The Best Daddy in the Whole, Wide World!

Last week was one of the most difficult weeks of my entire life. A giant monster with sharp claws and a strong bite, formally known as the GRE, came down expectantly to attack me when I was least expecting it. The giant beast attacked from the right and the left throwing all sorts of touch math and vocabulary questions which I needed to overcome in order to save me life! Fortunately, I survived, although it was a rough 5 hour long battle which wore me out completely!

Taking the GRE was a CHALLENGING experience… I wrote an entire blog about it! (In case you wanted more details! 😛 )

This is the part of the story where my wonderful Daddy comes in. Knowing that I would have a hard time saying no to fun in Scotland to study, he told me that if I were to have absolutely no fun for a week before the GRE, and just study, he would take me and a few friends out to dinner. He tasked my roommate, Tiffany, with the task of ensuring that I was actually having no fun and reminding me to study for every possible second that I was awake. And Tiffany rose to the challenge! Every time I would start to talk on the phone, or text, or get comfortable in bed she would tell me that I looked like I was having too much fun and that I needed to get back to work, now!

The night before I took the GRE my daddy called me on Skype to wish me good luck and give me a few last tips before the test. After we chatted for a bit, he asked me if I had my suitcase nearby. And I think to myself, what on earth? What does my suitcase have to do with the price of tea in China??? I told him that it was on top of my wardrobe and pointed my camera at it. He asked me to get it down. I was really confused, and speculated that he had seen the mess all over my room while Skyping with me and wanted to remind me that I only have one suitcase to lug all of my stuff home…. But I got the suitcase!

But the inordinate amount of stuff lying all over my dorm room floor was not what my dad was trying to point out, at least not in that instance. He had me unzip the main compartment, unzip the inner lining, and look under the plastic on the side. And there, taped to the inside of my suitcase, was a one hundred-dollar bill! My dad had put it in there a week before I left for Scotland, as a surprise to remind me that he had been planning a surprise for me long in advance! He told me it was a present from him to reward me for all of my studying and to allow me to take a few friends out to dinner as a treat from him!

Naturally, I was quite excited! Can you imagine a daddy doing anything nicer for his daughter?? I quite happily scheduled a dinner date for Tiffany, Elisabeth, Naomi, and I because I love them, and I also REALLY APPRECIATED all of the hours they spent helping me to prepare for the big day!

Tiffany and Naomi were excited for dinner, too! :)

Tiffany and Naomi were excited for dinner, too! 🙂

And what a fantastic dinner we had! We all went to the grill house in town and ordered a delicious meals. Elisabeth and I ordered Mexican fajitas, which came out on hot plates still sizzling! (We knew they were coming before we could even see the waiter approaching…. Naomi announced, ~I hear your dinner coming!” and cracked us all up!) Naomi and Tiffany had delicious burgers and chips. And we all had a FANTASTIC TIME! This goes to show, I really do have the best daddy in the whole, wide world! ❤

We had such a FANTASTIC time!

We had such a FANTASTIC time!

 

A Taste of Spain

The tempting picture in my cookbook... how could I resist?

One of my favorite ways of remembering Spain (and perhaps to try and re-live it a little) is by trying to recreate some of my favorite foods from the country.  I even received a cookbook of Spanish foods for Christmas two years ago, when I came back from my trip.  I was flipping through a week or so ago and I spied one of these tasty treats, ensaimadas – little spiral pastries topped with powdered sugar.  They are light, sweet, and a delightful breakfast treat with a chocolate (hot chocolate) or café (coffee).  They’re from the region of Mallorca, but you can find them pretty much everywhere in the country (at least in the major cities).

So, I decided to have a go at my Spanish baking skills – after all, I have a recipe and everything.  It’s not a particularly difficult recipe, either, but I had never worked with yeast before so I was a little worried about messing up the cultures and ending up with flat pastries… but hey, at least they would taste good.  I admit that it was a little bit of a challenge to find all the proper cooking utensils in the dorm, but Robinson is pretty well stocked, luckily.  The only thing that I couldn’t locate was a food mixer, so I had to knead the dough by hand, which was not a problem.  I even documented my progress in this exciting endeavor:

First, before going into the oven, after cooling for 24 hours, then rising for three...

Then, after coming out of the oven, looking pretty good so far...

 

Finally, my proud final product, lightly dusted and tempting. Not bad!

They didn’t turn out exactly like they’re supposed to, but they were pretty close (and still quite delicious).  Success!

A Well-Rounded Workout

During my senior year of high school, I ceased—for the first time since elementary school—to play team sports, and as a result, I essentially went an entire year without exercising. Upon arriving at college, however, I quickly discovered (epiphany!) that exercise was an essential for a balanced, healthy life. Having two gym facilities within five minutes’ walking distance has been the clincher, and I’ve gone to the gym regularly ever since.

Certainly, one might make the argument that college life simply does not allow time for exercise. What I’ve found, though, is that a few hours a week in the gym serve as an invaluable stress reliever which both relaxes and invigorates me, enabling me to study more effectively and efficiently when I do sit down to work. Of late, the gym has offered a couple of other unique attractions—one has been helpful instruction on workout routines, and the other, the opportunity to practice Spanish.

You see, when I go to the Galloway gym across campus, I often run into friends who are athletic training majors. This turns out to be of great benefit to me, because they often stop what they’re doing to show me how to do a particular workout more effectively. Often, they even go into a detailed explanation of the physiological bases for their advice, which proves quite instructive and fascinating.

My time in the gym has also been especially interesting lately due, in large part, to my time in Spain last semester. The reason for this is that many of Erskine’s athletes are from Spanish-speaking countries, and so I often run into them at the gym. While before studying abroad, I might have ventured a timid hola, my experience overseas has given me both more courage in speaking and a greater ability to identify with students studying outside of their native countries. As a result, I’ve lately gotten to have a number of conversations in the gym with friends from Puerto Rico, Spain, and Peru. Thus, I’m able to get both a physical and intellectual workout all at once. And now, off to the gym!

Back at Erskine

Enjoying a meal at a local "Mom and Pop" restaurant in the great metropolis of Belton shortly after my return.

It’s been rather a while since I wrote last, probably because I’ve been busy transitioning from “Spain life” back into  life at Erskine—a transition that has kept my time happily filled with catch-up coffee dates, time spent getting to know freshmen I only briefly met during fall orientation, and moving back into the dorm. There certainly are things about moving back to Erskine after having been abroad that are disorienting. (For one thing, I’m “the new kid” in some ways, while the freshmen now have a semester of Erskine history under their belt for which I was absent.) Overall, though, it’s been incredibly fun to jump back into the swing of things here in good ol’ Due West. And although lots of amazing conversations and times with friends have been had since I got back, one particular incident from this evening is what I’d like to share at the moment.

You see, as much as I loved Spain and wouldn’t trade the experiences I had there for the world, I also greatly missed Erskine, in large part because the community God has blessed me with here is so very special. Honestly, it took being away from Erskine for me to realize how truly amazing it is. Not because it’s a perfect school, nor because I’m always 100% happy every day here (I mean, we live in a fallen world), but because being far from home has shown me what an incredible blessing it is to be surrounded by so many encouraging friends who are all came to Erskine for the same reasons I did. Now, don’t get me wrong—there is quite a lot of ideological diversity on Erskine’s campus; and that’s a good thing! There’s a great contrast, however, between finding a handful of Christian friends in Spain and, at Erskine, being surrounded by a vast number of like-minded friends who challenge me, encourage me, and support me.

One fun January outing was an evening at the home of Erskine's Admissions Operations Coordinator (who also happens to be a fabulous cook and hostess)...

This evening, for example, I was wrestling inwardly with a bit of an existential crisis regarding my future calling (a crisis I would imagine not a few college students have experienced right around this time in their educational career).  I’ve always thought this was the vocation God was calling me to, but now I don’t even know…and maybe this isn’t what I’m meant to do for reasons x, y, z…but if it’s not, then what IS He calling me to? Etc., etc. Like a badly authored bit of stream of consciousness writing, these thoughts were racing through my head as I walked into my dorm a few hours ago to find an unsuspecting friend on sitting at the desk on lobby duty. Since I’m usually terrible at keeping whatever thoughts are consuming me bottled up, some of the aforementioned stream of incoherent thoughts and questions began to spill out.

Under Amanda's tutelage, we cooked a delicious meal together. Here are Rachel and Rebekah cutting up the potatoes.

So what did my friend—who happens to be a kind and insightful psychology major—do? She had me sit down and talk through my life plans and goals with her. And of course, since I’m at Erskine, I can already predict that this was one in a long series of conversations which I’ll doubtless have with various friends as I process and they advise, direct, and ask helpful questions. The simple fact that there are a large number of wise, well-adjusted, and caring individuals who will all listen as I babble and give me solid, Biblical advice in response is just a mind-boggling blessing. Living on a campus surrounded by friends who challenge, encourage, and care for me every day is such a delight. College is indeed a unique season of life. And like any other part of life, college is also largely what one makes of it. Erskine just happens to be an especially wonderful place in which to do that. “We always thank God for all of you…We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~1 Thessalonians 1:2-3.

The scrumptious dinner we made. And there isn't even a picture of the coffee-cake pound-cake we made for dessert. Yum.

Living Abroad and Thanksgiving in Spain

Have a seat, make yourself comfortable, and enjoy a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal on the Mediterranean

There is just nothing like living in another country to broaden one’s perspective. Since arriving in Spain, I’ve discovered that almost everything—from gestures and language to packaging in the grocery store—is a little bit different. It’s one thing to read about and study other countries; it’s something entirely different to daily encounter little differences that cause you to scratch your head and say, “oh…but I thought everyone did it this way”. For example, I enjoyed a delicious vegetable stew the other day, prepared by my wonderful host mother, only to discover (with a shudder, I’ll admit) that that “unusual” soup ingredient that she’d mentioned and which I’d eaten with relish was blood sausage. (It was probably for the best, because, had I known what morcilla was beforehand, I highly doubt that I would have enjoyed my meal so immensely.) When Puri saw the look of disconcerted comprehension dawn on my face as I looked up the
word for said dish after lunch, she calmly explained how black pudding is made and pointed out that we eat far more questionable animal products in the form of hotdogs and hamburgers. She’s quite right, of course, and it’s been interesting to think since, in light of that experience, about how the “psychology of food” works.

Allison and Cassie with the mashed potatoes!

Now, don’t get me wrong—when I say that Spain is “different”, I don’t mean to imply that it’s dramatically different from the US. As in most modern, developed countries, houses, clothing styles, transportation, and the amenities of life are all about the same, with the one exception in Alicante being the absence of heating and air in houses. You see, since the weather here is rarely extreme, there really isn’t all that much need for AC and heat. Even so, I confess that I sorely felt the lack of air conditioning during my first couple of weeks here. As the seasons have changed, though, and it’s become a bit chillier, the absence this particular amenity has been really made me think. Perhaps having buildings toasty warm—almost to the point of discomfort—inside makes our bodies less able to adapt to seasonal changes of temperature? Being without heating and air has also made me realize how often I flip a switch when I feel hot or cold when really, I could sim
ply put on warmer clothing or drink some iced water and get the same effect in a more economic and environmentally-friendly way.

The table set for Thanksgiving at the home of our beloved professors, Armando and Cynthia

Call me a comfort-loving American (guilty as charged), but when I was first adjusting to life in Spain, the idea of not being able to control the temperature of my surroundings whenever I wanted was rather disconcerting. However, as I’ve seen that yes, it is quite possible to live comfortably—albeit in an area with a mild climate—without heating and air, I’ve also become much more sensitive to body-temperature phenomena like these: Cold? Solution: more clothing, hot tea, and/or blankets. Hot? Solution: don’t drink hot tea, wear cool clothing, and sit outside in the breeze. All that isn’t to say that I’m going to stop using heat when I go home (hardly)…but the experience of living in an area where almost no houses even have a heating and air system installed in them has certainly made me more thoughtful about the way I view stewardship and the way in which something I consider a necessity may actually only be an unexamined habit of living. Really, then, as in a
ll areas of life, when it comes to our expenditure of energy, balance is the key; and I think I’ll return home a bit more balanced.

Another “little” difference that is obvious but which still struck me as odd at first is the absolute absence of a vitally important holiday, which is celebrated by festivities all around the world (right?)…yes, Thanksgiving. Well of course no one in Europe (or anywhere else in the world except in the US, for that matter) commemorates the first thanksgiving meal held by the pilgrims in the New World out of gratitude to the Lord for his provision. In fact, if you type the word “Thanksgiving” into Google.es (the Spanish version of Google, which automatically appears in place of Google.com when one is in Spain), you will immediately pull up perfectly natural questions like “¿Qué es Thanksgiving?” (“What is Thanksgiving?”) and the subsequent explanation. In fact, I just had a conversation with my elevator friend (dubbed thusly because she’s a delightful former teacher whom I always seem to bump into in the elevator in our apartment), and she was under the impres
sion that Thanksgiving was the American version of Christmas. My mother was also quite surprised to hear that, today, November 24th, was the day of my final exam for one of my classes. I will be celebrating the holiday this afternoon, however, by having a Thanksgiving meal with my study abroad group at the home of our esteemed professor, Armando. I’m also going to attempt to make buttermilk biscuits without real buttermilk (which, like cranberries, doesn’t seem to be sold here in Alicante) and using an entirely different system of measurements. So I think I’ll need 440 grams of flour?

Just One Reason Erskine is Special…

In the nearby village of Elche, Spain…in a bookstore. You can always spot a humanities major.

If you’re either around college-age or have a student who’s beginning to look at schools, you’ve probably spent at least some time researching and visiting different universities, weighing the respective pros and cons of the institutions that interest you. One factor which I know I took into account when I was looking at schools is the difference in the number of resources found at a large university as opposed to a smaller one. I worried that, were I to go to a small college, I would be missing out if I didn’t have access to everything made available by a large university. Certainly, such a wealth of resources—primarily in the form of enormous libraries—is an extremely valuable asset. What I’ve found since coming to Erskine, however, is that, thanks to incredible librarians and a well-oiled interlibrary loan system, I never have trouble obtaining exactly the resources I need, no matter how specific or obscure the topic I’m researching.

Today, I saw a bit of the flip-side of the research process that I’ve become familiar with at Erskine when I made my first foray into the world of researching at a large university. Before I comment on this experience, I should note that I don’t mean in any way to disparage the University of Alicante by doing so—I am greatly enjoying my classes at the university, and all of my experiences and professors thus far have been excellent! It’s just that, my time in the library this morning helped me see that “the grass is always greener” is an adage because we often don’t fully appreciate the good things we have. You see, when I walked into the huge, multi-level library and saw the shelves upon shelves of books, I was enchanted. Had I gone to a huge school, such copious amounts of resources might have been at my fingertips as well. (Of course, such resources are at my fingertips within three to five days of requesting them from WorldCat…but the green monster is rare
ly logical.) I then commenced searching for books on the topics on which I plan to write my final essays. And gracious, I couldn’t seem to find anything. This was probably at least partly due to my unfamiliarity with the system of book cataloguing used in Spain (which, like measurements, temperature, and classroom numbers, is completely different from that used in the US). Nevertheless, I was quite disheartened to discover that the books I needed were scattered all throughout the vast library building and that some apparently weren’t even in the same building where I was seated. Sigh.

Inside the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid

So I did what I usually do when I’m confused (which, of course, happens only *cough* very rarely): I asked for help. Walking up to one of the librarians, I was met with what can only be described as something of a grimace. She explained—in rapid Spanish—where I could find the list of books I’d compiled and seemed quite annoyed when asked for further clarification on where the basement and the Law Library were. Later, after I finally wandered back to the front desk on that particular floor, I asked the other librarian on duty if I could check my books out then. Only, as I quailed a bit under his scowl, my Spanish vocabulary seemed to vaporize, and I stumbled over my words a bit before being told, rather gruffly, that I could check books out on the first floor. All that to say, the librarians were reasonably cordial, if not friendly, and answered my questions. But as I walked out of the library thinking that I would prefer to just do my research online, I couldn’t hel
p but think how spoiled I am to walk into McCain Library in Due West and to unfailingly be given swift, one-on-one assistance by one of Erskine’s well-versed keepers-of-the-books (surely “librarian” is too mundane a name for such an important job?). I’m not sure that the contrast between that possibility of “being a number” at a large university and the personal, close-knit-community feel I’ve come to enjoy at Erskine have ever seemed quite so stark to me. That’s not in any way to say that one can’t thrive in either a small-school or large-school setting or that each type of school doesn’t have its charms… I just happen to really appreciate my Erskine family and am thankful that God has placed me in it!

View of the beach beside my house in Alicante

In the end, when I arrived back at my piso (apartment) and attempted to use the online Erskine journal database, I discovered to my consternation that I couldn’t seem to log onto the website. Of course, considering that there are a number of US websites that are not accessible from overseas, I wasn’t particularly surprised, but I figured I would email one of the librarians at Erskine to ask about my difficulty. I also mentioned, in my query, the topics I was attempting to research. And what do you think I found in my inbox only hours later? The news that the aforementioned librarian had entered my student ID into the system and that I should now have access to Erskine’s databases AND (get this), a flood of academic articles on the topics I had mentioned in passing. Wow. All the way from Spain, I felt so blessed. And now, I’ve got some reading to do.

Musings in Spain

One thing I’ve loved about being in Spain has been the relatively extensive amount of time I have here to read, study, and contemplate. Granted, I miss all of the Erskine fellowship, activities, and other commitments that fill my time when I’m at school in the US. It’s been quite refreshing, however, to have a season much more conducive to studying certain topics more deeply, with the time to follow intellectual rabbit trails that peak my interest. At the moment, for example, I’m reading Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, a 6th century work of philosophy that had a huge impact on the development of the Western tradition and is referenced by later authors like Dante and Chaucer. Although this ancient work of philosophy in not written from a specifically Christian perspective, God is often referenced, and I’ve been fascinated to note how closely much of the wisdom contained therein parallels the truths of Scripture.

This weekend, a friend from Erskine who's currently studying at Oxford came to visit me and Lisa! We had fun, and we even made time to go to the Alicante "mercadillo" (Saturday market), pictured here.

It has also been interesting to note how pertinent Boethius’s musings are to the twenty-first century world of pluralism and moral relativism in which we live. For example, he declares that, “If God exists, whence comes evil? Yet whence comes good, if He exists not?” Here, in this sixth century classic, a philosopher wrestles with the problem of evil, which a number of friends her in Spain have pointed to as a reason for disbelief. And yet, Boethius concludes that, yes, the fallen nature of our world is puzzling; but that, apart from some outside standard, our innate concept of “good” and “evil” makes no sense. If there is no God, we have no ground to stand on from which to condemn heinous acts, and this absence of an outside standard would inevitably lead to nihilism if we were intellectually honest.

Joseph, Lisa, and I enjoyed catching up over coffee...three friends talking about Due West, SC in a Spanish panadería. Who would've thought?

Boethius also remarks that, “whenever a man by proclaiming his good deeds receives the recompense of fame, he diminishes in a measure the secret reward of a good conscience”, which echoes the Scriptural truth that, “when [we] give to the needy”, we are “not [to] announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full” (Mark 6:2). I also love the beauty of the author’s words as he addresses Lady Philosophy, albeit in the midst of his distress over being unjustly accused of treason: “Is this the library, the room which thou hadst chosen as thy constant resort in my home, the place where we so often sat together and held discourse of all things in heaven and earth? …thou didst trace for me with thy wand the courses of the stars, moulding the while my character and the whole conduct of my life after that patter of the celestial order…”

Anyway, back to Spain. A troubling dilemma that I’ve encountered since arriving is the question of how much I can reasonably cart back to the US. Namely, how many books will fit in my suitcase, along with all of my clothing and other necessities (oh, and a souvenir or two), without pushing it over the highly unrealistic weight limit (*cough*, please don’t report me to American Airlines). I empathize greatly with a remark of Ben House’s that I read the other day on the one of my favorite blogs, the Grantian Florilegium. This is his confession: “I start more books than I finish. I buy more than I start. I forget much of what I read… Mornings begin with reading and coffee. My light cannot go out without at least a few minutes to read at the end of the day. Beside my bed stand a dangerous leaning tower—the great mass of unfinished volumes looming over my bed.” I just hooted when I read this, because—as my family will tell you—I’m the same way. The only problem
is that I cannot realistically transport a mini-library across the Atlantic Ocean in my limit-of-fifty-pounds suitcase. My solution? I’ve borrowed books and gone to the library. Of course, as with Ben, my bibliophilic enthusiasm has rather outstripped my ability to read rapidly (especially in Spanish). Consequently, I have far more books in my room at the moment than I can possibly finish in a semester…and I only have four weeks left. I can hardly believe it! How time does fly.

A few of the books on my shelf...