Retreating


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I went on a retreat this weekend with this group of women. And knowing me, you’ll know what I want to do with this topic. I’ll want to ask: What does it mean to retreat? Why did we retreat?

And I’ll tell you that it’s stepping back when we know we need reinforcements and can’t handle the battle on our own. And I’ll support it with Webster’s Online Dictionary.

And then I’ll say something about why it’s important to be still and rest because our world is too hectic, and we don’t do that enough.

And that will all be true.

But I figure since that’s predictable, I won’t say that. Because this weekend was anything but predictable. First off, I wasn’t planning to go. It was one of those things that was announced, and I saw it and thought huh, that’s the kind of thing I would like to do.

I don’t normally need a personal invitation to join in on all that life has to offer, but this time I didn’t really get around to deciding until Dena came up on me on Easter and asked me if I wanted to go.

Apathy sometimes keeps us from doing something that might bring great blessing. Do I need a getaway? Probably not that badly. Nothing’s going wrong in my life. Not really.

But she asked, and I said yes.

Then, during my week I started thinking about it and found that I was quite looking forward to Friday afternoon when we’d drive up north. A whole weekend without responsibility with some really lovely women who go to my church, where someone else cooks great food, where the whole point is to connect on a deeper level with each other, and in a log cabin.

I didn’t know I needed the break until I took it. A break from the hecticness, from bring connected to everyone online all the time, from being task-oriented and productive.

Instead we talked and laughed and took a walk to hold bunnies (BUNNIES! My mom can attest to my deep love for them) and played the world’s longest game of Uno. We laughed some more and settled down to share passages of scripture that are meaningful to us. Inevitably, our stories came out piecemeal, and each challenge and joy shared was met with empathy.

We’re more connected than we know.

There’s more to say about it, but I think even if I keep saying more I won’t fully encompass the connections that were made, the fun that was had, and the Spirit that was felt.

Plus, I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again. Don’t get me wrong, I’d sleep on that thin mattress again for such a wholly fulfilling weekend, but my pillow is calling.

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Head colds and validation


There are tissues all over my floor. I have made it in the trash receptacle once. I told my dad last night that I’ve sneezed so many times my head feels like a Magic Eight ball that got stuck between responses because you shook it too hard looking for answers.

He was sympathetic to my pain but also wanted to know how I knew what a Magic Eight ball was. “That’s from my era.”

“I think my Barbies had one. Like the seventies Barbie.” I can’t remember her name now and inexplicably feel guilty for that.

I’m really not feeling that bad anymore. There’s just a lot of gunk in my head. I’ve been sneezing. It’s a cold. So many things could be worse.

I’m spacey when I get head colds. I think this is common. Like, I’ve been meaning to make pancakes for about an hour now and getting distracted. I can’t remember where I put my phone, either.

The phone is important because I was texting one of my friends who is still back at school. And now I can’t respond. It was a good conversation; it’s a good friendship. Like my friend who told me that I had a mouse in my glove compartment, this friend is one who makes me better.

We’re both trying to work through what it means to grow up and how we deal with feelings and thoughts and insecurities and all that. There’s no manual for this. But we both know it’s not meant to be done in isolation.

I texted her this morning and asked how her week was. I really wanted to know. I don’t bump into her on the sidewalk or at the library anymore, so it’s important to be intentional about asking.

I also really wanted her to validate a feeling. And really didn’t want to own up to it.

You know the type, where you feel like you shouldn’t feel the way you do because it’s selfish or ungrateful or discontent or inappropriate for the situation. But you still feel that way and need someone to remind you that you’re human and have to work through feelings instead of shoving them  into your closet to fester.

Some days, I don’t deal with it and shove it into the closet. But it always finds its way out for another encounter another day. So it’s best to just own up. Because the only antidote to feeling like you shouldn’t feel the way you feel is empathy.

So I told her. And she said, “That’s normal. You’re human.” And I nodded to myself, and we talked about it some more.

You’d think I’d be able to remind myself of that. Some days, I can. Some days, I need someone else to remind me.

If I needed her to, she’d validate this cold. But I can give this all the validation it needs. Somehow, I feel pancakes will help with this.

And where did I put my phone?

5th annual all-day Thanksgiving chronicle


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Sheep mug for the win.

This is one of my favorite days of the year. Not just because I run to my computer every time something happens and have a running chronicle, but partly.

There’s also a lot of food involved, the best company, and good conversation.

This year I got up earlier than last year, because the potatoes had to be in the crockpot by 8am. I had intentions to help with the peeling, but I pressed Snooze a few too many times and ended up getting there after it was done.

Whoops.

Thanks for taking care of that, dad.

I’m thankful for my parents today. Thankful that they are happy to have me home, that they’re about to welcome me back home when I graduate in just 22 days and giving me time to figure out what’s next. They’ve been so gracious about not pressuring me to apply for jobs or be on the ball about anything. They listen to the crises about not getting things done and bring perspective and remind me to take one thing at a time. It’s been a blessing my whole life, but particularly so this semester, as I prepare to finish out a key phase of life and wander into the unknown.

It’s 8:50am.

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We set the table last night. The dishes are my great-grandmother’s china, 96 years old.

There she is, my mom’s dad’s mom. (still following?)

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Pretty sure this is before she got the china. Anyway, she lives on at our table now.

I’m thankful for getting to dig into my family heritage more this year, on both sides. I’ve gotten to write about some of it. It’s been formative, thinking about where and who I’ve come from and where I’m going. Also, I’m learning how to write about my own life in a way that brings other people in.

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This photo was taken around 8:30am, right after my mother said, “don’t you dare take  my picture.”

:)

My dad issued a challenge for a nerf gun war to the people coming to lunch today. This includes: Alex (my brother-in-law), Brooke (my sister), Stella, Brian, Alexander, and Jordan (our family friends, Stella was our piano teacher and we babysat for Alexander and Jordan).

I’m thankful for my dad – that he’s like this, engaging people and being excited about connecting over nerf guns. One of my friends saw his post and snapchatted me to let me know he is now her favorite human because he does things like this on Thanksgiving. He was pleased to hear that.

The day promises to be a success, particularly so if I get out of my pajamas and maybe get a workout in of some kind. I fell off the workout train in the middle of this semester, and what better day to get back on?

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9:15am, but first, the only protein I will eat all day and a view of the potatoes in the crockpot, which are starting to spread their starchy aroma around the kitchen.

10:49am

Workouts are done. Mom eats peanut butter and celery. The self-discipline here is just overwhelming.

This is the part of the morning where everyone wants a snack but doesn’t want to ruin their appetite for the late lunch of the century.

Just to give you an idea of what this will be like, there are three households contributing food… for nine people. 7 adults, and 2 children. There will be three pies (banana cream, pumpkin, and pecan), one meringue cake, and marshmallow fluff (which is NOT considered a dessert by table standards, only by sugar content). There will be turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, acorn squash and apples, Russian potato salad, a wild rice dish, quinoa salad with kale, cranberry sauce, challah bread, cornbread dressing, green beans, and the plethora of desserts already mentioned.

We will be full in twenty minutes. But it’s all about the experience (and the leftovers).

11:34am

Those potatoes smell so good. SO good. Like, would anyone notice if I dipped my fork into the crockpot a few times? Not that I would do that. It’s just a question.

12:18pm

My mom says these exact words, “I just can’t tell you how many times in the past week I’ve unwrapped a stick of butter… and another… and another.”

Good things are coming. When I came home, she’d already done a lot of the cooking and baking for today. There were 13 sticks of butter in the fridge. Today (two days later), there are 7 left.

This is telling.

1:32pm

Everything has gone in the oven or been heated. The place cards are ready, the green beans are steaming. Guests are coming soon.

4:05pm

Lunch has been consumed, leftovers have been divided up. Now Dad is organizing a nerf gun war. He’s making us all make targets and shoot them.

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7:12pm

It’s all over.

We ate a little of everything, talked, made targets for a nerf gun competition, and ate pie, and fought a nerf gun fight.

I’m thankful for this tradition and for a day to reflect on what I’m thankful for. Gratitude is for every day, but it’s good to have a day set aside for thankfulness.

And potatoes and pie.

And maybe nerf guns.

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Public blessings.


Since I’ve got under two weeks til I head back to school in Chitown, I’ve been packing my days full of people. I’ll have you for breakfast, you for lunch, and you for half apps. And you, we’ll do something active because I’ve been eating a whole lot.

Audrey and I have been cruising all over town to meet up with treasured friends. I’ve been reminded of a few things over these past couple weeks.

1. I need people. Without people, I lose perspective. When I don’t tell my stories and hear others’ stories, I forget where my life fits into the grand scheme. Not that I can’t find any significance in my life on my own, but it’s hard to see your life from the outside. I had no idea that story was so funny until I shared it with you. You have given me joy in my story. My people sometimes rejoice at the mundane or marvel at the perplexing. It’s a gift.

2. Though friendship across many miles and phases of life can be difficult, it’s rewarding, too. Sure, sometimes you need to let people fly to the people who are really theirs now, but sometimes your fight to hang onto each other has strengthens your friendships and increases its value.

3. Fiction is no substitute for reality. As much as I enjoy my books and tv shows and imaginings, they lack the real dimensions. You can’t talk to a fictional character and have them respond. (If you can, that’s a problem.) They can’t commiserate and be compassionate or laugh with you until the people around you are probably wondering if you’re sober or not. (you totally are) Fictional people can’t point out your quirks (like apparently how I unintentionally flirted with a barista-man and another guy I didn’t know… when I just thought I was being awkwardly friendly) and tell you they think you’re wonderful because of them.

This post is more for me than anything else. Sometimes you need to count your blessings in public so that you have something to look back on.

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.

Lovely and more lovely.


It almost felt casual to say I was going to Germany for the weekend. “Sorry I won’t be checking my email for a couple days. I’m just visiting a friend in Germany for the weekend.”

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(there she is, my beautiful, wise friend in her carrot apron in her kitchen, ready to make pizza dough with me)
Ellen and I marveled these past couple days about our new norm, that you can just pop over to another country for church or a picnic or a weekend reunion.
I’ll have spent about 20 hours on the train by the time I arrive in Graz this evening, but even though I’ll have travel face, I’ll be refreshed in my heart and my head and my eyes.
My eyes are wide, and my hands are open in the newness. The past few months, I’ve reveled in different and new and unusual. So this weekend, my heart and my mind and my soul reveled in familiar and known.
Ellen taught at my high school and lead a Bible study for the girls in my grade when we were seniors. Perhaps because I never had her as a teacher, she always felt more like a revered, admirable, wise friend than a superior adult. She would ask about the details and was interested in seeing our hearts.
So, naturally, when I found that I would be only a ten-hour train ride from her, it made sense to book the ticket as soon as possible.
We talked and talked (and I think we wore her voice out since she’s fighting a cold… But that didn’t lessen the conversation quality) over tea and coffee, over pizza, over crêpes and trail mix, because the best bonding is done with sustenance and with substance. Good content and good things to nibble and sip.
My normal now, as an adult, as a student, as an international traveler, is that I spend weekends hiking in the Black Forest with a young woman who has influenced me and made pie with me and talked through challenges and joys and questions with me. We then about things that we wanted to bring back to our lives in the States with us, and I think we’d both agree that we want this openness to newness and adventure to be part of it, along with a desire to be more of who God is making us to be through those experiences.
It was anything but casual to spend a weekend with my friend, Ellen. Casual experiences leave you unchanged, but I leave with joy and freshness and leftover pizza. I leave with lightness of heart and new eyes.
I’m glad that I can surround myself (if not in proximity, in influence) with people who help me see differently and invite me to think differently and remind me what’s important.
I’m leaving on a train, about to go through the Alps (but not stare at them for too long because apparently that gives you motion sickness… Who knew?) and back to my other life. And I thank God for this weekend, for a whirlwind trip to Germany, for good food, for thoughtful and hospitable friends (and their kind friends), for making connections, and for His great planning.
These kinds of weekends are no coincidence.

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.

 

Salty and more


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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.

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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.

My food people.


I wrote an article for RELEVANT, kind of hoping that they would snatch it right up and declare it the best piece they’ve ever had submitted. But alas, they already had an article on the same subject ready to go.

Oh well. Better results next time, perhaps.

So, instead I read my eyeballs out for American literature and wrote a short story while sitting on the deck on the third floor of my building. It’s sunny and in the high 60s today, which is a welcome introduction into spring weather. I think I got a little pink while I sat out there with my laptop, typing away about two old guys who are regulars at a coffee shop.

It’s probably not an amazing story, but sometimes you just have to sit down and write something that you might know a little something about, even if it’s mediocre. Because if you try to write something you know nothing about, then it will not only not be amazing, it might really stink.

Here’s the other news: we’re talking about what an American is in my American lit class. It’s funny because most of the people in there are European, so there’s a very different lens than I’m used to. Also, I’m realizing that I’m not sure what an American is. I’m not sure what we are historically or if you can even put a label on what is really “American.” I like what one of Dickens’ character who traveled a lot said; rather than being from a specific place, he was “a citizen of the world.”

I also like cookies. So I decided to bake some, because baking feels like home, even though all the tools and ingredients are foreign.

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Meet Austrian ingredients. Can you read any of that? Kudos if you can. Also note the recipe with grams as a measurement. WHAT?DSCN5519

The lovely dough balls, waiting to have a chemical reaction in the oven.DSCN5520Mother dough lump.

The after picture of the cookies is basically the same shape as the before picture. They weren’t anything particularly beautiful, but my flatmate said that they were “soooo good.” And I think I agree.

On the list of great food items of the past 24 hours: crêpes. Yes, crêpes. Made by a French person and eaten with French people. And a Canadian. And a West Virginian.DSCN5528

Photographic evidence of friendships. I think true friends eat together, and this group embraces that. We hadn’t even gotten up from the table before planning what we were going to eat together next.

Oh, I like food people.

 

The third annual spectacular Thanksgiving post


[Yes, I know Thanksgiving was a few days ago, but this is when I had time to post. So you can just continue the celebration with me!]

I know you’ve waited for this all year long. You’ve been wondering what my family is going to cook this year and whether or not I’ll go rollerblading again.

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Here’s the answer to the rollerblading question: no. I’m still in my pajamas and am sore from kickboxing and yogaing yesterday. In this picture, I’m sitting in my pajamas trying to figure out why Photo Booth won’t work.

Instead of working out, I’m getting a jumpstart on the Thanksgiving post.

It’s 10:54am, and I’m thankful that I get to be with my family this week. I’m thankful for how supportive they are, that they laugh at my jokes, that they listen to my stories, that they’re all so gung-ho about food, that we have great conversation together, and that they’re seeking God everyday.

It’s 12:24, and I’m thankful for butter, even when we spill it in its liquid form on the floor. I can’t say I like it on my feet as much as in my mouth, but I like butter. Our crew will be here in 36 minutes, and all we have left to do is steam the green beans. Hopefully we haven’t forgotten anything.

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circa 12:50pm, getting a few last minute things cooked.DSCN1740

got a small kitchen? use the living room.DSCN1743

Confetti is a must. Those are little turkeys. We found it all over when we started cleaning up later. DSCN1744

be thankful in technicolor. It’s better than black and white.
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Two best ingredients in the whole meal: garlic and butter. DSCN1752

MY favorite dish: starch, butter, and salt.DSCN1759

The pilgrims wait with a fire for the guests to arrive.DSCN1760

I drew a pretty picture.DSCN1762

gobble, gobble, thanks. I only had a brown and blue piece of chalk, so that’s the best I could do. Not bad, eh?DSCN1763

Green beans, steam away.DSCN1767

The plethora of dessert options.DSCN1771

Eating and conversing. Best pastime there is.DSCN1779The boys asked at least five times (while the rest of us were still eating our first helping of real food) when we could cut the dessert. Finally, at least an hour after their first asking, they got their wish!

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And they finished their first AND second plates of dessert before the rest of us even sat down with ours. They got a sugar high pretty quickly.DSCN1783MMM.

As much as I’m thankful for my extended family, I’m thankful that I get to spend Thanksgiving with some people who feel like family. For the past 8 years, we’ve spent Thanksgiving with this family (and this year, we got to meet one of my dad’s co-workers as well!). They do food and conversation better than most, and I’m thankful that they’ve been a part of our lives for so long (even longer than that!)

God knows what He’s doing when He brings people into our paths through piano lessons and babysitting opportunities that lead to lifelong friendships (well, it’s been around for most of my life).

And now we head into December, push right into the Christmas season. I’ll take my thankfulness with me, because it’s too nice to leave behind in November.