Quarters and Sweet Corn

There’s nothing quite like an English market, especially the one we attended the most in the old market town of Bury St. Edmunds. I would often visit Bury to do a bit of shopping, stroll the cobblestoned streets on market day, or visit my favorite cafe, Gastrono-me, for their towering, incomparable Breakfast Hash. I’d park at the cheapest place, down the hill, behind the Vauxhall dealership, then cut through the pub car park and make my way slowly into town through the beautiful Abbey Gardens. The gardens themselves are worth a visit: beautiful landscaping, over-friendly squirrels, play areas, a small aviary, my favorite solitary ginkgo tree, ice cream, plenty of benches, and – of course – the abbey ruins. Bury St Edmunds may be most well known because the Magna Carta was maybe, possibly, probably, provisionally drafted there in 1214 (it depends on who you ask or what you’re reading). The gardens are home to the remains of the 10th century abbey, and you can walk through much of the skeletal walls, imagining how arched ceilings would have towered overhead, blocking the bright English summer sun (or – probably, more likely – sheltering you from the rain).

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

All of this led to Bury St Edmunds being one of my favorite towns to visit, but I must admit, I had a love/hate relationship with that dang market. The Bury market was by far the largest one near us, with row after row of colorful, patchwork stalls hawking vegetables, sheepskins, international food, fresh flowers, crusty bread, and local eggs. Also, if you have a strange need for old magazines, American junk food, cheap bras and undies, and an endless variety of cell phone cases, the Bury market will not disappoint. I loved the people watching, but as a fast walker I hated trying to weave through the walkers (most of whom, had no concept of flow of traffic or awareness of their current trajectory, which just about aggravated Sam and me to death). I appreciated the variety of vegetables, the ability to get my desired amount at the best price with no packaging. I even loved how the vendors would shout their best deals in a loud but generally muddled voice with an accent that I’ve honestly only ever heard at that volume level and in that situation:

“1 FOR £5, 3 FOR £10! PICK AND MIX!”

But I hated, absolutely hated, how hard it usually was to actually get the vendor’s attention and pay for your goods. At first, I would wait and stare – produce in one hand, coins in the other, outstretched – absolutely willing the vendor to look my way next. As much as the English love to queue, it’s all out the window when it comes to cheap veg. Pensioners would push past, a pram would roll over my foot, all as I’m standing there thinkshouting, “JUST TAKE MY MONEY.” Eventually, I allowed my “American confidence” (a term I heard a few times in England) to surface, and I would squeeze and maybe slightly elbow my way to the front, sticking my exact change in the vendor’s hand with a small smile, a tilt and lift of my purchase, and a quick “cheers!” As I walked away, sighing quietly to myself, I’d hear their unaffected echo of, “Cheers, love!”

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Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

Moving somewhere new is a great opportunity to develop new habits. In England, I began walking to the grocery store and shopping more at markets, trying to purchase local, ethically-sourced products if possible. But now, back stateside, I’m trying to maintain those habits if I can (sadly, there’s no grocery store within close walking distance and also NO SIDEWALKS, but I’ll save that for another day). So, I’m also trying to do some of my weekly grocery shop at local farmers’ markets, and also eat more seasonally. Before moving to England, I didn’t do much shopping at markets, so I wasn’t sure what to expect back here in Ohio. The farmers’ markets here are much different from the official weekly markets we saw in England. Here in the midwest, it’s not out of the ordinary to see a mini van with the side or back door flung open, a table set up next to it, and just a box or two of large tomatoes and homegrown peppers for sale. In the height of summer you’ll probably even see an impromptu “market” consisting of a flatbed truck piled high with ears of corn at the edge of a superstore parking lot.

I’ve been to a handful of local markets recently and I’ve truly enjoyed the hodgepodge of homegrowers, local farmers, ranchers, and bakers. For the most part, they’ve been eager to strike up a conversation, taking the time to chat and tell me about what they’re selling or talk about the day – a stark contrast to my English market experience. Maybe that’s just Ohio friendliness that I forgot about, but it never fails to make me smile. Just the other day I was buying some homemade cereal from a Mennonite merchant. She was very quiet at first, dressed in her plain clothes and bonnet. As I went to pay, I smiled politely and apologized for the handful of quarters I was using. With a sudden wide grin that reached to her clear, mascara-less eyes, she laughed and said, “Oh, no problem! Just the other day I took my car through the car wash and it spit out my change – $10! – all in quarters. What can ya do?!” I grabbed my cereal, agreed with a chuckle, thanked her, and walked away. But for the rest of the day I thought of that interaction and laughed. When I saw her bun and bonnet, her plain blue dress, I’m ashamed to admit that I immediately thought “What could we possibly have in common?” But then, there we were just moments later, laughing together.

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Photo by Bianka Csenki on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I visited another market down the road. As I peeled back the husks of some bi-color sweet corn – checking the freshness and looking for bugs – the farmer said in a slow drawl, “It’s the strangest thing, we haven’t found any worms this year. Don’t know why, but no worms.” I commented that I didn’t see any, and that anyways, I think I was checking more out of old habit, muscle memory from my childhood, than any other reason. Shucking corn, pulling away the stubborn strands of silk, always reminds me of my Meme and Papaw. I spent hours as a kid doing just that on their back porch steps. The farmer agreed, and the vendor next store – selling local honey – said it was such a part of her upbringing as well, that it’s funny how it reminds us of grandparents. She mentioned a friend of hers who recently had boxes of extra ears of corn. After wondering what to do with it, she called up a local senior citizens’ home and asked if she could bring it to them for an activity. She said that for hours the elderly men and women sat and shucked the corn; some silently pulling at the husks, others tapping toes and singing songs from long ago in a circle as they worked. Wrinkled, tired hands held the ears firm, peeling back the layers.

As I get to know this area again, as I drive down the roads I once knew so well, as I take my son to the library that my Meme once took me, I realize I’m constantly remembering, relearning. After years of living abroad, often keeping our identities quiet when we traveled, I’m remembering slowly how to be a friendly Ohioan, making small talk with people passing by and not being immediately suspicious of those I don’t know. I’m reminding myself that first impressions are usually inaccurate or at least that they’re never the full picture. That we as humans have so much more in common with each other than we first believe. As we do, we’re meeting neighbors who reveal that they grew up in England. Bumping into couples at church who’s parents live near ours. Finding out strangers have mutual friends. Cashiers with similar interests. And little by little, as we peel back the layers, we remember and reenter community.

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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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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.

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.

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