Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 | A Year In Review

2016 was so full for me.  My life still in a lot of transition throughout this year.  There were some big unknowns about how my life would unfold, but reflecting back on this year, I realized that the unknowns didn't stop me from being brave, trying new things, and having some really great adventures.

Some of my favorite memories from this year are:

1. Starting this blog.  Getting back into photography and sharing my heart has been so fulfilling and I can't wait to see where it takes me for 2017.  My hope is that this will be a place where hearts can be shared and authentic community can be built.

2. Really moving back to Charlotte.  I have always had one foot in this city.  And for the first 6 months of 2016 I was living in two cities at the same time [literally, I had 2 separate rents!] the end of July I finally planted some roots and made the move to be here in the city I love and will always call home.

3. I left Boone.  Not without one last hike to Rough Ridge. Boone has been so good to me.  I lived there for 6 total years of my life.  The second time I lived there was a healing experience for me.  I learned so much about myself spending time in those majestic mountains.  My soul will be forever grateful for the slow pace of life and the many mountains I climbed.

4.  I took Mike on a birthday trip to Asheville in June.  We had a wonderful time wandering the city, finding fun breweries to try, and meeting up with some friends who live there.

5. In November, I ran my second half marathon in Savannah.  You can read all about that trip here.

6. Mike and I celebrated 1 year of dating at the High Country Beer Fest.

7. One of my goals for my last summer in Boone was to do all the things I have always wanted to do but never seemed to get around to it.  So one day we rented Kayaks on Price Lake and soaked up the water, sunshine, and exercise.

8. A little lesson I have learned this year is to be more present in the moment.  I have spent many quiet moments reflecting, journaling, reading my bible and time in prayer.  These are my favorite moments and they make the biggest impact.

9. Renaissance Festival.  There is one every fall in Charlotte and it's so much fun.  A day full of flower crowns, medieval costumes, shows, jousting, good beer, turkey legs, and song.

10. I started working as an elementary school counselor. I worked for my internship at a school in Charlotte and was asked back for this school year.  I am so grateful for my job and the lessons it teaches me every day.  Our theme for this school year is Racing with Excellence so we kicked off the 2016/17 school year at the speedway in Concord!

11.  My Uncle got married! They have been dating for 20 years.  It was so much fun to gather with family in Georgia and celebrate love while dancing the night away!

12. I graduated with my Masters degree in May! Such a huge accomplishment.  So many things fell into place for my dreams to come true with this one.  The whole experience will always be cherished as such a blessing.

13. Technically this was the end of 2015, but I didn't have this blog yet, so I am sharing now.  Last Christmas was spent in Peru with my sister.  We got to go to Machu Picchu. Oh, what a breathtaking, awe inspiring, wonder of the world that was. Being in those Andes mountains was something I will never forget.

14. I took a trip to Raleigh to meet Mikes family and to see where he grew up. It was such a fun little trip to explore another part of the state and get to know him a little bit more.

15. I tried Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga for the first time.  A friend and I went to a class on Watauga Lake - which quickly became my favorite summer spot. The class was so challenging, yet serene and lovely all at the same time.  I highly recommend it and will definitely jump if I get another opportunity.

16. Dad and I tried our hand at gardening in the spring.  We built a raised bed in my parents yard.  The garden was filled with veggies that fed us all summer long.  I never knew there were so many ways to eat eggplants but when your garden is fruitful you get creative quick!

What are some of your favorite 2016 memories?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Traditions

Last year, at this time, I was in South America for the holidays.  My family flew to Peru to visit my sister for Christmas.  Celebrating in a country where I only know a few basic words of the language and it wasn't even cold outside was such an interesting experience.  It was a wonderful one though.

I soaked up as much of the culture, the language, and the traditions as I could.  I absolutely loved how Christmas is celebrated in Peru. The community there just captivated me. We went to mass on Christmas eve, then had Christmas dinner, then at midnight fireworks are set off all over the city - it was amazing! Everyone was in the streets at midnight watching the fireworks - I mean our 4th of July didn't even compare to this.  While the fireworks are blazing through the city everyone is wishing each other Feliz Navidad, hugging, kissing, and celebrating the birth of Jesus.  It's only after this display that then the gifts are opened.  The celebration is a whole evening affair.

Being there and experiencing something completely new got me thinking about traditions. We have always traveled for Christmas because family lives far away.  We have done different things depending on if we were in Jersey or staying in the Carolinas but we try to bring the foods and the culture of all our family together each year.

Christmas Eve is with Mom's side of the family where we blend an Italian & Polish meal together. We have the whole family come together for a huge meal.  We exchange the oplatek or a polish wafer along with well wishes for the new year to every family member.  Some time during the evening one of the men always seems to disappear with indigestion and the magically Santa comes to visit! He brings us all of our KK [kris kringle] gifts for each other to exchange after desert.  

Then my immediate family will head out to mass and drive across the state of Jersey to visit Dad's side of the family.  Everyone always gathered at my Grammy's house.  She always had cookies baked for us and the most delicious meals in the oven.  Her house is the house I dream of having when I grow up.  The back door was always open to guests who knew to come in that way.  People just seemed to gather there.  There was always someone just stopping by to say hello. She built a family and a community that I will always admire. 

Things look a little different now though.  My parents are in a new house.  My sisters both live far away.  More of our family on Dad's side is in Georgia now - or spread around the world.  Traditions are lovely ritual that keeps us fulfilled. Blending now some Irish, American, Peruvian, Polish, Italian and even creating some of my own is something that brings joy to my heart.  

One thing will always be true.  Jesus' birth is the reason for this holiday.  Reading the Christmas story from the bible, attending mass, finding a way to incorporate my faith to really cherish this time with friends and family is what it is all about.  Oh and a Christmas cookie or two :) 

What are some of the Christmas traditions you celebrate and hold dear? 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Finding Joy Despite Struggle

One of the lessons that I have had to learn this semester is gratitude.  Being grateful for who I am with what I have in this moment.  God has been slowly working on my heart during our early morning prayer sessions.  I come to Him sleepy eyed, coffee in hand, and open the Word and give my day to him.

Then, as my day progresses, I seem to put Him second.  I know that I shouldn't but it happens more often than now. His teaching and lessons are pushed aside for the world.  I get sucked into the comparison game and then I feel like I am not good enough.  I forget about letting God and try to solve all these problems by myself.

This semester I moved out completely on my own.  I had been on my own - back to my parents- on my own - grad school - but I always had a cushion somehow.  Now it's real. Financially I have had a rough few months.  I am thriving within my budget but sometimes that word [budget] is so so hard to live with.  I see my friends going out and doing such fun [but very expensive] things and then I get upset.  I forget about the slow teachings early in the morning with Jesus and coffee about how He has always provided.  This semester is more about me figuring out who I am, what my passions are, and surrendering it all to His will.

Slowly, I am learning that it's okay that my apartment isn't pinterest worthy at this moment.  I am learning how to search for deals.  I am learning to make friend fun nights by going to free workout classes or cooking dinner together.  I am learning to explore my city by just walking around with the dog.  I am learning that I can be happy despite what I might be struggling with at the moment.  God is always there. Always teaching. Always providing.  He is way more than enough.

What are you learning in the tough seasons?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Importance of Self Care

source unknown 

I never used to be one to write things down.  My mom would say that I was messy growing up.  But I like to think I have always been organized.  Being raised by a super organized mom I am turning into her more and more each day.  My whole life now is a constant to do list and you can rarely find me without my planner.  I feel like if I don't write it down, it won't happen at all. [Please tell me I am not alone in this!] 

With the year winding down I always become really reflective.  I look back on my previous year and think about things I want to accomplish for the next.  I will share my new years goals soon, as well, but today I just wanted share the most important lesson I have learned/ am still learning every single day: self care.

I know self care is a term that is being heard more frequently now but I have a confession.  A few years ago when I started my counseling graduate program they really really preached self care [and for good reason] but to me those two words put together in that way baffled me.  No one ever before told me to practice self care - let alone took the time to define it.  I heard the gist of it; eat healthy, take breaks, do things that make you happy, etc. But never the words self care.

Because my grad program was so wonderful - I truly learned the meaning in those 2 valuable life changing years. My professors not only preached it but showed they genuinely cared, when we had an issue they would first ask what are we doing to take care of ourselves before trying to delve into the other problem. Learning about those two simple words not only changed who I am, they pushed me, they challenged me, and they taught me to be who I am now. 

Flash forward a few years now I am a practicing school counselor and the words self care, self care, self care come out of my mouth many times a day to myself and others around me. 

So for the remainder of this year self care is something that I am truly trying practice.  I can't take care of others or do my job effectively without it.  Self care can be simple routine things, doesn't have to be big extravagant and throw your whole day around.  I have a lot of various self care practices that fulfill me.  These are the few that I hold pretty sacred and my days are thrown off if I miss them.

I start my morning reading the readings for the day and journaling about it before I leave for work.  I plan my meals out so that I eat the food that fuels my body in a healthy way and over time I have learned what my body likes and doesn't like.  I pay attention to my body and what it needs. The first thing I do when I get home from work is change into work out clothes and do a workout as well as go on a long walk with my dog.

I am always searching for more self care practices to implement.  What are some of the things you do to practice self care?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Savannah Trip | Rock and Roll Half Marathon

At the beginning of November a few of us traveled down to the beautiful historic city of Savannah, GA.  A friend and I signed up to run the Rock and Roll Half Marathon there back in the spring.  This is a race that I have always wanted to run and the timing just felt right.  Between moving cities, working multiple jobs, and transitioning from graduate school life back into the professional realm this summer, running was my one string of consistency.

Savannah is a city that I love to visit and explore. We used to go there for day trips as a family when we rented a house on Hilton Head Island. This time I was there as an adult getting to explore the city on my own. I looked up all the fun restaurants to go to and made my list of things I wanted to see while we were there.

The trip was so much fun.

Friday we walked around a little bit to get our bearings. We were so lucky that our hotel was right in the middle of everything so we didn't need the car once. We walked the city and took a ferry across the river to get our race packets.  We went out for dinner and then turned in pretty early.  I wanted to do well for this race!

Saturday morning was race day! We woke up early, got ready, and headed to the start line.  I felt so great on the run.  The weather was perfect to run 13.1 miles through the beautiful city.  The race was probably my favorite one I have run so far.  About every half mile or so there was a stage with a band performing.  It was the perfect way to pump everyone up.

The finish line was the best part.  The band Old Crow Medicine show put on a whole concert in the park at the end of the race. It was so much fun to sit and relax in the sun listening to great music.

After the race we went grabbed some lunch and then crashed in the hotel after showers.  Once we were all rested and refreshed we were ready to explore the city some more.  We walked around the historic district, all around the river front, went in cute shops, and fun candy stores.  I was a girl scout growing up so I had to stop at Juliette Gordon Low's house and get a photo.  Mike also wanted to go find Forest Gumps bench, the park is there, but not the actual bench he sat on. Still it's all so beautiful.

Sunday was for brunch and more exploring.

This city is one of the best cities to just go visit with no plan.  Even though I had my list beforehand my favorite part was that we just walked around and went where we thought it was fun and interesting.  The city is walkable.  Every restaurant we popped in had fantastic seafood.  The most fun part was the city has an open container law; just as long as you ask for a to- go cup! We grabbed drinks at various places and then just wandered more through the city.

All in all this trip was one to remember.  I would do it all over again for sure. The race, the city, the friends, and the fun!

Have you ever been to Savannah? Whats your favorite part?

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Charlotte Holiday To Do List

I love this time of year when everyone decorates for Christmas.  It just makes all the cute shopping centers sparkle a little bit more.  Even having a tree decorated just gives it a little more cozy feel that makes me want to wear a cozy outfit and do something festive.

This holiday season will be one of the first that I really truly got to spend in Charlotte for a while.  Typically we travel to visit family so I am so excited to get to be here.  I have rounded up a few things that I want to do // already started to check off around the area this holiday season.  If you are local you should check them out too!

1. Drive around the christmas town of Mcadenville to see the lights

2. German Christmas Market at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery

3. Gingerbread Lane at the Ballantyne Resort

4. Ice Skating at the outdoor rink uptown

5. Drive to the mountains to cut down my own real Christmas tree

6. Read the Word to ready my heart during this advent season

7. Christmas Village Uptown

8. A Christmas Story movie night complete with hot chocolate and popcorn and m&ms

9. Christmas present shopping during the hustle and bustle for family and friends

10. Be present in the moment and cherish the love and excitement that Christmastime brings.

What are some of the things you are excited for during this holiday season?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Currently | December

"Finn the christmas tree looks so pretty and I need to practice my photography so here are some treats! Sit puppy!"  Pretty much a typical day of one sided conversations for me and pup. Today I am linking up with Anne and Kellie to share more of what I am currently up to.

doing: Re-evaluating my self care and after school schedule. This time of year is busy busy and intense in schools so in order to be fully present daily for my kiddos I need to take care of myself first and foremost. I'm trying to join a gym and get involved in more hobbies that keep me happy and healthy.

enjoying: My first real live tree in my own apartment.  It's like the first Christmas I really feel like an adult.  I am making the most of this month and finding all sorts of Christmasy things to do around the city.

cooking: Cookies! I love finding new recipes around Christmas and making them from scratch.  My Grammy always had the cookie jar stocked so I fully intend to keep up her lovely tradition.

wrapping: This is so terrible but nothing yet.  I haven't even started thinking about shopping.  School has been so busy - but this weekend it will get done and then I will wrap all sorts of fun gifts for my loved ones.

playing: Christmas music all day every day. I have it in my office; I love how my students come in chat and they just relax because I have music playing.  My favorite playlist is the Pentatonix Yule Log on youtube. I love how they arranged all the classic Christmas songs.

What are you currently up to?

Monday, December 5, 2016

Our Christmas Tree Finding Adventure

You know that phrase, if you want to make God laugh make plans? Yeah I am slowly learning that about my life. You see, I had all this magical plans for chopping down my first real live Christmas tree in my big girl apartment. I planned the perfect outfit to have a little photo shoot on the tree farm.  We were going to wander through the trees, embrace the memories of the mountains where we met, and pick out the perfect tree for our first Christmas together.  It was going to be seasonal, romantic, and just the kick off to the holiday season I was craving.

Well, God laughed. Hard.

It was pouring down rain and hovering just over freezing in Boone when we got up the mountain.  We drove up to the farm basically had the guy cut down the first tree we saw.  It was so cold and so wet. I hopped right back in the car and blasted the heat.  It was magical alright, haha.

The day ended up being just what our souls needed, though.  We headed to town to Appalachian Mountain Brewery, one of our favorite spots when we lived in the mountains, and asked a few friends who still live in Boone to join us.

Our plans may have changed from Christmas tree farm to an afternoon full of community, laughter, and catching up with old friends.  God seemed to have known that I needed my people more than I needed a few good pictures and a frolic in the field.  It was just one of those days that soothed my soul. I am so thankful for road trips that end up with good people and catching up with my community, no matter where they may live.

Now we will have a story about our first tree for years to come.

What is your favorite Christmas Tree hunting memory?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Getting a Dog Changes Your Life: For the Better

As you can see I take entirely too many photos of my dog.  There are about 2000 more where these came from.  I was just scrolling through memory lane and pictures the other day and figured it was about time Finn gets featured on the blog.

He will be 4 years old in April and has been with me since he was 8 weeks old. The moment I saw him on the humane society's website I fell in love and knew I had to have him.  Finn is a mutt, I have heard many many breed names to describe him.  Really I just describe him as a crazy, fun, loving, cuddle bug.

Finn changed my life.  He came to me at a time in my life where my job wasn't the one I wanted, a relationship was ending, and I really just needed something else. Taking care of my dog was the best thing that could have happened. Dogs really just make everything better. Here is why.

1. They are instant best friends. I have someone to greet me at the door every time I walk through it - doesn't matter if I have been out five minutes or all day long at work - he wags his tail with love.

2. Your feet will never be cold again.  Finn sleeps in the bed with me and has since I couldn't deal with the night-time whining any longer but that means no cold feet and always someone to cuddle with.

3. You never have leftovers if you don't want them.  There is always a pup nose on the kitchen table waiting for scraps using those melt your heart sad eyes.

4. Fresh air and exercise.  Since Finn has been toted around with me on my many many moves in the past 3 1/2 years mostly apartments it gives me the best excuse to get outside and play at the dog park or go for a really long walk. Now it's part of my daily self care routine right after work, we walk.

5. They are just such cute photo models.  I mean - see above.

Needless to say Finn is my furry bff. I mean I hardly run errands without him tagging along and sticking his head out the car window enjoying the ride now. I never grew up with dogs so he is actually my first pup. I am amazed how just having a pup around has made my world wonderful.

Do you have dogs? What is your favorite thing about them being in your life?

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Healthy Thanksgiving

Every year for Thanksgiving I run the Turkey Trot 8k that takes place right in my area of Charlotte.  I created this tradition for myself about 3 years ago.  This is one race I look forward to doing all year long.  Running is one of my favorite things to keep me healthy, especially since when I go for a long run it completely clears my head from all that I have going on in the world.  Combining racing and my favorite holiday is a given. 

Mom also made Thanksgiving "healthy" this year. I have been a member of Tone It Up for a while now and this year they released a lot of guides and recipes to make the holidays healthy.  We tried some of the recipes and they were fantastic.  Some of the swaps we made this year included having pumpkin spice protein donut holes for breakfast, lots of yummy green side dishes instead of the typical carbs and empty calories, but we couldn't swap out the turkey! 

What are some of the traditions you have that make your holidays healthier? 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


A few summers ago, I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann VosKamp and it completely rocked my world.  From then on, I started incorporating gratitude into my daily life.  I even attempted to keep a gratitude notebook like she did in the book [I still add to it from time to time].  But my favorite way to practice gratitude is to just take a deep breath and list in my head the things I am thankful for in that particular moment.  This practice has helped me clear my head, especially those moments, when my anxiety is particularly out of control.

Even though, I try to practice gratitude year round, this time of year always brings my focus back to what is truly important in life and what I am thankful for.  So without further ado, here is my gratitude list for the day:

1. My community.  The people in my life, namely my family and friends, who support me and all of my dreams constantly, who do life with me, who will have long heart to hearts with me over a bottle of wine, and who simply loves me for who I am. You are all my people.

2. The finnster.  My sweet pup who always greets me with a wagging tail and sloppy kisses, who I get to drag on long walks with daily, and who simply puts a smile on my face by being present. Stay weird dog, stay weird.

3. School family.  The wonderfully resilient students that I get to go to work to every single day.  You matter. My wonderful coworkers who put forth countless hours of work to love and teach these babies.  I see you and your work is so valued and important.

4. Health.  Having a pretty big surgery changes you.  I am so grateful for my body.  Fueling my body with healthy foods and pushing it to be strong and fit is just one of the ways I say thank you to myself.

5. Creative mind.  To be able to pursue my love of writing and photography.  For engaging in creative projects that keep me energized ranging from painting to home decor and pretty much everything in between.  You keep my spirit lively.

6. Jesus. Really He is number one. I'm grateful for the ultimate sacrifice. For the cross that redeems me each and every day.  For the Word that pushes me, wrecks me, speaks to me, and encourages me daily.

There are so many more things to be grateful for this season.  My hope is to honor each of those things I listed and make sure that the people in my life truly know I appreciate them.

What is on your gratitude list today?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Falling for Fall

It's that time of year where I just feel inspired.  There is just something about taking long walks in the crisp afternoon with my pup.  The sun hits the trees, vibrant with color, and makes them look like they are glowing.  Stunning. 

Even though this season, technically, is an ending, where the leaves fall and prepare for a long rest to get ready for spring and then their fresh start. To me, fall feels like starting over.  It feels like there is opportunity everywhere to pick up the pieces and create a life truly worth living. 

Life follows along with seasons.  There are changes within me much more frequently than 4 times a year.  Seasons come and go with the changes of the wind. Change, is good.  It's good to hit the reset button, to create new goals, new habits, and to just let go.  When the leaves fall off the trees full of color it's beautiful.  In our souls, sometimes we have to just release what we are holding onto, the relief and the beauty in letting go. 

I love fall for all the obvious reasons too. The fashion: big sweaters, cute boots, and cozy scarfs.  The drinks: hot coffee especially of the pumpkin spice variety.  The holidays: Thanksgiving, decorating and festivities with loved ones. Yet, my favorite reason, is so that I can enjoy some fresh air, take deep breathes, watch the leaves fall, and once again I feel like myself. 

Let's all take a long, slow, mindful walk through the colors and reinvent ourselves this season. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016


I am so glad you are here.  

My vision for this blog is to get back to the core of who I am.  I want it to be simple, clean, and beautiful.  A space to share and to connect.  A place to just cherish the memories of each and every day that I get to have.  

This is not my first blogging adventure.  I hosted another blog for many years, with my life getting so busy during graduate school it kind of fell apart.  Another reason for me fading away from the blog scene was a feeling of inadequacy.  I started that comparison game, that never lets you win, which lead to my inspiration and excitement for blogging completely stop. I spent so many hours pouring my heart and soul into something only to feel like I wasn't good enough after reading through so many other beautiful blogs.  That, my friends, is not okay. I am here for a reason.  My life is worth sharing.  I am good enough.  

So I am starting over. Starting fresh. Remembering why I loved blogging in the first place and letting that carry me through. I love photography and writing.  I love living an adventurous life and documenting it through the eyes of a lens. As humans we forget to be vulnerable, to live in the present moment, to cherish the little things. We can always set the reset button and start again. That's what I am doing here. 

Welcome to Sweet Surrender.  A blog about me living my life, being brave for Jesus, and my lessons that I learn along the way. 

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