Category Archives: Back in the Day

That one time I was in graduate school

I graduated college with the intention of working with teenage girls. This led me to a graduate program in Memphis that offered me a 75% discount on tuition based on my grades (and let’s be honest – my family connections probably helped since my grandmother worked in the library at this graduate school for 26 years and my mom worked there for 2). During my second semester in the spring of 2009, one of the professors talked me through the number of years I had between current day and when I would actually be practicing what I wanted to do. And I realized that 6 years was too many to wait. I wanted to be working with teens now.

usUs taking our daily evening stroll around the grad school campus in 2008. We were so young!

But I was worried. Oh how I worried. I worried that I would disappoint my family by being a drop out (spoiler alert: they were super supportive and I had nothing to worry about). I’d never quit anything in my life and I hated the idea of quitting. Even though my grades were great and I was excelling in my classes, I felt like I was failing by not finishing out the program. But thankfully I had a supportive husband who walked me through the process. He encouraged me to not worry so much about finding “the perfect job” working with teens, but to instead start volunteering with teenagers. Who says you have to be paid to do what you’re passionate about? It was the best advice ever. After three semesters, I quit graduate school in 2009.

rach and abby in the libraryMy sister, Abby, visiting me at the library on campus where I worked in 2008 (the same library where my grandmother & mom worked!)

You might find it odd since I ended up dropping out, but I am so grateful that I went to graduate school for that year. When we graduated college we were looking at Florida, Colorado, and Tennessee as possible places to move. When I was offered that awesome scholarship, our decision was made easily. We would go to Memphis for me to attend graduate school and then after I graduated, we’d move somewhere else. Well, what do you know, I quit after a year and already we had found a home here in Memphis. I don’t know that we’ll always stay here (our hearts are really pulled to both mission work and the beach), but I know that for the past nearly 8 years, Memphis has been home. And I’m so glad that graduate school brought us here. 🙂

dinner with friends grad schoolDinner with friends in the courtyard on campus in 2008

We also had a lot of fun while I was in grad school. We lived on campus which meant that we lived in close proximity to all our new friends. We were always together all the time which was just really wonderful. Oh, and I was on the Student Association Counsel because I’m totally that girl. Which meant that I was part of making a couple of promotional videos for our school. I know you want to see them. My favorite one is absolutely the Popcorn Day one. I’m wearing a purple shirt with a white scarf. You can see it here:

And if that isn’t enough for you, you can also see this video where my acting skillz are really put to use (near the end of the first minute). Why I’m sharing proof of my lack of acting talent with you guys, I really don’t know. Other than that they strike me as funny. So enjoy. 😉

Recently I ran across those videos again and it had me thinking about how grateful I am that graduate school brought us to Memphis. And how grateful I am that I had the courage to quit after the first year even though I was so worried about what people would think and about what I would do with my life. Immediately after quitting graduate school in 2009, I began volunteering with a group of 7th grade girls. Those girls graduated high school last year and despite all my protesting that I’m too old for this, I find myself still mentoring teen girls (just a different group now). I am so very grateful for the way it all worked out. I volunteer for a couple of other organizations, nanny part time for two of the best kids ever, and have a full time photography business. Life is so much better than I could have predicted.

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How did you end up in the city where you currently live? 

Have you ever quit anything?

Do you use your college degree (either by work or volunteer work)?

Love Rach

No-Sugar-Added Cheesecake Squares {and why I limit sugar in my diet}

During my freshman year of college I found out that I have a genetic heart condition that requires me to stay active and eat healthy (nothing that will kill me if I don’t, it just causes a lot of pain). My doctor told me to cut out caffeine and sugar from my diet. Having caffeine taken away from me as a college freshman (when I stayed up until at least 2am every night and often 3 or 4) was difficult. But after two years of back and forth, in May of 2006, I finally settled into my new diet. I didn’t realize it until I started writing this post, but it’s been nearly a decade ago now!

rach2004Celebrating my 17th birthday just before I started my freshman year of college in the late summer of 2004. Look at me so blissfully unaware that I’m about to be told I can’t have sugar or caffeine anymore. 😉

People often apologize for eating desserts in front of me, but it honestly doesn’t bother me. It’s been so long that I don’t miss it anymore. Every now and then I’ll have a craving for something sweet and so I’ll either eat fruit or make something with Splenda or Stevia. My preference is Stevia because Splenda upsets my stomach, but Splenda is a cup-to-cup ratio exchange with sugar so it’s much easier to bake with. Stevia takes a lot of guess work. But when you get it right, it’s awesome! 🙂

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While I was in college my mom made a point to still make me desserts for my birthday even if they had to be sugar-free. She came up with two winners that I still make from time to time when I’m craving something sweet. And today I’m going to share her Cheesecake Squares recipe that she adapted from Pillsbury (original recipe here).

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(No-Sugar-Added) Cheesecake Squares

Ingredients:

2 (8oz) cans refrigerated Pillsbury Dough Sheet
2 (8oz) packages fat free cream cheese, softened (this is important!)
1 cup Splenda OR 1/4 cup granulated Stevia (I used Stevia for the squares you see above)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp Splenda or granulated Stevia
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13” pan. Press one dough sheet into the bottom of the prepared pan.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together softened cream cheese (if it’s not soft, this is a lot harder to do), 1 cup Splenda or 1/4 cup granulated Stevia, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Spread over the dough layer in pan.

3. Unroll the second can of dough and lay on top of the cream cheese layer. Do not press down. Pour melted butter over the entire pan. Combine the remaining Splenda/Stevia with cinnamon and sprinkle on top.

4. Bake for 25 minutes or until top is crisp and golden. Serve hot from the oven or let cool and refrigerate until they easily hold together.

If sugar isn’t a problem for you, you could easily make these with sugar (using the same Splenda measurements). And if you want to try for Stevia – it just takes a little trial and error. Read the instructions on your Stevia to find the appropriate ratio for one cup of sugar. I went with Stevia for the Cheesecake Squares photographed in this post and they turned out wonderfully!

These are delightful. They are incredible straight from the oven as well as after they cool and go in the fridge for a few hours. I usually eat them both ways. One when they initially come out of the oven and then a chilled one the next day. Yum!

Have you tried a dessert like this before?

How would you have reacted as a college freshman to the news that you needed to give up sweets and caffeine? It definitely took me two years of back and forth before I really got it, ha!

Love Rach

10 Years Ago VS. Today

Recently I was thinking about how different some of my favorite things are than they were a decade ago. So I thought it would be a fun post to do a then vs. now look at life. 🙂

Fast Food: 

10 years ago my fast food of choice would have been Taco Bell (their tacos were my faaaav!)

Today: Chick Fil A, hands down.

Favorite Food: 

10 years ago I would probably have picked pizza as my favorite food. At least that’s what I ate the most.

Today: Probably still pizza, haha! Though it would be a tie with spaghetti. And then closely followed by chicken ‘n dumplin’s, taco salad, steak and baked potatoes, bbq nachos, chicken stirfry, jambalaya, and lasagna soup. What can I say? I have a lot of favorite foods. 🙂

pizzaThat’s me being super attractive while chowing down on pizza back in 2008. 😉

Breakfast: 

10 years ago I hardly knew what breakfast was. On the rare occasion that I ate it, it was either cereal, blueberry muffins, or waffles. Or maybe leftover cold pizza.

Today: I eat breakfast every single day. Smoothies, oatmeal, and cereal are my most common breakfasts, but pancakes and blueberry muffins are my favorites.

Relationship: 

10 years ago I had been dating my first ever boyfriend for a year and a half.

Today: We just celebrated 11 years together this past September and 7 years of marriage this past August.

Us 10 years ago on the left / Us 10 days ago on the right

Age / Life Stage:

10 years ago I was an 18-year-old sophomore in college studying theology and education.

Today: Well, you can do math. 😉 I’m a 28-year-old who did not pursue a job in either of my fields of study. Instead I am a photographer who utilizes my college degrees through volunteer work.

Work:  

10 years ago I worked four part time jobs while going to school full time with a double major. #overachiever

Today: I’m a photographer and make my own hours. I also keep two kids for a couple of hours a few days a week. I used to be full time with them, but just as my photography business really took off, my schedule with the kids changed which has been such a blessing. I love that I don’t have to choose one over the other. 🙂

photographer rach3

Car: 

10 years ago I didn’t have a car. Christopher did, but he shared it with his brother and his brother tended to need it at the same times we did. So instead we usually caught a ride with someone else. Or I borrowed a car. The two cars I borrowed the most frequently were both convertibles and they kind of spoiled me.

Today: I drive a tiny Scion XA and it is my baby. His name is Apollo. For the past two years we’ve been shopping around for either a Jeep or a Mustang convertible, but we just haven’t found one that we love enough for the price we want yet. And it’s hard for me to part with Apollo. He has been such a good car to us for the past five years!

Coffee Shop of Choice:

10 years ago I hung out at local coffee shops with my friends all the time.

Today: I’m a total sell out and adore Starbucks. To be fair: Starbucks is one of the few places that can make a drink that I can actually have (that is decaf, sugar free, dairy free and still tastes amazing).

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Shopping:

10 years ago my go-to store was Walmart. It was cheap and had everything. Perfect for my college student budget.

Today: my go-to store is definitely Target. The Walmarts in Memphis aren’t quite as nice as the one I went to when I was in college. So I started shopping around until I found Target. I’ve been sold ever since. It’s a magical place. 😉

Hair Care:

10 years ago my hair care routine was all about the Fructis shampoo & conditioner and the Paul Mitchell Skinny Serum. My hair was usually styled in braids or a pony tail. Occasionally I would wear it down, but not often.

Today: I still use Paul Mitchell’s Skinny Serum sometimes as well as the It’s A 10 Miracle Leave In Conditioner. I rotate through different shampoos & conditioners, but they are always sulfate-free now (which is magic for my hair). My favorites have been the L’Oreal EverSleek line and the Aveeno Pure Renewal line. My hair is typically styled in a side braid, a bun, or down and curled.

Giving my sister a piggy back ride 10 years ago while rocking my braids / Rocking a bun lately

Superhero: 

10 years ago my favorite superhero was definitely Superman. Christopher and I had legitimate conversations about why we liked different superheros (he was a Batman fan).

Today: Christopher is still a Batman fan and I still like Superman, but if I had to pick a favorite superhero now… I’d say Captain America. He’s just such a solid guy. Courteous, kind, and brave. {disclaimer: I never read the comic books so if Captain America was a jerk in those, I don’t want to know. I like my happy movie-version-only bubble. 😉 }

Books:

10 years ago all I read was stuff for school. Mostly massive and very serious books about theology with a couple of fun education ones thrown in. I loved it because I’ve always loved learning, but there was no time for “reading-for-fun”.

Today: 99% of what I read is “fun”. Young Adult Fiction is my jam. Every now and then I’ll read a more serious book, but not often.

 —

Some things are still the same. I still love Jesus and feel passionately about social justice issues. I still shop primarily at thrift stores for my clothes (that’s right – I did that 10 years ago before it was the “cool” hipster thing to do 😉 ). I still love blogging and documenting life through photos. I’ve still never been pulled over (knock on wood!). I still volunteer with teenagers (yes, I was volunteering with teenagers while I was still a teenager, ha!). And I still really love my friends and family. 🙂

So tell me, what’s something that is really different about your life today than it was 10 years ago? Or better yet, do one of these posts as well so I can see lots of differences! 🙂

Love Rach

My Grandmother’s Blueberry Muffin Recipe

From the time that I was a little girl until I was a college student, whenever I visited my mom’s parents there were a few things I could always expect. Normal things like warm hugs, laughter, and love, of course. But other constants as well.

with MB and DK(with my grandparents when I was a teenager)

For example, I could always count on my grandfather to offer a hair cut or trim if I wanted one (he was a barber and the only one who cut my hair until just a couple of years ago).

I could always count on him to make as many eggs as I wanted prepared any way I’d like (this was my favorite as a kid and I often ate half a dozen eggs for breakfast at their house – jokes were made about my future cholesterol, but I’ll have you know it’s still perfect today 😉 ).

And I could always count on waking up in the morning to the aroma of freshly baked blueberry muffins. From the time I was a small child, that was the first thing that would greet me every morning as I woke up. The warm scent of blueberry muffins wafting back to the bedroom. Eagerly I would bound out of bed and run straight for the kitchen where, without fail, my grandmother would be pulling a fresh batch out of the oven.

with momma billie 1987.jpg(with my grandmother in December 1987 when I was 6 months old)

My grandmother lost her fight with cancer while I was in college. But only after beating the odds for 20 years. There are no words for how grateful I am to have had her in my life for those years. Today I am thinking of her and I wanted to share her blueberry muffin recipe with you guys. 🙂

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Momma Billie’s Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.

2. In a mixing bowl cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in dry ingredients until just moistened.

3. Fill 12 greased muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Every time I bake these and my house is filled with this sweet aroma, I am reminded of my grandmother. I might be a bit biased, but if you are looking for the best blueberry muffin recipe of your life, this is it. 🙂

Were there certain things you could always count on when visiting grandparents/aunts & uncles/etc growing up?

Love Rach

Happy (belated) Chinese New Year!

Yesterday was the Chinese New Year! Usually we go all out and prepare a feast (or I make awkward cooking vlogs like last year 😉 ), but this year I wanted to keep it simple. Instead of a feast, I just picked one thing. Chicken Stir Fry. One of my absolute favorites that we make at home all the time. I have to tell you guys – this isn’t really a Chinese recipe. It’s a very Americanized version of Chinese food. However, when we were living in China my mom made this all the time and it was one of my favorites. So I always think of it as “comfort food from China.”

chicken stir fry3

Look at that giant bowl of veggies all prepped and ready to go! You may be tempted to buy a bag of frozen mixed veggies for your stir fry and I won’t judge you if you do… but you will be missing out. When you use fresh veggies, they come out crisp and perfect every time! 🙂

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All cooked and ready to be served over your favorite starch (or just eaten as is). We eat this so frequently that we’re always changing up the starch. White rice, brown rice, pasta, and even shirataki noodles. My absolute favorite is to eat it over Ramen noodles (I just throw away the seasoning packet). I’m not sure what sort of wizardry they do to Ramen noodles, but they soak up sauces SO well which makes them a perfect base for chicken stir fry!

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Chicken Stir Fry

Ingredients:

Starch of your choice (2 cups rice, 8 oz noodles, etc)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 large sweet onion
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 orange or yellow bell pepper
1 large carrot, peeled
1 broccoli crown
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
Smoked paprika
Seasoned salt
Fresh cracked black pepper

Directions:

1. Begin rice or pasta now. Cook per package directions and set aside when finished.

2. Julienne your onion, bell peppers, and carrot. You can leave them in long strips or slice them all in half to make them bite-size. We do both depending on our chopping mood that day. 🙂 Place veggies in bowl and set aside. Slice stalks off broccoli and discard stalk pieces. Add broccoli pieces to veggie bowl.

3. Begin heating 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a wok or large pan. Add garlic after a minute and watch it as it begins to sizzle. When it turns golden, add your veggies, give them a good stir and cover with a lid.

4. While your veggies cook, begin slicing the chicken into bite size pieces. Sprinkle with smoked paprika, seasoned salt, and black pepper. Check on your veggies periodically to give them a stir.

5. After 5-6 minutes of veggie cook time begin checking the done-ness of your veggies by pulling out a couple of random pieces to taste. When they seem close, remove the lid and allow the veggies to cook for another 1-2 minutes to crisp up. {The lid keeps the moisture in allowing the veggies to cook without needing copious amounts of oil, removing the lid once the veggies are nearly done cooking allows the moisture to evaporate and the veggies to crisp up!}

6. When veggies are done, pour them out of the wok into a serving bowl. Immediately add remaining olive oil to the pan and then the chicken. Allow to cook for 2 minutes on one side and then use a spatula to flip as many of the pieces as you can to cook for another 2 minutes on the other side. Using your spatula, break up a couple of pieces of chicken to check the inside. Top your veggies with the cooked chicken.

7. Serve immediately over the starch of your choice and with the sauce of your choice. See below for our favorite sauce choices!

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And because you can’t have stir fry without sauces (well, you can, but you shouldn’t), here are a few of our favorites to mix and match as the mood strikes us. We don’t put any sauces in as the food is cooking because we like to try different flavor combinations in our own bowl. Christopher nearly always adds more smoked paprika and then soy sauce and black vinegar. I nearly always go for Worcestershire sauce because that’s the way I ate it in China (random, right?). But no matter what direction we go, it’s always delicious!

rach & abby at the pagoda

I’ll leave you with this shot of me and my sister, Abby, outside a pagoda in 2001. For anyone who is newer to the blog and is wondering about the whole China connection, you can read more about it here. 🙂 Happy belated Chinese New Year, my friends!

Have you ever celebrated the Lunar/Chinese New Year?

What are your favorite veggies for stir fry?
Love Rach

Harry Potter World!!!

Last month we went on an awesome cruise for Christopher’s 30th birthday, but that’s not all we did. We flew into Orlando a day early and spent that day at… HARRY POTTER WORLD! It may have been Christopher’s birthday celebration week, but that day was a dream come true for this girl. 🙂

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Our first order of business was to ride all the rides. Christopher’s favorite was the one at Gringotts bank in Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) and mine was the one inside Hogwarts at Hogsmeade (Universal Islands of Adventure). We both really enjoyed the Dragon Challenge one as well, though! And the Hogwarts Express between both parks was way too fun! It was like a ride in of itself! But the best part was just being there. It really felt like stepping into the pages of one of my favorite series.

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Like a lot of people my age, I grew up with Harry Potter. When the first book was released in the US in 1998, I, like my dear friend Harry, was 11 years old. He and I nearly share a birthday in fact (mine is July 30th and his is July 31st). {side note: Apparently Harry’s “real”  birthday was July 31, 1980, but I didn’t know that the books were set in the 90’s when I read them as a kid so for all intents and purposes – I grew up with HP}. When he went through his awkward teen years, I did too. The moodiness and crazy hormone changes… yup, we went through it together. So Harry has always had a special place in my heart.

Plus the books are just SO captivating. Winner all around.

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So stepping into Harry Potter World was like stepping back into my childhood and teenage years. There was a lot of giddiness and general bouncy-ness when we first arrived. And as the day wore on, I just became more and more enamored with everything.

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Except for the butterbeer. Which is hilarious to me because when I read the books I always thought it sounded like the most wonderful drink. And everyone and their brother talks about how great the frozen butterbeer is at Harry Potter World. So Christopher got one. And I tried a sip of it. This was my actual face when I tried it:

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 It. Was. Awful. Ha! Christopher says it’s because the drink was pure sugar and I’m not used to the way sugar tastes anymore {for new readers: I have a heart condition so I limit my sugar intake}. He says it was really good. So I suppose it must be alright. But it definitely wasn’t the drink for me. I’m thinking if we ever go back that I’ll have to try a sip of it hot and see if that is any better. 😉

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But everything else about this place was magical. From lunch at Three Broomsticks to walking through the villages and taking in the sites. I honestly could happily go back over and over again. But we made sure to do all the things we really, really wanted to do just so we wouldn’t feel like we had missed out on anything major.

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And Christopher was a real sweetheart about it all. He never read the books, but he did see the movies and liked them. He thought it was cool to be there and enjoyed the day, but he said his favorite part of Harry Potter World was getting to be the one to take me because it made me so happy. He’s a keeper, that one. (pun intended 😀 )

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You guys, it was an awesome day. And now I need to reread all the books (again)! 😉

Did you grow up reading the Harry Potter books? 
Have you been to Harry Potter World? 
Love Rach

My FAVORITE part of our NYC trip!

We flew through Nashville for our NYC trip so my sister picked us up at the airport. Over dinner she asked what my favorite thing was and I began with my typical “Oh, I don’t know! How do you choose between so many amazing things?” And prepared to start listing off the first things that came to my mind. But before I started, Christopher smirked and told Abby, “I can tell you her favorite. Hands down it was Les Miserables. Her reaction to it tells you all you need to know.” At first I protested. I mean, yes, I adored Les Mis. But can I really say 100% that I loved seeing it even more than walking into Macy’s on 34th Street? Or seeing the Museum of Natural History? Or Keste Pizza? (See! So many favorites!). But Christopher has a point. I did have a pretty serious reaction to seeing it. But first I need to back up a little.

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In 1996 I was part of the cast of Oliver Twist at the Cumberland County Playhouse. And in 1997 I was part of the cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat at the same playhouse. I blogged a little about it here. 🙂 During this time, I fell in love with plays and musicals. I dreamed of going to Broadway someday. Not that I really knew what “Broadway” was as a 9 year old, but everyone talked about how amazing it was in relation to musicals. So I knew I needed to go someday.

oliver twist 1996{The cast of Oliver Twist in 1996. I’m on the front row rocking the plaid pants.}

In 1998 the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert (the dream cast!) was released on DVD. And our family got a copy. You guys, I fell in love. As an 11-year-old who didn’t understand any of the “adult content” of the musical, I fell in love with the music. We moved overseas in 2000 and that DVD came with us. And I just continued to love it. By the time I was a senior in high school, I understood the more “adult” parts of it, but loved it all the more for the depth the lyrics conveyed. I ended up listening to it every day while I did my homework. It was the background music to my last year of high school education. I even chose one of the songs (“On My Own”) to translate for an assignment for my Mandarin class.

chinese lesson{My sister and me with our Mandarin tutor when we lived in China. Obviously we were being very studious here. 😉 }

Then fast forward a lot of years to 2011 when Les Miserables came to the Orpheum here in Memphis. It was my first time to see it live and I loved it. It was absolutely amazing!

les mis at the orpheum{Les Miserables at the Orpheum in Memphis in 2011}

So when we decided to go to NYC, I knew I wanted to see something on Broadway. Our top picks were Les Mis, Wicked, and Phantom. We nearly chose not to see Les Mis just simply because we’d seen it live before and we hadn’t seen the other two live yet. But I just couldn’t get past the feeling of how much I wanted to see it live again. And on Broadway! Christopher told me to go with my gut so we decided on Les Mis. Right after I bought the tickets I wondered if I’d regret it once we arrived in NYC. I shouldn’t have worried.

rach in the city{Notice the Les Mis sign behind me!}

My friends, we walked into that auditorium and I was giddy to be at a playhouse in NYC. To watch my first ever show on Broadway! My smile was enormous! Then the lights dimmed. And the first strains of music began. And I immediately started to cry. And not a cute cry. I wasn’t sobbing, but there were actual tears flowing and snot and everything. And I couldn’t stop. No joke, I cried for at least the first 10 minutes of the play. I was just that happy. I’ve had the whole “happy cry” thing happen here or there, but it’s more like “tearing up” not so much actual tears. It was just too much for me in such a good way. A literal dream come true.

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Christopher thought something was wrong at first so he kept whispering to me to ask if I was okay. I just kept telling him, “Yeah… I’m just…SNIFF…so…haaaappy. SNIFF.” Thankfully no one else seemed to hear me (I mean, the music was pretty loud and I was thankfully quietly crying my eyes out, ha!). But we were both pretty surprised by my reaction. Typically when I’m really, really happy I get super giddy. Squealing. Clapping of hands. Floating on cloud 9. That sort of thing. Occasionally, I have moments where I am just awe struck and totally silent (like seeing the Colosseum for the first time – another dream come true). But crying out of happiness was a first for me.

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Eventually I got the tears under control, but they picked right back up throughout the musical as my favorite songs were performed. It was true magic, my friends. I’m not sure why it hit me so differently to be watching Les Mis on Broadway in NYC versus when we saw it here in Memphis. But it did. I think it was just that feeling of doing something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid. Seeing Les Miserables on Broadway! The whole dreams come true thing. 🙂

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So, after some time to reflect on our whole trip. I think Christopher was right. If I had to pick only one favorite thing. This would be it. It was amazing. I get a little teary eyed just thinking about that moment of magic when I realized that I was literally sitting in the audience at Les Mis on Broadway. Magic. 🙂

Love Rach