Find the Biggest Swimming Area (at Joe Pool Lake)

As soon as it started hitting the 100s in Dallas, I knew it was time to find a pool of water. I have access to a small apartment pool, but that is just not the same as finding a big lake to swim in! After a bit of research for close swimmable lakes – I found out about Joe Pool Lake in Grapevine!

It was going to be my last Friday off before I switched to a Monday-Friday work schedule, so I was excited to make the most of a day at the lake. My friends Jenna and Lola would be coming with me, and we were all thrilled to have a new nature area to explore.

The original plan had been to find the one (supposed) hiking trail, but we got there around midday and it was already sweltering. Once we saw the big body of water at our beck and call, we put the hike on hold. The only thing we wanted to do at that moment was swim!

There is a nice “beach” area with a playground, but with all the kids and the “no dog” rule, we opted for a bit further down the shoreline for a quiet spot in the trees. When we got there no one else was there, so it was a really nice little getaway between the trees with very easy access to the lake.

I swam as far and long as I could – I love swimming! And it’s not often I’m able to do it with such open space. Joe Pool Lake was pretty great too – definitely not even close to the dirtiest lake I’ve been in. As a side note, I will say it started to get a little scary as the day went on and the lake got more crowded, because boats and jet skis were whipping by.

I went exploring for our hiking trail and think I found it, but wasn’t sure it was worth the effort when I was already pretty tired and getting hot again. I’d also heard there were kayaks and paddle boards for rent, but after scouring the area, I assumed they set up their booth on the weekend only.

Back with my friends lakeside, we set up our blanket for relaxation and a little snack. It was time to bring out the watermelon! Not many things are better than sharing a watermelon with friends on a hot summer day, post-swim. Our “slices” were big, but so so good! I ate like a monster.

After a bit more relaxation and our last swim, it was time to head home from our little day trip to the lake. It took only minutes to dry up in the car – that’s Texan summer heat for you – so we decided a quick pit stop for snow cones was in order. We piled out and checked out the many flavors – I got the watermelon (haha)! Such a fun summer day.

Why We Need Sharks

Yep, still hosting shark week! It’s been so fun getting ready and researching sharks! Our activities are just little ways that we can contribute to sharing conservation knowledge. I may never get to be a real host on Shark Week, but I hope I’ve helped open a few minds to the greatness of sharks!

If you’re a recreational diver, a lot of conservation societies offer you a chance to help out and count sharks for their research efforts. Unfortunately, living in Dallas, I am not a recreational diver… but I am a recreational shopper. So Giselle and I took to the mall to “count sharks” – for research of course! And guess what? We only found one shark item. We can’t let the sharks disappear!

More and more shark species are becoming endangered. As the apex predator of the ocean, sharks are super important for preserving the natural food chain. Sharks also love feeding on floating dead animals, which while gross, is super helpful for cleaning up the ocean. Losing sharks means losing lots of other things in our oceans, including the coral reefs and other beautiful ecosystems.

My cohost Giselle’s birthday is today, so we’d thought it’d be the perfect time to talk about how old sharks are! Giselle isn’t super into birthdays so I let shark week takeover her birthday too- which means a shark cake!

There are shark teeth from over 400 million years ago – that’s crazy! That’s twice as old as the freaking dinosaurs! Sharks also generally live a much longer lifespan than other marine life. They grow just as old as humans do, about 75 years. But some shark species have even longer lifespans – there’s a Greenland shark that is at least 272 years old!

Well, we had to mention tagging if we’re talking about conservation, right? I got us our own cool “tags” but do you know why sharks are tagged in the first place? Researchers tag sharks to see where they spend their time and to follow their swim paths.

Not only are they counting and watching eating and breeding habits, they’re learning more about the entire ecosystem. Tagging helps us understand better how to conserve sharks, by protected these discovered feeding and mating grounds. With technology today, tags can report minute by minute where the shark is out of the entire ocean!
It’s easy to join a shark conservation mailing list, but what can you personally do if you want to get involved in helping sharks? If you happen to live near an ocean and are recreational diving a lot, you can help researchers become a “shark counter.”
The option if you live somewhere like us in Dallas? Adopt a shark! Sure, you can definitely donate any sum, but a lot of shark conservation societies offer Adoption programs! This is the coolest thing I learned while getting into Shark Week this year. Giselle & I have named our Great White pup Gillbert! We adopted from a fantastic society as old as we are, Shark Angels.
If you’ve been following along with me this Shark Week, I hope you’ve learned some new things. I hope you love sharks even more (or at least like them a little more). And maybe if you don’t like them, you can respect them a bit more. They’re magnificent animals! There are a hundred more shark facts I could lay down, but maybe let’s just spend some time admiring the beauty of these beasts.

Hosting Shark Week

Welcome to Shark Week!

Let me start by saying, obviously, I love sharks. Like most kids, I was terrified of them when I was little – I even used to be scared a shark would somehow make it through the facet into my bathtub (haha). But somewhere along the way, I started learning about them and now I’m pretty much just awestruck by them.

One of the items on my bucket list is to host Shark Week with one of my best friends Giselle, so I figured why wait for Discovery Channel to ask me, I’ll just do it on my own. (Side note: this year Shark Week is celebrating the Dirty 30!) My Instagram has been taken over this week to help me host, so make sure you don’t miss all the hosting details!

To start things off right, we decided to join sharks in their natural habitat – water! Living in Dallas means we are not near an ocean, but we couldn’t let that stop us. While swimming in the pool, I thought about the way a shark swims. Most propel themselves through the water with their tail, using their fins for balance only. This method does not work as well for humans.

Next, we wanted to discover a shark’s eating habits, so we went fishing! For the most part, sharks are “opportunistic” hunters, meaning they take what they can get. Some sharks (tiger sharks) are known to eat anything, but for the most part sharks are looking for marine life to munch on. We used a fishing pole instead of our jaws, obviously!

Sharks also take what is known as an exploratory bite. This bite means sharks take a quick test bite to check on what they’re trying to eat. Sometimes surfers can look like seals to a shark, so they’ll take a bite to see if they’ve found the prey they want. Listen, sharks do not want humans; it’s just that sometimes their solitary bite is big enough to do serious damage.

Does anyone remember taking a “keyboard” class in school? It was required when I was a kid so we could learn typing. Basically it was playing a whole lot of a game called Typershark. (You type the words on the sharks’ bodies so they don’t attack your diver.) It was so fun! Also made me realize my current computer isn’t that great. I need a new processor and my U key sticks – that’s what I’m blaming for my low WPM anyway (ha)!

In the ocean, sharks are typically ten times faster than humans. When hunting, they can show bursts of speed of up to 40 mph! This speed isn’t necessary for trying to attack divers; it enables them to travel the entire ocean. They may have their favorite spots, but sharks can swim from the Atlantic to the Pacific and still be “home.”

Luckily, host Giselle works in the medical profession so our next activity was easy to accomplish – donating blood! Sharks and blood are synonymous – we may all have heard at some point that sharks can smell one drop of blood in an olympic swimming pool.

But even better than blood – sharks can smell and interpret chemicals. They can literally smell fear because of the chemical process that releases glucose into your bloodstream when you’re afraid. That’s freaking awesome!

I hope we all learned new great things about sharks! And go ahead and try some of these shark “activities” and let me know how it goes. Shark week has only just begun, so until next time!

The Spooky Ooky Side of Jefferson

Since I’ve been sharing my trip in Jefferson on the blog, and today is Friday the 13th (Oooh), I thought it’d be a great opportunity to share with y’all the spookier side of Jefferson, TX! And um, my very own ghost experience while staying in this “sweet” little town. Boo!

One of the ways my mom first pitched this trip to me was by saying it was one of Texas’s most haunted towns – but then she wanted nothing to do with them of course! She made sure to book us the room that “wasn’t” haunted, even though we stayed in between the “most” haunted rooms in the Excelsior. Haha!

While shopping around town in one of the boutiques, we started talking to the store owner, Madame Claire and she asked if we were interested in having her doing a tarot reading. She explained she’d been doing it since she was sixteen, and she’d always been real good at being an “empath” and reading people. It was out of my budget, but I really urged my mom to do it so we could see a psychic in action.

After some hesitation and more shop browsing, my mom caved as long as I could go in with her. Madame Claire said that was fine, just cautioned me to try and calm any emotions I’d bring into the session. She took us into this (cute, honestly) side room where she brought down her cards and tried to relax my mom. While this new age stuff was totally my vibe, my mom was much more cautious about “messing where you don’t need to be messing.”

Let’s just say by the end, both me and my mom were super impressed. Not only did Madame Claire describe my mom and her major life stressors completely, she also sensed my dad’s personality and talked about a possible new growth to strengthen the tight bond they already had. We were so impressed, I almost thought about blowing my budget and seeing what she had to say for my cards. Spooky!

Later that night it was time for the Ghost Walk. This involved a walking tour, where the guide led us around for four whole hours and told us all the death and murder stories of the town’s history, including which sites had the most “activity” – haha!

Since it’s such an old (and well-preserved) town, there’s a lot of good stories on the record. Plus some parts of it just look scary. It was on this tour that we were asked about the Jefferson Hotel lobby, and well…

Our first night in town, we grabbed dinner in this little Italian restaurant, which was connected to the lobby of another old hotel, the Jefferson Hotel. After dinner, we were walking through the lobby and spotted an antique phone booth, with actual separate mouth and ear pieces. It was cute so I told my mom I’d grab a picture of her posing with it.

She picked it up, me instructing her to pretend she was using it, and I even asked her if we could make a call. But there was no dial tone. So she puts the receivers back and we’re about to head out on our merry way, when it rings. RINGS! The phone that didn’t have a dial tone, was then ringing! I told my mom to answer it (I’m too curious), but of course my mom did not want to do that. Just as I convinced her to pick it up – after three rings – she reached for it and the ringing stopped. Listening to it again, this time she heard just static white noise. And by that point was very much ready to leave!

So, no, no actual ghost sightings in the small old town of Jefferson. But maybe we were getting a call from…beyond? Oooh! I just love scary stories – I wish I’d been the one close to the ghost phone. Ha!

How I Plan a Travel Itinerary

Trip planning can be complicated depending on how much time you have and how many people there are to please. But, while I do like a bit of spontaneity, having an itinerary when I travel is always a big help! It makes sure I get done the big things on my list and can also save time and money. Below is the easiest way to lay out a trip!

  1. Figure out arrival and departure time
    This will help you frame your travel (obviously)! You’ll need to know exactly how much time you’ll have, which includes airport nonsense. Don’t plan anything for an hour after “flight arrival” and plan to be at the airport 2-3 hours before “flight departure.”

2. Do your research; create a list
This is my favorite part. I can spend hours on Tripadvisor and other blogs reading reviews of what there is to do in a city. I will definitely look into museums and nature areas (gardens and National Parks), but I also like to try to find the unique stuff. I want to fill my time with stuff I can only do at the place I’m visiting. Make a list – and try and rank it, that way you know what you won’t want to miss.

3. Plot everything on a map
This is how you figure out your locations. You’ll find you can sometimes learn the “burroughs” this way in a big city. Grouping things by location will help you plan how you’re getting to places. If you know they’re close to each other you can save time knocking them both of your list. You can also save money by walking if two things are close enough together. Sometimes something will even drop off my schedule if it’s too far and/or by itself.  Don’t forget you’ll also want to plot the airport and where you’re staying every night!

4. Planning for time
Once you have a vague idea of the location you’ll be in on a certain day, you can start trying to plan for how much time you’ll need at a certain attraction. If I have three things in one area, I will check out opening times. Whatever opens first will start my day and from there I decide how much time I think I’ll be at one thing. Don’t forget to also check out closing times! You don’t want to have something that closes the earliest as the last thing on your schedule.
Important: Leave wiggle room in your schedule! You want to plan more time than you think you’ll need at every place. Plus you don’t want to forget “travel” time between destinations. 

5. Leave space as a catchall
You took more time than you thought at place 2, so you missed place 3? No worries! Create time in your schedule for things you missed or things you only discovered once you got into town. Creating “blanks” in your schedule can be very comforting. While I do like to accomplish a lot on trips, I still like to have a good stress-free time! This time can also be used to be lazy, if everything else is going according to plan. (I tend to plan more “blanks” the more people there are.)

So that’s the basics of trip planning (specifically city travels)! You’ll notice I’m not very good at planning eating – I usually just don’t care that much where we eat since I get a Caesar salad petty much everywhere. Sometimes though, there’s local spots that have something rare- like in DC one breakfast spot had homemade poptarts. And if you know me at all, you know I love finding local homemade ice cream. It’s always a must-have on my list!

There’s one last thing I’ll say about trip planning: Things will go wrong. I’ve not had one flawless itinerary to date. No matter how much research I do, how flexible my schedule is – there’s some things you can’t plan for no matter what you do. So you have to be flexible! Be willing to move things around or drop items off your list. It’ll make a much more enjoyable trip, trust me.

Feeling like a Pointless Tourist

Some things have become kind of infamous just for being something that “needs to be seen.” Marfa, Texas is kind of like that. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t exactly have a lot to do there, but people still flock to it. I won’t lie, I’ll tell you right away that Marfa felt pointless.

After a day of National Park sites, it felt like the perfect opportunity to check out this tourist must-see destination. Most people know Marfa for the Prada store right outside its city limits. This art installation was created years ago and in this new age of social media, its image has become well-known.

I guess sometimes it is fun to just take the picture.

In general, the town of Marfa was very aesthetically pleasing. There were so many places in the city that looked “instagrammable.” It makes sense when you realize that Marfa is an artists’ community originally. But because it’s still a small Texan town, there’s also a lot of empty buildings and places that have fallen into disrepair.

It’s such a tourist town, most people plan just a day stop while passing through, so a lot of food places closed before 4 pm – on a Friday! After driving through town for ten minutes, I’d seen pretty much every shop left open.

I saw that there was a bookstore so decided to stop in. Unfortunately for me, this was actually an art book store. There were a few books local to Marfa and West Texas, but the majority were those massive coffee table art books.

There wasn’t much else to do but have dinner, so we headed to Hotel Paisano, where they had Jett’s Grill, one of only three places open. After that, it was time to meet up with my friend Austin, who would be joking us on the rest of our weekend journey.

We went to a beer garden called Planet Marfa that was one of the coolest (and only) places to drink. Something about this place felt more relaxing. All afternoon everything in this small touristy town had felt expensive and unnecessary – but finally here was a place that looked fun and didn’t charge an arm and a leg for a drink.

Sitting there, finally relaxing, we all waited for it to get darker and darker so we could check out the “Marfa Lights,” an interesting unexplained phenomenon. We actually saw lights! They were very distant and faint, but there were definitely one or two lights moving in weird patterns. And it was so dark we couldn’t even get a picture!

The one thing actually exciting in Marfa that has a purpose to share – and your picture looks like a black screen! Isn’t life funny?

Why I Hike (Anywhere I Can)

This Saturday is National Trails Day! I’ll be busy with a friend’s wedding, so I’m hoping to get in my hiking before the weekend arrives. Hiking has become very important to me, so I wanted to share my most personal hiking thoughts.

1. My body got me here.

As most of us probably have at some point, I’ve struggled a lot with what my body can and can’t do. Regardless of whatever insecurities I may feel, I always have a moment of being so proud of what my body can do. The elevation I can climb, the miles I can push through, and the weather I can survive. All thanks to my body!

2. Does (blank) really matter?

Hiking is extremely meditative for me. It’s where I tend to start working through a lot of the problems I deal with. I’ve never been able to sit and work toward a solution. It’s only when my body takes over that I can get to a place where my mind is free to work on all that deep stuff going on subconsciously.

3. I can work on that connection.

Similarly to personal problems I work on, I also find me thinking a lot about the relationships in my life. Hiking always makes me optimistic so I begin to think of what I can do to better a friendship, a connection, etc. The solitude of nature has a way of making you appreciate the connections I’ve made and all the wonderful people who surround me in life. I’m thankful for the opportunities to work on showing my loved ones what they mean to me.

4. A perfect check mark for my list.

I find myself almost constantly needing to be productive. A lot of times I can stretch myself too thin or take too many stressors on my plate. Hiking is one of the only things in my life that feels completely for me and yet doesn’t give me the guilt of not “getting stuff done.” It’s good for me mentally and physically so it’s almost like having a few check marks rolled into one (especially when the thinking time helps me solve a problem).

5. Life has beauty to it.

The main thing about getting outdoors – anywhere that may be – is there’s always something visually beautiful to offer. Even in the winter, even in a small park, even on populated paved trails, there’s always something interesting to discover. I’ve always been a naturally curious sort, but being in nature reminds me how wonderful life can be. Things completely unrelated to you are growing, are struggling, and existing.