14 September, 2013

WWOOF: Bicycles of Florence

While ambling through the side streets of Florence, marching along the ancient stone roads, bicycles of all shapes and colors are seen everywhere. As Florence will be hosting the World Cycling Race Championship in just a couple weeks, I thought I would pay homage to the bicycle culture found throughout the city. Classic, modern, or just plain shabby, it seems like everyone in Florence gets around by bike. Being a bike enthusiast myself, I was almost as captivated by them as much as I was by the historical buildings of the Renaissance.

More on my trip to the city center soon to come....

WWOOF Days 4 & 5: Farm & Food

For those unaware of what WWOOFing is, I guess you might wonder what it is exactly that I'm doing here in Italy. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms whose objective is to bring volunteers and farmers in need of a helping hand in contact with one another. In exchange for room and board, a WWOOFer is expected to work various jobs on the farm depending on their experience. Being someone who loves the outdoors, nature, and gardening, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to learn a bit about organic agricultural processes and what it means to live off the land. That and the fact that I desperately needed to get out of the city, and my thoughts took me to, where else, but Italy. 

The farm sits amongst the hills of the Tuscan valley about 17km from Florence. The nearby village is a tiny thing, whose train station consists of two platforms, and whose main street is so small that in passing, just a blink and you'll miss it. The town seems to be in a constant state of siesta. The busiest areas are the bazar and market where shop owners, still donning their aprons, can be seen sipping on espresso while chatting with the regulars. Don't expect any sort of "run-in, run-out" shopping here. Everyone knows everyone, and what normally would be a five minute trip turns into thirty after being filled-in on what's going on with So-and-so.
The farm itself was built in 1459. Yes, you read that correctly. At over 550 years old, the house stands unyielding to the effects of time, as if it sits upon some sort of fountain of youth. Of course if one looks a bit more closely the centuries of passing footsteps can be seen in the depressions of the stone staircase.  Giant cracks in the walls  and uneven flooring shed light on it's age, but don't detract from it's beauty in any sense. The expression "if these walls could talk" definitely comes into play here.

Most of my time working here has been spent in the garden pulling up weeds and pruning the plants where needed. I've already finished with the tomatoes and have now begun work in the strawberry patch. As I Ferngully my way through, ripping and tearing, I can't help but have pity for the poor creatures that call these weeds home. What must be a war zone and absolute chaos for them, is pure tranquility to me. There's something about digging earth, sitting amongst the trees, with nothing but the sounds of nature and chickens to keep you company that brings about an indescribable sense of peace. (Or maybe some people might say insanity, depending on what you think about chickens keeping you company...)

Another incredible meal...and this was just the entrée!
This sense of tranquility is probably heightened by the fact that I'm eating the best I've ever tasted in my life. Theresa and Mathilde are without doubt the best cooks I have ever had the pleasure of eating food from (sorry dad!). And this is no exaggeration. The daily lunch and dinner menu is like going out to a five-star Italian restaurant, but better. This is home cooked, fresh from the garden cooking, all the recipes learned of course from father, grandmother, and so on. Each pasta dish, cooked to al-dente perfection is topped with a made-from-scratch sauce, be it from cherry tomatoes or a subtle marsala. Every tender slice of beef marinated in some sort of delectable sauce, melts in your mouth releasing an audible "mmmm"(....and all this coming from someone who typically doesn't eat red meat).
I've already asked that they come live with me in Geneva and be my own personal chefs. I think my roommates wouldn't mind. Too bad they've politely declined. ;)
Home-made pasta with parmesan butter sauce topped with truffles.
Sunset from the farm.

09 September, 2013

WWOOF Day 3: Initiation

The first morning Donatella thought she would break me in easy to the farm work by taking me to collect blackberries. This seemed like an innocent enough task, but she warned me to wear long sturdy pants because the bushes are covered in lots of prickly thorns. "Dammit, I shouldn't have left my jeans at the apartment!" I declined Mathilde's (one of Dona's daughters) offer to borrow some of her pants, and slipped on a pair of thick tights. We then headed into the thicket, gloves and buckets ready. After a few minutes of excited berry-picking (they were EVERYWHERE!)

Donatella told me I could explore a bit on my own, so I climbed to the top of an ancient stone wall where I found hundreds of plump, gleaming blackberries just waiting to be picked. Caught up in the delight of my find, I became a bit careless, not paying attention to the low hum and buzz around me. Oh but look at those juicy, mouth-watering blackberries! I popped a few in my mouth, turned to another bush, reached in and grabbed.....a hornet's nest.

I'm sure the ensuing scene must have been quite comical. Something out of a Whinnie the Pooh story, I'd say. Bumbling me, drunk on blackberries and fresh air, stumbling upon a swarm of hornets. It didn't take long for me to snap out of my stupor. I practically tripped over myself and the thorn-laden branches to get out of there, running and swiping at the angry buzzing in my pursuit. I got about 10 meters away before I felt a sting on my upper inner thigh: one of the bugs had penetrated the tights. Guess I should have taken Mathilde up on that offer. Thankfully I'm not allergic, but Dona sent me back to the house for treatment anyway. Upon arrival, Dona's two daughters Mathilde and Therese were waiting for me with freshly picked leaves torn up in their hands. "Rub this on the wound," they said. I had already heard about this magical plant from Vincenzo, Therese's boyfriend and farm hand, and well, it definitely lives up to its reputation. Within only a minute or two the pain went away completely and even the swelling diminished significantly. Who needs Tylenol when you've got magical plants?!

After my run-in with the hornet's nest, I spent the remainder of the morning in the tomato garden. One of my main jobs while here will be to pull the weeds and care for the plants (and pop a tomato or two when I'm feeling hungry). Since I've been here, I've been following Vincenzo around, who has been very generous in sharing his knowledge of the farm. He explained to me that when growing tomatoes, one must clip away all the "female" plants that start to sprout from the main plant. Basically, from the seed grows a dominant plant or the "head", but as it grows females sprout from it, sapping it of nutrients. The females look very similar to any normal branch from the leader plant, so you have to know what to look for. The way to think about it is that a female is like a whole new plant growing, so if the nutrients are having to be dispersed to several different plants, then the quality and size of the tomatoes diminishes. This could explain my many failed attempts at tomato-growing. That and the birds...

07 September, 2013

WWOOF Days 1-2: Journey from Geneva to Firenze

The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind of learning experiences, and I've only JUST arrived here at the farm, having yet to don a pair of work gloves. No, I'm not talking about farm-related learning (not yet at least), I'm talking about traveling, and more specifically doing so alone.

I consider myself to be a fairly-traveled person. I say "fairly" because I don't yet think that I qualify as "well-traveled." Anyway, the point is, I'm not a newbie at this, and yet the amount of rookie mistakes I've made since even before my departure is enough to tempt me into revoking my "fairly-traveled" card. Yikes.

It started with the packing. Typically, I'm the person who has lists made and bags packed at least a week in advance before a big trip. This time however, as I was smack-dab in the middle of exams for university, I found myself scrambling at the last minute to even think of what I needed. "I'm WWOOFing," I told myself. "I'm gonna get dirty." Which lead to me overpacking, and a friend subsequently advising me that, instead of taking 10 pairs of everything, just....you know, wash them. Duh. So I took his advice which lightened up my pack ever so slightly.

Second blunder: not paying close enough attention to the fine print on my tickets. As a frequent user of the Swiss train system, I just assumed that travel in Italy would be the same: buy ticket online, print out the order confirmation and go.


Roughly 185mph.
I got a real scolding from the conductor as we left Geneva. He even threatened that I pay for a new ticket or get off in Lausanne. After breaking down in hysterics and explaining that I just finished exams week, he found a bit of compassion for me and I managed to escape a hefty fine or worse: no vacation at all. A similar incident happened on my last leg of train-hopping in Firenze. By this time I was running off of a little less than 2 hours of sleep, and had abandoned all aspiration of making the 19km trip to Vaglia by bike. So with the help of an agent, I bought my tickets. However, she failed to inform me of the very important next step: having your ticket "validated" by a ticket-punching machine (seriously, what's the point?). Of course, me having no idea, hopped straight onto the train only to have the conductor scold me yet again. "First time riding train in Italy?" he demanded through his thick Italian accent. "Si, prima...uhh, first time, yes." He proceeded to ask me another three times if it REALLY was my first time (at least I LOOK like a seasoned traveler, ha!), and after much assurance that it indeed was, he left me off with just a warning, leaving me to escape yet another fine.

Zebra Hostel, Milano
Several other things in concession managed to make the first 24 hours of this trip a bit of a nightmare. I managed to get completely lost in Milano around 11:30pm, riding around on my bike with my over-stuffed pack (on the upside though, I got to see some beautiful places I would have otherwise missed).  Being without iPhone nor GPS, I printed out a Google Maps itinerary ahead of time, but I ended up abandoning it after I realized it was taking me in the wrong direction. I opted to ask for help instead

At check-in to my hostel, I learned that they had overbooked and therefore placed me on a mattress on the floor. The mattress was comfy enough, but the team of half-naked rugby players snoring and farting from the neighboring beds managed to keep me from any sort of sound sleep. Looking back at this incident, I'm a little peeved with myself for not having demanded a bigger refund.

Outside of the little train station in Vaglia
Lastly, and I know this sounds very "city" of me to say this, but I wish I would have known that the 5km from the main road to the farm is an unmaintained gravel road, pocketed by holes and miniature boulders. When I told the family that I would be bringing my bike to use during my free time, they must have assumed that I was bringing a mountain bike because unless I'd like to learn to fly like Superman, there's no way my little road bike can make it down the mountain. Had I had known this, I would have opted to leave Bumblebee at home.

But none of that matters anymore because I've arrived! I'll be spending the following week on this lovely little farm tucked away in the Tuscan valley, where I'm hoping to "get back to basics" so to speak, and find a bit of silence. After only a few hours here, I think I should be able to manage.

27 November, 2011

My First "Real" Autumn

The weather is changing and with that, I'm finally experiencing my first "real" autumn. I say "real" because where I grew up, and where I've most recently lived, the weather doesn't change much, and unless I missed something, cacti and palm trees don't turn shades of burnt orange and cinnamon.

My family moved from California to Arizona when I was about 8, and though there was a noticeable change in the seasons there, I was too young to remember. Unfortunately, the sprawling suburban metropolis that is Mesa, Arizona didn't offer up anything other than the occasional tree shedding its leaves, but for the most part, palo-verdes and saguaros remained un-phased in autumn.

Three weeks after my 18th birthday, I moved to Hawaii where I stayed for the following 6 years.  For those of you unaware, Hawaii has two seasons: summer from April to October, and the rainy season from November to March, and there's no in-between either. Sorry to break it to you, but no, Hawaii is not always rainbows and sunshine. I clearly recall my first rainy season when it rained for a solid 40 days...including Spring Break. But alas, even with the abundant rain, and slightly cooler temperatures, everything remained as was: tropical.

But since I've moved to Switzerland, I've experienced such an extreme change in weather that I haven't exactly figured out how to cope with it. For example, when I first arrived, not only was it much cooler than AZ and HI (so much so that I actually needed to wear jackets), but the fact that the sun didn't set completely until about 11pm was totally bizarre. Just a few weeks ago we gained an hour with Daylight Savings-something I've never participated in. And now, instead of the sun setting at 11pm, it's completely dark outside by five. I know this is probably ridiculous to those savy with "the seasons," but give me a break...it's totally new for me, and I love it! Though I admit I could definitely use some warmer clothes.

Here are just a few examples of how I've been spending my autumn:

At the beginning of October I headed up to Zermatt with about 60 other au pairs in the Genève area. I can't even put into words the awesomeness of the Matterhorn and the surrounding glacier-covered mountains. The first day of the trip was spent hiking up to a little restaurant situated near the foot of the Matterhorn. It was a great opportunity to talk to and get to know some of the other girls. I met tons of people from all over the world, and even got to practice my French with a fellow American and a few of the German girls.

The next day, three of us: Renée, Silvia, and myself made the epic hike from the little town of Zermatt (elev. 5314ft) to the top of Gornergrat (10,270ft), which took us about 7 hours, one of which we spent going in the wrong direction. It was definitely an awesome trip, and I'm really looking forward to getting back up to Zermatt...Specifically getting back up there for what I'm sure is to be amazing snowboarding!

In October, Aron and I celebrated his 25th birthday in Interlaken, an adorable, very Swiss German-type town situated in the Jungfrau mountains between two lakes (Interlaken literally means the town between two lakes).
The original plan was to go paragliding, hiking, running, and have a nice dinner out that Saturday evening. Unfortuntely, I was sick and he was exhausted from so much studying, so we ended up taking a stroll around town, and overall just relaxing and enjoying each others' company.  Saturday night we opted to eat at the little pub in our Hostel (which was adorable btw). For the price, and the amount of food, I have to admit we got a pretty good deal. The fondue was delicious, and though our wine came in plastic cups, it wasn't half bad. ;)
Sunday we made a little hike up to Giessbach Waterfall (a very short hike I might add), and then headed further up into the mountains to Grindelwald where we played a round of mini-golf, which I dominated in up until the very last hole. He got lucky.

Last weekend, Aron and I celebrated our one year anniversary together by going to see Switchfoot (my favorite band of all-time I might add), perform live at the Volkshaus in Zürich.  I have been listening to switchfoot for nearly ten years now. The last time I was able to see them perform live was in 2004. Since then, though I've tried valiantly, I've missed every possible concert I've even had the slightest chance of going to. Usually they would be performing the day after or before I arrived in town, and in the case of the Toronto show, they were actually performing down the street from the airport. Had I had a long enough layover, I definitely would have been there!
So, you can imagine how stoked I was to finally be seeing them! The show was awesome! Aron and were right up front, and I have to admit...I sang myself hoarse, jumped until my legs cramped, and opted NOT to put in earplugs (which was stupid on my part). Overall, we both had a great time, though we had hoped so desperately that Switchfoot would play "our" song "Sing it Out," which they didn't :/

And the most recent little adventure: Last night, as Aron's anniversary gift to me, he took me out to an adorable little restaurant called Le Radar de Poche in the old village. It was a tiny little thing with about 6 tables (perhaps there were more downstairs, but we never found out) crammed in tightly. The walls were covered in an eclectic array of photos from La Tour de France, pictures of food, and what must have been family. Upon arriving, we both quickly felt we had made a bad choice: it seemed they only offered oysters and foie gras...nothing else. Luckily though, after much help from the servers, we realized we had neglected to turn over the menu, which held several other entrées. They also presented us with the chef's specialties. We chose two types of foie gras and oysters for starters. The oysers...well, I enjoy the taste, but I've always had a very difficult time with the texture; basically feels like I'm swallowing a big booger. Ehck. The foie gras was delectable! I never though I could enjoy liver fat as much as I did last night. After we finished up with the starters, we were brought our entrées: a warm mixed salad with bacon and some type of French cheese, and Penne Nina pasta with foie gras and what I'm assuming was some other meaty part of duck. Both were delicious, though they could have been a tad less salty.

Next weekend I will be running in my first ever 5k, the Course d'Escalade! Me, Aron, and my host parents will all be partaking in the race, and that evening, once we've all made it home, I'll be cooking a Thanksgiving Dinner for the entire family. Oh and this week, I am totally planning on decorating my room for Christmas. I'll be sure to take pictures. ;)

03 September, 2011

Broken Toe and Shattered Dreams

So. Here we are, the 3rd of September, just a couple weeks before what would have been my first half marathon: the Demi de Jussy, a run in the middle of the night through a small farming village called Jussy, just on the outskirts of Genève.

Before I get more into that, I think I should provide a little background information on my running history. To put things simply, I HATED running. Detested. Loathed. Despised...all those "hate" synonyms. All throughout high school the best I could do was at most the 100m hurtles (wait, are they 100m? I don't even know). Though I was good at them, they were no fun. And good lord! Having to run the mile in gym class was absolute torture. Fast forward a few years to Hawaii...After hearing about all these marathons like the Honolulu Marathon, the Ironman in Kona, or the HURT 100, I couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy: I wanted to be able to do that too! *Insert whiny voice here*

Though I used to hate running, I've always admired runners. To me, running was a grueling sport that I couldn't for the life of me find any enjoyment in. My asthma made it hard to breath, my knees would give out, and/or the cramps from probable dehydration all made running so incredibly unappealing. How then were there all these people I knew running for the fun of it? Running to stay in shape? Running because it made them feel good? It was an incredible notion and again, one that I've always admired. Yes, there are so many other highly demanding sports, but there's just something about running: it's not only a game of endurance, but a mental battle. In running, the only opponent is you and your surroundings; your fate is in your own hands.

So after living in Hawaii for a couple years I decided to try something I had never done: I went out, bought a pair of some cheap Asics, and decided to start running. And immediately I was let down. At most I could run 15 minutes before either my esophagus began to close so tightly that I needed my emergency inhaler, or my knees gave out. The next day and for the week following my knees were always in such agony that I thought it was possible I had busted a tendon or kneecap (a friend of mine even performed acupuncture to help ease the pain). On top of that, I felt so heavy and goofy running that I was certain I was doing it all wrong. But, I kept it up...every two weeks or so I'd somehow persuade myself that I needed to get outside and run. Then I would suffer the consequences of my asthma and knees again. I continued like that for a while: running, suffering, running, suffering... A vicious cycle. I had dreams of someday running the Xterra Trail Run in the Ko'olau Mountains, but at the rate I was going at...I had a better chance of learning the ancient Hawaiian art of Wind Jumping (btw, I swear that's a real thing: my Hawaiian Studies professor was doing research on it)....

When I met Aron, I was even more inspired to run. Here was this guy, a former Swiss National Triathlete going on 4-5 hour runs a couple times a week for the fun of it! After telling him about my running problems, he suggested I get a better pair of shoes (unfortunately he couldn't help the asthma thing). So, over Christmas of last year, I went into the local running shoe store and spent a little over an hour talking with the sales associate about my knee problems. He put me on this little board thing that apparently told him about my feet. I don't remember what he said exactly, but he pointed me towards two different pairs of shoes: the Asics Kayano and some other brand...So, I dropped $120 for a brand new pair of shoes that, according to Asics and the salesman at the store, would be the solution to all my knee problems.


Was it possible that my knees were hurting even more? No effing way! I spent how much money on these non-refundable shoes that were supposed to do wonders for me, but really made me feel as if I had downgraded. Not only was I pissed, but I was very much disheartened. After that, my brand new high-tech running shoes were used once for hiking (which also left my knees swollen and pained). Though I didn't completely give up on the dream, I was beginning to tell myself that perhaps I wasn't meant to run. After all, I'm a tall girl and apparently tallness equals knee problems (or so I'm told). I went back to my yoga and decided that if I couldn't run, at least I had mad flexibility on my side.

And then, the magic happened.

In March, my roommate who was an avid runner herself, bough a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, after being hounded by her brother, his girlfriend, and his friend to try them out. She was instantly in love with the shoes and would come home from her runs telling me and our other roommates just how incredible the shoes made her feel. After doing a little research on Vibrams and the barefoot running movement, I was definitely intrigued, but didn't want to drop another hundred on shoes that potentially wouldn't work for me. So, she let me try hers out.

For the first time since I had started up my running campaign, I was running....and running....and running. I ran a total of 20 minutes without any pain at all in my knees. When my feet hit the ground, I felt light, and controlled, nothing like how I had felt with conventional shoes. From the "first impression" run, I was sold. However, the deciding factor would be how my knees felt the next day. And surprisingly, they were totally and completely fine. No pain. No swelling. No difficulty walking. Nada. Well with my knees that is. My calves on the other hand were sore as hell. That's to be expected though when transitioning into "barefoot" running. The following week, I went out and bought my own pair of Vibrams.

My first pair of Vibrams: The Treksport
Since that first run in March my running capabilities have sky-rocketed. It wasn't until June though that I decided to get serious and make a commitment: By September, I wanted to complete a half-marathon without stopping. Since running with the Vibrams, my entire outlook on the sport had changed. Could it possibly be that I was ACTUALLY enjoying it? Ho la vache! By mid-August I had come from only being able to run 15 minutes, to running a full hour and 15 minutes, in the mountains (and then after that hiking for another 45mins). It actually felt good! It started to become an outlet for me, a sense of freedom like no other. I was catching myself running through the city, forests, lake side...everywhere. It was incredible to me that my own two feet could take me to all these places! Plus I have the best running coach and partner around (who I might add is really good-looking)...When I wasn't running alone, Aron was staying by my side encouraging me to push a little harder, go a little faster, and explore a little more, even though he could have easily left me in the dust. I admit there were definitely times I thought about pushing him in the lake...but combined with his motivation and my new-found freedom, I pushed through the hard stuff. I was starting to feel like I could actually do it! Come September, I would be ready. I was going to run a half marathon!

And then tragedy struck. On a fateful morning in Germany, while visiting my sister and niece, I tripped over a cord, slamming my pinky toe into the bed frame. Immediately I knew it was bad; I looked down at my poor little toe and had to bite my tongue from screaming obscenities in front of Jezebel. Instead, I let out a sort of muffled puffing/moan of agony as my toe immediately began swelling to roughly triple its size. As I danced around red-faced and watery-eyed, Jezebel looked at me like I was a crazy, lady.

That was a little over two weeks ago. The X-Rays showed a complete break in the phalange bone that connects my pinky toe to the rest of my foot. The doctor told me she had never seen a break like mine in a pinky toe as they usually occur in the big toe. After I was sent home with crutches, and told not to apply any pressure on my foot, I couldn't help but feel totally and completely helpless. Literally because I was actually incapable of making myself food, bathing properly, and getting around really anywhere, and mentally because my half marathon dreams had come crashing down all because of a small bone in my foot. It's quite amazing actually how much we rely on all the little bones that make up our feet.

The recovery is coming along. I've basically ditched my crutches because, well they're a pain in the ass, and plus I'm doing fairly well without them. And by that I mean the pain has subsided a bit. I've been trying to get in workouts here in my room by doing some yoga, stretching, core work, etc, but the what has really surprised me about this whole ordeal is just how much I miss running. Of course it doesn't help that I've just finished an incredible book called "Born to Run," by Christopher MacDougall.
Every page made me want to drop everything I was doing, strap on my Vibrams, and head out the door...that is until I remembered I have a broken toe. I'm actually disappointed that I can't go running right now. For those that know me and understand the pain I went through before I discovered the Vibrams, they know how far along I've come. I know the title of this blog includes "Shattered Dreams," but really, my dreams haven't been shattered. That's just me being melodramatic. In all honesty, I'm just excited to get healed up and get running again, whether it be a mile down the road, or a marathon in the alps...I can't freakin' wait!

02 September, 2011

The New Job: Jeune Fille Au Pair

St. Urs Cathedral in Solothurn
It's been quite a while since I last posted anything, and for good reason. I've been enjoying the heck out of my summer here in Switzerland!

Most of my summer was spent studying French, exploring the city, enjoying long weekends in Solothurn, and mostly getting accustomed to my new Swiss life. Some of the highlights included Firenze, Italy (already reviewed here), quick day trips to Bern and Basel, relaxing in Solothurn with Aron and his parents, riding on the Vespa to go and pick cherries at the base of the Weissenstein, my slightly "illegal" birthday camping trip on the French-Swiss border, visiting my sister Tarah and my niece Jezebel in Germany where I ended up breaking my toe (more on that later), and running. Lots and lots of running! Well, that is, lots of it BEFORE the toe thing happened.

This past week I moved in with my new "host family," and started up my job as an au-pair, or "nanny" of sorts. An au pair's responsibility is to not only take care of the children, but to also act as their mentor, helping to guide them through the trials of, in their case, preteen and teenage life. I was lucky enough to find my "family" on an au-pair networking site called Great Au Pair where I posted a profile and was then contacted by different families who were interested in hiring me. I spoke with a few (one of which had 6 boys under the age of 10!!!), but when Virginie (my new "host mom") contacted me, I knew right away I had found a good match. The three children are all a bit older (15, and twins at 12), which really appealed to me not only because older kids are easier to look after, but I liked the idea of being a mentor during what can be a pretty difficult time in a child's life. Each has their own unique personality that I'm discovering the more time I spend with them and get to know them. On top of the cool kids, the entire family is highly active in all sorts of activities: running, biking, ping-pong, horseback riding, piano playing, gardening, and so much more.
Vineyards and the Salève
And, of course there's the huge bonus that I now have my own room, and bathroom (with a huge bathtub!!!). The house is beautiful and is situated in a small town on the outskirts of Geneva, surrounded by miles and miles of vineyards and stunning views of the nearby Salève mountains. Once this toe heals up I'm highly looking forward to some early morning and evening runs! Though it's only been one week, I can already tell that I've been given an incredible opportunity, and I am really looking forward to how the next year will unfold with my new family!

***For all the girls in my family: If you're interested in traveling abroad, au pairing is an excellent opportunity!