Sunday, June 11, 2017

Christians and the Environment

Tennessee, 2009
In preparation for our potential move outside of the city, I'm reading up on country living. I grew up in the country, but never had to do the decision-making myself there, so I feel I need to read up on how to can vegetables and feed chickens before we get there. We love the neighborhood we're living in now, but we are definitely priced out of buying here (by several hundred thousand dollars), so we're considering going somewhere farther out: Granville County, Person County, or maybe somewhere between here and Greensboro. We haven't quite decided yet. But I'll have to do some reading no matter where we go.

When I was a kid, I used to browse through my dad's copy of Carla Emery's Old Fashioned Recipe Book, leafing through the pages of how to dry greens, wash clothes by hand, raise milk cows, and keep warm in the winter with just a wood stove. (Although we didn't do all of those things when I was a kid, and I may never, I guess it doesn't hurt to be prepared.) 

As I was reading through the book today, I came across a passage that really struck me. Carla Emery first published her book in 1971. She's about the most down-to-earth person possible: rural, self-sufficient, confident. Salt-of-the-earth. I respect a lot of what she says, and I'd like to follow in her footsteps and live off the land some day. I love what she says about the world we live in (italics hers, bold mine) and pray that everyone who is lucky enough to have a tiny of slice of nature hold the same conviction:  


"I believe we should live morally and spiritually as if Jesus were coming in the next five minutes, but economically and ecologically we should live as if He won't be here for 5,000 years more. I think it's a crime against that precious heritage God promised Abraham and the rest not to cherish and try to preserve this earth -- His splendid creation. If it is going to come into destruction this should be no doing of any Christian hands. So please brothers and sisters let us struggle to preserve in health, beauty and usefulness this planet that God has given us and our descendants to be our home until that last day when we shall indeed be raised to be with Him. Let us be able to report our stewardship proudly" (1977 ed., p. 34). 

Amen, sister. Amen. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Gratitude to Mrs. K

I'm getting married in a few days, and it's all because of Mrs. L.K., my 11th grade Spanish teacher.

If scheduling hadn't prevented me from taking French in Fall 1998, I never would have taken Spanish.

If I hadn't taken Spanish class, I never would have fallen in love with the language.

If I hadn't fallen in love with the language, I wouldn't have wanted to study Spanish at Milligan College.

If I hadn't gone to Milligan College, I never would have reconnected with J.S., who never would have introduced me to J.F.

If I hadn't met J.F., I never would have gotten married in 2005.

If I hadn't gotten married, I wouldn't have gotten divorced.

If I hadn't gotten divorced, I wouldn't have moved to Japan.

If I hadn't lived in Japan for the same two years Kyle did (2010-2012), I never would have joined the Japanese Meet-Up when I moved back to North Carolina.

If I hadn't joined the Meet-Up, I never would have met Kyle.

And if I had never met Kyle, I'd never have married him.

Grateful I am for all of my life experiences that have brought me to where I am now.

As Kyle told me, "There is only one road that leads to the present, and we have traveled it."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Counting Down to April 9th

. . . It seemed natural: it seemed genial to be so well-loved and caressed by him. 

"Jane, you look blooming, and smiling, and pretty," said he, "truly pretty this morning. Is this my pale little elf?"

"It is Jane Eyre, sir."

"Soon to be Jane Rochester," he added: "in four weeks, not a day more. Do you hear that?"

I did, and I could not quite comprehend it: it made me giddy. The feeling, the announcement sent through, was something stronger than was consistent with joy -- something that smote and stunned . . . I thought only of the bliss given me to drink in so abundant a flow. Again and again he said, "Are you happy, Jane?" And again and again I answered, "Yes."

- Charlotte Brontë, "Jane Eyre," 1847

In two and a half weeks, I'll be taking my beloved's name as well.

In two and a half weeks, all the months of planning about what color tablecloths we need, where to get a cake, what song we should dance to, and all the other unimportant wedding details will all be over.

And I'll think only of the bliss given me to drink in so abundant a flow!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Year of the Dog Fortune 2016

I checked my Year of the Dog Fortune in January 2016. It says:

As the Japanese would say: 合っている! (Atte-iru-- it was absolutely correct!) 2016 brought good fortune in love, as my long-time crush and I got engaged, and a direction for future development: after 15 years in ESL teaching, I switched to career counseling. Here's a month-by-month breakdown of all the fun things 2016 brought.

North Carolina Snow
 January - I was in the middle of the 2015-2016 school year at Wake County Public Schools, teaching ESL at two elementary schools during the day and twice a week at Wake Tech at night. (As well as giving statewide ESL trainings once every few months and taking online classes to get my teaching certificate.) Kyle's lease on his apartment in N. Raleigh was up, so he moved to a farmhouse in South Durham on a 6-month contract. We spent New Year's with friends in downtown Raleigh, then traveled to New York the 14th-17th. We also had a few snow days between the 22nd-23rd. 
Still working on that quilt

February - Kyle went to Virginia and came back with the flu, which he soon gave to me. We were both out of work for a week. Other than that, we visited my mom, toured Korner's Folley, and ate at Pegg's Tea House. We hosted an Oscar party/Clarissa's Going Away Party on the 28th. 

Michigan Beer
March - Clarissa moved to Germany, and left Kyle and I super sad! We watched House of Cards a lot. Then Kyle had to go to Germany (but different city) so I stayed home and ate a lot of chocolate in his absence. From the 25th to April 1st, we visited Kyle's family in Michigan and my sister in Indiana. 
Field where he proposed

April - We signed the lease to our new house on April 15th, and a week and a day later, on April 23rd, we took a trip to Bath and got engaged on the lawn! We got the keys to our house on April 30th and started moving in.
Waiting to transplant

May - On May 5th, I finished my last night teaching with Wake Tech. A few days later, Kyle started building a garden bed. The mulberry tree started putting out berries, so I made a mulberry cobbler and mulberry jam. Kyle went to Las Vegas for work from the 12th to the 19th. And on May 21st, we had our first official night in our new house!
Mountain lake

June - Got some squash and cucumbers from the garden. Made homemade laundry detergent. On June 16th, we went to Cary to listen to the symphony in the park. Then I traveled to Tennessee to spend the 22nd - 25th at a lake in the mountains celebrating the 15-year anniversary of friendship with my Milligan girlfriends! At the end of the month, on June 29th, I turned in my badge at WCPSS, left my teaching license half-done, and so ended a 15-year career as an ESL teacher.
Famers Market

July - A busy month! When it got to be 87 degrees in the house, we finally decided to run the air conditioner. In the hopes of meeting more people in Durham, we started taking dance classes at Ninth Street Dance. My dad and stepmom came to visit on the 9th and we visited Duke Homestead to attend the Pork, Pickles, and Peanuts festival. On July 11th, I started my new job at the NC Works Career Center as a career counselor. Kyle and I took a trip to the Outer Banks the weekend of the 16th to celebrate our one-year anniversary. On July 24th we became the parents of two adorable kittens. And we won second place playing trivia at Fullsteam's brewery!
Birthday Present Bistro Set

August - I turned 34 on the 2nd. Kyle threw me a surprise party at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Durham. My brother and sister came from out of state to spend the week at Lake Gaston and attend the family reunion on the 6th. At the end of the month, Kyle and I traveled back to Michigan for his brother's wedding on the 27th. 

September - On September 10th, we went to the National Folk Festival in Greensboro. On the 24th, we went to the Liberty Antiques Festival (but didn't buy anything). On September 25th, we went to La Fiesta del Pueblo in downtown Raleigh. Lots of festivals in September. 
Lake Jordan

October - Hurricane Matthew came pouring in on October 8th and totally ruined our engagement portraits' schedule (along with thousands of people's lives. . . ). Kyle and I started listening to The Black Tapes podcast and couldn't quit. We went to a couple of weeks of Thursday night game night in Durham to meet more Durham folk. From the 14th-16th we went camping with friends near Mt. Mitchell and then went apple picking. Kyle turned 30 on the 21st. And finally on October 29th took our (rescheduled) engagement portraits.
No Longer Kittens

November - November 6th was the Renaissance Festival in Huntersville. Kyle's old car finally gave up the ghost, so we bought a new car on November 12th. We won second place playing trivia at Fullsteam's brewing (again). On Thanksgiving weekend, we visited my mom in Winston-Salem and saw some extended family.
Dickens Coffee

December - I spent a weekend visiting my dad's side of the family: went to see my aunt in Littleton December 2nd and 3rd. We saw the Littleton Christmas Parade, and I bought too many books and linens! Later at my dad's house, I learned that my stepmom went to high school with Roy Cooper. To get in the Christmas spirit, Kyle and I hosted our 4th annual Christmas Feast on December 10th. We attended a Christmas Lovefeast  (not as risqué as it sounds: it's just coffee and bread) at Raleigh Moravian Church on December 11th. And we spent Christmas and New Year's in Michigan with Kyle's family.

Yet to come in 2017 - Wedding! Honeymoon! Kids?! A dog? Oh, the surprises that await us!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts at the Supermarket

Why is grocery shopping so stressful? As a kid, I just eat what I was told, in college I'd eat three cheeseburgers at 2:00 a.m. and not think twice, but once I became an "adult" I started seeing shopping as a responsibility both to my health and to the planet. 

I was pushing a cart down the aisles at Kroger the other night, picking things up, reading the ingredients, and putting them back on the shelf. Everything seems to have either too many preservatives or too much sodium or too many calories or something that makes me feel like I'm poisoning myself or the environment. Because I scrutinize everything I put in the basket, shopping becomes stressful. A few weeks ago Kyle and I were standing in the refrigerated section, vacillating between a commercial chicken for $1.99/lb. or a free-range organic chicken for more than twice that. After a difficult debate between our conscience and our wallet, we put them both down and bought dried beans for the week's protein. 

And take coffee creamer. I luuuuuuuv that stuff. But now when I see it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, I think, "Oh God, those artificial flavors and colors are going to give me cancer and ruin my health for good." So I have to content myself with boring old milk. 

The main culprit for this freak-out is the novel "
Sweetness #9" by Stephan Eirik Clark, which I first heard about on NPR in August 2014 but didn't get from the library until October a year later. That book traces the rise of artificial flavors in U.S. food products from the '70s to the present -- and it's depressing, even if it is fiction. 

I guess I could shop at Whole Foods or Fresh Market, but it's so expensive. 

In my head, I have long debates between the virtues of there being a million choices of things to eat, and the virtues of only having healthy choices. They've both got their pros and cons.

But dang it, it's about to be Thanksgiving! It's the time of the year to eat marshmallows on a sweet potato casserole, and gravy on everything. So I'm going to throw all of my sensibilities to the wind and enjoy my stepdad's famous mac and cheese, fried turkey, and pecan pie and all the other goodies of the season. 

I can worry about the negative aspects of mass-produced food later on. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Fun & Games

In all this week's news about protests, fights, un-friending, and all the rest, I've found two fun things to do that tell me humanity is still good: Triangle Game Night and RDU Blues.

Thursday night I went to the lobby of a downtown Durham hotel without knowing a soul except Kyle, and left having met a group of diverse new friends. An Arabic-speaking doctor at UNC, a Spanish-speaking paralegal, an IT guy who was probably a bro back in college, a black IT analyst, his hip girlfriend who works in corrections, a blue-haired not-sure-what-he-does and me all sat down at a table and played Anomia for an hour while Kyle and another group of folk played another game whose rules took too long to explain.

Friday night we went to a blues/fusion dancing event in Durham, where white people, black people, Latino people, college people, working people, and retired people all boogied down to an eclectic mix of blues music, throwing in some salsa and swing to their blues moves.

At neither event did anyone say anything political, either kind or unkind. We were just there having a good time. I was a stranger at both events but felt welcomed, and I hope everyone else who attended felt as good as I did. Durham is a good place to be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Another Weekend in the Mountains

Exploring the river
It's been a tradition, ever since my first October in Raleigh three years ago, to go group camping in the mountains one weekend each fall. Of course, I was raised to believe that camping meant backpacking into the wilderness carrying the lightest bag possible, but since 2013, I have changed my tune. My first group camping trip at a campsite with a picnic table and grill taught me that you can have the joy of sleeping in a tent while still having access to warm water and toilets. Plus you can make biscuits and gravy in a Dutch oven over the fire and feel like a cowboy. Since cast iron would be pretty heavy to carry on the trail, the jury is still out as to whether I'd be up for "real" backpacking again any time soon.

These camping experiences have also proven to be life-changing for me. Kyle and I had met briefly at the Japanese Meet-Up during the summer of 2013, but it wasn't until our first camping trip that October that we were able to get to know each other better. Nothing brings two people together quicker than getting lost in the woods and fearing for their lives. (We made it out okay, though.)

This time, Kyle and I maintained the tradition (of camping, not getting lost) by going up to Black Mountain Campground near Burnsville for a weekend trip. We were joined by our friend Kelly and one of her friends, both of whom are much more adept at "real" camping than Kyle and me: they have actual camping supplies and go camping more than once a year! Kelly also brought her two adorable dogs, who seemed right in their element running around the campsite.

Our first day was spent getting settled in and exploring the area. We were able to snag a camping spot right beside the river, and after pitching our tents, we took a hike downstream. The river was singing, the sun was shining, the puppies were laughing, and all was well. Later we cooked a fancy meal of roasted beef, chicken fajitas, and baked potatoes over the fire, followed by enough s'mores to feed an army.

Day two, in retrospect, was really a lovely day, but in the moment, it was pretty brutal. Not knowing exactly what we were getting into, we decided to hike up Mt. Mitchell. Now I've hiked mountains before (almost got to the top of Mt. Fuji six years ago, if that means anything), so the 5.7-mile one-way hike didn't scare me. And I was thinking, sure, it'll be a nice, relaxing walk in the woods. 


Not the view from Mt. Mitchell,
but from the Blue Ridge Parkway
We failed to realize that those 5.7 miles were basically all uphill -- and that coming down was all downhill. It took about four hours to reach the top of the mountain -- the tallest this side of the Mississippi, in case you didn't know, reaching an impressive 6,684 feet high (yes, yes, yes, Mt. Fuji is over 12,000, but that's neither here nor there). Apparently, hiking this mountain is something you train for, not something you decide to do on a whim. But we made it (even the dogs!), and were greeted with an impressive view of the entire Blue Ridge Mountains at the top. (Pardon the lack of photos of the mountain: I thought it prudent to leave my phone at the campsite.) It was also really, really disheartening to see that after all of our struggles, the majority of the people up at the crowded top had just driven in by car. And after we had worked so hard for that view!

Coming down was actually more difficult than going up: about a quarter of a mile in, my left knee started swelling with all the jolts, and a little later on, my right joined the party (apparently I'm getting old). The rocky terrain, interlaced with roots, had been easy to use for traction going up, but it made for a hard descent. Most of us were feeling some aches and pains by the time we got back to the campground three hours later. But like I said, in retrospect, I'm really glad we did it!

The next day, Kyle and I left early to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway down to Sky Top Orchard in Flat Rock, NC. Even with our sore legs, we were happily nostalgic to be back at the place that held such good memories for us. We bought almost 40 pounds of apples! Now what we're going to do with all of those apples is still a mystery: so far I've made five jars of applesauce and an applesauce cake, but we still have another 20 pounds to eat!

I am a person who enjoys a good tradition, and this yearly mountain camping trip is one I want to hold on to for a long time yet. Just maybe a little lighter on my legs. 

Basket of Apples