Rebranding Me: Learning to Love Myself


Welcome back to Tantalizingly Tasteful! Today I want to talk about something a little bit out of the ordinary for me: body image and self-confidence. Being confident in yourself and your abilities is much easier said than done, but I think the process of getting there is something that needs to be discussed. I want to share my own personal story with you. This is something I’ve been working on for about a year now, and I’m honestly still a little hesitant, but I know that so many people go through the same kind of situation and I want to open up the discussion. So, here goes.

I’ve spent my whole life being overweight. I knew in kindergarten that I was different from the other girls in the class. When I walked, my shorts would ride up my thighs (what has affectionately been known as thwedgie in my family), I couldn’t run as fast on the soccer field, and I couldn’t easily be lifted up. But as a kindergartner, you don’t really understand that having a bit more body fat than the other girls in class is going to make you stand out in a bad way.  I was also one of the only kids in class that wore glasses, and to five-year-old me, that made me “uncool.” I would play a game with my friends in which I would take my glasses off and say “cool Toni,” then put them back on and say “nerdy Toni.” How did I get the impression that a pair of glasses defined who I was?

 

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A shot from elementary school field day, complete with my classic “thwedgie.”

 

 

In elementary school, I was the first of my friends to wear a bra, and it wasn’t because I was the first to hit puberty. And yet, I still didn’t really think anything was too wrong with me. It didn’t really hit me until fourth grade, when a “popular” girl who I considered a friend nicknamed me Jell-O. I didn’t understand why she was calling me that, so I was thrilled to think that I had finally made it into the “cool girls” crowd. When I got home that night, I excitedly told my parents about my new nickname, only to have them explain to me that it wasn’t a very great nickname to have. I was incredibly hurt to think that the people that I considered friends saw me that way and, even worse, seemed to be out to make fun of me because of what I weighed. I dwell on that realization a lot.

 

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This one’s from my cousin Effie’s wedding. I was 11 and a junior bridesmaid. I had gained weight between the fitting and the actual wedding, so my dress ripped during cocktail hour. I was humiliated.

 

Fast forward to middle school, when I just continued to gain weight and started growing facial hair due to polycystic ovarian syndrome. At that point, it had become more common knowledge to me that I was the heavier friend, and while my friends really didn’t have anything to say about my “physique,” it was quite evident that I was just different and sometimes had to be left out. I could never share clothes with my friends, I could never eat as much as my friends, I struggled to keep up with them in sports. I had girls pull my bra strap and laugh at me because my bra wasn’t supportive enough for my chest. One of my best friends pointed out to the entire gym class that I was growing a beard. I started to become ashamed of my body, a feeling that I would never wish on anyone. And instead of combating my issues with an improved diet and more exercise, I comforted myself the only way I knew how: food.

 

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A photo of my mother, my youngest brother and I at a bat mitzvah. Clearly I did not know what a bra was.

 

In high school, I tried to pretend that I was more comfortable with my body. I had accepted that I was just bigger than my friends, but my weight was still a source of contention with my family. My parents have always been super supportive, and when they worried about my weight, it was always for the sake of my health and not my appearance, but it was (and still is) a sore topic for me. My grandmother was notorious for not giving me a second serving of food to keep me from gaining weight. My parents often told me that certain clothes just weren’t meant for my body type. Even my five-year-old cousin told me I was fat. For me, realizing that even my family remarked that I was overweight was heartbreaking. I felt like no one saw me for my personality or interests, but only saw me as the girl who needed to lay off the pasta and hit the gym. This realization brought on a rough time of self-doubt, self-loathing, depression, and self-harm. When I finally got myself out of that slump, I decided I was going to take ownership of who I was and focus on bettering myself and getting healthy, not necessarily skinny. I told my parents that I needed them to support me despite what I looked like or what I decided to wear. I thought this inner transformation would be good for me in so many ways.

Here’s a picture from marching band in ninth grade. I remember loving this picture because I thought my hair looked so long.

But then prom season hit, and two years in a row, no one asked me to be their date. And I couldn’t help but attribute it to the fact that nobody wanted to go with the fat girl. Of course, I was heartbroken, and debated not going to prom both years, but ultimately I went and had a great time. But the idea still remains in my head that no one wants to date me or be friends with me because of my weight.

A picture of me, alone, at senior prom. Luckily I still had a great time.

I had a similar experience at the beginning of college. Before I moved in, I was considering joining a sorority, but at the actual club fair, I noticed that no sorority sisters even considered approaching me. Instead, they were approaching the teeny tiny skinny girls, the girls who were the “populars” that would have made fun of me in elementary and middle school. It was then that I realized that my body weight can sometimes prevent me from achieving everything I would’ve liked to, and it was then that I was inspired to write this post.

This is one of my favorite selfies from freshman year. Before I found my close friends, I would go home every weekend because I felt so out of place.

That was a year ago, during my very first semester of college. I had completely different friends, completely different interests, and a completely different outlook on life. Originally, this post was supposed to be a wake-up call to me and to anyone reading, a cautionary tale that would hopefully teach people that they should keep themselves from getting heavy so they can prevent themselves from getting hurt. Now, I see things very differently.

It’s taken me a long time, but I’m finally getting to the point that I’m realizing I love the person I am. There may be things I want to change and things that I regret doing, but I’ve learned over the years (and especially the last six months) that the only person I need approval, attention, and love from is myself. The only person who can help me is myself. It also helps that the friends I have now like me the way I am, so I’m not forcing myself to be something I’m not.

I wish I could detail how I got myself to this point, but honestly, I think it was just spurred by a sudden realization that if I can’t love myself for who I am, no one else will love me for who I am. I do have some recommendations, though, that I know have helped me feel happier and more confident and empowered.

  1. Read self-help books: Yes, this is corny, but after reading even a few pages of self-help books, I always feel refreshed and inspired. One of my favorites is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, even though I haven’t even finished it yet. I used to read it every night before bed during the spring semester of my freshman year, and it made me feel like I could take on the world just the way I am. Some more on my list of books to read are Yes Please by Amy Poehler and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.

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    You can get your copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller for $10.96 at Barnes and Noble.
  2. Work out: I’ve been talking about this up and down for the last six months, but working out has made me feel a million times better about myself. Every time I work out, I do into beast mode, and I feel like I can accomplish anything. Find an exercise routine you love and stick to it. Not only is it good for your body, but it’s also good for your soul.
  3. Listen to pump-up music: I literally have a playlist called “I DESERVE BETTER” that’s filled with songs that make me feel better and remind me that I am worth the work and worth being treated well. It’s filled with some of my favorite songs, like Hair and Shoutout to My Ex by Little Mix, Stronger by Britney Spears, and Down in the Dumps by Walk the Moon. I highly recommend putting together a playlist that makes you feel great about yourself and helps pick you back up when you start to fall.
  4. Get motivational wallpapers: Inspirational phone backgrounds and computer wallpapers are my guilty pleasure. I like to change them every month just to get something a little different. I always find it so inspiring to turn on my phone or laptop and get some sort of pick-me-up.

    This is the wallpaper on my laptop right now and I love turning it on and seeing this.
  5. Don’t take things so personally: I’ve always been a very sensitive person, and I always let people’s reactions to me affect the way I feel. Recently, I’ve come to the realization that you don’t always know what other people are going through, so you can’t hold things against them or let them get you down. Like I said, the only person’s validation that matters is yours, so don’t let yourself get down because of a stupid comment someone else said. When I dyed my hair purpley about a year ago, one of my best friends made a comment that if I lay down on the grass, it would look like Barney. His opinion meant a lot to me at the time, and I was upset about it for a while. Since then, I’ve realized that it’s my hair, not his, and if I like the way it looks, I don’t have to really consider his opinion.
  6. Do what you’re passionate about: Doing things that you love to do and are good at are great for a confidence boost. Plus, if you get involved with something you’re passionate about, you can find other people who are passionate about the same thing and you immediately have something to connect over. When I started writing for my school newspaper last semester (even though it was for class credit), I met so many awesome people who were also passionate about journalism. It was really inspiring and motivating for me to get pointers from them and just be surrounded by people who loved to interview people and write just as much as I do.
  7. Journal: One of the best ways to release negativity is to write it down. I find that every time I write down what’s bother me, I can better recognize what the problem is and then find an appropriate way to deal with it. Also, I can write down all the positives in my life and reread them if I start feeling down. I also love picking pretty journals that inspire me to write and work hard, like this one from Barnes and Noble.

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    Be Awesome Today Bound Lined Journal, $9.95 at Barnes and Noble
  8. Find support: The biggest thing that has helped me come to terms with the person that I am has been my religion. I was born and raised Greek Orthodox, but I didn’t really get into learning about my religion until I was 16 and went to Camp St. Paul for the first time. Since then, I’ve become more confident in myself and my abilities because I know that God made me the way I am and only sends me challenges that He knows I can handle. For those of you who are not religious, I’d recommend finding something or someone that always has your back and best interests at heart. I have a handful of really close friends that constantly cheer me on and pick me up when I fall. I’d be nowhere without them. Even my parents are there for me whenever I need them, and I can tell them absolutely anything without them judging me or putting me down. The bottom line is that it feels amazing to know you have people who love and support you all the time and can pick you up if you start doubting yourself.

I hope this post gave you a bit of a look into my life and some inspiration and motivation to start loving yourself completely and entirely. Don’t forget to keep me in the loop as you embark on your journey!!

xx,

Toni
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Looking Back at the Fall 2016 Semester


After a three-week hiatus, I am happy to say that finals are finally done and I am finally back in action. Now, I’m all yours. At least for the next month or so.

On Friday, I moved out of my dorm room and back into my bedroom. It’s weird not having my friends in the room right next door or a (half-service) Dunkin Donuts a few feet outside my window, but I’m looking forward to getting a chance to clear my mind and get my life back in some semblance order. Plus, I’ll finally get some time to catch up with my friends from high school.

I learned some really great things this year, academically and professionally speaking. Between my (favorite) journalism writing and reporting class and my internship at the school paper, the Statesman, I feel like I’m really starting to hone in on my reporting skills. I love going out and getting to hear people’s stories. I was fortunate enough to serve as a Teaching Assistant for an Honors 101: Introduction to Stony Brook class and it helped me realize how much I love working in a classroom setting. I even got the incredible opportunity to assist a visiting journalist with research for a biography she’s been writing. It really was an incredible (and incredibly busy) semester.

But academics and work aren’t everything this world has to offer. In honor of the end of the Fall 2016 semester, the first semester of my sophomore year, I’d like to share some reflections and inner musings I’ve accumulated from August to now.

  1. It’s never too late to make friends: I really thought that after my freshman year, the friends I had would stay my friends and that there would be no changes. Though my core group has stayed the same, I’m really happy that I’ve met and gotten to know some super awesome people over the last few months. I’m excited to see how our friendships grow as we get deeper into the journalism program and the Honors College.
  2. Or to find a new hobby: College really is the perfect time to find out what you’re interested in and good at. I’ve always been interested in photography, but never actually learned the necessary skills. I finally took a photo class this semester (two, technically, if you count my journalism multimedia course), and I feel like I found something I love and might actually be good at. I love having the ability to capture beautiful moments. My new-found love led to plenty of impromptu photo shoots and thousands of pictures over the semester. The moral of the story is that if you’re interested in learning something new or picking up a new hobby, it’s worth putting in the work to learn the new skill and make it a part of your life, no matter how late in the game you or others might think it is.

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    Nature pictures are some of my favorites to take. This was taken at the High Line in Manhattan.
  3. Being involved is great: Like I said, this was a busy semester. I interned at the school paper, served as a teaching assistant, assisted with research for a biography, served on the School of Journalism Advisory Board, and served as the treasurer of the Greek and Cypriot Student Association. I’ve learned that it’s the activities you take part in outside of the classroom that make the college experience what it is. If I didn’t have these things to participate in or work on, I would be so bored and un-busy. I love being busy (even if I do complain about it in the moment.) Really, I’m not myself unless I’m busy and running around like a maniac. I thrive in chaos. Plus, being involved in things you’re passionate about helps you meet new people and make essential connections. Being involved in university activities is a great way to distract yourself from the mundane every day of the college experience while still being productive.
  4. You can’t let your mental state control your life: I am way too guilty of this. If I start feeling down, I’ll let the mood take over my life entirely. I won’t get out of bed, I won’t clean my room, I won’t eat, I won’t hang out with my friends, etc. It’s an awful downward spiral. I’m beginning to learn that sometimes you have to force yourself to stay positive and be motivated even if you’re feeling exactly the opposite. Sometimes the only way to get things done and get yourself out of the slump is to not let yourself give into your negative mood. This is definitely something I need to work on in 2017.

    Just found this on Pinterest… Pinterest always has exactly what you need when you need it!
  5. Only buy as much produce as you will actually use: Not as deep as usual, but still important. Long story short, I tried to eat healthier this semester, and in the process, brought way too much produce (sorry, Mom and Dad.) I seriously wish I had bought less. Just trust me and learn from my mistake. It’s much better to have to buy more than waste food.
  6. It’s okay to play Just Dance by yourself: It’s okay to do anything by yourself, really. Even though people thought there was something wrong with me when they walked past my dorm room door and I was dancing by myself, it was kind of fun. So was going to the campus art gallery right now. And eating dinner by myself. And going to the gym. I think there’s something really powerful in doing things alone. It’s easy to fall into the idea that you have to do things in groups or else you’ll be judged, but I think this makes it a lot harder for us to get to know ourselves as individuals. Seriously, treat yourself to some time alone and get to know what you’re into and what your inner thoughts are telling you. We spend so much time working on our relationships with other people, so why can’t we spend some time on our relationships with ourselves?

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    I took this when I went to an art exhibit by the Guerrilla Girls on campus… alone. And I have to say, it was oddly refreshing to walk around the gallery by myself. No pressure, no distractions. Just art.
  7. Writing is hard but worth it: I’ve always loved writing, but sometimes getting words on paper is easier said (or thought) than done. This semester, I became a lot more serious about and devoted to blogging, and also participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, in which you “win” if you write a novel of 50,000 words or more. (I didn’t win, in case you were wondering, but I’m still proud of my progress!) Writing well is definitely a challenge. It can be hard to make characters come to life or convey the right feeling. It can be even harder when you’re inspired and motivated to write but you don’t have the time to do it. Even writing my stories for the Statesman and my reporting class was challenging, especially because I wanted everything to be perfect. This semester, I really learned that even though the process can be challenging, writing stories and blog posts is worth it, because it’s something I love. Being able to record my thoughts and communicate stories through the written word is one of my favorite parts of this life, and one of the biggest parts of who I am. So yeah, in a nutshell, even though it is definitely a challenge, sometimes the most challenging things are also the most valuable and enjoyable.
  8. I’ve got things to work on: Yes, this one is totally obvious. Everyone has things they need to work on, but I think this semester really helped me narrow down a couple of things that are at the top of the list. I’m beginning to understand that I can’t control anyone or anything except myself, and I can’t always fix other people’s issues. I’ve realized that I have a tendency to romanticize and idealize situations and forget the bad things when the good things come along, but I can’t keep returning to situations that hurt me. Also, relationships go two ways, and I can try over and over again to fix things, but if the other person isn’t doing their share, it’s not worth it. Basically, I’ve learned that I need to work on seeing my own value, that I’m not someone to be taken advantage of just because I care so much about other people, and that I don’t need to change myself in order to fit other people’s ideas of what I should be. I am who I am and I should be proud of and happy with that. I need to learn that it’s okay to put myself and my opinion first sometimes. Now I just need to actually figure out how to work on these things…
  9. Experiences>stress any day: I’d rather make memories than stress out over classes any day. Ten, twenty years from now, I’m going to remember the stupidly fun things I did with my friends, not the extra hour of studying I could’ve gotten. I’m not even going to lie, I cut class once this semester to go on an adventure at a local park and preserve with my friend Alyssa. Was it the best idea for my education or grade? No, probably not. But Alyssa really wanted to go and it was beautiful out. And you know what? I don’t regret it. Just like I don’t regret getting midnight bagels. Or midnight McDonald’s. Spontaneous adventures with my friends are the highlight of my life. Grades, classes, and work aren’t everything, guys. Don’t let society make you forget that. Live a little. Do what you love.

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    Here’s a picture I took of Alyssa when we went on our adventure. Not pictured: Alyssa bonding with the geese. Honestly, this is one of my favorite memories of the semester.

With Fall semester finally over and Spring semester so close, I’m glad I had these thoughts now and left room for more improvement come January. I’ve got great things to look forward to next semester too, including the next phase of the journalism program, another photo class, more Greek dancing (finally!), and more! In the meantime, I’m taking an online business class over the winter break just to get some credits out of the way. I hope you stay tuned for more life reflections and upcoming holiday and New Year posts! Happy holidays, Tasters!

xx,

Toni

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Looking Back at Washington, D.C.


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The beautiful view from the Lincoln Memorial

I got back from Washington, D.C. on Sunday night, but honestly, it feels like forever ago already. I had been so excited for my trip beforehand, and then it went by in the blink of an eye. Here’s a look back at my weekend!

Friday, November 4

Traveling is never the fun part of traveling. On Friday afternoon, I had to get on a 1:19 train to get to Penn Station and meet my friend Demi. The train alone took just under two hours. Demi and I then walked ten minutes to Port Authority to meet our friend (and her “fousin”) Stella for a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride from New York City to Washington, D.C. The bus ride itself took up a majority of our day and was completely exhausting, but it was nice to get a chance to catch up.

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Finally getting into Union Station (which is totally beautiful, BTW!) From top top bottom: me, Demi and Stella

When we finally made it to Union Station at around 9:30, we were so tired and barely wanted to go out, but we fought through it. We took a taxi to the Renaissance Hotel in Dupont Circle, where our friend Anastacia was already waiting for us. We rushed to get ready and eventually made it out for the first event of Panhellenism Weekend 2016 by midnight.

Saturday, November 5

I guess the first party should probably go here since it was after midnight… But we walked a few blocks (and then Ubered because we got a little lost) to this super-cool four-floor club/bar called Ozio for the first event. Luckily, we didn’t wait on line to get in for more than 20 minutes, and in the meantime, I got to chat with some friends from camp I hadn’t seen since August. To me, that was better than the actual party.

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It was so great to catch up with friends this past weekend! From left to right: me, Raquel, Steph (who was one of my first camp counselors!) and Victoria

The club was totally cramped. Like, the kind of cramped where you can barely breathe. And that’s doable when you’re with your friends and know the people around you. But it’s a whole other story when the people around your are drunk strangers. Long story short, it wasn’t long before I got uncomfortable and wanted to go to sleep. I had expected a great, long night of dancing with my friends, but there wasn’t even enough room for that. I was disappointed to say the least.

We didn’t get back to the hotel room until 3AM, and didn’t really get to bed until five, but when we woke up in the morning, we were ready to take on the day… kinda. While my friends went to a brunch for alumni of Ionian Village, a Greek Orthodox sleep away camp in Greece (which needs your help, BTW!), I stayed in the hotel room and worked on my NaNoWriMo story (I am so behind now, don’t even get me started) and FaceTimed my friend Maria to catch her up on what happened the night before.

When the girls were done with the brunch, Anastacia and Stella came back to the hotel to get me and Demi hung out with her friend from Ionian Village. The girls and I walked to the Lincoln Memorial with our friend Niko. It was so warm out and the scenery was so beautiful, with leaves changing colors and fashionable people walking past us. I loved D.C., but it was definitely a little quiet for someone like me, who loves New York City.

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I couldn’t put my camera down at the Lincoln Memorial
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Had to get a shot of Abe…

We met up with some of our friends at the Lincoln Memorial and took some awesome pictures (shout out to great lighting!). I wish I had gotten to do more sightseeing though, but we had limited time and Stella had to meet up with some friends from high school.

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Anastacia and I in front of Abraham Lincoln… I guess we cut him out
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A shot of my outfit, courtesy of Stella! We took a ton of pictures in the spot because the lighting was great.
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Stel and I chilling on the steps
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Had to get a shot by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, even if the sun was in our eyes

The three of us took a taxi to Georgetown and I was immediately in love. It was so trendy, clean, historic and photogenic. We literally stepped out of the car into a brick alley that was just begging to be photographed, so we had yet another photoshoot (shout out to Anastacia and the brick wall for giving me something to use for my photo class project).

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The love I have for these two is insane… thanks to you two (and Demi) for coming on this adventure with me
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Posing with Anastacia
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All smiles (and all black) with Stella

When Stella left us to visit her high school friends, Anastacia and I grabbed lunch at a restaurant called J. Paul. They had really yummy pretzel bread as an appetizer, and Anastacia was totally obsessed with her sandwich. I got a crab cake sandwich, figuring it was something more regional and something I was much less likely to get at home, and it was alright. When we were done, we headed to Forever 21 for some last-minute accessory shopping. I bought a pair of earrings and Anastacia got a choker. We then found Stella, the girls stopped for bubble tea (I tried a sip for the first time, still not sure what I think), and headed back to the hotel for a nap.

We got ready for the night and were ready to leave around 11:30 or so. The event was at the historic Howard Theatre, which was stunning to say the least. The line was so short, which was a plus, and there was food (even though all I had was one mac and cheese bite). There was much more space to dance, but my feet were killing me from the night before and the day of walking, which was a bummer. I was able to catch up with some friends, and snagged a seat next to my cousin Dionysia to chat for a while.

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Catching up with my amazing and incredible cousin Di

Stella and I finally decided to head back to the hotel around two because we were exhausted. We stayed up a little while longer just talking, but eventually fell asleep before Demi and Anastacia had even gotten back to the room.

Sunday, November 6

I woke up the next morning in a panic. The clock next to me said 11:30 and our bus back to New York was at 2:15. We hadn’t even started packing our stuff up yet, and everyone except for Anastacia, who had gone to church and wasn’t leaving until 4, was still in bed. Then, I remembered daylight savings time was a thing and calmed down. We eventually got up, packed our things, checked out and headed to West End Bistro, a restaurant Stella’s sister had recommended for brunch.

Honestly, if you’re in D.C. and around the Dupont Circle/Ritz-Carlton Hotel area, I highly, highly recommend West End Bistro. The staff was so accommodating and friendly. The restaurant itself was stunning. The food was spectacular (even if it was a bit expensive for my taste).  I got the WEB Breakfast Burger, which had an actual burger with cheddar cheese, a sunny side egg (which I usually don’t even like), bacon, and caramelized onions on a brioche bun and French fries on the side. It was so, so amazing.

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MY AMAZING WEST END BISTRO BRUNCH

Stella, Demi and I said goodbye to Anastacia and finally made it to Union Station but, wouldn’t you know it, our bus is late. We thought we were going to miss the bus, but it didn’t leave till around three. And then we hit traffic. We were supposed to get into Port Authority by 6:35, which meant I’d be able to take a 7:18 train back to Stony Brook, but we didn’t get in until closer to seven, which gave me absolutely no time to make it back to Penn Station and grab my train. So, we grabbed dinner at Port Authority (chain pizza and pasta, anyone?) and then Demi and I left Stella to head towards Penn. I finally got back to Stony Brook around 10:40, a whole hour later than I was supposed to and eight hours after I started traveling. Like I said, traveling is exhausting.

So now you’ve (presumably) read a lot about what I did during the day, but here are my thoughts. D.C. is stunning, and I wish I could’ve spent more time enjoying the city and the sights than waiting on lines for parties I barely enjoyed and being squashed in between people. Also, next time I go, I want to go for a longer amount of time so I can better enjoy it.  And if I do go to Panhellenism Weekend 2017, likelihood is I’ll only be attending one night event (in much more comfortable shoes!)  and spending the other night taking in our country’s capital.

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Another beautiful view in Georgetown (which I think is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal but honestly I’m not sure)

I hope this post gave you a little bit of a look into my life and my head. Let me know about any of your own experiences traveling or in Washington, D.C., or tell me about other places I should check out! Hope you’re out there loving the world!

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Kisses to you, Tasters!!

xx,

Toni

Email: tantilizinglytasteful@gmail.com

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