Bonafide Quest

I do not think a journey can really be considered an adventure if all transpires exactly as planned. If a person encounters not a single hardship or difficulty along the way—or even if the word “easy” can be used with confidence to describe the extent of their travels—then the trip has not yet graduated to a genuine, bonafide quest. Instead, the voyage without adversity is the one that makes a good 4 by 6 photo album stuffer, but lacks the caliber of those that will be shared with bravado around great-grandchildren’s holiday feasts. This is because adversity is like the gray peppered through a person’s hair; while not particularly attractive, it visibly signifies wisdom, trial, and experience.

Almost immediately after being deposited at the airport, I realized my journey to Valladolid, Spain, for a semester of study abroad would fall among the ranks of “adventure.” This can be interpreted to mean that nearly every factor between terminal and final touchdown was a complete and total struggle. By the end of it all, I felt like I would expect a worn and tattered rag to feel like after having just been dragged over some grit-filled, rusty tire rims and finally squeezed out mercilessly by calloused and pruny hands.

And I was probably a spitting image of one too.

At least I was able to come away from the airport scene with plenty of lessons learned and for-next-time advice. To name a few: one delay almost always leads to another; don’t count on staff to actually be helpful—expect sass; prepare to haul indecently heavy amounts of luggage down endless stretches of hallway (studded, of course, with shops and cuisine of every overpriced variety); and finally, be sure to make patience a favorite virtue and standing in lines a new and treasured pastime.

Several delays and missed flights later, my group of three (and eventually 10) wound up in a Philly hotel, exhausted and weary as war camp evacuees. All hopes of arriving in time for our Valladolid initial orientation were officially dashed, and truthfully, after all we’d been through, the idea of missing didn’t actually sound too bad.

All I could focus on was allowing my overwhelmed and famished frame to sink into awaiting mattress.

But if there was anything that could possibly make up for all our misfortune, I would say it’d have to be first-class, $3,500 value, international flight tickets to Madrid.

Did I stutter?

Five of us girls (from the larger group of 10) were lucky enough to score these precious gems after gaining ample sympathy from one of the flight coordinators back at the Minneapolis airport. I’ve actually had the privilege of riding in first class before, but I can guarantee that not a single one of us was expecting the ultimate treat awaiting us at the end of the terminal tunnel.

Compared to first class seats on national flights, those on international flights make up a completely different ballgame. We were on about as jumbo as any jet could be, situated in an anterior compartment that spanned three rows wide. The seats themselves resembled those coveted restaurant booths—but on steroids. They boasted fully-reclining chairs, built-in televisions (with nearly every movie or show a person could desire), and complimentary blankets and toiletry pouches complete with eye masks for the long flight ahead. We feasted like the kings we were, too. My multi-course meal that night included a roasted beet, quinoa, and herbed goat cheese salad and a list of entrees that required I make the difficult choice between olive tapenade crusted halibut and saffron gnocci.

The five of us were treated nothing short of royalty, let me tell you.

After touchdown, we spent another round of tiresome hours in the airport in anticipation for the bus that was to take us to our new home in Valladolid. But once we were finally spit out on Valla soil, the five of us immediately transformed into regular deer-in-headlights foreigners. Nobody really knew where to proceed in order to locate our host families, and frankly, none of us really had the willpower anymore either.

My roommate Becca and I eventually settled on the wander-until-we-find-our-house approach, which would’ve most likely ended in disaster had not another fellow Eau Claire student been strolling through the streets at just the perfect moment. It was like a gift from above, a miraculous turn of fate really, that we were finally rescued and escorted to an actual Spanish home.

Soon enough, Becca and I were retrieved by our actual host father. Once more, our 50-pound bags in tow, we sped through the winding Valla streets like timid and trembling puppies at the feet of their master.

Felipe unlocked the door to apartamento 12, 2° F.




This week, I had the absolute pleasure of attending the release party for our campus’ literary magazine, NOTA. Just like last year, one of my poems ended up making the final cut, chosen as one of only 20 that would be featured in the semester’s issue.

Through my creative writing course this fall, I discovered that I am definitely a poetic-minded individual—especially when my attempts at a fictional short story were vainly executed, exposing to the class during workshop my obvious prosaic weakness. Yet the flowery language I cling to is thankfully embraced by publications like NOTA, and whenever I’m published, it’s an affirmation for me to keep on doing what I’m doing.

Apart from the magazine on campus, my poems have also been rendered in print by The Red Cedar and Volume One. Though I would have to say the bulk of my published work comes in the form of news releases, cover stories, branding pieces, and public relations materials that emerge from my desk at the University Communications Office. I also still produce freelance writing for my hometown’s local newspaper, but I’ll save the details of those two internships for another post.

The NOTA release party took place downtown at a venue called The Local Store. It’s the headquarters of the city’s Volume One magazine (which I mentioned above) as well as a gift shop and art gallery. It’s the kind of place that exudes hipster, and when I entered, I even felt the sudden urge to be wearing thick-rimmed glasses and an ironic T-shirt.

The night consisted of music, mingling, and invitations for the published authors to read—which I did. People at least seemed to enjoy my poem Breadline, and I hope you do too.


I never understood the gravity of shame
Until my shoulders began to wilt like that lonely blossom in our sill
And the lines that carved my five o’ clock shadow inched lower
Toward unforgiving soil

Or how swiftly I plunged
From breadwinner to breadline
As angst replaced adoration in my little girl’s
Doey pair of sapphires

Now our polished loafers chug ahead
Like that locomotive rumbling by this afternoon
And beckoning me with its howling whistle
Causing weary heart to covet the spool of smoke
That rolled from the engine, liberated and eager
To escape into a boundless world
Away from here 

Where all I do is wait with this solemn herd of men
For employment to emerge from his hiding place
For Frankie and his New Deal
Or maybe for just the parcel of crunchy rye
That will hopefully tame those monsters
That continue to scratch at my children’s bellies
With menacing growls
All through the night 

Guilt sinks his unrelenting claws into my ashen flesh
And whispers darkly his spells of disgrace
Reminding me of that Tuesday, black and viscid
As the tar that congeals on feathers of fowl 

These men bury their calloused knuckles in the depths
Of their long trenches, perhaps also attempting
To camouflage embarrassment
In pleated somber hues and tailored trousers
And the bowlers pulled low over humiliated brows 

Now the sober-faced queue shuffles
Slowly, reluctantly
As if at the line’s end
Each will receive some form of deadly sentence and not
A crusty chunk of bread




Keep Calm and Clash On

One luxury of the extra-large corner room is the amount of stuff that can occupy its space in comparison to its cramped, rectangular counterparts. For some, this would mean an extra piece of furniture. For others, perhaps a bulky gaming system. But for me and my roommate Elsa, this boon of surplus space meant we could host our four high school brothers for an entire weekend. Planning and strategizing for the big event began on move-in day, as Elsa and I configured futon and coffee table arrangements and painstakingly threaded string lights around the room’s perimeter. With the gears in full motion, we eventually settled on a date and devised a detailed game-plan.

The late October Friday arrived, and Sam, Joe, Axel, and Eli appeared at our threshold ready for the weekend ahead. For some reason, whenever Elsa and I mention our “little brothers,” we forget that they are, in fact, full-size, male human beings. So when the four of them entered our comfy abode with their bulging duffels, my roommate and I were surprised when our oversized space suddenly felt particularly small and confined.

One rule Elsa and I had established prior to our brothers’ coming was that the Cozy Cottage would be a Clash-free zone. By this, I am referring to the virtual, troop-building game Clash of Clans that constitutes as the most valuable app on our brothers’ iPods. For the quartet of blondies, this game is life. In fact, their Clashing skills determine their validation level among peers in school. So, when Elsa and I decided to put the kibosh on the whole Clan obsession for the weekend, you can bet we were hardly met with enthusiasm. Basically, the pack of toe-heads scoffed at the notion of abandoning the game for a whole 48 hours, and promptly crested the whiteboard on our door with “Keep Calm and Clash On.”

There are some battles just not worth fighting.

Despite our brothers’ unwavering dedication to their troops and insistence on manning their forts and dragons, the weekend turned out to be a glorious, entertainment-filled couple of days. From late-night movies and thrift shopping, to hardcore racquetball tournaments, the fun never stopped.

Though probably the highlight activity for the group of uncannily-similar teens was their many adventures with bottle cap football. Don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with this game…you should be. Our brothers came up with the sport themselves—a hybrid between football, ultimate Frisbee, and whatever amusement a person might have with a bottle cap.

Because none of the above things are in Elsa or my realm of interests, the boys had to resort to the halls of Oak Ridge to find other players. Just like Clash, there was no use in attempting to put a stop to the boys running up and down the guys’ wings, knocking on doors, and inquiring the defenseless passersby all in the pursuit of fellow bottle-cappers.

You may recall from my last post that I mentioned a particular RA infatuation my brothers had. Their bizarre obsession actually developed during this very weekend while the boys were on their hunt. The foursome stumbled across this resident assistant’s door, and—more importantly—an “About Me” bio that seemed to be the answer to all their problems. This “Andy” guy not only played ultimate Frisbee, but he also wanted to meet Jesus, loved the movie Saving Private Ryan, and was interested in basically everything that made a person awesome in the discerning eyes of high school boys.

Pretty much Andy was the coolest guy ever.

And he needed to be a part of the bottle-capping experience.

Therefore, much of the remainder of the afternoon was spent tracking the college sophomore down. The blonde bros even went to extremes that involved finding Andy’s girlfriend’s room and leaving a note on the door requesting the RA to report to room 232 (my room). After several fruitless attempts, however, the impossible mission was aborted.

But even after the boys abandoned any hope of getting their idol to play bottle cap with them, the infatuation continued. Andy was their hero, after all, and—frankly—still is.

The time finally came for the Clashing, bottle-capping, RA-loving foursome to depart. I gave each of my brothers a hug and watched as they hauled their bags out of the Cozy Cottage to join Axel and Eli for the short ride home. Our brothers brought laughter, good times, and maybe a bit of a stench too, but they left behind a weekend full of memories.

I gently closed the door to the Cozy Cottage then.

And I knew it would never be a Clash-free zone.

The Cozy Cottage

Something my roommate Elsa and I take great pride in is our superior natural talent for dorm decoration. IMG_0081 Labelled from the beginning as The Cozy Cottage Pt. 2 (Elsa’s room last year was Pt. 1), our room is more than just a place to sleep and study.  Instead, it’s become a refuge of sorts for the other girls on our floor, who often cross the threshold bearing arms full of homework, knitting, or whatever else they’d rather be doing in our cute and comfy pad than their bleak, depression-inducing cells.  Entering, for many, is usually a much easier task than leaving.IMG_0178

From the meticulous application of floral burlap border, to the careful placement of each twine-hung, clothes-pinned photo, every laborious effort Elsa and I put into making our dorm the best dwelling it could be was well worth it.  In our estimation, the Cozy Cottage is the finest room on the market, so when posters for a “Coolest Room Contest” started popping up all over campus, we knew our chances of winning had to be pretty high.

The top three rooms would receive a cash prize, photo shoot, and a room tour from the university TV station (fourth and fifth place would earn everything except the money), so a lot was on the line for winning this competition.  Hours of preparation and countless iPhone photos later, Elsa and I were feeling especially confident in our pending submission.IMG_0149

And rightly so.

The Cozy Cottage received a stunning second place finish.  The victors remain a mystery, but we still have no idea what room could’ve possibly outdone ours.IMG_0162

Whoever it is, I’d think I’d like to meet them.  Or shake their hands perhaps.

But our own fame and glory aside, I (and I’m sure Elsa too) would like to leave everyone who either currently lives in the dorms or plans to do so in the future with some inside, room-enhancing advice.

To me and Elsa, dorm life is undeniably one of the greatest parts of the college experience.IMG_0103 These four years make up the only time in our lives where we’ll have the opportunity to be surrounded by people, living in a community, and sharing a space—and perhaps a few other things—with one another. While this style of living is certainly both fun and unique, we know there are certain factors that separate a good dorm from an AMAZING dorm.

IMG_1910From our own personal experience, we’ve discovered that with a few simple tips and tricks, any student can turn their drab, rectangular abode into a cozy, comfortable, and welcoming place to live.

  1. Beware of the bare floor:  Nothing is more uninviting than waking up from a pleasant slumber and stepping onto cold, hard tile.  Purchasing a good carpet or area rug will create a space that’s warmer, comfier, and more resembling of a home away from home.
  2. NEVER use the overhead lights (a.k.a “hospital lights”):  Be sure to invest in a variety of lamps, string lights, and other forms of illumination to avoid using the harsh overhead light.  These alternative light sources will completely transform the character of the room, creating ambiance and an atmosphere that is altogether pleasing.IMG_0142
  3. Avoid wall nakedness:  Nobody is attracted to plain white walls.  Any dorm room will benefit from a combination of pictures, posters, drawings, and—for the ultra-crafty—creations devised from clothespins, twine, and burlap.
  4. Evade the stench: Living in a small, cramped space can often bring about a variety of undesirable odors.  Since candles are not permitted in the residence halls, many choose to generate a pleasant-smelling environment with scented diffusion sticks, wax warmers, and even powdered carpet deodorizers.IMG_0115
  5. Leave the door open:  Dorm life means living with and around other people 24-7.  The best way to get to know the other students who will be sharing the same showers and adhering to the same quiet hour policies is to be approachable and welcoming.  Leaving the door open expresses excitement for living in community and encourages fellow floor mates to stop by for a chat.

Adhere to these dorm room hacks, and maybe one day your room will also be as legendary as the Cozy Cottage.


The Mythical Bus

Directions are not my forte. Navigation isn’t either. As a directionally-challenged individual, getting from place to place is often a cumbersome, anxiety-inducing task. That being said, I tend to keep my distance from public transportation–and, in particular, the bus system. I believe the busses and I have a mutual dislike for each other, which seems to have resulted in our unspoken decision to avoid one another at all costs. Wherever I am, the bus is not; and wherever the bus happens to be at any given moment, I most definitely won’t be anywhere near.

Here at Eau Claire, there is an intricate network of buses that travels all over the city, from the mall to the Target to everywhere in between. And—as I was informed way late into my freshman year—there are apparently also buses that escort worn and weary students from lower to upper campus, evading the infamous beast that is…The Hill.

This revelation sent me into utter shock, considering that I had never once laid eyes on this fairy-tale campus shuttle. I had already spent several months on campus and walked up the hill an indecent amount of times before one of my friends notified me of her post-class rides back to the dorms via this free, motorized mode of transportation.

Pish posh.

A bus that took students up The Hill? There couldn’t be. What a ridiculous notion, that The Hill was merely an option, and nobody actually had to struggle-bus it (no pun intended) up its icy, slush-packed exterior. I refused to believe it.

And so, the aptly-named “mythical bus” was born.

This bus to me was no more than a mere concept—an idea. It had no real form or shape, but instead was just a fabrication created by delusional students who probably just wished there was an alternative form of transportation up the mountainous slope.

There came a day, however, that I decided to test my luck. I had injured my foot in a devastating treadmill accident (maybe that’s an exaggeration), and with the cold-snow-slush combination approaching peak discomfort levels, I thought there would be no better opportunity. So after class, I made my way to the out-of-site bus stop…which truthfully caused me to feel like I was taking part in some shady, black market business.

And I waited.

And waited some more.

Finally, after ridiculous amounts of time had passed, the glorious moment came when an actual bus pulled up alongside the curb. Knowing it was just too good to be true, I checked to make sure it was the one for the campus route. Sure enough, it was not. Murmurs erupted from the crowd of bus-riding “regulars” surrounding me, all obviously perplexed by the fact that the campus bus hadn’t yet arrived.

Well I didn’t have time to wait. I had an appointment to get to (for my suffering foot), and I couldn’t afford to stick around for some bus that probably didn’t even exist.

At that moment, I felt a little bit like Spongebob in the Rockbottom episode when he failed to catch the bus back home an endless amount of times. I sympathized with his plight and the desperation he must’ve felt when the thought of returning to his happy pineapple probably seemed like a lost cause.

Trudging up the hill defeated and fatigued, my bus relationship began its downward slide.

This semester, with that traumatic experience well behind me, I decided it was time to give the whole bus thing another chance. One weekend when my brothers came to visit, I was feeling particularly adventurous. For whatever reason, this equated to hopping on a bus and taking it to some unknown, spontaneous destination.

The first problem with this plan was that it involved deciphering the bus schedule. I may as well have been handed an ancient scroll of hieroglyphics because trying to interpret that thing was a nearly impossible task.

Long story short, my brothers and I did end up on a bus, even though it was several hours later and not at all on the one we originally intended to take.

…But details.

From the moment we stepped on, all three of us felt entirely out of place. I sensed tangible judgment taking place—the bus driver, the people on before us, and the people that boarded later all seemed to be giving us heavy stares of contempt and disapproval. I guess it was obvious to everyone that we were not bus people.

It was when the buststarted heading to upper campus and right back to my residence hall that I was hit with a turbulent wave of panic and defeat. After all that wasted time, we were now back to square one.

Luckily Sam was there as the voice of reason, suggesting that we might as well just stay on, ride it out, and see where we ended up.

And so off we were to the mall.

This may have been a fun destination had I not been lugging around an overly-stuffed backpack. So as soon as we exited that uncomfortable inner bus chamber, we marched across the sprawling lots to the Caribou across the street—a seeming beacon of light hailing us in from the dark and callous outside world.

We tumbled into the coffee shop like breached driftwood washing up on shore. It was well into the evening by this point, and our exhaustion levels were in desperate need of caffeine revival. Luckily, the entire day’s struggle was atoned for when one of my dorm’s RAs walked through the doors. It just happened to be the one person from my hall that my brothers—for reasons unexplained–have a weird obsession and fascination for (but that’s another story).  Basically, the boys were stoked, and the mood was restored to a happy, chipper state.

I’ll just say that it’s probably going to be awhile before I gather up the bravado to take part in that whole bus business again. Because, as everyone knows, there are some relationships that just aren’t meant to be.

Volunteering, Value, and VBS

Following my Southern adventures, my attentions were drawn to goings-on back in my home town. For the rest of that week, I had committed to helping out at my church’s vacation Bible school program. I didn’t know exactly what I’d be doing when I first volunteered, but I figured why not? and scrawled my name on the sign-up sheet immediately after the opportunity was announced one Sunday service.

Transitioning into the summer months, I knew I wanted to devote some of my time to volunteering. It always seemed like a good idea–something that would both be a help to those involved as well as personally fulfilling–but I always brushed it off as something not worth squeezing into my already-packed schedule…or maybe I just never really cared to…

But this was the summer. I was going to get involved, lend a hand, and engage myself in a service that I knew would benefit my community. And one of these opportunities just happened to be VBS week at our church.

My first day there, I honestly felt out of place…like the person who completely misses the memo and shows up to a formal gathering in dirt-caked sneakers. And I’m pretty sure that those in charge didn’t exactly know what to do with me or where to put me so I wouldn’t get in the way. I was the cube they had to try to force through a circle hole, and my discomfort was tangible.

The day-camp itself went from noon to about 5:30 and was almost entirely in the hands of three counselors from a nearby Bible camp. And of course, if my lack of necessity wasn’t already apparent enough, it became clear that everything was already planned and totally under control. These guys had their simple cut-and-paste crafts, their action-filled camp tunes, a myriad of games laced with Bible themes (like when parents sneak veggies into their kids’ favorite dishes), and a whole gamut of skits that made the entire clan of elementaries roll on the ground with laughter.

What did they need me for?

So the first couple of days, this state of seeking a definite purpose really became a frustration. I did help out wherever they needed me, of course, but it was obvious that my primary focus would just be interacting with the kids and being another reliable, “inspiring” presence. And right away, I definitely wasn’t feeling too content with that.

By the last day, however, things began to change. I never really got particularly close or chummy with any of the counselors, but I noticed how the relationship seeds I planted with the children from day one were blossoming all of a sudden…or at least…pretty buds were beginning to poke from the soil. From the baby-tooth smiles that would greet me upon arrival, to the fervent persistence that I would join in on some game as a small hand slipped into my own, a trust and fondness began to grow and develop that soon filled in my original gaps of uncertainty. They appreciated me.

And I felt purposeful at last.

But now looking back, I realize just how misguided I was and often am… I mean, is my worth really measured by how many elementary schoolers find me acceptable? Or by the quantity of help and assistance I bring to the table? Do I possess more value every time I complete a task, jotting a mental tally mark after each duty performed? This was clearly my mindset at the start of Mission: VBS. …To add one more thing to my list of do-good endeavors in order that I might deem myself valuable in my own eyes.

But by the conclusion of VBS, I saw how flawed those assessments were…how worthiness and quantity have nothing in common, and that big impacts can emerge from small places. Instead, it’s those little heart things, sometimes–a positive presence or words of encouragement–that can end up leaving the deepest prints when all is said and done.

The final moments of the week were dribbling down, and the time came for me to make my departure. But just before I turned to make my silent leave, the lady in charge of the entire program wrapped me up in a giant, happy-heart embrace. She squeezed me tight, then held my shoulders as she peered into my eyes and told me how absolutely thankful she was that I could be at VBS that week.

And my heart felt golden.

Georgia Fun

Not long after my blading tumbles, I stuffed my suitcase tight–extra band-aids in tow–and set off for the deep-South metro of Savannah, Georgia. Nearly every year, my aunt and two cousins accompany my family (minus my dad) on some sort of travelling adventure, but looking into the future, this particular trip was most likely the last with the whole crew.

The entirety of our stay was on Savannah’s Tybee Island beach community in a large, brick bakery…a renovated one, that is. From the days of Fort Screven, combat and gunfire, coastal port necessity and hungry, dough-seeking soldiers… IMG_1797Since the time of plundering pirates, Tybee Island has been a base of war, an infantry refuge pockmarked with battle. Now, though, the island is just your quirky, little beachy hideaway, a place where you’ll find barefoot grocers, throngs of feral cats, but also the serenity and calm of a saline ocean breeze and swaying low-country grasses.

Our dwelling place alone was pretty much the best thing ever… From the open-floor and brick-layed walls to the countless whimsical decorations and obvious attention to detail, the bakery was teeming with beachy-Southern charm. Yet it was also delightfully kitschy. It possessed a borderline-tacky appeal…a plastic-pink-flamingo campy quality that made us love it all the more.IMG_1684

Outside the confines of our happy home, our band of seven occupied ourselves lounging long hours on the sand, experimenting the local shrimp, playing Texas Hold’em until midnight, and endlessly riding the salty waves on cheap-foam boogie boards. Life on the island was good. And almost every day, I even went on little adventures of my own–usually long and curious walks through town or along the shore until my feet became exhausted and persuaded me to finally turn around.IMG_1755

Another thing I found enjoyment in was rising before the rest of the household, pulling on my black-and-raspberry trainers, and going for a run while the world was waking up. Most times, I chose to run along the beach, soles slapping the water-packed sand, morning rays dancing on the sparkling ocean peaks, the steamy, salt-filled air washing my lungs with every breath. On one particularly ambitious morning, my mom and I decided we’d wake up early enough to see the sunrise. We dragged our tired bodies out of bed and scampered the two blocks down to the beach. And suddenly the sleepy, gray sand took on an orange glow, and there it was–the sun–straight ahead on the horizon. The blood-red ball crept up slowly from its quiet slumber–from the dark and creeping hours of night when it was Moon’s turn to keep watch on the dreaming world. How lovely–how spectacular–that sunrise was. IMG_1439That blazing sphere of light that seems to daily set the earth into motion. I’ve think I’ve always preferred the sunrise to the sunset. This is simply because really anyone can see a sunset… Even a couch-potato, video-gaming junkie just has to peer for a second out the blinds of his room-cave while he waits for his game to load to catch a sunset. But to see a sunrise…now that takes a little more effort. Getting up in the wee hours to witness this secret the universe seems to possess and is only willing to share with those who choose to see it.

St. John the Baptist Cathedral
St. John the Baptist Cathedral

The trip was so grand and so positively lovely, that to explain everything would take up an unnecessarily large amount of words and space. But I certainly do have some highlights that, left unmentioned, would really be a shame. A few times throughout the trip, we made the 12-mile trek out to inner Savannah, a gorgeous city with history and character oozing from its pores.

The city is broken up into over 20 unique squares, each one beautiful with its scattering of Spanish-moss-adorned trees and boasting of its own piece of historical significance.

Wedding in Forsyth Park: "Four Weddings" Material
Wedding in Forsyth Park: “Four Weddings” Material

We were able to explore these squares on our own and also by means of tour-led trolley–one fitted with a gregarious guide named Hollywood who found particular enjoyment calling us “Cheeseheads.” While in the city, we dined well, too. One boiling afternoon we had ice cream from a shop ranked in the world’s top-ten, and another evening, we feasted at Paula Deen’s famous Lady and Sons Restaurant…two words: butter y’all.

Soho Chic
SoHo Chic

And even one balmy night, we took our grub down to the beach, the sand cooling beneath the stars and only a small lantern flickering on our beach towel “table” to see where we were jabbing our forks.

Pier Life
Pier Life

Though the part of the trip that will probably go down as my absolute favorite is…the kayaking expedition. On every vacation or travels my family decides to pursue, my mom makes sure that, no matter what, kayaking will somehow be worked into the itinerary. Her overwhelming enthusiasm and gung-ho push for it each and every trip is almost too much for people to bear sometimes…because NO ONE actually likes kayaking THAT much, right? But every time, we shrug our shoulders, roll our eyes, and oblige to my mom’s one desire. And every time, we have more fun than we could’ve ever thought possible. Out on the banks of the Atlantic, we paddled away, having a glorious time in the waves and shine. But I have to say the best part was all the dolphin friends we made along the way. We literally saw pod after pod as they glided beneath the surface, the smooth, graphite fins popping up right alongside our kayaks as we tooled along. ‘Yaking with dolphins…doesn’t get much better than that.IMG_1806

I’ll miss the molasses drawl. I’ll miss the line where the sand kisses the endless sea. I’ll even miss the wet and blistering temperatures. But now I’m home. And it’s still summer.

And I am content.

Nikki Takes a Digger

As the end of the school year approached, and the first glimmer of golden rays finally began to strip away the ice caps crusted on campus, I started to notice something… In college it seemed that people on roller blades were just as common in springtime as the dandelions that took root in those unfertilized lawns. And this very fact planted the seed of desire in me to own a pair for myself. I envied the pods of inline skaters that would fly by my dorm room window, obviously more happy than the lame hoards of walkers and bikers…

So once school let out, I was determined to buy myself the wheeled footwear as soon as possible. When I embarked on this seemingly simple pursuit, however, it quickly turned into a difficult and tedious wild goose chase. After multiple trips of visiting multiple stores with either the wrong size, the wrong price, or the wrong merchandise altogether, I was about ready to throw in the towel. But in the end, I decided to try my luck at one last sporting goods store. I picked up a pair on sale–the cheapest ones they carried–and walked out pleased as punch.

I used to be a boss on roller blades. At least…I thought I was. I had a pair as a little girl, and I remember racing around on them all the time, whipping out awesome tricks and speeding up and down the streets as fast as my spindly legs would allow. But when I strapped myself into my new inlines, I immediately felt completely and absolutely uncoordinated, off-balance, and vulnerable to bodily injury.

Thus began my daily practice. Just like any other sport or skill, I started off pretty easy: my driveway. And after just a couple of days, I worked my way up to the five-mile lake loop in town. Not that I was awesome or anything… I still really don’t know how to break (I’m pretty sure the stop doesn’t work right on my cheapo skates), and I often feel on the brink of tipping, especially with wheels that vibrate violently on any surface that isn’t Zamboni-ice smooth. This is why every time I went out to practice, I knew the chances of taking a hard fall were actually pretty high. And every time I returned without a scratch, my odds only went up.

And the fateful day finally came. I set out on another lake loop quest, feeling surprisingly more wobbly and less confident than usual. But I paid no heed to these warning signs and instead, I zipped around the corner and set off on my way. I soon came upon the four-way intersection where the road basically turns into chopped up gravel, loose stones, and other obstacles that make for a roller blading nightmare. Typically when I reach this spot, I have to stop and clumsily shuffle over to the other side. But this time, I lost my balance. My arms waving in a windmill-like fashion, I hopped and stumbled around a few moments, gawkily trying to regain my equilibrium, before finally falling forward and skidding to a stop on the asphalt. Luckily for me, a car at the intersection was watching the whole scene unfold. I pulled my sorry bones off the ground and tried to leave before I could hurt or embarrass myself anymore. But as I tried to glide my skate across the ground, my wheel stuck, and I jolted forward, arms repeating their pinwheeling motion, and making another awkward tumble to the road.

The car was still there. My face burned red, and I was far too ashamed to turn back, but by the sound of the pumping bass, I figured it had to be a group of young kids. And instead of asking to see if I was alright, they just waited until my pitiful and ridiculous display of self-injury was over before peeling noisily around the corner, more than likely rolling in a fit of laughter. I sat there on the ground like that for awhile. I examined my bloodied hands and tried to feel sorry for myself a little bit before prying my tired limbs from the rocky surface and continuing on my way.

After that episode, it seemed like really smooth sailing. I was hitting all the flattest and silkiest blacktop, and I was speeding along at a swift pace. This, of course, did not last long. I hit my favorite street, the one like silk where I can just let it fly, going as fast as I can before gliding gracefully around the easy corner. I didn’t anticipate the pesky pebble that would be planted in the center of the street, waiting for me to come and trip up my unsuspecting skates. So just as I was reaching my top velocity, my wheel hit the rock, my momentum flung backwards, and I took a bruising, blistering, wounding digger right there on the road. With my bright sticky blood heralding my surrender, I sat crouched in a ball in the middle of the pavement, hot tears sliding down my sweaty, tar-stained face. I must have looked entirely pathetic at that moment, but none of the bystanders tooling away in their cookie-cutter lawns behind their cookie-cutter fences decided it was worth their time to see if the ball of girl on the street was okay.

So once again, I gathered my bruised and broken body from the afternoon asphalt, this time heading for home.

For weeks I was obsessed with the idea of getting roller blades for the summer, and after struggling so long to finally secure a pair, they came back to bite me in the butt…literally. My family says that getting injured was an omen, though–a sign from the heavens, almost–because being in such a heightened state of pain forced me to take three days off of my vigorous running schedule–a respite that my body desperately needed but that I was completely unwilling to give into on my own.

So with my bruises bluing and my scrapes scabbing, I was forced to forgo my daily workout for awhile…and heal in more ways than one.

Thankfully, this obligatory rest occurred just as the family and I were preparing to leave for the deep southern state of Georgia. But that’s another adventure…

So It’s Summer

Summer is unquestionably the best season of the year–especially when your habitat is the tundra and you function within the constraints of snow, ice, and mud-tinted slush nearly three-quarters of the year. From long, balmy hours of daylight and the constant din of a neighborhood lawnmower, to the happy aroma of a smoky grill and those days devoted to the lake and its pleasures, everything about the season of heat is absolutely lovely.

But as much as I adore strutting in oversized shades, letting the rays tan my skin, and overall just unthawing from the harsh Siberian winter, summer also means no school. Which is great. I guess… But honestly, being home after an incredible, adventure-packed, fulfilling first year of college, I can definitely say that there is plenty to miss.

So just to name a few…
1. Hallway dance parties (because doing them alone at home is just a little odd)
2. Sherlock nights (Benedict Cumberbatch plus British equals boss TV series)
3. Happy coffee time and long talks at The Cabin
4. Dorm room movie nights
5. Late-night library explorations/shenanigans
6. Conversations in a British accent
7. Starbucks “study” runs
8. My geology professor (who was basically Bill Nye the Science Guy)
9. Bible study adventures
10.Watching Friends with friends
11.Salsa dancing at El Patio and 3 a.m. Perkins runs
12.Thursday morning caf breakfasts with cool peeps
13.Jamming with my friend to our theme song, “Counting Stars”
14.Profound life conversations with the roommate

It’s a lot more difficult being away from college than I imagined. Of course I don’t have three five-page essays due on Monday or a huge math exam to study for… But I also don’t have the same amazing community of people surrounding me, the same kind of campus-life fun and adventure, or the same 15’x15′ space to call home. But while the great experiences of college are sacrificed being home for the summer, there are certainly things that I do NOT miss about the residence hall life as well.
1. Having to wear shower shoes (and those unexplainably large wads of hair that cling to the walls)
2. Never being sure when I’ll have my room to myself
3. Caf coffee
4. That hill tho (only fellow Blugolds understand)
5. Punching a code to get into my room
6. Last-possible-moment binge laundry days
7. Lack of automobile

And there you have it. Summer has started. Beautiful, wonderful, amazing summer. And despite the three-month separation from a campus and community that has found a dear place in my heart, I’m ready to embrace the sunny weeks ahead.

In the U.P.

Two weeks have passed since I left behind my bare-naked dorm, shimmied into Mom’s packed-tight vehicle, and said farewell to a campus I had come to know as home.

Yet almost immediately after depositing my monumental caravan of stuff on my bedroom floor–well before everything was back in its rightful place–I had to scrape together another loaded suitcase for a week-long camp that began almost as soon as the final finals were passed in. I left bright and early Saturday morning for Cedar Campus, an InterVarstiy Christian Fellowship-operated retreat on the banks of Lake Huron in Michigan’s lovely upper peninsula. For this “Chapter Focus Week,” my training as a small group Bible study leader would officially commence.

Nine-hour car rides are almost never fun. Some people attempt to mask the prevailing boredom with road games that no one actually enjoys, like “My Cows” or the alphabet game. Some people turn to the radio or a collectively-accepted ipod playlist to fill those long miles of silence. And some passengers, like myself, try to bank as many Zs as possible. Honestly, I’ve found sleeping to be the only tried and true route to make hours pass at a semi-not-so-molasses-slow rate. Another annoyance about trips like these is that they cause me to forgo my routine morning coffee, forcing me at the same time to choose sleepiness and dehydration over unavoidable bathroom pitstops.

Hashtag thestruggleisreal.

Road trip grudges aside, the week at Cedar was positively marvelous. It was challenging, for sure, but also refreshing. And I must say, equipping myself for small group leadership was definitely an intense process. Our group spent countless hours in training, becoming accustomed to the chapter’s teaching methods, learning the most effective ways to lead and direct discussion, and actually putting together and delivering a study of our own. Even a seemingly-simple passage requires ample forethought and preparation. And prayer. Yes, always prayer.

Seven days under the gull-dotted sky and in the crispy Michigan air was enough to rejuvenate my spirits and bring peace to my stirring heart. Coming almost straight from the demands and rigors of college life, Cedar Campus was a much-needed period of restoration and refocus. For me, it was the ultimate way to kick off the summer months, shifting my attentions from academic, dance, work, and even certain social distractions and aligning them with things of far greater importance.

If I gained anything from Chapter Focus Week…if I came away with any particular revelation, life-changing behavior, or heart-strengthening commitment…it’s my reevaluation of prayer. Too often, I’m honed so much into the spiritual disciplines of keeping regular quiet times, reading the Word, or exercising control in moral conduct, that I forget to talk to the One who it’s all for. I categorize prayer and package it into its own separate spiritual-good-idea box and forget that I should always be speaking to my Creator. Pray continually… Prayer is effective, it comforts the heart, it brings joy and healing, and, of course, it’s absolutely glorifying. And in my life, it’s the difference between saying, “God, I’ve got this,” and admitting that “God, let me give you this, because I know you can handle it.” It’s the difference between having a spiritually-full mind and a spiritually-full heart, between merely reading my daily prescribed passages and going further into a time spent in thanksgiving, petition, and adoration.

And now I’m home. And the sky is dressed like summer. And I lift my voice to God.

Such happiness.

Musings of a Young Girl