of the night).  It snowed a LOT this day; I want to say it was at least 6-7 inches!  When you combine that with the foot of snow they’d gotten throughout the week, it truly felt like we were in a (dangerous driving conditions aside) winter wonderland.

photoThen on Sunday, we went skiing!  I hadn’t been since 2011 and wasn’t sure if I’d still be any good, but I was.  I skied all the way up to black diamond runs and I even did a few jumps in the terrain park.  It definitely wasn’t Colorado-level conditions, but it was cool to be skiing with my friends (and none of the snow was man-made).  We definitely exhausted ourselves skiing all day long, and went back to Bluefield around dinnertime.  At home, we ate dinner, played Monopoly (Evan was so ruthless) and watched more Friends; the perfect night!

photo[9]Monday meant my departure and let me just say, it came way too quickly.  I woke up at 5 am and Jordan and I had to dig my car out of massive quantities of snow and ice…like, it took 45 minutes.  Then I drove back to Roanoke where I boarded my plane for the Sunshine State.  I landed back in Florida later that afternoon where I immediately had to strip down to my t-shirt and enjoyed my drive back to Gainesville with the windows down.