A Little Perspective

I’ve driven across the country 21 times now; every time I am astounded again by the artistry and diversity of the landscape. From the majestic mountains of the Mojave desert and the sunsets of West Texas to the rolling hills of California, there is much to soak in and thank God for.

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On this trip, the drive through the desert (always my favorite part) was extra special. Due to some unusual rainfall in the area, the hills and mountains were covered in grass so green I found myself wondering if it was real.

The brown hills of the I-5 had been completely transformed from this:

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via Les Schwab 

To this:

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via Pinterest

I dared not try to capture the scenery with my mediocre iPhone photography. Even pro photos don’t do it justice.

Imagine! Lying just beneath the surface of the desert dryness are seeds, ever ready. With just a little bit of rainfall, the entire landscape is transformed (into something I imagine heaven to look like).

I wonder if you could turn that into a metaphor for the dry spells of our lives?

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it…

Isaiah 35:1-2a. 

Another highlight of the trip was taking my niece and nephew up to my favorite lil spot on planet earth, Muir Woods National Monument.

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Once again, I didn’t try to take photos. The trees are just too big, too majestic. If you have never been to a redwood or sequoia forest, put it on your bucket list right now. Muir Woods offers a short 1.5 mile walk that I personally believe every human should experience at least once in their life.

The best part was that my nephew seemed to enjoy it as much as me. As I walked him through the forest, he bounced his legs and arms and gurgled almost constantly.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. 

-John Muir 

 

How To Make the Most of a Trip to the Museum (For People who Hate Museums)

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.

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It was a rainy, share your umbrella with a handsome stranger, kinda day.

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.

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Step Two: Choose A Viewing Strategy

There are two main strategies to choose from:

  1. 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 a masterpiece).
  2. Walk through the museum as the rich woman who walks through art galleries because it is the most natural sort of thing to do on a Monday afternoon.

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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 I 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 at paintings. Something about the Van Goh collection made my heart feel a little warmer:

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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:

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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…?

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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!?!?

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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 Pollock, 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?

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Bonus tip: reward yourself with ice cream when you are finished.

How To Master the Perfect Goodbye

 

Wanna know my least favorite word in the whole dictionary? 
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When it comes time for me to say goodbye,  you’ll probably find me trying to slip into the back of a car trunk until it is all over. Very elegant, I know. Unfortunately, my all-out aversion to goodbyes has led to some awkward and jarring exits.

I do want to leave my family and friends on a good note, but how?

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Here is one questionable idea. 

I have been devising a few strategies for turning the goodbye experience into something positive. I mean seriously guys, who wants to leave for their next adventure or start their new stage-of-life with the weight of a bad goodbye on their shoulders?

Here are some tips that have helped me tremendously:

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Hide notes

For me, writing my thoughts on paper allows me to be much clearer and to-the-point about how I feel. If ever there is an excusable time to write a slightly mushy note telling someone how much they’ve always meant to you, it is right when you aren’t going to have to see them for a while.

So you see, goodbyes are the perfect window of time to write notes for family and loved ones. In a note you can:

1) apologise for not properly saying goodbye to them in person (if you are an absolute coward like me)

2) let them know how much they mean to you and how much you miss them

3) tell them something you’ve been meaning to tell them for a while but just didn’t get the chance.

Little presents

When I moved away from my family for the first time, I tried to find simple goodbye gifts for each of my little siblings. For one sister it was a custom mug with Wales and North Carolina connected by a heart, for another it was a set of goodbye notes to be opened on different days and occasions with tiny trinkets (and money to buy ice cream) inside. It was a fun way for me to tell them ‘hey, I love you and will miss you’, without having to actually say that out loud (and burst out crying). Also, it gave them something to remember me by. 

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Hidden Notes/ Gifts

Now it is time for level 2 guys! When I left after a nice summer home, I took bright happy looking notecards attached to tiny gifts and hid them all over my sibling’s rooms. When I got back to Wales, they began SnapChatting me pictures as they found their little notes. It was great : )

Set up your next meeting

How is one supposed to cope with the thought of saying goodbye to your bestest friend when you don’t know if you will see them again in one year or even two? Don’t let the overwhelming absence even sink into your brain, trust me, that just isn’t a good idea. Instead, focus on planning your NEXT meeting. Even if the meeting is going to be in a LONG time, you can still dream about it a little. 

Whether it is ‘Okay, so when you get back next summer we are defo going to that new Chinese restaurant’ or even ‘let’s plan our epic post-graduate caravan trip to Canada to see the Northern lights in 2020’, as practical or dreamy as your next meeting is, planning a new adventure is much more fun than admitting that your current one has come to an end.

Don’t Say Goodbye

The last and most questionable tactic (#questionablelifemottosfromsusanna) is to simply avoid the issue 100%. When you are at at the airport you need to be focusing on protecting precious documents and getting onto a plane on-time… not the right moment for an emotional break-down. So don’t let it sink in. Be like me and avoid the G word. Don’t acknowledge that you are leaving.

The more conventional and wise way to frame this would be to say: take life one step at a time, one moment at a time. Goodbyes become overwhelming when you focus on a future devoid of one (or all) of your dearest loved ones. However, that isn’t the healthy or realistic way to look at the situation. 

You can’t know what your future will look like or who will be in it. You just have to trust that the Lord has a plan and that as you follow Him, things will become clearer and clearer in time. So hug your mom, kiss your little sister, and just don’t think about the dreadful reality that you are leaving them.

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Ignore the goodbyes and focus on the hellos. Because did you know that every closed door means a new open door (or window?).

Every goodbye is followed by a fresh beginning.

Still, I’m obviously in the learning process. If you have any ideas, tips, or elegant and graceful ways to say goodbye… Share your wisdom with me in the comments!

Making Friends in the Airport

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.

That’s right.

I think airports are one of the best places on planet earth for making friends. 

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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. 

Why You Need to Write A Journal While Abroad

Life abroad can feel like a whirlwind of new adventures. That is wonderful! However, all the exciting, difficult, and downright annoying new experiences can become overwhelming, even exhausting, if you don’t spend adequate time to rest and reflect.

Last week I wrote about why I love journaling and will be using this blog to showcase my (hopeful) progress in growing as a journaler and overall more creative person this year. This week, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned about journaling over the past 10+ years (I started journaling regularly when I was 9! Woah!).

Three reasons why you really should be journaling:

  1. Journaling is a simple way to cope with changing life and unknown futures.
  2. Forces you to reflect on experiences and ultimately get more out of them. A
  3. And lastly, it makes for the best possible souvenir you can give yourself when the journey is over: a record of not only the things you did but the feelings you felt and the lessons you learned in the midst of it all.

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A Few More Benefits of Journaling: 

  • Helps you to relax
  • Helps you keep track of your life
  • Helps you to remember sweet and funny details, stories, or emotions you would otherwise have forgotten
  • Helps you to cope with hard situations and turn them into lessons learned or stories to laugh at
  • Forces you to spend time reflecting and thus can help you to gain more out of your overall travel/study abroad experience
  • Helps you to keep track of your long-term and short-term goals and readjust your schedule to continue to work towards those goals

 

 

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via Tumblr

 

Last week, I was sifting through my first travel journal. Reading about my struggles and thoughts on my first trip outside of the USA was absolutely hilarious. Not only that, but some of my thoughts about wanting so desperately to go back to Europe, but thinking that it would be absolutely out-of-the-question impossible, helped me to put my current situation in perspective and make me ever so much more thankful and amazed by how my life has turned out.

Helpful tips to start your journaling journey:

 

  1. Set a regular time

 

 

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Journaling is fun and doesn’t take a lot of time, even so, if you don’t set a specific time it still won’t happen. For me, I like to set my journal time in the evening before I go to bed. It helps me wind down and enjoy whatever the day brought. The good times are savored. The bad times become lessons learned. The embarrassing times are turned into funny stories for my friends at home (and this blog).

  1. Don’t be confined

 

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via Olay Schmidt 

Aside from setting a regular time, there should be no rules for your journal! Feel free to express yourself in whatever way makes sense for you. Don’t feel bad or get flustered if you miss something or your journal gets out of chronological order.

  1. Try Different Types of Content

 

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Sometimes I like to write long descriptive accounts of the goings on in my life. However, don’t feel confined by that more traditional style journal entry. Most of my entires are very different from that: experiments with cartoons and doodles, a to-do list of things I need/want to accomplish, or even just a list of five things you I am thankful for or five new experiences I  wasn’t expecting. Looking back at my journals is more fun when I give it a broad range of content. 

Use your journal for creative expression. Don’t be afraid to use colours, photos, stickers, stamps, even small souvenirs you collect along the way.

4. Avoid bare descriptions and/or statistics

 

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If you feel the need to write the bare facts of what went down, do so in a condensed bullet point format on the side of an entry. Long entries about ‘we went to the Thai food restaurant at 10am and then spend 15 dollars on groceries at Tesco’… get boring really fast. Focus on funny stories and personal realizations. Record your surroundings and your inner feelings. That is the stuff you are going to want to remember later.

5. Use Dialog 

 

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Your friend made that really hilarious comment or you and a study budy had an interesting conversation… record it! There is no way you will remember the exact words otherwise. I’ve found that going back to read old conversations in my journal makes me laugh harder than just about anything else.

And there you have it! What I have learned about journaling over the years. Stay tuned for more updates (and photos) from my personal journey growing my artistic skills through attempts at improved journaling. Also, if you have any thoughts or suggestions, PLEASE ENLIGHTEN ME in the comments below : )

Why You Really Must Visit Me in Wales

Good morning lovelies! I am sorry, this summer as been crazy and blogging has been on the back burner (yaddayayaya, what-I-always-say-and-stuff) BUT guess what? The rumblings behind this blog are growing stronger. I’ve been preparing some (hopefully) great stuff. I can’t wait to get back into a regular schedule within the next few weeks and share with you all the things I’ve been working on. So stay tuned.

I’m on vacation on my favorite place on earth right now. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

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For now I just wanted to point you to my blogging friend Olivia’s lovely blog, The Cwtch, where I guest posted about all the fabulous reasons why you really must come visit me in Wales. Seriously folks, Wales is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Europe. Go there before the rest of the world figures that out!

Check out my blog post here, and stay tuned for more!

5 Essentials for a Weekend Giveaway

Summer is a-cummin in! Woot woot. The end of the school year is on the horizon. I booked my ticket back home for the summer! I really couldn’t be more excited. In fact, I’ve just begun working on my diabolical summer bucket list (that I can’t wait to share with you). It is going to be awesome.
Speaking of summer vacation and sunny beach days, this weekend I got the chance to work with HomeAway to write a blog post on my top five essentials for a weekend at a beach location such as the unique beach rental on the Florida Panhandle:
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A good book. Preferably a fun light read like The PenderwicksYes, I know it is a children’s book but there is nothing that says ‘summer’ like fun easy reading. Or a light-hearted autobiography like Me, Myself, and Bob. 
Obnoxiously humongous sunglasses. You know when you wear sunglasses and you can stare at people without them knowing for sure whether or not you are in fact staring at them? That is what I call power. Call me a megalomaniac, I like that feeling.
A picnic blanket and basket. There is no better way to spend the summer than picnicking in odd places. This summer I am DETERMINED to find a roof I can picnic on.
Striped clothing. I dunno about you but when I go to the beach I automatically wanna wear navy striped shirts and bright yellow shorts. All. Day Long. I’m not sure I could fully appreciate the beauty of the sun in anything else.
A good friend. No trip to the beach is complete without a good friend to share adventures with. This summer I can’t wait to hang out with my American friends who I’ve been apart from for the past 9 months!

How about you? What are your tip top essentials for a weekend away?

10 Reasons Why You Should Move to Germany Tomorrow

The beer and the sausages may be good, but Germany has a lot more to offer than just gastronomical delights. I went to Germany for spring break and fell in love. I am determined to move back there to get my master’s degree and then go on to raise ten children in a fairytale house in the black forest. I am rather determined to convince all my loved ones that they too should move to Germany. And since I love you, dear reader, so much… I’m gonna give you the low down. Here are 10 amazingly fantastic reasons why you should start packing your bags.

The Economy is Strong and Needs You

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Germany has the largest national economy in Europe and the fifth largest economy (by GDP) in the world. Yet the German population is aging. The country is actively seeking international workers, so finding a job there is far from impossible.

University is Free

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Germany is a social welfare state, which means that services like university and health care are almost completely free, even for international students. If you don’t think you could handle studying in a foreign language, go for one of Germany’s growing number of English-taught degree programs. EU citizens are also eligible to try out for Germany’s unique apprenticeship program. Students in Germany often spend a few years after high school doing volunteer apprenticeships in whatever industry they are interested in. It is a great way to get an inside look into the depths of your intended profession.

Mom’s Get a Pension

In Germany being a mother is considered a job. If you gain residency and raise your family in Germany, you could be eligible to obtain a retirement pension later on. That’s why me and my friend are gonna move to Germany and buy two ginormous houses side-by-side where we will raise 10 children each ; )

THE PLAYGROUNDS

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American playground builders need to take pointers. I guess we Americans can’t have any fun stuff because of the horrible litigation culture. Anyhow, in Germany no such precautions exist.

You Can Drive as Fast as You Want 

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The famous Autobahn in Germany has no speed limit. So if you are rich and famous, this is about the only place on earth where you can actually get your money’s worth out of a sports car.

Bikability Score 10/10

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Germany is an extremely bikable country. In Frankfurt, where I was staying, bikes were allowed anywhere, from the streets to the wide pavement. Signs indicated where the safest places to bike were. Many sidewalks had special bike lanes. Also, Call-A-Bike stations scattered across Germany allow you to pike up and rent a bike and then drop it back off wherever and whenever you like (and students can use Call-A-Bike and other public transport systems for FREE!).

Flower shops on Every Corner

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Germans must love their flowers. Even in the residential areas that I stayed in and explored, there where flower shops everywhere.

Bakeries on Every Other Corner

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And if the flowers wern’t enough to convince you, guess what? Bakeries mark almost every street. Germans are famous for there bread. I’ve heard that the Lebkuchen cake itself is enough to move to Germany for.

It isn’t That Difficult

Guess what the requirement is for getting permanent residency in Germany? Pay taxes for 5 years. That’s literally it. And the best part is that if you work while you study you can start paying taxes. That isn’t so hard is it? So why not start looking for apartments today?

Seriously guys, at least consider it. I haven’t even started on the architecture, efficiency, technology, or adult playgrounds. I could go on all day… but I’ll let you go look up flats in Frankfurt now. Come on. Just click here  already. You know you want to ; )

I Went To the City of Books (And Died and Went To Heaven)

This past week was my Reading Week, a week in the middle of the term when humanities students are given a break from lectures so that we can catch up on the overwhelming amount of reading and essay writing that we are supposed to be doing. At least, that is the official definition. Realistically speaking, it is a week-long vacation just for humanities students that we can taunt engineering and medicine students with until they hate our guts.

I took the opportunity to do a bit more exploring of Wales, my new home.

Monday turned out to be the perfect day to realise my dream of visiting Hay-On-Wye, the city of books. Wales offered a tease of spring with rare sunshine and slightly more reasonable temperatures. As I walked down the street on the way to my friend’s house,  I noted three older Welsh ladies huddled together discussing the sun. He is quite a special guest around here.

I was so excited about taking pictures of EVERYTHING to share with you guys. See what a good little blogger friend I am? However, my sweet lil phone had other plans. I like to call it the live-in-the-moment phone. Thanks to its habit of dying at random moments, I get to enjoy living in the moment and then steal my friend’s photos for remembrance/Instagram later. So you can thank my friends Keryn and Lyuba for all these awesome photos. Actually, they are much much better photographers than me anyhow, so it works out nicely for everyone ; )

We started the drive by pulling off at a gorgeous overpass and then impromptu hiking up to the tallest peak in the Southern United Kingdom.

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Yeah, we are warriors, basically. Okay, except by the end we looked so cold and tired that random strangers were offering us Red Bull. But we will just forget that for a moment and focus on these views:

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And then it was on to Hay-On-Wye. For those of you who don’t know, Hay-On-Wye is a tiny Welsh village with 38 bookstores. The firehouse is a bookstore, the local castle is a bookstore, even the cinema is a bookstore… is that great or is that great?

Narrow alley ways and the most picturesque of stone houses lined each street.

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My favorite part was when we got to explore the local castle grounds.

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There was an honesty bookstore which consisted of bookshelves lining the castle grounds and a little mailbox where one was meant to drop their payments.

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“Stephanie…” I told my English friend who loves Texas. “I found the perfect book for you!”

“What?”

“Guide to Texas Cooking”

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By this point, I was literally too excited about life to contain my creepily gigantic grin.

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“Can we go in there?”

“I guess we just keep going til we get kicked out.”

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On the way home our driver, Keryn, pulled off the main highways to wind through scenic towns and hills. Take note guys, that is how to road trip!

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And I guess it all counts as part of a successful reading week, since I did buy two books and read a few sentences of them.

A Note on British Fashion or What Americans Could Learn from the Motherland

Since I arrived here in the United Kingdom, one of the most unexpected differences I encountered was the difference in fashion. Of course, we all wear generally the same Western style clothing, but there are quite a few things that the British do differently. There is a lot I could learn…

First of all, they are not shy about scarves. Scarves are much bigger and bulkier and just all around GINORMOUS. At first, I thought it was a bit ridiculous, but I’m getting used to it. Actually, I’m just jealous cause they look cozy. Seriously, itsy bitsy fashion scarves are not gonna do anything against the chilling winter temperatures.

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In general, people around here have more practice with winter wear and know how to look cute even when it is raining. Take notes girls!

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One thing I love are the huge shapeless coats that seem all the rage this season:

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Speaking of shapeless winter wear… CAPES!

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There is definitely a distinct British makeup look that was new to me. Not every girl wears it, but it is VERY common. I like to call it The Zoella Face:

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Dyed hair is much more common than it was in the US. I’ve seen some AWESOME shades of greyish blueish:

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Also, I’m not particularly fond of this trend, but I’ve noticed that facial piercings are more common.

Now men here are just way too fashionable. It makes me uncomfortable. For one thing, how many centuries is it going to take American men to learn that coat collars were meant to be worn up ala Sherlock Holmes?

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Oh, and every boy and his uncle bob have the buzzed to long look ala David Beckham: article-2277377-17876779000005DC-793_308x425

And that is all for now, a brief overview of what I should probably be learning from the British about how to dress.