Nostalgic but here.


So, sentimentality can be a bit of a turn off. But I’m going to do it anyways.

My Valentine’s Day last year was the most bewildering day of my life thus far, arriving in a new country at 10 in the morning when I felt like it was the middle of the night. My airport buddy, Daniela picked me up and whisked me around town, trying to keep me awake and get me settled into my new life.

At the end of the day, she dropped me off at my apartment, where I sat in my room and wondered what it would be like to live with three Austrians I didn’t know. Magda, when we met and she found out I was headed to Ikea shortly, asked me to buy a new shower curtain while I was there, so there I was, sitting in my room and wondering if I should go give it to her or put it up myself or just keep sitting there.

I eventually knocked on the kitchen door, a strange thing to do in a place where you are now a resident, and if what came next hadn’t happened, I don’t know what my five months there would have been like.

Magda was cooking with another girl, who introduced herself as Rebekka and immediately understood my position. Yes, bewildered. I was still holding the shower curtain at this point, but I sat down at the table with her while Magda cooked and she told me she’d studied at Syracuse, so she knew that the first few days were the hardest.

Then she asked me if it was hard to say goodbye to my family.

At that point, I realized that I hadn’t cried at the airport – because I hadn’t felt like I was leaving. The finality and the reality of going to another country to live for a semester hadn’t settled in. So the waterworks came, and I just kept saying, “I don’t know why I’m crying. I never cry in front of people.”

Rebekka handed me a pack of tissues, which made me cry harder, both at the kindness and the realization that I’d forgotten to bring tissues.

It was the start of one of the most significant friendships during my time abroad. Rebekka let me keep the pack of tissues, and a couple days later, she took me up to the Altstadt (up until that point, I was pretty disappointed with Graz, feeling like it wasn’t as beautiful as the pictures had been) and to the Schloßberg, where I could see out over the whole city.

DSCN5334Ah, I miss it.

You can relive it all there.

I’m so thankful for all that time. I’m thankful for the jet lag, for the amazing coffee, the countless cafes, the krapfen, new friends, misunderstandings between German and English and in-between, for all the euros I spent, the train journeys, the tram passes, ice creams from Eis Geissler, pastries, johannesbeere juice, messing up German words and getting laughed at (Rebekka laughed pretty hard at my pronunciation of Zwiebel), homesickness, longing for familiarity, finding new homes, old buildings, all the time walking.

I’ll be honest, I miss it.

But there’s so much to be said for living in the present, for being grateful for the incredible things God is doing in my life right now (like multiplying my $21 and birthday pledge into $3,193).

I’ll be nostalgic, but I’ll still be here.

 

2014: Ja, das ist gut.


 

I was thinking last night about how the past seems more certain than the present. It is, isn’t it? It happened. It’s done. We know the events. But then as time goes on, the events change in meaning, don’t they? We realize that this particular event didn’t really mean what we thought it meant at the time, so it takes on new significance to us.

It seemed certain, but maybe it’s changeable – not in physical events but in what the represent and in what they do and have done. The past continues to change us as we relive it and rethink it.

So, maybe it’s just as certain as the future. Since the future is partly determined by how we think about it and how perceive it, perhaps it’s nearly as certain as what we’ve already lived through. Perhaps there’s nothing to fear.

With that in mind, I’m going to relive my past year because when Facebook tried to sum 2014 up for me, it failed miserably.View More: http://kendraoxendale.pass.us/alexlovesbrooke

In 2014, my sister got married and changed her last name. View More: http://kendraoxendale.pass.us/alexlovesbrooke

All these people stood next to her and Alex as they committed to love and honor each other for the rest of their lives. I cried. And I still cry sometimes because change is hard, and she doesn’t live across the hall. But we knit together and meet up for lunch and bake and still are sisters. Marriage, with all the changes it brings, cannot erase sisterhood.

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2014 was my mosts caffeinated year yet. Here’s to many more.
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I spent a significant amount of time playing with buttons with these two and enjoying their funny shenanigans.IMG_20140214_070542

Then, I boarded a plane and headed to the land of schnitzel, müsli, and dirndls (which you don’t eat). This was my first encounter with müsli and the enormous spoons that Europeans seem to like. I was trying to identify the fruits in here at 3 in the morning in a new country, while also trying to fit this huge spoon into my mouth with my sleepy, uncoordinated hand.
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I attended school here. I sat on this grass a lot and listened to German being spoken all around, waiting for my next class to begin.
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I saw this view many times – never too many. A hike up the Schloßberg was always a joy, especially when we got ice cream on the way down.IMG_20140403_161323

I sat here, in the perfect little lakeside town and marveled that I got to be there.

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I attended mass here in German, not realizing that you aren’t supposed to take Communion if you aren’t Catholic.IMG_20140302_100557

Whoops. 1932206_10152643390323584_2048097247304214259_n

Back home, my mom turned 30 again. 10380557_10201958896789866_1765142068901202645_o

And my brother-in-law graduated from the University of Minnesota with his mechanical engineering degree.10294288_10152838526218298_7885028267258499097_n (1)

Then some familiar faces came across the pond and explored Austria and Slovenia with me.DSCN5907

We spent time relishing sunshine and walking… and walking… and walking…DSCN5747

We took a few pictures of ourselves, most of the time not too successfully.

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Then they left, and I jetted off to France, where I tried new cheeses, one being Babybel. (but also conté, camembert, brie, and more)IMG_20140424_191313

I spend a delightful week being shown the most Beauty and the Beast town that could ever exist by Elizabeth, who taught me a few key French phrases as we went. I could remember them at one point.
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I saw this. It was real.IMG_20140510_174049

I took the train eleven hours to spend a couple quick days with one of my dear friends in Germany, a most refreshing weekend.IMG_20140705_090556

I met this wonderful friends who ate with me and talked about priests and international relations and politics and Bobbit and MI5 and the OSS (all we know is they parachuted).

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I saw this. It was also real. IMG_20140614_192505

I attended my first ball and witnessed waltzing, mimes, lots of German being spoken, and saw expensive food I didn’t want to buy.

Good end to a classy evening.

So we fed ourselves much more cheaply at McDonalds in all our ball finery.

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Evelyn and I made it a point to frequent McDonalds.1001969_10154178117110241_4525028199620324965_n

Then I went to Budapest in a carpool with Hannah and spent some of the best hours of my life in the Szechenyi baths.wpid-wp-1400412735827.jpeg

We walked a lot and saw incredible views and ate new things.

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I went back to Graz and enjoyed this street as much as possible,

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coveted dirndls,

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and ate more with friends.

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I traveled north to Vocklabruck to meet Tiina and Wolfi, to marvel at the mountains, and… eat more. This is a pattern.IMG_20140607_192122

Zwiebelkopf – onion head. This is what that thing on the building is called. Fun fact. Also, I wore Creabelis in Austria, which was cool – foreshadowing a later event.
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I left feeling blessed to have made new, wonderful friends.

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I came back to my home home, where I saw this sunset over a lake. This was also real. Sometimes pictures are just a little too perfect, but I swear, this is what it looked like.IMG_20140830_190308

I was reunited with my roommate, who traveled in South America while I was in Austria. IMG_20141017_140307

I spent my fall break with the CEO of that pants company, my friend, who offered me a job on the spur of the moment. I accepted.wpid-img_20141126_142543.jpg

 

I went back to MN for Thanksgiving and celebrated dairy.photo-4And finished the year with a new family, well, sort of new.

And now I welcome 2015 with open arms, excited for the picture perfect moments and the unphotographable, ugly ones. May the highs and the lows each create something that will shape who I am in the years to come into more of a godly, thoughtful person.

 

Walking, catalysts, and pans.


Update on the pans, in case you (like my Canadian friend) were wondering what transpired there: they were in the very bottom on a box all along, somehow obscured so that I could not find them.

I’m not in Austria anymore, but I was thinking back to before I left today. I remembered how I didn’t know what to expect and mostly pictured a lot of walking, coffee, trains, and classes. And German, though I didn’t realize how much. Then, when I arrived in Austria, I saw that the pretty, old buildings I expected were there, along with the trains, the German language, the classes, the need to walk, and plenty of places to get coffee.

And then there was the excess of free time, where I realized that I have a big part to play in creating my reality. Who decides my schedule? Oh, right. I do that. There’s a certain amount of responsibilities and assignments and requirements involved in that decision, but I decide. I decide how I get places and when I go. I decide when I don’t go and what I do instead.

It’s both a freeing and frightening reality.

So, today, thinking back to my days of walking around Graz and (as Thoreau might say) “sauntering” from place to place without a goal in mind, I took a walk. I started walking and eventually gave myself a direction. Sure, the buildings were all brick, and there was a heck-of-a-lot of sirens and honking and cars and dust and people, but that’s Chicago. It was a different kind of wandering. Still the kind I need to do to foster creativity (I’ve found that walking is integral to my writing process) but just in my current setting.

I found myself in Lincoln Square, then decided to walk into the book store, where I spontaneously picked up a Billy Collins anthology and bought it, asking the clerk if this book store is hiring. Then I took a lesser known route home, trusting the Chicago grid to get me where I need to be.

You can wander anywhere, and you create the kind of life you want to live, to an extent. If I want to be the kind of person who up and walks to an adventure, then I’d better start being that person.

Sometimes, you’re your own catalyst.

Bar night.


It’s bar night here at my student apartment building. Usually this is the night where I sleep with headphones in my ears, not plugged into anything just trying to block out the noise, and I think dark thoughts to myself about how much I hate the noise and every single person making noise.

I don’t really hate them. Disclaimer. I just hate that the floors are so thin that I can hear what’s going on in the basement from my ground floor apartment. That’s all. I’m sure they are fine and lovely people during the day time. I’m sure they don’t mean to keep me from sleep every single Wednesday night. They probably have no idea how much I can actually hear from here.

Anyways, since I have only three days left to be here (actually, less than that, about two and a half), and I have to write an entire paper and take an exam in that time and pack and clean my room, I figured my time could be better spent than tossing and turning and sleeping badly.

So, I’m awake.

This is unprecedented.

It’s after midnight, and I am not only awake, I’m trying to be productive.

This does not happen. I’m a self-proclaimed ten-o-clock pumpkin because I firmly believe that nothing good happens after midnight and that very little happens that is good after ten.

However, tonight is an exception to that. Tonight, I fight my sleepy eyes and read about Hemingway and plan my paper. I hope that these connections I’m making actually aren’t stupid when I look at them tomorrow. I eat a yogurt to keep my body nourished and keep drinking water.

I ponder the packing and cleaning still to be done and remember how little brain power that takes. In a very short time, that’s probably all I’ll be good for… if I’m even good for that.

I’m trying so hard to not process my experience yet. I just can’t. I’m not done here, and I’m already trying to think of how I’ll sum up my entire semester in another country to my friends when they ask how it was.

I can’t. I’ll have to, but I can’t yet. Not while I’m still here.

Instead, I’m trying to soak things up, to take pictures all over and again, and let myself experience the wonder of it all. No processing yet. Just experiencing for now.

Running out.


Around finals time of year, I start running out of words. It’s like between my classes and studying and reading and writing and note-taking and question-asking, I use up my quota for the day and just stare at the empty blog post form like, what is this for? what do I put in here?

It’s not even the really crunchy crunch time yet. I’m trying to abide by the tortoise motto, “Slow and steady wins the race” so that I won’t have to take a nap in the middle.

In other news, I’ve got pairs of everything left. 2 more of each day of the week. 2 more of each class. 2 more papers. 2 more weekends. 2 more weeks. I’m just a great big jumble of everything when it comes to how to feel about that. Part of my yearns for my family and the comfort of my room with its green walls and purple curtains and the bed that is mine and has never been anyone else’s. I miss my church community so much, too. That’s been one of the biggest gaps in my time here.

Then I have to remember, home isn’t perfect either. There’s a lot of responsibility and bills and work.

But it’s home.

But it’s not Graz. And I love Graz. And my friends I’ve met here won’t be there.

But my family will. And my high school friends. And work and church friends. And there’ll be good ol’ Minnesota.

But there won’t be 400-1000 year old buildings or cobblestone streets or German-speakers everywhere.

Right, there will be English! Oh, that blessed language.

But there won’t be bakeries everywhere. And cars won’t be required by law to stop once you enter the crosswalk. Heck, I won’t even be using the crosswalks.

But I’ll have Audrey again.

And gas bills. and no tram.

Do you see the dilemma? Going home is great… and horrible… and wonderful… and tragic… and heartwarming…. and heartbreaking.

I don’t know when I’ll be back here or when I’ll see these people again.

The best cure for this is to just live fully here for my last 14 days, to be all in Graz and all with the people here.

Birds and study breaks


I have something to confess to you.

I love Angry Birds.

I suppose I have two confessions.

I’m also pretty good at it.

These are things I’m rather ashamed of saying, especially since I’m typically so scornful of these type of time-wasters. I have to be honest, though. I like Angry Birds. I really like it. And it helps me focus.

I can read to get sleepy at night, but Angry Birds gets my heart going faster. I find myself getting really frustrated when there’s just one, tiny green pig left. I obsessively strategize about where I’m going to send my birds. I’m well-acquainted with these kamikaze aviators.

I even catch myself saying things like, “DIE, you stupid little pigs!” out loud. On occasion.

Don’t worry, though, dear readers. I’m not neglecting my studies or my friends. I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I’ll say, “No, I’m sorry, I can go out with you. I have to get to the next level.”

I’ll delete the app before I get that far gone. I promise you.

This is probably because we didn’t have video games when I was a child. I’m making up for lost time.

But only on study breaks.

Speaking of study breaks, it’s another national, religious holiday today in Austria. As usual, no one is exactly sure what the holiday celebrates, but all the shops are closed (the reason I did my grocery shopping yesterday) and classes are cancelled. So, I’m taking today to work on my seminar papers.

Even in the States, every professor has different expectations for papers. But when the professor has a different native language and country and background than you and also runs his class very differently than any other class you’ve ever been in, it makes that even more difficult. Not that he wouldn’t accept any well-written, analytic paper, but I get the feeling that he has pretty specific expectations. So, two papers for this professor are my main concern over the next 14-16 days.

So, on to some serious studies. And Angry Birds on study breaks. No shame.

The packing begins.


It started today.

The Space-Bagging.

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IMG_20140618_131159That bag contains three sweaters, a pair of leggings, and three long-sleeved shirts. And it’s going to go in my suitcase soon.

I’m already at the point where I start packing. I might be good at packing light, but it takes me a while to pack. I think it’s the over-preparing, anxious, compulsively detailed part of my personality.

Plus I have to make sure early on that there’s enough room for souvenirs, because there’s a big bag of European things in my closet, just waiting to go to the States and meet their new owners. And any room not occupied by my belongings or those souvenirs will be filled up with Austrian coffee.

In other news, I have a referral to go get an x-ray from the doctor who still exists. And I’m giving my last presentation today. After this, it’s just editing a portfolio of 5 short stories, writing two 10-12 page literature papers, and taking an exam on intelligence.

Oh, yeah, and all those goodbyes.

But I’m not going to think about those just yet.

Onward!

 

Balling and the number 1.


Last night, I went to a ball.

IMG_20140614_192505And people waltzed and danced and wore fancy dresses from places all over the world. It was the MultiKulti Ball, which means that we saw saris, dirndls, ball gowns, lederhosen, all manner of African apparel that I don’t know the names for, and just about any other outfit you can think of.

I stayed up til 2am, a rare occurrence. And this morning, I felt like I’d been up til 7 and had drunk copious amount. In actuality, I just had apple juice.IMG_20140615_113208That’s what happened when I tried to spoon yogurt on my müsli this morning. At least I know that I can’t do late nights very often.

The ball was worth it though. There was an orchestra and a jazz band and some mimes. We weren’t totally sure why the mimes were there, because they weren’t silent. They just wore all white and had their faces painted and carried chairs around and meandered from place to place all night, kind of like you’d imagine a court jester would act. Still not sure what was going on there.

Because food and drinks were expensive, we just got juice and soda.

Cheers. If you got alcohol, you got a glass, but juice and soda people got plastic bottles.

Cheers. If you got alcohol, you got a glass, but juice and soda people got plastic bottles.

Then, after we’d enjoyed some jazz in the library, we headed out for some sustenance. McDonald’s here is actually good. They have to source their food locally. I got mozzarella sticks, a salad, and waffle fries, all of which were very satisfying! We did stick out a bit in our formal attire though.

Good end to a classy evening.

Good end to a classy evening.

On the way there, Rachel (far left) and I walked while the other two went to grab a jacket, and we encountered a pair of guys who seemed to have had a little too much to drink. Contrary to my experience with the Jerkface the day before, these guys just waved at us from across the crosswalk while we waited for the light to turn green… for a solid two or three minutes. The only thing I could catch from what they were saying was, “schön”, which means “pretty.”

Much better than the day before.

Speaking of days, I am at the 19 day, 20 hour mark until my departure. Seeing the number ‘1’ in front of the number that says how many days left is a little disconcerting. Any other number seems big, but this one seems like the end is near.

In some ways, I’m ready to go home, and in some ways, I’ll never be ready to leave. There’s always more to experience, but I’ve had such rich and varied experiences that I can pause my international adventures in 19 days and 20 hours to go live a structured life again.

 

 

Mixed bag day.


What a Friday. It was one of those days that doesn’t have a category, but if it did, it would be something like “All Over The Place” or “Tilt-A-Whirl”.

The allergens here haven’t let up much on me, so even though I take my antihistamines, I wake up with a pretty, puffy face. So, naturally, my eyes want to stay shut since everything’s just a teeny tiny bit swollen. After I got myself up and going today, the swelling went down a bit, and once I’d talked to Jesus, had some bread and yogurt and coffee for breakfast, and put my clothes on, I felt ready for the day.

I carried my laptop with me in my backpack, which often feels like I have a papoose or a small furry animal breathing heavily on me since it adds so much heat. So, I arrived to print my paper with my friend Maggie rather sweaty since the day was already pretty warm. We printed off our papers for our history class and headed over.

Our final exam is coming up, and since this particular professor has a tendency to wax eloquent about nothing that seems like exam material and tends to be rather scattered in his lectures (with the guise of being a calm, organized, collected older man), I had emailed him the day before, indicating that I wasn’t sure what to expect on the exam based on what we talked about in class.

So he begins class saying that some of us seem to be afraid of the exam. Afraid? Who’s afraid? I just wanna know what the heck is going on. This class is 75% self-taught. Heck yeah, it is. You pick a monograph and write a short paper and do the readings – these texts are invaluable. Yeah, they would be if we had a skeleton of knowledge to stick them on. There’s no context, MAN. 

I felt reprimanded and completely justified at the same time. The class was actually a bit more coherent than normal, and afterwards, as per our Friday tradition, my friends and I got pizza.

I was sleepy in my next class and slightly annoyed at the way my professor seems to see Americans, but the annoyance might have been due to my sleepiness.

On my way home, I just kept telling Jesus, I feel like I can’t connect today. It’s too much work to bridge the culture gap. It’s too hard to communicate. I don’t like Austrians. Just kidding. I love Austrians. I love Austria, but it’s so exhausting to constantly be filtering meaning in communication. Then, what should happen but that I would run into a fellow exchange student from my class. We had a nice little chat as we walked the same way, and as we parted, I felt buoyed.

I took the tram (an unusual happenstance) to an English-speaking gathering of believers and met some nice Germans en route who needed directions. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to not be the one needing directions for once.

The gathering was lovely, and I decided that since it was such a nice night, I would walk home (though it’s like a 35-40 minute walk)  and soak up all the Graziness. (not a real word… forgive me)

I’m always slightly trepidatious when walking past groups or pairs of men, just because they so often give me a you-are-an-object or a you-female-must-gawk-and-make-you-feel-awkward look. It’s not a compliment. It’s unsettling.

So, I’m walking alone, on a well-populated and well-lit street (don’t be worried, Mom and Dad). There’s a guy in my way, and he says “Entshuldigung.” (trans: excuse me) I don’t intend to stop because I’m alone and don’t want to talk to him, but he’s in my way, so I slow. “Eine Frage” (a question), he says, waving his pack of cigarettes in the air.

Then, here’s what made my blood boil.

Jerkface (I would use stronger words, but I don’t use those words) points to the lingerie store next to me and asks me if I would wear the mannequin’s outfit for him.

I wish I had punched him somewhere that he would have understood my response. I know violence isn’t the answer, but I’m still mad as I type this. Instead, I answered a calm but firm, “Nope” without making eye contact and continued to walk.

As I walk away, he says, “Why no?”

Ohhhhhhh. You will never have a fulfilling relationship with a woman, ever. And I should pity you for the erroneous image you have of women. I should pray that Jesus will touch your life and change your heart. But I really just wanna punch you and tell you that I’m not a piece of meat. Not eye candy. Not a thing. And I don’t owe you, so you have no right to heckle me.

Okay, rant over.

Because the story does end on a happy note.

Remember that group of Germans I met on the tram? Well, since I chose to walk home, I was about 15 minutes away, at a stoplight, when I thought I saw them.

Yep, it was them. Turns out they weren’t sure how to get back to their hotel. And I got to walk them back since it was right by my dorm. I had a lovely conversation with the one who spoke English, and it redeemed the night for me.

Quite a mixed bag of a day, wouldn’t you say?

Sunset


I was hoping to wake up to a thunderstorm this morning. Instead, I woke up to the whir of yard work tools and a hot, humid bedroom.

It’s easy to say you love summer in the winter, but when it hits 90 degrees before the season officially starts, I have my reservations with loving summer. I suppose the season is better when you have easy access to a lake.

Yesterday was hotter and stickier, however, so I’m grateful that we have the promise of rain and cooler temperatures this afternoon.

I spent most of yesterday writing a paper about the East German secret police during the Cold War because *surprise, surprise*, it’s due a week earlier than I originally thought. It helps that this is a factual paper rather than an opinion paper, so it’s easier for me to write.

Then I walked through the un-air-conditioned city to a blissfully air-conditioned classroom to talk about Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People” in the Gothic Fiction class. Then I returned to the still un-air-conditioned but slightly cooler city paths to walk home. Cooking dinner was a hot task, but it was worth it. Then, as a study break we all needed, some of my friends and I hiked up the Schloßberg to watch the sun set.

It turned out to be a slight disappointment because, of course, though the entire day had boasted clear skies, the evening brought clouds to the west side of the city. Yes, right over the sun set. We ate strawberries while we waited for it to get pretty, though, and talked about school and weekend travels and how we really should be working on our papers right now, but we would rather be there.

Then, just as we were thinking we wouldn’t see any pretty colors, I caught a glimpse of pink and purple and ran to get a better view. Just out of our line of sight from where we were sitting was a little bit of pink, purple, and a cloudy ball of orange. So, we did get to see the sun set, even though it was less grand than we imagined. Apparently mountains affect how much you see of the sunset, something I never have to deal with in my Midwestern home.

 

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So, there it is: the sun set from the Schloßberg.

Then we got ice cream from our favorite place on Sporgasse (Erdnuss-Schoko for me… peanut chocolate) and walked to the Mur to enjoy the city a bit more. People were out and about, walking along the river, eating at the outdoor cafes on the cobblestone streets, having a drink outside since it was cooler than during the day. We joined their ranks and sat and talked for a while.

I’m slowly settling into exit mode, realizing that even good things come to an end.