My mom, ladies and gents, is one of a kind. Her name even proves it: Elin Anderson. How many Elins do you know? Beside's Tiger Woods' ex-wife. The answer is: not many. 

When I was growing up I was a daddy's girl, but when high school hit I turned to my mom for a lot of things that my dad couldn't help me with. Boys, life, what shoes to wear, how to prep my father before telling him I had a car accident, all that fun stuff. She was always there for me, through thick and thin. As much as my mother is there for me as, well, my mother, she is more than that - she is an inspiration. She is one of the most caring, devoted people I have had the pleasure to know who has the heart of a lion. She also has an uncanny amount of determination. When she sets out to do something, she does it and there is no stopping her. Even ask Papa A about that. 

You may be asking why I am being so gooshy and sentimental right now (unless you read the title of my blog post) and the answer is that today is my mother's birthday. She would die of a heart attack if I told you how old she was, so that will be left up to your imagination. Though, I will testify and say she doesn't look a day over 30. I'm obviously not biased or anything. 

Elin doesn't ask for much. She is the kind of person who gives and gives and gives and never wants to take back, so today, Mom, I am giving you the gift of not just the postcard you already received a week ago, and the gifts to come when I return, but also photos, moments, and qualities that I always smile at when I reflect on. Especially today where I am missing out on celebration I always enjoy partaking in. 

My mom is a closet traveler. She loves to go and explore new places and the majority of her life she has been stateside. Before I went to college her and I would go on mother daughter vacations once every two years or so and they secretly have been the best vacations I have ever been on. Besides to Canada on family trips her and I never went out of the country until the summer before college to Mazatlan, Mexico. Elin knows how to have a good time when she is relaxing and enjoying herself on the coast, let me tell you. Other trips have been to Florida, a college tour road trip, Itasca State Park and Duluth, Minnesota many a time, New York City, New York and countless other places. My mother has treated me to many memories, and I only hope to return the favor one day on my dime. 
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Elin and Andrea in New York City, NY summer 2006.
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Andrea and Elin in Mazatlan, Mexico summer 2010.
Family comes first in the Anderson household and my mom and dad are the backbones of the family. My brother and I were always taught that no matter where life takes you and who comes and goes we have each other has constants. Elin reminds me of that every time I call her at home. She is always willing to stop cleaning or come in from gardening just to catch up on my past day or two and then the short conversation turns into a twenty minute conversation. As my time in Spain has passed I have realized how important family is to me. With the many health issues that continue to plague the Anderson clan my dream of doing international journalism has dwindled because I want to be able to be there for my parents and see my brothers family grow. My mom always said to follow my dreams, and I know she has followed hers, so I am going to follow another dream of mine, to always be there there through thick or thin for my mother and never let her down. 
The majority of my family and friends know I have a pet peeve of bad grammar, punctuation and sloppy writing, but the emails my mom sends me crack me up every time. It is not that they are poorly crafted or that my mother is not intelligent - she is one of the smartest people I know - it is just that they are so dang funny and she hates computers. 
  • The subject line is HOWDY almost every time.
  • There are capitalized letters and words done by accident. 
  • A different sign-off is written every once in a while, the standard being MOM.
Needless to say it is never a dull virtual conversation had between my mother and I. 
When I was growing up I never liked being told I looked like my mother. I remember one time when my mother and I were at my Grandma Frans and my grandmother told my mom, her daughter, that the reason she always confuses our names is because every time she seems me I look more and more like my mother. Keep in mind my grandmother saw me about once a week and was as sharp as a tact, which means she is basically right. As I have matured and become older I really do see that we look quite a bit alike, especially when you look at photos of my mother when she was younger. My father will tell you that my mother and I are more alike in other ways, such as our stubbornness and persistence to always be ahead of the game. And the amount of post-it notes and lists we both make. I think her and I kill a tree once a year in the amount of paper we use for lists. 

Prom junior year in high school my mom was so happy to see me all dolled up and it was in one moment when I was with my closest and lifelong friend Lisa where I could see in her eyes that she was proud of the woman I was becoming, and that made me happy. I remember thinking then, if I could be half of the person my mom is then I will consider life a success. I still think this to this day, almost every time she sends me an email or we get off of the phone I am reminded of her larger than life sneezes and big smile. She is one incredible lady. 

So, this is to you mom. May you have the best 30th birthday a lady could ask for. I love you and can't wait to give you a big bear hug like we used to share in four days. 

Feliz cumple mamá, I love ya. 
 - Bugs
 
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Grandma Fran in Costa Rica, age 80.
Loosing someone who meant a lot to you is difficult, that goes without saying. One thing I never expected was for one loss to bring back the memories of another. 

Last summer, right before I was to head back to Marquette for my sophomore year, my grandmother passed away. Her and I had a special bond. I was the only granddaughter and am approximately seven years behind my cousins and brother, it's safe to say I was a surprise. Frances, yes my grandmother has a kick-butt name like Frances, taught me how to find good bargains, let me sit in the tub until my hands and feet were pruney when I was young, and introduced me to Shirley Temple. Grandma Fran was a cool cat. 

Upon hearing the news of loosing our program director, Femy, I was extremely sad. I lost the professor who really made me decide, with 100 percent of my body, that I wanted to go to Madrid, Spain to study abroad. She instilled hope in her students and made them feel smart and successful, she had a lot of qualities that reminded me of my grandmother. I never really noticed this until Friday, when unexpectedly, but naturally, all of the feelings of loss and remorse came back. 

It's not easy starting a semester with a loss. It, regrettably, seems to be a trend right now. Focusing is difficult, sleeping is even harder, and even a little One Direction doesn't seem to light up my world like it used to, but the one thing that does, is my Madrileño family. 

I really cannot emphasize enough that when you study abroad, the people you are with become your support system. We are always there for one another and if something isn't going well, we find a way to turn it around. We all become exhausted when we think about Femy. I certainly do because it reminds me of how much I miss my grandmother as well, but the beauty of studying abroad is that you have a new family and a new place to distract you from the pain you are feeling. 

You learn something new everyday, and today I have learned that study abroad as more faces to it than traveling and going out in the evenings. The educational experience makes you realize the importance of support, family and how regardless of language barriers, everyone knows what it feels to loose someone and feel that pain deeply.

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Old people are the best. Trust me on this one. 

My grandma Fran Masson was a lady with spunk. She couponed better than anyone I know and her and Alfred Dunner were two pees in the same pod, even ask Macy's. Her take home strawberry blonde hair dye experiment gone awry the day before my grandfather's funeral is still one of the funniest memories I have of her and the nights where I squirmed when I saw her dentures in a glass by the sink in the bathroom will never be forgotten. Whenever I think about these things all I can say to myself is, #totalgrandmafranmove. That was a joke, Twitter speak annoys me, but when I do recall the many memories I had with her I can't help but smile. No one can ever replace their grandmother, and you certainly can't replace your mom either. Frances was a rock star and Elin, my mother, is one of a kind, and now I have met the Spanish version of them both combined: my señora, Irene. 

Irene, a woman in her seventies has lead an incredible life. She is one of 13 children, a mother of five and a widow of her husband she knew since the age of two. She played tennis her whole life until her knees gave out, and her pride and joy now are her two granddaughters and one grandson. However, Irene isn't just a woman who likes to be a grandma that spoils, she is a woman who has faced a lot of challenges in her life and isn't afraid to share them. 

The time was approximately 6:15 p.m. when another Marquette student and I arrived at Irene's home near Argüelles, the closest metro stop. She buzzed us up and then we got lost, thankfully she found us. We then dropped our suitcases in our rooms and sat in her plush red chairs that remind me of the ones you see in Pride and Prejudice. I sank into her comfy chair and after a few introductions and talk about our families I asked Irene how many children she had. She said, "Yo tenía cinco, pero perdí una y ahora tengo cuatro." Irene's youngest daughter died from brain cancer at the age of 37. She left behind a daughter and a husband. Three months later Irene lost her husband and just last year she lost her final sibling, a sister, whom she said she adored. 

The whole time all I could think of was my grandmother. How Irene has the same hair color before my grandmother attempted her one-stop home beauty salon. How my grandma always shoved food at me when I came over and how Irene does the same. Irene even says I will never get fat walking around Madrid so I should eat all the dulces I want - you can't not love a woman who says that. She even gave safety advice like my grandma except this time it was about not being mugged on the streets compared to my grandma assuring me it's better to go 45 in a 55. Needless to say my grandma drove in the right lane. 

Irene took the whole conversation with stride. She reminisced on her times with the family she lost with a twinkle in her eye that conveyed happiness in the chance to share her stories with someone new. You could tell by the way her smile stretched from one side of her mouth to another that she was going to be a positive influence and an absolute blast to live with. Her laugh fills the entire room and she even said she likes to dish out fashion advice, something my grandmother and mother would do all the time. Also, being the indecisive person I am this will be great.

After being given two more croissants with dark chocolate she asked if I wanted another before leaving and I said no. She tilted her head and gave me the, oh-stop-you-are-beautiful-the-way-you-look look but gave no protest and proceeded to say she loved the game show Pasapalabra. I chuckled at this. It's like being with my grandma all over again and watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy

Irene and Fran are quite possibly the same person. Grandma was a whippersnapper and Irene is like the Energizer Bunny. Did I mention she just broke her back too but refuses to stay still and not do anything? Yeah, Irene doesn't take no for an answer. My father would say that is a trait that runs in the Masson women. I guess Irene and I were meant to be together. 

For now all I can say is every older person I have met in my life has rocked and that's not an exaggeration, all people from Minnesota are nice. I think I want my new best friends to all be 70 and up, so if you don't meet that standard we can't be friends. #sorryimnotsorry.  
 
I'm sitting across my bed, feet dangling aimlessly over the edge like when I was younger and I think back to the simple times when I was five years old. There was no worry in the world about what you were going to wear the next day. You didn't question if those black flats you wanted to wear really went with that navy dress, or on a more serious note, you didn't wonder where in the world you may end up come fifteen years from now. 

Oh, how being a five year-old with a broken arm from rollerblading was so easy. Now I think about those things almost every day - maybe not the black flats and blue dress scenario, that's only every once in a while. This all has a point, I promise. 

Fifteen years ago I knew I wanted to travel. I knew I wanted to speak another language and see the world outside of what I knew at that age. I still want that same thing, the only difference now is I don't have a broken arm and I'm a lot older. Some would say wiser too. 

Tomorrow I begin my journey to Madrid, Spain with nine other Marquette students. Each of us comes from a different background but all have one thing in common, we are going to the same city, most of us are on the same flight, and I guarantee you the majority of us are peeing our pants, whether they want to admit it or not. 

For three and a half months I will be living with another Marquette student and a woman I can only envision to be like my grandmother. Her name is Señora Irene Romero, who is supposed to be a great cook (a trait my grandmother sadly did not possess, unless it was baking), and lives near the university I will be attending, Universidad Complutense. (My grandma Frances lived in St. Paul, Minn., maybe Irene isn't much like my grandmother at all...) I will be attending school, taking an art history class at el Museo Nacional del Prado, and stumbling over my words left and right, but that is all part of the fun, right? 

The correct answer is: Right.

Follow that answer up with the question, but what will I do without my family and friends when I need shoe advice? That one is harder to answer.

When the reality of leaving my family and friends began to creep into my consciousness I didn't like it one bit. I would shew it away from my brain while at work and when my mother became a little choked up on the phone I would drastically switch the topic after saying to her, "It's OK ma." I wouldn't accept the fact that I wouldn't be in contact with the peopleI grew so close with these last two years or have them right down the hall of my Schroeder dorm room. But alas, last Sunday came and I said goodbye to my friends at Marquette and co-workers at the Journal Sentinel. On the six hour drive home I may have listened to a few maloncoly Whitney Houston and Taylor Swift songs and put "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift on repeat.  Then after about twenty minutes I hit a torrential downpour to match my tears and smudged mascara. I had a few choice words for the weather man at that point. Shortly after though I realized that when you take a leap of faith on yourself to be independent for this period of time, your friends and family are letting you go because they know you're strong enough to do this, and that they will be right where you left them. Well, hopefully not right where I left two of my best friends, they were in the rain. 

Fifteen years ago I guarantee you I was asleep in the same twin size bed I am sitting on right now. I have ditched the Pooh Bear sheets (not the pillow though, it's too cute) and I still have the same bear my brother made me in Home Economics on my bed stand. The difference is tomorrow morning I wakeup for a flight that leaves for Madrid, Spain and not for a day at summer camp. You can plan your life as much as you want, but you just never know where you may be fifteen years from now. 

As a dear friend of mine would say, traveling is the only thing that makes you richer. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and hope that through my adventures this semester I only grow to be someone I look back on and can say, "Dang, I'm awesome." No, but really, fifteen years is a long time, so my mantra for this trip is to take each day as it is and hope my travels make me a richer person in all aspects of life. 

Ciao for now!
- Andrea