On My Way

It’s a cloudy day here, and I’m doing some last-minute packing and a CVS run for travel-size “necessities.” It’s embarrassing how many things I feel I can’t do without.

I realized last night that I have the tiniest bit of anxiety about travel and new places. It seems obvious and not that big of a deal, but the fact is, I will never be the same after this trip. Every time we do something brand new, have a new experience, meet new people, we cannot remain the same. And I know my goal is not to remain the same, but still. Change is intimidating.

But then again, who’s to say that the Midwest won’t be changed by me?

What I Want to do on My Trip!

On the Plane
  • Finish Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and start Slouching Towards Bethlehem
I opened Blue Nights by Didion last week and it was as if I’d already read it. DRAMA ALERT! As if she were an old friend, and our souls had spoken to each other. I felt this way when I read Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood the summer I worked at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – there is something about women who show you their truths. I think they illumine my own.
  • Watch all the passengers

And make up stories about them…

  • Write in my journal
Writing on planes is so much fun. It’s like you’re suspended in time and whatever you write was written in an alternate reality. Also, the idea of writing before you have any idea what your trip will hold is so romantic. All the hopes, fears, and anticipations rolled into a little notebook, no matter what kind of  trip it is.
Oklahoma
  • Hang out!
I can’t wait to spend time with old family friends! So much to talk about, so much to fill each other in on.
  • Eat sushi and barbecue
I make it a point to eat sushi as much as possible, but the idea of eating it in the midwest is a little strange to me. I guess people who don’t live near the ocean still eat fish…? And who doesn’t want a little Oklahoma barbecue?!
St. Louis
  • Relax
One of the best things about my friend A. is that he has no expectations. I can be whoever I want, do whatever I want, and he won’t mind at all. So if I feel like hanging out on the couch all day reading and drinking coffee, he won’t be surprised.
  • Check out a church
Growing up in New England, I’ve only had fairly typical New England church experiences. Most churches have been really small, many hurting, and the few larger ones I’ve gone to have been so academic that it’s hard for me to implement any aspect of the sermons in my life. I’m looking forward to seeing if the churches in St. Louis are different, or if young Christian men have to hide from the ever-eager young Christian women everywhere you go.
  • Check out a museum

I want to hit up the St. Louis Museum of Art and/or the Contemporary Art Museum. Also, there’s a great outdoor art exhibit called the Laumeier Sculpture Park. On Monday, my good friends from college are meeting me in St. Louis (you should be humming the song right about now), and I’m hoping they’ll be up for a little art!

25 Things to do in St. Louis:

http://explorestlouis.com/visit-explore/discover/25-things-to-do-in-st-louis/?gclid=CJDGs9WWlK4CFY9W7Aod6UGCMQ

Packing My Bags

Four days and I will be on a plane to a place I’ve never been. Oklahoma may not be the trip to Italy I’d imagined taking this winter, but old friends wait for me and I don’t need more of an excuse to see a new part of the world. There’s something about planning to travel that I can’t get enough of; a few nights ago I felt overwhelmed and anxious about finding a job, about feeling useless, and as soon as I logged on to Amtrak.com and looked at the various routes I could take across the country, my anxiety level dropped to nonexistent. My blood pressure didn’t drop, though, cause whose doesn’t rise at the idea of a train trip?! I may be a dying breed, but then again, check out a little Bill Bryson…

The anticipation of travel has me floating through my days, unbelievably excited and unbelieving in God’s blessings. A whole week to see new things. A whole week to talk and laugh with people I love and who love me. A whole week to be a little bit of someone I’m not. You can recreate yourself every time you step foot in a new place, and that is maybe why I love it so much.

After a few days in Oklahoma, I’m flying up to St. Louis to stay with an old friend. I was worried at first: what do I tell him when he asks what I’m doing with my life? Do I admit that I still don’t know? Do I talk about the glories of retail? He’s not the kind of person to expect cookie-cutter people, but I didn’t want to present myself sadly or pityingly, even if I sometimes feel that way. Now, though, I have an answer. I got accepted into the TEFL program, starting in May. Oh the joy and relief of knowing the next step in life!

So, on to the midwest I go!

Some photos from my summer in Austria. Just too beautiful not to keep looking at! I wonder if the photos from this trip will be able to compare?!

evening sun on Salzburg

If you want to read more about my travels in Europe:

singinginsalzburg_catherine.blogspot.com

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. I woke up and attempted to give it to the Lord — largely because I hoped if I did that, He would make it good. But I’d done the same thing the day before [Lord, this is Your day. Help me to live it well.] and He had not made it good, at least by my standards.

Here I was again, asking that He take this block of time and make it good. The way I wanted it. This time He decided to fill it up with some Catherine-type-goodness:

1. I sent in my application and downpayment for a TEFL program in the city. I can’t tell you how accomplished I feel, just putting that stupid envelope in the mail (yes, that’s right, envelope, because they don’t take online payment! What is this, the 20th century?!). Now to wait it out and see. A full month of school — does it get any better?

2. 30 minutes with a dear friend. 30 minutes in which I was asked about how I truly was, and truly asked in return. 30 minutes in which I was told my poetry submission to the student-run publication had caused the most conversation of all. Score. And 30 minutes to remember that we are not called to love others only when they are happy, excited, beautiful, but that we have enough love for them even when they are a darker version of themselves. Friends remind us of a lot.

3. And this one is the most embarrassing: laughing out loud roughly five times in a crowded Starbucks. Alone. Curled up in a comfy chair. Reading. I couldn’t believe myself. I NEVER do that, but Bill Bryson had me in fits of giggles in public, and, frankly, more people should’ve joined me. That man is hilarious.

Ah. Goodness.

I don’t always feel this way, but…

I spent a lot of time in the car today, driving my Gramma back home, and I remembered writing an essay my senior year of college. It flowed out of me unbidden — the paper had started as a funny exploration of homeschooling and turned into a kind of melancholy look at the emerging adult. Or, at least, THIS emerging adult. And then I thought about all the movies I’ve watched, all the books I’ve read, and I realized there are two kinds of girls: the girls who go off on their grand adventures, traveling the world, au pairing, writing, singing, meeting dashing young foreigners with crooked smiles and laughs in their eyes, cooking, discovering cures for deadly diseases, helping orphans, drinking too much and smoking. There’s a plethora of aspects of this same girl — the girl who goes for it.

And then there’s the other kind of girl: the girl who goes home. There really aren’t that many different colors of this girl. She’s pretty much the same wherever she is. She sometimes has as many dreams as the girl who leaves, but she lacks a certain something. Maybe it’s guts. Maybe it’s drive. Maybe it’s self-confidence. She probably knits and her friends probably think of her as very sweet, when they think of her at all. She stays home and wonders what all the other girls are doing out there. And she blogs about it.

A Smile Goes a Long Way

Today at the tea shop, we had a lot of entertaining customers. My coworker (S) and I would share a look of appreciation (and slightly raised eyebrows) as each one left. It’s crazy how many different kinds of people like tea. And not just tea, loose leaf tea. Before starting at the shop, I’d tried to do the loose leaf thing, but it was too annoying; I wanted something on the go, not something I had to dump dirtily out of my cup. Now, though, I am a convert, praising the qualities of loose leaf tea over the “floor sweepings” people call teabags (don’t worry, that’s not my term – I got it from a customer). I’d imagined most of our customers would be of the female persuasion with short white hair and possibly lipstick and manicured nails. Maybe the occasional green-tea-drinking natural thrown in. But the world of loose leaf tea is far more diverse than that.

Our first customer came in before we’d officially opened. He knew exactly what he wanted, Russian Caravan, and after quickly paying for it, he proceeded to leave. A mesh tea ball caught his eye as he walked out, and he promptly returned to buy it. That’s the way our day went: customer after customer proclaiming their personalities in a matter of minutes, movements of their bodies telling us if they were excited, sad, tired. So many couples today, and it was so easy to read their dynamics. They had me and S shaking our heads and saying, “Wow, he was way more talkative than she was. She seemed pretty cold.” And it goes on and on like this, with us psychoanalyzing and enjoying all the new kinds of people we meet.

A young family came in later in the day. They’ve been pretty regular customers since the fall, with two little children. The youngest had broken their teapot, and they’d come in specifically to get more vanilla black tea and a mug with a strainer. They found those quickly – and then proceeded to stay for about twenty minutes, just talking with us, smelling teas, letting their children smell teas, and all of us laughing. The dad even remembered S had gone home to California for Christmas, and he asked her about it. It’s crazy how much people remember.

That’s the way it is in such a little shop, where we have to get to know the customers in order to sell them the teas they’ll really like. At the end of the day, we had a woman bring her husband in, and when they came in the door, I heard her say, “Look! I told you they’d be here!” She introduced us to her husband, and then said how great we were and she was going to bring all her friends. Thankfully, I did remember her from two weeks ago, but I had no idea we’d made such an impression. She bought three ounces of Russian Caravan (the best seller of the day, apparently), and said she’d be back in a few weeks.

Just a little reminder that a smile and a little interest go a long way.

And next week?

Yesterday I met a family about babysitting. They live in the next town over in a nice house on a hill — three kids, a dog, pretty much what you’d imagine. The mom was really nice: energetic, happy, easy to talk to. The youngest, a daughter, sat at the table with us the whole time, not saying a word. Her cropped blonde head just went back and forth between us, watching.

And as much as I tried to avoid it, the question, “So, what do you hope to do?” came up, and I was obliged to give some sort of answer. At first I was going to talk about publishing. Because it’s easy. Because it’s something people can wrap their minds around. But I can’t keep lying to everyone. Too much alone time. Too much paperwork. So I was honest.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I love writing, but I don’t think I want that to be my main source of income. I’ve been thinking about getting certified to teach English as a foreign language.”

This was true. I’ve been doing research online about potential programs, different places to study, different job possibilities once I’m done.

“Oh, that sounds interesting!” she said.

Good. I came up with the right answer. But the thing is, that’s just what I’m thinking about this week. This week I emailed a friend in New York, one of my best friends, asking to let me stay with her while I studied my own language. To paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, I soared up on the wings of anticipation – fast-paced days in the big city, meeting people from all over the world, eating out at little hole-in-the-wall diners tourists never find, writing in a nook in the public library – and then thudded right back down when my friend said that wouldn’t work.

Who knows what my answer will be next week?!

Candlelight, Beekeeping, and a Little Old-Fashioned Feminism

I sit on my bed, legs crossed, with three delicious-smelling candles burning. I haven’t pulled the shades down yet because I like the way the night looks against the candlelight. I had an unexpected revelation today, and I think it has made all the difference.

For awhile now, I’ve been fighting a lot of things. One of the more upsetting of late is the idea of womanhood and what it means to be a “wife.” (I put the term in quotation marks because it scares me, and putting words in quotation marks dilutes their power!) But more to the point, I have been scared of what it means to be a person – and a woman, specifically – in marriage. I’ve been watching a lot of friends and acquaintances get engaged, married, pregnant, and I am overwhelmed. I feel like I can’t even catch my breath from the almost-daily Facebook notifications. All this activity in the matrimonial department has me thinking: what kind of wife will I be? what kind of wife do I want to be? and why am I so scared?

The answer to that last one is, I’m pretty sure at least, that I am scared of losing myself. Scared that binding myself to another for life will, instead of making me a more complete Self, blur the lines of me until I am unrecognizable. It is this fear that drives me to some of the ideas of feminism, of maintaining autonomy, of being equals within a marriage, and of feeling the desire and need to create something outside of that marriage. Some of these ideas sound selfish to me even now; how can you be autonomous and truly engage in life-changing communion with another human? I wrote communion instead of union because I am STILL scared of the fullness of that concept.

Then a little voice in my head says Cath, you’re not even in a relationship. Marriage isn’t on the horizon. This is way premature thinking on your part. But then I look around me and see so many young people throwing themselves into a life-long commitment, and I wonder if they have any idea what they’re embarking on. It isn’t too early to be thinking about how I hope to function within one of the most beautiful relationships God has given us, and it certainly isn’t too early to think about living with excitement for the future instead of fear.

And here is where the revelation comes in: I picked up one of my Dad’s bee journals (yes, they actually publish magazines on beekeeping, and yes, we have multiple). It was sitting on the coffee table and I saw an article on the cover that intrigued me: “Beeconomy – Women and Bees.” The revelation didn’t come from bees, or women keeping bees, or anything really to do with bees. It came in these brief sentences:

“A shift from a rural economy to more urban capitalism saw a decline in the value of the ‘good wife,’ an equal partner with her husband who would serve the community and barter with neighbors. Instead, women were expected to be at home, providing the primary care for children” (McNeil, M. E. A., “American Bee Journal” Vol. 152 N. 1).

Suddenly it came together for the first time: I wasn’t bucking the eternal, time-honored tradition of women in the home cleaning, laundering, feeding, and raising. I was bucking the 20th century version of that tradition. I HATE cleaning and “keeping house” (there I go again), but when it is in the context of partnership – in the context of running a business, running a farm – the idea is not nearly as scary. A few weeks ago I met up with an old friend who has four children and another on the way. She and her husband recently built their own home in the woods, complete with a wood stove, long windows overlooking the backyard, and a table big enough to entertain twenty guests. I asked her how she did it, how she resigned herself to washing the dishes, doing the laundry, making three meals a day for four children, keeping everything running smoothly.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I said, as I watched her baste a homegrown chicken. “I just can’t do those things every day FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.”

She didn’t stop what she was doing. She just talked while she finished basting and put the chicken back in the oven.

“You know what, I had the same problem. And then I realized: you have to view it, not as ‘doing the dishes,’ but as creating a home. You do the dishes, you do the laundry, not because you absolutely love doing it, but because by doing so, you create a home for your family.”

And so, together with a little nugget of knowledge from a bee journal, my friend created for me a new outlook. I don’t know entirely what my life will look like as a wife, or even if I’ll be one. But at least now I know how I want to be one: the wife who works alongside her husband to create a home.

Living a Fairy Tale

“You live a fairy tale, you know,” my first boyfriend said to me. We were driving somewhere in his toyota station wagon, and I was telling him stories about growing up. I can’t remember what it was – maybe it was that I took horseback riding lessons, or maybe it was that we used to spend a week every summer on a lake in Maine – but whatever it was, I guess it made my childhood sound pretty idyllic.

“What do you mean?” I knew I’d had a good life, that there were beautiful moments of laughing til my sides hurt, of roping my brothers, sister, and cousins into playing “Little House on the Prairie,” and of boisterous family holidays where sometimes it was hard to hear anything that was going on. “Everything’s always been so easy for you,” he said, not looking at me. “Everything was so easy.”

What he didn’t see though, was that while things looked easy, there is always more. I think back on that afternoon in his car, and I wonder what my life looks like from the outside now. Graduating in May was a huge change, and I’ve made some choices I really didn’t want to make: I moved back home with loving parents and a great younger brother, but sacrificed living with friends and independence. I took a few part-time jobs because I get bored out of my mind working at a desk, doing the same thing day to day. But this leaves me with uncertain hours, a smaller income, and more than anything the feeling that I’m not accomplishing much.

As I begin to piece together what my life will look like, I balance between learning patience and practicing action. I am much more prone to act than I am to wait; I see a problem, a challenge, a choice, and I want to conquer it. Maybe this period of waiting, of patience, of trust, is necessary to shape me more finely. But it’s really uncomfortable.

“Everything’s always been easy for you.” Those words echo in my head, making me feel an odd mix of resentment and un-deserved privilege.

I step back and see the blessings, and I am grateful. I look forward to sharing the fairy tale life, even if it isn’t always such a fairy tale.

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