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Dear 17-Year-Old Natalie

Part I: the general stuff you need to know right now

Dear 17-year-old self,

Eleventh grade stinks just as much as you think it does. At 17, you feel like an adult (sometimes), but you still have all of the rules and regulations that comes with being a high schooler. Though you feel like the people around you should be with you forever--and the thought of being separated from them feels like torture--you will realize that moving away from those closest to you is an inevitable part of growing up. Don't worry: you will grow apart from your high school friends, but you will always, always keep them in your heart and think of them fondly as you all go to the right colleges for each of you, begin your careers, move far and wide, and start families of your own.

First day of school, 2001. Embrace the uniform!
The gang, 12th grade year. Shannon's 18th birthday. (L to R) Sims, Stephanie, Liz, Shannon, Katrina, Claire, me, Nicole and Anna-Kate
Don't worry so much about finding a boyfriend...and especially don't waste time mooning over those boys who don't pay you an ounce of attention. While I acknowledge that crushing on a boy sometimes has to be done, make sure you remember it's called a crush for a reason--because you'll sometimes feel like your heart is an aluminum can in a trash compactor. And, for heaven's sake, don't tell half the school who  you're crushing on. Trust me on this one; knowledge can only lead to complete and utter embarrassment when you know your crush has no hope of returning your affections. There will be other boys, boys who return your affection, boys who like you for all of those quirky oddities that make you feel like you're completely unlovable right now. They won't care that you're tall and gangly and completely un-athletic, that you'd rather read than play video games, that you're smart and have plans; in fact, these boys (the good ones!) will be proud to be your boyfriend because of these traits. Then one day, in about two years, you'll find that boy, the one that changes everything. And then the two of you will never feel whole without the other from that day on. He's worth the wait.

Landon and Natalie, summer 2004.
Love your parents, even though doing so can feel very, very difficult at times. These are the people who loved you and comforted you through thick and thin, so trust them when they advise you not to get a tattoo before seriously thinking about it. They were right about the six or seven ear piercings you want right now--when you grow up, you'll be glad you only stuck with the two. Your mom and dad are right to watch over who your friends are now. Even though you think that everyone is good and honest like you are, Mama and Daddy know better. Don't get mad when they ask where you're going and who you're going with and what time you'll be back. They want to be safe and healthy so you can go to college, get a job, get married, travel and have kids of your own. Appreciate your little sister: she will grow to be your very best friend if you let her. Even though the two of you fight sometimes now, you will miss her like you didn't think was possible when you go off to college in a year.

Family Christmas card, 2011.
Cling to that wild, adventurous self that you have deep inside. You will have so many opportunities to travel, so never be afraid to go somewhere new or try something difficult. Sometimes all you need is a little bravery. I promise, even if your world seems small right now, you will do so much by the time you're 27: go to England 4 times; study abroad in one of the greatest cities in the world; eat a chocolate croissant in Paris; see a real conch on Andros Island; go ziplining in St. Martin; see where your ancestors are from in Loch Lomond (Scotland); meet Johnny Depp, Brittany Murphy and Elton John; go scuba diving in Key West; commune with William Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey; and visit Lucy Maud Montgomery's house on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia. Fight for these opportunities, as they will put your entire life into perspective.

San Juan, Puerto Rico. August 2008.
St. Andrews Cathedral, St. Andrews, Scotland. November 2011.
Work hard in school. I know you hear it from Mama and Daddy constantly, but all of that studying will be worth it. You'll be completely prepared for college, and, when you go to Clemson, you rock the socks off your classes! You'll graduate Clemson magna cum laude and with Calhoun honors, and you'll get to wear lots of fun medals and stuff at graduation. If nothing else, work hard for the rock star gear at that ceremony. You'll eventually go to a great graduate program in English Literature, which will, in turn, land you a fantastic job when you're 26. Keep studying!

Clemson Graduation, May 2007.
Know that failure sometimes is an option. Law school--the place you've been working towards since you were twelve--is not actually where you need to be. Knowing when to quit something, whether it be a course of study, a job or a relationship, is more important than just about anything else. It's okay to say "no" sometimes. You'll go through some messy breakups, and you will be called selfish and hurtful and many other things, but realize this is the other person's hurt coming through. Ending a relationship is selfish because you are putting your feelings over that of the other person's, but if the relationship's not working, it's just not working. You will both feel better after the dust settles again...and, in the long run, the break-up will be better for all involved.

And above all, know that life is a journey. Don't rush one part because you're trying to get to another. It's not all wonderful, but it is all a learning experience. People will come and go in your life. You will change your own perspectives on the world. But through it all, love your family and love yourself. You are an amazing person.


The 27-year-old Natalie

(Update 9/15/2012: Linked up with Chatting with the Sky's Dear Teenage Self linky party)

Wnat to see what the almost-30 year old Natalie has to say to 17-year-old Natalie? Read here.

Kayaking in the Charleston Harbor

A few months back, Landon and I decided that we wanted to start kayaking. We live in one of the South's most beautiful cities (Charleston), and there's water all over the place. In fact, on a really high tide, we could launch a kayak from our backyard into the tidal creek that's back there!

Since I grew up in Charleston, I've been around the beach my entire life. Years and years ago, I tried (with all of my heart and soul) to surf, but I just didn't have the balance for it. Landon's definitely an outdoors-y kind of guy, and he was eager to find something we could both enjoy. Enter our new kayaks.

I'm still not the greatest kayaker ever, but I've really enjoyed the times we've gone out so far this year--it's just warming up to Natalie-acceptable temps, so I've refused to go out on all but the warmest of late winter/ early spring days. Landon's biggest fear when we first got the kayaks was that I would get bored (read: feel suddenly wimpy) and stop paddling halfway through the kayak trip.* In case of any impending wimpiness, Landon and I have figured out how to easily attach my kayak to his for a quick tow until I'm feeling back up to paddling!

So, here are few pics we took on our most recent kayaking trip to the mouth of Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant and out into the Charleston harbor:

Landon launched second, so I waited patiently for him.
A beautiful, beautiful day
On the bird sanctuary island in the harbor looking back towards Mount Pleasant. We found out later that we shouldn't have been on the island--it would have been a $450 fine if we'd gotten caught!! Next time, we'll do some research before we leave the house...
Okay, so there were some signs or something up there. A second look would probably have been smart! But really, do we honestly need a sanctuary for sea gulls??? We have more than enough of them already down here!
I love living near the ocean!
*He may have good reason to believe this as showcased the summer before my senior year of high school. I went to camp that summer at the place where I'd always gone to camp; I was especially excited because I was eligible to join the senior kayaking trip out to a nearby island for exploring and picnicking. On the way back, the tide was going out. I paddled and paddled and paddled and got nowhere. Eventually, I gave up and did what any sensible person would do in that situation: I bawled like a baby until the camp counselors came out to get me in a motor boat. Shame was my middle name for the rest of the camp session.

Sisters' Trip 2012: Orlando Bound (Part 2)

For those of you who didn't read yesterday's post, my sister and I went on a "just us" trip this past weekend to Orlando. We had a blast! Yesterday, I posted about the beginning of our day, as well as our fun times in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter  (inside the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure park). Today's post showcases the rest of our trip:

After we'd gotten our fill of Harry Potter, us Muggles headed to the other portions of Islands of Adventures.

Side note: If you're thinking about taking a trip to Orlando any time soon, know that timing is everything. We purposefully chose this past weekend since it was too late for spring breakers and too early for the summer break crowd. Not to mention the weather was perfect--slightly overcast (so no sunburns!) but warm (in the mid-70s). The forecast had called for 100% rain, but we were totally lucky and it didn't rain a single bit until we were eating supper--and the rain was over by the time our meal was!

Anyway, we spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon exploring all of the fun things Islands of Adventure had to offer:
I remember when the original Jurassic Park movie came out--I was in the 2nd grade and absolutely obsessed with dinosaurs. My favorite was the protoceratops, and I wrote the world's most awesome 2nd grade science report on them!
We went on the River Adventure in Jurassic Park and got wet. And then we went to ride on Dudley Doright's Ripsaw Falls and got SOAKED. We definitely looked like wet rats for at least an hour after we had this brilliant idea!
If you know my sister, then you know she is the popcorn QUEEN. Note the delighted smile she has on her face--his was just after she found out she could get popcorn refills in her bucket for only 89 cents all day. 
We ate at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoopenous in Seuss Landing.
Amber with her hamburger at Circus McGurkus. She ordered a hamburger, but of course she got cheese on it--Amber is picky and only likes the bread, burger and ketchup, but somehow everyone messes her order up!
We caught the cute (and sometimes cheesy) Sindbad show after lunch.
Then, it was back to Seuss Landing to ride the Caro-Seuss-el.
Caro-Seuss-el Amb
What is it about a carousel?!? I'm in my 20s and I STILL love them!
I know I'm no spring chicken, but I hadn't realized just how old I've gotten until my sister and I got onto the Hulk (the biggest coaster at Islands of Adventure) and got horribly, horribly nauseous. I used to be able to go on any coaster as many times as I could, then immediately get off and eat dinner. Now, I feel bad for making my dad go on all those crazy rides even after he said he felt sick!

After we finished up with Universal, we headed to Downtown Disney to do some shopping and eat dinner at the Rainforest Cafe there. I got a new Mickey scarf (which I wore to work yesterday) and a new wallet, and Amber got a new shirt.
Downtown Disney's best kept secret: the make your own rice krispie at Goofy's Candy Company. you get to choose your own dipping chocolate flavor, topping and drizzle. YUM!
We headed back to Charleston on Sunday morning; I wish we could have stayed for a week!!

I can't wait until Sisters' Trip 2013--any suggestions on where we should go? We'd like to go somewhere that isn't more than a 7 hour car ride from Charleston, SC, but other than that, we're up for just about anything!

Sisters' Trip 2012: Orlando Bound (Part 1)

For our second annual (sort of) sisters' trip, my sister and I headed down to Orlando, Florida for a few days  of fun (well, actually just a weekend--we left on Friday after work and came back Sunday). 

Our destination: Universal Studios...and in particular, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which I've only wanted to go on since it opened about two years ago.

My sister and I always have so much fun together no matter what we're doing. She came to get me after school on Friday and we headed down to Orlando. We stayed in a fun hotel called "The Castle" right on International Boulevard and only a few miles from Universal Studios.

I think Amber's ready to hit the park (Saturday morning): 

We made shirts to wear to the park--they got lots of comments. Among our favorites: "Oh, a sisters' trip? What sorority?" and "I hate my sister. You'd have to PAY me to go on a trip with her."
Also, note that the purple sister on the left (me) is slightly taller than the pink one. Amber tried to be as realistic as possible when making the shirts!!
SOMEONE is excited about going to the park. We were amongst the first few let into the park on Saturday!
First stop: HOGSMEAD (!!!) and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Another view of Hogsmead
Yours truly in front of the Hogwarts Express
We're in Hogsmead!
Approaching Hogwarts Castle. I loved the ride, though I may or may not have closed my eyes and screamed like a tiny child when the huge spider was in my face!
Some of the fun displays in Hogsmead. This one was in Gladrag's front display, and is a replica of Hermione's dress that she wears to the Yule Ball in the fourth movie/ book.
The Butterbeer cart! I had some of the frozen Butterbeer and it was amazing. It tasted like a caramel/ vanilla/ butterscotch Icee. YUUUM.
Also, I had a picture of me with my Butterbeer, but my camera malfunctioned and ate half of the picture. Boo.
In front of Zonko's Joke Shop, also in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Amber checking out Gilderoy Lockhart's newest books--I wonder if she knows that he is a five-time winner of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award.
The Hogwarts Frog Choir treated us to some of the wizarding world's favorite a cappella tunes. 
I also got a new Harry Potter shirt, which I will definitely be sporting when I go to the Warner Bros. Backlot Studio Tour of Harry Potter in London this June!

I don't want to overload you with pictures, so I'll share the other half of our trip tomorrow. I already want to go back!

Have you ever been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? If so, what did you think?

We Love You, Lulu

Last September, my sister adopted an adorable Cairn Terrier mix from a local shelter. Amber named the dog Lulu, and they were instant friends. Lulu loved Amber, and Amber adored the dog. Lulu loved dressing up in pajamas and tutus and Halloween costumes and anything else my sister could find.

When Amber adopted Lulu, the shelter informed her that Lulu was heartworm positive. Before Lulu joined the family, she was a part of a puppy mill in Georgetown, SC--she was forced to have litter after litter of puppies and wasn't provided adequate food or medicines. Amber knew that there were options for curing heartworms, and she also knew that Lulu needed a home where people could love her and show her that not all humans would lock her in a cage and breed her constantly.
Amber and Captain Lulu
The time came for Lulu's heartworm treatment: three shots of medicine over a five week period. She would be closely monitored by the doctors throughout the process. Lulu's first shot worked like a charm--she stopped coughing constantly (as a result of her enlarged heart) and she acted spunkier than she had in weeks.

Lulu went in this morning for her second round of shots and she was fine with the doctor administered the medicine around 12. However, she collapsed around 3, but the doctors were able to revive her with oxygen and medicine. Lulu fought for an hour and then passed away around 4:10 this afternoon very unexpectedly.

My sister is heartbroken, as any of you who've lost a pet can understand. I think what hurts the most is that Amber only had Lulu eight months. Keep her (and my dad, who was just as attached to Lulu as my sister was) in your thoughts as she comes to terms with the loss of her beloved Lulu.

We love you, Lulu! Requescat en Pace.

Studying Abroad: London

Every summer, my parents would take my sister on a road trip somewhere. Sometimes the trip was purely for fun--Disney World or Universal Studios--and sometimes it was for educational purposes. We learned about the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We saw Ernest Hemingway look-a-likes at the Hemingway Festival in Key West, Florida. We read Anne of Green Gables as we learned about Lucy Maud Montgomery in Prince Edward Island, Canada. By the time I was 14, we had traveled every inch of I-95 on the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

I adored these trips, and I looked forward to wherever the road took us during those hot summer months.

But I didn't truly fall in love with a place until I went on my graduation trip in 2003. For my high school present, my parents wanted to give me memories rather than a car. They set the budget and the time constraints, and I got to pick the place. I had adored my high school British Lit class, so (with Chaucer and Donne fresh on my mind) I decided England was the place to go.

We had a phenomenal time. I can remember getting off of the plane and looking at the green, green grass growing around Gatwick Airport. In March! It was freezing and the plants were as lush as they are in Charleston in June. We learned a lot on that trip--why are there so many different coins in the British currency??--and I loved going off to college with that extra special trip under my belt.

After a near disastrous freshman year (I didn't adjust well to the whole roommate situation), I wanted to go to a different college. I begged and begged my parents to let me go to St. Andrews in Scotland, but they were firm against it. So, I campaigned for the next best thing: a summer abroad in London. They said okay to this, but said I had to pay for it if I wanted to go. Three months in London was worth any amount of working, so I buckled down my sophomore year, got a tutoring job and a job as a resident assistant and started saving my pennies.

In early June 2005, I drove with my parents to the Atlanta airport, met up with my friend Nicole (and London roommate) and we headed into the unknown that was studying abroad. While I was excited and curious about what the next three months would bring, I was also terrified. I'd never been that far away from my parents. If I got sick or hurt, I would have to deal with it on my own--they couldn't just hop in a car and come get me. Though I'd been away at college for two years, studying abroad made me grow up more than any other one aspect of my young adulthood. It was seriously me against the world for the first time ever.

I went through a study abroad company called IES, and they were everything I wanted and more. While they had home stays available, I decided I wanted to live in their high rise apartment on King's Road in Chelsea because I would get to be around more people my own age. I am so glad I decided on this option. While the apartment complex was mostly for IES students, it was also open as a hostel to foreign students. I met so many people from all over the world. My roommate and I would get together with the other girls on the hall and cook dinner with the two girls from Brazil who lived next to us. London is a multicultural city, and I was so happy to have a tiny microcosm of that in my own home!

While I was in London, I took two classes twice a week: Modern British Literature and Shakespeare. It was amazing learning about Shakespeare just a mile from his Globe Theatre and about Virginia Woolf two blocks from where she lived. Of all of the English classes I have ever taken (and that's saying a lot since I have an undergrad and grad degree in English Lit), these were two of my favorites. My teacher for Modern British Literature opened my eyes to a whole slew of authors I hadn't ever heard of in the U.S.: Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Iain M. Banks, Peter Ackroyd, Sarah White, and Michael Faber. I loved these books so much that, four years later, I went back to school to get my graduate degree in 21st century British Literature. Funny how the world works, huh? My classes were long--four hours each--but I had them back to back on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sometimes during our lunch break, I would wander down to the British Museum, which was just down Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury from our school.

Bloomsbury Square where I would eat my lunch sometime
My school building is the one at the corner
And then on my five day weekends, I would study and go exploring. Sometimes I would go with my friends, sometimes I would go by myself. I can remember going shopping for long pants (it was so cold and I hadn't brought anything but shorts!) at the H&M in Oxford Circus. I'd never seen an H&M before and it was love at first sight. I can also remember one very chilly afternoon that I spent in Windsor--I ordered a cup of tea and a scone with strawberry jam and sat in this warm, crowded tea house on the high street people watching. That was one of my favorite afternoons of the entire trip.

I could talk for DAYS about the things I experienced:
  • visiting the Cotswolds
  • trying marzipan for the first time
  • discovering digestives
  • getting sick away from home
  • the 7/7 terrorist bombings
  • the Tower of London
  • Brooke Shields in Chicago
  • Johnny Depp at the premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Brittany Murphy filming on the streets of Chelsea
...but all of that talking still won't express how much those three months changed my life.

Travel is even more ingrained into my soul now, but London will always have a special place in my heart. 

In Brighton on the pier with some candy floss
Guess who went to the midnight release of Harry Potter 6?
In front of A.A. Milne's house (he wrote the Pooh Bear books)
With my friend Randi at the Portobello Road Market
Freezing (in JULY) in front of the fountain in Trafalgar Square. Note the super gloomy, standard London weather.
Because what else are you supposed to do at Abbey Road?
In front of the Abbey Road Studios
Chelsea townhouses that I passed every day on my walk to the Tube for school
And most importantly, if you've got your heart set on visiting a place, near or far, make going there a priority. Fancy cars break down, houses need repairing and jewelry tarnishes, but memories you make with the people you love in the places that inspire you last forever. Happy Travels!

For other blog posts I've written about London and traveling: