Bookworm Happiness

Two weeks ago when I headed out to North Dakota where my adopted dad was in the hospital I was anticipating a lot of waiting time and therefore a lot of reading time. My iPhone kindle was stocked and I even brought a couple of physical books along with me. 
Then the waiting began and I couldn’t focus at all. It was crazy because normally I can gulp books down in almost any situation. I ended up forcing myself to read a non-fiction book about thirty minutes each day, but other than that my reading was pretty much nil. Multiple times I picked up several fiction (and non-fiction) books that should have grabbed my attention, but after a couple of pages, or sometimes just a few sentences, I would put the book back down, sighing. It was driving me nuts to have so much time on my hands and yet not be reading. Or writing. Or editing. 
In reality our hours were interrupted quite often with doctors giving updates and nurses checking in and all that common stuff, but I really know how to get reading time in, even when busy. I’m the kind of girl who reads while she brushes her teeth. And walks down the stairs. And folds her clothes. So, to not read felt alien and sad. With all that was going on with my adopted dad though, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. (He’s recovering well, but slowly, from his heart attack and open heart surgery, by the way.)

On Friday we {finally} arrived back in Ohio. While sitting on my adopted parent’s porch late that afternoon I decided to give reading another go. To my surprise, I could actually concentrate and understand the words. Throughout the rest of the day I read for a couple of hours, thrilled to have my focus back, at least somewhat. Reading still didn’t have that magical pull I was used to, but at least it was somewhat interesting and I kinda wanted to find out what would happen next.

Then on Saturday I went back to eating healthily (something I hadn’t kept up with while in ND), and I went on a nearly six mile walk. Wonders of all wonders, I gulped down a whole book that day. Sunday I continued the trend and in went another book and a half. This morning I finished reading my third book in two and a half days.    
While walking on Saturday I also felt a twinge of hope that I’d perhaps be able to focus well enough to edit this week. I guess there’s nothing like getting back in familiar surroundings and a well-worn lifestyle to bang the brain back into gear.

This is one of the first times I’ve gotten my computer out in the last two weeks and I have high hopes that my writing work will be back into full swing before long. The atmosphere here is so peaceful and I’m looking forward to spending many hours going through When Life Hands You Lymes for (hopefully) one of the last times before moving on to the next step in the publication process.

In the meanwhile though, it’s quite nice to be able to read again.

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Twenty: Montserrat

Welcome to the twentieth post of my fictious continuing story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I hope y’all enjoy!

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Twenty: Montserrat
My arms were a bright red. I looked at them in dismay then gently poked at them with my fingernail. The touch made me wince and I nearly laughed at my stupidity. After so many weeks spent on islands during the last five months I would have thought that I had either built up a tan or at least learned my lesson, but no, I was once again hosting a terrific sunburn. I pulled the brim of my hat down, thankful that it had shaded my head and kept my face from suffering a similar fate as my arms and lower legs. 
I had arrived on Montserrat two days before and had found it to be delightful. I was getting tired of being a tourist though, and had come to the island determined to do something different for a change. Upon my arrival I had looked it up on the internet to see if I could find any local charity or cause to devote my week to. I hadn’t found anything that caught my attention, although there was some information about the “critically endangered Giant Ditch Frog.” That wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind, but I looked into it anyway, curious. 
Humorously, the nick name for the Giant Ditch Frog is “Mountain Chicken” and so there’s a whole project called “Saving the Mountain Chicken.” It was hard to take it seriously, but the government has even gotten involved and everyone seems to find it a worthwhile (and hardly laughable) venture. 
Even though I didn’t find a charity to help out with, I found myself sliding into the Montserrat lifestyle and soon relaxed and settled in. Although Montserrat is a British colony, it’s been considering independence from Great Britain for some time now. Montserrat is a successful blend of African and Anglo-Irish cultures and so therefore is unique. It’s official language is English, which I found to be a relief. 
Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1493 and claimed it for Spain. I couldn’t find a lot of information about the early history of Montserrat. There were a lot of Irish who were important in the early years after it was settled in 1632, and so the island is often referred to as “The Emerald Isle of the West.” A beautiful title in my mind. (One of the countries I’ve been most hoping to visit during this year is Ireland. I can’t believe that my year of adventure is almost half way over already. There are still so many places to see and things to experience.) Sadly, most of the Irish didn’t come on happy terms; they were either indentured servants or slaves. By 1648 there were around a thousand Irish families on the island. 
Even today the Irish culture is very present in the country. There are a lot of Irish names, the national emblem is a carved Irish shamrock adorning the Government House, and even the Island’s flag and crest show a woman with a cross and harp. The island itself seems to look quite a bit like Ireland with abounding vegetation (including lots of ferns), emerald-colored hills, and beautiful ravines. 
The people who live in Montserrat were kind, warm, and welcoming. I felt safe the whole time I was there, which was something I couldn’t say about a lot of the countries I’d visited and traveled through during the year. One day I even forgot my purse at the outdoor diner I had eaten lunch at, and when I hurried back thirty minutes later one of the waitresses greeted me with a big grin and held out my bag “Looking for this, miss?” she had asked, as if she’d just been waiting for me to come retrieve it. 
When I expressed my thanks, she’d merely shrugged as if it happened all the time. “If you hadn’t come back for it I was going to see if I could find identification and then I would have called around to the hotels looking for you.” Again she had shrugged and smiled. That alone was enough to bolster my faith in the fact that not every country was rife with strife. 
Much of Montserrat was destroyed by a large volcano long so very long ago and there were still huge portions of the island that were off limits to tourists. The rest of the island was thriving though and vibrant. There were lots of hiking trails and gorgeous beaches. My week was relaxing as I strolled through museums, met lovely people, hiked up steep yet beautiful trails, and even went snorkeling again. I’d fast discovered that snorkeling was one of my favorite things to do while visiting the beach because there was so much to see beyond the surface of the water. It was a good reminder to me that people are a lot like the ocean… Although they may seem one way from the outside, after you get to know them there’s a whole new side to who they are. It’s like exploring a treasure chest and finding all sorts of breathtaking riches and amazing discoveries. 

On my last day in Montserrat I found a Christian church to go to, thrilled that for once the sermon would be in English. Although I’d attended many churches during my travels, rarely could I understand what was being preached. I had made up for that by listening to sermons on-line, but there was something extra-special about this Sunday. The sermon was about how everything we do  will make a difference either for the good or the bad, and we need to make sure we are living our lives the way God wanted us to. It was a good reminder and I journaled about it that night, determined to spend the rest of my travels looking for opportunities to make a difference for the good and hopefully touch lives in a positive way. I wanted my life to be successful in the light of eternity, not just on earth. 

Zip Lining in Colorado

 Yesterday I had the amazing experience of being able to go zip lining here in Colorado. I actually kinda received the gift by default because someone else signed up then wasn’t able to go so I took their place. When they told me “You’re going to go zip lining instead of me” I hadn’t thought much of it other then gratitude and mild excitement at getting to do such an adventure.

During the last several days one of the common questions the people in the group we’re with here in Colorado would ask each other is “What activities are you going to do?” When I answered that I was going zip lining, I received a lot of the same responses: “Aren’t you scared?” or “Oh, I’d be too scared to do that!” And I began wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I wasn’t scared, but knew I had the ability to get nervous if I thought about it too much. I really did want to go because I knew it would be a fabulous way to see some breathtaking scenery, and of course it would be a cool experience.

By the time we were in the van driving to the location I was plain happy and not scared at all; the ride was gorgeous and I just kept gasping at all the mountains, valleys, rocks, trees, and drop offs. I took more pictures then I’ll probably use and throughly enjoyed every moment of it.

It didn’t take long to get harnessed up and learn how to sit properly and apply the brake (which, is a gloved hand on the rope, by the way). The hooked a little bag to my back so I could carry my phone with me and then they happily took pictures of me while I was up on the platform waiting to go across. It was hard to get a good picture that included the view because the platforms weren’t very big and both me and the guide were hooked to the pole in the middle. I was glad to have a picture that showed at least part of the view, though. 
Before I went on the first line the guide asked me if I was nervous and my first response was in the negative, then I amended that to say I might have little twinges of nervousness, but nothing bad. I think my nervousness had more to do with making sure I remembered the instructions correctly and that I could really focus on enjoying the ride than anything else. 

There were five lines in all, and we went across one at a time, so there was a fair amount of waiting but no one minded because it was just so crazily beautiful. I was just feeling like I was getting the hang of it by the time I reached the final (and longest) line. 
Looking at the line in front of me knowing that it was nearly 150 feet above the ground and was 1,500 feet long and I’d reach close to 45 mph made me suck in a deep breath and pray for safety. In reality though, it all felt quite safe and I was totally able to lean back and enjoy the view. By the time I was halfway across the long line, I wished it would just go on and on because it was so enjoyable and lovely. I hadn’t thought I was nervous at all, but I did notice my hands were shaking slightly when I got off the last platform and tried to take a picture of the landscape. 

After we were done zip lining we got to hike some which was quite wonderful indeed. The air was perfumed by flowers, pines, and smelled so very delightfully natural. I wished I could throw on a backpack and take off into the hills for a few days. Maybe one day… 
At the end of our hike we came to waterfalls that had several different layers and went down, down, down. There were stairs that we took to get to the bottom of the falls. The steps were kinda steep and there were 224 of them in all. It was a glorious trek and I enjoyed going down them slowly so I could enjoy the view. 
The rock walls were so tall and the waterfall so long and the mist from the cascading water so refreshing. It was a sublime end to a fantastic adventure and I am so very thankful I was able to go on it. 
Colorado continues to astound me with it’s wonders and I’m thrilled to get to enjoy them in person from time to time. God’s creation is so exceedingly dazzling today, in it’s sin-encased state, that I can’t help but ponder what the world looked like before the fall. Seeing beauty like I experienced today makes me all the more excited about one day reaching Heaven and seeing what true perfection is.    

What about y’all? Have you ever been zip lining? Did you enjoy it? 

Pike’s Peak

I’m one of those kids who grew up reading an excessive amount of stories about going West and spent countless hours pretending I was part of a wagon train and working through all of the hardships we’d endure. (Who am I kidding? My little brother and I still pretend that we’re going out West sometimes.) 

For the last decade I’ve been trying to figure out a way to take a road trip across the USA, and although that hasn’t happened yet, I have had the privilege of flying to California a couple of times, driving (well, being a passenger) to Nebraska once, and now I’m in Colorado for the third time. Colorado is beautiful gorgeous, one of my favorite places I’ve ever been as far as the landscape goes.

Somehow though, in recent years I didn’t quite compute the fact that Pike’s Peak, that iconic landscape that filled so much of my childhood imagination, was in Colorado. I seriously have no clue how I had forgotten that, but I had. 

Yesterday I was thrilled to get to venture to the top of Pike’s Peak via the Cog Railway. It was an hour and a half trip of up, up, up, with beautiful scenery crowding every moment. It was amazing at how many different types of landscape the mountain climb offered. 

We started out with lots of pine trees, a rocky, rushing stream, and tangled brush. Further along there were hugely gigantic boulders everywhere, then eventually slopes with what seemed like nearly gravel-size rocks. After that, there were big chunks of rocks with odd angles that looked like a giant had stepped on the big boulders, crushing them. Eventually we hit a high mountain meadow and soon after that, fields of snow.  
It got pretty cold the further up we went, and eventually people in the back asked us to close our window and so we did. I would have happily braved the chilliness in order to have the fresh air and glass-free pictures, but it was nice to be warm again. 

We didn’t stay very long at the top of Pike’s Peak, only about a half an hour. That was fine with most people because we were at over 14,000 feet and so some people were dizzy and feeling faint, plus it was only about 20 degrees, 13 or so with the wind chill. I wished we could have stayed longer though. I wanted to make a snow angel, but didn’t have enough time to do that because of everything else I was doing. 
Being at the top of Pike’s Peak was not only gloriously delightful, it was also a dream come true and something I’ll be able to store in my memory bank forever. 

There is no place for the cog train to turn around at the top of Pike’s Peak, so they simply have a place for the conductor at both ends and he switches places. I really wanted to sit on the other side of the train on the way back down the mountain, and was very thankful when a couple of the other passengers agreed to trade seats with me and my dad. Their seats were actually a lot nicer with more leg room, so that was extra-kind of them. 

The view was spectacular. We were told that on a clear day people could see over 390 miles to Kansas; there were a bunch of clouds in that direction though, so it’s doubtful we actually saw into Kansas. We could see really far in other directions though.

Goin up Pike’s Peak was a nearly forgotten dream come to life and I’m so very thankful I got the chance to do it. The beauty that was all around us was breathtaking (or maybe that was the altitude?) and I took so many pictures it was hard to choose which ones to share with y’all. 

Apparently there’s also a hiking trail up the mountain which of course excited me. So now I have a new dream, some day I would be totally delighted if I could come back to Colorado and hike up to the top of Pike’s Peak. How much fun would that be? 

What about you? Have you ever been (or dreamed of going) to Pike’s Peak? 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Nineteen: Bosnia and Herzegovina

And… Yay! Here we are with this week’s installment of our fictitious story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I hope y’all enjoy. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Nineteen: Bosnia and Herzegovina
I could barely contain my excitement. Although many people think of war and destruction when they hear the name “Bosnia” I’m overwhelmed with memories of stories I heard as a child. Some of my earliest memories of that have to do with my grandparents are of picking them up at the airport when I was five or six and then sitting spellbound as they told me tale after tale about a beautiful country far across the ocean. 
My grandparents had lived in Bosnia for two years to help provide care and a home for mothers and young children who had been misplaced by the war that plagued their country for so long. My grandparents not only grew to love the people, but also their culture and food. There were many days when I would go to my grandparent’s after school and spend the evening in the kitchen cooking with my grandma or sitting on my grandpa’s lap as he told me wonderful stories and together we’d eat chocolate melted on long loaves of French bread. 
To have the chance to actually travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina and see it for real was amazing. The first thing I did when I found out about going was call my grandparents and tell them the news. They were beyond thrilled and right away began telling me about places I should visit and different foods I should try. I took a lot of notes during our phone call and then downloaded a guide book onto my phone before boarding the plane for an all-night flight. When I wasn’t sleeping I researched the sights that I’d dreamed of for so long and made up a game plan, not wanting to waste any of the precious week I had to spend in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 
I flew into Sarajevo which is one of Europe’s cheapest (and in my mind, most beautiful) capitals. The first thing I did was find a place to eat… Not only was I extremely hungry, but I also couldn’t wait to try their food. As can be expected the fare was somewhat different from what I’d grown up eating at my grandparent’s, but also startling familiar in some aspects. They have a large selection of organic food and serve a range of dishes that are contrived from several different cultures, including Ottoman, Balkan, and Austro-Hungarian. 
It was a slow time at the restaurant where I chose to eat and after the chef heard who I was and that I was interested in finding out as much as possible about the country, he came out and joined me after my meal. We sat together and talked for nearly an hour, him in surprisingly fluent English, and me, taking page after page of notes and barely needing to ask questions because he was so through. 
“The residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina greatly enjoy healthy and tasty foods.” Chef Sead kissed his fingers in French fashion when he said the word “tasty.” “We often serve meat, indeed it is the main ingredient of some of our most popular dishes such as burek and grah.” 
When I questioned what burek was, I was met with a horrified expression and Chef Sead created a stir by calling loudly to one of the kitchen workers who emerged several minutes later carrying a plate of food. 
On the plate was a pastry and as soon as Chef Sead started to describe it to me, I gasped.
“You remember it then?” the chef asked. 
“Yes.” I felt a smile spilling over my face. “I used to make this with my grandma.” A borek is a baked filled pastry made with phyllo, which is a very thin, flaky dough. It’s very common in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is eaten for any meal in the day. It’s generally meat-filled and then rolled into a spiral and cut into sections when served. It’s often sprinkled with sesame seeds and is delicious – bursting with flavor. It’s a savory dish and when baked correctly comes out nearly ready to melt in your mouth. 
“What are some of your commonly used ingredients?” I asked after eating some of the scrumptious borek and thanking him quite profusely for it.  
“Ah, we use a large variety of fresh foods such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, spinach…” His voice trailed off. “We’re also known for our bakeries which offer a mouth-watering selection of salty and sweet rolls. They’re all quite fresh and taste almost too good to be true.” 
I laughed at his descriptions, “Do you mind if I quote you outright in my blog, Chef Sead?” 
“Of course not, you’ll mention my restaurant, too, no?” 
I laughed again, “Right, right.” I was so thankful for his time and his restaurant was delightful. I would be happy if I could drive some customers to his little place. So far I was feeling very welcomed into the country, a fact that was due in a large part to Chef Sead. “Would you tell me a bit about what food I can expect when I leave this city?” 
“Ah, along the roads you will quite often see restaurants offering lamp on a spit. It’s wonderful, just wonderful… But of course nothing like what you will find here in my humble restaurant.” He grinned at me then continued, “Soup and salad are common dishes in our country. One of our most common soups has a Turkish origin and is made of dehydrated dough that is then cooked in tomato soup.” He waved a hand in front of his face at my confused look, “Yes, yes, it sounds interesting but you’ll like it. You need to eat it for at least one meal before you leave, alright?” When I nodded he went on, “You’ll be served bread no matter what else you order. We Bosnians greatly enjoy our bread.” 
We continued talking until it was time for him to begin preparations for dinner and then he let me snap a few pictures and get the logistical information that I’d need to talk about his restaurant than I was on my way, along with a paper bag full of fresh pastries, compliments from his staff. 

The week I spent in Bosnia and Herzegovina was nearly magical. I hiked, went rafting and swimming by gorgeous waterfalls, and walked and drove through breath-taking old forests. I walked through castles, stood under old clock towers, ran my hands along ancient arches, and listened to the patter of feet on idyllic cobblestone streets. 

There was so much to do in the country that it made me wish, not for the first time, that I could come back and do the country a second week during the year. Perhaps I would one day come back and bring my grandparents with me.  

O is for Optimistic #atozchallenge + Pictures from Cancun

Creativity is a lifestyle for me, not an action. This month I’m exploring twenty-six quirky ways I keep my creativity flowing. 
I was born a rather pessimistic person, but over the years I’ve trained myself to become an optimist. It’s not always easy to find the good in each situation, but it’s worth it. Philippians 4:8 tells us “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

The pessimistic side of me thinks, “Oh wait, I’m becoming good friends with this person. That means I’m going to be hurt some day when they die. I should just cut off our friendship now so it’s not as hard.” 

The optimistic side of me jumps in with, “Wait, wait, wait! This friendship is a beautiful gift. No matter what happens in the future I’ll always have the wonderful memories and know that we made a difference in each other’s lives. Instead of focusing on me, I’m going to focus on them and wow, God has really blessed me by putting this person in my life. Thank You, God!” 

I’ve been doing this for so long now, that the pessimistic thoughts don’t even fully form before I’m chopping away at them, thinking of the good in each situation. There are times when I have to get creative to think on the bright side, but it’s worth it. I don’t hide from reality, but I choose to focus on the uplifting sides of it whenever possible. And it really does make life better. 

* * * 
Yesterday we left Cancun, Mexico, for Merida, which is about a four hour trip across the Yucatan Peninsula. Before we left I took some pictures of the lounge where I spent a lot of the week working on editing WLHYL. 

There were lots of gorgeous flowers in the hotel. Flowers make pretty much everything better. I’m nearly constantly delighted by the wonderful and diverse flowers God has created and how they look, smell, and feel so beautiful.

There was a coffee/tea bar open all the time and sandwiches and little desserts from 12:00 until 4:00 each afternoon. It was so much fun editing and drinking lots of coffee and iced tea and nibbling on little cakes. The best part was it was all free. (Technically the company we work for and earned the trip with paid for it, but it was a flat fee and so we could take as much or as little as we wanted.)

The view out the one side was bright and lovely, the sun shinning brightly through windows that are bigger than my office.

On the other side, we could see down about four stories to a courtyard. When we were at the same hotel five years ago, there was ivy growing from the top floor all the way to the bottom – that was a sight to behold. 

And, above the courtyard was a brilliant dome with lovely stained-glass.

Now we’re staying at a very delightful old coconut plantation. I’m looking forward to sharing pictures of it with y’all during the next few weeks.

* * *
It’s that time again where we get to choose where Annie goes for this week in our Friday Series, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. And our destination is… Georgia! (The country.) 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks  Week Thirteen: Denmark

This morning I blogged for the A to Z Challenge, and now this evening we get our weekly segment of the fictional story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I hope you enjoy!

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks 
Week Thirteen: Denmark 
The two hours of traveling time felt incredibly short and I did a little victory dance in Denmark’s rainy city of Odense. Ever since I’d started my year-long adventure, each Monday I hoped for countries that were close together, and so far it has happened three times: Mongolia and China (which was still a fair piece to travel), the Netherlands and England, and now. 
What was even better was that my friends Lisa and Demi from the Netherlands were flying over to join me and were scheduled to land at any moment. I could hardly believe they were able to drop everything they were doing and hop on a plane, but they both had time off of work and we were going to have so much fun together. (We had planned the week before when I was in Luxembourg that if my next country was nearby they’d fly over to hang out.)
“We’ve got this week all planned out.” Demi’s greeting was muffled in my shoulder as she gave me a hug, a bulky backpack strapped over her shoulders. 
“Egeskov Castle is a must-visit which is why we flew into this airport.” Lisa came up and pointed toward the door. “What are we waiting for? We’ve got a country to explore.” 
Noting that she had a backpack also, I gave a jerk on my suitcase handle and hurried after her.
A few minutes later we were driving down the road toward Egeskov Castle. 
“It’s the “best preserved moat-castle in Europe,” or at least that’s what the pamphlet said.” Demi accelerated when we got on the main road.
“How old is it?” I asked. It was raining gently and the sound was relaxing.
“The castle? It was completed in 1554.” Lisa handed me a stack of papers. “You can read about it if you want to.”
“Thanks.” I scanned the information. It was a Renaissance structure and the pictures made it look magnificent. It also appeared to be fairly big, I flipped the paper over and saw that  there were 66 rooms, 171 doors, and 200 windows in the castle. 
When we arrived we paid our admission and went to explore. Demi and Lisa had both been there multiple times before and acted as my tour guides. 
“Egeskov Castle was built by Frands Brokenhuus in the middle of a lake on a foundation of oak pilings. Although it’s all nice and peaceful here nowadays, it was actually built for defense, not for beauty.” Lisa gestured at the structor in front of us.
“Woah. For real?” 
Lisa nodded. “The castle actually consists of two long buildings that are connected by a thick double wall. People could flee from the first building if they needed to and still be secure in the second one.” 
“Not only that, but the double wall is so thick that it has a well hidden in it so they’d still have water if they were under siege, plus it has some staircases,” Demi said. 
“And let me guess, the walls have openings so that the castle inhabitants could rain down tar or oil or whatever they used on the attackers?”
“Yes.” Lisa was serious, even though I’d been joking. “And, the only way to get to the castle was to go across the drawbridge.” 
We were walking across the gatehouse to get to the castle so I asked about it, questioning if it was built at the same time as the rest of the castle. 
“No, this was built in,” Demi read a sign on the wall that wasn’t in English, but I couldn’t tell what language it was written in. “It was built in 1883 by some dude named Helgo who has a weird last name.” She titled her head, reading the rest of the sign. “And it says that in 1967 they opened a Veteran Car Museum in one of the buildings that used to be a barn. I don’t remember visiting that though, do you, Lisa?” 
Lisa responded in the negative.
“The inside of the castle was opened to the public in 1986.” We continued toward the castle. The rain had stopped by this time and the sun had broken through the clouds and bathed the lake in a million shimmering sparkles. I inhaled deeply, the delightful scent of spring almost overwhelming me. There were daffodils blooming around the lake and I wanted to go pick a bouquet. 

The inside of the castle was fantastic. Somehow Sophie had been able to work with Demi and Lisa and had pulled some strings so we were able to have a special tour with journalist privileges which meant I could use my camera to my hearts content.
Several of the rooms were especially amazing and I took my time in them, taking notes, pictures, and even doing short video clips. 
The Hunting Room dated back to a guy named Count Gregers Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Billie (how’s that for a name!) and was full of trophies from countries like Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. Seeing the creatures made me want to go to a country in Africa next. I wanted to be able to see huge wild and majestic animals out on the open plains that were their natural habitat. 
There were so many crazy and elegant and breathtaking pieces of furniture and woodwork and paintings throughout the castle. It was hard to imagine that the building was so old and built in the middle of a lake. We spent the whole day wandering the halls, day dreaming, exploring, and reading all the plaques on the walls. I was tired by the time we headed to the house where we were going to stay, but it was so worth it. 
We spent Tuesday hanging out with the Nielson family. They’re very distant relatives to Demi and we were staying at their house. We had a typical Danish breakfast of coffee with rye bread and cheese and then visited the Odense Zoo. When we left the zoo we ate at a restaurant which proved to be a very eye opening experience to me. The Dane’s are pretty serious about their open-faced sandwiches and there are even “rules” about how you’re supposed to eat them. The traditional open sandwich is made on small rye bread and has a lot of layers. After some kind of thin spread they added cold fish, then fried fish (with pickles), then some cold meats, and I’m not even sure what else, veggies and maybe chicken salad? By the time I had it sitting in front of me I had to remind myself that I enjoyed trying new things and it would be a good experience for me. I can’t say I especially liked the sandwich, but it wasn’t bad, either. And, I did like the rhubarb trifle we feasted on for dessert.
After lunch we went to the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. I had read a book about him when I was in grade school, but hadn’t thought of him the last decade, so it felt like a journey back into time to step into his world.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote fairy tales and his stories are quite common, even today. In fact, they’ve been translated into more than 125 different languages and have inspired ballets, films, and plays. The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Little Mermaid, are some of the stories he wrote. 
On Wednesday we headed to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, which is located on the island of Zealand. The first place we visited was Tivoli Gardens, which is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world (it opened in August of 1843). We only did a few rides, opting instead to spend most of our time doing other activities like visiting the puppet theater. Copenhagen is the most visited of all Nordic cities and I could see why, there was really a lot of stuff to do there. 
Thursday we to Legoland and then drove five and a half hours to the breath-taking town of Skagen where we spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning strolling around the town and inhaling the beauty of the ocean. Sunday afternoon we drove back to Copenhagen so we would be ready to fly out the next morning.
I had learned so many cool facts about Denmark that I bought a notebook to jot them down in, and decided I would add to it in each country.

*Denmark is an archipelago made up of over 100 islands, some of which are not even inhabited.
*The Danish monarchy is the oldest continuing monarchy in the world and has existed for over 1,000 years.
*Denmark has more than twice the amount of bicycles (4.2 million) than cars (1.8 million). Copenhageners pedal more than 1.13 million km on their bicycles each day
*Denmark has 7,314 miles of coastline, which is longer than the Great Wall of China and equals almost 1.5 meters of coast per Danish citizen.
*The name Lego® is an abbreviation of two Danish words leg godt, meaning “play well.” The company was started in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. Lego began producing its iconic bricks in 1958. For more than 60 years, over 320 billion Lego bricks have been sold worldwide—nearly 60 bricks for every human on the planet.
*No place in Denmark is more than 30 miles (50 km) from the sea.
*On Denmark’s Faroe Islands, there are twice as many sheep as people.
*Denmark is the world’s biggest producer of ranched minks.
*The first Danish newspaper was founded in 1666 and written entirely in verse.
*Around 65% of Denmark is farmland and 11% woodlands. Denmark also has many beautiful beaches around its coastline.

Travel Advice

I was recently chatting with a friend regarding traveling advice which of course made my mind whirl into motion and I came up with a list of things I’ve learned about traveling abroad over the years. I thought I’d share my list with y’all and I’d be delighted if you’d hop in and add to the list. 
Before You Travel:

1. If you’re going to be driving when you’re out of the country, a lot (most?) countries require you to get an international drivers license. This is not difficult at all if you have an American drivers license. 

2. Getting a passport is generally quite easy, but it can be a time consuming process. If you need it expedited, it will cost extra, but is quite possible, just make sure you check in with everything and that your dates match up. 

3. Not all countries require vaccinations, but some do. Make sure you get your shots at the right time (some shots you need several weeks or even months in advance), and that you keep your vaccination record in your passport so it can be seen when you’re going through customs.

books packed for my trip to Aruba 
4. I recommend on stocking your body up on Vitamin C before you go as traveling exposes you to a ginormous amount of germs. 

5. One of my biggest pieces of advice is “Pack light!” Now of course this depends on the purpose of your visit. I’ve spent many hours in airports lugging around totes of supplies we were taking to the people we were visiting, but, when you’re packing your personal belongings, packing light will most likely not be a decision you regret. 

While Traveling: 

1. Take a blanket or pillow with you. I carry a blanket and a teddy bear tied together with me on literally every trip and have for quite some time. In fact, since I got the blanket when I turned sixteen I’ve only missed having it with me three nights, and those were all during the first year. There is nothing like having a blanket or pillow to curl up with during a long flight or even longer layover. I have slept on many airport floors and chairs using my blanket as a pillow. (I know it sounds gross to sleep on a dirty airport floor, but when traveling 50+ hours with low stamina, I cease to care.)

my blanket and teddy bear tied together in a hut in Africa
2. Carry a complete change of clothes in your carry-on. This is helpful in two situations: 1) Your luggage goes missing or 2) Someone sitting next to you in the plane spills their drink or food on you (or worse, gets motion sick). 

3. Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Now this is totally preference, because I understand some people would rather wear tennis shoes, especially if they’re going to be sprinting toward their gate, but I much prefer flip-flops because you have to take them off while going through security. 

4. When the airplane takes off, the pressure can wreck havoc on ears. Chewing gum dramatically (meaning very pronounced) helps the ears pop, as well as yawning a lot. If you don’t do this, you’re likely to have your ears bother you for a while, although this problem doesn’t plague everyone.
5. I like to carry along socks (since I generally wear flip-flops), a sleeping mask, toothbrush, earbuds (some prefer earplugs), books, and snacks on my carry on so I can sleep and read during the flight. (Be advised though, if you pack too many books in your carry-on it creates a dense mass that looks weird on the screen and they’ll ask you to open your bag and they’ll flip through all the books.) I also generally take an empty water bottle with me that I fill up at a water fountain after going through security. 

6. Make sure you stay very hydrated while in the air. For some reason it’s quite easy to get dehydrated while flying which is quite unhealthy. It depends on the airlines and the staff, but quite often they’re happy to give you extra water (especially if you’ve been talkative and friendly with them from the beginning). My brother and I asked for the big bottles of water that they serve out of when we flew to and from Asia and they were happy to oblige. (Side note: Caffeine is actually a dehydrator, so don’t chug the pop and coffee.) 

7. During long flights it’s good to get up and stretch and walk around every couple of hours. 

8. Customs at the airport… Some places aren’t bad, others are a nightmare. You want to be very careful what you take with you because you have to declare it if you have anything such as fruit or raw seeds, even if it’s just in your snack bag. In most cases it’s probably better to either eat it before you arrive (coming and going), or to throw it away before going through the line because the lines can take forever

9. Keep your passport with you, either on your person or in a secure bag that you know for sure you’ll keep with you. I had a friend who put their passport in their carry on, then the plane was full so the staff asked for people to check their carry ons to be loaded in the luggage compartment of the plane. Needless to say my friend almost didn’t make the flight and the whole plane sat and waited for about 30 minutes as the plane was unloaded to find the carry on and therefore the passport. Yeah… 

10. Write the pilot and crew thank you notes, especially if there have been delays or issues and they’re stressed out. It goes a long way. 

while flying to Ghana our 9 hour flight turned into 19 hours on the plane
When You’re There: 

1. If you’re taking electronics, make sure you’ve checked the countries voltage system. Sometimes you need to plug a transformer into your cord before you plug it into an outlet or else it will fry your devise. 

2. Turn off your cell phone data. If you don’t, then your phone might connect to data and charge you huge bucks for something as simple as sending a few texts. Happily though, most countries I’ve traveled in have had wifi that I’ve been able to connect my iPhone to in order to accesses iMessaging and internet for free. 

3. To avoid jet lag, try to jump into the time zone of the country you’re visiting right away (some people recommend doing this several days before you leave, although I’ve never done that). This means don’t take naps during the day unless completely necessary or unless you normally do at home. Try and eat at the correct times, go to bed at the correct time, and wake up at the correct time. If you do find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night, stay off of electronics as the glow of the screen will confuse your body even more (this is one of those rules I’m not good at following). I’ve heard some people (family included) recommend taking Melationin, which is a natural sleep aid, but I’ve never actually done this. Lavender oil is also helpful as a sleep aid for falling asleep at the right time, despite your body feeling like it’s still the middle of the day. 
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What are some of your traveling tips? Are there any huge ones I missed? I’d be delighted to learn from y’all cause I have another big trip coming up next month. 

The Swans

It was almost a fairy tale… The warm winter day, perfect lighting, shimmering lake, content and carefree children, and beautiful and friendly water fowl. 
Our Grandma had told us about a town nearby where the swans lived in close proximity to the humans. My pet-loving nieces and nephews were eager to see them so on the first sunny day we loaded into our vehicles and made the trip. Until we arrived I hadn’t realized we would actually be so very close to the beautiful creatures.
The sun was pouring down, sending the lake into a sparkling dance and creating a glorious backdrop to the almost magical experience of watching the graceful birds glide by. 
Then someone gave one of the children a few loafs of bread and a beautiful symphony of chaos exploded around us as dozens upon dozens of sea gulls flew over us and dozens more birds, wood storks and ducks and egrets and ibis and swans competed for the food on land and in the water.

Hand feeding the swans was amazing, yet also a bit scary because of the reasonable fear that a couple of fingers might end up missing by the end of the day. Thankfully we arrived home that night with just as many fingers as we left with (and a few additional snail shells), so the day was considered to be very successful.

My four-year-old niece was fearless and not only fed the swans, but then proceeded to try and feed the extremely long-beaked birds surrounding us on land. (That might have freaked me out a small amount.)

The Sounds: The squeals of delight from children, flapping of wings from the birds, and the chatter of people walking past.

The Sights: Brilliantly bright sunshine, majestic birds, smiling faces, memories being made, green grass, and water lapping slightly under the wake of the swimming swans and ducks.

Some people would probably consider our time at the lake to be just a small thing, but I’ve discovered that small things really aren’t that small after all. It was only one afternoon, but the memories that were made will last for years, possibly an entire life time. 

Eighteen-Year-Old Me and South America

My intention was to simply find a few pictures, upload them to my blog and then write this post. Instead I found myself lost in a haze of memories and a hundred or so pictures as I scrolled through them. Then I looked back at the emails I wrote five years ago and was instantly transported even further into a totally different world.
All during my teenage years I dreamed of going to Peru, South America, to stay with my oldest sister, Betsie, who lived high up in the mountains with her husband and children. Most of our family went for a five-week visit when I was fifteen. It was an unforgettable experience, even though I was quite unwell for most of the trip due to (then undiagnosed) Lyme disease. 
My next-older sister, Helena, went back the following year to stay with Betsie and her family for five months. I frequently prayed that I would be able to go help out as well one day. Health issues appeared to render that dream as unattainable and my young age only added to the roadblocks. 
Then, a few weeks before I turned eighteen (and therefore could travel without parents internationally and not have a hassle with it), we were able to find a certain vitamin supplement that helped me feel the best that I had in ages. It was right after my birthday that my brother-in-law called (a rarity since they lived so high up in the mountains and phone time was expensive and scarce) and… Well, it’s a long story but two weeks later Helena and I were on our way to Peru for two months to help Betsie who was on bed-rest, expecting their fifth child.  

I wasn’t able to find the pictures I had been looking for, but I did find some that Betsie had. 
(Some of these are from the year before I went and stayed with them.) 

We lived in a mountain village of about 3,000 people, settled into a little river valley in the Andies Mountains at 12,500 feet. The air was thin, the trees extremely sparse, and the world seemingly barren. It was the most desolate landscape I had seen at that point in my life, yet even so I was amazed at the beauty. The sky was so close with burning sun, chapping wind, and vibrant blues. The weather would change dramatically, each day easily having a thirty to forty degree range. 
It was a harsh environment. The workload faced each day to merely survive was difficult to comprehend. We lived in an adobe (dirt) house, had no indoor plumbing (although we were blessed to have one sink outside the back door with cold, impure water), limited electricity, and no heat. One of my daily jobs was to fill up the water purifiers in the house and to water the floor to keep the dust down. 
There were also many culture practices that took a bit of time to get used to. We were there during the rainy season, and, as we soon learned, it was important to stay out of the rain. If you did end up getting wet you were supposed to go straight home and go to bed. Betsie explained that since there’s no heat and the weather often dipped into the twenties, it was hard to warm up after being chilled by the cold rain. Therefore the people had learned that if you get into bed with your warm covers you’re less likely to get sick. 

 Most people there had two houses (remember, these were made out of adobe so they were fairly inexpensive to make), one in the village and one out in the country. Then they would divide their time between their farms and the village where they had market and the children went to school.

In the village we had a gas stove, but out in the country we had no such luxuries. If you’ll look behind me in the picture above or to the left of the children in the picture below, you’ll see a huge stack of dry cow patties, which is what we used as fuel when we needed to cook.

Despite the hardships, there was plenty of happiness and laughter to go around. My nieces and nephews especially enjoyed their country house without electricity and extremely close neighbors who would watch every move that that “gringos” made. The swing and hammock added to the charm and were in almost-constant use when we were there.

Back in the village we often had visitors over. (Another hard-to-get-used-to cultural practice was the completely acceptable practice of carrying a small plastic bag in your pocket to slip your food into when you couldn’t/didn’t eat all that had been served to you. You just had to do it without anyone seeing you…) 

The world there was so much more laid back and at a entirely different pace than I was used to. It took some time to learn to go with the flow, forgo plans and not get stressed while waiting for hours at a time, but it was good.

I am so grateful for the time I spent in Peru and I learned an astonishing amount of things; things about the world, about different cultures, about my perceptions, and a thousand other lessons I won’t boggle you down with now. Those two months were life-changing, a dream come true, and the answer to so many of my prayers.

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What about you? Have you ever been to a third-world country?