Category Archives: Reflection and Observation

Life, Post-Wedding Style

In this week’s episode, Hannah finds out that being an adult is not a box of chocolates.

Adulthood is more like dumping all of your money into buying the world’s most expensive, hand-crafted, artisan box of chocolates using the world’s oldest recipes from the birth of Historic Record, and having someone eat them, when you’re not looking, on the bus.

For the bum who ate them, they were fantastic, but it’s just not at all the fate you imagined for your precious dreams.

Marriage is excellent. Between the happiness and wholeness it brings and the cost of ending, it’s hard to conceive why people could even dream of divorce. But I know everyone has their reasons.

Moving was great. After college and my family home being sold and living out of suitcases most of the past four years, it was so refreshing to come back from our honeymoon to a home. Our stuff was in it, our cars were in the driveway, and our mail found its way to the box at 2:30 p.m sharp.

Working minimally from home was great until a woman realizes how bored she can get and how much money this “adulthood” thing requires. Thus, a job (part-time) was found.

Bills and loans are the devil’s coloring book.

Being a Stein? Probably the best move I could have made as an outdoorsy, adventurous lady. I’ve got my hunting license and a tree stand and I got my two extra doe permits. I’m helping to conserve and control wildlife populations while eating like a queen. Plus, the wood stove and a hot cup of coffee after waiting in the rain two hours for no ducks makes the whole experience complete. Beards are in.

So thus far, it’s all checking out okay. The Ideation Post-Marriage Update is a winner.


Oh yeah, and then being asked to leave your new home because you asked for a repair that was three months late… That part was not so much fun.

But finding a newer, better, warmer home a week later? We’re back on the blessings list.

The house which we had found for the first two months of our marriage was nice enough. It was an old house with no central heat, slanted floors, cracking ceilings and a few mice, but it was colorful, cozy, and had a backyard that overlooked cows. However, after the brief and dwindling heat of a New York summer starts to fade and the residents can see their breath inside in October, a chill (far more than literally) starts to set in and you realize that the justifications you made for loving this house so much don’t apply when you have to keep from freezing all through a long and unsympathetic winter.

To avoid divulging more information than would be proper for this circumstance, all I will say is the lack of insulation had been overlooked by all parties connected to this house. Then, when we needed that warmth most, we were thrown out into the cold.

With 30 days notice and bills and loans to pay, there was brief panic. I had just finished adding a tapestry over our bed and putting up our movie cards to bring some life to the living room. It seems that only a day after I begin to truly feel like the house is our home, we’ve been told that not only is it no longer our home, but we’ve brought this upon ourselves. Fighting feelings of immense injustice, we pushed on with the search for something better, owned and maintained by better people.

Less than a week later, we find a place we like. A day after viewing it, Matt and I had a conference and realized that in our own separate times, we realized we loved this place. It was smaller, but newly renovated, quiet, warm and right in town. It is (quite literally) a thirty second walk from the place I’m working for now. And the people who own it are sweet and on the ball.

Put a rambunctious tortoiseshell foster kitty named Tinker, some good friends and some great culinary adventures, and you have two Stein peas in a cozy center-of-town pod 😀

That’s the moderately brief, mostly upbeat summation of 5 months of married life. On one hand, I feel like we’ve just settled in, and on the other hand, I can’t believe we haven’t been here forever. We’ve dealt with our share of sorrows, frustrations, confusion and chaos, but it’s all been tangled together in a nest-web-ball-tangle of overall blessings and good.

So after a long time away and a few nudges, I’m back. I can’t make any promises about my consistency, but at least I’m still around.

And that’s enough for now.


Unforeseen Circumstances

Note – I know it’s Monday, but when you have unfinished posts you want to complete, you find a way. Roll with it!

Wednesday is the new Friday and man, today is one of those days.

Wednesday has never been my favorite day. I won’t subscribe to any of that “hump day” business, especially due to a flagrant dislike of the Black Eyed Peas song.  In general, Wednesdays remind me that the tough start of the week may be over, but we still have half of the days to finish up. When a Tuesday feels like a Friday, Wednesday is the worst because in your mind, it should be Saturday… and instead, you have 3 days of work remaining. It’s a similar feeling to waking up and, thinking you missed school, tearing around the house at six a.m to get ready. Then, just as you’re walking to the bus, your mom stumbles out of her room, bathrobe clutched together in one hand, to remind you it’s the weekend, and why can’t you ever be ready on time every other day?

To begin, my car is much like a celebrity. To all outside onlookers, it looks healthy, soundly built and pretty handsome. It even has tiny flame decals. However, when one gets to know my car better, it starts to show signs of wear and instability – indicator lights coming on, strange noises, a spongy delay to the breaks, a slow leak in the tire. We take it and put it through gentle rehab and it looks ready to face the world again. Give it two weeks to a month and it’s back to the same drama – new parts and time. I thought I happened to own the world’s most high-maintenance car based on the number of repairs needed in such a short time. My dad informed me that, much like celebrities, the issues and drama are normal and my car is really no worse off than any other. It just likes all the attention and in another few years, it will just accept the fact that it’s not hot stuff anymore and will resign itself to running errands for old ladies and puttering kids off to school.

In other words, Nicholas Cage and Disney. It’s going to spend all our money and then finally work well for us when it has no other choice.

So on this fateful Wednesday, the car was in the shop. It needed a lot of replacements – fuel lines, brake lines, ball joint, power steering fluid. Under the impression that the shop would be done with it this morning, we drove into Solon from our new house in Cleveland. The people I work for expected me to be late, but when I called them and told them it would be close to noon, they weren’t the happiest. I am blessed to work with very flexible, understanding people, but I also work with animals who can be a little less understanding, especially when hungry or needing to pee. We’re working with what we’ve got. Along with some unusual personal issues, dealing with businesses and people connected to the wedding, there have been a lot of unforeseen circumstances muddling up my month.

“The Unforeseen” have been teaching me a lot, though. Order things months in advance. Make sure you’ve got all the right information from the start. Make sure you do everything you can so that you aren’t to blame when “circumstances” become “facts of life”. And make sure you are prepared to do what must be done to fight biting disappointment and clean up the messes left behind when people (mortal as they are) let you down. TIP: NEVER PUT FAITH IN MORTAL BEINGS. They will find a way to take that faith and do bad things to it, much like Dolph Lundgren to magical unicorns (see hilarious Norton commercial here).

I’m getting married in two weeks to the love of my life, my best friend and confidant, my “tough with the scruff”. I have been hoping to share more about my summer, but between the end of work and wedding planning and my silly “s” key still acting up, blogging has been one of the last things on my mind. I’m planning on sharing my entire wedding band fiasco (another “unforeseen”) with you all at some point, mostly to serve as a consumer warning against the “big dogs” of industry and economy. In fact, one of the only things thus far that has gone wrong with wedding planning was Kay Jewelers, a Stirling Jewelers company, royally screwing up my wedding band and giving me the hardest time about getting my money back.

Weddings were once sacred. They have now become a giant, sucking black hole of burning cash and frills. You would think that people working in an “industry” with emotional, needy, selfish women (think the worst of the worst Bridezillas) would be a little more considerate and tactful when dealing with mistakes. No such luck, my friends, and for that Kay Jewelers will never get my money for any piece of jewelry, no matter how big, small, or encrusted in shiny stuff. However, before I start my big business rant early, I must redirect and say that in this minor case, the grand Unforeseen almost had me beat, but due to love and support and a stellar local jeweler, all’s well and Kay’s awaits my scathing internet review. Soon… *finger pyramid of doom*

When we least expect it, the Unforeseen can be those situations that bring us joy. People who I didn’t think would be available accepted my wedding invitation with excitement. Others who I would have loved to see and share my joy with were inhibited by life circumstance and travel. I know my wedding only needs to be Matt and me and our beloved officiant (flying in from the Great White North) in the sight of God, but I am so excited to share my one and only wedding with my loved ones, family and friends alike, overlooking the lake that is so close to my heart.

In closing for now, I have had people have mentioned the one “unforeseen” that Matt and I have banished from our list – Divorce. I have watched too many young marriages of people I know die within the first year because of laziness, misunderstanding and an unwillingness to accept the responsibility of the marriage commitment and God’s expectation for that union. This is a one-time event, baby, and once we say “I Do”, there will simply be no going back.

Looking at the man I’m going to marry, I’d say I’m perfectly all right with that. I’ve waited my whole life for him to come along, and now that he’s here I’d be a fool to chase him away. Twenty-two years is a long time to have otherwise wasted waiting for love.

I’ll do what I can to write a couple posts before the wedding, but in case of unforeseen circumstances, I look forward to reporting to you from Akron, New York as Mrs. Hannah Stein. I’ll have adventures and travels and stories to share, and we’ll finally be back on track!

Two years ago, I would never have imagined that I would now be in the throes of preparing to marry my best friend. Now that it’s only two weeks away, I can’t imagine a future without him. Funny how things change, isn’t it?

Be well, everyone!

A World of Pure Culination

I refuse to be a starving college student. College gets played up as being the place where penniless kids escape from home with only drier lint and gum wrappers to line their pockets. Ramen is a food group, sleep is non-existent, and food sent from home and Chinese take-out leftovers stolen from friends are the only reasons half the campus is still alive and semi-conscious. The college diet should properly consist of coffee, toast, noodles, cookies and canned soup. If an entire daily serving of vegetables is not cut into perfect cubes and soaked in watery chicken stock, life as we know it has jerked to a halt.

Those aren’t vegetables – they’re tiny little salty cubic lies.
 Bruised café apples are a luxury. Daily vitamins are a must.

Call me crazy, but I like making waves. I have never wanted to be that college kid.

I was spoiled rotten growing up with a mother who was such a fine chef. “Cook” seems to imply occupation and mediocre skill, but “chef” has an air of authority and respect. My sister and I occasionally wanted to go to McDonald’s or eat Lucky Charms, but it was never a first choice or a last resort. Mom always had food (and good food, mind you) on the table, hot and flavorful and ready to eat right when Dad got home. With a mom who can cook, really cook, you stop believing that fast food is actually edible. Sure, I sometimes enjoy going out to eat cheap grease-trap fare, but with a mother like my mother… let’s just say any other culinary offering is a step down from the best.

If we're going to be honest, Mom and I do enjoy the rare lunch of sweaty, overweight champions (aka White Castle). Shame.

Despite my well-fed upbringing, I had the impression that college was all learning and friends and had nothing to do with food. Living in the dorms, as I did my first three years, I did some dabbling in cookery in my spare time – the occasional ramen stir fry with my roommate or dressing up cafeteria leftovers (they looked great in little ties and hats). This was a step ahead of most of my friends.

Is it roast beef or shoe leather? Dressed up with mushrooms, onions and some soggy broccoli, it's edible. That's all that matters.

However, with work and a meal plan and itty-bitty kitchens with smoky electric stoves, as well as a lack of proper cookware, I refrained from doing much culinary exploration through junior year. The most adventurous I got was hand-kneaded homemade bread, and that was on Tuesdays when the only class I had was Philharmonia. Overall, I was content to eat bland cafeteria dinners and occasionally go out on the town to China Star or Subway. This pattern broke a little during summers at home when I would offer to help with dinner.

Form follows function follows an empty plate.

I also love to bake. The problem at Houghton is that, just like all the guys seem to play guitar masterfully, all the women bake. The ones who bake the most are praised and adored, and I just got tired of trying to fight them for attention even though I was confident that we were matched in skill. Baking was mostly set aside. I suppose I was a “typical” college student, but something inside me sang like Belle and plucked dandelions on hillsides and yearned for something more than this non-glamorous diet of carbs and processed cheese-flavored substances. Then, one day, it walked into my life. Rather, I walked through the front door.

My apartment was waiting.

In the frantic rush to escape from screaming girls and bipolar plumbing, I applied and was accepted for a Campus Living Option apartment (CLO) for the 2011-2012 school year. I had no roommate and was thrilled to be situated in a third-floor house apartment overlooking the woods behind campus. I have my own deck and back entrance, a spacious bedroom and bathroom, comfortable living and entertaining space. And then, there’s the piece de resistance; a medium-sized kitchen with wrap-around counter, cupboards, walk-in pantry, full-sized fridge, oven, 4-burner stovetop and sink. It also has a table for four. Compared to the card table and mini-fridge that had once been my entire cooking space, this kitchen is like a Grecian temple. On a college budget with a college mindset, this is a place of extreme luxury and ridiculous amounts of space. In reality, it’s a modified kitchen with the exact model stove from the dorms. But it’s my kitchen, full of my dishes and spices and ambition. This is my five-star experience.

Best seat in the house - having only seen a little of the house below me, I shouldn't judge. But I will anyway.

I have made more full meals in this kitchen that in my own kitchen at home. I have hosted many different guests for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I’ve baked and sautéed and fried and boiled and chopped and mixed and folded and kneaded in this kitchen. I’ve made soup and stews and bread and casseroles and salads and desserts and three-course meals. Out of all of my cooking adventures, I’ve only ever had one clear failure of method – Brethren Cider Pie. The flavor was outstanding, but it’s just too hard to fold egg whites into cider that has not yet been reduced to syrup. Despite this one occasion, I have carried on with determination and, according to my enthusiastic fiancé, resounding success.

Beef "Stewp" - I wanted to call it "Stoop" but it looks too close to "oops", which this meal certainly was not. Don't forget the homemade rosemary garlic bread.

One of the greatest successes that I have had while living here was not solely being able to cook “real” food. It’s the fact that I’ve been able to cook and eat healthy, balanced meals. I started Weight Watchers in May of 2011. In three months, I lost approximately thirty pounds, shedding all of the weight I had gained in the previous school year and more. It’s possible to be living as a full-time college student and still eat well. One of the beautiful things about WW is the ability to eat what you want, but in balanced moderation. I have loved trying new recipes, tweaking old ones and continuing to cook my little heart out.

Like this, for example... From a WW recipe, it's Brazilian Chicken with Lime-Cilantro Black Beans and Rice. Ole!

Especially in this place, full of “typical college students”, I have had plenty of feedback and opportunities to share what I love doing with people I love. I’m prepared to start a home with my better half in less than six months, and ready to test my skills to the max when I have a constant food critic in my house. The beauty of this whole experience is that it’s not just about the cooking – it’s about learning, growing and bringing myself and others joy and a delicious outlook on life.

Honey Wheat Quick Bread. Who knew "sandwich" and "quick bread" could be in the same sentence? I do now.

And everyone keeps asking themselves over for dinner.

So The Dowager Countess Walks Into Tim Horton’s…

It feels like the beginning of a very long joke.

Some couples have movie dates. Some couples curl up on the couch to catch their favorite sitcom. My fiancé is no simple creature, and I am no simple girl. We hit the whole town, see the sites, and spend two and a half hours trying to watch an hour-long episode of Downton Abbey.

It begins very simply – a thought.

Let’s watch Downton Abbey over Skype Monday night, he says.
Fantastic! Right after work, TV date it is, I say.

It becomes a little more complicated – Monday is a horrible, disagreeable day.

Are we still watching Downton Abbey? He asks timidly.
*sniffle* Of course. Why wouldn’t we? I reply.

A terrible afternoon later – in my emotional distress, I strike brilliance.

*blubber-sob-sniff* Y-y-you know what we should do? I ask.
Aww, what’s your idea? He inquires tenderly.
*trumpeting nose blowing* W-we should meet in Warsaw and w-watch together at T-Tim Horton’s!

Brilliant. A date it shall be. I’ll bring my headphones.

Fast forward through my ten minutes in Symphonic Winds, a dinner eaten standing up and a very long night calling answering machines and disapproving parents of alumni – I’m on the road to Warsaw.

Early on in the longer-distance portion of our relationship after his graduation, Matt and I became mildly attached to the town of Warsaw, New York. It’s halfway between Houghton and Corfu, home to a McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s, Tops and Wal-Mart, mom-and-pop shops and a few scattered gas stations. It’s the kind of town where the Wal-Mart closes at ten and you can buy everything there except the items you’re really looking for. You itch and squirm watching emaciated cats slink around the dumpsters behind a popular family diner, but you make up for your disgust by watching puppies play through the pet store window around the corner. It’s not a lot to look at, but it has a settled, quiet feeling of familiarity. It’s this place we know.

After a half-hour of driving hunched like Quasimodo, squinting into the dark, singing along to my iPod, and almost making raccoon confetti, I pull into the coffee shop and wait for Matt. He arrives only a few minutes after, dark chocolate and flowers in hand (daisies, my favorite), and proceeds to tell me that our friend Timmy Horton does NOT have Wi-Fi, but his greasy older brother McDonald’s definitely will. Bemoaning my temporary lack of coffee, I accept his gifts with bubbliness and joy, and we hop in Nanny McPhee (his car, another story for another time) and drive a minute down the street.

Entering McDonalds, we immediately discover that fast food joints don’t usually cater to the soulful coffee shop writer or the productive businessman on his lunch break – the only power outlet is right in front of the main counter. Besides this fact, they are closing their dining room in ten minutes. I spent five of those ten minutes with my laptop perched on a half-wall attempting to connect to the free internet. The second five minutes was spent ordering chicken popcorn dippers and starting the download of our episode from iTunes.

Unfortunately, the world is not a wish-granting factory* and the episode will not magically download in five minutes.

Fortunately, the kind employees informed me they would still have the Wi-Fi active and I could pick it up from the parking lot.

Unfortunately, my laptop battery has the energy of a sugar-rushed toddler – it musters massive excitement and productivity for two minutes and then crashes out-cold for hours.

Fortunately, I have an AC adapter in my car so I can run my computer out of the cigarette lighter.

Unfortunately, my car is still at Tim Horton’s with the cops stationed across the street and the creepy guy sitting smoking in his parked Volvo.

Fortunately, as we walk out the door to the parking lot, I spot an outlet conveniently placed on the front of the building, nestled in the landscaping.

Plug ‘er in.

Why drive a whole two minutes in warmth and comfort when you have outdoor power access? Like some sort of dignified crack addict, I snuggle comfortably in the mulch against the plate-glass front window of Mickey D’s and munch on my food while the episode starts its lengthy download – 45 minutes. We came all this way for Downton Abbey. If it means a little mulch on my jeans and cold chicken plus the judgment of total strangers pulling in for a late-night snack, so be it. We need our fix of noble Lord Grantham, the snarky Dowager Countess, dashing (and lame) Matthew Crawley and our utter despising of Thomas the Unbearable… and the whole host of other cast members. But those are the ones we talk back to the most. Or yell at. Or refuse to acknowledge at all.

Ten minutes later: one eighth of the episode is downloaded, the internet is on the fritz, my hands are frozen stiff and all that is left of my chicken is oily cardboard and some honey mustard. The time is  11:30 p.m. Matt has the level-headed idea to pack up and drive over to Tops to check on their internet situation, if there even is one. After leaving me in the car and running inside, he returns from the scout to report the good news that Tim Horton’s employees are big fat liars and they-do-so have internet. They just deny it to keep away the riffraff. We’re not riffraff, we’re just BBC fiends. The second good news is that if TH boots us out, a restaurant in town keeps their wireless on all night and we can get it from two blocks away. Back in the car we go.

We know better than to just skip in the door flaunting our internet usage all over the store. We craftily enter, order drinks and a red velvet brownie and take a seat in a corner. Good, paying customers are worthy to stay and peruse the web while drinking out of the fine beige china. Again, the laptop makes an appearance. And again, disappointment… there really is no internet. Tops workers are horribly misinformed. Downton Abbey is rapidly becoming Downturn Abbey, and Hannah is getting tired.

Rather than just surrender, the determination of young fools in love (with both each other and their Masterpiece soap opera) drives us to the next realistic solution – parking Errol Flynn (my car, the swashbuckling Honda Accord) in the dark restaurant parking lot in town, sketchily sitting in the backseat while the car idles without its lights. For the first time in history, a couple is only using a car’s backseat for innocently watching British television together on a much-needed date after a very long and miserable day.

In actuality, hooking up the computer to my stereo provided us with the best viewing experience to date. Our internet held and we streamed the episode from PBS with only one brief wireless glitch. The sound was good, the episode was intense, the coffee was comforting and delicious and the company was the absolute best. Parting ways an hour or so later, we both agreed it was another successful midnight adventure for the Bear and the Trundlebug.

The punch line? Two best friends just came to see what Warsaw.

Because this episode of Downton Abbey was set in World War 1?


I think we’re done here.




*Thanks for this brilliant phrase go to John Green from The Fault in Our Stars

** Be grateful. Your alternative was a joke about the invasion of Poland.

Only a Thaw (But The Best Is Yet To Come)

“Either everything will fall apart, or poetry will make everything alive again. It’s not going to stay like this.”

-Matthew Stein, Words from a Dream

January thaw in Houghton is a bit like a teaser trailer for the next highly anticipated movie – it may be weeks, months, years before the main feature is released, but it’s all you can think about until the moment the first screenings open.

Unfortunately, the season of spring can’t be leaked online, it cannot be interviewed, and there’s never an exact release date, especially in western New York. Spring may come as early as March or as late as June. All the snow may disappear overnight, or there may be a period of uncomfortable indecision where snow boots and a t-shirt may be a compromise.

The thaw is cruel as well as kind in its winter reprieve – it will haunt you until the first daffodil breaks through the crust of slush on the grass and the temperature stays above fifty for more than two consecutive weeks. It also allows you to carry on through winter with some optimism. You will dream of fresh air, the cloudless sky, of sitting in the grass with bare feet while listening to peepers sing to their mates. Spring is a siren; a trap; the very best strain of seasonal disease. She infects and she lingers and she overwhelms you with a sense of security and warmth. She leaves no lasting damage, only seamless transition. You don’t think of winter, you only think of tomorrow and the breaking of a new day, just like this.

The thaw is just a sampling of the real thing, but in the State of Perpetual Winter, you cling to what you can get without complaint.

The afternoon air is registering at 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Proper steps must be taken:

–          Exchange a sweater for a long-sleeved t-shirt.

–           Slide open the storm windows to let in an ozone and grass-laced breeze.

–          Slip off ski socks and slide into flip flops.

–          Ignore remaining snow drifts and icicles hanging from gutters.

–          Listen to the animals waking and scratching, to the birds twittering unseen in the trees.

–          Feel the warmth of the noon sun on face.

Close eyes, breathe deep. Exhale, repeat.

I am no fool – I will not miss an opportunity to bask in the gloriously soothing glow of mid-winter sunlight. There may be snow on the ground, but if it smells like spring and you can comfortably walk about with only a light jacket, there’s a sign of hope. There is an end in sight; there is affirmation that winter is neither the conclusion nor the stopping point… that there’s something more than this, something yet to come.

Reminders of this truth are everywhere. One that sticks prominently in my mind is the Disney animation for the 1919 version of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The underlying message is that destruction is a natural part of the flow of life. Despite what may happen or what forces may lash out and seem to tear the world apart, there will be renewal. There will be dawn and life and growth and light.

Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain took me a longer time to figure out, but it’s along the same lines. We have death and decay, and in a sense without it the world could not progress. If you only have growth and expansion, you face overwhelming surplus. Living forever on earth can only be accomplished by being a part of other living things; by feeding the earth in death. There is death, but it leads to new life and afterlife and ultimately a better existence. Death is not a means to an end but a means to a new beginning. Time is a cycle, time offers repetition.

I’m at a time in my life when this idea is showing up more frequently and an in more obscure ways. Celebrating my twenty-first birthday this summer, I found myself facing the death of my childhood, but through it finding the excitement of finally growing into adulthood. I had to say farewell to the benefits and joys of adolescence, but was then able to step forward into a brand new light of legality.

Graduation is the expiry of my formal education, of my time in this place with these aims, but without the end there would never be a new beginning elsewhere, utilizing the knowledge I have garnered here. (You can read more about my feelings on senior year here).

In just over seven months, I will be getting married. There has already been an ending to our “dating” relationship when we felt we had reached the preparedness and commitment to quest on to marriage through engagement. Soon, we shall face the termination of our lives as solitary individuals, but without this surrender we can never be together, bound in matrimony, united until physical death do us part. Some people try to accomplish this without sacrifice, but it’s not the way the cycle is supposed to function. An end brings a new and more wonderful beginning.

The end of a day brings the promise of a rising sun, and the falling snow brings hope hinted at by a welcome thaw. It’s an offering of grace.

Without winter, we would never know spring.

Igor Stravinsky – 1919 Firebird Suite

Bubble Girl

A typical last-semester of senior year: Friends sitting around a table in the cafeteria, laughing over an issue of the Drawing Board, talking about the session of senior seminar they just vacated, poking at the limp, flavorless vegetables on their plates and gnawing at leathery Sodexo pot roast. Pointing out the perspective students standing awkwardly at the cafeteria stairs, trying to look belonging but given away by the familiar purple folder clutched underneath their too-hot plate. Snow turns to rain out the large windows overlooking the quad, and the lunch rush leaves for their afternoon classes. The friends, blessed with relaxed schedules, recline and continue to share stories and memories, going around the table for another few minutes.

“Well, next fall SPOT, we’ll….”
“Just another Christmas Break, you know?”

“It’s been forever since we did coffee. Soon?”
“Sure, but it’s not like we’ll never see each other again….”

The table grows quiet as everyone, regardless of the separate conversations they were carrying on, lets the weight of the words settle over the group in a heavy layer of realization.

This is the last. There won’t be any more after.

When senior year of high school flew by, I wasn’t surprised. I had grown up with the people who sat at the desks next to me, many of whom I loved and many of whom I would not miss. I was ready to leave my birthplace, my origins, and prepared to blaze new trails and see new things and continue to learn and grow and open my eyes and take my first real steps into the world. It was a feeling of branching out, not parting ways. There wasn’t a pain in leaving as I knew at some point that we’d all be back. We all had common origins. We would have to return. And if we didn’t, it was for good reason.

The beauty and frustration of Houghton College is that it is a place that filled me with unrealistic expectations and a set idealism. I will always have hot meals available and a local coffee shop where the barista knows me and my order before I even step up to the counter. I will always have my friends within a ten-mile radius, and they will be available to talk and spend time at any hour day or night. I will get to be taught by experts in every field of my interests and spend time at length in their tutelage and friendship. There are enough jobs for everyone to earn some money, even at minimum wage. There is no need for police and there’s a preconceived notion that doors need not be locked and no one will ever steal from your bag. We are not spoiled by perfect weather, but there are warm beds to sleep in winter and when spring eventually wakes, she is the very essence of joy. There is no sound of the freeway, and skyscrapers and office buildings are replaced by pine boughs stretching towards an open sky. My commute to class is through the woods, crossing a weaving, burbling creek and smelling the moist dirt beneath the trees and feeling whispers of hushed wind through spreading branches.

We may feel a million miles from elsewhere, but this is home. No one really needs Wal-Mart when you have thirteen-hundred acres of woods, rivers and fields.

Only four brief months, and I’ll be like Truman, crashing my boat into the edge of my man-made sphere and climbing the skyward stairs towards the exit. When I finally get brave enough to sail to new horizons, harsh reality will tear through my sails and deconstruct the dream I created. It’s just plaster and paint. That’s not the sky.

I’ve spent four unbelievable years feeling like Houghton and Ohio were the only worlds that existed. I’ve known better all along, but it didn’t hit me until the other day that this is my community. This is the first place I’ve made a home all on my own. I bustle through to the post office; grab my mail and then a cup of coffee, running off to my next meeting and waving hi to the familiars on the sidewalk. I met my first boyfriend and found my last “forever” love. I won and lost and got published and was rejected and learned to build a thicker skin. I slept and I woke and I lived.

My belongings fill my apartment, my art on the walls, my baking in the oven and my favorite foods in the fridge. My blankets on my bed and clothes in my drawers. My lights that glow on the deck and my card telling everyone Cleveland, I love you peeking out from the door into the night.

My footprints are locked in the ice on the stairs.
My car leaves a dry spot on the driveway.
I tell them to come in, and I close the door behind them as they leave.
My key fits into the door.
My hand turns off the lights.

So short a time, and another’s belongings will fill this home. The smell of someone else’s cooking and the hanging of someone else’s art. Someone else’s mail will fill my box and someone else’s body will inhabit my usual seat in Java. They will find rest in my bed and a seat at my table. They will look out my windows and watch my birds and feel my floors beneath their feet. They will watch movies on the squeaky futon and have friends over and make a place and fill the empty space I will be forced to leave behind.

As much as I never thought I’d admit it, it will inevitably be a space that is cut from my heart.

In less than a year, I’ll find a new space and start a new life with a husband, my best friend, and we’ll make a new place ours, together. There’s already so much of him in this house.

While Ohio is a first and foremost,
this has become a home.

In a few months, we’ll throw our caps and be spread like scattershot into the many corners of the world – yes, truly the world. Houghton becomes a place of origin, like a womb from a second birth, the birth of adulthood. We’ll all have this place in common, but it will be home no longer once we have left. There’s a good chance we will not see each other again – not all of us. And as much as it hurts to think about the distance, it’s the way it’s supposed to be.

We can’t live in isolation forever,
but we can live well here while we still have the chance.

You beautiful creature.

Houghton, I love you

A Musical Matter of Trust… and Kansas

I have the unbelievable pleasure of getting to play with the classic rock band KANSAS this weekend.

Talk about a direct opening.

As an orchestra, we’ve been working our fingers to the bone (in my case, quite literally – callouses the size of Tic-Tacs) to prepare for this concert. Some of the music is quite complex and chock-full of runs and strange rhythms and, for us basses, long pauses.  There’s a good chance we won’t even have a full house, but the band will be here, we’ll be ready to play, and the people attending are in for what I believe will be a great show.

I’m stoked. I’ve interviewed Styx face-to-face with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, I’ve met the drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, I’ve been a tour bus away from Alice Cooper. Now, I have the opportunity to rock out on my bass and be a part of a classic rock experience. Pure thrill. I’m even missing my family clambake, an event I have attended loyally since my conception. It’s true, rock CAN come between family. But it’s an experience I may only get once, and I’m loving it.

Yesterday during a long rehearsal, I was waiting for my cue in “Point of Know Return” and our conductor (who hopefully will read this at some point) made a comment about the guest conductor who works with the band. He’ll be the one conducting us on the night of the show. We’ve never played with him before and tomorrow will be our first interactions. My mind wandered to the times in high school when we had the chance to play with a guest conductor, and I felt a pang of discomfort. For anyone who has ever been a part of an ensemble or small group or organization, you know the slight unease when facing a new leader. Even if the position is temporary, there’s a new face and a new way of thinking and a new movement in the room. You’re expected to act and play the same way with someone you have perhaps never met. You may never see them again.

For me, this experience ends up feeling very unsettling. It’s not a lack of confidence in my own abilities, or in the abilities of the guest or my fellow musicians. I know the incoming conductor has years of experience with a plethora of groups and venues, and I know that we know the music relatively well. The issue lies in that I don’t know this man – I have never been under his direction, I don’t know his technique or body language or cues or style. I have the same problem with graduate students. Someone new steps onto the podium, and I can play the right notes with enthusiasm, but they lack… heart and trust.

With a conductor I know, one who I’ve played under for almost four years and who welcomed me to Houghton, I trust his judgement in the music. I know that if I look up and wait for direction, I’ll receive it. I know the gestures and facial expressions to guide me through the tone of the piece. I can anticipate what he’ll ask for based on our performance or lack of confidence… or over confidence, as we basses sometimes experience with solid bass lines :). Eye contact doesn’t just mean I’m watching – it’s a momentary bond to show my anticipation in the music, my attention, my need for affirmation, and my devotion to the work and to the one in charge. Staring at my music, I show I’m insecure. I’m stuck, pinned to a pale page. But when I look up, I show confidence, I show interaction and I show respect that I’m a part of the music being made and I need to be led. When he messes up, we all graciously accept the mistake, knowing he works with our many mistakes every rehearsal. Musicians and their conductor have a relationship that, in the context of the rehearsal hall, enhances and changes. It becomes a one-on-one conversation with a whole crowd of people, and we make something extraordinary.

Imagine a web: strands connect to anchor points and reach to bridge gaps and balance the weight of the host. But each strand must connect to the center of the web, or it can’t be held up. Each reverberation that travels through a single strand of silk can be felt throughout the net. If the spider simply pulled a selection of threads and attached them to points but then never formed a center, there would be no web. There would only be a network of disconnected threads, each blowing in the breeze and catching nothing. In instrumental terms, you would have many musicians making a sound with no connection. We may make similar sounds or even be relatively in tune with one another, but a conductor provides the center, to feel the vibrations and test out the strength and help fix the weak portions. The movements are felt by everyone, but the conductor is the one who  directs and instructs. We trust him, and the one we don’t trust we can’t possibly play our best for.

All of these connects to a sort-of devotional and personal growth practice I’ve gotten into recently. During my internship this summer, my boss and I would start the day by looking at character qualities from the Virtues Project to focus our day. It helped to have a focus, both for our work and ourselves. By looking at those qualities every day, we also had places where we could continue to assess our characters and grow. After I finished my time in the office, I purchased my own set of Virtues Project Reflection cards. I have already started going through them, focusing on two qualities per week for a year. I try to practice and nurture those qualities one at a time. I hope to write more on that soon.

Thus far this year, I have found many that fit in perfectly with this theme of trust – Honesty, Loyalty, Gratitude, Self-Discipline, Zeal, Unity, Contentment, Wisdom. All of these qualities have a place in the musical world, especially one that requires cooperation of many parts and, of course, a leader. The goal for these uncertain places lacking trust is to learn to trust in order to inject ourselves fully into the situation at hand. Strive to be a part by making your trust a part of the process. For the sake of others and yourself, learn to trust in quick and uneasy times. Don’t trust blindly, but trust when you know that you must. When the  stranger reaches out his hand from a safe place as you quiver and tremble on the unstable precipice, be willing to take that leap when he says “You’re going to have to trust me.”

Doesn’t our Heavenly Father do the same all the time? He lets us make our own path and wander up to the edge of the cliff and step one foot off, then catches us and looks us in the eye and asks us, “Are you ready to trust me now?”

Even in the making of music, from the classical to classic rock,  we need to be willing to let a new person step in, hold out a hand and say “trust me.”

We can then, however, look forward to the time when normalcy in restored and we have comfort in familiarity and practiced trust once again. Well done, good and faithful bassist.

Tomorrow, I will try to play my best – to glorify God, to please my conductor,  and to support my fellow musicians in a time that is sure to rock.
We’re going to fight fire with fire and hold on at the point of know return, right before we head to the other side of the wall.

Carry on, my wayward son.

Trust me,
it’s going to be a fantastic time.

Live On – September 11 and Afterwards

At ten years old, I was no stranger to grief. Having experienced the death of several beloved pets, one grandparent and elderly friends and neighbors, I had known the baffling uncertainty of why God would take these people, these things away. I had known the trailing of hot, unbidden tears on my cheeks. I had known the stale waft of funeral flowers masking the smell of reheated coffee and death. I had known the somber shaking of hands and hugs and waiting in line to gaze on the face of someone who would never again gaze back.

So, at the death of my great-grandfather in 2000, I was now familiar to the rituals of funerals and death. I understood mortality and for the first time in a few years, I was part of the family of the deceased.

But I’m not writing about all that.

No, the part of that time that I remember the clearest was during the funeral, in between visitation and a memorial time. The kids (primarily my fourteen year-old sister, cousin and I) were all shown to a small side room with a TV and games and toys. We were given time to watch a movie and let the adults have some time with each other. My sister and I began giggling at the absurdity of E.T and some private joke we had just concocted. As we laughed and joked and began to lighten the atmosphere of our little space, my cousin whipped around dramatically and snarled at us, “How can you be laughing? You’re not supposed to laugh. Great Grandpa’s dead! That’s wrong!”

She continued to bury herself in a shade of brooding sorrow and anger at our apparent impertinence and breaking of code. We both were a bit taken aback, but brushed off her outburst, marking it as a part of her tendency to be over dramatic. My sister and I were sad, and we had payed our respects and cried and mourned. But we also knew that life went on, that factors would affect our attitudes and emotional states and that, in the end, we were children and it was permissible for us to find some joy.

America, do not get trapped in the pitfall of perpetual grief.

I am often worried when long-standing anniversaries of pain come up on the calendar. I do what I know to be right and good – I pray for those involved, I reflect on the events, I take time to thank God for His provision and care. But I also worry for those who lock themselves in dark rooms and refuse to smile and self-flagellate with solitude and blackness.

For the ten-year anniversary of September 11, I did not initially feel any connection to the day and the events. I know people who were directly involved in the attacks, particularly George Sleigh who was on the 91st floor of the North Tower. His story is unbelievable, and could only be told today thanks to an Almighty God. During the events, I was old enough and smart enough to understand some of what was going on and understand the gravity of the situation, and to feel fear. I have every reason to feel a very close, personal connection with the events. Then why do I not feel the same grief?

Because in that time, I felt God. In that time, I felt joy.

I remember walking into my sixth-grade classroom after lunch and finding most of my peers missing, gone home.  Teachers tried to explain what was happening, and classroom TVs were all tuned to the news, the towers smoking and burning over CNN. I was one of few who stayed the entire school day. No one demanded I be terrified, no one made me cry. That evening, my family gathered on my parent’s bed and Mom and Dad did their best to tell us what was going on. They didn’t cower in fear, they didn’t act like anything was different. For them, it wasn’t different. Before the distaster, they trusted God to take care of us and protect us no matter where we were or what we did. After the planes crashed and our country was personally attacked by our enemies, my parents were aware of the increased danger. They knew that this event changed our country and our safety. But they never stopped trusting God with our health and safety. Instead of mourning, we prayed, remembered, helped others, and kept going.

This entry today isn’t about my great-grandfather, and it’s not about death. It’s about the people who have gotten stuck, wallowing in the darkness of September 11. Don’t forget the sacrifices and remember the grief. Remember the ones who are lost, and pray for the people who either lost loved ones or struggle with the fact they survived. But don’t dwell on it. Don’t lock yourself away and mourn again. If we forget to keep living and having light amidst the dark, the darkness will always win.

Even in the shadow of death and sorrow, a smile and laughter can be had without guilt. Better to lighten the heart with a thought than to risk getting caught in misery again.

A clumsy finish to what began as a whole piece, but in the lateness of the day and the distance of my heart, that’s really all I want to say.

When the terrorist attacks on September 11 happened, America changed. Policies, ideals, beliefs all changed. But that change all feels like such a distance memory, doesn’t it? We adapt so well to change but sometimes we refuse to acknowledge how versatile we are. Mind you, I don’t want to seem like I’m downplaying what happened on that day. I know people are still hurting and may never quite heal. But all I know how to do is keep living as I have been, and keep praying for our leaders and our friends and our neighbors and the strangers. I get up in the morning, I put my pants on one leg at a time, I make coffee and I write a poem about the spotted apple on my kitchen table.

Is it wrong of me to feel like I was detached from September 11? Is it wrong of me to spend the day enjoying my time with others than in mourning and remembrance? I don’t believe so. If we panic and cower in fear and refuse to leave the house or get on a plane, our enemies have won a small victory. If we live like trapped animals, we live a cursed existence.

May we never forget ten years ago, America. May we never forget to keep living.

Hear George’s Story in his own words, courtesy of Parkside Church:

Note from the Author – I know we disconnected a bit there at the end, but getting back into the swing is harder than it looks. I’ll be posting again on Wednesday with either a piece of poetry (ah, rare treat) or another entry on the first weeks of school. Stay tuned and good night!

From the Archives – Noir

Why do we fear the dark?

As the shadows lengthen across the yards and the light begins to melt away from the sky, the darkness slithers like a serpent of the night beneath our doorways, through our slatted blinds and underneath our beds.
The mind becomes a master of disguise, shrinking our courage and enlarging all our fears, even those we had no idea that we had.

In the darkest watches, we fear the dark. We freeze inside of it, inside a noise or a draft or a mere feeling, and remain stiff and cold in the paralyzing blackness rather than run towards the light.

Once we’ve snuffed the candles out, once we’ve said goodnight and closed our doors, we should feel safer.
But why instead do we feel alone?
Why instead do we surrender to fear?

What lurks alone in every passing shadow that reminds us of ourselves? Of what we could be? Of what is lurking behind our own facades?

We are born into darkness, we embrace darkness to hide our faces. In the late hours, we hide our secrets in the folds of night, and tip toe down the passages that we have abandoned for so long, cobwebs spiraling across arched ceilings, drifting as a sticky vapor along the crown moldings and down the peeling, faded wallpaper.

Though these sights and sensations are what we know, we surrender to our fear

yet it seems we are too afraid to leave the dark.

That which we fear has held us captive,
and we know not our own selves

we forget the feeling of the light breaking through the dusk, the warmth of a sunrise on clammy flesh, remaining from the terrors that the darkness brings.

The mind is weak at night, fearing that which it cannot see and dying at the sight of the most familiar things that are veiled in ebony folds of evening, set and gone.

We are different creatures in the dark,
all of our emotions rolling forth in a tide,

a mirror
Blackness, like a forest pool, is our mirror into the deepest reaches of ourselves
for even rain can reach the seed deep under the ground, though the human eye does not know of its existence.

we see ourselves in the night,
and fearing ourselves, we run in the dark
but not towards the light
for even though we fear it,

the darkness is familiar
and we run towards what we know

And if only knowing fear,
then wrap ourselves in a blanket of the dark

and drift to sleep
before we forget
the racing of our own hearts

muffled by the sound
of rustling leaves,
a branch against the windows

and one owl,
asking us,
reminding us of who we are
before we forget
who we are in the sun.

Night Crawls In

Growing Up with Harry Potter

– a reflection of my childhood –

Fiery spells, dragons, witches, wizards, one Dark Lord. The Boy Who Lived. Castles crafted from magic and stone, creatures kept secret from the Muggle world. All of these elements held us captive as we stepped, one foot at a time, through a literary portal into the world of Harry Potter.

I remember the first time I held one of the books in my hand. It was fourth grade and the first two books were out on shelves. I brought it home because it fascinated me, all my friends were reading them and I flew through good books like the Concorde. My parents met my interest in the books with uncertainty. The Christian reviewing world had not done the books any favors by panning them completely without giving them a fair chance. One example lies in this review from World Magazine of the first three books – even though you can’t view the whole article, the first paragraph is laughable; bad things happening for no reason, wrongly marked as the modern successors to Chronicles of Narnia… The same issue of inherent evil lies in both works. The bad is brought by greed, lust for power and no concern for the sanctity of life and love. According to the Christian community, these books were pure evil, bent on driving children to Wicca or some other such cult. Somehow, what Dungeons and Dragons hadn’t succeeded at for decades was suddenly deemed possible by a few innocent children’s books.

Despite all the warnings against these “monstrosities”, my mother read the first one before me and was completely entranced. Enchanted, you might say. The spell of Harry Potter had been cast.

I began to read through the books with my parent’s permission and encouragement. When I first set my fingers to opening these books, it was 2001. I was eleven and was walking hand in hand with children my age, I in this non-magical, non-textual world. They were learning at Hogwarts and  I in Solon Schools. I felt no draw to the Dark Arts, but walked in step with my magical friends Harry, Ron and Hermione. Because of their shining and unmistakable fight for good, I looked to the light.

I watched as they learned their lessons and battled the difficulties in their young lives, and I in turn battled mine. We were both uncovering the most important lessons in life at the same pace – the importance of true friendship, the weight of unconditional love, and that revenge does not solve our problems. We fell in love together, we had heartbreak. We struggled through classes, they in Potions and me in math. As literary characters, they were written to be on a whole different plane of existence while still being able to relate to – and oh, how they were.

I finished and started new years in school and saw new birthdays, and Hogwart’s Key Three continued to grow and fight the impending evil in their fantastical world. When the Dark Lord returned, I felt the weight of darkness that Harry must be facing and an unavoidable sadness at the characters who were lost. I knew that this was not the purely feel-good series that I had known at first, but I kept reading. In a sense, I was growing up with these kids. I knew their pains, I knew their joys. It was experiencing a different culture – we have different expectations, gifts and experiences, but at the root of it, we understand each other. A child in Australia and a child in Solon, Ohio can both understand the frustration and awkwardness of puberty – Muggles and the Wizarding World are no different. J.K Rowling gave these characters, all of them, such spirit and such clarity in their emotions and their development. I knew their teenage angst, I felt their awkward social slips. Especially being a Christian who is always fighting against sin in her life, I could even relate to their struggle to ward off Evil. We shared all of this, and we shared sleepless nights as they pondered their quest and I read on.

My favorite pastime was preparing for and attending the new book releases with my friends like Adrianne and Rachel. It was like the fluttering anticipation of a new school year. I was going to be reunited with my friends, my heroes, and I was going to follow them on their continuing journey. They needed me and I needed them. We needed each other. We fell in love and bonded with new characters one at a time: Sirius Black, Lupin, Alistair Moody, Tonks. We even fell in love with some bad guys, but the bad guys I loved were not so bad in the end.

Cracking open the brand-new book on the night of its release, I would always enthusiastically dive into the prologue, catching up with Harry at Privet Drive, sharing his hatred of how poorly Dudley treated him, silently singing him Happy Birthday. But all was not well – darkness crept closer, and I stood by Harry as he faced it full on, making foolish mistakes in passion that I would have done as well. Run by his emotions and confused as to his purpose, he and I were linked in this lack of understanding ourselves, and we both figured through it. Piece by piece, our lives came together. I would never be in the position that Harry would face, but I could at least cheer him on and try to understand his ordeal.

Harry’s sixth year was the middle of my time in high school. Love was in the air and I suffered my first heartbreak. Hermione and I shared furious tears and when Ginny and Harry finally figured out their feelings, I rejoiced.  Amid the haze of love was a continuing pressing dark as Voldemort became stronger, and Harry and I began to learn together that life is not fair and that adulthood can spring on us far faster than we think we’re ready for it. But we learned that we have to grow into it, sometimes quickly. We learned that maturity must be understood before it can be implemented in our lives. We learned that people die, almost never when we expect and often too soon. We learned that the plan is much bigger than our understanding but that we all have some part to play. We learned that little tasks must be accomplished to get closer to achieving the grand goal. We learned that hardship does not let up to give us reprieve. It is not always present, but it does not run on our schedule.  We learned that people, our heroes, are not above the grasp of death or failure or sin. Magic does not mean immortal.

Finally, we reached the final chapter of our time together. I was at camp and my magical friends were also about to embark for the wilderness. They were forbidden to be seen in the magical world and I had to put them away at camp. They were to remain in hiding in both worlds.  Hunted by Voldemort and determined to crush him, the trio ran through the woods, forsaking their final year at Hogwarts. I ran through the woods chasing eleven year olds and prepared for my senior year of high school. It was a time of parting, sacrifice and sadness. But, over all of the shadows, it was also a time of happiness, of completion, of closure. So many truths came to light in their lives and mine. We said goodbye to friends and loved ones, some erased from our lives and others left behind. We felt physical and emotional pains and were crippled by the unexpected. I read by flashlight on a hill and raced with them through their adventure and felt the sting of loss and the global sigh of relief at their victory. We cried and we laughed and we missed the lost. We said much we didn’t mean. We buried the dead and clarified the mysteries and forgave the mistakes of the past.

And even when it was all over, we still had the upcoming movies to finish us out.

I grew up with those versions of our characters too. We all grew together and now we all have to part. Watching the final movie with my mother, a part of me felt my heart break as I watched this whole decade come to life on screen. I watched and followed these kids as they grew up, embodying the souls I’d come to bond with and love over the years. Christopher Columbus made no mistake in those casting choices – it is him that I thank for his wonderful casting. He gave Harry Potter life. He gave them heart. And when it all came to a close, I cried. I sobbed at the unrealized love of Severus Snape, at the falling of so many beloved people, at how far we all had come, at the realization that this was it. A chapter of my life has been closed, and now it is time, in a sense, to move on.

It takes a great author to write great characters. It takes great readers to love these characters as their own friends. It also takes a great reader to be able to know when something has come to and end. Rather than mourn the ending of one of the best adolescent series to ever be written, I rejoice that I got to be a part of this Harry Potter generation. I aged and matured and learned with these characters, one step at a time. I watched as Neville blossomed from awkward, ridiculed, bumbling child to a brave and fearless man, destroyer of the final Horcrux. I hated and pitied Draco Malfoy as he fought himself and the true state of his heart to decide whether he was to follow duty or morality. I mourned the deaths of Dumbledore, of Snape, of Lupin and Tonks and George and Dobby and Hedwig and Moody and Sirius. I rejoiced at the death of the Dark Lord.  As I said, it takes a great author to craft such wonderful,believable characters, good and evil, who will remain immortal in those pages. J.K Rowling, thank you.

Thank you for allowing me to grow up with these characters – my friends.
Thank you for helping me discover who I was through them.
Thank you for a childhood filled with joy, fear and magical wonder.
Thank you for giving me a world that I can and will pass on to my children in the years to come.

And to my friends in the world of Harry Potter,
to Harry and Hermione and Ron and all the rest,

I will not grieve the end of a childhood and the end of your adventure. I am starting and continuing my own life adventures, many of which I started while spending time with you. I am gazing at the horizon of my life and I can’t wait to reach it like you have.

I will not grieve the end. In a sense, this will never be the end.

Every time I read those books, we shall meet again.