What Will Your “After” Look Like?

What Will Your “After” Look Like?

I never dreamt that I would be posting a picture of me on the Internet with a before/after shot at the age of 50. I had been the same weight for oh, I don’t know, about 25 years! I had tried every diet out there…Weight Watchers, Atkins, Trim Healthy Mama, Shred…I could go on! I never lost enough, or kept it off, to warrant an “after” picture. That was until now! 

Before & After

Back in November of 2017, I was introduced to Arbonne skincare. I had fought with rosacea and sensitive skin for years, never finding the right product to help. But I went to a home party and was given a sample of Arbonne’s Calm line to try. It worked! Within a few weeks the redness was gone. When January rolled around, I decided, like millions of other people, to lose weight for my New Year’s resolution…again. But this time I decided to try Arbonne’s protein shakes to aid in my weight loss. Between the shakes, and learning to eat clean, the weight slowly started to come off!

I don’t know if you have ever heard of Arbonne’s 30 Days to Healthy Living Challenge or not but in May I decided to go all in and give it a try. My husband was on board with it and together we tackled it! It was the easiest plan to follow and it just made sense. During the 30 days, I lost 10 pounds but more importantly, I really learned what foods were irritants to my system. Since then, I’ve been living an 80/20 lifestyle of eating clean 80% of the time and allowing myself dinner’s out or special occasions 20% of the time. And guess what? For the first time in years, I feel great! I am officially down 38 pounds since March, I just completed a 5k a couple weeks ago and I hope to do many more! This lifestyle is the new norm for me and I couldn’t be happier.

Along with being overweight, I have had MS since 2001 which sometimes makes activity difficult as it tends to sap the energy out of me. One of the things that I’ve read about with MS is that a healthy diet can actually slow down progression. As much as I knew this was true, I never really adhered to it. But I do believe that within the past year, so many of my issues I.e., fatigue, migraines, etc. have gone away because of the change in my diet. I’m eating clean and supplementing with plant-based supplements made with clean ingredients. 

If you haven’t heard of Arbonne or the 30 Day Challenge, I encourage you to do some research! I have since become an Independent Consultant because I love and use all of their products. Feel free to visit me on my Facebook page at Julie’s Healthy Living Inside & Out Group. I would love to help you on your journey to your “after” photo!

Tourist in My Own Town

Tourist in My Own Town

Having recently moved to New England from Northeast Ohio I feel like I’m perpetually on vacation. There is so much to see and explore. Moving from one state to another is a big deal for anyone but moving to an area so rich in history is a bonus! I explored the downtown Boston area quite a bit last fall so I’m sharing a few of my favorite finds here and I hope to revisit all of them again soon!

First on the list is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This was a gem in the middle of the city to be sure. It is literally an inside out Venetian palazzo, when you look at it from the outside, the building is just that, a building of no consequence. But, when you walk inside, your breath is taken away! It is like you are literally standing in a Venetian palazzo with beautiful fountains, flowers and statues all around. And that is just the beginning, there are three more stories to the museum of room after room of an amazing collection of artwork and manuscripts. Isabella was an avid art collector as well as a collector of rare manuscripts which are on display in the museum. In the summer, the gardens outside are well thought out and blend well with the intent of the museum inside. Unfortunately, I was there after the growing season but I intend to go back to see the garden in bloom!

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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Next stop is the Public Garden and a visit to the Swan Boats. The boats, which began operation in 1877, glide around the pond operated by a person on the back who is actually pedaling the boat along! We were able to get up close and personal to the ducks and swans that live on the pond. It was definitely the highlight to one of my visits to Boston.

Swan Boats at Public Park, Boston

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I saved my favorite for last, afternoon tea at the Boston Public Library! There is a cafe inside the library called The Courtyard Restaurant and you can reserve a table for afternoon tea. It was amazing! We had savory tea sandwiches, scones with preserves and cream, and delicious petit fours. The tea was brought out in an elegant teapot, one for each person with the requested tea choice. We had so much food we couldn’t finish it between the two of us. Very elegant and quaint, I would definitely recommend this on a trip to downtown Boston!

Afternoon Tea at Boston Public Library

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So much to do in Boston, this just scratches the surfaces. But would make for a wonderful afternoon!

Castle On A Hill

Castle On A Hill

Yesterday a friend told me that there was an abandoned castle in the next town over in Groton, MA, called Bancroft Castle. You heard me correctly, a castle! It took me less than 24 hours and I was loading up the dogs and away we went. Thankful for a sunny day, I couldn’t wait to be on my way to find this castle in the middle of Massachusetts. I didn’t bother with looking up the history of the castle before heading out, my head full of visions of the awesome pictures I would take!

It took a little bit of guesswork and a few more texts to my friend to find the exact location to park. You have to park on the side of the road and hike in as there isn’t direct access. Be sure when you go that you don’t venture into the pasture as there are signs posted that some pretty aggressive bulls live there. To say that my FitBit was happy with this endeavor is an understatement. The trail leading up to the castle is steep and had my heart rate up in no time.

I’m sure the steepness of the hill combined with the excitement is what led to the elevated heart rate but nevertheless I pushed on! After about a ten minute climb, maybe shorter if you don’t have dogs wanting to sniff and pee on everything along the way, I finally took in the breathtaking view of the crumbling structure.

Oh the secrets that this place must hold! Bancroft Castle, I later learned once I came home and did some research, was built by General William Bancroft, a brigadier general in the Spanish-American War, in 1906, as a gift to his wife. He was able to finish the tower and the house but not the mansion and horse stable that he had planned. As with many good intentions, he couldn’t finish the endeavor due to running out of funds and had to sell. It was then bought by a physician by the name of Harold Ayers in the 1918. Ayers turned it into a private sanitarium where the wealthy would go to embrace the fresh-air treatments that were popular in that era, for Tuberculosis and insanity. In the 1930’s, it was being used as the Groton Hunt Club, and this is when it met its fateful end. On July 4, 1932, fireworks, set off by trespassers, sparked a fire on the grounds that rapidly spread to the mansion. Sadly, the castle has never been rebuilt. 

There are ghost stories, of course, and one can’t help but imagine a few yourself while you are there. The location of Bancroft Castle sits atop Gibbett Hill. The word Gibbett literally means gallow’s so the term itself brings to mind hangings. There are stories and rumors that there were hangings on Gibbett Hill during the 17th century by the English settlers. I didn’t know this before I went but I did notice a very large black crow that seemed to follow us up the hill through the treetops cawing out warnings as we ventured closer. Did he know something I didn’t?

Nevertheless, if you find yourself in Groton, Massachusetts, I daresay it’s worth the thirty minute stop to see an old castle on a hill, some breathtaking views and maybe even a ghost or two.

 

 

New York City With Pups

New York City With Pups

You may think taking your dogs with you to New York City is crazy and you may be right but I did it! I wouldn’t recommend doing it if you are going to be there for an extended period of time. I was just there for a couple of days so we did a lot of walking around, eating take out and having coffees in the parks. Finding a hotel that allows dogs is another challenge but there are some in and around Time Square.

We stayed at The Kimpton Muse Hotel in Manhattan on W 46th Street. It is a lovely boutique hotel in the heart of Time Square and they love dogs! So much so that they even allow your pup to attend the nightly wine reception they hold in the lobby. They also provide comfy dog beds, dog bowls, treats and “courtesy bags” for when you take a walk. They have a list of nearby parks that you can walk to and also groomers and dog-friendly restaurants. The best thing about The Muse is that they don’t have a limit on how many dogs, I have two, and they don’t charge you any extra! If you’re looking for a dog-friendly hotel in Manhattan, I highly recommend The Kimpton Muse Hotel!

**Tip**  Take “paw wipes” with you. Even if the weather is nice, you would not believe how dirty their little paws are when you come back from a stroll!

A short stroll away, about three blocks, is Bryant Park. It was an easy walk to take the pups for potty breaks. If your dog is anything like our Daisy, she needs to have grass to go! So we walked several times to Bryant Park but it wasn’t all bad. There were some lovely sites along the way and also a Starbucks right on the corner so that we could sit in the park and have coffee. We were there in December so they had ice skating in the park that was fun to watch. Bryant Park is a nice park to visit all year, you can check out their website here.

 

And of course we went to Central Park, my favorite! Who doesn’t love a stroll through Central Park? It doesn’t matter what season it is, the park is packed with tourists, joggers, dog-walkers and residents. A gem in the middle of a concrete jungle, Central Park gives everyone a feeling of getting away from it all. The pups loved walking through the park and trying to chase all the squirrels. 

 

So would I take the pups back to NYC? Absolutely! See you soon Manhattan…

Out and About in Christchurch, New Zealand

Out and About in Christchurch, New Zealand

When I first started researching our trip to New Zealand I quickly realized that one week was nowhere near enough time to see it all. New Zealand is made up of a north and south island and even though they look tiny on a map don’t be fooled! You can drive for hours. Our flight from Sydney, Australia took us to Christchurch where we stayed in a lovely Bed & Breakfast. We stayed a week and explored the area all around the South Island. Christchurch really reminded me of Florida, if you’ve ever been you’ll know what I mean. The houses are built close together on tight-knit city blocks. The one thing we noticed that is different from neighborhoods at home in the U.S. is that most houses have a tall fence all around the property, especially along the street side.  

Surprisingly enough, we did not find a lot of hotel options. Christchurch has more motel options and since we were unfamiliar with the area we opted for a lovely Bed & Breakfast that had great reviews and a homey feel since we were staying for a week. We stayed at The Lilac Rose right in the heart of Christchurch and had the most comfortable stay. Upon our arrival we were greeted by the resident Golden Retriever, Maddie. She is the sweetest dog, so calm and pleasant. The owners, Pam and Denis, were most accommodating. Pam made sure that we had everything we needed for a comfortable stay and Denis cooked up a hot breakfast every morning! I would highly recommend staying at The Lilac Rose over a motel any day. Here are some pictures from the lovely B&B, be sure to click through the slideshow:

One of the attractions in Christchurch that you don’t want to miss is the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. There is no fee to enter the gardens and there is so much to see. We were there at the beginning of spring so the gardens were not in full bloom but we were still pleasantly surprised. The Central Rose Garden is absolutely stunning with the arched entryway and the many varietals of roses. One can’t help but stop and smell the roses! There are multiple conservatories, a paddling pool and nice walking paths. Visiting the Botanic Gardens was definitely a highlight of Christchurch.

A lovely day trip is just a short drive away to a small seaside town called Akaroa. This little town is a historic French and British settlement with quaint shops, restaurants and inns. We spent the day here and took an engaging harbor nature cruise with Black Cat Cruises. We were taken on a  delightful tour of the harbor and the captain made sure that we saw plenty of wildlife. The crew were very knowledgeable of the area and knew exactly where to look to find dolphins, sea lions and even White Flippered Blue Penguins, the smallest penguins in the world!

I must mention that on our drive to Akaroa from Christchurch, we stopped at a charming roadside stand for a traditional New Zealand meat pie. This savory hand-held pie is a staple in New Zealand. The one in the picture had chicken, brie and cranberries baked inside of a flaky crust. This was a delicious lunch!

It would be lovely to go back to Akaroa someday and stay for awhile in this little village tucked away from the rest of the world.

Maple Syrup in New England

Maple Syrup in New England

Traveling to faraway places is always on my radar but I also love being a tourist in my own town. I’m keeping this blog post close to home…Mason, New Hampshire, to be exact! The end of February into March is usually when the sap starts flowing from the maple trees and the sugar house’s get busy making that dark, delectable liquid we love to drizzle (or drown) our waffles and pancakes in. Having never been to a sugar house I was very excited to find out that we were not too far away from several. We decided to go visit Parker’s Maple Barn and we were not disappointed!

If you plan on eating at the restaurant on a weekend during peak season I suggest putting your name in at the hostess stand as soon as you get there. We waited for over an hour for a table for two. The smell in the air from the vats of steaming liquid in the sugar house is enough to make your stomach grumble in anticipation of a fat stack once you get to your table. But, there is plenty to do while you wait. We went on a tour of the sugar house and got to see exactly how they make the maple syrup at the farm.  Our guide took us step-by-step through the syrup making process that has been going on at Parker’s since the 1960’s. They still use the old-fashioned method of sap buckets and wood-fired evaporators. 

 

After the tour you can enjoy a nice hot cup of maple flavored coffee or hot cocoa from the little coffeehouse alongside a maple covered donut. Yes, you are in for a sugar shock at Parker’s Maple Barn! They also have an eclectic gift shop onsite that is warm and inviting with a cozy front porch and many intriguing items inside to occupy your time while you wait to hear your name called in the restaurant. We were even lucky enough to run into some friends while we were walking around!

 

I did not take pictures of inside the restaurant but I will say that the food was delicious and abundant. My husband ordered the Parker’s Barn Special which included two eggs, two pieces of bacon, two pieces of sausage, choice of French toast or pancakes, hash browns and toast! I had a pancake and their original ham hash (so good). Needless to say, we did not leave hungry! The trip to Parker’s Maple Barn is definitely worth the drive and the wait!

 

 

What to see in Sydney, Australia on Your First Visit

What to see in Sydney, Australia on Your First Visit

Sydney, Australia

Our first trip to Sydney, Australia was a bit overwhelming when it came to planning. Australia has so much to see and do. It really depends on what type of vacation you are going for. We knew that we only had a few days in Sydney so we were going to try to see as much of the city as possible and hit all of the highlights.

The Rocks

When you are looking for a hotel you will notice that Sydney is divided up into many different areas. We narrowed our search for a hotel into The Rocks area as it is the most historical of Sydney and located right on the harbor. There are many restaurants and pubs all within walking distance and you can stroll along the harbor at night and get a great view of the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. We stayed at a boutique hotel called The Harbour Rocks Hotel which has been many things before becoming a hotel. I highly recommend this hotel, it was so comfortable and the daily breakfast was delicious. There was a continental breakfast that included fruit, yogurt, meats, cheeses and pastries. You could also add items off of the menu if you were hungry for something heartier. We took advantage of the breakfast every morning before heading out. Here’s a link to the hotel.

Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk

One of the best things that we did was a walking tour from Bondi to Coogee Beach. We took public transportation from Circular Quay which is at the harbor and an easy walk from our hotel. The walk between both beaches is 3.5 miles and although we did not make it the whole way, it was a nice walk. The walkway is paved and easy to follow although you can find tours if you want a guided one.

 

One of the sites along the way besides the amazing waves and beautiful blue water is the lifeguard training facility at Bondi Beach. I couldn’t get over the training pool!

 

Tall Ships Tour on the Harbour

We did a tour of the harbor on a Tall Ship and it was so much fun! They served appetizers and you could buy beverages. The tour took us around the harbor past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge so we got fantastic pictures. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of Sydney and was able to point out places of interest. You can check out their website here.

Jenolen Caves ~ Blue Mountains

On our last full day in Sydney we took a bus tour to the Jenolan Caves. We had to see the world’s oldest open caves! Talk about a harrowing bus ride! It wasn’t too bad as we left the city behind on the 1.5 hour drive but the closer we got to the caves the curvier the roads became. Once we were a couple miles away, the road basically became one way (although not posted) and the bus took up the entire road. We just had to pray nobody was coming down the mountain! On the way there we stopped to view the Three Sisters rock formations from Echo Point which was a nice way to stretch our legs. Then a quick stop in a little town called Katoomba for a coffee break and to pick up a bagged lunch. It’s good to note that once you are inside the cave, the passageways can be very narrow and very steep. If you have a problem with stairs, you might want to plan ahead before going on this tour. I believe you can make advance arrangements and they can make accomodations. But it is definitely worth it to see the formations inside the cave! 

Click through the slideshow to check out some amazing stalactites and stalagmites! We even saw a wallaby on the drive home!

 

All in all, there is a lot more of Australia yet to see. I look forward to going back. But Sydney was a great city and I was happy to spend a few days there. Next stop, New Zealand!

Hello San Francisco!

Hello San Francisco!

It’s amazing to me that my first Blog post would be about a trip to Australia and New Zealand but it is! We got to go on this amazing adventure in December and let me tell you, it was everything  I was expecting and more. We went on this trip to see our niece graduate from her Master’s program that she completed at the University of Canterbury. Now you may wonder why we would travel all the way to New Zealand to see a niece graduate but I have to say, why not?! It seemed like the perfect reason to us.

First stop…

San Francisco, California

We started the trip off with a 36 hour layover in San Francisco as we were meeting up with our traveling companions and taking a red-eye flight to Sydney. So while in San Francisco, we decided to do a little sightseeing.

You can’t go wrong with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour if you only have a little bit of time in a city and you want to see it all. 

 

We also booked a tour of Alcatraz Island. I highly recommend booking this in advance. We were there in December and it was still really busy. I imagine in busier travel times that this tour is very busy. You have to book a specific tour time for the ferry that takes you to the island. You can click here to look at the official Alcatraz Island webpage.  Touring Alcatraz is something that we had never done in the several times that we have been to San Fran and decided it was time. The Island itself is actually a National Park and, besides being home to one of the most famous prisons of all time, it was originally built as a fort.

 

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a stop at Pier 39 to see the lazy sea lions lounging on the docks and barking at one another. For a live look at the sea lions, you can click here and a new window will open the Sea Lion Webcam!

 

The final stop in our whirlwind tour of San Fran was Ghiardelli Square for some decadent hot chocolate. Since we were traveling in December, it was actually pretty cool temperatures all day and by nightfall we were cold and ready for some chocolaty goodness to warm us up.

After a full day of touring San Fran we headed to the airport to catch a redeye flight to Sydney, Australia!