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Guys, I moved!

August 21, 2017

Every once in a while I do something like move to a new location. About….8 times in the last 10 years to be exact. And now that I find myself stateside for the time being, one of the new popular questions I get asked semi-frequently is, “soooooo…..how long do you plan to be in Wisconsin for?” This is asked after all the pleasantries are past, and is said in a low, suspicious tone. I’m not even kidding. It makes me laugh every single time because inevitably I know it’s going to be asked.

I get it, I do seem to move a lot. Keeps life interesting, what can I say?

But really though, the answer is that I’ll be here as long as God wants me to be. He’ll move me along if and when He wants me to move, and I know the timing will be perfect. But for now, I’m totally content to put down roots and settle into American life again for a while. It’s been a MUCH easier adjustment than I thought it might be. I don’t feel restless. I feel content. And that makes me happy.

I find myself asking the question “why didn’t I do this (head back to WI) sooner?” from time to time. But I know the answer. God knows what He’s doing, and those years of amazing adventures were gems I’ll keep tucked away in my heart for forever. I feel beyond spoiled by God and so incredibly thankful for every single place He’s let me live and travel. He truly does give the best gifts and when you give Him a little bit of faith, He turns it around into something far more amazing than you could ever imagine.

I have no idea what the future holds. I have no idea how long He’ll have me stay in Wisconsin. But I do know this: I’m going to do my best to make the most of it while I’m here.

Wisconsin is quite a bit greener than CA!

 

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A Life Update: Leaving California for Wisconsin

July 1, 2017

Tonight is my last full night here in California. Or, at least the last night where I get a full night’s sleep, since I will leave very early Monday morning to head to the airport.

It’s hard to believe it’s finally time to move. It doesn’t matter how many times I do this, it still feels weird when it’s actually time to leave California again. My bags are packed, and yet it doesn’t feel real. I know I will absolutely have a blast in Wisconsin, and that I will be so glad I went once I get there. And yet it’s still hard to actually say goodbye and leave. For this goodbye I’m just trying to not think about it. I’ll be staying in the states for the first time in 5 years, so it’s not such a drastic move anyway. On the one hand it’s getting harder each year to leave since my family keeps multiplying and adding more cute little members that are hard to say goodbye to. But on the other hand it also gets easier as I have more and more years and experiences to look back on and realize that God was providing and leading the whole way. It doesn’t feel easy to leave, but I know from experience that once I’m on the plane I will be ready for new adventures.

I just realized tonight that I’ll be in the states for the 4th of July for the first time since 2012. I’ve seen fireworks  many times since then, but not to celebrate America’s Independence Day.  I’ve seen fireworks in Russia for Victory Day, in Australia for Christmas. And in Fiji for Diwali (by far the most impressive of fireworks shows if we are measuring impressiveness by length of performance and number of displays.) But I haven’t seen fireworks to celebrate our Independence Day in 5 years. I’m so looking forward to celebrating the 4th of July IN America this year!

Fireworks in Brisbane for Christmas

It’s hard to believe I’ve been home now for 7 months. I only planned to be here for 3-4 months, but God worked things out differently and while it would have been nice to have a job during these months, I’m glad I was able to spend all this time with family and to get to know my nieces and nephews a bit better. During the past 7 months I also was able to travel overseas 3 times, getting to Central America for the first time, getting back to the UK for the first time since I left Russia, and picking up my 50th country while cruising the Caribbean. At times this year has felt uneventful since I’ve been in the states and life has been fairly “normal” compared to what life overseas often feels like. But when I look back over the months, I realize a lot has happened. And while this year looks different than I thought it would initially, it’s been a good year so far and I’m thankful for it.

It’s hard to put into words exactly how it feels to be putting down American roots again (however temporary they may be.) And it’s also hard to articulate how conflicted I feel about living in America versus living overseas. Family and comforts of home will always pull at you no matter where you go. And adventure and wanderlust will also pull at the same time. I feel excited to be staying for a while, and I also feel confused. I want to be here. And I want to be there.  I’m so thankful that no matter where I go on this little planet, someday I will be truly home. Heaven sounds sweeter and sweeter with each passing day. I can’t wait until we are all there, forever, with our hearts truly contented with where we are.

Wisconsin, California, or wherever else I may go, this is only temporary. One day we will truly be home!

What is Your Life’s Message?

May 15, 2017

Have you ever thought about what you want your life’s message to be? What statements you want to make with your life?

Somewhere along the way, many years ago, I thought about the things I wanted my life to convey. Not that I would always do it perfectly, because obviously I don’t. I’m naturally very shy, especially around people I don’t know, so I often don’t talk a lot (my family would disagree) unless I’m comfortable with the situation. (You’ll never see me speaking up in a crowd or doing public speaking unless I’m forced to do it, or it’s so sudden that I don’t have the chance to think about being nervous. I often have lots I’d love to share, especially in church, but nerves keep me from ever doing so – not something I’m proud of, but it’s just the way it is.) But, even if you don’t publicly go around stating your convictions and beliefs, you can live them.

Here are the messages that I’ve striven to live:

1. You can be a Christian and live a godly life and have fun.

This one is so important to me. I don’t understand how Christians can think that the world offers more fun. Maybe I’ve just seen the end result too much from growing up around the ministry. Maybe it’s the counseling degree. Maybe it’s just the fact that my brain likes to follow things out to their logical conclusion to see where they will lead, and looking down the road it’s easy to see where sin leads. Or maybe it’s just believing what the Bible says. But regardless, I believe 100% that living God’s way is the best way, and it’s definitely not boring. Because of these beliefs, I’ve always felt strongly about living a fun life and enjoying all the great things that God has given for our enjoyment. I’ll take climbing an active volcano that God created over getting drunk in a bar, any day!

2. You can be single and have a fulfilling life.

It bothers me when girls are unhappy being single and are desperate to get married. Marriage is not some sort of cure for unhappiness. If you aren’t able to find your happiness in Christ and who you are in Him, then marriage is not going to help you.

Knowing Christ, serving Him, and glorifying Him with our lives should be our goal. Not just getting married. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never been one of those “I have to get married and let me Pinterest every wedding idea out there” kind of girls so it’s easy for me to feel this way, but it’s quite possible and even most likely easier to live a very full and fulfilling life as a single person. You are free to serve the Lord wherever He leads! (Married people are, too, but often they are too distracted with material things and family to be open to leaving their comfort to serve the Lord.) You can travel and explore the world and have adventures and meet people all around the globe, things that often married people will never do, certainly not to the same extent anyway.

I want people to see my life and be encouraged that they don’t have to settle for any old guy that comes along, or even ever settle, to be happy. They don’t have to be miserable while single and they don’t have to be desperate to be married. There are other good options! (It is ALWAYS better to be single and happy than married and miserable; don’t settle!)

3. You can (and should) dress modestly and not look frumpy.

I’ve always felt strongly about dressing modestly while not looking dumpy or frumpy. You can be stylish without showing off your body. I could get on a soapbox about this but I won’t. Just dress modestly. You can do it if you really want to. No excuses.

4. Living by faith is exciting and God CAN provide all your needs.

God created the entire world. That alone should be enough to give you confidence in Him. He can do anything. But sometimes He wants to grow our faith. I promise you, living by faith can sometimes be scary but it’s so exciting! He will never let you down.

Those are the four ideas I’ve tried to live. I’m no expert model but I do try to live by those four thoughts. And I’m always encouraged when girls tell me I’ve inspired them to do missions or to travel or to be content being single! Or when ladies thank me for dressing modestly and being a good example for their daughters. We CAN live differently from the world and still enjoy life! Living life as a Christian is so fulfilling and rewarding!

What inspires your life and what codes of conduct do you live by?

Panama City

May 6, 2017

Last week I took a very last minute, spur-of-the-moment trip down to Panama for a few days. I had some Alaska Airlines miles I wanted to use so that I could cancel the credit card associated with them (because of it’s $75 annual fee). And once you cancel the card you lose the miles, so I needed to travel soon.

Bridge of the America, spanning the entrance to the Panama Canal and linking the north and south American land masses.

Bridge of the America, spanning the entrance to the Panama Canal and linking the north and south American land masses.

Due to my crazy and unpredictable schedule over these last few weeks, I hadn’t been able to book any trips to use these miles. But when it appeared that I would suddenly have a week free, I jumped at the chance to squeeze in a trip. A quick Alaska Airlines search revealed that I could actually still get last minute international flights for the 30,000 miles that I had! You can’t go far internationally round trip for 30,000, but you can get Caribbean, Central America, and (northern) South America flights for that amount. And there were still flights for the next day! My first choice was Panama City, with flights also open for Quito, Ecuador and Bogota, Colombia. Since I want to wait until I have the funds and time to also see the Galapagos when in Ecuador, that option was out. And I’m not brave enough to do Colombia on my own as a white, female, non-Spanish speaker, so that left Panama City, which was my first choice anyway. (The upside to the other two options would be that I’d finally get my 6th continent. But that will have to wait.) So I looked through the flight options, and while not ideal, they were doable. Thanks to my amazing dad agreeing to take me to the airport at 4 am, I quickly booked a 7 am flight for the next morning (by far my most spontaneous trip to date). Then I did some quick research, booked a hostel, called our missionaries for some advice (to put my mom at ease – she doesn’t like my solo travel), and started packing.

View of Panama City from Ancon Hill

View of Panama City from Ancon Hill

For trips of a week or less, I have started doing my best to take only carry-on luggage and I’m so thankful that I did on this trip! Thanks to long delays in Dallas, all of us with connections missed our flights when we landed in Miami. It was annoying to miss one of my days in Panama, and to have to pay for a hotel, but at least I had all my stuff with me. I was rebooked on a 10:45 am flight for the next day and thankfully that one got off with no problems.

Panama City's awesome Revolution Tower

Panama City’s awesome Revolution Tower

My short trip, made even shorter by the missed connection, ended up with me being in Panama City for only 3 full days and 2 half days. I certainly would have loved more time down there, and debated changing my flight after I got down there, but I’m thankful for the time I did have, at least. And now I know for next time how to better do Panama City!

This bird reminds me of a platypus

This bird reminds me of a platypus

Sunset and city views from the Causeway

Sunset and city views from the Causeway

Flower from a Cannonball tree. They have a very strong, unique fragrance.

Flower from a Cannonball tree. They have a very strong, unique fragrance.

Panama City's Old Town, Casco Viejo, is so colorful and fun.

Panama City’s Old Town, Casco Viejo, is so colorful and fun.

The Harpy eagle is the largest in the Americas and one of the largest in the world. And they can turn their heads completely around, just like an owl.

The Harpy eagle is the largest in the Americas and one of the largest in the world. And they can turn their heads completely around, just like an owl.

View of the financial district from the Causeway across the Panama Bay

View of the financial district from the Causeway across the Panama Bay

Dusk on the Causeway

Dusk on the Causeway

I love red-headed woodpeckers =)

I love red-headed woodpeckers =)

There are so many fun finds in Casco Viejo.

There are so many fun finds in Casco Viejo.

I'm not sitting in an infinity pool for this one, but it looks like it. =)

I’m not sitting in an infinity pool for this one, but it looks like it. =)

Two ships crossing the Panama Canal. The Canal is way cooler than I thought it would be.

Two ships crossing the Panama Canal. The Canal is way cooler than I thought it would be.

Crossing the Canal

Crossing the Canal

Mangoes enough for everyone!

Mangoes enough for everyone!

I just love this sign's depiction of Panamanians =)

I just love this sign’s depiction of Panamanians =)

Colorful doors are so much fun!

Colorful doors are so much fun!

Casco Viejo is truly beautiful

Casco Viejo is truly beautiful

Playing tourist. =) (Actually I saw lots of locals taking pictures here as well).

Playing tourist. =) (Actually I saw lots of locals taking pictures here as well).

I highly recommend a visit to Panama. The Canal and museum/visitors’ center alone definitely make it worth a visit. Plus there is a lot of unique flora and fauna to be found in Panama.

Green and Black Poison Dart frog. I saw dozens of these up there. They are so pretty! But my lens kept fogging up because of the humidity so it was hard to get pictures of them.

Green and Black Poison Dart frog. I saw dozens of these up there. They are so pretty! But my lens kept fogging up because of the humidity so it was hard to get pictures of them.

California’s Super Bloom

April 10, 2017

If you live in California (or even if you don’t), you’ve undoubtedly heard about our “super bloom” of flowers right now. Viral facebook posts have caused people to turn out in droves to see fields of flowers as far as the eye can see in various parts of southern and central California.

California, I love you!

Well, I’m always up for a reason to break out the camera (it’s been getting a little dusty lately, although it did get a quick jaunt across the pond a few weeks ago) so a girlfriend and I headed up there this past weekend to see if we could find all these supposedly ubiquitous flowers.

I just love the colors here so much!

Because of this post I saw on facebook, we decided to head 3.5 hours north to the Carrizo Plain National Monument:

Unfortunately our late arrival meant we didn’t have the time to climb up to this point. =( But we did still enjoy what we did see.

God is the best artist!

The drive north was fairly uneventful, although we managed to make it interesting with several long stops that caused us to not arrive at our hiking destination until 4 pm! I had hoped to be up there by 1 pm at the latest. If you go, get there early! 

Right now there are lots of visitors and you will have to drive on a narrow, dusty, and rut-riddled single-lane “road” that is serving as a two-lane road! It is a bit of a crazy ride, and thanks to all the traffic it ends up being quite the windy, dusty stop when you do get out of your car to get pictures. Perhaps by arriving early you can avoid some of the traffic congestion and dust.

The drive up was so incredibly beautiful!

But in spite of all the traffic and wind and dust (and we even got some rain!), we still managed to get some great pictures at all of our stops along the way. And I promise, I’m doing my best to post only a *few* pictures.

When the sun shone on these hills, all those yellow flowers lit up and highlighted the ridges of the hills. It was kinda amazing.

I love windmills! And hills of yellow flowers. =)

Love. This.

Before you arrive at the dirt road that leads you to the hike to find the pictures you see in the facebook post, you will pass a lot of green flower-covered hills that are worth stopping at to get some pictures. (Note: the place to hike is not well-identified. You might only notice it by the cars parked along the road. When in doubt, follow the crowd.)

All the yellow lit up by the sun

We stopped at several beautiful places and could have spent hours up there if we weren’t in desperate search of a bathroom by that point. Tip: There are only TWO toilets at the Carrizo Plain National Monument Visitor Center off of Soda Lake Road. When we arrived there, the line was so long that it took us 30 minutes to get to use the restroom (it was at this point that it rained on us, at two different times). What an adventure it ended up being. But we had a great time and I LOVED getting to take some pretty pictures again.

Monique matches the flowers wherever she goes. 😉

Sometimes there were pretty views with no place to pull off, so we made do with shots out the window.


One of my faves



So much beauty.

=)

It’s a great time to be out in nature in California right now. Get out there and enjoy it!

So. Many. Flowers.

Have you ever crossed something off your bucket list without even knowing it? That night I saw an icebow…

February 9, 2017

Ever since I heard about icebows, it’s been on my bucket list to see one. And then last night I saw one and didn’t even know that’s what it was!img_9666

Last night I forgot something I needed at the front house and as I was walking up to get it, I glanced up at the sky (I love the night sky!) and was shocked to see a huge white ring around the moon! I had no idea what it was but excitedly ran to tell my mom and brother and then ran for my camera. I wasn’t sure how long it would stay like that, but thankfully it lasted long enough for me to play around a bit with my settings and focus to get some okay pictures. Would have been better if I could have set infinity focus and or used a tripod. But still, it totally made my night and I’m so thankful God let me see it!

img_9661At first googling, it appeared to be a “moonbow” so I went with that. But then after some more googling, I realized it was actually an icebow! Eek! I had thought they only showed up in the day and in snowy/icy places, but I guess not. I also learned that if you use a long exposure you can capture the colors that our eyes can’t see. Apparently icebows aren’t really just the white color that we can see. Next time!img_9671

Hello, 2017!

January 27, 2017

You guys, where did 2016 go? And where have I been lately? I know, I know, sorry I’ve been MIA for a while now.  It’s not that I haven’t been writing it’s just that I’ve been trying to crank out 50 articles for ExpatPost and so have been devoting all of my writing time to that. Only 19 articles left to write! Then hopefully I can write a bit more here from time to time.

2016 was challenging

I can’t believe another year has come and gone already. 2016 in many ways was one of the more difficult years I’ve had in a while, and in other ways was one of the most incredible years. Living in Fiji wasn’t easy for many, many reasons. But I learned a lot about many different things, and I experienced things that certainly make for good stories and that taught me I can go through certain things and survive. It also made me extremely thankful for all the other places I’ve lived and all the other jobs I’ve had.

2016 was also incredible

2016 saw me visiting my 50th country, what?!!!! (Also my 51st).  I certainly never in a million years would have guessed that life would lead me this direction, but I am so, so thankful for all these adventures God has allowed me to go on. What an amazing life and journey He’s given me! I also got to experience three of THE coolest things I’ve ever gotten to see. In that aspect, I don’t think any year will ever surpass the incredibleness of this past year.

  • Climbed an active volcano

I got to climb Mt. Yassur on Tanna Island, Vanuatu and watch the volcano repeatedly erupt while the sun set behind us. Hands down if you are able to do this you MUST. One of the most amazing things you will ever witness in your life. Totally surreal experience.

  • Saw the northern lights

I also got to experience the northern lights in Alaska. Another AMAZING experience that MUST be on your list of things to do. I cannot put into words how awe-inspiring they are.  Seriously, just go see them. If that was the only amazing thing I experienced this year it would have been enough. I can’t rave enough about that experience. Worth every penny you will ever spend on the trip, AND my trip was basically free!!!

  • Kayaked the Bio Bay in Puerto Rico

The third incredible thing was getting to experience bioluminescence in Vieques, Puerto Rico. I didn’t know that much about bioluminescence/dinoflagellates before I went to PR this last time, but I do now! And they are incredible. Think glow-in-the-dark water that only lights up when you touch it. It looks like you are putting your paddle or hand into a glow stick.  And if you splash the water into the kayak, little tiny dots of glowing bright blue will cascade all around you and then disappear. It’s amazing. And should definitely be on your bucket list.

You guys, God is an AMAZING artist. All those surreal experiences I got to see last year were all natural phenomena that He created! The more I travel, the more I am in absolute awe of what a majestic designer He is. I am often simply overwhelmed by it all. He is such a good God to give us so much beauty to enjoy.

I don’t know what 2017 holds for me. (I say that pretty often these days, don’t I?) But I know that something amazing will happen and I’m just waiting for it. While I hang out and wait for where to go next I am throwing myself into trying to learn Russian for real. In the past I stopped trying when I ran up against the brick wall that is called confusing Russian grammar. But this time I am determined to push through it and really master this unique and challenging and beautiful language.  Never in a million years did I think I would ever try to learn a foreign language. And certainly not one as difficult as Russian. But it’s exciting and the more I learn and see progress, the more excited I become. Someday I will return to a Russian-speaking country. At least that is my dream.

I hope that each of you has a fabulous 2017. Don’t let fear hold you back from chasing big, bold dreams. There is so much out there in this big world we live in. Go do it!