Sunday, March 16, 2014

To Grant on His Birthday:

I know this isn't post all of you were waiting for (I haven't really rested since I started spring break and I haven't uploaded pictures yet) but I just wanted to take a moment and say how much I love my brother Grant.

Today is his sixteenth birthday and I am so glad that he wasn't a girl like my parents had hoped he'd be. Sure, having a sister seems nice to most people, but I've never really wanted one because I have Grant. He's the one who will watch Reese Witherspoon chick flicks with me. He's the one that will go anywhere I will go because he just wants to be with me. He's the one who always greets me with "Sissy!" when I come home or talk to him on the phone. He will sing "Popular" from Wicked in public with no shame. He is unapologetically and unabashedly himself.

I love him and hope that he never changes because he's the best sixteen year old brother out there. Anyone who thinks or feels differently is wrong.

I wish I could call and tell him all this, but he's out partying it up on a cruise.

Happy Birthday, Bubba!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Concrete Jungle: Day 3

Today was much more relaxed than the past two days I've had here.

My dad and I decided to honor the request of my mom and make the pilgrimage to Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey. We thought that it would take a really long time to get there, but it turns out that it was basically just a matter of getting to the train station and taking a few right turns once we got across the river to Hoboken. I was told beforehand that there would be a line out the door, so I would need to wait about half an hour or so. But when we got there, the line was only to the inside of the door.



The inside of the bakery- taken while waiting in line.


He's usually checking e-mail and stuff while we wait for things. You know, important dad stuff.



That spread, though.

We then went back to our hotel room and tried to decide on something else to do... only we didn't actually go out again until dinner. We entertained the idea of going to Louis Armstrong's home, but that was an hour away. We then thought about the Natural History Museum, but that wasn't particularly interesting to us either. So dad took a nap and I dozed for a bit. 

After we ate dinner, we headed to the theatre and found out that Lorde was performing across the street. So many hipsters and little girls all over the place. I mean, we are in New York City, so the hipster thing is a a given. It was still interesting to see all the different variations of hipster and little girl were waiting to see her.


Next we came upon what I had been waiting for all day: the Neil Simon theatre where we would partake in the experience that is All the Way.


It was about three hours long, but was one of the best shows I've ever seen. It was a ride from start to finish and the entire cast was brilliant. I can't sing its praises enough. I will say this, though: if you are in NYC while this show is happening, SEE IT.

So did I meet Bryan Cranston? You bet your sweet bippy I did. He is one of the most warm and kind individuals I think I will ever meet. He touch my hand while signing my playbill. He smiled at me. He addressed me directly. He looked me in the eye when speaking to me. You know that he wants you to feel important no matter how many other people are looking to get his attention. He is the kind of performer I want to be, not just because he really is engaging onstage, but because he's the kind of person you want as your friend, uncle, or in my case, back up dad. I love my dad more than any other dad out there, but if something were to happen to mine, I would want Bryan Cranston to be my dad. Could I continue counting the ways I adore and admire Mr. Cranston? Probably. But I'll just let you look at the pictures.



They wouldn't let you take pictures with him, so I don't have any selfies or anything with him. Just know that I love him and that I met him. He's wonderful.


One of the best shows ever.


Time Square was super busy tonight. There's a lot going on.

It's been a wonderful trip and it'll be sad for it to end tomorrow, but I'm so glad that I got to do all that I've done thus far. I can't thank my parents enough for doing all this for me!

Concrete Jungle: Day 2

Today I learned many things and also got back to the hotel around midnight, so today's stories may be limited to a few sentences.

It's currently 1:50 a.m. and as I reflect on today, all I can think about is how cool certain things I saw were. As Maria Von Trapp said, here area few of my favorite things:

1. My dad and I went to the almost finished 9/11 Memorial this morning to discover some really cool memorial things like this:


The rose means that today would have been Jon's birthday.



We also found a really good vantage point for taking pictures of the Freedom Tower.

2. The Jewish Heritage Museum knows what it's doing. The way this place is set up is that it has three floors, each of which is dedicated to the foundation, past, and present of Jewish culture. Obviously the big draw for this museum would be its Holocaust exhibit, which was extremely interesting, but I like how it was set up. It began by teaching the visitors about basic beliefs and traditions of the Jewish religion and then went into the Holocaust. It ended by showing just how much stronger the Jewish people are even after the tragedy that occurred during World War II. I would definitely recommend going here the next time you venture to New York. Be warned: you will spend a really long time here. 


I happen to be really fascinated by the Nazis, especially Nazi propaganda and Adolf Hitler.

3. Ellen's Stardust Diner is way more fun than I thought it would be. I mean, I thought it would be cool, but it's definitely one of the most fun restaurant I've ever been to. They sing, they dance, they serve comfort food... what more could you ask for in a restaurant?



4. Les Miserables was very worth going to see. I've seen it many times and have gotten tired of it, but I wanted to do something my dad really want to do, so I initially decided to go because of him. Well, I found out that Will Swenson was playing Javert in this second revival and I knew that I needed to go. THEN I found out that an SUU alumni was playing Madame Thenardier and it further confirmed my need to go see the show. AND THEN I found out that Tony Award winner Nikki M. James was playing Eponine and I really knew I needed to go see the show. Needless to say, it was a good show.


My dad was way more excited about the show than he looks in this photo...


He always suggests that we take selfies. 


Mr. Will Swenson, everyone. This was what I had been looking forward to for the entire day, just ask my dad. I am so extremely proud of everything this man has accomplished. Love, love, love him.


The one and only, the fabulous Miss Keala Settle. She was seriously wonderful and I am so glad I met her!

Unfortunately Nikki M. James walked away before I could get a picture with her, but just know that she was beautiful and magical onstage. 

Needless to say, today was pretty awesome. Shout out to my dad for being a good cameraman. Hopefully tomorrow will have some even more exciting things for me to post about! I mean, it's going to be pretty difficult to top meeting Will Swenson, but I'll see what I can do!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Concrete Jungle: Day 1

Today was the first day of my adventure here in New York City. I'll admit right off that traveling through three time zones in less than twenty four hours during daylight savings time is not a good idea, but it's all been worth it so far. 

My dad and I started out the day by going to a little cafe/coffee shop called "World Coffee" where we both had muffins and I had a cup of freshly juiced apple juice. We're trying to be a bit more conscious of what we eat while here so that we don't have to roll each other back to the hotel every night. So far we've done relatively well with that goal. 




We then headed to the TKTS line to get tickets for Waiting for Godot, or Waiting for Gu-dot as one of the TKTS guys unjokingly called it. It was cold, but I felt just fine in the 31 degree weather while everyone around me seemed to be freezing even in their marshmallow jackets. 




My dad and I were able to get tickets and needed to waste time between lunch and the time the show began. We went to FAO Schwartz and of course, the Apple Store. It was a good time and we saw some things we really liked. For me, it was the Wizard of Oz toys and Beatles merchandise along with all the Apple products I don't already own. For my dad, it was some Beats headphones. 

After all this, he and I headed to the theatre and took our very small seats. The show was very well done and the cast was wonderful. I especially loved the set design. I felt like this play could easily be played too seriously, so it was good to experience this story through the lens of friendship that has a very natural feeling string of comic situations. It was also nice to be surrounded by a lot of people who would not normally go out of their way to see a Samuel Beckett play, well, going out of their way to see a Samuel Beckett play.  
Next comes the part many people know me for executing: the picture with someone I highly respect. 

After the show, security set up these small barricades to keep the already large crowd forming at the stage door in control. We waited for a small while and I sort of made friends with a young boy and his mom near the back of the crowd. You form this sort of short lived friendship as a means of having someone to laugh the situation you are both in off with another person. It's one of the best kinds of friendship. Anyway, I was able to get two autographs and pictures: Billy Crudup and the man himself, Gandalf the Grey/White a.k.a. Sir Ian McKellan, a.k.a. One of the coolest people ever. 




It was a good day and I'm looking forward to experiencing whatever this crazy city has in store tomorrow. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Living La Vida London: A Reflection

I've been going over the details of my adventure abroad this past summer in my head so many times that it has become somewhat difficult to describe what I learned there. I met so many people that changed me and did so many things that I have a difficult time summing up my experience when anybody asks how it was over there. But I have to try, and I've been putting this entry off for so long that it might be a hard to cover everything in this one post. I will try, though.

I had planned on studying in England since I was seventeen years old; this was when I took my very first trip over to the United Kingdom with my mom back in 2010 for my senior trip. It’s no secret that I was having a bit of a rough time in school as far as my social life went, so this trip was both fulfilling a dream for me as well as giving me an escape from my less than stellar last year in high school. It was that trip that made me fall in love with England and ever since that time I wanted to go back and study there. Oxford for a semester or so was the original plan, but I wanted to get there any way I could.

Fast forward to the fall semester of 2012 when I was entering my third year of college and felt like I was drifting from place to place without any set plans for my future. Fall of 2012 was also my first year at Southern Utah University. Since my freshman year of college, I had attended Snow College in Ephraim, Utah and Collin College in Plano, Texas. Unfortunately for me, my freshman year of college brought to light some issues that I needed to sort out before I decided to dive back in to living away from home, so I spent my sophomore year of college back in my home state of Texas with my family. This Southern Utah University “thing” was my second shot at living on my own again, so I was a bit nervous.

As a transfer student, I was required to go to the freshman orientation programs so that I could better acclimate myself to the school. It was during this orientation that I was presented with a new graduation requirement called the “EDGE Program”. Basically, each student is required to complete a project of their choice outside of the classroom to better themselves and the world around them in some way. The expected outcome is that each SUU student will be able to learn something that could not be taught in a classroom and grow as an individual. It also looks really good on graduate school applications.
Being the sort of person who gets right on assignments, I started thinking about what I could do to complete this new requirement so that I could graduate before my youngest brother graduates from high school in 2016. I then realized that the answer was right in front of my face: I needed to study in England, just as I had always planned. I suppose I entertained the notion of studying for an entire semester abroad, but I ultimately decided that the summer was a better time frame for me. It was a way for me to ease in to the feeling and idea of living in another country.

My next step was to figure out if I was going to study abroad through SUU or another program, and I ultimately decided to go with the American Institute for Foreign Study, or AIFS. AIFS is an SUU accredited program, so the credits I took abroad would easily transfer to SUU. I then had to go through the process of applying, getting accepted, and then getting through various tedious, but very necessary, paperwork in order to obtain permission from Richmond University in London to study on their Kensington campus. After all that was done with, I got permission to live and study in the city of London for twenty-three days.

The day arrived for me to fly alone to London, and I was terrified. I actually wanted to stay home with my family instead of take a class in a foreign country where I didn't know anybody. Judging by my track record for making friends, I didn't feel like my prospects were very good as far as making connections with other human beings went. But I went. I got on that airplane, by myself, and flew all the way to Heathrow International Airport, by myself. The first day there was a giant haze of people moving all around me and tears falling from my eyes because I realized just how alone I really was. I realized that I could very well be alone like that for almost an entire month, and I did not like that idea. Suddenly I missed everything I ever hated about America and just wanted to be home with familiar people and places. I didn't want to be in this strange place with all these strange people.

I can’t quite recall when it all got better, but it did get better very quickly. I believe things improved drastically when I was invited by some people to go to Westminster Abbey and then also to just walk around London after the tour. This is when I talked to people. I think speaking to people becomes so much easier when taking walks- sitting down with someone and speaking face to face is horribly awkward as far as first interactions go.

From that point on, I did more things with people and actually made friends! I would like to pull back here for a moment and point out that I still have a difficult time speaking with people, so that fact that I was able to make lasting connections with other humans while I was in a completely uncomfortable and unfamiliar place is amazing for me. I am still in awe of myself for doing as well socially as I did while in London.
At this point I would like to point out everything that was awesome about my adventures abroad, but I think that my past blog entries are much more accurate and detailed than anything I could possibly write in this entry. I would like to say a few words, though. This will have to be alright because you are, after all, reading my blog.

I would like to say thank you to the girls who took me under their wing that day and invited me to do something with them. I don’t think any of you will ever understand how much that meant to me and how much that still touches me. I’m not a very sappy person, but I wanted to say that your actions made me so incredibly happy and gave me so much comfort. I felt very lonely and scared before all of you came along. Our paths will probably cross soon enough, I’m sort of counting on that.

To my incredible teacher, Jon Mackley: I don’t even know where to begin. To say that you have become someone that I look up to is very much an understatement. We spent three hours a day, five days a week for three weeks in the same classroom, but that never felt like enough time to really learn all you had to teach me. You are one of the nerdiest people I have ever had the pleasure of learning from, and I felt that I had found I kindred nerdy spirit in you. I do hope that we will see each other again. (I would also like every person reading this to go check out his books, Crossing the Threshold and Heaven’s Devils on Amazon…)

To the cities of London and Paris: I don’t know what to say, really. I will be back to explore your streets again. You both have shown me how “grown up” I can be. I speak mostly of your public transportation systems- I come from a place that doesn't have underground or above ground trains or what seems like hundreds of buses, so those things really tested my patience and sometimes brain power.
I should probably also thank AIFS for allowing me to utilize their program for living abroad for a while, and SUU for getting me moving on an actual plan for studying in England.

This feels too much like an acceptance speech, but I think I needed to thank all those people, places, and organizations because they were all part of the overall experience I had across the pond. I also think that I avoided writing this final post for so long because I didn't want it to be over. I know I've been back in the U.S. for a little over two months now, but I am getting these aches to go back. Well, the aches now feel more like Ireland and less like England, but I would still be going across the Atlantic Ocean.
When all is said and done, I’m glad that I did what I did in England and that SUU pushes its students to “Experience More” as their slogan goes. I am now in my second year here and I think a huge part of that has to do with me growing up a little bit during my adventures in England. I now know I’m capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for, even though I don’t act like it.

My hope through all of this is to not convince others to study abroad because I did, but to study abroad because it will help them grow academically and as a person. Yes, it costs a pretty penny for certain programs, and yes, you will be away from everyone and everything you love. That’s the point, though: you are not always going to be in situations that make you comfortable because life isn't always comfortable. London smacked me around pretty well, and I’m glad it did because now I know that I could live in a place like London and be alright. I know I can do hard things and come out pretty close to on top. If you are considering studying abroad, do it. Don’t look back while you’re doing it because the view from wherever you go is probably a lot better than the view from your easy chair in your house.

Please, for your sake, just go out and do it.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Living La Vida London: Day 23 (The Final Day)

I missed my bus to Stonehenge and Bath but not because I was late. I missed it because I waited for it in the wrong place and couldn't catch up with it when I saw it drive away. I was really looking forward to being out of the city for the day, but I had to go back to my room and figure something else out. I was able to check in for my flight in good time and then decided to try and feel better about my situation by going to Nando's again and then heading to a play called Casualties that is running in a theatre far from where I'm used to hobnobbing around. When I saw far, I mean that it's in a more affordable part of London. You know, where a lot of the shady characters live. Luckily I went there for the matinee, so it was bright and sunny outside. More sun, less crime. After all that, I just went back to my room.

It doesn't sound like I did a lot today, but not getting to do something that you were really looking forward to  and then getting lost in a part of town you're unfamiliar with, AND THEN getting stuck on a Tube two separate times with no way to open a window sort of takes it out of you. I suppose that makes this an emotionally exhausting day. I'm ready to go home now.

I realised that I take any pictures today, but then I remembered that I have a few on my phone.

This photo was taken on my first Monday here in London. I really love it for many reasons, but mostly because that was the first night that I discovered that I have the ability to be so much more than I give myself credit for.


I am in no way Bill Shakespeare's biggest fan, but he represents so many good things for me: the best times I had at Snow College included him and SUU is all about the Bard, so naturally it makes me think of SUU.


This is the inside of the Hogwarts Bridge and this photo reminds me of the day I realised that I really do have the ability to make friends, even if the very thought of doing so makes me extremely nervous.


Paris was one of the best trips I have ever taken, and it has inspired me to go to countries that I'm not familiar with despite what people might say about them. 


The escalators in some of the Tube stations... blessings is what they are. Stairs are so overrated. 


Exhaustion at it's best looking. On the Tube just trying to stay awake and alert.


Did you know that dogs are allowed pretty much anywhere here? That adorable chocolate Lab was waiting to catch the Tube with his master.


London really has been a great experience for me in more ways than one. I learned so much about British fantasy literature and also about what I can do on my own. To put this into perspective: I went 4, 724 miles across an ocean to a foreign country without knowing anybody and was expected to learn and hopefully create a social life for myself while being in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. It was a lot and I am very proud that I was able to both make friends and learn, but especially make friends.

I'm nodding off as I type, so I should sleep. I have a flight in the morning back to my beautiful home country. I will definitely check in as some point before I head off to San Diego Comic Con with my family.

Cheers.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Living La Vida London: Day 22

Today was my first day not going to school while I've been in London this time around so naturally I decided to start it off with missing my train to Cardiff. I didn't get to go to the Doctor Who Experience or Wales, but I did spend a day literally wandering around London. It's pretty amazing that I was able to wander around from about 7:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. I mostly walked from place to place, crossing most of the bridges on foot and passing by all the landmarks. I think my feet started to swell because my ankles looked a little odd by the end of my seemingly endless hike.

I was up early first of all because I had to be out of my dorm room and into my hotel room by, as well as on the train to Cardiff by 7:00 a.m. I went as fast as I could from task to task until I got to the train station at about 6:58 a.m. just as the train was rolling away. It's strange, I actually felt okay that I had missed it and had to stay in London. I really do want to go to Wales and have fun at the Doctor Who Experience, but I also want to be with someone else who also loves the show like I do.

So I got back on the Tube and went to the Tower of London. I sort of sat outside of it for a while, watching people get in the queue for a ticket in the Tower and then sort of got up and left. Before I did, I took this picture.


I then walked to the Millenium Bridge that ultimately leads to the Globe and the modern art museum, but also found this interesting angle of St. Paul's Cathedral. I love the different colored buildings here.


Right before you exit the bridge on the side that the Globe is on, you have this view of St. Paul's and I have to say that it's pretty amazing despite the fact that it's a view of St. Paul's. Obviously I'm not too keen on that building- too many stairs for not enough pay off. It's also very noisey whenever I visit it.


Something cool that I learned on the ghost tour I took is that the London the general population is familiar with is actually made up of two cities: Westminster and London. The entrance of Westminster is marked by a lion and the city of London is marked by a dragon. Yes, a dragon. Part of the reason I like Wales is because they have a dragon on their flag so finding out that the "mascot" of London is a dragon kind of made me excited. So this is one of the dragon statues that marks the entrance of London. This one is on the Blackfriar Bridge. 


I took four photos today, so that's all I have as far as visual aides go. 

For lunch I went to a restaurant my friends from my program raved about called Nando's; this place is basically a Portuguese barbeque and really did live up to all the hype. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to feel some real heat in my mouth again! I chose the medium spice option for my chicken, so it could have been even hotter, but I was still very content. 

After filling my stomach with delicious Portuguese barbeque, I went back to my hotel room and layed on my bed staring out the window for a while. Suddenly I came up with the great idea to take a hot bath- something I haven't been able to do for almost a month now. The bathtub is deep and the soap they provided smells like honeysuckles so I was obviously excited to take a nice bath. I must have fallen asleep in the bath because I all of the sudden woke up to the maid knocking on the door to see if I needed anything. That was nice of her. 

So I got out and was thinking about what I could do with my evening, but then Step Up came on the TV and the Step Up movies are some of my guilty pleasures, so I didn't even think about leaving until it was over. By that time, I was hungry again and decided that falling asleep in the bath was a sign that I need to go to be early today so that I can rock it out at Stonehenge and enjoy the Roman baths in Bath tomorrow. I won't actually be getting near those baths by the way, just so we're clear. Anyway, I watched an English cooking/reality TV show and then Big Brother UK. Some show about a serial killer is on in the background at the moment, so naturally I'm in heaven. I really am fascinated by things like this.

Tomorrow's post will be the last before I finally get to go home! I'm excited to go back to the States and see my family, but I'm sure that I'll miss the UK and France at some point in the future. For now, I will be passing out in preparation for a long day of old things tomorrow.