Tag Archives: travel

Change is Good

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Diana walks slowly across the grass, her hand brushing the porch post as she passes. She settles herself into the Adirondack chair and places the bowl of yogurt and granola in her lap. My friend looks six months pregnant, but no, she assures me, she’s due in January. I look at her belly again. Really? Five more months? The thought crosses my mind — twins — but I don’t say anything. What do I know about pregnancy?

We became friends studying music in college, she a mezzo-soprano and I a soprano. I remember meeting her in Music Theory I and how her bubble bangs curled over her wire-rimmed glasses. Neither of us was quite ready for college, but we entered the practice rooms with conviction: we would learn how to sing if it killed us. It’s only since graduation that we’ve become close, writing letters back and forth. I enjoy the way letters force me to slow down, take note. It was one of these letters on pale green paper that told me Diana was expecting and asked me to visit before fall came.

It’s my first visit to Deer Isle in the summer, and it isn’t hard to see why Diana came home. Eating breakfast in front of the ocean, I see two small islands covered in pine trees across the way, a working lobster pound to my left. In the field is an American flag flapping, and beneath it, we sit in two yellow Adirondack chairs. Kiska, their American Eskimo puppy, dashes across the grass flashing her long white fur. She gets too excited, barking and jumping despite Diana’s admonitions.

It’s my last hurrah of the summer. I go back to teaching in a week, and I drove the nearly five hours to Deer Isle with the hopes of rest and sunshine. I didn’t know till I got there that they actually live on Sunshine, a small section of Deer Isle proper.

“Like a borough,” I say. “So you’re Manhattan.”

She laughs.

“Yeah, we’re Manhattan.”

It’s a Manhattan complete with one coffee shop, one year-round restaurant, and two or three seasonal eateries that may or may not be open when they say they’ll be. The coffee is delicious, and I think as I sip: Maybe I could actually live here if there’s good coffee.

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I’ve come for rest and sunshine and Diana’s voice recital. Four years ago we gave our respective senior recitals, and now, on a Sunday afternoon in August, Diana stands in front of a small group of people with her four-month-belly and a black floor-length dress. She’s shed the wire-rimmed glasses and grown out the bubble-bangs. I know the work it takes to learn this music and the nervousness Diana must have felt this morning. I know that a tiny part of her just wants this all to be over. She takes a deep breath. Her belly moves out as she inhales and then, as she begins the first notes of Ned Rorem’s “Absalom,” her belly tightens beneath her skirt.

I am aware of every movement, of the muscle strength it takes to breathe and support. Her voice fills the white room, and immediately I see how much she has grown. Not just her voice, not just her musicality. Her face. Her body. Her ease. Diana wasn’t the only stiff performer in college; we all moved with inhibition and a fear of risk. We struggled with too much pride and easily wounded egos. I remember how hard it was to change my focal point, just to lift my eyes from the exit sign at the back of the room up to the right where the sunshine was supposed to be. But here she is, this beautifully strong musician who moves with grace. The piece isn’t happy: her mezzo-soprano voice bemoans Absalom’s betrayal of his father, King David. For a moment, I am David weeping in the high chamber: my child and my betrayer.

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Diana ends the final note with an emphatic sadness. She is David for a second longer. Then she is Diana again, snapped back to the small hot room with her belly that may or may not contain twins. She sings through the program, taking on each character and making me forget I’m just an audience member sitting in a hard pew. We clap her back onstage and her encore — “Summertime”  — is a show-stopper. Later, the audience lines up to greet her. Too many people comment on the size of her belly, the possibility of twins. She laughs and says something like, “Yes, I’m getting a little scared,” but she doesn’t seem scared, with her dark hair perfectly smoothed back and her diamond necklace and earrings.

She doesn’t seem scared of this baby or spending her entire life on an island of three thousand people. She looks at her lobsterman husband with a gentle kindness. There’s a power in her, a new ease. Maybe a good word for this new Diana is calm; she moves slowly but with thoughtfulness I envy. I read once that “rushing is the sign of an amateur,” and I know this is me, always frantic to do that next thing, accomplish that goal, fill that hole in me or my life. I feel this no more strongly than right now, in this place of steadiness and home-grown families. I wonder what it takes to grow from rushing to rest, and why it takes some longer than others to settle into rhythms.

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On my drive home to Massachusetts, I think about my next visit to the island. There will probably be a baby — maybe two — and our conversations will not be about pregnancy but sleeping habits and resemblance and how to teach voice lessons with an infant. I will probably knit a tiny sweater that will only fit Diana’s child for a few months, and she’ll marvel because she can never believe I find time to do things like that. She doesn’t understand that picking out blue and white yarn for a sweater with whales on it is how I participate in the changes. I might not be in the same place she finds herself, but I can sit on my couch in the fall and knit something that will keep her baby warm. I like to think I’ll be learning the habit of contentment as I slip stitches from one needle to the next.

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.]

Too Personal

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“Why haven’t you been writing as much?”

“Oh, you know, don’t have much to say these days.”

Which is true. Lots of thoughts, not a lot of formation.

But the real truth?

“I read your blog – not all the time. Sometimes I feel like it’s too personal.”

So, there you go.

That’s what’s been keeping me away – this quick sentence from a friend that has made me reevaluate and second-guess almost every post I’ve thought of.

I don’t think of this blog as too personal.

“Really? You do?” I asked. “Because I was thinking how I leave so much out, how there are always these glaring holes of what’s really going on.”

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This weekend, I posted pictures on Facebook of my trip to Brooklyn to visit my recently-relocated friend. We were smiling in the sun and looked absolutely ridiculous with ring pops.

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What I left out was that we both tired of those ring pops before they were gone. That
I got lost on the subway a grand total of three times. That I had blisters like you read about. That I wandered the Metropolitan Museum of Art alone with a backpack weighing thirty pounds slung across my belly “to protect the art.”

That I couldn’t sleep on the train ride there or home because my mind was racing to the blur of the landscape.

Even today, I posted a picture of the girl I babysit. The caption?

A woman after my own heart – how do you not love kids who beg you to take them fishing?

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The sun was beautiful on the water, it was still and quiet. The lily pads were in bloom and blue and red dragonflies swooped together among the flowers.

What I didn’t write?

That five minutes later, I had two whiney kids who couldn’t cast for the life of them (and apparently aren’t able to put a worm on a hook). There was pushing and accusations when a brother knotted the line, whining because it was so hot and the water bottles I’d painstakingly packed were “warm.”

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It was only about half an hour later that I decided:

You know what? Let’s just sit with our feet in the water, ’cause this is exhausting and I can’t take it.

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So what am I trying to say? Something about social media? How it’s a manicured version of ourselves? How we present only the good and beautiful and leave the ugly at home?

A little.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are somethings that need to be ugly. It’s the unique parts that make someone worth reading, that make writing resonate with you.

Sometimes armpits are hilarious. Sometimes they’re just gross.

More than that, though, it’s an echo of what I’ve written about earlier.

There’s always more going on under the surface. Perhaps I do get too personal here, but it’s usually because it feels comfortable. It feels like the space to write things I care about. It feels like the space to figure out what it means to be me – both as a writer and as a human.

I’m sorry if that’s too personal.

Beach Week [in images]

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Back at the beach for our yearly tradition (year nine, for those of us counting).

Last summer, I wrote about Mary Oliver and living while I sat in the sun.

This time, I’ve written a letter and a terrible poem that might not always be terrible.

I’ve also consumed a lot of ice cream.

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I’ve talked about missions (still on the brain), and I’ve helped grill twelve cheeseburgers, two bratwursts, and roughly six hotdogs.

I’ve made a rockin’ potato salad.

I’ve been grateful that Dunks is a mile away and I’m shocked they don’t know my order by now.

I’ve wandered down to the water in the dark, making Gramma nervous but coming back in due time.

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I’ve people-watched like a champ, playing “inner monologue” and creating bizarre plot lines to strangers’ lives (I hope they don’t mind…they’re quite entertaining).

I’ve walked the beach three times a day, and seen how the light changes against the sand.

photo 1 photo 2And now, I sit.

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Whirlwind in the Windy City

Chicago has a way of tricking me into thinking I could live in the midwest.

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The lake really is quite huge. You can’t see to the other side of it and it slaps against the edge and even has whitecaps in the wind.

The L is just as bizarre as the T. Actually, that’s probably not true. At least it’s cooler because it’s above-ground.

The Chicago Institute of Art is one my favorite museums.

There’s good coffee everywhere.

And as of right now, I have two good friends living out there, and the numbers seem to be growing.

I finished Andre Dubus III’s memoir Townie on the plane. I closed the book and cried (just a little, no one noticed, but there were tears nonetheless), and even though I tried to put words to it (like kinship and desire and maybe someday) there was no way to separate the reasons that book hit me.

I landed in Chicago to the arms of the friend I met teaching English last summer. Her hair was just as wild in March as July and the weather was no better than Boston.

We wandered the Art Institute (and this time I didn’t take a nap in the park).

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The most beautiful sculpture that my blurry pictures don’t do justice to. My first thought was Adam and Eve, before and after the Fall. I wasn’t far off, together and not together, to know each other but still not fully know another person.

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I met a good friend from high school, and she took me to Wilde Bar and Restaurant. That’s right, Oscar Wilde, complete with quotes. I saw her condo and she showed me the bus system and I navigated it just fine, thank you very much.

We got dressed up to pumpin’ tunes. I dumbly forgot my contacts, so I took on the challenge to look sophisticated and Friday-night-out-worthy wearing glasses.

I greeted the boys, our dates, our city-chaperones, with the charming:

“Can I help you find your reference materials?”

(They said no and took us out on the town.)

Heard of dueling pianos? Check out Howl at the Moon and get ready for some loud singing and great piano.

Take a taxi to Navy Pier and attempt to get on the ferris wheel. Accidentally crash a wedding reception while your date steals the show, find the ferris wheel closed, then awkwardly walk back through that same wedding reception.

Have two taxis stolen right out from under you.

Sit at the Drake with new friends and newer friends, drink a classy cocktail, and wish you could sing along with the Frank Sinatra crooner and baby grand.

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Take a walk in the sunshine on your last day and wish that everyone you love lived in the same place.

Chicago1And be grateful for airplanes.

Lessons While Driving

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My mom says Dad could never sit around the apartment. He’d come home eleven hours after he’d left, shed his city-coated suit, eat the dinner my mom was learning to make, and then say, “Let’s go for a drive.”

We’d get buckled into the blue volvo and cruise the streets. Mom says it was back when gas was cheap and they were young and the apartment walls felt like a trap.

I don’t remember this – we moved out of the two bedroom apartment when I was three – but I do remember the lull of the car from the backseat. I remember watching the taillights and asking how come everyone got to speed except us. I was sandwiched between the twins’ carseats, and they thoroughly enjoyed pulling my hair.

When we grew up a little and moved to the house, I remember driving on the weekends. My favorite was when we headed to the beach, especially in a storm, and watched the waves hit the rough, red sand. Late-afternoon Sundays spent along winding marsh roads, the twins had stopped pulling hair by then, and Harrison was tucked into his carseat. We ate grapes and danced in the water, my aunt and uncle meeting us for a beach dinner (or at least, that’s how I remember it).

And then our twice-yearly trips to Maine…a slightly different story. We drove the six or seven hours, often with a dog or two in the backseat. Long after we’d started asking, we stopped at a gas station and Dad would buy two fruit pies – one for himself and one for the four of us to split. Mom would get her diet coke (but none for us ’cause kids drink tried and true coca cola), and, when I got old enough, I’d opt for a snickers over the fruit pie. I got pretty adept at reading in a moving vehicle, and the first book I remember reading in the car was a green biography of George Washington. The biggest book I ever read was Harry Potter, page after page until we rolled into the driveway.

[This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I thought as I was taking my driving test.]

My first car will beat any future cars because it’s a cream convertible bug and there’s nothing that screams *FUN* like one of those.

The first time I was allowed to drive kids outside my family (i.e., the day I had my license for six months) was Cinco de Maio in 2005. My two cousins and my sister and I headed to Chile’s, the top down and the freest we’d ever been. We were home by 8:00 but it felt like heaven.

This summer I went for the longest road trip of my twenty-five years. The girls knew what they were doing – they packed food to eat on the drive, taught me that you leave in the middle of the night and take shifts, and were far better at pushing through the exhaustion than I was. I felt like a little kid in the backseat, and I didn’t mind the feeling at all. When I woke up, rubbing my eyes, we were in New York state and it was my turn soon. I felt like a little kid who could somehow drive a car.

When we stopped, I got a coke and snickers. Tried and true road trip food.

Good Things #33: Things I Missed While Traveling

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Bleary eyed and happy, I went back to work Tuesday. My whirlwind trip to Italy and Greece is over. We swept into school like celebrities, bombarded with hugs and questions and a plea for pictures.

The trip will get its own posts (they’re brewing as I type), but for today, here are some things I missed while I was away:

1. My bed. Yep, that’s right. I missed my bed with its cozy corner, soft fluffy blankets, and the pillow that seems like it was made just for me. Hotels apparently don’t know what I like.

2. Mom’s cooking. Okay, so I was in Italy. The food was good. I had tortellini to die for and enough feta to last most people a lifetime when I was in Greece. (Oh, and all those people were right. The ones I always thought were pretentious when they said, “You haven’t had gelato till you’ve had it in Italy.” I was annoyed because after one lick of nutella gelato con panna I realized they were right and I’d been living a lie). 

That being said…

The first bite of Mama’s homemade chicken pot pie and I was happy to be home. Happy to be an American. It was hot, salty, filled with gravy and homegrown winter squash and there’s nothing better on a cold February night.

3. Music. I didn’t listen to music. I don’t have music on my phone. I didn’t even know what I was missing until I heard a song floating through the streets of Rome and realized I hadn’t heard music in about three days. It was so strange. Maybe it was cleansing to clear my mental music palette. But I’ve got Renee Fleming playing right now because Italy re-invigorated me for classical.

4. My shower and non-travel-size hygiene products. I un-ashamedly missed my Lush shampoo and conditioner. I missed full-size toothpaste and face wash. I missed not being afraid of using the last drop of moisturizer BECAUSE MY FACE WOULD FLAKE OFF. Just kidding. Obviously I could have found a pharmacy before that happened.

5. Gym and Starbucks dates. I missed meeting my sister and cousin every Tuesday for the gym and Starbucks (because who works out without a good reward at the end?). I missed hashing over our teaching lives. I missed the regularity of things.

6. My family. And, there it is, the crown of all things missed. The whole time I was discovering the ruins of Pompeii, the Coliseum, the Oracle of Delphi, I was thinking how much my family would have loved it. Not the huge throngs of people, no, those they could’ve done without, but the history, the richness of humanity’s past, the amazing architecture and ingenuity of such a long-ago time. I missed talking with my mom and playing Jeopardy with my dad. I missed talking about our days and sitting at the table after dinner.

I had an amazing trip. For the first time I saw things I’d only imagined, and they’re real. I came back to school re-energized to teach Latin, and that’s the best reason I can think of to go on this trip.

Stay tuned.

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!

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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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