Hidden Blessings


Readers, a month goes by in a flash when the life you’ve known for four years is almost at an end.

I’ve got a lot planned for you all in the near future – more recipes, updates on the end of college life, anticipation of marriage. In the meanwhile, I’ve been caught in a whirlwind of hidden blessings scattered like tiny seeds throughout my week. When I stumble across them, they burst into bloom.

The most recent that I would like to share involves the selling of my childhood home. You can read up on my original feelings on the matter in my post here. Since that post, I have come to terms with this change in life. However, with the house on the market for over a year now, we’ve all become a little more than detached and worn out with this worldly object that we have to hold on to until someone else wants it. It’s burdensome to live in your home like it’s already owned by another person.

Well, things change. We had our first offer.

The reason this is a hidden blessing is a wonderful story. Four years ago, my parents first began talking about a new life in the country where they could build an earth-sheltered home, have animals, dig a large garden, go off the grid. In a desperate wave to keep home close, I begged them to not sell our house until I was out of college. My sister was able to always “go home” from school, and I should also have that chance. They agreed.

Then, last year, my father lost/left his job and we were faced with a self-imposed ultimatum. We had to sell the house or we would be in serious trouble for numerous reasons. I was ripped in half, but I agreed it had to be done. I agreed, but I wasn’t ready to lose the only house I had ever known.

That was a year ago, and in that time we’ve had lookers but no one willing to settle down. I got engaged and have a set day that I’ll be on my own. And even though it’s not set in stone yet, a first offer on this house is a serious offer and bounds from where we were. Over an entire year and a couple months, we only have an offer just now?

Just as I’m two weeks from graduation?

Just as I’m getting ready to get married and leave home?

God works in wonderfully mysteriously and ironic ways.

If this all goes through, the transition is perfect. My parents are beginning an adventure in a new home as empty-nesters and I’m beginning the adventure of marriage. Just like the transition of my sister getting married was eased by my moving to college, we meet that glorious ideal crossroads again. Only this time, my parents will have fulfilled their promise and all the pieces fall into place. No word was broken, even by necessity. And we’re now all ready to let go.

Call it what you will – coincidence, irony, chance, but God is always faithful, especially in that dark hour just before the creeping calm of morning light.

It’s another hidden blessing, wrapped up in the vines of a tangled time away.

Two weeks until graduation, and I’m doing my best to stay strong.

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Sisyphus’s Kitchen – Beef is a Breakfast Food


Nota Bene: Many of my friends and readers have suggested that I share some of my recipes and cooking experiences. While I don’t want to be one of those bloggers with twenty blogs on twenty subjects to a million different audiences, I really want to share what I am learning with my readers. The encouraging response has been wonderful! Therefor, I am starting a new blog segment entitled “Sisyphus’s Kitchen” to share some of my cooking experiences, favorite recipes, one-serving cooking tips and helps for people looking to make great food on a budget. Stay tuned and good eating!

Being a fortunate student who has no early morning classes this semester, I will often wake up and have the urge to cook. Sometimes, it may just be baking some muffins to go with my coffee. I’ve ventured into the exciting realm of pancakes and bacon, breakfast sandwiches, baked oatmeal and even the simplest scrambled eggs and toast with a cup of Caribou Coffee’s Obsidian. I really enjoy starting the day with a solid breakfast, especially when I can eat slowly, savor my food and watch the sun rise… or just get higher in the sky.

The other night, I was getting ready for bed and felt the familiar prodding in the back of my brain. Hey Hannah, said Brain, you haven’t broken fast in a fancy fashion in a while. How about we do something traditional, like a scramble or sausage and eggs?

Brain was on to something. Early rising sounded like a plan! Only problem with this delicious decision – I had no sausage.

One thing that cooking on my own on a budget has taught me is how to be creative with the resources available to me. So, I started searching for recipe ideas online. I knew I had three pounds of ground beef in the freezer and, thus far, no ideas for their use. My inquiries led me to Allrecpies.com where a user had submitted a recipe for Beef Breakfast sausage.

Beef for breakfast? Beef is traditionally thought of as picnic-and-burly-American-man dinner fare. Steak, hamburgers, sloppy joe’s, spaghetti and chili are where beef belongs, but not at the breakfast table. Thanks to creative substitutions, beef can  be a wonderful, flavorful alternative to pork as a breakfast meat, and it can be enjoyed by those who are unable for whatever reason to eat pork with their morning noshing.  Since beef was what I had, I gave it a try.

In order to let the flavors blend, this may end up being as long as a two-day process or maybe just overnight. For the sake of time, I defrosted one pound of ground beef the night before and mixed in my seasonings so everything was ready for the morning. An alternative method would be to let the beef thaw one night in the fridge and then put the mixture together and let it rest for another 24 hours.

Homemade Beef Breakfast Sausage
adapted from papadooka’s recipe

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (originally marjoram)
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)

—-
Stir the brown sugar, sage, salt, basil, black pepper, onion powder, oregano*, and red pepper flakes together in a small bowl. Place the ground beef in a large bowl; Drizzle with maple syrup and add spice mixture. Mix beef and seasonings thoroughly with your hands until well mixed and seasonings are evenly integrated. Depending on when you’re making the mixture, refrigerate up to 24 hours to allow flavors to blend.

Divide the ground beef mixture into balls and shape into patties. Depending on how much beef you use and the size of patty you prefer, the number may vary from 6-10. The beef will shrink up as it cooks, so if you like thinner patties, flatten them more as you shape them and press on them gently with a spatula as they cook.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the patties until firm, hot, and cooked in the center, 5 to 7 minutes per side. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 160 degrees F (70 degrees C). If you don’t have a thermometer, check one patty to make sure the inside is fully cooked and no longer raw and pink. Be careful of overcooking as these can get dry. Serve warm.

—-

I really enjoyed this recipe. Served with a poached egg and homemade wheat toast with jam, it was a good morning indeed. I made about eight patties and I ended up freezing the extras (one disadvantage to living alone – I’m often freezing my many leftovers so that they won’t go to waste). A few notes to consider:

  • If you don’t like spicy sausage, either cut the red pepper down significantly or remove it. I do suggest you replace it with another seasoning for some flavor and heat as the patties have the potential to be bland without it. I did notice a lot of spiciness in mine,  so for personal preference, adjust as you see fit. It’s a savory sausage more than it is sweet. If you like it sweeter, add more brown sugar.
  •  Adapt this recipe for a maple sausage – reviewers recommended adding some imitation maple flavoring or more syrup to enhance the maple flavor – something to try and experiment with. Do NOT use pancake syrup – it’s not the same as real maple syrup.
  • *Spice is nice – I had no marjoram, which I’m sure would be delicious in this recipe. Instead, I used oregano and doubled the amount (from 1/4 tsp to 1/2) to make up for the intensity of flavor.

Finally, don’t be afraid to try a few small batches to see what you like best. The difficulty with raw meat/egg recipes is that it’s not recommended that you add spice to taste before you cook – yuck. This is one of those times where you can add and subtract and find the perfect combination of ingredients to suit your tastes, but you’ll only know it worked after cooking – it may just take some time to get it just right!

Eat well and read on!

For Weight Watchers Points Plus, each patty is 2 points.

Note – I will also be changing my WordPress username to SisyphusFalls. It’s my username for most other sites that I am part of. Nothing about the blog will change, just the name you see with my account 🙂

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.

Ma’am, Is That Your Arm?


Why must waking up often include startling experiences? 

Ah, a day for out-of-body, in-body experiences. This morning, I experienced the phenomena of arm limpness – something I have only had happen one other time in my life. The last time it happened, I panicked. Who wouldn’t? I’m moving my arm and it’s not convinced that I really want it to go anywhere. I’m making a fist and waving and panicking and it just flops there like blubbery seal on the beach.

Round two of limp arm syndrome –  I was taking a nap on my couch and my arm (somehow reaching the state of jello) flopped off my chest where it had been resting and my hand hit the floor. My eyes snapped open.

By goodness, someone has stolen my limb. *glance off the couch* No, never mind, it’s over there. Crisis averted.

I knew immediately what had happened simply because it doesn’t take a person long to realize their arm is possessed (or dispossessed, as the case may be) and no longer 100% connected to the rest of the body.  What was spooky was that I could simultaneously feel the weight of my arm off the couch, hanging into space like a useless twig and straining my shoulder, as well as still felling my arm weighing down on my chest. As if it had never fallen asleep.

I tapped the fingers of the ghost arm – my fingers on the floor wiggled. I tried to move the “arm” from my chest to where it physically rested near the carpet in an attempt to reconnect the mental and physical feelings. Rather than connect them, my limp arm just moved up toward my head, as if I was stretching. After a couple minutes of making myself into an awkward puppet of a sleepy college student, I reached over with my left arm and pulled the limp right back onto the couch and “matched” it with where the feeling of the chest arm was laying. Feeling flooded back, first in tingling and then in a wave of icy trickling. And now I’m writing with it, as if it had never been gone in the first place.

So strange to think that while in my head everything felt normal, anyone with eyes could have said “Um, Ma’am, is that your arm?”  

And I’m assuming I’d tell them well, yes, but I just really can’t control it.

I understand a little more about “phantom feelings” of amputees. The brain is trying to hard to compensate for something missing that it tries to make everything normal, still connected, despite the obvious fact that things are not all as they should be. But when in the right place, parts become functioning again, and the brain is able to stop trying so hard to make those missing connections and continue to function as it had been.

What amazing creations we are.

And how very nice it is to be awake. 

Location, Location


Here’s a thought – does our geographic location really determine the appropriateness of our actions?

In other words, does our moral compass rest on the compass rose?

Mull over this absurdity for a moment – you’re sitting in church and a younger couple, fighting their raging hormones like they’re contestants at the Running of the Bulls, are making out furiously in the pew in front of you. Finally noticing the piercing stares and slack jaws , the young man pulls away from his lip-lock and scoffs, insisting that if he were sitting outside in the park or in a popular night club that this behavior would be completely appropriate and it’s only because they’re sitting in church that no one understands their actions.

Closer to home – you’re a student in your senior year at a small, private, “faith-based” liberal arts college in the northeast. Your campus is really lovely, academics are decent and the student population generally has a reputation of being closeted, naïve and completely ignorant as to how the “real world” functions. You come across a few characters on campus whose behavior is less-than palatable. Their attitudes, ideas, treatment of others and perceptions of their little universe are negative and usually skewed by their resentment of their upbringing. When confronted or caught in an act which might mar their reputation, they become horribly defensive and formulate an argument that sounds very similar to the justification from the scenario above.

In summary: Just because we are in a place where a certain behavioral expectation and accountability has been established, does that give us the excuse to act as we wish just because we claim people don’t understand us?

Oh, now I remember… in the Bible, Jesus said that we should go out and become just like the world because that’s acceptable, and we should just blow off any obligation we have to strengthening our character and modesty because those Christian school people are a bunch of squares anyway. Let’s go eat some fish, man.

No…. No, he did not.

It wasn’t about whether or not it’s frowned upon where you are but not in some teen night scene. That’s really not the point. You can’t just blame the disapproval of your actions on the narrow-minded bigots you are stuck with. Policies and rules and social implications do not just all become obsolete because you choose to have an attitude and act in ways that defies all moral constructs. What is sad is when we reach a point where we cling to that petty justification and shut everyone out as a result. 

A Matter of Choice


I’m a writer, it’s a holiday. Obligation states I acknowledge the day. Carrying on…

I have spent the last three years following a progression in terms of Valentine’s Day – a year of singleness followed by a year of year of dating followed by a year of being engaged. Despite the fact that I spent one year without romantic attachment and this year was spent with my husband-to-be, I haven’t really monitored distinct differences in the days or how I was affected by them. I know that this year I had plans, but the overall feeling of the day itself is no different.

For me, that really speaks to the nature of love, not some silly holiday.

I have always felt loved. I have not always felt like I deserved it, but that’s where grace comes in.

A slightly younger and more cynical me wrote this about Valentine’s Day four years ago:

“Love” – it doesn’t exist. Sure, we can claim it’s the “reason for the season” and give all our affection to the one we “love” the most. But what happens when Valentine’s Day is our only excuse? The rest of the year we ignore the needs and emotions of others, but as long as we buy those carnations on Valentine’s Day, our lack of love the rest of the year is pardoned with a standing ovation.

Don’t get me wrong, handing out flowers every day of the year won’t make every day a day for valentines, but we should keep that same mindset. Why only have one day to love people?”

Apparently, I was a bit of a linguist as well:

“Besides, we don’t know what love means anymore. People date, throwing “love” out in the open and two weeks later break up and feel like life isn’t worth living. Uttering a simple word will not change emotions or expressions, and our overuse only proves we are ignorant to what it truly means: “Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” and “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”.

Love doesn’t have to be a romantic, swooning overdrive of the soul. But we use it like we use any other word: without thought and without understanding. Too often we use it, thinking we know what it means and how it feels, but we are almost always wrong. Love is not an emotion: it’s a state of the heart. True love, not the fluff that we lace into so many conversations, is not shallow, stingy or simplistic. Love is nowhere near that tingling we get in our stomachs when our adored person of choice comes down the hall. Love is the soul-deep affection and compassion for others that cannot be replaced, cannot be formulated no matter how influenced your brain is by it. True love lives for others, and not itself. Love is forgiving. Love is selfless. Love has been destroyed by society.”

I don’t think I would stitch that last statement onto a pillow – my heavy-handedness stemmed from singleness, teen angst and frustration at people with heads as empty as flower pots. Despite my hyperbole, however, there is a lot of truth in that statement. Love has been stained by societal expectations and its new understanding influenced by the media. TV shows for anyone over the age of thirteen frequently offer the idea that love is synonymous with sex and that love is as easy to return, lose, or exchange as any sweater from the Gap. In terms of what we know from popular culture (and seeing as culture is a societal construct), Love can be defined in three ways:

1. Love is a living thing that, if not fed and watered and influenced by the proper measures of attention and care, will die and cannot be resurrected – no choices, only consequences. When it’s gone, we replace it with another living thing and the cycle continues until we finally bite the dust.

2. Love is a state of being, just like “fatigue” or “hunger”. There are periods of life when people are “in love”, but that time fades and we can fulfill its needs through various outlets including sex, gifts and shallow material offerings.

3. Love is a mirage. Marriages today are like jobs – fifty years ago, a man worked the same job all his life and then retired. Today, if a man is lucky, he stays at the same company for ten years before being laid off or becoming bored with his prospects. Love is really just an illusion but doesn’t actually exist. It’s a placeholder for whatever better thing will come along.

Who wants to be in a steady, consistent, monogamous relationship when there’s so much love to find in the world? Who wants to be trapped with only one option? In the words of Peter Pan, “Forever is an awfully long time.”

True love is not a trap or a cage.

Love does not inhibit and it does not deny. Love never fails.

Love is not a status or an incurably diseased organism or a worn-out idea. Love is a choice. Love IS a state of the heart. You choose to love someone. Love only dies because people willingly let it die – they stop tending it, they have no desire to nurture it, and after all the care they poured into it in the beginning, they try and seek the easy way out. Worse than just letting love die is letting it die because attentions were drawn elsewhere. There were “better things” and “better opportunities” that came up, and the previous object of affection was a mistake or a misstep.

I choose to love, even when there are no guaranteed rewards for my actions or promise of reciprocation. I love because I am called by God to love, because I am made to love, because I cannot deny it or escape it. Love does not die of its own free will as love is not a living thing by its own will – it is a symbiote, surviving in unity with a human host, given in perfect example by God who created it.

I pray that fifty years from now, people will ask me how we ever did it, how we ever managed to stay in love this long. I hope that even then, I will look over at Matt and squeeze his hand and be able to quote Isaac from The Fault in Our Stars:

Some days, it wasn’t easy.
“But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway”

No matter what happens, I will choose to keep the promise anyway.
That’s some of the very most we can do in this short life.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.


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?

*cough*

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.

A Calming Thought


When only one piece of the sky falls on you, inspect carefully to see if the rest of it is really caving in before jumping to conclusions. One crumbling piece of bad news does not an apocalyptic disaster make.

Life Tip of the Week: Don’t be a Chicken Little.

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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