There is No Walmart In London…

…and this is both amazing and problematic. When Ross and I rented our flat, it came with two wardrobes, a chest of drawers, a sofa bed, two bed side tables, a mattress and box spring that probably came off the streets. It has since be bed-skirted and I pretend I never saw it’s true state.

So, London is old. Like, really, really old. This means that the city can’t really afford large sprawling superstores or gyms without sacrificing charming little neighbourhoods or history. For this reason, it really is magical here. Until you have to outfit a flat on the cheap and then it’s all ‘wtf, where do I find clothing hangers and garbage bins that won’t cost me a fortune?!’

The answer is in many stores. Behold my stuff and where it came from:2015-07-24 10.49.27

The wardrobes came with the room but the hangers and hooks I got at Primark. The one behind the door was £.90 and the hooks on the wardrobe came in a set of 4 for £2. The hangers were inexpensive as well at £2.90 for a set of 10 but I needed about a million of them

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The laundry hamper was also purchased at Primark for £3. The plastic drawers were £12 at a random hardware store and the towels I got at Primark as well for between £3 and £7.

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Our bedding and pillows all came from a store called Argos which is the closest thing to a bargain department store but it’s so weird. It’s essentially a store full of iPads and catalogues. You go through the catalogue in whatever form, choose your items, pay for them at one of 4 cashiers and then said cashier will go to a mysterious back room and appear with your stuff. I felt like the laziest person. 2015-07-24 10.48.25The room is pretty sparse but we’re heading to Ikea at some point to pick up a cheapie bookcase, a shoe rack and some other stuff it pains me to spend money on. Can’t these things just appear on the side of the road?

Speaking of side of the road, London doesn’t use craigslist but a site called gumtree instead and their ‘House Clearance’ section, where people post things they need to get rid of fast, is what dreams are made of. I’m picking up a pair of lamps for £5 tomorrow. Don’t mind if I do!

Another place I fell in love with is Tiger. It’s like the Danish version of Ikea but for everything but furniture. It’s built like a maze so you have to go though the whole thing (I had absolutely no problem with this) and stuff is cheap, cheerful and cute. I bought an oven mitt (£3), a rubbish bin (£4) and some spices (£1). Enjoy some of the creeper photos I took:

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This is the exact moment where I fell in love. Colourful food storage!!!

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Necessary stationary section picture

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This is a desk organizer that was not in my budget.. I walked away screaming I’LL COME BACK FOR YOU on the inside.

And there you have it. How to outfit a flat without a Walmart but at Walmart prices. I’m patting myself on the back, fyi.

Moving to London: Where to Live

So, Ross and I spent a week at his mom’s before finally settling into a place of our own. Before we left we researched where we wanted to live and decided that we wanted something:

  • close to work (North West London)
  • central but affordable
  • fun but not club-district-fun
  • with good transport links
  • with grocery stores nearby
  • on a main road so that I wouldn’t have to worry about people not hearing a rape whistle, metaphorically.

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The original idea was somewhere in the Kilburn High Road area but once we mapped it, it seemed pretty dodgy so we looked at Queens Park and Maida Vale but then they seemed sleepy and expensive.

The tricky thing is that until you’re in London you can’t really settle on a place for sure– going to the areas you’ve researched is really key before actually making a decision, as tempting as it may be to have somewhere to move into right away when you get here.

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I had been to Camden before and really like the area. It had that ever so sight grimy feeling to in a way that you know it would be a fun place to live that wasn’t posh but also wasn’t a slum.

Ross did some searching and we settled on a large flat that we share with 5 other people. It’s quite a few flatmates but they’re clean, kind and our room is big enough that if we need some downtime away from people, it doesn’t feel like we’re sitting in a prison cell. It’s a 15 minute walk from the market and I LOVE it. It’s fun, it’s central and it’s relatively safe. There were some riots the other night against the gentrification of the area that led to some roads being closed but I don’t walk home fearing for my life or anything. We also live near a pub that always has people in it so there’s that.

There are a bunch of grocery stores in the area and they’re a range of types: Waitrose is the fancy pants grocery store, Tesco and Sainsbury’s fall somewhere in the middle, Morrisons is a superstore with some clothing and kitchen stuff and Lidl and Iceland are the cheap stores in the area.

I shop mainly at Lidl for as much as I can because it’s so inexpensive but Morrisons is my favourite because it’s a one-stop shop where I can get extra bits I’m missing like clothing hangers or a laundry hamper and not pay a fortune for those types of items.

There are some great places to live south of the river but it is harder to get to. Brixton is inexpensive and still very trendy.  Places like Islington and Angel are popular with young professionals, Hackney is the up-and-coming hipster area. Fulham and Clapham also have newly developed areas that don’t completely break the bank.

Honestly, visiting and work of mouth are the best ways to figure out where to make home in such a big city. Plan a visit, ask you friends, ask me! I do love a good email:)

Here are some of the sites we used:

SpareRoom

Zoopla

Gumtree

http://www.insidelondon.co/where-to-live-in-london has great area info

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Ireland Pt. 2: Bunratty Folk Park

On our second and last day in Ireland we visited Bunnratty Castle and Folk Park. It was the day after Nan’s 80th birthday party and it was probably the least tame party I’ve ever been to, despite it being for an octogenarian. The Irish do not mess around.

I was still fighting a bit of jet lag and ducked to bed early so while everyone was nursing their hangovers, Ross and I went to the folk park where his aunt works.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is very much like Pioneer Village in Toronto. It’s a 26 acre area filled with a number of cottages staged as they wood have looked in the various eras and counties in which they existed. Then, past the cottages there is a little village with a barber, a pub, a confectionary, all staged to look as they would have in the early 19th century.

2015-06-28 13.11.13Inside each cottage there was a person in historical dress that would speak to people about daily life. This one happened to have an adorable old ‘blacksmith’ with the gift of gab. He seriously loved to talk to the point that we really wanted to duck out but he was so cute and old and excited that we were held hostage for a solid 15 mins. This also happened in the pie making cottage with Kitty, a 6′, 79 year-old that loved a good monologue. Beware the adorable old people, they will talk and it will be hard to leave, in the best way.

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The castle was probably my favourite part. It was quite large and felt very…castle-y. It was drafty, had a few tapestries and was in general, quite sparse. It was exactly what I envisioned a cast to look like in it’s heyday. The stairs were spirally and really narrow and it was, in general, a pain to get around (In a good way! I felt like a medieval person). I could only imagine how annoying it must have been to get a message like ‘dinner’s ready’ from one end to the other. The great hall was in the centre of the castle with the bedrooms surrounding it and you can tell that someone else had the same idea. Each bedroom had a little window that looked onto the great hall that was big enough for someone to shout through.

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A very Irish view

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A path through the grounds

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Staged village

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Confectionary, aka my second favourite place.

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Pretty gardens

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OMG THIS PIE

So at the end of the walk though the grounds (2.5-3 hrs gives you enough time to meander at a good pace), we made a point to stop at the cafe. Ross’s Uncle John had mentioned that the pie and cream was delicious and not to be missed. He sold it as ‘the best pie ever’ and I was a bit skeptical.

The best pie? Are you sure? How do you know?

YOU GUYS, THIS IS THE BEST PIE.

The crust was buttery and it was full of tart apples and the cream…I still think about the cream which is made fresh, onsite.

It was the perfect way to end the day at the folk park and I would say it’s a requirement if you visit Bunratty.

Ireland: All The Best Stereotypes Pt. 1

A few weekends ago, Ross and I flew to Ireland for his Nan’s 80th birthday party and it was exactly what I expected it to be in the best way. Upon landing in Shannon we disembarked using the stairs onto the tarmac. I haven’t done that in YEARS and it was awesome. I felt like a celebrity except that I was flying Ryan Air. So the doors open and I got a whiff of real Irish air and it smelled like…manure! Now before you roll you eyes at me for being pessimistic I would like to point out that it smelled lovely. It felt a little like I walked off the plane onto my family’s farm.

We drove from the airport to Ross’ family’s place and it was my first encounter with Irish People From Ireland, In Ireland. YOU GUYS, THEY’RE THE NICEST. Seriously, everyone is kind but, like, shirt off your back, here-have-half-my-dinner kind. Whoever said that Irish people were warm and friendly was not lying even a little bit.

We didn’t do a whole bunch of touring and stayed mainly in and around the village but we did go check out Dromoland Castle and Bunratty Folk Park.

Dromoland Castle

We walked to the castle and this was the view the whole time. Ross moaned about having to walk and how far it was and blah, blah, blah.  Once we got to the main road, this was the view:2015-06-27 11.15.03

ARE YOU SERIOUS?! My camera couldn’t even deal. Then I gave Ross the stink eye for suggesting we drive past this beauty.

Then we happened upon this derelict cottage:

2015-06-27 11.16.19I swear people manufacture this kind of landscape back home but in Ireland, it’s just commonplace.

2015-06-27 11.47.06We finally made it to the castle about a thousand photos later and it really was stunning. I don’t know if we were allowed in or not but we walked in like we owned the place and poked around for a bit. It is a hotel that sits on a golf course so people actually pay to be there. Really though– ain’t nobody got time for that.

Once we got in, I obviously had to pee and was so glad I did. See below.

I wanted to live in this bathroom

This photograph is shaky and unfocused because it was having a mini fit over how awesome it was. I was about to set up camp forever but then someone walked in and saw me taking this picture and I fled.

Casual walk through the castle, nbd

Casual walk through the castle, nbd

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Ireland is green.

Most of the castle was built in 1835 but some parts day back to the 15th century. If we weren’t poor we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) probably would’ve shelled out the 50 Euros for afternoon tea but that will have to wait until we have more money and/or until I can find someone a little more female to go with.

Tomorrow: Bunratty Folk Park where I had an apple tart that I will be dreaming about forever.

Moving to London: You’ve Arrived! Now What?

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I arrived in London on the 24th and since then, my time here has been a whirlwind. There are some things that you can only do once you’ve landed so the first few days end up being less ‘fun’ and more practical. Here are the things you should do ASAP:

1. Find a Job or Meet with Employer

I arrived at 6am and had an appointment with Prospero, the teaching agency that found me a job, at 2pm. I really wanted to get everything sorted as soon as possible so that I could start working as soon as possible. Although my job is for September, I’m hoping to supply teach in the next few weeks. The Canadian dollar/pound exchange rate is killing me as it’s two dollars to every pound. Also, everything here is on sale and it’s been REALLY HARD. But I digress… You’ll want to find a job asap.

2. Find Somewhere to Stay

If you have friends in London, yay! You can skip this step! You need an address in London when you pass through customs so I would encourage ringing up friends or  booking a hostel for a week before hand. Finding a place to settle in is not as easy as it looks and you’ll need a few days before you find the perfect fit. We’re staying with Ross’s mom but she lives in a one-bedroom with a cat and a massive dog. We’re totally inconveniencing her (though she’d absolutely never say it) and are so grateful that she is letting us stay there.

3. Find Somewhere to Live

I was lucky that Ross arrived here before I did and I forced him suggested that he find us a place to live while he was here doing a bunch of job interviews. I’ll be honest, finding a place to live sucks. Between housing ads that are dishonest, agencies that capitalize on finding people places to live and a small window after people’s work day in which to see these places, it’s not exactly a party.

The jobs we were given are in North London and we wanted to find a place to live that wasn’t far out, close to transport and lively. We were willing to pay a bit more and not live in the ‘burbs. This search led us to Camden, home of the famous market and the best doughnuts you’ll ever eat.

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We used spareroom.co.uk to find a room in a house share. We had originally tried to find an apartment on our own but the rent would’ve cost us a fortune and our bed probably would’ve also been the bathtub. We have a huge room in an old church conversion and we’re sharing the flat with 4 other people. Not ideal, but considering the fact that it’s large, centrally located and affordable, I’m pretty excited about it. Another huge draw is that shared housing usually includes most of the bills in the rent. We don’t have to worry about setting up internet, setting money aside for taxes or worrying about how long our showers are because it’s already been looked after. Here’s to hoping our housemates aren’t weirdos and that it isn’t haunted…

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4. Apply For a Bank Account

You’ll want to get the ball rolling pretty quickly on this one and hopefully your job will help you out. Typically, to open an account here you need a letter of employment and proof that you’re living somewhere in the UK. This is annoying because the only two requirements are probably already stressing you out. Once you’ve got those two things you need to make an appointment with the bank (usually about two weeks away) and then they’ll let you put your money there. I got my account through Lloyds as they tend to be the easiest– all they need to see is your passport.

Some Other Things You’ll Need ASAP:

  • Oyster card- this is your travel card to get around. It is £5 of travel freedom that you need if you’re going to be taking the tube or a bus. Also, figure out whether it’s worth it to get a monthly pass here.
  • Sim card- because who can live without internet on their phones!? We have a £20/month no-contract plan that gives us unlimited data, 5000 text and 2000 local minutes. Don’t mind if I do…
  • Apply for a National Insurance Number here (you do it by phone).

Lastly, make friends! I’m lucky that I came over with a built-in buddy but this is where your hostel, Facebook and Twitter will pay off. There are so many people living in this city, especially expats, that making friends will be easy-peasy. Prospero organizes a bunch of teacher socials so look into what your job or job agency offers in that respect as well.

Once you’ve sorted out the above, get out there and enjoy the city!

If you missed the first two parts in the series you can find them here and here :)

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry if I Want To

So, today is my 27th birthday and the last day of school and the day I leave for a year-long trip to London with/for a guy who is pretty awesome. So exciting right?!

I’m so excited!!!!!!

I also can’t stop crying.

I knew saying goodbye to my family would be hard (we’re super close) but I don’t think I realized how much I’d fall apart with each and every member. Yesterday I said goodbye to my brother and sister-in-law and lost it and today it was my parents at the airport.

Here’s how I’m sure I looked from behind:

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So cute right? Look at how pretend me walks with such purpose!

Here’s how I looked to the patient people at security:

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I was a mess. Nobody wanted to make eye contact with me. I’m sure I could’ve gotten past security with all the liquid in the world. Nothing causes more fear or awkwardness than a blubbering woman, apparently.

I skyped with Ross and cried some more. At one point he was like “you’ll be seeing me tomorrow!!” with a grin and I could barely muster a smile, lol. I swear I really do love him.

Anyway, I was at a table all to myself for a bit but then made the mistake of smiling at a woman with 3 boys that walked passed. Apparently this was an invitation for her children to join me. It was like a really long game of musical chairs where the chairs were never taken away. There were tears, rage at losing games and movement, so much movement.

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I wish this picture captured sound.

I’m now waiting to board my flight and still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this isn’t vacation– tomorrow I’ll wake up to the beginning of my short London life.

Kevin Keely, you're not wrong

Kevin Kelly, you’re not wrong

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How To Pack Like You’re a Nonna

I come from a family of Italian immigrants and I swear that when they came over from the motherland with all their belongings in a few suitcases, the DNA in all future generations changed.

Every single member of my family is a ninja when it comes to packing. When it comes to unpacking it’s a lot like Mary Poppin’s bag. Like ‘HOW DID YOU FIT A PASTA MAKER IN HERE’ or ‘HOW DID THEY LET YOU THROUGH SECURITY WITH 19 SALAMIS?!’ It really is a great time.

Here is how you can channel your inner Italian immigrant:

Step 1:

Take out a notebook and make a list. This step is also applicable to all first steps in life. You’re welcome.

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Since I am literally fitting my entire life into two suitcases, I went with a weather theme. Suitcase 1 is winter clothes and suitcase 2 is lighter stuff. I like to make my list as I go along– I find that I miss things if I do list first or packing first, then list.

Step 2:

ROLL EVERYTHING.

Rolling is totally the way to go– fold a shirt as you normally would and then you literally roll it like twinkie. You have to roll your clothes nice and tight though, or else it defeats the purpose entirely. The base of my first suitcase is sweaters and jackets.2015-06-16 12.29.34

Step Three:

Add in a layer of non-squishy items. I made a nice layer of books, miscellaneous toiletries that I don’t want to re-purchase, contact lenses and my nail stuff (lime green pouch). The middle is where you would put anything liquid or delicate that you would be traveling with. With my family this is where you would put bottles of wine or homemade cake. I wish I was joking.

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Step 3:

Add more clothes and fill all the little spots. This is where you cram in the most things. I added a layer of t-shirts, shirts and random things like reusable grocery bags, purses and an overnight bag. I also shoved in makeup remover, cream, more contact lenses, a jewelry pouch and a pencil case. You can’t see them but I swear they’re there.

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Step 4:

Add more things. If you look at the previous picture, the things I’ve packed are flush with the edge of a suitcase. This does not mean stop. It actually means ‘OMG SO MUCH ROOM! FIND MORE THINGS!’ So I did. I added 4 dresses and my winter peacoat and then I called it a day.

Before zipper:

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After zipper:

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Ta-da!!! And I didn’t even need to use the expander.

Now, go forth and pack like Nonna!

Teaching in the UK: Words to Know

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So, with the impending move (t-minus 5 sleeps!!!), I thought it might be helpful to go over some important education related buzzwords I’ve encountered so far.

Teaching in the UK seems similar to the education system here in Ontario but it does have some significant differences.

Grades fall under the umbrella of Key Stages and next year, I’ll be teaching Key Stage 3 (see chart below). My main task will be preparing the students with the skills they will need to write their GCSEs in the following years.

The GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is a set of exams, taken over two years (roughly ages 15 to 16) that determine the education stream that students will fall into. By the end of year 11, students will have figured out what their grades will lead them to– the higher the mark, the more options you are given. In short, they’re kind of a big deal.

The following two years are called Sixth Form which is essentially pre-college. The purpose here is to transition students into the workplace or higher education. Some schools require business dress and it is a way to ease students out of adolescence and into adulthood. Those students that wish to stop their schooling at 18 will have been given practical training in a field that interests them and students that wish to continue their education will write their A Levels.

A-Levels are kind of like SATs but they can also help you get an entry level job as an administrative assistant or an accountant trainee, for example.

Some other words to know:

  • QTS– Qualified teacher status. It’s basically the piece of paper you need to present to show that you actually are a teacher. If you’re a teacher from abroad, you also need to go through them and they decide whether or not to recognize your degree.
  • OfstedOfsted is a government organization that visits all schools every so often (between1-2 years) to evaluate the schools administration, its staff and its teachers. THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Once inspected, the school is deemed one of four categories: outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate. They also come out with a 10 page-ish indepth report (example in the link). The purpose of this is to ensure that all schools are teaching what they should, that teaching is up to snuff and that students are being served in the best way possible.

Here’s a handy, dandy chart:

School British stage National Curriculum Level (Estimated) British year Age USA/Canada Grade
Infant or Primary Foundation Reception 3-5
Key Stage 1 Year 1 5-6 Kindergarten
2 Year 2 6-7 1
Junior Key Stage 2 Year 3 7-8 2
3 Year 4 8-9 3
Year 5 9-10 4
4 Year 6 10-11 5
Secondary Key Stage 3 Year 7 11-12 6
Year 8 12-13 7
5 or 6 Year 9 13-14 8
Key Stage 4 GCSE Year 1 Year 10 14-15 9
8 GCSE Year 2 Year 11 15-16 10
Secondary or Sixth Form College Key Stage 5 A Levels Year 1 Year 12 16-17 11
A Levels Year 2 Year 13 17-18 12
University or College Undergraduate 1st Year 18-19 1st Year
2nd Year 19-20 2nd Year
3rd Year 20-21 3rd Year

Thinking of moving to the UK to teach? You can find the first part of my journey here and my budget anxiety here.

Mr. Pen: Where Cute Things Happen

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There is a store near Bloor and Christie streets in Toronto that I actively have to put blinders on to walk past. It is a Korean stationary/stuff store and I’m not ashamed to say that when I’m in there, I have no self control. I can’t help it that Koreans have the market cornered on cute. They’re just so good at it.

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The last time I allowed myself to hear it’s siren call, I picked up these goodies:

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Two adorable pens. I have a thing with pens– they need to be fine which is why my ESL students from China often give me pens as gifts. They know me oh so well.

I also purchased two packages of stickers: an agenda stickers pack and a UK themed pack. You guys, this is where the magic happens. The people that translate/design these are AWESOME.

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Standouts:

  • There are two ‘marry me’ stickers, in case you screw up the first time.
  • It’s under my flash, but there are two ‘Don’t eat!’ stickers. There should have been a sheet of these.
  • The ‘I’m crying’ stickers that feature a sad little poop. So accurate.
  • The ‘I’m best’ sticker. Because I am best.

I CAN’T WAIT TO USE THESE.

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If you’re in the area I wold highly recommend having a look around the shop or the area in general. Koreatown has lots to offer by way of tchotchke, bibimbap, and bubble tea. I mean, you can’t really go wrong.

 

Ode To A Perfect Agenda

Allow me to share with you a new purchase that brings me great joy. GREAT joy.

I have had (and used) an agenda since elementary school. You know those kids that never wrote their homework down or used their agenda as a book of paper to make a daily cootie catcher? Ya, that wasn’t me. My agenda was my bff. Seriously, though. I alienated ’nuff kids because they couldn’t help it that I AM was the sticker trading boss.

Aaaaanyway, holidays were stickered and decorated to beyond recognition. I had ribbons hanging from the spiral binding and once I started to read magazines it was game. over. I spent 2000-2006 collaging all the things. Orlando Bloom’s face was on every other page of whatever notebook I had.

The other day I was at the local bookstore and they had their 16-month calendars out and because I have SQUIRREL! moments in stores (especially bookstores), I zombie-walked over to the agendas instead of the card section for which I came.

You guys, I found my dream agenda. Like, I think I’m going to marry it.

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Okay, so it starts with a great cover and a convenient elastic to hold all of the crap I will inevitably stuff into it.

Next, TABS. I LOVE TABS.

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As you continue though the book, there are also stickers. Magical, wonderful stickers.

OMG, those stickers actually are cute!!!

I will dance my ass off!!

Every month has a two page spread of a cute picture and phrase. I like this one:

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The agenda, made by ban.do, manages to blend my adolescent self with the adult that I try to be. Sometimes. In short, this agenda is awesome and you should buy it. Also, I will never stop being fourteen on the inside.

P.S. In researching for this post I found this gem:

THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE OUT THERE LIKE ME.