tuesday triumphs

February 26, 2013

tuesday triumphs
I’m afraid the inspiration for this end-of-the-day activity came from my own need to make some sense of the day for myself. But I think it ended up being meaningful for the students too . . . some of them, at least :-)

little things

February 25, 2013

The little things that made the big thing [my first full day in the classroom] a little bit more manageable . . .
• A fresh pineapple: brought to me last night by my neighbor as a “thinking about you” gift. With the firework madness that the Lantern festival brought, she wanted to make sure that I was handling it alright. Incidentally, it did not occur to me till after I had arrived that it was tremendously ironic to be making my home in a firework-obsessed culture, considering the origin of the booms in my last home . . .
• A pot of vaseline: left in my staffroom mailbox by a coworker who had heard me bemoaning the discovery that my go-to dry skin staple is not to be found in stores here.
• A hot water bottle: also left in my mailbox today, by another coworker with whom I’d had a dinner conversation about our shared love of hot water bottles, considered odd by most around us.
• Two carefully wrapped wildflower bouquets: presented to me after recess by shyly-smiling youngsters in my class.
Trusting that tomorrow will bring similar graces. Lord knows that without them I’d be utterly overwhelmed!

[pedal]ing? [pedal] on

February 23, 2013

Now that I have just regained access to my own blog, working around internet restrictions, I figured I should restart the blogging journey by explaining a bit about one of this things I am smitten with at the moment.
• Biking. That is where it’s at for life here. Only 3 full days into life here, and I have already biked all over town. I say that as if it were the most matter-of-fact thing I could be doing, but the truth of it is that you take your life into your own hands when on a bike here. As my boss told me, off-handedly, as we finished our meeting yesterday, “Oh, and by the way, you will get hit by a car here. At some point, it will happen . . .”
And you know, it didn’t strike me as the least bit odd when he said that. In the 2 days I’d had on a bike at that point, I figured it would be true. I am no fearless biker, either. Frankly, being on a bicycle brings out my most weanie self. But I have had no choice, if I want to get around here, so have just hopped on and enjoyed [?] the ride. If it weren’t for the fact that I had to see where I was going, I’d probably have my eyes squeezed shut as I go, pretending I was not careening in and out of streams of honking cars, dodging pedestrians, or screeching to a halt behind another bicyclist who has just stopped abruptly.
So far, people have been borrowing bikes for me to use, so as I was visiting with a friend in her flat this morning, admiring her orchid [while I eagerly anticipate my own first orchid purchase], we were planning who I could borrow from for our meeting tonight.
An hour later, I called her from the bus I was on at the time: “Hey Val, never mind about asking Amy for her bike—I’m on my way now to buy one!”
It was top of my list of necessities by this point, so I figured it was meant to be when I ran into another coworker at a café. “How are you getting around?” she had asked. When I told her I’d been borrowing bikes, she offered to go with me to a bike shop. Another friend joined the party, so that one could bus there with me while the other went by bike, to bike back after I’d made my purchase. When we arrived, however, it turns out that a nicer bike on sale caught the eye of my biking friend. Sold. I bought her bike from her, we shared the purchase of a few new locks [bike theft is extremely commonplace here], and we all headed happily home from the outing.
On the way home [yes, still wondering at any given moment if I am still in the land of the living], we talked about the ups and downs of living an international life. I nearly crashed into her as we talked, apologized for my inability to multitask efficiently, and I almost said I should stop conversing as we went. But then I figured, you know, I might be just as well off if I keep my mind off what is happening around me at the moment, lest I get a bit panicky . . .
But we made it, congratulated ourselves for the successful transaction, and now I’m feeling happily independent, ready to transport myself to this evening’s event and to the morning service :-)

spiderman at the convent

February 16, 2013

That’s what I get, I guess . . . you get what you pray for? On the drive up, we prayed for the trip. I asked that God would make it what He wanted it to be, what with my mindset not feeling particularly centered. I felt more inclined towards packing preparations and future worries than towards what I wanted to be: intentionally focused on Lenten reflection. This prayer was almost a challenge, as well, considering the brevity of this one-night retreat. How, God, am I going to get to any reasonably reflective state of mind in just a few hours time? So yes, do with it what You will . . .
What He wills has not been what I expected. It is indeed a peaceful space. And we have a “room with a view,” as we joked, settling in.
“To our room with a view, go me and you . . . How do you do?” I spouted as we walked up with our bags. Before dinner we went for a hike around the property. The temperature had dropped significantly since we left, so I pulled out my hat as B bemoaned the fact that she had forgotten hers. Instead she wrapped her scarf around her head. “Does it look like a turban? she asked me.
“Um, kind of . . . well no, not really.”
By the time we had finished the loop, we had warmed up significantly. “Was that really 45 minutes?” we wondered, referring to what we had been told when we checked it. Closer to 20 minutes, actually, even at our decidedly ambling pace . With time to spare before dinner, we figured we should follow the sign leading to the convent. We noticed the way the circular window imitated the moon, in front of a dusky sky, then walked in to discover we had arrived in the middle of afternoon prayer.
“Lord, we beseech thee, hear our prayer.”
We spoke the prayers, and we sang the canticles.
Then, cheeks flushed with the winter air, we power-walked back to the dining hall. “Are you sure it’s that early?” B asked after wondering about the time.
“Yes,” I assured her. “It’s been the eternal afternoon.”
Shortly thereafter, we laughed with our dining companions over one lady’s struggle to make it though a weekend spent here of vegan cuisine and no caffeine. She said she had tried to escape for pizza and beer, but that her roommate had not allowed it.
We here this weekend are under no such restrictions. Turns out the quilting convention was a bit confused about our menu, however: they thought we were having two soups for dinner. But no, it was actually seafood chowder with butternut squash salad [not soup]. Plus pie. And coffee :-)
Later, I intended to read one of the books in our bedroom library, but was distracted by the quilting commotion. Simply could not resist admiring the projects underway, some intended to land at a homeless shelter. And how could I not laugh, once more, at the sight of a spiderman pillowcase?
Yes, what You will . . .

chickens, & a duck

February 14, 2013


Last year I spent one week of my winter holiday with one of the families that has blessed my life greatly over the years. We spent a great deal of that time in various active endeavors, hiking around New Zealand and reflecting on life as we knew it—on a life of faith.
It was T’s question that spurred me to pinpoint a sort of theme of that year: the realization that “God deals with me gently.” The more I dwelt on that statement of my own mind, and the more I lived through that year, the more the truth of it struck home to me.
Now, as my interim time—my “vacation” time—draws to a close, it occurred to me that I have not thought much of an intentional stepping-into mindset for this next year. In some ways I feel guilty about this, as if that’s the least of what I should have to show for this month. Such a long chunk of time, it seems, to have no working identity. But the time has somehow disappeared in a whirl of activity. And some days, I really have felt as if I have little to show for a day: over-stressing over an errand I’ve been assigned for our household; a series of eye-drops & salve to be administered a various hours; an interaction over whether we need to check on the neighbor who’s had unusual lights on in her house; shoelaces tied in the morning & shoes pulled off in the evening . . . and the day is done.
But somehow, even when I have little, tangibly, to show for the time, a deeper sense of meaning has kept me grounded over the month. A knowledge, I guess, that I do not need to know the grand scheme of my purpose when it comes to daily life with those I am most deeply tied to—with my family. They have given themselves up for me for 33 years. There is no way I could ever repay that debt; but maybe I should not call it that. Now I find my purpose in loving them [sometimes feeling I do a better job at this than others!]. Maybe, in a similar way, their lives were given purpose by the knowledge that we—my siblings and I—needed them for our life breath. May my life breath now be a living tribute to what their lives have been.
But back to the New Year’s musings: It just hit me that, as I was about to apologize for my delayed New Year reflection, it is in fact not delayed; for this is the New Year for my new [in a few short days’ time, some of those feeling not-so-short, thanks to long flight misery!] home. So, smiling now at my amusement over that realization, I carry on ☺
When I told T, a year ago, of my “gently” statement, she paid me a huge compliment. I had been trying to explain to her that God had been gentle to me because I needed it—that my outwardly adventurous life was really not that at all . . . I am not, in fact, adventurous. T told me that she didn’t think I needed to be, in order to step out in life, but that she thought I was brave. Brave. What a beautiful thought, when all I am feeling is fearful.
But that is ok. I can sit with—and move with—feeling fearful. Because the truth of my life is that I am loved and cared for. Not for any good reason. Just because. A friend once told me that when she was struggling with her sense of self, she would sometimes ask her husband why he loved her. I feel in some ways similar, in that I find myself asking God why He loves me so—why He keeps taking care of me.
See, what looks like adventurousness in my life has often been, in fact, impulsiveness. I have acted brashly, so many times. And so many times, I have been watched over, cared for, provided for . . . loved.
I want to love back.
As I step into this new year, I do so with the confidence that the unknown will include a community of care. I will be in a place where I can to the work I have been entrusted with, where I can care for the children I am responsible for, and where it will be in the context of a daily community of mutual respect and love.
I choose to live a life of extravagant love. I choose to manage my own practical life in such a way that I have the freedom to invest in daily enjoyment of the people in it. I choose to be with people who want to be around each other because they enjoy the company, and presence, of another mortal soul. May my life be about love—not compensation, or gain.
I choose to walk around the block, on a day of miserable weather, simply because we feel like looking at chickens. Simply because there is a value in reconnecting as friends, and of discussing the appeal of raising chickens of one’s own. “But I think it would be impractical,” L sighs. “I just don’t know if my boys, being the way they are at this age: I don’t know if we could handle it . . .” But it was a worthwhile way to spend a portion of the day, nonetheless, tossing around the idea.
I remember my childhood love affair with all manner of pets.
“I had a duckling once,” I comment. L looks surprised. So I tell her how, shortly after we moved to the U.S., I convinced my mother to let me bring home a duckling from a roadside stand we passed.
“Wow, your mom was patient!” L exclaims.
True, I realize, reflecting on the months of housing my feathered friend in the bathtub. Of taking him on walks in our yard, and of harvesting wild strawberries for him to eat.
“I was very proud of his name,” I add.
L looks at me expectantly.
“Quackerjack,” I pronounce, with gusto.
She laughs, with gratifying appreciation. “You would think of a name like that,” she notes.
Yes, I am ready to be in a daily community of friends again. Of people who notice and appreciate each other, but who also allow space for limitations, weaknesses, and social overload.
And in the meantime, I will make the most of those I have here . . .


[continued from previous blog post]
The day turned into yet another chapter in the cars-with-PaCharley novel: first thing in the morning, I had to ask him to rescue me from what I assumed to be a dead battery. Instead of heading straight for the jumper cables, however, my grandfather suggested we try another fix first, the battery being as new as it was. We unscrewed the connections and scraped off ashy corrosion before re-hooking the wires. When I asked why, PaCharley explained that sometimes corrosion can interfere with the battery’s firing. Sure enough, the car started right up after that. As I laughed at the unexpected fix, he said, “Now I normally require something for my service. A hug will do.” That was an easy payment to offer ☺
Waylaid slightly from my intended schedule for the day, next stop was the grocery store. I jump on any chance for a deal. As my mother always says, “It was on sale—I had to buy it!” This was a day on which my creativity could garner shopping points: the invitation to make a valentine for the store translated, in my mind, to an excuse to write a silly poem. I did so, “making the day” of the store clerk and getting a dollar off my purchase.
Hopping back in the car, I turned the key. Click. Oh no. My heart sunk for a moment, panicking at the thought of being stranded. Then I caught my own reaction. Wait a sec, I thought. What’s the big deal? I’m in a very safe place right now, in a country of ease and accessibility. Besides, it’s a beautiful day—I can just happily soak up the sun if I have to wait a while . . .
Self-talk done, I began to make a plan. Popping the hood, I poked around and wondered what I could do with no tools handy to try the same fix as earlier in the day. I peered closely at the offending bits of corrosion. Then I blew—hard—on the battery. I got back in the car. It started.
Now, I thought it was probably unwise to put too much faith in my lung capacity, so I headed straight for the battery mechanic my grandfather uses. The fellow there immediately saw the problem, put a new clamp on the positive charge, and waved me away. I hesitated. “But I haven’t paid yet . . .” I began. “Oh no, honey, you’re fine,” he replied, in a slow drawl. “You have a nice day now.”
I smiled as I carried on with that nice day. All things considered, I pretty painless process of car-repair-interruption. And certainly more pleasant than the day of Visa issues and flight-booking difficulties that was to follow . . .
This morning, during our cemetery morning walk, I confessed to B my most recent moment of irrational panic: an encounter with a police situation that triggered my “Danger!” physiological response. There was a relief in the voicing of it. B interrupted our train of thought to point out the strange contortions of a tree beside us. She said it looked like it had its head stuck in the ground, legs to either side, and one arm up in the air. I tried to imitate the pose. It didn’t work, with my torso [or perhaps my neck? being too short to manage getting my head down that far. This action, like the conversation, was also a relief :-)


February 7, 2013


A friend and coworker, whom I’d known for quite a few years at the time, once told me something that I initially took offense at. “You tend to go after what you want,” he commented. When I gasped at the statement, horrified at what sounded so brash, so worldly, so . . . not-nice, he quickly clarified that he’d meant it to be a compliment. “That’s a good thing,” he explained, “It’s good that you know what you want in life and you pursue it.” I was not convinced. And not amused.
That was many years ago now, but I still find myself rehashing that idea in my mind any time there is a period of life decisions, or branching paths, that I come to. This has most definitely been one of those seasons: a period of life crammed with decisions to make and self-examinations to delve into. I have closed some doors, by my own volition. And I have chosen one door that will require a full-on commitment. There is a great relief in that, frankly—a readiness to get out of my mental hashings and into a daily routine that demands full attention, and that depletes my energy by the end of each day. Ready. Ready or not . . .
In the meantime, I try to tie up my loose ends here and prepare to leave well, as best as I can. But I’m beginning to suspect that a great portion of “leaving well,” at this point in my life, is going to mean having the maturity to let go of those expectations of perfection. Rather than adding to my own to-do list each day, requiring meticulous completion of each item, I might need to assume some failure—and accept that. Can I sit with my own failures? God grant me the grace to do so . . . for only in so doing will I be able to really love the people in my life.
I must also have patience with tasks that do not feel as productive as those in my work-life routine. Take yesterday, for example . . .
[to be continued, as this blog post is getting long, and the hour is late. That story will come in the next post. In the meantime, here is a photo of the sunrise from here in the home I will be missing soon . . .]

so be it

February 2, 2013


After a bit of restless, dream-filled sleep, I headed out earlier than usual this morning for class. Once downtown, I passed what I assumed to be a mother and child. I briefly glanced at them as she held him back by the shoulder until it was their turn to cross the street. When I looked away, back to the road in front of me, a sentence popped into my head, so instantly and clearly that I nearly spoke it out loud. “My child will love me.” What? I made a face, wrinkling up my forehead while I pondered the ridiculousness of those words. I don’t have a child. I won’t have a child . . . right? I’m too old to get started with that process now . . . aren’t I? Logistically thinking through the whole arrival-of-future-partner to relationship-building to marriage to baby timeline. It’s just not looking likely.
But this sentence in my head brought up a huge area of insecurity for me. It is very tempting to feel that, for all the “good” things I’ve been doing, I have failed my family by not producing a family of my own. It may be a self-manufactured illusion of the value placed on mothering in my family, but the perception is there for me all the same. It is simply something I need to recognize, and deal with as it is.
And you know, as B and I ate ice cream and spoke about it, a short time thereafter, I realized that sometimes you just have to leave it at that: So be it. Be it as it is, whether it is as a 33-year-old single wanderer or as a 31-year-old who recently lost one child and is expecting another. We laughed at ourselves as we fumbled with dropped coins at the parking meter, cursing the cold that froze our fingers and reddened our noses. Then, chattering teeth and all, we placed our orders and joked that, come hell or high water, we would have our ice cream outing.
So be it.
When you laugh out loud with the pleasure of a hip-hop grooving dance move mastered.
So be it.
When you figure out a new-fangled technology riddle for a Grandpa who rewards it with a wide-eyed exclamation of “That’s amazing!”
So be it.
When you fall to your knees with the sorrow of the ways in which you have failed those you love most.
So be it.
When you live in a world in which all is not as it should be.
So be it.