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.
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:
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…
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.
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.
I’m hoping you didn’t notice that life updates, blogposts, emails… have all fallen into an abyss this term. Last summer my bestest friend (and incredible blogger over at Crafted Fragments) taught me that it is okay to not be okay. So I guess I am here to admit that
*drum roll please*
*actually just kidding, it really not that dramatic*
I haven’t been okay.
Second year has been much more challenging, academically, spiritually, and emotionally than first year.
It would be unfair for me, as a blogger and public promotor of studying abroad, to pretend that studying abroad is all roses and sunshine. I still think that studying abroad is a worthwhile experience, but I am learning more and more how challenging it can be.
I like to blog about the embarrassing and hilarious mishaps, and yet I’ve been in such a stinky mood lately that I haven’t been able to turn misadventures into blogposts.
*Can someone interrupt here and say “THAT IS OKAY!”… Nope? Nooone. Kay, I’m just gonna pretend someone did and keep on…*
Despite a fair amount of stress, confusion and general moohoomooness, I’m surrounded by incredible people who make my life worth waking up to live each morning. And I’ve got the support of my incredible family and friends back at home.
Despite the challenges, I’m still having the adventure of a life time.
So, as I get back onto my feet after a rough term, expect to see more blogposts (amazing guest post coming up this week!), more adventures, and more positivity.
I’ve realised that figuring things out all on my lonsesome is no way to live. So, for better or worse, this blog is going to continue to be my channel to turn those embarassing face-palm moments into (hopefully) entertaining and/or inspiring (don’t wanna get too ambitious) blogposts.
In other words my grumpiness, moohoomoo, emmbarassing moments, and other emotional garbage is making a comeback. So brace yourselves.
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 a masterpiece).
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.
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:
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 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?
I know moving to university can be very overwhelming. You know that moment of absolute terror when your mum and dad drove away and you found yourself wondering ‘what in the world am I gonna eat for dinner?’. I’m here to tell you that life isn’t over. Homecooked meals, that’ll be a nice childhood memory, but hey… life moves on.
In the interest of helping you guys out, I’ve decided to sacrifice myself a little. Obviously, as a second-year student, I know exactly what is going on 100% of the time. I know how to get to the very intestines of each building on campus and arrive at each class at the perfect moment, not awkwardly early or embarrassingly late.
However, because I am a kind and caring person… when it came to induction class, I decided to help you all out a bit.
As there is not a single room big enough in the history/philosophy/all-underfunded-humanities-subjects-stuffed-into-ugliest-building-on-campus building, our history year-two induction lecture was moved to the bioscience building.
As second-year history majors,naturallywe know all about the bioscience building. As a favor, we pretended to look glazed over and confused as we followed each other around in circles (think blind leading blind), first up one flight of stairs, then back down again. Eventually, we found a door that said the induction had been moved to -2.01. Of course, I knew exactly where and what -2.01 was, but I asked at the reception desk anyway and proceeded to lead a group of about 10 other students into a dimly lit lecture hall brimming with more students than I remember ever being in our course.
If you think sitting in a room full of people you don’t know is overwhelming, try bumping into every best buddy, awkward acquaintance, and cool-person-you-were-trying-to-talk-to-all-of-last-year at once (after three months of being away). However, as a second-year student, I wasn’t phased. Nothing phases the second-years.
Just as the guy next to me finished whispering ‘at least that is over, second-year really could only go up from here’, one of my favorite professors from last year stands at the front of the huge lecture theatre and announces:
‘If there are any second-years in this room, please leave. You know who you are… this is the first-year lecture’.
A wave of low chuckling tore across the theatre as we hunched or shoulders and let our cheeks brighten in faux embarrassment and hustled out of the lecture beneath the mocking eyes of one hundred and fifty or so first-year students.
Of course, it was all planned. Naturally. I figured it was the least us organised and put-together second-year students could do for all the confused little freshers. We figured you needed a little laugh in your day.
Can I just re-emphasise, it was all for you guys? #gooddeed0ftheweek, you know?
You are welcome.
Your favorite second-year student who is only pretending to look confused,
My wonderful extraordinary just-lotsa-perfect-normal-days summer is officially over. The second year of adventures abroad has begun! I am writing this in a bus station in London. Just chilling here (desperately attempting to stay awake) for a few hours before my coach arrives. Woot woot!
It was hard saying goodbye to my family and friends, harder even than last year when I left for the first time. I don’t know when I’ll see them again.
Somehow a handful of uncertainty and a bag full of homesickiness found its way into my suitcase right next to my favorite pair of socks. I lugged them to the terminal (with a little extra stowed away in my carry-on), vainly hoping they’d throw it all out at customs or security.
It was tough leaving.
And yet as the plane began the descent into London, I noted the dreary morning rain burst and watched the adorable miniature cars driving on the wrong left side of the road, a group of cheerful Welsh women chatted excitedly two rows behind me, it all felt so right.
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?
I was attending university in the United Kingdom and loving it. I thought that after so much praying and wondering and not-being-sure, my path was pretty well set. Guess what? I’m back to a major life decision again. I one hundred percent don’t know what to do.
This isn’t a how-to post in the style of how to have a perfect tea party or how to make Welsh Cakes. This is more of a here-is-what-I’m-going-through-and-I-hope-you-can-get-some-inspiration-from-it-cause-I-sure-don’t-know-what-to-do. Life is a messy thing. I normally find its punches exciting to wrestle with and fight into submission towards my own dreams. However, I’m kind of tired of fighting and I’m currently having to make a choice I’m pretty sure I just. can’t. make. As expected, I’ve been coping like any normal human being would by:
Eating kiddie cereal out of a wine glass in the middle of the night.
Escaping to the gym multiple times each day.
(Did you know that cutting fruit is super therapeutic? As long as mommy supplies the melon, you can bet I’ll be ready to chop it up into little pieces and then eat until I feel as if I’m growing my own watermelon babies inside. Lying in the sun digesting copious amounts of watermelon is probably my favorite summer activity.)
Anyhooo… This morning I was touched that there is one who knows our paths.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is some harmful way in me, And lead me on the eternal way.
I enjoyed recently that when we consecrate our lives to God, our lives become very simple. We look to Him to know His will and His plan. In all things we can put ourselves in God’s hands, trusting that He knows what He is doing. He has a plan for our lives. A plan not only to care for us in a detailed and personal way, but also to give us the experiences we need to make us useful to Him for His eternal purpose.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve wondered, Oh my goodness… Lord what in the world are you doing?!?! But I can testify that, in the end, I can only praise Him. For His way is so much higher than my way and His thoughts are so much higher than my thoughts.
The God who has shepherded me all my life to this day,
That is how Christians can live simply as lilies trusting in God despite the complex situations surrounding them.
So I guess what I am trying to learn is that the Lord knows what He is doing. The only way for me to have peace in this coming life decision is to seek and accept His plan.
Teach me, O Jehovah, Your way; I will walk in Your truth. Make my heart single in fearing Your name.
It is good to be home to catch up with friends and family. I am sorry that I don’t have a British accent. A lot of people seemed to expect me to come home proper Welsh! Nope, I am still American. However, there is one area where I have converted. I am addicted to tea (and digestives). If you would like to have a tea party to celebrate all the wonderful British things I’ve learned about last year, I say Hurrah!
My dearest friend Meredith (who has her own incredible blog) and I came together for an entire week of catching up and laughing til it hurt. One of our friendship traditions is to host glorious tea parties whenever we are together. So naturally we spent an entire day preparing a perfect tea celebration for her parents and boyfriend.
Here are a few of our favorite tea party tips that we’ve learned over the years:
Mismatched Tea Pots and Cups
Real china tea sets are expensive and tend to have only four settings anyway. If you don’t have a matching tea set, no worries. We’ve found that mismatching cups and teapots create a fun and quirky yet still elegant look. Try giving everyone a different mug or teacup to match their personality. Like, for example, Mere’s boyfriend got a lovely Star Wars themed mug from which he enjoyed his first ever taste of hot tea!
Build Your Own Decorations from the Dollar Store and you Mom’s Closet
Decorating does not have to be expensive. The dollar store sells lovely napkins and fake fancy cutlery and serving platters. We used dollar store platters stacked on candlesticks (or teacups) to create tiered serving platters. Mere also bought some gorgeous silk flowers to float in vases and glass bowls filled with water.
Also, you’d be surprised how many free decorations you can find from running around the house collecting all your family’s favorite knick knacks : )
Dress to Impress
Don’t you dare forget to dress up! Decorating the room is only half the fun. Tea parties are the perfect time to pull out your fanciest of dresses or pull together the wackiest bits of your wardrobe.
One of my personal favorite costumes came from middle school when Mere and I had a Sense and Sensibility craze. We dressed up as Marianne and Eleanore and somehow managed to convince my younger sisters to join in as our romantic interests, cause that’s what lil sisters are for right?
Set the Mood with Music
Music sets the mood. Don’t forget to turn on some soft classical music (from a stereo or even just an iPhone set in a bowl to amplify the sound).
Sweet Bits and Bobs (Because Good Food Is Important)
Let’s be real folks, a tea party isn’t just about tea, it is mostly about the snacks. Make your own sweets or buy bits and bobs from the grocery store. I think it is more fun if you make sure to have 1) a few tried and true favorites and 2) at least one new dessert or cookie that no one has tried before.
We love making cupcakes together, we’ve been doing it since middle school. Store bought biscuits and sweets are lovely, but I personally believe that having at least one special home baked item makes a tea party much more exciting.
Did you know that those fancy little tea sandwiches are a cinch to make! Try new flavors every time. My personal favorite is cucumber and cream cheese.
Activities for Afterwards
You can only sip tea for so long. Make sure to have some fun games or plans for the afternoon. One of my favorite tea parties was followed by a water balloon fight and getting soaked in Alice in Wonderland costumes, another one finished with an impromptu jam session, and the last tea party I had was followed by snuggling on the couch to enjoy Disney’s live-action Cinderella, a perfect post tea party movie if you ask me.
A party is made by the company you keep. Ultimately, it comes down to spending time with people you love or want to get to know better. Bring together your closest friends and family and you really can’t lose. And that, my dear friends, is the most surefire way to have an instantly successful tea party.