Embarking on your Faith Journey

Have any of you ever read a really great book or watched a really great movie or heard a really great story? Now, what did that book, movie or story have that was so great about it? Maybe it had to do with some mythical place, or an incredibly interesting main character. Perhaps you were able to identify with it in some way. Something about that story drew you in. And I can tell you, that each of these stories has something very simple in common. They all have some sort of journey that you as the reader, watcher, or listener follow. It may be a journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia, Metropolis or Gotham. It might be a journey of self-discovery, or one where the main character saves the world. We are drawn into this story. We are drawn into the mystery.

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I have this map up here. It belongs to my Dad, and it had a prominent place in my home for most of my life. It’s a hand drawn map of Middle Earth, the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created for his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I grew up staring at it, memorizing the landmarks and physical obstacles along the way from the Shire to Mount Doom in Mordor. This is one of the stories that I was enamored with as a child. I loved the idea of the adventures that took place in Middle Earth. I wanted to meet characters like Bilbo and Gandalf, and I wanted to be a strong heroin just like Arwen.

Now, what if I told you that our faith can be just like one of these journeys.

Just like the ones that we see in our favorite books, movies, or stories.

 You might be thinking I’m a little crazy at this point. But, one of my favorite saints, St. John Paul II is quoted in saying, “Life with Christ is a Wonderful Adventure”.

There is a moment in every story where the main character is posed with a question. Usually that question is whether or not to take on an adventure. Whether they’re off to destroy a ring, find a horcrux, or save the city from eternal doom, there is a moment when the main character consciously makes the choice to do the right thing. And often enough, we learn that the main character was destined to take part in that journey.

So are we.

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This painting is one of my favorites. It’s called “The Calling of St. Matthew” and it was painted by a guy named Caravaggio in 1600. Here we can see a ray of light making its way to Matthew, while Christ is pointing at him. The story of this painting actually comes from a story in the Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew- sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

We all have this moment. There is a moment where we are asked to join Christ on a journey. We are asked to accompany him on an adventure that we were made for.

My faith journey started out like many others. It was quiet. I grew up on Long Island, went to public school, lived with my Grandma, Mom & Dad, big sister Julie, and went to Mass on Sundays. I played with neighbors as a kid, and loved to draw and write stories. For me, this moment of encounter didn’t happen as a child, at my baptism, first communion, or confirmation, but rather, it happened on a retreat, kind of like the one you’re on right now. I had had a couple of really rough years in high school. I was anxious, depressed, I had lost friends, and a boyfriend who I was too dependent on, and my Dad had moved out and my parents divorced. I was a senior in High School. I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish. I was living day to day, trying to fake a smile, and act as though everything was okay. I knew that I wasn’t though. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant, or how it could affect my life.

And so I went on this retreat. I didn’t particularly like going to youth group anymore, but out of habit, I went on the Spring Retreat. Ironically, or not so ironically, the theme of the retreat was “I will Follow” and we had to sing this awful song and do silly hand movements to it. However, I knew that being a scutch and remaining closed off was not going to be fun for anyone. So, I tried to be open and listen to all of the presentations and participate in the prayer services. Friday night we handed whatever was burdening us over to God by tossing a rock into the Long Island Sound. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think of what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach. We each picked up two rocks. One represented our burdens, and one represented a promise. We each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I began to open up then. But the true turning point for me was on Saturday night. I sat in adoration of the Eucharist, which is when the Eucharist is exposed in a gold stand called a monstrance for a prolonged period of time. I desired mercy; just like St. Matthew. I had experienced God’s loving grace in the sacrament of confession. And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to come, and follow Him.  I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly Loved.

In that moment, just like St. Matthew, I got up, and followed Him.

I was drawn into the mystery.

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I found Joy on that retreat. For the first time in a long time, I found joy in doing simple everyday things. I even found Joy in getting stuck in the mud of a small Long Island Harbor, after running after my friends onto what looked like solid ground. In case you were wondering, I did ruin my flip flops that day. I had no idea what this journey would entail or what my destination would be. To be completely honest with you, I still don’t know what the destination is. I can tell you, that since I decided to get up and follow Him, my life has truly been an adventure. I’ve gone places, done things, and encountered people that I wouldn’t have even thought possible in High School. But, I had to take that first step and climb that very high mountain. I had to leave my comfortable life behind, and like Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, I left the Shire.

I started to take my volunteer work seriously. I was a volunteer with the Middle School Youth Group at my Parish. I played silly games along the way with middle schoolers and enjoyed it. I even let a 12 year old do my hair with shaving cream for the “Edge Kids Take Over”. It took a few showers to get it all out.

I went on trips to places I had only dreamed about before. I walked the streets of Dublin and Paris with my Mom and sister.

I took in the beauty of one of the world’s oldest book of Gospels, The Book of Kells, in Dublin, and I stood in awe of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I went on pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day 2011. I walked along the same cobblestone streets as St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. I sat in the same churches as a Doctor of the Church. As a group, we went to Mass with various English-Speaking Cardinals, and eventually with Pope Benedict XVI.

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We stood and humbly waited in the rain, which was described as a hurricane over the announcer. There was obviously a mistranslation there. And we waited for the Pope to arrive. We met young Catholics from all over the world: Colombia, France, Iraq, Australia, Nigeria, and Malaysia. I found I had a friend in Jesus’s mother after I realized that each church I went into had the image that my Parish is named after, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This still happens by the way.

In college, I continued to follow Him along a path that I couldn’t quite see, and had some incredible experiences. I trudged through Washington DC in 10 degree weather as a witness to the beauty that Human Life is at the March for Life.

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 I studied in Galway, Ireland, after working up the courage to follow the desires of my heart and change my major from something that would secure me a job after graduation, to something that I truly loved: English Literature and Irish Studies.

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 I sat in the middle of a country road in a town where there were more sheep than people, and appreciated the beauty of creation with a sunrise at 4am with some of my wonderful classmates.

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 I took a bus and visited relatives that I had never met and shared in faith and tea and ice cream with them. We drove all over my Grandfathers hometown.  I felt a little silly standing with that tomb stone in the rain, but I knew that these were the family members that gave me my Catholic faith, this was the church where my grandparents and great grandparents worshipped a God who is Love, and so I complied and smiled as a cousin I barely knew took my picture.

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I walked across the Peace Bridge in a city where violence was the norm for so long. I shared in the hurt that my cousins felt from the past, but also listened to their hope for their city and for their home. I quite literally crossed the River Foyle with them and was present as they shared their story and their heart with me.

I traveled in a minivan, and my campus minister was pulled over by cop in West Virginia for going 83 mph, to a place that I had never been. There were mountains there. I served the poor of Appalachia in Beauty, KY with some of the most kind-hearted, loving people I know.

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The Lord helped me break out of my comfort zone by working with power tools and to truly be present with the people of Beauty. I was reminded by a cook that I met from Georgia, just how beautiful my soul was, and how she could see it in my eyes. I spoke of my love for Mother Teresa and the Catholic Faith with a nurse from the next town after she confided in me just how beautiful she found the Catholic Church, even though she was a Baptist. She met me with love, not judgment, just as Jesus had.

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I built a deck and a ramp that week along with 8 of my classmates and mentors. That is something I would have never thought I could do, much less that I would want to. My Dad still doesn’t quite believe it.  Even in the mud that week, I found Joy.

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More recently, Jesus asked me to climb an even higher mountain. He asked me to serve in a way that I had never thought before. He asked me to move away from home to a place called Garrison, and to run retreats where students could encounter Him. I laughed, but after much prayer and a leap of faith, I went. And I could not be happier. Those words that JPII spoke are true, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”

Will you get up and follow him?

This presentation was given on the Sophomore Retreat: Faith Journey through CYFM. 

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That time we toured the North East (and the midwest)

Over the past few weeks I have been in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, Boston, New York City, the Hudson Valley again, Pittsburgh, Steubenville, and then finally back home in the Hudson Valley. It’s been a bit crazy, so I’m going to recap in the pictures below. 🙂

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One Wednesday afternoon, Val and I left our away retreat on LI for Boston, MA. To save gas, mileage, and our sanity we took the ferry out of Orient Point. I absolutely loved it, and would totally do it again. It was beautiful.

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The reason for going to Boston was for an accepted students day (that we both went to) and we were able to go to Mass and tour around Boston. It was nice to see where I’ll be living for the next two years.

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Here I am, in Downtown Boston by the Harbour. And below, by the sign for my program.

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After finishing the accepted students program, we headed back to New York for a family retreat in the city. It was totally worth it because the friary had a cat named Bella. This literally made my week. I miss having pets around.

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At youth group that weekend, we played some silly games (that were really about Easter) and talked about the Resurrection.

The following Tuesday, Sam, Fr. Tomas, and I drove west and spent the night in Pittsburgh. Here we had dinner with Sam’s family and saw the city.

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I don’t have any pictures from Steubenville (we were there for a career fair) but when we returned I went to a poetry reading with Fr. Bob.

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Then it was National Siblings Day, and my sister posted a picture.

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And finally we were rewarded with a Mets game (courtesy of Mary Ellen) and we ran into so many people, including Chris! 🙂

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The today we had a great day retreat.

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It’s been a crazy few weeks– but I don’t think I’ve ever been to so many places in so little time.

Mary

Garrison

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As I sat there, feeling down, looking at the blog of an acquaintance from my childhood, I started to feel jealous.

This girl, and others that I knew growing up are traveling around Europe as their post graduation life.

I opened up the main tab of the blog and realized how many places she had been. She wrote about how when she was young, all she wanted to do was travel. And I had this moment where I remembered that, that is all I wanted to do as an awkward middle schooler too. I kept a list of places that I wanted to go, and I would add to it each time I watched a program on the travel channel.

I became really discouraged in that moment. That I have only checked a handful of places off of my list. Sure, I studied abroad in Ireland. But what happened to studying abroad more than once like I had wanted to by the end of high school.

And then I kept reading. And she continued to write about what her dream is for her life. She loves to write. That makes sense since she’s a blogger. But then she said something, and it made me stop.

She wrote that she hopes to write things that touches people’s lives, people she will never meet.

And I was stopped in my tracks.

I had this moment where I remembered that I do that.

I have been published in a major magazine. People commented on the online version about how helpful my piece was.

I write talks about faith, and my faith journey and give them to middle school and high school students every week.

And my hope is, that something I say will touch them and bring them closer to Christ. Because that’s the real goal.

And I realized how silly my jealousy was. Because I am doing something worthwhile. I am giving a year of service to a ministry that touches lives. I have the chance to share my story with dozens of students each day.

I’ll have the rest of my life to travel, but I’ll only be in Garrison for one year.

Here’s to making the most of it!

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Day Two of Two in Chicago

Day two I spent roaming around Chicago. My first stop was Holy Name Cathedral:
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I loved how different the stained glass was. Still beautiful, still prayerful, but very modern. 

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The inside of the cathedral was gorgeous. Most of it reminded me of European Cathedrals, but at the same time it was very modern. At first I was a bit turned off, but as I spent my time there, praying, and thinking, I thought about how this cathedral will show generations to come the art that came out of this era, just like the great Cathedrals of Europe have for centuries. 

Then I made my way over to the Art Institute of Chicago. This was the other main thing on my list of things to do.

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I went into the museum unsure of what their collection was like. I took a visitors guide and sat for a moment to collect myself. Below are a few of my favorites. I really enjoyed their religious art exhibit. They had Christianity and Buddhism juxtaposed in the exhibit. Later on I focused on American Art, the special exhibition on Ireland, and the impressionism gallery. I’ve always been drawn to impressionism, probably because my elementary art teachers loved it. Both paintings that I feature here are pieces that I studied and parodied in my own art as a young child.

After the Art Institute, I purchased a print of American Gothic (because what better time to do that) and then walked through Millennium Park to The Bean… Apparently no trip to Chicago is complete without a visit to The Bean.

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After meeting up with my Mom, we walked from the hotel over to another Deep Dish place. We decided to have an early dinner because we had to be at O’Hare around 6pm. This place was called Gino’s East. We personally liked Lou’s better, but Gino’s was definitely worth the trip.

My trip to Chicago was short, but eventful. Until Next time, Chicago!

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Day One of Two in Chicago

All together we were in Chicago for 36 hours. My mom went to a conference there so I tagged along and we toured together on our first day in the Windy City. After getting off of the plane at 10:30 am, we took the train into the city from O’Hare. We pre-checked into our hotel, and walked down to the river to get some lunch (it’s around Noon by now.)
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After walking by the river for a little bit (I still can’t believe the color of the river), we took a hop-on hop-off tour. On the tour, we saw the whole city. Here are a few of my favorite spots:

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The Chicago Theater

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A friend told me about this sign, and I actually found it!

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Lake Michigan and the City Skyline

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Holy Name Cathedral

After the tour, we used our tickets to go to the top of the Sears-Willis Tower and stand on the sky deck. It was Disney World-Esque, but we still enjoyed it.

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To end our first day, we ate our first deep dish pizza. Lou Malnati’s came highly recommended. And it was delicious.

The Most Long Island Day Ever (Part Two)

I think that y’all know how much I love the North Fork of Long Island. Over the past year, I’ve been out there about five times. I’ve written about it in The East End, Greenport: my little slice of paradise, Agape, Lavender, and A Day in Greenport.

As I said in my last post, my friends from high school have been home, and we decided to explore LI a little bit. Tuesday, we went to the North Fork and explored Greenport a little bit. Originally we wanted to visit Lavender by the Bay, but sadly it was only open on the weekends in May. (next time though) So, we walked by the water while we waited for this sleepy little town to wake up after a busy Memorial Day Weekend.

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As we walked, I found a bunch of great beach glass. So now it actually looks like I have a collection, and not just a couple of pieces. We also made friends with a shiba inu, chow mix, and a beagle mix. My friend Megan is great because she’ll just go up and start talking to people about their dogs, and then we all get to pet them. So, its good. Then we stopped in the local bookstore (you can reach about that here) and went into the White Weathered Barn (one of my faves.)

We wanted to go to Lucharitos for lunch, but due to renovations, they were closed for the day. So, we ended up at a cute little luncheonette where we each had a delicious meal. I had pulled pork, Megan had fried chicken, and Sandi had fish and chips.

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I love the East End.

The Most Long Island Day Ever (Part One)

Whenever people are home, they want to explore the natural beauty that this very Long Island has to offer. So early Sunday morning, we set out for The End. Montauk, NY is the last town on this Island, and is a huge attraction for locals and tourists alike. We started our day with bagels and iced coffee. We drove all the way to The End, and spent a couple of hours at the lighthouse. We decided not to spend the money and go into the lighthouse (because we’re all new graduates who don’t have jobs) but the state park that surrounds the lighthouse is gorgeous and definitely fulfilled our needs. Also, you can see the lighthouse from almost anywhere in the park. 
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After spending some time at the lighthouse, we drove back into town. There we walked around, and eventually ended up at the beach. Being that it was Memorial Day weekend, the place was packed! However, I had to parallel park (but check out that parking job!) We spent some time here and figured out our next step. We passed a few vineyards on the way out to Montauk, so we used our trusty smartphones, and found one that we wanted to visit!

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And so we ended up at Duck Walk Vineyards. It was beautiful! And this place was totally cost-effective for a group of post-grads. To taste five wines, it was only $8. Yea, I know. It was great. So we took our time, tasted some local LI wine, and some purchased gifts. I would love to go back here one day and take advantage of their outdoor seating. They had chips, pretzels, hummus, and cheese for sale inside. I didn’t realize it at first, but you can buy some snacks, a bottle of wine, and sit on the vineyard property while a folk singer plays guitar. My first time at an LI winery was a success.

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So this is only Part One, because a few of us took a ride out to the North Fork on Tuesday. So stay tuned for that post!

Do you have any favorite local road trips? I’d love to hear about it! I’m always looking for cost effective day trips to take! It’s probably one of my favorite things to do!

Best,
Mary

I’m Going to Chicago!

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GUYS. I’m going to Chicago this week! As a part of my graduation gift, I’m tagging along with my Mom while she is at a conference. I’ve never been west of the Mississippi River, so I’m really excited to head to Chicago this Thursday!

I’ll be taking a carry on bag, and a small purse. It’s supposed to be beautiful in Chicago this Thursday and Friday, so that’s a good thing. I’ll probably wear a sundress or a skirt while i’m there.

I’ve done some pinning, and asked some friends who have been to Chicago, but I still don’t really know what I want to see (besides the Art Institute, that is.) So, I’m asking you all. What are your favorite things to do in Chicago? What should I see? Is the Bean really worth it? What about the Sears Tower? What Churches should I see? Now, remember, I’m only going for a couple of days, so I want to make sure I see great things while I’m there.

So, can you help me out?

The East End

So, for the past year or so, I have had this affinity for the East End of Long Island. So much so, that most of my friends are aware that I will drive out there at the drop of a hat. 
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One of my friends took me up on that. I received a text on friday afternoon asking to go out to the North Fork on Saturday. Of course I said yes. She is finally home for good from school. On top of that, she just found out that she’s going to Columbia next year… So we celebrated, and she had delicious sangria. Congratulations, Sandi!

IMG_1778We arrived in Greenport at about 1:30 in the afternoon. So our first stop was my favorite Mexican restaurant. It’s called Lucharitos and it is the best little restaurant in Greenport. We actually went on a good day, because they will be closed for the month of March. Now, this isn’t because of a lack of business during the off season, its because they’re expanding the restaurant! Sandi is the fourth person that I have brought to this little joint on the edge of LI. Well, apparently it lived up to the hype! I’m glad that she loved it as much as I do.

Our next stop was Burton’s Bookstore. A friend bought this store at the beginning of this year, and is slowly renovating it. I bought an awesomely, beautiful childrens book called, “Adventures through the North Fork- Autumn.” Scott (the owner) was telling me that the author of this little book lives in Greenport and has some pretty cool prints as well as other books.

IMG_2543Here is an image of the book from Danielle Malmet Rodger’s website. I’m really excited to look into some of her other work!
After perusing the book store, we went next door to The White Weathered Barn. We walked around this eclectic shop and looked at all of the locally made products. I love going in here. I bought myself a small print of Long Island, which I hope to frame for my desk at home. Long Island is special to me, and now I’ll always have a reminder of where I come from. 
IMG_1779We ended the day at the Tanger Outlets in Riverhead. We spent money on things that we needed and things that we wanted… It was well worth it. Sandi and I decided that we are going to be visiting the new Toms store in NYC soon. And when it gets warmer we hope to visit the winery’s (they’re not that far from Greenport!)

If you’re interested in reading more about the East End, I’ve blogged about it here, here, here, and here.

My Week in Cancun

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So, this past week I was able to spend my time in Cancun, Mexico! It was great! The warm weather was such a nice break from the bitter cold here in New York. As many of you know already, my family traveled to Cancun for my sister’s wedding. Because of the wedding, much of our time in Mexico was pre-planned. So Wednesday afternoon through Thursday night was occupied by wedding bliss. However, Tuesday and Friday were completely open to fun. BUT Sunday night our flights were cancelled. So, in a mad dash, we had to rebook everything. Instead of arriving in Cancun Monday afternoon, we arrived Monday night. Our new flight went out of a different airport and had a 2.5 hour layover in Mexico City. It was an adventure using what little spanish I remember from high school to get us to the right terminal (with twenty minutes to spare). THEN after all of that, I threw up on our second flight. That was not pleasant.

Since we arrived at the hotel so late on Monday, we were unable to book an excursion for Tuesday. Twas sad, but that’s not the end of the story…

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Tuesday was spent on the beach, by the pool, the ocean, and in the daybed. The all inclusive resort thing is pretty cool. This made me love Cancun. My ideal heaven would be Tuesday in Cancun. We were able to book a half day excursion to Tulum, Mexico for Wednesday morning. This was great, because I really wanted to see Tulum.

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It was really interesting to learn about the Mayans and their culture. It was also really cool to see these ancient ruins. They overlooked the ocean, which was a nice touch. Absolutely beautiful.

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Wednesday afternoon I went with my sister to get our nails done. Then Wednesday evening we had the rehearsal dinner. Thursday morning I had my hair done with my cousin, Kerry. We had to maintain our updos for hours. It was difficult (mine started to fall out right after the ceremony). Then, we finally went to get dressed, and to dress my sister. Then we had a wedding. I wrote about it here.

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We danced all night and I had an awesome time. I don’t think I’ve ever had that much fun dancing. Friday morning, Chris, Kerry, and I had an excursion to Xplore. Xplore is an adventure park about an hour outside of Cancun. While we were at Xplore we were able to Zipline, swim in underground rivers, go rafting in the rivers, and drive amphibious vehicles. It was an awesome day (more to come in a later post). It was also pretty chilly for Cancun on Friday. So, when we got back to the hotel I was pretty pooped. I was tired, cold, and hungry. I fell asleep at 10pm and woke up at 3am.

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Our last day in Cancun was spent packing, and relaxing at the beach. We left for the airport at 5pm and we were finished with security at 5:40pm. It was the fastest experience I’ve had in an airport. As we waited for the plane, I had the BEST quesadillas at this place called Guacamole. The flight home was easy-going. Especially compared to the flight there. We landed in New York 2.5 hours later, and were driven home by a car service. Overall, it was a pretty good trip. I’d definitely go back.