Sunday, December 14, 2014

Augmented Reality (Christmas in the key of G)

Down on the flats in Cleveland

Music is magic, transcending time and space;  Music creates images and words we can't find on our coffee-stained papers, filling in the blank spaces in our lives that need illustration; Music augments reality, evoking tangible feelings only achieved through a perfect combination of measures and melodies.

When I was younger, I was the girl who'd post lyrics from her favorite song as an away message on AIM (and maybe I still do the same thing on Facebook. . .).  Any time anyone says even one word from a song, I'm the first person to start singing its lyrics.  Most of my life's advice for myself and others comes from Bob Dylan and The Beatles or one of my favorite hymns.  Music has been gifted to me through those who do it best. It's a daily inspiration and encouragement for every moment in my life, acting as a safe haven when I've experienced some of life's inevitable storms.  Music surrounds my favorite memories, and my worst memories.  It's helped me grieve, love, understand and grow. I think anyone who loves music can agree that it has the power to take our minds to a place that seems far away but instead is giving us the means to remain in the present moment when our minds are usually running in a million different directions.


Around this time of year there's a lot of a gift-giving that happens between friends and loved ones.  Seeing Johnnyswim in Cleveland this past Thursday reminded me how God gifts each person with a talent that often becomes our passion, enabling us to use it in creative ways as we interact with the rest of the world.  As a new fan of theirs, I entered the Music Box Supper Club with fresh ears, only familiar with their NPR Tiny Desk concert (see above^^, it's a must-watch vid!).  The band's raw talent and chemistry on stage fully engaged the audience as they went through some old tracks and current Christmas renditions. I was overwhelmed, as I usually am, by the simple, pure bliss of listening to live music.

Abner Ramirez, the husband of the married duo, inserted comments throughout the concert.  Among his jokes and stories, he mentioned how playing live and doing what he loves isn't about his personal enjoyment on stage, but the happiness and love of music that creates an aura in the room between the performers and the audience.  He continued describing how music brings people together, pulling us into its melody, creating harmony in our minds and carrying us to a place of utmost joy.  Music is the gift Ramirez was given, in order to give to others.  Throughout Jonnyswim's performance, it was obvious their hearts were set on fire for sharing their talent in the hopes that it might positively motivate those in the crowd.

winter old-fashioned; Mad Men anybody?

Everyone's gifts are different.  Some of us might still be searching for our niche, but it will be  revealed as we move throughout each stage of life.  Our gifts from God aren't meant for selfish reasons, but in order to create a better kingdom on earth.  This Christmas season don't just be thinking about the gifts you can wrap in a red bow, but the ones that create faith, peace, love, hope and joy.


I'm born to go where they tell me it's impossible
Fan the flame and walk on the water
I've got heaven locked up in these bones

Monday, November 17, 2014

Artist of the Day: The Ghost of Paul Revere (17 Nov. 2014)

Back in the first days of The Indie Attic Girls blog, I frequented an "Artist of the Day" post. It's time to bring back some tradition (After all, winter is the master season of remembering tradition!).

Today's artist is The Ghost of Paul Revere.

I stumbled upon these guys while endlessly clicking on Spotify's music suggestions. . .a task I'm not ashamed to admit turns from 10 minutes of music discovery to 2 hours.  The Ghost of Paul Revere is a 4-piece "holler-folk" string band from Buxton, Maine.  Their eclectic sound hones harmonies akin to Mumford & Sons and CSNY, while bringing the soul with gospel rhythms and lyrics. Influenced by the Beatles and Elmore James, they combine two unique traditional styles of music played in an untraditional fashion.  Max Davis, Sean McCarthy, and Griffin Sherry, childhood friends, formed the band in 2011 with the addition of Matt Young.

Their single "After Many Miles" showcases their solid three-part harmony accompanied by a simple heart-pounding foot stomp/hand clap combo; think about what it would sound like for Queen to do an acoustic version of "We Will Rock You" with the addition of a North American autumn-inspired lyrics and you've got The Ghost of Paul Revere.

This summer I'm hoping to see them perform if I make it back to Maine! The link below shows them performing in a studio interview in Portland, ME. . .they look like the perfect summer night (copyright YouTube and 'Live At The Studio Portland' productions).

Live At The Studio Portland - The Ghost of Paul Revere


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Branching Out [Vlog]

I haven't done a video blog post like this for 2 years so thought I would switch it up! Have had a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head the past few weeks as I've been reading "Praying Like Jesus" by James Mulholland.  One of those little things I say every Sunday but have never really examined what the prayer is requesting. Something I've been thinking about and hoping to get others to think about.

Have a fab weekend!!


“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.” 
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Saturday, November 8, 2014

poetry corner #5

As I've hit a writer's block the past couple of months I scrounged around for some of my old class notebooks.  Junior year at Westminster I took Dr. Swerdlow's poetry class, one of my favorite courses during my 4 years of university.  In my class journal, I'd scribble down some of his best quotes that helped to shape the creativity of my writing.  Looking through the archives I was reminded that blank pages are intimidating, poetry is like religion, writing isn't always comfortable but it slows us down when everything else seems a bit hectic.  And for this, I'm thankful.  We can never be perfect at what we do, sometimes we'll hate our work and others won't appreciate it, but we should never give up on what we love just because we've hit a brick wall; just find a different way to break through it :)


“Nothing is as intimidating as a blank page.”
“Poetry is not unlike religion. . .pairing suffering with beauty.”
“Take time to reflect on what you’ve been doing, if your poems can slow you down and allow you to dwell in that moment. . .be thankful.”
“Maybe it’s not the comfortable poem to write, but maybe you get more texture.”
“It may be that you didn’t put enough of the world into your poem for us to see it”

In November country,
strangers sip coffee
beneath umbrellas
for one-lane dirt roads,
and grey, impending skies.

Yellowed novel pages,
autumn's brown debris,
rest between knobby knees
bumping against a bus window,
her awful bare bones draped
with whiskey shivers.

His green army jacket
conceals a black suit;
stained with mustard
and cigarette burns,
it smells of cinnamon and patchouli,
remnants from a visit
to his grandma's.

Exchanging green glass whispers,
they joke about the weather,
as it pitters, patters,
and don't question
where he's going
or where she's been.

xx Hill

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"She came in through the hostel window. . ."

I think I'll take a walk, leaving Liverpool.

Double gin and tonic please? 12:35 AM, their second stop on Mathew street. Saturday: full swing, full moon, glass half-full atmosphere, where stilettos and cuff links mingled with combat boots and wedding rings. 

Where are you parents, love, certainly you’re too young to be here.  Are you European? The 60-year-old sport-jacketed man pulled over a stool, accompanied by two others, most likely his mates since grade school having a lads’ night out.   The sticky coasters became occupied by three glasses of Guinness, the foam perfectly untouched by eager lips.  Giggling, she turned her focus back on the dancers, elbowing her travel companion.

The modpodged walls reverberated out-of-tune karaoke, allowing the middle-aged English to twirl on the floor between sips and whispers.  The 20-something wallflowers soaked in their energy. That’s it - the ticket to life, the ticket to ride. Simplicity. Simplistic happiness.  It was tempting to join the locals in their waltz, body language becoming the universal accent.

As their glasses emptied and eyelids drooped, the pair weaved through the effervescent crowd, craving a place to call home for the night. 


Her room reeked of man and she wondered if she was safe in her corner; she clutched a phone in sweaty palms, gluing it to her chest in concealment of a passport and cash.

Unwashed, her messy hair splayed on the pillow, weaving glitter into the cotton threads. How did I get here? her ears rang with existentialism, drowning out the drunken confessions and troubadour rhythms wallowing through the cracked March window.  The glow of fairy lights and pub signs made shadows dance across the stone cold walls, soaked in the fingerprints of strangers.  Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. It’s wonderful to be here, it’s certainly a thrill.

Rattling with the snores of a French native, the tangled sheets behind her masked a disheveled traveler, his lone Sperry the monster under the bed revealing his gender.  She slithered further under her duvet, protecting her foreign heart from unfamiliarity. 

She traced a figure 8 in the air, a ghostly image melting into the blackness. Restless. To infinity and beyond.  With a heavy exhale she released her shoulder’s tension, smiling and remembering who she was as she drifted into wonderland. Gonna let it burn, burn, burn, burn.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When you've got a library card. . .

"Having fun isn't hard, when you've got a library card!" -Arthur the aardvark and friends.

Made a trip to the library today and just a litttttle bit too excited about some of the books I finally get to read. Always and forever a book worm.

Autumn Reads '14
1. Halloween Party - Agatha Christie
2. A Study in Scarlet and the Sign of Four - Arthur Conan Doyle
3. The Princess Bride - William Goldman
4. This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. Doctor Sleep - Stephen King
6. The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis
7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien
8. The End - Lemony Snicket

10. Ghost Story - Peter Straub
11. Praying Like Jesus - James Mulholland
12. Wild - Cheryl Strayed
13. The Story of English - Robert McCrum, Robert MacNeil, and William Cran
14. Witch Hunt - Ian Rankin
15. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cracker Jacks

August 1, 2013.  Bottom of the 8th, The Mariners leading the Red Sox 7-2.  The popcorn-littered seats quickly cleared as exhausted Sox fans threw in the towel for the night. But for me, it was my first time at Fenway and I didn't care that they were losing; I was simply happy to be in the field of dreams, looking out across the Green Giant illuminated by Boston's skyline on that summer night's first kiss of darkness.

I had a long attraction to American football while growing up in New Wilmington, a scene of small town America equivalent to the stories that inspire Remember The Titans screenplays.  On Fridays, girlfriends would sport their player's jersey, a polyester symbol of their affection; Cheerleaders and band front members would be kitted out in navy and gold, carrying around inspirational quotes, balloons and streamers to adorn the players' lockers before homeroom; English and History teachers would wear dog bone earrings and yellow oversized sweaters.  Football fridays were everything; the friday night lights could be seen from every corner of town, the Western stars of familiar comfort and community.  But long before I became a faithful Greyhound cheering from the Band section for four years, and long before I discovered that rugby might just be my favorite sport to see live, baseball was my first love.  The smell of leather still reminds me of my first softball glove, freshly oiled and engraved with my initials so I'd never lose track of it.  My brother and I would spend lazy nights tossing the ball back and forth, working on our long throws for our respective third base and short stop positions. . .the pitchback gathering rust over its 4 months of use. The best Saturday afternoons were spent at Dunham's looking for a Lousiville Slugger and stopping on our way home at Coney Island for cherry soda and chili cheese dogs. Ah, early-summer bliss.

My mum packaged happiness in a cooler when we went to Three Rivers Stadium: Twizzlers, gummy worms, Capri Sun, Crackerjacks and peanuts.  You could never go wrong with Twizzlers.  A picture of me, Derek, Matt and Travis still hangs in my room in remembrance of the old stadium and those late night drives that ended with my Dad carrying me into the house after falling into a sugared sport coma in the car.

Even now the pace of baseball slows down the world for a little while.  For 9 innings, all that matters is hearing the crack of a bat celebrated with organ music.  Baseball transports us back in time to a simpler America, when going to the ballgame on a Sunday afternoon in the 1920s was like a trip to Disney World in the 2000s.  Baseball reminds us of the importance of family, friends, spirit and traditions.  It is America's favorite past time after all.


And at the end of the inning, the Red Sox rose from the depths of the dugout, tying the game with an unbelievable series of plays to clench a win by the end of the 9th.  The Green Giant vibrated with intoxicated laughter and surprised exclamations; it was the most perfect night to be a Boston baseball fan.  And although Boston has a very special place in my heart because of my Papa KK, I will never give up on the success of the Pirates in my adulthood. Happy Buctober!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Be Still & Watch The Leaves Turn

"Now Autumn's fire burns slowly along the woods and day by day the dead leaves fall and melt."

This morning the leaves were swirling on the gravel running path the way only an autumn breeze allows.  Fog settled around the pines, leaving its mark on the dewy wilted dandelions.  I could smell delicious decay in the forest; the earth is once again dying so it can be revived- a beautiful metaphor of rebirth gifted to us through nature.

Pumpkin spiced everything has already been promoted by the big corporations and small town country stores - the universal sign that an orange October is upon us.  The lattes and muffins are pushing nature’s time boundaries; their adverts and Pinterest recipes are suffocating the last breaths of summer.  I love autumn as much as the next person, but my truly favorite part of every year is the transition between seasons.  They have a way of matching up with our personal, human transformations, and summer’s death paints a Dali-like image of its beauty.

One of my favorite quotes about the impending autumn comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”  I love the dichotomy of death and life becoming a parallel structure as summer fades to autumn.  Even though the early frost covers fields of grass and the animals are preparing for a harsh winter, the late September sun is still awake after dinner time and summer’s background chorus of cheering baseball fans can still be heard on the streets of Pittsburgh.  The slow transition gives us reflective space; we take chilly morning walks accompanied by a light flannel, waiting for the temperature to rise so we can return to our back porch with sunglasses and lemonade, not wanting to lose one more minute of the green season.

I remember learning about forest fires in earth science class and how, although they kill almost all living organisms in their path, they are needed in order for the ecosystem to restore itself by causing a resurgence of needed nutrients in the affected regions.  The fire may leave behind scar tissue, and make it harder to rebuild, but in the long run the forest needed to die in order to gain back some of what it had lost.  Although summer becoming fall is more of a natural biological transition between life stages than a forest fire, the picture is painted in the same light.  Time must be slowed down before it can start back up again, our biological clocks melting like those in The Persistence of Memory.  The precious last minutes of summer mustn't be crushed by early pumpkin sales and premature Halloween costume shopping.  Autumn needs welcomed slowly, like the first sip of a steaming cup of tea or freshly poured whiskey dram.  

Autumn has always symbolized fresh starts amidst its endings: a new school year, a new sport season, a new Bible study, a new job - all time frames that give us the opportunity to set goals for ourselves like finally acing a Biology exam, scoring your first ever college football touchdown, understanding the gospel of John or learning how to become more efficient and prolific in your career.  Autumn beautifully lays to rest our mistakes or failures over the past year; it creates a golden, clean slate for the promise of personal growth as the cycle of a new year begins.  The crispness of the air parallels our fresh attitudes and makes way for changes.  

Ease into fall, enjoy the last minute amusement park trips and restaurant patio nights; reflect on the past year’s moments, memories and lessons; be thankful for the promise of a new year gifting new opportunities to discern the person you’re meant to be in this life.  

Happy autumn!



"The spring, summer, is quite a hectic time for people in their lives, but then it comes to autumn, and to winter, and you can't but help think back to the year that was, and then hopefully looking forward to the year that is approaching."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Palm Leaves

Palm Leaves

I've always liked hands;
they craft and mold,
shape and shift, 
creating unwritten histories
woven through transparencies:
veins -
life's blue reminders,
love letters interlocking 
pulsing hearts and hidden skeletons.

Fingers laced with calluses,
bruised from mistakes and excuses.
their gold embellished promises,
wrapped around four digits,
number discrepancies
and unspoken apologies
strummed across rusted strings.

I discover maps along palm paths;
notes scribbled and memories nibbled 
on the hitchhiker's thumb
released from the confines
of a closed fist
begging for escapism,
longing for Home.

Boney knuckles clutch a
handcrafted margins
whispering prayers,
questioning conflict
and the exchange of a ticket.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Just A Flock of Birds

"Still I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
'Cause they fly away
One minute they arrive,
Next you know they're gone
They fly on
Fly on

So fly on

Ride through
Maybe one day I'll fly next to you
Fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I can fly with you"

The other day my mum was talking about how it's smart to start collecting dinnerware or thrifting for future living room furniture when you're done with school and making a little bit of money; I giggled thinking about how far removed those thoughts have always been from my mind.  In the very first minutes of Outlander, a steamy time-travel historical drama set in the Scottish highlands, the main character, Claire, window shops in England; upon reaching an odds-and-ends store she stops and thinks, "I've never owned a vase.  I've never lived in a place long enough to justify having such a simple thing.  Sometimes I wonder what would've happened if I bought that vase and made a home for it.  Would I have been happy? Who could say?"

It's no secret that I've had those thoughts on multiple occasions.  Family tradition in this part of the world, "the American dream," is to graduate high school, get a good degree at a good school, settle in with a lifetime career making more money than your parents did, marry a decent man/woman and start a family no less than 20 miles away from where you grew up.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing that way of life, and often I find myself feeling jealous that I don't fit into that particular formula of life after childhood.  I could have that life if I wanted to create it, but I would be feigning contentment to keep up with the Joneses, secretly yearning for much more than story book happiness.  Instead I find myself like Claire, staring at a beautiful set of silk maroon napkins in Tuesday Morning thinking, "These would be so nice for Thanksgiving dinner, such a great color for autumn."  After running the material through my fingers once more, I reluctantly place them back on the shelf, knowing that any previous signs of being settled in one location are obsolete, absolving the purchase.

In recent years, traveling has become my formula of adulthood, a means for me to explore the lives of others, gaining wisdom from watching how they converse, how they cook, how they pray, how they dress, how they overall react politically, morally, ethically and culturally in situations. It's difficult while at the same time exciting, knowing my life, at least at this moment in time, is meant to be lived floating along the edges of others' settled comfortability; I arrive and leave just as quickly as I come and the outlook remains a bit foggy, but by no means distorted.  I'm constantly reminded to walk with caution, without haste, with bravery, and without fear during each new adventure.  I'm not destined for a Disney movie ending, not quite an On The Road or Into The Wild ending either, but a different ending that's yet to be written, sprinkled with elements from each genre.

One of the hardest things about being diagnosed with wanderlust as a lifetime ailment is the challenge it poses for all relationships. I struggle so much, almost more than anything, to understand why relationships have to be so challenging sometimes.  But when a person is physically unsettled, emotional settlement must rely on spiritual settlement; it's a testament of how important it is to have faith and hope in Christ.  It's hard to accept the fact that some people are only meant to be temporary, clinging to our hearts and souls but no longer wandering through our daily physical life at this time; we need Him to share the sadness and pain of leaving others or others leaving us, whether temporarily or permanently.

As I've grown and spread my wings, flying away from my tree planted in Pennsylvania, my branches wound throughout the States and across the seas, bearing fruitful relationships that have planted seeds for new trees, adorned with a new flock of birds.  The more I keep flying, the more trees I see spring up in various locations, witnessing them being nested by another set of friends.  It's a beautiful image, the way these relationships branch off one another, but they need support so they don't become weak or broken.  This is where love, faith and hope are my anchor, rooting me in something much stronger than myself, and will continue to be my source of energy and refreshment when my formula of adulthood feels like too much to handle, or when I find myself slipping into those jealous thoughts: "What if I bought those napkins and created a home for them . . . would I be happier, would it be easier than this life?"

I believe in depth over distance; I believe love can conquer anything; I believe we can still keep relationships, even create closer relationships, when there's more effort required to communicate and more reliance on God needed for strength and encouragement during the inbetween.  You will know when to hold on and when to let go.

I don't know how to answer a lot of my questions but I do know this:

1. The American dream is not mine and that's okay.  It's okay to have a different dream.
2. To love a life of travel is tricky, often confusing and comes with a lot of change, adjusting and heartache. As long as I keep seeking what is greater than myself through these journeys, I have no reason to feel scared, lost, or broken. Patience, patience, patience is needed for the weary traveler.  Everything has a season and reason. "He has made everything beautiful in its time" Ecc 3:11
3.  We encounter many people, some for a moment, but some for a lifetime.  Seek those lifetime relationships with faith, hope and love, but know that some are meant to be short term.  1 Corin. 13:13

Psalm 121:8 "The Lord will watch over your coming and going now and forevermore."


Monday, August 25, 2014

Seize the day, Peter Pan

Like most beloved fans of the late Robin Williams, I couldn't help myself but to pull out every movie I owned of his and start watching them, reminiscing about how much each and every one of his roles has taught me as I've grown into a young adult.  Out of all of his movies, though, I'd have to say Hook left the biggest impression on me as I was growing up.  After re-watching it a few nights ago, I remembered why it was deemed as one of my all-time favorites.

"To live will be an awfully big adventure." - Robin Williams as Peter Pan

At the end of the film, Tootles yells "Seize the day!" and my little nerdy self smiled way too big as I connected Hook to Dead Poets Society.

Neverland in Hook
The story of Peter Pan, created by Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie, is about a boy who never wants to grow up, so he flys away to Neverland, where he can battle pirates, swim with mermaids, fly with fairies, run through the forest with Native Americans and go adventuring and escapading with the Lost Boys.

While Barrie's creation of Peter Pan may have been solely to comment on the selfishness of childhood, I think the character more importantly gives us the freedom to escape once we've reached "the real world."  The story of Peter Pan retold in Hook illustrates key factors in living creatively and lovingly as an adult.

In Hook, grown-up Peter Pan had forgotten what it was like to be a child, unaware of his adventures in Neverland.  He had forgotten how to love like a child: innocently, whole-heartedly, imaginatively and creatively.

Adult Peter Pan became so obsessed with his work, that his family was pushed aside; he'd taken the sacrifice to leave Neverland and grow-up in order to love his wife and teach his children the importance of adventure and curiosity but instead overwhelmed himself with the drama of worldly patterns.

Watching Hook as an adult made me remember that although my career may be important at some point in my life, nothing will ever be as important as the simplistic joy that comes from living life imaginatively and faithfully, and by wholeheartedly investing yourself in every relationship; to live is to make the most of every little day, every little gift and every little moment we are blessed with in our life's small brush stroke in God's painting of the world.

Seize the day, Peter Pan.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Grape Discernment

"Life is about being adaptable; all things change, but it's about remaining true to yourself." - Psych seas. 8

Sometimes we convince ourselves we don't have a plan when in reality, we've been creating a master plan for our lives without letting the pieces fall into place the way the Master has planned for us.

Someone once told me it's like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole; cliche, but undeniably true.  As driven individuals we sometimes refuse to give up on something that masks itself as perfection . . . the one and only answer to ultimate satisfaction and happiness.

We can continue to convince ourselves over and over and over again that something is right for us or meant for us, but know, deep at the heart of whatever the situation is, that it's not our calling, at least not at this time in our life.  Sometimes we want these things so badly that we're willing to do whatever it takes to get them, selfishly pushing aside all of the signs that are pointing us in a different direction on our path.  The other day I was running at Pearson Park, reminiscing about my younger days and journaling some of those memories.

The sun was streaming through the forest I'd grown up in where I'd walk next to my grandparents on hot afternoons.  The trees never really changed height because as I grew up, so did they.  Although the paths in the forest felt more magical when I was little. . .more intriguing and more mysterious, they weaved down the same line of trees.  The park holds in those memories like a snow globe, easily rewatched when the leaves are rustled by a similar breeze from 13 years ago.  I remember the bag of freshly washed grapes staining the brown picnic table, my grandma's soft hands plucking a few and depositing them in my palm eagerly yearning for the crunch of the purple fruit.  She would tell me stories about her childhood even when my eyes kept peaking at the R.L. Stine novel in my lap.  Dad's band would play those boring songs not anywhere near as cool as Britney Spears or the Backstreet Boys, but, they'd eventually become some of my favorites over the years. 

And when we would get back on the trail and take those long walks with Grandpa, the rocky path seemed to go on forever and ever, and I could never figure out which end of the trail we started on.  They'd walk hand-in-hand and I'd lag in the back, staring in awe at the hand-carved initials of young lovers adorning the giant birches' trunks.  "One day it'll be me," I used to tell myself, wrapped up in the fairytale day dreams of a typical 9-year-old girl.

Now the carvings have grown in number, the couples older and probably with kids of their own, hearing stories about their parents' great love and that time they snuck away at the family picnic to graffiti the wildlife.  As my tennis shoes padded past one of the trees, an inescapable giggle flew from my lips, amidst exercise-induced breaths.  The initials haunt a teenage memory that never was.  I created my own path through the forest, writing my initials on rocks and the inside of book covers.

And even though it's the same place, it's always going to be different.  And even though it's the same path, running in a different direction delivers a new perspective.

After that day in the park I couldn't stop thinking about how weird it was when I ran the trail backwards instead of the way I'd always gone before. Although it was the same as it has always been, it was different and I had only failed to notice what was right in front of me.  It made me think how sometimes, in order to find our actual direction, to discern our passions, our driving force and the joy behind our smile, we need to change our approach.  It's the same process, but taken from a different angle.  When we're willing to go a different way than usual on the same course, that's when we find what's been hiding from us.  It's like being in a room with a two-way mirror.  If you're on the inside, you don't realize there's something on the outside looking in.  Unless you step outside of the room, and change your point of view when looking at that same mirror, you don't realize what's always been there staring right back into your own eyes.

It's incredibly easy to miss the signs that are right in front of us when we think there is only one way to achieve or answer a dream, a hope, a goal or a prayer.  Blindsided, we keep running in circles; we're unaware of the fork to the left that's been waiting for us to notice it, hidden behind the cobwebs that have formed from passing it by too many times.

Don't ever stop listening to that voice nudging you to change your direction or your approach.  God's hand is always at work, His voice calling us from every angle.  We have to be willing to take off the blindfold, step out of the mirrored room, brush away the cobwebs and listen - intently and honestly. Just because the doors seem to be closing on a dream or goal, doesn't mean that God hasn't mapped out another way for you to achieve it.  Change offers us a chance to stay true to ourselves and discern our heart's ultimate desires. Don't give up; keep searching.  You will find it and you will be found.

Never stop running the race set out before you.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Reflection, A Reminder and A Recipe

"The joy of life consists in the exercise of one's energies, continual growth, constant change, the enjoyment of every new experience. To stop means simply to die. The eternal mistake of mankind is to set up an attainable ideal."

-Aleister Crowley-

This summer I’ve spent quite a few nights at the old family farm house.  In the backyard, my Dad has been nursing two tomato plants.  Even with all of his tender love and care, specifically spending his time to make sure he’d have bright, red and juicy tomatoes to put on the dinner table, the plant that’s producing the most fruit is the one left alone in a bucket by the window.  All summer he’s left it untouched, thinking that by properly caring for the other two plants, it would mean they’d develop the most successful fruits.  But all he needed to do for the other two was initially cultivate the seeds, give them a kiss of water, a hug of sunshine, pat the soil and whisper “You’re on your own now; learn how to grow strong stems and flavorful fruit.  I will be here when you go through a storm or a drought, to help rebuild and replant; but for now, trust in your strength and the strength of your creator to meaningfully fulfill your purpose as a tomato plant.”

So what do tomato plants have to do with summer time besides how good they taste on a homemade pizza? Personal growth can’t be gained when someone does all of the work for you.  To truly flourish, you need to let go of the nourishment from your parents and your other crutches in life; you must find what makes you buzz, come alive and continuously produce fruit even when you must go through those inevitable transitional periods of drought.  The transition from childhood to adulthood isn’t easy, and the easiness of always running to your parents for money or asking them to make decisions for you will never allow you to develop your own unique fruit.  Neither will staying indoors watching re-runs of Boy Meets World and Mythbusters allow you room to grow when you’re cut off from the sunlight begging you to explore outside and see how you can spread your fruit to others. Save those Netflix marathons for a stormy night after a long day of work.

Now that I’m back in a vulnerable state of transition again, the tomato plants left untouched in the bucket are a reminder of the gift my parents gave me: support, solitude, and space to grow.  It’s when we leave old areas of comfort, enter the scariness of the world outside of the window and trust in the unknown that we’ll truly learn how to consistently produce fruits in the present and cultivate our own seeds in the future.  To find your path which will lead you to produce healthy and hearty tomatoes, you must be willing to let go of what pulls you down and drags you back to unhealthy pasts and habits.  Be still; be present. Water your soul; rest in the light.

Fresh Margherita Pizza

1 frozen pizza crust (recommend Augustine’s)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 bag shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 vine-ripened tomatoes
1/2 vidalia onion, sliced
10 leaves of fresh basil
2 cloves of garlic
salt & pepper to taste

Sprinkle the crust with part of the olive oil and top with the mozzarella.  Evenly spread out the tomatoes, onions, basil and garlic on top of the mozzarella.  Add the sprinkle cheese, salt and pepper to the pizza toppings and top off with the remaining olive oil.

Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Galatians 5: 22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hemingway once told me. . .

". . .all you do is sit down at a type writer and bleed."

Summer 2014 started off with a bang.  I was with energetic high schoolers excited about being in the woods, learning about God and making s'mores merely 48 hours after getting off my flight from Glasgow.   It was hot, it was tiresome, but it was so fulfilling.  Now that I'm back on home base after a few months of galavanting, it's almost more overwhelming to have loads of free time in the evenings when I arrive home from work.  Going from living out of a suitcase to having three fully filled closets is enough to make someone re-evaluate their life decisions.  A little dramatic, but the quarter-life crisis has gotten the best of me recently.  So I took Hemingway's advice.

* * *

The twilight air smells electric, encompassing the pines and maples looming over the gravel drive.  Veins of leaves are exposed as the Northern wind ripples

through the forest, begging for rain’s accompaniment. Outside her window she loses herself in the breeze, forgetting the soul-drenched sadness that comes every so often.  The earth is her medicine.  The dew drops an elixir in the morning, the stars a stoney prescription for the restless evening. The wind and nightingale echo her message, her prayer.

Queen anne’s lace pepper the hills, patches of clover peaking through the tufts of kelly green grass.  One glance outward, one breath inward, erasing the fear.  Maybe we are only supposed to wonder, stashing wisdom and insight in our back pockets as we continue through the woods.  Maybe answers can never be found, but common understanding help us connect and help us love.  

Softly moving a fallen piece of hair behind her ear, she sighs and rests her head against the bed frame. The trees stare back in silence as the fireflies teasingly glitter in the approaching darkness outside. Thunder softly rumbles in the distance; another storm, another night.


Monday, May 5, 2014

A flightless bird, an American summer and a mixed tape

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” -Aldous Huxley

Summer is a time of refreshing, recharging, rearranging and rediscovering.  Summer was always the 3-month gap between each school year, where so much seemed to change: not only the colour of our skin or the length of our hair, but our favorite song, new friends and memories from nights staying up way too late and laughing way too much that you've worked off all of the junk food consumed during the three-hour conversation around the campfire.

Now that I'm nearly done with undergrad, the magical concept of summer doesn't seem to fade with time like I thought it would.  Maybe it's the extended daylight hours, the green forests begging for company or the seemingly endless back roads that lead to nowhere, anywhere and everywhere.  But something about the summer pushes away all of the anxiety, stress and fear felt during the other three seasons; you forget just how difficult the previous 9 months were and relax in the present, not wanting to waste one day of sunshine.

But something about the summer is also bittersweet because it usually means the end of another journey: the end of another school year, a final track season, a semester abroad, an internship, a lease with your roommates, or what society defines as 'childhood.' The changes are inevitable and unavoidable, but the softness of a cool summer breeze, the cooing of morning birds, the sweet taste of farm-fresh strawberries and the smell of fire lingering on your favourite flannel ease the transition; I'd like to think it's another way God has given us to find peace and comfort in difficult times.

With each summer, music becomes my best friend when real friends are scattered across the globe in Africa, Colorado, Spain, Idaho, Scotland, North Carolina, England, Pine Springs, Iraq, Northern Ireland, France, and Illinois.  My relationship with music has helped me bridge the distance between oceans, lakes, interstates and roundabouts. I find that music can create emotions that words on paper or by mouth can't always suffice on their own.  So, when another summer rolls around, I've realised mixed CDs keep the summer spirit alive and allow for communication with faraway friends that goes beyond the screen of a Skype date.

The mysteries of summer hide among the pines and beneath suntanned skin; the revival of creation refreshes our minds, spirits and bodies; music finds a way to bring together the emotions, the senses and the comforts to keep us connected even if it's just by taking a drive with the volume cranked or taking a run by the river with iPod in hand.

Summer '14: Rooted "The joy of nothing is a sweeter something and I will hold it in my heart"

1. Heart and Soul - Huey Lewis & The News
2. American Girl - Tom Petty
3. Down On The Corner - Creedence Clearwater Revival
4. Amsterdam - Peter, Bjorn & John
5. Magic - Coldplay
6. Islands - The xx
7. Time Keeper - Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
8. Misunderstood - The Tedeschi Trucks Band
9. Barton Hallow - The Civil Wars
10. Soul Singing - The Black Crowes
11. Another Kind of Green - John Mayer Trio
12. Help Me Lose My Mind - Disclosure, London Grammar
13. Open - Rhye
14. My Blood - Ellie Goulding
15. Dreams - Fleetwood Mac
16. Sing To The Mountain - Elephant Revival
17. Rye Whiskey - Punch Brothers
18. When You Come Back Down - Nickel Creek
19. Lonesome Road - We Banjo 3
20. Fire and Rain - James Taylor
21. Gypsy - Suzanne Vega
22. Joy of Nothing - Foy Vance
23. Me & God - Trent Dabbs
24. No Woman, No Cry - Bob Marley & The Wailers
25. I'll Be Seeing You - Billie Holiday

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination

and life to everything.” - Plato


Saturday, May 3, 2014

To be expectant is to be vulnerable

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." Ecc. 3:11

If you ever think doing the same thing twice means it will be a repeated experience, think again.  The last time you walked into town to buy groceries, did you see the same people? Did you buy exactly the same food? Or did you veer from your usual broccoli and cereal shopping list? Was the weather the same? Were you in the same mood that day? Chances are, nothing was exactly same even though the task was; albeit there were similarities paralleling each other between the two trips, you had a different experience.

A lot of the time people get caught up in the belief that doing something twice will mean you receive the same experience.  When I decided to study abroad again at the same University, I couldn't even count how many times people asked if I was expecting to do the same things I had last time.  It took a while for people to understand that the reason I was going back wasn't so I could relive an amazing semester I had in autumn 2012, but yet I was hoping for a completely different experience; my bucket list was full of the things I DIDN'T do on my first trip, and ideas of new ways I could expand, grow and explore a place I'd already been.  If you believe that doing the same thing means it will have the same outcome or results, you are automatically signing up for inevitable disappointment and failure; no matter how hard you may want to re-create or relive an experience, it isn't possible.  And why would you want to live in past experiences when you have the opportunity to establish new ones?

Another problem with "repeating" experiences is remembering negative connotations or outcomes associated with the last journey or event.  When we dwell on those bad experiences, they seep into our present lives, causing us to think that trying something again that we previously failed in will have the same end result; we let those fears hold us back from picking up the broken pieces and finding a new way to make it work.  For instance, the first time I tried out for majorettes, I didn't make the squad.  I was completely devastated, as most 15 year-old girls usually feel after rejection, but the next year I was able to embrace my fears and give it another chance, fully aware that I might fail again but knowing there was an equal chance of succeeding.  Terrified and more nervous than my first try-out, I was the best version of myself in the gymnasium even though it wasn't a perfect routine; I showed the judges that I wasn't willing to give-up on something I loved, even though I had faced failure in the past.

The joy about doing something twice is being given the opportunity to recognize your growth. After coming back to Stirling, I can say that this experience has been 100% different from my last trip.  This semester I've noticed how much I've changed since my first time here, which may have been something I wouldn't have picked-up on if I didn't come back for a new experience, remembering my first experience.  To think that I am the same person I was on my first semester abroad would be insane; I look at the girl and ask "what the heck was she thinking?!?" Growing up means growing into the person you were made to be, day by day, month by month, year by year.  Whether it was a past failure or a past success, our personal development isn't limited to a negative or positive journey.  Regardless of the situation, time equals change, and it scientifically cannot be denied.  When you are about to embark on a trip or involve yourself in a situation you've faced in the past, it is best to enter the situation with a blank slate.  But if you want to set goals for yourself, don't base them off your past; instead, create them as a way to build-up your future self.

This summer I will be returning to Camp Ligonier, a past experience that has shaped me into the woman I am today.  As much as I may wish I was working with the same staff or would have all of the same campers or would re-live all of the funny memories from 2013, I'm so excited and expectant to see how else I can grow as a leader, a friend, a role model, a woman and a follower of Jesus.  I have no idea what this summer has in store for me, but that is the beauty of having a blank slate.  I can use the wisdom from my first summer as a counselor to help me be a leader toward new staff members and also further establish a comfortability and vulnerability in sharing my faith and life experiences with others.

Be open; be vulnerable; be expectant; be willing; be trusting; be motivated by faith.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor. 12: 9-10


Thursday, April 24, 2014

poetry corner pt. 3

I wish I was better

A migrant bird, she searches for home.
Her gold-embellished wings
shadow emerald irises,
slowly rising
with murky water
drifting along the quiet bank.

A brambled bite
rests on her lips,
thirsting for resolution;
"cairn o'mohr,"
the mantra, a ghost, between
budding pink-coloured trees.

That look - the unspoken
sorrow, pierces dewed air
resting between the stone,
cracked along the foundation.

Slipping, swirling,
she loses herself inside
the narrow green glass;
She's Alice in Never Never Land
flailing through fact and fantasy.

Captivating, mesmerizing,
the bird knows her name
and relaxes amidst the chaotic
time capsule, her lover guarding 
her foreign heart.


the green wallpaper

The green walls in his house made his emerald eyes glow beside crow’s feet, an outward sign of his moments spent in laughter.  At 7 I was almost as tall as him. 

“It’s because I’m Irish,” he’d say, giving me a little pat on the head. Ah, the luck of the Irish.  

The moan of the coffee machine kept me glued to the counter, watching the chemistry bubble and steam.  He’d always fix me a bowl of cream-of-wheat, and pretend he didn’t see me pour an entire handful of sugar from the crystal shaker into my mouth.  The perfect grandfather.

Walking down the hallway toward the video room was always an exciting adventure, like searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  The blue carpeted room was lined with home movies and recorded rentals, the titles often spelled wrong in his half-upper, half-lower case scrawl.

“Pick anything you want, honey,” he would coo, the crinkled lines returning to the corners of his eyes.

It didn’t matter how many times I went into that room, but I always ended up choosing his copy of The Labyrinth, fully aware that the first half of the movie weaved between black and white and color video.

I would settle onto the couch, with Beanie at my feet, a bowl of grapes by my side and an unfinished puzzle sprawled on the oak coffee table, waiting for its completion to reveal a scene of the eastern coastline.  

And at the end of the day I would read a Goosebumps novel out loud, snuggled beneath a blanket, hoping he wouldn’t fall asleep again and miss the best part.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Daffodil Daylight

A little creative piece I wrote today reminiscing on spring days back home.

The warmest day of the season always calls for a really long run, exploring a new road, a new route, a new memory.  Blue skies whisper her name, beaconing her to bask in the sunlight creating shadows between the hills painted in the distance.  She longs to be carefree like the girl in her old photo albums: the long-limbed, long-haired wishful thinker and wanderlust wonderer. 

Love-worn sneakers scrape the crumbling blacktop adjacent to the green grass - so soft that as a child she would always lie in it; she’d swim with her arms and legs in a snow-angel motion, wishing that her hair could smell as good and feel as good as the spring texture tickling her neck. . .

The yellow of the season’s daffodils reflect under her chin as she clutches the bunch just freshly picked from the front yard.  She skips with joy toward the kitchen door, eager to greet Mum with spring’s present when she arrives home.

On lazy afternoons like these, she runs inside to change for soccer practice, making sure her socks match her t-shirt and that her pink water bottle is filled with the appropriate ice to water ratio.  

Sitting on the counter, she searches for the egg kit her Mum had promised to buy the day before.

“I hope it’s tie-dye,” she thinks to herself, pushing aside paprika and coriander spice as she rummages through the cupboard where secrets were never actually kept hidden.

She hops off the counter, the wood softly creaking under her weight as she runs over to the table to arrange the flowers in the old glass vase.

“Perfect,” she sweetly smiles, crossing her arms over her chest.  

The breeze calls her name once again, gently whipping through the door’s screen.  Outside she returns to her spot beneath the cherry blossom tree, at its peak with pink and white buds overlapping the shapes in the sky.  Her braided hair warms in the sun, resting on her favorite pillow: an Adidas soccer ball.

With a white daisy in her hand, she returns to her daydreams under the clouds: “He loves me, he loves me not. . .”


Sunday, April 13, 2014

global thoughts in coffee shops

When you've been in one specific place for a certain amount of time, you often find yourself feeling almost too at home, if that is possible.  You stop making the conscious effort to be awed by the beauty of the landscape, impressed and inspired by personalities of locals, and even accustomed to the taste of what used to be foreign delicacies; we let the comfort and familiarity of a place halt our desire to learn more.  Fortunately, breaking out of this funk is easier than you may think if you ever find yourself slipping into a mundane routine which used to be new and exciting.  Nobody ever said life has to get boring; there is no quota for the amount of adventure to be had in one place.

Since this was my second time back in Scotland, I was so excited for all of the familiarities, all of the nuggets of knowledge and wisdom gained from my last trip that left a lasting impact, turning Stirling into my second home.   I was almost more excited for things I already knew, not the things still left to be discovered: real coffee from the Burgh, daily UniLink trips to campus, seeing the Wallace Monument every time I look outside, and conversations to be had with friends in the chaplaincy every Thursday night.  These are all good things, happy things, routine things that define the word "home."

There is nothing wrong with identifying "home" as "other," because being able to do so is a blessing; but it also means we forget there is still so much to be learned in that place, and so much more adventure to be had.  The trick is to change your outlook and ask: "What can I learn about myself, someone else, or some random fact about this place today? What new store or street can I discover? How else can I embed my heart, mind and soul in this culture?" I found that adopting this mantra pushed me to search for new experiences where it seemed like I had learned all I could possibly learn - but we never know everything.  There is always something to be discovered, we simply need to stop allowing ourselves to let the feeling of "home" blind us from those new discoveries.

This past Monday I found myself quietly meandering down a narrow alley situated by Molly Malone's, Stirling's own Irish pub.  With slight hesitation, but a heart infused with adrenaline, expectant of discovery, I entered the back room of a music shop.  The room's perimeter was draped with fairy lights, illuminating the orange walls scrawled with murals and writing.  The room was filled with young, old, foreign and local residents, a bevvy in hand and a smile upon their faces as they enjoyed the poetry of talented Stirling writers.  Just when I thought this place couldn't get any cooler, I was fooled again.  And inspired to do a little creative writing of my own.

Search for something new every day.

Echoing Truth

Reminders remain
in the foreign, in the same
the music from
an old friend plays
embellishing the background - 
and she twirls,
familiar lights flashing upon
her heels, childhood remembered.

The warm mug rests,
cupped in a worn-out palm
reading Psalms,
looking for God
in coffee grounds.

The wrinkled pages
recognised beneath
ink blots and
commonplace thoughts,
echoe adventures 
prescribed from the map
on the wall,
screaming: "listen to your call."

You can't find comfort
if you look for it alone,
you can't find yourself 
in the vast space
of a falsely distant land
mirroring home,
old and new - parallel,
reflecting truth.

It's there, always will be
and will never leave.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Life Lessons Living Abroad (Part 2)

In 2012, I had my first opportunity to jump the border and spend four months of the autumn semester in Stirling, Scotland.  Now that I’m back in that same place, but during a different time of year, and a different time in my life, reflecting on my past experience has brought to light how much I have changed since that first trip.  Traveling is one of those terrifyingly exciting experiences that fully exposes your weaknesses and strengths in addition to your fears and desires.  This list is not only about the life lessons I have learned throughout my travels, but also hints and tips in regards to making your way through foreign territory.

1. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to do something aside from your normal routine, like studying abroad, taking a job or internship on the other side of the country, or committing to a month-long mission trip in a third world country. If you are hesitant about making the first move, do it anyway.  You will regret turning down those opportunities.  There is a reason you have that opportunity, so take it! “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” - FDR.

2. Be open to new relationships. There is no such thing as a “friend quota.” I once thought there was a time in your life where you stop meeting people and stop doing new things, allowing life to become mundane and stagnant.  In fact, it is the opposite.  The older you become, and the more you grow into the person you were made to be, the more likely you are to find friends who truly understand you.  These new relationships are often life-changing and worth the effort to make the first introduction.

3. Always try a country’s national dish.  Whether it is mussels, waffles, chocolate and beer in Belgium, haggis, Irn Bru and shortbread in Scotland or mate, completos and terremotos in Chile, do not let your taste buds down.  Food is one of my favorite parts about travel; you learn about the folklore behind the dish and have the chance to embrace the lifestyle of a native by eating something routine in their daily lives.

4. Hostels over hotels.  Do not let the film Hostel scare you away from saving money; hostels are one of the coolest ideas that seem to have been forgotten in the States.  They are very inexpensive and make traveling around Europe a lot more college-budget friendly.  Not only do most youth hostels offer kitchens, free wi-fi, free all-you-can-eat breakfast and late night bars serving food and drink, but you also get to meet other travelers exploring the world and learn a little bit about their own stories.  

5. Learn how to read a map.  I cannot stress this enough.  Without 3G and wi-fi, Google Maps is useless while backpacking through Europe.  Our generation has allowed the GPS to be our guiding voice but it is time to break free from that habit.  You will learn more about the place you are visiting and be more likely to remember how to navigate that area.

6. Go to local spots just as much as tourist spots.  The tourists spots are there for a reason and if you are willing to spend the money, they are usually worth it.  In order to truly experience a culture, though, ask locals what their favorite restaurant is or what they fancy doing on a weekend trip or night out on the town.  Place yourself in their shoes.

7. Be proud of your heritage.  Represent your country with positivity.  Embrace your accent, your hair color, your skin color, your favorite past time and your country’s traditions.  Allow your identity to be shaped by these qualities.

8. Life is short.  Make the most of it by saying “yes” as often as you can and stop hesitating when making decisions, whether small or big.  This is not an excuse for having a “YOLO” attitude, though. Be smart when you make the best out of every day!

9. Relax, be still.  Enjoy the simplicity found in quiet moments.  Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” - John Lubbock.

10. Face time over FaceTime.  It is no secret that today’s 20-somethings have a major attachment to technology.  Learn from your elders, they have something we seem to have forgotten: the power of face-to-face interaction.  While living in Scotland I earned how beneficial it is to fully give your attention to another person.  The mutual disregard of texting, tweeting and Facebook messaging while hanging out with another person truly enhances the conversation and relationship.  Let it go.  A text can always wait.

11. Be encouraged, not discouraged.  Traveling is not always magical.  A lot goes wrong and those inevitable disasters can seem to ruin a trip.  Instead of allowing those incidents to bring you down, let them build you up.  Without realizing it, every trial teaches us a lesson and is often just what we needed to learn.

12. Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places.  Old book shops, creepy paths running behind a castle, or late night train rides back from the city all offer beauty in different respects.  Search for the good in everything because once you peel back the layers, you never know what you may find.

13. There is a difference between independence and loneliness.  I had a lot of people tell me that studying abroad is one of the loneliest journeys.  If I didn’t have enough to fear already, I was terrified I’d realize just how alone I am in the world.  To travel independently, though, does not mean it will be lonely.  When our lives get so busy, we often forget to learn about ourselves through times of solitude. Traveling gives you the opportunity to learn how to be at peace with being alone when there is no opportunity for companionship.

14. You don’t have to sit at a desk to learn.  The experiences you make on a hiking trip, at a birthday party or when trying to figure out how to use a country’s currency are just as important, if not more important, as what you learn in the classroom.

15. Smiling is a universal language.  When language barriers get in the way of communication, smiling can always be understood: as a form of gratitude, a “hello,” or an acknowledgement.  It is a mutual understanding that often speaks more than words.

16. Don’t be afraid to fall in love.  It is easy to fall in love with a country while traveling: the landscape, the language, the food, the culture and the people all contribute to one’s fascination with a location.  Travel can open your eyes to that place you have been searching for to fill a void in your life.  Never feel bad for liking to live in a country apart from your own; if that feeling exists, there is a reason for it. 

17. Humility.  Recognize the United States is not the center of the universe and that there is a lot to learn from other cultures.  If you are open to other’s traditions or languages, your efforts will be respected and appreciated.  Recognize that you are the outsider, the tourist, and gain a new perspective by remaining in that position.

18. Your career does not define your life.  How many people do you know that have actually used their degree for a job which exactly matches its description?  Life will take you in many different directions, and as hard and confusing as it may feel, our desires and wishes are bound to change as we grow older.  Be willing to let God take you in unexpected directions.  Don’t let the title of your bachelor’s degree keep you from trying out a new discipline.  

19. Be thankful. Every day, show your gratitude for the blessings you have been given, no matter how big or small. “Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.” - Robert Louis Stevenson.

20. Let the life lessons you have learned bind themselves to your heart.  When you return to your respective home after a long life-changing journey, it is easy to fall back into the routine life you had before your trip.  Remind yourself daily of the lessons you learned by making a list or spending the day putting them to use.  

And just for fun, here is a pretty funny Huffington Post article about studying abroad that I found pretty accurate aside from #15 (there is actually a lot of studying), and #19 (because I argue it is not about luck but it is about motivation and bravery to make the effort to study abroad).