August Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those who do, I got a tattoo!

Just kidding! (Seriously, Mom and Dad. I’m kidding…)

I think it’s safe to say that, based on July’s Bucket List item, everything I’ve done for the past two months has been new and scary to me. I’ve moved to Belgium, travelled around France, met old friends in London, and explored the tourist-y areas of Brussels to get acquainted with my new home. If I wrote about every new, strange, or exciting experience, I’d be writing until next month, and I have a resolution to uphold!

Instead, this month I decided to try something different: get out of the house and meet new people. This may not seem like a big deal, but for me, it really is! I’m, inherently, a shy, reserved person who prefers to stay at home rather than go out and meet people. That is, until you get to know me. That’s whyI sign into these blog posts the way I do. For those of you who don’t know me, I politely introduce myself and invite you to read about my adventures. For those of you who have the pleasure of knowing me personally, you’ll know I can be loud and a bit silly. A majority of the time, however,I’m actually very quiet around strangers, especially in social gatherings. I hardly ever initiate conversations, but when I do, it’s mostly to apologize for something (“*GASP* I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to purposefully run into you so that I had something to say!”) To save people from spilled drinks and broken toes due to my “clumsy” way of starting a conversation, I’ve made this month about working on my people skills and, hopefully, making new friends.

Within the month of August, I went to a pop-up dinner and an Ex-Pat social event. These types of organized events are more personal and intimate gatherings of like-minded people, not to mention it’s safer than finding a random person in a bar and striking up a conversation. Still, the evenings didn’t come without difficulties.

Has a friend ever dragged you to a party because they didn’t know anyone who was going and wanted at least one familiar face there? Well, just about everyone who showed up to both events was accompanied by their “familiar face”. I completely understand why, too. They want to look like they are “getting involved” without really getting involved. Translation: they BYOF (bring your own friends) to an event and talk amongst themselves, all the while hoping some courageous, outgoing person will come to them, introduce themselves, and make their evening a little more interesting. If no one stops by, the friends still look like they are participating in the social event. Based on what I know from my own experiences, when people BYOF, they do it out of the fear of looking “abnormal” or anti-social. (I’ve been using a lot of air quotes…). They don’t want to be that shy person sitting by his or herself, fake-texting to look busy while everyone else is making friends and engaging in interesting conversations. I’ve been there. It’s a bit embarrassing. I’ve dragged and been dragged to parties and I’ve been the loner staring at my phone. This month, it finally dawned on me that everyone is as uncomfortable as I am in these types of social situations. It’s a satisfying feeling to know that I’m not the only one who finds speaking to strangers difficult (see, Mom and Dad? Even at 23, I’m still not talking to strangers! Stranger danger, am I right?)

Even with this newly realized epiphany, I was still the lone wolf in a forest of BYOFs. That meant I needed to suck up my social anxiety and release my irrational fears of public rejection. I needed to force myself to speak to someone, even if I had nothing interesting to say, and pray that my go-to conversation starter (“Hi. I’m an American. Nice to meet you”) will propel the conversation forward. I could be at a party, in a classroom, or in front of an audience, I’ve never been comfortable speaking to large crowds of people. But not this month! This month, I was going to make an effort to join in the fun, and not look like a lone wolf, playing on my phone in the corner of the room. I was going to be a social butterfly, gosh darn it!

The month started out with a pop-up dinner in London. I had rented a room on Airbnb for a couple days from a London-based chef. As well as working with the takeaway website, Just Eat, she hosted pop-up restaurants around London through GrubClub, a website that is like Airbnb but chefs advertise dining experiences rather than homes. She had an extra seat at one of the dinners, so she invited me to join. When have I ever said no to food? Plus, I’d never been to a pop-up restaurant before, so might as well take advantage of the opportunity.

IMG_7059When I arrived, there was a long table set for about 20 people. I was the first to arrive (I am incapable of arriving fashionably late), so I sat down and waited as the rest of the dinner guests came through the door. The dinner was a delicious 5-course meal, featuring peaches in each dish. At first, I was nervous to say anything. It was difficult for me to think of anything to say. I just looked around the room hoping for some inspiration to fly out of the air. As each course was served and the wine glasses were filled, conversation became much easier. The guests at my side of the table managed to talk about a very wide range of topics, from the “conversation starter pack” like work and weather, to Brexit and traveling in Southeast Asia. The experience as a whole felt like I have been teleported back to a time when wealthy aristocrats hosted lavish dinners in their family mansions for their friends in the hopes of creating connections, romances, and learning all the recent gossip. I thought I was in Downton Abbey! Checking “pop-up restaurant” and “be on Downton Abbey” off my bucket list.

After a couple days vacation in London, I, reluctantly, traveled home to Brussels (that’s weird to say… “My home is in Brussels”. AHH!). I spent several days exploring the city on my own, then realized how lonely and, especially, homesick I felt. I went to the trusty, sometimes-reliable internet to look up some clubs and events I could get involved in during my year abroad. Little did I know at the time, but Belgium in August is practically deserted! Everyone leave for vacation during August. Shops close, work stops, people leave. It’s a great time to sightsee and explore, but not for meeting people. Many hours of research and a few good meltdowns later, I found the Irish Club and the American Club of Brussels (I just wanted to hear someone speak English). The American Club was the only one hosting events in August, so I registered myself for the next event they hosted, the Last Friday event. On the last Friday of every month, the American Club of Brussels hosts a social event at a restaurant or bar somewhere in Brussels. It’s great for newcomers and old friends to intermingle and talk about our home of the free, land of the brave.

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The Last Friday event was held at a California-Mexican restaurant called Chez WaWa. It’s like Brussels’ answer to Chipotle (and it’s delicious). I arrived first (…again), and was welcomed by the owner of the restaurant. He showed me to the back patio, where the event was being held, and I waited as more people arrived with their BYOFs. After speaking with a couple people, I eventually found a group that I stayed with until the event ended. Everyone was incredibly nice, and I enjoyed talking to people that understood 1) English, 2) where Florida is, and 3) how much I miss peanut butter. It’s refreshing to know I’m not the only American in Brussels, because sometimes, it feels like I am. I’ll most definitely be attending another American Club event in the future.

I didn’t go to as many social gatherings as I would have liked (why does everything shut down in August? It makes no sense!), but this may just be a work in progress. I have another 10 months in Brussels. There will be more events, more people to meet, and more friendships to come. Fortunately, I feel more confident in my ability to engage people in a conversation. Before this month, I was scared to say anything to anyone. Maybe I’m too boring? I never have much to say, anyway. I don’t hold any strong opinions on politics, sports, or whatever people are interested in. Nothing exciting ever happens to me. Wait a minute… I’m living one of the most exciting years of my life! What better conversation starter is there than “I learned to surf, ran a 5K, and donated blood for the first time all this year”? I’m awesome, and it’s time other people knew that too.

Until next month,

Carol B

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April Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those who do, I was on TV!

It’s a bit late, I know, but now that it has premiered on TV, I can actually tell you about what I did this April! For my April Bucket List, I was part of a live studio audience for the show, The $100,000 Pyramid, hosted by Michael Strahan! I have never witnessed a live taping before, partly because I never liked the idea of being cooped up in a studio for several hours (anxiety overload). The other part is I never knew where I could find the tickets to be part of a live studio audience.

How did I get these tickets if I wasn’t even looking for them? I know a guy… really a gal. Ok, it’s my sister, Evelyn. She worked on the casting for the show at ABC. She got me and Molly (my other sister. I have two. Keep up.) RESERVED SEATS to see the taping of two episodes of The $100,000 Pyramid. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s like Catchphrase, but two contestants compete with two celebrity guests to win up to $150,000. If you’ve ever seen the show, Friends, Joey was a contestant on the show.

In the month leading up to our arrival in New York, Evelyn was taunting me with clues to who the mystery celebrity guests were. She knew that I would freak out over one of the guests, so she was determined to keep it a secret until she could see my reaction. She’s unusually cruel that way. (Kidding. Love you!)

The day before the show, I got off work a bit early to head to the airport. After a 2 hour delay, getting gum stuck to my shoe ON THE PLANE, waiting another hour in 48ºF weather for an Uber, and getting in at 1 in the morning, it was shaping up to be a great trip.

The next day, Molly and I walked from the top of Central Park to the very bottom. You never know how big Central Park is until you walk the whole length of it in 1 inch heels (Oh, don’t judge. I wanted to look good for TV! You’d have done the same.)

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Carol and Molly at Central Park. No, we aren’t twins.

We made it to the ABC studios and waited in line with a bunch of other people to enter the set. At this point they took away my phone, so I wasn’t able to get any pictures. Confidentiality. You understand. Since Molly and I were given reserved seats (because of our special contact ^_^), we went in first. The studio was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Everything seems bigger on TV, I guess.

Once everyone was in their seats, one of the crew members came out to get the crowd excited, like a $100,000 Pyramid Cheerleader. He explained what was going to happen, what we needed to do, cracked a few one-liners, and put together a new N*Sync boy band out of people in the audience. Don’t ask. One point he did mention was for us to not shout out answers. If he hadn’t mentioned that, I probably would have been fine. Now that I was aware of the fact that I could ruin the show by yelling out an answer, I had to work extra hard to keep my mouth shut.

Finally, after practicing our clapping, fake laughter, and hooting-and-hollering, the Cheerleader announced the special guests. I was so excited, but even more nervous. I have a bad track record with famous people. I alway expect to be cool, calm, and collected (they are humans, after all) but end up freaking out once I’m face-to-face with them. I didn’t want to look like a crazy person, again. I was expecting only one special guest, so when the Cheerleader said “Our special guests for this episode will be David Arquette.” I deflated a bit. I looked at Molly and just shrugged, as if to say, “I can deal with David Arquette.” Then he dropped the bomb, “And RuPaul.” O_O

O. M. G. RU-FREAKIN-PAUL!!!! I LOVE RUPAUL! My hands instantly covered my face and looked to Evelyn, who was watching me from the camera area. She was laughing uncontrollably because, she knows I love RuPaul’s Drag Race AND how bad I am with famous people. She was waiting for the freak out moment, and she got it. To say I was merely surprised would be an understatement. It took me a couple minutes to recover, but then RuPaul came on set. I was gone. He was as wonderful in real life, as he was on TV.

The taping of the show itself was fun. Michael Strahan was a great host, and the contestants (including RuPaul) played well. As the audience, we laughed when we were asked to laugh, I covered my mouth and clenched my jaw when the actual game was going on (I was not going to be the one who ruined the show), and we clapped constantly. Seriously there was so much clapping! My hands hurt after the first episode! Not to mention my cheeks. So much smiling.

Between taping the first half of the show and the second half, the Cheerleader made everyone uncomfortable by hosting his own version of The Dating Game, but made up for it by throwing chocolate at us.

The second show wasn’t as exciting as the first show. The guests were the brother and sister from the show, This is Us (never watched that show so I don’t have any affinity toward them.) All the same, no one yelled out an answer, everyone played well, and that was that.

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After about 4 hours in the studio, Evelyn, Molly, and I were starving! We went out for coffee, then returned home and watched Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies (I love Lily James, but I still prefer the original…). It was a great day. I was in the same room with one of my idols, I didn’t freak out about being stuck in one seat for 4 hours, and I had a great time watching a game show with my sisters.

Would I do it again? Of course! It was painfully long, but it was interesting watching what goes on behind the scenes. It made it better that my sister was part of the crew! I wouldn’t want to go alone, though, because it is very tedious. They took our phones, so having someone there to talk to made the time go by a bit faster.

When the show finally aired, I didn’t see myself on TV. I was toward the back of the audience, in front of a big pyramid. In the wide, sweeping shots of the audience, there was no way anyone would have seen me. I know I’m there, and that’s all that matters.

Until next time,

Carol B

July Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those of you who do, je m’appelle Carol.

This July, I took a big step. More like a leap of faith. At the end of May, after my second Disney attempt, I was contacted by a woman from an au pair agency. She asked if I was interested in becoming an au pair for a French family (wait for it…) in Belgium for (it gets better) a year! Naturally, I said, “I’ll think about it… yes”. After a couple Skype interviews with the family of three and the au pair agent, I had a job within 2 weeks! (Thanks GreatAuPair.com 😉 ) Officially, I will be an au pair in Brussels starting July 2!!

The family I will be staying with this next year is a French family living in Brussels, Belgium. They have an 8-year-old son who loves all things Lego, Star Wars, and airplanes. The father is a businessman and the mother is a dentist/ professional dancer. For the purpose of this blog, I’m concealing their names so they can maintain their privacy. They will now be known as Father, Mother, and Boy (so inventive, I know…) Boy and Father know English because 1) Father works with many offices around the world and 2) Boy went to an American school in Brussels for several years. Mother knows enough English to be conversational, but not a lot. I guess we can learn from each other: I’ll work on my French and she can work on her English.

June became a busy month after that. I had to get together some important documents for my work permit and permanent residence card (I’m going to be a European citizen for a year!! Woot woot!), buy anything that I might need before going abroad, and then wait. A lot of waiting… To pass the time, I visited friends from out of town, practiced packing my luggage a couple times (I had to make sure everything fit! Also, I was too excited to wait until the day before), and spent as much time with my family as I could.

The waiting did nothing for my nerves. I started creating best case and worst case scenarios in my head: is the family is as nice as they seem? Is Boy poorly behaved or not? Do I know enough French to make my way through Belgium? Will I meet some like-minded people and make friends with them? Am I ready to take care of an 8-year-old boy? Am I ready to live on my own? I’ve never been to Belgium before, so there was a lot of uncertainty and fear during the past month. All I really knew of Belgium was that it’s famous for its beer, chocolate, and waffles, it’s 6 hours ahead from Florida (Eastern time), and they speak French and Flemish. I did some research, but I wasn’t learning much. What I did find, though, was that Brussels is the home of several European governments/ agencies like the European Union, the European Council, and NATO. That made me feel a bit safer. They also have their own monarchy!

 

All I’m certain of in the coming year is I’m given two weeks holiday in December and April. During the school year, I’m tasked with picking up Boy from school, feeding him an afternoon snack, helping with homework, playing with him, and occasionally, putting him to bed. The mornings and weekends are up to me. With so much free time, I’m planning on traveling a bit (hopefully), taking some courses on writing and graphic design, and learning French (kind of important if I want to live in Belgium). Maybe I’ll take some fun classes, as well, like dancing or cooking. There are so many options! Don’t worry, I’m putting the family first; their needs come before mine. After all, they’re the reason I’m going to Europe in the first place!

As the day got closer, I began felling more emotions: excitement, nerves, fear, curiosity, sadness. The night before I left, I slept soundly. My room was empty except for two suitcases, but it still didn’t feel like I was going to be moving across the ocean to Europe. I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually happening: I’m REALLY moving to Brussels. I’m living the dream. For some reason, though, I didn’t want to let myself believe it was happening in case it all went wrong somehow. I’d rather expect the worst, but hope for the best.IMG_0925.JPG

I woke up the next morning at 4am for my 7am flight to JFK. In New York City, I spent a couple hours with Evelyn before the long-haul flight to Dublin. Luckily, I was in a row all to myself. First class at coach price. After three flights within two days and a full 24 hours of traveling, I finally landed in Brussels Airport! After spending about half an hour reporting my lost luggage (good news is it was returned with in a couple days!), I was met at the airport by the family, who displayed had a sweet “Welcome Carol” sign that Boy had made. I felt very special. I’ve never had a sign at an airport before, but I’ve always wanted one! When I got through the crowd, they greeted me as if I was already part of the family. My nerves were instantly settled.

The next two days were full of appointments and filling out paperwork for my visa. On the afternoon of the second day, I was whisked away to the French Riviera for a couple days of rest and getting to know Boy and his routines.

It’s going to be one crazy, thrilling year. I can’t wait. Send good vibes my way!

Until next time,

Carol B

June Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those who do, I went Surfin’ Safari.

It’s summer in Florida. When you think of Florida summer, you instantly think of crowded theme parks, 100% humidity, intense rainstorms, and hurricanes. Oh! and the beach… of course. I like going to the beach, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t go in the water. I like being on shore, reading a book, soaking up the sun, and relaxing. In Florida, there are things in the water that can kill you. Last year, there was a flesh-eating bacteria. More recently, there have been sharks spotted of the coast of my regular beach. Gators aren’t beach-dwellers, but they also live in the water and are a very real threat. Understandably, I don’t go in the water much. This time, I decided to change that.

I’ve never gone surfing before. It always looked cool and exciting, but also REALLY difficult. How do surfers stay on their board? How do they stay balanced and not fall off? What happens if a giant wave comes crashing down on me? What about sharks? These are very real questions I had about surfing, but not anymore!

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I did some research into surfing schools in Florida and found one called EZride Surf School. They are a Florida company that travels to just about anywhere down the Southeastern coast of Florida, between Miami Beach and Cocoa Beach. They have summer surf camps, private lessons, professional coaching, and group lessons. I gave them a call and scheduled a 2-hour lesson for Molly and me in early June.

When the day came, we got ourselves ready, drove down to the beach, and met our instructor, Marcello. Marcello is originally from Brazil and was once a professional surfer. After a couple years with the pros, he decided to retire from professional surfing and began teaching. He’s incredibly nice and easy to talk to. Unfortunately, the Florida weather was not going to be kind to us. It began storming and thundering not long after we arrived. Marcello said it would be great surfing weather if there was no lightning, but we didn’t want to take any chances. Plus, it was Molly’s and my first time surfing. If those waves were any taller than 3 feet, we would not have been comfortable. We decided to reschedule for another day when the weather was better. I had a whole month to plan this lesson, so there was plenty of time to spare. Marcello was very understanding, and we were able to find another date in the last week of June that would work for all of us.

The day came and the weather was perfect. It was sunny, warm, and just a couple of clouds. Yet again, Molly and I assembled our beach gear, applied quite a bit of sunscreen, prepared our lunches, and set out toward the beach. We met Marcello at the beach around 10:30. He provided the surfboards (9 ft soft surfboards, if anyone cares to know. They are best for the beginners, so I’m told) and swim shirts/ rash guards. We just brought ourselves, water bottles, towels, and anything else we needed for a beach trip. Molly and I were planning to stay on the beach after the lesson was over and veg out, so we brought beach chairs and an umbrella.

The first 30 minutes of the lesson was mostly safety and a science lesson on weather and oceanic physics. It was really technical, but interesting all the same. For example:

  • Winter is the best time of year to surf, even though I think of surfing as a summertime sport.
  • The sweet spot in the water where waves just begin to form is called a line-up. That’s where surfers wait for their waves.
  • Waves are formed when energy from the wind propels the water toward shore. When that water hits a sand bar, the energy is deflected up and forms a wave.
  • A surfboard is only stable and balanced when in motion. Don’t try to stand on it in still water. (I tried. It doesn’t work.)
  • The way you stand on the board is very important to balance. You have to bend your knees to keep your center of gravity low, and keep your arms down! Stiff arms might help to keep balance on land, but in the water, it moves your center of gravity up, which affects your balance.

The key to surfing is to relax and be confident in what you are doing. The easy part is learning to stand on a board. The rest comes with time and experience. Now on to the wipe outs.

Molly, Marcello, and I got onto the beach, put our boards down, and practiced standing up on the board before going out. We practiced this once, then Marcello said, “Looks good. Let’s go!” Well alright, eager beaver. This is my first time doing this. Could we practice a little bit more? But I didn’t argue. I just went along with it. That might have been a mistake.

We paddled to the line-up point, sat on our boards, and looked toward the beach. It was very crowded. It’s what you’d expect from summers in Florida. There was nowhere to hide from the sunbathing audience. I accepted quickly that they didn’t matter. I was a beginner, after all! Who cares if they saw me fall off my board a couple times? (At the start, I was very confident that I wouldn’t fall too much. Boy, was I wrong…)

Then the moment of truth came. Marcello found my first wave. I got into position and was instructed to paddle. I started paddling toward shore with all the strength I had. As I felt the wave come up from underneath me, I heard “STAND UP!” coming from behind me. Oh crap, here I go. I pushed myself up, found my footing, stood up for a couple seconds, then fell over into the ocean. OMG I DID IT! I SURFED! What an amazing feeling! I just glided over the water like a freakin’ GODDESS! I found the surface, and instantly went back to try it again.

The next couple waves I began to overthink everything. My mental checklist was getting longer and longer with each wave. 1. Push up 2. Jump toward the center of the board 3. Feet point toward the side 4. Stand up THEN release hands 5. Relax. I had issues with not jumping far enough, not going quick enough, moving my hands to early and losing my balance, etc. With every pointer from Marcello, I was relaxing less and less, but I was still having fun! It was my first time surfing, after all, and I was doing this for fun. I’m not planning on going pro anytime soon. I managed to ride a wave once, maybe twice. Molly, on the other hand, did really well! She was determined to stand up on the board and she did. She rode her way to shore a couple of times! As I saw Molly improve more and more, I was getting a little frustrated with myself. The next one is going to be the one!

I was kidding about that. THIS one is going to be the one!

Maybe this one?

Ok, new goal: don’t swallow too much sea water!

Aced it.

I didn’t get the perfect wave, but that just means there is room for improvement! Now that I have an understanding of the basics and what I need to work on, I can practice whenever I want. Again, I’m not looking to become the next big surfer; it’s just fun to do. With that being said, I would DEFINITELY go surfing again. I’ll also mention that I did NOT die from a rogue shark or disgruntled jellyfish. That’s a victory.

If you are ever in South Florida and want to learn how to surf, go to the EZride Surf School website or call 954.803.7988 and schedule a lesson. If you can, ask for Marcello Loureiro. He was a great teacher, incredibly supportive, and he really knows what’s up. Happy Surfing!

Aloha,

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Carol B

May Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those of you who do, I’m the Flash. The Lead-Up to the 5K In the week leading up to the 5K, I made two mistakes: Completed a strength training … Continue reading