sarah lillian o'connell

True Stories of Food, Travel, Culture and Knowing Yourself.

sarah lillian o'connell

Letting Go of Planning

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I spend so much time in preparation.  Making lunches, marking the calendar, thinking about my next professional move.  There is so much anxiety and thought that goes into much of my life, both on a small scale and on a larger philosophical scale.  I feel as if every decision I make (or do not make) distresses my future in an irreversible manner.  The thought of changing course or taking risk means I cannot ever return from it or reverse it.  The decisions I do not make seem to cement me in stillness with no hope for a changed future. 

I fret about the what, where, and why of who I am.  I inanely believe that by spending so much time in preparation that I can create a distinct and knowable future.  I find myself believing that change is not possible after a certain point, that life is not malleable but concrete. 

This plainly is not true.  Life changes all the time, both with our permission and without, both with our urging and in spite of our resistance.  To spend all of one’s time obsessing over the future is a meaningless task.  Reflection and thoughtfulness is necessary to live a life with purpose, however, there must be a release into the unknown if we want to enjoy life. 

When I think about what is most important in my life, I see that the juiciest part of living is temporal.  Sharing a good meal with my family.  Splitting a bottle of wine with an old friend.  Learning how to properly hold a pool stick from my loved one.  Practicing in solitude the art of a perfect poached egg or gin martini.  These are all moments that do not affect great change upon my life, yet they are what make my life worth living.

I need to spend more time creating, enjoying, and living in these moments.  I think we all do.

The tinier the restaurant, the bigger the flavor.

The tinier the restaurant, the bigger the flavor.

Year in Review: 2013

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Per a recommendation by Gala Darling, I decided to write up a year in review.  I suggest others try this as well - it’s great to reflect on the past year as you enter into the new one.  I definitely feel a little better about enjoying my snow day as I recall how incredibly busy this past year was!

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A Day in Barcelona

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I wake up to the sound of people in the streets, the sound of motorbikes turning sharp corners, the sound of the vendor across the street yelling.  I stretch, and walk to the small breezy balcony.  It is May in Barcelona, and I have the entire day to myself.  I gather a book, a scarf, and other minor essentials into a small day bag.  I slink past sleeping travel mates and exit the door from our temporary apartment, turning round and round down the spiral rickety staircase.

I follow the small side street until it connects with Las Ramblas, the buzzing, beeping, whirlwind of a street that Barcelona is famous for.  I make my way through locals and tourists, street performers and vendors.  I cut across to an avenue that leads out of the main thoroughfare and towards the Gothic Quarter.  I need a coffee and bread, caffeine and carbs to fuel my day. 

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Ten Tips for Studying Abroad

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I was first infected with the travel bug after studying abroad my senior year of college in Geneva, Switzerland.  Armed with student loans and a Eurail pass, I made my way to Germany, France, England, Spain, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Belgium during the span of four months.  It was, as the cliché goes, a life changing experience.  Since then I’ve made travel one of my biggest priorities in life. I’m also lucky enough to be employed as a Study Abroad Advisor – making helping people travel my job!

Study abroad is often one of the first travel experiences people have, and with that first experience comes a lot of questions.  After spending four months studying abroad in Europe and leading two short term study abroad trips to Ireland and China, I’ve picked up a few pointers about travel as well as travel as a tool for education.   Compiled here are my top ten tips for students – some about study, some about the abroad part.

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The Path We’re On

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We’re parked outside of a coffee shop, early on a Sunday morning.  I sit in the driver’s seat of my beat up Toyota Rav 4, hands wringing and stomach doing somersaults.  I try to drink my coffee, but I can’t seem to make a proper seal around the lip of the cup.  Jason glances at me sideways – “Are you okay?”  I immediately break into the biggest fit of nervous laughter I’ve ever experienced.  It was like a panic attack in a comedy club. 

The day before I had moved in with my boyfriend, and today I was going to get something done I never thought I would, and then we were picking up our new puppy to bring back to our new house.  Through my laughter and stifled breathing I manage to say “Haaa. Yes. Just. So many changes.”  Jason makes the wise decision to drive, and eventually I calm myself down.  One day I was  a cat obsessed grad student living in a tiny apartment in a college town, and then quite literally the next day I was a dog owner who lived in a city with my boyfriend. “Who am I?” I thought.

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The Danger of Sundays

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Sundays are days that seem ripe with possibility.  A ripeness that often veers into a state of rottenness.  On one hand, Sundays are an excellent day for relaxing, cooking, and trying to find your center as you prepare to enter into another chaotic week.  On the other, there is a lingering mournfulness.  It starts as just a melancholy that the weekend is over, and then somehow the peacefulness of a quiet Sunday spirals into self doubt, anxiety, and grandiose fears about the state of one’s life.

I find it very hard to stop.  To just “be” and not “do”.  And those times when I do find myself just existing – napping with the dog, letting myself listen to the rain, or marathoning on Netflix – I suddenly feel slapped with guilt.  I should be at the gym.  I should be cooking for this week’s meals.  I should be cleaning.  I should be reviewing my student loans.  I should be, I should be, I should be…

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The Moment

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I sat with my back against the wall, a medium sized conference table in front of me.  Blown up photos of smiling African kids looked down from the walls around me.  I sat listening to a group of high school students, eagerly and loudly planning a fundraiser dance for the non-profit I was interning at.  As I listened, my left hand roamed my clavicle in an absent minded fashion while my right hand took notes. 

Without noticing, my hand came to rest on a lump at the base of my neck.  I massaged it curiously at first, and then I had what seemed like a bright photo flash bring my thoughts to an immediate stop.  What if, I thought, what if this is the moment I realized for the first time that I am sick?  In one of those bizarre out of body experiences, I saw myself and my life from a distance – I was a bad plot twist in a overhyped movie, a punch line in a melodramatic TV special.  Stop it, I thought, and with a burst of laughter from the students I snapped back to present day.  

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