Last hurrah of 2015.

Confession: I recently discovered that adventure is my love language. All I really wanted for Christmas this year was another stamp in my passport. To pick up and venture out into the world with my husband and forge new paths and make awesome memories. Nothing makes me feel more alive than the thrill of exploring a new place. I was a little afraid to even entertain the idea of taking a trip (other than driving to Georgia to see family) because I didn’t want to be disappointed if it didn’t happen.

Fortunately, with my dad being an active airline employee with family flight privileges and my mom willing to babysit our furry toddler, we were able to make a last minute decision to visit London for a few days over Christmas break. We were unbelievably fortunate to have had great luck with our stand-by flights this time around, and were assigned seats on the very first non-stop flight we attempted out of Atlanta. We spent 3 full days in England, and though I worried a bit at how much we would miss out on in such a short trip, it ended up being absolutely perfect.

Because the trip was decided so late, hardly any planning went into it. We probably booked the last affordable Air BnB available in the city, which was a tiny 1 bedroom flat that hadn’t been cleaned since the last guests…But you get what you pay for! Thank goodness there were at least some clean sheets on hand. It was located in a great borough called Shoreditch with many wonderful eating/drinking/shopping options around with great access to all the must-see London sights.

Amazingly enough, if you’re okay with walking an upwards of 13 miles each day, you can basically see all of the city in 3 jam-packed days. I was so pleased with how much ground we covered, and everything about this city exceeded my expectations. We had incredible weather (50s and sunny during the day-which the locals assured me was unheard of) and the public transportation system could not have been easier to master. London was accessible and approachable and friendly and quaint and buzzing and essentially all good things about Europe bunched together. It was so magical at night, and I loved strolling down street after street lit up in twinkling Christmas lights like no American street has ever seen. Let me just tell you…Europe knows how to celebrate Christmas way better than we do.

We frolicked around Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland for hours on night, marveling at this Disneyland-scale festival complete with roller-coasters, a Bavarian Village, ice sculpture garden, and giant ice-skating rink. It was as if I had died and gone to heaven. Josh disagrees and thinks he died and went to another place, as the crowds and lights and sheer volume of holiday cheer was a bit overwhelming for him. He was such a good sport.

Prior to Winter Wonderland, we had been lost inside Harrods for hours. Again, totally overstimulating and not Josh’s favorite. These experiences probably would have been best experienced on different nights. Who knew everything in London was so over-the-top?? Either way, that day was one for the books in my opinion.

Hyde Park was beautiful during the day as well. So lush and vast and full of happy locals walking their pets and kids on scooters. I won’t mention the time we got kicked out of a playground for not having children with us, because that would just be embarrassing… (on an unrelated note, people with kids should spend some time at the Diana Memorial Playground if you’re in town)

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And of course, we saw the biggies…The London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, The Globe Theater, Tate Modern Museum, Centennial Bridge, Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, and many many others. We rode on the top of an iconic red double-decker bus, ate the best Indian food of our lives, drank English breakfast tea with milk, and minded the gap on the London Tube.

This trip seemed so much longer than 3 days with all we were able to see, but there was still so much yet to be discovered. I wish we could have seen a show in one of the many historic theaters or coughed up $50/person for high tea at Harrods or ridden the London Eye. Turns out London is very very expensive. The museums are free, but they make up for it in steep admission fees everywhere else you go. I was happy this time to walk by everything and get a taste for what I want to prioritize splurging on next go-around.

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Thank you London for a jolly good time, and beautiful weather and ending 2015 on a good note. I know my days of spontaneous border crossings are limited as I look ahead to graduation and full-time employment, so I am extra extra grateful for opportunities like this. What an amazing adventure this year has been. Happy New Year!

 

Away we went.

By a series of impulsive decisions and fortunate circumstances, I have managed to go to 4 different continents in the last year.
No, this was not planned. (Though I am tempted to write it down on a bucket list just to have the pleasure of crossing it off).

First, let me clarify that I am not obsessed with traveling. I prioritize it, I enjoy it, and I am fortunate to have some great flying benefits thanks to my Delta pilot father. But I am not one to travel for the sake of traveling. The process of getting where you want to go, especially if you’re flying stand-by, does not thrill me. It is stressful and not for the faint of heart. BUT, the end result is worth it to me. I am not obsessed with traveling, but I might be slightly obsessed with exploring.

I love stepping onto the soil of a place so beautifully different than what is familiar to me. I love to taste the different flavors and hear voices all around you speaking a language you don’t understand.
Traveling makes you so vulnerable, which is probably why it is so daunting. You feel small. You feel overwhelmed with how little you know about the world. It is important to see poverty and beauty and wander through museums full of impossibly old artifacts from people groups who inhabited those places long before the world as you know it existed. It makes you feel a bit more insignificant as an individual, and a bit more appreciative of humanity as a whole. It stretches you and forces you out of what is comfortable. I love this type of traveling.

My girlfriend Constance is a seasoned world traveling. She has done it all-lived in Thailand, India, Central America, and has been anywhere and everywhere in between. Every centimeter of her passport is filled with evidence of a life that’s been a LOT more exciting than mine. She is the coolest.

I don’t remember how exactly we came to decide to go to Bogota, even though it happened very soon before we left. I think it was something about being in a similar time zone as Austin and a pretty short flight and maybe a few other factors. I had heard amazing things from various people about Colombia, and when you have a week off before school starts again, sometimes you just have to say yes.

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 Churros are my love language.

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 Obleas. Colombian street snack in which 2 crispy wafers are smushed together with gooey caramel sauce between them. I need one right now!

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 We stayed at a cute hostel in La Candelaria called Casu, and had our own room with a shared bathroom. The very nice thing about Colombia is that it is so affordable.

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We did a lot with our 5 days in Bogota. We went to a gold museum, a few art museums, a couple street markets, took an aerial cablecar up a mountain to Monserrate, did a day trip to Zipacura to see an underground cathedral carved from a salt mine, ate some great food, and went to an emerald museum. We were offered cocaine, got lost in many questionable taxi rides, tried to go dancing at a Cuban nightclub but the power in the building went out for 45 minutes, and almost didn’t make it back to the US thanks to a very very hectic travel day. It was definitely one for the books, and I’m so glad we went for it. Saying yes is the hardest part, but the payout is rich.

For now, school has began again, and I’m loving and loathing every minute of it. There is more work to be done than seems humanly possible, but I’m absolutely enthralled with the things I’m learning. I never knew I could find a career that is so close to my heart. I’m excited and scared and grateful for this next (very different looking) adventure.

Cheers and happy new year!

Oui Oui!

The last leg of our journey, as you may have guessed from the post’s title, was a little town in France you may have heard of. Paris. 🙂

It has been a month now since we were in Paris, and I found myself daydreaming at work yesterday about what felt like to gallivant around that magical city.

It is so cliche to suggest that everyone needs to experience Paris for themselves in their lifetime, but I’m saying it anyway. EVERYONE NEEDS TO GO TO PARIS. It is the type of city you can think about, dream about, read about for years, but never scratch the surface of what it looks like, feels like, and tastes like to be there. It is indescribably beautiful, but in the most unique ways. It is big. It is artistic. It is graffiti on the side of an Hermes storefront. It is all things pretty and interesting and historic and modern all rolled into one. It blew me away.

 

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Friends suggested we take a bike tour around the city to get acclimated once we arrived. Our tour was through Blue Bike Tours and it was phenomenal. We had a quirky 20 something Parisian girl leading us through all the confusing bike paths and roads around the city as we whizzed past one spectacular site after another. The only problem with the 4 hour tour was that it was POURING rain for the majority of it. We cracked up at each other and the other tour members as we made complete spectacles of ourselves in our ridiculous ponchos. In the most fashionable city in the world, no less. It was worth it.

 

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Dream come true. Creme Brûlée in Paris.

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One of the many great surprises Paris offered us was some long-awaited GOOD coffee. Don’t get me wrong, the lattes and espresso in Italy did the job, but there is nothing more comforting or delicious than a well-made cup of good quality coffee.

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The Sacre Coeur Basilica

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Notre Dame

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Rainy day at the Louvre

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The famous (and unstable) love lock bridge

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As with everywhere we went thus far, 4 days just wasn’t enough to do all we wanted to do. It was tough to leave knowing there was still so much left to see, smell, and taste. It is a new dream of ours to come back and spend a significant amount of time here. We could have easily stayed forever.

France Favorite:

The food. I could probably dedicate the rest of my blog posts from now until forever to the wonder that is French cuisine. I thought Italy would steal my heart…er…stomach with their pasta and wine, but good grief, the food in Paris was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I will dream about the veal and potatoes and baguettes until the glorious day I set food on French soil again.

The walking. Paris is a wonderful place to be lost. Many of our best memories came from hours spent walking to nowhere in particular. The back streets and little hidden areas of town swarming with locals are just as rewarding to stumble upon as any of the major must-see places.

The public transportation. Subways and buses are a weary traveler’s best friend, and the ones in Paris are extensive and totally simple to navigate.

The art. Specifically the Museum D’Orsay. Located in a former train station with huge clocks and tons of windows, this museum brought us so much joy. The impressionist art inside was gorgeous, and the whole experience was overall the best one I’ve had at a museum.

The people. These folks get such a bad reputation for their unwillingness to participate in the english language around foreigners. But even the ones we met who only wanted to speak French were so much more hospitable than we ever thought they would be. Not only that, but French people are fascinating. They wear cool clothes and stay out until 3am on weeknights and smoke cigarettes and eat pastries for breakfast. I loved watching their every move like a weirdo and coming up with interesting stories while riding the metro about where the girl with the crazy hat and stilettos was headed.

 

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Inside Musum D’Orsay

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Luxembourg Gardens

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Paris, we will be back for you soon. Don’t ever change please.

I’m sad to end this blog series about our Europe trip because I do so enjoy talking and thinking about it. Guess we’re back to our regularly scheduled program for here on out. At least until the next big adventure begins.

Au revoir! -Caroline

 

Florence. Land of loveliness.

Florence, Italy is a dream. The colors, the art, the Arno River, the hills surrounding every side of this town…Its all just too much for my hopeless romantic heart to bear.

I had a slight suspicion going into our trip that Florence would be my favorite, but never thought I would love it as much as I did. It was an oasis of beauty and calm and deliciousness after a very stressful stay in Rome. It is no wonder that one of the greatest artistic movements in history began here. Its just downright inspiring.

Josh and I stayed in a tiny flat we found on AirB&B that was just south of the river in an amazing little area with tons of local workshops with people creating various things inside. Next door to us we even noticed a man in his workshop building a violin, with his assistant beside him playing one they had clearly just finished. Amazing. Everything was so accessible in Florence. No fussing with buses or metros-just us and our two feet and a million things to see and do.

We brought along a pocket guide that helped us decide where to spend our time and what options we had. Note to Florence visitors: 3 days is not enough time to see everything. But we did manage to pack a LOT into those few days. Here are some of the highlights:

4 hours at the Uffizi Gallery. // The largest collection of Renaissance Art in the world. Booked tickets online a few weeks prior to avoid the line. Once inside we used Rick Steves’ audio guide downloaded from his travel app.

Climbing the Duomo. // 463 steps to the top for an incredible view of the entire region. We bought a combo ticket that got us into the Cathedral and Baptistry as well. Go early to avoid crowds (and heat!)

Taste of Florence tour. // Recommended to us by friends. 4 hours of tasting the most delicious food and wine the city has to offer. A great look inside what authentic Florence is like, underneath the tourism facade. Fascinating and absolutely delectable.

The Ponte Vecchio. // Medieval bridge over the Arno River containing mostly jewelry stores. I have a particular fondness for the bridge, since Josh bought me a new wedding ring here on our trip. Swoon. (note: my original rings were tragically lost in 2011)

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The beautiful Ponte Vecchio

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olive oil and wine tasting

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Another great view of Florence at Piazza Michelangelo

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Tuscany from above

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High atop the dome

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Ghiberti’s uber-famous bronze doors on the entrance to the Baptistry of Saint John.

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Hunka burnin’ David

Nothing went majorly wrong in Florence. I felt we had planned enough, but also left a lot of room to decide much of where we’d spend our time once we got there.  This is the city to eat incredible food  and tap into the art history buff that hopefully is in you somewhere. There is also a huge assortment of designer shopping in this town, which we chose not to take advantage of. Why shop when you could eat? But if you’re into that, you’ll love the many streets lined with the very latest in brands i’ve barely heard of.

Tips:

*We encountered our one and only pick-pocket encounter in Florence at the train station. We were fumbling with a kiosk trying to get our tickets printed, and a girl came up to help us out. We were in such a panic because we were dangerously close to missing our train that we totally let our guard down. She ended up being what the station worker called a “gypsy” and we luckily walked away with all of our possession in tact. So sadly enough, be wary of people trying to help you. Especially when you look like a pathetic lost puppy carrying massive bags at a busy train terminal.  Needless to say, we missed our train that morning.

*My allergies were terrible in Florence. I don’t normal struggle with allergies back home, so I didn’t bring any meds. I was sneezing non-stop and really wished I would have brought some Claritin.

*Don’t miss Florence if you’re going to Italy. It is incredible and I will forever sing its praises.

 

Roma-The Vatican and beyond

Per Rick Steves’ advice, Josh and I temporarily suspended our protestantism and spent a day immersed in the glory that is Roman Catholicism. We reserved a ticket and a spot a few weeks in advance on a guided tour through the Vatican Museum, and wandered the halls of the historic grounds for hours. The tour was found from the Vatican website, and it allowed us to skip the insanely long line that had formed around the entire outer wall of the museum. All that planning really does pay off.

The tour was alright, but definitely worth the extra money spent to skip the line and have a few of the artifacts and significant artworks explained to us. Our tour ended in the Sistine Chapel where we ooed and awed over Michaelangelo’s interior-masterpiece.

From the Sistine, we went next door to St. Peter’s Basilica. If you’ve never been to St. Peter’s, I would suggest you go ahead and scratch a note onto the ole’ bucket list. I mean, this place completely blew us away. It took two jet lagged, sore-footed travelers and transformed us into children. We were giddy at the grandeur of that church. It is the richest, biggest, most visited church in the world, all built on top of what is said to be Saint Peter’s resting place. Like much of Europe, this destination exceeded our very high expectations.

 

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Hall full of hand painted maps in the Vatican museum

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Outside St. Peter’s Basilica

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The size of this place is unreal.

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Sun rays peaking through the dome in the Basilica

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The baldacchino, designed by artist Bernino is said to be the largest piece of bronze in the world. It sits directly above the tomb of Peter.

It is safe to say we enjoyed our time at the Vatican. I’m happy we didn’t miss that important piece of Rome. It was mind-boggling to discover how Christianity evolved into the widespread religion it is today, starting with Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion right here in Rome.

Some other places we visited in Rome that I haven’t mentioned include:

The Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain

The Jewish Ghetto

A few incredible restaurants I will pass on if anyone requests it. Yelp was most helpful in this department.

Like I said previously, we could have spent many more days in Rome and still not seen all we wanted to see. We also wasted a few hours on Vatican day making a long trek to the airport to retrieve our bags (MIRACLE!!) which decided to show up. I loved this city and can’t wait to return one day. In my opinion, every human needs to visit Rome if they can. The history is just too important to miss.

Roma, you were magnificent.

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 Next stop…Florence!

Roma! Getting acquainted with Italy.

So, in case I forgot to mention it…We are in Europe. And it is amazing.

The last time I was on this continent I was 18 and it was snowing and I didn’t have any walking shoes with me. This time around, the trees are blossoming, I don’t need a ski coat, and I am completely enchanted. There really aren’t words for the magic that is Italy.

Our trip started with 3 nights in Rome. Unfortunately, our bags didn’t come into the picture until day 3. But now that I have access to clean underwear I can truly say without hesitation that Rome WAS everything I had hoped it would be.

Thanks to Rick Steves, we spent most of our time in Rome wandering on our own listening to audio tours of the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum. We did the “Caesar Shuffle” on our first full day, and The Vatican on day 2. There was, of course, much walking, gelato eating, and phone calls to various airports to locate or luggage along the way.

Really two full days in Rome was not nearly enough. Especially when we spent so much of our time dealing with -get this- FOUR airports who were linked to our lost luggage. What a nightmare. The worst part about not having our bags was that our camera was in my checked luggage. Thank goodness for iPhones!

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Arche of Titus

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Ruins of the ancient Roman Forum

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Inside the Pantheon

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Piiazza Navone

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The Colosseum

 

I can certainly see why Rome is not everyone’s favorite place. It is overwhelming and can become a dizzying maze of poorly labeled public transit if you’re not on top of planning. I’m keeping a running list of little tips I wish I would have had when planning the trip. Here are a few of my top ones I’ll forever suggest to anyone visiting this amazing city.

1) Get on the Italian eating schedule ASAP. Like, don’t wait until you’re hungry to eat. Eat lunch at 1 or 2 pm, and dinner around 8. If you wait until your American tummy tells you to eat, NOTHING will be open. I mean nothing.

2) Buy a Roma Pass. Just do it. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble by having unlimited access to public transportation and getting to cut everyone in line at museums.

3) Stay near a metro OR close to all the action. We stayed way too far from everything for our own good. On the second day in Rome my pedometer registered a total of 11.5 miles of walking. That is painful, guys. When people say you’ll walk a lot in Europe they are NOT messin’ around.

4) Yelp is your friend. We found our only great meals in Rome through Yelp. The photos helped a lot.

5) Take Rome in stride. Love the beauty, appreciate the faster pace of everyday life, and just pretend you’re a Roman for the time being. Have an espresso standing at a bar, even if it tastes like drinking charcoal. Just have fun and laugh about how fun it is to be immersed in a completely different culture. We came to their country for good reason after all, so learn and grow and taste and smell and ENJOY!

I’ll keep listing tips as I think of them. It really is true that you can never be 100% prepared for what you’ll come across when traveling abroad. I have been planning this trip for months, but never could have predicted our luggage would get lost. You just never know. I’ll just take this as a chance to re-learn what it means to be flexible, and thank the good Lord that He reunited us with our stuff before I had a nervous breakdown.

Ciao!

Aside

Waiting again.

For the second time, I have officially turned in my application to the school program I have been working toward getting into for  almost two years.

I was devastated when I got the rejection notice in my inbox last May. I was ready to call it quits, though I wasn’t sure what exactly was next.

God had other plans. After a months of fighting with myself and my ego and with every voice screaming to try again, I gave in and registered for Summer classes. I was humbled, frustrated, embarrassed, and confused. I couldn’t understand how God would allow failure in something He so clearly led me to.

But alas, sometimes our definition of failure is God’s demonstration of sovereignty. I entered Summer of 2013 doubtful and upset, and came out of it renewed and entirely grateful. I am ashamed at myself for doubting God’s plan for my life and all He could accomplish in me if I surrendered my time to Him. I LOVE what He has taught me through the past months. I’ve learned more about myself and what I want out of life than I ever have before. I’ve had time to process all the changes my 20’s have brought. I’ve even gotten to pursue hobbies, which were never an option when I was juggling full-time employment with home life. It has been a life-giving, fulfilling, fruitful season, and I could not be more grateful for God’s gentle guidance after a great disappointment.

So, the waiting game is now on again. Sometime in May I should hear some news that will change my future one way or another. I did all in my power to get into this program, so whether they accept me or not, it feels great to rest in the fact that there is absolutely nothing more I could have done. I trust the Lord has a future for me, no matter what the outcome is.

Thankfully, the weeks leading up to the much-anticipated letter are absolutely slammed. I just got back from Georgia, we’re spending a weekend away with our small group, Josh is leaving soon for a week-long conference in Chicago, we’re starting a new volunteer opportunity with foster children, WORK, church, and…oh yeah…we leave for Europe in a little over a month. No time to waste waiting around for answers.

 

 

I had so much fun in Georgia last weekend celebrating my best friend in the world Julianne and her growing baby Judah Timothy. It was a sweet time seeing friends and family. I hadn’t been home in 8 months, so the reunions were utterly blissful.  I can NOT wait to meet that sweet baby Baily.

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Happy Spring everyone! If you’re lucky enough to live near your family, go give em’ a big hug and be grateful! I sure do miss mine already.

Back to life

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Life has been a bit of a blur since I got back from Asia. In fact, the last few days of my trip are seeming more like a weird dream at this point…I can’t even believe I was there.

My trip was amazing, though. Truly. I will cherish those memories for the rest of my life, and hopefully be able to return to the magical country of Thailand in the not-so-distant future. I can definitely see why so many people I know have fallen in love with that place. It would be hard not to love it. The food, the people, the landscape, the hello kitty…It is all precious and beautiful and inspiring and fascinating. And getting to experience it with people who have either lived there in the past or currently live there now was unbelievable. I felt like I was somehow cheating the system, getting to be told how things work and what food to try and the things I do that are very offensive in Thai culture. How do people go places without people who know the culture so well?? I seriously lucked out.

One thing people told me a lot before and after my trip was “Enjoy it! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!” 

Or this one: “Enjoy it now, because once you have kids…ya know. (wink).”

One one hand, sure. I might not ever get to go to Thailand with Constance again. Or (God forbid) Thailand again. But I will not accept whatever reality people are selling me that I can’t travel unless I am childless and have the semester off of school. This season will likely never ever happen again for me. But I certainly plan to make choices to keep those options open for me. I chose the OT career because of the flexible work schedule and potential opportunity to do medical missions. We aren’t buying a house because it is important to Josh and I to have the extra money to be able to spend time in other cities/countries. We dream to live abroad for at least a year in the next decade.

I don’t know about you, but I get a little frustrated when people tack their realities onto others as if their own choices weren’t the ones that got them where they are. We really limit each other when we do that. I want God’s best for my life, I want to see Him fulfilling the desires of my heart as I surrender to whatever He has for me every day, and I want the thing He does for me to be a new thing. Not a Caroline-shaped version of something that has been done again and again by those who fail to dream bigger. I am most effective and most loving and most like Jesus when I am allowing Him to shape me into something totally new-not something I’ve seen other people become, no matter how awesome I think they are.

I love to travel. Some people hate it. I am grateful, though, for this season where seeing the world is a reality. It is a gift. Having children will also be a gift. One full of difficult choices. One of the choices I plan to make, though, is making sure we go places. I want my kids to experience the bigness of our planet and witness the suffering of nations and not be ignorant of oppression and injustice. It is something I won’t compromise on, no matter how impractical it may seem. The hard stuff is the important stuff, anyway.

I would much rather live in a trailer park and leave often than a big awesome house that I’m stuck in.

I’m still trying to process all of the things Asia taught me. A lot of the truths came in the form of  long car rides with Constance through the Thailand rain forest. Some came in the form of prostitutes or street kids. It will be a long process of unpacking it all, but one that I enjoy so much. I am beyond grateful for all of it. Even “regular” life in Austin has been a bit more exciting now that I’m back.

It is Thursday. You can quit anything on a Thursday. Go make your dreams and God’s plans for you happen. I will fail a lot, but I plan to try and try and try again. And I hope to call the gifts out in the people around me, encouraging bravery and boldness in those God has put in my life.  Thank you to the many many people who do that every day for me. It is making a huge difference.

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Vacation-ish

Josh and I finally home from our “vacation” (I put vacation in quotes because we were only actively vacationing for 4 of the days we were gone). I love coming home after a long time away because it just feels SO good to be back. 11 days is a long time.

Those 11 days were jam-packed, to say the least. We flew to Boston, drove to Nahant, took a bus to Newport, taxi to Providence, plane to Atlanta, car to Fayetteville, plane to San Antonio, and finally the megabus back to Austin last Sunday…And with lots and lots of stuff in between.

The main purpose of the trip was to see family. We visited with Josh’s family in Boston for a few days, as well as mine in Atlanta in the last part of out trip. My 17 year old brother had a major role in the play Spring Awakening at the Newnan Community Theater near our hometown, and we made sure to plan everything so we could be there for his big debut. It was weird seeing him in such an adult-themed show, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of him. He has more guts than I every will.

The middle portion of our trip was spent at a bed and breakfast in Newport, Rhode Island to celebrate Josh and my 5 year anniversary. We had the BEST time there. I don’t know if it was just ocean air making us giddy or the simple goodness of getting away and having nowhere to be and nothing to do, but we ran around acting like teenagers for 4 straight days. At one point, a lady working at our hotel asked if we were waiting for our parents. We are SO mature. Since we didn’t have a car on this trip, we rented a couple cruiser bikes and definitely got our money’s worth for those things. We biked all over downtown, overlooking cliffs, down to beaches, and to many great restaurants. Our two favorite dining experiences were at Salvation Cafe and The Mooring Restaurant, in case anyone is ever visiting and looking for an amazing meal.

It is hard to narrow down what the specific highlights were from the trip, but here are a noteworthy five:

#1. Being away from the stress and to-do lists and demands of every day life for a few days. I love seeing my hard-working husband takin’ it easy for a change.

#2. Biking. I forgot how much I love feeling the wind in my hair and how sore my butt is the next day. Such fun.

#3. Seafood. Because duh.

#4. Last thursday-our official 5 year anniversary. My sweet mom decorated the guest room we were staying in with a whole bunch of little things left over from our wedding day she had kept: Candles, champaign flutes, the frisbees we gave as wedding favors. She had champaign chilling on ice in our room, and even a vase with roses. She has always been incredibly thoughtful, but this was just about the sweetest thing anyone’s done for me. My mom rocks.

#5. Taking my niece Lucie on a golfcart ride. (My hometown has a thing with golfcarts…)

There were a thousand other things that warmed my heart and made me feel so at peace on this trip, but those 5 just stood out as the things I’ll remember most.

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Taking Josh’s dad Steve out for breakfast in Boston.

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When we were in Georgia, Josh and I took a walk on a nature trail we used to go to with friends all the time in high school called Line Creek. When I was 16 or 17, Josh carved our initials on a tree way back in the woods of this trail.  I have been back before to look for the specific tree, but could never find it…until last week. I was SHOCKED to have found this tree, guys. I mean, almost 10 years have gone by since these initials were carved, and there they are. Not as clear as it used to be, but still there. JC CP. I wonder if either of us knew back then that our love would last this long?

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We tried to re-engrave the letters, but our lack of a pocket knife made the task a bit impossible. It was a sweet attempt, though.

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As usual, it was so great to see my sister and brother. I miss those two every single day.

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The sweet anniversary set-up my Momma put in the guest room before we arrived at their house. She’s the best.

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Now that all of Josh’s 2013 vacation time is used up, it is time to start planning 2014-which will hopefully be a much-anticipated Europe adventure in the Spring.  I’m so grateful to have gotten to travel and see a few new places I’ve never been before. Nothing makes me feel alive like being with Josh on a bus or a plane on the way to somewhere new and exciting. That has been a theme throughout our marriage, and I hope it continues in the next 5 years and beyond.

Maine, Man

I was blessed last weekend with the INCREDIBLE joy of not only spending 5 whole days with my best friend and her husband, but doing so in the beautiful city of Portland, Maine. New England is all I had hoped for and more. The leaves were stunning, the lobster was fresh, and the people were great. I would definitely say my first real excursion to the Northeast was a huge success, and I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch to share the experience with. Here are just a few favorite pictures from our trip (we went a little camera happy).

Pit stop in Boston to pick up Josh. Had to see Fenway Park!

The 4 of us at the Charles River

Breathtaking!

My first oysters

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The perfect meal.

The beautiful Portland Head Light

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One of many beautiful mansions on the water.

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Thanks Josh for the Fall shower.

We had to pull over on a back road to capture this hidden gem.

Cracking up in the rain and cold at how completely LOST we were.

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Borrowing the boys pipes for a photo op. Clearly we are pros.

Love the fog on the water

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Stuck at the airport for 8 hours. No big deal for these 2!

Phew, my hand is tired from all that photo uploading. As you can see, we had fun. Truly what I came away from Maine with was an intense feeling of gratitude for the people in our lives. Julianne and Daniel have been our friends for a long, long time. We love doing life with them. Things are just better when we’re all together.

But with the gratitude and happiness comes a longing to see them on a daily basis. It is difficult having best friends many states away, but that is what we signed up for when we packed up the Montero 4 years ago and waved goodbye to Georgia. Saying goodbye to friends really dampens the mood when heading back to a city we actually really love a lot. Who knows what God has in store for the 4 of us down the road, but hopefully it will involve more random mini-vacations and living in the same state again.

I hope everyone is enjoying the Fall. I’m so glad to have gotten to see some pretty leaves, because there sure aren’t any of those in Texas. But good news!! The high temperature dropped below the mid 80s this week! WOOP!

Have a great weekend!

Caroline