North Shore Trail: Flower Mound, TX

Let me start by saying this is the first hike of the year! I’ve decided to go for the #52HikeChallenge this year, mainly to track my hikes and miles since it’s something I’ve never done before! I originally wanted to do this hike over the weekend, but life got in the way so I did it after work this week.

So, how did I end up in Flower Mound, a suburb outside Dallas? I spent some time looking for “jumpable” cliffs around Dallas because I was thinking of starting the year off with a polar bear plunge and the only way that was going to happen was if I jumped off a fun cliff. That led me to Rockledge Park. However, that has an entry fee and with budget goals I decided to go ten minutes north along Grapevine Lake which led me to Murrell Park. Similiar cliffs, same lake, and its own (free!) hiking trail.

It wasn’t too far from where I work, so after less than a half hour of driving, I was winding my way through a new, and fairly nice, neighborhood. The more parks I check out, the more neighborhoods I drive through. It’s weird to find these hidden hiking trails so close to civilization, that’s for sure. When I arrived the park was empty except for one car, there was no map at the trail head of North Shore, and the sign said Closed.

Oh, and you know, I couldn’t find my hiking boots, which I was sure I’d thrown in the car days beforehand.

I’d already delayed this hike a few times because of the rain, and I’d driven this far, and I hadn’t gone hiking in close to a month. I had excuses not to do it – the most obvious the closed sign followed closely by choosing to hike in my heeled boots. But when things don’t go my way, sometimes I just power through it anyway. And it usually works out.

Starting off, right away I could tell this was a trail meant more for mountain bikers than for hikers, which is typically the case I’ve noticed for the trails around Dallas. The path was narrow and winding and full of bike tire tracks. The temperature was pretty perfect considering it’s early January, although there were a few muddier spots because of the rain. In areas you could see the nearby houses and at various points the trail crossed a small cement road, but overall it’s a nice looping trail. Lots of brush, but the trail was very well marked.

Weirdly, halfway through I found the map posted, though it was hard to tell how long it was. At this point, I had yet to come upon the lake and I was losing daylight. I picked up my pace (even in my heeled boots) and made it my mission to get to the lake and back to my car before I was left in the dark. My phone GPS worked perfectly since I was so close to the neighborhood even though I only passed one trail-runner and one biker in the whole two hours I was out there. My feet held up in my heels even though the trail was hilly and passed a couple of cute waterways.

Finally, just as I was about to give up on the lake overlook, the trail kept heading for the lake, instead of taking me back and forth away from it. I passed a (kind of scary) outdoor bathroom and a (cute) campfire area to get to a small trail overlook with one cliff ledge. There was no way (or time) for jumping so I enjoyed the view and the colors of dusk before heading back to my car.

I knew I wouldn’t have time taking the trail – looking it up now, I think in total the thing is three miles, but it could be as long as six since it doesn’t have many reviews. I took the cement road which led me out of the trails and back to the main road where the park entrance was. This took me less than a half hour and I got some good views of the setting sun over the lake from beyond the trees. Overall, even though I had a chilled sweat, it was a great hike! I’m marking this as a rough start – but still successful!

LessWithAlicia: A New Journey

At the start of last year, I wrote a blogpost that scared me: Hiking with Hives. This year, I want to write another scary one – but in a kind of different way. That one was all about being more honest and sharing a part of the journey my body has been on for the past decade. Now, I want to be honest about the journey I’m about to start.

I’ve spent a lot of the last two years buying less things so I can afford to travel. Along with that “buy experiences instead of things” mindset, I’ve realized my life was full of things. I had a shopping habit – and honestly, I’m still working to break it. It’s taken awhile but I’m starting to question the worth of something. Like how a “cheap” dress from TJ Maxx or Target could buy me a night in an Airbnb.

So as I started filling my life with moments instead of objects, I became even more aware of all the waste around me. Pursuing a path that was better for my body, for the environment, and for my life – I became even more aware of all the toxins and negativity I was surrounded by. Both literal and figurative.

I was in pursuit of a “simple” life, but also insanely stressed by all the things out of my control. So if none of this is making sense, I’ll simplify it. I want less. And I hope that will give me more.

I want to start watching what’s in the products I use, what’s in the things I eat, where my money goes, and how much I accumulate only to throw out. I’ve been on the start of this kind of journey many times. I’ve done the research on the meat industry, and “fast fashion,” and environmentally friendly practices. And all of it is really hard.

But I think making small choices every day is the way. I’m not going to change over night, but I can give myself time for this new lifestyle. I think by keeping my day to day simpler, I’ll have more time for the things I really want to put my effort into. So all this to say, I’m focusing on being more mindful. And if you’re at all interested in following along or seeing my journey, you can find me here: Intro to Simple Living

Here’s to less stress, more adventure, new experiences, and happy days for 2019!

Books I Read in 2018

I originally had an ambitious goal of reading 50 books in 2018 (because of my success with this goal in 2017), but around September I adjusted that goal to a more manageable 30. Well, 2018 is gone and I ended at a solid 25 books read. It was a busy year, I read a lot of “thriller” duds, I tried to make a dent in my Stephen King reading to-do list, and I read at least one book that has altered everything. Let’s get into the best and worst books I read in 2018.

In the Woods by Tana French

One of the only good thrillers I read this year! I love mysteries where you can’t trust your narrator, and this one really makes you question who the good guy really is. This book is very well written, where the characters have flaws but you still root for them (even though you’re not sure if one of them committed murder).

Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

I was not expecting this book to be so good. I tend to not trust the popular opinion on books, and since everyone had talked endlessly about how good this one was, I figured it couldn’t be that good. Well, I was wrong. This book had such deep philosophical questions permeating its pages, I often had to stop to process the decisions made by the characters. I loved it.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’m always trying to read the classics when I get a chance, and this is one I never read! Most people I know read this in high school, but I never got assigned it. I’ve heard of Atticus Finch and Boo Radley, and knew racism was a theme, but I was surprised how little I actually knew about the story. I’ll admit it’s a bit of “racism seen through a white’s eyes” so it hides a lot of the harder stuff, but considering it’s technically a young adult book, I think it’s fantastic. I can see why it’s an American classic.

Revival by Stephen King

So I’m obviously partial to Stephen King if I’m trying to read through his entire bibliography, but I’ll be honest and say they’re not all gems. This one definitely is though. I kept expecting a stereotypical story from this, not really sure what the initial chunk of plot was leading me towards, but the ending is so perfectly brought together by all the years of the protagonist’s journey, it makes for quite the climatic ending. It also still haunts me a little, because it is not one of King’s lighter fares.

White Fang by Jack London
Okay, so I’m just discovering the genius of Jack London, give me a break. I never thought reading a book from a canine’s perspective would leave me so emotional. (Stories that pander to doglovers make me roll my eyes.) But seriously! This book has adventures in the wild, showcases the human heart, and took me on a complete journey.

Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This book was so, so boring. And purposely sad just to get a reaction it seemed. It is very finely written, I’ll give it that. But feels like reading someone’s high school assignment that the received a 100 on. As in, written to be perfect, rather than written for the story or the characters. If that makes sense. It’s beautiful, but so is some hotel art, you know?

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

This one and Bonfire (by Kristen Ritter) were my least favorite books of the year. But this one won out because it was harder to finish. This book was so hard to finish – even being an “Adventure Novel” which are my favorite – that I realized sometimes having a reading goal makes you waste your time for the check mark, rather than the enjoyment. I hated the characters, the plot was unrealistic, and the dramatic way of storytelling left me beyond frustrated.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

I kind of have to mention this one because he’s my favorite actor. I’ll admit I didn’t expect much from this collection of short stories, but I was pleased with the quirkiness and full-hearted honesty of all his protagonist’s tales. Worth a read, especially if you love America’s Sweetheart, T. Hanks.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I picked this up for two reasons: one, because I loved his book, The Virgin Suicides, and two, because Emma Watson told me to. And shit, you guys. There’s a reason she’s become the voice of our generation. (Because she totally has, right?) Your right, your right, I should be focusing more on Eugenides and his life-altering book. This was my favorite read all year, and quickly entered the all-time favorite reads of my life. I felt it in so many ways, by all three of the main characters. All of who, are so, so different, yet so, so confused. Even recapping it right now, I’m not doing it any justice, but it makes me want to pick it up and read it all over. I took my time with this one because at points I felt physically hit with the power of some of the words and intention behind them. If you’re struggling with success, be it in your romantic life or career, or even the long-term goals of who you want to be in this life, this book is for you. So I guess what I’m saying is, this book is for you.

Not a bad year, but it has made me set my 2019 reading goal a little lower to begin with. I also want to try for specifics like 3 Stephen Kings, 3 classics, etc. For my full 2018 reads, check out the Highlight Reel called [2018 Books] on my instagram, @wherewithalicia. I only forgot to capture White Fang and Bonfire pictures. Anyway, here’s to reading in 2019!

Things I Left Behind in 2018

As we’re all reading ourselves for resolutions, I want to talk about some of the things I gave up in 2018. It was a great year for me and I think a lot of that has to do with the things I stopped doing, just as much as what I started to do. So here’s five things I left behind that I hope to leave in the past as I head into the new year.

  1. Weighing myself
    After trying to limit my carbs by restricting all bread, I realized I’m a fad dieter in dangerous ways. I find it too easy to restrict. I’m much more likely to say, “I’ll never eat __ again,” rather than trying to figure out how to moderate a certain food group. So when I got on a scale after months of no bread and nothing much had changed, I decided I was done with a weekly weigh-in. It only discourages healthy dieting (at least for me). I wanted to work on what my body could do – not the number it showed. So I learned how my body felt after eating certain things, and stopped focusing on my weight. And there’s something to say about listening to your body and quitting the mental war based on how you feel before and after stepping on the scale.
  2. Buying “fast fashion”
    I can’t remember the last time I shopped at TJ Maxx or even Target, two of my go-to stores when I needed a top. In an effort to save money, I started thrifting. This caused not only my money to increase, but also my mentality of “buy, buy, buy” to lessen. As I entered more of the thrift community, I realized how terrible fast fashion really is from an environmental and social viewpoint. And personally, I was put face-to-face with my shopaholism. Which I know sounds dramatic. But I’m still coming to terms with how bad my spending (on useless stuff) was – I would buy a new top an hour before meeting friends , but like, all the time! Multiple times a week! So in the last couple of months, I’ve stopped letting myself mindless buy cheap clothes. And I’m happier with myself and my closet.
  3. Friends that felt like work
    Okay, this one was hard. I recently had two big epiphanies about friendship. One was that you have to make time to nurture a friendship – but not every friend needs the same amount. And the second was that you don’t have time for everyone who deserves it. Meaning that there’s a lot of great people in the world, and if you try and make time for all of them, you’re going to let everyone down. There’s simply not enough hours in the day. So I had to really evaluate my friendships and do more for the loved ones in my life by giving them more time – which in turn meant the hard truth of taking that time from other friends. This year I gave up a couple of friendships that brought me more negativity than positivity; if all I felt was guilt when I wasn’t able to see them, I knew I had to take a step back.
  4. Burying my feelings
    This one kind of goes hand in hand with the last one to be honest. Guilt is something I struggle with as a people pleaser. So much so though that whenever something happens, I always come away from a situation wondering what I did wrong or what I could’ve done better. Even when I’m the “innocent” party. I’ve been known to let things go, to decide not to stand up for myself because it’s easier to avoid the fight that would just make us both feel bad. Then I stopped holding back my feelings. I started expressing when I was hurt by people. Which I’ll admit, did cause fights for the first half of the year. But through this journey, my friendships grew stronger, my communication improved, and I’ve felt happier overall.
  5. Strict deadlines
    Let me start by saying this was not the blogpost originally planned for today. So this item number is very true! Instead of forcing myself to turn out a less than great blogpost (which will now come your way sometime next week fingers crossed), I stopped holding myself to strict deadlines. This blog is first and foremost, for me. It’s supposed to make me happy and only bring me joy. Sure, it’s still work at times, but I shouldn’t be so stressed out it affects my mental and physical health.
    I put a lot on my plate (in general) but especially these last few weeks of 2018 as I tried to accomplish everything I had planned. And as my “deadline” approached, I got more and more stressed. When I started making hasty decisions – which caused me even more trouble and wasted time – I dropped the deadline. I really want to do it all, and I always have lots of things I’m working on, but it’s okay to take my time. That’s the hardest lesson for me and I’ll probably have to learn it a few more times if I’m being honest.

Side note: The pictures used in this post were some of my favorite portraits of this year – a few taken by friends but mostly taken by myself (with the good ol’ timer feature). I’m glad to see they’re all happy! Happy New Year, everyone!

My Perfectly Planned Life

Ha! So nothing is “perfect.” I’m not crazy. If you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that I’m a huge planner, Type A, itinerary-loving girl – but things very rarely work according to plan. And that’s okay! I can only do my best.

Today I’m sharing with y’all how I manage my life. And it’s all thanks to my planner, how I’ve changed it, how I use it, and how obsessed I am with it. Seriously.

  1. Research Planners, Styles
    This was the first step, mainly because originally I was going to make a planner from scratch. I kid you not. I was creating layouts and comparing prices at places like Office Max. Then I realized it would be a lot of time, money, and effort to make it as cute as some of the ones I was running into at places like Barnes & Noble. I started realizing a lot of the planners had what I wanted in terms of style, I would just have to make it into my ideal.
  2. Figuring Out What You Need
    So I purchased the Rifle Paper Co. 17 Month Planner (with stickers!) in Juliet Rose pattern. It was a little pinker than I prefer, but it’s bright and floral and I love the inside. Part of figuring out what I needed, was to immediately cut out all the unnecessary pages I knew I would never use (like the Contacts section). I’m a list maker, so part of getting this planner was to stop me from making daily lists (and weekly, monthly, yearly, etc) that was creating a bunch of trash for the environment or getting thrown away because I couldn’t organize them. I love the Bullet Journal style of crossing things off or moving them to a different day, so I needed my planner to have the boxes next to the line item.
  3. Stick with a Style
    A planner should have organization – duh. So I created a system of how to do my weekly spread’s “list” and stick to it. I use an ‘x’ if the item is complete, a ‘-‘ if I have moved the item to another week, and cross it completely out if I’m no longer going to do it. I will put items under the day where I think I will do them, but I use those more as guidelines because you never know how busy you’ll get.
  4. Highlighting Based on Category
    Gotta love a good color code! Since my layout is setup in a list setting, I like to highlight my items so my eye can easily find what I’m looking for. Green is used for events, which are most important and set up under the day. I use pink for blog items and orange for travel. (That way it’s easy to see when I’m out of town.) I’m still toying with purple and blue, because I have goals of vlogging and starting a podcast, so we’ll see how much those get used.
  5. Bookmark Trackers
    This is my most recent update and I love it! Part of the “BuJo” style is tracking what’s important. Since it’s not exactly easy to add pages to this planner (plus they were small ongoing lists) I decided to make little bookmarks that could double as trackers. I have one for my monthly budget, one for my yearly goals, and one for the pictures I need (mainly for blogs). I have a weekly tracker for my most important habits (writing, working out, side income) but it isn’t pictured because I’m still perfecting it. I use it to make sure I hit certain amounts for the week.
  6. Monthly Spread Set Up
    I know I’m not utilizing the monthly section to it’s full potential yet, but for the moment I’m using it as a sort of organized at-a-glance. It’s got important events, out of town weekends, and blog post scheduling – all using my highlighter code of course! I also started using the Notes section (found under my little bookmark) for really happy moments of the month. I like tracking this gratitude. I also have a little coffee sticky note so I can keep a close eye on my coffee budget. Ha!
  7. Big Project Organization
    For those big projects, I want to keep ideas and checklists with my planner, so I gather (and simplify) them first, then put them in the colored envelopes located in the back pocket. These big projects are usually temporary or don’t have a permanent home yet (like parties or events I’m planning). I have them color-coded and I try to go into the envelopes to clear out whatever is no longer useful.
  8. Stickers & Personalization
    This is the fun part! It’s obviously not necessary to have ghost stickers or cute little binder clips – but that’s what makes it fun! My planner came with a few sheets of cute stickers, but I’m guilty of buying special monthly sticker sheets as well. My binder clips hold my bookmarks in a more organized way, so if they’re cute that’s only a bonus, right?
  9. Sticky Notes
    I try not to use sticky notes for quick lists, but sometimes it can’t be helped. If I have a busy day or a bigger than the norm grocery list, I will put it all down on a temporary stick note that I can grab from my planner. And then recycle! Otherwise these lists are defeating the whole main purpose of my planner.

There will probably be even more improvements in the future – but it’s on an as needed basis! Leave me a comment with any suggestions or ways you organize your own life. I live for this Type A nonsense.

Merry Chris(TEA)mas at the Arboretum

Merry Christmas!

This year I spent a lot of my “gift” budget on experiences instead of things! It’s been pretty awesome; although I’ll admit I feel a little selfish getting the perks of doing something new when it’s supposed to be for the person I bought it for. All well!

My mom had been wanting to go to the Arboretum for a while, so when I found out they did a special Christmas tea, I knew it would be the perfect event for us! Our tea admission also got us admission to the grounds, which were doing their special 12 Days of Christmas installation.

I was worried it would be too cold, but mostly it was too wet. Of course, yet another rainy day where I’d planned something outdoors. We did a bit of a jog to get to the tearoom, located on the other side of the DeGolyer House. We weren’t completely soaked, but I was feeling a little blue that my plan wasn’t go perfectly. However, my mom is the true eternal optimist (if you were wondering where I got some of that from) and was “ooh-ing” and “ah-ing” over everything.

They had prepared three ‘courses’ for us, complete with three different teas to try. The room was a little too blue winterland for me (I was hoping for bright greens and reds), but the dishware and treat trays were so cute. I felt like a kid having a tea party except I was an adult having an actual tea party!

They had the typical cucumber finger sandwiches and fruit scones that you’d expect, but also a Christmas sugar cookie and gingerbread house you could take to go! Being fed little snacks and endless delicious tea is a way I always want to live, and I know my mom feels exactly the same way.

With my mom’s impeccable luck, as tea time was coming to an end, the rain had completely cleared up. What had gone from hard-to-see downpour, was now slightly cloudy golden hour lighting. We took a walk around the gardens first, enjoying the fountains and winter greenery. Then we headed into the fancy house, where my mom wanted a room-by-room tour of how the DeGolyer family lived, including seeing beautiful furniture and an amazing large library.

In this house were also lots of Christmas decorations! A specially decorated and color-themed tree in each room, as well as an extensive collection of nativity scenes from all over the world. It was cool looking at all of them and seeing how the virgin birth was depicted by several different cultures. Well, and a life-size camel statue was located in one room.

From there, we excited to walk the 12 Days exhibit, where little snowglobe-like structures were set up every so often. We started at “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” and walked all the way to “Twelve Drummers Drummer,” liking the way they sparkled and rotated. Definitely worth the visit, especially as a local who’d never experienced it! We loved it.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday and remembers time spent with loved ones is the true gift!

The Southwest Regon of the National Parks System (Finished!)


I did it!

As you know from the previous blog, I have officially been to every National Parks site in the Southwest Region, which is Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. In only a little more than a year! What’s exciting about this is that I’ve been blogging and picture-taking from the beginning, so I remember so much about these 41 sites! Today I’m talking about my favorites – and even a couple that I need to go back to check out! So even if you’re not on a journey to see all the National Parks, these are places that should be on your travel bucket list no matter what.

White Sands National Monument
I kind of can’t talk about the National Parks without talking about White Sands. It was my first site and where my passport stamp collecting journey began! This place is so beautiful; it looked like being in another land. I hadn’t really known what to expect but what little expectations I had were exceeded.  The hike was too hot but the sand sledding was so fun! This was a terrific first start and introduction to my love for New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I had only been to baby caves in the Austin area, so I was blown away by the enormity of these caverns! I even made it out a second time to check out these bats, but will admittedly say their “sunset flight” is not super exciting. Luckily, my first time was spent exploring the Main Room with no crowd. This was another site that felt like another world – and the surprise of every turn is what makes it one of my favorites!

Big Bend National Park
Well, hello, Texas! I can’t wait to go back because even with a three day weekend and a highlighted map and plan, I only made it to half of this massive area. Being from Dallas, I’ll always have a soft spot for Texas, but the nature is known to be mostly plains. With Big Bend, I was introduced to a whole new side of the great Lone Star state. The canyons and cliffs are so pretty – and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River is an added bonus site to this one.

El Malpais National Monument
I had looked up very little for this guy, leaving time in the schedule for whatever we could get up to – and I’m glad I did! Allowing myself the time here meant we got to go on an incredible hike to the Big Skylight, which first led us across ancient volcanic rock. Besides being one of the harder hikes I’ve yet to go on (because of terrain and then ascending into the cavern), it was a surprise wonder. Hiking down the big boulders into the cave we spotted the skylight early, but it just got more and more other-worldly as we went. This place was magical.

Buffalo National River
Arkansas turned out to be a nature-lover’s travel getaway! Fall was beautiful driving in through the Ozark Mountains and discovering every color of tree, but the hikes were a blast! Easy but long – offering stops for incredible views. It’s definitely on my list to head back to in the warmer months and explore more of the actual river.

Bandelier National Monument
The trees here taught me the true beauty of New Mexico and how it’s not just dry and empty land. I arrived here pretty late in the evening, and I know I didn’t even scratch the surface of what all this site has to offer. But just driving in and walking around was enough to feel like I had entered into a magical forest. This might just be number one on my list of parks to revisit.

Big Thicket National Preserve
The rain had ruined our day of hiking adventures here, so I’d definitely like to head back and explore more of this massive land area. This is also another area where I’ll have to head back in the warmer months because they have an awesome spot for kayaking. I also have it on my list to try and find some of their carnivorous plants in person!

So, all that to say, it’s been such a blast collecting all the Southwest region passport stamps – but I’m not done yet! I want to keep exploring and finding every opportunity for new experiences. Not only do I want to check out all these ones again, I have many more regions to complete in my National Park journey!