Friday, December 20

Christmas Greeting

Dear Friends and Family,

Some years we tumble through, laughing and tripping over each other as we merrily race from one life-goal, to the next. Some years we turn up our collars against the storms of life until, as the carol says, “The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.”  Most years, like this one, seem to sneak by us as we bend down to tie our shoes for the race, and when we look up, we find it is over.

The last year has been a time of change for Teresa. In December of 2012 she finished her Master’s degree in Education with an emphasis on math curriculum (something she was working on when she was moved to teaching two classes of English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Technology for 4th grade). Teresa was moved back to second grade this year. There is some relief at not being in a grade where a standardized test is being given, but the downside is the need to become familiar with a new curriculum after having taught the same grade for five years. She is especially happy to be teaching all subjects in one self-contained class. The intensified scrutiny and micromanagement, that are now so prevalent in the public schools make teaching a less enjoyable profession than when she first began. However, her love for the children has not waned, and it is their sense of discovery that makes the job worthwhile.

Ray is still working in the IT department at Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing. The company continues to grow and evolve to meet the demands of a changing market, so he is continually finding new challenges and opportunities in meeting the demands of his job. He doesn’t get as many calls from the designers to model clothes being reviewed before production, since he has lost a little weight, but it’s a small price to pay for step toward being healthier.

Ray and Teresa continue to be very involved in church life at Fossil Creek Community Church. Their primary responsibility and greatest joy is co-teaching an adult Sunday school class. Due to a sabbatical being taken by one of the other adult teachers, their class has more than doubled in size and changed considerably in demographics, so they will start 2014 looking for new ways to present Gods word in a way that is relevant, interesting and impactful to their students. Ray was also chosen to serve on the church board and will serve for two more years. He is honored to have the opportunity to serve as a support to the ministry of our church and is blessed to work with a wonderful group of other leaders.  But after an especially lengthy recent budget meeting, he is now a proponent for padded chairs at all board meetings.

Early last year, Nathan adopted a black lab mix puppy and named her Storm. She has an exuberance for life that has kept us all on our toes. In May, Nathan moved to Huron, South Dakota to work for the city at their recycling center, work very similar to what he had been doing for a private business in Fort Worth. He called Texas many times to brag about the mild weather in South Dakota, while we were experiencing 100 degree days. We didn’t have the heart to brag, but did inquire about how he was enjoying the snow, once winter hit, way back in Octoburrrrr. Storm loved the snow and the space she had to run and play fetch, her all-time favorite game. However, due to a cutback in hours for the winter season and a lack of available housing, Nathan has decided to return to Fort Worth. He is looking forward to starting 2014 with a new job and his own apartment.

Rachel is midway through her junior year at Abilene Christian University (Go Wildcats!). This past summer, she moved off campus into a house with three roommates and is immensely enjoying having her own kitchen. She loves to cook and entertain and has been learning many new Asian recipes from one of her roommates. Rachel is seeking a double major in Social Work and Psychology with a minor in International Studies. She will begin her internships this coming year and will start applying to graduate schools, as her chosen field requires at least a Master’s degree. She still feels strongly that she would like to travel and work in the anti-human trafficking movement. Much of this type of work takes place outside the US, and since exposure to other cultures will be so important, she plans to spend five weeks abroad in Europe this coming May. This will be her second study-abroad opportunity and the third time she has had the chance to travel to Europe. Oh the difficulties of being a college student in a global culture!

All of us will be together for Christmas, an unexpected, but much appreciated blessing! Bring on the cards! Rachel and Teresa (still not a dog-lover, but definitely won over by a certain black four-legged tornado) are looking forward to spoiling Storm. Teresa has dibs on taking her through the Starbucks drive-through for a pup-uccino and Rachel plans to treat her to outings at the local dog park, saving Ray the worry of Storm’s version of landscaping the backyard. Nathan is looking forward to the warmer Texas weather and getting his fix of Texas fajitas and tacos.

2013 has been a full and blessed year for the Williams family.

No matter what kind of year you’ve had, the Christmas season offers an opportunity for us to look up from our time-bound existence and revel in the miracle of an infinite God who has, at great cost, chosen to send his Son. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus provides the opportunity for us to leave the temporal and enter the infinite. We hope you will join us as we thank God for his grace and love, celebrated at this Christmas season with friends and family.

Merry Christmas,
The Williams Family

Monday, November 4

Tis the Season

So, the title of the post might be misleading- no, I'm not about to start talking about Christmas. As many people know I prefer for all talk of Christmas to be reserved for December. Call me a scrooge- I just think that too much of a good thing... well, you know. No, right now it's the season to be thankful- and with so many things going on in the world, political dissatisfaction, financial crisis, and a general lack of international peace, it can be hard to be thankful for the day-to-day. Today I found myself in exactly this same spot. Money is tight, news is grim, and a break from schoolwork grind is nowhere in sight. Now, I know it seems like I'm straying from the general theme of this blog- which is supposed to be travel, but read on and trust my judgement on this one- I promise I'll tie travel in.

Tuesday, October 15

Italian Adventures

So, I've just gotten back from my weekend in Austin, and oh man. I really should be studying, or writing papers, or doing any number of things that isn't writing a blog, but when I get the urge to write, I write, and Italy has been on my to-do list for months now, almost a year, which is insane to me.

But, as my laundry goes through it's spin cycle, I find myself with extra procrastinating time on my hands after tidying up and packing away my trusty duffel bag (£15 at Primark, my best purchase ever, if I do say so myself) from my last adventure, so I've decided to talk about Italy a little bit- and by a little I mean I'll keep this as brief as possible, but I LOVE to talk about Italy. The native people, the culture, the food, not to mention the company that I went on my trip with, was all fantastic. The cities we stopped at were, in order- Pisa, Genoa, Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, and if you ask me to pick a favorite, you'd be cruel, because there's no way I can.

Monday, September 30


So, lately I've been reading the book Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. It's really great, and I feel no shame in reading a self-help book, because honestly, being an adult is hard work, especially when you not only have to be an adult for yourself, but because of your responsibilities to other people as well. So, as I'm reading this book, I decide that it's a good idea for me to share my 10 Steps to Adulting, made easy. Some of these, you might think, are things that I don't do- and isn't that hypocritical? Yes, there are a couple of these that I struggle with, but when I do them, I feel soo much better about myself. There are a lot of really complicated things about being responsible that make me exhausted, but for sanity's sake, here are ten that are plain simple.

One. Have a morning drink routine. For some people, it's coffee, for others it's tea, and some start off with water. But starting your day with fluids is a grade-a way to make yourself feel more confident about facing the day. I'm not generally a fan of hot drinks, so I always make a big gallon batch of peach green tea lemonade at the beginning of the week. Peach green tea lemonade is one of the most delicious things I've ever had, and rather than spending $6 on a venti one at Starbucks, or if I'm parched, a treinta- I've got my own down to a science. It's fairly simple and has four ingredients: Great Value Lemonade Powder, 1 can of Kern's Peach Nectar (sometimes found near the ethnic food section, where they have coconut water and stuff like that), Tazo Green Tea Bags (pitcher size), and water. Bring your tea bag and water to a boil, and let it boil for as long as you want your tea strong- tea drinkers will understand this. Pour the tea into a gallon pitcher, add the lemonade and peach nectar, and then fill to the top with water- it's that simple, and the only sugar comes from the peach nectar- which is natural! On days that I need a stronger dose of caffeine I have coffee frozen into ice cubes, splenda (so I'll get cancer one day, oh well), and milk at the ready for those days that I need coffee, but don't want the hot drink. Additionally, I keep a couple single serve tea bags and sweetener in my purse, so if I need a mid-day boost, I can do so by stopping by a water fountain, instead of a Starbucks.

Two. Buy nice towels. I can not even begin to explain the luxury of a wonderful towel. A nice towel can feel like you're drying yourself off with $100 bills- figuratively, obviously, because money is not really absorbent. I'm not saying go and spend fifty dollars on one towel- that's crazy talk. I'm just saying, instead of using the towels that your parents bought you your Freshman year at the dorms, invest in nice towels (I replace mine about once a year). Walmart, Target, and Bed Bath and Beyond all have a good selection of color and quality for manageable prices- so you have no excuse. Also, own more than one- and use a fresh one at the beginning of each week.

Three. Be prepared for a guest. Even if it's a friend stopping by to say hey- always keep some snacks and drinks handy. For me, this means having drink mixes on hand that you can whip up, some crackers, some cheese, and some fruit. You never know when someone will just need to talk, and company is always added to by the comfort of a snack. Additionally, if you have friends like mine, you never know when someone might need a place to say for the night. For me, this means having a couple extra throw blankets, a guest pillow (and pillow cases), a sheet set, and an air mattress (because we have a love seat, not a couch and my friends aren't munchkins). Now, when I say air mattress, I'm not saying you have to buy that luxurious double thick blah blah blah. No, they're crashing for a night, not renting a hotel room. That way, if Suzie calls at 2am because she "just needs a break from it all", you can not only offer a snack, but a night away to clear her thoughts.

Four. Vegetables. I have a lot of friends that survive entirely off of ramen noodles, microwave meals, and takeout (no judgement), but for me, that is simply not an option. Whether it's a handful of salad mix, easy to cook veggies (sliced yellow or calabaza squash and zucchini, salt, pepper, 350 degrees, 20 mins), or a fancy dish that takes two hours to make because you feel like it, have a substantial vegetable with at least one meal a day, if not two or three (veggies with breakfast is hard, I get it). An extension of this is knowing what you're going to eat. Hitting up the grocery store four times a week is counter-productive, time consuming, and silly. Think about what you want to eat that week (a general idea is fine), and get the ingredients. Also stock your general items that are easy to spruce up like a few kinds of pasta sauce and noodles. My thing is always having mac n' cheese. If you add a can of Wolf Chili and some Rotel(drained) (and because I like it spicy, Tony's and chili powder), you have chili mac- or as my friend calls it- Ghetto Mac. Judge me all you want, but it's ready in 20 minutes, easy to keep on hand, and I've never had a complaint. Knowing that you have food to eat is just one less stress during the week.

Five. Stock your medicine cabinet. So many people I know, college students and workforce-rs alike, don't have a stocked medicine cabinet. To me, who was stocking band-aids in my backpack in grade three, this seems ridiculous. This means two different types of pain relievers (for persistent and severe pain, you can alternate pain relievers every four hours, instead of 8 hours between doses), daytime and nighttime cold medicine, allergy pills, bandages (in varying sizes, but by all means, also have some power rangers ones), Bactine or alcohol swabs, triple antibiotic ointment, and  hydrocortisone cream.

Six. Know how to play at least three games with a single deck of cards, and keep a deck with you. For me this is Go Go Go, Speed, and Klaberjass (as well as a couple single player games). Avoid games like go-fish, partly because everyone always knows them, and in other part because they aren't actually entertaining. All this is because you never know what kind of situations you'll get stuck in, and as a general rule, it's easy to start up a game of cards that isn't detrimental when you have to pick up and move on with your day.

Seven. Read books you don't want to. This is for readers, which I fully understand not everyone is. For the TV watchers out there, watch something you don't want to. Over the years we get stuck in a pattern. I generally read dystopian teen novels. This means that for every two books like that I read, I pick up one at Goodwill of a completely different genre. Recently I picked up Mr. Muo, which was definitely not something I'd generally read of choice. Not only did I actually enjoy it, I got a (albeit) satirical view into Asian cultures. Before that it was This Voice in My Heart and before that it was Getting to Maybe. For TV viewers or movie watchers, watch a 45 minute documentary on Russian Prison Culture (I did this last weekend, I'll never regret that choice), or the all-so-popular Supersize Me. If you normally watch stuff like that, watch a kid's movie or something like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal- you'll expand your horizons, and maybe find something you never knew you enjoyed.

Eight. Be responsible to someone else of your choice. It's really easy to get in the routine of taking care of yourself and the things you're required to take care of, because well, you know what you need and want. But guess what? Being responsible to or for someone else can not only make you feel better about what you're doing, but it helps out that other person! It can be agreeing to eat at least one meal a week with another person (a friend and I trade off on Monday and Wednesday), volunteering, or agreeing to go to a city council meeting. Making sure you're accountable to someone for this is key. If you only volunteer when it's convenient, you'll never get to it. If you only attend a meeting when you feel like it, you'll be sitting on your couch come meeting time with a bowl of popcorn and not a care in the world. Being involved with other people and taking part in each-others lives will significantly make you feel better about your own, trust me.

Nine. Stay inspired. If what inspires you and motivates you is going on a run, go for it. For me, it's a fresh piece of art each week, whether it's printed off the internet or something I've done myself, I have a spot on my bulletin board just for that purpose. Seeing something new and inspiring just gets me going in my week, no matter how daunting that week is. Fresh flowers are also a favorite way of mine to be inspired- because I love love love nature. Staying inspired can be that you take an icy cold shower to wake you up in the morning or you make one absolutely delicious thing to eat once a week- it's up to you.

Ten. Last but not least, be happy with you. This can be the hardest thing out of all of this. You have your own way to make you feel happy and satisfied. My way is to listen to a playlist made by me, for me, cleaning up my space, and taking a shower. Those days when I look in the mirror and am just frustrated- and we all have those days, whether they're once a week or once a year, they happen- I set aside time to make me feel better about myself. I keep a $30 body scrub I bought in Paris just for those days. I read a portion of my favorite book, I sip on my favorite tea, and I remind myself why I'm awesome. You have your own way of doing it, and if you don't- FIND ONE. Notice how emphasized that is? It's because it's so important. Everything is all for naught if you can't look yourself in the mirror and count to 30 without looking away or feeling less than amazing.

So there they are. Long, maybe, but advice that I felt needed to be shared? Most definitely!

Saturday, July 27

A year and Henderson

So,I was writing in my 5 year journal the other day, the one I mentioned when I first started this blog, after leaving Ukraine, and it donned on me that a year came and went, and it didn't even really register. It's been over a year since I left Ukraine, and longer than that since I made the decision to go in the first place- the day that I decided that how I was living was no longer satisfactory. I've always been an independent person, a characteristic which has drawbacks and advantages- but a year ago I decided that being independent was no longer satisfactory- at least the way I was doing it. Yes, I was on my own, yes, I was going to college, yes, I had friends and loved my classes- but wasn't everyone else at that University doing the same thing? Don't get me wrong, I didn't go to Ukraine just so that I could be different from the rest of the students at my school, nor did I go because I wanted to prove to myself that I could be more independent than I was then- although those were two selfish reasons that did cross my mind. I went to Ukraine because I had a heart to go. Ukraine wasn't my original choice, at first it was Nepal, then I got moved to a South America trip, then finally landed in the Ukraine team. I'll never know why it happened that way- why I ended up in Ukraine instead of any other number of places, but I did, and here I am, over a year later, still with questions.

 And I guess that's the point of me writing everything I have today, is because nobody knows why things happen like they do, not one person has all the answers- we're human, if we had all the answers, we wouldn't be human anymore- it's kind of a key characteristic. However, we have the answers we need, we always will. I know that I went to Ukraine for a reason. That's all I need to know. I know that I came home for a reason. That's all I need to know. I know that a year has passed, and it's taken me time to heal, for a reason. That's all I need to know. I don't need to know specifics, because they don't matter. What matters is that there is a reason, it's not all for nothing, because even if I was able to change one life, leave an imprint on one person- whether that be a staff member, a kid, or even an immigration agent that asked me why I even wanted to be in Ukraine, or heck, even someone here in the States that was blessed by hearing about what I've done- it was all worth it.

That being said, this being mainly a travel blog (hah, if you can even call it a blog, as little as I post), I want to share a bit about my weekend trip to Henderson at the beginning of the summer. It wasn't anything fancy- just four girls hanging out at a lake for a few days, but boy was it beautiful, and so much fun! Henderson is about a 4 hour drive from the metroplex, and a 6 hour drive from Abilene- a bit longer if you stopped for Chipotle like we did. Hey, can you blame a girl? Abilene only has Sharkys, and though the Abilene folk think it's the bees knees, I definitely start to crave Chipotle every few months. Anyways, we went to Henderson and stayed with our friend's Grandpa- who has a lake on his ranch property- we stayed indoors for a couple nights, enjoying the air conditioning and lack of bugs, but then trekked outside to camp for a couple nights- because who doesn't love the outdoors (for short ammounts of time, that is)?


Anyways, the whole weekend was fantastic, and it was good to see our friend Regan before she went off on her summer adventures- and have roommate bonding time.

Next Post: Italy! I'll be going on a road trip with my family in a couple of weeks, checking out some major landmarks (like Mt. Rushmore!), and getting to see my brother in his new home in South Dakota. We'll be in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa (just driving along the border), and South Dakota.

Thursday, June 6

Long Overdue

  So, If you haven't already noticed, I'm really bad at blogging. It's my goal this summer to catch up on blogging about my study abroad travels, so that I have this personal record, and so that other students or people considering going abroad can check out my experiences, and maybe it'll help their own. But first, a quick update on what's going on in my life currently. I am officially a resident of Abilene, I got a house with three other girls that I studied abroad with, and I'm really enjoying it, ups and downs! (P.S. I apologize for the instagram photos, I just don't have the energy to walk around taking pictures of things, and I already had these on instagram!)

 The dining room and kitchen were originally a very obnoxious orange color, and we kept the mocha color in the living room and hallways. The bedrooms were all painted a light gray to cover up their various colors (chocolate, dark purple, burnt orange, etc), curtsey of my dad and his paint sprayer. I'm really enjoying living in a home of my own, but I do miss the ease of living for free with parents, most definitely.

Since I've been back in the states I've taken a trip to Oklahoma to stay in a cabin for a few days in December, a trip to Austin to see an art exhibit that I had a piece in (just a sketchbook, nothing spectacular), taken a trip to Graham, Texas for Easter to do some mudding at a friend's ranch, went to Tarleton State University in Stephenville to participate in an Indian Holi festival, and visited Henderson, Texas for a lazy memorial day weekend on a friend's private lake (living the luxe life, I know). I'll get around to blogging about each of these trips eventually.

For those that are interested my tattoo was completed, back in December, in Oxford, and it will probably get it's own post eventually, because I've had a lot of people ask me why I got what I did, the meaning behind it, and there's just a lot more there than a short blurb in an update blog. It says "Not all who wander are forever lost." It's obviously a play off of the quote by Tolkien, from the poem All That is Gold Does Not Glitter, which is one of my favorite poems. I'm really happy with it, and Will (Villiam Gerbery) at Tigerlilly Tattoos (He's now at Oxford Ink) did an absolutely fantastic job, especially with the vague idea I gave him, the fact that I'm a baby, and it took over 15 hours of work over the span of four sessions.

 So I've already blogged about Ireland and Wicked, Bath and Stonehenge, and Croatia. I still need to blog about Spain, Italy, and Paris, not to mention the few trips I've taken since I've gotten back to the US and the reverse culture shock (it still hits me sometimes). I guess there's no better place to start than with Spain. Like I said in my Croatia post, there's going to be some graphic images from the bullfight, but I'll try to keep it to a minimum, seeing as it's not an experience I like to play over and over in my head. I'm glad I had the experience, it's just not one that I'll be repeating anytime soon, or ever. So, read more about Spain after the jump!