New Year, but not new resolutions as such.

I think I did New Year Resolutions like twice when I was a teenager and they always fail by March at the latest. Writing down something major to change and then just expecting to stick to it through the year is a hilarious and depressing way to start a year. Heck, I’ll be struggling to remember it’s 2018 and not 2017 until April. Why would I expect major life changes to stick so easily?

Instead dear readers, I’ve decided to do a year of 30(ish) day challenges. If I can make it through a month and it sticks, awesome. If not, it’s only 30 days, and that’s something worthwhile in itself. I won’t lie, I’ve done some of these challenges because I wanted to fit it neatly into this blog. Also, I realised a lot of the original challenges were weight and diet related and it looked a bit bleak. Whilst weight is a big issue for me, I don’t want it to take over my life for a year!

There will be some things that overlap and some overlying things that runneth over. For starters, actually sticking to my calorie target for bare minimum weight loss will be in the background this year, particularly in this first quarter of the year, which I have termed the Diet Quarter. Speaking of which, the other three quarters have been named as well – the Willpower Quarter, the Mental Health Quarter, and the Exercise Quarter. Why is exercise at the end of the year you ask? Well for one, M would graciously let me attempt all the cooking over Christmas, but we all know that would end poorly. Secondly, enjoying nature for 30 minutes is much more pleasant when you aren’t cold and being rained on. Also, I’ve got grand ambitions for starting jump rope as an overlying thing that will runneth over throughout.

So here below is the approximate plan for the year:

The Diet Quarter

 

January

A traditional Dry January, with some provisos. Our wedding anniversary is right in the middle of the month, and I want to celebrate it with something more than Diet Coke. I do not want to hear about your mocktail ideas instead. Just let me have this. It won’t be as strict as my Sober October challenge was, as I’m not raising money in my name. If you feel so inclined, I’ll leave a link for one off donations to the UK eating disorder charity Beat¬†throughout the first three months as part of the Diet Quarter. Be healthy in what you do and all that, yeah?

February

No snacks. Sounds easy, will likely be very hard. Having tracked my food throughout the year, I know full well that snacks are the main reason I am not back at the weight I want to be. Mercifully a 28 day challenge, but hoping this one will stick.

March

Mindful eating and all that jazz. Mostly just retraining myself to eat small, slow bites and not eat meals like a starving animal. I’m halfway tempted to buy one of those forks that vibrates if you’re eating too quickly, but may just eat everything with tiny cutlery for children over the first fortnight. That would at least bring humour into the situation. This is also a good challenge to gear myself up with for the next quarter as well.

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Sweet dreams are made of this.

The Willpower Quarter

April

The no-money month. Okay, okay. Obviously some money will be spent, but on things that absolutely have to be had – food, toiletries, train tickets – those kinds of things. Again, looking back over bank statements over the last year, I am guilty of buying snacks at the station, ordering takeaways when we had food we could make, and buying random toys and clothes under retail therapy that while used didn’t need to be bought. It would be really nice to be able to take all that money saved and throw it at some debt.

May

No mindlessly checking my phone when I’m at home. We all do this, and I think we all know it’s not great (especially around other people). So for the month of May, if I’m at home my phone will be allowed to roam the house with me and I can answer calls and texts, but will have to be left in pre-decided Phone Homes where I can’t readily pick it up and scroll out of boredom/fidgetiness. I married a great guy, and I should be using the limited time in the day to actually see and talk to him, not just show the poor soul the latest internet memes. He’ll just get those while I’m on the train. ūüėČ

June

Rolling into the mental health of the next round will be finding something nice to say about myself every day. Listing general good things about the world is much easier than being kind to myself, and that’s incredibly messed up. So to push myself into a new mindset, let’s use all of this newfound willpower to start thinking nice thoughts.

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The cats of the internet will have to wait.

The Mental Health Quarter

July

Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in nature. Like proper nature, not just a walk around the block or a stroll from one museum down Exhibition Road and into another. I’m setting down the rule that the 30 minutes have to be walking on something unpaved. I’m debating if listening to podcasts whilst wandering is acceptable. We shall see. Regardless, getting out every day and getting some sun while this country actually sees any is going to be important.

August

Taking over cooking. I should explain. I am physically capable of cooking. I have actually cooked things successfully. I still cook occasionally when M is on night shifts. Generally though, he does the cooking and I’ll help out occasionally and otherwise clean up the leftover mess. It works, and we both like the roles we have. However, everyone always tells me that it’s therapeutic to cook, and that it’s good for the soul and all that. So I thought I’d give it one more go and see if by the end of the month I too have achieved the chef’s nirvana I hear rumour of.

September

Easing out of the mental health months will be a month-long project of writing down the different aspects of my life that I am thankful for. These always start off easy, then get cheesy, then get downright ridiculous before being abandoned somewhere around Day 16 at most. This time, I’d like to finish a full 30 days. It’ll be interesting to see where I end up delving towards the end, and also finding out if there are any themes that emerge.

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See? There’s some greenery.

The Exercise Quarter

October

Actually getting 10,000 steps EVERY DAY for a month. Usually if I’m on a work day, I get all the steps. However, any holidays or weekends are usually atrocious. Right now post-Christmas, my FitBit says I have an average of 5,998 steps per day if that gives you an idea of it. I’d like to add a monetary challenge to this to incentivise myself and make it hurt if I don’t reach it, but I don’t want to give money to some Evil Organisation. Also, if it goes towards something like a gadget for M that would drive me crazy, he’ll likely try to hamper said efforts. I’ll need to think about this one.

November

Stairs only. I will regret this with every fibre of my being with any deep line tube travel. I will definitely regret it with the fact that I currently work on the 5th floor (US 6th floor) of the building. But if this challenge doesn’t fall under exercise, I don’t know what would.

December

Finally, I want to end the year with some extra space in my clothes so I can eat ALL the cheeses. I’ve finally stopped lying to myself and telling myself I’ll run in the winter. Instead, I’ve found a few indoor 30 minutes or less routines. I’ll pick one closer to time and subject myself to it for the month. I may even convince the Significant Otter to join in. Maybe.

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Okay, these stairs could get a pass on grounds of health and safety.

So there we are – game plan for the year laid out. Now to see what madness comes of it, and to see if only taking little steps of 30 days at a time makes it any easier for things to stick. Wish me luck?

 

— Kate

Changing Your Postcode Will Not Change Your Life

I love you all dearly, but we need to talk. I’ve heard from so many friends about how jealous they are about me coming to England and how they wish they could just come over here and travel the country, or even backpack through the whole of Europe. And you know what? That’s fantastic! You should totally do it if your budget and/or constitution can handle it. However, it really bears mentioning that when you do this you cannot expect it to magically make whatever life issues you are having better.¬†This isn’t to say I think anyone is delusional about life at all, but going abroad seems to be a similar trap to losing weight.

“When I get to my goal weight then I’ll be more confident and fall in love.”

“When I’m skinny I’ll go for that job I’ve always dreamt of.”

“When I’m not fat anymore I won’t get depressed so easily.”

Sound familiar? Well, I’ve heard similar things about moving far away from home too. It seems to be a default behaviour that we all fantasize about every now and again – running away from our problems and starting fresh in a new place. And in a way you can. However, you’ve got to face those demons first and learn from what’s making you struggle before you move on to bigger and better things.

Studying or living abroad will not mean that you’ll feel more confident if you’re already mentally beating yourself up. It may even tear you down further before bringing you back up again. Nothing is quite so humbling as realising how other people see your country, regardless of whether or not you’re proud of it. It’s also incredibly difficult at times to be confident that you’ll even manage to stay after the fact when you’ve suddenly got to be better than all the EU or else get (quite literally) deported once your student visa is expired. There’s no going back to mom and dad’s for a few months until you land a job.

Studying or living abroad will also not mean that you’ll suddenly become brave and beautiful and exotic and have people falling in love with you for being foreign. I get this jokingly from a lot of my friends, asking if I’ll find them a British Boyfriend. Ladies, there is no Mr Darcy or some stereotypical man in posh dress waiting to sweep you off your American sneakers. There are men that are anti-America, pro-America, or don’t care, and the only differences you’ll find between the American and British men (and I mean this in the best of joking intentions of course) are that the ones here will sound funny to you (and sometimes hard to understand) and make cultural references to things you don’t get. That’s it. I may be letting the cat out of the bag, but people from other countries are in fact, just¬†people and you should be dating them because you like them as a person and not because they say loo instead of toilet. Dating and falling in love will still be scary, and you won’t get off the hook any easier being somewhere far away and new. Though resorting to genial stereotypical teasing about your respective countries is always a fun perk. ūüėČ

Finally, studying or living abroad will not mean that your depression or anxiety about life will get better. In fact, there will be days when it may just make it worse. Not understanding (and then failing at) societal norms or just having a moment of homesickness is rough. Rougher is having to just barrel through it because you can’t give up and go home. If you can make it through though, I do think this one will help your worldview. It may not make the depression or anxiety go away, but you’ll develop tools on how to better deal with it. Also, SAD lights are your friend when you aren’t seeing the sun enough in the winter. Seriously.

Anyway, I don’t want to rant and ramble at y’all all night, so I’ll keep it brief. Basically, we’re all a little cracked and chipped in this world and nothing will make it better but ourselves. Doesn’t matter where in the world you are.

— Kate

to be gorgeous and high and true and fine and fluffy and moist and sticky and lovely...

IT’S HERE. Today’s the day!

The bags are packed, the hugs have been given out liberally, the paperwork has all been printed out in triplicate and I am getting on the plane for England in just a few hours!! While this is amazing, exciting, liberating, etc, I’m really glad they give out complimentary wine on the plane. I’m going to need some.

I’ll pop in when I can and update throughout the day, but if nothing else I’ll try my hardest¬†to alert the media (and especially my mother) that I have made it to Leicester in one piece by the end of Friday there (around 12 – 6 pm MST or 2 – 8 pm EST). After a shower. Twenty-ish hours of travel makes you feel like a giant greaseball.

Wish me luck!

— Kate

 

Happy birthday little brother!

Life is getting hectic, but my only little brother turns the big 2-1 today and I would feel like a terrible sister for not being around to witness at least some of the party¬†with the new “adult”¬†adult¬†in the family. I’m sure I’ll hear plenty of whining tomorrow via text with the inevitable hangover that will follow, and with the quality of sleep on a plane, I’ll be feeling pretty whiney too, I’m sure. We can complain together instead of complaining about each other. Sibling love ladies and gents.

Just a quick quip today, as nothing is going on that isn’t already expected or mentioned. ūüôā I was thinking and realized that if you look up travel blogs on England, it is London INTENSE. Last I checked on the Expat Blog ring, I was the only, lone blogger out of Leicester. That is lame, and I want to remedy this.

London is great. London should definitely be seen if you can. I love any and all time I can squeeze into that ancient city, but there is so much more than London in the United Kingdom that just doesn’t get mentioned. So if you’re expecting a London-fest from this when I arrive, run away now. (Seriously, I’m studying in the middle of England – London won’t be some weekend event every week.) While I’m there I’ll gladly go on about it, but I’d like to show that the rest of the country has so much to offer that just kinda gets swallowed up by the London Fever that seems to strike Americans.

Anyhoo, that’s all I needed to get out. Back to bag sorting. ūüôā

— Kate

 

Let’s just go!

The university has opened online registration, and I am officially signed up (as much as I can before my campus visa checkpoint – don’t ask, I have no idea) for the University of Leicester! My student ID should be ready for me when I get there. I’m excited. ūüôā

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 10.34.34 pmScreen Shot 2014-08-26 at 10.34.43 pmAlso got word from the Museum Studies department with a tentative schedule of the first two weeks, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see that classes aren’t really early so far. I was trying to prepare myself for 8:00 times, but 9 and 10 are totally cool too. Just from the titles, it looks like a fascinating start!

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So now I’m only really left with buying a ticket for the bus, a ticket for the train to Leicester, and packing my bags. It’s one thing to sell off most of your life to get ready to live out of what fits in a suitcase. It’s another thing entirely when you start to fill up said suitcase. SO MANY THINGS. SO MANY CHOICES. What have I forgotten that might actually be really important?

Considering I’m to be living in Leicester for a year (10 months actually, then 2 months out interning, then who knows where next?), I really can’t bring all that much along with me. I suspect leaving the country makes a minimalist out of you eventually. I took the main idea of a packing list from Study Abroad and tweaked it a bit, but do you see anything I’m missing or really won’t need? I haven’t done a weigh in on my bags quite yet, so there may be some tossing out of things anyhow.

In reality, I can almost promise it will be me shoving what remains of my closet after losing weight these last two years into my bag with the questionably useful and/or ill-fitting but still beloved clothing going in last in case they need to be pulled out and left behind. Mom also managed to find a carry-on sized space saver bag, so the sweaters may be getting the big squeeze and going in my carry-on bag. Honestly though, I don’t think the weight limit is going to be a major issue. But with no further ramblings, I’ll leave you with the ULTIMATE STUDY ABROAD PACKING LIST. ūüėõ

— Kate

The Ultimate Study Abroad Packing List

Clothing:

  • Underwear – two weeks‚Äô worth (Two weeks worth? Let’s be real. All the underwear comes along. We don’t leave behind good underwear.)
  • Socks – two weeks‚Äô worth (Yeah yeah, it’ll be the ones that aren’t questionably falling apart. They’re socks. Pretty sure I can get a new pair or two in England, just possibly.)
  • Camisoles (Layering all day, err’ day.)
  • Thermal¬†leggings (I seriously doubt the use of these, but man are they comfy.)
  • Tops
  • Sweaters
  • Trousers
  • Skirts
  • A set or two of workout clothes (Will it promote my going to the gym? Unlikely.)
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Coat/Jacket
  • At least one nice outfit for formal occasions
  • Shoes (I fear my fancy sandals will not see much use, but then again, I’ve been living in Chacos since March. Yay for my body always running on high heat?)

Toiletries:

  • TSA Compliant Toiletry Kit¬†(Enough to clean up for a day or two until I get things there. I can already sense my desperate need to shower upon arrival after learning my lesson last time.)
  • Brush and comb (If they weren’t needed right after said emergency shower, I’d say forget it.)
  • Contact lenses and solution (Yay being blind!)
  • Glasses (Does this really count if it’s on my face?)
  • Nail clippers (Teeny tiny justifiable-bringing-along-in-case-of-brutal-hangnail-attack pair.)
  • Makeup (No one likes to play games with new brands on makeup. Especially not ALL the makeup at once.)
  • Medications (Yay drugs! Now to make sure they all have my name written on them.)

Extras:

  • Some cash in ¬£ (Pleased with myself now for having a handful of ¬£2 coins and a fiver that accidentally came home with me last year. That’s some snack money whilst in the customs line!)
  • Purse/ wallet
  • Important documents (passport, visa, itinerary, plane tickets, ISIC card, etc.)
  • Outlet adapter (Actually not sure I’ll need one. Livin’ the USB plug life means international is SO much easier.)
  • Sunglasses (Didn’t need these once last time. I blame it on living in big sky country for the last four years.)
  • Cell phone with changed out SIM card for UK and USB charger (Many thanks for getting me that old iPhone unlocked and a UK SIM shipped over!)
  • Laptop and charger (Must not forget to change the plug on the charger!)
  • Camera w/cords and USB charger
  • Kindle and USB charger
  • Water bottle/ Nalgene bottle (Depending on space/amount of cares given, might just get one past security. I’m flying BA, they dole out tea and wine like it’s going out of style.)

The Great Visa Event

You always hear horror stories every now and then with anyone having to deal with federal governments, especially for permits and visas and such. For everyone following my summer’s rambles, you’ve realized that I quickly became one of these stories. At this point, I’ve decided to make a timeline of this ordeal for anyone else that may be searching the internet wondering where their visa and passport are if they end up in a weird situation like I did with an approved visa that just wouldn’t come home!

Without further ado, I give you – The Great Visa Event:

June 30: Completed the application online and paid the visa fee. After recovering from the pain of the standard cost of a visa ($527 in total), I did not choose to pay the additional $170 to have it fast-tracked to me.

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July 3: Completed biometrics in town and received my required receipt. Overnighted the application and all associated documents to the New York City British Consulate. (Didn’t arrive until July 5 due to the federal holiday and honestly probably wasn’t even looked at until Monday, July 7. The overnighting made me feel like I had some control though.) [3 days from start]

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July 8: Received confirmation that my application had been opened and that I should expect a decision in approximately 10 business days. [8 days from start]

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July 17: Visa was approved and I was notified via email in only 7 business days! [17 days from start]

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July 24: Received email stating that I had not sent my application with¬†a completed pre-paid return shipping label and appropriate packaging. (I did, but I’m not going to pick a fight over this. It may have just gotten lost.) Was told to follow specific instructions to give them a PDF of a pre-paid label via email to¬†UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk. I followed instructions and emailed the PDF to the consulate¬†the same day.¬†[24¬†days from start]

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July 31: Used UKVI’s contact form to ask why my tracking information still said pre-shipment. Was told to wait a few days and re-contact them with details.¬†[31¬†days from start]

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August 7: Messaged UKVI through their contact form again and was told that my visa had been approved and they would alert me when it was mailed out. Of which I was already aware.  Tracking status through USPS still showed pre-shipment. [38 days from start]

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August 8: Bought a second shipping label and emailed it to the consulate at UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk again as requested, assuming the first was lost in a spam box.  Sent a message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk as suggested by others that had gone through the approved-application-gone-missing process and asked why my papers were still not in the mail. No response from either, and tracking status still showed as pre-shipment. [39 days from start]

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August 12: Sent a repeat email of the PDF of the shipping label to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk and repeated my message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk asking where my documents had gone. Found another contact form through the UKVI website to lodge a complaint about missing documents after waiting 10 days. Sent them a message with my email and phone number to contact me. (Never did get a response from them, come to think of it.) [43 days from start]

August 13: Sent the PDF of the shipping label to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk yet again and repeated my message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk again. Called the pay-line for the UKVI and got to speak to a human who told me that there have been delays in shipping out processed visas. (That would have been nice to know.) He sent me all the information he had on shipping instructions for New York and said he’d escalate my case. I was told to call back Friday if I had received no word.¬†[44 days from start]

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August 14: Notified by email that my package would be in the mail in one business day. Email from USPS tracking that stated the package was leaving NYC by the afternoon and later that it had been dropped off at the New York City post office. [45 days from start]

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August 17: USPS tracking showed the package had arrived and left Boise, ID and was expected to be delivered by August 18th. [48 days from start]

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August 18: Visa is here¬†7 weeks¬†from the start of the¬†application! They returned it with my current and expired passport, as well as my original final transcript and the extra passport photos I had sent along. The visa is basically a pretty fancy sticker placed on an empty page in the back of your passport. (Perfectly placed ink line on my left eye there, haha.) Being there for a year for courses allows me to be there one month before and four months after, so it’s valid from September 2014 to the end of January 2016.¬†[49 days from start]

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Needless to say, I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS. A beastly, massive-sized weight of stress has been taken off me and I can now enjoy my last two weeks (two weeks!!) in peace with my friends and family. Let’s do this. I’ve got it. ūüôā

 

[Edit]: Gianni from¬†acrossthehogsback¬†(Another brave soul crossing the pond for a higher education. Go check her out, she’s awesome!) had a great question that I kind of over-answered, but realized that I never mentioned before. After dealing with the¬†vagaries of federal government requests, I can only hope it’ll help someone else looking at the required documents for their student visa. This is all from an American perspective though, so your mileage may vary.

Gianni asked, “Regarding transcripts, was it actually necessary for you to send them or did you just do it preemptively? And did you send newly ordered, official, sealed transcripts?”

Excellent question! I preemptively sent in more than the minimum required documents to avoid any delays (ha!) for my application. In my package to the UK Consulate I sent:

  • A completed application form with my biometrics receipt attached (duh, a requirement).
  • I didn‚Äôt need the Appendix 8 form for my major, so nothing there.
  • My current passport as well as the expired passport
  • 4 passport photographs (The post office only prints them in packs of 8, so I figured some spares wouldn‚Äôt hurt.)
  • My proof of student loan letter from the university, proving I had the ¬£820 a month minimum necessary for my time there (Crazy that living in London will make that ¬£1020 a month!) I thought about adding bank statements for my savings account, but never did. Couldn‚Äôt hurt you if you have it.
  • A printout of my CAS information webpage that the school sent me.
  • Didn‚Äôt need to do the NQF assessment for mine, nor the ATAS clearance.
  • I hadn‚Äôt paid any money to the university because I‚Äôm doing loans, but I did put money down on my flat, so I sent them copies of my email receipts. Apparently that will look good.

For the ‚Äúdocuments used to obtain your CAS‚ÄĚ I sent:

  • An official final transcript from the¬†university I graduated from (I went to 3 before graduating with my BA, long story)
  • Added in copies of the info from the other schools (Reeeeally didn‚Äôt want to pay them more money for official transcripts when ISU had all the info on my final transcript with them.)
  • A photocopy of my fancy degree paper.

Basically, as a US citizen we’re super low risk and they really don’t need much, but if you want to send them everything they have on the list including the things that don’t count for Low Risk Countries, it’s fine.

Oh, and for the love of all that is holy, DON‚ÄôT FORGET THE RETURN ENVELOPE. ūüėȬ†And remember to put the consulate address as the sender!

 

 

— Kate

Liminal Spaces.

Are you at all familiar with the concept¬†of liminal spaces? It’s an anthropological term (though I suppose it could be applied to non-living concepts too). The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as:

 

Liminal (lim¬∑i¬∑nal): from the Latin ‘limen’ for ‘threshold’

1. Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.

2. Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

 

However, it means so much more than that. To quote Wiki:

In anthropology, liminality¬†is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold”¬†between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.

 

The concept of liminality was first developed in the early 20th century by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep and later taken up by Victor Turner. More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rituals. During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established. The term has also passed into popular usage, where it is applied much more broadly, undermining its significance to some extent.

This idea of liminal space sums up this waiting period before leaving as best as I could define. No longer am I¬†an undergraduate, intern, or denizen of my town, but I am not a graduate student¬†or resident of Leicester either. Moving back up to Mom and Dad’s for this time period just makes the ‘ritual’ (if you will) all the more potent, being in a space in between two major points in my life. It’s a great¬†moment¬†to recuperate and prepare for the next identity shift, but at the same time I am itching to just delve into the new unknown and feel a little more established in this new identity. Bittersweet and longing for both past and future is what I have at the moment. It’s a strange feeling that seems to take away the concept of time fluidly moving forward while I’m in it, but one that I’m sure everyone will experience at some point in their lives before they too transform into a new person in their own life stories.

While we all had a great family outing this weekend roaming Wyoming and Montana, it did make the bittersweet all the more powerful. I fiddled around with the new iMovie (apologies for the amateur nature of my first attempt) and made a short video of all the places we saw alongside some appropriate feeling music –¬†Rivers and Roads by The Head and The Heart. I will miss the great, beautiful expanses of nothing but the massive mountain ranges and fast flowing rivers. Photos never do it proper justice – it just needs to be witnessed in person. Definitely need to visit again. ūüôā

 

— Kate