Tidying Up Loose Threads

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With the knowledge that I’ll be moving out at the end of the summer, I started to evaluate what I have lying around half finished. I’m very good at starting a project and either finishing in a day, or waiting a year.

The first place to start was with books. I tend to read most of my books through my library’s e-book lending service. It works wonderfully and I usually have all of my holds on a rotation, reading on my Kindle or my phone. But as I’ve increased my e-book consumption, my consumption of the books I physically own fell. I’ve been very good about not buying more physical books until I can finish those I have, but there’s still twenty or so books that I haven’t read or have accumulated through holidays or sharing with my father. Because I’m planning to move, I only want to take books with me that I haven’t had a chance to read yet. But in order to preserve my back, I want that number of physical books I haven’t read to be on the smaller side. (Bonus – once I get the books I’ve already read down to a smaller number, I can finally justify buying more books!) I’ve recently read my physical copies of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, and I’m part of the way into Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

The second place to go is to the TV – well, let’s be honest, it’s more like all my streaming platforms. Last year, I made a list of all the finished shows I’m halfway through. Again, I’m very good at finishing the first few seasons, but I get distracted and don’t always make it to the end. Because I need as few distractions as possible, I’m trying to make it through the shows available on streaming platforms I don’t use as frequently. I’ve managed to make it to the end of Teen Wolf, The Mentalist, and I’m on the last season of Criminal Minds. If I can knock off one or two before I head to law school, I’ll be happy to cancel my subscriptions for a few months and bring one or two back for the winter break.

The last loose thread includes genuine loose threads. I’ve taken up quilting over the last year and have started quite a few different projects. At the moment, I’m not planning to take any fabric or a sewing machine with me, so I need to wrap up as many of the half-started projects I’ve got as I can. I’ve got a finished top that I’m avoiding finishing because quilting it is daunting and I’ve got a top that I’m not sure how I want to proceed. Both of these quilts are unfinished out of anxiety about the next steps, but I’ve got about a month to get over that and get them done.

In addition to these half finished hobbies, I made myself a little bit of a summer to-do list. I know that I’ll be spending the next few years studying and working almost year round and I wanted to enjoy my last “free” summer while I could. The list includes a trip to the beach and the consumption of good watermelon, as well as meeting up with friends before I leave town. But like every year, the end of summer is fast approaching and my list is still long.

A Quick Adventure to Connecticut

Travel

A few weeks ago, I did something I haven’t done in over a year: I took some time off from work and I left the state of Virginia. For someone who has literally traveled around the world, it may seem ridiculous to be so excited about leaving the Mid-Atlantic region, but it was a long time coming (also we were avoiding part of cicada season).

I took a Thursday and a Friday off from work, packed up a car with my (retired) parents and we started the long drive up the East Coast to Connecticut. (If you want a full recap of our road choices, my father can inform you; I was asleep in the back seat for most of this.) Why Connecticut of all places? Well, I have deposited at a law school (!!!) located in Hartford, Connecticut and wanted to go for a visit.

Side note: law school is strange because it is a rolling acceptance system. You can be accepted in September when you apply or you can be accepted from the wait list during Orientation Week. So though I have deposited at a school, I don’t know what the summer may bring. As of right now, I’ll be heading to Connecticut, but I also have my options open until I move there.

Our main goals for the trip were to avoid the beginning of the cicadas in the DC area, to see campus, check out a few apartments, and also go on a little vacation. Also my mom wanted to see a beach – it’s the little things in life. We successfully managed to avoid cicadas on our trip. So, one point to us.

We made it up to Hartford with plenty of sunshine left and decided to head to Dunkin Donuts Park for a baseball game. It’s been a while since we sat in the stands for a game, so we really enjoyed the opportunity to watch the Hartford Yard Goats (#NoGoatsNoGlory) and eat some junk food. Our weekend was made great by some beautiful spring weather (something we don’t really get in DC). So we soaked up some Vitamin D while we could and enjoyed the light breeze. Alas, the goats were defeated but it was a pleasant night nonetheless.

Our first stop on Friday was a visit to the law school. Everything is closed down, but I still wanted to stop by. We made a loop through the buildings, peeking in windows when we could, and marveling at how collegiate it felt. We made mental notes of parking availability and the various names of buildings, before we set off for breakfast (at Dunkin of course!).

Our Friday and Saturday were spent driving around the area, exploring Hartford and West Hartford, taking a couple of apartment tours. Previous attempts at organizing a lot of tours for the weekend were foiled and we were too early for most of the apartments that might be available in August, but the driving around and tours we did take were helpful.

The last time I was in Hartford was looking for colleges for my brother – in 2009. We had vague recollections of this park or that building, but if I was planning to move to the city, I needed a little more information. Our drives showed us the variety of neighborhoods and what driving routes would be available. We spotted a couple of places and made notes. We ate at local restaurants, soaking in the spring weather and the vacation vibes we hadn’t seen in over a year. Generally we ate, explored, and enjoyed the nice weather. We also did get a brief chance to visit a beach for my mother, despite there being absolutely no waves and gross seaweed/moss keeping us from dipping our toes in for too long.

And then it was time to drive home. We got a Dunkin on the road home and made it back with no problems (once again, I was asleep in the backseat). By the time we pulled into the driveway, there was a low buzz – the cicadas had awakened in our time away. My father got a nice bike ride in and my mother and I spent the afternoon washing the cars.

Despite the short timeframe, the lack of an apartment lease, and the long-ish drive, I’d call the trip an overall success, but that might just have to do with all the donuts I ate…

Those Who Can’t Travel, Quilt

quilting, Travel, Uncategorized

I find that my stress about being imperfect is lessened when I remind myself that the fabric I’m using is already scraps from a previous project. I finished a blue and yellow quilt almost a year ago, zoomed through a rainbow quilt made from scraps and made three other quilt tops, including a boat on a blue ocean. But my productivity hit a bit of a standstill. Partially life got in the way and partially I didn’t know how I wanted to quilt the most recent quilt tops, so I took a pause.

Recently a friend of my mother’s has been downsizing her fabric stash, sharing fabrics and scraps with us to put to use. One of the side effects of becoming a quilter is accumulating a whole lot of fabric, some wanted, some not so much. As our house is currently overstuffed with fabric, I’ve used scraps from the friend and my mother’s various projects to make my quilts in the past. (I was actually encouraged to start quilting after years of inaction by my mother’s concerns about having too many scraps.)

However, a recent delivery from the friend included a panel of quilt blocks that were travel themed. As I can’t travel right now, I decided that instead of tucking the panel away with a plan for later, I would tackle my idea and make a quilt top. And a week later, my mother kindly put the binding on and it is ready to be donated.

The fabric panel included fifteen little motifs representing cities around the world, framed in colorful borders. I chopped up each city into a block and made borders out of solid fabrics, drawing from the colors used in the illustrations. So often, I find myself sticking to a simple color palette or trying to make fabrics match perfectly, and it was a little fun this time to use such bright colors and allow them to be bold and clash a little.

Fifteen wasn’t an ideal number of blocks for the quilt size I wanted to make, so I began a (fruitless) search for a simple block pattern for an airplane or passport. When that came up unsuccessful, I found a suitcase quilt online that I thought could do the trick. Using “Dear Friends Suitcase Quilt Pattern“, my mother and I mathed out the right size for a little suitcase to give me sixteen blocks.

Once the suitcase was made (remind me later that I hate paper piecing and small pieces of fabric), the borders were in place, and the order of the blocks was decided, I got the top finished. I forgot how quick a quilt can come together when it isn’t made up of thousands of tiny scraps.

Hoping to avoid the fate of the other quilt tops waiting to be quilted, we quickly put the travel quilt on the longarm machine, used a pantograph called “Bora Bora” and let the machine do its thing. My mother kindly put the binding on the quilt and voilà!

This lovely little quilt (with fabric from Susan and many hours of assistance from Ginny) will be headed to Project Linus. Hopefully the recipient will live vicariously through the quilt just like I was inspired to!

I counted out that I’ve visited 9 out of the 15 cities in this quilt. How many have you been able to travel to?

The quilt features panels for London, Sydney, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Montreal, Reykjavik, Mexico City, New York, Moscow, Tokyo, Cairo, Rome, Nairobi, and Paris.

A Bit of a Catch Up

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It’s been a while. I haven’t been able to do much traveling and I have struggled with finishing the things I’ve started, but in honor of a new year coming around, I figured I’d do a bit of a catch up to remind myself what’s been going on.

So, number one: since we last talked, I moved. I decided with work from home being in my future for at least the next few months, being in a tiny cramped (expensive) apartment wasn’t something I wanted to continue to do. Fortunately, my parents live close by and were kind enough to let me move back into my old room. Rather than one big moving day, we spread it out over a few weeks. I don’t know whether this erased the stress of one big day of moving or spread it out over multiple months, but yesterday, I finally tucked everything away and can confidently call myself moved in.

Number two: I’ve been reading. A lot. I keep my Goodreads up to date if you’re interested, but since reading 28 books in 28 days in February, I’ve finished 12 more books. I’ve been very into romance books recently, which are fun and easy to read when I’m feeling kinda stressed. I also spent some of the time in my move reorganizing my bookshelf, which was surprisingly fun. I was reminded of childhood favorites and school reads that I despised – always gotta have balance.

Number three: we’ve been watching lots. My parents and I have a bit of a schedule going with the TV: during the week, there’s pretty minimal watching until 9 p.m. when Rachel Maddow comes on. She’s been a regular on the TV for a few years and the habit remains. Sometimes it’s a great show, other times not so much… But the weekends are when it gets interesting. We’ve been working our way through the new Disney Plus shows, including The Mandalorian, WandaVision, and our current show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We’ve also watched a few of the 2021 Oscar nominees and some film adaptations of Fredrik Backman books. (I also convinced my mother to watch Bridgerton with me, which we watch when my dad goes to bed early). We often spend a good half hour after each show or movie explaining to each other what happened and discussing the plots or guessing the next episode.

Number four: I’ve been making quilts. Last year, I started getting into making scrap quilts and have finished two quilts completely, have three quilt tops to be quilted and am currently working on my sixth quilt which will look like a bookcase. I like making quilts as a relaxing hobby and enjoy going away for a day or two before returning with fresh eyes and more energy. Despite trading off the sewing machine with my mom, it’s been nice to make things with little to no pressure and no timeline to rush me. As with most crafting hobbies, I have more ideas than time to complete any of them, so I’ve already got ideas lined up for three or four more quilts once I complete the ones I’m working on.

Lastly, I got older! I turned 26 on the 14th and two days later found my first gray hair. A few years ago, a friend asked me what my goals were for the next year – I promptly forgot them and had to come up with new ones later, but I like to continue that tradition and set some intentions for the year. This year, my goals include going to law school (and the inevitable move that will come with that), visiting old friends and making new friends, continuing to create, stay healthy, save up some money, and, finally, prioritize joy.

So, that’s what you’ve missed. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to do some traveling or adventuring of some kind soon and then I can write about those. Or maybe I’ll just start recording the conversations I have with my mother about the different kinds of birds that visit our kitchen bird feeder – the suburbs can change you…

Nomadland

Travel, Uncategorized

Sometimes you watch a film or read a book and every scene makes you want to hop off your couch, get in the car, and go. Watching Chloe Zhao’s film Nomadland was that kind of experience. The film follows a woman learning the ins and outs of being a nomad in the American West. With stunning visuals and superb acting from Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, the film is a wonderful exploration of solo van travel and the emotions that drive people to want to see the world this way.

Nomadland shows the beauty of the American landscape right next to the reality of living in a van. It’s the juxtaposition of the beauty and the mud that makes this film so appealing. Sometimes with the multitude of travel choices, it is hard to remember that the United States has just as much variety in its travel options as international travel might provide. You can be on the windy coast of Oregon and then the desert landscape of the Southwest and then the Redwood forests of California. With international travel grounded for the moment, the lingering landscape shots used throughout the film serve as a reminder of just how much America has to offer to those looking to find themselves in nature.

But the reality of living and traveling in a van isn’t always gorgeous landscapes – the film features the main character sleeping in Walmart parking lots and at gas stations; it features the need to downsize your belongings to just the essentials; it features the moment when your van is dying (as a vehicle will do at some point) and the realization that it isn’t just your transportation in trouble, but your home as well.

What I loved about the film in particular is the way it showcased the solitude of solo travel. Some days you’re surrounded by friends and noise and chaos, and the next day you’re alone. You are the driver, the navigator, the entertainment. Some people thrive on the solitude and others don’t, but you never really know until you test it out for yourself.

Watching this film reminded me of all the travel I want to do in my lifetime and how much I enjoy the freedom of minimal possessions and maximum portability. It served to scratch the itch of wanting to get moving, while also inspiring me to look a little closer to home for my next adventure.

Overall, Nomadland is a wonderful watch and I highly recommend it.

28 in 28 Days

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Sometime between February 1st, 2021 and February 28th, 2021, I read 28 books. I didn’t start the month with the intention of falling into an accidental reading challenge. What really happened was I picked up a book and read, and then I picked up another and read some more. By the time I realized just how much I had read I was halfway through the month and had finished a book each day. By that point, I figured I might as well see if I could do it – finish a book a day for the entire month. And I did.

Throughout the month of February, I read about 7468 pages in 28 books ranging in length from 21 pages to 451. (Please note that some of the books I read are short stories or essays, but are deemed as individual books by Goodreads and that is good enough for me.) The oldest book read was from 1916 and a few books were read as Advanced Reader Copies through NetGalley and will be (or already were) published in 2021. According to Goodreads, the most frequently read book on my February reading list was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and the least frequently read by Goodreads users was a Magic Treehouse book called Late Lunch with Llamas. The highest rated book I read was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the lowest rated book (though still relatively highly rated) was The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S., which was only published at the beginning of the month. My favorite book of the month was Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, (but there’s more about that coming soon). Of the 28 books read in February, 15 were audiobooks, 1 was read physically, 3 were Advanced Reader Copies read through NetGalley, 12 books were read as e-books, and 22 were read as loans from my library.

Going in to the month of March, I have no plans to read anywhere that near that many books, but I have to say I enjoyed finally getting through some of the books that always sounded interesting, but that I never really bothered to pick up and read. I consider myself a mood reader – I read based on what sounds good and when it sounds good, rather than based on deadlines and expectations. Sometimes all I want to do is read all day long and others times I’d rather not. So I follow those instincts and this month, it just so happened that I wanted to read a lot. I’m proud of myself for reading as much as I have this year and last. There have been years where, with the exception of a textbook, I haven’t read anything at all. But recently I’ve enjoyed picking up a old favorite pastime.

The one problem I’ve run into is that I had set my reading goal for 2021 at 24 books and have now completely surpassed that goal in the first two months of the year. I’ll have to come up with an even bigger challenge to get me to December!

What are you reading?

Start Somewhere

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As part of my challenge to myself to face my own fear of failure, I’ve encouraged myself to try new things. I emphasize crafts in this pursuit because if I’m bad at it, there’s not a whole lot of fallout. There’s definitely a belief amongst people my age and my generation that hobbies can and should be money making. Time spent on hobbies shouldn’t feel wasted. So many people I know start a hobby and then feel the need to make a YouTube channel about it or open a shop. While that extra cash is nice, it puts pressure on what should be a relaxing side project. Rather than coming home and reading for fun or making a sweater for their cat, there’s a pressure to make profitable projects or create content surrounding that effort. Sometimes I find myself feeling guilty that I haven’t posted twice a week or I missed a month’s worth of posts, but at the end of the day, I’d hope that my hobbies (including this blog) are more about flexing that creative (or physical) muscle rather than about getting attention and/or making money.

So I’m telling myself that not only can I try new things without the fear of failure, but I can be bad at them and not have to give up or expect more from myself.

Example #1: Quilting. Over the last year, I started making scrap quilts using my mother’s massive pile of scrap fabric. There’s a few things I like about scrap quilting. One, it’s using scraps and crumbs from other projects – if I mess up, it isn’t a big deal because the fabric is already scrap pieces. Second, I can practice skills I first learned almost two decades ago without fear. Third, because I’m borrowing my mom’s fabric and thread and machine, I only really get to quilt on the weekends; this means that I rest during the week and can spend my weekends enjoying my new hobby or I can skip a weekend without feeling guilt about wasted opportunity. Could I finish a quilt in a weekend? Probably. Do I have to? No.

For me, quilting is nice because I can use it as an opportunity to chat with my mom about our weeks or our favorite fabrics. Each scrap came from a finished quilt and we enjoy rediscovering certain bits and reflecting on what quilt they came from and whether they were donated or not. Starting a skill is a lot less daunting if you have a friend with the skills (or the same interest to learn the skills). Hobbies don’t have to always be solitary activities.

Example #2: Watercolor. When I was in college, one of my jobs was working the front desk of the residence hall I lived in. Because the desk was open all weekend, I often found myself awake at weird times. 4 a.m. wasn’t the best time to follow along with a convoluted tv show or to try and write that paper. Instead, I found a cheap set of watercolor paints at CVS and a thing of watercolor paper. During my shifts, I would listen to music and watercolor. I hadn’t taken a painting class since middle school and I can tell you honestly that despite my best efforts, I’m pretty bad at it. I don’t have the patience or the technique or really interest in trying to be better. I found the flow of a paintbrush on paper to be calming. Rather than stress about getting better, I accepted that I am bad at it, but I enjoy it regardless of that fact. I enjoy the fact that I’m a beginner and I may never get past that point – it doesn’t make the relaxation effect any less useful.

Because I’ve accepted my beginner status, I haven’t spent much money on this particular hobby. I’ve acknowledged that no amount of fancy watercolors or nice brushes is going to change what I enjoy about watercoloring and they definitely aren’t going to suddenly make me into Monet. Instead, I’ve avoided that dreaded mistake of over-shopping on supplies for a hobby. I’d rather save my money than overspend on something I might not participate in all that often.

Example #3: Cross stitch. During my Master’s program, I had a bit of free time and went down the Instagram rabbit hole of quirky embroidery and cross stitch patterns. It looked fun and relatively simple. So I hopped on Etsy and found a beginner’s kit for a cross stitch pattern. The kit came with just the essentials and a little video explaining how to cross stitch. It seemed simple enough and I got a cute little cross stitch out of it. When I came back home, I mentioned it to my mother, who of course went through a cross stitch phase and had all the supplies tucked away in the basement. So I made more, trying harder patterns as I grew more confident. I had to remind myself to start with the easy patterns and stitch types. I knew I was just a beginner and I knew I needed to start small and grow.

For all of these hobbies, I had to start at the beginning and remind myself that I was not an expert and may never be one. There’s something nice about focusing less on whether I can one day make a living off my hobby and focusing more on the intentionality of stretching my creative muscles and doing something that relaxes me and brings me joy.

A Smooth Sea: Quilt #3

quilting

Over the last year, I’ve started to get into quilting. I recently completed my first two quilts and while I enjoyed the experience, my Pinterest board of scrap quilt ideas is a little overflowing. So by the time the binding was on Quilt #2, I had three or five ideas ready to go for the next one. One problem with following my quilter mother on Pinterest is that many of our quilt related pins are the same. We had both been eyeing a design, unbeknownst to the other, of a boat floating through strips of blue water. She wasn’t quick enough, so I got to take on that challenge first.

The quilt we were both inspired by is called Seafarer and after some math to determine its size, we acknowledged that the quilt would work well to get rid of some of the blue scrap strips that had made it through Scrap Quilt 1 and Scrap Quilt 2 unused, but we also realized I’d need to learn to paper piece.

Paper piecing is a type of sewing that using a piece of paper (in our case a bunch of old phonebook pages and newspaper) to build the piece. Essentially, I used the phonebook page as a guide to keep each strip straight diagonally across the square. I spent many a weekend sewing blue strips to blue strips to blue strips until we eventually got 40-something squares of diagonal blue strips.

I’m saying “we” because despite being in charge of sewing this quilt, my kind mother assisted me by acknowledging every time I forgot the seam allowance and then kindly assisted in strategic cuts that meant I wouldn’t need to get out the handy-dandy seam ripper.

After all the big blocks were built, the same idea was used to build the side “half” blocks and the two corner blocks. The last task was to create the boat that would be sailing through the sea. With a little more paper piecing and some wiggling, we had a little boat. The last step in the paper piecing journey, was sewing all the blocks together and then removing the paper. If you think quilters are covered in threads, let me tell you about the little pieces of ripped newspaper and phone book that I am still finding weeks later. The satisfaction of pealing the paper off was completely overshadowed by the itty-bitty scraps of paper that just would not let go. But once it was done, it looked good.

With the front of the quilt done, it was time for quilting. I’m planning to use my mother’s massive retirement present and then bound the quilt on the little machine. (After all the quilting this little machine has been through this year with both my projects and my mother’s, it might need a vacation.) Instead of using a pattern to quilt on the long-arm machine, I’m planning to free style it. But I don’t quite have the skills or the confidence to do it yet. But soon!

After the bright colors of the last two quilts, I was looking to work with more calming colors, but still wanted a quilt that would be visually interesting. I think it turned out pretty alright. I’m sure the corners don’t match up perfectly and that there are ways I could have quilted or organized the quilt for better visual, but for a scrap quilt, I’m proud of it.

And like any good quilter, I’ve already got Quilt #4 started. Wish me luck!

Music Festivals as a Solo Act

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One of my favorite decisions from my early 20s was uncharacteristically spontaneous. After graduating from college, I decided to go to a music festival that summer with the idea that I would live a little before heading to grad school. I had never been to an overnight music festival, nor did I know anyone who planned to be there, but I went for it and had a fantastic time. Before you follow in my footsteps and plan a solo trip to a festival, here’s the things I learned from my solo journey to Manchester, TN for Bonnaroo in 2017 and 2019.

Pick your festival wisely. One of the reasons I felt comfortable going to Bonnaroo solo is the festival’s reputation for “good vibes”. And I learned very quickly that the folks who enjoy Bonnaroo genuinely are the nicest people. Multiple times throughout my adventures on the Farm, people would come up and check in on me, whether I had ever seen them before or not. Spontaneous deep conversations were common and of course everyone on the Farm loves a high five. Before you venture down to any festival by yourself, check the reviews online or with friends; not every festival has the same reputation.

Volunteer. For both my trips to Bonnaroo, I volunteered through their C’roo program – I was given free entrance to the festival, free showers, free meals for shifts worked and all of my shifts were over before the festival even really began. 10 out of 10 would recommend it. Plus, I befriended my neighboring volunteers who became friends that I still talk to regularly. If you’re on your own, the structure of the volunteer program can help you meet people (especially if you’re a little more introverted like I am).

Make your schedule. Most festivals post their schedules in advance for you to peruse, others might post online the day of or give you a printed schedule the day of. Whatever the festival’s system, pick your “most see”s and make sure you know where you want to be and when. Once you know those, be flexible with the rest. One of the great things about festivals, instead of a classic concert, is the opportunity to stumble upon a great new band you never would have heard of. If you only see the bands you came for, you might miss out on the next big thing. But if you find yourself floating from stage to stage based on what your neighbor’s cousin’s best friend recommended, you might be disappointed in your experience. Find your balance.

Use social media to your advantage. Now, once you get where you’re going, you may not have great service. Which is totally fine – you’re at the festival for the experience, not for free time to play solitaire. But I’d highly recommend posting on social media that you’re planning to go. Share the line-up or post a picture of your packed car. Maybe someone you know will see it and be there. Or maybe you’ve just inspired someone else to go too. Once you’re there, meet up! Even if it’s just for a show or two, it’ll give you a chance to hang with someone new. I ran into a former resident from my R.A. days in the bathroom line at Bonnaroo, met up with a friend I met in Australia, and spent most of my second festival with a friend I met volunteering the first time around.

Lastly, don’t forget to check in! Tell your roommate or your mom or just someone you trust where you’ll be. Check in before you leave, when you arrive, during the festival, and when you’re headed home. Even though it’s not as crazy as flying around the world alone, it is still a good idea to keep someone informed, just in case.

My Time Down Under: Australia

Travel

In 2015, I spent almost five months in the Southern Hemisphere, studying in Sydney. Partially because I had relatively few interactions with the very dangerous species that populate the island, I had a wonderful time there. I lived in one of the suburbs of the city, close to my university. And while my time spent studying in Sweden involved quite a bit of travel around Europe, my time in Australia was mostly spent in and around Sydney. Because now feels like as good a time as any to reminisce, I thought I’d share some about what I enjoyed while living down under.

Because I lived outside Sydney, I spent the majority of my time in that area. I truly delved into the university experience with four Sociology courses while living in a dorm near campus. My dorm experience was unlike where I had lived in the U.S. The social life was vibrant to say the least and unlike college in the U.S., where drinking for the first few years happens almost exclusively behind closed doors and at frat houses, drinking in Australia was normalized (the drinking age is 18). Instead of hiding from the R.A., we drank with the R.A. It was a mental shift, for sure. Some of my favorite memories involved long conversations with friends late at night over a game of pool or after a big event. One of the best parts of studying abroad is the people you meet.

Now I spent a surprisingly little amount of time on beaches during my time in Australia, but there’s plenty of beautiful waterfront in Sydney. Though I stopped by Manly Beach and Bondi Beach with everyone and their mother, I also enjoyed the lesser known Palm Beach and the climb up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse. My personal favorite activity was the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. The walk goes along the coast, giving you views of the ocean, smaller beaches, and occasionally some art to enjoy. I’ve done this walk with friends, as well as jetlagged parents. What’s nice about it is that at any point you can stop and find the closest bus or cafe to take a break. (The whole thing will take about 3 hours or so.)

Other highlights of the Sydney experience included the quirky, like Luna Park, an amusement park on the water, or Wendy’s Secret Garden, a garden built like an art piece. Taronga Zoo featured animals with breathtaking views of the Harbour, Darling Harbour featured cultural experiences and food every time we wandered through, and of course, Sydney featured the Opera House (which I never actually ventured inside) and the Harbour Bridge (which I never climbed).

But I didn’t only stay in Sydney. About halfway through my time in Australia, my parents came to visit. While jetlagged, I took them on the aforementioned Bondi to Coogee walk, but we also ventured outside New South Wales.

We took a plane to the middle of the country to visit the iconic Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. We stuck with your classic tourist adventures, but I’ll never forget a nighttime meal near Uluru with no lights and the Milky Way above my head. (Yes, I cried.) We also took a few hikes around Kata Tjuta and learned a little more about the relationship White Australia has with its Indigenous communities.

We also went South. After retraining our brains that “south” in the Southern Hemisphere meant colder, we made it to Melbourne. Five years later, my parents still reference the cute streets of Melbourne as one of the best places they’ve visited. We loved the graffiti art spread throughout the city and the alleyways turned into outdoor dining and the tram that allowed us to circle the city so easily. But we also wanted to see some of the wildlife – so we ventured down to Phillip Island for the Penguin Parade.

Despite mostly sticking to cities or tourist destinations, my parents got a trip worth the jetlag, but I wasn’t done yet. After powering through four classes’ worth of assignments, I had some free time during the exam period to explore Sydney before flying back home. With the knowledge that I might never get the chance to fly over 24 hours to Australia, I decided to hit up the ultimate bucket list item: The Great Barrier Reef.

Two friends and I travelled north to Cairns in Queensland. We had two goals – snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef and hold a koala. (There are restrictions in Australia about handling koalas, which meant that if we wanted to snuggle one, we’d have to find an appropriate place to get our cuddles.) It was relatively easy to check off our goal of visiting the Reef once we were in Cairns. We were able to not only snorkel on the Reef, but also scuba dive with guidance. I’d never snorkeled, much less scuba dived, but I have to say it was incredible. A full day was spent under the water watching fish and pointing out anemones.

In order to check off the second part of our trip’s to-do list, we traveled by bus to Palm Cove. We stopped at a wildlife zoo and saw all the animals we’d happily avoided for most of our time in Australia, we held koalas (mine was named Violet and she was a sweetheart), and then we grabbed a snack while we waited for the bus home. But we realized we had way too much time to kill, so we did the only logical thing: Paddle boarding. We found a shack along the water where a kind man helped up suit up to paddle board. In retrospect, the crocodile sighting sign just down the beach should have been a deterrent, as well as the man’s warning about “stinger season“. However, we went for it and had no animal encounters on the water.

Despite warnings about crocodiles and sharks and spiders and snakes and dingos and drop bears, I managed to survive down under with only a few sunburns and plenty of memories. Here’s to hoping I make it back down there soon!