Tag Archives: new places

Expectations

wedding

I’m standing in front of a tent full of people. I’ve finished my glass of white wine, my cowboy boots are cutting into my ankles, and my lace dress feels just a bit too sweaty to be beautiful. I unfold the crumpled paper, look out at these faces, some I know, some I do not, and I begin to read.

Joe, I have known Ashley a long time.

It feels a lot like singing, this performance, in the way that time moves so swiftly I don’t quite notice it’s passing. I read all the words. I look up once in awhile, smile at the appropriate times, slow down when I feel like I’m rushing. But I’m not really aware of what I’m doing or how I’m doing it. It might be that everyone’s looking at me but hardly anyone knows my name. It might be the heat of June. It could be stage fright. It’s probably all three.

I know what I talked about only because I wrote it down. I painted a picture of when we were little girls, playing Little House on the Prairie and baking together, playing Manhunt on summer nights. I talked about loyalty and love — only briefly — because they are things I don’t feel fully equipped to address. How can anyone wax wise on ideas of lifelong and commitment and trust?

Suddenly, I am done. I smile again, she is crying, and we hug. I hug Joe, too, and sit down quickly. I feel embarrassed, surprised, that I have just given my first maid-of-honor speech, and I’m not even sure how it went.

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I knew in the back of my mind that one day, I would be a maid-of-honor. I thought that perhaps I would have to give a speech, tell a story, celebrate two lives becoming one. I knew all of this, and yet I was surprised.

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I sit across from him and I think: I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you.

It’s hard to give someone a shot when you compare him to someone you’ve known for awhile, or, at least, someone you thought you knew, and who now colors your interactions with but I wanted someone like this, and this. 

Things never end up the way you expect.

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We sit in a restaurant, and the waitress gives us free watermelon sangrias. Someone’s mistake has become our blessing. Susie looks at me and says, “A good omen!”, and we toast to the beginning of our new lives in a city busier than my little hometown of 26 years. Who knows what lies ahead? So we toast and smile and hope.

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We pose for a picture — two high school friends who accidentally followed each other into adulthood. The caption? “2015-2016…bring it!” Even as we’re smiling, I am aware that much lies ahead. Every year is unknown. Bad things happen. Students cry. I get frustrated with myself for everything that I lack, and as I’m smiling for this photo in late August, a little bit of fear creeps in and settles in my stomach.

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It’s December in two days. We want to get a Christmas tree, but we’re not sure how to get it home. The convertible is not conducive to carrying trees, so we’re pretty sure we’ll be trekking it two miles. I can picture cars whizzing past us, shaking their heads with pity at those poor girls in L.L. Bean boots dragging a tree halfway across the city. Worse things have happened. I climb the winding stairs to the third floor apartment, open the door, see the perfect place for a tiny tree in the living room.

I drink tea and hang Christmas lights around the windows in my room. I am at the same time content and longing, happy with a tinge of sadness. I burn a cedar candle because we haven’t gotten the tree yet and I want that fresh smell. I wonder what to get my mother for Christmas, and I think about last Christmas and how much I stressed over a gift that didn’t end up mattering. I think of two books that sit on a shelf — haphazardly, I’m sure, or perhaps on the floor — and I wonder how many things will end up differently than I expect a year from now.

What will Christmas 2016 look like?

Will I look back and think, Praise God?

Will I focus on the smell of fresh-cut trees, the laughter of roommates floating in from the living room, the joyful way we ate breakfast on the back porch in the sunlight?

Or will I feel heavy with the weight of the unknown? Or, perhaps, the now-known but not-wanted?

Sometimes you are maid-of-honor at a childhood friend’s wedding. Sometimes you stop talking to someone you love. Sometimes, you sit across from a man and give him a chance.

Nothing ever turns out exactly the way you expect.

Flat Magistra Goes to D.C.

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So I’ve been a little busy chaperoning my 8th graders’ D.C. trip.IMG_3129

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I haven’t been answering my emails.

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I’m loving this spring weather. And eating at a restaurant right next to where Lincoln was shot.

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I have a thousand text messages, but I’m just too busy checking out national monuments to reply.

IMG_3280 IMG_3282My coworker loves showing me around. We’re really bonding.IMG_3147And I’ve been eating super healthy on this trip. I’m determined to come back thinner than ever.

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The kids are getting a little tired of looking at my pigtails that look like piglet-ears from Winnie the Pooh, but I forgot a hairbrush, so they’ll have to do.
IMG_3138I’m Jim’s righthand-man, and he loves posing for pictures with me. I’m the bad-cop in our co-teacher relationship: “You’re out of dress code! Spit out that gum! You’re late for homeroom again! Give me your cell phone!”

IMG_3140All these 8th graders really know how to brighten my day. There isn’t a moment when I’m not wearing the same exact smile on my face this entire trip.

IMG_3158So, if you’re looking for me, I’m a little busy hanging with the coolest almost-high-schoolers ever.

[Fear not – permission was obtained before posting these pictures.]

Two Months Out

It’s only a hiatus from home, and that’s okay. Living with an old college roommate is even better when you both have a job. There’s a lot of freedom in a paycheck; you can buy as much whole bean coffee as you want, and inviting friends over for dinner goes a lot further than constantly eating out. This time we haven’t encountered any gigantic bugs, and there’s nothing like that first day in a foreign country.

It helps that we learned our rhythms in Austria. I wonder if studying abroad makes you more open.

This was only a short month ago. I tried to focus on the sunset, but really all I saw was the snow.

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We have simple tastes, but they’re good: dark chocolate, red wine, peanut butter, oatmeal, apples, bananas, bacon and eggs.

We sit laughing after dinner because we’re weird and things are funny, but maybe not that funny. We wonder if there can be such giggling with men? When you’re married, do you laugh this much?

On Sunday, we walked in the second day of sunshine. We read a poem in the cemetery and openly told my brother later, just so he would make fun of us. German sounds good in a graveyard, and Rilke’s Elegies leave so much to discover, even if you read them over and over. This one leaves me sad with unnamed darkness.

We made chili with hot sauce and cheddar cheese. I wish I could say I’ve become a serious Betty Crocker.

Not the case.

But I have made a stir fry – jointly and imaginatively – and I have mastered the art of steel cut oats in the morning.

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Last night, after work, I threw on jeans and a hoodie. I needed a book for class (reading Avi for Adolescent Lit…), so I walked to the library. The sun was setting and there was baseball practice on the common. The boys were shouting but the fathers shouted louder. A little girl scootered right up to me (scooter is a verb, right?), and it was my landlord’s daughter. She wore a tank top in honor of the warmish weather, and she, her brother, and the neighbor girl were adorable in their desire to talk.

I got my book at the library, walked around town, and down the street that goes over the stream. I threw a stick in the stream, wanted to see a muskrat but didn’t, and then I saw them – three children on various moving toys – barreling towards me. A post-dinner walk with the family and dog, and I loved that for a few moments we could talk reading, soccer, and school.

In a few weeks, I’ll move back home. Spring will be well underway and we’ll put the seedlings in the ground. We’ll have dinner on the porch and play cribbage. I’ll be working towards summer and babysitting and ESL.

But for right now, I’m enjoying this little place and its two twin beds across from each other.

2014 Yarn Crawl

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It’s not the first time I’ve been into something – how should I say this? – different.

When I was little, I loved the pioneers. I learned everything possible about Laura Ingalls and the Oregon Trail, and I was convinced that I would have an electricity-free farm when I grew up. (That dream’s morphed a little, thank goodness.)

I had chickens before it was cool.

I wore leggings LONG before it was cool. (Imagine this: black stirrup pants over white socks and an assortment of sneakers. Pretty hot.)

These days, what I’m into still gets a little flack. Teasing from various gentlemen who don’t know the joys of a warm sweater knit with love. I’ve been called a hipster for knitting, to which I respond:

Please, I’ve been doing this since I was five, WAY before it was the hipster thing to do.

That of course seems to solidify said-hipsterness. I do not understand how to combat this problem.

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Last fall, my friend M and I went to a Fiber Festival. No, it was not a warehouse full of various digestion-boosting devices, small group friends. It was a warehouse full of yarn and yarn potentials. There was sheep, alpaca, bison, hemp, you name it. There were more colors than you could imagine, and there was undyed roving waiting to be made into art (roving is the clean, un-spun wool).

M bought me a drop spindle and some roving to get me started. I’ve wanted to spin since I saw a woman doing it in the sheep barn at the fair. Since getting my gift, I’ve attempted it a few times, sitting on the couch in front of my family and nearly hurling the innocent spindle across the room. I think I need to sign up for a class…

Despite my frustrations with the drop spindle, that festival got us addicted to yarn extravaganzas. Yesterday, we donned our best-knit pieces and trekked out on the Fifth Annual Yarn Crawl.

What’s a yarn crawl?

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A yarn crawl is a weekend-long event where the shops in the area have special deals. You get a “passport,” and at each shop you get a stamp which enters you to win a raffle. (One prize was a beautiful afghan pattern and all the yarn to go with it. MUST HAVE IT.) We had seven shops to descend upon, so we made a route, starting up north and ending near the sea. I went with my ravelry pattern in hand, a few ideas in my head, but really, the yarn world was my oyster.

[If you haven’t checked out ravelry.com yet, do it. So many patterns, so many ideas. Lots of free stuff.]

We started the trip off right with chai tea lattes and a 50%-off rack.

After a full day of crawling, this is what I came home with:

photo 5I could’ve bought a lot more. I was restraining myself. I admire M’s wisdom when she says:

There are some things I will not feel bad about spending money on: books and yarn.

I would add tea and coffee to that list, but that’s me.

We talked about how “good thing people we know are having babies so we have more opportunities to make cute things.”

Get crackin’, people, so I can get knittin’.

This is my next project. I am working under the assumption that my dear friend never reads this blog and will therefore still be surprised when she opens it for the darling.

photo 2If she does for some reason see this post, pretend, by all means.

 

 

Good Things #31: Rome, Among Other Things

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Italy and Greece. Last night, anticipating a snow day and enjoying a glass of red wine, I skyped with a friend from L’Abri. It’s been five or six months since we’ve seen each other, but  we never considered Skype (probably because I never think of the easy solution to problems), and it was strange to see his face on my computer screen. We were talking because – in joy and excitement – I had messaged him that I would be in Italy and Greece in a few weeks and he should hop on over. Studying in France makes European travel so much easier than living across the pond.

“What?” he said. “You’re just telling me this now?”

I didn’t tell him that I haven’t really been telling anybody. I’ve been holding it close, partly afraid that it isn’t true and partly because I feel I don’t deserve another foray to Europe after my wonderful trip this summer.

My mind has been wrapped up with each new thing that comes, and it’s only now that I’ve been able to think about it.

“I don’t live dates,” I told him, as though this made perfect sense.

“Ummm…?” he said.

I laughed to pause long enough to figure out what I meant.

“I live Mondays and Tuesdays, not January 20th and 21st. So it snuck up on my so fast and now it’s not even two weeks away.”

romeHow is this possible, this trip to Rome and Athens? One of the perks of being a teacher is you get to chaperone school trips. And yes, I mean “get to” because I can’t wait to explore this part of the world, even with students in tow. Maybe, especially with students? There’s a brightness in learning eyes that I love.

I’ll try to take pictures, but I’m terrible at that and I get distracted by everything going on around me.

I’ll try to eat the yummiest foods and buy the prettiest gift for my sister. I’ll try to read Quo Vadis (upon suggestion) to prepare me, but this probably won’t happen. I’ll be swept up on an airplane and whisked across the water.

Airplanes make the world geographically smaller. Skype does the same thing, only from the comfort of your own bed.

Music. Another Joe Purdy song, “Diamond State.” I love his voice. It’s about ice and cold and longing for summer. There are a lot of pauses in this live recording, so find it on Spotify if you want a clear listen.

New dress. I bought a new dress at the mall, and I don’t regret it even a little. It’s simple and chic and I bought it for a YMCA event I’m volunteering at this Friday night. We’re opening our theatre with a performance by a world-renowned opera singer, and in order for me to go, I had to volunteer ($125 tickets, anyone?). I can’t wait to feel slightly glamorous and very volunteery in this new Ann Taylor Loft dress.

[I can even teach in it on those days when I need a little up-lifting. Here’s to versatility!]

Half-truths. In that same Skype conversation, my friend asked me what prompted my last post. He was kind, and I could tell he thought it was a little – how do you say? – angsty, so I told him about watching my middle and high school students, these girls who are so fragile and unsure of who they are. I told him I hate knowing what lies ahead of them (or, maybe for some, what they’ve already been through) and also knowing there is nothing I can do to save them.

[I looked them in the eye once, when they were freaking out about something – clothes or a movie or something a boy had said, I can’t remember – and I said It gets better. Whatever you’re going through right now, I can tell you, it gets better. Because there is no doubt in my mind that what I’m living now is better than (and a product of) those tough years, figuring things out.]

I even told him that I’d recently read through one of my journals from 8th and 9th grades, and that this horror added itself to the mix.

But I didn’t tell him the whole truth. I didn’t tell him the seeds of other things that fed into that letter.

I think that’s okay. This blog thing is kind of strange, anyway, this baring of thoughts and soul online.

Half-truths are the way to go, I think. I’m just trusting that he (and you) won’t feel slighted.

I want to share my thoughts and life, but some things are better left in those journals I’m always talking about. Maybe I’d tell more over coffee or curled up on the couch, but even then, I remember we can only know others so deeply. There’s always a curtain, a half-truth, an incomplete truth.

I like to think this is part of the beauty of human connection. It keeps me guessing. It keeps me interested in other people.

It keeps me wholly known by God and no one else.

[Coliseum photo: Marcel Germain.]

2013 – A Year in Pictures

 Start off the New Year with a birthday and a dance party. Enjoy the fact that 2 goes into 4 twice and 24 makes a beautiful number.

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One of the perks of sticking close to home is you get to visit your old favorites.

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The girls had a rainy spring and the garden went through a transformation.

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At first, I was completely against the pond. “It’s too big! Who’s gonna maintain it? My forsythia bush!” Now, though, I’ve grown to like it. I do NOT however agree with the unceremonious way my forsythia was disposed of.

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We sold out of honey for the first time this year – a good thing, in most ways, but I hate having to tell people to wait till the spring. We’re also doing the favors for two weddings. Picture this: cute little glass jars with “One Pound Honey” on them, a simple cream label and a bow of twine.

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My first wedding of the season was on a beautiful island in Maine. We sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and frolicked in the night along the dark streets of a sleepy town.

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I learned that you can have the wedding you want and surround yourself with all different kinds of people at once.

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We drove half-way across the country to celebrate another college friend’s wedding. The groom made their wedding shoes of leather and they danced to swing.

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I even missed a wedding, but I got to go on a hiking bachelorette – that’s the way to do it!

wine tasting

The wine tasting which brought four friends together on a hot June Sunday. It’s also where a little bet began, but that’s for another day.

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The best summer job ever – teaching English at my Alma Mater.

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We didn’t have any fun at all.

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And then a trip to London, a trip I never thought I’d go on.

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A train-ride away was Oxford, and this is my attempt at a panorama.

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We stumbled upon an exhibit of mystical writings and illuminated manuscripts at Oxford University. We also found a large blue rooster.

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This photo was taken at Kensington Gardens, after a not-so-pleasant run trying to catch a tour through the palace (“I’m sorry, it’s 5:02. The tours are closed.”). I look much happier than my feet were feeling at the moment.

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A week at the Swiss L’Abri and mornings of “Oh my gosh, this is real.” Did you know the Swiss care about bees, too?!

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Fishing trips in the Atlantic are always cold, even in August.

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We didn’t win the photo contest, but the winners were holding a baby. Not fair.

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Cousin Christmas pic.

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The last photo of 2013. A reunion of roomies and I got to hold her little one for the first time.

[This has been a good exercise for me. Too often I let things slip through my fingers, moments of joy and communion, the hard lessons I’ve learned and re-learned.]

[Next week, I’ll be posting my favorite things of 2013. A little late, but I want to make sure it’s a rocking list.]

Can’t Put My Finger On It

Walking downhill forces you to tip-toe and the body that usually finds it so difficult to be graceful looks like a dancer just for a moment. Spending a week in the mountains, you walk downhill quite a bit.

The mountains have a way of shocking. Waking up after a night of airplanes and trains and miscommunication and three hours alone in the dark is transformed when you look out the window.

What could keep you away a whole year? Then another?

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Oh, this.

Homes called “chalets” and dark wood-filled kitchens. Mint tea shared by a small community that will most likely never see each other again. Nights in the lounge playing fish bowl; conversation that drifts from American Girl Dolls to the point of prayer to the public transportation system in America.

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How did I become so blessed?

And one of the best parts is the absence of this very thing: no internet, limited phones, no demands from the world.

I know I can’t live like this always, but for a week it is lovely.

Did you know it is possible to play pingpong in the dark in bare feet and not care that the pavement is freezing?

And you can sing harmonies to hymns with people you barely know, but you all know the music.

You can learn the laughs of eighteen different people and name the laugher a half-a-house away.

You can play volleyball and not be kicked out for your terrible serving abilities.

You can weed a garden you will not enjoy, take recycling to the village whose name you can’t pronounce, deep-clean a kitchen that will serve you only one more meal.

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Then you will wake up bleary-eyed and pack your bag. You will try to pretend it isn’t real as your friend pours you coffee – a cup of coffee you inhale because the bus is coming.

You will walk to the end of the driveway with a group of new friends and one old. You will hug them and wonder Where will God bring you? as you wave from the seat through the window.

You will not be the same when you land in Boston, but you try not to name the ways.

That’s something you learned during your days in Switzerland:

You don’t always have to put a name to things because sometimes that’s all you end up seeing. The unnamed goes overlooked and invisible, hidden by what you can label, but it’s no less valuable.

[All this you overheard at dinner because you don’t always have to be in a conversation to gather its truth.]

You’re different but not sure how. And you’re becoming okay with not knowing.

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London Awaits

This very moment I am awaiting my plane to London, England.

I am sitting at the terminal, surrounded by people, but I am alone. This is my favorite way to travel.

“Catherine, is anyone going with you?”

“Yeah, S is meeting me in London, but I still get to fly alone.”

My grandmother does not understand my phrasing – “get to” – and most people don’t. There’s something about the separation – the ability to exist without the confirmation of anyone else – that reminds me who I am.

C. S. Lewis wrote that it is only when we look at the other that our Self is able to be. I agree with him…mostly.

There is another Self that materializes at the Gate, and this Self is just a little different from the others. She doesn’t need to do anything. She doesn’t need to be anything for anyone else. All she has to do is be. Oh, and do what she’d like, of course. Which is write this, at the moment.

My bag is filled too full with books (check out the What I’m Reading to see what I brought), and as you can tell, I decided to bring my laptop after weeks of internal debate. Of course I could just write in my notebook, but the moments flit by so fast, I know I’d lose them.

I sit, eager and calm, ready and not ready, because I’ve learned that after each trip, I come back just a little different than before. Not in big ways – I don’t dye my hair or pierce body parts or change my name – but the landscape of my mind shifts. It grows. It changes. And the places my mind wanders in down moments now includes the place I’ve just come from, with all its colors and shapes and sounds.

Here I come, London.

A Midwestern Wedding

I am a selfish woman.

I like to have most of what I want, and I like to have it now.

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The few days after a wedding, there aren’t many things I can think about except that wedding. I tell people all about the dresses and the music and the food, and I wish in a little part of me that I could live it again.

My Good Things was postponed because I was making my way back from Columbus, Ohio. Another friend got married and one day turned into a weekend and a 13-hour-each-way drive and a reunion.

[It was when she raised her eyebrows at me, smiling, that I caught a glimpse of the real her. We were in the second row – a whole line of college friends – but it wasn’t until I saw those upturned eyebrows and grin that I thought, There she is.]

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I worry that I will be forgotten. I live day to day, doing my thing in this small town, and I wonder how long it will take for these friends to forget. How many earnest conversations on dorm room beds does it take to be remembered? How many secrets whispered (or giggled) does it take to burn me into someone’s memory? How many coffees, rides in the bug, walks on the beach, trips to the city, or tears that both embarrass me and liberate me does it take to leave a print?

That is the selfishness I’m talking about. I watched my beautiful friend in all her honest joy, and I felt a tug of sadness.

I am no longer part of this.

I do not run into her in the hall, running down the hill, rushing to class, singing goofy songs in my too-small apartment.

I know her great worth, but I do not get to have that shine on me like I used to.

It was an honor to be invited, to witness their vows and their love in a way that living across the world doesn’t allow me to.

It was an honor – and a good time to remember that we can love deeply over great distances.

Just because we don’t share our days anymore doesn’t make the ones we did share any less real.

[I wrote a poem about her my senior year. About how she ate almonds while she talked in English class, how her rings flashed when she talked. I wrote about her, I think, because I knew our friendship was going to change, and I had no control and that had to be okay with me.]

~     ~     ~

They broke the bread and drank the cup, he pronounced them husband and wife (to which she yelled, “Yes!”), and they danced and shimmied around in a circle. We sent them off with sky lanterns and laughter and a tinge of sadness because Italy is far away.

It isn’t about whether or not I am part of it. It is about the fact that it is, and it is beautiful.

A Perfect Day

Five weeks is too long to go without seeing a good friend. Especially when that friend lives only forty-five minutes away. What is it about driving in and out of the city that seems so daunting?

But it was finally remedied this Saturday, with a train ride, a car ride, and a stretched-long day. It was the sort of day where you never stop talking, and then, as dinner gets closer, you’re exhausted by the talk. We looked at each other, and we were speechless. Finally.

What does it take to make the perfect day?

  • Coffee shops – with strong coffee, an array of hipsters and business people and grandmas and grandpas talking about who was making the green bean casserole for Thanksgiving.
  • People watching – this can be done in silence or with conversation, depending on your mood.
  • Long walks – around a slightly unfamiliar city, discovering used bookshops on side streets, down to the harbor, around and around until your feet are sore and you forget for a moment what it feels like to sit
  • Used Bookshops – these are a must. Find a beautiful hardcover about W. H. Auden for $8 and carry it in your purse for days because you hope to find five minutes to read it.

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  • Roast beef and reuben sandwiches – duh.
  • Random parades – run to watch the parade of cars, trucks, police cars and screaming people. Because winning the state championship for your high school football team is pretty awesome, and yelling out your car, blasting your horn, and feeling like you own the world are the best ways to celebrate.
  • Sitting in fake wooden boats – yes, do this, even though it seems odd. It’s best to sit in said wooden boat until it gets dark, laughing so loudly that the people walking by raise their eyebrows. Tell each other they’re jealous of your joy.

Too much can happen in five weeks to be talked about in one day.

But there’s never too much to laugh about.

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