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The Day The Earth Stood Still, In A Good Way by Rachel Abrahams

I celebrated a significant 20th Anniversary recently for the longest relationship I’ve ever had (outside of my marriage). I have been completely and totally in love with Tori Amos and her music for 20 years. 20 freaking years. Sometimes there is a musician or artist out there who grabs ahold of your heart and, no matter how life shifts and moves, stays with you for your lifetime. For me, it’s been Tori Amos.

Tower Bridge - London, England

Tower Bridge - London, England

Now, I am perfectly aware some of you may have no idea who Tori Amos is or you do know and she is definitely not your cup of tea. So I ask, what is the thing that rocked your world and has stayed by your side through all of your life changes? A musician, artist, book, poet, city; anything that when you are in their presence you just feel like they complete you. Wait, that’s cheesy. They are your spirit animal (that’s better) and you remember the first time you experienced it like it was yesterday. That’s what I am talking about. Now you can relate, right?

When I think of Tori Amos, it reminds of a scene from the movie Love Actually:

Harry: What is this we're listening to?

Karen: Joni Mitchell.

Harry: I can't believe you still listen to Joni Mitchell.

Karen: I love her and true love lasts a lifetime. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.

Harry: Did she? Oh, well, that's good, I must write to her sometime and say thanks.

It’s not often in our lifetime we experience that feeling where our entire world is turned sideways in the most eye opening, positive, and uplifting way possible. Those experiences leave a permanent mark on your heart and I feel like sometimes we forget to focus on those and instead think of the negatives, the things that caused us pain.

Tower of London and Tower Bridge - London, England

Tower of London and Tower Bridge - London, England

I remember the first time I heard one of her songs. I was at a dance competition, practicing a routine in a hallway and heard her song “Silent All These Years” float through the air. I ran into the room to watch the performance and, though the dance was beautiful, I was riveted by the song. The notes, her voice, and the lyrics turned my brain and heart upside down, in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I had to know immediately who sang the song.

This was before the iPhone and internet so I grabbed a program which had the dance studio’s name, asked around for the dance teacher, and then (FINALLY) found the teacher to ask her the most important question of my life at the moment “WHO SINGS THAT SONG?”. I know she thought I was insane in the membrane, but I didn’t care. After that, it was game over for me and the true beginning of my emotional education. I was changed.

The 2nd “once in a lifetime positively changing experience” for me was when I visited London for the first time. It was entirely different from my Tori experience in the sense that London creeped into my being slowly, like a fog, over the time I spent there for school and left me a completely changed person when I went home. I look back at that time as a pivotal point in my life where I can actually see the proverbial fork in the road of my life and London redirected me for the positive.

Tower Bridge - London, England

Tower Bridge - London, England

I was in college and had the opportunity to study abroad in London and made the utmost best of it. I lived on the same street as the British Museum and obsessively spent every minute I had trying to absorb the entire city into my memory. I had lofty goals.

It was an addiction of the best variety. I couldn’t get enough of the museums, the history, the buildings, the cultures, the food, the obvious and not so obvious differences of living there vs. the U.S., and navigating my independence. I made the decision to reprioritize the bold, confident, and adventurous version of myself I had lost in the shuffle of college and the pressures of trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grow up.

It is absolutely no accident, in my mind, that I came home from London and within 6 weeks began dating my friend of nearly 6 years who is now my husband (we’ve been together for 13 years).  I also took a quick weekend trip to Ireland, which became my next study abroad location a year later. Again, no accident. My Ireland semester introduced me to my roommate Erin, who is still one of my closest friends.

Tower Bridge - London, England

Tower Bridge - London, England

Do you see what I am getting at? There are these moments in our life which alter our core being in the best way possible. They can either shake your proverbial life foundation so hard you can’t believe how different life looks now or they will grow slowly on you like mold and change your inner world into a soft mossy heaven.

These moments change you into the best version of yourself you had always hoped you could be and shouldn’t be minimized or forgotten. They should be celebrated with anniversaries of happiness and remembrance.

For my anniversary, I listened to every single album Tori Amos has created in order of release date. It was a time warp of the last 20 years of my life and eye opening to hear the music with my adult (I am an adult supposedly now, right? Society says so) ears/mind.

I was so happy I did it because it reminded me of how far I’ve come and that I have so much more to accomplish. I also wouldn’t change a damn thing.

If you love this, it would make my heart so happy if you shared it. Pass it along to anyone else you think would enjoy reading it too using the share button below.

5 Ways To Spot An American Abroad | London Photography by Rachel Abrahams

Word on the street is, American travelers aren't very good at blending in. It pains me to hear this because I think I am QUITE the awesome traveler but many international folks disagree and feel we Americans can be quite noticeable and have some easily recognizable traits. When I studied abroad in London, I was quickly initiated into how different things were going to be as "the American abroad" when the customs agent looked at my passport, looked at me, and then said "American, eh? What do you think of that twat* you call a President?" (*referring to George W. Bush). I was a bit hungover after having spent the last week in Belgium enjoying their chocolate and beer and celebrating my first World Cup Finals while in Europe (I ingested more beer than chocolate, if I am going to be honest) and in my surprise I just stammered back "Uh, I didn't vote in that election", blushed red from my roots to toes, and scurried away to try and find the rest of my group.

Throughout my travels and conversations with the locals, the topic of Americans traveling seems to be a common one people enjoy. They are truly curious and just want to know, "What's up with Americans and why do they do ________ (fill in the blank here)". We seem to be quite the curious species of traveler. So, why is that? What exactly is on this list of things that make us immediately recognizable when leaving the good ol' U.S. of A? Here's my (definitely not conclusive nor entirely reliable) list based on super non-scientific surveying methods done while traveling (and possibly drinking).

First off, it's our puffy white sneakers. Yup, you read that read. We are immediately recognizable because we wear these puffy sneakers (you know, those sensible ones you put on because you know you are going to be walking all day and don't want your feet to hurt? Yeah, those). The sneakers that are so popular in the U.S. are just not that popular elsewhere. Instead, locals overseas tend to wear the slim, dark, soccer-inspired trainers/runners (the different nickname depends on where you are). When we go tromping around in our giant sneakers, the neon sign screaming "American, right here!" points directly at our feet.

Next, it's our teeth. I will never forget being in a pub in Ireland and, before saying a word, the bartender says "You're an American, aren't you? I can tell by that big white smile of yours!" I asked some other folks our group was chatting with and they agreed they believe all Americans have amazing teeth and big white smiles. They had so many questions to ask those of us who had worn braces, why we spent so much money on our teeth, and if we thought it was worth it. I had grown up being told what a nice smile I had and, for the first time, I was weirdly aware of my teeth in an opposite way than before. Now, don't get me wrong. Everyone was super nice and really loved our big toothy "model teeth" but just pointed out it's an immediate sign you're usually American.

Gentleman, another indicator you're an American are your baseball hats. I don't personally wear hats but this was top on the list of things people say tell them immediately it's an American coming down the street. Baseball hats are hugely popular here in the U.S. but not really elsewhere. It was really funny how fascinated the group of guys were asking our fellow American male students why those "duck bill hats" are so popular in the States.

Ladies (and I LOVE this), many of the locals said they know we are American because we are so NICE. WHAT?!? Yes, they said we are super approachable, willing to chat, always smiling (with those amazing teeth), and are super enjoyable to be around. You know what that means? If you are single and traveling abroad, make sure you head to the local pubs and get your chat on because the gents overseas will just eat that right up

Sadly, there is also a negative trait that makes people realize we are American very quickly and it is our tendency to CONSTANTLY compare how we do things in America versus where we are visiting and feel the need to remind everyone around us of this. We sometimes (hold your breath) even feel the need to explain to the locals why Americans do it better. Why? Why would we do this?

Maybe we do it because of nerves or an attempt to find a way to feel a little less off kilter in all the changes but whatever the reasons, it's very noticeable. Knock it off. Seriously. Imagine your Aunt Tilda coming to visit your house and rather than telling you what a nice home you have, she starts to point out how she would have done the curtains differently and picked a different shade for the walls (and don't get her started on your choice for wall art). You'd probably want to escort Aunt Tilda right back to the driveway while muttering unpleasant words about her inside your head, right? It's the same thing when you travel. Just chillax. Enjoy the different. That's the whole point to traveling - to get outside your comfort zone.

So my fellow Americans, I hope this list is something you will think of next time you travel so you, too, can be an expert American traveler who blends into your amazing international surroundings like a ninja with a passport.

If it doesn't work - don't blame me. Blame the beer I drank while getting this "scientific" data.

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The Beauty and Heartache of the British Museum | London Photography by Rachel Abrahams

AspiringImagesbyRachel-London-BritishMuseum-Entry-Daylight

When I was in college, I had the most amazing opportunity to study abroad in London while completing my degree. The program was based on my degree, International Affairs, and we spent a majority of our time in London working with the House of Parliament and its members, understanding the government process. While that was definitely amazing, the absolute gem of my time there was living on the SAME STREET as the British Museum. It was so close and, being a broke college student, I made sure to spend a lot of time there - especially when my program was over and I had some time to experience London on my own without a curriculum schedule to dictate my time.

Living in a tiny beach town for most of my life, my experience of museums was piddly compared to the grandeur and extensive history hidden within the British Museum. Of course, the outside was astounding but when I walked in the space opened up to reveal a beautiful glass ceiling and open interior leading to the wings where the historical items are housed. It was not what I expected at all.

At the time, I wasn't sure when I'd ever get to come back and spent hours perusing every inch of the museum practically memorizing the exhibitions. I learned so much and devoured every inch. I've since been lucky enough to go back to London to visit multiple times and on my last visit could finally attempt to capture the beauty within. After my first visit to London, I would come to learn of the controversy that surrounds some of the items housed at the British Museum and the requests of the countries where they came from, in the hopes of getting the items returned.

This did color my affection a bit when I returned knowing countries like Greece, Nigeria, Egypt, China, and more are requesting to have these items returned to them and questioning how they were acquired by the British Government. The list includes items like the Parthenon Marbles (aka Elgin Marbles) from Greece and the Rosetta Stone from Egypt. It's caused quite a bit of controversy and it's hard to tell how much longer some of these items will remain at the British Museum.

Something else I discovered at the museum that had nothing to do with the artifacts? The Horrible Histories book series, which although intended for kids is AWESOME from this supposed adult's perspective. I found it in the book store within the museum and have been hooked ever since. I'll be honest - history class was definitely my least favorite. Even lower than math and that says something for me. These books are written with such a great sense of humor and I highly encourage any child or adult to check them out. I've reviewed several on Goodreads and get comments often about my reviews. Every time I returned to London, I'd look for more books to burden my suitcase with but now (HALLELUJAH) they are available on Amazon.com. My collection has grown but is still incomplete. I'm working on it. That and my Asterix and Obelix comics collection (from France) but I'll leave my geek addictions for a different blog post.....

What is the best museum you've ever visited? Is there a historical artifact you saw in real life and couldn't believe it was there - in 3D? What other activities do you do to help save money while traveling (especially in expensive cities like London)? Any other comics and book collection aficionados/geeks like me?

London Lights Up at Christmas Time | London Photography Christmas Lights Photography by Rachel Abrahams

AspiringImagesbyRachel-LondonLightsandBuses

I wanted to post these photos before Thanksgiving but figured there'd be a "Thanksgiving hasn't even happened - slow down!" backlash, so I waited. The thing is, London doesn't have a Thanksgiving holiday so the Christmas lights start "switching on" in mid-November. So, to Londoners a post about the Christmas lights in November would be totally normal.

The lights are pretty great to see. Coming from a small area where our biggest decorations typically are Holiday-themed lamp posts and individually decorated houses running up the monthly light bill, these lights are gorgeous and fabulous to see.

Each year, there is a different theme to the London Christmas lights. Typically, they center around a big holiday movie that's being released or a traditional holiday theme. These photos are from 2011 and the theme was the movie "Arthur Christmas". If you haven't seen the movie, it's really cute!

It's wonderful to walk around the different areas that have the Christmas lights set up. There are activities planned around the "switching on" of the lights, in addition to their being located in some very popular streets including Oxford Street, Covent Garden, Regent Street and Southbank Centre. Some of those streets don't use the movie theme and have generalized Christmas lights. It's all beautiful, in my opinion. Especially the stars, because I have a thing for stars.

In addition to the lights, Trafalgar Square has a beautiful (and HUGE) Christmas tree. For multiple nights after the tree is lit, there are caroling groups that perform underneath it. With the National Portrait Museum behind you, the tree, Nelson's monument (including the lions), and the classic Big Ben in the distance, it all makes for a magic and surreal evening. We went to visit the tree and see the carolers back in 2006 and happened to pick the evening where The National Deaf Children’s Society was signing to Christmas songs. Fast forward 5 years to 2011 and the night we pick to see the tree - The National Deaf Children’s Society was there again! We couldn't have planned it if we tried.

As you can see, the lights typically go across the roads and are a wonderful vision above the hustle of traffic and bustle of shoppers. Since it's the city, people move quickly here and several times I had to tuck myself away against a wall or lamp post to ensure I could get the photo and not get trampled in the process. This was also the trip where my husband decided I needed to wear a brightly colored coat because my black one (and my hobbit height) added up to a lot of anxiety for him to keep track of me. Thankfully, he's heads and shoulders taller than the average height so he could typically find me. Our next winter trip to NYC, I bought a red pea coat so I could be a beacon of color for him.

Of the places I've visited for Christmas in my life, I can say my favorites have been London, New York City, and Walt Disney World. I will be visiting California for Christmas and may end up adding some new cities to my list.

Now, I know some folks might disagree with me so I wonder: Where in the world is your favorite place to see Christmas decorations and feel the holiday spirit? I have a feeling your responses may cause me to add some new cities to my bucket list.

P.S. In case you were wondering, my husband is 15 inches taller than me. Yes, he is that tall and I am that short. I love it.

P.P.S. If you'd like to see the lights this year and the activities, check out Visit London's site with all the information.