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This is the first time I’m reflecting on everything, so forgive me if my thoughts are jumbled.

When I was home during this last Christmas break, my dad complained of stomach problems. Nothing really out of the ordinary – he was spending a bit more time sleeping and we made fun of him for being in the bathroom for so long.

On December 30th, my stepmom Jen decided he needed to see his doctor after there was blood in his stool. They found nothing wrong, but decided to hold him for a colonoscopy just to be safe. I flew out to Seattle to spend the rest of my break with my sister, brother, and former stepmother Kathy. I was crying as I left the hospital for the airport because I hate hospitals and my anxious nature makes me think the worst of all situations. I waited nervously for updates in Seattle.

My dad texted me on New Year’s Eve while Kathy was at the grocery store. He told me he loved me, which freaked me out (he’s not the most affectionate man). He asked me if I was by myself, which freaked me out even more. I told him he was scaring me. Jen then texted me saying he was falling asleep because of the painkillers. She said she didn’t want to call me until someone was with me. At this point I was expecting the worst so I demanded that she call me.

Jen told me that they had found a large cancerous tumor on my dad’s colon and they would have to remove it by emergency surgery. At this I completely broke down. I asked dumb questions like What could have caused this? Jen told me that they didn’t know much at that time and to just be patient and pray.

When I called Kathy I could barely get out any words between my sobs. She immediately came home and rubbed my back while I cried. We spent New Year’s Eve watching Harry Potter and eating ice cream.

I was happy to be with my siblings when I found out the most devastating news I’ve ever received, but I wish I had been with my dad. I regret not trusting my instincts to stay in Kansas City until he was out of the hospital. Though considering my panic attack reaction when I did find out, I might not have been very helpful. On my flight home to DC I paid for wifi and spent hours browsing cancer message boards. I also wanted to be able to talk to my mom in case I started feeling panicked again.

I wanted to come home immediately to help out. Everyone told me this was not the best idea – I needed to finish my AmeriCorps year in DC, finish my lease, receive my education stipend, etc. To me, none of that mattered. Since I lost my dearest aunt of a sudden heart attack in 2012, I have vowed to spend as much time as possible with family. I will always regret not coming home immediately and having more time with him.

My dad’s surgery went extremely well, but unfortunately there were still many tumors on his liver. He has been having chemo treatments since January and the tumors have shrank in half. During the last week of July he will have another CT scan to reevaluate.

I decided to move home as soon as my service term ended. I am beginning grad school in the fall and looking for full-time work so that I can move out on my own. There are still some things that will take a while to get used to, such as my dad’s extreme sensitivity to cold and having to be careful when I hug him because I don’t want to hurt the port on his chest. I am not quite ready to take him to treatment yet but hopefully I can help out with that soon, as Jen has to miss work every other week to do that and I want to be able to help more.

I am hoping to start seeing a therapist soon because as you can imagine, this has exacerbated my anxiety to the extreme. I am constantly worried about him and I can’t stop thinking about what would happen if he were gone. I wake up crying uncontrollably in the middle of the night. My dad is the most important person in my life and I never, ever thought that I would lose him. I’m looking for any tips and suggestions about living through this and how I can best support him and my stepmom when I’m falling apart myself.

Thanks for listening,

Aly

Ups and Downs of Dating in DC

Hello, lovelies!

Once again I come to you shamefully, having neglected my blog for months again. Quick life update: after finishing up my first year of service in San Antonio, I decided to serve another year with the same program in Washington, D.C. This time I am working in an office, planning and organizing service projects in public schools and non-profits. Much more up my alley!

Since I am yet again in a new city, I have begrudgingly returned to that flighty mistress OkCupid. It didn’t work for me at all in Texas, but I thought the nation’s capital might have more to offer.

I was proven wrong.

So far I have only been on two dates, and they have both been pretty terrible. It’s worth noting that even though these men are in their early 30s, they were both still incredibly immature. I also set up one that I thought would be awesome, but he backed out the day before.

Regarding the first date – he did the following:

  • sent me inappropriate and unsolicited pictures hours before our date,
  • complained that the coffee shop he had picked out was too far away from him,
  • and had to run off after only 15 minutes.

Turns out he is my coworker’s landlord. DC is much smaller than I thought. 

Second date was alright. He ended up being more handsome in his pictures than he was in real life, which I know is pretty superficial of me, but I mean… Don’t falsely advertise just to get dates. Not cool.

He also had no other ideas for a first date than to go to his house and watch Netflix. Because I thought he would be much cuter than he actually was, I naively agreed. I took all the proper precautions that women my age are taught: carrying pepper spray with me, notifying my friend of my location, etc. Luckily nothing bad happened except for him sneaking his hand up my thigh multiple times even though I was basically falling off the couch trying to get away from him.

I will be shaking off the ickies from that experience and trying again next weekend, and updating my adventures here for anyone interested in observing or commiserating.

Anyone else living in DC and trying the online thing – got any advice? Places to try? Places to avoid? Help a sister out.

Until next time,

Aly

Influenster Review – XO Vox Box!

I have been a member of the Influenster community for awhile now, and have received a lot of awesome products, but this box I got in February has to be the best one yet.

Here’s what I got:

So many goodies!

So many goodies!

Inside the box were several coupon-type items as well as physical products. I have ranked them in order of my favorite.
  1. Adore Me:  Free box from Adore Me (ordered separately from the box), a service that sends you bras, underwear, pajamas, etc every month. I cancelled my subscription because I can’t afford to spend that much money on bras. I selected the beautiful Gisela set for my free box, and have been very happy with it! They even have sizes for bigger girls, which I was so happy about! Mine was worth $39.95.
  2. Colgate Optic White Toothbrush + Built-in Whitening Pen ($14.99) and Express White Toothpaste ($3.99 & up):  The toothbrush includes a whitening pen that slides into it. I have used Optic White before and really noticed a difference. I have been using the toothbrush and pen for about 3 weeks now and can definitely see an improvement in my teeth!
  3. Tide Pods Plus Febreze:  ($4.99 & up) These. Are. Awesome! They make my laundry smell sooooo good and they are so much easier than detergent. Much cleaner and easier to transport to the laundromat. I will be buying more when I run out soon.
  4. SkinFix Hand Repair Cream:  ($10 for 1 oz.)  You can never have too much lotion! This one has a nice scent and is very thick, great for winter dryness. Nothing too special.
  5. John Frieda Frizz Ease Beyond Smooth Collection: ($9.99)  I I haven’t used these yet, but John Freida is a great brand. I will probably gift these to my little sister when she visits, because she can sometimes have First Year Hermione hair for real.
  6. eBay Guides Campaign:  A certificate for $25 on eBay but you have to write a guide, which I did not do.
  7. Lands’ End: $25 off $100 at Lands End, which I never shop at and would never spend $100 at.

All in all, this box was great! I can’t wait to see what else Influenster has up their sleeve. 🙂

**Disclaimer: I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.**

A (Surprisingly) Great Shopping Experience

Do you ever have an experience at a store that completely changes how you’ve always felt about it? I had one of those today, and I am still smiling from it!

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I have never really liked Victoria’s Secret, except for their body wash and perfumes. Growing up watching their fashion shows on TV only made me self-conscious and, being a bit larger size than their target woman, I never thought I could fit in their clothes. However, in college, I discovered their cute underwear when they were having an awesome sale and have picked up quite a lot of it over the years. I have also purchased the occasional pair of sweatpants and even own a pair of houseshoes from them. When I was at the mall today, I saw they were having a sale and moseyed on over to the sale bins. My bras are falling apart and literally have holes in them. To my huge surprise, I saw a bra that was actually close to my size! I was thrilled. I didn’t even know they carried it – I usually have to get my bras from the old lady store and they are never cute or sexy.

While I was searching for more of their bras that might fit me, an older associate approached me and asked if I needed help. Now, for some reason, this has never EVER happened to me at VS. I’ve never had one of the tanned, usually blonde, thin girls with a face full of makeup offer to help me before. Perhaps it’s because I’m usually trying to get out of there as quickly as possible while avoiding the awkward glances of boyfriends and husbands who are also trying to escape. Anyway, I sheepishly told Nora my size and she showed me all of the different styles and colors, in the very bottom drawers. She also snuck me a coupon for $15 off any bra, which she told me she wasn’t supposed to do, and filled out a card with my preferences so I could remember what I liked and didn’t like. I was so happy!

I made my way into their luxurious fitting rooms and braced myself for the usual disappointment that comes when bra shopping. I was pleasantly surprised yet again – they all fit wonderfully! I did a little happy dance in my fitting room to the trendy, upbeat music playing. When checking out, I told the associate how surprised and happy I was to find my size and she shared my enthusiasm. I was able to score 3 adorable bras for about the same price that I usually spend on 2 boring bras. I also qualified for their free tote bag with purchase, which will definitely come in handy.

After today I can happily say that I am a very pleased customer of Victoria’s Secret. I encourage everyone reading this who thinks they can’t find anything there to give it a try! Don’t be scared. It’s actually a pretty fun place, especially when there are sales happening!

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Guardian VoxBox Review

Hello friends!

My apologies for not posting in such a long time – I have been so so so busy with my new job. My days are long, the work is very difficult, and I’m still learning how to handle this new company and its culture. However, the work is extremely rewarding! Look for a blog post detailing it all coming soon 🙂

Anyway, I was so excited to receive another Influenster Voxbox last month! After taking a short survey about insect repellent, I was sent the Guardian Wilderness 8 Hour Mosquito and Insect Repellent. Since I don’t often visit the wilderness very often (I live downtown) I didn’t really use it for awhile. However, at my school, we have a bit of a mosquito problem. Especially near the bus stop I use. And especially when I don’t wear socks with my shoes. Mosquito bites anywhere are terrible, but they are almost unbearable on your feet. So one day last week, I sprayed my feet a few times before heading to school.

 

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I’m happy to say that Guardian worked like a charm! I highly recommend this product.

Here’s what I liked most about this product:

  • The smell. I was surprised to find that it smells sweet without being too overpowering.
  • The spray bottle is the perfect size to fit in your hand – not too bulky.
  • It lasted all day. I didn’t need to reapply after being outside almost 8 hours.
  • It’s DEET free! While DEET is not an official health concern, I don’t like using those types of chemicals on my body.

I am excited to use this product during my company’s outdoor service project a few weekends from now.

Thank you to Guardian and Influenster for this awesome product!

 

 

 

Note: I received this product complimentary for testing purposes from Influenster.

Where Have I Been?

My deepest apologies for the hiatus! I am wracked with guilt.

However, I have exciting news – I am moving to San Antonio, Texas THIS FRIDAY!!!

I am starting a year of service with City Year, an AmeriCorps program that places young adults in low-income schools to assist teachers with aiding in our nation’s dropout crisis. Education inequality is an issue I hold very closely, as I grew up in the public school system and saw a lot of problems within it. I also grew more interested in this area after interning at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington DC for a semester in 2012. This program is similar to Teach for America, but I will be helping a teacher in a classroom and with after-school programs instead of having my own classroom, which I am a lot more comfortable with.

AmeriCorps is an amazing opportunity for people my age, and a seriously underused source. They pay you a monthly stipend to help pay for lodging and food, provide you with loan deferment, and pay you an education award that can be used for grad school or paying off loans once you complete a year. Also, they have relationships with grad schools to help CY alums get more scholarships.

Besides all of these obvious reasons, this is also an amazing chance for me to meet other people my age who are also passionate about helping people. I am really excited for the opportunity to be apart of a diverse community. After taking a year off, I am itching for a new adventure.

From here on out, this blog will continue to be a random hodge-podge of topics, but I will also be documenting my time with City Year – pictures, reflections, and much more!

Wish me luck on this new part of my journey – I know it’s going to be great!

Favorite Beauty Brands: Benefit Cosmetics

Everyone in the world loves free stuff. Especially me. Especially free makeup.

I also love when a brand is interactive with its customers and fans on social media. These two came together beautifully a few weeks ago when San Francisco-based Benefit Cosmetics hosted a competition on their Twitter feed. The prize? A sample size of their new “They’re Real! Liner” (which is not yet in stores) and a full size of their ever-popular “They’re Real! Mascara”. The competition was simple: tweet about your “#linercrimes”, or times when eyeliner had given you a headache.

I recently started exploring the field of winged eyeliner. It’s an easy way to make your eyes pop without being too dramatic. A thousand YouTube tutorials, several different types of products, and many, many Q-Tips dipped in eye makeup remover later, I am pretty darn close to nailing it. I also have plenty of #linercrimes to share, including the troubles I have with one eye being perfect and the other being a disaster. I shared a couple of funny pictures as well. To my surprise, I had hundreds of favorites and retweets. I felt like a celebrity for a hot minute. Benefit picked 5 lucky Tweeters each day and I was one of them! I was delighted.

I anxiously awaited my delivery. I saw lots of beauty bloggers reviewing the new eyeliner and I couldn’t wait to get my greedy little hands on it. Yesterday, the package came in the mail via FedEx. I ripped it open like a kid on Christmas. Having never ordered directly from Benefit, I was happily surprised by the cute wrapping.

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The mascara is already one of my standby products, after receiving a sample size from Sephora for my birthday gift. I used it up until it was dry. At $23, I was ecstatic to receive the full size as a gift.  The brush is revolutionary and unique, covering all of my pitiful lashes and making them beautiful without being too thick.

The eyeliner is also very unique. I received a sample size, and I’m hoping it lasts me awhile. It has a rubbery, flexible, angled tip and the black gel product comes up with a few clicks. I was worried when it wouldn’t come up at first, but finally it started working. It does dry rather quickly, so you have to work fast with the application. It wasn’t necessarily any easier than using a small angled brush to apply liner, but I did like being able to cover the lash line from several different angles. I’ve also read that it lasts a long time throughout the day, so we’ll see if it lasts me through work tonight.

I probably won’t be purchasing the full size of the eyeliner just yet, as I want to see how long it takes to get adjusted to. It is definitely an amazing product and I am so thankful to Benefit for the chance to try it out! I already loved this brand, and now they are my favorite.

Here’s my look below! I don’t have any kind of professional equipment or lighting, and I hate posting selfies, so bear with me here. I used Too Faced Natural Eyes Palette, Tarte Brow Architect on my brows, Benefit’s Dandelion blush on my cheeks, and BeneTint plus Butter London “Rosie Lee” gloss on my lips. My foundation is Clinique’s Acne Solutions in Fresh Alabaster, I contoured a bit with Mary Kay’s light to medium bronzing powder, and I finished with Mary Kay’s Translucent Loose Powder.

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Close up of the eyes – you can see how closely the liner gets to the lash line.

Amazing! Go check out this great liner. Thanks again, Benefit!

 

 

**Disclaimer – I received these complimentary Benefit They’re Real! products as part of a contest by Benefit Cosmetics.

All opinions are my own.**

8 Reasons to Love Travelling With a Tour Group

I loved my trip with Cosmos! It was so much fun and I met some amazing people from all over the world. I definitely recommend trying traveling with a large group!

Miss Voyager

I find a lot of travelers have a stigma against tour groups such as Contiki/G Adventures/Trafalgar etc. When I worked at a travel agency, I found a lot of the time if I suggested a tour to people they would shut down the idea with excuses like “I don’t want to be stuck with a large group of people” or “I don’t want to be on a tight strict schedule”. While these may be good reasons, there are also a ton of good reasons that a tour is actually a really good idea.

1/ It can be less expensive.
A lot of people look at the cost of the tour in a brochure and assume it is too expensive. In a lot of cases it is actually cheaper to do a tour, as tour companies negotiate contracts with accommodations/excursion companies etc to get a really good discount. Also a lot…

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The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

As someone who prides herself on her chocolate chip cookies, I am not one to alter my own tried and true recipe. But last week, after having taken a bit of a hiatus from baking, I tried a new recipe and my family definitely noticed. They were too fluffy, and had way too many chocolate chips. So I set out to do some research and came upon this one. She uses my family’s method of half Crisco and half butter, as well as refrigerating the dough and a few other changes. 

The verdict?

 

It worked really well for me! My family loved them. The cookies have a beautiful look to them, crinkly without being too ragged. I like mine a little undercooked, but my dad wanted them a bit crunchier and they tasted great cooked longer as well. I will definitely be using this recipe from now on!