6.23.2017

I doe-finitely hope our new neighbor sticks around

Gracie and I made it home from Iowa. It was not the most fun drive I've ever been on, mostly considering the fact that the entire state of Illinois is under construction, so the highway was one lane and 45 mph for all but approximately 3 miles of the entire state. But! No one threw up, so I consider the whole thing a win.

Bless you, Zofran. Bless you real good.

When I got home, our new neighbor was all moved in. It's been amazing to sit in my living room and not smell one whiff of pot. I felt so grateful I did something completely out of character. I knocked on her door and introduced myself. Those of you who know me well can pick your jaws up off the floor. She is the sweetest person and she made a point of saying that she's starting her residency at a local hospital soon and will basically never be home.

Can you say jackpot?

Except honestly, I was almost sad to hear she won't be around a lot because I really like her. We're only friends with one couple who lives here. We've gotten to know them over the past few months, and I have a huge friend crush on them because they are some of the nicest people I've ever met. They of course are moving in a couple weeks because they bought a house. It took them a couple months to buy one, and in their words a "very long time."



via GIPHY

So that was a fun conversation.

Speaking of neighbors, my parents have some nosy neighbors in the form of deer who eat all their plants. When I was there, a tiny little Bambi baby frolicked through their yard in the middle of a thunderstorm. The deer has aptly been named Lafawnda. My mom sends pictures of the baby and its mama in a group text to me, James, and my dad whenever she finds them in the yard. Yesterday was one of those days, and my dad made a joke about shooting the deer (don't worry, he never would).

Chaos ensued.

If you've ever wondered what a group text with my family is like, now you know.



I veal-ly hope Lafawnda is still around next time I visit. Good neighbors are hard to find.

6.19.2017

let's hope I can keep my pants on for the rest of our trip





I've decided that I'm cursed.

It's my last day in Iowa, and it's a stunning 75 degrees. It's been over 100 every day until today, and now the weather forecast is gorgeous with no end in sight just in time for me to leave. This is the exact thing that happened to me last summer.

And don't even talk to me about naps. Don't you even.

No, you know what? Let's talk about it. My parents' house is a bit isolated, and my mom gave me a whole speech about how no one ever rings the doorbell, so Gracie can nap uninterrupted.

LOL.

The doorbell has been rung every single day. But!!! Only during nap time. It has been laughable. Sometimes it's the mailman. Sometimes it's someone coming to buy a table from Craigslist, but they show up an hour and a half early with no warning and HONK THEIR GODFORSAKEN HORN. Sometimes she starts to doze off again after the ringing of the doorbell, and then someone SHOOTS OFF FIREWORKS AT 3PM.

What I'm saying is that my daughter has not been in a good mood for the past few days.

She's also gone full-mischief and is throwing things in the toilet. This morning I found her toothbrush in the litter box. I don't even want to talk about that one. Just know there's a whole poop saga I haven't even shared, and I won't.

In other news, my dad and I went shooting the other day in a little shooting range literally in the middle of rural farmland. It was brutally hot and I haven't gone shooting in roughly 10 years, but it was so fun. I shot some very powerful guns of I wouldn't have had the nerve to shoot 10 years ago. I have bruises on my shoulder and my arms were sore for a few days, but we had such a good time, and I felt like I could run laps afterward.


My mom, Gracie, and I went to Antique Archaeology. We visited last summer and I was giddy the whole time. I watched American Pickers for years, and I always said I would love to visit the store, but when would I ever be in Iowa? Now my parents live 20 minutes away. The town it's in is the Stars Hollow of the Midwest. There are cute little restaurants and antique stores, it's right on the river, and there are speakers on every tree playing oldies music throughout the town. Every time I'm there I keep my eyes peeled for Mike and Frank. I know the chances are slim that I'll run into them, but crazier things have happened. I looked at Instagram later that day to discover they had been filming Pickers the day before. I could have died. I missed them by 24 hours!


In other reality tv show news, my mom and I have been binge-watching House Hunters on her DVR. Not having HGTV is the one thing I desperately miss about not having cable, so I have to get my fix whenever I visit. On a whim, I decided to apply for the show. If you could hear my dazzling commentary from my perch on the couch, you would know I was made to be on House Hunters. I know we'll never get picked, but that doesn't mean I won't be checking my email every minute for the next few months and practicing my witty house-related one-liners.

We've been eating at all the coffeeshops and delicious restaurants. We went out for hamburgers on Father's Day, and when I sat down, the belt loop on my shorts somehow hooked onto the booth, and when I slid into the booth it pulled EVERYTHING down. It's almost as bad as when I was using the bathroom the other day, which happens to be located right next to the front door. There also happens to be a window next to the toilet. I didn't bother to close the blinds, because I hadn't yet learned that the this house would become very popular at the most inconvenient times. I looked up to see someone walking up to the front steps while my pants were down.

We're driving home tomorrow. I'm sad to leave, dreading the drive, but happy to be back with James and in my own domain. I'm excited to aggressively house hunt. Hopefully House Hunters will call me in time. I'm thinking we'll need to buy a house without a doorbell.

6.14.2017

summer travels



This post is coming at you from the beautiful and violently humid state of Iowa. Gracie and I made impromptu plans last week to drive here to visit my parents. The last time we made this drive was back in September, and it was the worst day of traveling I've ever experienced in my life. I think I'm excused for waiting 9 months to do it again. Thankfully, a lot has changed in that time. Forward facing carseats (come at me, carseat nazis), nausea medicine, and being two years old made the whole thing so much better. She talked and made up little games and I even caught her singing Amazing Grace. She understood why we were driving and talked the whole way about hugging her Grammy and Grandpa. Things might be different on the way home, but I'm glad that my week of intense panic and stress was for nothing. I laughed at myself during the drive, thinking of the Little House books and the Donner Party book I recently read. They put their earthly belongings in a covered wagon and travelled to parts unknown, knowing there was a chance they could die or run out of food. And here I was terrified to drive in an air-conditioned car with food and gas stations lining the highways and a home on either side of the drive.

My parents are settled in their new house, deep in a little forest with hills, trails, a ravine, and a creek. It is paradise. I'm currently sitting in a rocking chair, next to a huge window that looks out onto the ravine during a severe thunderstorm watch, and holding a cup of coffee. There may or may not also be a bowl of M&Ms next to me. This is me living my best life now, experiencing summer from the comfort of an air-conditioned room. All I can see is green, the birds are singing, and IT IS SO BLOODY HOT. When we came last summer, there was a record-breaking heatwave, and the heat index hit 121 degrees one day. While it's not quite that hot, the heat index has been well over 100 all week. I'm not sure why Iowa only experiences record-breaking heat when I'm visiting, but I'm sure it's no coincidence.

My parents are avid lovers of reality shows set in Alaska. Their DVR is full of shows of mountain men, pioneers, and homesteaders trying to make a life in twenty feet of snow. When Gracie is in bed, I grab a popsicle, curl up with a blanket, and watch shows about the Alaskan winter. With the air conditioner on low and the blinds closed, I can almost pretend it's January. As one of the homesteaders said, "I tolerate summer for the abundance of winter." Amen, brother.

My favorite part about this house is all the places to explore outside. I haven't done much exploring yet due to the heat and humidity, but mostly because of the bugs. There are swarms of mosquitos and gnats, to the point that they were flying up my nose and in my mouth. One evening, my dad took us on a walk down one of the trails. It leads to a secret, circular lawn in the middle of the forest. It is downright magical and the coolest thing in the world. I want to make a fort and live there. I've been reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and there is always so much description of nature. I adore beautiful scenery as much as Anne does (minus the bugs and heat), and I think of her constantly here. She always talked about the White Way of Delight, Violet Vale, Lover's Lane, and I think this space needs an Anne Shirley name. All I've come up with so far is The Emerald Enchantment, and I think it fits pretty well.


I hadn't had my hair cut since I was here last fall, so my mom made me an appointment. I got several inches trimmed, and I feel like a brand new woman. While we were there, we had the hairdresser trim Gracie's hair. We talked about it last fall, and I decided it would be time when she was two, so I've been preparing myself ever since. Her hair was very uneven, but a tiny trim in the back evened it right up. Gracie was so upset over the whole thing until she was given a spray bottle to spray at the mirror. She had so much fun dousing us all in the water that she didn't even mind having her hair trimmed. The hairdresser put her hair in an envelope and dated it, and I was so thankful because I wasn't even thinking to save it, and I would've regretted it if I had forgotten.




My mom surprised me with a pedicure appointment after my haircut. I don't even remember the last time I had a pedicure. We tried to get one on my due date, but everyone was booked and we never made up for it. Over two years later, I finally got my pedicure. It was bliss. My mom sat just out of the room with Gracie and colored with her, and I sat in a dark room with my sparkling water. It felt like a tropical vacation. I was so relaxed I nearly fell asleep.

Gracie has been such a champ. She's been a bit off-schedule with waking up early and going to bed late, but the time change is mostly to blame for that. I've forced myself not to worry about it and just let her have fun. She's been wearing herself out to the point of asking for a nap and going right to sleep. She is having the time of her life running around the house, going on adventures, and exploring outside. Traveling with a two year old is night and day from traveling with an 18 month old. Not to mention, it's been so nice to have help with her. I left her with my mom yesterday morning and took myself on a long walk in the very hilly neighborhood. There's one very large, very steep hill that was not easy to scale in 100 degree temperatures. I don't think Anne Shirley would've been tempted to name that particular spot.

With all this heat, I need to visit my favorite coffeeshop for an iced coffee. Or as Anne and I call that place, the Caffeinated Cove of Comfort.

6.08.2017

a story of renewed faith



At the end of 2016, we had just lost out on a beautiful house, our neighbor was smoking pot every day and we still didn't know who it was, and we were waiting for test results to see if my mom had cancer. Two completely different types of cancer from scares one week apart.

The winter and early spring rolled on. I went through three months of wicked insomnia, I had some weird health issues that zapped my strength, it rained every day, and I was cooped up with a teething toddler. This is pretty much how the past three years of our lives have gone. They have been grueling. Bad news on top of bad news, endless strings of bad days, and a lot of grief and sadness. For the first time, I've struggled to trust God, to have faith, and to believe in His goodness. I've been through hard things before, but my faith has never wavered. I began to question things I've never questioned before. I've always known and believed we should never let our outward circumstances and feelings dictate our faith, but it is so hard to hold onto that hope when there is no light at the end of the tunnel of difficulties. I'm ashamed to say how weak my faith really was. I never would've thought that before. I thought a lot about the parable of the sower. When the seeds were sprinkled on rocky ground, they grew, but they were quickly scorched by the sun. I read it a few weeks ago, and I was horrified that I was turning into that person that runs when life gets hard. Every Christian goes through a period of having their faith tested, and this was mine. I'm sure there will be more to come, but this was a refining fire I almost didn't endure. 

All of a sudden, things started to change last week. I heard some banging around downstairs, looked outside, and our pot smoking neighbor was MOVING OUT. He's gone. FOR GOOD. I cheered on my balcony. That same day, my mom had two retests done to check on her possible cancer, and both came back with excellent news.

A few weeks before that, James was contacted by a recruiter. Just for kicks, he agreed to a phone interview. It's for a great company that he's been wanting to work for, but we both didn't get our hopes up. For the past few years he's applied to jobs in other states, we've house hunted here, but nothing has panned out. People talk about changing aspects of your life you don't like, but it's not always that simple. Sometimes God makes you stay where you are, even when your neighbors are filling your living room with marijuana smoke and your rent continues to skyrocket along with your health insurance, and paying your bills makes you want to rip your hair out. If things were always easy, we wouldn't need God. It's easy to say those things, but hard to really hold onto those truths when you're in the midst of it.

That phone interview turned into another phone interview. Still, we didn't want to get our hopes up. The job was a huge step up. He hadn't even applied for it--the whole situation just fell into his lap. The second phone interview turned into an in-person interview that lasted an entire afternoon. I finally let myself think about what it would be like for him to work only one job. Once I let the thought in, I wasn't sure if I could go back to normal after being so close to tasting freedom. We spent an agonizing four days waiting to hear the verdict. I nearly made myself sick with anxiety. I couldn't think about anything else. One minute we were sure he had gotten it, the next we were sure it wouldn't work out since that's how things tend to go.

Finally, on Monday morning, they called and offered him the position. The starting salary is even more than we were expecting. It will be almost as if we got my old income back. Not quite, but almost. By the end of the month, he'll be working one job again. We'll be in a better place financially. Other than some occasional business trips, he'll be home in the evenings again and on weekends. I WILL GET SOME OF MY SANITY BACK. He has worked so hard for this. For the past three years he's been working two jobs, and I've been pregnant and parenting by myself. It has nearly killed us both.  This is a huge step up in his career. The job is very specific and his experience from both jobs was vital in him getting this one. Here we thought those two jobs were to help pay our bills, when in reality they were grooming him for this one.

This job isn't the answer to all our problems, and I'm sure it will have its own set of issues, but I think the tide may finally be changing. I feel hopeful again. And not because we got something we wanted, but because it's proof that God ordains everything. He was faithful when I wasn't. I desperately needed that reminder. I haven't been able to see past a lot of frustrations for the past few years. I started to wonder if there was a plan for all of this struggle. I've been holding myself back from getting too invested in friendships because I kept wondering if we would wind up moving somewhere else. We've been sitting on the fence between house-hunting here and looking for jobs in other states. I can finally feel settled here and know it's our home for now. I'm so proud of James for how hard he's worked to get to this point. I'm so thankful God provided this opportunity for him and for our friends and family who have supported us over the past several years.

Tuesday night, James got in his car to go to his second job, and his car wouldn't start. I grabbed Gracie and we drove to his office to jump his car. It still wouldn't start. We did it over and over. It would run for a few minutes and then die. It finally ran long enough that he drove away, but I followed him because I just had a hunch. The car died while he was about to drive out of the parking lot. He had to push it into a parking spot. The whole ordeal was incredibly stressful, to the point that we may have yelled at each other in the parking lot. I felt sick to my stomach, because we knew it was more than a dead battery (sure enough, it's going to cost us almost $1000--they kept finding more and more things wrong, but isn't that how it goes?). James dropped us off at home so he could take my car to work. I was frazzled and stressed, but Gracie was running around playing, just happy to have been on an adventure. She knew there had been a problem but was confident mommy and daddy would fix it. Ah, that childlike faith. That's exactly what I've been missing these past few years. It reminded me of this quote by Spurgeon that's been saved in my phone for awhile:

"O child of suffering, be thou patient; God has not passed thee over in his providence. He who is the feeder of sparrows, will also furnish you with what you need. Sit not down in despair; hope on, hope ever. Take up the arms of faith against a sea of trouble, and your opposition shall yet end your distresses. There is One who careth for you. His eye is fixed on you, his heart beats with pity for your woe, and his hand omnipotent shall yet bring you the needed help. The darkest cloud shall scatter itself in showers of mercy. The blackest gloom shall give place to the morning. He, if thou art one of his family, will bind up thy wounds, and heal thy broken heart. Doubt not his grace because of thy tribulation, but believe that he loveth thee as much in seasons of trouble as in times of happiness. What a serene and quiet life might you lead if you would leave providing to the God of providence! With a little oil in the cruse, and a handful of meal in the barrel, Elijah outlived the famine, and you will do the same. If God cares for you, why need you care too? Can you trust him for your soul, and not for your body? He has never refused to bear your burdens, he has never fainted under their weight. Come, then, soul! have done with fretful care, and leave all thy concerns in the hand of a gracious God."

So good, right? We have the money to fix the car, but we've spent so much in car repairs already this year. My knee-jerk reaction is to worry that we'll never buy a house if our money keeps going to car repairs, but it will always be something. I'm going to work on this childlike faith. Obviously, we don't usually get what we want when we want it, but I think the past week makes it clear that God's ways are not our own, and He is able to do far more abundantly than we could ever ask or think. The job we weren't even looking for came, and so will the house and anything else we need. The victory is His, and I will rest in that.

5.31.2017

recent reads

The Hours After: Letters of Love and Longing in War's Aftermath by Gerda Weissmann Klein--5 stars: If you read All But My Life, this book is a MUST. In a sense, it's the sequel and follow-up to Gerda and Kirk's life after the war. Kirk is sent home to the US, and Gerda is stuck in Germany, the country who wanted to murder her, until she can get her papers together and emigrate to the US. The book is compromised of the letters they wrote to each other during their year apart. They wrote each other ideas and strategies to get her out of Germany, and their letters would often take upwards of a month or two to get to each other. Imagine waiting that long when you're needing an answer to important questions! Both Kurt and Gerda write essays and stories depicting their lives at the time and what the years have taught them about their letters in hindsight. These letters are so beautifully written, and I am SO glad they saved and published them. They give a fascinating insight into what it was like for soldiers to return to the US after years at war, and how displaced Jews put the pieces of their lives back together after the Holocaust. All I want now is to write letters talking about my day and my thoughts to my friends and get them in return.

For fans of: WWII, snooping through peoples' mail, the Holocaust, love stories, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society




A Boring Evening at Home by Gerda Weissmann Klein--5 stars: Gerda is such a treasure in this dark world. During her time in the concentration camps, the one image she clung to was her boring evenings at home with her family when she would do her homework, her dad read the paper, and her mom would do her needlework. I loved that. This collection of essays range from immediately after her marriage to the early 2000s, when her husband dies, and everything in between. It's about her family life and how she handles balancing the horror of her past with the happiness of her current life. My favorites were her takes on 9/11 after weathering WWII, and when she met a woman in Amsterdam who was a good friend of Anne Frank's. It's clear that she took sections of some of these essays to use in her previous books, so some of the book was a little repetitive, but these essays dig much deeper. I loved and adored this book and didn't want it to end.

For fans of: being a homebody, immigration stories, family life, marriage, motherhood, trying to find Gerda's address online so you can write her a letter




The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown--3.5 stars: Take The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, add some mountains and zombies, throw in a pinch of The Hunger Games, and you have the tale of the Donner Party! I spent most of my childhood in Reno, an hour away from the spot where this tragedy occurred. We drove over Donner Pass countless times, and I had a field trip to the Donner Memorial in 5th or 6th grade. I need to go back as an adult with fresh eyes, and not the eyes of an 11 year old who is intrigued by the story but a little more obsessed over the fact that a classmate brought her Britney Spears folder along (we went to a private Christian school--admitting you're a fan of Britney was A Big Deal). If you're not aware of the story (are you? I honestly don't know how well-known they are since I grew up in the area), the Donner Party were midwestern emigrants making their way to California via the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. They had constant trials and setbacks, and they reached the Sierra Nevadas too late in the year to be able to cross safely, but they had no choice since they were out of food. They were trapped near the summit in snowstorm after snowstorm, and they began dying of starvation and hypothermia after eating all their animals. A handful of them tried to cross over to California to gather food and supplies and rescue the rest, but most of them died. In desperation, the survivors ate the dead bodies to stay alive. Yes, cannibalism. Honestly, I think the author was a little giddy about this fact. You could just sense it in the way he wrote about it. He made a grotesque situation feel that much creepier and awful. The story is told from the point of view of one woman in particular, which is weird since he seemed to know the least about her, and he goes off on some weird tangents. It is very much written in the vein of an Erik Larsen book, but without the same finesse. Definitely worth reading if you're at all interested in the situation. Make sure you read right before bed--it makes for excellent dreams that might make you scream in the middle of the night.


Fun fact: As I was reading this, I had a sudden flashback to my field trip. We hiked our way up to a stream and a huge boulder that supported one of the cabins the DP lived in during that winter. We ate our bagged lunches in the spot where people starved to death and ate their relatives. Appetizing, right?

For fans of: horror movies, Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Hunger Games, playing Oregon Trail in elementary school computer class, The Walking Dead, Erik Larson, pioneer life, dystopian novels



The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay--2 stars: During WWII, the British government rented a huge, garish building in the outskirts of London known as Bletchley Park. They secretly recruited thousands of brilliant civilians well-versed in language and math. For the duration of the war and for many decades after, no one had any idea that Bletchley Park was where the British were cracking the German Enigma code which had been thought to be unbreakable. This book interviews a handful of people that worked there during the war as codebreakers. It sounds like it should be a fantastic, riveting book, but I had to force myself to finish it and skimmed the last third. It was not written in an engaging way, much of the information was repetitive, and it felt more gossipy than informative. There were a few intriguing chapters, like one about the Blitz, and another that talked about how Bletchley often used the German codes to misinform the Luftwaffe so they would they would drop bombs in the countryside instead of cities. Worth reading if you want to know more, but keep your expectations low.

For fans of: WWII, London, reading government memos, thinking about what a good BBC show this could make (isn't there one?)



Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America by Jack Barsky--5 stars: Jack Barsky grew up in East Germany following the end of WWII. In high school, he was recruited by the KGB to work as an undercover spy in the US. He spent years training for secret missions and making cover stories so his friends and family weren't wondering where he was and what he was doing. He worked as a spy in the US for decades, doing his best to blend in as an average citizen. As the years went by, he found himself questioning his formerly unwavering belief in Communism and tried to worm his way out of being a spy. His cover was compromised and he was given orders to leave the US, but he had put down his roots and transformed himself into an American, so he refused and was caught by the FBI. This book---read this book. I could not put it down. It was so well-written and interesting. Jack Barsky is a 5 star douchebag through most of the book, but you can't help rooting for him and wanting to know how he turns out. I loved reading about how spies are trained and what it took to get an undercover spy in the US. It's creepy and not as glamorous as it sounds, but just so cool.

For fans of: spy stories, history of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, faith, Jack Bauer 



Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick--4 stars: This was a gut-wrenching, horrifying, triumphant, fascinating book. I devoured it in just a couple days. The author is a journalist who covered events in North and South Korea. She wound up following the lives of 6 North Koreans, detailing their lives under a horrifying communist regime until they corageously defected to South Korea in the 90s and 2000s. North Korea went through a horrible famine in the 90s, killing a huge chunk of the population, and a lot of the book centers on the life during the famine and how people survived under such strict regulation. I knew North Korea was not a pleasant place to live, but I had no idea just how devastating life is there. They often have no electricity, no salaries, and hardly any food. They can't even travel to the next town over without government approval. Seriously, I cannot recommend this book enough. It's so important to know what's going on over there. Some of the information is outdated as it was written before Kim Jong-un was in power, but things have not improved for them. This should be required reading for anyone with romantic ideas about socialism and communism. I have never in my life been so grateful to be an American. If you read it before bed, you might have dreams about being a fighter pilot in the Korean War. Just don't be alarmed.

For fans of: politics, survival stories, the United States of America, wanting to sing the national anthem through a megaphone while waving the American flag



As you can plainly see, everything I've read lately has been heavy nonfiction. I hate sad movies and shows because life has enough sadness, but for some reason I love a good, intense book that teaches me more about the world. I'm trying to lighten things up by reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and I'm loving every single second of it. After that, I think I'm going to dip my toes back into fiction again. Obviously Anne is fiction, but I knew I would love it. When it comes to grabbing books at the library, I tend to shy away from fiction because I usually don't enjoy it as much as nonfiction. So tell me some good novels to put on my reading list! I plan to spend much of the summer reading by the pool.