Friday, May 3, 2013

There and Back Again

I am certain that many of you have been sitting on the edge of your seat, eagerly anticipating my next blog post, only to sigh in desperation and disappointment when you realize that I haven't written anything new in the past fifteen days. Aside from my post about Ireland, I have not posted anything substantive in the past month. I apologize, dear readers. To make up for it, I have (below) (in no particular order) pictures and explanations of what we were all up to for this past month. Enjoy!

[In addition: a reflective, and oftentimes quite cliche, post wrapping it all up for real here.]

This is sweet Elizabeth on a carousal. One of the beautiful things about life in London is that it's nearly impossible to stay bored for long. On this particular evening, a couple of us walked around the city. We started by going down Fleet Street, then walking back along the river Thames till we crossed the bridge and stumbled upon this fun little carousal. After that we wandered over to Buckingham Palace (there's a super fun playground in the area and the park itself is gorgeous) before stopping by Piccadilly Circus and catching the tube at Leicester Square to get back home. Most of London really can be walked if you have the time and stamina. And the public transit is wonderful. 
Anyone want to take a gander as to what that (above) is a picture of?
Scroll down and it becomes more obvious.
We enjoyed a trip on the London Eye one night!! The ferris wheel was huge, and we could see miles of city all around us. London is lovely at night as it is, with all of the old buildings lit up. It would be quite eerie if not for the high quantities of people and cars out and about at all hours. We rode the eye in these large pods (on the left side of the above picture) which contained about ten or fifteen people (max capacity was probably thirty, they were huge!). Photos can't possibly capture how beautiful the sights were as we rose up over the city and settled back down just above the Thames. 
As we exited the London Eye, we (of course) saw and took advantage of this lovely photo op spot. The trees were all lit up as if it were Christmastime (it was April, but-as you can see by the coats-it still felt like arctic winter). That night we ended up walking around a bit, playing on a playground (playgrounds are way more fun when you're "too old" for them), and watching a very impressive street dancer perform.
They took us to the London Zoo for class!!! (There was real school involved this semester, I promise.) Our Christian Ethics class went in order to study some on environmental and animal related ethics, but also to have a blast! Although it was very cold (see above: pea coat and chunky scarf in April), we all acted like the children we pretend we're not anymore and had a blast!
We enjoyed scampering around the wide array of exhibits, checking out all the exotic animals! We were especially delighted with the monkey portion, where we could walk around as these little monkeys (above) scampered about, at times even parkour and free running off of and around the visitors!!  
A few of us enjoy the British television show Sherlock, and were delighted to discover that only a few blocks away from where we lived was one of the sites where they film! One of my friends, who enjoys stalking celebrities regularly, notified us of a day when they would be filming, and following class we promptly booked it over to the site above. If you're familiar with the show you'll probably recognize that cafe and if you know who Martin Freeman is you'll be thrilled to note that he is located at the center of that picture in the over-sized greenish coat. So that was super exciting.
Caitlyn and I were lucky enough to get to go (for FREE!! Thanks to a friend) afternoon tea, which we'd talked about doing all semester but never actually had done. Although we arrived cold and wet (because weather in London is even more unpredictable than Texas, believe it or not), we basked in the warmpth of our tea and excitedly nibbled on the yummy sandwiches, scones, and breads provided.
We couldn't stop taking pictures of everything! It was all just so adorable!
The last week, in the midst of the stress and sleeplessness associated with both finals and our last week abroad, our professors took us to see Wicked!! Taylor kindly lent me her super cute sparkly dress and we all had a ball! Definitely a show worth seeing, everyone did an excellent job.

Saying goodbye was of course not the most pleasant thing ever. Goodbye may be the saddest thing to ever happen to a person. I think so at least.
But here's an incredibly uncomfortable goodbye which made me laugh.

As we began our descent to the DFW Airport, Caitlyn and I were greeted by the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, the Texas Rangers Stadium, and a lovely sunset. It was the perfect way to end the ten hour flight home (which, with the help of several movies and the fact that the flight attendents kept bringing us food, wasn't too bad!).

And just like that we were back home again.

I Caught the Bug

The travel bug.

I know that what I just said (and by "said", I actually mean "put that title with that opening sentence") may be one of the cheesier things I've said on this blog. And trust me, I say a lot of cheesy things. But bear with me.

The semester I spent in London taught me a lot. I learned to be thankful for good toilets, nice buildings (as in-some places we stayed in England may have been older than America), reasonable prices on food, and a large community of people who support my faith in Christ. Oh, and Mexican food. I hadn't had good salsa in so long. However, although living in London meant living in a culture that seems very similar to ours here (ie: very well developed country, English speaking, fast pace of life) it was different enough that I experienced mild reverse culture shock coming back home (reverse culture shock is a real thing-shout out to Dr. Sellers for teaching me about it last fall in my Missions and Anthropology course). I appreciate that the British drivers, although crazy, are not as stupid as those driving here. In the churches at least, they focus more on the community and less on the individual. Their young adults have better social skills, and don't sit around a table at a restaurant looking at their phones and not each other. They stay more up to date with the current events around the world than we do here. Oh, and they don't offer Route 44 Sonic drinks-which might be half the reason America has such a large problem with obesity (pun unintended).

Reflecting on the past couple years of my life, I realized that in the past 24 months I've lived in three different states and two different countries, living in a different location or moving somewhere almost every three months. The longest I've lived at home since before graduating high school (I'd already moved to Tulsa the week prior to my graduation) is the month off of school for Christmas break, and my siblings have to make some sacrifices for me to fit back in the house for those fleeting moments when I visit or stay at home. I'm living at home for the next three months, but who knows where I'll be the next summer or in a year and a half when I graduate?

I love this semi-nomadic lifestyle! I find it liberating to move back and forth, to go off and have some amazing stories to tell and live in a variety of places, from the middle of nowhere in the mountains to the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world!!

[Caution: cliche's ahead. #sorrynotsorry]

It is wonderful being home; not living out of a suitcase is such a blessing. It's nice to get settled into a home. One valuable gift I am lucky enough to have is contentment and embracing home as wherever I'm at (not always, because let's be real here, I'm human). I post on twitter here and there about how I'm already restless, ready for a new adventure, and excited to go back overseas to a place I've never been and spend time with people I've never met. However, one thing I've realized over the years is to be thankful for where I'm at now. There's adventures here, new exploits and hazards all over the place, new people! Even in Abilene, notorious for being boring, there's new experiences to be had! This summer I have the opportunity to work a new type of job and enjoy time with my family that we haven't had together in a long time! In the fall I'm already looking ahead to some great new encounters as an orientation leader, student activities leader, and a new job as an RA on my campus!! No matter where you're at, life really is what you make of it. Even if things aren't changing around you, enjoy where you're at. Learn to be content where you are and with what you have! That's one of the most valuable things I've learned. Avoid getting down because you may not have the means, time, or energy to see the sights and view the histories and lifestyles of other cultures!

That being said, I'll just bounce on back to the other side of the spectrum (because my thoughts are completely underdeveloped so I may end up contradicting myself-hopefully not). I'm happy where I'm at, excited for the next few months, but also am already anticipating traveling again. At this point in my life, I can be content with all the things I've done and places I've been (it's way more than I would have dreamed of even five years ago!! And much more than so many other people get to do!), but there are so many more sights, smells, tastes, peoples, places, landscapes, etc to be seen!! If I could be paid just to travel, I would. That's the dream!

Speaking of dreams...Growing up, I've not been one to have a big goal, some big dream to fulfill. All I've hoped for is a family someday and besides that my future remains as an entire book of empty pages, no illustrations of the perfect job, house, wedding, vacation, or whatever taking up space and having to be erased later on by reality. I still hold on to that dream of a family, but living in London has made me realize how passionate I am about travel-seeing the world from other perspectives and living in a culture varying from the one I've always known, it's amazing. If reality permits (aka if I can afford it) I aspire to do much, much more traveling in the future. That may mean road trips through the continental United States, it could mean missions, many more trans-Atlantic flights, or even learning other languages (and I really dislike learning other languages, it's hard for my brain). Who knows? I'm not making any sort of commitment here, but I actually know what I want, which is a big deal considering how hard decisions can be for me.

All I know is that with the certainty of a desire to travel more in the future comes much uncertainty about logistics, reality, and life in general. [I found this nice quote once: "Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown."] But there's no need to worry, because tomorrow will worry about itself. I look forward to the adventures this next day, week, summer, year, and decade throw at me, and glance back in thankfulness for all the wonderful things I already have.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"There are only two kinds of people in the world, The Irish and those who wish they were."

Here's an update on how Ireland was as I take a break from the insanity which is my life. (When I say insanity, I mean it's finals week.) Needless to say, stress is a thing. Luckily, Caitlyn, Zoe, and I enjoyed a break and went to Ireland for two days! We left at about 6AM Friday morning and made it back home around 10 or 11 Saturday night. Going through security was easy on the way there, but apparently my headband has metal in it (who knew?) and I left some water in my water bottle, so I enjoyed a full body pat down [airport security style] experience (which was difficult since I'm ticklish almost everywhere). 

They had these straighteners you could use in the airport bathrooms. 
It was hilarious.
What's more hilarious than that?
Probably watching me try to take the above picture with my phone while drying my hands and trying to be super discreet. 
We began by walking over to Trinity. 
Very nice school. 
We didn't go check out the famous stuff there because we were travelling on a budget. Obviously.
We did, however, cheat the system a bit by standing within earshot of a couple of tours as they walked around the campus. 
We walked on down to St. Stephen's Green.
Apparently framing my face in pictures is a thing again.
Saw some purple and gold (HSU represent!).
At one point we realized that we hadn't really eaten anything but a granola bar.
So we stopped and Zoe and I had the most amazing apple pie with cream.
It looked almost as good as it tasted.
Just looking at it is making my mouth water.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love food?
We stopped by St. Patrick's Cathedral. The park outside of it was lovely.
Not sure if they just call churches cathedrals in Ireland or what.
But it looked nice.
And then we headed over to Christ's Church Cathedral.
And proceeded on inside to do a little self guided tour.
The floors were nice.
After visiting almost a million churches, cathedrals, and chapels this semester, I began noticing things that normal people wouldn't notice.
Like the zig zag design on the arches? That doesn't happen in most places.
And if I remember correctly the pointy-ness at the top of the arch 
is an indication of it being from the Gothic era.
(just checked on google to make sure--I was right)
I never saw "The Tudors" but maybe you did? 
Apparently they filmed a good bit of it at Christ Church's.
And they had the costumes but I didn't take any pictures of that.

After that, we tried to go to Dublin Castle, but there was some "EU Presidency Event" shenanigans, so normal people weren't allowed.

If you know me well, you know I love a good play on words.
Like Shakespeare, that's why he's great.
There were a bunch of bridges, very pretty.
That night we went down to the Temple Bar area.
Tons of people were out and and some of the crowd even danced along with the music, Irish-style.
These guys (both in the picture above and below) were very very talented. I was impressed.
Another bridge.
Me on a bridge.
The next day we happened to run into a Socialist Party protest. 
It was very exciting and fun to watch and discuss the merits of the protest.
The gathering was huge!
We went to the Leprechaun Museum
(yes, it's real)
That picture above is a tube we walked in that made us shrink down to leprechaun size.
It's magic.
We really enjoyed the tour.
Irish folklore is fascinating, actually. 
Check it out sometime if you're bored or looking for something to read.
The weather was very gross, cold, and wet. 
So we came to this mall place for sanctuary.
We each bought a cupcake and sat on the floor in a little nook like homeless people to eat them.
[it's starting to become a bit of a habit to eat in weird/homeless-esque places]
Another bridge picture.
Except way more awesome than all the others.
We went to a little cafe,
where Zoe lined up and balanced one of each type of coin in the euro currency.
Our waiter made fun of us.
But I guess we earned it.
You know those super high maintenance people in restaurants?
That was us.
Silly Americans.
A great time with these two wonderful ladies!!
Ireland was more like Texas than anything I've experienced in the past three months. The culture felt kind of like home, with similar music (some Irish music sounds country-ish, except ten times better), their accents were hardly noticeable compared to what I expected, and the people were very friendly!
I was so sad to leave, hopefully I'll find a way to go back someday.

Also: 3 days till I leave London.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Light at the End of the Tube

It's crunch time here, but awesome things still happen. Like this:

[from an ad in the tube]

In addition to that, I have some amazing friends both here and at home. People who love me and encourage me even more than I deserve. 

And back to the grind of paper writing I go, with a lighter heart and a will to keep on keeping on. The end, though distant, is lighting up the end of this very long tunnel.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Ten Minute Update

[A Ten Minute Update: because I gave myself a ten minute break to do this post, not because that's how long it takes to read. Probably.]

Because of the many papers and tests which my professors have graciously scheduled for us these last two weeks, I must postpone my updates for a few days. Living in London is wonderful, but frustrating when there are so many things on my plate, keeping me from fully experiencing and enjoying this glorious city here at the very end. I am excited to go visit Ireland next Friday and Saturday though!!!

Quick update of things I've done/seen lately:
Wednesday: saw The Misanthrope. Enjoyed it immensely.
Friday: enjoyed the London Dungeon and the London Eye with some lovely views of the city at night!
Saturday: Windsor Castle-the Queen was there, and although we didn't see her we all enjoyed a nice morning at the castle. And the sun was out!! (That's kind of a big deal around here.)
The rest of the time: working on papers and writing haiku's when I get too overwhelmed.

Here's a fun picture of America which isn't totally politically correct but made me laugh with some things I'm excited about below:

Reasons I'm excited to be back in Texas/America:
  • sunshine (you can't possibly understand how much I've missed it)
  • family (obviously)
  • heat (it's cold cold. Coldest spring in 25 years, just my luck!!)
  • friends (for obvious reasons)
  • baseball: go Rangers! (not a thing in this country)
  • school will be OVER for four months!!!! (I'm particularly looking forward to that one right now. Keep me in your prayers please.)
  • no more laundry in the bathtub and/or paying around $15 bucks to wash/dry one load
  • sweet tea
  • unlimited spotify (they only gave me 10 hours here free)
  • chick-fl-a
  • free refills
  • short sleeved shirts/shorts/sandals/sunshine/everything summer entails

Also, here's a nice video talking about what people would do if they had an extra day. Which is totally relevant because I feel like I'm frantically running out of time-both with my school deadlines and with the remainder of my time here.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Easter (and a visit from my favorite dad and brother!)

Ignore the atrociously drab title of this post.
You guys, the best thing happened. Dad and Zeb came to town! Crazy.

So let's just backtrack to Thursday. For lunch, I met up with my old friend Emily and her friend Lydia (which got rather confusing at Starbucks when they called names-her name, which was also my name- and I didn't order that coffee...needless to say, I enjoy my moderately unique name). Unfortunately, we only had about fifteen minutes, so we just shared about our travels. They were both thrilled to be in an English speaking country again, after studying in Spain for the past couple months! I scarfed down my sandwich as we caught up (Emily and I literally hadn't seen each other-and have barley even Facebook messaged-since graduation almost two years ago!) before scurrying off to class at the Victoria & Albert. We saw a variety of wonderful exhibits for class, and (thank you V&A for your free wifi!!) dad and Zeb messaged me until they found our little class just before we all parted ways. Their stomachs begged for a sacrifice, so we quickly walked through the Theatre exhibit before setting off to find food at the Ship's Tavern for some yummy fish and chips!

(disclaimer: this picture isn't actually from the Ship's Tavern)

The following morning we set off for Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. Dad and Zeb sought a better view, since they could see above some of the crowd, while I climbed up and perched myself on a wall nearby. I actually enjoyed a nice view; it was incredible how many languages I heard floating around me! It was hilarious to watch: just as the show began, suddenly a herd of children floated slightly above the rest of the crowd on their parents shoulders. Those who didn't have children with them held their cameras up, and I even saw a couple iPads floating above the masses. After the horses rode off to the arch, we headed over to Trafalgar Square, where a large production of the Easter story took place! Compared to the West End theatre productions I've enjoyed, the acting was by no means phenomenal, but they did very well and did an excellent job portraying the story to such a large and diverse audience. Unfortunately, we needed to thaw out, so we scooted on over to Cafe in the Crypt (at St. Martin in the Fields Church right there on the square) for a scrumptious lunch before enjoying the lovely artwork of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery! Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus came next, just a short walk away, where Dad and Zeb did some souvenir shopping.

We relaxed for a bit at my flat, and several friends came by to say hi and chat. Dad kept trying to get some dirt on me, but his efforts proved unsuccessful. After a bit, we kicked everyone out and headed on over to The Mousetrap-the longest running show in the world! A few days ago when I volunteered at Bloomsbury Baptist Church, some older men told me that they'd seen The Mousetrap in the 1950's! Crazy. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and I believe that dad and Zeb did as well.

Saturday morning, the men set off for the Tower of London while I stayed here at the flat to work on papers and shenanigans. I have a ton to do these past couple weeks, and it's overwhelming when I think about it too much. Despite the amount of whelm I have going on in relation to school, I managed to apply for a ton of jobs online, so hopefully that will yield some good results for this summer! [Sidenote: if you or someone you know owns an awesome business and is looking to hire in the Dallas area for the summer, hmu.] We enjoyed the 8:00 service at Westminster Abbey that night in the chilly but lovely church. And I don't really remember what else we did after that, except some walking around and taking pictures, so let's just move right along.

Sunday morning Tim, Elizabeth, and I left at 5:20 AM for St. Paul's sunrise service. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that the Tube wasn't open yet, so we power walked the whole way there (1.8) miles in about twenty minutes. Dad, Zeb, and I met up, enjoyed a delicious breakfast at their hotel, and headed to St. Paul's for their Easter service!!! It was packed with people from all sides, which made getting in quite difficult and made the service less personal in general, but it was great to be back in that gorgeous building.

Following that, we got some coffee to warm up a bit, checked out St. Bride's Church, went to the South Bank (where we split a slice of cheesecake and looked around at the fantastic book fair!!) before heading out to Zone 2 for the big rowing race between Oxford and Cambridge. The air around us was full of vibrant energy-everyone was so excited, I enjoyed all the energy around me. After watching the boats take off, we headed back toward the tube, but stopped by a pub packed with people watching the race on the TV screens inside. I was lucky enough to stick half of my head in the doorway and watch Oxford win!

I hope Dad and Zeb enjoyed their time here, because it was very nice to get to spend some time with them! After they left it was back to the grind, where I attempted to be super productive, but actually have a lot of work yet to do. Only 17 days (now 16 technically since it's past midnight) till I return to Texas! I'm not sure if I'm excited or devastated.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Less Miserable in Spamalot

Last Friday we enjoyed an extremely cold outing to Greenwich! I'm not entirely sure who the weather thinks she is, but it's supposed to be spring, right? There's been far too little sunshine and quite enough days of thirty to forty degree weather (75 degrees sounds warm and delightful).

Anyway, we hopped on a boat and sped down the river. Sometimes the watercraft would sound like an airplane about to take off, and we all enjoyed gazing out the cloudy windows at the now familiar sights. Catching a glimpse at St. Paul's was like seeing an old friend; I got excited, looked forward to returning to visit, and it looked lovelier than ever.

Once we arrived, we began a bit of a walking tour with Professor Rumbelow. He poked fun at us, as we are all wimps in the cold and the wind was blowing cold through us where we stood. The town was nice, and we were all delighted to discover that something really incredible happened right where we were standing. See if you notice anything about these two pictures:

 This was taken by my friend Caitlyn in Greenwich.
And this is from Les Miserables (the recent movie)

Needless to say, we all freaked out a little bit.

Another picture from the filming of Les Mis. We were right there!!

This trip was also great because we got to check out the observatory, where they figured out latitude, where the Prime Meridian is, and is the location of the most accurate time.

Although the telescope itself was not real, I did get a glimpse of the planet Uranus!
And there's my feet straddling two hemispheres!!

Since then, it's just been a lot of school shenanigans and Spamalot, which we saw Tuesday night. The show was spectacular, exceeding my already high expectations. If you have ever seen Monty Python or studied about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, you'll certainly enjoy this show. Almost the entire thing is a joke, with much political incorrectness and even some breaks on the part of the actors (which actually added to the show rather than make for an awkward moment like it would in many other plays!). The costumes were all bright colors and would be straight up tacky if it weren't for the hilarious nature of the show. We laughed almost the entire time and the cast did a splendid job!

I'm really thrilled because Dad and Zeb will be here very soon!!! I can't wait to see them and spend the weekend together! I'm also getting lunch with an old friend who is in London just for today and has been studying this semester in Spain!