My 2018 Goals

I usually hesitate on setting specific resolutions for myself at the beginning of the year because realizing towards the middle of the year or at the end of the year that you've forgotten about your resolutions and fallen off track can be super discouraging. Since I'm all about positivity, I typically like to avoid things that make me feel bad about myself. Another problem I have with resolutions is that I don't always know at the beginning of the year what I need to be improving or working on. Sometimes insights like that come to us randomly throughout the year as we naturally live our lives.

However, since I've entered my mid- twenties I've realized that there are many things in my life I haven't accomplished yet and that setting clear goals (not resolutions) can help me be motivated and pave the path that I should be taking for the year. I tried to make goals that I felt were attainable in a year and that I felt would help me grow. Note- these are not resolutions or things I want to change about myself. I'm content with the way I am, but there is always room for new dreams and new ideas.

Travel to 3 Foreign Countries

You guys have probably heard this one before because this is the one goal that I've kept and succeeded in achieving through all these years. Travel is one of my biggest passions, but its unfortunately not my full time job so it can be easy to forget to feed my passion when I'm busy trying to make a living. To avoid this pitfall, I decided a long time ago that I would explore at least 3 new destinations in foreign countries. I recap my previous years' adventures and highlight some of my travel plans here.

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Cook/Bake More

Its no secret that I love to eat out. Living in New York, there is no shortage of amazing restaurants or dessert bars available for me to try and quench my curiosity. I simply love exploring the dining scene and tasting all the different foods out there. However, dining out can be quite expensive and not always the healthiest option. Instead of committing to losing a certain amount of pounds (something that I know I can never willingly achieve), I want to make it a priority to improve my cooking and baking skills so that I'm more motivated to eat healthier homemade options instead of going out all the time. I made pesto pasta with chicken yesterday!

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Take Advantage of the Outdoors

When I lived in Texas I was always a homebody. I preferred to stay indoors watching TV or reading, rather than going outside. But being in a big city, I feel like I would be wasting my time if I just sat around all day in my house doing what I felt was comfortable. So one of my goals is to explore the outdoors and get more fresh air. I hiked the challenging Breakneck Mountain and tried white water rafting for the first time last year and loved the adrenaline. I can't wait to see what other outdoor activities await me- maybe rock climbing, hiking, or kayaking?

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Write Often and Write For Myself

Sometimes I get the feeling like I'm not doing enough for my blog or that no one is really reading what I write. I'm sure this is a common fear that many bloggers experience at some point. It occasionally makes me wonder if I'm just wasting my time and then I tend to want to write less. So I have to remind myself that one of the main reasons why I started Toast and Travel was so that I could document personally my experiences while living in New York and while traveling. It wasn't to try and impress other people or to make money. I want to spend this year improving the quality of my writing (which can only be achieved through more practice) and I want to write about things I'm passionate about without caring whether or not someone else is interested in it.

Make New Friends

I've always been under the impression that a person can never have enough good friends. I'm not talking about people you meet in passing and never speak to again, but instead those people who you meet and form a strong friendship with. I don't want to simply meet a bunch of new people- I want to make more lifelong friends. I've been blessed with some amazing best friends and sorority sisters both in New York and back in Texas and I couldn't have made it this far in life without them. Friendship has a special way of forming a support system that allows you to fall back when you need them and some experiences can only be experienced through having friends. I met some awesome friends in 2017 and I can't wait to see who will become my friend in 2018!

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What are some goals you guys have for the new year?

How to Stay Warm and Entertain Yourself When its 10 Degrees Outside

Until I started living in New York I had never experienced whether below 30 degrees. Now that I'm an official New Yorker, 10 degree whether on a weekly basis shouldn't bother me as much but it still does. Unbearable winters are something that I will never get use to! Mainly because it makes commuting outdoors and doing outdoor activities either extremely hard or flat out impossible. On days when the weather isn't cooperating (bomb cyclone I'm looking at you) I always rack my brain with something to do to kill the boredom. Staying at home is always an option, but it can be just SO boring sometimes. Here are some of the activities I've been doing since the weather has gone to the single digits.

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Read a book and indulge in coffee at your neighborhood cafe

Catch up on your reading at a cute cafe while feeding your caffeine addiction. I feel like I don't read as much as I use to (which is a shame) because of my hectic lifestyle so carving out some peaceful time at a coffee shop to just relax and read is so valuable. I've come across a few interesting reads the past few weeks and really recommend Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (same author as Gone Girl), Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (author who wrote Girl on the Train), and The Girl Before by JP Delaney. Some of my favorite coffee shops in the city to drink my beloved latte at are Bluestone Lane and Birch Coffee.

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Soak in the knowledge at a local museum

What better way to stay warm than to just spend your whole afternoon indoors at a history museum or an art museum? Making your way through all the exhibits at a museum can possibly take hours and can definitely keep a person entertained for while. I recently went to peruse through the New York Historical Society's antique train collection and throughly enjoyed myself. Most museums also have little cafes or stores built in so give yourself some time to browse the shop options and the coffee selections. The restaurant at the Whitney Museum, Untitled, is suppose to have delicious chocolate chip cookies and warm milk.

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Treat yourself to some delicious hot chocolate and dessert

The one good thing I can think of about winter is that there is finally a good legitimate reason to drink hot chocolate 24/7. New York has some of the best hot chocolates- the white chocolate option at LA Burdick is one of my favorites. Also- what can be cuter than this chocolate mouse? City Bakery, located in the Flatiron district, does an annual hot chocolate festival every February where they have a different unique flavor of hot chocolate every day and some of the flavors are pretty creative! In the past I've tried a salted caramel hot chocolate, a peanut butter and jelly one, and a lemon and white chocolate flavor.

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Watch a Broadway show or movie

The Broadway 2 for 1 deal (2 tickets for the price of 1) went on sale again this past Friday and I managed to score tickets to Aladdin- a musical that I've been wanting to see for a while now on account of being a Disney fanatic. Hiding out at a majestic show theater or going to the movies to watch the most recent hits is a great way to pass a cold afternoon. Bonus- there are some fantastic movies out right now. I loved The Greatest Showman (Hugh Jackman is beyond amazing) and I, Tonya (it had 3 Golden Globe nominations).

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Brunch!

It is never too cold for brunch. Bundle yourself up and head to your favorite brunch spot because the line will probably be shorter since other people will be staying in. Most restaurants won't kick you even if you stay a while so take your time enjoying food and conversation. I recently discovered White Gold Butchers, a little restaurant that is part of and located inside a butchers shop. So it was no surprise to me that their meat was so fresh and delicious, but their potato and cheese pastry was wonderful as well! There is always a table available and its the perfect place to come by yourself for some alone time.

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What are some activities you do when its too cold to be outside?

Looking Back on 2017

2017 was pretty much a stable year for me, in terms that nothing too drastic happened and no big life changes occurred. I continued working as an IT auditor and hit my one year anniversary at my company. Although my childhood dog, Furry, passed away, we welcomed 3 new puppies into our family- Flipper, Ellie, and Pongo. I finally convinced my two best friends to visit me (from Seattle and Texas) and we had a blast hitting up all my favorite spots in New York. I hit 4 foreign countries this year and fulfilled my New Year's Resolution of traveling to at least 3 countries this year. Best of all, I launched this blog! It was always my dream to have my own blog where I could share my thoughts and write about things I was passionate about. I'm so happy Toast and Travel became a reality this year.

Although I definitely feel that this year wasn't my biggest travel year, I felt that 2017 was  the year when New York finally became home. I had always though of my time here as temporary- just an escape or an adventure from my Texas life. I didn't make too much of an effort in making new friends and I actively chose not to buy bigger items for my apartment with the sole thought that it would be hard to move back home to Texas. However, this was the first year where I thought of my NYC life as permanent and I began to create a solid community for myself by joining local organizations, volunteering, and having favorite hang out spots. I have high hopes for 2018 and can't wait to see what the year has in store for me, both travel wise and personally.

Just wanted to recap some highlights from my 2017 travel adventures! Most of these happened before this blog was launched so there weren't posts on everything, but you can bet that next year there will be a post for everywhere I travel to.

January

Las Vegas- I spent MLK weekend here with some of my sorority sisters as part of our 1st Annual Alumnae Retreat and... discovered that Vegas isn't my ideal city.

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February

Austin- My pledge sister (for whom I was a bridesmaid for) had her first baby! Baby William was born in mid February and luckily I had already booked my ticket to visit and see this little bundle of joy.

March

London- I had a 7 hour layover on my way from New York to India and didn't waste a moment of my time by escaping the airport to see Buckingham Palace. I've always wanted to visit London and this layover only deepened my lust for the city.

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Hyderabad and Bangalore, India- Although I was initially scared to venture into this country, my time in India completely overturned any preconceptions I had on the country. I loved every second I had on this adventure!

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April

Boston- Met up with 3 other sorority sisters for an impromptu trip to this city! We drank tea off the Boston Tea Party ship, devoured tons of lobster rolls, and walked across the Boston Marathon finish line.

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Ithaca, New York- Wedding season finally started! I drove upstate to attend a gorgeous little rustic wedding and had the opportunity to go on a few winery tours.

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May

Tampa- Came here for a work trip and throughly enjoyed the sun! Although by week 3 I began to desperately miss the city life...

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Portland, Maine- My best friend (finally) came to visit me in New York and we took a mini road trip up to the very photogenic town of Portland. All we did was eat tons of lobster rolls, go lighthouse hopping, and ride boats into the sunset!

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June

Columbus, Ohio- My second wedding of the year was held here and I was able to check Ohio off my list of US states that I had not yet visited. Although there wasn't too much to keep us entertained, we enjoyed tasting a little of the Midwest.

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China/Taiwan- My family had a huge family reunion here and I was able to meet so many relatives. This is also where I chopped off half my hair... #shorthairdontcare #itwastoohot

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July

Houston- I took an emergency flight back home so I could be with my doggy before he passed away.

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August

Washington DC- My sorority had its annual National Convention here so I took the bus down for a weekend of history and sisterhood. I loved getting to meet up with sisters that I hadn't seen since last year's Convention.

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Montreal, Canada- I passed the quarter of a century life mark in this country and celebrated my birthday with my sister on our annual sisters trip.

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September

Savannah, Georgia- My very first blog post! My friend and I relaxed here over Labor Day weekend and ate our fill of Southern food.

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Long Island, New York- After touring a few wineries in upstate New York, I decided to check out another two wineries located out in Long Island and discovered the beauty that is there (only an hour from the city too).

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October

Chicago- Another work trip, but this one gave me the opportunity to take awesome photos with this shiny bean! I also had tons of fun eating deep dish pizza and taking pictures on a box hanging out over a skyscraper

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November and December

Houston- Family time well deserved and well spent. It was nice just having time to relax in my childhood home and see all my old friends from high school.

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All I can say is 2017 was a busy year for me! What were some places you traveled to in 2017?

Blogmas Day 17- Dessert Potluck Ideas and Recipes

Yesterday I hosted my very first dessert potluck Christmas party (yes it was also an ugly sweater party because why not) and I had so much fun! I probably had the most fun filling my apartment with the smell of freshly baked goods so I wanted to share the recipes of some of my desserts I baked for the party.

Cinnamon Banana Bread MuffinsI baked these for a Christmas party last weekend and they were a hit! So I decided to make them again for my own party :)

Butterscotch Chip MuffinsThis was a chocolate chip muffins recipe that I substitued with butterscotch chips because I was already making chocolate chip cookies and I wanted more of a variety.

Chocolate Chip CookiesMy first time using cornstarch in a cookie, but it helped the chewiness of the cookie a lot!

Brownies- You can never go wrong with serving brownies at a party.

Caramel Brownie Pie- I actually improvised this recipe on my own because I had a spare pie crust and didn't know what to do with it with the limited ingredients I had left. So I decided to make this easy brownie pie and topped it off with some caramel syrup. It was totally delish!

Blogmas Day 15- Postcards from NYC Department Store Windows

Its apparently a Christmas tradition in New York to walk around town and view all the holiday inspired store windows that the big department store decorate come December time. This was my first year doing it (mainly because I don't enjoy being squished by crowds of tourists), but I felt like I had to take advantage of living in the city and experience it. After some quick research, I planned out my path to hit all the major stores and set off!

Bloomingdale's- Bloomindale's collaborated with the recently release movie, The Greatest Showman, for its window theme this year. The result? Intricately designed circus themed windows with quotes by the legendary, PT Barnum at the bottom. While I didn't feel as if the windows were anything super spectacular, I've been wanting to see The Greatest Showman (after I found out Zac Efron was in it) so these windows definitely built up the hype.

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Bergdof Gorman- The high end department store collaborated with various designers as well as musuems across the city to design its windows. I thought the museum collaboration was simply genius, especially because the store selected a wide variety of musuems including the Museum of Moving Images, Museum of Natural History, Museum of Modern Art, and the New York Botanical Gardens to represent its windows. My favorite was the window by the Natural History Museum, where you can see that they bedazzled the heck out of skeletons. Collaborations like these are rare so it was a treat for the eyes!

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Louis Vuitton- Not a Christmas themed window, but I had to take a picture because Louis Vuitton collaborated with the famous modern artist, Jeff Koons, for its window displays this season. Koons has been one of my favorite artists since I saw his giant sculptures at the Whitney Museum a few years back. His sculptures are actualyl scattered around the city now (like the balloon dog located at Cooper Square).

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Tiffany's- Their window displays were on a much smaller scale and also not necessarily themed for the holidays, but who can resist looking at expensive jewerly? Everything was so tiny and cute!

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Saks Fifth Ave- In my opinion, Saks probably had the best holiday windows this year. Their theme was Snow White and not only did they display beautiful scenes from the movie, but they also collaborated with amazing designers (Monique Lhullier, Prada, Gucci, Marchesa) to create outfits inspired by the movie. I hoenstly loved every single window! Plus, the store has a light show every few minutes that plays! 

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Rockefeller Christmas Tree- I took a tiny break from my Window sight seeing tour to snap a photo of the famous Rockefeller tree! I had originally wanted to come to the tree lighting ceremony earlier this month, but the crowds were beyond insane (it would have taken me about 30 minutes just to cross the sidewalk) so I avoided the area. The tree is so breathtaking though so I can see why people would suffer just to see it lit.

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Macys- Macys had a general Christmas theme and heavily promoted its brand through the decorations. But the store usually goes all out in decorations inside as well so I had to step in to take a look!

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Which store window was your favorite?

Blogmas Day 13- Top 5 NYC Eats

My friends are always asking me where to eat when they visit New York, so I decided to compile this list of my favorite NYC Eats. I actually had quite a hard time choosing only 5 restaurants to make the cut because New York has so many amazing places to eat.

BANGIA

Where: Koreatown

Type of Food: Korean

What to Order: If you are in Koreatown and too overwhelmed by all the food options (and trust me there are a lot), Bangia is a delicious choice. This is probably my favorite restaurant ever and I’ve actually had almost everything on the menu. Their jeon (Korean style fried pancakes) are amazing. They have 3 options: corn and cheese, kimchi and spicy pork, and seafood. Corn and cheese jeon is my favorite! Who doesn’t love binge eating tons of cheese?

Tip: Its only open after 5pm and you must be over 21 to enter (IDs are checked).

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ESS-A-BAGEL

Where: Midtown East

Type of Food: Breakfast

What to Order: Uh duh... bagels! They have a variety of cream cheese options (including cookies and creme) and several combinations of giant bagel sandwiches. Honestly everything is good on their menu because their bagels are flavorful and the right amount of chewy.

Tip: Like any famous/popular New York eatery, long lines are expected. To cut down on your wait, preorder your bagels online so they will be ready when you arrive and you can save over 30 minutes of standing in a line.

 

CLINTON STREET BAKING COMPANY

Where: Lower East Side

Type of Food: Brunch

What to Order: The blueberry pancakes are mouthwatering and beyond anything words could describe. Each pancake (and you get 3!) is light and fluffy and stuffed with juicy blueberries. The chicken and waffles are also pretty tasty. Definitely worth any kind of wait.

Tip: The lines here are insane (we arrived at 10am and still had to wait an hour) so a tip is to try to go during the week or right when they open.

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SHANGHAI CAFE

Where: Chinatown

Type of Food: Chinese

What to Order: Soup dumplings and Noodles with Minced Pork Meat (Zhajiamein)

Tip: Be prepared to forgo your privacy and share a giant round table with other customers. The food is dirt cheap so they try to seat as many customers as possible. And bring cash!!

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ARTICHOKE'S BASTILLE

Where: West Village

Type of Food: Pizza

What to Order: Unless you have a lot of people, I would order their slices. The artichokes slice is beyond delicious- very creamy and cheesy. The crab slice is also one of my favorites because of its unique taste (it still tastes like pizza though so don’t worry).

Tip: Grab a slice and eat it on the High Line! The entrance stairs to the High Line park is only a 5 minute walk away.

 

Runner Ups- Like I said I had a really hard time narrowing down my list! So here are some restaurants that are just as yummy.

IZAKAYA MEW

Where: Garment District

Type of Food: Japanese

What to Order: This is Japanese style tapas so all dishes are meant to be shared. I highly recommend the the creamy kimchi pasta and the fried takoyaki balls. Both dishes are so full of flavor and fairly priced. The omusoba (noodles wrapped in egg) is an interesting concept, but didn’t as great as I thought it would.

Tip: Come here right when it opens (6pm) to avoid waiting in ridiculous lines. Its located in a basement so keep a lookout for the entrance (it has a gray flag hanging over it)

 

DOUBLE WIDE

Where: Lower East Side

Type of Food: Tex-Mex

What to Order: When I’m homesick and craving some good old queso, I come here. Its legitimate tex mex! Definitely order their chips and queso. The tater tots hash is also super yummy.

Tip: Come with more people so you can try more than 1 dish! The portions are Texas size.

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I still haven’t had the opportunity to eat at New York’s 1st pizzeria, Lombardi’s, and think it could be a real contender for best food of New York. Where are some places you guys have LOVED or are waiting to try?

Blogmas Day 12- Postcards from the NY Botanical Gardens' Holiday Train Show

Touring the New York Botanical Gardens was one of the first posts I wrote about on this blog and now that its Christmastime and the Gardens have put up their annual train show, I thought it would be fitting to go back for a second visit. Unfortunately, the line for the train show was insanely long and I wasn't in the mood to deal with the crowds, so instead I decided to walk around the Gardens and see the beautiful grounds covered in white snow.

How to Get There- I got a few questions from my first post asking how I reached the Gardens since its so far up north in the Bronx. I actually took the D train to Bedford Park station and walked around 15 minutes to one of the Garden's many entrances. There may be other routes (including on the Metro North), but since I live on the west side of Manahttan and had an unlimited metro card), this was what was most convinent for me. 

Although the Rock Garden was closed for the season and it was kind of tough walking around the snowy grounds in 30 degree weather, the views were breathtaking. I rode the tram around the Garden once and got out at various stops along the way to explore. One of my favorites was stopping at the seasonal (and weekend only) Gingerbread Cafe, located behind the Conservatory. There were so many holiday desserts available and the mood was so festive!

Being from Texas, it was also my first time seeing a lake completely frozen over. I was so in awe of the frozen lake that I actually got really close so I could touch it to see if it was really frozen. 

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Blogmas Day 10- It's Officially Ugly Christmas Sweater Season!

Although its not a season everyone partakes in, I've always found ugly Christmas sweaters to be so much fun! If anything, its interesting to see what other people have come up with. This year, my roommate and I are planning to host a dessert potluck (what's a sweater without dessert)/ ugly sweater party at our new apartment and I can't wait. After we sent out the invites, I got so many messages from people asking if they can just wear a normal sweater because they don't have anything ugly or Christmas related. First of all, everyone has at least one ugly outfit in their closets. But second of all, NO! Without festive Christmas sweaters, wouldn't the party just be a normal party and not a Christmas one? So here are some ugly sweater ideas for people who said they couldn't find ugly sweaters.

1. Vintage Stores- My roommate actually gave me this idea, but vintage stores have tons of old grandma style sweaters. Come Christmas time, they pull out the Christmas grandma sweaters! Check out the vintage stores in your area if you are looking for something unique or geuninely weird.

2. Wal Mart- Probably THE place for cheap apparel that looks a little bit off. It's also everywhere and open 24 hours- perfect for those last minute shopping runs.

3. Forever 21- Although most of the Christmas sweaters here are more cute than ugly, they are at a low price point so you don't feel as if you are wasting your money on a one time sweater (although I plan to wear my a few times this December). This is the sweater that I'm actually planning to wear!

4. Macy's- Because who doesn't want to BE the tree on Christmas Day?

5. Target- Of course the mothership of retail shopping will have awesome Christmas sweaters!

6. Tipsy Elves-  If you're looking for truly ugly and weird sweaters...

Blogmas Day 6- Kathleen's Unique Gift Guide

One of the most stressful things about the holiday season (besides the huge crowds everywhere) is finding the perfect gift for your loved ones. You don't want to be boring and unoriginal by giving a bottle of wine or a giftcard, but at the same time, you don't want to buy something they will never use or even worse, regift. Having a type A personality, I always start my Christmas shopping early. As in July sometimes. I'm always on the lookout for stuff that my friends or family would like and then I save it until the holidays to gift them. Crazy? Probably. But it works for me! I'm always able to find gifts that fit the personalities of the receiver and I can get original items that are hard to find. Just in case you aren't as crazy as me, here's a list of unique gift ideas that I came up with! Be sure to click on the bolded words for links. Happy shopping!!

1. Jack Daniels Caramel Fudge- I'm pretty sure this one doesn't need an explanation.

2. Cute Mugs- Because who doesn't drink water or coffee? And is there ever such thing as too many mugs?

3. Personalized Treat Bowl- What can be better than making sure that everyone knows that ice cream is yours?

4. Bourbon Coffee Mix- Alchy plus caffeine? I'm sold.

5. These Pouches- They all have interesting statements on them so find the perfect saying for your friends!

6. Hard Boiled Egg Peeler- Peeling the shell off a hard boiled egg can be a common nightmare. But with this hand held device, the shell slides right off! Perfect gift for those frequent chefs.

7. Mini Donut Factory- This lifechanging machine lets you make your own mini donuts at home so you don't even have to step foot outside to get these delicious treats.

8. The Tasty Cookbook- You've probably seen those cute little Tasty videos on Facebook where they make cooking seem so simple. Tasty now has a customizable cookbook where you can choose which recipes you want to put together in a cookbook format so you can start that chef life without the need to hog the wifi.

9. Korean Beauty Products- The newest beauty trend that has swept America has got to be KBeauty. I've been using these overseas products for years and the quality (plus price) is so much better. Koreans really know their skin! There's also more of a variety of products so there is something for everyone. Minnavi is a new beauty brand that launched during the fall and is well known for their customizable options.

10. Make Your Own Boba Kit- As a proud boba obsessed fanatic, this kit is a dream come true. It provides you with the ingredients to make those delicious bubble tea drinks from the cafes!

Blogmas Day 5- Postcards from the Yankee Candle Pop-up Shop!

Pop-up shops are definitely the newest fad in town. Even Yankee Candle has one now! I was wondering how a candle brand would be able to pull off a successful, unique, and most importantly, Instagrammable pop up shop, but Yankee Candle did! Best of all, it wasn't too crowded at all. There were multiple different backdrops for photos and employees would offer smells from their candles as you walked around the store. I honestly was not aware that the brand offered so many different scents!

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What are some pop-up shops you guys have been too?

Blogmas Day 4- I'm in Christmas Market Heaven!

I never even knew Christmas markets were a thing until moving to New York. Growing up in a Houston suburb, we didn't many city wide events since people were more into staying home and being with family and friends. But in New York there are Christmas themed markets everywhere! They are great places to get into the Christmas spirit and get a head start on your Christmas gift shopping. Even without buying anything, its still nice to take in the different sights and smells (yes there is always food and drink available for purchase).

Bryant Park Winter Village

TONS OF PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. That's honestly how I would characterize my experience at the Winter Village. I went on the night of the Skate-tacular when Olympian figure skaters were performing and it was beyond crowded I could barely move and I definitely couldn't even see the rink. On the positive side, there was a good variety of vendors, both food and items.

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Grand Bazaar- Holiday Edition

The Grand Bazaar (located on 77th street and Columbus Ave) occurs every Sunday and is basically a giant flea market where you can find all sorts of knick knacks, handmade items, and vintage goodies. Occasionally, they have themed market days based on the upcoming holidays. Since Christmas is right around the corner, they are hosting a Holiday version of their flea market and adding vendors that specialize in ornaments and many other Christmasy items. There is an indoor and outdoor portion. Come check this market out if you are vintage obsessed or just looking for something more unique.

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Columbus Circle Holiday Market

Very similar to the Union Square Holiday Market in setup, but I noticed a few more chocolatiers set up here (the vendor called No More Chewing has delicious chocolate truffles!). I also managed to snag a cup of free hot chocolate from the Citi Holiday Lounge. I would say this market had the same amount of people as Union Square- not too crowded but still a decent crowd.

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Union Square Holiday Market

This was probably my favorite market because the space was slightly larger and there were more vendors here than any other market. Although, by this point I was starting to notice that the vendors at Union Square were also at Columbus Circle and Bryant Park. It was still nice to see all the unique items up for sale (Swedish dishcloths??) and get ideas for Christmas gifts for my loved ones.

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Grand Central Holiday Fair

This market was by far the smallest of the 5. There were only 3 rows of vendors located in Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central. Come here if you are looking for more higher end stuff.

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To be honest, I've been hearing amazing things about the Christmas markets in Edinburgh and London (complete with mazes and rides?) so I definitely feel like the New York Holiday Markets are lacking in that regard. However, this is probably due to lack of space... Hopefully, one day I'm able to visit Christmas markets around the world!

Have you guys been to any Christmas markets in your hometown yet?

Blogmas Day 1- Announcement + DIY Ornaments

I guess this is a late announcement as its already Day 1, but based on my readers' feedback plus inspiration from the vloggers on Youtube, I've decided to put my own spin on the Vlogmas tradition that has swept Youtube the past few years and I will be doing Blogmas instead! For those of you who don't know what Blogmas is, I'll be writing a blog post every single day from December 1 to December 25 in celebration of my favorite holiday. The topics will vary (hopefully a strong Christmas theme though), but new original content will be up every day. Yes, it will be so much work and a lot of content creating, but I'm so excited! Christmas is my favorite time of the year and its especially beautiful in New York. I love all the over the top store window decorations, the array of shining lights, the festive atmosphere, and best of all, the holiday parties! I can't wait to share all my holiday happenings with all of you.

During my Thanksgiving break back at home with my family, my sister and I spent the whole week decorating ornament balls and they turned out fantastic! It was actually more fun than I expected to design and paint all the ornaments. We started out with traditional Christmas themes like snowflakes and Santa, but ended up gravitating towards our favorite characters from Disney and other cartoon shows after seeing and inspirational Mickey and Minnie Mouse ornament. 

All you need to make these ornaments is plastic (or glass) clear ornaments that you can get from any craft store, different colors of acrylic paint, and extra materials like ribbon or rhinestones or pipe cleaners. Links below!

Ornaments: http://www.michaels.com/6.7cm-clear-plastic-ornaments-by-artminds-12-pieces/10525254.html#q=clear+ornaments&start=2

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Rhinestones: http://www.michaels.com/david-tutera-adhesive-rhinestones-sheet-silver/D034922S.html#q=rhinestones&start=9

Acrylic Paint: http://www.michaels.com/americana-neon-lights-fluorescent-acrylic-paint/M10483883.html?dwvar_M10483883_color=Peach#q=acrylic+paint&start=19

My sister and I simply googled all the designs we did and chose what we thought was in our talent range (we aren't professional artists after all!). Beware though that the ornaments may require several layers of paint in order to be fully colored so make sure you have time to spare. Another thing that bothered us was that since the ball was round it was hard to paint and not smear so we ended up putting one finger in the top of the ornament (after removing the silver part) to paint and then just blow drying our ornament until dry. Luckily acrylic paint dries quickly!

See any of your favorite characters? Get read to get creative!

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Have any of you made ornaments before? What are some of your favorites?

Postcards from Storm King Art Center (and Thoughts on Taking Photos)

My Postcards posts are for places where I think pictures speak louder than words. Instead of detailing every thing I did, I am letting the photos I took show you what I experienced with the hope that you get to experience them for yourself.

 

I feel like I've been waiting forever for sweater weather and it's finally arrived... in November. Despite the crazy weird weather we've been having this year, I've been determined to throughly enjoy every season (something I could never to when I lived in Texas since there were really only two seasons- winter and summer there). So this past weekend my friend, Megan, and I hopped in a car and drove upstate to the outdoor art museum, Storm King Art Center. Storm King is located in 500 acres of open space where sculptures are spread throughout. It gives people a different perspective on how to appreciate art and blends the artwork so effortlessly with its natural surroundings. Most of you know that I love having photos taken of myself and Storm King was definitely a hot spot for photogenic photo opps. The sculptures combined with the beautiful orange red leaves was the perfect backdrop for a spontaneous photoshoot! I would strongly suggest heading here early in the morning so that there aren't too many people walking about (and interrupting your photos).

I've been asked before over whether or not I feel like I take too many photos of myself when I'm out. There are always mixed opinions on the subject- does taking and posing for photos distract from truly experiencing a place and appreciating it? My personal opinion is that as long as you are being respectful (be aware of certain locations where photography or silly poses is not ok) it is fine to snap away. For me, photos provide me with another outlet for me to immerse myself in my surroundings and grabbing for my phone or camera to capture what I deem beautiful is second nature to me. Similarly, I love including myself in these surroundings and having physical evidence of the memory of myself being there. After all, memories will eventually fade as we grow older or continue to experience life, but photos and film will last forever. When I'm in my 70s and flipping through a photo album or an online photo repository I want to be able to smile at the places I've been and the sights I've seen. When I have grandkids, I want to be able to show them what I experienced when I was younger and living life to the fullest. Another aspect of taking photos is that you are able to share what you are doing with your family and friends who you might not be able to see on a daily basis. This obviously has a limit as to what is the appropriate amount to share and there is a fine line between sharing your experiences and over sharing. But for me, my family and close friends either live in Texas or China so they are not only unable to go places with me, they also are unable to always hear me talk about what I've been doing. So these photos allow them into a piece of my life and keeps them updated on my New York adventures. I don't think it's vain or silly to have pictures taken of you when you visit somewhere and want to appreciate the time you spent there. Instead, I truly believe that photos help capture memories and help you relive them.

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Do you guys like taking photos when you travel? What are your thoughts on people who have photos taken of themselves?

Weekend in the City and Thoughts on Appreciating Where you Live

I recently joined an amazing organization, The New York Junior League, and had the opportunity to meet and mingle with wonderful women in the city. It's been such a rewarding experience so far. But because of my obligations as a new member of the League, I haven't been able to travel and explore outside of New York as much as I would have liked. So instead, I've been doing tons of fun things in the city and enjoying the beautiful weather that has (finally) come our way. Sometimes I feel like I get so wrapped up in traveling to the newest most exciting destinations that I forget that my very own city is an exciting destination in itself. It can be hard to appreciate where you live when you fall into the trap of routine and a mundane life. You naturally start to get the impression that you have all the time in the world to experience things so you just think that there is always next time. Once you move away you start to realize that there was actually a lot you never had the chance to accomplish and you begin to wish that you hadn't wasted your time in the city. That is how I feel when I reflect back to my college years in Austin- I didn't do so many things (eat at Franklin bbq, swim in Hamilton Pool) when I lived there because I wasn't adventurous enough and I regret it immensely. I never want to under-appreciate my life in New York (my dream city) because I worked so hard to get here and know that eventually one day I may have to move back home to Texas. In a few years, it may cost the same for me to visit Europe, but it will definitely cost more for me to go back and visit New York if I'm no longer living there. So in an effort to never waste a single New York moment, I spent this weekend throughly enjoying the New York life.

Junior League Fall House Tour

I spent Saturday morning volunteering at the League's Fall House tour which is a fundraiser to raise funds that the League uses on their community partners. I was one of the lucky individuals helping out at the VIP house, which turned out to be one of the many homes of New York socialite and artist, Carolyne Roehm. The two floor apartment inside an Upper East Side luxury building was beyond gorgeous and a delight to see. The light filled high ceiling living room reminded me of the Metropolitan Museum of Art actually just because of all the priceless artwork displayed. Although it did feel a little depressing returning home to my tiny Hell's Kitchen apartment after volunteering in Roehm's home all morning, I still had a lot of fun! Isn't her home beyond beautiful?

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Tompkins Square Dog Parade

I met my friends on Lower East Side for an hour of dog watching and tons of doggy licks. The annual Tompkins Square Dog Parade was adorable as usual and it was filled with so many dog owners and their beloved pooches decked out in Halloween costumes! I'm not sure if the dogs realized how cute they were, but some of them sure liked to pose for photos.

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Dessert

No weekend is ever complete without dessert! I have the biggest sweet tooth out there and I love trying out new dessert spots on my Yelp bookmarks whenever I can. This past Saturday I drank this DELICIOUS matcha strawberry latte from Boba Guys ( I added boba into the drink because why not) and devoured this horchita (roasted green tea) flavored ice cream from Matcha Cafe Wabi. Boba Guys arrived in the city last year by way of San Francisco and is known for using fresh whole milk instead of the powdered milk many other bubble tea shops use.

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Brunch

What is the weekend without brunch?? I ventured (my friends forced me) into Brooklyn for Sunday brunch at Cafe Luluc's and absolutely fell in love with the cute Cobble Hill neighborhood. Being the true Manhattanite that I am, I rarely leave the borough just because I feel like everything is so convenient and close by. But taking a day in Brooklyn and wandering into the shops around Cobble Hill after devouring my plate of eggs benny and fries was the perfect Sunday.

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Photoshoots

Brooklyn has so many iconic and beautiful places that we were literally taking our cameras out every few seconds to capture it all. Having spontaneous photoshoots with my friends is always a lot of fun and Sunday's was no different.

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What did you guys do this past weekend? Did you explore your city?

My Favorite New York Weekend- Open House New York

If you live in New York (or Chicago or London) and you haven't heard about Open House, then you are missing out on a hidden gem the city has to offer. Open House New York is two days every October when buildings that are usually closed to the public or buildings that usually cost money to enter are all free! It's a weekend that focuses on the architectural and design gems of New York. Most sites don't require reservations and allow individuals to simply walk in and attend tours free of charge. Some of the more popular sites or tours require a $5 advance reservation- and these reservations typically book up literally in minutes! In the past years I've had the opportunity to hear an architect speak about how he renovated his Chinatown loft from the comfort of his couch, toured a private Upper East Side home, wandered up on the roof of a Greenwich townhouse still under construction, and learned about the prototype for disaster housing. This year I managed to snag a ticket to visit the architect Paul Rudolph's iconic Modulightor home and also waited in line (for an hour) to climb the old steps of the Jefferson Market Library's clocktower to view a once a year view of downtown Manhattan. But the highlight of my 2017 OHNY experience was definitely getting the opportunity to tour Barnard College's newly renovated Diana Center. 

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Barnard College opened in 1889 as an educational institute for women and offered them a place to learn in a world that was dominated by men at the time. It is affiliated with Columbia University and was known as its female counterpart until 1989 when Columbia finally allowed women to apply. The school is named after the 10th Columbia University President, Professor Frederick Barnard, who pushed for the admittance of women. Barnard is mainly a liberal arts college and has distinguished alumni such as, Martha Stewart, Joan Rivers, and Cynthia Nixon.

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The Diana Center is Barnard's new student life center and was designed by the architect firm, Weiss/Manfredi. Once completed, it won a National AIA Award and a Progressive Architecture Award. It is a triangular shaped building that was given the Leed Gold certification, designating it as a green sustainable building. The building utilizes natural lighting to the fullest with its giant windows, diagonal lighting, high ceilings, and wide open spaces. Although I loved my university (proud Longhorn for life), I would have LOVED to have had the chance to study on those comfy red couches or worked next those big dreamy windows! There honestly wasn't a single spot in the building that I didn't consider beautifully designed. I especially appreciated the study space incorporated onto the building's rooftop with its gorgeous view. The tour guides mentioned that the ground of the roof was kept as light as possible in order to ward off heat in the summer as darker grounds tend to attract overheating. I thought that was a tiny detail that could potentially make such a difference.

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During the tour, the guides pointed out to us little design details (such as the double staircase shown above that was meant to increase traffic flow and the orange lines on the window panes that keep heat out in the summer and heat in during the winter) that I otherwise would have deemed insignificant. The tour opened my eyes to how architecture (something that isn't always noticed) can make a big difference in the way we live and interact with the buildings around us. I never knew how much work or thought goes into creating a building and now I think I'll pay much more attention to my surroundings. Although, my feet hurt at the end of each day from all the walking I did, my 2017 Open House weekend was a success! I can't wait until 2018 :)

Have you guys participated in Open House New York before? What are your thoughts on architecture?

Create Good: A Brit + Co Event

The one main thing I love about New York (and the one main reason why I can't bear to move away) is that there is ALWAYS something fun and exciting to do in the city. Whether it be a popup event or a celebrity talk or a film festival, there seems to always be something going on. A lot of my readers have been asking me where I find out about all the different events and stay up to date on NYC happenings. A friend of mine recommended Pulsd to me and I think its the gold mine! They list every event you could possible dream of plus the occasional deal (similar to Groupon in that respect). My Pulsd referral link is below if you want a free $5!

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Anyways, Pulsd is how I found out about Brit+Co's awesome popup event, Create Good! There were many different events held throughout a period of 4 days (some free and some ticketed). I chose to attend a talk regarding Create Good Business where several female entrepreneurs came to share their wisdom. A cute little 12 year old spoke about her outstanding lemonade business, Me & The Bees. Mikaila Ulmer was super inspiring as she has built such a giant successful brand (her lemonade is being distributed in Whole Foods) at her young age. She mentioned that her motto in life was to not worry about how things could fail, but to not be discourage and keep going.

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Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook Mark Zuckerberg's sister, was also present and was equally inspiring as she spoke about how being rejected from Broadway (although she later did achieve this dream as well) led her to working in the male dominated technology field and launching Facebook Live. To me, she was the definition of #girlboss as she has gone from having a successful career at Facebook to writing bestselling books to even perfoming on the Rock of Ages Broadway show.

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For any throwback Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans out there, Sarah Michelle Gellar was also in the house! I thought I was going to fall off my seat when she came out on the stage to speak about her food brand, Foodstirs. Foodstirs offers organic baking mixes with healthy ingredients and after sampling the brownies- I can tell you they are super yummy. Although she was a famous actress, Sarah didn't get an easy foot in the business world door. She dealt with reject time and time again until Target agreed to finally carry her line after she physically demonstrated one of her pancake mixes for their executives. I loved how passionate Sarah was about her product and how she insisted that no is the first road to yes.

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Last but not least, two female founders of startups spoke about how their companies began and how they've grown from tiny brands to well known companies. Radha Agrawal of Daybreaker and Stephanie Korey of the suitcase company, Away, gave such meaningful and useful advice on how to take an idea from nothing to a business.  Radha mentioned that her ideas came to her once she began to evaluate what sucked for her in her own world and then whether or not it sucked for other people. As a result of being groped and harrassed a nightclubs, she came up with the idea for Daybreaker- a morning club where instead of alcohol, green juice and breakfast is served and yoga takes place.

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Although I've never considered myself an entrepreneur with the latest or greatest ideas, I thought all these women really motivated me on continuing to work and improve this blog. Sometimes I feel as if I'm wasting my time writing and no one really cares about what I have to say. This Create Good event has shown me that even if no one cares or reads right now, as long as I remain passionate and keep striving for my goals, I can eventually succeed as well.

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Check out my Pulsd link for $5 off! https://pulsd.com/invitations/signup?inviter_id=359878

 

Pounding those New York Pavements: Bubble Tea Festival and Atlantic Antic

Finally a full weekend in the city! Those have been rare for me recently due to all the traveling I've been doing so I wasn't going to waste this rare opportunity to do something truly New York. Luckily, this past Sunday was NYC's first ever Bubble Tea Festival and those that know me know that I have a huge obsession with bubble tea and I usually have to drink at least one cup a week (it's a very strong urge!). So this festival was literally a dream come true for me. It was hosted on a street walkable distance from my house by the organization Passport Taiwan. Passport Taiwan strives to promote Taiwan tourism and educate the public about their country.

I had previously purchased a sampling ticket, which allowed me to sample up to 10 different vendors' bubble tea. While I did enjoy visiting my favorite New York bubble tea vendors (Gong Cha and Vivi's) and being exposed to newer bubble tea brands (Luv Boba and Bar Pa Tea), I felt like the overall experience at the Festival was underwhelming. First, it was extremely hot outside and the lines to get the tea samples were extremely long due to the hype of the Festival. I also felt like portions of the Festival were poorly organized. For example, one vendor out of the 10 never showed up (it was called One More), thus only allowing ticket holders to actually only be able to sample 9 bubble teas. I was surprised that a vendor could just casually not show up to a well popularized event like this. Nevertheless, I had a decent time watching the Taiwanese themed performances and trying out different types of bubble tea.

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It was definitely a day for street festivals! I hit up the largest street fair in New York afterwards on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. And let me tell you, the Atlantic Antic festival was LONG. We walked forever and did not finish the whole thing. There were so many street vendors selling clothing, jewelry, different types of food, and ice cold drinks. On top of that, so many organizations came out to put on performances and activities. 

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Postcards from the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum

My Postcards posts are for places where I think pictures speak louder than words. Instead of detailing every thing I did, I am letting the photos I took show you what I experienced with the hope that you get to experience them for yourself.

 

This past Saturday was Museum Day so hundreds of museums nationwide opened its doors for free. I chose to check out the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum mainly because the original ticket price is quite expensive ($33), but also because boarding a former warship and submarine and learning about its past seemed very interesting. The Intrepid was an aircraft carrier that served the US during WWII and the Vietnam War. It was used from 1943-1974 until it was brought to New York to become a learning platform for the public. Despite having to wait in a long line under a very hot sun (definitely going earlier next time), I had a wonderful time immersing myself in a part of our country's naval history.

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The submarine, Growler, is the only American guided missile submarine open to the public. After waiting in yet another long line, I had the opportunity to see what the inside of a submarine looked like for the first time. I can't believe over 100 sailors had to squeeze into the tiny inclosed submarine for weeks at a time with no sunlight. A few sailors even had to sleep next to a torpedo!

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Also located at the museum is the Enterprise space shuttle. The Enterprise was NASA's first space shuttle orbiter. 

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Have you guys visited a museum like the Intrepid before? Which ones?

I MET OPRAH

Ok, so I didn't actually MEET Oprah, but I did score tickets to hear her speak in person at the Tribeca TV Festival. So technically I did meet her, but she just didn't meet me! You've probably heard of the renowned Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place in New York every April, but this is the first year that the TV Festival is being hosted. The festival had a series of discussions where the stars, writers, and creators of several TV shows spoke about their experiences creating or starring in the show. I chose to hear Oprah and her writers speak about her new show Released. Released is a show based on the prison release of 6 inmates and their journey re-entering society. Some of these former inmates have been in prison for over many many years and the show will depict their struggles reconnecting with family members and readjusting to the outside world. I had the privilege of watching the show's premiere and I can tell you it is extremely emotional. There was a scene of one man who on his way from prison to home (after 19 years locked up for stealing $160) stopped at an airport newstand and was overwhelmed by the many options of snacks he was able to choose from and ended up going with a bag of chips he had in prison just because he simply wanted what was familiar. These men, some who have committed serious crimes, have finally finished paying their price to society and are looking for forgiveness and a fresh start to life.

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Growing up, I lived a very blessed and privileged life where I knew and experienced nothing about the prison system and what it meant to have a family member locked up. Even now, I do not know a single person who has served time in prison or what their experiences were like. Watching this show really opened my eyes to issues that I had never considered before. The men and women serving time in prison can't simply be labeled as good or bad. It's not a basic black or white issue. These prisoners' stories are multi-faceted and much more in depth than I originally thought. I was amazed once again by Oprah's story telling abilities and how her and her team was able to portray these true stories so vividly. There is truly no disregarding Oprah's talent at communicating important ideas and doing it in a respectful manner that resonates with us audience members.

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During the panel discussion session, hosted by Oprah, she revealed that the show's concept was drawn from author and criminal justice activist, Shaka Senghor's personal experience after he was released. Shaka discussed his turning point in prison (he was imprisoned for 26 years) and how upon release he desperately wanted to turn his life around, but the resources available were scarce. This show's thought provoking topic will definitely shed more light on the importance of bringing former inmates back into society as fully functional adults.

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I came to the Tribeca TV Festival to meet one of my idols, but I left with a wealth of knowledge and information. If you are looking to help out with this very important issue in the New York City area, a great organization to get involved with is The Fortune Society.

 

Is Released a show you would be interested in watching?

Postcards from New York Botanical Gardens

My Postcards posts are for places where I think pictures speak louder than words. Instead of detailing every thing I did, I am letting the photos I took show you what I experienced with the hope that you get to experience them for yourself.

When someone says they have free tickets to somewhere, you don't say no! So when my friend told me her company provided free admission to the New York Botanical Gardens (usually a $20+ entrance fee), I woke up early on a Saturday morning and propelled myself towards the Bronx. It was definitely my lucky day because NYBG is currently showcasing works by the artist, Chihuly. If you haven't heard of Chihuly, he is a glass blowing artist known for his breathtakingly beautiful glass sculptures. Most museum exhibits to view them are quite expensive. The NYBG incorporated his works into their gardens so effortlessly- I loved it! The Chihuly exhibit is on display until October 29 so I highly suggest checking it out. I also suggest getting the All Access Garden Pass so that places like the Conservatory, Rock Garden, and riding the tram aren't off limits to you. For those of you who don't wish to pay the hefty admission fee, the Garden has free entrance until 10am on Saturdays. Although, it is a grounds only pass meaning entrance to the 3 attractions I mentioned above will be prohibited.

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Sorry for the multitude of photos on this post! Everything was so equally mesmerizing that I couldn't just choose a few to share!

Have you guys ever visited the New York Botanical Gardens? What were your thoughts?