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
 
I love food. There is no doubt about this statement. If there is food in front of me I will eat it, it's a curse.

Today I will be learning how to cook some of the delicious meals Irene has made for me and I am beyond excited. I already have my notepad and pen ready and the cooking extravaganza does not even begin until 6:00 this evening. 
I am not a good cook, I take after my mother that way who can make the staples: chicken, goulash, pastas, potatoes, etc. but she can make a mean stuffed manicotti and chili. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. 

This semester I have been spoiled. Irene is one of the best cooks I have ever met and I have certainly not starved or dwindled away in the last five months. Her homemade soups and authentic Spanish dishes she learned to cook from her mother have left me stuffed each evening and I dread the day I leave and have to cook for myself. I'm going to forever miss her wicked croquetas and carrot soup. However, I am excited to go back and devour a Chipotle burrito and eat two bowls of my mothers chili after shoveling the snow that is accumulating in Minneapolis.  This is going to be such a bitter sweet goodbye. No pun intended. 
 
Today we hit the single digits. What. A. Scary. Thing. 

I have mixed feelings about going home. I want to see my family and friends and get back to my normal life where I have no time to rest, but I also want to stay here and keep practicing Spanish and experiencing the culture. Oh how a mind and soul can be torn. So, in the spirit of being indecisive and unable to make up my mind this countdown post is related to modes of communication. 

In the United States I don't like how I am never unreachable. Some times I just want to shut my phone off for a few days but know that would not be goof for a.) my mother's sanity and b.) my career. Here, I am reachable by email, social networking and my small Yoigo cell phone that has no data plan and currently does not work. I like it but I don't like it at the same time. When I really need to get a hold of someone my phone either does not work or I have no euros left on it. However, I like the fact that I can go about my day and have no distractions and walk along the streets and not be texting, but rather looking at the scenery around me. It's nice to have both hands free the majority of the time. I'm going to miss being unreachable because it means I won't have time all to myself where someone couldn't interrupt me. However, I am looking forward to having my data plan and GoogleMaps directions at the tip of my fingers. Being directionally challenged is hard. I also know that my mother will be at peace when she knows she can just call my normal phone number and hear my voice. It will be nice to hear hers too. 
 
There has been a change in plans, no longer will Elise, my friend studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I be going to Geneva, Switzerland liked we planned earlier, instead we are going to Brussels, Belgium. We will shop at the Christmas Market, share a bed in our hostel, go ice skating and sledding (both offered near the Christmas Market) eat waffles on waffles on waffles with a side of chocolate and sample some delicious beer. That doesn't sound to shabby to me. 

I made a point in coming to Spain with a less rigid schedule and the vow to not plan out every last detail, to be more of a go with the flow type of person. So far it is going rather well. (Insert audible gasp by my mother here.)

As a more detailed explanation as to how my flexibility has changed I have created two before and after scenario. 

"Andrea, Switzerland is not going to work and we have to find another option:"
Three months ago: My jaw drops and I say, "You have got to be kidding me."  I then would have become extremely frazzled, distraught and frustrated. I would have entered an extreme planning mode, whipped out my planner, calculated which weekends work best with upcoming exams, trips, cost, hostel arrangements etc. 

Now, three months later: "No problem, lets see what we can find." (Insert an audible gasp by my friends who have thought this day would never come.)

Since I've adopted the more carefree, less pressure mentality it's been quite easy and pain free to change plans, make spontaneous decisions and at times just follow the crowd. 

In three weeks time I am heading to Barcelona to recoup after our midterm exams and the weekend before I believe another student in the program and I are taking a day trip to El  Escorial, The Valley of the Fallen and or Avila, a beautiful town Northwest of Madrid and coincidentally where my señora grew up. We haven't made any concrete decisions yet, but we have plenty of time.  

Day trip and we haven't made any concrete decisions:
Three months ago: This is not enough time to plan, what are we going to do? How are we going to get there? What time of the day should we leave? Get back? Oh my gosh this is all happening so fast! Are we sure we want to go to El Escorial and The Valley of the Fallen all in one day? Jeepers, this is stressful. 

Now: Okie doke, lets worry about it after exams and look it up a few days before we go. 

I personally laugh at this personal growth. All my life people have told me to take a chill pill and calm down. I thought that was absurd because who else was going to get things done? Well, the answer is still me but in a calmer, more convenient manner that benefits everyone involved. Who knew all it would take was half a contingent, the Atlantic Ocean and four months abroad to calm my worrywart side of me down. 

In summary, studying abroad gives you more experiences than you could ever imagine and it simultaneously allows you to develop as a person as long as you let it. At first I didn't want to let the experience change me because I was afraid of what it would change, but now I'm glad I did. And so is my warnout planner. 
 
LeRoy Edward Anderson Jr. is not old, he is well-aged like a nice bottle of wine. He loves his family and his work, even though he gripes about the latter, he doesn't like the holiday season except for the delicious food, and he certainly doesn't like being reminded that he is getting older - unless it reinforces the fact that he can retire soon. 

I'm not going to say my dad is better than your dad, but he is pretty awesome. He took me under his wing as a wee little girl and let me into the garage at our cabin, a sacred ground, where he would watch over me when I would try to build numerous things that would soon fall apart. On duck hunting weekends he would wake me up well before dawn, hand me my pink snow pants and coat and we would ride out in the rickety white Ford pickup truck to the pond. Barbie dolls in one hand, hot chocolate in another. There, in the camouflage duck boat we sat for hours, freezing I might add. While he watched for ducks and complained about our neighbors hunting on our land I did my dolls hair and dreamed I was someplace warmer. When the beaver periodically peaked its head out from the water, I would snap back to reality and become excited, antsy to try and become friends with the big toothed animal. My dad would just smile at me, sometimes laugh, and go back to watching for ducks. I'm almost positive I was the cause of many failed shots due to my numerous questions like, "What type of duck is that, dad?" "Can we go get more hot chocolate?" "Don't shoot it if it's a female duck!" I'm surprised he didn't throw my dolls in the water. 

My dad is a funny guy too. He finds humor in sticky situations and attempts to lighten the mood by cracking a joke here and there, but if that doesn't work he tends to avoid a situation. Not the best idea in my opinion, but then again I do the same thing. Like father like daughter, I guess. 

LeRoy is a tough guy on the outside, but on the inside he is a big marshmallow - my brother takes after that, though he won't admit it. I like to think he secretly loves his birthday for the sweets, but I know he likes the day because he gets to spend it with the people he loves and who love him. That being said it's a little hard being away from Papa A on his big day, on the flip side though it makes me remember all the great memories I have had with him. So, here is a list of some of my favorite father-daughter moments. (Mom, don't cry). 

- Drinking hot chocolate and playing with Barbies while you hunted
- Learning how to check the oil in my car
- Spending time with you in the garage
- Breaking my arm by falling backwards down the stairs with my rollerblades on, you saying it is fine, mom coming home and saying it is broken. 
- Hearing all about your adventures in Africa and seeing you happy - When we're driving and you're listening to Larry the Cable Guy and I'm obviously being tortured, but secretly like how it makes you laugh
- Watching Frasier, M*A*S*H, Antiques Roadshow, RedGreen and British comedies with you
- Singing Eric Clapton and B.B. King together in the car.
- When a good photo of us is taken, and then putting it in my father-daughter picture frame from JoDee
- Eating peanut butter on saltine crackers as a midnight snack, falling asleep in your and mom's bed and then mom coming home from work and being upset that I was not sleeping in my own bed

These are just a few of many, dad! You deserve a great birthday and I know you will spend it well. Just think, it is one year closer to retirement! 

Feliz cumpleaños papá, I love ya. 
- Bugs
 
Paris, France is a real life doll house.

Beautiful old buildings, delicately designed doors and ornate scaffolding. Monuments that are centuries old are placed along the sidewalks all while the new mixes well with the old. Paris could be one of my favorite places to travel, but the only thing missing was someone special to share it with. 

That sounds cliche, but many of us who traveled to the city of love felt the same way. You see a different type of beauty in Paris and you can't help but think that you want to share it with someone else that you see that same beauty in. 

Yes, I am an independent woman who can handle things on her own, but that doesn't mean I don't want to share a moment or two with someone special at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or walk through the halls of the Louvre and share interpretations. Now, don't think that got me down. Not having a soulmate to share my time in France didn't effect my level of extreme joy one bit. The pure exhilaration of being in the city was enough of a companionship for the 24 hours I was there. 

If you recall I had a to-do list for my adventure in Paris, but not everything went as planned due to the rainy weather, but I made the most of it. 

We arrived that morning in Paris around 9:00, met a taxi driver who sped along the streets but stopped abruptly for any woman who wished to cross the streets (what a gentleman), ate at a Moroccan restaurant (some what contradictory, I know) and then we dropped off the groups bags at their hostel. I was meeting my friend from home so I was the definition of a tourist and carried it with me. By 2:30 we were off to see the sights. 
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Musée du Louvre, Paris.
First up Musée du Louvre
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that my father is a art enthusiast and former art teacher turned special education principal. (I still don't understand how one job progressed to another.) But somewhere along the way of him raising me, his affection and love for art wore off on me and now I find myself going to museums and art exhibits to clear my head and see the world from different perspectives. Naturally, when I arrived outside the Louvre, I was giddy. One student even laughed when I was unable to hold in my excitement and skipped a few times.

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Pinching the top of one of three pyramids.
We walked along the outside and in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) and pinched the top of the Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre), but we didn't have the time to squeeze in a grad tour of the inside. I could feel my dad's head shaking in disapproval, but all the more reason to come back and take him with me!

After the Louvre we walked along the Seine river and took in the breathtaking views. We knew we were missing out on Paris' hidden gems and the history of the city because of our short window of time, but we tried our best to stop at buildings we thought were important and figure out what their significance was. That sounds absolutely terrible, go to a famous city and decided what was more important to see and skip other parts, but we all justified it by telling ourselves we would be back one day. I'm crossing my fingers.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral.
We walked along the Seine until we hit the Notre-Dame Cathedral, or Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, and boy was that beautiful.  As the former religious and social justice reporter for the Marquette Tribune, I find every house of worship to be fascinating. They are places that are central to a culture and tell you much about the history of a country and a population. Notre-Dame was not an exception, it was the rule. 

The beauty inside was moving, and the number of candles being lit by those who were worshiping and tourists was astounding. "Our lady," another name for the cathedral, took over 200 years to build, seeing completion in 1345.  That makes the cathedral  over 800 years old and to this day it is still used for Sunday mass by the Roman Catholic Church and is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. With it's age, the church has seen it's share of positive and negative moments.

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Rose window inside Notre-Dame.
•    In 1431, Henry VI of England was crowned King inside the cathedral.
•    1804 Napoleon was crowned Emperor inside the cathedral, and before saved Notre-Dame from demolition due to its state of disrepair.
•    In 1909 Joan of Arc was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X. 
•    During World War II, France was afraid the Germans would destroy the newly installed stained glass windows, so the Church decided to remove them and were put back in after the war.
•    For more history visit Notre-Dame's historical website here.

After I processed the age and importance of the church and picked my jaw up from off the ground, we were off.

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Angelina hot chocolate.
Next was hot chocolate, and not just any hot chocolate, Angelina's hot chocolate.

Angelina is a short walk from the Louvre and worth every bit of the 4,50 euro it cost for a cup of hot cocoa. The thick, dense chocolate is the richest form of deliciousness I have ever tasted. Piet Levy, a former coworker of mine at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, recommended the spot before I left Madrid and I can't thank him enough. Everyone moaned at the price but ten minutes later when our straws scratched the bottom and all that was left was the annoying suction sound, you didn't see a single frown, only smiles that symbolized our happy tummies and satisfied sweet tooth.

As we drank our to die for liquid candy, we walked toward the Eiffel Tower and along the way saw women who were the epitome of French. One woman had wavy hair tucked in a high pony wrapped with a bow, perfect makeup and red lipstick, a blazer and blouse paired with a high wasted skirt and heels with tights. Don't forget the gorgeous man her arm was wrapped around either. His dress pants, casual blazer, button down and loafers flattered her outfit. The couple made me swoon. Love was in the air, and I was in love … with my hot chocolate.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris, France.
Shortly after, we ran into the Eiffel Tower

All I can say is that it is huge. I mean, I can say more than that but that was my first impression. It was strange to be at the foot of something you see so many times on television and in the movies. It's no lie to say I had to pinch myself. When we were in line to buy tickets to go up I couldn't believe I was seeing something that I always dreamed of. I think this was the moment that the fact I was in Paris hit me. My mother always dreamed of coming here and here I was, for 24 hours, and feeling guilty that I was there before her. So, I took it in just as she would have.

  • When we went up the elevator, I was afraid of the heights. Just like my mother.
  • When we got to the top, I took a lot of photos. Just like my mother.
  • When I tried to look over the side, I think I vomited a bit in my mouth. Possibly like my mother.

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View of Paris from the top of Eiffel Tower.
It was a breathtaking view and experience that was worth the 7,50 euros (student discount, ka-ching!) After we descended the tower, we went and had our crepes and I joined my friend Milea from the United States for the night. The next morning two men from our group and I were off to Budapest, Hungary. Talk about a change in trips.

Overall, I really enjoyed Paris, France but it is expensive to travel. I spent approximately 40 euros on food, transportation and fees to get into places. Was it worth it? Yes, but if you're going to go there on a student budget search for deals and be efficient in where you eat, what you want to do and how you are going to travel within the city. Walking is your best bet if you want to save money on transportation or make sure you see a group of things in one area before you hop on the metro to other sights.

Did I complete my to-do list? Let's see:

To-do list:
1. Pinch the top of the Louvre  -- Check.
2. Eat cheese and crackers and drink wine in front of the Eiffel Tower for lunch -- Weather complications, next time.
3. Pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower and go to the top -- Sadly, no. Weather prohibited us from going to the top of the tower and from taking a photo of me pinching the top.
4. Go to Angelina and have the best hot chocolate in Paris -- My sweet tooth craves nothing more than another.
5. Eat a crepe with strawberries for a dear friend of mine -- Does Nutella count? Strawberries cost more...
6. Try not to drool while looking at all the extremely well dressed Parisians. -- That is just impossible.
7. Not be mad if I don't succeed at number six because it is a tall order. -- Not a bit upset, only jealous I can't pull off a bow in my hair.

 
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Green tea Irene brought to my room.
There is a cold running around at school and within the Marquette group, naturally I have caught it. 

Today I woke up feeling absolutely terrible and as general habit I went to the bathroom to take some medicine but realized there was no medicine cabinet and that I wasn't at home in Minneapolis like I thought. I even I reached for the invisible medicine cabinet in my groggy state of mind, it was a smooth move. 

After realizing I had no Ibuprofen, and that I wasn't in Minnesota at all, I went back to my room and starfished my bed, facedown in the pillow. For those of you who don't know what starfishing is, it is when you spread your body like a star and fall onto your bed for maximum relaxation. It's highly recommended by doctors, and by doctors I mean me. 

After laying like a starfish for a few minutes and my throat and head continued to throb I realized I needed to sleep more and go to school a bit later than usual. In the U.S. I am used to bouncing back with the help of cough drops, an Ibuprofen and a cup of coffee but here it just doesn't cut it. I went to a farmacia and asked to purchase some medicine but because I was unsure as to what everything said on the label I was hesitant to buy it. I now realize I take Walgreens for granted. My señora didn't have any medicine so she offered me some tea when I got back from school and I anxiously waited for it at the counter in the kitchen on my stool. At that moment I didn't realize how much I missed having a mother figure around to make me feel better. 

The day has passed and it is now time for me to finish drinking my second cup of tea from Irene and catch some  beauty sleep. My mom even emailed me to tell me to go to bed. Amazing how far you can be away from home and still have a mother's presence, whether it's your real mom emailing you or your señora bringing you a cute tray with your tea and smiling to make you feel better. 
 
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