Tea Talk 4: Claudia Graf | Lifestyle Blogger & Photographer

Claudia and I are both part of this completely awesome Facebook group called Female Travel Bloggers, and I immediately knew I needed to reach out to her when I saw her adventures on her blog. Supporting, encouraging and highlighting other women who travel blog is such a huge priority for me, so collaborating with her for this Tea Talk was amazing.

Claudia started her blog A World Full Of Fairytales after a 6 week adventure in California, and she’s been photographing and writing her way around the world, ever since.

What started your passion for traveling? 

I went on a road trip in 2016 from San Francisco to Los Angeles what is one of the best road trips in the world. On my way from San Francisco to LA, I visited Carmel, Monterrey, Big Sur, Morro Bay and Santa Barbara. The beauty of the California coast hit me like a bolt out of the blue, and I fell in love with the magic of exploration.

What’s one travel tip you think the world should know? 

Be fast when it comes to booking of flights, cars and hotels. It’s always hard for me to decide on times and places. I never know how long I want to stay somewhere. Unfortunately prices can rise after days or weeks of research. If I had been faster now and then, I definitely could have saved some money.

What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. Food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

It sounds like a cliche but it’s the lifestyle credo ’Don’t worry, be happy’. During a vacation in Argentina and Chile I met and stayed with different local people. All of them were very relaxed and spontaneous. Nobody cared about time, nothing was stressful. That can be annoying (e.g. when you have to catch your flight ;-)), but overall I loved it.

What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about solo traveling? 

Every woman should ask herself a few questions: Would I like to spend a whole day on my own? Would I like to go out for breakfast or dinner on my own? Would I like to go to the movies on my own? If everything is a yes, go for it. If you don’t feel comfortable, travel with a friend and plan a short solo trip for two, three or up to five days during that vacation. That’s a good way to find out, if you would love to be a solo traveler.

What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel? 

Sometimes, I despaired while reading too many hotel or Airbnb reviews. I mean, reviews are great and I appreciate them. However, it can be exhausting. Now, I try to check reviews only for a few requirements like cleanliness, friendly host or hotel staff. In the end, I rely on my gut instinct.

What’s the best and worst part about traveling solo? 

The best part is that you meet and get to know a lot of new people and friends. I made so many new contacts during my solo trips in the last year and have made new friends in LA, New York, Dubai, Italy, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris. For me there is no worse part, I love it 100%.

What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling? 

I have much less fear in general when it comes to areas of a city and crazy people. 

What is your favorite way to travel (ex. Plane, train, automobile?) and why? 

I love flying. It’s calm, you can watch movies or listen to music. You don’t have to do anything else and nobody can call you. However, a road trip is still the best way to explore a country. You can stop wherever and whenever you want to and you see so much more.

What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self? 

I should have started earlier to travel the world. It really changed my life and mind. It gave me the conviction that everything is possible and I started my travel blog and Instagram account.

What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit? 

Oh, that’s hard. I have so many places on my list and almost everyday I add a new destination. I would love to do a trip with the Trans-Sibirian Railway from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar. That trip must be an amazing once in a lifetime experience.

Do you have any upcoming trips? Where to and what will you be doing? 

I want to go to Iceland to visit blue lagoons, do horse riding and visit Reykjavik. A lot of people told me that this is an amazing city.

Looking for more travel inspiration? You can also follow Claudia on her adventures on her blog, or at any of the links below! 

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Peace Like A River: April Travel Inspiration

Where in the world has Emilee been?

Not an unusual question, since I’m usually traveling around the world. But lately I haven’t been on my blog, and there are a few reasons for that. March was a really crazy and kind of terrible month in my life. I had a lot of upsets, and a lot of plans got literally trampled in dirt and tears. But that’s part of life, isn’t it? And as much as it hurts, I know that I’m strong enough to press on, and to dig deeper.

I needed to take a couple of weeks away from my writing to recover, but behold — I’m back! And April is already proving to be a much (MUCH) better month.

For starters, I’ve started writing again, which is always a good sign. When I’m writing, I’m happy. If I’m not writing, there’s probably something wrong. April has brought all kinds of new opportunities for me to be able to partner with other creatives, which I’m so incredibly thankful for, and I love that the pieces keep coming together, in order for me to keep doing what I love.

So what’s up next?

April is going to be filled with copywriting projects, continuing my Etsy shop and working on paintings for the exhibit I’m getting ready to display in June (I’M SO EXCITED!). Oh, and continuing to work like a mad-woman. In the past I’ve apologized a lot for working so much, but there shall be no more of that nonsense. I love working, and I love where I work (all four jobs). And the thing is, if I love what I’m doing, how dare others condemn it. Can I get an amen!?
In other inspiration news I’ve been watching some cool shows, while working on my many projects. Here are my favorites at the moment:

Elementary: An American version of Sherlock Holmes, that actually isn’t that bad. It took me forever to start this show, because I was so worried it would be terrible, but I actually really like it.
Harlots (Viewer discretion advised): This show is a Hulu original, and all about bad ass women at the end of the 18th century. It has a (basically) all female cast and I love the politics of strong women who are so entirely bad-ass.
Mercy Street: Season 3 just ended, but I’m absolutely in love with this is an amazing Civil War era drama. Again, strong female characters who have strong character development (sarcastic *GASP*) and there’s just a really well rounded cast, overall.
The White Queen: This show is set during The War of the Roses, in England. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I’m also really excited because there’s a sequel, “The White Princess” coming out on April 16th!
Survivor:
 Yes, this show is still on. One of my friends mentioned it and then I thought, “Oh, I’ll just watch one episode” and I got hooked. #guiltypleasure

I’m also really excited for all of the amazing arts events Seattle has to offer in the month of April. I love living in a city that’s so passionate about art and music and theater. It really does feed my soul. This weekend I’m going to the Seattle Art Museum’s new exhibit, Seeing Nature, and I couldn’t be more excited. I literally always need a little more painting inspiration in my life.

I mean, LOOK. The Seattle Art Museum’s current exhibit “Seeing Nature” looks so amazing!

I’ve also been reading a lot, lately. Over the past year I’ve bought about 20 books I want to read… and I’ve read approximately 3 of them. So, now’s the time to dive in and consume them ALL. My current read is called Uninvited and it’s a beautiful book written by Lysa TerKeurst. To be honest, the title of the book sounds depressing, but it’s actually about living intentionally with others in your life, establishing a strong self identity and overcoming obstacles. I’d highly recommend it.

And lastly I’m working on this project. It’s kind of an awesome New Years Resolution that’s been really hard for me, but has proved to be so incredibly inspiring. This year, rather than resolving against something I decided to resolve to do something: every month in 2017 I’ll meet up with one person to have coffee. Not a work date, not a group hangout session, but a one-on-one intentional sit down cup of tea/coffee. Sounds easy, right? It’s not.

The reality of the world that we live in is that we’re constantly on the go. Especially as Americans, we’re taught to keep running, running, running. But what about the people who get left behind? Not because you don’t want them in your life, but because you’re so busy chasing a career or the next adventure, or a marriage, or your children, that you completely forget to connect. Intentionally connect.

My New Years resolution was to intentionally connect with people in 2017.

I’m not going to lie, it was really hard the first couple of months. I have a really crazy schedule, and so do most people I know (because they’re complete bad-asses) but I’ve held true to my resolution. The crazy thing is, I barely made time in January, slid by in February, but in March (*dramatic pause*) I grabbed coffee with THREE people.

I’m basically a hermit, so this is a big deal.
The lesson I’m learning? We’re a very lonely society, and no amount of Netflix binge-watching is going to cure that. Once I started making time, I started noticing more opportunities, and (the best part) people started to reach out to me. It’s like once I let the universe know I was ready to let people in, it started to help me out.

It’s really hard for me to make myself leave my comfort zone/house and spend time with people (#introvertproblems) but you know what? I was wired for it. We, as humans, are wired for connection. And especially in today’s world, where things just seem to be perpetually going to shit (sorry, mom), it’s more important than I think we realize.

So, let’s take the challenge together. Who can you intentionally connect with? Who can you call, or write a letter to? Who can you grab coffee with?
Take the leap.
Oh, and leave a message in the comments to let me know how it went!

Going it Alone: A Letter To The Solo Exploress

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I wrote this letter about 3 years ago when I had just started to travel solo. I was still so uncertain of how big a role travel, and backpacking, would play in my life. To be honest, the letter is as much a letter to myself, as it is to other women travelers. Since 2013 I’ve backpacked around 10 more countries, taken numerous trips within the U.S. and I’m still madly in love with “getting out there.” But it hasn’t come without feelings of doubt, or skepticism from others. It felt appropriate, coming up on the 3 year anniversary of  my blog, to post this one again since it still rings so true, today.

Dear Exploress,

In your life there are going to be people who tell you what you “should” do. In most cases, it won’t be with negative intentions or purposeful neglect to your feelings. But, hands placed on your shoulders, concern built in their eyes – they will try. If and when these people find you, I want to give you one piece of advice:

Listen to them.

Listen, ponder, wonder and question every word that spills out of their unassuming mouths – riverbanks trying to contain the flow of your own untamable ambitions. Think about their words. Gnaw on them again and again until you truly understand the marrow of what it means to make your own decision. Then, throw them out. For they are of no further use to you.

As you plan and scheme and chart the direction of your own decision making, remember the words of those who doubted you. Remember the people who told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t; every person who tried to pour into your mind their own doubts and limitations. And as you think on these, also remember that you are a conqueror, more than able, and born to be set apart.

Then, take a step. Fall with the freedom of knowing you have weighted the reasons, excuses and deliberations; and they have been found wanting. Walk forward and be guided by the northern star of your own intellect and courage. For, remember, castles are seldom built by staying in our own valleys; dare to dream of venturing to the highest hills.

Remember who you are: a woman fully competent, fully capable and stubborn to a fault. Plan. Plan like you’ve never planned before. Spend every minute researching the world you’re about to travel into, so that when you step outside your front door you can throw the guidebook to the side, and enjoy your experiences fully.

Make friends with everyone. And I mean everyone. Bus drivers, taxi drivers, hotel staff, baristas, post office workers, random people you meet in museums and that mom with a stroller at the bus stop. Keep your ears open, your mind clear and your possibilities endless.

Experience the culture. Don’t ever block yourself off in the comfort of a hotel room or the emptiness of an American chain restaurant. Eat the local food (I don’t care how gross it sounds), go dancing – always go dancing, look for events in local papers and billboards. No matter how tired you are, remember:  You only need 8 hours of sleep, and you have a TV at home. Get outside! Parks, museums, art galleries – go.

Write down everything and send yourself (home) postcards with notes of encouragement. Remember, you won’t be here forever, but the memories will. Remind yourself of your accomplishments, so when you’re feeling lost a week after getting back, you have a piece of mail to remind you that it was only one passport stamp, and there are many more adventures to come.

And last? Stop making excuses.

If you have the ability to hold a job, you have the ability to save money. If you have the ability to save money, no matter how long it takes, you have the ability to buy a ticket to somewhere and go on an adventure. Be smart with your traveling. Challenge yourself to save as much money beforehand so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re exploring.

You are a woman, not incapable. You are an Exploress, not unable. You have intellect, an open mind and a heart that loves – use them. And while you’re standing there, looking at something more beautiful than you could have imagined, meeting people who open your mind to more than you could have grasped before – breathe; deeply and slowly. Remind yourself, “In this moment, I am happy.” And then, as you start to walk toward the beauty that’s before you, remember all those people who told you it couldn’t be done – and smile.

This post was originally published on The Exploress blog September 27th, 2013

Why Netflix And I Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

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Can I just say: I love being back in the U.S. Will I always live here? Probably not. But at the moment I am having a pretty splendiferous time of it. Coming back to Seattle was not an easy decision. There were a handful of people who thought I should stay in Paris, and others who thought I was crazy for choosing to move back from Europe at all.

But in the true middle finger to the world approach I adopted from my time in France, I could care less what their opinions are.

Because, when it comes down to it, this is my life. My decisions. And I’m the only one calling the shots on which direction I go. I would definitely encourage those who feel like Paris is the Mecca for happiness to move there themselves. (It was not, and never could possibly be, for me.)

ANYWAY…Being back in the good ‘ole US of A has been so much more of an adjustment than I ever thought it would be. It’s funny, but you don’t really even realize how many things you get used to when you’re living in another country. Like bananas.

French bananas DO NOT taste the same as the ones we get here (or fruit in general). And at first that really bothered me. But over the course of 10 months I guess I got used to it, and I wasn’t even aware of the fact…until I got back to the now watery tasting ones in Seattle.

Beyond the fruit revelations, I’ve also experienced so many levels of culture shock from being back. And as weird as it sounds, one of the hardest things I’ve encountered is keeping up with English/English speakers!

While obviously I haven’t forgotten how to speak English, I do have quite a bit of difficulty (still, after 3 weeks!) of finding the correct words for sentences, or speaking conversationally. There are a couple of reasons that I think are to blame for this. On the one hand, I obviously didn’t speak English in France, unless I was with one of my friends or the family I lived with. But on the other hand, I just didn’t really speak that much in general! Now looking back on the past year, I’m realizing just how incredibly silent I became. It feels so odd to be able to express myself without checking my vocabulary for the simplest form of a word and I keep having these moments when I think “Wow! I can read/respond without thinking to that!”

Is forgetting you’re fluent in a language standard after living in a country where it isn’t primarily spoken? Maybe it’s just me.

While I was living in France, I also didn’t have a phone for pretty much the entirety of my time there, so having the ability to call/text/use my smartphone outside of a Wifi zone is the oddest feeling. To be absolutely honest, I still kind of get freaked out when I get a text or phone call.

And despite the general joy of being back in my hometown, there are some things that will NOT be being reintroduced into my life, one of which will be Netflix/Hulu. Both of these sites were absolute addictions prior to my moving…and I guess that makes sense – I love movies, and I always have. BUT the mindlessness and the numbing effect that comes as a package deal is not okay.

In fact, that is one of the biggest things I’m observing and trying to keep from slipping into while in the U.S. Numb distractions.

I never noticed before how much over stimulation there is in the United States. Let’s all take a step back for a second and observe a few: There are more TV shows than we could ever hope to watch (but you’re expected to keep up with all of them), there are more activities than you’ll ever have time to do (how do you not run, do yoga, rock climb and go on a 10 mile hike EVERY DAY!?), more food options than you could possibly choose from, and more technological (sorry, mom) shit than you could ever possibly need. For instance, my iPhone 4s is like six generations behind, and I’ve only been gone for a year!?

Clarification: it still works fine. It still calls, texts, connects to Wifi and my data plan and takes decent photos, and yet…since I’ve been here all I’ve heard about is the latest smartphones and people calling generations that came out two months ago ‘ancient.’

The craziest part is that in spite of all of these 5 million things to keep us occupied, every person I’ve talked to since I’ve been here hates their job, and is constantly trying to escape through said distractions. And don’t even get me started on how messed up the whole, by age 22 most of us are in more debt than we’ll be able to pay off for 20 years, thing.

Okay, I’ll stop ranting. Like I said, there are so many amazing things I love about the United States, also. But one of the biggest things I’ve had to start doing since being here is simply saying no. NO NO NO NO NO. I don’t want to engage in this frothing at the mouth competition to impress people I don’t like in order to create a life where I’m constantly plugging in to something to forget I hate it. NO!

Because if there’s one thing I DID learn about living in Europe, it’s that my true friends love me when I have absolutely nothing to give, nothing to share, no way to repay and nothing to contribute. I am loved as I am. I don’t need to impress anyone, and I don’t need to be running around trying to keep up with whatever the next trend to hit the streets is.

Because when it comes down to it, these are distractions from what I really want to do with my life. These are things that kept me, for many years, from really pursuing things I was passionate about. They are pop up signs, advertisements and shiny gadgets that will not make me happy. And while each, in itself, is not necessarily harmful, the amassed collection is turning us into a nation of ravenous hoarders (of wealth, of technology, of perfectly filtered Instagram photos), blind to how blessed we already are.

January Goals: Paris And Beyond

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January is almost finished, so naturally it’s the perfect time to write up my goals for the month. I honestly don’t even know how it happened that it is already late January! Tomorrow is my five month anniversary! It honestly feels like someone hit the fast forward button on my time in France; I wake up on Monday and by the time I step out of bed it’s Friday all the sudden… or, at least, that’s how it feels. But I really like the idea of having goals each month, because it gives me something to look back on and something to hold myself accountable to!

First off let’s look over December’s goals!

Blog more: Well, I did blog more(ish) but I still want to keep this one in place, because it’s absolutely ungodly the amount of half written posts I have on my computer. The main issue is that I’m so tired when I write them that I don’t have the energy to edit them also. So my new goal is to write posts on the weekends, so I have them ready to go before my hectic week begins!

Etsy Shop Listings: Yes! Yes! YES! I’m so excited that this goal was actually accomplished. I know you guys haven’t seen anything, YET. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been an incredible amount of work going on behind the scenes. We’ve been working so hard to get everything pulled together and our goal date for “premiering” is going to be in early February. Stay tuned! Awesome things are happening!

Have an amazing time in Amsterdam: I went to Amsterdam later than I had expected, so not in December, but it was still a good time. Not as fun as I expected, because my friend who was supposed to travel with me wasn’t able to come, but it was still nice to get out of Paris for a bit and have a change of scenery. AND I found one of my all time favorite café’s. 

Vlog more: Poor little Vlog. No such luck for me upping my Vog output. But I’m still optimistic. And I actually did make a post for December! It just didn’t get put out, which is kind of the trend of me posting in general, I’m noticing. Ha.

Stick with the program: Nope. I don’t think I moved all of December. Ok, I did – but I didn’t do anything regularly. Mainly because it was FREEZING outside, and I was sewing for weeks inside…but I’m going to be getting back into the swing of things once I defrost. Paris is a kind of bitter cold that I’m just not used to. In Seattle we have a moist (yeah, I just made you read that word) winter, so even when it’s cold there’s still moisture in the air. Here that’s not the same. This cold cuts into your clothing, even though the forecast might not say it’s very “cold.”

Get real serious ‘bout French: Well yes and no. I’ve officially become the only person in my French class, since everyone else has dropped out/transferred. I was tempted to drop as well since there hasn’t been much “learning” happening with lessons only once a week – but I didn’t. And I’m glad, because as little as it is, it’s still more than sitting at home and learning/practicing nothing at all.

Finish classes on KhanAcademy: Yesss. I did finish a couple classes and I’ve started more. I think I might just go through the entirety of the history program that Khan Academy has because I love the classes so much. I love being able to learn in an online class setting without the pressure of going to a class, and I get to learn/explore whenever I want to. I’ll definitely continue using this website – I love it!

Finish The Hobbit, See The Hobbit: I definitely did. It felt kind of weird to actually finish a book, but good at the same time. I think having the goal written down really helped. The movie was great because we only paid 5 euro to see it – and it was in English!! The movie was about as good as I thought it would be, so not incredible, but at this point in my life going to any movie in English is fun.

Storyline a story: I did storyline and write up the premise of the story, but I’m still not as far as I wish I was. I really want to focus on getting an actual script pounded out, now.

Get involved somehow in a French event and meet more French people: I didn’t do this, yet. But I took the pre-steps to start! I found some spoken word/poety/writer events in France, but most aren’t starting up until right now because they were on break for the holidays. But I have a friend who’s going to go with me once we find one, and I talked to my au pair mom about having maybe one night a week off to be able to go to more French speaking events in Paris!

January goals

 

1. Vlog or die: Ok, maybe that’s extreme. But this really is going to be an ongoing thing that I want to get into the habit of doing. So here we go again. One video a week is my goal for the rest of my time in France. I also want to be writing on here more!

2. Exploress awesome: If you don’t know already, I’m the content editor for a website called The Exploress and I LOVE it! I love being able to recruit women who are passionate about traveling and who love seeing the world as a global community! My goal for January was to start a Facebook community for the women who contribute regularly to this site (which I did) and I’ve loved being able to “meet” all of our awesome writers/photographers. My extending goal, off of this one, is that I would be able to extend our online community even more so we’re able to reach out to even more women globally through our other social media outlets: Twitter and Instagram!

3. Finish storyboarding a story: One of my friends and I are writing children’s books one month at a time. For December we wrote the stories. And now, for January, we’re storyboarding! It’s a lot harder than it sounds, but I’m really thankful for resources like Skillshare which allow me to learn from the best on how to do things like storyboard. Here’s to trying new and foreign things!

4. Open Shop On Etsy!: One of my friends and I have been working hard over the past few months to pull together a little Etsy shop and HOPEFULLY (pray for us) we’ll be pulling everything together by the beginning of February. It has been so much work to plan, make, photograph and now starting to edit! But I love the learning process and I’m excited to have everything done in January so we can show you all in February what we’ve been working on!!

5. Script Story: Yes, I’m also writing a comic book with another friend! Notice a lot of projects? Well that’s because I’m insane. But I like to be busy, and it’s so important to me to keep connected with the people back home who are important to me, so I’m really excited for everything that’s going on. I really want to start actually writing pages for the scripting process of this story, since I have most of an outline done.

6. IRELAND: I’m going to Ireland in 1 week and I’m so excited! Ireland has been like a fairy tale land since I was a kid (since my family is Scottish, Irish and English that whole little section of the world has always been) and I’m so happy I get to go back! I did go to Ireland and N. Ireland back in 2013 for my backpacking trip, but I’m really excited to be going back since I definitely DID NOT spend enough time there. Right now the coin is in the air for whether I’ll be going to Galway, Ireland or staying in Dublin, but we shall see. Either way I think it will be great!

7. Finish reading my book: Yep. I’m writing it down, again, since something magical happened last time I did. Right now I’m reading “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” since I got four books for Christmas (Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights, and The Hounds of Baskerville included) and I really want to actually read through them all (even though I’ve already read Sense and Sensibility before – duh. Jane Austen).

8. Step up my art game: I haven’t really been drawing or painting very much lately because I’ve been busy with other things, but that’s not good. Whenever I don’t create, I’m 100% more stressed out, so I really want to take more intentional time to be making things.

9. Apply or find out things about DELF: There’s a French proficiency test called the DELF and when you attend school in France a lot of classes have you take it. My classes (since they aren’t through a school) don’t, but I’m still thinking about taking it independently so I have it on my resume as actual language proficiency, not just “I lived in Paris and I ate really good bread for a year.”

10. Get involved somehow in a French event and meet more French people: Stealing this one from last month, but I really need to get more involved with the artistic community in Paris because I know it’s important to be in community when you’re an artist. ESPECIALLY when you’re an introvert, because let’s be real, I could live entirely in my room, coming out only for food, and be perfectly happy.

And that’s the list for the month! Good grief. So busy. Goals are hard! But I know they’ll be worth it in the end, because it’s so important for me to keep moving forward intentionally while I’m living in Paris (as opposed to just floating along for a year).

Lessons Learned In Amsterdam: Day 2

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I’m not in Amsterdam anymore, but I still thought I’d write a recap of what happened so you all don’t think I fell into a canal or never came back from Holland.
After going to bed at the beautifully early time of 10pm (I had been up at 5 am – and I had no kids there. Yes, I slept.) on Saturday night, I woke up the next morning at 7:30am and headed on a solo adventure around the city.

I admit that this was kind of intentional. The night before had gone from slightly sketchy to etch-a-sketch real quick and I decided to go home early. But Amsterdam in the morning light was lovely. I was basically the only one awake in the city, but the stores were just starting to open up and the coffee shops had been opened for a bit, already. I suspect they open early so that all the tourists who had a bit too much “fun” the night before can grab some caffeine before boarding their trains, planes and buses back to wherever they came from.

I love walking around cities when no one is on the streets, though. No matter where I am it’s always my favorite time of day. I feel like this time, whether early morning…or the other kind of early morning, allows you to really get to “meet” the city. Not the people, tourists or the culture that has grown out of whatever twisted ideas people of that generation have placed there, but the actual city.

You get to see the skeleton architecture without the forms and figures of other people shadowing them. And the thing about European architecture is that there really ARE things you should be looking at, when it comes to buildings. They are beautiful and intricate with carvings and embellishments that just do not exist in the modern world. The buildings carry stories. And, even if just for a few hours, I get to walk around and learn them. And THAT is one of the biggest reasons I travel.

Another reason I travel is because I’m obsessed with Van Gogh. Like if you saw my bedroom wall you would understand. I’ve always been in love with his paintings since I was 10 and saw The Starry Night for the first time. At the time I had no idea who had painted it, but I knew it was the first time I saw a “rule-less” art form that I could connect with freely.

It just so happens that Amsterdam holds the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in its Van Gogh Museum, and I was not disappointed by the experience. I’ll also take this time to say that, if you go there, BUY THE MEDIA GUIDE. It was so worth the extra 5 euro to be able to hear the stories and extra information about each piece of his work. And yes, I almost started crying involuntarily when I saw “Sunflowers” not only because they’re my favorite flower, but also because that’s one of my favorite paintings… and if you watch Doctor Who you’ll know why.

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After that I went to the Ruks Museum and saw some Rembrandt (which, honestly, the museum was kind of obsessed with) and my first Vermeer, which was absolutely breathtaking, as I knew it would be. To be able to paint like that. Insane.

It also reminded me of this movie I saw when I was 12. It’s a Hallmark, so don’t watch it without some tissues.

Brush with fate – trailer

After that I really had only a couple of hours before my train came, so I dropped in on McDonalds (it’s tradition to try their food when I travel) and their french fries were spot on – better than the original fries in the US. Which is saying something since five countries later, I’ve tasted some pretty nasty non American McDonalds meals. Of course, the argument could be made that any meal from McDonalds is nasty, but I appreciate that European places seem to try harder to make healthy options available.

Next up was the train station and reading my new “The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” book, which is such a good read, if you have any interest in art. So much snark from that man. The guy on the train kept looking over at me because I was holding this biographical book and giggling like a child. My life.

Public transportation was free in Paris on Sunday due to the Charlie Hedbo events, so getting back home was a lot easier than it might have been. And that was the end of my adventure.

Also a couple more lessons learned from Amsterdam:

1. If you’re not a bike you’re not important.

2. You can get lost in tiny cities too.

3. They aren’t homeless people, they’re postal workers.

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6 Reasons To Set Goals

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Somehow Wednesday has snuck up on us! I have about the motivation of a slug right now because; well…let’s just say 2015 hasn’t started the way I thought it would. Maybe that’s a bad thing; maybe it’s a good thing. But it is, without a doubt, unexpected, and that’s never an easy thing for me.

But that’s life, right? We have no other option than to move forward with what we have, striving to build bigger and more structurally sound things in spite of the rubble that surrounds us.

On Sunday I got a really amazing opportunity to hear a speaker who was talking about the importance of goals. Obviously, being the beginning of the year, it was an appropriate topic – especially since I feel like 2015 hit and I lost all ambition to do anything productive. Is that just me? Anyone else out there just feeling over it (whatever ‘it’ is)?

But anyway, the speaker outlined 6 reasons to set goals and I thought I would share them here (with a little commentary) because they’re awesome and I think worth being spread around the Internet. So here we go:

Six Reasons To Set Goals:

  1. Because it’s necessary

“Either you go forward on purpose, or you sit by and let things happen to you. Either you take control, or other people take control of your life for you.”

It might sound like a no brainer, but if you look at the actions of great men and women throughout history you will notice that they had great goals that got them to their places of greatness. It’s when we don’t have goals or a direction pointing our lives that we go off path and end up places we might never have wanted to end up. The best part of goals is that they are entirely free – they cost nothing, but can change everything.

  1. Objectives stretch our faith:

“Take the limits off your dreams. Instead of running after small dreams, lets fix big goals.”

If you don’t dream big, you’ll never achieve great things. As a Christian, having my “faith stretched” points to my faith in God, but I think it goes beyond that even. Having goals and objectives stretches our faith in humanity, in the future and even in ourselves! Having goals allows us to have milestones, or markers that show us where we were and where we are going. They remind us: We did that. And encourage us to dream even bigger the next time.

  1. Goals concentrate our energy

The fact is, as much as we would love to, we can’t do everything at once. And spreading yourself over acres of ideas generally does more damage than help. Having goals allows us to knock things out one at a time and allows us to take steps forward.

  1. Goals allow you to keep going when you want to stop

“If things aren’t going well, then it’s not the end yet.”

If you walked into my bedroom you wouldn’t really see anything particularly eye catching, but if you came inside, and shut the door, you would notice an entire wall collage of ideas, quotes and inspiring things on the back of my door/wall area. It’s important to list things out, write things down and remember the people and things that inspire you. Because when you have milestones, or people holding you accountable, you’re far more likely to stick with whatever goals you have.

  1. Goals build character

“What I’m becoming is much more important than what I achieve.”

Even if you fail miserably, if you learn about yourself in the process you have succeeded. It might not feel like it right then and there, but the fact remains: You having tried puts you miles ahead of those who never got off life’s ‘couch.’ When we get up again after failing it’s THEN that we grow. Success is great, but failure is often the much better teacher.

  1. Having the right goals will reap rewards

Whether you’re of a religious mindset, and you believe in the reward of heaven, or not – the fact remains that when you work hard toward things that allow you to love, grow, serve others, discover and grow in character then you will be amazed by the results of the rest of the world. I’m a strong believer that the good you put out into the world comes back to you; let’s all try to sow a little kindness back into the communities we surround ourselves with.

STAY TUNED – UPCOMING TRIP: AMSTERDAM THIS WEEKEND – Eeeek!

Yesterday’s Ceiling Is Today’s Floor

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Totally not my graduation. But entirely the right graduation picture.

This week I received an invitation from my alma mater to attend my five-year reunion. I had to decline the invite, since I live 5,000 miles away from where I went to college (and flying back to watch a basketball game and drink punch doesn’t really seem worth the $1500 plane ticket), but getting the email made me think. This is year five. When people asked me in college what my five-year plan was, this is where they were asking about.

The same as most twenty-somethings, I remember people frequently asking me where I saw myself in 5 years. I never really had an answer. I knew I wanted to be happy. I knew I wanted to feel like my life was moving, and not static. But beyond those two things, I honestly had no idea.

Going to a small conservative university where “ring by spring” was more the ideal, than a catch phrase, a lot of people had marriage, kids and white picket fences on their list of five year objectives. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, I never felt right saying any of them as an answer (at least not within my 5 year span of time).

Was “having an adventure” an option?

I always want to be in a place where I’m moving forward. I think my biggest fear in life is waking up one morning and realizing that I’ve wasted years of my life hating what I do and who I’ve become. But when I look over the past five years I don’t see that. Did I become the person people thought I would become, while I was in college? Who knows. But I do know that there were dreams, so deeply buried in my heart, that I didn’t even know they were there until they were realized.

The mere fact that I can’t attend my reunion because I live in EUROPE is amazing. I never would have even dreamed that this would be an opportunity for me.

And as I’ve looked back over the past five years I can safely say I’ve had quite a few awesome moments that I’m so proud of.
And, in the spirit of five, here are my top highlights:

  1. I became an artist: I’ve been creating art since I could move my hands, but over the past five years I finally learned to embrace it as who I am. I am an artist. And no matter how much I want to be a doctor, lawyer or astronaut, that’s who I am. Art is what I dream about. What gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s what I think about when I’m riding the metro, it’s what I look at when I’m walking down the street. I never before felt comfortable declaring myself as an artist. But over the past years I’ve been able to make some incredible friends who have helped me embrace that this is my identity.
  1. I became a writer: My whole life I’ve written stories. I used to force my siblings to have story writing competitions with me and we would cut up cereal boxes to “bind” out books together. Libraries were always my second home, so it makes sense that stories became my second language. While I did get my BA in journalism, I never had any idea what I would do with it. I had no interest in brooding news stories. And I used to shock my journalism professor by telling him that the only journalism I was interested in was writing for a tabloid (what no journalism prof. ever wants to hear).
    I always felt like everyone else was always just better than me at being a journalist. From editor to fellow writer, they were a beautiful brooding bunch that stayed up late watching CNN and talking about world events and politics. That wasn’t me. And no matter how much I wished I could be like my stylish editors or the praised writers in my classes, I couldn’t change that.
    I was pretty lost for direction until the past couple of years when I discovered that writing doesn’t always have to be about reporting world events (although that’s important too!). It can be fun and colorful, it can mean going on adventures and writing about them! And then the best part ever happened: me. Little ‘ole non-journalistically inclined me, became an editor…and I love every minute of it.
  1. I travelled the world: I don’t think I would have ever guessed how much travel would be involved in my future, when I was in college. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved to travel and learn about/experience other cultures, but I never thought I would have the opportunities to go out and experience so many of them. I’ve gone with groups, I’ve gone solo, I’ve lived in other states and another country (on another continent!) and I’ve been able to learn so much about myself by looking through the eyes of people around the world.
  1. I worked for organizations that made a global impact: Societal change and sustainable business is SO important to me! And regardless of where I work or what point in my life I’m at, I want to always find a way to give back to the communities around me. Being able to work with non-profits and with small businesses over the past five years has forever changed my outlook on the world and on the way that I interact with it.
  1. I made friends for life: Something great happens when you’re dirt poor and forced to live with three other people in an apartment that should probably only hold two people. I think American society teaches us to fear those growing points in our life; the parts where we have no money and have to work weird jobs to be able to pay our utility bill. But my best memories in my life have come out of times when I had no money, weird jobs and had no idea where my life was going. Was it comfortable? No. Did I cry a lot and ask God why the hell he had put me there. Maybe Yes. But now, looking back, I understand why. I get why in seasons where I thought money was the object, the actual title of the chapter was “Friendship” and I could not be more grateful for the relationships that were molded during these times.

Note. None of these things have made me filthy rich, Instagram famous or listed on “America’s most influential 30 under 30.” But if I was asked if I accomplished my five year goal I would say “Yes.”

Because I am happy. And I am free to do the things that make me happy. Over the past five years I’ve gone on too many adventures to count. I have so many stories I could write a novel. I’ve met some of the coolest people I think I could find on this planet, and I have never felt more loved or supported in my life.

I am me. Uninhibited, nonconforming and entirely me. And I think that’s something to celebrate.

And now, it’s time to dream EVEN BIGGER., and to add some new goals for my next “five year list!” I have no idea how I’m supposed to top this one, but here’s to brighter tomorrows and bigger dreams.
What are some of your guys’ dreams from the past or for the future?

Happy Goalvember!

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Welcome to Wednesday.

In French au pair language that probably means something a bit different than for the rest of you.

See, in France, there is no school on Wednesdays. Or, rather, it gets out at 11:30am. Which means 10-hour workdays with the kids.

Needless to say these days are crazy, hectic and dreaded by most. Mine include piano lessons, library visits, post office visits, restaurants, athletics, golf, dinner, reading and Tom and Jerry on top of the usual homework/brush your teeth/dress kids/bath etc.

Since I just got done with this routine, pardon my half minded writing, but I wanted to make a quick post inspired by my friend Samantha. She posted some goals for the month of November and I thought: What an AWESOME idea. So I’m copying her. Because that’s the greatest form of flattery, right? Actually I’ve always hated that saying.

ANYWAY, here are my five goals for my Paris November.

  1. Open a French Bank Account: It is really hard to get a French bank account as an American, even if you live in the country. I’ve been running around trying to get everything together, but November is ‘gonna be my month to FINALLY get one! Fingers crossed!
  1. Design more: I bought a sewing machine when I first came to France and I have yet to actually use it. Which is SO sad. But I discovered the fabric district part of Paris this week and definitely collected some of my favorite things to start making projects with: Leather, fur and wool. #earthsign
  1. Etsy shop up and running: I’m restarting up my Etsy shop and I’m so excited to be part of the Etsy community again! This month is my month for really investing in my shop and promoting/working on amazing things to get set up in there! 🙂
  1. Go to a tourist/outing every week: Me and a few of my friends have started doing this thing when we go out every week and see the city. My absolute greatest fear is leaving Paris unchanged by it. I want to get to know my new city and the only way to do that is to actually go out and meet her! So far we’ve been to the: Louvre, Moulin Rouge, Sacred Coeur, Museé D’Orsay and we have so many more plans!
  1. Have an amazing “Friendsgiving”: A few American/English speaking friends and I are going to be putting together a Thanksgiving meal, even though we’re not on our home country soil anymore. Because thankfulness is a universal thing, right! We don’t need to be in the US to celebrate! What we may need to be the US for, though, is the access to the traditional ingredients. We may have to get creative, ladies and gentlemen.

Hopefully this little list will serve as something to propel me forward to really improve my time in France. While shutting myself in my room with Jane Eyre and a cup of tea might sound like a solution to every day, it really is important for me to force myself to get out there and I think having goals is the perfect way to do it!

Cheers to planning for the future…and actually following through on it!

Moulin Rouge!
Moulin Rouge!

Fear Not, For I Am With You

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The tattoo I have on my left arm I got done months ago. It says “I will face my fear. Only I will remain” in French.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 

― Frank HerbertDune

Before I moved to France, the number one thing people said to me was, “Wow, you’re so brave.” I’ve always thought this was funny, because I would never use that word to describe myself. I was scared as shit to move to France. And even now that I’m living here, I’m terrified of so many things. I’m scared of going to the post office, of buying bread and not knowing how to respond in perfect French when the lady asks me how I’m doing. I’m scared of getting lost when I go on walks, not making any friends, or being in a situation where no one can understand my need for help because they don’t speak English. 

These are real fears. But they are also all futuristic and somewhat ridiculous (even though I’m convinced the lady at the bakery is out to get me). Each one of them has the potential of stopping me from thriving while I live in France. They are barriers to happiness. But they are also motivators to making this experience something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. See, each time one of these fears surfaces, I remember what I have overcome to get here. 

A year ago I was afraid to breathe. I was unsure who I was, what I was supposed to do with my life, and why it didn’t seem like anything was worth living for, anymore. My heart was broken, two members of my family had been diagnosed with breast cancer within months of each other, and I was floundering in my job and relationships.

There’s a reason they say fear is “crippling.” It doesn’t kill you. It leaves you to fight yourself, daily, in some kind of one sided torture. You feel trapped, isolated and like there’s no one else in the world that could possibly understand. But what’s worse, is that you try to talk yourself out of it. You try again and again to fix it, ignore it, numb it until something – anything takes away the pain of admitting that you need help.

But, we weren’t made to fix ourselves. The broken hearts, the self depreciation, the voices in our heads that tell us it’s impossible to get past this, “There is no future, so why even look forward?”

Instead of moving forward, fear holds us back. It can do more damage to us than any other person ever will. Fear of being alone, of being unwanted or of being unable to achieve the standards we’ve set for ourselves. It paralyzes us, sets us on paths to destroy ourselves through whatever means we use to get rid of it. 

I know this, because a year ago this was me. I did everything to try to subdue, freeze, isolate, cover up, conceal and dilute the fear that I felt. Fear that stretched back to childhood. Fears of inadequacy, fear of being unloved – or unworthy of being loved. Fears of never achieving anything. Of the people who had told my mom that for whatever reason (race, gender, socioeconomic standing) I would never amount to anything, being right.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Last year I took a two week long backpacking trip around the UK.

Two weeks is no great pilgrimage. There wasn’t a great cathedral that I would find waiting for me at the end of my journey, and there weren’t any saints to welcome me. But before I left, I decided to take these two weeks to do something crazy – to live in the moment.

You see, fear is of the future, not the present. Danger is in the present, and is very real, but fear? Fear is a manmade, demon of a reality, that will probably never even happen.  When we stop worshiping the future, we drain fear of its power. 

See, as a Christian, I serve a God of the present, who tells me not to worry about the future, because he’s got it covered (Matt 6:34). Which is awesome, because that gives me so much more creativity, ambition and energy to sow into the present – seeds which will grow and produce a more beautiful future, in the end. 

I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been thinking about fear a lot, and remembering what it took for me to overcome my own demons. I tried and I tried and I tried to fix myself, but it wasn’t until I let go and let God start working that I saw any kind of healing happen. Only after I realized it was ok to be broken, could I begin the process of being mended. 

Overcoming fear is as simple and as terrifyingly difficult as acknowledging that it exists. Until you do that, there really is no way of overcoming it. We all have our own unique terrors, each one changing as we grow and evolve as people. But today I’m reminded that where there is brokenness, there are also opportunities for a healing so intensely refreshing, and in some ways, simultaneously painful, that it can do nothing but refine us into a version of ourselves that would otherwise be inaccessible. 

So here’s to taking life one moment at a time, and allowing ourselves to grow and transform into the people we are meant to be. It doesn’t happen over night, it’s a daily chore. But it’s in those little moments, when we decide to conquer the now, that we find the strength, over time, to claim the victory we have won. 

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The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis