Turning Twenty-Four

I get a little squirmy these days when people ask how old i am. Actually, scratch that; i’ve always gotten squirmy.

When i was fourteen, people outside of school regularly mistook me for a first-year college student. And on my wedding day, the woman who did my makeup made a tutting noise and told me i looked way too young for this. Last week, someone asked me what kind of music i grew up with; i made the usual pinch-nose, bracing for the exclamation that i was too young. She said she’s guess my age, and guess lower than she thought; she aimed for 29.

Maybe it’s my fat face, maybe it’s my premature sass, maybe it’s that we love to classify youth as this measurable and identifiable thing but, like basically every label, it’s all socially constructed consumerist nonsense. I don’t mind the guessing, usually. When the 29-guesser laughed, i delighted. She made me feel old and mature, like i would always eat all the groceries i buy instead of finding a few soured grapes in the corner of the bottom fridge-shelf after wondering for two weeks what that stink was.

So i’m 24 years and a few days old.

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Committing + Confirmation: On Finding a Church Home

We’ve committed. Hell, we had our first confirmation class this morning.

After years of waffling, of hurling insults of elitism and masculine language, of denying the abiding current of the liturgy – a current that sustains and challenges – Jonathan and i are committing to the Episcopal Church.

I am not a commitment phobe. I am not afraid of routines or weekly commitments or sharing the peace with people i don’t agree with. I use a label maker for my bureau drawers to delineate socks from underwear, for Chrissakes.  I’m not the cliché anti-labeling (as much as i believe in the danger of a single story).

But i am very, very opposed to monogamy when it comes to church denominations.

It’s not a moral thing. It’s not even really a result of theological meandering rooted in my confused Protestant-Catholic dualistic upbringing. I don’t think any one person believes every facet of the catechism of their denomination. I’ve long accepted that part of being in the Church (and a church) is that i’ll never 100% agree. There are too many people in one community to ask for conformity. As deeply as i want a community to universally support feminism and such, i also know that this desire itself can be skewed to be a desire for conformity of mindset. It is the lack of conformity that challenges me to go beyond my own limited scope.

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No More Equality for Me.

Maybe it’s the fuel in the gaslights, or maybe my if-i-had-a-dime jar has just cracked from the weight of the coins. You know, the jar for every time i have to endure “Well, I am not a feminist but I believe in equality.” Followed by how womyn who care about dismantling oppression inherently hate all men, and fuss too much, and really, what’s with the armpit hair?

I’m done with “equality.”

I’m done with people thinking a woman for Bishop means sexism isn’t still real in the church, that the apple cart shouldn’t be rocked so the church can grow (and get whiter and richer), done with the idea that in our post-racial society talking about prison and the new Jim Crow is bad dinner manners.

I really don’t like bashing other womyn, especially when i’m venting to a keyboard and not to breathing bones. But Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In phenomena (however passé that is in summer reads) just doesn’t cut it for me.

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The Season of Weeding: Abim & Kotido, Summer 2011.

It was a two-day journey from Kampala to Kotido, only half of the way on paved roads. We did it in one day once (well, i did it once, my housemates lived there for three years and i, only three months). And the one time we did in one day was hell – my stomach had shrunk to the size of a walnut with its inability to keep anything down for three weeks, i was dehydrated, and i’m pretty sure i hallucinated.

But when we made the trek over two days, it was a dream. To get to Kotido, we had to pass through the Abim region.

abim watermarked 02

Abim is like nowhere else i’ve ever been. Even at the time, i think i wrote more blog posts about how voracious the colors were of the Abim mountains than i did about Kotido, which i did in fact quite love.

abim watermarked 04 abim watermarked 03

abim watermarked 01 abim watermarked 05

You could see where the powerline stopped, somewhere in a town in the Abim region but long before we were in Kotido. Our home has a solar panel and small amounts of voltage so long as the sun was out. We’d take turns charging our laptops, running a mini-fridge a few hours a day to keep home-made ricotta cool. It was the rainy season, nothing like the dust-curling bone-heat they told me of when it was the dry season. I remember being grateful for the one sweater i’d thought to slide into my suitcase.

kotido watermarked 02

In the Kotido market, during a rainstorm.

In the Kotido market, during a rainstorm.

My “room” in the house was a mattress and mosquito net tucked in a corner, shrouded by a collection of curtain pieces like the ones in the above photo. It was Thera‘s (very thoughtful!) idea, to give a fellow introvert some more privacy. She’d even saved me some ticky tack, to hang a collection of photos and postcards on my wall.


I was re-living this summer while Jonathan (supposedly) studied for his Greek exam.

“It’s kind of crazy to me that you did that,” he commented, the photo Thera snapped of me on a boda-boda on my screen.

Photo by Thera Freeman!

Photo by Thera Freeman!

He didn’t mean crazy as in foolish, or as in out of character. This was a hint of green in his voice. More like it was a reality unknown to him, a part of me before us. And yet it was because of Uganda the “us” even happened. We’d had a champion of awkward first dates, us alone in an Applebee’s save the one guy hellbent on making Karoke night a thing. I’d just buzzed my hair, prepped for a summer of sub-Saharan heat and lack of hot showers. I noticed his dimples, the eyes, even then. But i my focus was on the 7,414 miles to conquer and courage to find.

Thank God for my mom. A friend of ours had prepped and de-briefed with both of us, a woman who had spent the bulk of her adult like working for MCC on the continent of Africa. “You’ll need spaces to really talk, to really be heard,” she’d told us. Mom arranged for me to preach my first Sunday stateside again, at her then-new church. She let me lowercase the bulletin and screen a video i’d edited of my time abroad.

It was Jonathan’s first Sunday as the worship music leader. He was one of the first to really listen, to let me be really heard. I remember noticing the eyes again in worship planning, how he didn’t judge me for wanting to juxtapose John 15 with an E.E. Cummings poem.

The fact that it’s me in that picture feels unfathomable. Not that i had the desire to learn and see and listen in Uganda, i still have that desire. But that time in my life, the depth and wonder and complicatedness of where i was feels far, far in my past and far from here. I know it happened, for how could a summer of confronting my own white, American privilege not leave contours on my perspective today?

kotido watermarked 01

Maybe it’s the coming-full-circle thing, that bite and blister and beauty of seeing the time and the growth and the redaction between lizzie on that motorcycle and lizzie getting married. I have no regrets, the loves of my life all intertwining in the most bizarre of stories. I was so young, so eighteen, so fresh out of my first year of college and so wanting to know more than i did.

I said then it was a summer of pruning, like the name i had been given: Nachap, the season of weeding. The seed that has grown the most, though, is the realization that every season is one of both pruning and growth. Sometimes the balance tips, hands deep in the earth straining with the baobab roots to come up. And sometimes it’s the blossoms, blossoms who need water and sun like all seasons but whose focus is so on being alive there’s little room for weeding.

And sometimes, i think you just have to slap on the gardening gloves and make a choice to keep planting, whatever the weather.

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in case you missed it, some of my favorite posts from my summer in east africa: south sudan’s independence daywhen we went all the way to kampala so we could see the last harry potter movieon our access to water in kotido.

What are you so afraid of?

I smooth the sticky side down on my wall, willing the fan to hold off long enough for adhesive to adhese (or whatever). I want both the air of the fan and the message of the note to stick. I want both things at once even though i know they are oppositional forces. 

It is a post-it note. “What are you so afraid of?” in block blue letters on a block of blue paper. Above the cross on my desk with a cheesy verse from Jeremiah that i love for both its cheese and its calories.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Mom is on Skype with me, glasses perched so far down her nose i swear they’ll fall off if she belly-laughs again. My legs are gluing to the wood chair, this miserable heat making me melt like Elmer’s. I envy Mom in the air conditioning promised inside her Southern home. New England winter is coming, you can already see the trees dressing in fire in the corner-most branches. But mostly the fire in New England right now is not a burning heat so much as it is a miserable slop, a clinging film of stick on everything not made of icebox rock.

“What are you so afraid of?”

I pull the fan closer, picking threads of hair off of my neck and re-wrap my hairtie. It’s the longest my locks have been since i started school, a reversal of fifteen-year-old lizzie who chopped off fifteen inches at Governor’s School to prove cookie-cutter wrong and feminist liberation right. Still feminist, still cookie-lover, still no cookie-cutter.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Mom looks at me now, serious-eyes over the tortoise-shell rims. “You’ve been talking about this since before you started school, honey,” she chides. A perfect blend of you-know-better and you-can-do-it. Someday she’ll teach me that recipe, maybe, if i have to tortoise-shell-glare my own daughter. Maybe. “You should be scared to death. Anything worth doing is scary.” I nod. Air forced in, air forced out. This heat, this heat and my tiny lungs are not friends. Makes oxygen into sluggish glue that sticks going down and never really makes it to the bottom. Anything worth doing is scary.

“What are you so afraid of?” 

I look at my note now, it blue on blue hanging by a thread to my sweating wall. How it hangs on, i’m not sure, but i’m glad i don’t have to move the fan. Mom’s right, i know, and that’s why i call her. When i need her to give me the permission i seem unwitting or unwilling to find myself. Permission to be scared of writing a thesis, permission to be scared of tomorrow. Permission to say “to hell with being scared!” and make defiant post-it notes in cookie-cutter rebellion. 

“What are you so afraid of?” 

current jam: ‘eavesdrop’ the civil wars.

best thing: blue valentine.

pre-order my book!

Of Blossoms & Boats: Van Gogh at the Hermitage.

Refreshed from our wine-and-cheese induced sleep, Abby and i awoke in Amsterdam ready to brave the cold and wanting to explore. After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (have i mentioned the cappuccino machine?) we took a gander about the southern canal/De Pijp neighborhood, drinking in the quaint little bridges and houses stacked against each other.


Some ten minutes away was our destination: The Hermitage Museum. Since the Van Gogh Museum is presently undergoing renovations, the bulk of their collection is temporarily housed here. I’d been waiting to see this exhibit really since my 12th-grade AP Art History class, when i’d first really studied Vincent.

It was sublime. Is there really any other word for visiting with Van Gogh’s work?


Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden, so i have no photos to share of the actual exhibit. In some ways, i find restrictions like this liberating because it means i’m truly present with the art instead of constantly fiddling with the shutter speed on my Olympus.

Some of my favorite things we saw, though, were not the most famous members of the collection (like Wheat Field with Crows, though that was transcendent). There was a whole section devoted to Van Gogh’s study of Japanese prints, and his painted recreations of some of the prints in his own collection. To see how these pieces really shaped Van Gogh’s perspective as an artist in his formative years was really cool – especially the harsh angles and vibrant colors.

But lest we forget, the more famous works were also amazing to see. I hadn’t known that Almond Blossoms was painted for Vincent’s newborn nephew. Somehow, this idea that the blossoms were meant to celebrate new life made this work all the more endearing.

And the greens! Oh, the greens! I’ve always been enchanted by Bedroom at Arles­ and its quirky, incandescent spirit (my Art History teacher said once he always felt like the chairs were about to start dancing around the room). But it is even more lively in person – the dark patches outlining the bed and making up the floor are such rich tones of emerald that they illuminate the whole work. I was utterly intoxicated by the greens – the fishing boats at Saint-Marie series had me entranced.


Bedroom in Arles, 1888.


Almond Blossoms, 1890.

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Some two hours later, we exited the gift shop (postcards in hand, of course) and made our way to Kerkestraat for the (aforewrittenabout) bike tour! Our afternoon was thus consumed by exquisite art and wheeling about town – what more could you want from a long weekend in Amsterdam, really?

That was really the bulk of our first day; the cold was too potent to spend too much time out with the sun going down. We returned to our new favorite bar/café, Onder de Ooivaar, for yet another round of wine and cheese. The next day promised a tour of the Anne Frank House, eating our way through the Albert Cuyp Market, and GIANT YELLOW wooden shoes!

current jam: ‘tout doucement’ feist.

best thing: ravioli.

of note: photos of van gogh’s paintings from here. 

27 Days.

The last paper has been turned in, my hands washed with unnerving, maniacal glee (a ritual after every exam). My room is in an explosive state of disarray. There are socks to coax from the far corners of the closet, mugs of long-gone coffee to be scrubbed, and a car waiting to be stuffed with my material life.

It’s the end of another semester, and at the same time the beginning of the next big whirlwind adventure. The cliché of every door closing meaning only a window need be opened for a fresh breeze is apt, if expected. I’m having a weird sense of preemptive déja-vù: as i shove a pair of jeans into an oversize, obnoxious pink crate, i feel a prickling thought that these jeans will be carefully folded within a tattered suitcase in less than a month’s time. I’m making mental lists of which hats are best for wet-cold weather. The tabs in my Lonely Planet guidebook are accumulating. There are running playlists in the back of everything that (stereotypically) feature either bagpipes or lyrics about 500 miles. Or both. 

I’m so excited. I really, really am. At the realization that The Elephant House Café is less than a quarter of a mile from my flat, i shrieked (sorry quiet hours, i just couldn’t help it (also also, this is where JK Rowling wrote large portions of Harry Potter for people who do not professionally live online)). It just all seems so unreal, so far from the tangible packing lists cluttering my desk right now. Seeping, ever so slowly, into the corners of my finals-frizzled brain is knowing i am leaving the country for the most substantive time yet. But emphasis on the lethargically. And still, all i can fret over is what to get my brother for Christmas.

So i have 27 days. 27 days spent listening to terrible Christmas music and wearing wonky, homemade scarves. 27 days that will accumulate well over a 1000 miles to fall down at my own door in the semi-annual drive from New England to North Carolina. 27 days of blustery bliss and blistering farewells. 27 days to plot ways to run into JK Rowling at the local grocer. 

27 days to beckon in the next adventure, and say fond see-you-laters to my two stateside homes. 

Making Today Great.

At the helm of a particularly grueling day, i looked over my plate of perogies for dinner talking with my dear friend Olivia. After a staff meeting, we were sharing our woes over struggling to find presence in our days despite unending to-do lists. Olivia is the kind of friend whom i can always find new avenues of conversation with – what a gift of a friend. But that night i was somewhat preoccupied at first with stabbing at a perogie with too much force, knuckles whitening at the thought of the boxes as yet unchecked by 7 PM.

And then, with a steam-blowing sigh, Olivia said to me: “There was something you said to me at the start of the semester i think of all the time.”

Spreading from the corner of her mouth was the smile that made me sure we’d be friends when we met last year. My curiosity now thoroughly pricked, i rummaged in my head for what potential piece of wisdom i could have possibly given her. I was coming up short when she revealed the words i’d so conveniently forgotten:

“You said: tomorrow will come. And it will. I think about that all the time.”

For a bite into cheesy potato goodness, i was stunned. I said that? Damn. I need to be writing these things down more.

I chose, then, to smile at the recollection of words i had – frankly – forgotten. Our conversation rolled on, and i was almost too foolish to believe that would be the last to-remember phrase of the night.

She told me how she had also, within the same week of my apparent doling out of wisdom, had a meeting with her advisor. She had enumerated how excited she was for the coming fall and that she wanted to make this year a great year.

He then said to her, “make today a great day, because they only come one at a time.”

Make today great, because they only come one at a time.

I inhaled deeply, both the words and the smell of my last perogie, basking in the simple wisdom. Olivia and i shared a look of knowing, knowing that in our too-many-classes lives and overbooked work schedules, this is precisely what we needed to hear.

I’ve been trying to channel this into my life in the everyday. Looking at what needs to be done today, rather than trying to tick off boxes in my to-do list notebook for the whole week on Monday. Asking J three things he’s grateful for every day, and asking myself the same. Looking for small things that carry large weights of happiness, blessing, privilege, wonder. Trying to be still, be present. Tomorrow will come, but i don’t need to worry about tomorrow when focused on today.

And while i know it’s far easier to say such things than to live them, i’m working on it. Making today great is a self-help project i can get on board with (so to speak) because the commitment is to today. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not for the next year. Today. Everyday is today, but they only come one at a time.

I’m making today great by taking time to rest, and not apologizing for it.

What will you do?

current jam: ‘love is easy’ cover by carrie hope fletcher & the vamps

best thing: 4 days. 4 days. 4 days. 4 days.

Summer Plans.

When i first started chronicling the whims and adventures and utterly mundane going-ons of my life, it was because i was to spend a summer abroad and wanted to make sure i preserved as much of my memory of it as possible. And so, you know, my parents could keep up with what i was doing aside from very repetitive emails. Essentially, i started a blog because i knew i was in for one hell of a summer.

This year, my friends, that is not exactly the case. Of course, you can’t always be taking off to embark on a journey to South Sudan for the nation’s first independence day or witnessing the power of Murchison Falls. If i were independently wealthy, i’d split my fortune between paying my parents for my college education, giving money to organizations that support empowerment and capacity building within communities of material and emotional need, and spend the rest on low-budget adventures to places like Lalibela or Istanbul or recreating the Mahatma’s satygraha march to the sea in India.

Alas, i am far from independently wealthy. In comparison to most of the world, i’m disgustingly rich, but that doesn’t mean i have loans to pay off for school or work ethic experiences to glean and build my character (translation: profuse profanities in the wake of poor tippers are experiences that supposedly give me the kind of moral fiber that shall remind me, when i am old and abundant in swimming pools full of money, to dole out large tips on young, whimsically-haired servers with half a mind left at school).

Which is why this summer my big adventure is going to be staying home, working like a fiend, and making it an adventure in its own right. There will be no motorcycle accidents (hopefully), or sounds of rain on the tin roof, or full-on-grappling with cross-cultural collisions on a daily basis. But i’m still going to be fundamentally challenged – beginning with listening to all the incredible adventures my friends will be having in Israel or as interns in New Orleans. A practice in discipline and patience, you might say. And re-learning how to wait tables. Emphasis on the re-learning with a side of trying hard not to break any more glasses. Or plates. Or drop butter in unsuspecting laps. Which is not a euphemism. (Where am i going with this again?)

And let me be totally clear: I AM VERY GRATEFUL TO HAVE A JOB. My employers have so much to teach me and i stand with so much to learn from serving the public in the food service industry. There is dignity and pride to be taken in such jobs, make no mistake. Also, this is probably the only time i’ll ever write about work (even in this vague, mildly-cryptic manner) because i am petrified of saying one wrong thing here. Not that i have anything bad to say! …This is really not helping my case.

But the major win of staying home this summer (besides, you know, generating income rather than merely spending it) is, well, being home. I haven’t been home for longer than 4 weeks in over two years. I haven’t yet been in my house long enough to unpack fully since i moved out for college. Living out of my drawers as opposed to suitcases will be nice. Kitties sleeping in said drawers will be even nicer.

And i’ve been working a lot these past few weeks (hence the noticeable decline in blog-writing). It’s a good thing, for a multitude of reasons (some aforementioned), but it is also crazy to me that my blog post this time last year was about switching to WordPress in preparation of my debarkation to Uganda. Things couldn’t be more different now. In some ways, i feel like i’m negotiating spaces and relationships that haven’t really been present in my life since high school, which is definitely a sticky, weird, and sometimes surprisingly pleasant adventure to be undertaking. And yet so much of this feels so normal. Maybe i’m still recuperating from the semester, but i feel in the twenty days i’ve been home i’ve started to equalize in a way i haven’t been able to since leaving for school.

So i’m here. I work, i read more junior science fiction novels than could ever be deemed normal (blog post review coming soon),* and i’m reconnecting and reinventing lizzie constantly. Nothing is new, and yet everything has changed.

This is weird. I haven’t written a personal reflection on here in a while, so that’s kind of bizarre for me (and probably for you). Thanks for letting me vent. Hope you stick around for better, more coherent thoughts in the future. If not, i promise we can still be friends. In the meantime, here is a cat picture for your troubles:

eli was helping me unpack, the useful fiend.

Do you have summer plans that are either totally mundane or utterly explosive? Any advice on how to deal with the stereotypical home-from-college-itis? Have a cute cat?

current jam: “baby” julia nunes mash-up.

best thing: leave a good tip, i’mma blow all my money and don’t give two –

* there are also a few baby-reviews on my goodreads (new addiction). also also, if you like stalking me online (cool, cool, we’re all freaks here) then know i have the SUPER OVERDUE fifteen things in review blog coming soon. so, yeah. bye.

Obligatory Year End Wrap Up Title (a Thoughts in my head Reflection).

We pause now in our regularly scheduled programming to bring you an obligatory wrap-up of the year two-thousand-and-eleven. Well, perhaps not obligatory, but certainly well-warranted and most definitely time-sensative.

2011 was, well, probably the craziest year of my life. As i consider all that has changed in the past year – and nearly everything in my life has changed – i find myself at a tension. The year was one of the most incredible, inspiring, beautiful, and brilliant years i’ve yet had; i finally lived (albeit briefly) in Uganda; with the resilient and wonderful people of South Sudan i witnessed the birth of the world’s newest nation; i, at long last, made it to Platform 9 and 3/4; i declared my double-major after much anguish and discernment; i deepened some of the most important friendships of my life, dyed my hair, survived my first 300 level seminar, fell in love with my cats, saw the final Harry Potter film installment,  embarked upon 6 road trips, saw two Harry and the Potters concerts, started a blog (oh, hello, you (you look lovely, by the way)), and took more risks and plunges than i ever thought possible.

And yet, for personal reasons, this was also a year of profound pruning. Living abroad was not so easy as i’d dreamt, adulthood is not as glamorous as i once thought it might be. The year was a year of dualities; beauty that stole the breath from my body, pain that made me heave with the effort to intake oxygen. Yin and yang, perfection and price.

What it all seems to boil down to, though, is my right leg. Yes, you read that right. You might recall, dear one, that on my first day in the city of Kampala, after my first tousle and whir on a boda-boda, i … scraped … my leg after dismounting from the bike on the wrong side. And by scraped, i mean burned the skin clean off. Well, to be totally honest, it was hardly a clean wound. To spare you the gruesome details, i shall merely say it was no pleasant sight and an even more brutal endurance to be had (God, i’m a good whiner). For my foolishness i still bear a pretty impressive scar about the size of my palm; my mom says it looks like a butt-heart (thanks, Ma) and she’s putting it mildly. As far as scars go, it is no lightening bolt.

But i love my scar.

I love everything about it; the discoloration, the fact that it’s just this amorphous blob of gross-looking skin, the fact that it is fully visible in warm weather. Most of all, though, i love that the scar on my leg reminds me that faith takes risk. And sometimes, such risks hurt. Badly. They might take time to heal, and the healing may involve a limp and tight-lipped grimaces and some not-so-fun antibiotics. But in the end, you can choose to purchase your fancy scar-removing creams or surgeries, or you can choose to embrace the imperfection. The reminder of a lesson, an adventure, a lifelong journey.

2011 was a year of choosing the latter, and learning to deal with such ramifications. For all that was good, and all that was not, i am deeply moved and deeply grateful. Such pruning gives space for the vine to grow with branches wider and roots deeper.

Faith takes risk, after all.

current jam: ‘ever after’ from into the woods

best thing in my life right now: stephen sondheim, haircuts, and tamora pierce.

(our regularly scheduled programming should resume, apocalypse pending, on the morrow lads and lasses)