Where I fit

I’ve decided in the past few weeks that Minnesota is my state – not solely mine, but a place that is mine. I wasn’t sure before if there was anywhere that was mine, but I’ve realized Minnesota is it. What does it mean to have a homeland? My parents didn’t originate from anywhere near Minnesota, so it’s not where your family is from. Alabama and Colorado are certainly not my homelands.

If you go farther back, well, what country did your family come from? I honestly can’t tell you for certain. We’ve been here since pre-Revolution. I think we were in Scotland and Britain before then, just judging by the names I’ve found in my family tree, but it’s so far back that it hardly seems to matter.

I’m the only one in my entire family – ever, that I know of – to be born in Minnesota. Brooke (though technically a Jersey girl) and I have lived the epitome of Minnesota suburban girl lives: played soccer for a limited time, skated on the lakes, went sledding and playing in the snow til our snow pants were drenched, made countless snow forts and snowmen, have had innumerable mosquito bites all over our bodies, have been “Up North” to friends’ cabins and to summer camp, have known how to canoe and kayak for ages, never cock an eyebrow in confusion when someone references “the lake.”

“The lake” doesn’t refer to a particular lake, for all you non-Minnesotans. To Chicagoans, it means Lake Michigan. To Minnesotans, it refers to whatever particular lake you happen to be near or were near at the time of the story. And, just for bragging rights, Minnesota may be called “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but we actually have more. HA.

Anyways, back to belonging. I belong in Minnesota. But is it just because I was born here? No. Is it because I embody the typical Minnesotan spirit? Well, I only imitate the accent and sometimes slip into it by accident (Uffdah, ware gunna take tha boat owt on the laaayke fur a spin. You betcha, hun. Than ware gunna eat sum lootafisk an’ put it in a bayg), but I do really live it up in the summers (Minnesotans spend nearly all of their time outside during the summer. Summer is defined as any time period where the weather is 55 or above and there is no snow on the ground nor any forecasted) and am proud to brave winters where temperatures plunge thirty below zero – and windchill is colder. I beat around the bush when I talk (less so after my time in Austria, where people are much more direct) and can sugarcoat anything to make it sound nicer.

Is that what makes me belong here? Maybe partly. I think it’s mostly because I fit with the people here, though. Whether I’m like them or not, we get along. I like the communities I’ve found in my church, in my retail job, in my former high school friends, and with the strangers I meet who will shiver and talk about the bitter cold wind with me though I don’t know them from Adam. That can’t be said for every place I go. This spirit gets you strange looks in other parts of the world. Not that we can’t adapt to fit elsewhere, but this is home.

This post might be more for me than for you. I declare – Minnesota is home! It doesn’t mean I’m not getting back on the plane back to Chicago next semester and again in the fall. It doesn’t mean I’ll never have a beach home in Florida (even though with my anticipated paycheck, that’s unlikely). But I know where I fit, for whatever that’s worth right now.

Ashley’s Fourth Annual Thanksgiving-a-palooza

Today I’m thinking about how people say they don’t like holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas because sure, they’re days of gratitude and good cheer but we should be living like that every day.

They’re right, of course. So astute to realize that we pick and choose when we want to be happy, gracious, grateful people.

So, that being said, we have work to do, don’t we? If our gardens have been growing weeds of discontent and bad will towards men, we have some new seeds to sow, some ground to be worked, some hoeing and weeding and planting and watering.

In my Thanksgiving-a-palooza, I’m going to try to do some weeding and planting, to weave gratitude into my day.

Yesterday, when our Thanksgiving preparation really began in earnest, baking pies and making cherry-cranberry sauce and making glorified rice (aka marshmallow fluff, as Stella & Brian’s boys call it), and washing lots of dishes. By the time I got home form my haircut, my mom had done most of that. So I used my dish washing skills acquired from four semesters without a dishwasher to help.


I helped with the pies a little bit and made the butternut squash soup for last night’s dinner. But basically, my mom, the powerhouse of a chef, made everything. I can take very little credit.


I’m thankful for my mom, who taught me how to cook and encouraged me to try new foods, when my diet used to consist of even less than it does now.

And now, for the actual day:

8:00am isn’t really sleeping in, but of course, my parents were up and dressed and planning their workout by the time I got to the kitchen at 8:10. My college culture would be impressed that I got up at 8 on a holiday, totally voluntarily. I set an alarm. But my parents are middle-aged, so it’s actually kind of like sleeping in.

Someday, this will be my life.

9:36am found me as the only one not at the gym, drinking coffee and typing my first draft of this post, which Google Chrome promptly deleted when it crashed.

Whatever. This one will be better.

I brushed my teeth then roused myself from my position drinking coffee at the kitchen table to brush my teeth (pictured below to prove that I did it), then to kickbox so I don’t feel like the lazy bum of the family.


And now that I have dressed myself, I’ve been drinking water to stave off hunger and getting ready to go to the Sick’s house.

Photo on 11-27-14 at 11.32 AM #2

I’m thankful for this tradition and looking forward to catching up with their family.


Update: It’s cold here, in case you didn’t know. It was -3° when I woke up. It’s deceptive because it’s so bright and happy looking out there.




It’s all over.

We’ve eaten, we’ve drunk, we’ve eaten dessert, we’ve sat and talked and looked at photo albums and talked some more and divided up all the leftovers. Then we talked some more, and Dad fell asleep, so we took that as a sign that we needed to go home.


There’s a candid for you. This was post-eating, nearly.

2Sometimes pie isn’t enough, so you and your brother decide that you’re going to put jelly beans on the floor and do push-ups to get them into your mouths. Exertion and reward.

Also, when young boys bring nerf guns out, old men become young boys again. Remember, this man has two daughters, precious little of this kind of thing in his life.


IMG_2509Yes, it was a lovely day.

Then we got our tree down from the attic and tried to put the box back in, which resulted in my dad almost getting his head stuck with the box. But it’s all good, because he still has his head, and we got our tree up.

I’m thankful for good conversation today, for people who are striving to live meaningful lives and are likewise impacting mine by their example, for sweet little boys who aren’t really so little any more but play minecraft and laugh contagiously when they are trying not to get shot with a nerf gun. I’m thankful for good food and leftovers and a full fridge.

This will sound callous compared to being thankful for people, but I’m really thankful for cheese. Thanksgiving is one meal of the year that doesn’t really include cheese, and though I get full and happy, I always end up needing cheese later. I’m thankful that I’m not vegan.

Gratitude is always most truly due to the God who saves, which is an active verb in the present tense. I’m thankful for the Gospel, for true relationship with Jesus, and for God’s presence throughout the whole of my journey.

I’m also thankful for my readers, for the people who take time to think with me and laugh with me. I’m thankful that people find at least a portion of what I write interesting and relevant. I’m thankful for the gift of words!

With that, I begin another year of cultivating gratitude. May our gardens be sown with contentment, joy, and cups that flow over no matter how much we have.




Now that I’m back on US turf, I had to give the journey a new theme and take the parenthetical [In Austria] out of the title. It’s just a journey now. Doesn’t matter where I physically am.

Well, it sort of does matter where I physically am though. Because my heart is so happy to be home. And I love my own bed, that doesn’t sag in the middle and has my pillows and sheets. And I love being back with my parents and in territory where people speak English consistently. Being in church this morning was pure joy. Oh Jesus, thank you for my church back.

But my heart misses Graz and all the people I met there. The girls in the photo are just a couple of them. I’ve got new friends from all over now.

It’s not even just missing the tangibles though. I miss my life there. I’d just built one. I know now why people say you should go abroad for a whole year. I’d really just settled into my routine and my life when I left. Five months really isn’t long enough, but let’s be honest, I would be so much less than broke right now if I had been there a year. Also, I would miss America and my American people so much. Maybe when I’m not 20 I can do that. I do have limits, contrary to popular belief. ;)

I can think of all the cliches to talk about how I wish I could be in two places at once, to lead a double life, to bob my head like Jeannie and be back in Graz then come back here again in the blink of an eye.

So much better to leave wanting to be there than to leave thinking, “Whew, glad that’s over.”

I’m lagging. My heart and head are still in Graz, I think. Or maybe they are starting to migrate home, but it will take them longer than my body. I also got a huge wave of exhaustion when it hit about 4:00pm today and my body thought it was 11:00pm. That’s another type of lagging.

But the good thing about lagging is that it’s curable. Little more sleep, little bit of rest, little bit of contemplation about how I incorporate my two lives, little bit of coffee, lots of bits of Jesus, little haircut, and I think I’ll be good as new.

New. Because I am new. Newer. New and improved, for the most part. Just lagging.

Parts of my heart.

I’ll be home in about eight and a half days. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance behind that statement, partly because I still don’t understand how air travel works (ya get on the plane in one place and get off in another… what?) and partly because there are so many pages to be written and little tasks to complete before I can leave that I feel the time must be longer.

But it’s not.

I find myself breathing a little deeper and walking a little slower and gazing a little longer. I’m trying to soak up the “old world” feel and whatever other intangibles make Graz the place it is. I’m trying to figure out how the heck I can fit all my belongings in my suitcase again… and have it not be overweight.

I just wrote three paragraphs asking myself where “home” is, but it got rambly, so I deleted it. It seems to me that the more places you go and the more people you meet from other places, the more your heart gets spread out. I’m sure this is true to a greater extent for TCKs and people who live in more places for longer periods of time, but I’m 20. This is what I’ve got.

And you’re still a whole person, you just have to reach farther to feel parts of you. Oh, that part of my heart is in Costa Rica. That part is in India. I left that part in Budapest, even though I was only there for a weekend. I know. I fall in love quickly. That part’s in Panama. That part that’s shaped like a baguette in in France. That part’s in Upper Austria. That part’s in Salzburg. That part’s in Chicago. That huge chunk is in Minnesota. That part is in San Diego. That part is spread out on every mountain I’ve ever been on. That part’s in Graz.

I think this is good, even though there’s a sort of fragmented sense to it all, because you don’t have to look in just one place to find yourself. You can find yourself just about anywhere. You see your reflection in the people all over the place, and that helps you to connect.

That might not make any sense. As I’ve said earlier this week, I’m running out of words. I’ll have to get back to you on this later.

With that, I’d better fuel up and use my remaining store of words on my Gothic Fiction paper.

Things I miss.

You knew it was coming eventually. I love Austria. I love it so much, and I’m so happy to be here. Really. We all clear on that? Ist das klar? I hope that was correct German.

There are just some things that I miss, some more than others. It’s nothing too debilitating, but I still miss them. No sugar coating here. This is real life. I miss:

  • not having to ration my American peanut butter
  • having a bed that’s higher than a foot off the floor
  • wifi in my house (I use ethernet here, so I’m basically connected to the wall)
  • all the options for curly hair gel I enjoy at home
  • the English language being on signs and stuff
  • knowing where things are
  • my churches… Oh, this one’s almost debilitating.
  • having ads on youtube in English
  • my people
  • my butter
  • white cheddar cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, wildflower cheddar cheese
  • colby cheese
  • big grocery stores. Call me American, but I miss having options for everything
  • dollars
  • having a job
  • having a paycheck
  • my campus
  • Chicago
  • Minnesota
  • snow (a little bit but not too much)
  • being able to call anyone I wanted to on my phone
  • being able to read the washing machines
  • macaroni and cheese. ’nuff said.
  • Minnesotan radio stations where the hosts don’t talk in German
  • my rollerblades (because people here wear them to go places and it makes my heart sad)
  • Audrey and having control of the vehicle I’m in
  • lakes
  • easy communication
  • screens on windows
  • bathtubs
  • garbage disposals
  • my study Bible
  • my coffee mugs
  • my French Toast Club
  • mochas
  • ranch dressing even though it’s so bad for you
  • Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant (basically all the legal ways to stream video)
  • my hair stylist who knows my hair and speaks fluent English (and Mandarin… not that I need her to speak Mandarin. It just adds cool points)
  • Greek yogurt
  • toast
  • being in a place where Ben & Jerry’s pints aren’t €6… not that I buy them there either, but it’s just nice to know I could afford them if I wanted one
  • ATMs that aren’t Bankomats. They just aren’t as good.
  • elevators that don’t induce claustrophobia
  • air conditioning
  • Tide and Downy
  • “The customer is always right” and “service with a smile” mentality
  • American toothpaste

I could go on. And I could also make a partner list of things that are better in Austria. Sometimes, you just need to be honest about the things you miss and move on with your life.

Moving right along…

Blister recovery day.

Screenshot 2014-02-26 12.11.44

Today is blister recovery day. My many kilometers of walking in the past week and a half have finally caught up with me (in more than just the sore legs). My poor feet, who were relatively unused in Minnesota except to drive with, sprouted some very large blisters a few days ago. I decided to ignore them and keep walking since I had things to do, people to see, and forms to turn in. After this abuse, however, the blisters got to the point where they needed some care last night, and though I won’t share the gory details, my feet are taking a break today.

I’ve got band-aids on my heels and have promised myself to not walk more than a couple kilometers in shoes today. Something about shoes is just irritating to them, I guess.

So, today is the day I stay home. I keep learning German on Duolingo (amazing how much you can learn in a few minutes!), I eat a – hopefully – balanced diet that doesn’t include too much bread, and write letters. I’m also going to make a flyer to put up in the English department saying, “Need a native English speaker to proofread your papers??” It should be a hit.

I’ve decided to also make a list of things I want to do before I leave. This way I can have goals for the days when I have no responsibilities.

Even days at home can have purpose. Fortunately, I have a lovely window with plenty of sunshine and fresh air to keep me sane today. And if I get desperate, there’s a bank, a grocery store, and a bakery two minutes away from here. My feet should be able to take that.

Travel adventures.

Bus, train, plane, car. It takes all of these to get me home for Thanksgiving. It’s an adventure all on its own, a test of my sign-reading skills.
Of course, with this many types of transportation involved, I always leave at least a half hour before I need to, just because you never know when the train will be rerouted or the bus will run someone over (not that unlikely if you’ve seen the way some of them drive).
So I’m just chilling at the gate, watching all the commercials about Chicago. (its second to none, just in case you didn’t know) and observing all the people at my gate.
People at airports are always interesting. Today we’ve got a group of women with matching wooden cross necklaces who have been talking about what they’re going to do when they get home: “shower and get these clothes off.” I take it they’ve been traveling for a while now, probably from some sort of mission trip. Either way, I hope they get their showers soon. There’s the classic family with a stroller and baby to match. The baby is already in pajamas, which doubles the cuteness factor.
Then there are the rest of us, all glued to our mobile devices.
Even the white haired lady in the blue-green outfit is on her iPhone.
I’m just like the rest of them, really. I paid half an arm and a leg for a cup of caffeine and am being social with my thumbs. So strange to sit with these people for an couple hours before we part forever, each going back to our own lives.
Then there’s this precious woman pushing one of those manual vacuums. Oh, God bless her. Lady, you are the reason why this is a pleasant place.
Welcome to my gate, folks.

Strengths of the homeland.

DSCN4896 DSCN4899This is my homeland.  This is the state where – in January – there are only breaks in the whiteness for roads and trees.  That’s it.  Snow covers nearly everything.

Then you fly into Illinois, my second home, where brown is the prominent color of the ground for the last 30 minutes of the flight.

As much as I love Chicago, snow is necessary in winter.  It covers up the deadness, makes everything just a bit brighter, a bit more pretty until the weather warms up enough to have green plants back.

This morning, when I was in Minnesota (boy, that seems ages ago), my pastor was talking about persevering, not giving up, being strong, etc.  It struck me that it was a pertinent message to all of us who suffer through the long periods of below zero temperatures.  When everything is frozen outside, it helps to have a little spark in your soul, a little voice in the back of your mind that reminds you to keep pressing on.  I have so many friends who consider themselves wimps in wintertime… yet they still live in Minnesota and venture out when it’s cold.

I think there’s a certain added depth of character from dealing with inclement weather (I’ll be gracious and extend this to others who have to deal with severe heat, wind, or meteor showers).  Maybe I’d just like to think that since I’m one of that bunch.  But, really, there is a certain resilience and strength commonly found in extreme climates and not as commonly elsewhere.

So many reasons to be proud of my homeland.


Waiting to be home.


This is my view today. It’s raining, so my baggy, men’s flannel pants are more than appropriate. There’s a bookcase to my left, and boxes and suitcases and lamps and bicycles all around.
This is moving day.
The three of us barely fit in here. On top of that, our conversation has to be squeezed into all the nooks and crannies of the vehicle. Gun control is under the driver’s seat, gender roles are in the glove compartment, injustice is on top of the bookcase, and comic relief is in my backpack.
We’re waiting for the car to take us to a place where there’s snow, and it feels like Christmas. We’re waiting for a world where love is the reigning news story. We’re waiting to be home.
Home in the sense of the place where our souls belong. Home, as in the place where there is no fear, and God lives in the middle of everything that goes on.
We’ll just say we have a long ways to go, but hope is not lost.

Hey, free laundry.

Brooke and I traveled home today.

Can I repeat that?  I’m home.  HOME.  Where the fridge is stocked with hummus, real cream, real salsa, real butter, and lots of other real food.  It’s where my parents show us pictures of their cruise, and when we say they’re tan they just laugh.  (they really are tan… especially compared to their ghostly daughters)  It’s where my sister and her boyfriend make Glorified Rice (aka marshmallows and jello and pineapple with rice).

It’s where we have a bathtub and nice carpet.  And where someone makes dinner for 4 people, thus the food still has flavor.

And Jesus still came home with me.

And the laundry’s free.

I’m a big fan of this place.  I’m a big fan of sitting on the couch in the living room and discussing a book with my dad.  I’m a big fan of the place where my mom rubs my back for 20 minutes when I tell her that when I wake up I feel as sore as if I’ve been lifting weights in my sleep.

It smells good here.  And I think that good smells in and of themselves are enough to make your soul feel at home.  Nothing like a familiar scent to notify your olfactory senses that you are in your natural habitat.

Deep breaths of home.  I’m filling myself up with home, with love, with good food, and with all the things that I love.

Hey, I think I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight.