When Reality TV Does Something for Feminism.

Back during Valentines Weekend, I did a blog series about all things love, including one post called “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop…but Maybe I Should?” This post explored my guilty pleasure, ABC’s The Bachelor and all of its spin-off shows.  In the blog, I opened up about some of my vexations with the show, namely that it has some very anti-Feminist tendencies.  I confessed that I might stop watching this franchise’s shows if it didn’t start portraying women in a different light.  Tonight, on this season’s “Men Tell All” episode, I got everything I was asking for.
I have always been a fan of this season’s Bachelorette, Kaitlyn Bristowe.  She was by far my favorite contestant on the previous season of The Bachelor, because I loved her tattoos, witty antics, sense of adventure, and soft heart underneath it all (let’s be honest, I want to be best friends with the girl!).

KB Being Awesome

Love her

I was ecstatic to hear the news of her becoming the new Bachelorette, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching her journey to find love this season.  What I have not enjoyed, however, is reading through all of the backlash she has received on social media because of some personal decisions she made that would ultimately affect her future infinitely more than any of the people writing about her.
Allow me to explain: Kaitlyn has been more intimate with the show’s contestants than previous Bachelorettes have, at least that we know of.  As a result, social media has been plagued with degrading and down-right disgraceful comments about her, calling her every derogatory name in the book.  The worst part of all is that most of the people doing the shaming are WOMEN!  Despite the fact that I might not have personally made the same decisions as Kaitlyn if I were in her shoes, I expect more from my gender.  In a world that constantly seeks to belittle us, I expect us to band together and handle our differences with a little more dignity, class, and compassion.  I also expect people to steer clear from judgment, because we all make mistakes (one of my friends from church said it best—if you “call out” someone, you are not coming from a place of concern for them; you are coming from a place of judgment).
Tonight, I got to watch ABC do something incredible and fight back.  The show’s host, Chris Harrison, publicly showed some of the tweets and messages that Kaitlyn has received so that all of America could see just how far some people have taken their criticism.  They read the tweets/comments/etc. word for word.  I hope the authors of said words were cringing in their seats at home, because people need to realize the effect that words can have, even if those words are composed in cowardice behind a computer screen.  Chris Harrison’s gesture completely blew me away, and I applaud him and ABC for doing it.  It did not seem like a ploy for higher ratings, but rather a genuine act of concern for Kaitlyn.  Chris Harrison also kept up with Twitter and came to her defense if anyone continued to harass her or question why ABC’s gesture was even important.

Harrison

Chris Harrison
Here’s the thing: the gesture WAS important.  Gender bias is unacceptable… cyber-bullying is unacceptable… being downright cruel is unacceptable.  Yet, so many of these issues are swept under the rug.  I’m glad ABC took a stand! And, while it was probably done with only Kaitlyn in mind (as it should have been), it was a crucial move for American pop culture and for Feminism.  Maybe it sounds like I’m being dramatic, but bear with me.  Isn’t it nice to see a progressive move on Reality TV for a change?  Isn’t it nice to hear someone stick up for a woman and derail the vicious double standards that rage rampantly throughout our country?  I could not stop smiling for the rest of the episode.
I am hoping that this is a move in the right direction for ABC.  I think picking Kaitlyn Bristowe as The Bachelorette (or at least one of the possible contenders) was a positive choice as well.  She has shown time and time again that she does not care to say off-the-cuff things, act differently than people might expect, and stay true to herself even if her actions were sometimes not the most popular.  She owns everything about herself, including her mistakes.  And while some people may argue otherwise, I think she is a beacon of class (coupled with some modern sass).  She has also taught us some valuable lessons along the way, like the importance of a free spirit, the essentiality of self-worth, and the healing power of forgiveness. Andi Dorfman, another Bachelorette whom I adored, said it best.

Andi Dorfman
I have nothing but respect and admiration for this season’s Bachelorette.  While I do not envy her having to put up with a lot of prejudiced morons, I am so thankful that she is willing to stand up for what she believes in.  Tonight, she proved that one person can make a big impact.  Her staying true to herself along this entire journey motivated what I previously considered a regressive television franchise to take a bold stand.  I hope she realizes the gravity of what just happened, but more than that, I hope she realizes what an awesome person she is.

You Can’t Go Home Again

“You can’t go home again.”

image

Ok. Thomas Wolfe may have been a bit off when he said that, at least in my case. I have been away from home quite a lot in the past few years, and I always find myself nestled cozily back in the Applachias. What I will say is that ever since my study abroad trip to Spain in 2013, my world view has been turned completely upside down in the best way. I have become restless, unable to stay home for more than a few months at a time. I am actually wiring this blog on my iPhone in the middle of South Dakota. I’m on an 18-day cross-country road trip, and I’m loving every minute.

Travel has become a monumental part of my life since 2013. For that reason, I believe all college students should take advantage of the life-changing opportunity of study abroad, because it changes one’s life indefinitely.

It’s a huge commitment that may be difficult for most people to make.

Coming home is infinitely more difficult than leaving home in the first place.

I remember sitting in orientation for my program. The whole time the presenter spoke about what to expect after our programs, I sat thinking, “this is so overboard and dramatic.” I was inexplicably wrong because every single thing I was told about coming home was and remains true.

After just shy of month, I was not ready to leave Valencia. While pre-program Jill thought she would be ecstatic to return home after her program. Part of me was. I missed my family and sweet fiancé. But, I cried during our goodbye dinner and on the way to the airport. A big part of me was devastated to leave the Spanish culture to which I had become accustomed (if you read my last blog, you know just how incredible and passionate the culture is). Which brings me to my next point…

Reverse culture shock is real. Upon returning home, I could not handle some elements of American culture.

What do you mean we don’t get 2 hours for lunch and siesta?!

No one really goes out dancing on Tuesday nights? Since when?!

J-Walking is a thing? My friend actually got a $270 ticket for it?!

How can alcohol be such a prominent part of the Spanish culture, yet alcoholism is much more prevalent in the U.S.?

I would have never asked these questions before, because I would not have known to question the American way of life.

Before Valencia, I questioned a lot. Now, I question everything.

Before study abroad, I valued diversity. Now, I find it absolutely essential to life. I have become more intentional about seeking out new people and learning about their life experiences. I try to live as a summation of the positive elements in all the people I meet.

Since 2013, I have also become more intentional about looking for beauty in the world. Sometimes it takes throwing yourself into a completely new environment to notice how awe-inspiring the world really is. Traveling has taught me to seek out all that is beautiful in the world. I continually add more places to my “bucket list,” but I am learning to settle my continual case on Wanderlust in my own hometown.

Study abroad is a Catch-22, really. You have the best experiences ever, because you interact with places like a local.

You are also forced to examine all of your perceptions on the world. Most of them change… mostly for the better.

A whole world is opened up for you. But, you pine for adventure, and leaving new, beautiful places is tangibly painful.

You will be forever reminiscent, fulfilled by the memories you have. You will also have the biggest case of nostalgia imaginable, and you can’t shake it; it never goes away.

For many, home means contentment and comfort. After study abroad, those two things feel like complacency.

In that way, I suppose Thomas Wolfe was rightful in saying, “You can’t go home again.”

How cleaning out my closet taught me what’s wrong with the United States

Saturday, I spent the afternoon on the lake with my husband and brother-in-law.  Falling for the old trick of “it’s cloudy, so I don’t need sunscreen,” I got a killer sunburn, especially on my legs.  How does this relate to my closet-cleaning and what I believe to be the biggest flaw of mainstream American culture?  I couldn’t tell you now, or it would spoil this entire post.

As a teacher, I bask in summers off.  I’m all about them!  One of my favorite things about summer is time to do home improvement projects I don’t normally have time for.  Sunday, I tackled my closet, which had become an overflowing disaster zone.  There were clothes falling out as soon as I opened the door, things not in their rightful places, and extra hangers nowhere to be found.  I could feel my anxiety mounting.  I knew the task would require most of the afternoon, so I got to work, taking deep breaths all the while (I’m not being dramatic; my anxiety really did increase just by looking at the hurricane zone that was my closet).

I took my time on the project, individually inspecting each piece of clothing while deciding its fate.  Many of them evoked memories. Some things were really hard to put in the bag, and one shirt was difficult in particular.  A gold, semi-casual/semi-professional tank top with black lining along the v-neckline… an oldie but goodie.  My mom bought it for me as one of my fifteenth birthday presents; shopping was my annual ritual of choice. I remember being so confident wearing the shirt in high school, donning it with a coordinating pair of either black or khaki capris.  I wore it for years, even into my first couple of years at college, but not much since.  It is not that I do not love the shirt; it is figure flattering even after I have gained weight, and for that reason alone, I still adore it.  I haven’t worn it because I have acquired a lot more clothes over the years, collecting the latest trends like they are precious relics of saints.

I held onto the shirt for a little longer than I held onto other things, and I almost put it back on a hanger with the rest of my tank tops.  Then it hit me just how foolish I was being.  I looked up at the mirror on the headboard of my bed and saw myself hugging a shirt from high school.  I looked into my reflection and thought to myself, “Jill, you aren’t in tenth grade anymore.  You have other things that make you feel confident now.  Put the shirt in the bag!”

What a revelation!  I have always been the person to make fun of people who get “stuck” in one phase of life and refuse to move on, but then I caught myself doing the very same thing.  While I can look back on my high school career [mostly] fondly, I would be lying if I said it was the best part of my life.  I am incredibly proud of the woman I’ve become in the five years I’ve been out of school, and I have a completely different world view than I once did.  The girl who wore the gold and black tank top for the first time had a major problem with image and materialism, and that is something I have worked incredibly hard to overcome.  But…

I’m not there yet.

If cleaning out my closet taught me anything, it is that materialism is still a huge character flaw for me, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people in the United States (actually, materialism/acquisition of wealth is supposedly one of the thirteen things Americans value most, which deeply saddens me).  I would not call myself a hoarder regarding most things, but a look at my closet would make most people believe I was foraging for a clothing shortage in the near future.  That makes absolutely no sense.  I came from a stable, comfortably middle class background, and I had no reason to ever hold on to anything (except for maybe sentimentality), because I got an almost entirely new wardrobe each year for school, and I got at least a few things in between each season.  My insane attachment to clothes had to be for another reason.  What was it?

As I begin to go through the rest of my shirts and move on to dresses, skirts, and pants, I began reflecting on the items I decided to discard.  Some I had kept because, like the gold tank, I loved how I once looked in them.  Others I had kept in case I lost weight.  Finally, I had held on to some things that still had tags on them, guilt-tripping myself about getting rid of it, because that would mean I had made a mistake in buying it. And then, there was the reason that hit me like a ton of bricks.

I have and have always had this huge obsession of using my clothes to set myself apart… and not in a good way.  I always have.  In high school, it was to show people that my family could afford to buy name brands.  Thankfully, I moved on from the overly-priced Abercrombie and Hollister clothing that still haunts my high school yearbooks, but I had a similar issue in college.  I wanted to have enough clothes to not repeat outfits throughout the semester, with my faithful sweatpants being the only real exception to this rule.  I did not always succeed in this, but many times, I did, at least involving special events.

Hoping to not repeat outfits?  Ever?  Who does that?  Answer: Someone who cares far too much about what people think, and someone who portrays two contradicting images.  I have always wanted to be a genuine and authentic person, but caring so much about my clothes screams something different.  It screams “superficial” and “insecure,” neither of which I would consider myself.

As easy as it is to be completely critical of myself, I also know that my affection for clothes is not totally my fault, because it is the result of a much bigger problem than my personal flaws.  It is the consequence of a culture that tells us we have to have “the best,” because we have to be “the best.”  It is the same culture that continually publishes media that encourages us to buy outrageously overpriced things that we do not even want, just for the sake of having them.  It is the exact same culture that inadvertently discourages us from giving money or things to those less fortunate because we “might need it” someday.  If God is our ultimate provider, shouldn’t we trust Him to give us everything we need and settle for only some of the things that we want?  When is “enough” going to actually be enough?

The biggest part of me would like to think that I am a 100% different person than girl who once had to wear certain brands and could not repeat outfits too much.  However, somewhere deep in my heart, I know that a small piece of her will always exist, because she is a part of me, and materialism is, unfortunately, a part of my nature.

I realized this unfortunate reality when I was going through my dresses.  Dresses in particular are my favorite articles of clothing, because they are feminine, whimsical, and fun.  I mean, you can twirl in them!  I felt a lump in my stomach as I saw how many dresses were going into the bag.  I could have sworn I was getting rid of almost all of my dresses, and I wanted to stop.  Immediately.

I could have cried from self-deprecation when I counted how many dresses I still had left.  I counted the number in my closet, expecting there to be around fifteen.  And there were fifteen… plus twenty-five.  Forty dresses.  Forty!  I was completely embarrassed by how I reacted to sorting through them, my curiosity sparked about how many dresses I had before I started my little-bit-late spring cleaning.  I thought about counting how many were in the bag, but I decided that I did not want to totally hate myself for acting ridiculous.

The process of going through my clothes became much easier after that point, because I saw it as a way to intentionally continue the progress I have made on myself the past few years.  If I had not worn the something in months, it hit the bag.  I did not stop to look for tags, and even when tags kindly found me, I did not let them influence my decision about whether or not to keep something.  Occasionally, when the bag grew fuller, I began to panic a little, but I made myself remember the kind of woman I wish to be:

The kind who would give you anything she had if you needed it… even if it is the gorgeous Banana Republic pullover I love.

The kind who values experiences over material possessions.

The kind who does not conform to the mainstream, but remains countercultural if it means upholding her true values.

I am far from a minimalist and my wardrobe is not a capsule one, but when I look in my closet, I can see gaps. The gaps make me nervous, because they resemble frustrating mornings with nothing to wear.  But, they mostly look like breathing room and margin in life, which are two things America needs more of.

I’d wager that Americans need breathing room a lot more than we need more things.

Note: Still wondering about the sunburn?  It actually helped me go through stuff, because there were very few things I tried on as I was cleaning.  It was too uncomfortable to keep dressing and undressing.  So, if there was any doubt that something would fit… in the bag it went! At least a sunburn is good for one thing.

When in Spain… Valencia isn’t optional!

During part one of this three-part series, I wrote about my impulse to study abroad and how it remains one of the best decisions of my life.  That post merely described the high points of my trip, because I saved all the details for this post.  Spoiler alert: If you want an excuse to cure your current case of Wanderlust, read on and learn why Spain’s third largest city should make it on your bucket list! Sure, Madrid and Barcelona are both really nice, but Spain’s third largest city shouldn’t be overlooked on a trip to what remains my country of choice.

I only called Valencia, Spain home for a few weeks, but a short time frame did not deter me from falling completely in love with this Spanish city. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to my top ten experiences, but somehow I managed. Join me as I recount one of the best times of my life.  Just book a flight to Valencia now!

  1. Public Transportation

I get it.  Listing the public transportation as a “Top Ten” feature may seem a bit overboard, but Valencia’s metro system is probably the most simplistic and effective one I have ever used, a complete contrast to the nightmare that is Paris’s “La Metre.”  Plus, my study abroad program provided me an unlimited metro card that does not expire until 2018. This just gives me a reason to go back soon, ¿verdad?

public transportation

  1. Water Tribunal Court

When I was in Valencia, I got to witness an interesting phenomenon in La Plaza de la Virgen called the “La Tribunal de las aguas de Valencia” or the Water Tribunal Court.  Periodically, representatives from the nine irrigation districts in the province will meet to settle disputes over water.  The session I watched lasted about two minutes and was quite underwhelming, but when will I ever get to see it again?  Probably never.  Wait! I have a valid metro card, so I have to go back to Spain soon!  Maybe next time there will be some heated water disputes in the court.  If they need a referee, I am their girl!

water tribunal court

  1. The Beach

Valencia is a gorgeous coastal city, so the beach is a must.  Like I mentioned before, the city’s public transportation is on point, and the beach, like many other things, is accessible via train and street car. One thing I learned from my first trip to Spain is that the Mediterranean sun seems a lot hotter than that of the Atlantic Coast; I got a killer sunburn in Barcelona.  Even though I do not wear sunscreen as much as I should, I definitely packed it for the beach in Valencia. There are a couple things that Americans should be aware of regarding Valencia’s beaches and Spanish beaches in general.  Spanish culture does not sexualize breasts like American cultures do, and as a result, many of the beaches are topless.  Even if you err on the conservative side, do not let this cultural difference deter you.  There will still be many women donning fashionable swimsuits, and there isn’t any pressure to go topless if you do not prefer it.  Secondly, there will be many vendors selling goods and services on the beach.  If you do not want to hassle with them, do not make eye contact.  But, a cold beverage and five-minute massage can be nice if you choose to patronize the beach’s entrepreneurs.

la playa

la playa 2

la playa 3

  1. Playgrounds

Forever a child at heart, I will always be a fan of Spain’s playgrounds.  The equipment seems so much cooler than American playground equipment.  Some friends and I actually took the metro to a specific neighborhood one day just because the playground looked cool.  We stayed there over an hour!  Also, Spanish playgrounds have adult equipment for parents or babysitters.  If America would get on board with that trend, it might curb our obesity epidemic.  Just saying!

playground

  1. Colón

You cannot visit Valencia without stopping by Colón, one of the most posh neighborhoods in the entire city.  Shopping, including El Corte Inglés, food, the works… Colón has it all!  No matter how many random adventures my friends and I went on, we somehow always found ourselves here… and we always found a good time!

  1. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

Unveiled in 1998, La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias epitomizes both architecture and entertainment. Designed by architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, the complex will hopefully gain as much momentum and recognition as the Eiffel Tour, Big Ben, and other iconic structures that draw people to some of Europe’s most famous cities.  My group and I spent an entire day here because there is so much to do: so much innovative architecture to see, an aquarium to visit, a planetarium to sleep—I mean watch films in (¡lo siento, Lori y Alberto!), and more.

artes y ciencias

allende en ciudades

ciudades 3

dolphin show

  1. Architecture

Speaking of architecture, La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is far from the only architectural structure that will leave you breathless in Valencia.  From the beautiful churches like La Iglesia de San Juan de la Hospital to the beautiful University of Valencia (or “Universitat de Valencia” in Valenciano, the regional language), the architectural experience of Valencia could take days upon days to thoroughly enjoy.

architectura

architectura 2

  1. Food

With Valencia’s location, seafood is obviously a staple in Valencian cuisine, but the sensory and caloric overload does not stop there.  From leche merringada, a Spanish ice cream with lemon peelings and cinnamon, to horrchata, a sweet drink made from tiger nut, to fartons, delicious, freshly-baked pastries, there are so many Spanish foods to try.  But, the food comas do not stop there.  Since Valencia is an international hub, there are several foreign food options to savor.  In Spain, Turkish restaurants compare to Mexican restaurants in the United States regarding popularity.  I mentioned Sofras in my last post.  When I go back to Valencia, it will be one of my first stops!  My friends and I also had delicious Italian food, Irish pub food, and authentic Mexican food, and my taste buds have not forgotten any of them.  The simple fact that Spanish food lacks the preservatives of American foods leaves reason enough to envy the Spanish diet.  As if I needed more of a reason to love Spanish food than the two-hour lunch period and emphasis on local cuisine rather than corporate food giants!

horchata

sofras delicious

food 1

  1. Night Life

I will never forget the first night we were in Valencia. We went in search of the beach when we met the amazing sand castle artist from the picture above.  One of the first things he asked us was, “you are in Spain; why aren’t you out dancing?!” It was a darn good question!  We learned quickly that night life would be one of the most memorable facets of our trip.  It is hard not to fall in love with a country where going out on Monday nights is acceptable, sangria is free-flowing (and free during happy hour), and classes don’t start until 9:00, thank goodness!  I credit Spain’s culture of dancing with my losing weight during study abroad.  With all of the delectable pastries, delicious seafood, and seemingly bottomless cups of wine, there is no other explanation.

  1. Culture

All that is beautiful about Spain can be encompassed in one word… “culture.”  When my mind goes back to Valencia, I think of several things.  The Mediterranean salt on my sun-kissed skin. The luscious language I could listen to for days. The endless laughs on nights out. The feeling of sheer profundity of overlooking a village with roots all the way from the ancient Roman empire. The people, so bold and passionate about every aspect of life. The brilliant bursts of color everywhere.  All of these elements are essential to Spanish culture, none more important than the rest.  Being able to live and bask in these things (as well as infinite other things that would take years to record) has created an enormous space in my heart that I truly doubt will ever be filled by anything else.  When I remember my time in Valencia, sometimes I have to look back at old photographs to ensure I was really there.  Most days it feels like a dream… because it was a dream.

spanish culture

legoland

spain beautiful

spain beautiful 2

My last blog post in this series will be about how life changes once you return from study abroad and why I believe that all college students should take advantage of such a transformative opportunity.

#FlashbackFriday: Valencia, Part I

Two years ago, I took one of the biggest leaps of faith ever.  I boarded my first plane of three, and I jetted to Miami, then Madrid, and then Valencia, the Spanish city I would call home for almost a month.  I remember sitting on our first plane and looking around.  There were a few purple t-shirts scattered throughout the plane (Go Catamounts!), but no truly familiar faces were anywhere near me. Reality was setting in; I would be spending about half of summer, 2013 3,000 miles from home, with two professors whom I had never taken a class with, and ten complete strangers (sans the few classes I may have had with them in Cullowhee).  I was even going with two of them to Paris in a couple of weeks for our “fin de semana libre.” This was, without doubt, the craziest thing I had done at that point.  At the time, I was uncertain about a lot of things, but grounded in one idea. I knew not how, but study abroad would change me. I could feel it.

on top of the world

Overall, our flights were pleasant.  When we landed in Valencia, all of our luggage made it, and our professors greeted us gleefully as we walked out of the airport and into the Metro.  As cheesy as it sounds, I can still hear the subway coming toward us like it did the first time.  Of all of the public transportation systems I have used throughout my years of travel, Valencia’s remains distinct.  Maybe the pitch of its breaks squeaking to a halt was a bit higher than usual. Maybe I remember it because it was so efficient.  Or, maybe I just remember it because it was my ticket to several class excursions, shopping trips in the city center, and nightly adventures in which none of us had a plan.

valencia friends

Our residencia was small, but comfortable.  Estella and Acension, the ladies who ran the establishment, immediately made our group feel welcome and made me realize that I needed to do some crash-course remembering of my Spanish that had gotten rusty.  Even though nothing can replace the adventures and escapades we had across one of Spain’s largest cities, some of our best times were spent in Hostel Palacio getting ready for our nights out, goofing off during siesta hour, and discussing things like politics, our majors (most of us were in different university programs at Western and studying Spanish as a minor), and our plans after graduation.  Spending such an extended amount of time with people of all different walks of life was a cultural experience in itself.

getting ready

siesta

There were so many times during the 2012-2013 school year that I doubted my impulse to got to Spain, and I told my intuition to shut up.  Since I had to pay for study abroad myself, it was one of the biggest financial commitments I had ever made.  Could I really afford to spend a year’s worth of RA salary on one summer extravaganza? I had a lot of other doubts as well.  What would I miss at home?  Would I get too homesick? Would I learn enough Spanish for the trip to be “worth it?” Truth be told, there are a few people I can really attribute my going abroad to.  My friend Mary Hannah is as big of a gypsy soul as I am.  She was studying abroad in South Africa for part of the spring semester, and we spent countless nights at work in the RA office looking pictures of beautiful places and catching such big cases of Wanderlust for which passport stamps were the only successful antidote.  Several other friends of mine helped urge me along too.  My friend Monica was in the process of applying for an internship with NBC for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and she had travel on her mind as well.  My friends Tanner and Adam talked continually about how much they loved studying in Germany.  I was always jealous of how good their second language was!  Finally, my selfless, incredible new fiancé gave me so much encouragement.  Colby reassured me time and again that we could survive a summer apart (I moved back to Cullowhee shortly after returning home from Spain), that we would find a way to pay for our wedding and other adult expenses, and that I needed to go on this trip because study abroad was something I had always dreamed of. We had only been engaged for about a month when he dropped me off at the Charlotte Douglas Airport, but he never made me question my decision. In fact, he was my rock through it all. I knew from the beginning he would make a great husband, and I was correct! 🙂

It took me basically no time at all to know I had made the right decision.  Valencia quickly became a third home for me since my actual home was first and Cullowhee was second.  The first time I felt acclimated was on one of our group’s first nightly rendezvous in our neighborhood.  Turkish restaurants in Spain are comparable to Mexican restaurants in the United States regarding popularity; there was one on practically every street corner!  Our block had a Turkish restaurant called Sofras that was open late and inexpensive.  It was the perfect place for a bunch of college kids like us! No wonder we went there at least five or six times… it was “our restaurant” in our new place! And, if we had a restaurant, we had a home.

sofras

Our first night at Sofras was full of laughs, especially when we had a misunderstanding and thought that a Valencian man was calling us a bunch of dumb Americans.  Let’s just say that some phrases that are offensive in Latin American Spanish are not offensive in Spain and vice versa.  The look on the man’s face when he realized we interpreted him wrongly was hilarious.  It became the inside joke for our entire trip!  Our laughter rang throughout the restaurant, and I’m sure we looked like the stereotypical American Millennials: loud, boisterous, and absurd.  We could not have cared less.  We were living in the moment, and life in Spain was dazzling. Our reactions to its brilliance were only natural.

After eating way too much Turkish food, we returned to our residencia for a night of playing cards, conversing, and staying up way too late considering we had an early language class the following morning.  It is crazy how quickly ten strangers became some of my close friends.

goodbye cena

But, I suppose the fact that we became friends isn’t that crazy at all, really.  I’ve learned that travelers have many things in common… empathy, open-mindedness, impulsiveness, passion.  We were all on different courses for our lives, but we watched each moment with glittering eyes, looking for beautiful things that many people would likely glance over without second thought.  Our paths had crossed and we would be forever connected.  I do not believe in coincidences in life, including our enrolling in such an incredible program. There are many things I think of when I picture Valencia, Spain, but the people I shared it with are definitely among my most missed elements.

mirror

Jessica

roomies

professors

acquarium

Stay tuned for two more blog posts in my “Flashback to study abroad” series.  This was one of the most influential time periods of my life, and there is no way I could fully articulate how much this experience changed me in one solitary blog post. In Part II of this series, I will talk about some of the Valencia specifics aka why everyone should go there at least once, and in Part III, I will talk about the end of study abroad and what it is like to come home after such a grand experience.

P.S. Some of the photographs on this post came from my lovely friend Darien, who happened to be my roommate in Valencia. 🙂

The Kind of Mother I Want to be

I have no idea when God will bless Colby and me with children (sorry if this blog title made you think we were expecting; we definitely are not). At this point in our lives, we are uncertain whether we want biological or adoptive children, or a combination of both. They aren’t on our radar any time soon. But, the message at our church this morning discussed parenting, so I could not help but think about what kind of person I want to be for the little ones who will someday call me “Mommy.” Even though kids will come later down the road for us, I want my choices now to reflect the life I envision for them and the person I hope to become for them.

I don’t want to be the “cool mom.” I would rather be the quirky one. My kids will know that laughing at yourself is ok, and that dancing to the beat of your own heart is so much better than conforming. After all, this comes from the person who bought her mom a cactus for Mother’s Day instead of flowers. She loved it and is happy to have a replacement for her cactus that I once killed, in case you were wondering.

mother's day cactus

I want to be an honest mom. If I make a mistake that influences my life and those of my family, I want to own it. I want to stay vulnerable, apologize when I should, and spare no tears if the occasion warrants them. I want my kids to know that I am real and human, even if they realize that I don’t have it all together. Who really does?

I want to be a gracious mom. If my kids slip up, I will hold them accountable, but I will not dehumanize them in the process. I also will not guilt-trip them if they have separate ideas than my own. My parents and I disagree about a number of things, but they have always encouraged me to live with my own convictions. Their gift of open-mindedness remains one of the most powerful things they have ever given me.

I want to be second mom. I picture our home being a place of refuge and rejuvenation for people, and I hope my kids will want to bring friends over one day. If this is the case, however, my baking skills leave much to be desired. But then again, my mom always told me the cakes that fall apart often taste the best. I sure hope this is the case with my Mother’s Day cake…

cake fail

I had to position the cake so you could not see the broken part. :/

I want to be the “fur-baby” mom. I can Colby and myself raising children who will bring home anything with legs that appears to be hurting. I hope I always accept these animals into our home to be nursed back to help. That’s kind of (aka exactly) what Jesus did for me about a year ago.

I hope to be the mom who gives my kids perspective. I will never forget one of the biggest lessons my mom taught me growing up. I have always had anxiety, especially when it comes to grades and achievements. Once, as I worried about what grade I would get in math class, my mom forced me to take a break from doing my times-tables and do something fun. She also reminded me that it was her late brother’s birthday, which made think about how my aunt was without a husband and their two children were without a father. Suddenly, my times-tables and whether I received an “A” or “B” in math class seemed much less important.

I want to be the mom who raises grateful children. I want to persuade my kids to set aside materialism in place of experiences. I want to buy only the most intentional gifts, and I want to emphasize quality time over anything money can buy.

I want to be the mom who learns something new every day, and shows her children the world of wonder God has created. I want to use Habakkuk 1:5 as the basis of my very existence: “Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told.”

I want to be the mom who supports her children. If they are artists, let me attend every showing of their brilliant masterpieces. If they are musicians, let me always open my ears to the dazzling music they make, even if I have a headache. If they are athletes, hopefully I do not get kicked out of their games for yelling each time the ref makes a call in favor of the other team. And if they are wanderers, let me encourage them to live with abandon and to see the world as it really is. May they dream dreams that are unrealistic, because being realistic isn’t very fun.

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Come to think of it… I know the exact person whom I have just described: my own mother. If I am half of the woman she is, my future sons and daughters will live tremendous lives filled with laughter, lessons learned, and ambition as tall as mountains.

Thanks, Mom. I could not ask for a better cheerleader, confidant, and best friend. I did not choose you, but I would have if given the chance.

us

Photo Credit: Tony Thagard

“She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” – Proverbs 31:25-31

For Viewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2aLyYnRwwA

Wanderlust that won’t bust the bank

When people get to know Colby and I, we often hear comments like, “Wow, you all wander a lot,” and “Do you ever sit still?!” And these are fair questions. We have been blessed to travel more in the last five years than many people get to in a lifetime, and for that we are eternally grateful. That being said, a few people have asked us how we afford to travel living on our modest teaching salaries (and a few others have skirted around the question).

First of all, I should point out that we make traveling a priority. We are extremely intentional about saving in other areas (we do not go out to eat much at home, I shop at thrift stores, etc.). But, I have learned a few “tips of the trade” so to speak, so here is my input about budget travel and how it can make your seemingly unrealistic dreams come true.

General tips:

1. Take advantage of the opportunities you are given. Study abroad is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had, and I spent a fraction of what I would have spent traveling to Spain otherwise. This was a unique experience I only got because I took the plunge and scheduled a summer semester in Europe. Best.decision.ever!

2. If you are in close proximity to a landmark, city, etc. that you have always wanted to visit, go then. Do not wait to book a separate trip; transportation costs will be significantly more. When I studied abroad, we had a free weekend. I made sure I got to Paris that weekend, because traveling to France from Spain is much cheaper than traveling trans-Atlantic.

3. If possible, travel during the off-season. This one is a bit tricky for Colby and me, because whenever teachers are on vacation, tourism is during peak season in many places. But while our big trips often require us to be on a school break, long weekends do not. For those, we always book during the off-season.

4. Pay attention to special events that make traveling more cost-effective. Last fall, Gatlinburg advertised a “teacher appreciation” weekend in which many area attractions were complementary to educators. That was one of the most fun and cheap weekends Colby and I have ever had!

5. Travel with friends and split costs. A few years ago, a group of friends and I went to Myrtle Beach during peak season, and we only spent about $100-$150 each TOTAL for the entire week.

Transportation:

I will admit, I am not as skilled in saving money in this area as others, mainly because I am not enrolled in any “Frequent Flyer” programs. When I feel financially stable enough to get a credit card, I plan on looking for one with great airline rewards. That being said…

1. I always buy airline tickets through Expedia. I always price check, but I seem to have the best results with them, so that’s where I recommend people start searching for flights.

2. Do not stray away from budget airlines. My plane ticket for the previously mentioned trip to Pairs was $90 round trip from Valencia. Granted, Ryanair is not glamorous, we did not check bags, and nothing on board was complementary, but for a $90 round trip flight, I am not complaining.

3. If you plan on driving, watch gas prices. Colby and I have wanted to take a cross-country road trip for years, and we hope to do so this summer while gas prices are still down. This is not rocket science.

4. Do some front-end research about the place you are visiting. If they have efficient public transportation, use it! Public parking fees stack up; my husband had to pay $25 to park at the National Zoo in D.C. Plus, taking public transportation really gives you a feel for a place’s culture, and I am always an advocate for authentic experiences.

5. If possible, try to map out your trip so that you spend the least amount of money on transportation possible. Calculate whether buying unlimited passes is really worth it, or if you can get by with a few single-fare rides. While it is usually cheaper than driving or taking cabs, subway/street car/bus fees eventually add up. Some cities offer awesome deals (like Boston, where I only paid $18 for a 5-day pass for “the T”), but otherwise, I would try to slim down riding the public transportation as much as possible!

6. Keep in mind that walking can double as your vacation cardio. You’re welcome!

Lodging:

Lodging is one of the best ways to cut down on trip cost, although budget lodging is not always ritzy. Bear with me and try to keep an open mind about some of these suggestions. 🙂

1. Couch surf. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a beautiful, world-wide movement called Couchsurfing, and it makes travel really financially accessible. For those of you who have not heard of the movement, here is the low-down: people with spare bedrooms, couches, air mattresses, etc. open them up to travelers– here’s the best part– for free! If sleeping on the couch of a random stranger seems insane to you, know that there are several safety precautions behind the movement. I wrote a lengthy blog post about this subject, so I recommend perusing it if you want a good picture of what Couchsurfing is really like!

2. Take advantage of hostels. Even if you are not comfortable staying in a dormitory with several strangers, many hostels offer single and double rooms that are still a fraction of the cost of hotels. I stayed in a youth hostel in France, and I am currently typing this blog from the NOLA Jazz House in New Orleans. I have met some awesome people in hostels and have had nothing but good experiences in them.

3. If you have to book a hotel, shop around and be patient. I use booking.com a lot, and I typically find a lot of great deals on there. I rarely book directly from a hotel, because sites like Booking have given me much better prices.

4. Like frequent flyer miles, many hotels/real estate properties offer rewards program with certain credit card companies. When I finally admit I am an adult and get a credit card, I will definitely look into this type of rewards program in addition to mile programs.

Food:

1. Complimentary breakfast is a wonderful thing!

2. Eat your big meal of the day at lunch. Not only is it healthier, but also much cheaper than dining at dinner.

3. Cook when possible. Colby and I usually go out for one meal each day while traveling. This way, if we want to try somewhere a bit nicer, we have the budget to do so, because we cook our own suppers. It is really nice to be able to eat a nice meal, because we love to search out Food Network restaurants.

4. Street food is awesome. I ate a lot of it both times I went to Europe, and I saved a pretty penny doing so!

Entertainment:

1. Similar to food, Colby and I typically budget our entertainment to one paid event per day. We may spend $30-$50 on show tickets, but we only catch a few each vacation. We usually seek out cheaper options as well, like museums, matinee movies, etc.

2. Self-guided sight-seeing tours are free! We are big fans of them, and I would always recommend exploring a city on your own rather than booking some kind of tour.

3. If you do book a tour, shop around like you would for hotels. During our stay in Aruba on our honeymoon, Carnival Cruises offered an island excursion for around $120 per person. We chose to take a similar tour from a local, and it cost us $40 per person instead. My caveat: be careful. Saving money is important, but safety is an even bigger precaution. Exercise good judgment. I would not recommend hopping in the car with a local if you are traveling alone…

4. Find unorthodox entertainment opportunities. We love art galleries, and they are almost always free.

5. Do a little research and see when attractions have free or reduced admission rates. In Boston, I got to go to the Museum of Fine Art for free, because they offered a free night during my trip.

Shopping:

1. Thrift stores

2. Sale racks

3. Outlet malls

4. Occasional splurges only for things you really want (I am buying designer heels in Milan next summer).

So, there you have it! If there is a trip you have been dying to take but have convinced yourself that you cannot afford, I would encourage you to think again. Too often, we limit ourselves when we shouldn’t. Even our most outrageous dreams are within reach if we step outside the box to achieve them.