Life Lately: What I’m Thankful For

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Hey, guys. It’s been a while. If you think I didn’t notice, believe me: I did. But sometimes, you can have grand plans for things — like this blog — and life will just get in the way. That’s certainly what happened on my end. I have a plethora of saved blog posts, series I planned to launch, and a schedule I had hoped to keep to.

And then, well, life just got too busy.

But you know what? That’s okay. 

It’s something I’ve had to preach to myself often during this blogging journey. I find myself frustrated that I, quite frankly, haven’t made the time to get this little platform of mine to where I’d love for it to be. But then I remember that the reason I haven’t been as diligent about setting aside time for the blog is because I’ve been so busy doing other things, things that I’ve deemed as a bigger priority. All year, I’ve been trying to focus on balancing what’s work and what’s fun, what’s necessary and what’s a bonus, what’s rewarding and what’s stressful. I never wanted to look at this blog as a job, something I had to do. So, yes, sometimes, that will mean I disappear for a month. It means I’m not quite so good at that blogging planner my best friend bought for me. It means I won’t post as much on Instagram.

That’s perfectly, 100% okay.

So anyways. Long rambling reasoning for my temporary absence aside, here I am.

It’s Sunday morning, and it’s a little chilly outside, at least for Arizona. I haven’t opened the windows yet, at least. The tree outside our apartment is finally shedding some leaves and turning a proper orange; I’m loving it. Currently, I have a pumpkin candle lit and some pumpkin creamer in my coffee. It’s finally feeling like fall.

So, naturally, I decorated for Christmas last night.

Before you all jump on me with “it’s too early!” or “Thanksgiving first!” — I just gave you all examples of how the pumpkins have decidedly not left yet. I just added some Santas and a Christmas tree to the bunch.

Needless to say, the holidays are my favorite time of year. Christmas is my number-one favorite, but Thanksgiving is a close second. Partly because I always go home. Partly because there’s stuffing and mashed potatoes. Mostly because it gives me a chance to look back and reflect on what I’m most thankful for this year.

This year, I’m thankful for the little lessons.

I’m thankful for the growing pains. It’s been a year of transition in some ways. The boy is hard at work studying for the CPA exam, and at some times, that’s been a little taxing on both of us. On top of it, there’s definitely been moments when I’ve unfairly taken my own stress out on him, whether that’s with snippy words or general disinterest. But we’ve continued to learn and grow through the more challenging seasons, and in the end, we’re learning to love each other better. I know this is a natural progression of a relationship, and I know that we are stronger for it. For that, I’m ever so thankful.

I’m thankful for distance. I won’t lie — it’s hard to have your best friend live several states away. It’s hard to not be near the majority of your family. There are times I wish I could just show up at my Grammie’s house, or call up the Shining Twin and demand a chips and salsa-fueled Friends marathon. But as I get older, I realize that there’s a level of effort that goes into maintaining relationships over distance. This is something I used to take for granted, especially when it comes to my family. Yes, family will always be there, but you’ve got to work at it like any other relationship. I like to think I’m getting better at managing the distance. Who knows if that’s true? But I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from it.

(And, of course, this isn’t to discount my friends & family that are here. I’m of course so thankful for the immediate family that is nearby; not everyone’s so lucky to have their parents, siblings and brand-new niece less than 30 minutes away.)

I’m thankful for stress. This sounds weird, I know. But I mean it more of this way: I’m thankful to have a job I care so much about to be so stressed about sometimes. Granted, it’s not always stressful. It’s less often stressful than it is not, really. But there are certainly times, as with anything we care about, where pressure mounts — whether that’s to hit a deadline, to prove you can do it, or just to get the job done. However, I do think that a lot of my own pressure is self-inflicted, and I know for a fact that I do it because I want to excel in this position I love so much. Ultimately, that’s a wonderful thing.

Three simple things, and three big lessons I’ve learned this year.

So while I do apologize for not being as consistent with this blog as I might ideally like to be, I don’t apologize for the reason behind it. I don’t apologize for learning to be more present when I need to be, I don’t apologize for spending more time Facetiming than doing Instagram photoshoots, I don’t apologize for setting aside my side hustle for my main one. Life is about prioritizing sometimes, and in different seasons, different things will be important.

This blog is still my outlet, and I hope to have more time to devote to it once life calms down a little. For those who are hanging in there: thank you. I’m endlessly thankful for you, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

5 Ways to Fully Fall for Fall

Like most girls in their mid-twenties I am, basically and unabashedly, in love with the season autumn.

However, living smack-dab in the Sonoran desert doesn’t exactly offer a bunch of puddles to splash in or leaves to pile up to add to the autumnal atmosphere.

Thankfully, there’s Target to help combat that. And, thankfully part 2, pumpkin patches still exist in the desert (but – and this question is directed at anyone who owns, or knows someone who might own, a pumpkin patch… are they grown here? Are they imported in? However they get to the Valley of the Sun, I appreciate it.)

If you, like me, live in a place where the leaves don’t actually change and drinking a pumpkin spice latte seems a little odd with temperatures as warm as they are (here’s looking at you, Southern California), I’ve rounded up some ways the fully fall for fall, if you will:

1. Embrace the pumpkin candles. 

I’ll start with the obvious here. Scent is one of our strongest human senses, and has the power to bring about a plethora of emotions. That cozy feeling of fall is one of them. I’m just saying – the Bath & Body Works fall line is not just hype; it really adds to the atmosphere of things, even when it’s eighty degrees outside.

2. Hey, find some hay! 

No matter where you’re at, fall activities will indeed, inevitably, pop up. I’m sure even Hawai’i has a corn maze or two this time of year. Whether it’s a full-on fall festival, complete with said corn maze and turkey legs and what have you, or just a pumpkin patch on the corner of an intersection, a little hay goes a long way.

3. Movie marathon. 

One of the best things about fall is that it’s the start of the generally festive time of year — and there’s a movie for every moment. Halloween, Thanksgiving, general, golden-leaf loveliness: it’s a romantic setting overall, and makes for a wonderful movie backdrop. So light that pumpkin candle and pop some popcorn for an all-night autumn extravaganza. Personally, I suggest You’ve Got Mail, Halloweentown, Hocus Pocus (duh)and, of course, Remember the Titans. (Before you argue with me on that last one, football season is in the fall…)

4. Road trip! 

Even if you are a desert dweller, chances are, drive a couple hours in one direction or another, and you can find a place where fall actually does exist. For us, it’s only an hour, hour and a half tops, to the nearest trace of foliage. So if you have a free day, hop behind the wheel and go to where the temperature drops and the trees change colors.

5. Find a fall menu. 

You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to gorge yourself on seasonal root vegetables and freshly baked pies. Granted, as much as I love baking, I usually actually do save the pies for Thanksgiving (you can’t beat my cousin’s apple crumble… as long as I don’t pick all the crumble off pre-dinner). Ramble aside, I do love a good seasonal recipe. Pinterest has a wealth of them, and hopefully, you don’t end up on the Pinterest fails hashtag, like I am prone to do.

Combine any pick of these 5 things with a splurge in the dollar section at Target, and I guarantee you’ll be feeling the fall festive spirit. And once you’re in it… it’ll be time to start blasting the Christmas music 😉

*raises apple cider mug* Cheers!

GNO (or in!) Like a Pro

Ladies, I think we can all agree that some of our best times are spent with our best girls. However, sometimes (or, all the time, if you’re notoriously indecisive, like myself), figuring out how to get some quality gal pal time in can be a bit tricky. There’s just so many options — which, oddly enough, tends to feel like there’s nothing to do at all!

So in the spirit of helping out all my other can’t-make-a-decision-to-save-our-lives readers, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite ways to GNO (or in!) like a total pro. No matter the budget, time, or preferences of your squad, any of these are guaranteed to be filled with lots of laughter and plenty of bonding.

Paint & Sip Classes

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These are all over Instagram these days, and with good reason! You don’t have to be Picasso or Monet to have a blast attempting to recreate whatever masterpiece you and your friends have chosen. Add in a few of your favorite sips, and you’re guaranteed to at least spend a lot of time laughing, even if your actual painting doesn’t turn out exactly like you thought it would. (My pro tip on this one – be careful with how much wine you drink if you want to have any hope of making something decent. My cornhole skills might get better the further into our cabin’s Labor Day block party we get… my painting skills… not so much.)

If you’re in the Phoenix area, I’d highly recommend Pinot’s Palette, in Gilbert!

Budget friendly alternative: Host a paint night yourself! Canvases and acrylics aren’t too expensive at your local craft store, and we all know that a bottle of wine at the store is the same price as one glass at a bar. You can find stencils and tutorials for just about any masterpiece online! Just be careful where you do the painting — outside might be best.

Movie Night 

There’s something about keeping it traditional – a chick flick, some popcorn, and your best gal pal. Now, movie theaters are stepping it up and allowing you to get the whole dinner-and-a-movie experience in one place. At the Studio Movie Grill, they’ve got an assortment of delicious dinner choices (personally, I recommend the flatbread) and table service during the latest films.

Budget friendly alternative: Turn on the Netflix, order a pizza, and pop some prossecco or sparkling cider to keep it festive! Netflix released some killer chick flicks over the summer. There’s nothing wrong — in fact, there’s everything right — with binge watching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, and Sierra Burgess is a Loser for the eighteenth time.

Dressed Up Dessert

I don’t know about you, but I love finding a good excuse to get dressed up, and I don’t have nearly enough reasons. But if you feel like splurging, it sure is fun to put on some heels and hit a swanky restaurant (personally, I’m a fan of the resort restaurants) for a glass of something bubbly and a decadent dessert. Indulge your sweet tooth and give your favorite dress some time out of the closet all at the same time.

Budget friendly alternative: Go in the complete opposite direction and make homemade ice cream sundaes in your PJs! It’s just like middle school — only, without the catty comments and awkward phases, thank goodness.

Wine & Cheese 

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This one’s a classic, and for a good reason. And, if you know me, this is my top recommendation for girls night basically every time, because I just can’t pass up a good charcuterie board. The best part is, there’s tons of places in town that offer their stellar cheese boards on special for happy hour! (Check out my post on the happiest hours in Phoenix for some of my top local recommendations.)

Budget friendly alternative: Make your own! Places like Trader Joes’ offer excellent cheese options, and addictive crackers to go with it, all at a wallet-friendly price. The best part of making your own cheese board, too, is getting to decide exactly what goes on it — which, for me, would just be Brie, Brie, and some more Brie.

Do It For The ‘Gram

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Who doesn’t love a good photoshoot? Instagram exhibits are all the rage these days, so grab your gals and head to something like the Art of Ice Cream Experience, where not only can you indulge in all the sweet treats you could possibly desire, but you’ll get some great candids out of it too, perfect for showing off what a great girls night you had to all of your followers! (Because, you know, that’s important these days… says the blogger.)

Budget friendly alternative: Insta-worthy museums can have a price tag, but a plain old wall and your iPhone certainly don’t! Grab some props, whether it’s cheap photobooth mustaches from the Dollar Spot, or your fave stuffed animal that we all know sits on your bed, and stage your own shoot! You’ll have just as many silly shots, and hardly spend a cent!

No matter where you go or what you do, though, the most important thing is that you’re spending some solid time with your best friends… cheers to that!

The Happiest Hours Around Phoenix

I’m a happy hour girl. I owe a lot to whoever invented the concept. Half priced appetizers and five dollar wine? What’s not to love?

Besides, I think there is a lot to be said for getting all of your socializing in and then being able to be home with a book (and a cat and a boyfriend) by eight.

In honor of my love of happy hours, and partially because it’s just fun, I’ve rounded up my favorite happy hour spots in metro Phoenix:

North

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This one’s a given, and will top the list every time. Ask me anywhere I ever want to go for happy hour, I will pick North without fail. In fact, my friend Makenzie and I are such regular visitors to this establishment that we have our own table. Granted, we deemed it as such, but it is nice that there’s enough regularity to my appearances here to have something like that.

North has a board and bottle offering that rivals Postino’s. Actually (and I mean no offense to Postino’s here, because they also have a large part of my wine-loving heart), I think North’s is better. You get to pick between a pizza, bruschetta, or a chef’s board, and I almost always pick the latter. I’d recommend getting some extra bread, though. Mainly because the bread is delicious.

The Montauk

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For a spot smack-dab in the middle of Scottsdale, the Montauk has the greatest New England island vibes. With clapboard walls adorned with fishing nets, the nautical vibe can transport anyone to the world of Blair Waldorf and Hampton lifeguards on… well, Montauk.

I had the opportunity to check out some of the Montauk’s new menu items earlier this summer, which is when I first experienced their happy hour items. Before that, I’ve only ever brunched here.

In addition to a great range of appetizers, the Montauk offers full meal options that are delicious and unique, like their new bowls! Plus, they’ve got a full bar and some delicious cocktails to keep you… wait for it… happy all hour.

(Okay, sorry. I know. That was bad.)

Gwin Wine and Beer

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This is another recent discovery. I’ve been saying ever since moving to Scottsdale that I want to become a regular somewhere, and not in the way I’m regularly at North. I want to be a regular here in the sense that Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily, and Barney were regulars at MacLaren’s. Now, I’ve only been to Gwin once, but this seems like exactly the sort of place that could make that oddly specific dream of mine a reality.

Gwin’s bar takes up most of its dining area, but that’s what’s great about it. You feel like you’re really there to get to know the staff, to learn from them, and to look up at the really impressive chalk map of their wineries and specials. There is live music every weekend (and occasionally on Monday, which is when I saw Jaty Edwards perform). The food offered ranges from the best baked Brie I’ve had in a long time to Cornish Pasty Co.’s pasties, with a charcuterie board in the middle. While this might not be the sort of spot I’d go if I was ravenously hungry, I do plan on returning for plenty more Chardonnay and finger foods… and then walking across the parking lot for dessert at The Baked Bear.

Blanco Tacos & Tequila

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Yes, I do drink things that aren’t wine. I also like margaritas, and Blanco has some of the best. They also have a delectable queso dip that I could eat as an entire meal… and I have before, because it’s what tops their nachos. Blanco also has probably some of the best options for sharing plates out there, between their aforementioned dips and their gigantic cheese crisps. If you’re looking for a place to take a group, I’d definitely give Blanco a top-notch recommendation.

Phoenix Public Market

img_1639Oh, how I greatly miss living within walking distance of this gem. (Let’s start a petition to convince the boy to move back downtown so I can relive those happy hour glory days? Just kidding. Kind of.)

Phoenix Public Market is certainly one of the most recognizable spots downtown, partly because food trucks fill up its parking lot every Friday during lunch. But it’s quickly becoming one of the most recognizable happy hour haunts, too, and to that I say — of course it is! Their happy hour menu includes two of their best food offerings: Downtown Devil fries and a soft pretzel. Plus, they’ve got 5 dollar wine and beer and sangria, and a 5 dollar signature cocktail — the Lee Trevino, which is both gloriously refreshing and surprisingly spicy in the same sip.

Combine that with the fact that PPM is within walking distance of all the major sports and concert venues, just so long as it’s not five million degrees out, then you’ve got the perfect spot to get a quick bite and a drink before heading out to a game.

So, there you have it, my own little opinionated round up. And, granted, I part with the disclaimer that this is no way a comprehensive list, but rather the five spots that I frequent most often.

What are your favorite happy hours around the Valley? And for those of you checking in on this blog from out of town, I would love to hear your favorite local spots too… we can add it to the list of Things To Do for whenever I come visit. 😉 Until then… cheers! After all, it is 5 o’clock somewhere.

Becoming Sustainable, Sustainably

I’ve been on a kick lately – all about sustainability. It’s just at the very forefront of my mind, and honestly, how could it not be? It seems everywhere you look, there’s a new, horrific story about how human consumption is damaging the earth. God gave us this earth to take care of, to nurture, to love, and our rampant consumerism is killing it.

Literally.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be a composting, family-towel-using icon of sustainable living. I’m quite the opposite, actually. But lately, I have been looking for easy ways to reduce my own footprint. Ways to be sustainable… sustainably, if you will.

Note: The rest of this post contains affiliate links – if you click through any of the links in the post below & make a purchase, I may receive compensation, at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Get a reusable shopping bag

This, to me, is literally one of the easiest things you can do. In some states, like California and, I believe, Hawaii, there are laws in place to encourage people to do this simply by charging for bags. (Personally, I think Arizona should get on board with it, but that’s a ramble for another day.)

Most grocery stores these days sell reusable bags right at the front, and for a fairly decent price. I mean, come on. You can pick up a tote at Trader Joe’s for 99 cents. Just skip the oh-so-tempting caramel sea salt chocolate bar that they lure you in with at the impulse grab stands one day and get a bag instead… and then go hit up the sample counter an extra time to reward yourself for doing so. I won’t tell. 😉

Reusable cups – and straws!

Again, another super easy switch to make, and one that I can vouch will save you money on your daily Starbucks, while also conveniently limiting your use of single-use plastic, which is one of the biggest waste issues we’re battling right now.

Starbucks, and many other coffee shops, offer a cup discount for a personal cup – which, of course, makes sense as it avoids them having to use their own inventory. But it’s also a really good incentive to use one, especially now that they sell such cheap reusable options… Starbucks has a $2 hot cup and a $3 reusable cold cup up for grabs. I may or may not have bought multiples of both, and now am fully stocked for all of my iced coffee needs.

While you’re at it, maybe consider getting reusable straws too! If you’re like me (and my best friend, and my aunt, and many other people I can think of), you love straws. It just makes drinks taste different… and better! But have you ever paused to think just how many single-use straws you go through in a week, or even in a day? If you switch to something like these stainless steel reusable straws, you’ll easily reduce your straw consumption… and, on the bright side, won’t have to worry about running out of straws at home ever again!

Meal prep

Okay, this one might seem like a fairly odd one, but I’ve been really focusing on reducing my food waste lately. I don’t compost — mainly because I don’t quite know how, and because it’s a very intimidating concept, if I’m being honest — so I’ve tried to reduce what food waste I do have left simply by, well, making sure I can eat it all. I already try not to buy packaged food when it’s not necessary for the sake of cutting down of packaging waste (like packaged fruit, etc.) and the packaged food we do buy (deli meat, etc.) I try to find either recyclable or reusable packaging. I’m not kidding when I say that 90% of our Tupperware is from the deli section. The other 10% is “borrowed” from my parents… 🙂

Anywhos.

I’ve learned that prepping meals so that there are guaranteed leftovers avoids putting me in the awkward spot where there’s not quite enough left to save, but also way too much left to eat. (Although, again, being with a human garbage disposal does come in handy here, as he’ll usually eat clean up for the table if necessary.) Portioning out when cooking so that there’s a promised second meal helps me significantly reduce any unnecessary food waste from my cooked meal. It’s also made me more conscious of preserving what I can while actually cooking the meal, so I’d consider that a win-win.

(Plus, how adult do you feel when you’re bringing actual food to work instead of a PB&J? So adult.)

Search secondhand 

Garment manufacturing is a big issue when it comes to sustainability. I’ve always been a fan of making clothes and things last as long as possible. Shopping secondhand comes naturally to me (well, as naturally as any shopping might come. I’m not a huge browser and I love the sale rack, so shopping for clothes generally isn’t something I’d consider “natural.” But I digress.)

Plus, searching for finds secondhand offers the benefit to your wallet, too. I recently fell in love with ThredUp, which you can read all about in my awkward review. It was an easy and affordable way to refresh my summer wardrobe (I got my new favorite blouse out of it), and I felt better about my conscious purchasing.

Now, I realize this is only the tip of the iceberg… and that that might not be the best metaphor to use in this scenario, but I’ll assume that you catch my drift. But I don’t think that sustainability needs to be this huge, terrifying, intimidating concept that seems unreasonably difficult to implement into your daily life. Even the smallest things can make a difference.

So… what about you? Do you take any conscious steps towards keeping your own carbon footprint as small as realistically possible?

Blogging with Purpose

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To be honest, I almost didn’t post today. I almost broke my fairly regular cadence of Tuesday/Thursday blog posts out of mere busyness and lack of true inspiration. This week has just gotten the better of me — social commitments have had me slacking on my workouts, work has me exhausted (in the good way! but still…), and I didn’t plan well for blog content. I didn’t want to post just for the sake of posting, so I wasn’t going to do it at all.

And then it struck me: there’s my post.

Diving into the blogger world, I’ve realized that it can be so easy to be insincere, not genuine. With all of the sponsored posts that keep blogs going, a battle for visibility within the algorithms, and so much more, it can be tempting to post just to post. I’ll admit — I’ve done it, and I’m fooling myself if I think I won’t do it again.

But I try, so hard, to avoid it. Why? Because that’s not at all what I started on this blogging journey for.

The other day, someone asked me a question.

“What is your blog about?”

I had to pause, for a moment, before offering a rambling response of: “It’s a lifestyle blog. Well, a faith-based lifestyle blog. Well, no. Kind of a faith-mixed-with-lifestyle blog. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

And while that’s true, it still got me thinking. What is this blog about?

I always said that I didn’t ever want to blog just to blog. I wanted to write things that have meaning to me – whether that meaning stems from pure interest or curiosity, or whether it’s something a bit deeper like faith. I never wanted to write just to spew some words out there. I live by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s motto:

You don’t write because you want to say something,
you write because you have something to say.

So as I pondered the question, I started perusing my own feeds. I started looking for the people and bloggers whose content I admire the most, who I look up to and admire in this crazy, saturated blogging sphere.

I noticed that my favorites were the ones with stories to tell. Not only stories, but their own truths. I am the biggest fan of real-life rawness, and I am so in awe of people who are vulnerable enough to share those moments with the world.

So that, I’ve decided, is what I want to tell people my blog is about:

Real life.

That’s not to say I won’t work with sponsors or affiliates. That’s not to say that I won’t occasionally post just to post — but I’m going to try to avoid it.

This is my pledge to you, my readers, that I will continue to blog with the utmost purpose. I will not hide details for the sake of making my life look more “shiny.” I will not shy away from the tough stuff. I urge you, whether you’re a blogger or a reader or just a random passerby, to live your life with that same mantra.

Can we do that, together? Can we promise to be real, and purposeful, and intentional?

I pray that we can. I pray that I can. And I pray that you continue to offer me the grace of your listening ears (or… I guess… your reading eyes?)

The Sweetest Thing

Millennial friendship is such an anomaly, if you ask me. On one hand, we still very much have the “keeping up with the Jones’” competitive attitude of generations past – look at my new job, new fiancé, new baby, new dog (but no new house, as we are too busy buying avocado toast). On the other hand, we’re the generation throwing convention to the wind, and known for being excruciatingly supportive of it – oh, you want to quit your job to go drive around the US in an air stream trailer? TOTALLY, I’m so into your free spirit!

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Photo taken at the Art of Ice Cream Experience.

That said, millennial friendship can be hard to strike a balance… to find the sweet spot, if you will.

Friendship is a balance of giving deep life advice with an edge of realness, and advising that you buy plane tickets you can’t afford just in the name of life experiences.

It’s a sweet spot somewhere between chatting about work over wine and charcuterie, and diving into a ball pit a The Art of Ice Cream Experience for the sake of an Instagram.

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Photo taken at the Art of Ice Cream Experience.

It’s being real when it counts, and offering to take a million photos to get the “picture perfect” shot when it doesn’t.

It’s about showing up when you’re expected, and even when you’re not, while also respecting the inevitable boundaries of our always-on, career-driven millennial culture.

Friendship knows when to blindly support and when to offer a word of caution. That said, it’s also respecting where and when your opinion is warranted.

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Photo taken at the Art of Ice Cream Experience.

It’s a game of chance. It’s not easy, but relationships between humans inherently aren’t. It’s just as much about finding the sweet spot and recognizing our own humanity and humility, and that of others. It’s knowing that we are all going through life, which is full of twists and turns and mistakes and glorious moments, and knowing how much sweeter it is to do that with a few good friends by your side.