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? 

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.) 

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. 
* * *
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. 

Around the World in Fifty-Two – Weeks Week Nine: Italy

Happy Friday, folks! I’m enjoying looking out my window at a beautiful world covered in snow as I explore a much warmer country with Indiana (aka Annie) in my fictional story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. I hope y’all enjoy Annie’s adventure this week. 
There was so much to write about in Italy that it was hard to choose… I’m interested in knowing where you would visit if you could go to Italy for a week?
Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks 
Week Nine: Italy 
With 61 million inhabitants, Italy is the fifth most populous country in Europe, but I spotted them the second I entered the luggage claim area. Because really it doesn’t matter if there’s 61 million people or ten people, little miss Annie will always see her family right away. 
“Ahhh!” My scream echoed in the airport hallway and it’s a wonder I wasn’t arrested. I flew into Mom’s arms first, then moved on to Dad and gave my brother Kyle his hug last. “What are you guys doing here?” I asked, sniffing back the tears that were threatening to come again. I so was not going to make a habit of disembarking and bursting into tears… Not very professional. 
“We figured if you were going to explore Italy we wanted to join you.” 
I saw my suitcase out of the corner of my eye and snagged it off of the luggage carousel as it went past. “Very funny. I found out I was coming to Italy twenty-four hours ago. You had to be planning it long before then.” 
Kyle took my suitcase from me. “We’ve been planning this all week, sis.” We began walking toward the exit. 
“You were going to come to Italy without me?”
Mom leveled me with a duh look then grinned at me. “You must have jet lag. We were planning on joining you wherever you went. Exploration Airlines contacted us last week and said if we could get off work they would figure out the rest of the details. We packed everything we’d need for a cold country and everything we’d need for a warm country and as soon as you chose Italy we hopped on a plane with the correct backpack to come join you.”
“I hope you didn’t plan very much for this week.” Dad’s nose was stuck in a guide book as we walked along. 
“Rome?” I shrugged. In reality I had created an itinerary of sorts, but I wasn’t stuck on it by any means. 
“Of course, of course.” Dad waved his hand as if that was a forgone conclusion, which most likely it was. “Other than that though, leave it to me.” 
“Sounds good to me.” 
We stepped outside and there was a man holding up a sign that said Indiana Anderson & Family. 
“Oh good, he’s here.” Mom didn’t seem surprised to have someone waiting for us. I was, though. After greeting us he led the way to a shinny black limousine and opened the door then took our luggage and put it in the back. 
“You might want to close your mouth so nothing flies in.” Kyle nudged me with his elbow. 
“This is going to be a crazy-fantastic week.” I squealed as I ducked into the posh vehicle.
“Palatine Hill, please,” Dad told the driver. He then opened a compartment and pulled out a tray of food for each of us. “I asked them to have breakfast ready so we could eat on the drive over. We have so much to do I’m not sure how we’re going to fit it all in. They’ll also take our luggage to the hotel for us.”
I began munching on my fete biscottate and Dad poured me a mug of coffee from a carafe. “Thank you.” 
By the time we arrived at Palatine Hill I had decided traveling in a limo was the best. I felt like some kind of celebrity as I exited the vehicle, yet was still shocked to be met by a tour guide and a newspaper reporter. 
“Miss Anderson,” the reporter’s Italian accent was thick and made me grin. I was really in Italy! I shook his hand.. 
Dad started talking to him and Mom leaned over and whispered, “Stefano, that’s the reporter, asked Exploration Airlines if he could follow you for the day. We thought that sounded like fun so we told them it was a go.”
“Shall we begin?” Emanuele, the tour guide asked, beginning to walk. We fell into step with him. 
“Palatine Hill is the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome and one of the most ancient parts of the city. It is 131 feet above the Forum Romanum and is stunning as you can see. According to Roman mythology this hill was the location of the cave where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa.” Emanuele stopped and peered at me, “You know the legend, no?” 
“Yes, but please, a refresher would be nice.” 
“Alright. According to the legend Lupa raised the boys until a shepherd named Faustulus found the infants and raised them along with his wife. Once they got older they decided to build a city on the banks of the River Tiber. One day they had a violent argument and Romulus ended up killing his brother Remus. Thus the way Rome got it’s name.” 
I grimaced, okay, I hadn’t remembered that part of the legend. 
“Many affluent Romans of the Republican period, which began around 509 B.C., lived around here. We even had several emperors reside here a little later on including Augustus, Tiberius, and Domitian. “ 
The names sounded familiar from history and I looked around me in awe, thinking of what life had been like here around two thousand years ago. The ruins were beautiful and the sun was shinning brightly, making the ancient stones glow a brilliant red-yellow. It must have been magnificent when it was new. 
After Palatine Hill we went to a restaurant for lunch, and when I say lunch, I really mean a hugely fantastic meal. As soon as we sat down at our rather crowded booth I could feel myself beginning to drool. It smelled 100% amazing. Tomatoes. (Did you know tomatoes came from America and weren’t introduced in Italy until the 1540’s?) Sausage. Basil. Rosemary. Sage. Onions. Peppers. The scents swirled around me and made my stomach rumble. Emanuele explained to us about how the meals worked as we waited for our food. 
“Lunch is traditionally regarded as the most important meal of the day and most shops close to give time for the employees and owners to eat. Some of the school children go home for lunch, but they can also eat at school.”
A waitress arrived just then and Emanuele spoke to her in rapid Italian. She nodded and left. 
“I hope you ordered a lot, I’m hungry.” Kyle rubbed his stomach. I laughed, even though he twenty, he sometimes reminded me of a seven-year-old with how much he enjoyed food. 
“Ah, you’ll be full.” Stefano, the reporter, grinned. “A typical Italian lunch consists of a first course with pasta or rice and a second course of fish, meat, or vegetables and fruit.” He also informed us that the fork came to Italy before any other European country because of all the pasta.
After lunch we said good-bye to Stefano and Emanuele took us out to explore the rest of the city, and then we were out early again the next day, trying to see as much as we could. Rome was a vast and complex city that was somehow both historic and modern at the same time. It smelled like a mixture of accent stones, croissants and coffee, mopeds, and the water fountains. 
Rome was almost 3,000 years old and had an array of sights to behold from stunning cathedrals (we visited the Sistine Chapel), to ancient romantic plazas (visiting them was a dream come true for Mom) and much more. There was breath-taking Renaissance architecture that was marvelous and spun my imagination into gear and made me feel as if we had only scratched the surface of what Rome had to offer.
One thing we didn’t do was visit the Colosseum. I knew I was going to have to explain that on my blog, but it wasn’t an oversight. There was so much violence and bloodshed that took place there that I had no desire to stand within it’s walls, even though it was such an important part of Rome’s history.   
Thursday we got up early and drove the five hours to Venice which ended up taking way longer because we stopped at multiple little towns to explore what Italy is like away from the big cities. (Did you know one third of Italians have never used the internet?) It was quite the crazy drive because 4/5s of Italy is either mountainous or hilly. 
Venice is a unique city and is built on a lagoon surrounded by the Adriatic Sea. It was founded over 1,400 years ago and has been slowly sinking into the mud for centuries now. It’s an archipelago of dozens and dozens of islands that are all connected by hundreds of bridges and canals. 
Since it’s heralded as one of the most romantic cities in the world Kyle and I convinced Mom and Dad to go out and spend Friday together. They could ride in a gondola, feed each other spaghetti, or do whatever other romanticish stuff they wanted to. They happily agreed. 
We got up way too early Saturday morning and took a gorgeous six and a half hour train ride to Pompeii. Pompeii was amazing and sad and mind blowing all at once. The city was buried under several feet of volcanic ash in 79 A.D. which sort of froze everything in time. The city now offers fascinating insight to the everyday life of the ancient Romans. 
From Pompeii it was a twenty-five minute bus ride to Naples where we spent a leisure Sunday fellowshiping as a family and exploring the city. Monday morning I prepared to spin the globe to discover my next destination and say good-bye to my family. 

February 2016 in Review

What I Focused on in January: 

1. My non-writing job (we had a big event going on in Florida and that took up the first half of the month)
2. Working through and reconfiguring When Life Hands You Lymes
3. Being at my adopted parent’s cabin and helping with the dinosaur

Birthday Challenge and Dream List Update 

2. Pray the “prayer of Jebez” every day for three months {Completed in December. +2}
3. Read the whole Bible {Ezekiel}
6. Read 12 non-fiction “spiritual” books {3 of the non-fiction books I read this month fit}
7. Read the Proverb of the day every day for six months {5 months}
12. Go to bed at 10:30 or before 24 nights (not in a row) {3 nights which equals 25!!!}13. Write a monthly review on my blog within 5 days of the end of the month whenever internet is available {5 months}
15. Write 24 book reviews {4}
18. Go, see, visit, experience or explore something I’ve never done before 24 times and write it down
20. Track all the money I spend for 24 days {Completed in January, but also did in February}
23. Read 24 non-fiction books {4}
24. Read out loud for 24 hours {1 hour}
None 

Reading Update

Fiction: 1
Non-Fiction: 4
Reviews: 5 

Traveling

Nights Gone: 22
New Countries or States: None 

February Goals 

(Which I sadly never posted on Noveltea)
1. Do 80 hours of my non-writing job – YES, plus more!

2. Do 80 hours on my writing job – YES!
3. Read and review 4 non-fiction books – YES!

What I’ve Been Learning

Of course I learned a lot about the countries in our Around the World in 52 Weeks series: Tibet, the Netherlands, England, and the Falkland Islands. I had fun diving into the history and cool facts about those countries, as well as trying to figure out the best places to visit. 
There was also a learning curve I rode with my non-writing job. It was stressful at times, yet very rewarding and I enjoyed it a lot. 
Music. Specifically the piano and violin. I haven’t been learning to play the instruments, mind you, but more like what it feels like to play them. I’ve spent what felt like endless hours researching, reading books, emailing/messaging people, and soaking it all in. My brain has a much better grasp on the subject now and I’ve been very happy that I chose writing, not music, for my life. 
I’ve also been learning to let my mind change and to be willing to listen to what other people have to say in regards to my writing…Specifically When Life Hands You Lymes. It can be hard when I really don’t want to change. It’s good for me though. 
The books I read were insightful, even when I didn’t especially enjoy reading some of the chapters. I also read a fair amount of book reviews and the first several pages of a bunch of books online. I find this very helpful in figuring out what makes a good book and what readers are looking for. 

Other

One day when I came in from taking a walk one of my good friends was standing there and asked if I wanted to train to run a half marathon with him. Of course I was all in, and so the training began. That was 15 days ago and since then I’ve walked or hiked 35 miles, including one 7 mile day. I’m excited about this new challenge. 
I only had one week home in February, but it was a good week. I was reminded of how very, very much I love our church. I listened to several of the sermons online that I missed by being gone, but it wasn’t the same. I’m so very extremely thankful for our church and church family. 
As you probably know, my latest book that was published a year ago came out in Spanish! I’m still a bit amazed by that. I’m really excited to see where it goes and I pray that it can be used to help lots of people learn about God’s amazing creation. 
February was an amazing month and I’m so excited to see what March has in store for all of us. The next 31 days are stretching ahead of us, ready to be filled and redeemed and explored. Yay!
* * *
What are some things you learned or experienced in February? 

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Five: Tibet

Happy Friday! Welcome to the fifth week of my fictional story, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks. This one is a bit different from the other ones as you’ll soon see. I hope y’all enjoy “traveling” around with Annie, I know I have been having fun with her.

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks
Week Five: Tibet 
I woke up Monday morning with a rhythmically thumping headache and the sensation of a giant, unseen hand squeezing my stomach. I sat up, then flopped back down on my sweat-drenched pillow. It took me a couple of minutes of lying there panting before I felt enough energy seep into my body and I was able to get up and get ready for the day. I had just finished doing my hair when Sophie Skyped me so she could see where the destination for the week was.
“Wow, girl, you don’t look like you’re feeling the best.”
Her greeting made me roll my eyes, “You think?” 
“What happened?” 
“I’m not sure if I got food poisoning or picked up a bug somewhere; either idea is quite plausible.” I grimaced. 
“Let’s hope your next country is nearby so you don’t need to travel far.” Sophie’s face showed her sympathy. 
“Yeah, no kidding.” I took several deep breaths. “Okay, let’s get this show on the road.” I put on my perkiest smile then started filming so we could upload the video of me choosing the country onto the blog. I gave the normal intro, hoping I didn’t look as terrible as I felt, then closed my eyes and spun the globe around a couple of times. When I put my finger down and then opened my eyes, I almost started crying. Tibet. I so did not have the energy to travel around the world again. After barely pulling off what looked like an excited good-bye to the camera I threw my hands up at Sophie. 
“Um, before you start freaking out on me…” Sophie held up a hand to stop my teary monologue that was about to start, “Let me see what I can do. I’ll hook you up with first class or something.”
“Okay.” Our planes didn’t have first class, but I understood what she was trying to do. She would find someway to make the trip more comfortable for me.
“Now get something to eat and the rest in bed and research what you want to do when you’re on top of the world, sound good?”
“Yeah, yeah, thanks.” I heaved a huge sigh, everything was in Sophie’s capable hands. Life would be fine and keep going even though I felt like I’d been attacked by a derailed train. 
A few minutes later I got a notification from Jake who helped edit the vlogs I made. He said that the video of me choosing Tibet was live on the website, so I clicked over to watch it and see if I looked as horrible as I felt. The video hadn’t had much editing done on it, but to my surprise I didn’t look too shabby. I should become an actress. 
I found some the food I had bought the day before for the trip and then climbed back into bed and nibbled on the corn tortillas. My plan had been to study about Tibet, but next thing I knew I was awakened by the sound of Sophie skyping me again. I ran my hand across my face and yawned. The sun was pouring through the sheer curtain at the window, proclaiming that the morning was well on it’s way to becoming afternoon. 
“Soph?” I answered the Skype call.
“Good news. For you. Not such great news for us on this end.” 
“Okay?” My brain couldn’t keeping up with what my co-worker was saying.  
“So, to get into Tibet you have to get special permission and all that kind of stuff.”
“Oh?”
“Which means you’re not going anywhere today. Just hang on tight and try to get better. I’m exploring our different options here and I’ll keep you posted.”
Relief washed over me. I did not want to travel in the condition I was in. After signing off the call I was able to summon enough strength to head down to the hotel lobby and then across the street to a little cafe. I ordered hot tea and chicken soup that sounded good to my still hurting stomach. The smell made my insides feel like they were churning, though, so I asked for the food to go and slowly made my way back to my hotel room. 
After resting for a few minutes I pulled up the internet on my computer and began my research. Tibet was gorgeous. It reminded me of Mongolia. As the day progressed I got lost in the history and culture of the people who lived in what is sometimes called the”Water Tower” of Asia. 
It’s called that because several very major rivers have their source up in the Tibetan Plateau. The beautiful Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, along the Yarlung Tsangpo River, is among the deepest and longest canyons in the world. After spending a few minutes looking at pictures of the canyon I wished I could visit it; it looked so different from our Grand Canyon. I made a note to see if we could somehow fit a visit into the schedule once I arrived in Tibet.

Tuesday morning found me still in Guatemala and feeling slightly better in body, but a little ruffled in spirit. Much to our chagrin Sophie and I had discovered the day before that some people didn’t even consider Tibet to be it’s own country and our supervisor at Exploration Airlines wasn’t too thrilled with our faux pas. They worked at making sure we didn’t reap any ill effects from China (who we needed to have a good business relationship with) and continued to see if we could somehow work out a visit to tibet. Meanwhile, I rested, researched, and answered several written interviews from various travel blogs and one travel magazine. The news was beginning to get slightly interested in the year of traveling I’d been doing and it felt rewarding to see the page views on the blog and likes on Facebook growing.
When Wednesday morning rolled around I knew I would be spending the rest of the week resting in Guatemala. It would have been pointless to travel to Tibet for only a couple of days. Instead of being disappointed, I enjoyed getting to rest and catch up with comments, emails, and other day-to-day things I’d been putting off. Mom texted multiple times a day to see how I was feeling. There is nothing like being sick to make me wish I was still a little girl and could have Mom there making me chicken noodle soup and soothing me with her graceful and perfect bedside manners. Being sick made me homesick and miss my family. I thought about seeing if I could go home for a few days, but then decided it would be too much of a hassle.
Thursday I complied a list of some of the facts about Tibet that I found especially interesting. Each fact I wrote down made me wish I could visit the country and meet the people who lived there and had such a unique way of life. One day I would go there on my own, if possible.
Tibet Facts:
* Tibetan traditional houses are painted in three colors: white and brown & blue. Each color symbolizes intelligence, courage, and compassion.
* Sherpa people never sleep with there feet facing the mountain.
* Tesmba is the daily food of traditional Tibetan people. It’s made up from barley and water. The barley is ground down in water in a mill and once this process is complete it take a paste form or a dough form (like white bread). It’s not cooked in any way and is eaten like this in the raw form along with hot black tea. If you aren’t brought up on this type of bread, you’re stomach will hurt if you try it.
* Most of the population of Tibetan people are vegetarian “don’t eat meat”& those that do never eat meat on a Wednesday.
* Tibetans practice a wide range of traditional trades, including flour milling, canvas painting, paper making, rope braiding, wool and fiber processing, weaving and textile production, tanning, metalwork, carpentry, and wood carving. 
* Tibet has some of the world’s tallest mountains, with several of them making the top ten list. Mount Everest is the highest mountain on earth. 
* Tibet is home to a wide range of animal life, including 142 species of mammals, 473 species of birds, 49 species of reptiles, 44 species of amphibians, 64 species of fish and more than 2,300 species of insects.
It made me sad that the people of Tibet didn’t have freedom, but because of the contract I was under with my job I wasn’t able to say anything about it. Instead I decided to pray for them and see if there was any physical way I could help them.

By the time Saturday rolled around I was over my gross sickness and felt my energy return to almost normal. I was thankful for my week of rest and paperwork, but was eager to start off week number six of my exciting travels.

Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks Week Two: Mongolia

Who would have ever guessed this would be so much fun? It was great being in Mongolia this week, although I must admit, it was cold! There were several times that I pulled up the weather app on my phone and confused my real weather with my virtual weather. 

The flight itinerary Annie took. 

And now, I’m excited to present you with week two of Noveltea’s series, Around the World in Fifty-Two Weeks

Around the World in 52 Weeks 
Week Two: Mongolia 
I laughed as I awkwardly struggled into two extra layers of clothing in the Ulaanbaatar airports public restroom. Studying my mound of clothes in front of the mirror I shook my head, “What in the world have you gotten yourself into this time, Annie?” 
Exiting the restroom I joined up with Sarnai, the smiling and red-cheeked Mongolian lady who would be hosting me during my stay in Mongolia. She reminded me of my mother and I was happy I had a chance to get to know her better.
“Are you ready?” 
“Yes, thank you.” 
“Come then, my husband has your luggage loaded into the van.” Sarnai led me outside and the cold air and pollution filled my senses in a swirling, car-sick sort of way. 
  “The air here is bad,” Sarnai shook her head, “At our ger the world is fresh.” 
I climbed into the van and promptly fell asleep. The last twenty-five hours had been spent flying from Lisbon to Budapest, from Budapest to Moscow, and finally from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar. 
The only thing I knew about Mongolia when my finger landed on the country sandwiched between Russia and China was that it was the homeland of Genghis Khan, a warrior I had been amazed by in sixth grade. The first thing I had done was to look up the weather. I’d gasped in dismay when I saw that most days fell into the range of -20 to -40; yikes. 
Sophie had worked pretty much non-stop back in the states getting everything set up for me and when I arrived in Mongolia I not only had a family to stay with, but transportation to get there, and the right kind of clothes to wear. 
“We have arrived.” Sarnai’s words awoke me.  
Embarrassed, I apologized for falling asleep, but Sarnai and her husband, Batbayar, grinned and waved my words away. 
“It is a long trip. Of course you were tired.” Batbayar frowned at me when I reached back to gather up my lugguage. “I’ll get that. Now go into our ger and we can have breakfast.” 
I climbed out of the van and then stopped. “Woah.” Turning in a full circle I felt a smile transforming my sleepy and almost frozen face. “This is gorgeous.” The hills were golden and reminded me of sand dunes as they rose and fell in smooth ripples. There was a light dusting of snow that reminded me of powdered sugar on a donut and the cattle wandering about had thick, furry, reddish hair and looked like they should be cuddled in a big hug. 
“We don’t have close neighbors as you can see.” Sarnai led me to their ger. “Mongolia is the most sparsely populated nation in the world.” Her words were spoken with pride. “We have much beautiful wilderness.” 
“I’m amazed.” I shook my head. “Do you know how many people there are per square mile?” 
Sarnai’s face twisted in confusion, “I’m not sure what that means. We will have to ask my husband.” She opened the brightly colored door to their ger and allowed me to enter first. 
“Thank you.” I stepped inside and looked around. A ger is a round, moveable house that is kinda like a sturdy tent. It only takes about an hour to set up and is very useful to the Mongolian’s – many of whom are nomadic. 
Sarnai’s ger was cozy inside with thick rugs on the floor, a wood burning stove in the middle, beds at one side and across from that, table and chairs. “Your home is lovely.” The furnishings were brightly colored and had so many painted and carved designs I wanted to go around and examine each piece. 
Batbayar came in just then, bringing my luggage and a woossh of cold air with him. Sarnai talked to him rapidly for a moment in Mongolian and then I heard the words square mile
“Ah, you tourist always ask the same questions.” Batbayar’s eyes twinkled as he took off his big, warm-looking hat and then stoked the fire. “There are only 4.3 people per square mile. Perhaps you’ll like it here enough that you’ll stay?” His smile told me he was teasing, “Then we’d have to raise our average.” 
Sarnai began working on cutting up some sort of meat. I offered to help her, but she shook her head, “No, no, no. You watch this time and learn.” 
I nodded. 
“Now animals?” Batbayar rubbed his hands together over the stove. “There are many of those. Here in our country we have thirteen times more horses and thirty-five times more sheep than humans.” 
“So many?” I shook my head. I could easily imagine what they did with the sheep, but… “What do you do with all of the horses?”
“Many people use them for transportation. We also eat them and drink their milk.” 
I looked at the food his wife was prepping and willed myself not to get sick to my stomach. When in Rome do as the Romans do… 
“Horses are very useful. See, our land is so vast that the Netherlands could fit inside it thirty-seven times.” Batbayar spoke with enthusiasm, as if he often shared this information with guests and never grew tired of talking about his beloved country.
“That is impressive.” I wasn’t quite sure what that had to do with horses being important, though. 
“Ah yes, but what is really impressive is that the Mongolian roads could fit into the Dutch road system sixty-seven times.” 
It took a moment for his words to sink in, “So, that’s why horses are so useful?” 
“Right, right. Also our camels. We use them for transportation too.” 
“Camels? Wow.” I rubbed my forehead. I obviously knew basically nothing about other cultures and countries. “I thought camels only lived in hot areas.” 
“No, no, that’s a common mistake people make. Our camels can live in very cold weather. They have long hair and keep warm.” 
“Breakfast is ready,” Sarnai informed us, waving us over to the table. 
The next four days were more cozy than I could have ever imagined. Batbayar and Sarnai were the perfect hosts and I felt like we became good friends. I learned how to help take care of their sheep, goats, yaks, horses, and camels. I gathered firewood, cooked with Sarnai, watched Batbayar repair his tools, getting them ready for spring planting, and even tried my hand at sewing for Sarnai (that didn’t work out too well, though). 
In the evenings we would sit around the wood stove sipping burning hot milk tea and talking. I asked hundreds of questions about their land and culture and they answered with such enthusiasm that at times I forgot to take notes because it was so intriguing. 
I was especially interested to learn that some of the people kept eagles as pets, and some  even went hunting with them. Growing up I had read a handful of medieval books where the nobility went hunting with birds of prey, but I hadn’t realized people still did that nowadays. 
“Yes, there is even a festival that is called the Golden Eagle festival.” Sarnai stood up to refill my mug of milk tea. “You should come back and visit again for the festival, no?” 
“Thank you for the tea.” I blew on the steam that floated into the air, “And that sounds like fun. What do they do at the festival?” 
“It begins with a colorful parade of all the eagle hunters riding through on horseback. They have very special hunting costumes and it is beautiful to look at.” Sarnai sighed in delight, “No Mongolian child has truly lived until they have seen the sight for themselves. My papa used to tell me about it when I was just a wee girl.” 
“The do competitions and the eagles are judged on how fast they are. The men also take part in traditional games and show off their horsemanship skills,” Batbayar added, “It is grand.” 
Batbayar was also eager to inform me that Mongolia had a Pony Express style postal service long before the USA ever thought of it. 
“Kublai Khan established our mail service about a thousand years ago and they could be carried hundreds of miles a day on nonstop horseback,” his words were spoken with pride. “See, you Americans learned from us, no?” 
“Indeed.” I laughed. “I’m sure we could learn from you in many more ways, as well.” 
“Such as in eating horse meat?” 
I cringed slightly, “Well… I’m not sure how well that would go over with my friends.” 
Batbayar’s deep chuckle made me smile, “But you tried it, you make a good Mongolian.” 
I beamed at the praise, “Thank you, Batbayar.” 
All too soon it was Saturday and time for me to head back to Ulaanbaatar so I could get caught up on my blogging and upload my vlogs, talk to my family, and fly out to my next destination on Monday. I was sad to leave. 

* * * 
Extra: watch this two minute video of a ger being assembled. 

Reminiscing about Africa and Friday Series Destination Announced

A year ago yesterday I left for a two week trip in Ghana, West Africa. I’m in a reminiscing mood, so I decided to post some photos of my time there. There are so many memories wrapped up in each one of these snapshots. 
The landscape was so colorless and the people so colorful and together it made a beautiful picture. I was privileged to attend a wedding out in one of the small villages and even though it felt unmercifully hot to my winter-accustomed body, I am so glad I could go. It was unlike any wedding I had been at before then and probably unlike any wedding I’ll ever go to again. 
The people in Ghana are so friendly and welcoming and enthusiastic. These are all friends of the family I went to visit and they thought it was great when I flipped my iPhone camera around so they could see themselves in it. 
This girl (below) lived with the family I was staying with and she cooked us very delicious Ghanian meals. There were times when the food didn’t quite mesh with my tastebuds, but I was still happy to get to experience eating their authentic foods and was thankful for her cooking skills. She was quite friendly and took us around the marketplace and explained the culture to us. 

Another picture from the wedding I attended. Behind the men (they are the groom, his dad, best man, friends, and drummers), you can see their compound. Each family has a circle of huts that are inclosed with a wall going from hut to hut. The huts, and all the enclosed area, make up their house. It’s pretty cool. 

The termite mounds were huge. I seriously had no clue that they would be so big and probably gasped in amazement the first time I saw one. Then, of course I wanted to climb one. (I had no clue you were able to do that, either.) I only made it part way up, because the further I climbed the less thick the mound was and I didn’t want to break though and damage the mound or break though and have the termites swarm around me. (Do they even do that? I have no clue. But goodness! If they can build a structor like that, I’m not too keen on getting on their bad side.) 

* * *
What about you? Did you know that termite mounds got so big? Have you ever climbed one? If not, would you climb one if you had the chance?

* * *
I’m so excited to have just found out where I’m going this week for my Friday Series! Drumroll, please! Our destination is: Mongolia! I can hardly wait to head on over there. 🙂