August

I saw a picture this morning that said:

“How is it still August?! Isn’t today like August 33rd?”

Amen the heck to that. This month has been years long, I’m convinced. How else would it be possible to fit in all that has occurred? In this forever long month in just our little family we have settled down in a new (old) country, returned to our home state, our little man turned 2 years old, we’ve welcomed moving trucks (twice) and a friend from England, we purchased a car, I learned how to drive a manual, we settled into our new home, visited potential new churches, visited family, we’ve been up to Lake Erie, and basically tried to avoid all those tempting restaurants we’ve lived without for 4+ years. (Except for donuts and ice cream. And pizza. Those will never be avoided.)

It seems fitting that all of this kicked off in August, a month that is traditionally so full of change. As a kid August means one thing – summer ends and school begins. I always loved school, especially the act of going Back to School. Yes, there was the new backpack and 1st Day Outfit thing, but mainly I loved the fresh school supplies, seeing friends again, and diving back in to learning. (Nerd, amirite?) Later, August marked when I would move into my dorm room for the first time and begin the College stage of life. Every year for four years it meant returning to a sleepy village that was suddenly full, where I dashed between classes with new notebooks in hand, around lakes, buildings, and slow walkers. It’s really no surprise that I became a teacher; August held the same tinge of excitement for the four years I spent in the classroom. Even now that I’m no longer teaching, every year as August peeks above summer’s horizon, that Back to School feeling of anticipation returns. And two years ago, August held the biggest life-changing change of all, when our sweet silly son was born, forever marking this month as special and worthy of pause.

August was certainly much anticipated this year, with our round-the-world move hitting right at the end of July. August undeniably meant change. Change. CHANGE. New beginnings. Out with old – ready or not – in with the new. July was difficult goodbyes, doors solemnly swinging closed, the handing over of keys. Boxes, hotel rooms, and luggage. August was the fresh start.

So why has August been so long, so difficult? It has been absolutely wonderful to return Home – to family, to memories, and so much more. Yet somewhere along the line the newness and anticipation started grating on me. No more change, please! (Except for my furniture and stuff… that can arrive any day, please and thank you.) Some days I love waking up and stepping on to our new back porch, looking out over my coffee cup with an eager grin. Other days the same feels daunting. “Church shopping” has been incredibly difficult, making me miss our wonderful church and community in England, while highlighting the reverse culture shock of moving back here. I’ve discovered those Sunday morning interactions completely exhaust me, and our son doesn’t understand why every Sunday morning he has to go play with another group of strangers in a building he doesn’t recognize.

I know it won’t always be like this. I know that roots must grow before the fruit.

Yesterday, I was reading Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist – a fitting book for me right now. In her essay Learning to Swim she writes about a season of change, and how it wasn’t the change itself that bogged her down, but her own response to it. She lost her perspective, wanting immediate clear answers and a set plan, minimizing her faith to only what was going on in her life and forgetting about the bigger picture. She writes, “I believe God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent through life and history: life from death, water from a stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe that suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything’s easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom.” As I read that, it hit me. I can’t fast-forward through this. There are blessings in the midst of this difficult season, and things God wants to teach me. Those days I long for close friends here? Maybe God wants to remind me what it’s like, so I can be a better friend down the line; so he can better prepare me for long-term friendships here. As we’re all at home together trying to carve out time to work on our new business plan but sometimes feeling stuck, maybe I need to remember how simply being in the same room together for this long is a huge blessing, especially compared to the separation we endured a year ago. It’s time to refocus on what God has blessed us with. Slow down, throw out my expectations, enjoy this season. Take some deep breaths. Focus on gratitude, opportunities, joy.Pray and prepare for what lies ahead. And ultimately, turn the page in the calendar and step out.

September, here we come.

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Weather, or not.

I know I’m not the first – or the last – to point out that Brits love talking about the weather. First of all, they are a polite and proper bunch, so a conversation topic must always be primed should the need arise. Weather is that default topic.

Lately I’ve been barraged by Facebook posts on this topic from friends all over the U.S.  (Yes, I am jealous of your snow. The cold you can keep!) It seems the country as a whole has dealt with weather that is both atypical and unpleasant. It reminds me of my time back in ND… the months when you were only outside if you were running from a warm building to a pre-warmed car, shoveling your driveway, or on recess duty. The months when your snot would freeze before you could wipe it, where you’d take a deep breath and explode into a frozen coughing fit.

Brutal cold yields brilliant skies though!

Brutal cold yields brilliant skies though!

When I found out I was moving to England, I had a few Nodaks ask me if I thought the dreary UK weather would get depressing… My first snarky thought was “You mean, compared to this tropical paradise?”  But after being here for a while and surviving through the shortest day of the year, I can give an informed (and less snotty) response. The weather here really isn’t bad… it’s certainly ordinary enough. I stopped checking the forecast months ago. It will probably rain at one point in any 24-hour period then the sun will come out. The temperature will probably be within ten degrees of what it was the day before. You can dress the same as yesterday with only slight modifications – for fashion or comfort – and be just fine.

One of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, lived in England for several years. In his book Notes from a Small Island, he perfectly describes the steady, reliable English weather I’ve noticed here:

“I have a small, tattered clipping that I sometimes carry with me and pull out for purposes of private amusement. It’s a weather forecast from the ‘Western Daily Mail and it says, in toto: ‘Outlook: Dry and warm, but cooler with some rain.’

There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured to perfection: dry but rainy with some warm/cool spells. The Western Daily Mail could run that forecast every day – for all I know, it may – and scarcely ever be wrong.

To an outsider the most striking thing about the English weather is that there isn’t very much of it. All those phenomena that elsewhere give nature an edge of excitement, unpredictability and danger – tornadoes, monsoons, raging blizzards, run-for-your-life hailstorms – are almost wholly unknown in the British Isles, and this is just fine by me.”

I remember finding it amusing that there was only one Doppler radar for the entire state of North Dakota, and that on the local channels the weather was often forecast for the entire state! Until then, I was used to turning on the news and seeing three overlapping radars showing ever-updating storm coverage of just a few nearby counties. Here, they forecast for the entire country kingdom! Given, it is a fairly small one. Sam and I saw a forecast the other day which only showed the weather for four cities in the entire UK: London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. “One in each country… that should cover it!”

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day?

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain coming down on a sunny day?

Yet, none of this stops the Brits from constantly discussing the weather. I’m sure some consider it an exercise in increasing their vocabulary. There’s a quirky old man who lives down the road, we often pass on the street. He’s always murmuring something random or posing an unexpected question in passing. One day Sam and I were out walking the pup and the man grumbled, “A good day for weather, I think not!”  Feeling utterly American by not knowing how to respond, we smiled politely, chuckled and walked on… We’ll get the hang of it sooner or later.

Catching Fire

As I continue to recover, I’m trying to slowly add things back in to my everyday life. Yesterday I got dressed in nicer clothes – pants that weren’t jeans, a top that wasn’t a hoodie – got my near-mullet-stage hair cut, and went out to the movies with my man. We FINALLY saw Catching Fire.

I realize that most of you who are Hunger Games fans probably saw this movie weeks ago. You’ve already discussed it with friends. Maybe you posted about it on Facebook or commented on other’s posts; I avoided these posts so I could go into the movie fairly unbiased. But now I’ve seen the movie and I want to talk about it!

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I don’t always approve of  book-to-film productions. It often means leaving out large parts of the story or characters all together (Madge? Who’s Madge?). Sometimes the films are still as enthralling as the books, even though they become a new creation from the many changes. (I felt that was the case with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.) Often the original story is told abstractly or from an omniscient voice, contributing vastly to the whole of the story. That doesn’t always translate to film. (This is my fear with The Book Thief! It’s not out in England yet, but I’ve heard good things about it. If you haven’t read the book, READ IT.)

Since we went to the theater on the opening weekend of The Desolation of Smaug, I thought our theater might not be as packed. Wrong. It was full. I always hate it when people sit directly behind or in front of me… how dare they… but I realize it’s bound to happen. The seat in front of me was empty (YES!) but the seats behind us were occupied. They were noisy. Audible commentary, occasional curse words, bad breath that wafted over my head, but their worst offense was the popcorn crunching. I am so thankful my mother constantly reminded me to chew with my mouth closed because now as I see others without that decency, I realize how annoying it is. My dear dear husband has some slight quirks… one of them is the complete loathing of what others might consider fully ignorable noises: a pant-leg rustling, someone smacking their gum, Toby licking his netherregion, the bathroom fan flapping from a draft, and popcorn crunching. He bristles, teeth clenched, sometimes seethes. I think it’s adorable.

In his defense, I’m convinced they were eating their popcorn like this:

Sam asked if we could change seats. (We didn’t.)

Anyway, time for the movie review… First of all, I think they did a great job of sticking to the book while still sticking to a run time under three hours. I enjoyed the movie greatly but it did still seem a little long… maybe that was just my achy back contributing to the seemingly slow passage of time. Although, to be fair, I don’t know what else they could have cut.

There was sufficient build up to the Quarter Quell, as we saw how they lived post-Hunger Games. The new arena was as I pictured it, with the exception of the beach. I visualized more sand, ha. I didn’t picture the Victor’s Village as it was shown… I saw something grander, with large lush lawns, gaudy and inappropriately ornate, mocking the rest of the district.

The casting was very well done; Philip Seymour Hoffman was the perfect choice for Plutarch and, as with the first movie, I loved Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman (I think I love him in every movie he’s in – including Beethoven).  BUT here’s my one Hunger Games casting beef: Peeta. At first, I thought I wouldn’t like Gale’s casting, but I’ve warmed up to that. But now, I still can’t see Josh Hutcherson as the Peeta from the books. My book version of Peeta is bulky and boyish, clunky, well-fed. A thick but forgettable figure that doesn’t fit with his kind nature. Josh Hutcherson isn’t a terrible actor, I’m not bashing him. He just doesn’t mesh with the Peeta in my mind.

Overall, we enjoyed our trip to the movies! Catching Fire lived up to my expectations, even if it is merely a necessary bridge to Mockingjay. But, as we walked back to our car, our discussion centered not around the film, but on the raccoon snackers behind us. It gave us a good laugh, even though it was annoying! But, as I said, I’d love to hear what YOU think about Catching Fire. What did you think of the casting? The book-to-film transition? The production as a whole? Comment with your thoughts! 🙂

A book review, among other things

I was talking to a friend recently and said, “Yeah, we’re in this weird waiting period, this… stasis… right now,” to which he replied, “I think its pronounced ‘vacation.'”

It’s still strange to pause in the midst of these crazy ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, but I have accepted it as a vacation and thus I will treat it as one… and read. And read, and read, and read, and READ.

I found a great book at the library the other day and once I dove in, had a hard time pulling myself away from it. It was goood. New and interesting, relevant and captivating. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (and seriously, isn’t that a great title?). I’m not skilled at summarizing or reviewing, but here’s a bit of a fitting review that I read after reading the book. (I don’t recommend reading the entire review unless you’ve read the book… it has a few spoilers in my opinion).

How could any reader resist this book title – the idea of a 24 hour bookstore is better than eating at an all-night diner. With a mix of fantasy and today’s world of digital magic, Robin Sloan creates an adventure of rivals – electronic books vs bound pages – in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Out of work computer geek, Clay Jannon, finds a new job on the night shift of a strange indie bookstore in San Francisco. Few customers want the books on display by Haruki Murakami, Neal Stephenson, and Dashiell Hammet; the attraction for his night visitors is the collection high on the dusty shelves in the back.

Although the ingredients of long black robes, secret staircases behind a bookcase, coded messages hidden in books, have the flavor of a mysterious fantasy, Sloan cleverly inserts the modern adult world and ancient artefacts into the dilemma. Google plays a key role, along with experts in simulation, video technology and professional hacking.

(From http://nochargebookbunch.com/2012/11/07/mr-penumbras-24-hour-bookstore/).

It was enthralling and cleverly written. Read it. Add it to your summer list. And then, when you’ve read it, tell me so we can talk about it. 🙂 I read it in two days… it’s an easy read.

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In other news, I went to the doctor today and was told I have a dysfunctional Eustachian tube. That explains the ear and headache issues. He gave me medicine which should clear it up, but might also, in his words, make me cranky, hungry and retain water. Grrreat. More to come later on if that’s true… or maybe you should just ask Sam. 😉