Lessons Learned Abroad

The end of the year always makes me reflect on my past. 2017 was a wonderful year for me. I learned a lot about myself. I moved to a new city, started a new job, travelled a lot, and met a ton of incredible people. And I can’t help but think, “Holy shiza! That was just ONE year.” This draft I rediscovered is from 2014. Almost four years ago now. Insane. I was a bit naive at this time in my life. It was my first time in Europe, I barely knew anything about Italy, I had never been away from my family without wi-fi for such a long time, and, frankly, I was incredibly immature. I did learn really valuable lessons that I should have included, but the following lessons are what stood out at the time…

1)      Wine is fine all the time!

tuscany monastery
My class waiting for dinner at the monastery.

Italy is known for drinking wine with almost every meal…even in the monasteries.* Our group was delightfully surprised when we were dining in a monastery and they brought out the wine glasses. It might have been the best wine we had on our trip. It was very smooth.* Having a glass of wine with your meal makes it taste a thousand times better. Just keep it classy. Don’t be the drunkie at dinner.

2)      Beware the tourist traps.

Between pasta, cannolis, pizza, and gelato, where could any of this turn bad? It sounds amazing. It looks amazing.  Don’t be fooled by the cute little red and white tablecloths with food decorations hanging in the doorway and free flipping wi-fi. IT’S A TOURIST TRAP. The food will taste like chef Boyardee but worse. I tried a gnocchi ragu at one of the shams. It tasted like beef ravioli. Then I almost died choking because the flour stuck to my throat. Take the time to find a good restaurant. Read reviews, blogs, and guidebooks.

la canno
Cannoli with a candied cherry and a candied orange

3)      Don’t be a weirdo.

Standing in line for St. Peter’s basilica was a man who would not stop cooing at the pigeons. Just because you can sound like a bird, doesn’t mean you should do it for an hour. Maybe try leanring some history…you’re in Vatican City. Plenty to learn. Plenty to see.*

vatican city views aerial view italy rome
Blurry Photo of Vatican City

4)      Water isn’t free.

In the states, water in restaurants is ALWAYS free. We tend to take that for granted. After a long day of nonstop walking, all you really need is a cool glass of water, but when you’d rather save money for souvenirs and travelling, water tends to get the boot. You learn to ration out the 2, 50 liter of water at every restaurant. If you really wanna know what hatred feels like, take that last sip of water without asking if anyone else wants it. You won’t believe the stink eye you receive.

5)      Everyone has a dog.*

In the lobby of the airport there were at least 5 dogs, which I thought was a little much when I landed. The more we walked around the more dogs we saw. Every Italian seemed to have a little pooch on his arm. It was like a piece of jewelry they threw on before leaving the house.

6)      Be independent. Wander alone.

streets rome cobblestone rustic italy
Follow the cobblestone road!

Being alone anywhere makes you more alert. Being on your own in a new country where you don’t know the language or have wi-fi is a whole new ball game of being alone. But, sometimes being with people allows us to stay in our comfort zone. One of my best days in Rome was when I walked around the entire city completely by myself. I only got lost once and a man who didn’t speak any English came up to me to try to help. We both struggled with hand motions and many uhs to try to make sense of each other and get me in the right direction. If I’d been with my friends, I never would’ve had such a fun, challenging experience. It’s a good thing I had a map though.

7)      Enjoy the simple, laughable encounters.

One morning, my friend and I stopped at a small cafe near the Pantheon before class. The waiter was a nice Italian man. He was awfully smiley as he served our espresso but we didn’t think anything of it. At the end of the meal he brought over the bill and a plate of strawberries. “Free for you, Miss.” How nice! I reached for the plate but before I could grab a bite, he snatched the plate away, wagged his finger and shook his head no. He then proceeded to feed me!? I died. It was hilarious. My friend and I couldn’t help ourselves. We nearly rolled onto the floor laughing. His face turned bright pink, he was so embarrassed!* It was one of the most random funny moments on our trip.

  1. My class had the opportunity to stay in a monastery in Tuscany. Thought it was haunted…but great hospitality!
  2. I was only 21 and clearly had no idea how to describe wine.
  3. This clearly really bothered me at the time, but I don’t remember it at all now. Funny stuff.
  4. Hadn’t been to many big cities where small dogs in stores and restaurants were common. I was fascinated.
  5. This was probably the weirdest moment of the whole two months. Looking back now, I can’t believe I included that in my lessons. Not really on topic, but still a great memory… I wish we had a video!

Oops…Opa! God Bless The Uncoordinated Souls

It’s been six months since my last blog post… The one where I said I would start writing again. LOL.  Have you ever been so afraid to do something that you convince yourself that you can’t? It sounds cliché, but I’m honestly at that stage right now. All of my ideas seem off. Much like this paragraph, it’s all word vomit. I don’t know what blog post isn’t a bunch of word vomit. I know some blogs truly stick to the point, but those are rare in the blog world. Or, maybe I’ve read too many food blogs that never stick to the point. Yes, your grandmother was a wonderful southern lady who made the best jam and used it to sweeten everything and it was just the most wonderful homegrown experience that really warmed the soul… but what’s the recipe! So much word vomit. Anyway,  in an effort to find my voice, I’m rummaging through old journals and drafted blogs posts. The point I’m struggling to make is that I wrote the following months and months ago. It amused me, so I hope you’re entertained.

It’s been a long time since my last blog because I’ve been traveling the world without a moment to spare. That said, I have lots to share. I’ll start with Greece.


Despite the economic turmoil in Greece, my family planned a cruise around the islands at the end of May, 2015. We spent four days in the wonderfully historic city of Athens, three days surrounded by the clear blue water in Mykonos, and the last four days island hopping on a cruise. No place in Greece is the same. They are all in the mediterranean, but each island experiences different winds/climates, so the geography differs quite a bit.

One tradition that remains throughout Greece is plate smashing. It was once a tradition experienced in every taverna and night club until too many people were injured. Now it’s outlawed everywhere. Georgios Papadopoulus autocratically governed Greece from 1067-1974 and outlawed plate smashing in 1969.

There is one taverna in Athens, Greece that continues the tradition, and that’s how I learned exactly why it’s outlawed.

Greek salad, massalata, wine, and more traditional plates filled our tummies while we watched bellydancers, opera singers, and Greek dancing. The dancers occasionally grabbed members from the audience to form a Greek style conga line and dance on stage where I happily participated.

opa plate smashing greek traditions

To top off the excitement, each table was handed plaster plates for the plate smashing! Thrilled, I ran to the stage ready to smash my plate, but my mom went in the opposite direction. She ran to the corner of the stage, 10 feet away, and found her face towards the stage. It bounced off the center of the stage without even chipping the plate.

Now it was my turn. I ran to the same position my mom was in with the plate in my right hand and my phone in the left ready to snapchat the absurdity of breaking the plate. Considering that my mom didn’t throw her plate hard enough, I threw my arm in the air and let go of my plate at full force only to hear an immediate shriek.

I held onto the plate too long. The table nearest the stage was in my way. Instead of making the stage a glass of wine toppled onto the two young American girls sitting at the table. The audience in view laughed hysterically and applauded my mistake. The girl however did not.

Embarrassed, I ran over to apologize. She said nothing and proceeded to run to the waiter to complain.

There was nothing he could do, so he just shrugged it off. “These things happen,” he said.

It kills me not to write that “it’s all fun and games…” Despite some humiliation, no one really got hurt. The lesson we can all take from that night is to never give the uncoordinated NARPS of the world the last sip of ouzo before the plate smashing… Opa!


Back to the Basics

When you stop doing things for yourself, you lose sight of who you are. When you start doing things for someone else, it becomes a chore, a hassle, a straight up pain in the behind. That’s what writing had become for me in college. Don’t get me wrong I love writing. That’s why I studied English and Journalism and participated in different writing organizations in college. My assignments excited me. Everywhere you look there is a story waiting to be told. The issue was I ignored my own story after a while. I stopped writing in my journal. I stopped caring about my personal life. I did my assignments and drifted through life.


Until college I kept a journal nearly every day from the time I was ten. There was only one time that I quit writing for months. It was my freshman year of high school. My mom was cleaning my room and stumbled upon my journal. She read some things she didn’t like and I was grounded for weeks. It was only a minor setback. Writing kept me grounded; I always came back to it. Why am I writing this on a blog that I designated for travel stories and a few random journalism assignments? 1) I’m processing my thoughts through this word vomit. 2) I want to make it a point to reclaim my writing—at least on this platform.


I have so many untold stories that feel stuck in the back of my head because I didn’t write for myself. The longer I waited to share, the more I felt insecure about writing to the public again. Sharing my own stuff felt too vulnerable. Well, screw that. I have gorgeous pictures and stories to share from my most recent travels in Greece, Spain, the Caribbean, and my favorite stateside cities. On top of that, I notoriously overshare. What better way to do that than write to random Internet trolls and some of my friends who might skim through these blogs? If you made it to the end, thanks for letting me rant.


TL;DR I’m baaaack.

Cheers to the Pennsylvania Dutch for the Sauerkraut

Celebrating New Year’s day is great except for one minor detail…sauerkraut. Every year, I’m forced to eat the stringy sour cabbage “good luck in the New Year.” As a person prone to tripping on air, losing things in plain sight, and forgetting things said to me five seconds before, my luck department hasn’t been very fortuitous.

Due to the annoyance of never seeing the benefits of this lucky meal year after year, I took it upon myself to see why on earth the lovely people of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia still take part in this tradition besides the fact that it’s a tradition.

The History

Before the fantastic invention of the refrigerator, people survived the winter with fermented cabbage a.k.a. sauerkraut. Those lucky enough were able to dine on the Pennsylvania Dutch’s favorite meat—pig. If you began the New Year with pork, chances are you would be able to be lucky enough to get a pig the next year and continue the tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut on the first day of the New Year.

In the hundreds of years that people have dined on this meal, they also developed the symbolism for why they choose the tart cabbage with the juicy pork. Pigs eat in a forward motion as opposed to chickens that go backwards, so they are considered progressive. The long strands of sauerkraut are said to bring a long life.

Benefits of Sauerkraut

Even though it isn’t my favorite, it has several benefits that make it worth eating.

  • One serving is only 27 cals!
  • It contains 16% of the recommended daily value of fiber.
    • Increases digestion. Bye bye cramps, bloating, diarrhea, etc.
    • Lowers risk of high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease
  • Boosts energy production with Iron
  • Builds strong bones with 23% of the DV of Vitamin K
  • Loaded with Probiotics
    • Improves immune function and health of intestinal tract
    • Heals digestive tract
    • Helps with digestion
  • Helps with acid reflux!
    • A few teaspoons of juice before eating improves digestion
  • Possibly prevents cancer!
    • High in antioxidant compounds
    • Works to eliminate free radicals which cause cancer cell formation
  • Adios inflammation
    • Phytonutrient antioxidants reduce pain and discomfort of joints, muscles, etc.
  • Flawless skin!
    • High in carotenes and vitamin A
    • Slows wrinkles and clears blemishes

When the benefits are this great, the taste is irrelevant. The only flaw in the sauerkraut case is that the sodium content is high, but no worries. You can always buy low-sodium sauerkraut!


Now that I’ve done my research, I’m thankful for the force fed kraut and piggy. Here’s to a year of prosperity, long life, and good health!

My New Years Resolutions As Told By Frozen

To me, New Years Resolutions are kind of pointless. Why do people believe that they’ll drastically change their lives from December 31 to January 1? Even though I don’t really believe in the idea of changing oneself overnight, there are a few crucial lessons we can learn from Frozen and take with us into the new year!

  • Hang out with friends as often as possible. Be spontaneous and up for anything with anyone. Spend too much time by yourself and you’ll be like Anna talking to the paintings on the wall…


  • Life throws challenges all the time. Don’t freak out and lose control.


No need for a blizzard.

  • Cosmetics work wonders on everyone. Take time to do hair and make up. Bedhead isn’t a good look on most.

messy hair

  • Do what you love and stay true to yourself. Being yourself is liberating. Before Elsa owned who she was, she was alone and unhappy.

cold never bothered me

When she accepted herself, her fierceness shined through her appearance.

  • Elsa allows her magic to control her because she’s afraid of its power. When you learn to overcome your fears, life becomes beautiful.


  • People will judge you no matter what you do, so forget them and have fun. 


The Duke of Weselton is the king of the dance floor.

  • Anna almost died to figure out this bit of genius, but just because a boy seems perfect at first doesn’t make him THE ONE.

hans brat

The real prince charming will come around eventually. Have fun until you find him!

  • Be in charge and act like you know what you’re doing. How else would anna have made it to the top of the mountain to see Elsa if she didn’t tell Sven’s help?


  • Dreams may seem impossible, but doesn’t mean that they can’t come true! Don’t be a dream killer. Anything can happen.tumblr_n16tixeBRw1tqqihyo3_500

It might not be your own flurry, but miracles happen…

  • People are moody. Moody does not equal evil. Don’t jump to conclusions. We all have bad days. If Anna didn’t help her sister, the winter could have lasted forever!

not afraid

Always be kind. You never know how your actions could affect someone.

  • Accept the weirdness in life. We might not all have a family of talking trolls, but we’re all a little weird. That’s what makes us unique.

frozen troll

  • Don’t be so hard on your friends and family. Everything they do is out of love because they care. No matter how irritating they are, they would do anything for you…



…no matter what the circumstances may be.

  • Never give up on what you want!


…it doesn’t have to be a snowman

No one really needs an excuse to watch Frozen for the 8129386574924873652nd time, but what else is there to do during winter break? Technically there’s a long list of things I should be doing, but Frozen is MUCH better. So, cheers to the new year, and may “Let It Go” be permanently engrained into your skull forever!




Bad Habits (New Year, New Me)


The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but sometimes we have to take a look to make sure.


This is the thought that comes to me while I lie awake in the middle of the night in my twin size bed, staring into the center of my room trying not to roll over onto my left side facing the wall.

wrong side


Until I got my cartilage pierced a few days ago, I never realized how accustomed I’d grown to sleeping on the left side. Every time the tip of my left ear touches the pillow it kills, but I still feel the urge to fall back into the habit of sleeping curled up on my left! Who knew that such a small change would bother me so much.

I suppose the phrase “Someone woke up on the wrong side of bed this morning!” came from people dealing with people like moi.



I’m not the only one with a problem. Change is an issue for everyone; whoever says otherwise is lying.

Instead of suffering through pain and sleeping all balled up facing the wall, I can try to change my habits and look at the other side.


Pondering one small thought leads to another and now I can’t stop thinking about habits and happenstances.

Finger tapping, teeth grinding, hair flipping, saying like too many times in one sentence, saying “I can’t even” ever, etc. are annoying, but some habits become life threatening.

cant even

So my challenge to everyone is to think about these habits and, if you care to, change them.


Let 2015 be a new year without negative thoughts, negative people, and negative habits.


Covenant Community Church Gives Back

It’s easy to get too caught up in the holiday season.

You need gifts for parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, best friends, boyfriends, brother’s girlfriends, cousin’s boyfriend’s dog’s stepmother and everyone else under the sun. You have five Christmas parties to go to, so you make a cheese tray, a meat tray, a veggie tray, and mix it up for each party because cooking for all of these in between shopping and work and actually picking out clothes for the events is just not going to happen. Also, bill payments are due soon. Yikes!

Where is the Christmas spirit? Sleigh bells are ringing, but who can hear them over the hustle and bustle that is THE HOLIDAY SEASON?

Volunteers carrying the boxes and getting ready to load their cars.

Volunteers carrying the boxes and getting ready to load their cars.

In the midst of the chaos, Covenant Community Church (C3,) my parents church that I attend sporadically, brought volunteers into Triadelphia Middle School to pack boxes filled with turkey, potatoes, green beans, corn, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, rolls, cookies, and a letter from the C3 pastors to be delivered to people in the Ohio Valley who may not have otherwise been able to have a true Christmas meal.

You might think that it would be nearly impossibly to encourage enough people to volunteer on the Saturday four days before Christmas. “I still need to buy a few more gifts,” “I haven’t wrapped a single gift!” “You want me to wake up that early on a Saturday morning?” There are millions of excuses people could come up with to avoid volunteering during this hectic time of year.

Despite the interruption in schedule, C3 had hundreds of volunteers.

At 7:30 a.m. the strongest folks came to the middle school gym bright eyed and bushy tailed to unload the trucks of food and set up for people coming in at 8:45 a.m. to begin packing.

Coffee and donuts kicked everyone into high gear. Little toddlers ran around with the adults tossing the turkeys and the cans into the boxes going to those less fortunate.IMG_4717

Two hours later, all 621 boxes were filled!

621. That is not a typo. C3, with the help of sponsors, provided a Christmas meal for 621 families in the area.

My mother, Linda Mason, and I delivered a few boxes to people in South Wheeling where we met the wonderful families receiving the packages and invited them to C3’s Christmas Eve service.

My car loaded with the packages for a few families in South Wheeling.

My car loaded with the packages for a few families in South Wheeling.

One softspoken Grandmother, who received a box was incredibly gracious. After many hugs, she said, “We would love to come [to the Christmas eve service.] It’s all about the kids. We need to stir them in the right direction.”

That’s only one family that received the warmth of love from the Christmas spirit.

Take a moment to forget all of the things you need to do before Christmas. Go out into the world and just help one person. Christmas is a time for giving. Maybe next year, you can join C3 and deliver a few packages with them!


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Bringing Yoga to School

Winston-Salem yoga instructor Crista Baker is working with Forsyth County schools with the hopes of providing teachers “all the benefits of affordable and convenient yoga classes in the comfort of their own school.” With both teachers and administrators on board, Baker’s goal is to bring yoga to all aspects of the school system, from elementary students to university students.

For now, teachers at the Special Children’s School share how the calming benefits of yoga have impacted them, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Like “Bringing Yoga to School” on Facebook for more information!

[A collaborative effort by Tori Mason & Ashley Hamati]

Mud, Sweat, and Beer

It’s the third week of July. Rednecks from all over have their tents and campers set up in Morristown, Ohio, twenty minutes from Wheeling, WV. Everyone staying on the nearby campsites mentally prepares (drinks) for the biggest country music festival in America, the Jamboree in the Hills…just like they have been since the summer of ‘77 when Johnny Cash took the stage.
What began as a two day concert slowly developed into a four day event with beloved country singers like Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, Tim Mcgraw, Taylor Swift, and Brad Paisley.

Jambo’s more than a concert. It’s an experience. It is the biggest, craziest party of the year…probably in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Ohio to camp out in tents and campers in front yards and nearby campsites with moonshine, Jell-O shots, and beer.

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Aside from all of that, the absolutely craziest aspect of the Jamboree in the Hills is the Redneck Run. The Redneck Run is where concert-goers earn their spots in front of the stage. In the early morning, before the crack of dawn, everyone takes a shot of Red Bull, grabs their tarps, and gets in line no matter how tired or hungover they are. Avid fans even sleep in line all night to secure their spot.

People waiting in line to run JITH 2014.

People waiting in line to run JITH 2014.

Today the run began at 8:00 am, so my brother’s friends, Casey Wilson and Trevor Allen, and I were there by 6:30 am to get a decent spot in line. The boys were halfway back with nearly hundred people in front of them.
At 7:37 am, a woman announced “Welcome to the Jamboree in the Hills!” They all cheered. After explaining the rules, the runners crammed together.
When they opened the gate everyone ran forward, but they have to walk closer to the stage until the other gates are opened. Police on horses surrounded the runners to slow them down and keep things under control.
They’re supposed to walk silently but as soon as the speakers blast AC/DC’s “Are You Ready” they take off into the mud.
People were still situating their tarps as I looked for Casey.
We expected to get a decent spot because Casey is a good runner, but Casey got in the front row by the fence!
I can’t wait to see Little Big Town tomorrow and do it all over again bright and early tomorrow morning.

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