Friday, December 26, 2014

The Happiness of Pursuit: A Book to Inspire You to Dream

Through Blogging for Books I was given a free copy of The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau in exchange for an honest review.

As a young woman who is always seeking adventure, I was instantly drawn to this book. Chris Guillebeau tells tales of his own journey to visit every country in the world, as well as the tales of others' adventures - a man who vowed to silence, a teenager who decided to live at sea, and a woman who devoted her life to bird watching.

The author makes a point to say that not one person's quest is bigger than another's. Seeing the most species of birds is just as admirable as sailing across the sea. The common thread is that the quest is their passion, their life.

What are you passionate about? What am I? Is there anything that I would give up money, time, even friends and family for? This book really made me think. It made me realize what I value, and what I don't.

Another thing I love about this book is that he ends each chapter with some tips to helping you find a realistic, admirable pursuit.

Chris Guillebeau also tells stories of failures, setbacks, and mistakes. Because that's life. And you can't go on a great pursuit without stumbling a couple times. He keeps the book real. He makes me feel as if I can do something great, too.

I would recommend this book to anyone. I think the variety of his stories is appealing to readers of all ages and walks of life. I would definitely recommend this book to those with an adventurous soul, who are looking to embark on a great journey.

One thing that bothered me about this book comes from my Christian worldview. If I have thousands of dollars to spend on traveling or on the hobby of my choice, wouldn't it be better to do something worthwhile with that money, instead of checking things off your pursuit's to-do list? After traveling to Haiti several times, I have seen extreme poverty. I can't blow all my money on things that I want to accomplish or pursue. My conscious won't let me. I know that I am bias, but I think that some pursuits are foolish and selfish.

Overall, this book was definitely inspiring and I would recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Break Goals

As of this morning, I am officially done with this semester! As an education major, I have finished all of my undergrad classes. Next semester I will be student teaching in the second grade. It was be the craziest, busiest, hardest semester of my life, so I am looking forward to a fun Christmas break beforehand.

One thing I hate is being bored. I also hate making lists. As a future teacher, I've been trying to get more organized and make more lists. Now that my Christmas break has begun, I decided to make a list of things I am looking forward to doing over the next month.

1. Read
I have loads of books that I have collected from thrift stores and yard sales all throughout the semester. I'm excited to finally have time to read all of them. They include the entire Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, some books by my favorite author Jodi Picoult, and classic children's novels that I've never read, such as Holes by Louis Sachar.

2. Learn to Crochet 
Or knit. But since my mom only knows how to crochet, I'll probably learn from her. I'd love to actually do something productive over break and make something. And I could make gifts for my friends' upcoming birthdays!

3. Watch Netflix
Yes, maybe this is somewhat unproductive, but I STILL haven't seen season 3 of Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch. I'm excited to have plenty of time to binge watch.

4. Roadtrip
This is my first time without a job over Christmas break. Even with the things listed above, I know I'll still be bored. I already have a couple of roadtrips planned to visit friends. I'm excited to hang out with friends without worrying about studying or leaving in time to get to my next class. We can actually relax and chill.

5. Cook
My family and I are all vegan. While I'm the only one gluten free, I know that our pantry will be packed with foods that I can eat. During the school year, I find it hard to cook a lot on my college kid budget. At home, since we already have a ton of healthy ingredients, it will be so easy to try the recipes that I've been collecting all semester.

What are some of your Christmas break goals?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Local Adventure in Historical Philadelphia

My school is only about 20 minutes away from Philadelphia. I have been there so many times. I've seen the glamorous side, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I have seen the unattractive side, such as the subways and the homeless and the rundown houses.

There is also a historical side to Philly. Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, etc. These old historical buildings are all located in what is now Independence Historical National Park. A couple weeks ago, I toured through these buildings and was amazed by all of the beauty. I've been there before, but never in the fall. The trees surrounding these old brick buildings were gorgeous. The birches throughout the park made for perfect shade.

Best part? Admission is free. They just do a security check and then you can walk around the park. I spotted several couples taking advantage of the beautiful paths. I also saw a lot of readers, mothers with young children, and college students studying. This place is great for everyone, and I'm hoping to go back again soon.

I'm all about having fun and going on adventures. Good news is - you don't have to travel far to find cool places! Anyone have any Philly-area suggestions for my next local adventure?

Monday, November 10, 2014

21 Before 21: Being Blessed

As most of you know, I started a 21 Before 21: Twenty One Acts of Kindness challenge.

I was inspired by an article I read over the summer of a boy who went on a random acts of kindness roadtrip, completing over 100 acts along the way. I wanted to do something similar. So I've made lists of what I could do, bought supplies, set dates, made appointments, and began prepping. I've even completed a couple of them.

I have until December 21st, which is my 21st birthday.

Since beginning this challenge, I have received SO many blessings.

After letting Tori borrow my car for a quick errand, she returned with my gas tank FULL. If that's not a blessing, what is?

During all of my sick days recently, Nick has made the time to come visit me, bringing me coffee and snacks. He has given up parts of his busy day to watch movies with me and make sure I'm feeling better.

Natalie is so talented in the kitchen. Before I even roll out of bed, she is asking me what I want for breakfast, telling me that the coffee is ready.

My babysitting jobs are increasing - one parent threw in extra money because it was "late at night". It was only midnight! But I'll take it!

Strangers will compliment me, open doors for me. Cashiers will wish me a good day, not charge me extra for my soy milk in my latte.

Blessings upon blessings.

Maybe things have always been like this. Maybe my eyes are just being opened to the blessings all around me. Look around you. How have you been blessed today?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Jessica Goes to Central Asia Part 2

As most of you know, I spent the summer in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Haiti. I also spent parts of my summer stopping at friends' houses in Missouri and touring NYC for the first time. It was a wonderful summer, and I got to cross so many things off my bucket list! I've been back at school for about two months now, but I've started to feel the travel jitters again.

So I am happy to announce that I was accepted to go Tajikistan as part of a cultural exchange program. You don't know where that is? That's okay. I didn't either. As soon as I heard about it, I googled, "Where is Tajikistan on a map?"and looked at all the pictures. I also studied the wikipedia page on it. To simplify, it is bordered by China on the east, Uzbekistan on the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and Afghanistan to the south.

I've been captivated by the middle eastern culture since meeting friends (a couple of them spent the summer in Kyrgyzstan), swapping stories, and reading books by Khaled Hosseini. His book "The Kite Runner", which is now one of my favorites, portrays the culture so beautifully. I've been obsessed with the language, food, and holidays ever since. I am thrilled to be going.

I leave in May, the day after I graduate. What a crazy time that will be! For the next several months, I will be learning the language and the culture in order to be prepared by the time I get there.

I will also be trying to raise the funds so that I am able to go. This will be done in two ways.

My Wild Thing Paper Co. etsy store - click here.

My fundraising page - click here.

If you have any questions or comments, I would LOVE to talk about it. (I'm kind of obsessed with travel stories).

Please keep me in your prayers, and if you feel called to, support me in the one of the ways listed above. Thanks so much, everyone! I'll be keeping you posted as I learn more about this trip!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

21 Before 21: Twenty One Acts of Kindness

Today, I have exactly 2 months left of being 20.

On December 21st, I will turn 21. It will be my golden year.

There is a myth that when you turn the age of your birthday date, you will have the best year of your life. Of course, I am so excited for this golden year. I've been waiting, and waiting. And then I realized - why wait?

Why wait two whole months to do something great and extraordinary?

So I have decided that in the last 2 months that I have of being 20, I am going to do something memorable. Something more than just having fun and living my own little life. I am going to do 21 acts of kindness before I turn 21, before my golden year.

Acts of kindness could be anything. Notes, gifts, surprises, donations, etc.

I am so excited to start this new journey. I want to live in such a way where I am always looking for ways to love others and make them feel special. I can't wait to blog about what happens.

We are blessed to be a blessing. And this 21 before 21 challenge starts now.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wild Thing Paper Co.

As you know, I had a crazy, adventurous, memorable summer traveling to three different countries. And I have to admit, I have the travel bug again.

Recently, I have had opportunities to go back to several different parts of Asia, to Iceland, to the Caribbean, etc. My adventurous bones are screaming with anticipation. I'm not ready to announce where I am off to next, but I know I need to start raising the funds.

With that said, I opened up an etsy shop to raise some money for my next adventure. My summer was so jam-packed with craziness and memories that I could not keep them to myself. I made some postcards of my favorite shots and am selling them. I'm also selling some paintings, although only one is on the site right now. Everything is absolutely original and created by yours truly.

That's all I'm going to say because I want you to see it for yourself. Please go visit my shop. I am so, so, so excited! Click here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Summer Readings of a 20 Year Old Traveler

I love reading. I remember spending hours at the library as a little girl, and that passion has never died. When my schedule allows, I love to hike out into the woods and read until the sun goes down.

This summer I had the opportunity to live in Asia for two months. The first thing on my packing list was books. I knew I'd be backpacking for most of my time, so I couldn't bring many books, but I also don't have a Kindle, so I needed to bring at least a few. So I brought four (The Lovely Bones, The Kite Runner, The Help, and Wild). The rest of the books were borrowed from friends, traded in,  or stolen from our guest house (still feel bad about that one).

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold 
       This was my second time reading this book. I hardly ever reread books (I get bored easily) but this one enthralled me just as much the second time. There was so much symbolism that I didn't pick up on the first time because I was too worried about catching the killer. So if you've read it, read it again. If you haven't read it, read it, and then read it again. Warning - it is a little gruesome and has to do with the author's beliefs on an afterlife, so I understand that it's not everyone's favorite reading material.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 
       My friend recommended this book to me. He praised it so much that I actually did not believe that a book could ever be as wonderful as he described. However, the middle eastern culture was displayed beautifully. I truly fell in love as I read about the love and betrayal of two best friends eating naan and flying kites. Which made it just that much harder to read the ending. While I admit that I often cry at the end of books, this time I didn't. I shut the book, laid it on the floor, and stared at my ceiling for the rest of the day. Once the shock wore off, I read it again, picking up on so many hints that I had missed the first time. It's honestly my new favorite, and I think everyone needs to read it.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
        I had already read these a few years ago. But I was so excited to join the bandwagon and read them before the movie came out, I sped-read and missed a lot of details. So I took my time and reread them all (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and The Mockingjay). They are easy reads, so they were perfect for after a long day of working, or for while waiting to hop on the next plane. They are aimed for a teenage audience, but are still good reads.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett 
        I had already fallen in love with the movie before even realizing the story was based on a book. So when I saw it at a thrift store a couple months before I left, I knew I had to read it. It is 100% full of both humor and raw emotion. I found myself laughing out loud at one scene but in the next chapter fuming with anger. It breaks my heart at what people used to go through, and even more, at what is still going on in this world when it comes to racism. God bless Kathryn Stockett for writing this book, and bringing so much attention to this issue.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
      The book inspired me right off the bat. Young single woman traveling the world? Count me in. I found myself jealous of her as she wrote about her travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia. The book was separated into three sections for each of her destinations. I found that I most enjoyed the first section, liked the second, but found myself fighting my way through the third section. The third section (the "love" section) isn't really my kind of reading, so maybe that's why. But I still recommend you read it - at least the first two sections!

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
       I hear that this book was inspirational. And in a way, it was, as a young single woman (again!) took on a long, dangerous hiking trail all by herself. But there were also many parts that broke my heart. Mostly it was the easy going way she talked about her infidelity, family's deaths, abortion, casual sex, etc. There were many humorous parts, and I do envy her bravery and self-discovery, but I wish her worldview was a little better.

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini 
       When I found this book and saw that it was the same author as The Kite Runner, I jumped at the chance to read it. It was not nearly as good as The Kite Runner (I'm convinced nothing is!) but it was still a remarkable read. The culture is beautifully depicted and there are so many intertwining stories, I loved trying to fit all the pieces together. It was definitely not a boring read and the end left me wanting to know more.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
        During one of the many weeks I was sick in bed, my friend gave me this book to read. It could not have come at a better time. While the rest of my friends were working hard in an orphanage, I was lying in bed, literally not able to do anything. This book is all about finding joy in the little things, even when things go terribly wrong (like fighting dengue fever thousands of miles away from a good hospital). While some parts were a bit cheesy and lovey dovey for my tastes, it was an incredible read, and I have grown a lot because of it.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom 
        This book was incredibly short, which is usually opposite of what I read. It was sweet, with so many life lessons jam-packed into such few pages. I ended the book feeling so inspired and wishing that I could have met Morrie but then ultimately wishing that I could be just like Morrie. It inspired me to be inspiring, which is something that I am still working on, leading me often to think of this book.

With all that said, I've read over a dozen books this summer, so now my library is completely read and reread. Now I need recommendations for what to read next! Any suggestions??

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nepal - Kathmandu

Our last week in Nepal was spent in the capital city - Kathmandu. It was busy and big with so many people, it took me a while to enjoy it. I was used to being in a tiny village, under mosquito nets, without running water. Now I'm racing across the street to dodge the six lanes of traffic (which is actually only the width of two normal lanes, but somehow they make it into six) and eating American food at touristy restaurants.

I eventually learned to love it. Our guest house was amazing - it was a 3 story house turned into a hotel of sorts. Along every hallway was a never ending bookcase, packed full of books! I am the biggest bookworm, and was going through reading withdrawals, so to have hundreds of books at my fingertips was such a simple joy.

I had so much fun that week. We took taxis, watched movies, played games, took plenty of walks throughout the city, washed our clothes (finally!), and went to a huge marketplace. And after the previous three weeks of constant hiking, we treated ourselves to a much needed massage. And did I mention that the coffee in Kathmandu was great?!

My favorite part about being in Kathmandu was the city tour. Our tour guide took us to both Buddhist and Hindu temples, explaining every statue we passed, explaining every ritual. We went to the old castle, where a royal massacre happened just a little over ten years ago. It was amazing to see how much that effected the people of Nepal, especially those living in Kathmandu at the time. There was one temple named Swayambhuanath, which we climbed 365 stairs to see (as you look through my pictures below, you'll see a view of the city which I took from the top of the staircase, so yes, the climb was worth it). At all of the temples (and especially at the one nicknamed The Monkey Temple) there were the cutest little monkeys running around. I absolutely love monkeys, but as our tour guide said, "You can take pictures. But if you look them in the eye, they will attack you." I had a close call with one monkey as I got a little too excited and broke into his personal space (Can you blame me? He was so cute, I just wanted a closer picture). After both making eye contact and getting hissed at, I'm lucky that there were no monkey attacks. Also, bonus points to whoever can find the monkey in one of my pictures.

But it was most humbling to watch these devoted people coming to pray at the temple, men in business suits giving offerings to their gods, women lying face down in the doorway crying out their prayers, children spinning prayer wheels over and over and over again. I watched as a family burned an old man's body right next to a holy river, in the hopes that he would be reincarnated into a good thing. I watched starving bodies walk past a dozen temple cows, which are too holy to eat.

Out of the whole month of adventures that I had in Nepal, what sticks in my memory the most are the faces of these Nepali people at the temples, waiting for their god to do something. Waiting for their god to save them. Not knowing who the real Savior is.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Nepal - Dadhuwa

We left the busy, adventurous, touristy city of Pokhara early one morning, with fresh bananas and lychees in hand to snack on on the way. After hours of speeding through rough mountain roads, we arrived in a village totally opposite of our last week. Dadhuwa was slow and simple, and we were the only foreigners around.

We stayed in the community center, built a few years ago by members of our team, and were hosted by the most beautiful local woman, who we affectionately called Didi, which means "big sister" in Nepali. She cooked us two meals a day - daal bhat for lunch and daal bhat for dinner. Daal, which means "beans", and bhat, which means "rice", was a plate of white rice and a bowl of bean soup. You pour the soup over the rice and eat it with your hand. The first time I tried it, I think most of the daal bhat landed in my lap, not in my mouth. It's definitely an art, and I am proud to say that by the end of my two month trip in Asia, I had it mastered. In the early morning, and in the afternoon, she would serve us hot tea. Even though it was over 100 degrees outside, we would never pass up a cup of Didi's tea. I still crave it, hot and milky and so spicy.

This was the most simple village that we were at. There was limited electricity and I went a whole week without showering (thank God for baby wipes and lots of deodorant). We slept in bunks underneath mosquito nets, and here's the best part - no toilets. We used a "squatty potty", which was a hole in the ground, with ridges to put your feet in, and a bucket of water nearby to "flush" with. The people don't use toilet paper (that's what your left hand is for!) but we brought some to spoil ourselves. It's really not as bad as it seems, but it did make me gain an appreciation for Western toilets.

The people here were such hard workers. They were awake early - I saw them up by 4am every day and went to bed late - after dinner, which was usually at 8pm if not later. I often saw women carrying heavy containers of water in baskets which were secured around the head. Inspired by the work ethic we saw all around us, the team and I carried firewood up a hill to bless the widows of the town. I was way too weak to carry a whole bundle, so I picked up the stray pieces of wood that fell out of the other bundles. Even just carrying a stack in my arms was such hard work. Blame it on the altitude or the hot weather, but I give major kudos to all those who live and work in Dadhuwa.

The days were so hot. Even in the early mornings, sweat would be dripping down our arms as we prayed for a breeze. There was no relief. The nights were so cold, the coldest out of all the villages we stayed at (except for Jomsom - Jomsom wins for coldest, but that was thankfully only one night). We lived right across from a sheep pen, right next to chicken pens, and on the road where cattle and goats often were herded by. Needless to say, there was never a quiet moment. One afternoon, the sky went dark and we experienced the loudest thunderstorm. My roommate, who slept in the bunk directly beneath me, was shouting something, but I could not understand a single word. The rain on the tin roof, the thunder echoing through the village, the wind forcing the windows open with loud crashes, and the lightning lighting up the whole room. It was humbling and drew my thoughts to the Creator.

I think most of my Nepal stories come from our stay in Dadhuwa. From Didi's famous tea to the struggles of the squatty potty to the children we fell in love with. I can't write a post about Dadhuwa without mentioning the beauty of it. There was the most spectacular view of the mountains, the brightest stars, and so many different types of trees that it made me want to take another biology class (hear that, Dr. Guevin? Teach me more about tree recognition!). I loved this week so much - the simplicity won me over.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nepal - Pokhara

Leaving Tukche, we hiked several hours north to the city of Jomsom, where we spent one night in order to fly out early the next morning. My roommate and I were already itching to explore so as soon as we signed into our guest house, we dropped our bags, changed out of our hiking boots, put bandages on our blisters, and left to walk the village streets.

The locals were definitely more used to foreigners, probably because Jomsom has the only airport nearby. There were several souvenir shops and restaurants, but we barely had time to look around before eating dinner and going to bed (although I didn't do much sleeping - the room was freezing, even after layering with several pairs of pants, my heaviest jacket, and two pairs of wool socks). Our flight left early the next morning, but I do wish we had had more time to explore and take pictures. It really was a beautiful town, perched high in the mountains.

We landed in Pokhara less than twenty minutes later - the shortest flight I've ever been on. For that whole week, we chilled at a beautiful Americanized guest house. The streets were filled with souvenir shops and restaurants that boasted of having American cuisine. I became very familiar with Pokhara, often taking walks to nearby cafes or buying fruit from one of the many fruit stands.

Because this city is so touristy, we had a lot of opportunities to do fun things. On Wednesday we went white water rafting, a first-time thing for me, which is a big deal because I don't know how to swim. I was so afraid I'd fall out and be sucked down the river or under the raft or into the rocks. At the end of it, not only did I not fall out, but I had such a great time. I credit all of the fun to our awesome rafting guide, who was so quirky that he made us laugh the entire time.

The next day a group of us went paragliding. I'm sure paragliding in general is a thrill, but paragliding throughout the Annapurna mountain range, with barely a cloud in the sky, and beautiful birds flying all around you, was breath-taking. I felt so small, and that's a good thing. I could not stop praising God for his beautiful creation - the huge mountains right next to me and the "tiny" trees below me.

Even though Pokhara is one of the largest cities in Nepal, there is still so much nature all around. The Annapurna range, which is a group of mountains belonging to the Himalayas, could be seen clearly from the balcony of our hotel, where I often hung out to read. My favorite was Mount Machhapurchhre, which literally means "fish tail" in English. The city was home to so many different types of trees, parks, and a huge lake just down the street from where we stayed. Any direction you turned, you could see at least five different birds flying around. Nepal definitely turned me into a bird-lover.

The people! I had figured that since this was a touristy town, everyone would be used to - and probably annoyed by - the many foreigners who walked their streets. But I have never met more friendly people. They were curious about us, where we were from, what we were doing there. One of my favorite memories is when my roommate and I took a boat out to one of the temples, talking to one of the locals the whole ride about everything from where he grew up to his views on Nepali politics. These people wanted us to learn about them. They taught us more Nepali phrases then I can even remember and they loved sharing their culture. I felt privileged to be there.

I realized only after we left this city that I barely took any pictures. I took that week as a time to relax, become familiar with the culture, build relationships, read, write, think, and learn. So I apologize for the lack of pictures that honestly do not give the beauty of Pokhara any justice at all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nepal - Tukche

Arriving in Nepal after a couple days of travel, we were immediately thrown into even more traveling. A 6 hour bumpy ride in the back of a friend's SUV through the pitch-black, curvy roads, led us to the city of Pokhara, where we spent less than 12 hours in order to quickly sleep and eat. The next morning, we immediately took a 12 hour bus ride on the edge of a mountain to the village of Tukche.

The mountain roads were barely big enough for our bus, sometimes just wide enough for the four wheels to fit before the road fell off into a cliff of rocks and trees. At times, I would look out the window and not be able to see any road underneath us at all. The fear factor didn't bother me, but after about the ninth hour of being jostled around, I was definitely done with the bus. I left with my ribs still rattling and bruises on my hips, sides, thighs, and even my head from being thrown against the sides of the bus while going over bumps.

For the next week, a group of friends and I hiked into surrounding villages about 1-2 hours away. We returned every evening to the same guest house in Tukche. I was able to explore a little bit and found Tukche to be a quiet, slow town with very friendly people and no other foreigners in sight.

The sun rose early. We'd wake up at 5am to find that the sun had already been up and shining for who knows how long. By the time we came back from the surrounding villages around 5pm, the sky was already dimming drastically. The nights were cold. I had forgotten to pack my hat, which I had planned to use while sleeping, so I had to sleep cocooned under the blankets with not even a hair sticking out, leading to many restless nights. The days were hot. I sat out on the roof to read for a few minutes before breakfast and came inside with a fresh sunburn.

Out of all the places we visited, I still think that Tukche was the most beautiful. Surrounded completely by mountains. Everywhere you turned, there were beautiful views of river beds, farms, valleys, snowcapped mountains. It's a humbling and beautiful thing to wake up to the Himalayan mountains outside of your bedroom window. It is even more humbling and more beautiful to walk through the dusty mountain paths, touching the trees, hearing the exotic birds, and watching the locals go about their day. Definitely the most beautiful place I've ever been.