This morning my little brother and I learned about lenses. After reading the textbook description of light reflection and refraction yaddyayaya, we built our own makeshift projector out of a shoebox, a magnifying glass, and an iPhone and proceeded to watch part of a detective show in the laundry room (the only room safe from natural light).
I love my life.
Since I definitely, for certain sure, not-kidding-this-time decided that I want to become a middle school teacher, the jigsaw pieces of life have been falling into place.
I had an incredibly encouraging meeting with an admissions officer at my university who told me that I would be almost certainly accepted into the program starting in September and that it is possible that quite a few of my British credits could successfully transfer to an American degree.
I discovered a treasure store of teacher resources and opportunities that excited me so much I couldn’t sleep last night (optimism is my favorite source of insomnia).
It’s good to get the wheels greased. It’s good to start moving again.
I’ve noticed that having a goal greatly increases my productivity. Not only have I continued the daily grind of cooking for the family and homeschooling my siblings, I’ve been able to get back into a normal exercise schedule, listen to loads of lectures and gone out socializing a tad more. I’ve applied for three scholarships, two universities, a few jobs and even wrote a short story and a couple of essays just for fun.
(You can take a girl out of a nerd school, but you can’t take the nerd school out of a girl)
It is good to have a goal to keep you moving!
I honestly cannot remember the last time I felt so completely at peace and genuinely excited about the direction of my life. In many ways, big and small, I can see the Lord’s hand guiding me closer to him, in the most patient and understanding way possible.
For all the mistakes and failures, hardships and joys, lucky strikes and distress, for the bumpy road wrought with twists and turns that has led me to where I am right now, I am thankful.
Last night before bed I found both of my parents grabbing a snack in the kitchen. I cleared my throat.
“There is something I need to tell you guys…”
I paused, a little nervous.
“I replanned my life over the weekend…what else is new?”
My parents chuckled. They are fully aware of my peculiar penchant for rehauling life goals on a regular basis.
“It has been about two weeks since the last time I replanned my life, so I was way overdue…”.
I hope all of you, dear readers, can be as patient as my parents. I do change my life direction too often, but I’m in the stage of life where I believe it is important to be extremely intentional with what I pursue.
I want a project that I can give myself to pursue vigorously. Guys, I am addicted to living off of caffeine and a packed schedule. Busyness keeps me happy, but only if I am pursuing something that matters to me.
I don’t want to just run hard. I want to run hard in the right direction.
Over the weekend I was in Knoxville, Tennessee for a church mini-conference. My sisters and I had a lot of driving time to chitchat. They were concerned about my motivations for pursuing real estate.
And they were right. Some things I’ve been through have made me overly desperate to become financially independent as soon as possible. But money doesn’t drive a happy life.
So I decided to take another look at my state of affairs, goals, dreams, and potential direction. This time without the pressing need to make a quick buck.
Two realizations and one remembrance later, I’ve got a whole new life planned:
First, I realized that I am not done being a student. While in Wales, I was thriving academically. I had relationships with my professors built on mutual respect. I had a group of peers I could geek out with. I loved it all so much. Of course, I could always go back to college later or get a degree online, but I don’t think that would fulfill my desire to fully live-out the student experience as a young, unattached woman free to explore the world with my peers.
Second, I also realized that attending university at the local college or community college is financially feasible if I work hard. Between in-state tuition, a couple of jobs, and scholarships, I could work out a way to continue my education debt-free (something that is extremely important to me).
And then I remembered what I really want to do.
I want to become a middle school teacher.
Now before you start to think that I am really crazy and completely indecisive, let me ensure you that this didn’t just come out of the blue. Teaching has always been a goal of mine. I had originally planned my life to look like this:
University in Wales
Work as a Foreign Service Officer and travel the world
Settle down to become a teacher
Retire and become a real estate agent
In this way, I planned on fitting four of my main career goals into one lifetime. Dropping out of college kinda whacked up my plan, so I turned it upside down. I figured I could become a real estate agent immediately and use that business to fund my education.
Now it seems to make more sense to finish my education now, while I am young and ready to be on campus. Neither real estate nor FSO work requires a special degree, so once I have my teacher qualifications I could still switch gears and spend some time working abroad.
For now, I am ready to throw myself at becoming the best middle school teacher I can possibly be.
I know, I know, I’ve said this before. This time it is for real, if you can believe me. I really think I found a direction I can live with for a long time.
A couple days after I arrived home I got a letter calling me up for jury duty. Lotsa folks gave me advice on how to avoid getting picked for a trial:
“Just tell them your uncle is a police officer.”
Is it weird that I wanted to get on the jury? In fact, I looked forward to it for weeks. I know I’d most likely be assigned to a parking dispute or something equally inconsequential. Still, I’ve always been interested in law and debate. And I’ve watched way too many crime procedurals to not have a teeny tiny hope for an unrealistically intriguing story. TV drama expectations aside, I genuinely enjoy trying new things, even if they are liable to maddeningly boring .
So the night before jury duty I was pretty disappointed when I found out that I had been excused.
Excused! I never asked to be excused! What if I had gotten into a trial, fallen in love with the court room, met an incredibly competent lawyer who inspired me to pursue a law degree, spent 10 years studying law while working, and eventually became a world-famous women’s rights lawyer, spending the rest of my life fighting for the voiceless!
Stupid jury excusement means that there isn’t even the tiniest chance for all that to happen. I was bummed.
The next day my big sister took me on a coffee date (which actually consisted of her driving me 30 minutes to my favorite coffee shop in silence, buying me a large black coffee, and then patiently waiting for caffeine magic to turn me into a functioning human so that we could chit chat a bit. Did I mention that my sister is very patient?).
While we were at the shop a bubbly real estate broker sat down next to us with a young couple. She was answering their questions about buying their first home.
I managed to maintain a conversation of niceties with my sister while low-key listening in on the real estate conversation.
Aggh! It was so perfect. My dream is to work as a buyers broker, helping young families find their perfect first home. I want to demystify the home buying process, empowering millennial couples to get the best deal and start their lives together on the right foot.
See, even real estate, something normally associated with investors, red tape, and $$$ can be romantic if you put the right spin on it.
I am thankful that the Lord placed that couple next to me. You see, I am a bit easily distracted when it comes to pursuing dreams. I’ve got a lot of energy, but sometimes it is hard for me to throw myself fully into pursuing one thing full-time. How do people let opportunities pass their peripheral vision without turning to look? I need 19th-century horse blinders.
Here’s a powerful graphic from my favorite productivity book, Essentialism. It pretty fairly depicts the way I spend my energy versus the way I want to spend my energy:
My licensure course starts on the 20th. So it’s a good thing that I was inspired to start studying, rather than sidelined by a potentially life-changing trip to jury duty.
At the end of 2016 I found myself facing some pretty tough decisions.
As you know, I was scheduled to spend Christmas Recess in Germany. I did get to Stuttgart for a week and had a lovely time. However, less than halfway into my time there I ended up traveling home to the US unexpectedly. Now it looks like I will be staying here in The States indefinitely.
Yes, that means I am dropping out of university. And yes, in a sense it means that my adventure in Wales is over for good.
I loved everything about living and studying in Wales. I am going to miss my British friends and professors dearly. I learned much from studying in another country, and even more from just living there.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity I had to live abroad for a year and a half. I consider my time in Wales to be one of the most glorious chapters in my life thus far. It ended sooner than I expected, but that does not in any way detract from what it was while it lasted.
I am still unclear where life will take me in the coming months. I know this much:
I may be helping my brother’s family move across the country (road trip anyone?).
I will be spending lots of time with my younger siblings, homeschooling them and making up for the time lost while abroad.
So you can see, there are a whole lot of uncertainties. Thus, this blog will have to evolve quite a bit. I understand that if you started following me because you were curious about studying abroad, our journey together may be coming to an end. That’s fine! Thanks for joining me!
However, if you’ve enjoyed following the mishaps and stupid mistakes that make up my life, I welcome you to stay on for the ride.
I don’t know where I am going. I cannot promise international travel; in fact, I don’t expect any. Still, I’ve got a feeling that there are a lot more exciting turns of a new kind on the horizon. I am ready to embrace them as they come. And I am sure that the adventure is only beginning.
Admittedly folks, it has been a rough couple o weeks. I love my history classes, but keeping my head above the water with non-school related commitments is a full-time job. Now I’ve got two essays almost due that, no matter how much I research and plan, are refusing to come out easy.
Enough with the moohoomoo…
I woke up this morning and decided to kick off Reading Week with some much-needed spontaneous exploration. I pulled on my warmest clothes and headed into the misty morning drizzle to my favorite park.
Normally I stop about a half a mile into the park at a lovely bridge, my favorite thinking spot after difficult lectures or bad days. This time I kept walking…
I walked farther than I ever had before. A gorgeous cathedral spire broke through the mist ahead of me and I walked toward it.
After about another half mile of walking, I ran into a huge house. The sound of singing nuns drifted through the trees. I was pretty sure I had walked right out of real life into a fairytale.
Outside of the cathedral lay quaint rows of houses and businesses, a tea room and a butcher shop.
I realized that I was in a village. A real, legit, non-touristy, and yet still way too picturesque to be true Welsh village.
Around the corner from the cathedral stood what looked to be a castle gate-house. Kids and teens in school uniform marched through the gate.
Naturally, I figured I’d wander in behind them… Keep wandering til you get kicked out right?
Inside the gate was a public green space. Down a narrow path the most mystical of doors leading to a cathedral school.
Could this be real? There was a legit old-fashioned bike with a basket parked outside the gate. Young good-lookin teachers followed students into the school. Everyone in the town was dressed in sweaters and hats and cozy looking vests and boots.
Fun Fact: when I got home I looked up the village and found out that the cathedral school I found was one that Roal Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) attended.
After checking around for cameras (this has got to be a movie set, right?), I continued to meander the the tiny town. Guys, it was heavenly. When I had had my fill I walked back past the house of singing nuns (they were still singing), down to the trail that had led me there, and home to the loud dusty streets of my city.
This morning reminded me that if I am to stay sane this year I need to take a bit more time out of my schedule to wander. Something about getting out of the city, out of the rigamarole and rat race of a competitive fast-paced life, into the fresh air… following a path you’ve never been down before with absolutely no expectation of where you are going…
Ah yah, so therapeutic. As I walked I thought about what is most important to me. I considered why I am in Wales. I wondered about what I am doing with my life.
Spoiler alert, I didn’t get any answers. Yet somehow I picked up enough of an energy to face my own reality again.
I hope you enjoyed, despite my notable lack of photography skills.
So there is this museum in my adopted city. It is the most classic of classic museums. You know what I’m talking about?
Think grand marble steps, an impressively over-priced gift shop, exhibits filled with mediocre biology facts and a few cool Van Goh paintings, a busy lobby populated by a healthy mix of sophisticated people and people pretending to be sophisticated.
As a humanities major, I feel obliged to be familiar with the best attractions in Cardiff, particularly the museums. However, the dirty truth of the matter is that I hate museums. Really, I can’t stand them.
I tried countless times in high school to enjoy them and consistently came home feeling sick to my stomach (either from looking at too many naked Greeks or from standing behind a fur-coated woman wearing way too much perfume… sometimes both).
All of last year, I told myself I was going to go to the museum. All of last year I never did. So on a lazy rainy day last week I put my foot down and decided I was going to that museum and I was going to enjoy it.
Guess what folks? I had a major epiphany about art, life, and the way to enjoy a museum. I learned that while museums in themselves are not interesting to me, the museum experience can be delightful. In other words, if you don’t like going to museums maybe you aren’t going to museums in the right way.
Here are five steps I designed to help you make the most of your museum experience, even if you hate museums:
Step One: Dress for Success!
The first step to a successful trip to the museum is to get into fancy mode. Dress up a little (for me this meant covering my t-shirt up with the only non-thrifted coat that I own). Do your hair (for me, this meant putting my hair in a pony-tail, which is basically the only hairstyle I know how to do). Maybe even put on some of that perfume you received as a birthday present two years ago!
Now that you look and smell sophisticated, pull out your most romantic umbrella and walk to the museum.
Step Two: Choose A Viewing Strategy
There are two main strategies to choose from:
Walk through the museum as the struggling/starving artist looking for inspiration (you know, the one who only has enough money in the bank for one more cup of coffee and is saving it for the perfect moment in which coffee and genius will meet and produce within the masterpiece you’ve been struggling for since college).
Walk through the museum as the rich woman who walks through art galleries because it is the only natural thing to do on a Monday afternoon.
I forgot to bring my worn journal with me (an essential prop for method #1), so I decided to opt for the second method and put on my best “I’m fancier than you” smile as a slowly meandered through the exhibits.
Guess what? I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Maybe it is cause I skipped the naked Greeks and was lucky enough not to get stuck behind a lady with dizzying layers of perfume.
Step Three: Be Willing To Learn Something
Seriously folks, in high school I reveled in the fact that I had/have no artistic talent or ability whatsoever. Any appreciation of art was limited to the my-goodness-how-is-that-even-humanely-possible-cause-I-could-never-do-something-like-that variety. While that is definitely a healthy feeling in small doses, walking through an entire museum and only appreciating art at that surficial a level gets dreary pretty fast.
I had to stay open to enjoy art in a new and hopefully slightly deeper way. I’ve been thinking about aesthetics a lot recently. I’ve been trying to incorporate ideas about aesthetics into my life (i.e. designing my room, simplifying my to-do list, and organizing my life, school, and the food on my plate in a visually appealing way). All this thought about aesthetics gave me a new way to look it paintings. Something about the Van Goh collection made my heart feel a little warmer:
The spacing, lighting, and use of color struck me as it never had before. I realized that I know nothing about art and/or art history, but a few paintings inspired me to want to learn more:
Then, of course, there was the portrait gallery. Imagine if you were rich enough to spend a gabijillion dollars on a commissioned portrait? How would you want to present yourself to the world? What background, body language, and props would you use? It is like a majorly amplified version of analyzing people’s facebook profile photos…?
I have an embarrassingly juvenile understanding of art, but by dropping my I-just-don’t-care-whatsoever attitude, I was able to appreciate it in my own way.
The contemporary art still jarred me pretty bad. I’m not on that level of art appreciation yet, but can’t you see I’m improving!?!?
Step Four: Don’t Forget The People
I am quite happy to have had a *major* epiphany about the glories of art, still, however, the best part of the museum was (as it always is for me) observing people observing art. Let me try that again… in non-creepy terms:
It isn’t just the Van Goh alone, it is the two high schoolers non-subtly prowling around the Van Goh looking for the best angle for an artsy profile picture of their own.
It isn’t just about the Vermeer, it is about the young couple holding hands as they gaze at the Vermeer, giggling about how they happen to have just the same sort of analysis of every painting they’ve seen so far! It was meant to be!
It isn’t just about the Polack, it is about the fancy old woman who can look at that painting and draw inspiration from it for the 1,000th time.
In other words, it isn’t just about the artifacts, it is about the way that we interact with the artifacts and use them to make sense of the world.
Step Five: Take time to reflect
Don’t let the observations, feelings, thoughts, and questions that undoubtedly ran through you as you observed the galleries go to waste! Sit down, if you have money enough, buy an over-priced black coffee in the cafe and let the inspiration whirl. If not, just sit on a bench for a minute and give yourself time to process. Note any major revelations or BFOs (blinding flash of the obvious) that you may have had.
And there you have it! How to enjoy a museum. All in all, I felt that it was a worthwhile use of 20 minutes of my Monday afternoon.
What is your favorite thing to do when visiting a fancy museum?
I love airports. The atmosphere is thick with a perfect blend of excitement, nerves, and anticipation. Each person bustles about toward their own adventure. On long layovers, I sit on the sidelines and wonder where they are all heading.
I’ve never dreaded layovers because I’ve only ever had positive experiences. Layovers are the perfect time to get a tiny taste of a new place, relax and stretch legs between flights, and make friends.
I think airports are one of the best places on planet earth for making friends.
Think about it: everyone has a reason for being there, usually an interesting story to tell. Everyone (those sitting down at least) has plenty of time. Naturally, it wouldn’t hurt to try and sit next to someone and strike a conversation!
On my last flight back to Cardiff this summer, I had a four-hour delay in the London airport’s central bus station awaiting my coach back to Wales. After an overnight flight, I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it. I found myself a crunched spot in a Cafe Nero and settled down (expecting to just barely endure through the misery).
An elderly couple sat down next to me. We struck up a conversation.
Four hours later we had chatted about everything from British newspaper headlines and American politics to our dog’s personalities, tres leches cake recipes, and the proper pronunciation of aluminum.
Seriously folks, despite the fact that we were all tired, jet lagged, and desperate to get to our next destination, we had a lovely time together.
The elderly woman shocked me when she started talking about music and told me about a concert I should go to. She said the atmosphere was so thick that I could ‘get high without even lighting’. My goodness… thanksbutnothanks.
On the other end of the spectrum, her husband chatted with me about school and career prospects. He told great stories and gave legitimate advice and ideas for making myself employable.
Guys, it may have been life-changing.
So next time you find yourself stuck in an airport, don’t be bothered. You could be having the time of your life : ) If you are not yet convinced and need a few more ideas to get excited about those delays, check out my blog post on 27 Things To Do While Stuck in An Airport.
In my mind, there is no greater pleasure than a big ole icey drink (green tea, black coffee, or a chai tea latte if I’m feeling indulgent). I recently found this article, reminding me of one of my funny little struggles in the UK: the year-long search for decent iced coffee.
It probably has something to do with the fact that the temperature where I live rarely reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It may also have something to do with the local obsession with hot cups of tea. Whatever the reason, icey cold drinks never really caught on in the UK (except as a fad amongst the rich and famous during victorian times).
The first time I ordered an iced coffee in the UK was at Mcdonalds. Black iced coffee from MickeyDs is my one fo my favorite American drinks (fairly good quality and CHEAP CHEAP), so I walked boldly up to the counter and asked:
“Could I get an iced coffee please?”
After giving me a rather longish blankish stare, the attendant responded:
“You want ice in your coffee?…”
“How many ice cubes do you want in it?”
“No, not like that”. I scanned the menu and noted that iced coffee was nowhere to be seen. Still, I figured I was beyond the point of no return (and I still really really wanted a cold coffee), so I plowed onward. “Could you fill the whole cup with ice and just pour the coffee over it?”
In my head it all made sense, but the attendant seemed puzzled (to say the least). Five minutes later I received a hot cup of joe with four or five ice cubes floating inside.
As I sipped my luke-warm coffee I decided to laugh and chalk it up as one for experience.
Since then I’ve wondered if it would be a worthwhile endeavor to start a scrapbook to keepsake the flabbergasted and puzzled looks I receive as I continue to order ice coffees across the UK. I’ve learned that a few select places will make them! Costa does a weak coffee half diluted by melted ice and Starbucks sells a decent cold brew for an unholy price.
So you see, if at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Well… to a point. Iced tea is a food group where I come from. As much as I miss it, I still haven’t dared attempt an order. Why? I guess I’m a little scared it could lead to deportation. One does not mess with British tea.
Note: I should note that while I do like to laugh at my silly American troubles, I have genuinely learned to love hot drinks, particularly a classic cup of tea. I think it is important to at least semi-immerse yourself in the eating and drinking customs of the countries you visit (taking personal health constraints into account of course). Moving to the UK, I have learned to appreciate the art of tea and have begun to drink hot tea regularly (more than coffee!). While I still suffer from occasional iced coffee/tea withdrawals, I am a genuine convert to hot tea and I’m rather proud of that fact : )
What are your thoughts on food differences in culture? Is it important to eat what the locals eat? Or do you stick to your personal culinary habits when you travel?
The first full day I was home I spent recovering from the most turbulent plane ride of my life and an intense 48hr long headache. I was also trying to focus on catching up with my lil siblings.
That evening, I turned on the youtube karoke version to ‘anything you can do I can do better’ from Annie Get Your Gun. Ten minutes later Zoe and I were laughing our heads off at the ridiculous videos we recorded trying to sing it as a duet.
For some odd reason (we’re gonna blame jetlag cause it is the most convenient excuse for questionable choices), I desperately wanted to send it to one of my close friends. However, my more than usually pathetic brain could not figure out how to transfer the video file. I tried a few things, eventually deciding to make it PRIVATE on Facebook so that I could have access to it on my phone and move on from there.
So I chucked it onto Facebook and went back into hibernation mode (JETLAG…remember?).
A lil while later I logged back into Facebook to scroll through my feed and gasped in horror… our utterly embarassing video was posted on my wall for all my friends to see!
As I was just about to delete it, I noted that quite a few of my friends had already commented and seemed to be finding it mildly entertaining. I have a dangerous addiction to making people laugh, even if it is at the cost of my own self-image (thus… this blog…ahem…). I hesitated deleting the video (JETLAG AGAIN). Ended up lil sis was okay with leaving it on, so it stayed.
And that is how I stole the thunder of my own homecoming. For the past few days I’ve been meeting old friends that I haven’t seen for nine months or more. Instead of the bear hugs and ‘Oh it’s nice to see you!’ that I was expecting… Or the ‘Well don’t you look grown up’ that I was hoping for, I was met mostly with ‘Hahaha! Susanna, anything you can do I can do better!” and ‘I saw that video..hehehe…” followed by a more than cheeky smile.
That kids is why you should never post embarrassing videos on Facebook, particularly after you’ve been living abroad for nine months and are trying to give off the impression that you grew into a lady while you were gone.
But since my battle for being cool is pretty much over, I may as well post it for you guys too. Cause, just like Anne of Green Gables, I have a hard time learning my lesson after just one single mishap:
Last week I noticed a beautiful garden through a bush covered fence on my street. I’ve walked by that garden almost every single day for the last nine months and yet I never noticed it before. I suppose I was too busy thinking about how dirty the streets were and how much I wished people would keep their rubbish inside their bins.
Lightbulb moment. I’d been filtering out the beauty and focusing on the filth when I should have been thinking the other way around. The city I live in is not exactly sparkling clean. Particularly in student housing areas it is, how do I put it nicely?… a pig sty. However, I believe that there is a whole lot of beauty to be found anywhere you look for it.
This applies not only to outward aesthetics but to appreciating the ordinary moments of our lives. I’ve been trying to savour little moments, write them down, hold them so I don’t forget them. Life is uncertain. I don’t know what is ahead of me. However, I do know that I love the way things are right now.
I don’t have to wait for the future to start enjoying my life. I don’t have to live every day for my future ambitions. Neither do I have to wait to go to a national park to start appreciating the scenery around me. There is so much beauty and joy in ordinary things, in everyday moments.
I want to start looking for that beauty. I am by NO MEANS a photographer however I love the way that taking pictures allows you to appreciate light, and structure, and other important aestheticish things in ordinary scenes. So I’ve decided to start using my lil iPhone 4s to try and capture the beauty I see in my walk to school, my run in the park, my time spent studying, etc…
So far my project is going quite well. Here are some photos of ordinary beauty accompanied by lil moments when I realised how much I love my life:
Walking to the park to buy ice cream with friends in celebration of a successful exam completion and then running home under the teasing grey sky with my bag banging at my side because I needed to get my washing off the line before it started raining.
Sitting in a tree at the farm.
Walking to the library in the early morning under a clear blue sky. As caffeine raced through my veins, happy songs ran through my head.
Hiking, hiking, hiking with the wonderful people who made this year wonderful.
Walking on the pedestrian bridge over the sweetest lil train station that reminds me of Anne Of Green Gables or The Fiddler on the Roof and remembering that just like Anne and Hodel, I too am on a gloriously terrifying grown-up adventure.
Passing by train tracks everywhere I go and remembering that even though I can’t talk to him, my grandfather, who was obsessed with trains, is still out there somewhere rooting for me.
Making flower bouquets at the farm in good company.
Running around the park appreciating the view, the people, and the houses.