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 

 

Thoughts From Deep in The Heart of Texas

Ah, love a good road trip.

This has been no exception.

I earned my driver’s license two days before the trip started and have found that I really love driving. Which is surprising, considering that one time I turned down a police officer who asked me to drive illegally before I had a license… but that’s a story for another day.

Today we found Texas. My little sister couldn’t believe that we entered Texas on day two.

“Isn’t Texas like halfway?!?” she exclaimed. 

“Yup, Texas is 1/4 of the way there, 1/2 of the way there and 3/4ths of the way there, so hang on”. 

Course, sis and I have already had our share of adventures. From impromptu guitar busking in Georgia…

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…to singing parking lot duets at the top of our lungs in Alabama.

And then there are the lazy periods in between rest area jump rope breaks.

I’ve been studying real estate to prepare for my February class (so excited to jump head-long into a new career!) and my mom and I are listening to a lecture series on Winston Churchill.

In between the learning, singing, and driving, there is still too much time to think. The lull of the car on bumpy roads against a backdrop of fastly changing scenery offers a perfect environment for reflection.

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. 

Can I Get an Iced Coffee? My Yearlong search for cold drinks in the UK.

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).

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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?…”

“Yes, please.”

“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? 

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!

Well Folks, I’m Home for Now.

Last week I arrived back to the U.S.A., and it took me over a week to get back to this blog because I was basically hibernating. So far I have been enjoying small but marvelous moments with my siblings, their new dog, and my parents.

However, I’ve gotta admit, there have been lots of mixed emotions. I realised (realized… should I be using UK or USA spelling now?!?!) the week before I left that I was leaving my family to go see my family. No matter where I wander, be it in Europe or in the USA, I’ll be missing a home on the other side of the ocean. And while that’s a lil rough, it is also exciting! It means that I’ve got a home on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. It means I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with more wonderful and precious people.

Since arriving home some highlights have been:

Meeting my nephew for the first time:

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Chilling with my family’s new dog:

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Embarrassing myself  in my parent’s new apartment gym (no picture, your welcome).

Lots of chill time with my lil siblings:

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Long walks and runs on the local lake:

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My most important projects for this summer are building up this blog again and finishing the historical fiction novel I’ve been working on since high school. I seriously forgot how much I love writing. It is weird how immersing myself in a fictional universe makes me feel so alive! So I’m gonna try to make that a priority this summer (amidst summer camps, visiting friends, chilling with my siblings, and working for my dad’s iPhone App Design company).

Let’s get this party started! How is your summer going?

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?

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.