On Mary & Elizabeth (Rethinking Advent, Days 6 – 10)

We meet somewhat biweekly over home-cooked food for conversation. I’ve been piecing together small lessons and discussion guides on womyn in the Bible; we started with Eve, my notes guided from “Eve and Adam” by Phyllis Trible. Then there was Hagar and Sarah, and last night we did one of my favorite pairings: Elizabeth and Mary, mother of Jesus.

In the wash of Christmas, i think the conversation documented in Luke 1:26 – 56 gets barreled over. Marked as less radical, less important than Mary about to pop on a Donkey in the City of David. I think our neglecting of this passage is because we focus on Mary’s “virginity” rather than her willingness to rebel against society for the sake of her faith. This text, when we grapple with the incredulity of the conversation and the context, is revolutionary. What happens between these two womyn causes us to pause in our assumptions. Forces us to realize that womyn are going to play an instrumental role in the ministry of Jesus, going to challenge and subvert systems of patriarchy that the religion founded in Jesus’ name itself will uphold.

Day 6: Awake.

Day 6: Awake.

Mary, an unwed teenager is pregnant – and her life will be on the line when people find out. Elizabeth, whose husband has gone mute at the announcement of her conception, is apparently in her 90s and plump with her first child. Both womyn are in extraordinary, and painfully marginalized, circumstances. I’m reminded of Kierkegaard, who wrote of Mary in Fear and Trembling: “Has any woman been as infringed upon as was Mary, and is it not true here also that the one whom God blesses he [sic] curses in the same breath?”

Mary may have chatted with an angel about what she is now carrying, but that angel certainly didn’t ensure everyone in her community knew she wasn’t some philandering whore. Elizabeth may have long awaited this child, but her youth is clearly long gone and her husband has such disbelief he cannot even speak with his wife.

Day 7: Ready.

Day 7: Ready.

And yet the conversation in Luke is one of nothing but elation; “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth greets her cousin (Luke 1:42). Words later that will be woven into rosaries, laid at the feet of Mary’s likeness in cathedrals that are literally named “Our Lady.”

But Mary doesn’t get to know all that, in this moment. All she knows is that she is with child, and definitely not by the usual route. She’s young, she probably knows how unlikely her story will sound to her fiancé, and she has been chosen to live up to an enormous task.

And still, still she is filled with wonder.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is  meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus' lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus’ lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

“This is like, sisterhood at is absolute best!” commented one of the participants in our discussion. The fact that there are two named womyn having a conversation without a male present is radical enough when looking at the scope of Scripture. But this? This companionship, this fearless faith in each other and that God provides even when the rest of society does not? This is revolutionary.

Day 9: Delight.

Day 9: Delight.

I think this is the sisterhood Mary Daly wanted us to embody, the kind of witnessing and loving and supporting that is needed amongst womanists and feminists. Being unafraid of wonder, even when such wonder is at odds with the world.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class' project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class’ project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Elizabeth is the first to know whom Mary is carrying; an old, pregnant woman is the first to see the promise given to a teenage girl – a promise then given to all.

And that, that fills me with wonder, too. 

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current jam: “christmas is all around” billy mack.

relevant resources: enuma okoro’s beautiful piece, “when a christian and a muslim meet in paris,” my first post on the rethinking advent photo-a-day project.

ReThinking Advent.

I’m usually so wary of Christianese.

You know, that sappy blue poster with Jesus-is-Lord in curlicue font. White porcelain angels on display, their eyes so dewy i want to dab them with a tissue. Pink Bibles and Joel Osteen Prosperity Gospel ickyness.

Part of it is plain old aversion, wary of anything that is covered in the sheen of Jesus but bearing the message of no-gays-here, womyn-still-are-temptress-Eve’s. Part of that is my own prejudice, my fear that there is real faith to be had even in the places that make my so-called open-mindedness run for the hills of you’re-only-open-minded-if-you’re-minded-like-me liberaldom.

And, honestly, part of it is i hate evangelizing. I doled out postcards for church services in the seventh grade because i’d found Jesus and wanted other people to do so too, but only if they felt comfortable with me asking and only if they saw the fat gay pride pin on my backpack.

I got burned. I got asked by the Christians why i could be a feminist and by the feminists why i worshipped a God referred to in exclusively masculine pronouns. And so i stopped talking about my faith, because at least feminism was more open to internal critique. Feminism sat with questions more than answers. Christianity, it seemed to me then, was all about rules and He-God and keeping the panties on of everyone who wasn’t white and cisgendered and a heterosexual male.

I got scared. I got scared i was isolating people, i got scared i was infringing on my own profession of pro-interfaith, pro-you-do-you. But frustratingly, beautifully, inexplicably, i kept going to church. Sure, i said “She” for every God-pronoun printed in the bulletin and refused to chant along certain hymn lyrics. But i stayed, stubbornly faithful and begrudging, i stayed.

It wasn’t until Erin asked me to write for what would become Talking Taboo that i even started really talking about my faith with more than my roommate and my church-going friend. It wasn’t until i fell in love with a recovering  evangelical that i saw there was goodness, good faith, real love, real commitment and real truth to be found in the very same NC churches that also took public stances for Amendment 1.

My mother calls this Jesus’ ability to love the Pharisee and the leper.

And i am called to love like Jesus. Love radically, authentically, love by holding accountable and love by listening to all who i would otherwise judge.

So in ashes, i began to really fall in love with the Church again. To worshipping Mother God, yes. But also to the pews, the Our Fathers, the muddy mess of Kingdom-coming, Kingdom-not-yet. (Or as Mary Daly would swiftly correct: Sisterhood of the Cosmic Covenant-coming, not yet).

I think that’s why i so love Advent. Yeah, it’s the tacky Christmas sweater obsession, and the spiked eggnog, and draining my bank account to spoil the ones i love. But it’s so much more than that.

It’s that waiting, that dialectic of here, but not yet. Tension and pull, leper and Pharisee, shepherds coming with wealthy wise ones after.

So in that spirit of tension, of pushing to what i am not yet but planting myself also in what i know, i’ve started doing something that feels very new. Very not-lizzie. At least, not the lizzie who dragged Jonathan to the back corner pew on the first Sunday of Advent because she was so overwhelmed by the crowd of a walloping 40 people in the sanctuary.

I’ve started participating in the Rethink Church Photo-a-Day for Advent. Rethink Church is no  browbeat-er but it’s big for the girl who gags in the “Christian Life” aisle of Barnes & Noble. I mean, come on, my Instagram is the holy ground on which only egregious numbers of cat photos and sibling funny faces can appear.

So, five days in, here’s my experience: stupidly scary to add #rethinkchurch to my pictures, surprisingly prayerful to think about how photographs of mundane moments can capture that tension of here-and-not-yet. Is it earth-shattering? Well, no, no it’s not. But it’s been a baby step.

Day 1: Go.

Day 1: Go.

Day 2: Bound.

Day 2: Bound.

Day 3: Peace.

Day 3: Peace. (Bathroom graffiti at Mount Holyoke)

Day 4: Time.

Day 4: Time. (In the Mount Holyoke Library)

Day 5: Flood, for the memories and longing of these mountains and this time in my life. Taken in Scotland in April.

Day 5: Flood, for the memories and longing of these mountains and this time in my life. Taken in Scotland in April.

And, should you like to participate as well, here are the rest of the allotted themes:

advent-photo-a-day-final

Do you have any special practices during Advent? Have you been participating in the #RethinkChristmas photo-a-day? What’s it been like for you? (Leave a comment with you Instagram name!)

I’ll post my pictures every five days for the remainder of Advent, but in the meantime, stay warm in the waiting.

current jam: Jonathan singing “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” on Skype. (“Is that your current jam?” he just exclaimed when i asked the title. He knows me too well.)

Reflections from Last Night’s Talking Taboo Event

“It’s been a long time since we wrote these essays,” Bristol chuckled. “And it’s a scary thing, preserving somewhat permanently that part of yourself for other people to read. It’s my past, I can’t change my past experiences, but still. It’s out there … When you google my name, this comes up!”

As Atinuke Diver had said of other people reading our essays: “It can flatten you.”  Suddenly, we may only exist in someone’s mind as the five pages we filled in a book.

1460098_2151719597859_1585428693_nMeeting more of the contributors to Talking Taboo was, as i expected, a delight and a dialogue. At last night’s event, i was grateful for the solidarity of each of us speaking for ourselves gave way to an authentic, vulnerable conversation. It was refreshing and reaffirming, the reminder that all 40 of us had snapped wide our secrets made it easier to continue to speak against silence.

And i’ve not stopped chewing on what Tinu and Bristol said. There were so many insights, and since the whole point i want to make is reducing someone to one essay or one quip is dangerous, i’m already having trepidations. These are two brilliant womyn who each contain multitudes, as we all do. So i don’t want to wrangle down or warp what they said.

But it’s this idea of flattening, this confining the words your read by someone to being all of who they are that has sat the most with me in the remnants of our conversation.

I think about my favorite authors who are currently living: J.K. Rowling, John Green, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker. John Green especially has led a rather public career with his (excellent!) video blogs, but even he has on occasion had to remind the nerdfighter community that he’s a whole person, someone who has struggled with Depression and social anxiety as much as he is a New York Times Best-Selling author. Someone who has two kids to raise and most days is trying to be a dad and a husband with a kind of banality we forget about when all we see is a clipped-together four minute hoot on trademarks.

The first month i lived Edinburgh, everywhere i went i carried a small, paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I frequented the Elephant House reading it so much i felt myself oozing cliché. (The Elephant House Café, for those who don’t know, is where J.K. Rowling penned much of the first three Harry Potter books). I tucked it in the middle pocket of my backpack for one main purpose: were i to run into Jo Rowling, to have something for her to sign.

It was silly, and more than a little freakish, but also an emblem of my total devotion to the books that defined my childhood. I knew, if i ran into the famous author herself, that i wanted to earnestly thank her for the gifts she had given me in the world she had made with Hogwarts. For teaching twelve-year-old lizzie that “Happiness can always be found, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” 

But the more i thought about it, the less i carried the book around. I imagined running into her while she was out with her own children – imagined how clumsy and imposing i would be, asking for an autograph from a mum having normal old mum-time with her kids. I recalled times when i was out with my own mother, having normal mother-time, and members of her congregation interrupted our lunch to talk about their church-y needs. How as her daughter, i tried to be understanding of her position as counselor and confident to these people, but couldn’t help the irked sense that these congregants didn’t fully respect that my mom was a whole person whose whole life did not revolve around her church.

I think we do this all the time in our lives, in so many ways – we box people in. By race, gender, sexuality, class – but also by how we have conceived of them in our minds. Teachers don’t live in their classrooms, pastors have vices too, authors are more than their words.

I am so grateful for every message, email, and dining hall happenstance when someone says they’ve read my essay and it meant something to them. I’ve not learned how to stop turning a delicate shade of tomato, nor how to properly communicate how flattered and humbled and thank-you-for-holding-my-heart-so-gently i feel with every one of these encounters. More than once these encounters have made me weep. Bristol is right, a lot of life has happened between when pen was first to put to paper and publication. My essay rings to me now of too many run-on sentences, of how early in my now engagement i was writing about intimacy and the toughness of love. But what has not changed is the nakedness i felt writing it – the nakedness i feel when people say they’ve read the book.

So please, don’t get me wrong: thank you for reading, thank you for your kindness, for your affirmation, for your talk back and pushing and pulling and questions and comments. 

I guess what i want to say is thank you, thank you, thank you, but know there’s more. Not “just more to the body-image, sexuality, relationship journey, and not “just” more that i will never want to write or talk about publicly because even intercom-level-lizzie can be private. But more in the sense that some days i am a very boring, very not-creative, very not-roaring-feminist lion lizzie. I like eating cookie dough and really prefer days spent watching zombie movies in my pajamas with my brothers to any other activity and i know, acutely, that i talk about myself too much and i definitely over-analyze how much or how little this blog/my essay means to other people (i mean, really, i may wish i was Alice Walker, but let’s be real). Even now, i’m biting my nails and thinking will the twelve people reading this think i’m some ungrateful whiney snob with poor taste in adverbs?

So maybe this post is an over-analyzing, over-thinking mess and i should just pop in World War Z and pull out the tube of Pillsbury’s. John Green, after all, says over and over we as humyns must learn to imagine complexly, realize that the truth resists simplicity and that there is always more nuance than we want and more questions to ask than answers to find. I’m trying to find that balance of imagining others complexly as i ask others to do the same.

When asked how we found the courage to “talk taboo” in our essays, Tinu and Bristol had yet more fantastic replies: “I didn’t really find the courage,” they both said. “I wrote while i was still scared.”

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current jam: “i’ll fly away.”

relevant resources: Atinuke Diver’s blog, the official Talking Taboo website

Body Talk.

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Body Policing]

“Are you growing your family?” his eyes glued to my stomach. His implication, sinking deep into my cellulite insecurity. It was like i was in eighth grade all over again, my so-called “friends” writing me emails with weight-loss tips as the reason no boy would date me.

“Your family? Are you growing it?” Jonathan looked baffled, not realizing what this man talking to us was implying. But i knew. I knew the moment he looked at my stomach. I mean, i knew i’d packed on extra with mom’s pound cake on Thanksgiving, but Jesus. Relatives and strangers have already started pressing on when we’ll have kids. Have asked me if i will drop out of school to get married sooner.

But this was a first: a man – anyone, really – asking if that extra wedge of fat pooching over my belt was a baby. He felt comfortable and entitled enough to ask us, relative strangers, if my very not-pregnant body was bulging under the weight of a new fetus.

It was not, however, the first time a cisgendered man felt entitled to my body.

He came up behind me, without a word announcing his presence. It wasn’t until his hands were down my skirt that i realized there was someone behind me at all.

He thought it was innocuous enough: my shirt tail had come untucked, and he had taken the liberty of adjusting my appearance.

Apparently, his hands on my underwear, securing the hem of my shirt in place, was perfectly appropriate behavior for an elderly man towards a young woman.

I whipped around, his hand still halfway down my skirt. I knew only that unknown hands were winding their way down my legs. All words glued themselves to my throat. I tensed to run, wishing i had my keys in my pocket. I’d always been afraid of this, remembering when i was eleven and my Godmother told me never to walk alone after dark without a key between my pointer and middle finger. We may have always believed in nonviolence, but as womyn we knew the threat. We knew what we faced.

There was nowhere for me to go. I was working, at the host stand, as i did for four years at the same restaurant. We were packed, on an hour long wait at least, a crush of grumpy and self-important businesspeople waving pagers in my face.

“There!” he smiled, wriggling his hand out. “You’re all fixed!”

I stared back, horrified and shamed into silence. He didn’t even blush, just walked away, his good deed of feeling up a minor done for the day.

I wasn’t even sixteen. It was a new skirt, too, one i’d bought for my first real job. Appropriate knee-length with a button-down that showed no cleavage. I’d checked all the boxes, hadn’t even been looking at him. As if such victim-blaming checkboxes would have protected me.

I could have been standing there naked, and that would not have excused his non-consenual, unwanted, and unwarranted handling of my body.

You can make your excuses: he’s old, he’s old-fashioned, he thought he was being helpful.

I reject all of them. He did not ask, or even bother to tell me what he was doing. Saying i’m being over-sensitive or over-reacting is to gaslight me. I don’t care that he was older, he was old enough to know you ask before touching someone. As Lara Blackwood Pickrel writes in her Talking Taboo essay: “Citing cultural and generational differences, the offender wipes her hands of the matter and assumes a posture of innocence.” (Talking Taboo, 46)*

No, i was not molested or raped or even attacked. But someone i did not know, or give consent to, felt entitled enough to my out-of-line body that they saw to “fix” it. Tucked me in, made me look “appropriate,” deemed their vision of what i should look like was more important than my own opinion.

And what is most angering, most saddening, most bra-burning-inducing of this incident?

This was not the only time it has happened to me.

Standing in the communion line at church this summer, a man i don’t really know behind me pulls at my dress. My bra was showing, he whispers. He had to ensure no one could see that strip of white polyester above my strapless dress.

Men, as i would walk them to their tables at the restaurant, sliding their hands on my waist and bending close to my ear. “Can’t you get us a better table, sweetheart?” they’d ask. A wink added, for good measure.

Out at an underage-friendly club, age fourteen: a man i don’t know comes up behind me, wraps his hands around my hips and pulls me into his groin. He’s pushing into me, trying to force me to grind when the words stop being glued in my throat. I untangle myself, i turn around, i say firmly: “I am a woman, not an object, and you cannot treat me this way.” His friends dog me the rest of the night, calling me a slut and asking why i won’t dance with their friend. Eventually, i feel chased out and leave and try not to cry the whole way home.

Over, and over, and over again. What is lacking in every story is my permission, my consent. Not once did these men ask if they could touch me, shove their genitals against me, think that their sexualization of my body might be damaging or hurtful or frightening. Sure, there were varying degrees of harassment, but the message remained constant: your feminine body is not your own.

And no, this man asking if Jonathan and i were expecting was not sexualizing or objectifying my body in the same way as these men who physically touched me. But the immeasurable discomfort i felt at his question, the shame i felt for my body, was very much the same. Except this time, instead of feeling like i had dressed too scantily (which actually is never an excuse for harrasment) i felt fat.

And i know – i know this is body-shaming and internalized misogynistic self-loathing and all that good stuff feminist literature has taught me. We’ve all got body fat, body fat is good. Being fat is not bad. It’s this socially engineered be-smaller-ladies shit.

J.K. Rowling says it perfectly: “Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me.”

I have the proverbial fat shame problem. The hate-the-flab, love-to-eat, try-to-have-healthy-esteem balance that 99% of womyn my age try to strike. 

Trying to love ourselves, our curves and hair in demonized places and flabs of skin hanging over our jeans, all while the onslaught continues: you are not small enough, stop taking up too much room, your bodies are not your own. I’ve never had a friend who didn’t grapple with loving her body. It has not mattered her weight, build, race, height, BMI index, or gym membership; it is not a “womyn’s problem.” Men have eating disorders too, men are spoon-fed sexist body policing all the time.

But i, as a woman, have a body that seems to be subject to the male gaze no matter what i do. I’m tired of social standards deeming what is and is not “appropriate” for me.

I’m tired of the phantom permission that allows people to pry into my sex life or pry open my skirt without pausing to think that i may not want them there.

Buy my Book!

Want to talk more? Come to the Talking Taboo event on TUESDAY NIGHT at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 7 Woodbridge St, South Hadley MA. 6:30 PM.

Relevant Resources: National Sexual Assault Hotline & RAINN, Local Crisis Center Locator, Sarah Over the Moon blog (i recommend her “You are Not Your Own” series), and The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence by Monica Coleman.

*Who, by the way, has just written an amazing blog post i think a beautiful companion to this one: “What Not to Wear: Church Edition.

DIY Christmas Sweater: Round Two

Since we’re all flipping open the belt buckles to make room for second helpings, i might as well throw in what i’m grateful for.

And that’s felt, globs of glue, a very patient husband-to-be, excellent scissors, a hardwood floor home, and two mostly well-behaved cats.

There are plenty of other things on that long list: brothers, burritos, flannel button-downs, Harrison Ford in those butt-hugging Han Solo trousers… but i digress. The hubby-in-the-making crests the list: he’s vacuumed our living room at least three time in the last week, the vacuum more clogged with flecks of felt with every sweep.

Since i infected myself with crafting fever in my first dabble with Christmas-sweater rendering, i’ve hit my stride. Now some five sweaters in, i’ve gotten quite professional when it comes to hand-stitching while watching Scandal. I don’t want to give away all my designs just yet (some of them are, after all, Christmas gifts for my more loyal readers) but below are two of my most recent masterpieces:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Self-care comes in all manner of creative forms, right?

Should you like to make your own, personalized, purrfect Christmas creation here is an addendum to my original instructions:

1. It adds to the longevity of your sweater if you hand-stich the big pieces down, rather than solely gluing the pieces. Gluing felt on felt, however, sticks fairly well.

2. Stick to fabric-friendly stuff if this sweater is meant to be more than a one-time event. I swapped out foam for felt for my “JOY” sweater, and though the glue (crafting fabric glue, from AC Moore) is holding fast i’m wary of how long.

3. I think this goes without saying, but: DO NOT PUT THIS PUPPY IN THE WASHING MACHINE. Or a real puppy. Neither will last long if you do so. A dash of Febreeze and some hand-applied soap and water in the armpit region will keep you fresh enough for round two of eggnog shots, promise.

4. I liked sewing buttons to the rim of my angel wings to give them more depth and color.

Happy crafting, y’all. I’ll post the rest of my designs after their recipients have opened them!

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Loch Ness & the Highlands!

The sound of death is surely someone wheedling out a hymn on faulty bagpipes.

Like a mixture of Dory, from Finding Nemo, bellowing in her best Humpback and a blunt hacksaw taken to a chalkboard. (You’ll want to take my word for it.)

There Jonathan and i were, enveloped by the mountains of Glen Coe. Probably the most famous of all Glens in Scotland – at least, cinematically speaking – Glen Coe boasts of a film C.V. including Hagrid’s cabin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the drive to the lodge in Skyfall.

highlands 02At our stop-off within the movie-star glen was a Highland lad, clad in full tartan regalia, muttering about a broken reed in between his attempts to play what i could only assume was meant to be “Amazing Grace.”

We’d made the decision to go with a tour bus, which is not my favorite way to travel. (The asinine teenage boy behind us who referred only to his mother as “Geez, WOMAN!” is a prime example of why American tourists get such a bad rep). But it was the most affordable way we could see as much as possible in one day, so we took it. As if the sights of Scotland weren’t enough to drink in, the sightseeing of thirty tourists in “Hairy Coo” fanny-packs certainly was.

Mr. Blurpity-Pipes was making a killing, asinine teenage boy posing for a sour-pussed grin as Grandma snapped a shot. Then went the Portugese Clooney-Lookalike, who posed for all his pictures like he was a supermodel: butt out, chin up, shades on, half-grimace sexy-grin. Behind him was a clattering group of Germans.

And so on, each plopping a fiver in Blurpity-Pipes’ tin, each encouraging him to play past that wonky reed. Granted, it’s a pretty stellar shot to bring home and make your profile picture: a real Scotsman in the Highlands!!1!!1!

I did my best to avoid the crowd, memorizing every curve of the mountains in our fifteen minutes of allotted time.

highlands 01

The real event of the tour was to be a boating ride on Loch Ness, involving sonar technology to scan the deeps for the monster below. But as Loch Ness is some four hours north of Edinburgh, we got to see plenty of Scottish countryside along the way.

highlands 05 highlands 03

After a lunch of disappointingly slim sandwiches (Jonathan’s face caved when he realized he had a what barely qualified as a tissue for his slice of ham) we were bound for the boat. I jockeyed my way to the front, rather than the sonar get-up, so as to avoid Asinine Teen and the Clooney Lookalike. Jonathan and i actually quite enjoyed the Loch, steep cliffsides and water so dark it was almost black really living up to its legend. This was my second time to Loch Ness, the first being a sojourn to Urqhart Castle with my Dad. It was my first time on the water, and we were delighted with the breadth of the sun.

Until, characteristic Scotland, the cloud bowled us over with pelting rain. Suddenly, all the fannypacks were clustered around the Sonar, making awkward small talk about flesh-chomping monsters.

highlands 07 highlands 06 highlands 04

Our jaunt was over before we’d even made it two kilometers out, and in a pressure-cooker of a run back to the bus we made a pit-stop into a petrol station. Laden with cheese and breadsticks, we clambered back on the fannypack machine headed due south.

highlands 08

And while we had to deal with the best of American culture and Blurpity-Pipes’ backdrop tunes, Jonathan is quick to say this was one of the best days of his life. Only the day before had he proposed, and i was desperate to see the Highlands one last time before i was stateside for the foreseeable future.

There is magic in those mountains, i tell you. Magic that still bathes the day as enchanting, even when set to the tune of Blurpity-Pipes.

in case you missed it: my sojourn through the highlands with my dad.

best thing: we took photos for our christmas card yesterday! who wants one?

Bears in the Shenandoah.

My throat was made of glue. The girl (let’s call her Ginger Dreadlocks) behind me on the verge of shrieking her head off. Ponytail-and-Manicure next to her was valley-girl-shushing her. There was nothing to be done, except:

“ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT!”

I was not even eleven and reeking of the day hike in the New Mexican mountains. The whole family had made the flight to Philmont Scout Ranch, NM, for my Dad and his bud to complete Boy Scout leader training. Mom was busy ziplining with the other spouses, the boys doing boy-things, and me?

I was a day’s hike into the woods on a camping trip with a dozen other pre-pubescent girls, staring down a mama bear and her two cubs. Our two counselors were younger than i am now.

We’d been strictly informed that, were we to see a bear, under NO circumstances were we to react with fright. We’d even had bear drills. No shrieking, no panicking, no fleeing into the woods without a guide. Instead, in an effort to keep us calm under duress but still, you know, let the leaders know a monster-sized mammal was in view, we were to sing “row, row, row your boat.” Loudly. But calmly.

Of course it was i who sounded the alarm, loudmouthed and lung-lusty even then. The two women in charge of us, all their lessons aside, flew into a panic. “Hey!” they screamed. “Back up girls, BACK UP NOW!” I yanked Ponytail-and-Manicure behind me, staring down the scream clearly welling up in Ginger Dreadlocks’ throat. Surely, these adult leaders knew what they were doing. Surely, they whom we had put our wisps of armpit hair and water-bottles half-full trust in, would take care of us.

“HEY, BEAR! RUN AWAY!! ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!”

These “adults” were, quite literally, chucking rocks at the mama bear. Not exactly what i’d had in mind when i envisioned them ensuring our safety.

Shockingly, it worked. The mama bear barely gave them a glance before lumbering deeper into the woods, babies in tow. When at last her large brown rump was out of sight, Ginger Dreadlocks next to me broke out into sobs and Ponytail-and-Manicure gushed a stream of more EhMyGawddddZZZ than i had ever heard in my life.

I tried not to let my ear-to-ear grin explode. A bear! A real bear! I was really a warrior in the wilderness, saving my team with nursery rhymes!

We strung up our bear-bag that night, a white trash bag stuffed our snacks and the illicitly smuggled perfumes from Ponytail’s cohorts. If we heard a lumbering giant in the night, we were under NO CIRCUMSTANCES to leave our tent.

The next morning, the bag was slashed. Perfume bottles and chewed-into wrappers cluttering the roots of the tree the bag had been hung on. Luckily, there was enough food for breakfast and a slimmed-down lunch, pushing our hike back to base camp on a considerably less luxurious schedule than the hike out.

I don't have any pictures of the bear itself, but here's me about to head out on the hike.

I don’t have any pictures of the bear itself, but here’s me about to head out on the hike.

That was to be only my first encounter with a bear.

The second was less rife with pre-teens: Jonathan and i were cruising along Skyline Drive, a chunk of the Blue Ridge Parkway that edges the Shenandoah Valley.

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We were on vacation with his family, trailing behind them to enjoy the sun set while they made dinner. Naturally, we’d seen the placards warning not to feed bears (i’d like to keep my arm, thanks) but hadn’t expected to see any ourselves.

Until we rounded the corner on a dead stop in traffic.

“What’d going on?” i craned my head, trying to see past the truck ahead of us.

Jonathan swore loudly. “Look!! Over there!” his fingers indecisively jabbed out the window and tried to roll it down in one motion.

“What is it? I can’t – oh my God!”

Her arms, wrapped around the trunk of a particularly sturdy pine, looked bigger than my torso. “Quick!! The camera! The camera!!” Jonathan was scrambling with his arms, head locked on the bear.

Of all moments to have left the camera in the backseat, this was it. I handed him my phone with the scold not to chuck ANYTHING under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES at the mammal in front of us.

And then, to our bewilderment, the bear unlocked her arms and sauntered across the road. She didn’t seem to care there were five cars piled in either direction, tourists hanging out the windows with Nikons in hand. She stopped right in front of us. Turning her head back, she must have made some kind of magical bear-call because two little cubs came gallivanting out of the woods behind her.

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They dipped down the side of the road, the knobs of their tails disappearing in the darkening forest.

And that was the last we saw of the Skyline Drive bears.

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in case you missed it: my favorite summertime 2013 blog, when my mom got arrested for moral monday.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

New Posts of Old Things.

I named my external hard drive “the penseive” in a moment of Potter genius in the summer i lived in Kotido, Uganda. It mostly houses back-ups of my photos and comfort movies, like The Princess Bride. But, being as absent minded as i am, yesterday was the first time since March i cranked open the two-terabyte Valhalla.

Oops.

While cataloguing my backlog of photos, i came across a few old gems that i’d neglected to post/write about here. So over the next few days, i thought i’d share a mélange of old tales dating back as far as the naming of the very external hard drive that prompted this serenade down memory gig lane. And maybe some stereotypical pseudo-philosophical reflections on how these journeys in life have brought me to the woman i am today, blah blah blah.

But for today, here are a few snapshots and accompanying stories from my six months spent in love with and living in Edinburgh, Scotland.

You know you’re an American expat when…

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It’s true that the cultural clash between the UK and America is no chasm. Sure, they prefer tea to coffee (i can hear the hipsters screaming: SO DO WE!) and say “schedule” the way i did when i was six. I delighted in the wee differences, the brogues and the bagpipes and the slang. But there were three big things i missed most: fresh, non-root vegetables, my mother’s fried chicken, and peanut butter. I handled the chicken-making myself, and made do with Spanish apples for the bulk of the semester. But it wasn’t until i realized Lidl carried peanut butter for under eight quid that i had a field day with my favorite fat-laden snack. I never thought i’d say it, but over a plate of artery-clogging food i basked in the stereotype: GOD BLESS THE USA.

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I snapped this photo from the topmost layer of the Scott Monument on Princes Street, wheezing with the narrowing stairs and staving off my vertigo. I’d saved the clamber for when my Dad came to visit, because he’s the macho man with zero squirms when it comes to elevation. Might be a product of his upper-troposphere height. But this same obscene scale of stature made it impossible for him to follow me to the tippy-top: the stairways were too narrow. So alone, wind ripping off any moisturizer clinging to my cheeks, i snapped this picture and plummeted my head between my knees to keep from vomiting.

‘Twas a charming view.

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My favorite sightseeing to do in Edinburgh was easily the clamber up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano overlooking the whole of Old Town. I only once got to see this marker of the elevation, because any sunny day i chose to scale its peak half the tourists in town had the same idea. On that same Dad-visit we made our way to the top, my father protesting i was trying to kill him with the hike. But it was a rare rain-free morning with no one else on the mountainside, and i insisted. He later confessed it was his favorite part of the trip – and it’s easy to see why.

Overlooking the city from Arthur's Seat!

Overlooking the city from Arthur’s Seat!

(Okay, that one was previously published, but still. Context.)

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in case you missed it: my favorite posts from studying abroad, including saying goodbye in january to jonathan, jonathan’s proposal, faerie-spotting on the isle of skye, and riding a camel in morocco.

DIY Christmas Craft: Tacky Sweater!

Your criticisms that it is not even Thanksgiving yet, holy-Lord-lizzie-calm-the-eff-down, are totally due.

But indulge me.

It even flurried white flecks of snow here this morning, and however much you New Englanders protest it snows frequently prior to Christmas, this Southern lady refuses to believe it. Snow = holiday season = time to overstuff the cookies and outdo myself with my sewing kit.

I’ve been known to get a little crafty. Well, really, i’ve been known to suddenly be sparked with an oh-my-GOD-do-it-NOW idea that puts everything else in my life on hold until the glue is dry and the buttons sewn. And that’s what happened Saturday.

I was bemoaning to some friends how much i love tacky Christmas things – decorations, sweaters, ornaments – and the plans Jonathan and i have hatched for a ridiculous Christmas card this year. Bemoaning, because he had yet to acquire a sweater fit for the occasion. I was all frustration with the prices such ludicrously decorated Belk’s masterpieces are when they suggested to me i make the sweater myself.

I could not wield a shopping cart fast enough.

A trip to Chicopee later, i was laden with felts in various browns and reds and greens, an idea hatched and the scissors glinting in the LED Christmas lights i’d conveniently strung over my window.

I smoothed out the plain red sweatshirt i’d acquired for the occasion, maniacally laughing to myself and playing “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” on obnoxious repeat.

And then the hacking began.

This past July, Jonathan and i adopted two of the most purrfect and pesky kittens possible. (Instagram friends are rolling their eyes). After one of our mutually beloved movies, we named them Mary Poppins and Burt the Chimneysweep, or Burt and Poppins for short.

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We adored Mary Poppins before this event, but since naming them we’ve created a situation such where we are constantly reminded of how Supercalifragilisticexpiallidocious the music of the movie is. Jolly Holiday and “Chim-Chim-Cheeree” are now standard over-coffee morning affairs.

Which is what brings me to my utterly genius idea for a sweater.

I laid out four round globs of white felt, plucking off orange triangles for noses and black buttons for eyes. Two snowpeople, stick-y hands clasped, each with a hat on their head. For hers, i detailed daisies and red buttons to emulate how practically perfect in every way she was. For his, i traced the outline of a newsboy cap.

And, lo and behold, were the snowpeople renditions of our cats/favorite film couple: Poppins and Burt.

The work in progress!

The work in progress!

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But i wasn’t done yet. I snipped and i snapped, thought of gingerbread snacks (and probably listened to Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch more times than should EVER be permitted before November 30th).

Gently, with a pat of glue, i pressed the last letter in place. Encasing the snow-people-versions of Poppins and Burt now read the phrase: “It’s a Jolly Holiday!” Either i had officially gleaned the shiniest merit badge for Crazy Cat Lady or i had really just pulled off the best home-made tacky Christmas sweatshirt of November, 2013. A quick FaceTime call with the man it was made for confirmed: i was both.

Prior to adding the music notes!

Prior to adding the music notes!

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Nevertheless, i relished in a victory dance alone in my room to (as ever) Whitney Houston. I may have postponed writing my sermon for this coming weekend, but my liturgically incorrect craftings were soooo worth it.

And should you like to make your own version of this sweatshirt, here are the basic steps!

Materials needed: 1 plain sweatshirt, felt (orange, red, green, white, brown, black), fun buttons for the eyes & hat (i found mine at – don’t hate me! – Wal-Mart), plenty of craft glue.

Total Cost: ballpark of about $15.

Directions: Start by laying out four round white circles on the sweatshirt as your base for the two snowpeople. I found it helpful to first cut out everything i wanted and lay it all out to assess before gluing. Working from the base up, add the hats, scarves, arms, and finally the eyes. I sewed the buttons in place but used craft glue for everything else. In the future, i might sew down the base pieces (i.e. the white circles) to secure them and glue all the felt accessories on top. In retrospect, i’d also add an umbrella for her and a chimneysweeper for him, but that was a little toooo involved for my crafting ability. Add your own creative lettering, and voilà!

Happy Christmas Crafting, y’all! Be sure to tell me if you make your own fun Christmas sweater in the comments!

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around the internet: my dear, dear friend Mary has posted a video and pictures from the Talking Taboo book launch – be sure to check it out!

best thing: matching snowpeople headband for my snowpeople sweatshirt!

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