Planning My 1st Solo Vacation

Complaining that I need a decent vacation on a frequent basis isn’t uncharacteristic of me.

Doing hours of research & planning to take a vacation but never taking one isn’t uncharacteristic of me.

Actually booking a vacation out of state that requires airfare however is uncharacteristic of me.

And after years of lamenting, I put my money where my mouth is and booked myself an honest to god vacation. 

For workaholic, digital dependent, single, childless 27-year-old, the assumption this get away would be on a tropical island with sandy beaches and quiet.

Good guess, but no.

 

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From September 21 through September 24, I’ll be romping around Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. By myself. And I can’t think of a time I’ve been more giddy about something unrelated to my career in over 8 years.

 

June 2003 was when my last trip to WDW and Universal Studios took place, but that was before Fast Passes or Magic Bands, an updated Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, and most importantly The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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Notice my 8th cool self wearing a bucket hat, braces and spray bottle.

Whenever going through the news feeds on social media where friends shared their latest photos chugging Butter Beer or posing in front of Cinderella’s Castle, a twinge of jealousy stirred up. It seems like the perfect place to be in a constantly, uplifting atmosphere almost a break from the reality of life.  Earlier this summer, the planning of a possible vacation to Disney World with others fell through, upsetting me more than it should have. Through some reflection (thank you 7+ years of therapy & Dr. R), it dawned on me how badly I wanted to experience this trip.


Since money was set aside for a vacation that had been promised to be taken for months, I reached out to my good friend Jen, who is a Magical Travel agent. After she did some research for me, it came out that going to WDW and Universal during mid-September was ideal for a number of reasons. With school in session, there are less families willing to pull their kids from classes that just started. So crowds and waiting times for rides are the much lower than other times of the year. 
Since the timing is considered off-peak, ticket prices and on-site hotel accommodations can be book through a frequent promotional deal. For under $975, I was able to book a round trip flight, stay at the All Star Movie Resort for 3 nights, purchase 3-park hopper tickets for WDW, 1-park hopper for Universal Studios, book a WDW dining plan (So right off the bat, the majority of my food is covered) and get a special night ticket for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 9.21.58 AMWhile I do love a good beach day and the ocean, it would end up being an anxiety nightmare for myself. Alone with my thoughts in the peace and quiet would lead to over analyzing everything in my life, especially if unlimited liquor was available.

 

And honestly, this is a rare point in my life where I am to go on vacation of my choosing alone without being considerate of anyone else.

This sounds selfish, but it is true. If I was with a boyfriend right now, he may not be so gung-ho to schedule a vacation that requires 8-10 miles of walking per day. Because I only have 4 days, each day requires an early morning wakeup call, all day and night at the park, with little if any time to lay by the pool. If I was going with a group of friends, I would surely have to compromise on some of my dining choices of fastpass options.

But with this trip, I have been able to make plans to eat at all of the places that appeal to me, make reservations for fastpass rides that I like (which doesn’t include The Tower of Terror or Rock and Roll Coaster because I’m a wimp). And what most people don’t know about me is that I am a huge cartoon nerd. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved studying how different characters are drawn, their progressions over the years, how the voice artists bring the character to life. And I can nerd out as hard core as I want here without being afraid of boring someone else.

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Also, I’ve always loved everything about Disney. Being born in 1989, I was right in the prime time to grow up with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Lion King and Toy Story all before I reached 1st grade.

In fact, there are a few fun facts about my ongoing love with Disney

  • I celebrated my 7th birthday at WDW.
  • In high school I was in Beauty & the Beast (Tap dancing napkin #7) & Peter Pan (Curly the Lost Boy).
  • My nursery was decorated with a Baby Mickey theme from Dundee Baby.
  • My first movie theater experience was The Lion King.
  • I Just Can’t Wait to Be King was my Kindergarten class’s graduation song- St. Luke’s circa 1995.
  • I was Pocahontas for Halloween in 1st Grade. 
  • Ariel has always been my favorite Disney Princess, with Belle being a close second. 

Without a doubt, there will be times during the trip I wish someone was next to me to experience certain things, like seeing Hogwarts for the first time or the Epcot globe. But with social media, I can send pictures to friends and family members back home. As a photographer myself, I decided that this would be a great opportunity to actually be in photos of my own vacation,  with the purchase of the Memory Maker.

This vacation is a treat to myself that allows me to take a much needed break from the constant stressors of life, and to spend time doing exactly what I want, when I want.

2016 has been a challenging year for me so far. Going no-contact with my mother, helping my father navigate his odd health problems that popped up out of nowhere, and loosing my grandmom all within five months of each other was an avalanche of heartache. And as much as I absolutely love my job, 40-50 hours each is spent working to produce content that others want to see. These are not things specific to my experience: anyone who has ever breathed has been through these stressors. As my father would say ‘that’s life”.

For four days I will not worry about if I am offending someone, making a good impression, outputting enough work, being considerate enough, being ambitious enough or being flexible enough. My only worries will be making it to my breakfast with Donald Duck on time and how long should i wait to ride the Flying Hippogriff after ingesting several Butter Beers.

31 days and counting!

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And Somehow It’s July 5th

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Somehow it’s July 5th and my desk calendar is still on April. This pretty much sums up my frame of mind while trying to figure out what the hell has been going on over the past few months. Winter felt as if it was going to be around forever and now Philadelphia is in the middle of a heat wave.

In between the madness of starting spring by moving into a new apartment, then trying to juggle filming for my freelance project on top of a full time job, capped off by the abrupt hospice/death of my grandmother at the end of the season, summer kind of just appeared.

Honestly, there hasn’t been any exciting plans so far besides the Weezer concert I’m attending tonight (my first concert in three years) and writing. Actually, the main priority for summer 2016 is getting the first draft of my book completed by the end of season. While I’ve been dabbling with writing the book for over a year and half now, over the past two months my commitment to seeing it through with a deadline is has materialized.

13621465_10157017988190063_1506263234_oMaybe it is because I am now closer to 30 than ever before, or that as a writer who has been fortunate enough to be published in a variety of places, there is something inside me that is craving to dive deeper into my storytelling ability. And the fact that I was at Barnes and Nobles the a few months ago and became unexplainably furious to see that Snookie had a book featured in the New York Times Best Sellers section, and I did not.

Despite my silly notion that my brain should be able to write and create quality content at least 17 hours each day, it cannot. Between growing in my abilities as the Digital Content Program Specialist at work, which has been exciting and rewarding, while working on my first (and highest paying) video project as a side hustle- writing for my book has been increasingly hard to manage.

But with the filming complete for the side hustle video (cannot wait to share it on here when it is live), my free time outside of the 9-5 has been redirected to sitting down with my Google Doc and typing. Some days my hands cannot keep up with the thoughts and emotions tumbling out of my head and it is a struggle to get it all down on paper.

Other days it is a struggle to lift up my fingers to write a complete sentence that has an ounce of redeemable quality. But recently, I have made myself slodge through the heaviness of my thoughts and the clumsiness of my fingers to get through the other side of writer’s block. At the moment, my manuscript has 60,000 words that will be become my first book- which is even bizarre to type.

In order to continue to gain momentum and to organize the mammoth of words that have been strung together in my Google Doc, I enlisted the help of Julie Lenard, from The Storyologist. When I attended as session Julie ran at the PHL Blogger Conference back in April, the notion of a writing coach become appealing.

13588799_10157017988140063_1651447305_oAfter several emails and a meeting, we decided to work together to help reach my goal. I’ll eventually go into more detail of how a writing coach has helped me organize my thoughts, and push myself to write topics that may not come as easily to me as others. Also, for the first time in my personal life since I was a kid, I am being held accountable for doing something.

With work, it is easy for me to not drop the ball since my accountability impacts others in the office as well as my potential paycheck. For my own personal work, the only person that is affected by my lack of action is myself which never really matters to me most of the time. But with Julie, there are multiple check ins each week to see if I actually did my writing during the times we talked about, which she can go in and read in our shared Google Doc folder. Knowing that her email will be coming and that she is expecting to be reading new content, there is a refreshed sense of urgency of me committing to writing.

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Other Things That Have Happened So Far This Summer:

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Roller Derby: Much More Than Skating

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Last weekend, a spectacular gathering of sportsmanship, community, and innovation came together for a weekend-long event in the most unsuspecting place. At a sports center tucked away in Bucks County, Feasterville to be exact, that’s 45 minute drive from the heart of Philadelphia, the roller derby community gathered for the 10th annual East Coast Roller Derby Extravaganza (ECDX) produced by Philly Roller Girls and the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).  

In just over a 48 hour span, 44 roller derby bouts were played across three different rinks providing non-stop game viewing. Athletes and their fan base took planes, trains and automobiles to get to the event- literally. The variety of accents and dialects that could be heard during the weekend were plentiful-and included travelers who journeyed from Canada, England, Australia and beyond.  

For many, the Roller Derby strikes thoughts of the Ellen Page, Whip It, film. But for the hundreds of attendees that participated at ECDX, in addition to the thousands who listened to the bouts from home via online streaming, roller derby is a way of life.

As a disclaimer, I am not a roller derby player. Nor do I lack any coordination that would allow me to function on wheels.The sport appeared on my radar back in 2012, when my co-worker, Erica, began talking about her involvement with the sport.

IMG_8429Over time Erica (known as Double H in the derby world), became one of my best friends, and I began to hear all about this female-dominated sport that has been continuously growing around the globe. Through it, she shared about the amazing friendships created through the sport, and her own derby-themed love story.  My 1st time watching roller derby was 2013, when she asked me to attend a bout she was announcing so that I could keep an eye oh her young son. While babysitting, I took in everything that was going around me. The derby names everyone goes by(some of them still make me blush), passionate fans waving handmade signs while screaming their hearts out, and women who willingly lace up skates to participate in a game where it is a strong possibility to end up with a bodily injury. Still even knowing that the impact looks worse than it actually is, I wince and get concerned when I watch Erica get knocked around on skates. Being a spectator of roller derby is not for the faint of heart.

Since that initial experience, I have evolved from derby babysitter to multimedia volunteer for ECDX. 2016 marked my 4th time at the event, making it  my most engaged involvement. Throughout the weekend, I worked with the legion of ECDX volunteers who put their blood, sweat, tears and talents into the annual event.

Most, if not all, people who made ECDX possible sacrificed hours of their personal lives to bring the event to life- encompassing multi-faceted roles including photographers, announcers, referees, merchandisers, broadcasters, recreational planners, and maintenance. To say that their dedication to making the experience a memorable one is a labor of love is an understatement.

Throughout the weekend, I was able to work alongside another creative mind, an event volunteer and skater named Taco Cat, to capture video and photography. Each day, we worked on producing and posting short 30-90 second video clips for fans following along on Facebook. Additionally, we worked on producing Facebook Live reports throughout the weekend, all made possible by using an iRig microphone and my iPhone 6s Plus.  You can check out some of my favorite shots and video clips below, and also by liking the ECDX Facebook page.

 

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5th Grade, Filming & Fancy Footwork

 

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A few hours each month I find myself transported back to a time warp, where the chairs are smaller, the voices squeaker and the smell much sweatier. The 5th grade has not changed much since I was in during the 1999-2000 school year. Except none of the kids are blasting Nsync, trading Pokemon card or watching As Told By Ginger.

12783571_10153937280828698_7589761860778496392_oThey may have iPads and texting- but never will they be able to bask in perfecting the ultimate AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) Away Message and profile.

Anyway- there is a reason I’m back in the classroom besides nostalgia. I have partnered with Dancing Classrooms Philly to create original video content to showcase the impact their programs has on middle school students.

As a non-profit organization, Dancing Classroom Philly brings dancing lessons into 5th and 8th grade classrooms through in-school residency programs twice a week for a duration of 2 1/2 months. And the students getting more great workout learning dances ranging from the waltz to the rumba. Social interactions including eye contact, emotional intelligence, body contact and teamwork are all part of the program’s educational experiencE. 

12768130_10153917210298698_4055273941892517245_o Through the grant funded by The Philadelphia Foundation, I have been able to capture the spring residencies of the students at four Philadelphia area schools. By creating exciting video projects, my goal is to show how Dancing Classrooms Philly helps build confidence and break down social barriers in our schools and communities- while spreading the word why #ArtEdWorks!

This has been such fun freelance project and really allows me to use a medium of storytelling that I haven’t been using lately. Here is a sneak peak of a bit of the footage I captured during the 1st week of lessons back in February!

 

 

2016: The Year of The Highly Intelligent Cat

Of course I may be bias, but the cutest cat alive is the orange tabby cat that will forever be known as ‘the highly intelligent cat’. To capitalize on her cuteness, I started of 2016 by launching her own website, thatanniecat.com as well as her own Instagram that_anniecat.

While there is a part of me that has visions of feline internet superstardom, mainly the reason why I am so willing to share her with the world is to share the love. Yes, that sounds incredibly corny but it is true. Her ginger fur and endless expressions have healed my heart in ways that I may never be able to verbalize. And if someone can crack a smile or share in some of that warm & fuzziness through the world wide web, that is awesome.

According to the guidelines posted on BuzzFeed: 

“The pets with the most “Cute” votes will rise to the top of our Cute or Not Top 10 and eventually CONQUER THE WORLD.* The coolest submissions may even be featured in exclusive editorial posts on BuzzFeed Animals dot com, the website!

*BuzzFeed cannot guarantee world domination for your pet.”

Help me spread my pawsitivity to others through social media. Click on the links below for all 3 of the submissions to vote!

Cute of Not Buzzfeed Submission  #1

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Cute or Not BuzzFeed Submission #2Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 4.37.20 PM

Cute or Not: BuzzFeed Submission # 2Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 4.37.10 PM

365 in 365- Kinda, Sorta, Let Me Explain

il_570xN.483656551_25qxAlmost exactly a year ago, I had decided to embark in an ambitious endeavor of completing 365 things 365 days. At the time, it was a creative way for me to continue to try new things while regaining a new life balance, something that was lacking in 2014. The original list was full of mini road trips, photography projects, wish list items and many, many, many random to-dos

Forgive me if this sounds cliche, but there is no other phrase that can describe why all of the items on the list did not get completed. The unexpected happened in my life early in the year, placing me on a winding path for the rest of the year. Instead of focusing on this list that was sure to bring me enlightenment, circumstances caused me to rise to the occasion at work, where I had barely been for four months. An unintended Master’s class was upon me, expanding my industry knowledge and skills sets in a baptism by fire way. Somehow I blinked, and 2015 is in the final stages. In total, 95 items have been completed on the original 365 list. Yet there is no doubt that over the past year, the amount of new experiences, purchases, projects and skills developed total that target number of 365.

doallthethingsWhile all of the items are not included on here, each one has impacted who I am. From discovering my uncanny ability to multitask high priority tasks, to exploring my strengths as a professional, the direction of my future is clearer now than I had anticipated it would be this time last year. In respects to my writing, in 2015 I have had 33 essays published including 20 syndicated pieces and 13 original. My mind is still reeling about that reality. The gratitude I have in my heart for the opportunity to share my stories to help others feel less alone cannot even begin to be explained. Personally, the items that were completed (both planned and spontaneous) served as additional crumbs of insight leading me the path of learning more about myself. Self acceptance and inner peace is still a daily struggle, but maintaining an undistorted viewpoint has become more manageable.

To check out my favorite moments of 2015, including a photo gallery, click here!

To check out a photo gallery of my favorite photographs that I’ve snapped in 2015, click here! 

To check out all of the 33 articles I’ve had published in 2015, click here! 

Below are the list of the 90 items checked off the list, as well as a few of the additions: Continue reading

A Year at Penn Rehab

11139367_1061647397198175_1431669535885815449_nLast Tuesday marked my one year anniversary as the Marketing and Communications Specialist at Penn Rehab, also known as Good Shepherd Penn Partners. The organization of the therapy provider for Penn Medicine, including acute physical and occupational therapy in all of the Penn Medicine hospitals (Pennsylvania Hospital, The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center), in-patient and Long Term Acute Care on 1800 Lombard Street in Philadelphia, and outpatient services across the region (known as Penn Therapy & Fitness).

11043011_1019303038099278_386451778405980983_nI clearly remember stumbling across the posting on a Sunday afternoon at the coffee shop. I was at the point where my life was finally coming together again and my heart was missing the work in healthcare. The food banking industry was rewarding, and Philabundance was an amazing experience, but it did not fuel me the way my work at Gift of Life Donor Program and Gift of Life Family House did. Being in physical rehabilitation was a chance to be present in capturing the heart of an aspect of healthcare without such a life or death weight, like organ donation. However to my surprise there are many pre-transplant and post transplant patients that receive physical therapy with us!

The day after emailing my information,the recruiter reached out to start the interview process. Two weeks later I was hired, and four weeks later I began my adventure. I accepted the offer in the parking lot of Ikea, and spent an hour afterwards wandering around the store in disbelief. Not only was it a generous salary increase, but came with my own door. To someone who spent the past 3 years in bullpen on top of coworkers for 8 plus hours, this was a luxury. Similar to the moment when little orphan Annie walked into Daddy Warbucks’s mansion (dramatic but you get the point).

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Lose Your Selfie in the Moment

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Why yes, I do own a #selfie sweatshirt.

Originally posted on Huffington Post on 9/29/15.

For anyone who knows me, their first reaction to this article is that it is being penned by a hypocrite. Rightfully so I am a notorious shutterbug and have been since the days of disposable cameras during junior high. At my parent’s house, there are shelves with albums containing photos taken from a mix of disposable cameras and early digital cameras. My photo obsession was escalated when I converted to the iPhone in 2011 and entered the wonderful world of selfies.

The iPhone may have helped me document the moment more efficiently, but not without consequences. Most noticeable, my borderline obsession of capturing the moment has caused me on multiple occasions to be removed from it instead. Perhaps this newfound awareness is divine inspiration because it became clear thanks to Pope Francis.

Watching the media coverage of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States began this reflection of ‘selfie’. Being in the presence of the most revered spiritual leaders in the world is one of those once in a lifetime, indelible moments, so it is understandable that there is a strong desire to capture the moment. While watching the Papal festivities on television, there were parts of the footage where Pope Francis could not be seen by the network camera because of the amount of tablets, phones and cameras being held up by spectators. Even priests that were seated by the alter snapped photos as Pope Francis performed the rites of the Catholic mass.

Keep in mind, these are the people who waited countless hours on their feet to meet Pope Francis, and are most likely devout members of the Catholic church, who believe He is the closest thing humans have to a Earthly connect to Jesus Christ (thank you 16 years of catholic school). After snapping one or two photos, the reverend thing would have been to put down the iWhatever and bask in the moment, especially if the leader of your faith is close enough to touch. All I could hear in my mind was the high pitched shrills from the outraged nuns that oversaw my catholic education, knowing that somewhere they are clicking their tongues in disapproval with their habitats all in a bunch. Continue reading

Participation Prize: How Childhood Praise Was Affecting My Career

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I am thrilled to share my first ever essay published on Elite Daily. It has been a goal of mine to craft a thoughtful piece that would resonate to the readers of the website! Below is the article, which you can find on Elite Daily! 

Earlier this month, during one of my weekly mental personal training sessions (aka therapy with Dr. R), I was completely agitated and unable to self-soothe. After taking on several new projects at work, I was frustrated and surprised by the feedback I was given. In the past three months, various new responsibilities were added to my position, and they forced me to adapt quickly in order to continue producing high-quality work.

But unlike the projects that I’m versed in producing (usually well before deadline with rave reviews), my execution wasn’t as graceful straight of the bat. But that particular week, not only were people not enthusiastic about my projects, they also offered me some fairly harsh criticisms. Granted, the revisions and feedback are productive as I try to refine new skills. But I found myself questioning why career growth is painful at times, as self-doubt and assumptions of inadequacy gnaw on my brain.

Relaying the situation to Dr. R, it was clear this had nothing to do with my happiness with my job, or relationships with my colleagues. It didn’t take long for me realize what was fueling this emotional tailspin. I recalled articles in The New York Times and The Washington Postabout the Participation Trophy Generation, which is another way of saying Millennials are constantly given praise just for participating in something. And their expectation is routine, detailed feedback.

By the end of my session, the clarity of what was bothering me perked up my mood, but I was left with the horrifying realization I was the one pouring gasoline over the lighter fluid. And it’s all because I was born in the spring of 1989.

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World Suicide Prevention Day- Awareness Through Writing

imagesThere’s no secret that I’ve been a huge advocate for mental health awareness over the past several years. My motivation for writing has always been making others feel less alone. This has been the reason I’ve written candidly about my struggles with depression and anxiety, in addition weekly therapy sessions. Also, I’ve shared more recently how my mother’s own mental health struggles impacted my childhood and our relationship. Because of the internet, someone can look for an essay or another voice that can possibly understand their feelings. Through the bravery of other writers, I’ve been rejuvenated and reminded during dark moments that with continued perseverance things will get better.

When I set foot into the counseling center at St. John’s University during the spring semester of my sophomore year, I thought it was a one time deal. A close friend had been suicidal and was checked into a hospital for a nervous breakdown. We were both so alike, and the fears of my own future taking a similar path trumped the preconceived notions I had about therapy.

Over the past seven years since that initial session, I can thank several mixtures of antidepressants, a 2 fantastic therapists and a whole lot of healing for helping me thrive. The free weekly therapy sessions offered throughout my college education saved my life, and is 100% the most important resource that helped me get through my undergraduate degree. Words cannot express the gratitude of the free services, that I would have not been able to pay on a student budget. During my darkest episodes of depression and anxiety, the idea of taking my own life wasn’t farfetched. I am so thankful for the voice inside my heart that kept encouraging me to go to therapy sessions, continue to heal and to find a medication that worked best for me. So many are not that fortunate.

images (1)I’m lucky to have a 3 close friends who have been able support me during episodes of anxiety and depression. They are the ones that have asked if I was okay, or made sure that I was continuously taking my medication. Having those few people in my life that will speak up when they sense something off is priceless.

Below are in the pieces I’ve written about mental health issues over the past several years. In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, I hope that you read/share/repost this so that someone (or you) can perhaps feel less alone. In raising my voice, I hope it encourages others to raise their own to advocate for their own mental health wellness.

How I’m Surviving In Survival Mode During A Severe Depression Relapse 

The Christmas Cat That Worked Better Than Xanax

The Heartache of Bullying Doesn’t Have an Age Limit

Is Therapy Really Worth It? 7 Questions People Who See a Shrink Are Tired of Hearing

My Family Hid My Mother’s Mental Health Struggles During My Childhood, And I’m Still Dealing With It

Generations Of Dysfunctional Body Image Ends With Me

Throwing Warm and Fuzzy out the Window

Sanity or Self-Esteem?

Moving on From Being Dark and Twisty