The Golden Temple [Doi Suthep]

 

Although we loved Old Town and could hang out there forever, we decided to see more than the inside of every juice bar in Chiang Mai. So we hired a car and driver to take us up into the mountains to see the famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the Royal Gardens, and a hill tribe village. We met our driver early in the morning and began the steady climb up Doi Suthep mountain. After, we pulled off the road and arrived at a stunning vista overlooking the city. The air was blessedly cool and the view was spectacular. It felt good to be away from the bustling city and we were happy to be there.

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We hopped back in the car, unaware of the golden splendor awaiting us at the top. Once we arrived at the base of the temple, we rode the tram up to the top, unaware that we could take the long staircase for free. Oh well! Soon we walked up to the magnificent temple and slowly removed our shoes while gazing up in awe of the ornate structure before us.

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Is this inappropriate?

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We walked through the entrance way and were confronted with a golden chedi in the middle of a courtyard. This place has some serious bling! But my favorite were the bells hanging down from the roofs surrounding the entire chedi.

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So much gold, so little time.

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We wandered around for a long time, discovering something new and exciting in every nook and cranny. It was so beautiful and so fabulous. We stayed here for a long time, observing some monks and Chinese tourists in prayer.

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I think the pictures speak for themselves. Photo credits also go to Carina who took my camera for a spin and captured some beautiful shots. We were both pretty obsessed with the eye candy as you can probably see.

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The staircase that we did not climb!

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Eventually we left the confines of the golden courtyard and discovered the open terrace with views over the city. However, we couldn’t see much because a delicious fog had rolled in over the mountain. We shivered in the cold air while exploring the amusing gardens in the vicinity. How could you not love these funny little statues?

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Soon it was time to put on our shoes and leave this magical place. Thankfully this dog took special care of our shoes while we moseyed around.

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We took the tram back down (we had purchased round trip tickets after all) and located our driver who whisked us away towards our next destination. A great start to a great day!

Postcards from Thailand… Hi mom!

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Shanghai Spring [it's a beautiful thing]

 

 

As you have probably heard, Shanghai is a very large and very polluted city. Each time I have lived in China, the weather has been either crazy hot or very cold and damp. There is also a constant haze that blots out the sun and burns your eyes. This is the China I know.

Well, this fascinating city never ceases to surprise me. When I arrived this weekend, I was astounded to see blue skies and feel a cool and pleasant breeze through my light jacket. The weather was absolutely perfect. We are lucky now to live in a quiet neighborhood of apartment buildings surrounded by small paths winding through grass, trees and small ponds teeming with tadpoles. So far I have spent a lot of time strolling across the grounds, marveling at the incredible flowers in bloom. Shanghai is truly magical in the springtime. Take a look. 

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Do you see what I see? Our neighborhood is full of stray cats that patrol the grounds and feast on bowls of food left outside by friendly neighbors. The cat below has stunning green eyes and is quite friendly with the black cat that hangs out by our building.

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Amazing right? Although the haze has settled back in this week, the flowers are still in full bloom and the air is perfectly warm during the day and cool at night. I am going to soak in this weather as long as I can before the heat of summer takes over. March-April is truly the best time of year to be in Shanghai.

When I am not strolling around and smelling the roses, I am eating! Peter and I found this great dumpling place down the street and already have plans to return asap. On Sunday we feasted on steaming bowls of noodles and bean curd in beef broth and a dozen soup-filled dumpling, a Shanghai delicacy called xiaolongbao. Learn more about xiaolongbao here.

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Last night we met our friends at the Shanghai Mercedez-Benz Arena for the Lionel Richie concert! The stadium looks like a spaceship and is located next to the expo. I didn’t know much about Lionel Richie music going in but soon realized that I know and love most of his songs! He played all his greatest hits including Brick House and had everybody dancing in their seats (and on the ceiling)! We had a lot of fun, except for the fact that I sat next to this Chinese guy who RECORDED THE ENTIRE CONCERT ON HIS IPAD. His flippin’ Ipad! It was so hilarious and yet so terribly obnoxious. It didn’t take away from the show but it was ridiculous!

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The subway ride to and from the concert was really long but we kept ourselves entertained. Overall we had a great time at the Lionel Richie concert. We’re big fans.

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That’s all there is to say in this little Shanghai update. Things are good. Next up, Thailand!

Exploring the many markets of Chiang Mai

It seems only fitting that I am posting these photos from Chiang Mai just a few days before I return to this incredible city! Looking back over these photos just makes me more excited! I cannot wait to participate in the Songkran festival and feel warm again. Yes, I am back in Shanghai and it feels… familiar and different all at once. Or maybe feeling different is what is familiar. But anyways, I am back in China and excited to travel back to Thailand this weekend.

Until then, here are more photos from my trip to Chiang Mai last year. One day we visited all the markets the city has to offer, including the flower market and the famous Sunday night market. It all started in Chinatown, like always.

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Of course we found a Chinese temple which is always comforting to see. But before that we purchased the infamous Thailand tank tops donned by most foreigners with special phrases like “Same same but different” emblazoned on thin cotton. Although we felt ridiculous dressing like every other foreigner in town, we certainly felt cooler in the simmering heat of the streets.

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Next to the temple we found the flower market, full of wilting blooms and… rats? Yes, I definitely saw a rat scurrying in the back stalls. I guess all creatures can appreciate the beauty of the flowers.

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As we walked, flower stalls turned into fruit and vegetable stalls which led us to an indoor market selling everything from cloth to pirated DVDs. A lady coerced me into buying an absurd amount of dried fruit which was annoying but fine. We would probably eat it all anyways. We also purchased bottles of water which we sipped with brightly colored straws. Everything tastes better through brightly colored straws.

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As the day wore on, we make our way back to the center of town for the start of the Sunday Market Walking Street. We were amazed to see the main streets blocked off to traffic and bustling with vendors and their makeshift tents. There was so much to see and we set out with the mission to purchase all our gifts for family and friends. We were successful but eventually exhausted from the walking and haggling.

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As the sky turned dark, we were almost pleased to hear thunder, signaling an incoming storm. It was time to seek shelter in a bar and drink Chang Beer! Chang Beer is absolutely delicious and a must-drink in Thailand. Trust me. As soon as the rain stopped we headed back into the night, more than ready to return to our guesthouse and leave the bustling streets to the other tourists.

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All of the markets in Chiang Mai are incredible and a great way to explore the city. We discovered some new parts of town and found some fun gifts for our family. Don’t forget the Chang beer, another highlight of the day. Another great day in Thailand!

Wanderlust and My 2014 Travel Plans

Do you know what happens after living in the United States for 7 months straight?

Restlessness. Wanderlust. Crazy travel plans.

Yup. This is going to be another big year for travel. And you know why? Because why not? And with our impending wedding in April 2015, I am trying to shove as much travel in before life gets in the way. Hopefully our lives will not change too drastically as a married couple, but why not take advantage of the opportunity now?

Here are my tentative travel plans for 2014!

April- China and Thailand

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Yes everybody. I am headed back to Shanghai! Peter has been working there for a month now and I have been patiently waiting for him to get a residency permit so I could apply for a visa! Well he still doesn’t have his permit so I applied for my visa this week using our Malaysian friend’s work visa information to apply. This has been a month-long nightmare that for now I must sit and wait out. My plane to Shanghai leaves Friday, April 4th so we shall see if I am on board or not!

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We are also taking a weekend trip to Chiang Mai! Peter and I are meeting up with some of our friends from Singapore for the Songkran Festival on April 13-15th. It is their new year celebration also known as a huge water fight with people chucking buckets of water at one another or with water guns. A chance to return to one of my favorite cities in the world for a huge water festival? Count me in!

May- Florida and Maine

In early May, I fly back to Florida for some wedding planning and to get my wedding dress fitted! Peter and I also plan on registering and finalizing major vendors. Oh boy.

For my birthday weekend I am flying up to Maine for a college roomie reunion! I haven’t been back to Maine in probably 4 years (wow). Two of my bridesmaids and I are staying in a cabin on a lake and I am so excited! We also might do some bridesmaid dress shopping. It is going to be marvelous!

Then I am back in Florida for a Memorial Day weekend wedding that Peter is in. My friend and I are singing the song for the bride and groom’s First Dance so I need to start practicing! Yikes.

June- Ireland, London and France

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Carina and I had so much fun on our Southeast Asia adventure that we are planning another big trip! Our plan is to fly to Dublin and spend time in Ireland (one of my dream locations!), make our way to London to explore the city and surrounding areas, and then fly to Brest, France where her sister is living. We are then going to spend a few days driving around France. No big deal.

Omg!!! So excited! Planning this will definitely take some time but we are up for the challenge.

July- Florida and Utah

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After Europe, I will return to Florida and finish up more wedding planning and possibly go to Park City, Utah with my family. My parents are renting a place there for a month and there is no reason why I should not go!

August-December- China, New Zealand, Florida and Canada (Hawaii and Italy?)

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Source

In August, I will head back to Shanghai to be with Peter. We are planning a trip to New Zealand which is at the top of my travel dream list. Peter will be working in Auckland but I hope to explore the surrounding areas. We are going before he meets up with his guy friends for a 2 week bachelor party trip. They will be driving through New Zealand and hitting up the major Lord of the Rings locations. I am very jealous.

For the holidays we will most likely be home in Florida. However, Peter’s parents live in Hawaii and Italy so we might go visit one of them. Also, Peter won a weekend trip to Vancouver so we will either go at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year. I have never been to British Columbia and am really excited.

Like I said, 2014 is a big year for travel. 

It is also a big year for wedding planning and preparing for my life together with Peter as man and wife.

It’s going to be a great prelude to an even greater 2015. Let’s do this!

Riding Elephants in Chiang Mai

I have always loved elephants. As a child, I remember being completely fascinated by their enormous size and gentleness which at the time seemed contradictory. I rode my first elephant at the Renaissance Festival in Tampa, which makes me sad thinking back to the conditions of the animals. They were stuck in a circular pen, forced to walk in circles with tourists riding a bulky seating platform on their back.

In Thailand, elephant riding is a tourist must-do and the conditions of the elephants are poor at best in most places. So I did my research, knowing that I wanted to ride an elephant but in a way that was ethical. Enter Baan Chang Elephant Park. The park is about a 45-minute drive from Chiang Mai Old Town and provides a home for exploited and abused elephants. To manage the cost of care, visitors come to learn how to be an elephant trainer, or mahout, for the day and are able to ride elephants bareback. This seemed like a good-enough policy to me, even if this makes me a terrible tourist. However, you do what you can.

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Carina and I woke up brutally early in the morning, sleepy but excited. After waiting for our driver at the wrong location for half an hour, we eventually found him with the rest of our group who had been waiting for us! Whoops. We boarded our bus full of other tourists from Switzerland, France, and Scotland and made our way out of the city at break-neck speeds. About 45 minutes later we arrived in a forested area at the base of a hill which opened up to reveal a grassy field of ambling elephants. “Look! Elephants!” we all whispered to each other in hushed tones of excitement.

Our bus pulled up to a large open-air metal roof with picnic tables full of other tourists in matching faded blue smocks. We sat at table as our guide began to talk about the park and our itinerary for the day. We nervously sized up the other tourists and slathered sunscreen onto our faces and exposed limbs. It was going to be another hot and sunny day. We were handed our very own blue shirts and shorts and directed to a small room to change. Carina and I made friends with a Swiss girl who immediately stripped down to her birthday suite while chatting with us amicably. Americans really are prude!

As soon as we were all dressed, our guide led us to a dirt area full of elephants just waiting to be fed!

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I immediately noticed that the elephants had their ankle chained to ground which made me a little uncomfortable. But then we dug into bushels of sugar cane and bananas and I felt a little better knowing that we would be feeding these animals in a safe and spread out fashion. All of the elephants at the front refused to let us pass so we obliged by putting food into their outstretched trunks. Eventually we snuck past the selfish front line to feed the elephants at the back.

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Some of the elephants were so lazy that they lifted their trunks and opened their mouths, just waiting for you to drop food into their mouths. Well played!

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Triple fisting!

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We fed them every last banana and touched their rough trunks with affection and wonder. How could anyone mistreat these incredible creatures? One look into their gentle eyes and I was a goner.

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Once the feeding was over, we walked over to an enclosed arena a few trees. On the way, mahouts played with their elephants, rolling in the dirt or hopping on their trunks to be lifted onto their backs. Many of the mahouts have been with their elephants since they arrived at the park and their relationship is fascinating to watch.

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In the arena, we had a rundown of how to ride an elephant bareback and as well as how to say the basic commands of Stop, Go, Left, Right, Up, and Down in Thai. After this quick lesson, it was time for each of us to mount an elephant! Using the command for Down, the elephant knelt, allowing us to grab his ears and scramble onto his neck before he lumbered to his feet.

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While Carina was up on his back, this sly young male elephant picked up her flip flops which she had left on the ground! He then reached forward and presented her shoes to me in one generous swoop. We laughed so hard!

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I was the last to go up and it was amazing to feel the elephants prickly head and rough skin. After a few minutes I could feel his steady breath filling up his entire belly like a balloon. It was pretty amazing.

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Best buds.

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Afterwards we all had the chance to ride an elephant around the track using our newly learned commands. I think the elephants were just following their mahouts but it was fun anyway. Walking over the dusty terrain, you could feel the elephant shifting his entire weight from foot to foot, creating a gigantic roll from side to side. The only way to stay upright was to jolt your hips from side to side in an exaggerated dance. We were moving with the elephant in a way that was exhilarating and exhausting.

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And then it was what we were all waiting for, a long elephant ride through the jungle! Carina and I shared an elephant, a glorious large female who had a tendency to walk very slowly and steadily behind the others. At least we were able to see more than the rump of the elephants in front…

I first sat on her neck to lead while Carina sat on her back, holding onto a rope tied around her belly. We soon realized that the jungle trek was more like a lap around the center. However we did climb up a hill, over some rough terrain and under low branches. At a middle point, Carina and I switched places so that she was leading our elephant. We quickly made our way back to the start and continued for another lap!

At this point the rough skin and prickly hair on our elephant’s back began to chafe my skin in an unpleasant way. No matter which way I shifted, her rough hair scraped at at my skin like barbed wire. At the same time my muscles began to tire from clenching to stay upright. Let’s just say that the second leap was rough and I couldn’t wait for our trek to be over!

Sweet relief came once we dismounted our elephant at the watering hole where it was time for a bath! We grabbed a bucket and brush and followed our elephant into the water. She lay down and happily rolled onto her side in the shallow water as Carina and I began to pour water over her warm skin and scrub her flanks with gusto. A few of the mahouts got a little frisky and began to spray water at all the foreign girls so by the time we we left the water we were drenched! However Carina and I ignored their flirtatious ways and focused all our attention on our elephant while she closed her eyes in bliss. Bathing our elephant in such close proximity was a truly wonderful bonding experience and unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

Afterwards, we said goodbye to our elephant and headed back to the center. We took a shower, changed, and sat down to an amazing Thai lunch. Food never tasted so good! Then it was time to leave. It was really sad to leave these beautiful animals behind. But I know that this is one experience Carina and I will never forget.

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Click Here to read more about Baan Chang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai.

Springtime

 

As soon as the trees begin to bloom around St. Petersburg, I know that Spring is here.

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Spring brings bright blue skies and plants in bloom of pink, orange and red peeking out of the saturated green landscape. Pollen coats the surface of everything like yellow dust, making people sneeze in bursts until days of rain wash it away. Crazed creatures bolt like lightning across the ground and through the trees, energized by things we cannot see. People in various levels of spandex patrol the streets, absorbing the lingering hours of sunlight on their sweat-soaked skin. A cool breeze plays on the air with a hint of humidity that wraps around you like a blanket, hinting at the summer heat to come.

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Spring brings new life and chance at renewal. The sorrows of winter blues wash away with every burst of color in the sky and the crunch of grass under bare feet. The sun lingers longer and so do we.

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Spring brings the hot sun and a cool ocean, perfect for healing burnt skin and awakening the soul. There is nothing like sudden submersion in cold water to jolt you to life.

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Spring brings hope and the ability to conquer our fears of the things that lurk in the depths below. Sometimes you need to fall in face first to realize that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

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Spring brings baseball and the 100th anniversary of spring training baseball in St. Petersburg. Family and friends come together for lazy days and never-ending games as players from the far north immerse themselves in our sun-soaked fields.

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Spring brings sunglass, sunburns and smiling faces.

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Spring brings the culmination of months of planning and hard work into a successful golf tournament raising thousands of dollars for charity. After months of long hours, endless email chains, and a torrent of spreadsheets, we have emerged from the dark with invaluable lessons learned and gratitude towards everybody who helped make this event a success.

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It’s been a challenging few months filled with more uncertainty and tears than I might have liked, but it has also been full of gratitude, new friendships, and a new outlook on my abilities. The fact that we had such a smooth and uneventful tournament points to the amount of blood, sweat, and tears poured into this project from the start.  Standing to the applause of our members was just the icing on the cake. I can’t believe it’s over. We did it!

Maybe a career in event planning is in my future. But hopefully not.

And so spring brings new beginnings and a new outlook on life. Now let me sleep a while and revel in our success and I’ll see you in China.

I Am Thankful

It has been a busy couple of months! Let’s catch up shall we?

January

Peter was in China for most of the month so I had time to focus on my work and my health. I took Orange Theory and Yoga classes more regularly and started seeing a Chiropractor for my foot injury. Shout out to my awesome chiropractor Andrew Leverone! He is doing some great work and my foot is finally healing after 3 years of pain. So amazing.

The weather was blissfully cold with some days of rain and other days of beautiful sunshine. The best part about winter in Florida is the SUNSETS! They are spectacular!

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I also tackled a lot of wedding stuff like touring venues and finding my wedding dress! I ordered special cards for my bridesmaids, officially asking them to be in my wedding. There are five Bridesmaids total including two college roomies (Carina and Tana), one family friend (Madeline), and my sisters (Taylor and Morgan) who are both Maids-of-Honor! I love my girls!

Funny story: I asked Madeline to be a Bridesmaid after a football party at her house. First I asked her mom for her permission (she said yes haha). Then at the end of the party I sat down with Madeline and burst into tears before saying anything! She thought something terrible had happened and started crying too. She kept asking “What’s wrong!” I still couldn’t speak because I was so overcome with emotion. I finally blurted out… “Will you be in my wedding?” She screamed “Of course!” and suddenly we were laughing, hugging and crying. It was so funny! At least now she knows that I am an emotional psycho and cry when under pressure! Good to know ;-).

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I spent a weekend in Orlando with my other bridesmaid Carina for her birthday! It was a wonderful last minute decision. Back in St. Pete the weather was gorgeous so there was a lot of biking and paddle-boarding going on. I made sure to stop by the Dali where Peter proposed.

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One Sunday my mom, sister and I went to a Bridal Show in St. Pete which was really uncomfortable. I hated everyone flocking around me and shoving flyers in my face. On the bright side, they gave me chocolate and a cake-pop. Win.

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January 31st was the night of the charity auction I had been working on for several months. After a crazy week of running around, organizing tables and finalizing auction items, the event was a total success! Of course there were problems but overall it was our most successful auction yet, pulling in more than $20,000 for charity! I wore a pretty dress and had a great time. Mostly I was happy for it to be over!

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February

Another month of working hard, wedding stuff and family time. This month we picked a wedding date and settled on a church and reception venue! We are getting married April 18th, 2015 in St. Mary’s Church with reception at the Museum of Fine Arts! Holy crap!

Peter came back into town and we celebrated Super Bowl Sunday with my family and our family friends. The half-time show was awesome and the commercials were pretty great. Most importantly, we hung out with some great people.

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For Valentines Day, Peter surprised me with 3 dozen beautiful roses and cupcakes. He is always the best at getting me flowers :-). That night we had a double-date with another couple and BBQ’d at their house. We watched the movie This Is The End which was freakin’ hilarious. Go see it now.

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The day after Valentine’s Day we had our engagement photo shoot where we frolicked in the grass and swamp with some alligators.

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This weekend Carina came to visit so we could party like old people (home at 10:30pm), eat lots of brunch, shop, and even visit Tampa. We discovered Bodega, our new favorite spot in St. Petersburg. They have delicious Cuban coffee in tiny to-go cups and a fun bar at night. They even gave us a free basket of fried pig skin which rocked my world.

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And here we are! Peter is back in Arizona for a week-long business trip and I am working hard on a charity golf tournament next month. I should be applying for a Chinese visa but for some reason that keeps getting put off…

It is hard to think about moving forward and starting a life back in Shanghai. I am at a comfortable place with my life in Florida right now and it’s scary to think that this will end. Soon it will be back to frantic survival in the concrete jungle of Shanghai, last minute travel plans, and time away from my family. Now with a wedding on the horizon, it is time to commit to a life with Peter and no longer retreat to my parent’s house when convenient.

It is time to grow up.

But until then, I will cherish these moments and embrace change. I am THANKFUL.

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