Monday, December 3

She Lives!

Oh goodness, it's been over a month since my last blog post! I hope none of you thought I was dead, because I definitely didn't plan on taking that hiatus from blogging. I'm so behind, it's embarrassing. Because it's been so long, buckle in for a long post, I do apologize. So, since my last blog post what have I done? I've gone to Spain with the entire Study Abroad group, which is about 30 people, maybe a bit more.  I've traveled to Croatia with a small group of six, which was truly fantastic because I got to know each one of them more than I was able to when we travel in a large group. Not to mention the ten days I spent traveling through Italy.
I was blessed enough to buy a new camera, since mine has been acting funny since the monsoon at the Cliffs of Insanity in Ireland, and the one I wanted was cheaper than I anticipated, which is a huge blessing. I was able to buy a Canon EOS 1100D, which is a DSLR, with an additional Tamaron zoom lens, which has been dubbed "The Black Mamba" by my friends. It's the ultimate stalking lens, which is a huge help when wanting to take pictures of things you can't get close to because you're in a bus, or on top of a city wall.
I've gotten tattoo number two! For those of you who don't know, I got a small tattoo over the summer, in white ink on my wrist that reads "enough" in handwriting quite similar to my own cursive to remind me that I am enough for Christ, no matter what. It was inspired by Matthew 5:5 (Message Translation) which says "You're blessed when you're content with just who you are- no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought." Tattoo number two is a piece on my feet, which isn't actually completed, but it's close to being done. It's two picture frames, one on the right foot of the lake near my home, and one on the left foot of the English countryside. It reads: "Not all who wander are forever lost." It's to remind myself that no matter how far I am from home, whether that be my earthly home in Lake Worth with my parents, or my spiritual home with Christ, I'll always find my way back. It's really a beautiful piece, and I'm refraining from posting too many pictures till it's completed and healed.

Other than those few major things I've been doing school and volunteering, nothing to exciting other than a couple long papers on ethical standpoints. Our ethics professor believes people argue best when they're arguing themselves, so we each had to write a paper on a topic that contradicts our personal beliefs, so I'm had to write pro death penalty, and it was quite a challenge. My other paper is on the morality of sexualized media, and why there should be stricter rules and regulations by the FCC to make sure we are protecting our children and youth. It's really great stuff, definitely the way I enjoy spending my weekends.

I'm going to skip over Spain and come back to it in another post, because it was such a long trip, packed with a ton of cultural insights and experiences (such as cooking classes, festivals, and bull fights). I also want to leave the option open for people to skip that post, since there will be some graphic images from the bullfight. I'll post about Italy as soon as I get my pictures gone though. Read more about Croatia after the jump!

Wednesday, October 3

Oh, Happy Day

It's Wednesday- by this time I've been up for several hours, planned some dinners, and gone to the open air market. I've bought a copious amount of produce, some cheese, and fresh bread. A quick stop at the grocery store and I've got chicken to feed us for dinner. It's just a typical Wednesday for me now- who knew? In three days will be the official 1 month mark for living here in the United Kingdom, and I love it. I know it's been a while since a post, but between schoolwork and travel, I've not had much time to sit down and reflect. Seeing as it's been quite a while- this will be lengthy, and you've been forewarned.

Many already know that I spent the past long travel break in the beautiful country of Ireland. We arrived in Dublin Wednesday evening, went out to dinner at a pub in the temple bar area that had great live music and probably the best fish and chips I've had since I've been across the pond.

Thursday morning we hopped on a bus- the now infamous Paddy Wagon, and started our tour of Ireland. Our first big stop was the Cliffs of Moher, although there were several stops at castles and ruins along the way. Let me just say, I was most looking forward to the Cliffs for the pure reason that they are the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride- one of the greatest movies of all time. When we got there, it was breathtaking- even if only for about 10 minutes. They weren't joking when they said the weather changed on a dime. When we first arrived it was sunny and beautiful, 15 minutes later we were soaked to our skin. All worth it for the views, however.

 From there we went to the County Kerry, spent the night, and headed out the next day to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney stone. For those of you who don't know, the Blarney stone is supposed to give you the gift of eloquent speech for 7 years, and after you give it an hour our two (and maybe a pint or two, according to our tour guide, Sean Murphy), you'll be blabbing away. Needless to say, to his chagrin, it didn't work in making all the girls from Texas sing songs for the bus over the microphone. I don't think any kind of stone or rock (regardless of the karats) could make me do that.


 After Blarney Castle we made the long drive back to Dublin, where we spent the night in the Temple Bar area again- enjoying the excitement of "culture night". We also spent the next day in Dublin, checking out Trinity College, where the Books of Kells is held. It was beautiful, and I wish pictures had been allowed, although I completely understand why they aren't. We walked around dublin taking in the sites and helping our friend Kalyn climb on a rock to sit with an Oscar Wilde statue, saw some street artists, and caught our flight back to the UK. All in all, it was a great trip- and if Ireland isn't on your bucket list- it definitely should be.

Fast forward a bit, and I've made my way to London as part of a class assignment- I spent most of my morning in Camden Markets, which is a very self-expressive place. Lots of tattoo shops (I'll be honest, I was tempted to get a number 2 on the spot), piercing stands, and illegal drugs- which for some reason, were openly advertised and I saw not one officer while I was there. It was just an interesting dynamic- I'd love to go back and spend more time there- I feel like I could people watch for days on end and never get bored.

Then, that night- we got to see Wicked. Yes, the play, the always amazing play. It was fantastic! I don't even know how to begin to explain it. The voices were better than the soundtrack, the effects were the best I've ever seen, and it was just an all-together fantastic night.

That's all the highlights of the past few weeks that I can think of at this moment. Next stop: Spain. I'll be heading out with the rest of my classmates on October 11th, and We will be staying in Spain till the 22nd. I'm definitely looking forward to it, and can't wait for the experience. After that is about a week of classes, then off to Croatia with 5 other friends for a few days. I'm definitely blessed!

Monday, September 17

Exquisite Architecture

Over the past weekend, I made a visit west- to Bath and Stonehenge. It was fantastic. For those of you who don't know, Bath is where the Roman Baths still stand, in all their glory, still naturally supplied with warm water from deep within the earth. It's pretty cool- and if it's not on your bucket list- it should be. My favorite parts were the Beau Street Hoarde, which is the largest amount of ancient Roman coins ever to be found, and a small display of engraved gems (impossible to photograph, unfortunately) that were found in one of the catch drains- assumed to either have fallen off of signet rings worn by various people or been thrown in as an offering to the goddess of the spring. Even though I'm not a history buff, in fact, I'm quite the opposite and avoid history whenever possible, it was pretty cool learning about the history of the Roman Baths, and actually being there and seeing it for myself, getting to feel the water and touch the stones (which may or may not have been prohibited).

 After seeing the Roman Baths, the group split- some went to the Fashion Museum, others went to the Jane Austen Exhibit, four went rambling around the city, and one- well, we don't really know where she went. We lost her for a few hours. I was in the group that went rambling. I'd much rather explore a city for myself than spend another three hours in a museum, staring at things behind alarm-equipped glass cases. So, rambling I went- through various gardens and parks, up and down streets, and we soon realized that all of Bath is like a giant bowl, the city center being the lowest point, and going out from there is entirely uphill. Seven miles later, we made it to the edge of the bowl, and although the walk was exhausting, it was so worth it.

We all met up in city center, except for one because nobody knew where she was. After about forty-five minutes of contemplating who would stay behind to find her instead of going to Stonehenge, she walks around the corner, as if she had never been apart from the group. Needless to say, we were all relieved to have found her. And, Stonehenge was fantastic (if you haven't noticed at this point, everything was fantastic).

As for what's to come- I'm leaving out on Wednesday to Ireland, going to spend the night in Dublin, then head out on a 2 day tour to see the Blarney Stone and Cliffs of Moher. Then it's back to Dublin for another night and a day and back home. Then the following, I'll be seeing Wicked in London- which I'm extremely excited about. But till then it's schoolwork and studying.

Thursday, September 6

Week of Wonders

So, it's been a full week since I started my journey here in Oxford, and I've seen and experienced so much, my mind is still reeling. I could try to name all the things I've done, but I think I'd fail miserably, not to mention I'd end up writing a book. So, my top three things of the past week:
1. St. Giles' Fair
2. Primark
3. Christ Church Meadows

 St. Giles' Fair is a fair that comes once a year, that dates back to Medieval times. Basically, a bunch of rides and food carts are set up on the main street through Oxford, the same street we use to get basically everywhere. So, as you head to class you're weaving between Carnie-Folk and children covered in candy floss (notice my slick use of British lingo). It's strange, now that the carnival is gone. The streets are much quieter, and you actually have to look out for cars when crossing the street. The bus stops are now back in use, and the theme music that I felt played just for me as I walked down the street, is gone. But, while it was here, I did ride a couple rides, try the doughnuts, (which were not like our typical doughnut, it's hard to explain), and get to see a lot of new things. For example, our thing in Texas is fried. Fried anything. Fried butter, fried twinkies, fried Dr. Pepper, fried Reese's, giant fried turkey legs. The thing here is chips (aka, fries), with different things on them. Chips with curry, chips with cheese, chips, chips, and more chips. I think it's cool to compare the differences between our giant Texas state fair with this one.

Primark. How do I even begin to explain this heavenly place? At home, I always longingly stare into Forever21, wishing that they carried my size so I could finally wear cute clothes without over-paying for them. Well, Primark is the answer to that prayer. I got the softest and most comfortable jeans I've ever worn in my life, that came in long, which is something I can never find in the states, and they were only about $7. Not to mention they have shorts, tops, coats, leggings, jewelry, luggage, basically anything you can imagine, for just as low a price! I've not gone crazy, but I have bought a couple things that I didn't realize I'd have the need for, like a coin purse, shorts (it's been warmer than we expected), and of course, the magical pair of soft jeans.

Christ Church Meadows. For those of you that don't follow my pictures on facebook, I'll show you just a few pictures that try to explain the beauty of it, although I don't think a photograph can do it justice. Because it's not just the greenery, or the Thames, or even the cute ducks along the bank. It's the air, it's the serene sounds, I just love the environment there.

I may or may not have gone overboard on the pictures, I just really love this place. In addition to my three favorites of the week, we also went as a group to Doorchester Abbey, which had some of the most beautiful roses I've ever seen, not to mention the amazing history behind the Abbey itself. I've spent quite a bit of time at Oxford University Park, which included feeding the ducks, which is a lot of fun. On Wednesday, so yesterday, we went to the market and I got produce and fresh cheese for dinners- I made myself some really great Mexican Mac n' Cheese today, and have all the stuff ready to make eggplant Parmesan in the next couple days. Mostly I've just been orienting myself to the surroundings, getting used to life here, which is surprisingly not much different than home. Other than the fact that I have to walk everywhere, living here isn't much different than living in a dorm in Abilene. Of course, there are cultural differences, but nothing that requires huge adjustments.

After writing all this, it's donned on me that I've not given anyone a way to get in touch with me other than Facebook or my blog. Because I'm here in Oxford and don't want to fork out the excessive amount of money it costs for an international plan, my phone has been shut off, and there are no free texting apps that work internationally. So, you can contact me via Skype (username- heroinediary), or you can mail me a letter, which I know sounds archaic, but getting letters seriously would make my day. My address here in Oxford is:
#9 Canterbury Road
Oxford OX2 6LU

Well, that's all for now. This weekend is the weekend where all the Oxford libraries and colleges and universities are open to the public without paying fees, so I'm going to explore my city this weekend. Next weekend I'm heading west to Bath for a day to see the Jane Austen museum and the Roman Bath Spa, and then the weekend after that is a long travel break, so I'll be going to Dublin and the Moher hills- looking forward to exploring the beautiful world God created!

Thursday, August 30

Left is Right

So this is it- I'm officially in Oxford. I saw so many things my mind is on overload, and I'm quite sure it will be for the next four months. I'm beyond excited. I got to see so much of Oxford today. It was lovely outside, sunny but still cool. I walked at least 8 miles and didn't break a sweat, didn't even think once about being too hot. I so enjoy this weather, and I'm sure I won't get tired of it any time soon.

I'm all settled into my room. Calendar on the wall, pictures hung, scarves draped, clothes folded and put away. It's so nice to be completely moved in and not have to worry about doing any more of it tomorrow when I'm trying to further orient myself in this city that requires a general skill set of being able to know where you are, which I never do. I found my way to the city center with help, and discovered the location of Lush, which if you don't know, is a fantastic cosmetics company. I went grocery shopping the block over at the 9 to 9 and got a few meals sorted out, and I got shown around Oxford to all the good pubs, drank a delicious cup of cappuccino with an even more delightful scone, and spent a lovely walk in University Park, which I'm sure I'll be spending much of my study time at.

Anyways, the flight was smooth, didn't sleep a lick (ok, maybe twenty minutes), so at this point, I've been awake for about thirty hours straight, half of which was spent in travel, which included walking, buses, and airplanes. So, a quick story that amused me as I drift off to sleep.

As everyone knows, the English drive on the left side of the road, as opposed to the right as we Americans do. Here is why the left is right, according to a cabbie we met today: Back in the days of old, when you would gallop along the right side country roads lined with bushes with your fair maiden on the back of your horse, if a bandit or highwayman tried to ambush you, you would draw your sword. Well, considering most of the population is right handed, they would grab their sword, and their swords would get caught in the thicket, thus not being able to protect your fair maiden. However, if you were driving along the left side of the road, you would have plenty of room to wield your sword, lop of their heads, and protect your maiden. And this is why, left is right.

Tuesday, July 17

Had I Not Attempted

Ever since I abruptly left Ukraine, I've been writing in a five year journal called The Happiness Project (author Gretchen Rubin). It's blessed me in a way nothing else could. This little blue and yellow book, purchased at Barnes and Noble for some price that I no longer remember, has forced me to look over each day and find a silver lining, no matter how dark the cloud of my day may be. Some days, the cloud is black as night, and it takes me quite a while to find the shy silver ring around its edges; other days however, the entire cloud is a bright and gleaming sterling silver, and it's hard to pick what to write in the space that is only large enough for one sentence. At the top of each page is an inspirational quote- about happiness, passions, and anything else cheerful they could think of- because they needed 365 quotes, which I'm sure was a daunting task when they first set out. July 25 (I'm skipping ahead on my quotes, I know) has this quote:

"On the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet as I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it." -Benjamin Franklin

This quote describes my past year perfectly. My GPA is not what I want it to be. I am not the size I want to be. I am not as outgoing as I want to be. I am not employed like I want to be. I'm not even in the country that I planned to be in. I strove for so much more than I accomplished. But in the process of not acomplishing these things that were once so important to me, I've acomplished so much more. I may only have a 3.4, but I have some amazing memories and friends that I would have never met had I sat in my room and studied. I may not be stick thin, but I've learned to love who I am, reguardless of what other people say I should be. I may not be outgoing, but if I was, I probably would be too loud to hear the smaller voices that have now impacted my life so much. I may not have an awesome job, but have a ton of time to reflect on my past year and learn from my mistakes and realize which ones were good ones to make. I may not be in Ukraine, but because I'm here in the US I've had the chance to bond with people I once felt estranged from, touch lives that I would have never encountered, and in turn, be touched by those same people.

I am a happier woman, having tried and failed, than having not attempted these things at all.

Wednesday, February 8

Trust and Being Content

Oh today. It was an interesting day. I was so busy today, and everything that could have gone wrong, did. It was so frustrating to have a thousand things I needed to do but not being able to do any of them. This week is the week that professors decide to load it on. I don't know what it is about the fifth week of school, but professors love having tests this week- it's a fact known all across campus. Taking as many classes as I am though, being busy is something that I expected- and I am fully capable of keeping up.

I've made progress on being healthy- I even went to the gym this week and ate healthy! I've never been a huge fan of the gym, because I feel like all the healthy people are judging me even though intellectually I know that they are focusing on themselves. I just hate being around other people- it makes me realize how unsatisfied I am with myself. This is where being content comes in. This is something that keeps coming up everywhere I turn- and I know it's a sign from God. I'm never content with where I'm at- physically, financially, emotionally, relationshiply (if that's even a word). But this week in my missions class we are working on the spiritual discipline of "solitude"- which I have to admit is extremely hard for me. My brain doesn't slow down, even if I want it to. So being in solitude and calming my mind and only focusing on Christ is so difficult- because as soon as I get to the place where I've put all my worries out of my mind, I fall asleep. On the recommendation of a friend, I did my solitude focusing on things I'm thankful for instead of trying to focus on nothing. Amazing. I didn't realize how thankful I was at this point in my life- and I'm not going to start listing things because I spent ten minutes thinking of things I was thankful for and I could have kept going. But can I just say that it changed my entire mood for the day. Even though everything went wrong, even though I missed a group meeting and was bombarded with things I needed to get done all day, I was content. I thanked God for every trial because I know it's going to prepare me for the future, and I was just content with what I had- for the first time in a long time.

I've made progress on my other goals, but not as much. I think "losing weight" has translated to "be healthy", which has translated to being healthy in every aspect of my life. In my relationship with Christ and my friends, in my physical body, spiritually, and emotionally. I feel like this week I've made great strides towards balancing my life and myself.

God's Peace and Blessings,

Monday, January 23

Eighteen Hours

Alright- so an update, now that I have a few moments to breathe. I love college, I love class, I love learning, I love community, and this is where I thrive. That being said, because I'm so much in love with the experience, I sometimes get overzealous. This time, I may have bit off more than I can chew on my own. I decided that I wanted to add a Psychology minor to my Social Work major- it goes really well together especially since Psychology classes can be used as "supplements for major". With all my plans for study abroad (Oxford, next fall, provided I'm accepted), I decided that I needed to add a class this semester in order to make my classes in the future not so crowded together. Taking multiple intense classes at one time is no fun. I was already taking 12 hours plus a CEU (continuing education unit- you still do all the work, you just pay less and get a pass fail grade). I've decided to take Developmental Psychology on top of my full time load, making my work load equivalent to eighteen hours. Am I insane? Maybe. Will I regret it? Maybe. Will it make me a better person? Yes. Will it make me rely more on God? Most definitely. So maybe there is a method to my madness.

As for my New Years goals.. progress check.
1. Lose weight- this has now been translated to "be healthy". I've decided I'm comfortable in the skin I'm in, and as long as I'm healthy, I don't care what numbers the scale shows. So, in order to work towards this new goal, I've been working out with my friends (slightly inconsistently). But when I miss a workout with my friends, I do abs at least by myself.
2. Expand my camera collection. This is in progress! Although all my money at the moment is going to Ukraine (a missions trip- follow that dedicated blog here), my Uncle has said that he will send me some cameras that have been in our family! How cool.  I'm sure that if I end up coming across some extra money (although highly unlikely), the next camera I want to get is an action shot, which takes four pictures on one frame. It's definitely super cool- my friend Nora has one that she found when we were thrifting and I'm super jelly.
3. Travel. Well that one was a no-brainer. But it looks like I'll be going somewhere new sooner than I thought! I've been invited to accompany my friend Jen back to her home in Colorado for spring break! We're going to hike and hang out all week, so we won't be spending a ton of money- just gas and some food. I'm really excited, because my brother has been to Colorado and I haven't yet.
4. Get a tattoo. I've talked to a friend and got a quote on what I want, but I don't have it scheduled or anything. This will probably be later on, and while I wanted to get my tattoo before I left for Ukraine, it looks like it will be more like after I get back.
5. Get better grades. Well, so far so good. Although I haven't actually had to turn in anything, just a bunch of reading. we will see how the good grades goes with 18 credit hours, but I've been taking good notes and keeping on top of my assignments. I even made a master schedule of everything that's due during the semester. so all I have to do is glance over from my desk and see what all is due this week- it's really easy to keep up with stuff that way.

That's all for now! I'm off to my missions class to learn specifics about fundraising and culture!