The Christmas Tag

23 December 2015

It took awhile but Christmas is finally in the air, Michael Buble is practically singing my life soundtrack, and my candle addiction has hit an all time high (or in the case of my wallet an all time low). Christmastime is the best time of the year, and to kick off the start of Christmas week I thought I would sneakily steal the Christmas Tag (as posted by Milk Bubble Tea and reposted by What the Elle).

1. What is your favourite Christmas Movie/s?
It's a Wonderful Life, followed closely by Love Actually and Elf. 

2. Do you open your presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?
Growing up, every Christmas Eve we were allowed to open one present (a tradition my parents denied every year but was firmly upheld by my sister and I). However, Christmas morning is when we usually open everything else. 

3. Do you have a favourite Christmas memory?
To be honest I really can't think of one specific memory. All my Christmases have been amazing! Family, friends, and food. What could be better?

4. Favourite festive food?
Tamales! Christmas is a chance to celebrate my mother's side and our Mexican heritage. Our typical Christmas Eve meal is Tamales, beans, rice, and of course salsa. 

5. Favourite Christmas gift ?
Vacations are the best gifts in my opinion. One year our Christmas gift was a trip to Rome, another year a trip to New Orleans. Travel is the best gift anyone can give! 

6. Favourite Christmas scent?
Apple Cinnamon is my go to holiday scent, however this year I'm loving the scent of pine needles!

7. Do you have any Christmas Eve traditions?
Like I said earlier, Christmas Eve is largely celebrated with my mother's side, which is Mexican American. Other than the traditional Mexican meal, we sing Silent Night in Spanish, which I still don't know completely despite the fact we have sung it for the last 24 years!

8. What tops your tree?
Angels. I say angels because this year we have three trees (sorry not sorry). 

9. As a kid what was the one (crazy, wild, extravagant) gift you always asked for but never received?
I was never really an extravagant kid, however I do remember always asking for a horse! At the time it wasn't so ridiculous, I had been riding horses for a couple of years! Needless to say my parents DID think it was ridiculous. 

10. What’s the best part about Christmas for you?
Family, friends, and dare I say the 'Christmas-y' atmosphere?

As always, around this time of year, I will be taking a little blogging break for the holiday season. I hope everyone enjoys their time with family and friends, as I'll be enjoying mine! Look out for me in a week or two! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Houston Zoo Lights

16 December 2015

Getting into the holiday spirit this year has been a difficult task. Last year, I was celebrating in England, a country where 'magic' just seems to fall off the trees as easily as the leaves fall during winter. I've traded my winter coat for a light sweater. My boots are collecting dust in the back of my closet. Christmas in Texas has not come this year for me. That was, until I visited the Houston Zoo Lights. 

On one of the very few 'cold' nights this year, my mom took me out to the Houston Zoo for an evening of lights, music, and festivities. I was skeptical at first, thinking the event was geared towards kids. I was so wrong. As soon as we walked in the familiar Houston Zoo entrance I was amazed. Thousands of lights, dancing to the beat of Christmas songs, stretched out as far as I could see. I couldn't help but take a million and one pictures, so grab a cup of tea and enjoy the beauty the zoo has to offer!

The trail leads around the entire park. As we wandered around the thousands of sparkly lights, I couldn't help but wonder how the Christmas spirit effected the animals. Christmas lights, shows and music everywhere. Was this disturbing them at all? So I did a little research. 

Zoo lights are pretty common across the country during the holiday season. With most animals hibernating for winter and the others all tucked into their warm burrows and caves, the lights themselves don't really bother the animals at all. Trails are places strategically to disturb the animals the least. The only animals I saw during my entire visit were a couple of flamingos and a few giraffes (who were enjoying the warmth of their indoor barn). The main attraction to the zoo lights are the lights themselves!

The best time to visit is right when the light display goes up. The closer to Thanksgiving, the better. As December progresses, the crowds only grow. Avoid the family crowds by going late, 7:30 - 9:00pm is the perfect time. Tickets are kind of pricey, but help the care of all the animals at the zoo.

With a hot cup of coffee in my hand, and lights twinkling down from the trees above, the zoo lights were the perfect thing to get me into the Christmas spirit! What is something you have done this year to get you into that holiday mood??


Getting a Degree Abroad | Before You Go

10 December 2015

Welcome to Part 2 of my new series, Getting a Degree Abroad! If you missed Part 1, where I discussed the first steps you should take before actually applying to a school abroad, check it out here! This one is a little more information heavy, so be prepared! There are lots of things you need to do in-between your acceptance and your initial arrival!

Housing | As a student, you will always have the option of living in student housing. For some, the idea of going back to dorm style living arrangements may not be ideal, however university housing will save you a lot of trouble! I personally went with student housing when I first arrived, however I decided to rent from an outside leasing company after one year. Living arrangements will vary depending on country. Research research research! While student housing in some countries may be the most reliable option, in others it may cause a lot of stress and anxiety.

Phone | It is worth looking into whether or not you will want to pay for an international plan from your home country. I personally did this, as it made it easier for me to keep in touch with friends and family abroad. I bought a T9 phone in the UK to make UK calls, but used my US iPhone on wifi and to stay connected with the US. This is not necessary! While it worked for me, you can also cut your home phone bill by buying a smart phone in your new country. There are so many free ways to stay in touch with people back home if you have a smart phone!

Notify Your Home Bank | If you are getting a degree abroad, chances are you have plans to eventually move back home. Do not close your home bank accounts! These are your lifelines. However, you will have to notify your bank that you will be spending significant time abroad. The reason? If you start making a whole bunch of international purchases, your bank WILL lock your account. Even if you DO notify your home bank, this may happen! That is why you will need….

Starter Cash | Keep a couple hundred dollars/pounds/or whatever your new currency is, tucked away somewhere safe. You never know what could happen (ex: your bank locking your account because of international charges). During your entire time abroad, I highly recommend keeping cash stashed away… Just in case.

Research a Bank Abroad | While it is not completely necessary to open a bank account in your new country, I highly suggest you do. If you plan on working, leasing, or making a big purchase, you are going to want to have a bank account in the country you are actually living in now. Your university will provide you a letter for whatever bank you chose, proving you are in fact a student and will be living in the country for X amount of time. Just ask the international office! Many will provide this letter within the first week of moving in.

Know Where Your Home County's Embassy is Located | This is really only a precaution, but better safe than sorry!

Print All Documents | There are a LOT of documents you'll need to have with you before you enter customs. I've created a list of these documents below, and I highly suggest creating a binder to keep everything organized. You will need three sections: Customs Documents, University Registration, and Just In Case. Some of these documents will overlap into multiple sections. 

Passport and Visa | Duh.

University Acceptance Letter | It goes without saying, but when you are at customs the officer is going to want to know you are actually attending school. The acceptance letter is the most important document at customs other than your actual passport and visa.

Letter from Your Home Bank | Since you will be a student, you will have to prove to the government of your new country that you have sufficient funds to last your entire program. You will need to provide a letter from your bank upon your arrival at customs. Make sure you've had these funds in your account for the required amount of time. Most countries require that you have had these fund available to you for at least six months or more.

Visa Application Receipt | You are going to have to pay for your visa application. Keep that receipt handy, as you may need to provide proof you did in fact pay for your application.

Immunization Record | Some countries may require proof of your previous immunizations. It is also worth looking into whether or not there are some shots required by your new country that you have not received already.

Certification of Registration from Your University | Most universities will allow you to begin the check in process online before you leave home. Once you arrive, you will be required to check in personally along with all other international students. Each university's process is different, however most will require you print out a "Certification of Registration" and bring it to your first check in. This will prove to them that you are in fact a new student. They will check this document, along with your passport and a few other documents (university specific) and then stamp this document. Keep this document safe. You never know if your new country will require you to provide this document at any given time.

Any Transcripts from Home | Most universities would have already required you to provide your transcript online in the original application process. However, the may also require it at the check in discussed above.

Proof of Housing | If you have decided to live in university housing, there will be a whole set of other documents you will need to provide upon moving in. However, it's best to keep the receipt from you original downpayment handy just in case something happens.

Copy of Your Passport | This falls under the just in case category. Why keep a photocopy of your passport? In the event you do loose your passport while living abroad, providing your embassy with a photocopy of your passport information page, as well as your visa page, will speed up the process tremendously.

Bare Necessities | Okay, let's be real. You don't need to pack pillows, sheets, towels or any of that. Get it when you arrive! You are going to want to pack a million and one things, but trust me when I say you will not need it. Pack clothes, shoes, medication, whatever you consider the bare necessities. Everything else is expendable and will just take up space in your already limited suitcase. Research types of stores you will want to buy these things before hand. In England, my go to for everything was Wilkinson. It was my "Target" so to speak.

I am so excited to be sharing this series with y'all. As I stated before, I have received numerous emails about getting a degree abroad. Instead of one general overview, I want to try and hit all the major points over several weeks! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below!


Sunday Brunch | Black Walnut Cafe

06 December 2015

Living in Houston means I am surrounded by some of the country's most famous cuisine. In 1998, USA Today called Houston the "dining capital in the United States" as Houstonians eat out more than any other city. Houston is proud of that title, and continues to impress visitors and critics alike. More recently, Houston was named America's favorite Food City in 2015 by Travel + Leisure. Around every corner you are surrounded by culinary delights. 

There's no tradition I love more than Sunday Brunch. While there are numerous places in Houston that boast a good Sunday Brunch, a favorite of mine is Black Walnut Cafe. Located across various Texas cities, my local Black Walnut is always bustling with people. The cafe atmosphere is the ideal spot for a relaxing Sunday Brunch, whether you are on your own or with a group of friends.

If your feeling coffee, the vanilla latte is an obsession of mine. However, I personally think a Bloody Mary is the perfect way to start off brunch. I'm a creature of habit, and although I have enjoyed everything I've tried off the menu, the Pico Benedict is my personal favorite. This Tex-Mex twist on Eggs Benedict is unique and delicious!

Do you have any favorite brunch spots??


Thanksgiving at Barton Creek Resort & Spa | Austin, TX

02 December 2015

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with food, family, and more food! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love any holiday that brings family together. Last year, although there was no family, I enjoyed spending Thanksgiving with some of my friends and loved ones. 

This year however, since it was my first Thanksgiving back stateside in three years, we decided to make the Texas rounds. We drove from Houston to Waco, then finally to Austin to visit both sides of the family. The result? Lots of driving and four separate Thanksgiving meals. I'm stuffed. We don't normally do Thanksgiving in Austin, but a little change up in the usual holiday routine was just what we needed. So we booked a couple of rooms in one of Austin's most beautiful neighborhoods, Barton Creek. 

As always, the Texas weather was highly unpredictable. We were rained in the majority of the holiday, however Barton Creek Resort & Spa had enough to keep the whole family entertained indoors. 

Barton Creek Resort & Spa not only has super fast wifi, but is pet friendly! My sister brought her puppy for the weekend, and keeping him in the room was no problem! After a little R&R in the room, we headed to the spa for champagne and massages. Needless to stay it was a very relaxing stay. 

How did you celebrate your Thanksgiving?