Upcoming Travel Adventures I’m Super Excited About

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

Jawaharlal Nehru

It’s finally happening. I’m traveling again! 2020 was supposed to be my year of travel and then the universe laughed at me. Two years later, I am ecstatic to report I have a TON of travel plans. In fact, I’m so excited about them that I wanted to write and entire post about it.

Some adventures are small, others are huge. Some are to places we’ve been and fallen in love with, and others will be entirely new experiences and countries to explore. Here’s to the next few months of traveling!

June Plans

Yeah, yeah, yeah June is over. I’m still excited for the little things we got to do, so I’m including it. June was a month of festivals and exploring Lancaster. We took the dogs to Veg Fest and tried lots of vegetarian and vegan foods. Pride Fest was a short walk from our house where we got to show support for the local LGBTQ+ community. Celebrate Lancaster was my favorite. They shut down the streets and line them with vendors, local businesses stay open, and food trucks are everywhere.

This past Tuesday I ventured to Harrisburg for a book event! One of my favorite authors, Riley Sager, held an event for his new book which I knew I couldn’t miss. One of my favorite bookstores, Midtown Scholar, hosted it and I loved every second of it. I met lots of book people, heard the author talk about so many topics, and I even got to meet him and get my book signed. It was absolute highlight of my month.

July Plans

July is sort of a let’s play it by ear type of month. I’m back on bikini bodybuilding competition prep, so travel isn’t a priority this month since it’s almost go time. However, there are still travel-related things I’m looking forward to.

  • Hiking! Will doesn’t know this yet, but I really want to go back to Kelly’s Run for a fun adventure in nature with him and the dogs.
  • Will and I are going to see friends get married in western PA at the very end of the month. It’ll be a nice and quick trip to Weedville, a town we’d never heard of before.

August Plans

August really kicks off what I’m calling my Fall season of travel. There are two things I’m excited for that month and it definitely kicks off fall with a bang.

  • I will travel SO FAR. Just kidding. I will drive 5 minutes from my house to the Marriott where I will compete in my second bodybuilding competition. Then, I’ll get to show my trainers around the wonderful town I live in. I love traveling, but I also love showing visitors just how amazing Lancaster is. Plus it gives me a chance to explore again.
  • One week later, I will hop on a flight to Florida and board a cruise ship to Bimini, Bahamas. The excitement is real, friends. Not only do I get to go to a part of the Bahamas I’ve never experienced, but I’m going with one of my best friends.

September Plans

September will bring another trip with friends, but this time Will and the dogs are coming too. We always make sure to take a trip with the dogs too, especially when we leave for a vacation without them. After all, a family vacation isn’t quite complete without our boys with us.

  • Watkins Glen is our tried and true trip we’ve taken several times now. We fell in love with the place and always see something new each time. It’s one of those trips where we get to visit our favorites while also making it a point to discover something new. This time we get to bring some of our best friends which will make it even better.
  • We’ve been meaning to go to Hershey Park and Chocolate Town since we moved to Lancaster… in 2017. I’m determined to make it happen this year, specifically in September when it’s not frigid or melt-your-face-off hot.

October Plans

October is a little light on plans, but it’s going to be all about Philadelphia.

  • We’re taking a day trip to see The Book of Mormon! I love that we can see incredible musicals and theatre performances outside of NYC. Since it takes half the time to get to Philly that means we have more time to explore and we can try new restaurants instead of having to rush back.
  • Will also doesn’t know that I’m going to attempt to get him to go back to Philly closer to Halloween. The Eastern State Penitentiary, a must-see landmark in itself, does a Halloween special where you can explore the site regularly during the day and then it turns into a haunted house at night. I might skip the haunted house part because I’m a wimp, but the extra spooky vibes while visiting what’s said to be an extremely haunted place will make the experience extra special.

November Plans

I guess there has to be a month that doesn’t have travel plans? This is that month. Hopefully, we can find something close by to explore like one of the Christmas markets or a new market in general! I’m optimistic.

December Plans

Now for the pièce de resistance. For the first time in over 5 years Will and I are traveling internationally together. Where are we going? Drumroll please! ……. MEXICO! We booked our first all-inclusive trip and while it’s not the typical type of vacation I would book I am beyond pumped for this trip.

We’re heading to Tulum and plan on alternating between relaxing days and adventure days. So far we’re planning on visiting Chichen Itza, cenotes, as many local food places as humanly possible, and seeing what events the resort has to offer. We even get to scuba dive together for the first time despite us both being certified for years.

After two years of cancelling travel plans this year is full of small and large trips and it makes my heart so happy.

An Update On My ‘Book by an Author From Every Country’ Challenge

I read; I travel; I become.

Derek Walcott

Over a year ago I set myself a gigantic goal. I wanted to read a book by an author from every country in the world. My grand total from last year was 27 different countries. I’m excited to say that that total is now 35. Was that a drastic difference? No.

BUT I made a concerted effort to read multiple books from each new country that I added to my list. Reading and travel are so unique in that they open your eyes to different ways of life, opinions, values, and they both expand your horizons. In a world coming out of a pandemic and the political unrest in so many places, not to mention the recent Supreme Court rulings, it’s more important than ever to see things in a new light.

I’m going to keep slowly adding new countries/authors/books to my list and I’m loving this journey so far. I’m also finding that I devoured books by Swedish, Indonesian, and South Korean authors this past year more than anywhere else. I’m learning so much and having a massive amount of fun while doing it. Isn’t that just a huge win in itself?

Below is my newly updated map showing which countries I’ve read books from so far.

Have recommendations for me? I would LOVE to hear them. I want to read more from authors in Eastern Europe, Africa, and South American because that’s where I have the most glaring holes in my reading. So, that’s what I’m going to spend the next year doing!

My Current List of Countries I’ve Read Books From

  • Algeria
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Cyprus
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Ghana
  • Iceland
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Morocco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Sierra Leone
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Ukraine
  • USA
  • UK
  • Yemen
  • Zimbabwe

What Reading/Travel Goals Do You Have This Year?

Tell me all about them! I love hearing about what everyone is doing. This is such a great community and I’m lucky to be a part of it! As you can see any progress towards your goals is great. I love seeing the difference between where I was last year and where I am now.

No Ordinary Buns Here: Ultimate Destinations For Burger Lovers

Life is like a burger, the more ingredients you add to it the tastier it becomes

Unknown

It’s summer time and that means grilling season is upon us. If you’re not a grill master that means you’re probably in search of the perfect burger. Not just an average burger, but the juicy, melt in your mouth, topped with everything under the sun, all-around above-average burger.

These burgers all have buns that aren’t your typical bread. You will need to worry about your blood pressure and heart health after eating these, but OH MY GOODNESS these burgers might be worth it.

Traveling for the new food experiences is my love language, so I wanted to create a fun summer post with a twist. Loosen your belts and put on your stretchy pants and prepare to chow down on a feast for your eyes. Then, plan a trip to eat one of the monstrosities… I mean… delicious additions to the burger world in person!

Mac N’ Stack Burger

Location: Portland, ME

Take Me to Your Burger: Nosh Kitchen Bar

Delicious Details: Mac n’ cheese lovers this one is for you. Forget buns, this monster of a burger has fried Mac n’ cheese patties instead. After all, it’s called a cheeseburger so the creators promoted this side dish to the starring roll of burger bun. Nosh also has a few other non-traditional bun burgers like the pizza burger, so go when you’re feeling super hungry because they all look amazing.

Luckily Maine has tons of gorgeous places to hike. Fuel up with this burger and walk it off by exploring the town and trails nearby.

Spaghetti Burger

Location: Orlando, FL

Take Me to Your Burger: The Sand Bar

Delicious Details: This burger joint is part of the Walt Disney World restaurant family, so you know there’s a lot of creativity happening here. I’m not sure fried spaghetti buns is something that should exist, but I love seeing the pictures and it’s definitely a unique burger to try!

Dirty Harry Donut Burger

Location: Steamboat Springs, CO

Take Me to Your Burger: Back Door Grill

Delicious Details: Can’t choose between eating your sweet or savory first? What about eating both at the same time? Now, you can. Meet the Dirty Harry Donut Burger where the buns are powdered and glazed donuts, the burger is massive, and the toppings aren’t what you’d expect. This infamous burger is topped with peanut butter, hash browns, fried eggs, and bacon. Veggies are afraid of this burger. Your arteries are too, but I’m not going to lie, this looks incredible.

If you’re in Colorado on an adventure, chances are you’ll burn off this burger in no time. Between the skiing and hiking alone you’re going to need it to fuel you. It’s all about balance, right?

Triple Coronary Bypass Burger (No I’m not kidding with this name)

Location: Atlanta, GA

Take Me to Your Burger: The Vortex

Delicious Details: This restaurant has not one, but 4 different coronary bypass burgers ranging in height from a single to a quadruple. This sandwich of epic proportions has grilled cheese sandwiches FOR BUNS. The double, tripe, and quadruple layer more grilled cheeses in between burger patties. This, my friends, is the ultimate of ultimate sandwiches.

Atlanta is a town known for its food, so to stand out you know you have to do something special. This absolutely takes the cake. Don’t miss out on the amazing cultural and historical things to do there because of a food coma, but don’t miss that sandwich either.

Pineapple Bun Burger

Location: Mostly in your kitchen

Take Me to Your Burger: These burgers are very hard to find in the wild.

Delicious Details: I’m upset to learn that McDonalds was where the pineapple bun burger made its debut after its creator Ray Kroc made a deal with the company. However, they haven’t taken the burger world by storm. It’s relatively difficult to find a restaurant that features these sweet and savory burgers, but there’s good news. They are fantastically easy to make at home.

Maybe you want to offer something unique at your next bbq or you just want to eat an incredible number of burgers with half the guilt. Pineapple bun burgers are the only one on this list that might actually help your health. Plus they look delicious and thirst-quenching at the same time.

Honorable Mentions No Longer In Business:

Pizza Bun Burger

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Take Me to Your Burger: Meatzilla

Delicious Details: Hear me out. Turn a regular burger bun into a pizza with cheese and pepperoni. Then, add a burger and toppings. It might seem like these two classic favorites don’t go well together, but we’re living in an age of food glory where anything is possible. Even pizza buns. You know meat, cheese, and bread are crucial ingredients of both pizza and burgers, so it’s only natural to try this innovative burger. Right!?

Unfortunately, due to covid-19 the restaurant decided to close their doors on their original restaurant. They’re currently regrouping to see what their next move is. Fingers crossed they make it back to business so you can try the original pizza burger. For now, why not make your own!?

Ramen Burger

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Take Me to Your Burger: Former restaurant Tatsu Ramen.

Delicious Details: The original ramen burger was created by Keizo Shimamoto and was a special feature on the menu at Taste Ramen. Due to the pandemic, the restaurant no longer exists, but the founder may still make a culinary comeback. Ramen burger buns may still be in your future!

Each bun features a shaped, fried ramen bun with a variety of toppings. I can only imagine how delicious freshly made ramen which is then fried and placed on something as delicious as a burger (in this case a wagyu burger) would taste. The chef created a website called Go Ramen and it seems like he has a new restaurant in California. The menu doesn’t feature the burger, but hopefully it will make a comeback soon so the world can once again taste the original.

Which Burger Would You Try and Is There One You Wouldn’t?

Honestly, I’d give all of these a shot. I wouldn’t eat an entire burger because, you know, health, but I’d absolutely split each one of these with a few friends so we could taste the glorious uniqueness of them. I have to admit that I am one of the few humans on earth who really doesn’t like pineapple, but I’m willing to try even that burger!

Let me know which burgers you’d love to try or would avoid in the comments below!

5 More Underrated Archaeological Sites

Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.

Louis D. Brandeis

Archaeology might have been my previous career, but I will always love visiting archaeological sites. Whether you’ve only heard of the super famous sites like Pompeii or also love seeking out the lesser-known sites like Tipon, if you love history, you’ve got to visit as many archaeological sites as possible.

It’s so cool to be able to venture to spaces preserved in time or that transport you back to places and eras that are so different from your own. The sites below you may not have heard of, but they absolutely deserve to be a household name and major tourist attraction. Luckily for us, they are not crowded no matter when you visit. However, they do still need funding for upkeep to keep their amazing history alive, so I wanted to put them on your radar!

Copán, Honduras

Copán is an ancient Mayan city sitting near the border with Guatemala. The site dates back to 1,000 BCE where it began as a small agricultural settlement and grew to an important city in 250CE. In its heyday, it was home to approximately 20,000 people and didn’t begin to decline until ~822CE and was completely abandoned by 1200CE.

The site itself is massive at a whopping 250 acres. There are stone temples, two pyramids, stairways, plazas, a tlachtli court, and residential areas. You can walk all around the town and explore so much. The site is famous for its hieroglyphic stairway which features 1,260 extremely well-preserved symbols. There are also friezes, monuments, and statues/carvings to see throughout the site.

Lalibela’s Rock-Hewn churches, Amhara, Ethiopia

These are not your average churches. Unless your average church is one that is also carved out of the volcanic rock during the Middle Ages and extend several stories into the ground. The 11 rock-hewn churches I’m talking about are in northern Ethiopia and are still important pilgrimage sites centuries later. King Lalibela commissioned the churches’ construction in the 12th and 13th centuries as an attempt to evoke a new Jerusalem in his country.

The churches are unique in that they are more sculpture-like than building. They were constructed from the top down and carved right into the existing rock like giant, functional statues. There are no seams, mortars, or separate pieces. The entire structure is one piece of rock. How cool is that!? The outside of the structure remains simple, but once you step inside there is adornment all over.

Göbekli Tepe, Şanlıurfa, Turkey

Want to visit what may be the world’s oldest place of worship? Göbekli Tepe dates back to 11,500 years ago and turned the religion followed agriculture theory on its head. People during this time period were still hunter gatherers, so it was a discovery that rocked the archaeological world and shed light on a piece of the past that doesn’t usually provide a ton of information for us to examine.

The site has round/oval megalithic (think Stonehenge) structures as well as T-shaped pillars carved with depictions of wild animals. The carvings helped give a glimpse of what daily life and beliefs entailed which is rare in the archaeological record. When you visit the site you can explore the site via walkways and even see the pillars from above for a closeup look at the carvings. What’s even cooler is what isn’t uncovered yet. Surveys done of the ground beneath show 16 more megalithic rings nearby. The acres of the site uncovered only shows 5% of what remains to be found.

Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily

You don’t have to go to Greece to find an entire valley full of ancient temples. Pop over to Sicily instead for a much less crowded experience. There are temples to gods and goddesses, a necropolis, and sanctuaries dotting the landscape. This isn’t your typical tour of temples though. The temples are in various states of ruin, but it just adds a layer of adventure to the trip. Many structures are still standing and you’ll have to pick your away around fallen statues that used to stand as pillars.

Buildings dating back to before the 5th century are still standing and some are even adorned with modern sculptures depicting famous Greek myths. You can see evidence of a fire from centuries before, grooves cut into streets by carts, and even a sacrificial altar. Ince

Uxmal Pyramid, Yucatán, Mexico

Considered one of the most important and representative cities of Mayan culture and architecture you’d think more people would have heard of Uxmal. However, this site gets significantly less visitors than its more crowded ruins like Chichen Itza. The site is unique in that it relied solely on rainwater instead of cenotes for water. Uxmal eventually became the capital of the area. Between Uxmal and Chichen Itza, they were the only two cities in the area that survived after the 10th century.

Unlike many archaeological sites, you can actually touch a lot of the site. Most of the structures are free to explore, but you can’t climb the Adivino (aka Magician’s Pyramid) Pyramid. The site also has a ball court, training grounds, a palace, temples, shrines, and so much more.


8 Literary Walking Tours to Take to Walk in the Footsteps of Your Favorite Characters and Authors

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m the type of person who says “yeah, let’s walk there!” even if it’s miles away. I love exploring places by foot and one of my favorite things to do in a new place is take walking/biking tours. It’s a great introduction to a place and you get to see so much.

By now, you’ll know I love books so, naturally, I wanted to share some literary walking tours I’ve stumbled across lately. Let me know which ones you’d love to go on or if you’ve heard of others! Until you can get to these destinations, take a virtual walk (and read the books that inspired them) by reading about these literary walking tours below!

Stockholm’s Millennium Tour for Fans of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Series

Stieg Larson’s trilogy had a hard time getting published, but once they got in the hands of readers their fame skyrocketed. After the movie adaptations, it’s safe to say these books are internationally popular and Stockholm frequently draws tourists who want to visit sites from the books.

This two-hour walking tour takes you in the footsteps of the main character at many of the key locations in the books. You’ll traipse through the suburbs where Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander lived, visit their local cafe, Salander’s favorite tattoo shop, her luxury apartment, and so much more. You’ll end the tour at the Stockholm City Museum where you can experience even more of the books in the Millennium exhibition.

Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl for Fans of Famous Authors

Dublin is a fantastic place for anyone who loves to read. This tour began operating in 1988 and is still popular 3 decades later. Ranked as one of the top walking tours in the world, this isn’t your average tour at all. Think of it as a full immersion into all things literature with a splash of spirits to kickstart your imagination.

A pub crawl hosted by actors playing famous authors!? You’ll jaunt around Dublin to four pubs, get a private visit to Trinity College, and learn all about the pub/poets/authors/pints from the actors along the way. It’ll be like you’re drinking with some of the greatest literary minds of history. You’ll also learn about how the writing culture got its start and how much of an impact writing had on the area.

Boston by Foot Tour for Fans of Some of America’s Great Authors

Boston has a walking tour for almost anything that could possibly bring you to the city. It’s more well-known for its historical connections, but many of the literary greats made huge impressions in Boston. Why not explore famous and lesser-known landmarks on a pleasant walk?

This tour visits places where writers such as Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau gathered, discusses how famous authors like Dickens were lured to the city, and even dives into why Poe rejected Boston as his home. You’ll visit a variety of landmarks including the Old Corner Bookstore, Alcott’s home, and the Athenaeum private library.

London’s Spies of Mayfair Walking Tour for Fans of James Bond

Bond, James Bond. The books, not the movies. Yes, there are plenty of James Bond tours you can take for fans of the movie (I love them too), but this for the overlooked books that inspired the movies! The Spies of Mayfair is the only tour I could find that specifically caters to the books instead of the movies, so it’s absolutely a unique option for your next trip to London.

You explore where Ian Fleming lived, gambled, drank, and discovered the inspiration for the Bond series. You’ll even learn about a real-life Russian spy found murdered in the area and spy craft in general. Plus, it’s always a great experience to explore London on foot, so why not do so with a tour that’s not like the others.

Paris’s Literary Tour for Fans of French and Famous Visiting Authors

Paris is considered a cultural capital of the world, especially where literary greats are concerned. Walking around Paris is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to the vast artistic history of the city as almost every place you look has a connection to literature, art, history, and more.

The Paris Literature Walking Tour takes visitors on an adventure in the footsteps of Hemingway who loved to walk around the city. Along the way you’ll learn about famous artists, including Picasso and Matisse, visiting and resident authors, and even visit some famous bookstores. The tour lasts about 3 hours and you’ll cover so much of Paris in that time you won’t believe it.

Literary Shanghai Walking Tour for Fans of Chinese and Visiting Authors

Whenever literary walking tours are brought up, most people think of Western authors, but we can’t overlook authors from other regions who are just as talented. Shanghai underwent its literary heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries and produced a massive amount of impressive literature.

This guided tour begins at a local teahouse in the north end of the city associated with famous authors including Lu Xun. You will also visit the neighborhood where poet Xu Zhimo lived and hosted authors from other countries. Even if you haven’t read anything by these authors, it’s absolutely worth a trip since you’ll get exposure to new books/authors you should add to your shelves.

Bath’s Jane Austen Walking Tour for Fans of All Things Jane Austen

Bath is a gorgeous town to visit, especially for lovers of Jane Austen as it was used as the setting in several of her novels. The architecture alone takes you back in time so it feels more like a literary adventure instead of a stuffy tour. The tour is even led by the Jane Austen Centre, so you know you’re getting an expert on all things Austen not just the books.

Your tour guides will be dressed in period clothing, are experts in their field, and you’ll get to explore so much of Bath along the way. This tour is also really interactive. You can try on clothes from the period, write with a quill pen, and even taste food from the period.

New Zealand’s Multi-Day Hiking Tour for Fans of Lord of the Rings

Visiting all of the Lord of the Rings filming locations and locations from the books just isn’t possible on foot unless you have a year to spare. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a hybrid DIY tour where you drive to the location and take a hike near it. After all, New Zealand has epic views to go with the epic literature/movies set there. Why not do both?

The following are trails you can hike to see sites from the film and get an incredible walking experience along the way as well.

  • Mordor/Mt. Doom — Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Paths of the Dead — Hike the Putangirua Pinnacles
  • Dwarves in Barrels — Hike the Pelorus River
  • Chetwood Forest — Hike Takaka Hill
  • Edoras — Hike Hakatere Potts Road
  • The Two Towers — Hike Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park
  • Fangorn Forest — Hike Milford Track

A Short Weekend in Akron, Ohio for My First Bodybuilding Competition

I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

Eric Roth — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

How It All Started

When covid hit I made myself a promise to come out the other side fitter than I was going in. I was already working with my trainer/nutrition coach and I was lucky enough to have already stocked my garage gym with the essentials before prices skyrocketed. During lockdown, I got my personal trainer certification and started my nutrition certification (which is also complete!). I still felt stuck and like I was missing something. Up until that point, fitness was more about other people than it was for myself. I started in group fitness to help other people realize that exercise could be fun. While it’s extremely fulfilling for me, I didn’t have something that was just for me.

My coach, Kiki, recently went pro in the IFBB as a bikini bodybuilding athlete and I secretly started wondering if maybe I could do that one day. After battling years of poor nutrition, being overweight for most of my life, and just not having the confidence or drive to push myself, I had never even considered something like that until I met her. finally decided that I wanted to set the scariest goal I could think of that would not only challenge me, but be something just for me. If I accomplished it, it would be mine and something I could proudly say I did. So, I told my coach my goal and we made a plan.

The Beginning of Prep

January 2, 2022 I officially started prep. I had already been on a structured meal plan and strategically lifting heavy weights for 2-3 years, but this took it to a whole other level. I LOVED the beginning of prep. I felt like a badass and it was amazing to see just how much my body could change week after week.

During prep I pushed myself through low food, fluctuating hormones, gum surgery, changing jobs, changing how I thought about food, distanced myself from certain situations that tempted me, found new ways to enjoy food especially around other people, traveled, dealt with low energy, doubted myself, made some incredible friendships, and walked more than I ever thought possible.

The Workouts

Because I had never gotten to stage weight, I had a lot of body fat to lose. I lifted 5 days a week and walked 6 days a week. I spent about 1.5 hours lifting every day, usually before work. Then, I’d walk for 45 minutes on my lunch break at work and again with the dogs after work.

Getting up at 5AM isn’t my favorite, but I loved being able to get my workout done before work. Plus, it let me play with my dog, Atlas, every single morning and I loved that he was such a massive part of my journey. He helped me with every workout. Seriously, every single one. I always kicked a ball or threw a frisbee in between sets, and he came on every walk. My senior dog, Mickey, was my favorite recovery buddy. We both could be couch potatoes at the end of the day and on rest days.

The Food

Eating is one of the greatest joys of my life, but I never really ate for balance. I love being on a meal plan where I get choices for each meal which is exactly what I’ve always been on for prep and now. I went into prep with the mentality that I would never eat food I didn’t like and while I was limited on what I could eat, especially towards the end, I would always find ways to flavor everything so it tasted incredible.

Baldy’s Blends is a relatively new spice shop in Lancaster. I’m lucky enough to live around the corner. From our first trip in to check it out, we knew we had found something special. The owner is ridiculously welcoming, genuinely loves what he does, and has INCREDIBLE spices. I season almost everything with his blends now and won’t go back to regular grocery store spices.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink, Fiesta Fajita, New Mexico Green Chile, and Rabbit Food were always in the kitchen during prep. They still are, too! They’re healthy and turned the same 5 ounces of vegetables I was eating into an experience. It honestly got me through some of the worst parts of prep when I was sick of the same shrimp, chicken, squash, green beans, and egg whites over and over again.

Some weeks I also got a refeed. This is a higher carb and higher fat meal that is supposed to jumpstart metabolism and fill out the muscles. I had a ton of fun trying different refeed meals all over Lancaster. We finally found one that worked with my body the best and I was so freaking happy it was our new favorite place, DipCo. They’ve got the best hamburger and waffle fries in town. Trust me, I’ve tried almost all of them. It was always fun to be able to look forward to date night there, especially when my food/energy was low and my hormones made me moody. It always makes me happy to go there and if you’re ever in town you don’t want to miss this place!

The Day Before the Competition

We packed up the car and set off on a 6-hour road trip to Akron, Ohio where my competition was being held. After driving for an hour we realized we were about to pass the bowling alley we go to a lot and discovered our gps wasn’t cooperating. We sorted that out and finally set off towards Ohio.

It’s a pretty nice drive though the mountains and was almost a straight shot from Lancaster to the hotel in Ohio. Once we finally got on the right road, we cruised through with no traffic.

We stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites (Mariott) which was five minutes away from the venue. The entire hotel was filled with bodybuilders so it was fun to walk around and see everyone in various states of tan and glam. The hotel was definitely nice and the rooms were spacious which was great considering how much I had to pack. I also loved that there was a fridge and microwave in the room since I had to pack meal-prepped meals/snacks.

That night my body was like “okay, we’re about to level up”. I got my tan on which was hysterical seeing myself that dark. Then, I couldn’t stop staring at myself. Bodybuilders put the tan on so once you get on stage the lights accentuate the muscles instead of hiding them. I saw muscles I didn’t even know were there and it was such a gratifying feeling and overwhelming in the best way possible. I kept saying that it didn’t feel like real life and how was this person even me? Because I WORKED for it and oh man it felt good.

The Day of the Competition

That morning I got up early and went right into hair and makeup. I’ve been on stage before and done photoshoots for random acting gigs, but I’ve never been fully glammed up for the stage before. I didn’t recognize myself. While I would never normally wear that much makeup or hair extensions, I felt like a rockstar and ridiculously gorgeous. My HMUAs did an incredible job, especially considering they did this in 45 minutes.

Afterwards, I went to meet my trainer for my last layer of tan and some posing practice. Let’s talk about posing. I also had a posing coach, Staci, and there aren’t enough words to describe how amazing she is. She transformed me from a newborn baby giraffe in heels into a confident woman who could do complicated posing routines and walk like a boss. Obviously, I still have a lot more to learn from her, but she makes something that I’m not confident in feel fun and I look forward to our monthly FaceTime sessions. I’m massively lucky to have two incredible coaches in my corner and I think I’ll be thanking them until the end of time.

Backstage was a lot of waiting for the event to start, so I got to know everyone and tried not to sweat my tan off from nerves. I’m one of those people who will tell random friends “oh my goodness I’m going to be awful aren’t I?” and then walk on stage like I own it and just have the best damn time because I know I put in the work. That’s what it was like. I’m also the type of person who wants to compete against everyone when they’re at their best as well. I made it a point to hype everyone up backstage, especially when I noticed they were nervous.

It’s Show Time!

Why yes, I did walk on stage like I owned it. I had so much fun while simultaneously telling myself not to trip and to nail the poses on a loop in my head. I couldn’t stop smiling that day. My cheeks hurt so badly, but I didn’t care because I was finally living that terrifying goal I set for myself and I was killing it. I was prepared. I did the work. I had my coach, boyfriend, and friends in the audience. I felt like a million bucks and wanted everyone to know it.

Pre-judging was quick! We walked on stage with everyone in our class and were compared doing various poses. I competed in Bikini First Time and Open Bikini. Once we were done with pre-judging we hung out back stage and broke for lunch. Later that day we did finals. I got to finally show off my full posing routine. Then it was time for the final judging results.

Guess who got 1st place in both classes she competed in? This girl. Guess who still feels like this isn’t real life and like I’m going to wake up from this incredible dream to realize I haven’t been on stage yet? Also me.

This was truly one of the best experiences of my life. It took an entire village, lots of sweat, tears, mood swings, questioning myself, and trust in myself. It paid off.

The official results were: First Place Bikini First Time. First Place Open Bikini. I ALSO WENT PRO. Is this real life? To make it even better, the trophies were swords. Actual swords.

Post-Show

Our original plan was to find a local restaurant and eat with the team. Unfortunately, everyone was traveling to another competition and we found out our dogs weren’t being taken care of well, so we made the decision to grab takeout and drive back. BUT FIRST, cake.

I had a custom cake made by my neighbor and baker extraordinaire, Cakeology, just for this competition. She made me a chocolate cake with chocolate ganache with raspberries, and Oreo frosting. There aren’t words in any language to describe how good the cake was so, I’ll show you how happy it made me instead.

Yeah, I cut my cake with my 1st place trophy. Don’t even try to say you wouldn’t.

Dinner was a delicious turkey sandwich from a place called Nomz. I wish there was one closer because I really want to try everything on their menu after having that one sandwich.

The Transformation

It took me years to get to where I am now and I’m not about to stop. I loved competing and am planning on doing another one in August in Lancaster. It’s so interesting that people who met me after my weight loss think I’ve always looked this way and think the process was easy. It wasn’t. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I know it’s not for everyone.

I did this to get healthier both mentally and physically and to find something that I could excel at that was mine and only for me. I’m hooked now and can’t wait to see where I go next, but I’ll never forget where I started.

The picture on the left was around 2009 and was the heaviest I’ve ever been at around 160lbs. The picture on the left was stage weight at 112lbs. I lost the weight over a period of 10 years. I also want to point out that I don’t stay at stage weight. It’s been a month and I’ve gained almost 5lbs to even out my hormones and return to normal levels of body fat. I never in a million years would’ve thought I would look this way in my 30s after spending my first 3 decades of life overweight and hating exercise.

The left is my first check in with my coach in 2019 where I had lost weight, but couldn’t push past this point without help. The middle is January 2, 2022 showing my first check in of my first-ever prep. The right is me unable to stop smiling like that because holy shit look what I did.

A Little Advice

Never be afraid to set insane (but achievable) goals for yourself. If your goals don’t scare you, you might not be pushing yourself hard enough. The hard work will suck, but embracing the suck is what makes the end result that much more fulfilling.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. I could only do so much on my own and needed to get out of my head. That’s how I met Kiki and ended up with this incredible experience instead of just seeing other people succeed.

Be nice to yourself. You’ll notice I’m smiling in every one of these pictures no matter where I was on the journey. While I wasn’t happy with how I looked at many points of my life and felt uncomfortable in my own body, I made it a point to find something positive. Yes, I am like every other person on the planet and think mean things about myself from time to time, but overall what’s the point? Go tell yourself you’re amazing, because it’s true.

Snorkeling Tips to Make Your Next Beach Vacation More Fun

Every time you dive, you hope you’ll see something new – some new species. Sometimes the ocean gives you a gift, sometimes it doesn’t.

James Cameron

It’s almost summer and that means it’s time to head to the beach! A friend and I started talking about booking a vacation somewhere warm and then we blinked and we had booked a 3-day cruise to Bimini, Bahamas… Whoops! No regrets here. Just an intense desire for August to be here so we can soak up the sun, take a break from work and life, and just enjoy everything that the Caribbean has to offer.

Snorkeling is one of the best ways to experience undersea life in the crystal clear water the Bahamas are known for. Not everyone wants to scuba dive, especially when you’re on a time crunch like cruises force you to be on. That’s why I wanted to share some tips now about making snorkeling way more fun so you can just enjoy swimming around seeing the underwater life thrive around you.

Snorkeling might seem like the easiest thing on the planet. After all, you’re just breathing through a massive straw. Until you’ve tried it and choked on a drop or accidental gulp of water, you’ll realize it takes some practice to master and some finesse that only comes with practicing. That’s where I’m coming in to help!

As a scuba dive master, I’m certified to teach snorkeling and love helping people discover just how easy it can be. I’ve had my fair share of mishaps as well as incredible experiences to bring you a short and simple list of tips to make the most of your snorkeling adventures. Enjoy!

Get Quality Equipment That Fits

No one likes a leaky mask or that awful feeling of not being able to get enough air into your lungs. Masks and snorkels might seem like one-size fits all kinds of equipment, but you need a good fit to be safe. Masks should be snug, but not so tight where it cuts off circulation and leaves heavy lines on your face. The sides of the mask should also be touching your face, not your eyes. Lots of masks that are too small have the lining pushing up against the crinkles of your eyes and that means it’s too small.

Snorkels come in a few sizes, but should generally be about 12″ long. Any longer and it will be hard to clear, especially if you’ve taken a short dive under the water and don’t have a lot of breath left. Any shorter and you’ll constantly be clearing water out of it.

Learn How to Defog a Mask

You can’t see all of the amazing coral, plants, or sea life if your mask constantly keeps fogging. Luckily there are several ways you can easily defog a mask.

  • Purposefully bring water into your mask and then purge the water. Only do this if you’re comfortable removing water from a mask.
  • Add defog to your mask before diving.
  • Use spit! It’s the free alternative to defog, and it honestly works the best. Another great option is abrasive-free toothpaste. Just rub either on, rise gently and you’re good to go!

Practice Removing Water from Your Mask

Having water in your mask sloshing around isn’t the end of the world, but it’s distracting and sometimes can make people nervous, especially beginners. Practice this in the shallow end of a pool until you’re comfortable. Make sure to keep your breathing even and know that it’s okay if it takes a few tries to get all of the water out.

You’ll be happy you practiced when you’re out enjoying yourself and you can spend 2 seconds getting water out versus several minutes. Once you’ve got it down, you will barely have to think about doing it so you can concentrate on what really matters.

If water consistently keeps getting in your mask, you have a mask that doesn’t fit or a seal may be wonky. Any local dive shop will be able to help fit you with a new one or be able to see what’s going wrong.

Pace Yourself

Most sea life is skittish and if you swim up to a tiny fish like a terrifying predator, they won’t stick around to show off for you. Swim leisurely and try to spot hard-to-see creatures living within the coral or hidden in the sand. You’ll end up seeing way more sea life that way!

Most snorkeling excursions last a while, so it’s important to pace yourself so you aren’t worn out within the first 10 minutes. This will also help prevent cramping and keep you adventuring for longer.

Protect Your Skin

Light reflects off of water making it much easier to get sunburned, especially since you’ll be swimming around for quite some time and potentially spending time on a boat ride to and from the snorkeling destination. Make sure to apply powerful sunscreen before and each time you leave the water to keep your skin safe.

You also lose heat quickly in the water. Even if the outside temperatures are high and the water is warm, you can quickly get cold. Wear a light wetsuit (3mm) or a long-sleeved board shirt to help keep you warm while you’re in the water.

Location Matters

Snorkeling in strong currents is probably not high on your list. If you get seasick easily, you probably want to avoid boat rides and need a location you can access from the shore. Some locations are very shallow and will also trigger seasickness. If you want to see tons of sea life, you might want a location with a thriving reef or a shallow shipwreck that attracts a wide variety of creatures.

Long story short, plan your location so it matches your ability and what you want to see/accomplish. You’ll have a much better time.

Have a Plan and Bring a Buddy

Just like in scuba, you need to have a plan and you really should never snorkel alone. Are you going to be hopping in and out of the water? Will you be doing a little free diving? Where are your entry and exit points in the water? How long will you be out? These are simple questions, but allows you to enjoy yourself while also being safe.

Whether you have someone watching from the boat or shore, it’s important to have someone with you in case you need assistance. You could get a cramp or cut yourself on something, or get stuck in a current. Make sure you have someone there to help if your plan doesn’t go perfectly.

Look, but Please Don’t Touch

Some corals can be damaged or even killed by the oils in human hands, especially if you have sunscreen on. Other animals will go “ooohhhh food!” when they see your waggling fingers coming at them. Tetanus is a worry if you’re snorkeling and grabbing a shipwreck and so many other things can go wrong when we start getting grabby.

As a general rule, look and enjoy everything around you! Just don’t touch it.

Bring Post-Snorkeling Snacks

You’d be surprised just how exhausting and dehydrating a snorkeling day can be. You might not notice you’re sweating, but swimming can get your heart rate up and work up an appetite. Bring snacks like fruit, protein bars, and gatorade to help replenish your system after a fun day in the sun.

Fun Book Shenanigans: A Photo Story

It is both relaxing and invigorating to occasionally set aside the worries of life, seek the company of a friendly book… from the reading of ‘good books’ there comes a richness of life that can be obtained in no other way

Gordon B. Hinckley

A little over a year ago I started a second Instagram page to share my book reviews and to just have fun posting about all things books. I shared the shenanigans I got up to during the pandemic, but I’ve kept it up. Creating fun book posts and pictures is just something I really look forward to.

After traveling all weekend and competing I planned on sharing that, but I don’t have the stage pictures back yet. So, we’re going to take a fun dive into my other hobby: reading! I hope you enjoy these because there will absolutely be more like this coming down the line as I create more.

Sometimes I Keep It Simple

A book stack here, a few bookmarks there, or a fun background is sometimes just as fun as the complicated pictures I love to take.

Sometimes I Make Entire Scenes Based On a Book’s Plot

Other Times I Try to Support Local Businesses I Love

It’s always a good time to try to pair books and random objects especially when they are amazing pieces like this doormat or delicious food from our favorite bakery in town(Wish You Well).

Most of the Time I Have a LOT of Help from Mickey…

And Mew Mew…

And Atlas

Sometimes I Take My Books Out Into the Wild

Other Days I’ve Clearly Got Food/Beverages On the Brain

There Are Days When I Go a Little Bit Extra… Just a Little…

Clearly, I Just Love Books a Ridiculous Amount

Feel free to follow along in real time on Instagram @curious_artifact_lancaster

Spring Into Adventure Bingo

Live in the sunshine. Swim in the sea. Drink in the wild air.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s finally spring! Then Pennsylvania weather laughed and said “hold my beer” and it went back to winter. Then it was SPRING again! Now it’s spring only if you stand in the sunshine, fall if you stand in the shade, and winter at night and in the early morning. This is pretty normal weather here, but it makes me want to run around in the sunshine, pretend I’m warm, and have an adventure…even if that means I’m wearing a winter jacket one hour and shorts the next.

In the spirit of adventure, I wanted to create a bingo board to help jumpstart your spring adventures locally. These are all fun activities and I did try to have as many options as possible for every type of traveler. So go! Get out of the house! Frolic! Do all the fun spring things.

Feel free to download the bingo board to print (it’s free!) or just pull up this page on your phone if that’s more your style.

Upcoming Spring Adventures

  • I’m going to Ohio next weekend to compete in my very first bikini bodybuilding competition. I won’t see much, but I will absolutely try to do as much as I can during the limited time I’ll have to explore.
  • Wedding season is here and we have a few we get to travel for, so be on the lookout for our mini road trip adventure updates.
  • We’re planning a trip to Mexico this year, so I’ll probably end up creating language sheets, post about tips for traveling/packing, and how to find fun things to do when traveling!

Sweet and Savory Dishes to Make If You Miss Traveling to Europe

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you – it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind

Anthony Bourdain

Bodybuilding bikini competition prep makes you very hungry. I’m channeling my hunger this week into delicious meals and desserts for you to enjoy. I’ll be drooling over the pictures and counting down the days until I can eat all of these things.

I haven’t been able to do much travel because of work, the pandemic still being a bit all over the place, and time BUT nothing says we can’t bring the travel to us when we need to. Food is one of the best ways to do that. I hope you love these recipes and have the best travel-inspired meals because of them!

These recipes will take your taste buds all over Europe in a delicious tour of culinary yumminess.

England: Fish & Chips and Rhubarb Crumble

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Great British Bake Off you’ll know the British love rhubarb. I’ve actually never tried it despite living there for over a year… oops. I can say that the fish & chips there is unparalleled and is basically a rite of passage for anyone who visits.

Don’t have a conventional fryer? I don’t either. However, if you don’t have an air fryer… you’re missing out. Plus frying fish (and chips!) in an air fryer will be MUCH healthier and crisped to perfection. Here’s a great recipe for fish and chips that I’ve been wanting to try.

Dessert is the best part of a meal. If you’ve never tried this vegetable (*GASP* a vegetable in a dessert!?), especially in something as delicious as a crumble, well if it’s good enough for Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, it has to be good. Check out this rhubarb crumble recipe!

France: Ratatouille and Pain au Chocolat

French food varies massively depending on the region you find yourself in, but I had to choose two of my favorite dishes, ratatouille and of course chocolate croissants. Neither of these dishes are quite the same outside of France, but they are both so much fun to make and eat no matter where you are in the world.

Ratatouille is originally from Nice which is my favorite French city. It’s a vegetable stew dish that is both hearty and healthy at the same time and explodes with flavor. It’s also super simple to make at home since you just need veggies and herbs to make it. I’ve only tried this once, but I loved this recipe.

Pain au chocolat is not easy to make. Get the butter and folds wrong and it won’t have that phenomenal buttery, flaky texture that the French have mastered beyond perfection. Only in France have I ever had a perfect chocolate croissant. This recipe was super fun to try though and I love that the blogger used chocolate batons that make them so special and gave an alternative since they are so hard to find.

Germany: Bratwurst and Black Forest Cake

Germany is on my list to visit and one of the reasons is the food. Not going to lie I hate sauerkraut so that wasn’t going to make it onto my list. However, bratwurst and Black Forest cake are both delicious, so hopefully you can forgive my sauerkraut hating ways.

Did you know Germany has over 42 recognized varieties of bratwurst? If you’re missing Germany, get yourself the ingredients in this recipe and cook up a delicious meal. I even found you a recipe that cooks them in beer because what could be more German and German food AND beer in one recipe?

The largest Black Forest Cake ever made was over 6,500 pounds. Now that is my kind of cake. Layers of chocolate sponge cake, cherry liquor, whipped cream filling and fresh fruit on top? Cue the drooling and tummy rumbling. I’ve been eyeballing this recipe for a while now and can’t wait to try it when my competition is over!

Spain: Paella and Flan

I absolutely adored everything about the food in Spain. Barcelona is the only city I’ve had a chance to visit so far, but we ate our way around the city and my tastebuds cried when we left. Spain makes it easy to try so many different foods as you can get a ton of tapas and try a little bit of everything each meal.

Paella originated in Valencia, and because it tastes so damn good it has become one of the most popular dishes in the country. If you want to eat a truly authentic paella it can only have 10 ingredients and they are: short grain rice, chicken, rabbit, water, tomatoes, wide green beans, garrofó beans, saffron, olive oil, and salt. Any substitutions and it’s not a paella valenciana. Since you’re cooking at home, add whatever you want to the recipe to personalize it!

The idea of flan actually came from the Romans, but Spain is the epicenter for flan nowadays. Flan is one of those recipes where you almost always have the ingredients (there’s only 3-4), it’s super simple to make, and you can personalize it with lots of fun ingredients like caramel or cinnamon. Check out this recipe for a step by step guide to making your own.

Denmark: Smørrebrød and Kanelsnegle

I have a genuine addiction to sandwiches. I could eat them all day every day if I could. While I fully plan on heading back to explore more of Scandinavia, the only place I went was Denmark. Yes, I got a sandwich.

Smørrebrød is a Danish open-faced sandwich with endless possibilities for toppings. it originated in the 19th century as an inexpensive and portable lunch option for workers. They would often pile leftovers on top of bread and enjoy them on their breaks. The bread remains the same but the toppings and which ones pair best together and how they are layered makes this sandwich different from others. I’ll let you decide whether you want to make a traditional one with lots of rules or freestyle it with this recipe or your own creation!

Danish cinnamon buns to the rescue! Seriously, if a cinnamon bun can rescue something we need more disasters like that. These are not your average cinnamon bun; they’re better. Instead of an explosion of just sweet in your mouth, the Danish like to balance it with spice so it’s a much more elevated and even yummier experience. Try this recipe out to revolutionize how you make cinnamon buns!

Hungary: Goulash and Dobos Torta

When we were in Budapest we stumbled across a restaurant while talking about what we wanted to dinner. They had a special going for a full course meal featuring goulash. After having walked 10 miles that day it sounded like the perfect meal. To this day (almost 7 years later) we still talk about that goulash.

Goulash gained popularity in the 17th century in Hungary, but may have originated well before that. The name comes from the word ‘gulyas’ which means herdsmen. The dish started out as a hearty stew made by shepherds and then turned into a country-wide and global phenomenon as more and more people tasted it. It’s a simple dish to whip up and there are so many ways you can customize it to your liking. We had a pasta variety, but there are no wrong ways to enjoy this dish

Layer cakes are amazing. Thin layers of cake and lots of buttercream or filling. It’s heaven and so is a dobos torta. Typically there are 6 layers of sponge cake with a layer of chocolate buttercream between each and surrounding the entire cake. A layer of caramel sits on top and crushed hazelnuts adorn the sides. It might look simple from the outside, but when you cut the cake to reveal a slice with perfectly proportioned layers, it is magical.

Italy: Ravioli and Tiramisu

Is there any other cuisine more beloved around the world than Italian food? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a crowd pleaser. It’s filling. There’s so many variations. IT’S FREAKING SCRUMPTIOUS. Without further ado, Italian food is served.

Ravioli dates back to at least the 14th century. If something as simple as two square pieces of pasta squished together and filled with basically whatever food you can imagine has been enjoyed for over 600 years, you know it’s worth making. It’s also really fun and relatively easy to make. Choose your favorite fillings and make it a feast!

If you need a pick-me-up dessert, Italy’s Tiramisu dessert will immediately transport you to Italy with taste alone. It’s indulgent and can be made in cake form or even in a pudding-like concoction in a bowl. The dessert features ladyfinger cookies, espresso, marscapone, wine, and a few other ingredients that add to the bold flavors and richness of the dessert. Whip this up when you need to be caffeinated and need dessert fit for a queen.