Sunday, November 16, 2014

Make It Count


Sundays are usually filled with naps, movies, homework, and resting for me. Most of all, Sundays are my favorite days to pause and reflect on what's happening in my life and sort through my thoughts. I'm always thinking about decisions I've made, people I've interacted with, and opportunities I've taken or passed up on. I probably over-think, but reflecting on my life really helps me to prioritize what needs to be done and what can be changed to make bad things better.

This week, my mind is mostly filled with thoughts about my senior capstone research regarding ageism and intimacy later in life. I really stressed about senior seminar all summer, but now that I'm taking the first part of the class, it's silly to me that it was ever a worry. Yeah, it's not the easiest thing in the world, but it's so rewarding. Lauren and I have been staying on track with our assignments and research so my anxiety about it is nearly non-existent.

I have been volunteering at an assisted living home in Burlington since the end of October (not very long), and during my weekly visits I have met some amazing people. It's a great experience to have under my belt for this project, but at the same time it's been really good for my heart. I just recently interviewed a resident named Leo, and hearing about all of the accomplishments this 80-year-old man has made was astounding. The best part was seeing how he's retained his passion for life throughout the hardships, successes, loves, and losses that he has experienced. He joked with me about having had "many careers and many women" throughout his life, but now all he has time for is his artwork.

Leo was an orphan who bounced from foster home to foster home as a kid. His peers told him that he wouldn't amount to anything, but he proved them wrong. He knew that he was capable of greatness, and he was. He started a furniture business, worked as a barber, dabbled in mechanics, opened a variety store, and spent years working as a mason. This man never gave up on pursuing his passions and even came out of retirement in Florida because he was so bored of sitting around. After a debilitating heart attack knocked him off of his feet a few years ago, he was in a wheelchair with little hope of walking again. Somehow, he powered through and recovered so that all he needed to walk was a cane. Now he paints beautiful pictures that are hanging on his bedroom wall in a variety of frames- my favorite is of two penguins. Leo meets with an art student often and learns techniques for blending his paints and what not. Last year, he had a gallery showing and sold over 60 paintings. He spent the money that he earned on more paint supplies and frames for his wall.

At one point I stopped Leo and said how impressed I was with all of the things that he's done, and he replied "I haven't even started."

When I'm 80-years-old, I want to tell someone my story and be able to say the same thing. My friend is living his life like it is a grand adventure, and isn't that what it is? We should be changing jobs and moving around while we can. We should rent a 33 ft. RV and take a road trip across the country. So what if a relationship doesn't work out? So what if you fail an exam? So what if you get laid-off? Take a lesson from Leo and stop being afraid of change. Embrace it and seek it out because that might just be the key to a happy life.

I try so hard to hold onto the things that make me happy, and sometimes my fear of change cripples me and prevents any new opportunities from arising. The happiest times in my life have been when I have gone out of my element and tried something new, like living in London. I want to keep embracing new experiences and new people so that I never miss out on all that life has to offer. Things may get rough sometimes, and I might get scared, but what I would regret most is letting fear get the best of me.

It's time to start consistently putting myself out there. It's time to live life like Leo. Every moment counts so take that chance, tell someone how you feel, apply for that dream job, or jump on a plane and see the world. Do what makes you happy and never hold back.

Until next time,

xx Sheila

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Note to Self: Love

When I was a little girl, a very special person asked me what I think the meaning of love is.

Back then I would have probably said something about a prince charming and a princess who run away together and live happily ever after. I did not know then, that the definition and depth of love far exceeded the romantic love that we see in movies and fairy tales.

Today, I am still trying to figure out the true meaning of love, because to me it is not singularly defined by a sequence of words that are strung together in a solitary sentence. It is not always grand or magnificent, but it is unfailing and exists in the tiny cracks and crevices of our lives. When we break, love binds us back together.

To me, love is...

The way that my grandparents felt about each other from the time that they married, through the birth of their four children, and through some unimaginable hardships that they faced.

The way that my sister feels about music, theater, and of course... The Walking Dead.

The feeling that swells inside of me when I am surrounded by my family and friends.

The reason why my friend's fiance could not wait to propose to her, and even though she hates the attention, the reason why she has glowed ever since.

The reason why some people find their passion and cling to it until the day that they die.

The reason why there should be marriage equality.

The reason why the world stood still and mourned together when Robin Williams died.

The feeling that I get when I watch home videos and see my grandma there with us on Christmas morning.

The thing that keeps us going when life gets a little too hard.

The desire for those around you to be healthy, happy, and successful.

The reason why my cat drags behind her favorite toy when you try to move it to another room.

The reason why my dad fought for custody of my sister and I with everything that he had and raised us to be compassionate, smart, good people.

The desire to place someone's needs before yours.

The way I feel when my younger cousin, Emma, tells me that she missed me while I was away.

The reason why I have lived with my best friend since freshman year of college, despite how different we are as people.

The reason why sometimes, you just have to breathe and let go- even if it hurts.

The way I feel when I call up my dad and he says "Hiya, Bub!"

The feeling I get when I think about my time abroad, my host family, and my London friends.

The way I felt about Peggy, the woman who asked me what love meant when I was so young.


Unconditional love is what we all need a little more of in life. Let people love you, and love them right back if you can. Hell, even ask them what they think love means. Find love in little things.

Chin up. Be thankful. Be humble. Be kind.

xx Sheila

(P.S) I'm back on Blogspot. Maybe. For now.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Finale


“How was London?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question since arriving back in the states a few weeks ago. I knew it was coming and I was excited to talk about it, but now the only answer I can muster up is “It was really great!” and I leave it at that. How do I even begin to explain the last four months to someone without talking them to death? How do I convey the gratitude that I have and the immeasurable amount of personal growth I experienced from living independently (for the most part) in a foreign country that I grew to love and think of as a second home? I’m still trying to figure that out and I’m not sure that I ever will truly find the right words to encompass my time abroad.

I wrote most of the following post while I was still in London and I finally got around to finishing it up…

Hi again! It’s been a while since my last post and I’m quite sad to say that this will be my last one while abroad in London, England. I am currently sitting in the waiting area at Heathrow Airport, awaiting the announcement of my gate number. I feel really odd saying that because it truly seems like just yesterday that I was sitting at the wrong gate in JFK with a ton of jitters and apprehension about what lied ahead of me. Now, four months later, I am calmly waiting to return home and reunite with my friends and family after being apart for so long. I am very excited to be back but this post isn’t going to be about that. I wanted to take the little time I have left at the airport to write about my study abroad experience in London, and how it changed my life for the better.

I think that I’ll break down my thoughts into a list of some of the top moments of my semester abroad. It’ll be much easier to cover everything and hopefully keep your attention. So here I go!

(These are not in any particular order…)
·         Okay so first of all I’m going to have to say meeting Rupert Grint twice in a pub was definitely one of the highlights of my semester life. Just being able to walk up and talk to someone I never dreamed of meeting in real life in such a chill atmosphere was incredible. As a huge Harry Potter fan it was definitely the cherry-on-top of a very Harry Potter filled trip. Between my trip to the Warner Brothers Studios in Watford to see the making of Harry Potter and my weekend in Edinburgh where I saw the Elephant CafĂ© and the inspiration for Diagon Alley, the past four months have been absolutely filled with magical adventures. My inner twelve-year-old was smiling from ear-to-ear the whole time.


·         The friends that I made this semester are a huge reason why it was such a successful and happy time for me. I was apprehensive that I’d have the same friends I made during orientation throughout the whole semester, but we all stuck together and I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like without them. Anna, Megan, Matt and Amy were four of my closest friends in London and each hold a special place in my heart.

I talked to Anna on Facebook before the trip and neither of us realized that we’d be spending so much time together over the next four months. I thought that she was a little out of my league friend-wise because she was so pretty and in a sorority. That sounds silly now and I think that’s another beautiful thing about this trip, because I don’t categorize people as often. You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and isolate yourself from socializing with people who aren’t too similar to you. Anna ended up being my roommate during orientation and we’ve been best friends ever since. She has challenged me in ways that not many people have in my life and I think that our differences make the friendship worthwhile. I learn so much from her every day and I don’t know if I would have been organized or motivated enough to see as many beautiful places as I did without her. She’s always on top of things and has a ton of energy so on our trips she would really push me to experience as much as I could while we had the chance. I was frustrated at times because she was so much more athletic and able to cope with the aches and pains of traveling better than I could. When I look back on it all I’m thankful to her because I don’t think I would have gotten to see as much if I had just stopped to rest a lot. The fact that we traveled so much together really made us close because we experienced things that only we can understand and relate to. She wrote me a beautiful goodbye letter that brought me to tears in the cab on the way to the airport. She wrote that some people come in to your life and leave so easily but that she doesn’t believe that will happen to us. I couldn’t agree more! It’ll be hard to stay on the same page when we’re not living anywhere near each other but I feel like we’ll always be able to meet up and have a great time traveling or reminiscing. I’m excited to write her letters and send her silly messages when we both have texting again.  She’s a special person and I’m so thankful we ended up as roommates that first day.

I met Megan at Wagamama during orientation and I spent more time with her during the other activities we had planned. I joined her, Anna, Matt and Noelle for the self-guided tour around London during the first week and we’ve been friends ever since. Since her, Matt and Anna live in Alexander Fleming, I would take the tube over to Old Street to meet up with them for travel planning, comedy night or just to hang out. I really liked Megan from the start because she was so easy to get along with. She’s very sweet and good at holding a conversation. We like a lot of the same things so it’s always nice to talk to her about Jimmy Fallon clips or how she almost went to St. Michael’s for school. She goes to Emerson in Boston so I’m excited that I’ll be able to meet up with her easily when we’re both back in the states. She writes for Her Campus and I spent countless hours looking through all of the articles she’s written and I must say that she is quite talented. I feel like I’ll be reading her stuff in big name magazines one day. I think that as the semester went on we definitely bonded more and more with one another. Now when I say something silly she’ll just roll her eyes and laugh and say “Sheilaaaa!” That’s something I’ll miss a lot. I love joking around with her and I know that she’s always there to listen when I need her. I hope she knows that I’m there for her too, even though she doesn’t talk as much as I do, haha!

I met Matt during orientation as well and my first impression was that he seemed quiet and really nice. I didn’t realize that he was the same person who had posted such a friendly introduction in the Facebook group pre-departure. When I finally made the connection I was surprised because he wasn’t as forward as I thought he would be. As I got to know him I realized how amazing he is at everything he does. He’s so organized, driven and creative and hearing about all of his experiences with modeling, acting, graphic design and everything else he does was incredible. He really inspired me to aim high and work hard. I also admire how he is so personable and easy to converse with. We could go on for hours swapping stories and making jokes. It’s rare that you meet someone as well-rounded and down-to-earth as Matt. I’m really happy that we’re friends and I know that he’s going to go so far in life. I’m excited to see where he ends up and I’m totally going to brag to all of my friends about how I knew him way back when. (I’m kidding, Matt. I won’t have to brag because I’ll probably be your manager and at the very least I’ll be “Auntie Sheila” to your kids.)

Finally, I met Amy during orientation as well. She was really sweet and I remember thinking she was so friendly and talkative amongst the group of nervous study abroad students. It ended up that she had three out of four classes with me and we lived in the same building. I don’t know what I would have done without her in my film theories class and all of them for that matter. We definitely relied on each other to get through three hour lectures and long tube rides to Harrow. She was always really supportive and caring when I needed a friend and I hope that I was there for her too. We had a lot of weekend trips planned throughout the semester so I didn’t get to spend as much time outside of class with her as I would have liked but our trip to Edinburgh was a nice treat! I hope that since we live rather close to one another in America that I’ll see her from time to time. She’s a great friend and I wish her all the best!

·         Another thing that I loved about study abroad was all of the little things that were easily accessible on a daily basis. Whether it be museums, shows,  concerts, the zoo, or a walk through the park, I always felt like I had something new to see and I didn’t have to go too far to experience them. All of the things I just listed were either free, student discounted or completely worth the money and time. I will miss that when I’m back in Wappingers because I won’t be able to just hop on the tube and go somewhere new for a few hours. Being surrounded by historical and beautifully maintained places all of the time was a real blessing.

 ·  Liz came to visit me and we go to see one of our favorite artists, Ed Sheeran, at Royal Albert Hall. It was absolutely incredible and definitely one of the most memorable experiences I had in London.

·         My host visit was one of the best experiences I had while abroad. I made two amazing friends when I met John and Christine and I am so thankful for the time we had together. We bonded over Hanson and they showed me so much love and hospitality. They even took me to see Harry's Styles old bakery in Holmes Chapel. That was really awesome to see. I couldn’t have asked for a better host visit and I am so happy that it has extended beyond the confines of one weekend. They recently came to London and took me to the Viking Exhibition at the British Museum. How cool is that? They are such special people and they will always be dear to my heart.  I will miss them very much but I know that they will come visit me one day. After all, I have to take John to West Point and go to a Hanson concert with Chris!

·         One of my favorite memories of the past semester was my experience at the red carpet of the Brit Awards. The cold and suffering we faced outside of the O2 Arena is a distant memory now and I can appreciate our perseverance.  We waited outside for over 14 hours and it was something that I’ll probably never do again, but I will never forget it. At the end of the day I walked away having met One Direction, so that’s definitely a happy memory for me.

·         I still can’t get over the fact that I heard British accents every day for four whole months. I will forever think of elevators as “lifts,” lines as “queues,” checks as “bills,” trunks as “boots” and fries as “chips.” I really loved the way that British people spoke and I will definitely miss hearing their beautiful accents all of the time.
 
·         I loved re-visiting The Breakfast Club and Nonna’s Kitchen a few times during my stay because they definitely became two of my favorite restaurants. I felt like a real Londoner once I’d gone to each multiple times. I’ll miss the smoothies and banana bacon French toast from The Breakfast Club and the pizza and gelato from Nonna’s Kitchen. Mmmm gelato….

·         Anna and I got free tickets to see a taping of BBC Three’s “Sweat the Small Stuff,” hosted by Nick Grimshaw and it wouldn’t have been possible for us to get in without the kindness of strangers. We showed up thinking that we were guaranteed entry, but we realized that we didn’t have priority bookings. The line was so long and we were about to throw in the towel when Beth, a girl I’d spoken to in line earlier, approached us and said that her and her father realized that they had two extra tickets. We were shocked at how kind they were to us and I really loved talking to them and sitting with them during the taping. They were so funny and kind. I’m glad that I found Beth on social media because I definitely owe her a concert or a place to stay if she ever comes to America.

·         Weekend trips to other countries such as Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy were a really huge part of my time abroad. I got to see so many famous landmarks and experience different food, languages, infrastructures and cultures in such a short period of time. Thanks to the cheap airfares we found and the low-cost hostels, my friends and I were able to spend a lot of our weekends traveling. We definitely became so much closer while traveling and I am thankful that I got to share those experiences with such lovely people. From the pastel-colored houses and vineyards on the cliffs of Manarola, Italy to the green, sheep-filled pastures of Ireland, I saw the beauty of Europe on a budget and in a small amount of time. It was thrilling and unforgettable. Traveling ignited the spark inside of me and now I’ll live with wanderlust until the day that I die.

·       Anna and I went to the South of France and Italy for ten days at the end of my trip. We started in Marseille, France where we stayed at an Airbnb apartment. Basically, Airbnb is when someone rents out a room or their apartment to strangers for a low price. It’s a great option for low-budget travel accommodations if you are traveling with someone and are willing to take a risk. Our experience at Sebastien’s apartment in Marseille was far better than we could have hoped for. While we were there we met Isaac, a teacher and poet from Nice, France (our next stop) who was writing a book about happiness in his free time. He was so kind to us and his English was really good. When we arrived in Nice, he met up with us and we found out that he has a three-year-old daughter named Camille. She was precious! We spent the day with them and walked through Nice holding Camille’s hands and listening to her stories and songs that were completely in French. Isaac bought us gelato and translated Camille’s stories as much as he could. At one point she gave us both flowers for our hair and told us that she wanted us to take them home and plant them in our gardens. My heart melted when she said that.  I was so grateful to be spending the day with such kindhearted people who were willing to spend time with people they barely knew and show us around their city. I will never forget Camille’s little giggle, her Frozen shirt, her fire-engine red curls and her cute little French song about fish. I could see that Isaac loves her so much and that they are both loved by the community as well. The next day, Isaac took Anna and I to a Russian Cathedral in Nice and told us how he loves to go there because it is so peaceful and beautiful. When we left, he gave us two tickets worth 20 Euro each for the Aquarium in Monaco. We were so overcome with love for this man who treated us like family and asked for nothing in return. I wish him all the best in life and I hope that one day we’ll meet again. 


·         The view from my room was incredible, and definitely a highlight of living in Marylebone Hall. I saw at least three rainbows, amazing rain clouds that suddenly appeared in the bright blue sky, and the buildings and landmarks of London, sparkling against the black night sky.
·     

    I really enjoyed the Royal Parks and I wish that American parks were as beautiful and well-maintained. I could stroll around Regent’s Park for hours and never get bored. Primrose Hill on a beautiful, warm day can’t be beat. People lounge and picnic all over the green grass and football games are always happening all around. Parents push their children around in strollers and buy ice cream cones at the little concession stands. The brightly colored flowers and gorgeous fountains are breathtaking. I especially loved the little paths that would trail off into various areas of the parks as if you were in Wonderland.

·     On our second day in Rome, Italy, Anna, Matt and I decided to visit Vatican City. We were sick of waiting in long lines and paying for entry to everything at that point but when we walked up to the piazza, we flowed straight through security into the crowd as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Amazed at the amount of people there and still reeling from our quick and free entry, we neglected to realize that it was Wednesday and Pope Francis' General Assembly day. Trumpets started to play and he appeared in his little Pope-mobile and worked his way through the crowd, blessing babies and greeting the people. Matt and I almost cried because it was truly one of the most amazing things we've ever experienced. We stayed for the small mass and got to hear the "Our Father" sung in Latin. It was so incredible to be there and witness that without even knowing that we were in for.

All of those things remain in my heart and my mind and I am so thankful that I could experience a life in which reality was better than my dreams. London was a challenge for me at first and I feel like I accomplished something by growing to love it there. I flourished as a person and I hope that all that I learned about life, travel and myself will stay with me forever. I would go back in a heartbeat and I know that I will be there again one day. It will never be the same again, but that’s the wonder of travel. Every place brings a new adventure and if you go back looking for the same old thing you will always be disappointed. Travel is spontaneity and adventure. Travel is packing enough for ten days into a small Jansport backpack. Travel is making friends with strangers who change your life forever. Travel is trying new food and realizing that not all pasta in Italy is amazing. Travel is feeling like your feet are going to fall off if you climb another monument to see a panoramic view of a city. Travel is the realization that home is the best place in the world after months of exploring.

I want to be a traveler. I refuse to stay in one place for the remainder of my life. I will go back to Europe and beyond. London taught me to embrace things outside of my comfort zone and to live each day to the fullest.

I am forever changed.

Until we meet again London,
xx Sheila

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Springtime in London


The sky outside of my window is a bright, baby blue and the clouds are sparse but fluffy. I can hear the faint sound of cars driving past on Marylebone Road and the fresh air coming through my window is brisk and refreshing. It's about one in the afternoon here in London and I'm really enjoying my relaxing Sunday after a few days filled with little adventures. I have a few more things to get done before I leave for my trip on Tuesday, but I decided that blogging was more important right now (I'm really just procrastinating).

On Thursday, Anna, Matt and I got together in Marylebone to finalize some of our travel plans for the next two weeks. Most of that meetup consisted of goofing around and buying movie tickets for that night but we still finished what we needed to do. When Matt and Anna finished printing all of their boarding passes and what not, we met up with Megan at Primark on Oxford Street. Primark is a HUGE store that is really popular in the United Kingdom. They sell clothes, shoes, bags, accessories, home goods and tons of other odds and ends. The biggest perk about Primark is that it's dirt cheap. I got sneakers for 4 pounds and a dress for 7. The items they sell aren't the best quality and they're definitely made using cheap and abusive labor practices in other countries, but it's still packed every time I've been there. It always feels like it's Black Friday in Primark. There are people speaking every different language packed into every nook and cranny of the store and clothes are scattered and piled everywhere. I thought Forever21 was bad...

Anyway, we met up at Primark to get some clothes for our trip and Anna had to get some bedding for when her friends arrived this weekend. We all split up and got what we needed and then Matt, Megan and I went to Chipotle to grab some dinner. We really enjoyed our burritos and I was so happy to eat something after dealing with the crowds and lines at Primark.

When we finished eating, we sat and talked for a little while and two guys approached us. They were younger, probably close to our age, and one had a half-finished Corona in his hand. They sat down and one of them asked us where to go out in London at night. We all kind of looked at each other and I honestly had no idea what to suggest since I don't go to many nightclubs. We told them that Soho and Shoreditch are two of the most popular areas for young people to go out in. I kind of expected the conversation to end there but the one guy kept asking us questions. It wasn't too intrusive or creepy but it was still kind of awkward. We told him that we're studying abroad and he said that him and his friend were in London for the weekend. He asked us to guess where they were from in Europe and I honestly couldn't figure it out by his accent. I'm really bad at that kind of thing. We guessed a few times and told him that we really didn't know and he dragged it out uncomfortably long. Finally he said that they were from Germany.

From Left: Matt, me and Megan at the cinema.
We chatted a little more and I mentioned wanting to go to Brighton, England for a day trip before I leave. I was kind of talking to Megan the whole conversation because I didn't want to make a lot of eye contact with the two guys. The one that did all of the talking said "Oh Brighton is were all of the gays are. You don't want to go there." I had one of those Mean Girls moments where I imagined myself attacking him like a lion in the savannah, but don't worry- I didn't do that. I took the high road and once I made eye contact with Matt, who just so happens to be gay (and absolutely amazing, just sayin') we kind of smiled and laughed awkwardly and he changed the subject to something else. I would have said something but it was actually pretty amazing to see how ignorant and mean it made the guy sound. I didn't have to say anything at all.

We talked a little more and at that point we were kind of itching to get out of there, so I said that we better head out. The talker asked us if we wanted to join them for drinks that night and we all politely said no. The second we exited the building, Matt and I started laughing and talking about what just happened. Megan hadn't even heard what the guy said because of his accent so we told her and then talked about how awkward that was on our way to the tube.

I guess it's a given that there are people out there who disagree with homosexuality and some are much more vocal about it than others. It's just surprising when you hear someone say something like that. I'm so used to spending my time and surrounding myself with loving, caring and tolerant people, so it's like a sucker punch to the gut when someone isn't that way. I feel like my generation has become so supportive and tolerant and I'm really proud to be apart of that group. I feel sorry for people who aren't because they're missing out on a lot of love and acceptance. It's much easier than intolerance and hatred.

Anyway, that was an interesting experience to say the least. Matt, Megan and I went back to our rooms and met at Piccadilly Circus around 8:15PM that evening. We walked to Cineworld Cinema and got a bunch of snacks before our 9PM screening of Divergent. I had popcorn, a coke and chocolate candies. It was nice to unwind and see a movie because it's one of my favorite pastimes. I go often at home but I hadn't gone yet in England because of the high ticket prices. I'm so glad that we splurged and got ourselves the tickets and snacks so that I could experience the cinema here before I leave. It was a lot of fun!

On Friday afternoon, Anna, Megan and I met up with about four other girls and one of the Arcadia staff members for afternoon tea at Kensington Palace's Orangery. It was a beautiful, warm afternoon so all I wore over my dress was a cardigan. I never thought I'd see the day when I didn't have to wear a jacket in London!

I ordered a wild berry tea and we all got platters of sandwiches, scones and desserts. The room we sat in was really elegant. The walls were white and there were some little trees in planters throughout the room. There were columns with ornate carvings near the entrance to the kitchen and our table was perfectly laid out with plates and silverware. They were all pretty pastel colors with royal decor. The food was lovely and the tea was so sweet and fruity. It felt like a great way to wrap up my trip with Arcadia.

After tea, we walked around the gardens and marveled at the beautiful flowers and all of the vibrant colors surrounding us everywhere we looked. We took some pictures and walked through the park to get back to the main street. We walked to T.K. Maxx (exactly like T.J. Maxx) and got a few more things for our trip. I got a maxi dress and a patterned tank top and I'm so excited to wear them in France and Italy.

Yesterday was probably one of the best days I've had in London. Megan, Matt and I walked through Regent's Park and spent a few hours at the ZSL London Zoo. The sky was a little gray, but it was fairly warm out again and so many people brought their kids out to the park and the zoo. We saw a tiger, giraffes, birds, gorillas, reptiles, fish, bugs, llamas, penguins and so many other animals. My favorite part was the "Meet the Monkeys" area. There were little monkeys running all over the place. We weren't allowed to touch or feed them but they weren't behind fences, glass or nets. They were popping up everywhere and it was so much fun to take pictures of them and observe how they interacted with one another. The woman working in that area warned all of us about getting our phones too close to the monkeys because they often snatch them. I thought that was really funny.

After the zoo, we walked back through Regent's Park and the sky got so much clearer. The sun was shining and the route we took had a lot of fountains and flowers to see along the way. We stopped and took some photos and Megan and I got sprayed by the fountain. That made for some funny facial expressions in our photos!

We were pretty hungry after all of that so we went to Piccadilly to get some dinner. We ended up at my favorite restaurant, Nonna's Kitchen, which is where we went on my birthday. We split a bottle of white wine and some bruschetta which was great because we were so eager to fill our tummies and rest our feet. We all ordered pizza and they came pretty fast. It was delicious! We talked a lot and after we finished our pizzas we decided to get some gelato. I got one scoop of kinder, one hazelnut and one vanilla. It was amazing but I definitely ate way too much. I had a stomachache and a headache for the rest of the night.

That didn't stop us from going back to Baker Street, getting some snacks from Tesco and coming up to my room to watch a movie. We picked out Jungle 2 Jungle starring Tim Allen. I loved that movie when I was younger and so did Matt. Megan said she had never seen it so when we had to show it to her. We stopped paying attention halfway through and the volume isn't the greatest on my computer but we had a lot of fun talking and joking around. We finished the movie and watched some YouTube videos before they headed out to catch the tube.

I was so tired that I slept really heavily last night and had some crazy dreams about tigers and giraffes. I still feel a bit sleepy so I may indulge in a quick afternoon nap. I think I can put off laundry until tomorrow.

I'm really looking forward to my ten day trip with Anna and Matt, but since I'll have spotty WiFi and no computer, I probably won't blog until I get back to London. I know, I know, you'll miss me too much. Don't worry I'll be posting pictures on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook every chance I get.

Have a lovely week everyone!

Write soon,
xx Sheila

(PS: Congratulations to Stephanie on her acceptance and decision to attend St. Michael's College next fall. You are going to LOVE it and I'm really excited to have you join the SMC community. We're going to have so much fun decorating your dorm room! Love you!)



A scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was filmed at the The Reptile House at the zoo.
We got sprayed by the fountain when Matt was taking our picture and it was so cold!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

MMMBop bonding and new friends

From left: Chrissie, John and me at Chatsworth Park.
Thomas G. Long once said that "We show hospitality to strangers not merely because they need it, but because we need it, too." My host visit this past weekend was one of the best experiences I've had while abroad in England, if not the best, and my hosts left a huge impact on me. I am so thankful for their hospitality and kindness. We had a great weekend filled with adventures and I feel like we got to know each other pretty well. I can't wait to tell you all about it!

I knew that I would have trouble remembering the names and locations of all of the places we went to, so a special thank you to John for emailing me a rough itinerary of what we did!

Back in January, right after orientation, I applied for a Host UK visit. Arcadia (my study abroad program) pays the application fee so all I would need to pay for would be the travel expenses once I was assigned a host family. I thought that it would be so much fun to get out of London and meet new people. Sometime in January I was assigned to stay with the Easoms in early April. We exchanged emails from time to time and I was really happy that they seemed so nice. I found out that Chrissie is a huge Hanson fan through those exchanges and that made me even more excited to meet them. I have loved Hanson since I was a baby! No one else usually knows who they are when I mention them so it was a nice surprise to find out that I'd be staying with other fans. April seemed really far away so I kept that in the back of my mind as I traveled around Europe and finished school assignments. When I realized how quickly it was coming up, I couldn't believe it!
On Friday, I woke up around 7AM and got ready, which didn't take too long since I had laid out my clothes and packed my bag the night before. I headed out and grabbed a light breakfast for the train and picked up some flowers for them at the Sainsbury's outside of Euston Station.

My train was due to depart London Euston at 9:46AM and I was there around 9:15AM so I sat down and ate my apple tart and grapes to pass the time. Eventually they announced my train's platform and I headed up to the second car. I sat near a window and felt relieved that it wasn't too crowded. I put my bag up above me and picked out some music to listen to.

The train ride was a little less than two and a half hours long. I thought that it went by pretty quickly and the population dwindled in my car about halfway there. When they announced the next stop was Stoke-on-Trent, I put on my jacket and grabbed my bag off of the shelf. I was a little nervous to be honest.


John and Chrissie's house in Clayton, Newcastle-under-Lyme.
As the train rolled to a stop, I saw John and Chrissie standing on the platform right near where my car stopped. I waved and Chrissie waved back. As soon as the doors opened I approached them and handed Chrissie the bouquet of flowers and the card I made them. They were really friendly right from the start and the drive from the station to their house was really pleasant and interesting. John told me a lot about the area and how Stoke-on-Trent is a city made up of six towns (Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton). These towns are also known as the potteries because they are famous for their pottery factories. They live in Clayton, Newcastle-under-Lyme which is nearby. Newcastle is a medieval market town. 

My first impression of the area was that it reminded me a lot of Poughkeepsie. It's beautiful but run down and the abandoned old factories look kind of dreary and lonesome against the gray sky. In between all of the older buildings were little shops and take-out restaurants. It seemed like a nice little area to live near. I think it is the perfect balance of town and country.

When we arrived at their house I was really excited to see inside. The outside is beautiful and they told me that their house was built in the 1930's and that they're one of the only houses in the neighborhood with the original stained glass windows left. I noticed them right away and they really add character to the house, especially when most of the houses in the neighborhood look the same.

Another object that jumped out at me right away was their prop mailbox from Narnia. It had "Mr. Tumnus" written on it! How cool is that? I think that was another hint to me that I would really like these people.


We entered the house and went into the living room. The first thing I noticed was the cabinet straight ahead of me with all of Chrissie's Hanson DVDs and CDs inside. I saw her Hanson sock monkey as well and then when I examined the room a little more I saw framed photos of the band near the couches. I really liked how neat and clean the room was. It smelt nice and the way it was decorated was very simple and elegant. I loved seeing their bookshelves stacked to the top with John's science fiction novels. They have a little table near the stained glass picture window and on the opposite side of the room were doors leading to the sun room. I really liked the white fireplace as well and the decor was so pretty. It seemed like a very English home to me but it also felt familiar and relaxing. 

I went upstairs with Chrissie to put my stuff down in my room and when she opened the door I was so excited to see a Hanson pillow sitting on my bed. The room itself was so cozy and neat and the big double bed was a nice sight after sleeping in a single all semester. I really liked the butterflies on the pillows because they reminded me of Peggy, who always loved butterflies. 

Next to my room on the right was the bathroom which had a shower, a bathtub, a toilet and a sink. It was really clean and nicely decorated just like the rest of the house. The hallway is pretty short and narrow and it leads to Chrissie and John's room and the little study.

Chrissie showed me more of her Hanson memorabilia in the study and she told me how she started liking them in 2000. She got to interview them for the fan club in 2005 I believe and she's seen and met them many times. I was so excited to hear all about her experiences with the band because I've loved them for as long as I can remember. It was a great thing to bond over.

We had a light lunch which consisted of oat cakes filled with tomato and cheese (yummy!), coleslaw and some other goodies. I also enjoyed a cup of tea while Chrissie prepared the meal. John showed me the Alumni magazine he works on for Keele University. I was really impressed by the content and the design of it and I admire him for writing so much of it because of their small staff size.

After lunch we headed to town and parked at Morrison's. John went to get his new glasses while Chrissie and I walked around the shopping area. It reminded me of Church Street so much and I loved seeing the flowers which were brightly colored and in planters all over the place. We saw a statue of Queen Victoria in a garden and we also walked past one of the oldest buildings in Newcastle-under-Lyme. It was built in the 1600's. That's so old! Chrissie showed me the church they used to go to sometimes and it was really neat to see all of the grave markers that lined the wall of the car park (parking lot). There were graves from the 1700's and earlier which was really fascinating. I enjoyed the yellow daffodils in the little grassy area above the car park as well.

When we met back up with John we headed back towards the car and Chrissie grabbed some strawberries from a farm stand. We went back to their house and watched Hanson's "Re-Made in America" about the making of their latest album, Anthem. I really enjoyed seeing their creative process and it was nerve-wracking to see them bickering. I would never want them to break up or give up their music. I also enjoyed unwinding in such a comfy home because I haven't been in one since December. It's definitely hard not to miss the feeling of being in a house, so I appreciated the down time.


After John got back from dropping their niece off at the train station, we headed back out to see Keele University, where John works. Chrissie insisted that I ride shotgun all weekend so I had nice views out of the car window. John was really informative about all of the places we visited and I liked hearing about the history in the area. I felt bad responding with "oh wow" and "that's amazing" so often but I didn't know how to convey my interest besides just listening and taking it all in.

Keele is absolutely gorgeous and so very green. The university occupies
620 acres of rural land and it is the largest main campus university in the UK. There are close to 10,000 students there which is a lot bigger than St. Michael's but smaller than the University of Westminster which has over 23,000 students (yikes!). 

The campus was pretty empty because most universities in the UK went on their month-long break last week. We drove around a bit and then arrived at Keele Hall, which is a 19th-century mansion house that serves as the university's conference center. It was really gorgeous and the car park was cobblestone or something like it which I really liked. I'll never get tired of cobblestone. 

Keele Hall
There was a wedding going on and little white lanterns and flower petals lined the stairs into the hall at one entrance. We went into the other and peered into the rooms without disturbing the reception that was going on in the ballroom. John showed me hidden doorways behind bookcases and explained that the mirror in the ballroom has a window behind it. 

We went outside and took some pictures near the fountain and then walked down the path, away from the house and towards the little lake. I thought that it was very reminiscent of Hogwarts because when reading the books as a child I had always imagined the grounds by the lake to look like that. There were hundreds of yellow daffodils covering the green grass and the water looked murky. The ground was muddy but not too bad and it seemed fitting for a place that gets a substantial amount of rain. There were some students sitting underneath two large trees and another tree nearer to the house reminded me of the womping willow. John told me that in the '70s some students sun bathed in that area without any clothes on and when one of them went to get ice cream nearby, the young girl working called the police and it was a huge scandal. I thought that was pretty hilarious.

As we walked back towards the car I thought about how lovely it would be to go to school somewhere like Keele because the grounds are just so beautiful and expansive. I would be out exploring all of the time. I know that my St. Mike's friends would love it too because it's much bigger and better than Gilbrook. 


After our trip to Keele, we drove to Wrinehill, Chesire for dinner. We ate at a pub called The Hand and Trumpet and I ordered a hamburger and chips (fries). It was delicious and I enjoyed the half pint that John ordered for me as well. We had some lovely conversation while we ate and I was pleased with the atmostphere in the place as well.

After dinner we went to a pub called the Mainwaring Arms in Whitmore, Staffordshire. It's a really old and traditional pub and it was pretty busy because it is a restaurant as well. We sat at a table in the corner by the fireplace until the party who had reserved it came, so we weren't there for a long time. Despite it being a quick stop, it was the perfect amount of time to finish another half pint and talk a bit more before heading home.

When we arrived back at the house, I changed into my pajamas and joined John and Chrissie for some television in the living room. We watched a few British shows (all comedies) and I thought they were all pretty funny. I do think that it'd be more enjoyable to watch them with full knowledge of British culture and who's who in society. I was a little lost at points but I enjoyed it all the same. I didn't tell them but I was especially pleased that they had lit candles. That's something I've missed a ton since being abroad.

I slept really well and woke up around 8AM. After I was all dressed and ready, I headed downstairs for breakfast. John was sitting in a chair in the sun room listening to music and Chrissie was in the living room. She started fixing up breakfast right away and I sat with John while we waited. We had some cereal which was a combination of different seeds and I added in some of the strawberries that Chrissie had purchased the day before. I also had some toast and orange juice. 


Sun room.
I picked out some Hanson CDs and we set off for a day of sightseeing and road tripping. We drove through beautiful farm land and I saw a lot of stone walls that John explained were pretty ancient. It was incredible to think about how long it must have taken them to build them all by hand, stone-by-stone. I loved seeing all of the sheep grazing in the fields and the foggy sky didn't put a damper on my mood. We couldn't see as far out as they had hoped but I still saw some beautiful landscapes.  We passed through Leek (Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands) and the rocky crags of the Roaches, where we saw the Winking Man rock. When you drive past it from a certain direction, it appears that the hole in the rock formation that juts out is opening and closing, hence the name "winking man."

We drove through the Peak District until we got to Buxton, which is an old Roman spa town in Derbyshire. It is also the highest town in England. While we were there we saw the Pavilion Gardens and Conservatory, the Opera House, the Old Hall Hotel where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and we walked around inside of a little shopping center. It was really quaint and despite the rainy weather, I really enjoyed walking through the town. We even saw an older man filling up two huge gallon containers with well water. We also laughed when we read a poem about a fish in the conservatory that flipped over on its back and swam upside down for a year before dying. It was sad but the poem was pretty funny. 


After our stop in Buxton, we drove to Bakewell and crossed over a medieval bridge to get to the car park. The sidewalks lining the bridge were really narrow and there were triangular spaces jutting out to the side because people would need a place to step into when sheep were being herded across. We parked the car and walked around a bit before eating an authentic Bakewell Tart in the Original Bakewell Pudding Shop. I wasn't sure what to expect when Chrissie and John described the famous Bakewell Pudding to me. Pudding is much different in America. In England it is more of a pie or pastry.
"Bakewell Pudding is an English dessert commonly consisting of a flaky pastry base with a layer of sieved jam, topped with an egg and almond paste filling. There are numerous variations and several bakeries each claim to hold the original recipe. The pudding originates from the Derbyshire town of Bakewell." (Wikipedia)
I wasn't sure whether to have it with custard or creme so naturally, I had both. It was absolutely delicious! It was so warm and flaky and the filling is to die for. I really liked it and I enjoyed my hot chocolate as well. It was nice to try something new and authentic to England. My company was great as well! With every stop we made, John, Chrissie and I got to know more about one another. 

After we finished up our delicious Bakewell Pudding, we drove to Chatsworth Park. We parked by the house (more like mansion) and I was super excited to get out and walk around because sheep were roaming everywhere! There were a ton just walking through the car park. A few got spooked and ran off really quickly. They left one behind and it didn't see where they went so it was making sad noises and running in a panic. I felt bad for it!

"Chatsworth House is a stately home in Derbyshire, England. It is in the Derbyshire Dales, about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) north-east of Bakewell and 9 miles (14 km) west of Chesterfield (SK260700). It is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. Standing on the east bank of the River Derwent, Chatsworth looks across to the low hills that divide the Derwent and Wye valleys. The house, set in expansive parkland and backed by wooded, rocky hills rising to heather moorland, contains a unique collection of priceless paintings, furniture, Old Master drawings, Neoclassical sculptures, books and other artefacts. Chatsworth has been selected as the United Kingdom's favourite country house several times. (Wikipedia)."
We approached the house and bought tickets to go in. I thought that the sign on the side of the building that said "Dead Slow, Hoot" was really funny. It basically means to drive at an extremely low speed and honk your horn if you're in that area. We spent an hour or so walking through the house which was so much fun. I really like visiting places like that. It reminded me of the Vanderbilt Estate times a million. It was so much bigger and its rooms were filled with beautiful artwork and interesting displays.

Fun Fact: Chatsworth was used as Mr. Darcy's home in the movie
Pride and Prejudice (2005). 

My favorite part was seeing one of the large rooms set up the way it was during WWII when the Penrhos College (Wales) occupied the grounds. The college of girls had to relocate to the grounds of Chatsworth because of the bombings. It was so haunting to see the video footage of them and the way their beds were set up.

We exited the house and gift shop and walked around the gardens for a little while. It was so beautiful that I can't even put it into words without sounding really redundant because of my other descriptions of beautiful places. It was so green and vast. The indoor garden was really pretty and smelt heavenly. We saw little streams and mossy piles of boulders. We walked through patches of trees and across little bridges. Daffodils and other flowers surrounded us everywhere we went. We finally emerged near the entrance to a maze. We had so much fun walking through it! I kept thinking about the movie Labyrinth (1986) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We kept joking that the hedges were going to come to life and drag us under so we'd need to shoot up our wand flares. We finally found the center and posed for a picture before making our way out. It was a lot of fun!

We walked back to the house, used the restrooms and then headed to the car. We drove for awhile and at that point in the day we had switched Hanson albums from Middle of Nowhere (1997) to Anthem (2013). It was really interesting listening to their first album and then their last album because they have really matured as a band and as people. There are still audible similarities in their style and soul which was also interesting to hear.
John and I at Arbor Low.

Next we stopped at Arbor Low, a neolithic stone circle about 6,000 years old. It was very similar to Stonehenge, but the stones were tipped over and sunken into the ground a bit. I enjoyed walking through the field to get there and the views we had from the circle. The walk back was nice too because the cat from the neighboring farm kept rubbing up against my legs.

When we got back to the house we relaxed while Chrissie made dinner, and after we ate our sausages and sweet potatoes we got ready to go to a play. I wore my black dress with creme colored polka dots, tights and my black boots and I freshened up a bit. My boots had gotten really muddy during the day so John polished them for me when we got back. They're so shiny now and I can't stop wearing them! 


Once we were all ready to go, we headed to the Victoria Theatre, a purpose built theatre-in-the-round nearby and saw the play "Hobson's Choice." It was hilarious and really well performed. We were in the front row and I really liked seeing a show performed in a round theatre. It was the first time I'd seen anything like that. I also loved the storyline and it's actually an old movie if anyone fancies looking it up. The main character was named Maggie which I thought was great. I asked John and Chrissie what the word bumptious meant after the first act and now it's one of my favorite words to say.
Bumptious: (adjective) irritatingly self-assertive.
After the show we went back to the house and I went right to bed. I was so tired! It was nice to get such a good night's sleep twice in a row.

On Sunday morning I slept until a little after 8AM and got all packed up for my evening departure. When I went downstairs, John called to me from the sun room and said that he had a surprise for me. I filled up my glass of water and went into the room. He showed me a little piece of paper that he had scribbled an address on and said that he'd found the location of the bakery that Harry Styles used to work at in Holmes Chapel, Chesire, which was only about half an hour away. I was so excited and flattered that he took the time to look that up. It was on my bucket list of things to see while in England so I'm really grateful that I got to check that off. 


Right after John told me that, Chrissie came into the room and handed me a little black pouch. She told me that she had it for a long time and didn't know what to do with it. She said that she finally decided that I would give it a good home and she wanted me to have what was inside. I opened up the pouch and inside was a little Hanson charm. She told me that I could put it on a necklace and I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and love. I don't think I've ever met such genuine people before and I felt so lucky to be there with them. Sunday mornings in London usually consist of me sleeping in and then eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich alone while I watch Netflix and plan my week. Sitting there in their beautiful sun room, watching the birds come and go from the bird feeder and having great conversation with those lovely people made me feel overwhelmingly happy and blessed. 

 I picked out two more Hanson albums and we headed for Holmes Chapel to see the W. Mandeville Bakery. We got there pretty quickly and the town was really quiet and desolate. It was a Sunday morning so everything was closed and the occasional jogger or car would pass by as we walked towards the bakery. We peered inside and saw some pictures of Harry hanging on the walls. I took some pictures outside and a woman walking her dog laughed at us a little. I can't blame her! It must be strange for the people in that small town to see fans come by and take pictures with a bakery that's been there for years. Oh well, I was pleased to have seen it. 


We drove through the town and turned onto a small cul-de-sac to see what the houses looked like. There were some posts online that made it sound like Harry may have lived on that street but we didn't know which number. It was a nice little area within walking distance of the bakery. The whole town was very neat and quaint. I can't really imagine Harry Styles growing up there after all of the glitz and glamour he's probably used to now, but I also appreciated the beauty of the place. It seemed like a great town to raise a family in. It's on the commuter belt to Manchester and John said that it's quite posh. I could see that because the houses were considerably larger and had a little more land to sit on. 

Little Moreton Hall
After we left Holmes Chapel, we made a brief stop at Little Moreton Hall near Congleton, Cheshire. In John's words, "Built to make a big impression, Little Moreton Hall was constructed as a timbered manor house with a moat, the earliest part of the house was begun around 1504-1508 and the last addition was completed in 1610." It was a crooked old house on a large patch of land. It stood out against the green grass and the warped look of the levels made me think of Harry Potter again. It could have been a wizard's house. It reminded me of the burrow.

We didn't tour the building but we were allowed into the courtyard to glance around and take a few pictures. It was so neat to see the place and some employees dressed in old clothing came out into the courtyard while we were standing there. I also loved that the land was occupied by ducks and sheep. All of the baby lambs were black, which Chrissie and I found really interesting. 


From there we journeyed up a hill to Mow Cop, which is a folly on the edge of the hills overlooking the Cheshire plain. It just looks like the ruins of an old tower but it had the most gorgeous views over five counties. We could see the famous radio-telescope dish of Jodrell Bank, as well as fields and houses leading all the way to the Welsh Hills. I really enjoyed that little excursion!

Finally, we went to Burleigh Pottery, a preserved Victorian Pottery in Burslem, to see their hand-crafted pottery in fine earthenware. We met a nice security guard who had just made himself a cup of tea. He graciously stopped and told us about the entire process of making a mug at the pottery. It was so interesting! I thought that it sounded like a lot of work just to make a mug but they're really beautifully crafted I guess it's worth it in the end. They're doing a lot of work to the area where the pottery is and to the pottery itself. They're improving the area for tourism and it reminded me of Poughkeepsie and Wappingers again. It looks really rundown but they're working hard to improve and preserve it. I loved seeing all of the patterns and designs of the pottery they made there in the factory shop. John and Chrissie bought me a little mug which I will cherish forever! I hope that I can keep it safe on my journey back to America in a few weeks.

After our little stop at the pottery and the Trent and Mersey Canal, we had lunch at the Orange Tree in Newcastle-under-Lyme. It was a very modern place that reminded me of the Double-O Grill a lot. I ordered Lemon Herb Chicken which came on a huge skewer with peppers and zucchini. There was a little side salad on the plate as well as a cup of chips. It was so yummy! I followed up that delicious meal with some chocolate truffles and raspberry dipping sauce. 

Once we got back to the house, we watched some of Hanson's Middle of Nowhere Acoustic (2007) DVD and relaxed for a couple of hours. Chrissie told me more about the Facebook page she contributes to called Mmmboptastic. It was so interesting to compare and talk about our Hanson journeys and I can't wait to see a show with her one day. 

We got talking again and before I knew it, it was time to go to the train station. I was so sad to leave but I knew that I had made forever friends and that our connection would be a lasting one. They brought me to the train station and waited with me on the platform. I waved and blew a kiss to them as my train left the station.

Out of all of the experiences I've had this past semester abroad, that was most enriching one. I went into it hoping for the best and feeling a little nervous, and I came out of it with two new amazing friends and some great memories. I don't know how I'll ever thank them enough for taking me into their home and showing me around. They are truly fantastic, loving, compassionate, patient and fun people who I hope will come to visit me in New York sometime soon! Their son, Nathan, lives in NYC so maybe we can all meet up sometime. I would love to introduce them to my family. I know that John would love to see the Hudson Valley because he's really interested in the American Civil War and my dad could take him to see West Point. I'm excited just thinking about it!

It was a lovely, life-changing experience and I am so happy I signed up for it.

Now for a week of paper writing, last minute shopping, spending time with friends and planning for my South of France/Italy trip next week. I can't wait to explore more and enjoy some nice weather. Only a little more than three weeks until I'll be back in good ol' America.


See you soon love bugs!

xx Sheila

(PS: It took me the entire length of The Hobbit soundtrack to write this.)