Sunday, March 1, 2015

Travel Bug (Not Alone Series)

Linking up with Morgan and Jen! Thanks ladies!


It's been a long time since I linked up with the Not Alone Series, but I just couldn't resist this topic - travel!

I’ve always loved to travel, and my family always found interesting places to vacation when I was growing up, even just for long weekends. However, I found that when I moved out to DC on my own, most of my traveling was back home to visit family, and while that’s fun, I’ve seen Ohio quite a bit. 

I remember lamenting this fact to a friend a few years ago, and we talked about becoming travel buddies and taking a trip just for the sake of traveling together. While this never happened (because she met a handsome lad and got married!), it did get me thinking about how much I would like to actually travel, especially during my single years. 

This all made me realize a few things: (1) It’s ok to travel alone (to some places), (2) I have other travel buddies (more on that in a second), (3) this is a prime time in my life to do a lot of traveling, and (4) I can travel to places to meet up with friends. 

Y'all. These realizations made me catch the travel bug - and I've barely stopped since!

In the past couple of years, this bug has mostly consisted of long weekends flying or driving to visit family and friends in various locales, but it's also led to some big trips.

My most recent big trip came about when my sister, K, and I were randomly talking about international travel one day. She had just gotten back from doing her third whirlwind tour of Spain. Our other sister, M, was studying abroad in Spain, so they both went over a week before M’s program started, just to travel together. At the end of the week, K dropped M off at “school” and flew back to the US! K mentioned how it was like she was M’s tour guide, since she had shown her around where K had previously studied abroad. 

I made the off-hand comment that sometime we should go to England and I could act as her tour guide, since I had studied abroad there. She responded with, “YEAH, I WOULD LOVE TO GO TO ENGLAND!! LET’S GO!” I asked if she was serious, and she said she was. And just like that, we were going to England! 

We had some “Are we really doing this?!” moments along the way, but once we booked flights, there was no turning back! We came up with a list of must-sees, a calendar of where to go when with a tentative schedule, and then booked rail passes and hotel rooms. The next thing I knew, we were off to England!
NOT London Bridge... Tower Bridge!
Glastonbury Abbey
On our way to the Globe (my favorite place, where I used to write
my English papers!), we stopped to take a picture of Millennium Bridge
and the Tate Modern at the Thames.
Getting goofy at Warwick Castle
Obligatory red phone booth picture
Stonehenge Bus Tour
A beach weekend in Bournemouth

Photo op in the hometown of my boyfriend, aka Stratford-Upon-Avon
It was such a great trip - it was exactly what I needed at that time in my life. My mom was worried that we would hate each other by the end of the trip, but I think we would both say that we got along great, and we grew even closer during our two weeks abroad.
Travel buddies made in Heaven (or the same womb)
The travel bug hasn't really stopped since - I've got a lot of travel this year that includes both visiting family and taking trips for myself!


Liesl’s 2015 Travel Schedule


Completed

- PA to visit Julie
- Waynesboro, PA to help lead a high school retreat


Coming Up


- K comes to DC for Easter!
- Home to Ohio for M’s college graduation
- Flying to FL to meet up with my family - Disney World and HP World for a week, and then a long weekend trip to the beach with K (rest of family goes home - their loss!)
- Either DC or Philly to see the Pope (and Julie again!)
- Denver, CO to visit Amanda followed by the #CathSorority retreat!
- Home for Thanksgiving and Christmas


I also hope to throw in a day trip to King’s Dominion, as well as another visit with Elizabeth! There’s also some great small towns and vineyards about an hour away from me, and I love to take day trips out there with friends to explore - Baltimore, MD is tentatively in the books for this spring! My cousin is also tentatively coming to visit for the 4th of July - she has been to visit a number of times, and I always love “traveling” to DC and exploring VA with her!

My long-term travel goals (in the next few years and beyond) include going to visit my cousin in Lexington (she’s been here so much, it’s time to go to her!), another international trip or two (possibly to Spain with my sisters, and Italy, the Mediterranean, and Australia are all on my to-travel list) and more long weekend trips to different parts of the country (I would love to go out west to explore, to see Alaska, and maybe do a cruise).

I've learned so much from my travel bug! Let me share my wealth of knowledge with you...


Liesl’s Tips and Tricks for Single Life Travel


  • Don’t be afraid of traveling alone (or of traveling alone to meet up with someone). I’ve become a pro at driving and flying alone. As an introvert, I actually some time alone with traveling very relaxing. If you’re taking a long road/plane trip, go to the used bookstore and treat yourself to a new book you’ve been wanting to read, or borrow an audiobook from the library (my fav? Ella Enchanted)
  • If you’re not ready to travel big, do day trips. Every town has exciting things to explore! I remember growing up, my mom would find fun summer tours for us to do that were within an hour of our town - the Longaberger Basket plant, the US Post Office, and the Anthony Thomas chocolate factory. Our hometown also had a wealth of new malls to explore, odd museums (the Anti-Saloon League museum, to be exact), and random events throughout the year to check out. Traveling doesn’t have to be Go Big, or Stay Home. Be a tourist in your area for a day!
  • Plan trips to visit friends in different parts of the country. Not only do you get to meet up with a friend, but you also can hopefully save some money because you will most likely have a place to stay. This is a great option if money is tight or you are saving your dough for a bigger trip.
  • Lump your travel plans with work holidays. I work for the federal government, so I am very lucky to get a number of paid holidays, as well as my accrued leave. I try to lump my travel with holidays so I end up using less vacation. It’s also a plus that my vacation rolls over (to a certain point), so I can save up my vacation for bigger trips. If your work allows flexibility, you can also work comp time before a trip or work longer hours and flex off in order to travel - without having to use any leave! I took off 2.5 weeks to go to England, and ended up only using 40 hours of vacation leave, because I had saved up 32 hours of comp time and lumped our trip with a federal holiday. You can bet I used all that leave I saved for other smaller trips!
  • If you are flying, sign up for price alerts. When I know that I am flying somewhere, I immediately sign up for a price alert for that trip, so once I see a drop in price, I can buy. Oftentimes, airlines will drastically lower prices for only a few hours or a day, so if you get the alerts, you can jump on those savings! I usually use Kayak, but there are a lot of great sites.
  • Use travel sites to your advantage. You can find some great deals if you look for them. When we were planning our trip to England, I ended up discovering Priceline’s Express Bids, and we snagged some stellar deals through that! For the Express Bids, you can select a region of town and the hotel rating - we selected the Westminster area for one leg, which had a 4-star hotel option available for something like $100 a night - which is just unheard of in that area. Even though we didn’t know the exact hotel or location, we jumped on it... and did we get a deal! We found out that our hotel was a brand new luxury hotel - we were greeted by a porter who took our bags up to our room, which was huge for English standards. Our bathroom was like a spa (I even soaked in the tub one night!), and we were only a few blocks away from the tube station, which was only a few stops away from all the tourist spots. We could walk to a number of delicious taverns and restaurants, and were right on the Thames to see all the London sites. Priceline and Trip Advisor also allowed us to snag some other great deals - our hotel in Stratford was adorable and the bed and breakfast in Bournemouth was perfect for us - and we saved a ton of money. Don’t be afraid to shop around on multiple sites to find what you're looking for!
Leave your best travel tips in the comments!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#5Faves: Post-Holiday, Pre-Spring Edition

Linking up with Jenna!

I’ve been reading lately from so many people that they hate winter/January/February/the-time-between-New-Years-and-spring. To be honest, I just don’t get the hate! I love winter. It is (usually) my favorite season, and made even better when snow decides to make a regular appearance (still waiting for that rain to turn into snow here...). I find that there is so much about this time that I enjoy, so here are my #5Faves about this post-holiday, pre-Spring time of year (also known as January and February... and sometimes March... and depending on where you live, April too).

~1~

Snow, snow, snow! When snow is forecasted, most people are all:

...and I'm all:

I love me some snow days. Maybe I'll change my mind someday if I have kids, but for now, I have a love-love-LOVE relationship with snow. We haven't gotten much snow here this season, but we've been known to get an unexpected blizzard or two or three in February, so I haven't given up hope yet. Snow just takes me back to childhood, when I'd wake up to the world blanketed in white. Building a snowman and making a fort to have a snowball fight with your friends down the street and making snow angels and getting snow in crevices of your body you didn’t even know you had and then finishing it all off with a nice hot mug of hot chocolate! I know you remember those days too, and I bet you one snow angel that you remember them fondly!

~2~

Federal holidays, anyone? So this most likely doesn’t apply to those who stay at home or who work a retail or customer service job, but this is our prime season of federal holidays at work. New Year’s Day, MLK Day, President’s Day… this time of year ends a long string of holidays off that started in September, until we go into the long haul of post-President’s Day to Memorial Day. It’s a long three months of no holidays. Real long.

~3~

Take it easy. If you just started singing that song in your head, either you're welcome or I'm sorry! For many of us, the Thanksgiving and Christmas season is filled with lots and lots of travel (and if you stay put, the season is still insanely busy). I flew home for half a week for Thanksgiving, only to drive back three weeks later for Christmas. I love traveling, but it’s exhausting, so the couple of months after the holidays are so relaxing for me. I still find ways to keep busy, but it’s less flying/driving and more curling up with a good book or TV show, visiting with friends who are close by, seeing lots of movies, and getting my craftiness on. I feel like no one expects much of you in January and February, and so it’s the perfect excuse to let your inner introvert reign supreme!

~4~

Bubble bubble, toil and trouble! Except there is no toil and trouble in the kind of bubble I'm talking about - bubble baths!
I love bubble baths - rub a dub dub, just me in the tub. I enjoy a glass of wine and a good book or Amazon Prime while I'm soaking along. Nothing feels quite like soaking in some hot suds when it's cold outside, which is why winter is amazing. You just can't enjoy a nice long bubble bath in the heat of not-winter like you can while it's cold outside! 

~5~

Get your fashion on! I just love winter fashion. Dresses/skirts with tights; boots galore; sweaters and cardigans of all colors; scarves of every pattern... oh my! These are a few of my favorite things. While I have tried to get away with wearing these things in not-winter as my office operates in sub-zero temperatures during the summer, it just doesn’t work because it feels about 100 degrees outside. You can only look completely adorable in a dress/tights/boots/cardi/scarf combo in these months - any other month, and you look completely insane.

What do you love about this post-holiday, pre-spring time of year?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Neck of the Woods

What I'm Reading: I just finished Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and I'm currently reading The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (both on my 2015 Reading Challenge list).

Y'all. I can't even count how many times I've read EE, and I can't tell you how many times I think to myself, "I probably won't love it as much as I did the last 15094 times I've read it...", and I can't tell you how many times I close the book and think to myself, "OHMYGOSH I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH WHY WHY WHY IS IT SO AMAZING *HEARTEYEEMOJI*!!!!!" So, there's that.

This time, I listened to EE on audiobook - highly recommend! It just brings the book to life. The entire time I was listening to it, I just kept thinking about how amazing this book would be as a movie. And then I would remember that they did make a movie out of it, and it was terrible - minus Hugh Dancy as Char - because they were not true to the book at all. So. Does anyone know any fancy producers that would like to re-make the movie to be true to the book? Much appreciated.

Why, I'd love to call you Char...
I would like you to know, Char, that I always say "Thank you" to chivalry...
You can sweep me off my feet anytime...
What I'm Watching: Surprisingly, I am not watching Ella Enchanted, the movie (just the gifs, apparently). Since all my TV shows are on their winter break right now (why do they do that to me?!), I'm currently binge watching Criminal Minds via syndicated marathons. It's gotten to the point where I'm watching the same episodes that I already saw earlier in the week, which I guess means it's time to find another hobby. Any other good recommendations?

What's Happenin': I traveled back home to spend Christmas with my family, which meant that I was off work for a whole week - I love my job, but sometimes you just need a vacation! I came back to work for two days before NYE, and rang in the New Year with Stardust and Larissa! We celebrated New Year's Day by cheering on the Ohio State Buckeyes in their Sugar Bowl win! The odds were not in OSU's favor so I didn't want to get my hopes up, so when they did win, I may or may not have cried a wee bit.

Oldie but rocking my Buckeye pride with my Buckeye seester.
And then... the plague hit. That's what I'm going to call it, because I've officially been away from work for a week. It's like my body says, "Oh, I'm tired of being sick in this way, so let's try something new!" WHO KNOWS. This means that I've had many opportunities to scour the TV schedule for when the next Criminal Minds episode is (there's only one today, how will I live?!), sleep 12+ hours a night, and figure out ways to pass the time when my cable and internet go out for hours on end (hair braiding, y'all). My deepest thoughts have been trying to decide if it's socially acceptable to go to bed at 7:30 pm (consensus: it is), so I'm really hoping that my body is on the mend so I can get back to "real life".

Link It Up:

The 2015 Reading Challenge - Modern Mrs. Darcy also set forth a reading challenge for 2015, and I think I'm going to try to check off all her categories in my own reading challenge! Here's to reading in 2015!

Ideas for Friday Abstinence - Jenna at Call Her Happy shares some great ideas for your Friday fast besides giving up meat. There's some great ideas on there for those Fridays where you just need that burger!

Ignitum Today - I've been editing posts for Ignitum Today! Head on over to read all the great things that I'm privileged to have come into my inbox each week!

What's happening in your neck of the woods? Share with me in my sickness-induced boredom!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

5 Most Memorable Reads of 2014

Yesterday, I issued myself a reading challenge for 2015. I know the first thought in all of your minds was "But Liesl, what were some of your favorite things that you read this past year?!"

Just roll with me, ok? You thought it, even if you didn't, alright?

These are 5 books that I read in 2014 that really stuck with me, both while I was reading them and long after. Just in case you want to join me on my reading challenge, you can add these beauties to your list.*



Something Other than God by Jennifer Fulwiler - I'm pretty sure that every person in the Catholic world has at least heard of this book, if not read it, by now, but in case you haven't, this highly anticipated memoir lives up to the hype! Her memoir is very readable and will have you laughing and turning the pages quickly to see what's next. I highly recommend this for Catholics and non-Catholics. Of course, the highlight of reading this beauty was getting to hear Jen speak and meet her in person!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - I have a slight obsession healthy fascination with 1900s England and WWII fiction, so I was excited to pick up this book. What I didn't expect was that I would be constantly thinking about when I could continue reading this book when I had to sit it down to do - you know, real life things - and how much it would make me think. Not only is the writing beautiful, but it really makes you ponder how events in our lives are linked together... and what could happen if you had the opportunity to go back and do it again.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett - I wrote here that Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors and that I've never read something from her that didn't completely suck me in... and she did it again with Liars! I love how she develops the relationships of all of her characters, and I especially enjoyed the nuns in this novel.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton - I've enjoyed all of Kate Morton's novels, each of them set in historical England, but this one is my favorite by far. She weaves English culture, history, and an engrossing mystery into each of her novels, and I loved the mystery that took me deep into WWII England in this one. While I did figure out the ending a little bit before the ending, her writing and characters kept me just as engrossed in the book as ever.

The Likeness by Tana French - I wasn't the biggest fan of French's first novel in this series - In the Woods - so I picked up this next one in the Dublin Murder Squad series with hesitation. I'm glad that I did though, because this one was so much better than the first, probably because I actually liked the main character, Cassie. The mystery kept me intrigued and the vivid characterization of each of the players kept me enthralled even after I figured out the whodunit. Unfortunately, I think it helps to read the first book in the series to have an understanding of Cassie's mindset, but good comes out of suffering, right?

What are some of your favorite books that you read in 2014?

*Just realized that all of these books are authored by women. Totally not on purpose, but girl power, ladies!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 Reading Challenge

I've always been an avid reader - I was that kid who easily read 50 books over summer vacation. Now that I'm a big girl, unfortunately I do not have time to read 50 books over the summer, let alone in a year!

This past year, I read a large number of books, partly thanks to spending many hours on planes and trains, but I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to read, instead of just reading!

So, for 2015, I'm going to give myself a little challenge. My goal is to read at least 20 books this year, from classic literature to spiritual reads to fiction books that are hot, hot, hot right now.

I've made a list of some books that I'd like to read to get myself started, and I'd love to hear your suggestions too! Tell me what needs to make my list in the comments!

So, self, do you accept this reading challenge?!




Classics

The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Kid Lit

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (re-read) (listening to the audiobook now!)
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews (re-read)
Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Dune by Frank Herbert (I've tried before and failed... I shall try again!)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Non-Fiction

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Spiritual Reads

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Walking with Mary by Edward Sri (re-read)

Mystery/Thriller

The Expats by Chris Pavone
The Accident by Chris Pavone
Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson

Top Pick Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (reading now!)
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Links are Amazon Smile links - please select your favorite charity when you shop!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Lord is with you

It's very fitting that on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear the story of the Annunciation.

The angel Gabriel greets Mary with, "Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you." But what does this mean, to be full of grace? What does it mean for the Lord to be with you?

(Source)
The answers to these questions aren't easy - even Mary was "greatly troubled" and "pondered" their meaning.

When Mary told the angel to let it "be done according to your word", she said yes to being with God, yes to being full of grace.  Her yes affirmed this greeting - just as when we say yes to God, we are filled with His grace.

Just as John the Baptist cried out to prepare the way of the Lord, Advent is a time for us to truly prepare ourselves to be with the Lord.

We can never carry the Lord like Mary did, because she literally and physically had Him with her - she carried Him in her womb. We can, however, be "pregnant" with Christ by carrying him in our hearts.

(Source)
The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. God chose to come into the world through Mary, through her yes. Let us pray that in this last week of Advent, we will say yes to the ultimate Christmas gift and also share God with the world by carrying his grace in our hearts.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#5Faves: Christmas Albums Edition

Linking up with Jenna!

We all love Christmas music. But let's admit it - with every pop singer ever to grace this earth releasing a Christmas album, some Christmas music is absolutely terrible. Lucky for you, I've scoured near and far to weed out the bad and find the good. Here are my five favorite Christmas albums, that I can pretty much listen to straight through, from start to finish.

*1*

You know how when you've listened to a CD too much, it gets all scratched up from too many plays and then doesn't play anymore? Well, that happened to this CD. After about a year. Because I listened to it year-round. I love MercyMe's music, but their Christmas album is absolutely amazing. They take many classic Christmas tunes and introduce more upbeat tempos ("Silent Night"), a different musical tune ("Gloria"), spine-tingling harmonies ("O Holy Night"), and/or beautiful instrumentals ("It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "Little Drummer Boy"). Don't miss their heart-warming original - "Joseph's Lullaby" - either. Actually, you should probably just start on track one and listen the whole way through.

*2*

Amy Grant has many Christmas albums out there, and I have to admit that I haven't listened to them all, because I love this one so much. I grew up listening to this album, making sure to listen to "The Night Before Christmas" on repeat on Christmas Eve. Other note-worthy songs include "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)" (perfect for Advent and even year-round!), "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", and "Joy to the World/For Unto Us a Child is Born".

*3*

Like most of their albums, Relient K's Christmas album is very punny, which means it's especially fun for the young and young-at-heart. Many of your classic favorites are also given a fun and upbeat spin, a la Relient K style. My personal favorites include "Angels We Have Heard on High", "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", and "In Like a Lion (Always Winter)" (perfect for Advent).

*4*

This is a classic, people. Just click play and sit back and soak up the joy of the season. I especially love the always wonderful "White Christmas", the fun and upbeat "Jingle Bells", the classic "It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas", and the timber tones of "Silver Bells".

*5*

I've tended to notice that Christian artists make really great Christmas albums. Casting Crowns' album is no different. "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", "O Come All Ye Faithful", and "Joy to the World" are some of my favorites that are on repeat, while "Christmas Offering" and the gorgeously instrumental "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" may soon join the constant-repeat list.


What are your favorite Christmas albums? 
Tell me now so I can soak up all their goodness this season!

*Links provided are for Amazon Smile - select your favorite charity and start shopping!
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