Holidazzle and a Holly Jolly Christmas 

Coming home from college a few days ago finally got me into the Christmas spirit. The end of finals and school stress has allowed me to let go and start baking to my heart’s content. This fine Christmas weekend has gotten me in the best mood and I want to share that with all of you and most importantly: give you the scoop for Holidazzle, an annual festival in Minneapolis. 

Christmas at college-so cute!


Anyone who knows me at all knows I love treats. I also love baking. Pretty sweet combination! So, of course, I started my baking Thursday (Christmas Eve Eve) with some yummy Oreo truffles! The baking didn’t continue until Friday morning with lots of cookies, cupcakes, and other treats! Eventually I moved on to decorating the tree and putting the finishing touches on the gifts. Oof. Sometimes being the only festive one in the house is a lot of work! So now on the the real fun…

HOLIDAZZLE 

First a few things to know:

  • It’s free! Unless you want to buy food or products, live events such as fireworks, meeting Santa, live music, and outdoor films are all free!
  • It’s cold. Look, it’s Minnesota and it’s outside, we know it’s cold. Just bundle up, okay?
  • This is for people of all religious beliefs! While it does run up until Christmas most years and have many Christmas connections (like Santa), Holidazzle is for anyone who loves being surrounded by cheer.

    So we were definitely a little nervous about the incoming blizzard. Thanks a lot, Midwest weather. But thankfully, the universe was on our side and the roads were just fine and dandy (oh yeah, and free parking in the parking garage)! My sister and I jammed to Christmas carols and 80’s pop while our brother sang alone in the backseat. It was a beautiful sibling moment!

    You can even make the wolf howl!


    We awkwardly walked down the street and subtly stalked a family wearing Santa hats because they looked like they knew where they were going. We were right, so it wasn’t weird. Holidazzle lived up to its name and we were dazzled by the lights as we walked in an saw many large interactive sculptures and cutout images to take pictures in. 

    We had lots of photo-ops: pictures with and without Santa, in the trees, and more! 

    All I want for Christmas is someone to pay my student loans…


    Among the many activities, there were stalls with representation of many local businesses selling dog treats, Love Your Melon hats, and even a stall from My Sister Lives Free (and organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking). We had a great time showing Minnesota some love supporting business and helping out the community. 

    Check out My Sister for more great gear!


    Finally, within 10 minutes I had the most exciting time. We heard a proposal (she said yes)! At the end of this ten minute window, we saw the fireworks over the water. They were absolutely lovely, and worth standing out in the cold for! Finally, the most uncomfortable moment: I definitely walked in on someone in a port a potty who didn’t lock the door. I’m so sorry. 

    Overall, a wonderful evening spent with my siblings and one I would recommend to everyone! 

    Have you been to Holidazzle? Tell me what you thought in the comments below!

    How did I Spend 4 Hours in Milwaukee?

    Well. Here I am. Sitting in bed. Avoiding homework. Everyone knows the two weeks before finals are just as bad as the finals, right? So here we go, getting back into the writing game to keep doing what I love and keep me motivated to finish this semester! A few weeks ago was thanksgiving (I know, old news) and in this time I had my first real experience in the city of Milwaukee!


    To be completely honest, my mother instilled a lasting dread of Milwaukee in my heart, and it hasn’t quite left me yet (sorry, that traffic is killer). But, these four hours definitely improved my idea of Milwaukee, and I am actually looking forward to going back! On our way home from a Chicago Christmas, we stopped in Milwaukee to drop me off with my best friend Zizo. As a Milwaukee native, he so-kindly offered to be our official tour guide.

    We initially parked next to the art museum so that is where we began. Sadly, I did not get to go in, hence my excitement for my next visit, so we took pictures of this beautiful architectural feat from outside. We continued taking in the scene from outside and wandering around before Zizo suggested going to Discovery World.


    This place was huge. From the outside I never would have guessed that I was going to find a science museum and aquarium. My brother had the time of his life seeing and touching the fish and stingray! We all had a great time discovering Discovery World, I would say. Especially exploring the giant boat. I felt like a captain. It was empowering.


    We tried so hard to go to AJ Bombers, but alas, it was full. But hey, at least I got a cute picture out of it, right? We went to Ian’s pizza instead, and it was as satisfying as ever. From there, my family parted ways and Zizo and I went on to Purple Door Ice Cream and the Harley Davidson store. I was over whelmed by both of them.


    So I’m sharing this short story with all of you and let me know what you think and what I should see next time so I can keep planning trips instead of doing more homework 🙂

    Visas and Lions and Cubs, Oh My!

    After months of paperwork, I have finally been approved to study abroad in Caen, France. *Cue happy dance!* After years of studying French and months of paper work, with more paper work in the works, I am so ready to start my new journey in Caen.


    Since last spring, I have been compiling the appropriate documents to be able to study abroad. Thankfully, a few weeks ago, I was officially accepted into the University of Caen. This meant that the next step was getting my visa! Thanks to the timing and location, it was quite a hassle getting to do this. I made an appointment with the French consulate in Chicago, and my best friend called my mom to go with me. (My best friend and my mom are both angels sent specifically for me, I am sure of this.)

    A week later, my mom, my brother, and I were on our way to Chicago. We stayed with our wonderful family there and the next morning we went into the city.


    As per our heritage, we got psyched over the historic Cubs win. Unfortunately we couldn’t go to Wrigley Field, but that didn’t stop us from buying some memorabilia and visiting the beloved lions adorned in their Cubs helmets. Oh, and a Starbucks run on Michigan Ave, of course.


    After drinking our frappucinos by the bean, er, I mean Cloud Gate, it was time for my appointment. Honestly, I was terrified that I did everything wrong, and the woman at the front desk was so kind. I was directed to the correct floor and waited there for a bit before my appointment began. With only a few hitches, where I had to run downstairs and get money from the first national bank of mom, I got my picture taken and my fingerprints scanned and was on my way to getting my visa.


    I walked out and my mother asked if I was ready for pizza (she’s an angel, like I said) and that she had already ordered Giordano’s for us. We took a walk as we waited for our delicious deep dish pizza to be ready for us. Then arrived to a spinach and mushroom pizza the cheese melting all over the plate.

    We hopped on our train and made our way back home. First step of my French adventures complete!

    xoxo Leah

    Why You Should go to Piedmont Park

    Because I can’t shut up about Atlanta, let me tell you this. So in the list of places to go in Atlanta that my Francophile friend sent me, one of them was Piedmont park. Now we were expecting a dinky little “oh cool it’s a park,” but boy were we wrong, first of all, it was HUGE. You could’ve walked around this park with your dogs all day and not gotten bored.


    We wandered around and enjoyed the landscape and incredible views of the city towards the river that ran along the park. Because we typically live in the middle of nowhere in what usually seems to be an arctic tundra, the beautiful, warm spring sunshine probably allowed us to enjoy the day even more and it gave us perfect selfie lighting (God bless). 69 degrees outside and we couldn’t be happier. We spent lots of time soaking up the sun and watching the ducks in the river.


    There were many large open spaces, swing sets for children, paths for running, and a rec-center (hello, tennis!). We made friends with the nice men inside working, and went about our walk through the park. There are also so many paths throughout the  park itself. We relaxed in the spring sunshine on thishill which  later included a nice roll down the hill. To be honest, the next time I go to Atlanta? This will be one of the first things I do.

    Global Prayer Gathering 2016

    On Wednesday April 20th, 2016, I had the immense honor of traveling to Washington D.C. to participate in the Global Prayer Gathering, a two day conference on April 22nd and 23rd. This yearly conference highlights the accomplishments of the International Justice Mission, a Christian organization fighting on the front lines for the end of human trafficking.


    As an active member of an IJM chapter on my college campus, I happily agreed to take the 14 hour trek to Washington D.C. for the weekend. Plus, let’s be real, anything to get out of a day of classes. (Shoutout to the ladies who drove all of us there, you rock!) The trip itself began by listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and was uneventful other than a weird time at Steak and Shake. It was still delicious and we got free fries. 10/10


    Thursday evening, we arrived at our hotel in College Park, Maryland and spent our evening exploring the college campus. It’s odd how, as a college student, being on a college campus is a rather comforting feeling because even if it’s not your own campus, you still feel a sense of peace and belonging in the environment. The beautiful campus was lined in trees and filled with picturesque buildings and gorgeous people. Yes, all of those students were extremely well dressed and I’m pretty sure there was a formal event that night, but I would like to believe that they would attend class looking that classy. We wandered campus discussing life and trying to find the arts building and figuring out if there was a chapter of my sorority. (There is!) And, after we’d had our fill of the campus and dinner, we headed home to prepare for the early morning ahead of us.


    We left early Friday morning to take the metro into the conference area. Like very early. Like I can’t function at that hour early. Alas, we made it safe a sound and were ready to learn. We checked in, very eager, and eventually made our way to the large conference room filled with chairs surrounding a stage occupied by a band. Each large group session opened and closed in worship songs and meaningful prayer. This intimate prayer several times a day was such an inspiration to my own prayer-life and I am so grateful for that.

    We gathered together to learn about all of the work being done on large scales where the founder/CEO and other representatives from IJM worldwide would share their experiences in all fields of work with IJM and human trafficking. These large group sessions provided a lot on insight, hope, and inspiration. In addition to these, we were also given very official name badges that displayed when we needed to go to our assigned prayer rooms.


    These prayer rooms contained a representative from the designated country. They told us stories of the country and what has been happening there. They also gave us a list of specific prayer requests for that area. I personally learned so much about the areas and how much is actually happening that we don’t hear about. I had so many wonderful encounters in those prayer rooms, praying with others and feeling the love of God for me and the hearts for justice that surrounded me.


    I was so deeply touched by this experience and it’s uniqueness is something that could never be recreated, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn about faith and justice. For more information, you can read this book by the founder of IJM or learn more on their website.


    And finally, what’s trip to Washington D.C. without checking out the monuments and having deep conversations with  new friends?


    What do you like in Washington D.C? Are there any other activist organizations you like? Feel free to comment below!

    Leah

    Cherokee, North Carolina

    From Blue Ridge, Georgia, we took the hour and a half trek to Cherokee, North Carolina. A small reservation town in the Smoky Mountains, it is largely overrun with tourists, but charming nonetheless. We spent a good amount of time at the top of a mountain, among the clouds, taking in the mountainous surroundings. We walked around the delightful town and that was essentially the entirety of our day.

    The stunning views from Smokey Mountains captured our hearts. After spending most of the time at the mountains, we walked through the small shops below. The locals claim they have the best burgers, but, alas, as a vegetarian I cannot confirm. Overall, I’d recommend this for some beautiful views and hikes in North Carolina, but not as the ultimate vacation getaway.

    A Snapshot of Nashville

     Hello friends! After spending a day in Nashville, I’m going to give you a brief run-down of how we spent our few hours in Nashville.

    1. We drove into Nashville on a lovely Friday morning, and immediately we decided we needed to eat. We ate at “The Stiller,” and let me tell you I would eat there every day. We all had classic Southern food including fried chicken, mac & cheese, and sweet tea. The presentation was complete with mason jar and skillets.
    2. We were just a short walk from the Honky Tonk highway. This ultra touristy strip celebrated the country music presence of Nashville, and we had a blast strolling down the bustling street.
    3. After our walk, we took a short drive to the Parthenon. The outside is stunning, but the small fee of $5 was well worth it to read about the history of the building and its erection for the fair. Within the museum also stood other replicas from Greece and an art exhibit.
    4. Our final stop was to 12 Ave neighborhood. Honestly I can say this was my favorite part of my time in Nashville. Walking around the area full of eclectic shops with beautiful marketing. My personal favorites were a popsicle shop called Las Paletas and Amelia’s Flower Truck. It made for a very relaxing afternoon walk before an evening in our AirBNB.

     

    And of course, what’s trip down South without a stop at Waffle House?

    Atlanta at a Glance

    First things first, I love Atlanta.  I would live there. I know my traveling companions would all say the same. Thanks to one of the co-counselors at the camp I work at who lives in Atlanta, we were given many ideas of what to do with our short time in the city, and I think we chose wisely.

      
     We started our day at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party. Books lined the walls of the cozy tea shop making a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Proceeds from each of the books went directly to a project called “The Learning Tea.”  This partnership in India encourages education for women in developing areas by providing them with scholarships. Who can say no to that? Their beautiful efforts aside, this eclectic cafe captured my heart, and the menu is bursting with different flavors waiting to be tasted. (Also, the chocolate mousse cake was divine, just putting that out there.)

      
    A sunny stroll around Pied Mont park led us to stunning views of the city. With many activities and recreational centers, play areas for children, winding sidewalks, and views of water, we were all captivated by the warm Georgia sunshine.

      
    We ended our day at a delicious Mexican restaurant and a walk along the Jackson Street Bridge. I’m told this is a famous shot from The Walking Dead. I just found the sunset to be one of the best I’ve ever seen.

    How did you spend your time in Atlanta?

    Leah

    Appalachian Mountains

    After a day of relaxation, we were ready to take on a day of hiking in the Appalachian mountains. We started our day at Amicolola Falls at the beginning of the Appalachian trail. We hiked over 700 stairs up to the top of the waterfall for a spectacular view of the mountains. Even for the least athletic of us (so all of us) it was not treachorous and with enough breaks we made it safely and happy to the top. I would strongly recommend taking lots of breaks both for your own well being and also because the best views of the falls and the surrounding mountains. After taking in the falls, we hiked down along the side, the waterfall completely secluded by trees and rocks.


    Later that day, we took the rocky and terrifying trail with our minivan to the Swinging Bridge in Blue Ridge. I, for one, am not afraid of heights nor bridges, but it was rather frightening. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but needless to say I went across that bridge pretty quickly.


    Have you been to Georgia? What did you love about it?

    Leah

     

    Spring Break 2016

    The first part of any great voyage is the voyage itself. In this case, our adventure to Georgia began with a 15 hour car ride that took place largely overnight. Because one of our friends couldn’t come along, we have a cat card that we are using as a stand in, and we took beautiful photos with Mr. Cat.

     Mr. Cat goes to the Mexican restaurant.

     Although it was a relatively uneventful journey, we did make a stop in the beautiful Mammoth Caves of Kentucky. We saw only a small portions of the world’s largest underground caves, the entirety of which has not been explored or discovered yet. It’s difficult not to feel insignificant and awestruck when standing in a place so naturally dark and quiet. One of the park rangers, who does research projects in the caves, told us stories of corpses that lie in the cave, people who have gone insane from the solitude, and the discoveries and history of the cave. To think that anyone who walks through that cave becomes a part of its history is simply astounding.

    Stay tuned for Part 2 of Spring Break 2016!

    Leah