Toddlerparenthood

What a wonderful, terrifying, difficult, and beautiful thing it is to be a parent of a toddler. Most days it still feels unreal that I made this tiny human who follows us around, eats all my food, demands to be held, and copies everything we say. He looks at the world with such fascination, such intrigue and adventure. Every rock is worth collecting, every flower must be smelled – real or fake, and every motorcycle that passes is clearly Daddy. If he sees a tractor, bulldozer, bus or airplane it is the best thing ever and must be pointed out STAT.IMG_3166.JPG

Recently I find myself trying to quiet my mind and stay present as I parent, if only to see things a little more like he does, rediscover things with him, and share in life’s simple joys – all things that he is naturally great at. One of his first phrases was “Wowww” said with exaggeration and wide eyes. Now he says, “Let’s go!” with the same vigor. This kid doesn’t stop. When he’s awake, he rarely pauses – except for the occasional zone-out in front of CBeebies or nap time, thank goodness – instead it’s go go go, all day, all the time. When he’s awake, he’s awake.

He gets it honestly, really. I don’t rest well, though it’s something I’ve been working on. I’d rather be doing, because there’s always stuff to be done, right? I’ve been reading “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist this past week. If you’ve never read anything she’s written, she is a fellow Midwesterner with a heart for Jesus, food, hospitality, friends and family. Although it is cliche, there is nothing better to compare her writing to than a rich, filling meal shared with friends. Her writing is delicious, deep in flavor, with unexpected notes that linger in the best way.  Though you may want to devour it, something tells you to slow down and savor it, to not miss out on a bite. This book specifically felt like it could have been written about me. She, like me, is a doer – was, I should say – and this book is written all along her journey of coming out of the fog of accomplishment, of achieving, of always doing and going and instead reawakening to the small pleasures of life, relearning how to rest with family, be vulnerable, and soak up quiet times without filling the space.

I couldn’t have read this book at a better time. As the realization that I’m not working settles in, and as I look towards this summer (albeit a busy one) being home with my son, I don’t want to wish the days away, or fill them with meaningless tasks. (What? You want to play soccer again!? But this laundry isn’t gonna fold itself, kid!) I want to cherish the days, look forward to when my sweet boy begins his morning crib-chatter, gabbing away until I go to fetch him. I want to notice and remember his little chubby hands, how they so steadily and purposefully point out my nose, my chin, “eyeballs!”, over and over. I want to remember his weird little toes, the middle one always resting on top of the others, wriggled into the picnic blanket as we sit in the sun eating cheese and crackers. I want to memorize his clear blue eyes, just like his dad’s, always with a hint of a smile. When he looks at me I want to really notice, meet his eyes, stare until he giggles and flashes his bashful grin, shrugging one shoulder at me.

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Because – all parents, prepare to say “duh” – parenting a toddler is hard. HARD, I say. It’s sweet and special and wonderful, but that doesn’t make it less hard. Toddler tantrums are not to be downplayed. But even as I learn how to deal with a toddler very stereotypically pounding his fists on the floor because he couldn’t have my raspberries (he had his own), I’m trying to remember that this moment is just as important as picnic cuddles in the sun. That helping this little magical bundle of kid-energy handle his emotions, learn about sharing, learn the meaning of “no”, etc. is a good thing, and a beautiful thing in itself. Sure, it may be a different kind if beauty than bedtime stories, exploring outdoors together, or singing and dancing in the kitchen, but it’s no less important, no less developing – for both him and for me. I’ve heard a few times, from a few wise people, that the important things usually aren’t the easy ones. No one has ever said raising a toddler is easy (and if they have, they don’t have kids – I guarantee that), but it is a brilliant, stretching, soul-bursting, thing, and truly, it’s an honor.  Hopefully I will remind myself of that the next time my sweet boy dissolves into another almost-2-year-old-tantrum-puddle… because we all know that’s inevitable.

Writing

I think it’s a wonderful thing that almost 30 years into life, there are still parts of myself that I’m figuring out, quirks I’m better understanding, giftings that are coming to light, and interests that I’m discovering. What a wonderful thing it is to learn, grow, find confidence, and do new things as time goes on.

Lately I’ve come to realize that I enjoy writing. I’m far from penning the next great American novel – really far; no, farther; like, imagine a far distance and when you finally get there, blow past that exit on the highway – but regardless, I enjoy it. Fingers settle on the keyboard and the steady clicks begin (and then pause, resume, repeat). Or stark ink flows on lined paper, cursive scratches coming together forming whatever is in my head.

The nice thing about this new hobby is there’s no pressure, no deadline. It’s mainly for me, and it’s still fun. I’ve mainly used this blog for travel writing, or updating on major life events (and by looking at blog posts alone, it would seem as if neither of those things have happened in about a year) but I’m going to start writing on here more. About whatever. Travel. England. Being a momma. Jesus. Coffee. Who knows. But I’m putting this out there mainly to keep myself accountable. We’ll see how it goes. You don’t have to read, but I’m going to write.

Change

Isn’t it odd how occasionally in life we go through times where routine abounds, days can blur together – in a good or bad way – and we have this deeply buried nagging, a hidden stirring, for something new, some sort of variation? I am someone who loves routine, craves it, yet sometimes in the midst of even the good, enjoyable, and fulfilling days I get that itch. For change.

It’s universal, I think. I recently read the book “Through Painted Deserts” by Donald Miller and I 100% recommend it. I’m a sucker for travel/roadtrip/wonderlust themed non-fiction; I get sucked into the mental and emotion journey the author takes as well as the physical stops along the way. Donald Miller starts his book by talking about how we all have this built-in desire to leave. To just go. Because part of us truly desires change.

“It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. I want to repeat one word for you: Leave.
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”

So sometimes change is like that… Intentional and purposeful and needed. We sense it should happen so we make it happen.

But other times change smacks you in the face. Or tiny changes beyond your control sneak up on you, looming in the distance, until you’re surrounded. You have to face them.

OR sometimes all of these kinds of changes (intentional/purposeful and not) decide they get along really rather well and throw a big ol’ party right in the middle of your life. How fun.

This may sound off topic, but I realised the other day that I have worked 15 different jobs in my not-quite-but-pretty-close-to 30 years of life. Ya know what that represents to me? Change. If you look at your life you probably have a similar “stat” that points to change as well – maybe the number of apartments you’ve lived in, how many crazy hair cuts you’ve had, how your family has grown or changed over the years, etc. Or, if you want to really talk about change, just look back at a school picture from your awkward adolescent years. I’m guessing you’ve changed – probably for the better – am I right?

That’s because change isn’t really unusual, is it?

To quote one of my favorite bands, OK Go:

“Nothing ever doesn’t change, but nothing changes much.”

 

Change happens constantly. Look at the creation we’re surrounded with – blooming, budding, growing, dying, transforming, breathing… constantly and consistently. God models change in every millisecond and at the minutest detail of his creation.

And yet change throws me for a loop every time. It requires me to be intentional about my use of time, my attitude, my motivations. (Ewww…. so much work, right?)

But it also reminds me, often later rather than sooner, that change can be good. Even the hard change that makes us want to fast-forward, God can use in our lives. We can open our eyes to what God is showing us and we can decide to make the best out of what we have no control over. Because you know what’s sometimes difficult to remember but also incredibly encouraging? Our God is unchanging. He doesn’t even need to change. He’s the definition of perfect. Perfect LOVE, no less. And he’s the one thing solid in my life when the change party rages on long into the proverbial night.

“[He] is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

(Hebrews 13:8)

That changes everything.

I can change and I can embrace change because I have a rock to stand on.

So I echo the sentiments of Donald Miller again…

“I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.”

So I’m along for the ride. I’m backing away from the fringes of the change party – resisting my wallflower instincts – and jumping in on the fun.  Not just because I know God can use this all for his glory, but because I am hopeful trusting that he will

 

Giving Thanks

Recently it seems it’s difficult to mention Thanksgiving without an outcry against the holiday’s unsavory roots. Social media has helped point out major flaws in the elementary textbook history that most of us learned about the supposed “first thanksgiving.” Turns out it was not a friendly feast between natives and newcomers; a supposed joining of two cultures. Because of this, many feel it’s an odd holiday to celebrate – and rightfully so. But who really celebrates Thanksgiving as we know it because of what pilgrims did or didn’t do years ago? Sure, I may have a picture somewhere of childhood-me with in a little sailor-style dress with a construction paper pilgrim hat adorning my 90’s hair, but that’s really not what it’s all about. (Though I was darn cute.)

Actually, Thanksgiving seems to be one of those cultural things that is difficult to put into words. I find it difficult to explain Thanksgiving well to my English friends –

“We gather around, give thanks, and eat. Then rest for a bit, talk, hang out, and eat more. Because we’re thankful. Oh, and some people watch football. Or parades.”

“But why?”

Because it’s nice? And we get good food?  And good company? And we would get fat if we ate all that food on our own?

Kidding.

(Not really).

But… temporarily setting the controversy and Thanksgiving’s sad roots aside, the modern celebration of it – the pausing to show thankfulness and gratitude (don’t even get me started on how this goes out the window the next day. ugh.) – is something I just love. While the world is a difficult place, and horrible things happen every day, most of us have at least a few things to be thankful for. Many of us have so much more than that .

Here are a few things I’m thankful for today.

First of all, for healing. Two years ago I just made a tiny mini-Thanksgiving dinner for us and some visiting family. Because I was recovering from an extremely painful surgery to repair my pectus excavatum, I couldn’t even stoop to lift the turkey in and out of the oven. I couldn’t help with the dishes afterward (oh darn), or go for a much-needed long walk to walk off the turkey-induced stupor. It was a time of waiting. Of resting and recovery. Of growing pains. Before the surgery I often wondered (and worried) if I’d be able to have a healthy pregnancy and support a baby full term because of my condition. But then at this time last year at this time, I had just had my bar removal surgery a few months before and we had just found out we were expecting a baby! Now, here we are a year later, a thriving family of three, and we feel so incredibly blessed. Looking at his little grin is a reminder of God’s perfect love for us all, and his plan of healing and recovery in my own life.

Secondly, for community. When living away from home, holidays are bittersweet. You yearn to be with family, to experience those traditions you grew up with. To vie for a spot in the front of the food line (yes, we’re all about the potluck buffets in my family) before the rest of your family towers their plates up. To rub shoulders and catch up with your cousins over a slice of pumpkin roll. But, we’ve been so blessed by the community we’ve found over here and it makes holidays rich again. Our church has become our home away from home. We’ve been so thankful for the relationships we’ve made over here and my heart felt so full when I looked around on Thanksgiving and saw a table full of people to be Thankful for. And this year for Thanksgiving we had the best problem ever – we didn’t have enough room around our table to invite all those we wanted to! How blessed are we, that we had more friends than seats available?!

Finally, I am thankful for memories. I have so many rich memories of Thanksgiving. Today I remember fondly my MeMe and Papaw, two of the best people that ever graced this earth. A few years for Thanksgiving we would pack up and drive to their cabin in the mountains of Virginia. They lovingly built that cabin themselves. It was bare bones, nothing luxurious, but I loved that place. I’m positive the mountain water from the cabin’s kitchen tap, icy cold in a metal mug, is the most refreshing drink in the world. I can still remember the taste, almost 20 years later. Upstairs in the loft were twin beds in rows, heaped with my MeMe’s homemade quilts and hand-stenciled pillow cases.  The loft was warm and stale (like a large linen closet) and the sounds of the cabin echoed off of the low ceiling. Up in the loft my cousins and I could hear every creaky floor board, each mid-night toilet flush, and the symphony of snores from the adults below. My movie of memories from that cabin includes sitting on Papaw’s lap in the recliner as he told stories, watching MeMe throw on her blaze orange vest and ball cap to go for a walk in the woods, driving to Dollar General in town to use the payphone or pick up essentials like cheap craft supplies. We dined on buttery biscuits made from scratch, and played games of canasta over scraped-clean dinner plates. No television, no phone, no internet, no timelines, no hurry, no interruptions. I am so thankful for those memories with MeMe and Papaw and the rest of my family. And thankful for the legacy they left.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with memories in the making as well as those wonderful warm-fuzzies from thinking back on holidays past. After all, that’s what this holiday is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Sleepy Carl

I’d like you to meet a new member of our family. No, Dad, don’t worry – not another pet. And no,  Mom, I’m not with child. 🙂

I’d like you to meet Sleepy Carl.

I’d post a picture, but he looks a heck of a lot like Sam, so just use your imagination.

I only met Sleepy Carl a few weeks ago, but it seems like I’ve known him forever. One night a few weeks ago Sam and I returned home from our Connect Group. Sam was not happy about leaving the fun right away to go do the homework that waited for him. He trudged up to the study to read and do his forum post. By 10:30 he still hadn’t surfaced so I went up to check on him… His reading position looked a lot like that of students who fall asleep in the uni library drooling on their books, but he said he was reading so I left him alone to finish. Just about 10 minutes later, suspiciously quickly really, Sam tottered into the room, casually mentioning that he was going to bed. I asked if he had finished his homework.

“Yep.” He replied. Once again suspiciously quickly. 

My Teacher Senses were tingling, indicating that he had not in fact done his homework, but I didn’t say anything..

Remember when I said Sleepy Carl bears a striking resemblance to my husband? Well, it turns out that it was Sleepy Carl who told me that Sam finished his homework! Sam confessed the next day that Sleepy Carl had reared his lying head and Sam was ashamed of his actions.

We’ve learned Sleepy Carl surfaces in the groggy hours of homework procrastination and late night studying stress. It’s Sleepy Carl’s drowsy digits that repeatedly push the snooze button in the morning and convince Sam he doesn’t need to get up that early anyways.

In the days since meeting Sleepy Carl I’ve also become acquainted with his wife – Sleepy Carlotta. It seems she’s the one who thinks it’s a wonderful idea to have a bowl of ice cream at 10pm, or that I should definitely watch another episode or read another chapter when I should have been in bed an hour ago. Sleepy Carlotta decides that I really don’t need to wake up early to exercise or tidy the house. And Sleepy Carlotta just raves about my morning hair – “You can totally fix that cowlick without shampooing your hair; that’s what hair straighteners are for!” Sleepy Carlotta adores a warm, cozy bed in the morning and loathes having to trudge up the stairs at night to get from the couch to her bed.

Now that I think about it, I can really see why Sleepy Carl and Sleepy Carlotta hit it off so well. I think they’re on to something.

——–

(Full disclosure, Sleepy Carl hails from the brain of comedian Mike Berbigaboo Birbiglia).

A Weight Off My Chest

(Yes, that joke was 9 months in the making).

ravitch procedure bar

Sam with his new “letter opener.”

It’s amazing how quickly the human body can become conditioned to things. Up until the last year of my life, I laughed, sneezed, even hiccuped normally. The pectus excavatum had it’s symptoms, but none that simple or obvious. But when I had the bar in these last 9 months, it wasn’t always that easy. Towards the end of the time, the bar had become quite embedded (I think this was due to a fall down the steps in April). Sneezes were pure torture once that happened; I was petrified of getting a cold. I essentially stopped sneezing, at least as far as I could help it.  Whenever I felt that recognizable tickle I’d proceed through my checklist of sneeze-preventing procedures. Hold my breath: check! Squeeze my nostrils closed: check! Push on the roof of my mouth with my tongue: check! Look like an idiot if doing these things in public: check!!!  But, that google search was productive, as those things did usually help keep the sneezes at bay. Sadly, laughing wasn’t fun either…  it especially hurt when it was a sudden fit of laughter, like when Sam would throw in a random funny comment out of no where and I would burst out laughing. In a positive note, I’ve realized how blessed I am to live a life filled with frequent laughter. 🙂

So, when I returned from the hospital just two days after having the bar removed, I felt lighter in more ways than one. Once it became clear that it didn’t hurt to laugh, Sam and I sat down and watched gag reels on YouTube for way too long, chuckling, chortling, and even guffawing together – pain free. Praise God! And, since my surgery two weeks ago, I’ve enjoyed several pain-free sneezes. (Yes, enjoyed. I actually love sneezing usually.) For the first week post-surgery my instinct was still to shut down the sneezes (No! NO!!! Initiate Anti-Sneeze Protocol!) and I had to actively think about sneezing, but this week I think I have enjoyed more carefree sneezes than I did the entire past 9 months. I even had a fit of hiccups while cooking dinner tonight and it just made me feel silly, as opposed to sore. These little things have meant more to me than you’ll probably understand, and to me they truly mark an improvement.

My general recovery after this surgery has been a breeze, especially compared to the first surgery. Now, two weeks later, I feel great! I was able to sing in the worship team on Sunday, I’ve been back to work for a week already, and I’ve even done some gentle yoga a few times. Soon I’ll begin physical therapy to begin tackling the bingo wings I’ve gained these past few months of not being able to lift anything over 15 lbs. Cardio will come soon – jogging, running, dancing – all in its time.

So, I’ll commit the next months to these worthy tasks: praising God as I laugh more, dance around my house simply because I can, and sneeze whenever the sunshine tickles my nose. 

Surgery #2 – Looking Back

Here I sit, back “in hospital,” about 9 months after I had my first surgery to repair my pectus excavatum. What a long road it has been…

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Tomorrow I will have part two of the surgery – removing the metal bar that I’ve had in my chest since November. I read back over my posts from my diagnosis and surgery (see the links in my first sentence), and I realize how far I’ve come and how much God has taught me. I’ve told a few people that I’m actually excited about this surgery, more for what it means than the actual procedure.

On Sunday, during worship at church, I was really struck by the lyrics of the worship song “Dance Again” by Life Worship UK. You can listen to it here. The lyrics are:

Praise Him, when your heart is breaking
When your strength is almost gone
Sing out your song and praise Him, in the fire and fury
In the dark night of your soul, your God is in control

Praise Him, for His love and mercy
Praise Him, for His grace and favour
Praise Him, our God is faithful
Praise Him, He is strong and mighty
Praise Him, He is holy, holy
Praise Him, He is always in control
His love has conquered all, His love has conquered all

Your tears will dry, your heart will mend
Your scars will heal and you will dance again
And of His kingdom there will be no end, for Christ our King is coming back again

( by Matthew Hooper, Copyright © 2013 Integrity Worship Music & LIFE Worship)

As I sang those words I thought of the limitations I’ve had since the first surgery: no running, jumping or doing anything that could jostle the bar; no lifting anything over 15 lbs; limited twisting and bending; occasional chest pain when I laugh or breathe deeply; back aches as my posture changed; worry over the bar shifting, etc.

But even as I thought of that, I pictured myself teaching Zumba as I used to. Dancing, feeling alive, thanking God as I often did for giving me the health to dance. And I remembered… I will dance again. My God is faithful. His plans are far better than mine, and his timing perfect.

Looking back over my old posts from my first surgery – they act as a journal of sorts – a few things stood out to me:

  • “Hopefully when I look back at this post in a week, two weeks, a month, etc. I will see some real improvements.”  That post was from the end of November and I really have seen improvements… At that point, Sam had to help me lie down, and help me up. I couldn’t use my abs to pull myself up at all, and I was not allowed to “log roll.”  It even hurt to raise my arms above my head and shampoo my hair.  This morning, as I pulled myself out of bed and got ready for work, I remembered how much of an accomplishment that really was.

 

  • “Was this even worth it?” A day or two after the surgery, when I was in the worst pain and my thinking was clouded by nausea, I remember moaning this. Months later, even though the bar isn’t out yet, I can see the fruit of that pain and the surgery. If nothing else, God has strengthened my faith through this and built my character. He’s taught me to trust him unconditionally, even in the “dark night of your soul.”  On Sunday, my friend Rhiannon preached and delivered an encouraging and insightful message  on waiting for God, called Watching Paint Dry (you can listen to it here). She mentioned Romans 5:3-4 at one point:

    Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4, NIV)

    I realized as she spoke that hope doesn’t always come first. We must persevere in order to build our character, and that in turn gives us hope. In that painful time after my surgery I couldn’t see how God was going to use all of this – I only felt pain – but God showed me how to hand every day and circumstance over to him and persevere.

 

  • Another small thing I mentioned before was noticing the weight of the bar. I said it felt like my cell phone was sitting on my chest. Now, 9 months later, I don’t notice the weight at all. I’m hoping that means I’ll feel light and free once it’s removed. And I’m praying that my lung capacity will improve as well without that pesky bar in the way!

So, I’m about to go to bed. When I wake up, I’ll begin all of the typical pre-op procedures. Please pray for my surgery, my recovery (anesthesia and I don’t get along), and my doctors and nurses. Also please pray for my at-home nurse over the next few days (his name is Sam… and I hear he’s pretty cute). Thank you so much for your prayers – over this whole journey – and I’ll update you again after I’ve recovered.

First Trip Back

I recently returned from three weeks in the U.S.  This was my first trip back to my home country since living in England.  So after that and a year in England, I think I might finally be in a position to point out some day-to-day differences between the two countries. These observations are small – nothing earth-shattering – and have probably been noted by many others before. But, they were moments of realization in the US and when I returned. I’ve had several people ask me, “What’s the biggest difference between the US and the UK?” It’s really more little things than just one big thing… So here’s an attempt at answering that question.


 

Tax

You could say there’s been a bit of history between England and the US surrounding taxes… But, a few hundred years later, of course taxes still exist in both countries. There’s a major difference between the two countries in the realm of sales tax. In Ohio, sales tax differs by the town, but in my area it was 7.5%. Here in England, sales tax (called “value added tax”) is a whopping 20%!

However, to soothe the pain of seeing the price increase that drastically at the register, the UK includes the VAT in the listed price. So, if the tag on a shirt says £16, the 20% income tax is already added in. That way, if you’ve just grabbed £90 worth of groceries you don’t cry and pitch a hissy fit as the screen on the cash register shows your grand total as £108. Just imagine the tantrum you would throw when seeing that increase if purchasing furniture, a car, or a house! Best if you don’t have to be constantly reminded of it…

When I was back in the US, I popped into a small store to buy a tube of chapstick (Sidenote: why can I never find my chapstick? I think the pots of gold at the end of rainbows are actually filled with half-used chapsticks, hair ties, bobbypins, and matchless socks. Ugh!). The sticker said $3.50, so I counted out my change. She rang it up and said, “$3.75.”  I stood there confused, with the $3.50 in my hand, and asked if she could please double check the price on the sticker. This woman, by the way, is known in the town for her grumpiness and lack of customer service skills. She looked at me like I was an idiot who managed to squeeze through the public educational system without knowing how to complete a sales exchange from the easier end of the transaction. (Hear money, hand over money! Simple!) Realizing her glare wasn’t successfully communicating the problem, she managed two words: “Sales tax.”  OH YEAH! That exists. And it’s not added in already. And I’m not in England anymore, Toto.

By the way, I’m all in favor of adding the tax into the price before you get to the register. It would have saved me at least two periods of teaching time when covering percentages in math class.

 

Light switches

Muscle memory is a fascinating thing. My body is trained to reach around the corner when entering a room to find the light switch and flip on the lights. When I first got to England, I kept trying to flip switches that are in fact unflippable. They are more pushable, like a button. A picture will help explain this better… Note the UK switch on the left, and the US switch on the right:

 

UK vs. US Light switches

UK vs. US light switches. (The one on the left is “on,” the one on the right is “off,” as it so helpfully says).

It might seem like a small difference, but it is amazingly confusing when entering a dark room in a jetlag stupor. I experienced this again after returning from the US… my brain had flipped back to the US flip-switch in just three short weeks.

Another interesting light switch phenomenon in the UK is that bathroom (or “toilet”) light switches are often outside of the room in the hallway. There were numerous occasions when I first moved here, where I’d go into the bathroom and try to simultaneously close the door and turn on the light, only to end up awkwardly standing in a dark, switch-less bathroom. I’d have to reopen the door and sheepishly stick out an arm to switch on the light before continuing with my business. The switch’s outside-the-room placement also provides the opportunity for cheeky friends to leave you in the dark. Lovely.

 

Driving

Driving is very different in both countries. In the US you will see many more traffic cops, sitting along the highway waiting for someone to speed by. In England you’ll see speed cameras, but not before being warned by numerous signs on your approach. It makes it pretty easy not to get a ticket here.

Besides the fact that we drive on different sides of the road, the most iconic difference between US and UK driving is the stop light/sign vs. roundabout debate. First of all, know that both countries do use both types of intersection maneuvers, but each is clearly associated with one place.

"I'll be the roundabout..."

“I’ll be the roundabout…”

Which do I prefer? The roundabout. Hands down. Even when people are hesitant and don’t know what they’re doing, the roundabout seems to be faster and more efficient. Mythbusters even proved it, so you know it’s true.

Bonus: every now and then while driving ’round a roundabout I get the awesome song Roundabout by Yes stuck in my head. That never happened with stop lights or stop signs. No cool song associations there…

 

Air Con

In England, they abbreviate air conditioning to “air con,” much like how we abbreviate it to AC. This was one of the first things Sam and I giggled at when we arrived in England. After hours, and I mean many many hours, of travel to move here, we sat bleary eyed in the office of a rental car company. The woman renting us the car explained that we would love our car because it had a, “brilliant air con.” Sam and I made eye contact and chortled sleepily.

The difference is not in the vocabulary alone. We in the US looovve our air conditioning. With hot and humid summers that seem to never end, it makes sense. Almost all shops, churches, restaurants, homes, etc. are air conditioned. The main exceptions to this seem to be college dorms, prisons, and oil-change garage waiting rooms. In fact, a group of prisoners in Texas are currently taking legal action to get their dormitories air conditioned; temperatures in their living areas soared to over 100 degrees, hotter than is even allowed for livestock holding areas.

But, it usually just doesn’t get hot enough in England to justify spending the money on air con. Our home doesn’t have it. Most don’t. In fact, it feels like a wonderful luxury to walk into a shop or restaurant that has that crisp, artificial AC’d air. It’s usually not a problem, but last week I returned to a very hot England. I was experiencing those same temps in the US, but there I had the option of just popping back into an air-conditioned home when the heat became too much. But, thankfully, we never get more than a few weeks of “summer” weather in England, and I think we’re already coming out of it. It was a pleasant relief to wake up feeling chilly two nights ago, and I was actually thrilled to wake up to the sound of rain today. Bring on Autumn! 🙂

 

Food variety

This may be an unfair assumption, but based on what I’ve seen, we have a much more diverse restaurant scene in the US. Yes, even in Ohio. Perhaps it’s our unflappable American ability to take any food and think, “Hmm, I should add cheese and bacon to that.” or “I could make this more fattening.” But, before you get carried away with bashing Britain’s food… yes, I’ve heard the joke about how in hell the British do the cooking… let me just say that we love the food here. The beef has more flavor. Everything seems slightly less greasy than its American counterpart. And man, do they know how to do meat and veg! A well made Sunday Roast is a thing of beauty. Sam has even converted from his potato-hating ways since being here.

All I’m saying is that in the US there seems to be a bigger variety of restaurants than what I’ve seen around here. Obviously there are exceptions. For example, you can probably find whatever the heck kind of food you’re looking for in London. But, bear with me here. In the time I was in the US, I had wonderful fried pressure cooked chicken and waffle fries, a “three-way” (spaghetti, chili, and cheese) and chili dogs (both with Cincinnati-style chili containing chocolate and cinnamon, no less), the absolute best thin-crust pizza stacked high with finely diced toppings, thick crust pizza with award-winning sauce and ooey gooey stringy cheese, yeast donuts with icing and sprinkles, cake donuts with cinnamon sugar, soft-serve peanut butter frozen yogurt with bananas and chocolate mixed in, hand-dipped ice cream galore, snow cones, burrito bowls, enchiladas, queso dip and tortilla chips, and much much much more. But I’m sure the fact that us Americans like our food won’t come as a surprise to many.

Holy Heart Attack, Batman.

Holy Heart Attack, Batman.

This does bring me to another thing I’ve noticed about life in Britain. Processed food seems to be less of the norm here. Yes, there’s junk food. Yes, there’s processed food available. But I rarely see a British recipe that calls for cans of condensed cream-of-something soup (or a British equivalent) or a pound of “cheese food.” Recipes and menu items alike seem to have fewer ingredients and are just simply done well. I’ve grown to appreciate that simplicity.

 

Fit (But my gosh, don’t they just know it)

(*Note, in England “fit” often means attractive, while it means “healthy” or “in shape” in the US).

I had an epiphany after returning to England. I was jetlagged, so take it with grain of salt, but here it is. And remember, I’m talking big picture. 

Americans can be very extreme in their health choices. On one hand you have morbid obesity and McDonalds. On the other hand, you have marathon runners, Beach Body consultants, and don’t even get me started on CrossFit. Both extremes can be a defining characteristic of someone’s life, or at least their Facebook feed. 😉

However, in England, I’ve noticed people seem to be much more moderate in their health. It is very common in our area to see people walking or riding their bicycle to work. Yes, even if they live miles away. And yes, the infrastructure is better suited to handling it than in parts of the US, but maybe that’s because there’s a demand for it.  Here in England I see far more active senior citizens than I saw in the US. They’re still walking their little terriers daily or riding their bikes into town. It’s a lifestyle, once again, but less extreme. I’ve grown to embrace this as well. I love walking into town to pick up a few things.


 

 

I’ve noticed as I’ve been writing this post that I’ve used the term “we” to refer to both England and the US. Though I am clearly American and have spent much more time there, I do feel at home in England and there are so many things I love. I noticed as I was back in the US that I was a bit homesick for England. I missed a good cup of tea, walking Toby around town, my British friends and church, the markets and pubs, the more relaxed attitude. But when I’m here in England I miss my family, friends, the convenience of Target, the cheaper cost of living, and – of course – the variety of food.

Both feel like home in different ways, and that’s okay. 

Spring

“Spring is here! Spring is here! Life is skittles and life is beer. I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring. I do. Don’t you? ‘Course you do.”

I haven't been able to avoid the flower aisle at the grocery. Buy all the flowers!

I haven’t been able to avoid the flower aisle at the grocery. Buy all the flowers!

As much as I long for heavy snowfall in the winter, bundled up in cozy sweaters and scarves, I can’t help but get giddy when hints of spring appear. Our winter here was atypical for us: grassy green meadows remained, rain fell instead of snow (not a single flake!), no cuddle-duds were needed. Because of this, I doubted that spring’s arrival would be as sweet. In North Dakota, spring seemed to arrive overnight (though maybe not until late April). The disgusting gray snow mounds would melt into the street, dead brown grass would reappear. But even still, I’d drive home from work with the windows down and immediately put away my heavy winter coat until the next winter, committed to the prospect of spring. Everyone buzzed with the same unspoken excitement.

 

Here, it sneaked in slowly. One small indicator at a time. The green grass grew lusher. Sunlight hung around a little longer. Temperatures rose. Plants began to bud. Daffodils spot both countryside and kerbside like dandelions. One day last week I woke up before my alarm from the sights and sounds of spring. The sun was shining so brightly through the curtains that I actually thought I had overslept. But nope, spring was just confirming its presence. And the birds!!! I’ve never heard birds sing with such bliss (or with such volume… side note: I think there are birds living in the ceiling above our bathroom. Yikes.)

I’ve celebrated so far by decking the house out in color – new buntings, fresh cut flowers – and bringing color back into my wardrobe. My morning tea today fit the vibe as well.

Spring is in the air... and it looks as if spring is in my tea!

Spring is in the air… and it looks as if spring is in my tea!

Although it’s technically not spring yet I’m declaring that it is here to stay; at least for a few months! For those of you still blanketed in snow, I hope your patience is rewarded and spring arrives in all of its glory soon! Just as autumn represents necessary change and preparing to hunker down for the long dreary months ahead, spring to me symbolizes a fresh start. Hope. New life. I’m no poet… that is clear. But, every spring I am reminded of lyrics from a song by Nicole Nordeman entitled Every Season:

“And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe.
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green.
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change.
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring.”

Newly purposed

Newly purposed

As I focus on this time of “re-creation” and God’s grace that gives me that chance, I want to pinpoint a few things that need to be changed in my life. I’m praying that God helps to recreate me in these ways, specifically, as the world around me is transformed:

  • Use my time more wisely and less selfishly, in ways that glorify God.
  • Live generously, listening for God’s voice to guide me in giving of my resources and gifts.
  • Being a better listener in general.
  • Be intentional about building and keeping relationships with those near and far.
  • Live boldly for Him, demonstrating God’s love and speaking His truth to those I come into contact with on a daily basis.
  • Prioritize time in God’s word and other books that will build my faith.

In what ways do you want to be made new this spring?

I’ll leave you now with some sights of East Anglia: colorful and coming to life!

Magnolias in bloom! (I had no idea magnolias could grow in England until we moved here!)

Magnolias in bloom! (I had no idea magnolias could grow in England until we moved here!)

Ahhhh, the smell of fresh cut grass!

Ahhhh, the smell of fresh cut grass!

Rosemary blossoms

Rosemary blossoms

"And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils."

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

 

 

 

2 months after surgery

It has been two months since I had surgery to fix my pectus excavatum. The recovery has been many things  – difficult, frustrating, painful, important, necessary, slow, boring, lazy, etc. – depending on the day. But now, two months out, I can look back and really see how far I’ve come since I was laying in the hospital in a post-surgery daze.

Here’s where I’m at now:

– I can drive. Tight corners, mini-roundabouts, and parking are still difficult, as I can’t move the steering wheel quite as quickly as I’m used to. A flat tire I got a few weeks ago is evidence of that. But, I can at least get myself around if I need to. I’m working now on building up the time and distance I can go while driving.

– I am on ZERO pain medication. None. Zippo. No ibuprofen or nuthin’. That, possibly more than anything, shows my progress. My back still aches often, and my abdominal muscles whine from having to support my new-and-improved posture, but it’s all very tolerable.

– Slowly, but surely, I’m picking back up household chores such as emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, etc. Some things are still difficult, or I can just tell I shouldn’t be doing them yet… I tried to sweep the kitchen floor the other day, figuring I could just lazily drag the broom behind me as I walked, but even that was too much resistance on my chest. Similarly, the other day I had Sam move the laundry down to the laundry area for me so I could try to switch out loads from the washer and dryer. Three loads later, I sat on the couch hugging my heating pad to my chest, aware I had pushed myself too far. I have to remind myself to take it slow. Sam reminds me often too. That’s what I struggle with the most now… I feel fine, so I want to do normal things, but I have to remind myself that I just can’t do everything yet. Thankfully, Sam is an absolute gentleman and does all the chores I cannot without so much as a frown.

– Though I’m not supposed to do any weight-lifting, running, or anything that would put stress on or “jostle” the bar, I have been able to do some cardio… Taking Tobes out on some faster walks, even going to the gym and riding the exercise bike once (without Toby, of course). It’s a tricky balance, getting needed exercise while not overdoing it, but I’m working on it. I keep reminding myself of what the surgeon chided when I asked about what exercises I could do, “You’ll have plenty of time for that once the bar is out.” No need to rush. 

*Warning**Medical details in this bullet point*  The incision is healing up well and I have almost all feeling back around the incision site. My only concern, which has just come up this week, is that I’ve developed a lovely yellowish-red bruise around my sternum and that my sternum aches just a bit. Two months after the surgery seems like a strange time for that to pop up. It also makes things look different because of the discoloration, so it’s difficult to judge if things are possibly reverting a little or are staying as they should. Please pray with me that everything is as it should be and that I will continue to recover well.

Overall, I’m feeling great. In fact, I’ve had a few people ask me recently, “Oh, how are you feeling??” and it takes me a second to figure out what they’re talking about. (“Why? Do I look extra pale today or something? Bad hair day? OH! The surgery!… got it…”) That’s a good sign, right? 🙂  My grad school started this week and I had no problem sitting at a desk, reading and typing for a few hours a day. My walks with Toby are getting longer, and my errand-running endurance is increasing. Things are going well! Thank you to all of you who have prayed me through this. Please, keep the prayers coming, as I continue to recover and trust God throughout this process. It looks like the bar will be staying in until this summer or fall, so please pray also that I am patient and discerning with what I do. God has already shown me so much throughout these last two months – he’s shown me that with Him I can handle more than I ever thought possible. That I needn’t be strong myself, because I have the constant resource of His strength to use as my own. He’s taught me to be appreciative and present when I’m feeling well, when I’m surrounded by friends and family, but to trust Him and praise Him just the same when I’m suffering and in pain. Those lessons aren’t over, I’m still learning, reminders are often needed, but the times of resting and the many hours I had to think during my recovery have shown me how incredibly blessed I am: to have a God who loves me and provided eternal life at a terrible cost, to have family and friends that surround me (physically and in thought and prayer) and exhort me when I need it most, beautiful creation that surrounds us here as a constant reminder of God’s omnipotence, and new opportunities to glorify God and live for Him. This may be my last “medical” update for a while – I hope I have nothing new to report until the bar comes out – but I hope I have lived (and typed) in a way that gives the glory to God. I could not have done any of this without the hope, strength, and comfort hat I receive from the Holy Spirit. I remember moaning from the hospital bed, “Is this even worth it?” when I was feeling my worst, but even if it wasn’t, I hope I have glorified God and that I continue to do the same throughout this process.

Thank you again for your prayers! Onward to recovery. 🙂