1st Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Seattle, WA

1st Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Seattle, WA

Finally, we have arrived to the anniversary photoshoot and vow renewal that started it all! To properly set the scene for this post, I am writing as it is raining, sipping my coffee, and burning a Seattle scented candle (seriously, it’s from Bath & Body Works and smells like white caramel cold brew). The ambiance couldn’t be more perfect aside from maybe writing this post while in Seattle itself.

Seattle, WA

For the longest time, Sean and I had talked about taking a trip to the West Coast to explore Seattle and Portland. We took the opportunity to make the trip to celebrate our 1st anniversary. Traditionally, the first anniversary gift is paper, so that is when I decided to gift us with our paper vow books (that’s right, we got our vow books AFTER our wedding). We wrote our original vows in them as well as new vows to read to each other on our anniversary.

The Photographer

Since we were going to be in Seattle, I envisioned hiking around mountains and waterfalls while wearing backpacks for the shoot. I wanted a dark and moody style of photography that really represented the mostly overcast vibes of the area.

I posted on my Facebook feed that I was looking for a photographer in the Seattle area with this particular style and my network came through! A friend suggested that I reach out to Megan Gallagher Photography who had recently relocated to Seattle from Raleigh. Her style was exactly what I had been envisioning, she had experience shooting in the mountains outside of Seattle, and she was already someone who was familiar to me.

photo of couple hiking at Snoqualmie

Since we did not have a car, Megan picked Sean and I up from our AirBnb in Capitol Hill and drove us to the Snoqualmie River area which was an hour outside of the city. Once we had arrived, she pulled the car over close to an area where we could hike the rest of the way to Franklin Falls.

On our walk over to the area with the waterfall, I quickly realized that this location exceeded my vision 100%!

The Franklin Falls area was breathtaking.

photo of couple at Franklin Falls

Pure bliss. How could it not be? These views plus sweater weather is the best!

Of course we couldn’t go to Franklin Falls without getting photos with the waterfall itself.

photo of piggyback couple at Franklin Falls in front of the waterfall

Time for a piggy back ride! Do not attempt this while wearing a dress!

photo of Sean in front of Franklin Falls waterfall
photo of Mollyann in front of Franklin Falls waterfall

We also took this opportunity to get a few individual shots with the waterfall.

close up photo of Mollyann in front of Franklin Falls waterfall

Don’t go chasing waterfalls unless they make you feel like this!

I did my own hair and makeup for this shoot so I definitely don’t look as glam as in some of my other shoots but the look was perfect for the scenery and the casual vibe. Who gets their hair and makeup done professionally to go on a hike in the wilderness? The correct answer = no one.

Once we were finished shooting at Franklin Falls, we started making the trek back to the car but stopped to take some shots on these rocky stairs.

photo of L.L. Bean boots

You may recognize my boots, the classic L.L. Bean Duck Boots. I knew that they would be the perfect boots for the shoot, however, I did not own a pair and they were sold out on L.L. Bean’s website in my size at the time. I ended up buying them used from a seller on Poshmark. And that’s not the first time that I’ve bought shoes that I had been eyeing from Poshmark, my wedding heels also came from there. If there’s a will, there’s a way to find what you are looking for!

Next, we drove over to our next location, Rattlesnake Lake. Do not fear, I am told that there are no rattlesnakes there, but you will find these amazing tree stumps in the water.

photo of couple in tree at Rattlesnake Lake

And this crazy tree!

photo of Sean in tree at Rattlesnake Lake

We changed into our second outfits for Rattlesnake Lake in the car – you gotta do what you gotta do when shooting in nature like this!

I love this outfit on Sean. Sometimes rolling up your sleeves and pant legs are all you need to complete a look. We decided to both go barefoot for the remainder of these shots, however, the ground was very rocky and uncomfortable to walk on barefoot, so we would wear flip flops to move around then throw our flip flops out of the frame for the photo.

photo of couple at Rattlesnake Lake

To this day, Rattlesnake Lake is probably one of the most unique areas that I have ever seen in my life. Thank you Mother Nature for showing us your roots (literally)! I am so happy to have had Megan there to capture this memory. These photos are the best keepsakes and are priceless to us!

close up photo of couple at Rattlesnake Lake

These photos give me all of the feels (especially the feels of my bare feet on the rocks)! Kiddinggg.

photo of couple standing on a tree stump at Rattlesnake Lake

Going out on the tree stumps in the water was magic. Pure magic.

Still feeling the magic, we made our way back onto land and began our vow renewal.

I purchased our vow books from Moglea but unfortunately, they no longer sell them. There are many Etsy sellers that also have cute vow book options though!

After the vow renewal, it was starting to get dark but we had one more surprise in store…

photo of couple popping champagne

Champagne! We bought a mini bottle thinking that it would be easier to transport however, if I had to do it over again, I would have splurged on a big bottle for a more grand POP! You live and you learn.

The success and experience of this shoot is definitely what encouraged us to continue this tradition every year. Let’s just say, it set the bar HIGH! Even looking back at these photos I am in awe of some of the images. It’s hard to not just look at them as art – we were really there! It was real life! It makes me want to visit the West Coast again soon.

Kudos

photo of Megan Gallagher

Hi Megan! It’s hard not to fall in love with Megan Gallagher Photography. I can’t believe that one individual can be so dang talented. Megan seriously went above and beyond for this shoot. The locations were breathtaking and it was an experience that Sean and I will never forget. She also delivered the album in both web size, ideal for posting on social media/online, and high resolution, ideal for printing.

For more photos from this shoot check out Megan’s blog post, Rattlesnake Lake-Franklin Falls Anniversary Session. Heads up, since this shoot, Megan has relocated to Portland, OR.

Are you inspired to travel, have a vow renewal each year on your anniversary, or to at least book a photoshoot? I hope so. Please, please, please copy our tradition for yourself! It’s exactly why I share these experiences.

If you aren’t convinced yet, check out our 2nd Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Austin, TX and our 3rd Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Charlotte, NC.

2nd Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Austin, TX

2nd Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Austin, TX

For our 2nd anniversary, Sean and I traveled to Austin, TX and had our photoshoot and vow renewal at our picturesque AirBnb.

I’m working backwards as my previous post was our 3rd Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Charlotte, NC. You’ll notice that in the photos in this post, Sean and I look much younger and less beaten down by the doom and gloom of 2020 – just kidding!

Austin, TX

Sean is my biggest love but my next biggest love might be my love for the city of Austin, TX. When just planning our anniversary trip to Austin, I was already falling head over heels for the activities, vibes, and food in Austin. When we arrived for our vacation, those feelings were confirmed. Austin is a badass city! I can see why so many people are moving there everyday.

The Pros

When searching for a photographer, I knew that I was looking for someone who had a vibrant and quirky style for this shoot. I searched Austin photographer hashtags and looked at what photographers wedding vendors had tagged in their photos on Instagram. I actually had to search for a while and then finally came across Bonnie & Lauren. Bonnie was available and was so excited to capture our vow renewal tradition! After Bonnie was secured, I asked her who she recommends for hair and makeup. She suggested Lavish Beauty ATX and Jen was available to glam me up for the shoot. Done and done!

photo in airbnb in austin,tx
All photos by Bonnie Burke

For our trip to Austin, Sean and I booked this awesome AirBnb and we knew that it would also be the perfect location for our shoot! Visiting Austin and need a place to stay? I highly recommend it! We hope that we can stay there again someday.

photo of couple on a bright blue couch
photo of couple on a bright blue couch
photo of couple on a bright blue couch

It had the most photo-worthy furniture which we definitely utilized throughout the shoot!

photo of the couple laughing on the bed

And a bedroom with striped walls that I couldn’t get enough of!

photo of couple on the bed
photo of couple on the bed
photo of couple kissing on the bed

Holding hands and kissing on the bed felt super intimate yet relaxed. If you have an adorable bedroom setup in your home, why not shoot there?

photo of couple outside with coffee

Time for an outfit change (and to actually put on shoes)! When we moved outside to the pool area, we had to grab some lifestyle shots doing one of our favorite things – drinking coffee!

photo of couple standing
close up photo of couple standing

We moved to the other side of the pool for a greenery backdrop and for our first standing photos of the day!

photo of couple in front of greenery in austin tx
headshot of Sean
headshot of Mollyann

Ready for your closeup? Why not grab some individual headshots during a couple’s photoshoot! It always comes in handy to have a recent headshot on hand.

photo of vow renewal in the breezeway

When it came time for our vow renewal, we chose to read our vows in the breezeway. It was a very picturesque and shaded spot!

Handwritten vows are so precious!

photo of reading vows
photo of vow renewal kiss
photo of couple with vow books

Always sealed with a kiss afterwards just like the wedding day.

photo of couple swimming in the pool

After we finished shooting in our two planned outfits, Bonnie, Sean, and I all realized how cool it would be to also shoot in the pool. I mean, it was our favorite part of the Air Bnb and it was the perfect place to escape from that intense Texas heat! Sean and I quickly changed into our bathing suits and got some bonus pool shots!

photo of couple standing on the pool steps
photo of couple in the pool
photo of couple in the pool

I’m so glad that we jumped in and just went for it – these turned out to be some of my favorite shots of the day!

close up photo in the pool
close up photo in the pool
photo of kissing in the pool

I love all of the variety and different outfits in this shoot! It’s like a lot of mini shoots all wrapped into one. We really had a blast and I’m impressed that we managed to pull off three outfits in an hour! If you want to do the same, have all of your outfits planned out and accessories set aside and organized for a quick change. There’s no time to be rifling through your closet when you are paying your photographer by the hour. Plus, it will leave you feeling flustered and that’s not a good look in photos.

Colors

Red has always been one of my favorite flattering colors to wear but it is a pretty bold color. I like how the floral print and Sean’s light blue chambray shirt toned it down a bit for these photos.

2019 was really the year that I realized how much happiness the color yellow brings to your life. I felt like the turquoise earrings, yellow midi dress, and the print on Sean’s shirt all felt very “Texas” without wearing cowboy boots and all.

Kudos

Bonnie seriously blew me away. She is so… rad! She did not hesitate to do whatever it took to get the shot. Whether that was moving furniture or moving around us to get the perfect angle, she did it without hesitation. Also, she delivered some highlight photos the same day as the shoot and delivered the whole album two days later. See, I told you that she is rad!

Photo of Bonnie by Diana Ascarrunz

Bad news, Bonnie & Lauren is no more. But good news, they have both gone solo and Bonnie has launched Bonnie Burke Weddings! She’s seriously the bomb.

Jen with Lavish Beauty ATX made me feel gorgeous! She was very professional and was delightful to talk to while she was dolling me up. Since this shoot, when makeup artists have asked me to show them photos of how I would like my makeup done, I show them photos of Jen’s handiwork on my face. I loved everything about it! I feel like I look like myself, but the best version of myself.

Next up, is our 1st Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Seattle, WA that started it all!

3rd Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Charlotte, NC

3rd Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Charlotte, NC

The Tradition

Every year for our anniversary, Sean and I have a tradition where we travel and explore a new city, book a photoshoot, and renew our vows (perhaps this was inspired by our Paris Honeymoon Photoshoot?!). We read our original wedding vows and write new vows every year. It’s a great way to consistently remind each other of the promises that we have made to each other in our marriage. This also ensures that we have updated photos each year!

Charlotte, NC

This year for our 3rd anniversary, we decided to enjoy a staycation in Charlotte, NC. Since we had just moved to CLT and finished unpacking, the thought of packing up a suitcase and traveling again so soon didn’t sound very appealing. Plus this was a great opportunity for us to document this next (and quite unexpected) chapter in our lives. Since we are new to town we are practically exploring the city every day already!

The Pros

I searched for Charlotte photographers on the ‘gram and saw that @kevyndixonphoto was already following me. Her style was exactly what I was looking for! Fortunately she had the date available and it was an easy choice. After booking Kevyn Dixon Photography, I wanted to get a hair and makeup artist who could make me feel my very best and photo ready so Kevyn recommended Cali Stott Artistry. Once Cali and Kevyn were both booked, it was game on!

I had envisioned the photoshoot and vow renewal taking place in an area with a field and water nearby. Since Sean and I are new to the area, Kevyn suggested Clarks Creek Nature Preserve which turned out to be the perfect spot!

photo of couple by the water
photo of couple walking by the water
photo of couple standing by the water

It was a hot, summer day with temperatures over 90 degrees and PLENTY of sunshine!

photo of Mollyann twirling her dress
photo of Mollyann twirling her dress
photo of Mollyann twirling her dress

Even during a couple’s photoshoot, it is important to get some individual shots too! I loved twisting and twirling around in my Anthropologie dress.

photo of Sean walking
photo of Sean walking
photo of Sean walking

Sean’s stroll was definitely photo worthy! Choosing complimentary colors is important for photoshoots, so his heathered olive green J Crew Factory shirt was the perfect choice paired with my white and fuschia embroidered dress. Bonus: He looked very handsome in it!

photo of vow renewal at Clarks Creek Nature Preserve

After we finished shooting by the water, Kevyn scouted out the perfect spot for our vow renewal.

In our vows, we cursed and joked that, “if we can survive 2020, we can survive anything.” Isn’t that the truth?!

photo of couple with hat
photo of couple kissing with hat

Once we finished the actual vow renewal, we got back to shooting some more fun shots. These are some of my favorites!

The hat ended up being an awesome prop! I once heard that if a lady wants to stand out for her fashion, it is not about showing a bunch of skin, just wear a hat that compliments your outfit. It’s legit advice.

photo of Mollyann wearing hat
photo of couple walking
close up photo of couple walking

Consider that tidbit of knowledge your magic hat trick for the day!

couple in prom pose
close up of couple in prom pose
photo of couple facing forward

Prom pose! I always think of these as the photos for your parents and family. Specifically, I’m referring to the photos where both individuals are posed and facing the camera. They are definitely must haves.

photo sitting at Clarks Creek Nature Preserve

Since we did so many standing photos, I wanted to get some seated shots. Kevyn was so kind and got her rain jacket out of her car for me to sit on so that the dewey ground did not ruin my white dress. The great part is that you can’t see that I was sitting on a jacket at all!

photo of couple
photo of couple
photo of couple kissing
photo of Mollyann and Sean

Also one of my favorite shots!

photo of Sean spinning Mollyann
photo of Sean spinning Mollyann
photo of Sean spinning Mollyann

To finish, Sean spun me around for our final shots.

Kudos

Sean and I are both so delighted with our photos and our experience! Kevyn Dixon Photography was amazing to work with. She made us feel relaxed, posed us with ease, and did an excellent job editing the photos and getting them back to us in a timely manner.

Photo by Tricia Michael Photography

It was so much fun having my hair and makeup done by Cali with Cali Stott Artistry! She was so personable and truly a joy to be around. I was really worried that the heat would mess up my hair and makeup but she did a great job and both stayed put.

Photo by Lindley Battle Photography

These ladies were both professional and true pleasures to work with. If you need a hair and makeup artist or a photographer in the Charlotte area, I would highly recommend both of them! They also both do weddings.

Looking for some more anniversary and vow renewal inspiration? Check out my 1st Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Seattle, WA and my 2nd Anniversary Photoshoot + Vow Renewal in Austin, TX.

The End of our Nomadic Lifestyle

The End of our Nomadic Lifestyle

This morning, Sean and I picked up the keys (or rather, “key fobs”) which will end our current nomadic lifestyle and give us a place to call home.

photo of keys and key ring
Here they are sitting pretty on my well-loved Oventure Key Ring!

For the past 6 months, we have had the majority of our belongings in storage anticipating an international move to Melbourne, Australia. We have been bouncing back and forth between our parents houses and let me tell you, it has not been easy. A nomadic lifestyle during uncertain times is certainly not ideal. I wrote about it in one of my previous posts, The Announcement | Raleigh to Melbourne when we were 2 months in, and now I have decided to write this post with an update of where we have currently found ourselves in this process.

Australia

The Australian borders are still closed and Melbourne recently went back into a 6 week COVID-19 related lockdown. Major Australian airlines are continuing to cut back on international flights and we have heard that it could be March 2021 or even as late as July 2021 before they open the borders back up. Even when the borders open back up, we still need to wait for our visas, find a place to live in Melbourne, and go through the logistics of the move itself.

Bouncing back and forth between our parents houses was supposed to be a temporary solution, lasting a month or two at most until we could make our international move. We had already started the process of lightening our loads which included getting out of a lease, selling one of our cars, and me leaving my job for a big move, a big move that never happened. Fortunately Sean has been working the whole time, however, I have been out of work and have been feeling anxious and restless.

Decision Time

Determined to not make 2020 feel like a total waste and with the news that our international move will likely not happen until 2021 at the earliest, it was time to re-evaluate our situation.

We have asked ourselves time and time again if it is even worth holding out hope for Australia any longer or if we should just a buy a house and settle. The thought of settling brought up many more questions. If we did settle, where would we settle? Here we are, big explorers and planners in a time where it is difficult to explore and plan anything!

In addition, my work experience lies heavily in events, venue management, and marketing in the hospitality industry which is currently struggling to recover from the fall out of COVID-19. The majority of contacts in my network are currently trying to keep themselves afloat and do what they can to prevent their companies from going out of business. What does that mean for me and my career moving forward?

The Decision

Even with many uncertainties still ahead, we have decided that it is time to get our own place again to ease the strain of our nomadic lifestyle on both ourselves and our families. With Australia likely not being an option until mid 2021, we feel comfortable committing to a lease again.

We toyed with the idea of finding a furnished apartment and keeping our belongings in storage. However, spending these past 6 months without the majority of our belongings and only seeing our cats part-time has convinced us that we would like to reunite all of our items and our little cat family in one place for the foreseeable future.

photo of Charlotte skyline and light rail

Charlotte, NC

You heard it here first! We are making the move to Charlotte, NC! We had the opportunity to spend some time in the Queen City this spring and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Charlotte. There are several charming neighborhoods right outside of Uptown, fantastic greenways and bike lanes, and many restaurants, breweries, and places to explore.

I do have some mixed emotions about making this move. In a big way, it feels like a failure. Moving to Charlotte was never a part of our life plan. It is not as grand of a move as I had been dreaming of and had gotten my hopes up for. However, I do believe that we are still in the middle of our story and it will all make sense in the end. We are fortunate to have family and friends who live nearby in Charlotte and are excited to see what this chapter has in store for us! I’m hoping that I will feel more at ease once we are finally settled into our own place again.

Once our lease ends in the middle of next year, hopefully we will know more about where the move to Australia stands and we can make a better decision on how to proceed from here. In the meantime, I am looking for any Charlotte recommendations you can throw at me! Word of mouth is always the best but so far I have loved using Charlotte Agenda and Charlotte’s Got A Lot as resources for exploring the new city that I am about to call home.

Here are some of my personal Charlotte favorites so far:

Favorite Brewery = Sycamore Brewing

photo of Sycamore Brewing beers
The happy designs on these cans and their beer flavors brought this brewery to the top of my list!

Honorable mentions: Bird Song Brewing Co. and Wooden Robot Brewery

Favorite Outdoor Area = Little Sugar Creek Greenway

photo of me biking on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway
I love biking, walking, or running over these little bridges that cross over the water and I love that this greenway leads right to the Midtown shops as well as to Freedom Park.

Another outdoor area that I am dying to explore is the U.S. National Whitewater Center!

Favorite Restaurant = Hello, Sailor

photo of Hello, Sailor
The Instagrammable vibes and delicious menu make this an easy favorite so far! I recommend sitting on the patio which overlooks Lake Norman.

Honorable mentions: Soul Gastrolounge – you MUST order the pork belly and watermelon tacos!

Also, I wanted to mention that I now have two Instagram accounts for you to follow along. I am working on building up my new account, @mollyannexploresitall but still have my personal account @mollyannrussell as well.

Let me know if there is anything that you would like to see me cover during my time in Charlotte!

Living Abroad in Osan, South Korea featuring Michael Altman

Living Abroad in Osan, South Korea featuring Michael Altman

Meet my friend Michael Altman! I met Michael at NC State University. We were in Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity together along with his roommate, Erwin Lewis who was featured in my previous Expat Chat, Living Abroad in Okinawa, Japan. Now, Michael works as a Mission Support Engineer for Collins Aerospace in Osan, South Korea which is actually only about a 2 hour flight to Okinawa (of course he has already visited!). It really is a small world after all! He supports the US Air Force and Republic of Korea Air Force with mission critical aerospace systems. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, drones, rock climbing, and video games. I am excited to share his story of living abroad in Osan, South Korea with you!

photo of Michael Altman
Michael says that he is usually the one behind the camera but he has a few photos in front of the camera too!

Original Home Location: Thomasville, North Carolina, United States

New Home Location: Osan, South Korea

About the Move to Osan, South Korea

When did you make the move?
Michael: February of 2020

Why did you decide to make the move? / What motivated you?
Michael: I was lucky enough to have positioned myself at my company that when the job came up I was able to take it.  Living here previously during my time in the military made me want to return.

photo of Michael in the military
Thank you for your service, Michael!

How many times did you visit your new country and city prior to your move?
Michael: I lived in South Korea for 2 years before I recently moved back and had a few small work visits with my company.

How did you break the news to loved ones?
Michael: There really was not much change, I already lived a significant distance from the family before this for work. I told them my interest in the job and made sure to visit a few times before I made the jump. We still FaceTime a lot.

What was the hardest part of moving / what did you find frustrating during your move?
Michael: Packing up my entire life into a few boxes and then waiting on it to arrive.  Due to moving with a military team there was a timespan of about 3 months where I had no furniture but I did not want to buy any since I knew it was arriving soon-ish.  Due to Coronavirus, my shipment was delayed by a few more weeks.  I had to survive with a lawn chair and a camping table.

Did you decide to ship your belongings or to store your belongings?
Michael: I chose to ship everything since I am shaping my life to be out here for as long as possible.  Also being a single man, I do not really have a ton of things, so the packing is not too troublesome.

Do you have any pets? If so, did they make the move with you?
Michael: The only pets I have at the moment are house-plants.  I shaped my life a bit to be ready to move out here when my work offered so no animals as of yet.

About his Home in Osan, South Korea

How did you find your current home?
Michael: A few of my coworkers recommended a realtor that worked with me to find a place that met all my needs and I was lucky to find something I really like.  Many of the realtors speak great English from working with tons of expats so there wasn’t much of a problem at all.

Describe your home – apartment, house, etc:
Michael: High-rise apartment

photo of Michael's high rise apartment building
His high-rise apartment building.
photo of the inside of Michael's apartment
Looks pretty nice inside!

Did you buy or rent your current home?
Michael: Rent with the idea to eventually own

Lifestyle Abroad in Osan, South Korea

Why did you choose your current country and specifically, your current city?
Michael: After falling in love with the culture and everything in South Korea for 2 years in the military I just knew I had to find a way to come back here.

How long do you plan on living an expat lifestyle?
Michael: As long as I possibly can, I love my job and the country and plan to stay as long as possible.

What have you missed the most about the city that you used to live in?
Michael: The fast food, no matter how much I love trying new and interesting foods I find myself missing some of the basic biscuits that I grew up with.

What was the most surprising thing to you?
Michael: How so well developed the public transit is.  Public transportation in Korea is wonderful and is super easy to use, even for someone who does not speak any Korean.  You can be anywhere in Korea on a train in half a day with no problems at all.

What do you love about your current city?
Michael: The ease of access to small markets and stores.  It is wonderful to be able to walk 100 meters and have a bakery, butchers, and coffee shop right around the corner.

photo of Korean baked goods
Can I have one of each please?!

What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
Michael: General differences in things like how to pay bills and how to conduct yourself in an office setting have probably been the trickiest so far.  Many places are still very old fashioned and don’t allow bills to be paid online so you have to go in person.  Places that allow you to pay with card sometimes only accept domestic Korean bank cards as well.  Getting a Korean bank account is very important.

Korean work culture is a big change too, with many Korean companies trying to foster teamwork and sacrifice to the company.  Usually extra hours that are outside normal working times can be expected, and team dinners happen quite often. Don’t expect to get home until late some evenings, but this is not an everyday thing.

What did you have to sacrifice to make living abroad come true?
Michael: I had to adjust my lifestyle to better fit what my company needed and became someone who could move quickly. I chose to not have any animals and to live in an apartment month to month to make moving that much simpler of a process.

Have you ever lived outside of your home country before?
Michael: Yep, I have lived in South Korea for 2 years previously but nowhere else so far.

What do you do for fun in your new location?
Michael: I rock climb and hike with an expat club here in Korea, play board games with friends from work, and fly my drones when I take a trip to the mountains or the beach. Sometimes I go exploring in the small section of my city that is being built up. There are always new restaurants or shops being opened.

photo of the expat club
Exploring with friends is always more fun. Joining an Expat Club is a great idea!

What do you like/dislike about your new location?
Michael: I really like the quick access and the small city vibe that my area has. It is easy to grab tons of different food or go to tons of different venues within walking or a quick train ride.

photo of the city
What’s there not to love about a bright, bustling city?

One of the downsides is I am a bit further outside of the major Seoul city area, so to meet with friends who live there can be a bit of a process.  It is not difficult, it can just take a bit longer due to having to grab a bus or train and ride it into the city.  I could move closer but with that comes much higher rent for a much smaller place.

What are your favorite spots in the area?
Michael: Suwon Chicken Street – a famous street within the city of Suwon that is totally devoted to my favorite Korean snack – Korean fried chicken, it is absolutely incredible!

photo of Korean Fried Chicken
If you get to visit Korea, the real KFC “Korean Fried Chicken” is a must try! I enjoyed reading this blog post comparing the Top 2 places on Suwon Chicken Street.

Korea has some of the best mountains for hiking I have ever done.  Hallasan / Buraksan / Seoraksan – are all amazing hikes that are worth the views at the top.

photo of Seoraksan
An awesome view of the Seoraksan hike.

Do you have your own mode of transportation, a car, bike, etc in your new city?
Michael: I use a car to get to work – but I could easily take public transport to my office.

Advice and Benefits of Living an Expat Lifestyle Abroad

Is there any advice or anything that you wished you would have known before your move that you would like to share with someone who may be considering an international move?
Michael: Keep all of your paperwork involving immigration and customs, you will always need a few more copies and always make sure to have two forms of photo ID.  Having extra copies of forms has saved me multiple times from having to reapply for residency and customs paperwork.

Are there any items, apps, or tools that you have found to be helpful when navigating your new lifestyle and city?
Michael: Cellphone apps are your greatest tool in Korea – Kakaotalk is the best messenger app / Kakaometro is the best for checking train times.

Food delivery apps are critical as well –Shuttle is an English food delivery app that delivers near big American hubs of the military bases.

Yogiyo – All Korean delivery app but delivers anywhere.

Any other recommendations or words of wisdom?
Michael: The country isn’t very big but has so many different things to see and explore. You can be in a thousand year old castle and then be in a coffeeshop in 10 minutes. Go out and see things!

Joining online groups work really well for meetups here in Korea. Hiking and outdoor groups are plentiful.

Getting lost in the city is a great way to spend the day and do not be afraid to speak to people, many Koreans know at least some English and they have always been super nice and helpful when I need it.

photo of Geumosan Temple
Speaking of things to explore, here is the temple at Geumosan Provincial Park
photo of Gwangmyeong Cave
and the Gwangmyeong Cave.

I want to thank Michael for sharing about living abroad in Osan, South Korea. Unlike my husband and I, he was able to make the move right before the Covid-19 pandemic struck so it’s nice to share his success story. Now I’m definitely craving some Korean Fried Chicken and want to visit some of these beautiful natural wonders!

The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Experience

The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Experience
walt disney world marathon weekend logo

I started running while I was in college. I really enjoyed it and found myself training for and running 5k after 5k after 5k. I started to crave a longer, more challenging race and decided that a half marathon would be the perfect challenge. Then, I learned about the epic runDisney races and it was a no brainer. My desire for a longer distance paired with my love of Disney made this the perfect place to start.

My dad had previously ran several Disney races so we decided that we would run the half marathon during the January 2010 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend together. He really took the lead on creating our training schedule and setting up the logistics for us to travel to Orlando, Florida for the race.

Here is my breakdown of our race training and prep and our before, during, and after the race experiences.

Training for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon

As a 5k is 3.1 miles and a half marathon is 13.1 miles, I had a ways to go to boost up my endurance and to add more mileage into my training. One of the best ways to add mileage is to add a mile to your distance every week. Often runners will continue to do several 1-4 mile short runs throughout the week and then do their long runs on the weekends. This is exactly how my dad and I trained. We did short runs throughout the week on our own and often met up on the weekends for the long runs.

Jeff Galloway Run-Walk-Run

In addition to adding mileage each week, we decided that we were going to run the race using Jeff Galloway‘s run-walk-run method.

list of run-walk-run ratios
Jeff Galloway’s website and his books are great resources for this type of training.

We decided to pace ourselves at a 12 minute per mile training pace in order to finish the race in a little over two and a half hours. For our pace, we would run two minutes then walk one minute and repeat. Training in this way makes the distance much more manageable and also greatly decreases the risk of injury.

Often people think that they have to run 13 miles prior to a half marathon which is not always the case. We trained up to 12 miles with the race day being our 13 mile run day. Since we were already comfortable at a 5k distance, we were able to start training 8-10 weeks out before the race and this gave us plenty of time to work up to the half marathon distance.

Before the Walt Disney World Half Marathon

The runDisney Health & Fitness Expo

We arrived in Orlando, Florida a few days prior to the race and attended the runDisney Health & Fitness expo to pick up our race bibs and packets. Big races always have incredible expos full of running vendors selling goods and other activities to get you pumped and excited for the race ahead.

rundisney health and fitness expo photos
In addition to our race bibs and packets, we even picked up disposable jackets to wear for the race.

Race Prep

The morning before the race, we went for a short 6am run to prepare to help get our bodies accustomed for the race the next morning.

early morning photo
Getting a taste of running in the dark and cold.

The evening before the run, we loaded up on carbs with pasta for dinner and set out our race stuff so that we would be prepared for the next morning. I set out every article of clothing and race gear, even down to the safety pens for my race number which were already pinned in the holes of my bib so that they would be easy to find. This step is so important so that you are prepared for an early morning run.

photo of race clothing and gear
I spy my old iPod Shuffle. Talk about a throwback!

Walt Disney World Half Marathon Race Day

Before the Race

On race day, we woke up at 2:30am to get dressed and to fuel for the race. These races have very early start times as the entire race needs to start and end before the parks open up to guests.

photo of mollyann at 2:30am
I was barely feeling awake in this photo but I managed to eat half of a bagel, a banana, and hydrated with some Powerade.

It was freezing that morning, literally a record cold day for Florida which was a bit unexpected. Here I am wearing 3 layers of shirts including the race shirt that I had just received at the expo and I am wearing a bandana to serve as a bit of a scarf.

photo of mollyann dressed for the race
Pointing in case you can’t see my race number.

We even put on additional layers and then took a shuttle to the race start.

photos of being bundled up for the race
Isn’t Florida supposed to be warm?!

There was an area where we could store our belongings during the race. Once our belongings were stored, we wore some additional disposable layers that we could shed as the weather and our bodies warmed up during the race. It was very cold just standing around and waiting for the race to start.

photos wearing trashbags
Our disposable layers consisted of trash bags and white disposable jackets. It’s a cute look, right?
crowded race start photo
We were in Corral C. They organize runners in order of their qualifying speeds with Corral A being the fastest runners who start off the race.

There were fireworks, music, and of course Disney characters getting everyone hyped up for the race to begin.

photo of mickey mouse, minnie mouse, donald duck, and goofy

During the Race

When we started running, it was still dark out but we quickly shed our layers. Below, is a rather dark photo in front of the castle in Magic Kingdom. By the time we ran through Epcot, the sun had finally come up. One of the most shocking parts of the race is that you run through the parks just a little bit. You spend most of the race running on the road between parks. They do have photo worthy mile markers and additional characters along the way though.

photos at magic kingdom and epcot

The Finish Line

After running 13.1 miles in the bitter cold we finally finished. Here we are crossing the finish line!

finish line photos
The guy on my right is STRUGGLING.

I’m not going to lie, this race was tough. It rained, it sleated, and it even snowed a bit. While we were running, it was manageable but almost immediately after we stopped running, our body temps dropped. Our clothes were soaked and I was shaking like a leaf. These tin foil blankets were much needed to insulate our body heat.

photos wearing tin foil blankets
We did it!
photos with race medals

photo with goofy
Did you know that Disney has a Goofy Challenge where you run the half marathon then the next day you run the marathon? My dad has done it!

After the Race

As soon as we returned back to the hotel room, I took a hot shower and then napped in the fetal position for several hours. Once we had recovered, we returned to the parks and had a chance to enjoy the rides.

To this day, this is the longest race that I have run and I am really proud to have completed it. There is a lot of prep and training for a long distance run. My biggest regret after the run is that I did not keep up my mileage. Instead, I actually took a bit of a break from running through the winter and became what I like to call a “seasonal runner”. I much prefer running when it is a nice day. A temperature of around 60 degrees is my ideal running weather.

My dad and I did return a few years later to run the Inaugural Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler race in 2012 which was an evening run.

tower of terror logo
It doesn’t look like they have this race anymore!

Upcoming runDisney Events

I think that every runner aspires to run a Disney race one day. However, they do sell out rather quickly so you will want to plan your run pretty far in advance and register as soon as registration opens in order to secure your spot. The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend takes places annually in January but they also host several other popular races:

  • Following the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, in February is the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I totally thought that the Princess Half was only for the ladies. However, the website encourages both Princes and Princesses to participate!
  • The notorious Disney villains even get their own race! The Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend is described as being “Wickedly Delicious.”
  • Sadly, the Star Wars Rival Run Weekend was canceled this year but it would be amazing especially with the new Star Wars park being open for all of you Star Wars lovers out there!
race logos

To follow along with updated race weekend information and updates, you can visit rundisney.com or follow them on Instagram at @rundisney.

Love Disney? I interviewed my friend Michelle Clark for an Expat Chat and she has recently started up a fun Disney-inspired enamel pin company, Chipadeedoodahs. Definitely check it out!

The Move Abroad to Wellington, New Zealand featuring Michelle Clark

The Move Abroad to Wellington, New Zealand featuring Michelle Clark

I am so delighted for my very first Expat Chat to be with a dear friend of mine, Michelle Clark!

One of my first memories of Michelle was when she was dolling me up for a photoshoot (she is an incredible makeup artist!) and she told me that she had lived abroad in New Zealand. Michelle is a bundle of joy and she enjoys traveling, reading, playing with makeup, playing with puppies, eating french fries, and creating and organizing things.

When Sean and I first found out about the opportunity to move to Australia, we sat down with Michelle over coffee to discuss the ins and outs of living abroad to get an insider’s perspective. ⁠

Her story was too good to keep to ourselves so without further ado, here is my conversation with Michelle!

current photo of michelle clark
Current Photo of Michelle Clark by Lindsey Cash Photography

Original Home Location Before Living Abroad: Orlando, Florida, United States
Abroad Home Location: Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand 
Current Home Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

About the Move to Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand

When did you make the move to Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand?
Michelle: October of 2009. I can’t believe that it’s been so long! 

Why did you decide to make the move? / What motivated you?
Michelle: I was super bored at my job and it was really hot in Florida so I wanted to experience something completely different. My best friend, Nicole and her husband, had been living in NZ for a couple years and she suggested I come over. At the time, if you were under the age of 26 you could get a working holiday visa for free. She works in film as a scenic and props painter and I had goals of working in film as well so I thought why not!?

photo of Michelle and Nicole
Pictured with Nicole at Red Rocks. Can you spy the seal?

How many times did you visit your new country and city prior to your move?
Michelle: Never. I really didn’t know what I was getting into! 

What was the hardest part of moving / What did you find frustrating during your move?
Michelle: I don’t think that I got frustrated about much of anything. Anxious? Yes, but not frustrated. I was lucky to have had Nicole through the process as she is very detailed and had already gone through it all herself. Since I was going for a Working Holiday Visa for young people, it was pretty easy overall. The hardest part was figuring out what to pack in two suitcases for a year!

Here is a great YouTube video about obtaining a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa.

How did you break the news to loved ones?
Michelle: Both of my parents are used to me doing random things but this was big news. I knew that I had to tell my mom that I was ‘thinking’ about it even though I had already made the decision to do it. My dad was more like…uhhh do what now? HA! Even though they were both on board, they thought that I was nuts. They would never do anything like that themselves, but they were cool with it.

Did you decide to ship your belongings or to store your belongings?
Michelle: I was 25 at the time and didn’t have a ton of belongings so I was able to get a storage room. Since it was in Florida and can get very hot, it was climate controlled. Everything was still in perfect condition when I came back. By storing my belongings, I realized how much I could live without!

photo about climate controlled storage
Here is a great blog post about The Benefits of Climate Controlled Storage

About her Home in Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand

How did you find your home when you lived abroad?
Michelle: For the first several months, I lived with Nicole and Manuel in their guest bedroom. Then, I had some other friends move over and they found a house so I was able to get a room in with them.

Describe the home – apartment, house, etc:
Michelle: Nicole’s house was on top of a ‘hill’ – it felt like an actual mountain when walking up it and NOT a hill. Her house overlooked Island Bay which was at the very bottom of the North Island and you could actually see across the water to the South Island on a really clear day and it was stunning! The house that I had with the others didn’t have a view but it was a much easier walk and was located right off of a bus route and closer to the city center.

the view from Nicole's deck
The view from Nicole’s deck, no zoom, on a perfect day. This was not a typical day!

Who were your roommates in your second home?
Michelle: Shawn and Jackie who were fellow Americans and a Kiwi girl as well.  Shawn and I went to high school together and he still lives in NZ. Jackie, who always made me laugh, lives in Virginia and we have a solid meme relationship.

What was renting property like in New Zealand?
Michelle: I didn’t deal with the organizing the rental as I was technically subletting. I just gave the roomies my money every week. Weekly rent was the standard over there at the time… might still be.

Did you have any pets? If so, did they make the move with you?
Michelle: I had no pets but there was a cat who visited our garden! 

Lifestyle Abroad in Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand

Why did you choose the country and specifically, the city that you moved to?
Michelle: I really wanted to work in film! Peter Jackson and Weta are there in Wellington and Nicole had already worked on some film projects so I knew that I had a little bit of an “in”. Granted, we were in different departments but still she had some contacts. Unfortunately, about a month before I left, it was announced that Peter Jackson was pushing back The Hobbit. As the film industry is known for being unpredictable, I knew that there was a chance that it may or may not happen but I still wanted to follow through with the move. I just started applying at different makeup counters in Wellington’s city center (downtown area) and hoped for the best!

How long did you live abroad?
Michelle: One year and three whole days. I was an illegal immigrant for those three days! I really wanted to stay but due to an earthquake, the only applicants that they were extending visas for were doctors, nurses, construction, electrical, and other essential personnel.

What have you missed the most about living abroad?
Michelle: Walking everywhere and having access to a great city transportation system. Plus, I loved the people, the country, and the accents are hot! It was such a fun atmosphere and I loved being there. I felt adopted by my friends and coworkers. Several of them even made sure that I had something to do on Thanksgiving as they knew that it was a big holiday for us in the United States even though it wasn’t a big holiday for them in New Zealand. Several friends invited me to their sausage sizzle to celebrate Christmas. You heard me… sausage sizzle! Since their Christmas is in the summertime, it is essentially a cookout. It was also the first time I’ve ever had a winter birthday in August!

photo of a sausage sizzle
Sausage Sizzles are Not Hot Dogs – @ford.momo / @gemmapen

What were the most surprising things to you when you moved there and then when you moved back?
Michelle: How cold Wellington was! I had lived in Florida for so many years that I think my blood had thinned. There were some cold winds. You don’t think about a “southerly wind” being cold until you realize that Antarctica is what’s south of you!

 How many coffee shops that there were – this was pre-coffee craze here and it just surprised me how much coffee these people drank! 

Revlon had a makeup counter, like a proper makeup counter in the pharmacies with testers, a gift with purchase, and everything! 

The fact that “Blanket Man” was allowed to be out and sun his biscuits in the downtown corner sidewalks and people blessed him with booze, energy drinks, snacks, and I’m pretty sure weed because he was always high.

photo of blanket man
Blanket Man has since passed but was somewhat of a local celebrity.

Even though the English language is what we all spoke, sometimes I got really confused because we have different words for things. I vividly remember a friend yelling across a busy street to remind me, “don’t forget your frogs for the sparkle”. After several confused “MY WHATs?!” yelled back to her, a nice man in a suit said “your togs for the spa pool” to which I also said ”…my what?” Several people snickered and just started calling out words to me and I was like “ooooh my bathing suit for the hot tub!!” to which people just rolled their eyes. I think about that to this day when I need a good laugh. 

Burger King is a big deal and McDonald’s is called Macca’s. 

The Salvation Army (or any charity shops) are called Sally’s and I love that.

They don’t mix peanut butter and chocolate – I once paid about $10 US for two Reese cup packages…best money I’ve ever spent. 

What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
Michelle: Moving there? Walking everywhere. Not that I minded the walking at all but you couldn’t just jump in your car and run to the store. It was so much more of an effort! Moving back? That I couldn’t walk anywhere. I moved in with my brother in Holly Springs when I got back and I was completely stuck there until I was able to get a car because there was nowhere to walk! Also no Target and trips just to buy whatever, because you had to actually carry it home! Rather than ketchup, they have tomato sauce. That took some time to get used to on your fries because it’s thinner and sweeter. Also, that the weta exists and one time there was one in my bed, with me in it! I nearly had to hold my own funeral.

photo of a weta
The giant weta is ugly, big, and heavy. Want to learn more about this native New Zealand insect? Check out this post.

What did you have to sacrifice to make living abroad come true?
Michelle: I cut out a lot of going out and spending money on activities. I would still go out with friends but definitely cut down on my spending while out in order to save money. I also stopped going to Target as much!

Had you ever lived outside of your home country before?
Michelle: I had not! I had only been to Bolivia with my church when I was younger. Going out of the country was exciting but also intimidating and brought on some anxiety. I still get anxious filling out customs forms!

What did you do for fun in your city abroad? / What were your favorite spots in the area?
Michelle: I worked in retail while I was there so I didn’t have a lot of time off. I loved that everything closed at like 6pm unless it was during holiday hours. I usually went out with friends after work in some way. I loved going to hang at Hotel Bristol with Shawn and Jackie plus new friends. We went dancing at Mighty Mighty, Boogie Wonderland (complete with the rainbow light up dance floor), The Big Kumara, and Alice – where all drinks were served in teapots and tea cups! Sadly, several of these places have since closed.  I loved the shops, cafes, and clubs on Cuba Street… even just people watching there was great. Exploring the city was so much fun too! Te Papa Museum is beautiful and the waterfront was great to just walk around. It wasn’t in the city, but several times we would put on some fancy fascinators, hop on a train, and bet on the horse races which always made for a fun day!

photo of cuba street
Cuba Street looks like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

Did you have your own mode of transportation – a car, bike, etc?
Michelle: No, but I had built in legs and the bus! Sometimes I took a taxi but generally only if I was in a big rush or if it was super duper late.

What do you love about your current city – Raleigh, North Carolina?
Michelle: It’s home and where I grew up! I love my friends and my network of vendors here. Raleigh is also a beautiful city. We have great food, people, and a shimmer wall!

photo of Raleigh's shimmer wall