Letters From Abroad – 30 JUN

Dear Family,

In the interest of maintaining my sanity and upholding honesty in all things, here. We’re at the halfway point and I can truly admit that there are things I miss. I may be trotting around fantastic places across the ocean, but I can still miss things. Life is like my little tin of colored pencils; beautiful and yet still missing those key shades. Let’s go around the color wheel…

Pearl: My car isn’t usually this color, but the rarity of my trips to the car wash are inversely proportional to my love of that dusty white thing. I’m not lacking for roads traveled, but even the glimpse of a highway in England feels achingly similar. But for the mirrored lanes, it’s Iowa and Illinois and Nebraska and I could believe I’m back under the Midwest clouds. I miss sitting behind the wheel and spinning through those sun-soaked miles on my own.

Brick: I thought of choosing Sangria or Berry or Garnet, but those stones that surround the Plaza are no more than this ordinary color. I already know that Chicago will feel squashed and small, but I’m ready for that. I don’t mind this endless old color, because the headlong pace of these days is its own pressure.

Coral: They may be sweat-stained and more gray than this color, but I miss my running shoes and the poor-man’s talaria that they are. Whether it’s the spit and gravel of the home road or the bumps and cracks of a Chicago sidewalk, there’s nothing quite like feet on familiar ground.

Dandelion: I don’t know when we started calling the sun yellow, but I think of it in this color and there hasn’t been much of it here. I actually miss the sweltering heat of the Midwest. Here the sunlight is white or gray and they don’t call them sunny days here: it’s “bright days,” and that usually means that the clouds have lightened just enough to remind us that there is sunlight somewhere behind them. I will always love a proper gray day, but in the constancy of these I still miss the yellow.

Cerulean: I’m cheating here, but I wanted a blue color and I think of her eyes when I see it. I miss my sister.

Emerald: I’m surrounded by beautiful cities with greenery in every lawn and window box with a level of abandon that puts Chicago to shame…but it’s not my own high green hills. We’re gearing up to go to the Emerald Isle and I love the mountains but miss the green places that I can consider mine. Strange how the emerald I think of isn’t even a plot of land I own, but I miss it in a way that all the ivy here can never satisfy.

Scarlet: for the friend and sister who lives in the state I used to…I miss you, too.

I don’t have a color for each one of you, family. There aren’t enough shades to color in what you mean to me, and I miss you in your own way. And while I can try to fit all these things somewhere in a neat little pinwheel, the truth is that even these things won’t satisfy. We’re all homesick for something, but we may arrive at home to find out that it wasn’t what we were missing after all.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

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Letters From Abroad – 17 JUN

Dear Family,

I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about this whole travelling phenomenon. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think when I’m dropped into beauty and madness and community and isolation and the contradictions of being a student abroad who doesn’t want to come home and is extraordinarily homesick for countless unnamed things that don’t even constitute as home.

In case my last post didn’t give you a hint, I’m trying to put into words my inability to just be; to experience without littleness or ignorance. I’m trying to name the beauty around me, trying to put into words how other this is, and yet how normal. I spent today watching sunlight and shadows in a place that is older than the country I both love and uncertainly miss.

I’m struggling to process what I encounter, as it feels so disloyal to describe these places in terms of what I know. A cathedral that echoes of France, an edifice crumbling like Romania, a corner table that feels like Chicago, a smell that drifts from Israel, and a sunset with a Nebraska breeze. I want to speak of this place on its own merit, but every place is somewhere else. The more that I travel, that I experience, that a place settles into memory, the more I speak of these new things in terms of the old. And it doesn’t touch my soul.

And maybe that is why. Maybe it is because it doesn’t matter if the street is quaint or the façade impressive…I haven’t allowed it to mean anything more than an old memory in different colors. I’m in Europe, one month in, and that is extraordinary in a way I have not been able to comprehend, let alone describe.

But I’d like to try, try to tell you one of the stories of today in its own many words. Can I? Here.

Today I ventured to a new place, a staunchly Swedish coffee shop, two-story glass windows and shaker furniture, with hot yellow sunshine and little cappucinos. It was firmly in the university district and far enough outside the town center to abut buildings of glass where the only old things were the cobblestones between them. It was also close enough to the university district that everyone entering the shop came with a painted cheek and inadequate clothing, draped in rainbow flags and hair color as loud as their voices. I wondered at these people and what their lives would look like. Where do the fishnets and crop tops go after college? Where do those who march and cheer take their hoarse voices after this day is done? It was a strange question to ponder in a corner table with my colored pencils in hand and a blank castle waiting to be shaded in. Somehow, amidst the bustle of others’ activity and the quiet strokes of ultramarine blue, I still felt guilty for finding a new place in which to stop counting the minutes of a day.

A meander along the cobblestones brought me to one of the market areas with tilted tables of fresh fruit and Italian cheese, plaid neckwear and leather bracelets, set between the bars and restaurants and cafes. There was a circus act at one end and a magician setting up his table and scarves between. I wandered into a vintage clothing store; a flea market for clothing someone else once loved. There was a row of plaid kilts ready to greet you as you entered, and a dusty life-sized Egyptian coffin, the color of old gold and navy, guarding the steps up to the rooms at the back. It was a cacophony of color; old hats and glitter fringes hung from the ceiling, rows of dresses labeled by era (“1950’s” “1970’s” in Sharpie on ivory tags), colors and fabrics of magenta and gold and canary and forest green. A row of olive and tan tweed jackets hung above a packed rack of slacks in dark green and navy blue, and stuffed underneath them were scuffed shoes with worn straps and old shoelaces. The interior of each fitting room was plastered in some bold graffiti, with a garish curtain to pull across the front. The roof of the fitting rooms was actually a shelf, “For Display Only,” piled high with creased shoes, leather bags, the breastplate of a tarnished suit of armor, the tartan hat and kilt of some unknown heritage. There was not a single space left uncolored by yesterday’s styles. It was gloriously overwhelming. I touched the silks and fibers and shoulder pads of decades-old clothing and bought nothing.

I followed the uneven streets to an art shop with prints of Edinburgh framed in matte white cardstock. The castle was the prominent feature, mostly in gray and taupe and olive, but some artists rendered the city like a child’s picture book, with blond, round-faced-and-peach-skinned occupants posing in front of pastel shops and the castle in pale baby-blue shades under a faintly yellow sky. My favorites were the ones of whimsical Edinburgh–known places and streets in bold, shaded colors, touched by the fantastical; a goblin with an elephant balloon on a string in front of a red coffee shop, yellow windows bright against the night; large feet in blue striped stockings draped over a window ledge and a tasseled red cap nodding over the sill a few stories higher; a fox huddled under a sign pointing to the highlands with the faint impression of snow and a definitively red telephone box behind him. It was a child’s imagination printed on cards. I looked, smiled, and left them to settle in my memory and not my hands.

I trekked back to the main thoroughfare, all busy tourists and hissing buses, chasing one another back and forth along the gardens and monuments and green places below the castle. The street behind it was called Rose Street, criss-crossed overhead with strings of pink triangles. It was mostly restaurants, which my tongue could not taste but nose could not miss. So I drifted the length of the street with a new scent at every step, carried by the sounds of fellowship and the plink of silverware and the sorts of memories made over glasses of wine and bowls of heaped pasta. It was a feast of sight and sound and smell and it, for a wistful and forgotten moment, was enough.

Back on the main sidewalk, still swimming with people and beckoning stores, I found my first new bookshop, all piles of clean titles and crisp colors. It was a three-story delight of displays and vibrancy and endless possibility. There were immeasurable pages to read, but the sheer infinitude circled back on itself and I had no place to begin. So I climbed the staircases with their delightfully thick dark wood railings and creaky treads and found the sunlight pouring through the windows of the coffee shop. I settled at a table that overlooked the activity of the street and drank a latte from a homey gray cup and picked up my pencils again. Across from the big windows was the great brown castle, imposing against the stiff blue sky. From its cliff the castle looked down on the green swath of gardens, the street with its buses of maroon and gold, and the people busily counting the minutes of the day and giving them over to the stores and shops in hand with their pounds. With violet and indigo, I shaded in my castle roofs and brushed the curling shavings into the saucer, crumbling bits of color against the gray.

I spent the afternoon with coffee, pencils, and time that did not care. With the sky fading towards evening around the castle, I left the bookstore and ended at a park. It was full of people, with a movie projected on a screen the size of a small building. The people were the sort I’d seen all day; the rainbow-draped students in the morning, the children who had chased bubbles near the magicians in the market, the men and women who had sipped bottles and sauces on Rose Street, the bag-and-bustle-laden shoppers of that afternoon. I bought my own little container of ice cream and leaned on the iron fence around the park, watching the ending of a movie I didn’t care about while the sun colored the sky with its own pink pencil and the world slowed down to a few moments that I did care about.

And then I stepped aboard a bus that softened its hiss to a gentle shush and took me home along a skyline of pink and blue and just a touch of violet.

Not every day is so full of delight or so empty of things that must be done, but neither can every day be described. I wish you could be here to know the fullness of this life, even in its emptiness, so maybe it is you that I miss.

~Rae

Letters From Tour – 22/05

Dear Family,

I don’t know if it’s being in Europe, being tall, being a woman, or having long hair that makes bathrooms in this place just plain weird. I have never craved a regular shower before quite like this.

Shower 1: Our first two nights were in Hungary, at a delightfully American home with Cru missionaries. I’ll have to write to you about that experience another time, because it was lovely. The bathroom was slightly larger than the bedroom and tiled completed in tiny squares of a shocking sea blue. This huge room had a toilet in its own tiny room in one corner, a tiny shower in the other corner, a small standalone sink, and a small towel cabinet. The room was nice and big, however, so I think maybe it was supposed to make up for the size of everything? The plus side to this bathroom, despite the way the tiny shower leaked a surprisingly large amount of water into the room, was that it had a shower curtain.

Shower 2: We stayed in a small apartment in Oradea, being welcomed to the beautiful city by a night walk around the old quarter. It was jaw-droppingly-beautiful, and another post for another time (again). The shower, however, was not. Here was my first introduction to the tiny European bathrooms that have no garbage can, a frightfully loud toilet, a window you don’t realize is uncovered somewhere, a bathtub with a shower head, a recalcitrant temperature gauge that has two options (scalding and lukecold) and no shower curtain. Not for the first time did I wish I’d cut my hair before I came. The bathroom was a lovely purple color, and I managed not to coat it entirely with water by (TMI moment, sorry) laying down every time I tried to use that darn shower head. I took a long time in the bathroom, unfortunately for the other five people also staying in the apartment. In my defense, there was another half-bath at their disposal, and its window was bubble glass.

Shower 3: This lovely apartment in Brasov would have made Ikea proud. The green bathroom was very pretty, but the family had an unfortunate habit of keeping the bathroom doors shut even when not in use. I’d finally gotten used to the light switches being on the outside of the bathroom, and this night I realized a fantastic utility to this: ready indication of bathroom occupancy. This bathtub had a shower curtain; two, in fact. Two little squares that barely hung down to the tub edge and managed to give the illusion of protection while still allowing a massive amount of spray to coat the bathroom, the towel I was supposed to be using, and the clothes I needed to wear.

Shower 4: This was a particularly memorable one. We were welcomed into an apartment in Bucharest, owned by the quintessential Romanian grandmother: immaculate home, eclectic mixes of new furniture and ancient bed sheets, gorgeous library, and no English. Not for the first time was my lifesaver my Romanian roomie, occasionally known as The Angry Gypsy. We were shown to a bedroom with a classic (aka creepy) picture of Jesus–requisite halo and thin white European face–hanging at a 30 degree angle out over the bed. I believe the point was that you could easily see it when laying down. Point taken. We sat on the old bed and looked up to see a large face staring at us from behind the door. It was a giant bear, with a 15″ head, Winnie-the-Pooh yellow in another life, wearing a faded, handmade pajama shirt, and looking not-at-all creepy. To top off our apartment stay, which had no wifi, we were introduced to the beautiful bathroom, all light brown tile and clean white shower, sink, and toilet. The shower didn’t have a curtain, the toilet required a special touch to flush and sounded like it was tearing the bathroom apart, the towels were the sort of thin hand-towel that would manage to get one hand dry before being soaked, and the icing on this odd cake: no hot water. Yep: we had Jesus, Pooh, and no hot water. So no shower.

Shower 5: Instead, our chauffeuring host picked us up at 6:40 on our second morning there and took us, bed-headed and sleepy-eyed, to the church. Not at all awkwardly, we trundled our suitcases to the office on the second floor, where a little bathroom was built into the eaves of the building. The pastor ran the water for five minutes straight while we stood and wondered if there was no “apa calda” here either. Eventually we were in luck, but Gypsy went first and came out with a helpful warning: “It’s not made for tall people.” True story. The bathroom was canary yellow, the shower was cornered in the slanted space, and the shower head had a few spastic sprays heading sideways off of it. Like most European bathrooms, there was no fan, but the 6″ x 14″ screen-and-paneless “window” waist-high in the wall right behind the shower helped. It was another showering adventure as I crouched down in the corner, trying to shower while holding one hand over the shower head to keep the errant sprays from coating the entire bathroom since, of course, we had no shower curtain.

Showers 6 & 7 have been in regular hotel-style bathrooms, with their own collection of oddities. But all in all, I have to say that I am grateful for a bed to sleep in, and a spout somewhere with water that lets me do my thing.

Maybe missing you and the promise of hot water,

~Rae

 

Favorite Things

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My favorite view of this city, even at 2 A.M.

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God.” 

Acts 18:9-11 (NLT)

What’s Up Wednesday

 

It’s Wednesday again, and the end of the first week of Ready. Set. Write!

WHAT I’M READING

Barely started The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr. This is mostly because I took a small detour and read Mind Games, by Kiersten White…and I didn’t regret it a bit. Loved it! This week’s schedule didn’t give me a chance to review them, but I’m working on it.

WHAT I’M WRITING

My goal last week was to write the first chapter of my WIP, a total rewrite of a five-year-old project. I didn’t finish the first chapter, but after experimenting with several different beginnings, I’ve finally found where I want to start. Not a first-chapter-completion, but  the writing is coming well simply because I’ve found a point to begin with.

This week’s goals are different, though. I thought that I had enough memory of the old project to be able to simply take the barest skeleton–main characters, basic geographical world, and five or six tentpole plot points–and start all over. But despite my success in finding my beginning, I’m feeling very behind on my worldbuilding. Yeah, way to do things backwards…but this week I want to write character sketches, and do a little bit more research on my world. It’s a fantasy in the vein of The Blue Sword, and I write best when I have specific images and descriptions in mind, regardless of whether those make it into my writing. I need to rebuild some of the visual, cultural, and moral aspects of my characters and countries. So the goal(s)?

1. Finish writing Chapter 1

2. Write a character sketch for each of the main characters

3. Pull out the old country maps I created and answer five basic questions about each of the three countries involved

WHAT INSPIRES ME RIGHT NOW

Friendship. And God’s faithfulness. I drove to see my best friend over the weekend, a chance for us to spend time together after only brief meetings in the past six months. Five of the eight hours driving were through severe thunderstorms and hail (hello, hail damage on my car. Great to see you again…), eventually adding an hour and a half to my original travel time, and nearly killing myself on a lonely gravel road in the middle of nowhere at 1 AM when sleepiness and hilly roads took over. Not kidding: somewhere in rural Kansas there are impressive swerve marks, the alternative to flipping my car as it went airborn on gravel at 60 mph. Sometimes you have moments where the only explanation is the hand of God, and that was one of them. I was able to enjoy one of the most refreshing weekends I have had this year. On Sunday we sat at her kitchen table and talked. Just talked. For five hours.  This was after four hours doing the same thing the night before, and countless hours together with her and her family during the rest of the day(s). Some people wear you out. I have been blessed with a friend that fills me up.

WHAT ELSE I’VE BEEN UP TO

Last preparations for my sister’s grad party. It’s this Saturday, which means yet another weekend away from home. But I’ll get to see hundreds of people from my hometown whom I haven’t seen in years.

Swamped at work. I love my job, truly, and while I’m enjoying the added responsibilities, there’s a lot to be nervous about. I’m struggling to find the balance between having delegated authority over people and respecting the innate authority they have that comes when they have 20+ years on me.

Settling into summer. Finally running consistently again, playing volleyball, and getting into the full swing of summer. Sunsets are still my favorite, and while I have to walk half a mile to get where I can see them, it is totally worth it!

Check out Jaime’s blog for more links on this bloghop! 

Tell The Truth Tuesday

Today’s list is Things-I-Should-Have-Done-This-Weekend-And-Didn’t-Because-I-Was-Doing-Other-Things

1. Grad pictures. My sister is graduating this year, and she’s having a party in June. We were going to shoot a fresh batch of pictures for these invites, but it keeps not happening. This is mostly thanks to the rainy weather, too much traveling, family coming to visit, and general lethargy.

2. Comics. Three years ago a good friend of mine had major leg surgery. He was in a children’s hospital in St. Louis for over a month, and wore a leg brace with sixteen pins inserted into his leg, allowing the doctors to rotate the lower leg bone into the proper position over the course of nine months of therapy. Yeah, it was a big deal. As a get-well gift, I drew him a series of comics detailing our friendship, including the origins of our nicknames for each other: Charlie. Well, Charlie is graduating, and I have given myself a deadline of two weeks to finish a second Charlie-is-an-adult/goes-to-college comic. For being mostly stick figures and colored markers, it takes far more time than I usually give myself through my endless procrastination.

3. Reading. I was going to read non-fiction this weekend. Get through some of my fat biographies that I really do enjoy. Instead I curled up with To Kill A Mockingbird and was treated to a stunner. While I’m sorry that I didn’t get to read more, I’m not sorry that all I got was this fantastic book. Wow. Sometimes we give classics a free pass because the author is famous or his/her books are revered…but then you get a book that can stand on its own in every decade.  This one needs a reread.

4. Writing. Sigh. I didn’t get a scrap of writing done over this extended weekend, and I’m fit to burst with the need to write. I’m finally settling into the idea of rewriting this old project, and it isn’t taking long to reawaken my love for it. Must. Write. Now.

5. Rest. One of the things I love about my family is our ability to just be together. We don’t have to be planning maniacally or driving six different places to have fun. We can lounge together and drink coffee and tea and make waffles and watch Finding Nemo and be hermits all weekend and simply enjoy the fact that we’re together. Unfortunately, this weekend was travel and traffic and rainy days and less time together than a non-holiday weekend. I was on the road fighting Memorial Day traffic, driving 6 hours to my hometown in order to spend only 16 hours there. We had fun, but it wasn’t restful, and I’m still discombobulated from the whole thing.

How was your weekend?

Tell The Truth Tuesday

Full of randomness today.  Here’s the top 5.

1. It’s 80 degrees outside. I don’t know whether to be excited or confused because apparently it’s summer already? What happened to spring?!

2. Only two weeks of classes left. Whew. I can make it. Although it’d be helpful if my professors weren’t so trigger-happy with their quizzes and homework. I know I’m going to receive gargantuan finals in all my classes next week, so could you maybe lay off with the assignments this week? Give me a little time to prep? Please?

3. I drove back to my hometown (again) this weekend. I love everything about my weekends at home, although it’s still hard to have everyone ask when I’m coming back, as if that is still an option. I’m not sure if they truly believe that my move was on a whim or consider it a possibility that I’ll break my work and school commitments here to return.

4. I’ve started trying to write short stories (again). I’ve been on sort of a writing break for a lot of this semester, and I miss it terribly. So of course I’m writing again, with classes and end-of-the-school-year commitments breathing down my neck. Brilliant me.

5. Maybe it’s just the weather (full moon?), but drivers were crazy this weekend. Phone numbers on paper plates and shirtless college guys hanging out of their jeeps to leer on Interstate, gangsters in souped-up Cadillacs trying to chat at the stoplights (no, I don’t roll my window down on command), and prepsters trying to drag race in front of the mall (Okay, so it was the prime racing spot in the city and famous for what happens after midnight, but even still: I drive a 14 yr old wagon with the engine power of a sewing machine. Do I look like I’m interested?!).

What’s up in your life?