Southern Belle in Training

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle Blog || Est. 2012 || Virginia Beach, VA

August 13, 2021

Inspiring Woman Interview: Meet Rebecca of Caravan Sonnet.

       It's time for another Inspiring Woman interview, and today's guest is not only an incredible woman, but a wonderful friend of mine through the blogging world! I first found Rebecca's blog Caravan Sonnet in 2013, when I had only been blogging here at Southern Belle in Training for less then a year. I was immediately captivated by reading her blog posts. Rebecca's genuine Christian faith shined bright in everything she posted, and I especially enjoyed her raw honesty in writing about her journey with singleness and health struggles. 

     In 2017, I actually had the chance to meet Rebecca and call her a real-life friend as well! She was living in the North Country of New York when I was living in Vermont, and we didn't live too far away from each other. We got to meet up a few times that year, and it was a joy to become in-person friends! When I brainstormed the idea to start this interview series at the start of 2021, I knew I needed to have Rebecca as one of my featured bloggers later this year. Without further ado, meet Rebecca!

1. Introduce yourself! (Name, where you're from and where you live now, your day job, your blog)

      Hi y’all! My name is Rebecca VanDeMark and I am the blogger behind Caravan Sonnet (Instagram @rebeccaannvandemark)! It is lovely to “meet you” here and I would love to connect with you more! In addition to being a blogger and author, I am also a High School History teacher, and I am thrilled to be back in the classroom after nearly a decade away due to fighting for my life with extreme health issues. I literally just moved (this past week!) to our (my mom’s and my) new home in Albany, New York from Tennessee!

2. You spent your 20s and early 30s living all over the US for school and work, and trying your hand at some different career paths. Can you tell us a few highlights of places you lived in the past? Did you like moving around?
      My 20s and 30s were NOTHING like I imagined and as I look back I am truly grateful for grace that meets us in all different seasons of life. After graduating from college in Ohio, I moved for graduate school to Virginia Beach (which I loved!) and lived there for several years, completing grad school and doing my first year of teaching. In the coming years I moved to Washington DC for a competitive law program for a summer and ended up staying for 5 years! *smiles* 

     In that time I not only completed the school program, but also worked with sex-trafficking victims and refugee torture victims who were resettling into the US in their first 180 days back in the United States, and then returned to teaching, which I quickly learned was my absolute love. After a broken engagement I wanted to move closer to my family and was blessed to find a job in Georgia where I lived outside of Atlanta for three years. I had planned to stay in that area long-term but my health took an unexpected and serious turn and shortly before my 33rd birthday I returned home to my parents house in Tennessee. Within 6 months of moving home I was diagnosed with Advanced Late State Lyme Disease, Cancer, and a myriad of other health issues. 

     I loved living in different areas of the country and having different experiences. Each place has added to who I have become in a variety of different ways. From the strong country pride of living in a military town (Virginia Beach) to having opportunities to witness our political system in action and the hard work that our politicians do (Washington DC) to the family centered focus (of the south), each place has helped shape me to the woman I am today. I really believe that we make each experience what we want it. I have learned that from my mom in so many ways! Even in the bad there is good a blessing to be found if you search for it!

3. What lead you to pursuing teaching? Are there any words of encouragement you'd share to any aspiring or new teachers?
     I am laughing a bit as I write this, because if you know me then you know that as much as I love teaching I NEVER planned to be one. My mom was an incredible teacher for over 30 years and I deeply admired it, but I never planned to be one. After grad school I knew I wanted to stay in the Virginia Beach area but couldn’t find a job so I started applying for teaching jobs. I was blessed to find one, and that year was life-changing. I taught all seniors and in the course of a few short months everything changed. 

      Teaching is hard, messy, challenging, and the most incredible thing a person can do (haha- I am obviously biased!). In many ways it is the most thankless job on the planet and so my biggest advice is find a tribe that will encourage you. Also… the world needs you as a teacher. If you are considering it at all- do it. Take the chance and go for it. 

4. When did you start your blog, Caravan Sonnet? What topics do you blog about? What's been your favorite thing about blogging?
     I have a soft smile for the beginnings of Caravan Sonnet. I started this particular blog in January 2013. At the time I began Caravan Sonnet because there was a rumor going around my old school where I had taught at that I had Cancer and was not sharing it. Ironically when I began my blog I had no idea that I had Cancer or what my exact health issues were and so I started sharing about chronic illness in general. As life developed I wrote lots about my health, and as my health began to stabilize a tiny bit I started in writing for companies and sharing on the blog about traveling with a chronic illness. 

     Eventually (pre-COVID) I wrote exclusively about cozy luxury travel and planned to continue that as a full-time blogger. Over the last year though life changed in some dramatic ways and the blog is now slowly transitioning into my current season of life- writing about cozy luxury living and teaching and some travel. 

      My favorite thing about blogging has been the connections and community that has developed over the different seasons. The blog gave me an outlet during some of the sickest years of my life and introduced me to parts of the world that I never would have seen or experienced otherwise. It also challenged me to develop as a business woman and I am forever grateful for this space!

5. Your life was turned upside-down in your 30s when you received a diagnosis of Lyme Disease, and a cancer diagnosis as well. How were you able to keep your faith despite many years of health struggles and fighting for your life?
     I am asked this question a lot, and I wish that I had the perfect words for a great answer. If I am completely and vulnerably honest, my faith flourished during that season in deep ways and I will always be grateful for it. I had some of the most tender moments with the Lord and my faith during those years of being so incredibly sick and bedbound. I would spend hours upon hours reading the Bible, listening to sermons, listening to gentle praise music, journaling, praying, etc. For me in many ways those were deeply precious years. There were definitely ranges of emotions and times of crying out wondering what God was doing, but they were still very precious. 

     But at the same time the last couple of years have been difficult and I have spent more time weeping before the Lord then I did during the years that I was sick. I unexpectedly and traumatically lost my dad in May 2019 and then a year and half later lost my precious grandmother. These losses have created a ripple affect and I honestly admit that I have struggled more with keeping my faith throughout these years then the ones where I was sick. 

     My best comfort and advice to anyone going through seasons of suffering is to give yourself a LOT of grace, take one minute at a time, ask for a lot of prayer, and gently spend time with God through praise music, worship, reading your Bible, etc. This may also seem like a strange suggestion (in light of my blogging job *smiles*) but limit time on social media which can truly hurt and be painful during seasons of suffering. I limit my time daily and I always take (except for very rare circumstances) a day or two off a week away. This has been a huge help in my grieving process and also throughout my health crisis. 

6. I admire your courage and raw honesty in sharing the highs and lows of your Lyme and cancer journeys on your blog and Instagram. Could you link to a few of your most-read or most-loved blog posts about chronic illness that might be a resource to others?
     I started a whole section of my entire story (trigger warning for those walking through that season) HERE in a section I affectionately call “notes from the porch”. Probably the most-read and most-loved blog posts would be the following: 

7. For a few years, you were blogging full-time! What's something about being a full-time blogger that most people might not know? Would you ever want to blog full-time again, or are you planning to continue teaching full-time as you are currently?
     I actually wrote an entire post on what it looks like to work as a full-time blogger HERE that explains the ins and outs of each day! One beautiful thing that the journey with Caravan Sonnet has taught me is that there are different seasons in life. Right now I am thrilled to be back in the classroom but am working to come up with a solution of how to do the blog also full time. It is a learning adventure and one that is going to be an adjustment this year again (being in a new school). I am always open for tips and ideas if anyone has them! *smiles*

     Travel is one of your blog's main content focuses. You've gotten to do some amazing travel writing collaborations and press trips over the years. Which trips have been the biggest highlights? Do you have any tips for someone with chronic illness who wants to travel but is worried it might not be feasible?
     I love traveling and I have been incredibly blessed by the way that Caravan Sonnet and Blogging has opened doors that I NEVER would have imagined! My top 3 favorite trips would be the following: 

     You can find all the travel adventures HERE! For those that are wanting to travel with a chronic illness I have written numerous posts on the subject that you can find HERE

8. You're the opposite of me in that you're a Southern girl who moved North! You and your mom recently moved back to Upstate New York, after you spent a few years living up there previously. What's your favorite thing about Upstate? What are some spots that visitors should check out?

     My absolute favorite thing is the mountains and the lake! I won’t bore you with all of the posts *hahaha* but here are some of my favorite places in Upstate New York/Vermont area! 

9. In addition to your blog Caravan Sonnet, you have some other creative ventures! Tell us about your Etsy shops and the books (!!) you've written. 
     I have been so honored to be the author of 7 books, and several that have been translated into different languages:
1) Biography

2) Books on Lyme Disease (also suitable for those with Chronic Health Conditions)

3) Ebooks: 

     I am also the owner of two different Etsy shops :

     Each shop gives a portion of proceeds to charity with December Lane helping foster kids and December Caravan helping deployed soldiers. 

10. Share your social media and blog links so people can follow and connect with you!

     I would love to connect with y’all! I hope you will take a moment to say “hi”! Annaliese has been a gift to me as a friend and I am so grateful for who she is. I have been blessed to get to know her in “life outside the blog world” and she is one of the most genuine people I know. I admire her and am grateful for the opportunity to share a bit of my story! Looking forward to connecting more! 

     Rebecca- thank you so much for being my Inspiring Woman interview guest this month! You, your blog, and your many creative ventures have been such an inspiration to me for years. I'm so thankful our paths got to cross in person in Vermont in 2017! 

     God Bless,

     xoxo Annaliese 

1 comment

  1. THANK YOU so much for having me friend!! I was SO humbled and honored!! What a joy to not only know you in bloggy world but to have the honor of calling you "friend" in real life! Thank you again!!
    Warmly, Rebecca


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