Things I love about Austria

I have 65 days left in Austria. That’s two months, so I figure I need to be all here. I know I’ll look back in two months (as I have at the past 2 and a half months) and say, “WHERE DID IT GO?”

I asked God what He wanted me to do with my time left here. I mean, I’ve seen most of the sights in Graz, excepting a few museums that I’d like to get to. I’ve eaten tons of new things, even expanding my diet a bit. I’ve met lots of new people, and I’ve started my tan early. I’ve travelled, I’ve gone to class, I’ve gotten halfway through Moby Dick. Now what? What do you do with your last two months?

I’m hesitant to quote God, but I think this is what I heard him say, somewhere deep in my stomach (the way to a person’s heart….)

What do you want to do?

Good point, God.

What are those things that I pictured myself doing before I left that I haven’t done yet? What desires are in my heart to pursue before I leave this period of adventure and freedom in my life? I’m going to start doing those things. And to kick off my newfound adventuresome spirit, here is the long-awaited list of things I love about Austria.

  1. Semmel. Some of the most simply tasty breakfast rolls you can imagine.
  2. Cobblestone streets
  3. Beautiful architecture that has a story to tell
  4. CAFÉS. Oh I will miss all the cafés.
  5. Having the ability to walk anywhere, the plethora of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings
  6. It’s cheaper than many countries in Europe.
  7. Musical history everywhere!
  8. Close proximity to so many other countries
  9. Friendliness to Americans (for the most part…)
  10. the Alps… it’s enough to make me want to live in a small mountain village someday. They’re breathtaking
  11. Cheap train transport (Amtrak, get your act together!)
  12. Gelato and ice cream shops on every corner, or at least every corner where there isn’t a bakery
  13. Easy access to beautiful postcards
  14. The good quality food in stores, so many cheap organic options grown in Austria, few GMOs, less processed food
  15. How the egg yolks are orange… and one time I found a feather in my egg carton. That’s FRESH.
  16. Even though they love their wurst and schnitzel, they’re pretty vegetarian friendly. Not as much as France, but pretty good.
  17. It’s a pretty temperate climate this year, especially compared to my homeland.
  18. Kebap as the common fast food instead of McDonald’s
  19. Easy access to lots of types of food – not that Chicago doesn’t have the same thing, but Chicago doesn’t have the same charm
  20. CASTLES and PALACES. I am blown away by the number and amazing history.
  21. Photo ops. There are a million and a half equally gorgeous photo ops.
  22. You can use any ATM if you have an Austrian bank account without extra charges.
  23. Student discounts on tourist things are actually a good discount and make it possible for me to do things!
  24. No shortage of good chocolate or pastries.
  25. The coffee. Oh, Julius Meinl, I could marry you if you were an actual, living man.
  26. The little biscuits served with a cappuccino.
  27. The absence of Starbucks and other subpar chains
  28. Baking with metric measurements. I might be a convert.
  29. The produce here actually goes bad quickly, which indicates freshness and localness.
  30. Amazing dairy products.  Really.
  31. the honors system with public transportation. Seems pretty effective, and it speeds things up.
  32. Sometimes, I really love the formality of things. Sometimes not, but we’ll put it on the list anyways.
  33. The hills are alive.
  34. Dirndls. I think they’re the coolest thing ever.
  35. Street artists with harps and digderidoos.
  36. Did I mention cafés? That alone is enough to make me want to be an ex-pat. (But then, I love America)
  37. The charming accents when Austrians speak English
  38. Ivy everywhere
  39. Winter didn’t last long after I got here, which I can’t say for Minnesota
  40. The abundance of street food vendors

That’s just a short list. There are other things I love about my experience here, but I’ll cap the list at 40.

For my remaining two months here, I intend to spend lots of time walking around, visit the art museum, invest in the friendships I’ve already begun, take day trips to other parts of Austria, and drink lots and lots of coffee, all the while photographing the entire thing and buying souvenirs as I see them.

There, we have a plan.

Conversations and identity

I had a long day today. I traveled for longer than I usually do, but the end result was that I got back to Graz. Little confusion was involved, so we don’t have to rehash all the hours of connections and transportation.

I have a theory. I think that Satan likes to attack when we’re not prepared. That’s just good battle strategy, right? I rarely think about the things that happen to me as a Satanic attack, but there are some days when anxiety strikes while I’m shaving a week off of my legs. Not because I’m holding a razor but… well, now that I think about it, I’m not sure why.

The thing about counseling that is so wonderful is that counselors can offer you habits. They don’t fix you or offer you a DIY kit to fix yourself. They just give you the habits you need to cope. My counselor emphasized curiosity. “When you feel that, just take a step back and be curious about it. Ask it questions.”

So, I ask my anxiety questions.

Hey there, anxious feelings.

Hi, Ashley.

Can I just ask you where you came from? Because I just got back from a really nice trip to France.

Yeah, we heard about that.

And now I’m done with all the trains, buses, trams, and planes, so I would think you could calm down now. Are we tired or something? Is it my messy desk? Is it the laundry? Is it the to-do list? Because you know we have a lot of time for that.

Hmmm, nah. None of those.

Is it that you feel like now you don’t have any structure and will thus not do anything for the rest of the week? Because we can remedy that. We can make a schedule.


This is how it goes sometimes. Today, I don’t really have a legitimate (or pseudo-legitimate) reason to be anxious. I really don’t. I have the entire rest of the week plus Monday to get homework, laundry, and planning done. And if I don’t finish everything, it’s not that big of a deal. I think Satan knew that I spent a short amount of time sleeping then a long amount of time going, so he decided to just slip in some knots into my stomach and racing thoughts about absolutely nothing.

You know what? I’m not falling for it. My God has always been the best at reminding me about the important things and helping me recover when I’ve forgotten something important. He also stands by me when I show anxiety the door, saying, “Thanks for letting me help you with this.”

And my identity isn’t based in the checkmarks on my list, the neatness of my living space, or my ability to keep a handle on my life at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. I am confident in me because my identity is that I’m worthy. Jesus considered me worthy of sacrificing everything, so that’s who I am. I’m not a doer or a planner or a major success story. I’m His, and He is mine.

It’s hard to feel anxious after speaking that kind of truth over yourself and actually believing it.

A week in France.

Sometimes you’re spending a semester in Austria, and you remember that one of your favorite childhood playmates is living in France for a year. You think, wouldn’t it be nice to have somewhere to stay in France? I do want to travel… So, you send a Facebook message and look for a flight.

Then you think, Well, it has been a few years since I’ve seen her. She might not really want me to come. What if she didn’t really mean it? What if it’s weird and she doesn’t want to do stuff with me?

But she says, “come! it’d be fun! I can show you around!” so you book the flight. And you keep talking to her, and she really does mean it. She checks in on you every few weeks because she understands what it’s like to be alone abroad, sometimes just at the right time.

IMG_20140427_140949Turns out to be better than you ever expected. These are all the things you do:

– are met at the airport by an excited hostess and her French friend, who hosts you for a night in Paris

– quick tour of Paris in the morning, just hitting the highlights and taking pictures, buying a few lil souvenirs

– carpool to Rennes with interesting people

– sit in on an English private lesson with an adorable 15-year-old French girl and drink delicious tea while you’re at it

– she takes you grocery shopping and lets you pick out whatever you want (kind of like when you’re at Grandma’s house, but this is Europe, and you’re with a friend you’ve looked up to for ages)

– she gives you her bed while she sleeps on an air mattress that she pumps up with a hair dryer every night.

– you see Rennes, meet her co-workers, buy more souvenirs, tour the Parliament building, have a cheese party with the most lovely people

– she has a job to do on Friday, so she enlists a sweet friend to take you to Saint Malo, a beautiful town on the seaside. You walk and talk for hours and thoroughly enjoy every moment… and buy more souvenirs

– eat great new French food, talk about faith and studying abroad and what both of you have been doing over the past few years

– watch “Call the Midwife” together and talk about movies and literature

– be geeky together, since it’s rare that you can really be a geek with someone

– Visit the Rennes farmer’s market, buy the perfect elements of a picnic lunch: Comté, baguettes, avocados, tomatoes, special French pastries, strawberries, apples and eat it with friends

– meander around a beautiful garden that happens to have a waterfall

– get fancy hot chocolate and play cards at the cafe

– make more delicious food together

– visit the most beautiful abbey on an island, Mont Saint Michel (and you have The Beatles’ song “Michelle” stuck in your head for about half the trip), walk around, get nearly blown away by the strong bay winds, and come home feeling saltified and happy

– eat Ratatouille

– eat at least a little chocolate every day

– drink lots of coffee

It was a full week, but I never felt like we were running around, chasing down experiences. Instead, we just did what we felt like doing, which made for a lovely getaway. I’m treasuring these memories.


Deep wide furious waves.

I’ve had a song in my head and a poem in my heart for a while now. Or perhaps they’re both in my head and my heart or have been making road trips back and forth.

Sarah Kay, spoken word poet, has a famous line in her piece “If I Should Have A Daughter”, and Bethel Music and Jeremy Riddle’s lyrics from the song “Furious” keep swimming in my mind.

Here’s what’s been sticking:

Sarah Kay:

Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.

Bethel Music:

His love is deep. His love is wide, and it covers us. His love is fierce. His love is strong. It is furious. His love is sweet . His love is wild, and it’s waking hearts to life. 

Deep. Wide. Refuses to stop kissing. Strong. Furious. No matter how many times it’s sent away. Sweet. Wild. Waking hearts to life.

DSCN6078 DSCN6095 DSCN6111

The more time I spend at the ocean, the more I see God as the waves and humanity as the shoreline. There are so many metaphors in the tide. Some waves are enormous and knock over your sandcastles, and some are so gentle that they barely brush sand over your feet.

But no matter how many times the tide goes out, it’s still there, washing over some area of sand somewhere, and we know that come 5:00 or whenever the tide comes in, it will wash us again.

Sometimes the waves are cold, and even though they still wash over us in the same way they did before, cleaning and drenching us, we don’t welcome the temperature.

But sometimes you need a cold shower, to stand in your wet clothes before a vast ocean dripping and shivering. Because sometimes love isn’t comfortable. Sometimes it feels undeserved, unwelcome, or not exactly what we expected. But God’s love doesn’t give us what we want. It gives us what we desperately need.

Sometimes the water is warm, and we throw our arms in the air and run, flicking up sand as we go, to meet the tide. We dive in headfirst and stay until the tide brings us back to shore. And we tell our friends on the shoreline that they’re missing out. And we shake the water onto them and chase them around to hug them so their dry clothes get wet.

And we dry off, but the salt stays in our clothes, and our hair still smells like the sea.

And no matter how many times we run from the waves when they come into shore, whether or not we put our whole selves in or just dunk our feet, the waves always come back. Even if we don’t go to the beach and instead turn our backs to it, the tide still comes in and calls out for us to come.

Calls us to come. To dive in deep and come up wet. To come back over and over again, because the waves will still be there, faithfully washing over the sand.

Salty and more


There’s nothing quite like a nice little panorama of anything remotely ocean-related. That mesmerizing blue and the consistent waves just command your gaze.

I think I’ll be reading some more of Moby Dick tonight since I’m in the salty seawater mood. I don’t think there are whales off the coast of the Bretagne region of France, but the sea is the sea is the sea.


For the past few days, I’ve been enjoying Rennes with one of my childhood playmates and nearly lifelong friends. We played with beanie babies together as children, had sleepovers for birthdays, played until our parents dragged us home. Now she’s a professor here, and I’m a college student studying abroad.

The adventures are much more real now, even though our beanie baby stories had a touch of reality to them. Even though our beanie babies had names and personalities (and actually still do… can’t look at them without some feeling of recognition), in the past few days we’ve visited sites significant to the French revolution, French history, and her life for the past 8 months. It feels more real. Probably because this is now.

To remember Elizabeth as a nine-year-old when I first met her and to think that I’m her guest in her studio flat in France where she’s been living, and to think that I came from Austria, where I’ve been living, feels so foreign. That nine-year-old and that four-year-old feel like other people, different lives, but they’re part of us.

We’re still us. We’re still the same but totally different. This whole aging process is quite the enigma. I’m 20 now. Five times more myself than I was when I was four. Or, perhaps, I’ve made five times the mistakes and have had five times the amount of life.

Can you be five times more yourself than you were before? Was I less me as a fairy-loving, whimsical, platinum blonde four-year-old? I suppose the idea of “me” is always evolving. That perhaps I was fully who I was at four, but there was more to explore. Perhaps we simply color in the parts of our personality that we’re willing to discover, like a 3D version of a paint-by-number drawing.

No matter where I land on that thought, I like France even more than I thought I would. French food was NOT overhyped, and even as a vegetarian, I’ve had so many exciting new things while here. Looking forward to three more days of the loveliness.

Pipes and dreams

Where do dreams fit into our lives on earth (read: the lives that you and I are living right now)? I’m not talking about your vision for the rest of your life, the things that you hope to do and will put all your efforts into doing.

I’m talking about pipe dreams. I’m talking about you-got-your-head-in-the-clouds thinking that makes you sit at your desk and imagine life with that dream fulfilled, starry eyed and blissfully unaware of life around you. What do you do with those?

Our hope in Jesus is our anchor for the soul. That’s good, and we don’t have to question that right now. What I want to know is, what do we do with the hopes that are floating high above us, barely visible – in fact, so far away that we have to imagine what they look like at times? Do we let them float away and concentrate on the things within our reach? Do we focus on all the realistic, hard truths that make it obvious that we’ll never hold those things in our two hands?

These dreams are like soap in the bathtub, eggshell in the cake batter, gnats in midair, paper on a smooth countertop. We can feel them – or at least part of them – and have an idea that they’re tangible, but it’s hard to fully grasp them. And sometimes they’re even less graspable because they have wings or engines – actively moving in another direction.

What do we do with our lofty hopes?

Can we be dreamers and still live happy, productive lives on earth? I’m probably going to come back to the idea that it’s about balance, keeping an eye out for dreams and holding onto the things that are concrete right now. Why do I always come back to balance? Balance is hard. You have to do two things at once and have the perspective to know when you’re getting lopsided.

I’ve been remembering some poignant lines from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory today, and this one’s coming to mind now:

“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” – originally from Arthur O’Shaughnessy

Perhaps it is in our identity to dream, to reach for the possibly unreachable. And perhaps the only way we can ever grasp it is to keep it in view.

On days like today, where I wake up and the sun shines and I successfully mail another 7 postcards, and I’m on a train to Vienna to catch a flight to Paris, my dreams seem within reach. Or maybe my heart just floats higher than other days.

Square inches and sweet sadness.

If Europe has taught me anything, it has taught me to pack light because you will be walking with your bags and will wish you hadn’t brought the heavy things.. It’s taught me that every square inch in my bag is necessary, so yes, we’ll consolidate pills into one container so that you get three more inches. That way you can bring shampoo and conditioner.

Of course, you need your toothbrush, but two pairs of shoes is plenty for a week of travel. You can be a vagabond for a while. Vagabond, meaning that you don’t take all your colors of eyeshadow, bring one lipstick instead of two, don’t pack the kitchen sink, and plan to re-wear everything you bring at least once (except undies).

I feel kind of vagabondish today because I’ve been running all over Austria with my parents over the past week. I took the train to meet them in Salzburg, rushed around pointing at all the dirndls I wanted,


Ooooohed and aaaaahed over the gorgeous views around every corner,DSCN5745

And was ultra-touristy.DSCN5788Then we went off to Vienna, where we had another whirlwind adventure, seeing old stuff up close,


and from up high,


And eating… duh. You knew that was coming.DSCN5896

And holding up bags that have cake in them in front of the Hofberg palace.DSCN5898It’s still not over.

Then we went back to Graz, drank coffee at my favorite café by Uni,DSCN5906

ate amazing street food outside a lot,DSCN5907

saw another palace because we just hadn’t had enough,


and made friends with the peacocks that roamed the grounds.
DSCN5929That’s just the nutshell version. We also went to Slovenia for a picnic, because you can do that kind of stuff in Europe.

There was so much joy in the past week, so many new images stored away into our brains. It should have been enough for my heart to have 7 days and let my parents fly back home today without any fuss.

But of course, you can’t tell your heart when and when not to fuss.

I’ve been the one leaving, the one being picked up, and the one picking up, but I’m rarely the one dropping off. Today, I dropped my parents off at the airport, knowing that they would enter a plane soon afterwards that would take them to Minnesota. I hugged them both, then hugged them again because it wasn’t enough to just have one (when you’re away from home, you never know where your next hug is coming from). I played the mother and told them to text me at every juncture, then waved them off to security before I lost it.

It’s easy to say hello. It’s so hard to say goodbye. Not because we didn’t have a good time, not because I feel like I’ll never see them again, but just because “parting is such sweet sorrow” (Thank you, Shakespeare). Sweet because the sadness means we love each other, sweet because we plan to see each other in two and a half isn months. Sad because it just is, because there’ll be a gap between us.

For now, I pour my energies into packing into the red and pink bags, the ones that will clash so terribly as I walk through train stations and airports tomorrow. I’ll make myself an omelet because that’s what the grocery supply dictates, and I’ll watch Parenthood and be thankful for mine.


I’m back on the train, headed back into Graz with my parents. It sort of feels like heading home, which is strange because I’m from Minnesota, which is at least 20 hours of travel away. But it does feel like home. I live there, for now. I walk there. I learn there.
Today, I listened to some more of the Love Does audio book because you should do stuff like that on the train. Bob Goff was talking about how sometimes doors close, but God wants us to kick them down.
It makes me laugh because doors are one of the difficult things about being abroad. That’s not something people prepare you for. They tell you about language and cultural barriers and all the food and personal products you can’t buy there. But they never tell you how hard it is to open doors.
Ziehen and Drücken. Pull and push. So easy to get mixed up. Also, sometimes the doors aren’t labeled, and it isn’t obvious which you should do because the handle looks like an American pull handle, but that could be a push handle here. You just never know. Sometimes you think the door is locked, but it’s actually just the opposite kind of door. And then the Austrian inside looks at you with pity, thinking you’re quite stupid. (I speak from experience)
Then there are the automatic doors. Some of the ones here will open when you’re still 7 feet away. And some of them won’t open til you’ve nearly got your nose pressed against the glass. So you run the risk that the doors might not open, and you’ll just smash yourself against them.
Either way, doors are a challenge.
I choose to not break down the physical doors in my life because I don’t think most of the people who own them would take kindly to it. Also, it’s just not worth it.
But those not-physical doors – those are worth thinking about. Maybe we’re not supposed to break down every door that closes in our faces. I mean, I do think that God lets us fail or turn another way for a reason sometimes, maybe even often. But I don’t think a closed door should immediately turn us away.
Perhaps we’ve just been pulling when we should have been pushing. Or maybe the automatic doors are just locked. They’ll open again at 9am, perhaps. Or maybe someone lost the key, but the room is worth getting into. When there isn’t a window, break down the door.
Take it off of its hinges because getting into the place God has for us might not be as simple as crossing the threshold of a door. Maybe we need to learn how to read the signs that say push or pull. Or perhaps our lesson is in waiting for it to be unlocked. Perhaps we need to know what it feels like to be on the outside so that when we get in we will leave the door open.
It’s another reason to live in community with Jesus, another reason to never let go of his hand so we can ask about each door we come to.
Push? Pull? Wave arms? Wait? Or break down?

Life in skin and toenails

You are going to think I’m so weird. Oh, you are just going to be so weirded out.
Are you ready for this?
I love clipping my toenails. Whew. There, I said it. (you do think I’m weird, don’t you?)
Something about it is so satisfying, getting rid of part of the old, dead toenail. (you may never read my blog again)
And being sure to cut straight across to avoid those ingrown toenails I’ve struggled with for so long. I actually get excited when I see that my toenails need clipping. (you’ll never speak to me again. Didn’t want to know that, did you?)
Goodbye, toenail clippings. Goodbye old. Goodbye, dead. (well, it was nice knowing you while you thought I was normal)
I found myself rubbing off dead skin tonight as I scrubbed my feet and ankles after a long day of walking and sight-seeing in Vienna. It was like when you trying to use a tissue to wipe up a spill. It just sort of crumbles into a wet, fibrous mess. But it was satisfying to get rid of the old, dead skin so that the new can breathe.
Newness is the theme of my semester. New place, new language, new friends, new school, new experiences, new adventures, new spirit. So is freshness. Fresh face, fresh air, fresh faith, fresh boldness, fresh energy.
Cut and clipped and rubbed down to the part of me that should be here. As it says somewhere in the new testament, get rid of the old yeast so that you may be a new batch…. As you really are.
Be as you are.
He makes me as I am, the part of me that has been dormant inside, waiting to be found anew. He makes me as He made me. Fresh and clean, with a history but without shame.
This is what holy week is about.
He makes us new. We are new because He was willing to do whatever was necessary to make us new. He was willing to make us new because we have to be new to know. To know Him.
Only when I scrub the dead skin off can the skin underneath be alive and be seen.
In the words of Jason Gray:
I’m not who I was. I’m being remade. I am new. I am new. I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved. I am new. I am new.
Too long I have lived in the shadows of shame, believing that there was no way I could change, but the One who is making everything new doesn’t see me the way that I do. He doesn’t see me the way that I do.
Forgiven, beloved, hidden in Christ. Made in the image of the Giver of life. Righteous and holy. Reborn and remade. Accepted and worthy, this is our new name…
This is who we are now.
This week, I scrub off dead skin and cut my toenails to take off what is dead. I drink in His holy presence, inviting Him to make what is dead on the inside new. I invite Him into my deafness, my deadness, my darkness. Because He doesn’t ask me to clean it up or to light candles before He comes.
He is light. He is healer. Hope. Redeemer.

Jesus train

I’m on a train headed to Salzburg. It’s 8:18, and I’ve been conscious for over two hours already.
I wish I could take a picture to accurately show you the incredible beauty of the Austrian countryside the morning, but it’s so hard to capture something so immense. The sun peeked over the hills (you know, the ones that are alive) about an hour and a half ago and started illuminating green fields with cows and little traditional Austrian houses. And I’m facing backwards on a train, trying to catch every detail while I listen to the audio book of Love Does by Bob Goff.
It’s a perfect time to listen to a book about living my relationship with Jesus through doing because I’m not sitting in my room. I’m moving. I’m on a train, going somewhere (to Salzburg to see my parents, actually) . It’s a perfect time to resolve that my relationship with Jesus will change how I live and love. Not because I’ve resolved to, but because that’s what he’s already wanted to do and been doing with me. I’m just getting back on board with him.
I’m just getting back on Jesus’ love train, the one that asks me to be with people, to be a friend, to show them who Jesus is by staying connected with both him and them. Because when you have a best friend, it’s hard to not talk about them. You have the best stories from times spent with them and the most compelling things to say about their character.
I’m learning what it means to walk closely with Jesus this year. All my life, I’ve heard that God is my friend that sticks closer than a brother. I suppose if you substitute ‘sister’ there, that verse would mean more for me. And though I know it’s always been true and have been seeing more and more as I grow in my faith that it is true, I’m just realizing how deeply true it is now.
Wherever I go, I am never far from God. He’s always chasing me down when I run. When I’m willing to walk beside him, he gladly holds my hand and pulls me in the direction I should go. He shapes my heart to love the things and the people he loves and shows me new things each day.
I told a friend a couple weeks ago that I think God chases us down because that’s what he’s always done for me. No matter where I am, God has always been the one who follows me.
I keep saying that word today. Always.
He’s always following me. He’s always guiding me. He always wants to be in my life and for me to be in his.
He doesn’t get tired of chasing me down. He’s not out of breath. His legs never grow weary and when mine do, he carries me.
He never stumbles but doesn’t shame me when I do. He just brushes me off and extends his hand to walk with him again.
My Jesus, I love thee. I know thou art mine. For thee, all the follies of sin I resign. My gracious redeemer, my savior art thou. If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, tis now.