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Monday, August 27, 2012

Czech It Out

         I’ve been using the words surreal, wow, and “I can’t believe we’re here!” way too much the past few days, but it’s true. After so much planning, prayer, and anticipation, Europe Semester is finally here. Its been surreal waking up in the morning at the Rezidence Lundborg just steps, steps away from the Charles Bridge. Is this real life? For the next three months, at least, it is.

            On the flight here, somewhere over Michigan, we had front row seats to a thunderstorm. The seat belt light switched on and we watched the powerful lightning pierce through the thunderheads from our plane safe above all the commotion. Somewhere right around there, the magnitude of this trip hit me. Not 100%, but I definitely had a ‘woah, I’m really going to Europe’ moment. Then somewhere over Goose Bay, Canada, I realized that this is a me thing, too. No one in my immediate nuclear family has been on a trip like this. Being the youngest child, I always knew what to expect of things because I was the second go-around. That build-in comfort zone was an incredible blessing and is probably the reason why I love adrenaline and adventure so much. And now, this time, it’s all me. This semester is a lot of new and a lot of unknown and a lot of growth. It already been filled with so many sights, smells, and sounds in the few short days we’ve been in Prague. One country down, ten to go.

         Prague was a great place to start our trip. The city is so beautiful, and each new day brought more adventures. We wandered and walked and got lost in the city. We meandered through the different artists and their wares along Charles Bridge, we’ve been to the Prague Castle, and we had our honorary first scoop of gelato. We’ve been caught in rainstorms, hung out with locals at a jazz club, and spent many moments doubled over in laughter. The jetlag made some of us a little crazy, and the products of that have been some incredible friendships and memories.

         After four days, I’ve come to the conclusion that pictures won’t do this trip one bit of justice. I wish I could capture all these moments and use Harry Potter magic to send them out into the world. I wish everyone could see the architecture and taste the local cuisine and feel the uneven cobblestones beneath their feet.  It’s a comprehensive experience, and pictures only capture one facet of these moments.  I’m still taking pictures, of course, just more pictures of people and crazy adventures that I want to remember forever than picture after picture of architecture.  I take one picture of the church or castle or monument and that’s that. I want to be present for my eyes to see and take it all in, rather than fix myself behind the lens every second and miss what I’m really seeing. I want to let this experience soak into me in deep, deep ways that I never imagined. I’m going to be challenged, and I’m going to grow, but I need to be present in order to do that. So, I’ll try to do one post in every city or country, depending on the duration of our stay. Instead of being on facebook or uploading pictures or blogging excessively, I want to be out wandering and experiencing these cities and making memories. So, if I drop off the planet for a bit these next few months, if I get behind on blog posts or never post pictures on facebook until I’m back in America, please don’t hate on me. I’m only going to have this experience once, and I’m milking it for all it’s worth.

            We had our first day of class today, and yes, this semester is going to be a lot of work. Basically every morning we have two to three hours of class, then museums or excursions in the afternoons.  We have many group dinners and also plenty of time to eat on our own and explore the city. We have thick course readers and papers to write. And while the homework aspect isn’t my favorite, I've figured out a way to make it manageable. Sitting on the terrace overlooking the Charles Bridge, drinking iced tea and working on readings like I did yesterday, is a darn good way to do homework if you ask me.

         Tomorrow, we leave the Czech Republic for a week in the big city of Berlin. We'll take a day to visit Wittenberg and another afternoon at a concentration camp. We'll dig into classes, museums and the food, nightlife, and sights Berlin has to offer. It'll be a week packed with studies, walking, laughter, getting lost, hearty German food, and lots of emotions. 

        My devotional this morning said it perfectly, “As you move through your life today, look for ways to build your faith. Have your own spiritual treasure hunt, looking for those blocks that will make you stronger and more beautiful than ever.” That is what I want from this trip. I want to see and experience God in new ways. He is already challenging me and has been so, so faithful in new friendships and wonderful memories here. 

         So, here's to the amazing beginning of one of the most amazing semesters of my life, and the many weeks still to come. Over and out from Prague.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kitchen Disasters, Huckleberry Finn, and the Learning Curve

Vacation to…Earth?  You would never imagine some of the conversations I have with the kids at preschool. They range from cute to a little weird to totally bizarre. The days are always entertaining. Example 1 goes as follows:
Emily: You weren’t here last week!
Preschooler: Yeah, that’s cause I was on a va-caaaaaa-tion.
E: Oh cool! Where did you go?
P: We went on vacation…to the Earth!
E: Oh really? That’s great! Now, how did you get to the Earth?
P: Well, we drove. It was a long long ways away. And there was a big hole there and a kid fell in it.
E: Oh my. Well, I hope he got out and was all right!
P: Oh yeah, he was.
E: Good, good. Well, I’m glad you’re back!

After much analysis, I decided that she probably went camping. But any suggestions to decode this conversation are welcomed.

On Becoming a Redneck: Besides work and summer school, my weeks have been filled with berry picking, canoeing, jumping into the river, and learning to shoot. With country music and iced tea in hand, I’ve been sweatin’ it out in the relentless summer. Yes sir, I’d say I’m turning into a regular redneck!

Baking Disasters: I had my very first baking disaster a few weeks ago, and I cannot emphasize how much of a disaster it was. For the first time in my life, pinterest led me astray. It was a sad, sad day.

I love pinning food (who doesn’t with all of those mouthwatering pictures?), and I saw a cookie recipe that was super healthy, and I naively thought, “Wow! Healthy cookies and they look so good, they must taste amazing!” Pin. Check. This summer, when I actually had time and a kitchen to bake in, I asked my mom to invest in a bag of chickpeas. You see, the disaster recipe had no flour, no oil, and no white sugar. In my mind there was just no question: they were going to taste delicious. (Hindsight is 20/20, how in the world did I think these things would taste good?! Come on Emily, get it together)

I was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. They smelled like wet salty peanut dough with chocolate chips, but the chocolate and chickpea mixture just didn’t cut it. And there was no sugar. The lesson I learned that day: desserts need to have sugar. Otherwise, they just aren’t desserts. And it’s okay that they have sugar, because they’re desserts! It’s one big happy dessert cycle. Fear not, said disaster recipe has been deleted from my pinterest. My parents and I had a good laugh after I was crestfallen about the situation, and I threw the mistakes (I can’t even call them cookies) away the next morning.

Tahoe: It’s amazing what one night in a different place can to do you. Our mini-vacation to Tahoe was heavenly. Just one night visiting friends at the cabin they rent every July, but it was a full and satisfying 24 hours. Appetizers on the deck, s’mores and dinner tucked into their little cottage, girl talk and mother-daughter time with a $5 million dollar view on the edge of Lake Tahoe. Cue walks to 7-eleven for slurpies, inhaling the smell of fresh pines mixed with sunscreen and the lake, and I was a happy camper.

New: I love trying new things. I love the learning curve. The feeling of confusion before getting the hang of something, the “well, let’s go for it” mentality. I tried jet skiing for the first time on my mini-vacation to Tahoe and WOAH, that little contraption is the coolest thing ever! So much fun. Seriously, if I ever win the lottery I’m going to buy a jet ski. You can quote me on that one. Seriously. I’m a rebel without a cause on that thing. We zoomed across that lake like Baywatch babes, and it was fabulous.

Huckleberry Finn with a shot of Indiana Jones: I found myself canoeing one Friday afternoon, and the day looked like something out of a page of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Canoeing in the river, berry picking while trying not to tip the canoe, jumping off rope swings into the freezing water. I felt like I could relate to the fictional lost boy, minus the fact that I’m not a runaway drifting down the river. Infuse an Indiana Jones style ride and a bit of Pocahontas’ just around the riverbend for finishing touches and BAM, that was my day.

Unofficial History lessons with my Dad go as follows: for 5 minutes, I ask him all of my stupid Emily-how-can-you-not-know-that-answer history questions. He answers them all, most of the time with a chuckle, probably wondering how he raised a daughter that forgets history as much as she forgets to close drawers. Lord have mercy, I’ve never learned so much about the world in such a short amount of time.

The good old optometrist. It’s amazing what a stronger prescription can do for a girl. I’m an expert at this optometry thing: I blinking when I’m told, I open and close my eyes on command, and I answer the broken record “one, or two?” questions like a champ. I may know the drill of the office, but with a new prescription I feel like a new woman. The world is a little crisper, colors are a little richer, and this planet feels like a better place. It’s amazing what .5 more can do for your little eyes.

Reconnecting: no matter how far we drift during the semester, we come back and its still there. It’s a different friendship, because we are both different people in ways little or big, but this growth makes friendship all the richer. We bring new experiences to the table, new questions and stories and things to talk about, we reminisce about the old and find new ways to terrorize the town. This is sounding all cheesy and nostalgic, but looking back on the summer and all of the great people that I got to catch up with, that’s how I’m feeling. Sometimes, being away makes us forget how connected we are to this place we call home. No matter how excited we were to get outta town to start college, and no matter how much we love our respective universities, there’s something extra sweet about coming back to the Purple Place and Town Center and friends that knew you through your awkward middle school stage (and still love you despite it). I’m on my happy parade again, and I feel lucky to still be so connected with so many friends. People weave themselves into my life and I weave myself into theirs. No matter how much time or distance comes in between, we’re two years out of high school and we’re still here for each other. And I think that’s pretty awesome.

Is it possible to be in two places at once? Lately, I think so. Thanks to Europe semester homework, my mind is already in another continent. I've been spending my days reading textbooks about nationalism and contemplating stricter European immigration laws. Art and city reports and Murder in Amsterdam convince my mind that it's already in Italy and Berlin and Amsterdam. I come up for air from research or reading and remind myself that I'm still here, in good old El Dorado Hills. It's leaving me in this odd parallel universe, though. A universe where I'm both here and there at the same time. It's weird, but like most things, I've just been going with it and it's been working itself out rather nicely.

Tonight’s a thankful night. I’m thankful for Crystal Light Lemonade and air conditioning. I’m thankful for friends and trying new things and being out of my comfort zone. I’m thankful for all this summer has been, and for all this coming semester will be. Less than 2 weeks and I’ll be on foreign soil! So crazy. I’m feeling wonderfully overwhelmed.

So here’s to hot summers in the valley, to remembering the little blessings, and to being wonderfully overwhelmed.