ExercisePhysical

Static vs. Dynamic Stretching Before Training

Lauren Michelle

First, let’s start off with the real reason why we stretch before a workout. No, not because we feel sore or tight; I will discuss this topic a little later -just scroll down if you’re impatient. The purpose of stretching is to promote a positive impact on a few of our physiological variables: increase our muscle’s core temperature, get our heart rate up, reduce muscle stiffness, and improve the amount of oxygen our body utilizes per minute.

Uncover the definitions: Static stretching is where you hold a position for 30 seconds or longer to really stretch your muscle. Dynamic stretching is reaching that stretch position but not holding it for a long duration. Your body is still moving during the stretch.

When people performed static stretching before training, the individual’s strength was decreased from the beginning of the workout and for an hour after the static stretch. Their strength decreased by 13%! Some people may not think this is a huge gap in numbers, but if you are someone training for a competition or trying to hit a 1RM this could greatly vary the amount you can lift. Static stretching decreases muscle stiffness but there seems to be a correlation between a decrease in strength and a decrease in muscle stiffness. For example, let’s say my usual 1RM in bench press is 180 (LOL imagine me pressing 180 lbs) without static stretching beforehand; now if my strength also decreased by 13% from static stretching before the bench press, then my 1RM would turn out to be around 157 lbs. Now that’s a solid 20 lb difference (give or take if my strength decrease is actually 13%. This is just an example based on the research).

Performing dynamic stretching before a workout has proven to increase an individual’s strength and performance. Why? Because dynamic stretching hits all the physiological variables we spoke about earlier ( an increase of core temperature, increased heart rate, slight decrease in muscle stiffness, and an improvement of you oxygen consumption). Overall, dynamic has been shown to improve performance by 1.3%. A few of my favorite dynamic stretches are below!

Make this a fluid movement: Downward Dog and transition to a lunge. Perform on both sides.

 

Chest and shoulders: Grab a band and begin pulling as far as part in front of you and in one clean movement stretch above your head. Perform multiple times.

 

Feeling sore or tight before your workout?

We all tend to use the word “stiff/tight” when we wake up sore the next day and can barely get out of bed. Remember that feeling like your muscles are still contracted and you no longer have a full range of motion (ROM)? Yep, that’s muscle stiffness. Have you ever noticed that muscle stiffness has a bad connotation to it? Picture someone in the gym getting ready to train legs but is holding a static hip opener stretch before jumping into it (YO, this used to be me), and their usual reason is that their hips feel tight. Static stretching before training may feel good because you no longer feel as “tight,” but it actually hinders your performance (as we addressed above) because your muscles end up losing a bit of their elasticity. This “stiff” feeling isn’t always bad before training. Getting rid of your muscle stiffness reduces your muscle’s elasticity and lessens your muscle’s recoil action. Alright, think of your muscles during this time period as a rubber band. If you take a rubber band and stretch it as far as it can go for a long period of time (static stretching) when you let go of the rubber band it will have lost a lot of its elasticity and will not recoil as much. Your rubber band (you) has lost its force producing capabilities. Now, if you take a rubber band and stretch it for a quick second (dynamic stretching), BAM, it shoots right back and keeps its elasticity!

When to perform  static stretching

Save it for later. Static stretching focuses on holding your muscles at a longer length and would produce a greater benefit when it is not paired with exercising. Static stretching is good for both your ROM and flexibility when practiced on a normal basis. You are best to perform static stretching long before your workout and after your workout. Some examples of static stretching are pictured below!

The Basics!

  • Dynamic stretching before a workout increases your strength training
  • Static training before a workout will hinder your strength training
  • Both dynamic and static stretching increase your range of motion (ROM) and flexibility.
  • Muscle stiffness is not always a bad thing. It contributes to your muscle’s elasticity/ recoil.
  • Dynamic stretch before a workout. Static stretch after your workout.

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   *Information gathered from athletic subscription M.A.S.S. All                           information is constructed from scientific research articles and studies.

 

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Travel

50 days in Europe for under $2,500 – All Inclusive

Lauren Michelle

Have you decided that Europe is your next destination? Are you interested in cheap travel? Do you not believe me about traveling Europe for 50 days spending under $2,500.00 for everything?

I grew up around this notion that traveling abroad will cost you tons and I know that other people can agree with this. I’m an example of how incorrect that statement is, and you can be too. I am giving you permission to change the cost of travel.

The summer of 2016, I traveled from Florida to Europe. Most of it with my two friends and bits of it solo. All in all, I spent 50 days in 6 different countries and only spent $2,500.00 for everything. EVERYTHING. This means, flights to Europe and back, flights between Europe, all forms of transportation, food, accommodation, and all attractions. I walked up the Eiffel Tower, ate in restaurants almost 3 times a day, had gelato every day in Italy, went to multiple pub crawls, seen the most beautiful cathedrals in every country,  and had the TIME of my life without hurting my broke college girl bank account.

Before and during the planning of my Euro trip of 50 days, my goal was to spend no more than $4,000.00. I calculated that I would spend under $2,000 in plane tickets, $30 a night for hostels, $15 a day for attractions, $42 per city, and $30 a day for food. This was the answer that I got from reading up on other blogs

 

I wanted to spend less than $4,000 because to me that’s a whole heck of a lotta mula, so I made it happen. The only way to properly execute is through organization and budgeting  Below, I slice it into the categories you’d spend your money on whilst traveling.

  • Transportation: Flights, Trains, Metro, Buses, etc.

There are tons of websites you can use to book your flights. You can purchase straight from the airline (this may be beneficial if you have rewards credit card with airlines) or use a second party website. When looking for flights out of the U.S to Europe, I compared prices from Skyscanner, Google flights, Cheap-O Air, etc. Personally what I found to be the best deals, came from Google Flights. Google Flights gives you multiple options when it comes to airports to depart/arrive and the cheapest options from the airlines. If your trip is flexible, play with the dates! Some days it will be cheaper to leave from a certain destination than another.

Flight to/from Europe: Surprisingly leaving for Europe during its busy season, I was able to score my plane ticket from Florida to Paris for a cheap $300.00 on Norwegian Airlines. Be aware that red-eye flights are usually the cheapest! My trip home from Frankfurt was closer to $400.00.

Flights in Europe: I flew to each country I visited. In total, I bought 8 different plane tickets. For fare between Europe, I traveled on CityJet, Vueling, and RyanAir. I found the best deals with RyanAir, as my flight from Barcelona to Italy was a wopping $30.00. The other day they had a fare of only $8 to get from London to Scotland. It’s all about the SEARCH for the perfect price.

Trains/Buses: Out of the 50 days, I only took a train once, as I arrived in Frankfurt and needed to travel closer to my host family. My train ticket cost me $23.00 for a 2 hour trip. I took buses most of the time from the airport to the specific city I needed to go to. Bus trips cost me no more than $10.00 and most had free WIFI on the bus!

Note from Rome itinerary of bus from the airport and pricing

Metro: The metro is usually always packed, but it is the BEST way to travel as it is SO CHEAP. England’s metro price was the most expensive out of all of the countries I traveled to. It costs about $6.00 for a single journey ticket and can increase depending what zone you are traveling to. For the metro in all countries,  you can pay individually for your metro pass each time you go in or you can prepay a loaded card. I chose to pay individually each time I went, as I tried to travel by foot to most destinations. France, Spain and Italy will cost you about $2.50 for a single journey ticket and you can use most of them a number amount of times within an allotted time period. For example, I could use a single journey ticket In Rome to multiple destinations within 100 minutes of not leaving the station.

 

 

Your feet: Transportation can add up if you are trying to jam pack your days. Personally, I traveled most of Europe by foot (besides the flying to new countries). One day I walked 10 miles in Paris.  When you’re in Europe you will realize that mainly everything is in walking distance. Plus, walking gives you more opportunities to interact with the locals and explore! Guess what? IT’S FREE.

A 10 mile walk got me a picture of a lifetime
  • Accommodation

There are multiple options for cheap accommodation when it comes to Europe. I spent most nights in hostels. These are like hotels but cater towards tourists and backpackers to meet each other and have a place to mingle. Hostels will cost you about $8-$30 dollars a night depending on the time you make reservations and the time of the year. HostelWorld has hundreds of hostels to search from in each country.  There is also Couchsurfing. I have not tried Couchsurfing yet, but it is next on my list! This is where you can stay in an extra room or a couch of a host in a certain city for free! Some may view this as dangerous, others will view it as a place to exchange cultures – you have be smart in these situations. But I was housed in Germany for a week for free. I was given room and board in return for my help on a horse farm. This type of exchange was through Work Away (you can read about Workaway and my experience here). Another option to keep it cheap is to stay with any family or friends!

A friend from the WorkAway experience!
  • Itinerary

I go more in depth about creating an itinerary and how specific you should be in a previous blog post, which features an example of my Rome itinerary, but it does come into play with cheap travel! When you have an itinerary of what places you would like to go see, places to eat, and adventures to take, you will have an idea of how much each thing costs – that’s if you do your research. Keeping an itinerary on most days will keep you from splurging too much if you have calculated out how much you can spend each day and where you are going to spend that money. This leads me to…

The Vatican, Vatican City, Italy.

 

  • Budgeting/Extra costs

To accompany my itineraries, I budgeted out how much I was going to spend each day. My goal was to spend no more than $30.00 for food, $20.00 for attractions, and $10 for transportation each day. Now if you add up (30+20+10) x 50 days you get a total of $3,000.00. Keep in mind, you will not end up spending $30 for food each day, you’re not going to attractions each day that cost money (a lot of places are free to enter: Cathedrals, parks, gardens, and places of interest), and if you are utilizing those things at the end of your legs, most days you will spend ZERO DOLLARS on transportation!

This was probably the 4th time we had gelato that day…

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After the 50 days I calculated exactly how much I spent in each category:

Not each day will be the same. Some days you will spend more than others, and some you will spend little to nothing. If you fill your days deeply exploring the city and not jamming it with touristy attractions and expensive restaurants, you will see just how far you can stretch your dollar. To sum up how I truly spent $2,500 on a 50 day Euro trip… it was done through RESEARCH to find the best DEALS, being FLEXIBLE with dates in choosing flights and itineraries, WALKING to destinations, EXCHANGING services for accommodation, and staying ORGANIZED and BUDGETED.

 

The cost of a trip does not express how much fun you had and the memories made, so why break the bank when you don’t have to?

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Let me know what you have done for cheap travel abroad and any secrets you’d like to share!

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À la carteExercisesoulTravel

A Letter from Someone Who Doesn’t Have a “Dream Job”

Lauren Michelle

When I am asked what my dream job is, I try to think of this elaborate answer to blow your mind, but I just ain’t got one for ya. There are some that I think would be cool, but none that I’d want to do day in and day out (except for being a full-time puppy owner). Yes I’m young, yes I don’t have everything figured out and yes I still have tons of opportunities to come across, BUT it’s not the fact of having everything planned out; it’s about having “enough” in life and knowing what that is.

What is my dream?  I dream to live fully.  I’m in love with LIFE (yes I totally know I sound like a complete hippie right now). Every aspect of it. People. Experiences. The here and now. Memories. Adventure. Success. Failure. Cultural diversity… People are asked all the time (trust me, even I did), “If you could do anything in the world what would be your dream job?” Why is there an emphasis on the job? Of course, jobs are important and can be a necessity to live; I understand, I have one. I’ve finally realized that what I have mistaken for so long, the struggle of finding a dream job, is no mistake at all. Instead, I have a dream life. My life is my career. My life is my job. Everything I do should be to work towards my dream life. Having no dream job and just a dream life may sound dangerous or even fantasy-like to some of you, but it’s not. Striving for a dream life is not striving for perfection. It’s having enough.

 I’m able to have a dream life by evaluating my “enoughs.” It can look something like this: Traveling is enough. Exploring is enough. Learning is enough. Love of a family is enough. Sustaining healthy relationships is enough. Living is enough. These “enoughs” are all that I need to create my dream life. I don’t need to wait for the wave of success from the dream job to tell me that it’s the only “enough”.

You are guaranteed to get enough when you define it. You only find enough when you tell enough where to be found – Jon Acuff

Don’t mistake this for being busy but not getting anywhere. Don’t mistake this for working hard but not actually doing the hard work. I still use my skills and services to be present and push through to reach my goals when I could be slacking. I do the hard work because it allows me to work hard. I still pay attention to the nitty-gritty and pursue things other people don’t want to do. Having a dream job does not define the hard work I put into creating my life. Having a dream life motivates me so I can put in the hard work to work hard.

Order your dream life now and pay for it every day

How do I support my dream life of “enoughs?” A dream life is no fairy tale, it’s just like working towards a dream job. There is serious hustle involved. Those who don’t have a dream job don’t always slack in creating a future for themselves. Hustle is done by doing the things every day that gets me closer and closer to my aspirations and my purpose. If I can work towards these “enoughs” every day, then I am living and achieving my dreams. I’ve seen people work towards a “dream job” because of the payoff it will have for them in the future and I have met people who have “making money” as one of their “enoughs;” this is something I will never understand because

Making money isn’t always easy and it sure won’t make you happy, which is why it is so odd we’re so concerned with making money. Money won’t keep me from leaving or stop me from grieving. Life ain’t cheap and not all good things are free but when it comes to money there is no “enough” and no too much. – Making Money by Ben Rector.

I’m tired of probing people with the phrase, “What’s your dream job?”

It’s time to start asking, “What is your dream life?”

Dream jobs focus on the why of why you did something, but uncovering and defining your “enoughs” focus on the why in why you are here. Allow your enoughs to push you to live your life the way you do. My advice to you is, don’t spend 9 hours a day ticking along with time because of the future payoff. Find something challenging, thought-provoking and moving. When we pursue, day in and day out, the “enoughs” that brings us fulfillment, then our perceptions about ourselves, our motivation and our relationships change. We begin to live our dream life.

Sincerely,

Someone who is putting in the hard work for more than a dream job.

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This letter is not to put a bad connotation on the phrase “dream job” or degrade those who have a dream job. If you have a dream job, do the hard work – just don’t forget about your “enoughs.” This letter is to relate to others who don’t have that “dream job.” To those who can’t decide right now on what career they want for the rest of their lives. This is to those who have a free spirit (here’s hippie Lauren chiming in). Most importantly this is to those who are so infatuated with life, dream job or not. Just like walking away from a Bachelors Degree, life will change over the course of time and I may or may not find one dream job for the rest of my life.

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À la carteExerciseTravel

Why I Deleted Instagram

Lauren Michelle

It’s 2017 so this may be a shocker to some  all of you. Today we think the more social media accounts we have, the better. This wasn’t the case for me. I literally just deleted my Instagram account less than two hours ago.

Two hours ago I did the whole “5-second rule” (no, I didn’t eat food off the ground to make this decision!) and looked at my Souled on T.E.A Instagram where the button read “Delete Account,” counted to five, and just hit the damn thing. This wasn’t something I did on a whim for no reason; this was a decision I’ve been thinking about for a few months now. I just needed that 5-second rule to trust my gut and get the job over with.

To all my social media freaks and geeks, here’s the reason to my madness:

  • I went in with the wrong intention

I created my Souled on T.E.A with the intention of engaging my brand and content with an audience, but it wasn’t my only intention. Honestly, I began to focus on the numbers and was itching for them to skyrocket. As if the numbers would give me value or make me a more successful and better blogger. LOL what kind of thinking is that?

  • Hosting multiple accounts became a pain!

I had THREE Instagram accounts to look after: the blog, my personal account, and one for the company I work full-time for. Scheduling posts for three Instagrams became a nuisance, time-consuming, and stressful. Making sure the quality for all three accounts were 100% was not difficult (because ya girl is a perfectionist), but I noticed that the posts on my personal and blog Instagram were exceptionally similar.

  • Two Instagrams –> two personalities?

I don’t think so! Like I said, my personal Instagram account and my blog Instagram were almost identical in terms of quality, types of photos, and content. The only difference was that I did not advertise my blog posts consistently on my personal account – why not, Lauren? YOU ARE YOUR BLOG! In a way, it felt like two different personalities. If it’s me, then I should have nothing to hold back & if unfollowing happens because it is not the content my personal followers were expecting, then I highly encourage the unfollow. I don’t believe in following something/someone who does not surpass your expectations or provide the service you were looking for; I wouldn’t want anyone to do so for me! Since my two Instagrams were similar, I do not believe that I will have too big of an issue with this. We follow people on Instagram because we are nosey and are curious about their lifestyles. If both accounts portrayed my life honestly, then what’s the purpose of me hosting two different accounts? I don’t have two lives and it is only fair to show my raw self and content, in both my life and my blog on one platform.

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Whether I have 10 or 10,000 social media followers ceases to be important when I put my phone down and join reality around me. The followers that are important are the ones by your side every day. Instagram followers can be there for you virtually and help you globalize, but they never determine your value or success.

This would be the perfect timing to play Camp Rock

On my blog planner, I have a few words printed on my logo: TRUST your gut, QUALITY over quantity, LEAD by example, and BELIEVE in your power. What kind of person/blogger would I be if I can’t act upon the words I set up for myself to see every day?

**Whatever change you want to make, I hope you lead by example in trusting your gut and believe in your power to provide quality over quantity to exceed your expectations**

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If you want to check out my content for my blog deets and everyday normalities,  you can follow my only Instagram at @laurenmichhiiee & join the T.E.A community at www.facebook.com/souledontea

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ExercisePhysical

Should You Weigh Yourself?

Lauren Michelle

You can probably find a million and one articles on why you should not weigh yourself. I’m about to tell you the complete opposite: you SHOULD weigh yourself.

There are multiple studies that show people who weigh themselves daily have either less weight gain or more weight loss than people who don’t weigh themselves as often (i.e: weighing in 2 times a week compared to 2 times a month) [1]. These studies show that weighing in daily is beneficial to those who are currently overweight and striving for a specific weight loss goal or trying to avoid weight gain [2].

If that is your current health status, then maybe weighing yourself every day could be best for you, or maybe start off one/twice a week to ease into it. This article is focusing more on the individual who is not sedentary, lives an active, healthy, and fit lifestyle (i.e: works out/lifts 3 times a week, looking to lose weight but gain muscle mass, and has a healthy diet).

I’m about to dive into 4 reasons why you should be weighing yourself consistently throughout your fitness journey. Let’s get crackin’:

  • Improves self-awareness: You become aware of your daily food intake, your sleep patterns, and stress levels. Regarding food, the more sodium intake you have in your caloric diet, the more water your body is going to retain. Consume less sodium and your body will retain less water. Sodium comes from foods naturally and most from processed foods. Foods naturally low in sodium are fruit, vegetables, oils, and cereals, while meat and fish contain a bit more [3]. How much alcohol are you consuming? Alcohol leads to dehydration = water retention. You could also see how your daily sleep patterns affect your weigh-in. Did you know too little sleep can increase your cravings (I know I’m not the only one who eats more and more the later I stay up)? You’ll also become aware how stress becomes a factor (are you a stress eater?).

 

  • A change of perception: Let’s get real, there’s a misconception of linking fear to weighing yourself. Watching the needle on the scale creep up is one of the things people worry about the most. Weighing yourself and knowing how to deal with the number you see and analyze it is a huge key to success in your progress. If you’re not working out properly and trying to gain more muscle but seeing yourself losing weight, then you can calculate what you’re lacking (i.e: not consuming enough protein to keep your muscles regenerating and growing). If you see yourself gaining weight when you are trying to hit a lower goal, you have to understand that muscle weighs more than fat, so this scale increase (if not too large) could be telling you that you’re gaining more muscle! And if you know a thing or two about fitness, then you’d know that the more muscle you have the more fat your can burn! (you can find my article on The Power of Perception here!)

 

  • Understand it’s just a number – Yep, I went there. It’s just a number, y’all! A number that can’t dictate how you should feel about your body. Do you feel like you’re making progress? No longer feeling fatigued and tight in your clothes? Can you now run 10 minutes longer than before? When you’re in a routine that pushes you to your limits, while still having control with correct nutrition and plenty of time for recovery, then what power does the scale have over you (unless you’re competing)? Fitness isn’t just about physical strength, it’s a mental challenge as well. There is no such thing as feeling good about yourself because of the number on the scale. You have to learn to love yourself first before you try and love the number on the scale.

 

  • The number on the scale will never stay 100% the same: (unless you’re Houdini): Weight, in general, is not a static number (this relates back to the first point!!). It’s going to fluctuate based on your Of course, if the numbers begin to vary by a mass amount, then this is something you should take a deeper look into and make sure that you are sticking to your routine, eating right, and becoming healthier instead of falling off track (get an accountability partner to help you with this!).

 

Since I am no doctor, I am not going to advise you to weigh yourself a certain amount of times a week, but I do think weighing yourself can have many benefits in your fitness journey if you allow it to, overcome the fear of what your body is telling you, and fight the negatives of the mind. If weight loss is your goal, then sure, weigh yourself according to the researchers. Personally, I find myself to better track my progress through a weekly weigh in. I know people who track it twice a week or even every two weeks. Weighing yourself isn’t all that bad, as long as you find what works for you, you are able to overcome that little devil on your shoulder, and are ready to make serious gainzzzz.

[1]. Are Breaks in Daily Self-Weighing Associated with Weight Gain? http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0113164

[2]. Linde, J.A., Jeffery, R.W., French, S.A. et al. ann. behav. med. (2005) 30: 210. doi:10.1207/s15324796abm3003_5

[3]. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal. http://advances.nutrition.org/content/5/2/188.full

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Travel

6 Irresistible Gulf Coast Beach Destinations To Add On Your Bucket List

Lauren Michelle

This “grab your sunscreen and tanning oil” themed bucket list comes from Danielle Tower, writer and owner of The Taste Team, LLC (she even featured me on her site).These top sandy destinations are no joke as they are coming from a gal who has been all over the U.S.A. Find all of Danielle’s social platforms at the end of the page to get in contact with her!

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Most travelers love to fit in a day at the beach on their itinerary. Some must travel to enjoy beaches, while many of us are blessed to have one almost right outside our front doors. When thinking of the perfect beach destinations, most think of the Caribbean, an exotic island, or even a larger city on the coast. There’s no denying the world of gorgeous beaches is worth exploring. However, there are a few gems you shouldn’t overlook. Though not given as much notoriety, at these beautiful beaches you can have an enjoyable vacation without emptying your wallet. There are plenty of eye-catching beach territories in less chartered areas on the Gulf Coast.  When planning your next beach trip, keep these six destinations in mind.

 

Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island is a town outside of Mobile, Alabama on with a small community and nice beach. They have two locations to access the beach with one called West End Beach. The area also has a string of beach house rentals to extend your enjoyment. Though the Southern area is quiet and peaceful with neighborhoods nearby, there are still a few activities to get into. Most of the attractions are on Bienville Blvd.

  • Things to do near Dauphin Island

On Dauphin Island, you can take a tour of Fort Gaines, visit the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and The Esterium, or take a stroll through Indian Mound Park. If you happen to visit during Mardi Gras, you can catch a parade. The town has been known to kick off Mardi Gras with the first parade each year. Another great thing about the island is the summer entertainment. You can find movie nights in the summer and live music on Sunday.

You’re not limited to the island since it’s so close to other cities.  There are a few places to eat in the area, and you can always take a short drive to The City of Mobile for more local dining options. When you’re ready for more adventure, put your car on the ferry and take a ride to the next beach destination, Gulf Shores.

 

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach

You may already be familiar with Gulf Shores, Alabama as their ever-growing Hangout Fest has caught much attention.  This area isn’t short of resorts and vacation rentals for you to stay as close to the turquoise water as possible.  The town also has plenty of places to enjoy live music and view the beach while dining.

  • Things to do in Orange Beach

Like all the other beaches, you’ll have all the water adventures you can handle.  And if not, you won’t be far from the water park, Waterville U.S.A.  Shopping is about 20 minutes away in neighboring Foley, Alabama at Tanger Outlet Center. Golfing is at every turn. Kids will also enjoy Pirate Islands Adventure Golf, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, and The Track Family Recreation Center.

 

Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach Boardwalk is where you can find shopping, dining, and entertainment.  Once you pass through the toll, you’re ready for adventures of all sorts. You’ll also find hotels and vacation rentals to stay near the most popular attractions.

  • Things to do near the Pensacola Beach

Pensacola beach is surrounded by a variety of dining options with the best view you can find.  Casual dining at Crabs on the Beach gives you four different seating options.  You can dine in, eat by the bar, on the patio, or order right from your lounge chair on the beach. For high-end casual dining, try The Grand Marlin. This establishment has a delicious menu of daily fresh seasonal favorites.  You can dine inside or on the covered patio with an ocean view.

After you’re done parasailing and have enjoyed the seasonal Dolphin cruise and other beach amusements, you can still enjoy the beach area in the evening.  At night, the area turns into a hangout spot.  Many of the bars and beach-side dining offer live music to enjoy.

 

Panama City Beach

Not to be confused with Capital of Panama in Central America.  Panama City sits directly between Pensacola and Tallahassee. That means if you’re looking for more options besides Pensacola Beach, just keep on driving a little down the road.

  • Things to do in Panama City

This beach destination has attractions and things to do for all ages.  In addition to fishing, boating, and water sports, Panama City also has eco-adventures like St. Andrews State Park.  This park still has the water activities, but you can also take their nature trail to observe the plant and animal life.

Shipwreck Island Water Park and Gulf World Marine Park are adventures the kids will enjoy to the fullest.  You can also join Pirates of the High Seas GeoTour.  The geocaching tour is a pirate themed treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices.

 

Destin

As you get closer to the beach, even the drive through Destin, Florida is a lovely site.  Just like Panama City, the Emerald Coast water is kissed with a hint of blue you can’t find anywhere else.  With resorts like Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort and beautiful beachfront hotels like Hilton Sandestin Beach, Golf Resort, and Spa, you can have the best view of the beach with impeccable service.  Scenic Hwy also has many vacation rental options.

  • Things to do in Destin

After you’ve treated yourself to a spa day, you can do shopping at Silver Sands Premium Outlets or Shops at Destin Commons.  Visit HarborWalk Village for boating, cruises. water sports, and ziplining.  Shopping, gaming, and beachfront dining are easy to find in the village too. Another dining option with a gulf view is 790 on the Gulf. This lavish restaurant inside The Inn at Crystal Beach adds their tasty Cajun flare to seafood favorites.

If the beach isn’t wet enough, you can spend the day at Big Kahuna’s Lost Paradise and try all their water park adventures. For the risk takers, the park even has bungee jumping. The Track is also a good place for some family fun with their popular Go-Kart rides. This place will keep you enthused with mini golf, water bumper rides, skydiving, an arcade, and other amusements.

Biloxi

Biloxi, Mississippi is well known for its casinos, but they have lovely beaches too. This is another trip for a scenic view en route to your destination. When you exit Biloxi Bay Bridge you’ll run directly into the beach and many other attractions.

  • Things to do in Biloxi

Besides casinos, casinos, and more casinos, there are the resorts and dining at the CASINOs. Aside from gaming, you can find shopping, spas, and entertainment. Outside of the casinos, you can take a cruise or do boating and other water sports. If you drive down Beach Blvd, you’ll find a long group of beachfront restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, including Mexican and seafood.

After dinner, you can take a walk on one of their piers near the beach.  Like other Gulf Coast beach destinations, there’s a water park near Biloxi too.  You can find Gulf Island Water Park in the neighboring beach town, Gulfport.  There you’ll also find shopping at Gulfport Premium Outlets.

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Danielle is a freelance writer and owner of The Taste Team, LLC, a platform for travelers and foodies to publish about local dining, travel, and entertainment. She’s a free spirit who’s passionate about being able to do what she loves, which is traveling and writing. When she’s not on the run or stuffing her face, she’s somewhere reading, spending time with loved ones, working out, catching sun at the beach, trying new foods, or walking the aisles of the health food store. Visit The Taste Team’s website and follow us on social media to see all our team’s travel adventures and foodie finds.

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Exercisesoul

Why You Should Be Coloring – Featuring Artist & Interior Designer: Kendra Castillo

Lauren Michelle

The artist in me is telling the artist in you, that even though you are no longer a kid, you can still color. I’m a huge advocate for finding any way to express your creativity and not letting fear hinder your potential; this can even be paired to coloring. Don’t let the fear that coloring is just for kids stop you.

At first, when the adult coloring books came out I thought they were pretty neat-o, but never bought one because I thought I didn’t have the time to just focus on coloring. If I’m being real, when I sit down and color it takes me a looong time cause I’m a perfectionist.

The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you – Elizabeth Gilbert

I’ve always had a love for art, drawing, and photography (hence the Architecture major in the beginning of college) but when I entered college I couldn’t find the time to pursue it as much. A couple weeks ago I grabbed one of the most beautifully simple coloring books and just scored, shaded, outlined, and saturated the shiz out of that paper. Took me about an hour just to color one page. It may have taken me a long time but I was in a different state than normal. I was focused, yet relieved. I was present and technology was absent. I was in a sense structured, yet in a state of freedom.

Kendra Castillo, a culturally creative artist & interior designer, produced a 6 page printable coloring book (pictured below) that I couldn’t get enough of. While I was filling in these floral scenes, I remembered why coloring is so darn good for ya:

  • It’s a form of personal expression: Light and cooler tones are friendly, warm, and open. More use of dark shades express an authoritative and powerful mood. Bright hues can show your playful side. Pastel colors are more calm and soothing.

  • The good ol’ nostalgia: This could bring you back to the time when you were a kid: light hearted and optimistic. There’s nothing wrong with a blast from the past!

  • Maintains dexterity: Clearly, coloring is a hands-on kinda activity. You’re keeping focus on hand strength/ grip and staying inside the lines (we don’t always have to “color outside the box”).

  • You activate the right hemisphere of the brain: Yes, the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body but it is also aids in releasing your creative and artistic abilities. You should give the left hemisphere of your brain, cool down on the analytical gears turning in your mind and let the flow begin.

 

  • Calms down your nervous system: Coloring helps reduce stress and anxiety as it relaxes your amygdala. The amygdala is the center of for your emotions and regulates our fight or flight response.

 

  • You activate the left hemisphere of your brain: It’s not all about being “right.” Yes, you’re engaging the right hemisphere through your artistic abilities, but concentrating on color balance and design you are activating your problem-solving skills in the left hemisphere of your brain! Smarts isn’t all numbers, being creative can improve your problem-solving skills as well.

 

Check out Kendra Castillo’s 6 page coloring book, featured above,  HERE!!!

Kendra is an artist in the Pacific Northwest, she loves a good cup of coffee, yoga pants and getting to know other people’s life stories. Her life motto is “finding beauty in everyday moments.” She believes that there is beauty and joy to be found in every situation,  and her hope is that her artwork brings joy to everyone who sees it.

 

Platforms you can connect with Kendra Castillo on:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kendracastillodesigns/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KendraCastillo_

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KendraCastilloDesigns

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/kendracastillo/

Website: https://kendracastillo.com/

 

 

 

 

 

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À la carte

Homemade Belgian Chocolate Nutella Waffles

Lauren Michelle

Do you know what my favorite part about lifestyle blogging is? I get to write about food – so what?  That means I now have an excuse to guiltlessly eat MORE food… like com’on – I am living the dream.

How does this sound: waking up in the morning to a stack of Belgian chocolate waffles being warmed to a fluffy inside and crispy corners? Coming home from a solid day at work and all you can think about is chocolate for dinner (no shame)? I don’t see how either time of the day can get much better. I might not be there to make you your waffles upon awakening (future husband – I got you), BUT you can make them in under 10 minutes!

I fell in love with Nutella when I spent some time in Germany over the summer; I ate it EVERY morning for breakfast (no joke). Totally good for my health right? Actually, I inhaled it, spoonfuls of it. I’d wake up, make my pot of tea, sit down with every item in the pantry that had carbs and covered it with Nutella until I thought I was drowning in it. I might have bathed in Nutella – okay, not really, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t contemplated it….

With that being said,  only make these for the people you love. What’s better than the people you love, carbs, chocolate, and warm Nutella topping? – Don’t fight me on this.

Most important item: WAFFLE MAKER

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1.5 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 tsp Baking Powder
  • 0.5 cup White Sugar
  • 4 tbsp Unsweetened Nestle Cocoa Powder
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 tbsp Melted Butter
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract

  • Strawberries – whole heck of a lot
  • Melted Nutella – whole heck of a lot

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat waffle iron while you’re whippin’ up this magic. Grab a large bowl and dump in your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, and unsweetened cocoa). Mix mix mix.
  2. Stir in all your liquid ingredients (eggs, milk, vanilla extract, and butter). Stir together till it’s consistency is even, there are no clumps, and it’s a bit fluffy. This is your money – don’t mess it up (you can only mess it up if you use baking soda instead of baking powder – be aware, I’ve done this before.
  3. If your waffle iron isn’t non-stick, slap some Pam on that baby. Pour your money (mix) into that maker (get it? – it’s your money maker… no? Ok). Cook until edges are a bit crispy. While it’s cooking, put some Nutella in a little side bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds or until it is melted and slice up your strawberries.
  4. While your million dollar baby (the waffle, not me) is still warm, drizzle the Nutella (pour the Nutella if you’re not looking to share) so it drips perfectly into the indents, and garnish with strawberries!

P.s. Make a few batches of these and freeze them for quick and easy access 😉

 

Let me know in the comments that I’m not the only one who would bathe in Nutella… or at least tell me what your favorite type of Belgian waffle is!

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Exercisesoul

Dear Current Angel

Lauren Michelle

Dear Current Angel,

I love you very much. I’ve been waiting to write this for awhile, but at the same time waiting for me to be okay while writing this. I’m not sure if that moment will ever come. I hope you knew how very much you meant to me know how very much you mean to me. You’ve already become the graceful angel I knew you’d become at the time of writing this. Even as every year passes, I will never forget how very much you loved me or how much you love in heaven as you did on Earth.

  I know you’re in a better place, but I wish I could see your face; dreams don’t hold steady. I feel your radiant smile, but it stings the most when the sun is shining. I could never forget about your enriching laugh and smooth tone. The echoes scream; I wonder if they can hear it too. Life never seems to be consistent and when the world starts moving backwards and your hand is not here to hold, I pray that you give me grace. If you could hear me and we could talk over a cup of tea here’s what I would say to you:

  You’ve never looked better. The big guy upstairs must be treating you right. I would do anything to relive a moment like this. Even if it was when times were hard; when I had to help you in bed as you were wearing thin or even when you forgot who I was. Give me your hand; I’ve missed your warmth. I’m probably falling apart saying this, but when people say I remind them of you, I know I am doing something right. I wish I could see you the day I walk down the aisle, but I’ll make sure to tell him and the kids that you never left. Thinking back on the past, I realize that time has flown by too fast.  And I know this won’t last forever, but you’re not someone I’ll forget. Never. When I was young with an open heart you kept me grounded, now your love keeps me surrounded. This moment lights up the dark, but I can’t see how you have the patience to watch over a girl like me.

You may be asking me why I’m not drinking any of my tea, and it’s because the moment it’s gone, so are you.

I guess beautiful things never last.

I can’t keep you for long, paradise is waiting. I love you.

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ExercisePhysical

Thoughts You Have When Working Out But Never Say

Lauren Michelle

If we are being real, we aren’t always in the zone when hitting the gym.

I know I’m not the only one who looks in the mirror and says “I am going to have Beyonce’s butt and Michelle Obama’s arms by the time I’m done with this workout,” but here is what we are all thinking during the maddness:

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Please tell me I don’t look like that…

 

Is that puddle of sweat mine??

 

I bet they can see my crack through these workout pants…

 

I might need a new gym partner…

 

I wonder if they see me jammin in-between sets?

 

Is that smell me or you??

 

Don’t trip. Don’t trip. Don’t trip. 

 

He’s cute… I hope he doesn’t watch my facial expressions.

 

Abs, are we there yet?

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Now let’s grub and do this all over tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day… dang flabbit.

 

Share with me what you think about while you’re killin’ it in the gym!

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ExercisesoulTravel

The Religious War Is Bigger Than We Know: Can a Good Muslim Be a Good American?

Lauren Michelle

I want adults and children to understand this regarding MUSLIMS

These were the first few words I came across when opening an email sent to me. As a precursor, someone forwarded me this email in regards knowing I have graduated college focusing on the array of religions; they wanted to know what I thought about the contents of this email. Let me just say, having a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies DOES NOT mean I know all about every religion, but it helps me uncover and research the validity of certain arguments. Upon receiving this email, I do want to say that my emotional side was provoked when reading each of this man’s statements for the little amount of background information given and lack of a solid argument when trying to get people to “be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. They obviously cannot be both ‘good’ Muslims and ‘good’ Americans. Call it what you wish, it’s still the truth. You had better believe it. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future” (the last sentence of the email). Even with an emotional side provoked, I am responding to each statement with research, first-hand experience with people associated with the Islamic religion, and knowledge from previous courses.

Every statement that is in BOLD is his statement from the email. My answers follow.

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  • “Theologically – no.  Because his allegiance is to Allah, The moon god of Arabia.”

IF America was based, founded, and solely referred to as “THE Christian nation” then this statement would be correct, but that’s not 100% historically correct. The founding fathers did NOT rely on Christian beliefs and principles when organizing the governments and creating the Constitution for America. A lot of the founders took religion into account and looked at it from a wide perspective, that is why today we have separation of church and state and Freedom of Religion. Did you know the men who signed the United States Constitution instilled the No Religious Test Clause where no one holding a federal office position has to be of a specific religion? This is Article VI, Section 3. Now if our federal office can’t hold a religious test, what holds true for an American to hold this religious test to be considered a good American? Culturally speaking, America is populated with mostly Christians, so culturally America is Christian, but the government was not established as “THE Christian Nation.”

It does me no injury for my neighbor to believe in twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg – Jefferson

In reference to “Allah, the moon god of Arabia,” there is no inscription that classifies Allah as a moon god/ pagan deity. Scholars also express that the name Allah comes from the expression ‘ilah meaning “the God,” which is sometimes noted as related to the Biblical Hebrew words ‘eloh and ‘elohim.

  • Religiously – no.  Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam.  (Quran,2:256)

This statement would be correct IF being an American specifically encompasses being a Christian.  If this statement was correct, then religiously any person of any religion, except Christians,  would not be considered a “good American.” Is a Buddhist a bad American because their central aim of religious belief and practice is to be liberated from attachment to material things? Is a Hindu a bad American because they believe in the pantheon of gods and goddesses or The Absolute being Brahman?

Again, compare this statement to a different “type” of American: let’s compare the Muslim to the American who is an Atheist. Is the Atheist not a “good American” because he does not have allegiance to God?

 

  • Scripturally – no.  Because his allegiance is to the five Pillars of Islam and the Quran. 

Oddly enough, before I received this email, I spent NYE with some of my Muslim friends and they asked me what I knew about their religion. They ended up refreshing me on the Five Pillars: (1) Believing – in Allah, (2) Praying – 5 times a day, (3) Helping the Poor – donating, (4) Fasting – Ramadan, and (5) Traveling to Mecca – Hajj.

Scripturally speaking, there is not much of a difference between an “American” (since he is using Christianity in reference to an American) and a Muslim regarding his statement. Do you see the similarities between these 5 pillars and what is asked of a Christian? Let’s take a look: Christians are to be devout to God and the Bible with very close similarities to the 5 pillars, just in different contexts. They are also expected to believe and have faith in God, pray, help the poor, and sometimes fast (Catholics fast from material items or certain foods/drinks during Lent).

 

  • Geographically – no.  Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

Because a Muslim is not near the Mecca, geographically, and prays in a certain direction, it makes them not a “good American?” Muslims are able to turn in prayer towards the Mecca because of the First Amendment explained in the first argument: Freedom of Religion. This is why in Mosques there are mihrabs (niches that distinctly indicate the direction of the Kaaba). I see no solid argument behind this statement. Any type of American can pray in any direction they please, due to our right as an American.

  • Socially – no.  Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews. 

If you take a look at Quran 5:51 it says to not take the Jews and Christians as allies, but it is not a plausible answer to take one passage and create a whole statement on it. Just like the Bible, (staying consistent and relating Americans as Chrsitians like the author of the email does) there are more passages in the Quran regarding this topic. Take a look at the verse right after (5:52) and 60:8-9. These passages of the Quran make it aware to not befriend those who take the Muslim religion and use it against them for mockery or believe it to be a “game” (5:57). My friend also explained to me, when I asked him this question, that Muhammad was friends with and took care of a Jew and a Christian. Now let’s look at this from any religious point of view: how often do people befriend those who mock their religion? Or on a general note, how often do people befriend those who mock them for any reason?

Fun fact: Safiyya, a woman of Jewish origin, was a wife to Muhammad and he stood up for her Jewish heritage.

 

  • Politically – no.  Because he must submit to the mullahs (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the great Satan.

A Mullah is a man or a woman who has learned Islamic theology and the sacred law. I searched scholars and articles to find nothing on them teaching the “annihilation of Israel and destruction of America.” When speaking to my friend he made a connection between this stereotype and the KKK. There are extremists of every religion. People can think the same way about Christians in a similar manner that this man tries to enforce his argument. The KKK used terrorism and attacks on the groups of individuals they opposed and swore to uphold a Christian morality, but the statement of arguing that all Christians are bad because of the KKK is an invalid argument. There is no exception when comparing this to Muslims. The argument is invalid to say that every Mullah and every Muslim is learning the “annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the great Satan” just because there are extremist Muslims in the world.

  • Domestically – no.  Because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him. (Quran 4:34).

Half of this is correct and half of this is incorrect. A man IS allowed to marry up to four women, only under certain circumstances that they can treat each wife 100% equally. It was explained to me in this manner: if he buys one wife a house, he has to buy all three a house; if he can lavish one, he has to equally lavish them all. But a man is not ordered to marry more than one woman if he cannot handle it (Quran 4:3; 4:19; 4:20; 4:129; and 33:4).

Regarding the passage he states, 4:34, this is not to be taken literally. Muhammad is their prophet and they are to follow in his footsteps. To Muslims, Muhammad was a man of kindness and compassion and never did strike his wife, nor would he encourage it.

The Bible has sayings just like this actually. Matthew 5:30 says to cut off your hand if it causes you to stumble. There are dozens of brutal passages in the Bible and from one of my courses, I learned that these passages are not meant to be taken word by word. Even back then there was a thing called ‘figurative speech.’ Each passage has a meaning and interpretation. That was what we uncovered in the class – The Bible was not always a historical representation of the time period as a lot of the chronological timelines are incorrect – the importance of the Bible is for Religious reference, not just historical.

 

  • Intellectually – no.  Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.

When did an American’s intellectual capacity become judged on a person’s acceptance and understanding of the Constitution? Like I said in the first statement – the Constitution was NOT founded on Biblical principles, but there was an influence (ex: separation of church and state). If this is the argument, you cannot focus on just one religion. There are Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and Atheists that are American… What are they then?

  • Philosophically – no.  Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

If you think deep enough about it, his statement contradicts itself. He is [still] comparing “America,” a nation, to a religion. If he is trying to say that a Muslim living in Saudi Arabia would be a bad American that is true because their culture does not allow it, but if he is saying an American Muslim is a bad American because of choosing their religion, it makes no sense. That is what America is – Freedom of Religion (First Amendment), they have chosen their freedom to be Islamic; in all actuality, they are being a “good American.” The Bible does not say “You can be a follower of God, but choose your own religion like Daoism, or Atheism.” It was a group of people who decided that Freedom of Religion is what makes America great; that is what the Muslims in America have chosen, their freedom to their religion.

Again, this argument is faulty because he is using “American” as a Christian. Let’s replace “good American” with “good Christian,” then the answer would be no because they are two separate religions. American is not a religion.

Regarding the comment: “it does not allow them the freedom of religion and freedom of expression”… Clearly, neither does he as an American, as he is doing exactly what he sees wrong with their religion.

 

  • Spiritually – no.  Because when we declare ‘one nation under
    God,’ The Christian’s God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as Heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in the Quran’s 99 excellent names.

This statement is saying that a good Muslim cannot be a good American, spiritually. Like many of the previous statements, when did being American come with a “spiritual” characteristic? He uses God’s different names to back up his argument but that does not seem to fully support it. I’m curious to know if he has read the 99 names of Allah? Allah may not be called the Heavenly Father but he is called: The Merciful, The Holy, The Peace, The Supreme, The Powerful, The Creator, The Just, The Judge, The Great, The Nourisher… etc.. All of these, of which the Christian God is the same. Yet again, what about those of different religions that do not believe in God and say the pledge of allegiance, are they bad Americans too?

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

The common theme in the man’s statements is that he is using an American as an interchangable person who is Christian.

All in all, these statements cannot be used as an argument since a Muslim is a follower of the religion of Islam; the definition of an American is not being the follower of a specific religion. 

To properly argue the question if a good Muslim can be a good American, and all of the following statements, there has to be a definition of a “good American.” Does this mean a “good Samaritan,” a “good Christian?” There is no legitimate or logical reasoning to this man’s’ answers without a proper definition of American.  The author of this email is using a “good American” as one who is Christian, but does not precisely state his definition of a “good American.” Historically speaking, an American is a legal citizen of the United States who is protected by the constitution. Nowhere does it state an American to be categorized in a specific religion.

 

It’s unfortunate to think that the emails we are being forwarded these days include hate, discrimination, and not wanting people in our country based on their religion. As Obama states in his farewell speech (27 min-37min):

An order based … on principles, the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion and speech and assembly and an independent press… That order is now being challenged. First by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam… The fear of people who look or speak or pray differently… A belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right… we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are… That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans…we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one… America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service. So coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen, not just as misguided, but as malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others… Embrace the joyous task we have been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours because, for all our outward differences… If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.

This is not about who you support as President; this is about holding dear to our values, working towards equality in a world that is expanding in globalization, getting to know the facts before making assumptions based off a small tab of information, and speaking to the people we share outward and inward differences with to learn what is true and what is false. There should be no persistence in trying to prove who is not a “good American” based on a religious background. The religious war is bigger than we know it because there are people out there who are weakening these ties and not indulging in religious knowledge before making their claims. 

I’m sorry to anybody who has been told that they are not a “good American,” based on their religious status. Those people are not more American than you and you are not more American than them, as all that matters is what we can gain from our inner and outer differences to grow and improve our nation and being. Thank you for embracing and contributing your differences to America, in hope that more and more people will be open to making our ties stronger.

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À la carte

Tabbouleh Recipe: An Attest to My Childhood and Middle Eastern Cuisine

Lauren Michelle

Do you ever have those times you spend with people and you walk away with this all knowing grin that it was a time of pure bliss because of the genuine interaction and experience? That was me this past weekend when I gathered with new friends to make traditional Arabic dishes.

Before I called them “friends,” I would have just referred to them as “the international students I met while at work,”  but I am so glad that is not the case. One is from Saudi Arabia and the other from Kuwait, filled with genuine smiles, kindness, patience, adventures, and sound conversations.

The definition of cultural exchange is a program that connects students and individuals to live and work with each other for a period of time to promote an understanding of different cultures. This was a different type of cultural exchange – one where you don’t have to live or work with someone to uncover cultural expectations. We are able to make these types of discoveries right outside our homes if we open up to the people surrounding us – they aren’t that different from the ones you find across the world.

For me, it turned out to be more, it was a reliving of my past with loved ones who are no longer around.

My Great Auntie Dee would make my alllll time favorite dish of tabbouleh (recipe below) anytime she got the chance. Trust me, I’d make sure I was at every family get-together for this reason. I can distinctly remember the times I popped in and found her sitting at the dining room table, hands covered in parsley, ingredients all over the table, and the fine lemon mist in the air. She’d even try to teach me some Arabic while I was there (fun fact: my great grandparents are from Lebanon!). Back then, around the age of 10 and younger, I didn’t know the true meaning of this experience until it was gone. After a rough passing from bone marrow cancer, Auntie Dee was no longer around to continue this Lebanese tradition. Even though it may not seem like much to others, this is one of the many talents I saw in a woman who was so caring and daring. I rave about tabbouleh any and every chance that I get. She would spend hours on end making it to perfection and to this day I have not tasted tabbouleh that has lived up to Auntie Dee’s. Must have been that secret ingredient everyone talks about: love. But, tonight was a strong second.

Kabsa

In the midst of Tabbouleh making, my lovely hosts treated me and my friend to a traditional dish originating from Saudi Arabia called Kabsa. I COULD EAT THIS DAILY. Coming into the night, we were just expecting to make tabbouleh and share a good conversation around the table, but got a whole dinner served to us, were taught some Arabic dances performed at parties and weddings, downed Arabic coffee (which I  need to find a way to order in the states ASAP), and inhaled a decadent dessert; we even taught them good ol’ country line dancing and aired the classic: Pirates of the Caribbean. I was even able to pick their brains about the Muslim religion regarding an email I was sent, with an open mind, deep explanation, and total understanding to my interest.

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Tabbouleh

Ingredients (about 12 servings)

  • 1 cup fine bulgur or couscous
  • 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh mint – chopped finely
  • 4 cups fresh parsley – chopped finely
  • 3 tomatoes – 1/4 inch chopped
  • A whole lot of lemon juice! (usually 1-2 full lemons) – depends on your personal taste.
  • Dashes of salt and pepper
  • Small handful of finely chopped scallions or red onions

Procedure

  • Cook bulgur/couscous according to box directions.
  • In a large bowl, mix together parsley, mint, onions/scallions, and tomatoes.
  • Add bulgur/couscous to the bowl, along with a few tablespoons of olive oil and blend generously. You want to make sure that the bulgur/couscous is spread evenly throughout the ingredients. The bulgur/couscous is not meant to be the main ingredient of tabbouleh. So don’t overdo it!
  • Squeeze your desired amount of fresh lemon juice into the bowl (taste as you go!) and thoroughly mix.
  • Top off with a few dashes of salt and pepper.
  • Don’t forget, the best tabbouleh you will ever have will only achieve a standard so high, only if it is made with love.

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This night was more than what I could have asked for. This type of exchange and generosity is not something we find often when interacting with everyday people – I find it increasingly difficult in a college society that focuses on frats and sororities, gossiping, and is work focused.There is so much more depth and meaning to the interaction and outcome than sitting, gossiping about coworkers, and making drunk fools of each other.

I’m trying to make every day a day of cultural exchange. 

In a world that is continuously growing in ways of international globalization (Facebook, travel pages, businesses, web meetings, social media, etc.) it’s easy to forget that we can find this type of cultural exchange all around us. All it takes is that simple act of sharing a smile, asking about someone’s background instead of job or major, and sharing your story. You never know how much you have in common with someone and how their differences can teach you something until you try it.

We don’t always have to travel across the world to get this feeling, it’s right at your doorstep; you just have to be willing to open the door

Leave a comment below on a favorite cultural exchange you’ve experienced!

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ExercisesoulTravel

Walking Away From My Bachelor’s Degree…

Lauren Michelle

I’m living the life of a college graduate and doing what I’m not supposed to be doing. The social norm has become to get a job fresh out of college. I mean that’s why we went in the first place, right? Here is my personal account of graduating college with a Religious Studies and Leadership degree to live a life of travel and the unknown first.

I just graduated from one of Florida’s top universities with a degree I do not plan on using right away. Just like me, there are so many students who gunned to finish college with a degree to smash that perfect future job, to find out that they may not end up where they expected.

Who says graduating means you have to grow up?

There are thousands of college students who choose a field of study that they are not passionate about, others decide to switch majors. What many people do not know about me is that I changed my major twice. As a little guppy in the big pond, I started off as a Business Major, then I joined the Architecture program and realized my interest lied in Religion and Leadership. It took me two majors to finally graduate with a BA of something I enjoy. I’ll even admit that I thought about dropping out, probably hundreds of times. There was a turning point where I realized that the degree I was pursuing wasn’t engaging me in any form of development; it was actually suppressing it. I didn’t have any time for self-love or personal growth; I was only worried about perfecting each score and cut of my models and tearing myself down about giving presentations to the architecture panel. I’d spend more than 50 hours a week in the studio and then 30 hours a week at work. I was going to school for a major I thought would mold the rest of my life, but it was a decision that could ruin my life, if I continued. By the grace of God, switching my major twice did not hold me back from early graduation, but it also gave me the best college experience, knowledge, and personal growth I could ask for.

Making the decision to study a field that ignites a spark in your mind & heart makes college worth it, even when your career is not your first priority. Graduates will walk across the stage after years of exams and sleepless nights, with no means of applying it right after shaking the university president’s hand. This is okay – WE are okay. This piece of paper can be used for an opportunity to pursue a passion during ANY MOMENT in our lifetime.

Graduation, a momentous occasion, has people asking you, “what are you now going to do with your degree?” Most of the time, our answers may seem like we don’t have our lives planned out. Guess what! I don’t. There’s the stigma of the “American Dream” to graduate college, get a 9-5 job, find the love of your life, buy a home, and have a family, all in that order. What’s the harm in switching it up a little and having a life that’s not planned accordingly to the “American Dream?”

Tell me all you want about how I should be starting my career after getting out of college or my degree will go to waste; I will tell you that you are wrong. I use my degree every day, with the people I meet from different cultures, the countries I venture into, and the politics I read about. There is no demand to use it the moment I walk across that stage.

When did graduating with your degree mean you have to immediately venture off into your life-long career before exploring other passions of yours? Ask yourself this: Are you doing what you want to be doing right now? Not for where you want to be in 30 years, but now. I got my degree so I can be a Youth Group Director in the future, it’s not where I see myself at the age of 21.

I am a strong believer in each person having more than one thing that ignites the spark in your heart and taking that stride to tap into your creativity and allowing it to consume you while you’re craving it. For some people, it’s not what they’ve been working towards for 4 years. As time changes, people change.

You have endless chances to explore those things that consume you like a wildfire.

Most people will not understand how or why I, you, or we made this decision because they haven’t yet experienced it themselves. And this is A-OKAY. You are experiencing, in an unconventional way, something many people can’t find after college: a personal journey to a meaningful life.

Walking away from my bachelor’s degree, at the moment, I am filled with a lot of doubt and fear. We don’t know what the future has in store for us or what can go wrong, but I do know that I have the chance to shape my future based on my life experience. I am the only one responsible for my successes and failures, those are not defined by my diploma.

Graduating from college is a time to focus on you, to follow what interests you now, to achieve what caught flame like a wildfire in your heart, to extend a hand to others, and to work on your personal growth. I am working towards the life I want to live, not the life others expect or say I should, the “American Dream.” This is my dream.

Chattanooga, TN

Make your life, your dream

Right now, for me, this “wildfire” is traveling all over the world for an unknown amount of time and when my interests change in 5 months, 1 year, or 10 years, I will chase after those passions and never stop creating the person I want to become.

If you’re venturing on an unbeaten path like I am, know that we can use the knowledge we gained from college on our endeavors. I’m just taking mine for a spin around the globe until I decide it’s time to come home.

2016 is just the beginning to an end

The purpose of this post is to provide an awareness to the life you’re living, to the life you should be head over heels for. I’m here to tell you to not be afraid of switching majors as many times as you need, graduating, and/or performing work unrelated to your degree. I want to encourage you to find that work you want to savor, for as long as you need to. Your degree does not define your successes and failures, your personal journey does.

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ExercisePhysical

They See Me Rollin’

Lauren Michelle

Cues Chamillionaire*

They see me rollin’, they hatin’, patrolling, they tryin’ to catch me [rollin’] dirty..

Whether you are a full-time athlete, gym rat, yogi, or someone simply suffering from muscle pain, investing in a foam roller can bring you a sense of relief and a new best friend! Foam rolling, a form of self-myofascial release, helps to treat muscle immobility, pain, improves blood circulation, stretches, and tones those tight muscles. Incorporating foam rolling techniques into your daily or weekly schedule can decrease your chance of injury, increase your blood flow, increase your recovery time, and increase your range of motion.

Foam rolling takes time to learn, will be hard, will hurt, and probably make you break a sweat, BUT it is so rewarding!

Below are 4 of my favorite foam rolling techniques that I incorporate into my weekly sessions:

  • Calves:

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Align your hands directly under your shoulders and place one calf on the foam roller with the other bent and flat on the ground. Then lift  your butt a few inches from the ground to where you feel enough pressure from the roller applied to your calf. In a slow and consistent manner, roll forward and backward. You can turn your toes inward and outward to apply pressure to different parts of the calf. Flexing your foot up and down when you target a tight spot helps release the pressure. If you want to apply more pressure, you can cross your opposite leg across the one you are rolling to engage it a little more. Once you do this for a few minutes, switch to the opposite calf. P.s: this technique is very helpful if you are in pain from shin splints or plantar fasciitis.

 

  • Quads:

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Who would’ve guessed, there are 4 parts to your quads! Ok, If I’m being honest before I started doing my research I never made the connection to having 4 sets of muscles in your “quad”ricepts… Can I use being blonde as an excuse? Anyways, Start by placing the foam roller under you, near the tops of your knees and align your hands right under elbows. For more pressure go down to the forearms. Roll back and forth to about midline, but not too far up! Here you are targeting your Vastus Intermedius. If you turn your toes outward, you will be focusing more on your inner thigh, your Vastus Medialis! Turn your feet inward to get an angle on a portion of your outer thigh, your Vastus Lateralis! Found a tight and incredibly painful spot? Hold the roller still on that spot within your quad and slowly move your heel to your butt, creating a 90-degree angle. Do this a couple times on both legs. P.s: The fourth muscle of your quads you can target is your rectus femoris!

  • IT Band:

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Many people suffer from IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) when your IT Band is extremely tight or inflamed, causing pain in the knee. You would think, to release this pain focus on your IT Band. Incorrect! All you would be doing is causing more compression onto an area that is already compressed. Sometimes hitting the sore muscles directly will not help 100%, so you have to target the muscles surrounding it. In this move I am targeting the side of my hip, the tensor fasciae latae. You will straighten out the leg that you are going to roll and keep the other leg bent. Align your hands under your shoulders or for more pressure, you can move down to your elbows. Start with the roller up by your hip and only roll down a couple of inches. Your goal is to not roll down your whole IT Band, just the side of your hip. P.s: Other muscles you can target to release IT Band pain would be your glutes, back of your thigh, and your Vastus Lateralis (like I told you about above!).

  • Chest/Shoulders:

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This one is not a rolling technique but more of a way to get a deeper stretch through child’s pose. Just like the original child’s pose it targets the thighs, back, shoulder, neck and hips. Getting into child’s pose, take the foam roller and place is perpendicular under your arms. Choose a spot between your wrists and elbows to keep the foam roller, that is comfortable for you when you relax. When I do this stretch I mostly feel it opening up my chest and releasing the strain in my neck and shoulders, while still hitting the main anatomical focus of my lower back and thighs.

 

Now, as I am trying to help you improve your foam rolling technique and show you my favorite ways to use a foam roller, I am giving you a disclaimer: anything that looks good on the internet can go bad! This is why practicing foam rolling, educating yourself, and looking up videos how to correctly foam roll for other moves is extremely important and vital to correctly healing and toning your muscles!

And when others see you rollin’, they hatin’ 😉

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Travel

What I Learned From My 1st WorkAway Experience

Lauren Michelle

I have not been traveling to many places recently, but I knew it was time to share a cultural experience with y’all. So I’m gonna take you back to my first WorkAway experience this past summer! After I was finished backpacking with my best friend and her fiancé (not as weird as you’d think – maybe I’ll write a post about that soon 😉 ), I had a period of time I had to kill before spending 2/3 weeks with my cousins in Germany. When planning out my travels, months before, I had no idea what I was going to do for this amount of time, so I googled all I could. I came across multiple organizations that help with finding cultural exchange. The one I had the most luck with was workaway.info .

Thankfully, I had a wonderful, funny, and caring host family. I worked on a horse farm for two women in the far rural countryside of Marburg, Germany. It was nestled  in the hills on a long gravel road, with neighbors who were 1/4 mile away. It was beautiful, calm, green, and soothing. If you know me, you know that anything farm, horses, countryside, hills or mountains is my jam!

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The work wasn’t really beautiful, calm, green or soothing. It was quite the opposite: dirty, wet (because it rained quite a lot), a little crazy, brown, and physically demanding. The work really wasn’t as daunting as I just made it seem, but the scenery definitely made up for the hard work I put in. Every day I would wake up, make breakfast (which they provided the groceries for), and begin my work at 8am sharp. To start off the morning I would feed the chickens (the moment I opened the pen door I was whacked in the face with flying wings and crazed birds), bunnies, goats, sheep, and turtles. Then it was time to get down in dirty with the horses, mucking out horse poo from the stalls. On some mornings that one of the hosts did not have to go to her other job, she would help me. After all the animals were taken care of, I would do any side work they needed to be taken care of, gardening, helping saddle the horses, brush out the barn, etc. Lunch was around 1pm and then there was a 3-4 hour break. After the break, all that needed to be done was re-muck out the stalls and make sure the animals all had water. Usually no later than 5:30,  I had the rest of the day to myself. This meant bike rides in the countryside, reading, journaling, and early nights. On the weekend I was there, one of the women dropped me off in the main city of Marburg to explore for 9 hours while she was at her shift in the hospital.

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What it looks like to successfully make it up a hill during 4 hours of rain, a solid cup of hot cocoa, and having a dead phone and no directions.

I enjoyed my first WorkAway experience. There was dirty work, a beautiful countryside, loving hosts, a chance to explore the main city, volunteering with a couple from Italy, and participating in cultural exchange. But there were things that I learned being such a newb in this exchange program.

  1. Finding the “right one” is hard. It is hard determining which WorkAway experience is going to be a right fit for you through the internet. You’re literally going in blind. Do you really know what kind of work you are looking for? What should you expect? What is going to be offered? How do I do know they are the ones? All I can really say is to do your research!! Don’t just free-willy your mouse over the first WorkAway host that catches your eye and only message them for a chance to volunteer. Look at all of your options. I go a little crazy when it comes to searching through all of my options. No matter the cultural exchange website I am using, I will have about 26 tabs open of all of my possibilities or host families that spark my interest. I’ll go through all of those and narrow it down to those that fit me best. I cannot stress it enough how important it is to read their FULL PROFILES. Understand the work you will be doing, for how long, transportation requirements, etc. Once you have TWO handfuls of options, reach out to all of them! Also, don’t forget to read the references people leave. Unfortunately, WorkAway does not allow people to leave negative reviews (which I strongly disagree with and will probably talk about another time), but keep in mind those who have a solid amount of good reviews and what they are saying about the host family.
  2. Stay open-minded. You are more than likely doing WorkAway to experience a lifestyle you’re not used to or do on the daily. With that in mind, you can be doing very tedious work, odd jobs, dirty jobs, and could not be used to the cultural differences. I don’t spend my normal days cleaning up horse shit, gardening, or feeding crazy chickens and farm animals, but that is the life of my host family. Walking on a mound of poo 2x a day was not fun (especially when you forgot to pack rain boots the first day and have horse shit stuck in between your toes…), but it is important to stay respectful when you find a job dirty, tedious, or odd. Focusing on the social aspect, when you are spending all of your time with people of different cultures, disagreements and tension occur. The household I stayed in consisted of 2 German women (our host family), 2 Italians (an couple volunteering), and 1 American (her, that’s me!). Every person has a different way of communicating, cooking, and getting the job done. Just remember  to be patient and understandable.

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    My morning shit
  3. Time is money. We have all heard this saying. A little trip down memory lane, the very first time I heard this I was 13 and heard it from a 7yr old girl. Apparently I was getting ready to slow for a New Years Eve party my family was going to and one of my mom’s students rushed into my room, tapped her wrist and forcefully told me “time is money and I don’t have all day.” I’m just as shocked now, as I was then. Clearly, I was moving to slow for her. We can all be a little impatient, especially when it comes to making plans. We always want to know the when, where, what, and how immediately. Unfortunately, this is not how the response rate works with WorkAway. Remember in #1 I told you to email TWO handfuls of hosts? That’s because getting a response can be difficult. I probably reached out to 15 hosts and got an average of 7 responses back. Start messaging hosts in long in advance because many do not respond for days or even weeks! Be patient and prepared for the wait.
  4. Know your facts!! Just like buying a car, signing a lease, or planning a vacation, you need to know your facts about WorkAway. You don’t want to jump in head first to find out the water is actually an ice block. I’ll give ya the basics, but read the full agreements to volunteering and what is expected of both you and the hosts. (1) It is all about cultural exchange! You get to live the life of another person’s culture, learn a foreign language, and find opportunities to travel. (2) You have to be 18 years old to be a solo WorkAwayer. Sorry kiddos – unless you are accompanying your parents on the trip. (3) You are supposed to work an average of 25 hours a week (about 5 hours a day). (4) In exchange for volunteering you should get free room and board. (5) Get to know your hosts before making a commitment! Ask what is expected from you, what amenities they provide, if there is wifi, do you need to cook all meals for yourself, etc.
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My WorkAway accommodation – the barn, the guesthouse, and the main house

Let’s say that you did all your research, committed to a host, and when you get there you realize that you’re not being treated properly, what do you do? YOU DO HAVE THE RIGHT TO LEAVE at anytime. On that note, where the heck are you supposed to go?

  1. Create a Plan B. Being the newb I was, I did not create a backup plan. Thankfully, I did not need to come to that conclusion with my host family and if I did at least I had some family, not too far away. There are people who face those problems and should have a plan B. Look into the closest town next to you if you are in a rural city and see what it has to offer. Are there any nearby hostels? Hotels? Couchsurfers? Other WorkAway hosts? Be fully aware of all of your options, in case ANYTHING goes wrong. You never know. You definitely don’t want to be homeless for the night in an unknown town!

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This poor little guy had a skin disease 🙁

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I would love to hear about your WorkAway experiences, any troubles you may have faced, how you overcame them, what you enjoyed the most, or ideas you have regarding cultural exchange!

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