Month: September 2014

Depth of life

For those of you who know me, it will surprise you to hear that I have not been dancing much lately.  I still can’t help but tap my toes whenever a catchy song comes on the radio, and I’m often walking with a swing in my step, swaying along to the music inside my head.  But when it comes to social dancing, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.  I did go to a big dance event in Atlanta in October – and I placed 2nd in the competition that I entered!! – but other than that, I haven’t really done much dancing at all since May.

Me with Mike, my 2nd-place partner in the Strictly Swing competition

Me with Mike, my 2nd-place partner in the Strictly Swing competition

But I am ok with that.  I know that the funk will pass and I will love it just as much as I used to; but until then, I’ve been busy filling my time with plenty of other exciting things.  Michael has planned a few very exciting dates – a couple of my favorites were seeing Cirque du Soleil while they were in town (which was incredible, even though they didn’t let us take any pictures :[ ), and taking a ride on the giant Ferris Wheel that overlooks much of downtown Atlanta.  I don’t think I believe him when he says that his date ideas are boring :).

The only picture I got at Cirque du Soleil before they made us put our cameras away...

The only picture I got at Cirque du Soleil before they made us put our cameras away…

My friend Jess has made a yardsaling convert out of me.  If you know how much I hate to shop, you will understand that this is a very big statement.  But there’s something exciting about hunting down deals, about finding a treasure in the middle of a bunch of trash.  Perhaps I should take up dumpster diving as a hobby… 😉  But, despite my newfound affinity for yardsaling (I don’t think I’m converted quite enough to be able to say that I have an affinity for dumpster diving yet ;]), I haven’t been able to go very often.  My weekends have been taken up by other things – things like traveling, writing, seeing friends, or sometimes just baking yummy goods.

One of my recent personal culinary victories was making homemade challah bread.  Challah bread is a sweet ceremonial Jewish bread that takes hours and hours to make.  It’s not particularly difficult (except braiding the dough so that it bakes into a nice pretty pattern is somewhat challenging), but it has to rise 3 separate times, each time for several hours.  So, all in all, it takes close to half a day to make.  ANYWAY, I have this memory of making challah bread in our old house with my mom.  I don’t remember the occasion – it must have been over 10 years ago at this point.  All I remember is the sweet time that I got to spend with my mother.  Ever since then, I have wanted to make it again, but never had a sufficient reason to invest all of that time into it.

So when an older couple from my church invited me over to their house to celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish festival of the tabernacle, and specifically asked me to bring challah bread, I jumped at the opportunity.  It took me 2 days to make it, but seeing her face when I arrived was totally worth it.  She had been expecting me to just pick up french bread, since no supermarket sells challah bread.  Her genuine joy and excitement when I walked in with a homemade loaf was more than enough payment for any extra effort required on my part.

My challah bread - it came out beautifully!

My challah bread – it came out beautifully!

A curious thing has been happening to me in Atlanta.  I still yearn for adventures in other countries and cities.  But I am also learning that depth of life matters just as much as breadth, if not more.   I am beginning to experience relational profundity that I could never dream to have by spending a few weeks or even months in a foreign country.  I am learning so much about myself and God and people in general.  Some of it is hard, tough, ugly, painful stuff.  Life gets messy when you get that close to someone.  But I would much rather experience these things and grow from them, than to stay in my own blissful bubble of relational ignorance and bankruptcy.  I do still yearn for adventures.  But I am learning, as my roots are growing  (at least for now) here in Atlanta, that adventures are even more exciting when you have dear people that you love and care for to share them with.  And that is a truly thrilling thought.

Celebrating a life well lived

After bravely and fiercely fighting as hard as she could, my grandmother lost her battle to cancer this summer.  It took me a very long time to decide how to write about it.  Of course it was difficult on all of us, seeing her go through the pain and suffering that she did.  And although I miss her very much, I am glad that she has moved on from that hardship and is in a better place now.  However, I don’t think that Jan would have wanted me to focus on the sorrow of losing her.  A much more fitting eulogy, I think, is focusing on the celebration of her life; remembering the wonderful woman that she was, and being grateful for the time I had with her.

One of my strongest memories of Jan happened over a decade ago.  Mom and dad went away for their anniversary, and so they left me, Chris, and Josh with Pa and Jan (Matt and Hope weren’t born yet at this point).  Chris and I bickered a lot that weekend, but Jan was my little oasis.  I knew that I could always run away to her and have her teach me something or just talk to me, and everything would be better.  I spent a lot of time that week just watching her cross-stitch.  She loved cross-stitching, and was really good at it, took – she made some truly brilliant designs in her lifetime.  She is probably a large reason why I picked up cross-stitching, myself.  Now that she is gone, I like it even more – it seems like a eulogy of sorts to her every time I pick up a needle and thread.

Aside from that weekend, I have lots of vivid memories of going to visit Pa and Jan in their almost-beachside home when I was younger.  I would stand next to her at the sink, helping her peel the shells off of the shrimp that we were cooking for dinner – she always made the best food.  I remember when she first showed me how to use a shrimp peeler – after I finally figured it out, which took a while, I promptly decided that it was the best thing since sliced bread.  Jan loved cooking, and since they lived so close to the ocean she cooked a lot of seafood.  It is fitting, I think, that one of the last things I did for Jan in one of my later visits was to let her sit back and relax while Pa and I cooked crab cakes for her.  She had already started to get sick at that point, but I had no idea then that that would be the last time I would see her alive.

They moved a few years ago, and I’ve visited them several times since; but their old home still holds so many memories for me.  I remember digging through their interesting books and magazines to find something to hold my attention while I curled up in their overstuffed reading chair for hours.  But then, more often than not, I would get distracted by the high ceilings or beautiful view, and drag Jan outside to go on a walk with me.  Being so close to the beach, Pa and Jan also made sure to make good use of that whenever we came to visit.  I have a photograph of Chris and I in 2 separate dune buggies, which were rented courtesy of our generous grandparents.  We were obviously having a ball.  The pictures don’t show it, but I’m sure that there was some friendly (or perhaps not-so-friendly) competition happening in those dune buggies while Pa and Jan sat and looked on, just enjoying the sight and presence of their grandchildren, regardless of what they happened to be doing.  I remember that when we were on the beach and she was in her bathing suit, I would often notice her upper arms and want to play with them – I thought they were smooth and touchable and wonderful.  As a little girl, I couldn’t understand why she hated me doing that; I get it now, but I still stick with my guns and say that she was, and always has been, beautiful.

One of my favorite things about Jan was that she not only encouraged my own interests, but she also spurred me on to pursue other interests that I may not have tried otherwise.  One year for Christmas they bought me a flute; for my birthday, which falls a few days after Christmas, they paid for a year of flute lessons.  As retired music teachers this was probably a no-brainer gift for them, but I had never even considered learning an instrument.  I ended up not sticking with it after that year, which I really regret and often wish that I could pick back up; nevertheless, the fact remains that she was constantly spurring me to better myself, something that I really appreciated about her.  And she didn’t just want us to learn for the sake of learning; she actually took real pleasure in seeing our progress.  My little siblings elected for piano lessons instead of flute, and they are still taking lessons; up until her death, she was always asking for recordings of their recitals, or for live demonstrations when they went to visit.  What was happening in our lives mattered to her.

But, as I already mentioned, Jan was always more than supportive of my own chosen interests, too.  My first pair of real dance shoes was purchased by Pa and Jan.  I’ll never forget that day…we drove ALL OVER town to find those things.  Myrtle Beach is not known for its swing dance scene, and thus finding a store that stocked the specialty shoes that many west coast swing dancers use proved to be no easy task.  But Jan was determined…it was important to me, and so it was important to her.  In the end we finally chanced upon a pair that I loved in a Halloween costume superstore, of all places.  I adored those shoes.  I wore them into the ground…they were literally falling apart before I finally retired them.

Myrtle Beach may not be known for its dance scene, but it IS known for its golf scene.  Every time we went to visit them, they would take us to a different putt-putt golf course.  I have never been a fan of real golf, but I always loved exploring a different mini-golf course with my grandparents (and yes, there were so many that we never went to the same one twice).  When I got older and started visiting them without the rest of my family, they assumed that I would have outgrown that activity, as well.  So when I actually asked to go there again – what can I say, I’m sentimental – they humored me, but then also took me to see Le Gran Cirque, Myrtle Beach’s version of Cirque du Soleil.  What a night!  I have to say, putt-putt was fun….but I was glad that they took it upon themselves to make me try something new.  That was an incredible performance.  Along a similar line, the last time our whole family visited them together, they took us all to a hands-on science museum called WonderWorks.  Was such a blast.  Jan was (and Pa still is) an incredibly giving, generous person.

Even after her death, the impact that she had had and was continuing to have on so many people is impossible to ignore.  As I sat there in the church during the memorial ceremony, I marveled at how many people were there, how many people had worked so hard to make her memorial service special and actually memorable.  How many people really loved her deeply.  How many people were working extra hard to make sure that Pa was taken care of after her passing.  Jan left behind a plethora of wonderful memories, scores of people who esteem and miss her dearly, and remnants of herself that will continue to bless people far beyond the scope of her life.  That, my friends, is the definition of a life well lived.  I miss her very much, but even more so I am proud and grateful to have had her in my life.  I am honored to have known her.

Just what the doctor ordered

Although I’ve been blessed to have been able to spend a good bit of time with some dear friends this summer, there are several of them I wish I could have spent more time with.  One of them is Elizabeth.  Between school and then work and church and being super popular with lots of people making demands on her time, she is a tough one to pin down sometimes.  But ironically enough, it seems to have actually gotten a bit easier since she got a new boyfriend.  Caleb and Michael have several times taken the initiative to plan double dates and outings and such, which means I’ve gotten to spend more time than usual with my lovely friend Elizabeth (oh yeah, and Caleb and Michael, too :]).

Two of my favorite such outings were going to the High Museum and visiting Helen for the day.  The High was supposed to be a surprise for me and Elizabeth – the only thing I knew was the date, and that I should dress up.  But it turned out that Caleb told Elizabeth all about it, so the only one who was surprised was me.  And boy oh boy, did the three of them enjoy the fact that I was left in the dark.  They were definitely enjoying teasing me, lol.  But it was worth it.  The High was having an exhibit on classic cars, which was why we went that night.  Knowing that I used to race, they chose that activity really solely because they thought that it would interest me – I felt very loved :).

After leaving the museum, we came across an interactive exhibit set up outside the museum entrance.  It was basically just a bunch of hammocks hanging under the stars – using them was encouraged.  It took a few minutes to snag 2 hammocks near each other, but we finally did, and stayed there in various amalgamations of people until the museum staff finally kicked us out.

My other favorite outing, as I mentioned earlier, was a day trip to Helen.  Elizabeth and I had so much fun with the boys at the High, that we decided to plan our own date.  This one was also supposed to be a surprise, but they are pretty insightful and had mostly figured it all out by the time we left.  But it was still fun.  She and I had packed stuff for a big picnic, which we ate upon arrival to Helen, which is about an hour and a half away from Atlanta.  After that, we rented some inner tubes and floated down the river.  It was pretty crowded, since it was Labor Day weekend, but we were able to navigate pretty well, especially considering the fact that we had decided against renting poles for steering.  I found that tying myself together with another inner tube made navigating the river exponentially easier – when one person got stuck on a rock, the other one usually bounced off of them and then pulled them free.  I only got stuck badly enough that I had to stand up to get off of the rock 3 or 4 times.

In the middle of the river, there was also a couple of big water slides, at which we took a fun detour for a while.  We started off racing each other down, but when Michael was going so fast that he slammed into the pool at the bottom and scraped himself up pretty badly, we decided to calm down a little bit and go at a more relaxed pace.

Once we finished the tubing course, we went back to the town and walked around for a bit.  I didn’t want to bring my camera on the river, so the only pictures that I have from the entire day are from when we were walking around the city center.  Helen is a very picturesque town – it’s supposed to be a facsimile of a traditional German town.  It’s incredibly touristy and I would hate to live in it, but to visit for a few hours was actually a lot of fun.  They have lots of little candy and artisan and gift stores that you could browse for hours if you wanted to.  My shopping limit is much less than that, so I only lasted about an hour before I was ready to head back home.  But it was a very nice day.  I was particularly grateful for the fact that, despite all of the driving to get there, I was actually able to rest and re-charge a bit on the river.  I had been going so hard for so long at that point, that some rejuvenation time was really just what the doctor ordered.  Getting to do it with people I love was just the icing on the cake :).