Witches and Salem and Halloween

IMG_9828

I wish I’d bought this t shirt!

If anyone has reason to remember Halloween, Salem, Massachusetts does. The approximate site of the famous Salem Witch Trials, which took place over 200 years ago in 1692-93, Salem has capitalized on its reputation as a center of the supernatural. People from all over the world converge on this small town during Haunted Happenings to dress up in costumes and parade through narrow streets lined with old buildings renovated to hold shops and restaurants.

In a way, I can’t believe I was there just a couple of weekends ago. Until a few weeks before, I had no idea the place even did this. Visiting the town famous for witchcraft wasn’t really on my bucket list. Halloween hasn’t ever been my favorite holiday. In fact, helping three kids plan and don costumes and carve pumpkins tires me out, and walking around in the cold and sometimes in the rain at night with three small children and without warm attire that might cover up their beloved costumes worries me.

To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate?

Andrew eating clam chowder from a booth run by three older ladies who danced to the music as they served our soup.

Andrew eating clam chowder from a booth run by three older ladies who danced to the music as they served our soup.

Early on, though, Andrew and I decided to go ahead and celebrate the holiday, despite the fact that some Christians reject it because they fear its historic association with evil. We noticed when we moved to our first house that our neighbors, who almost never saw one another throughout the year, came out in droves at Halloween. They sat in chairs at the end of their driveways passing out candy to trick-or-treaters and visited one another, talking and laughing together. We decided that hiding in the house with the lights off would only alienate us from the people we were trying to build a sense of community with, so we dressed up the babies and took them out in the cold.

That being said, we never considered driving across the country to celebrate the day before. However, Andrew is working on a book about ministry to people who practice pagan religions like witchcraft, and he heard of an outreach that some believers have to the witch community in Salem. It takes place around Halloween, at the festival there. He wanted to see it firsthand, and since we’d be “close” for ICOM (if a ten hour drive counts as “close”!), he wanted to go. We left the kids at the grandparents’ in Virginia and made the longer-than-we-thought drive through New England.

Fearing the Unknown

IMG_9859

The lines for these touristy things were long. Everybody wants to take a ghost tour on Halloween.

Even before we went to Salem, when we told people we were planning on going, we got a variety of reactions from our Christian friends. I think there’s a pervasive idea that inherent evil surrounds Halloween in general and the practice of witchcraft or any kind of pagan religion in particular. Many Christians think that believers should stay away from pagan religions or risk being somehow influenced by evil in ways that they don’t realize until it’s “too late.” It’s as if people think that just because they interact with someone who practices witchcraft or another pagan religion they will be possessed, haunted or pursued by demons.

The more I’ve learned about different religious practices, the less I fear them. There are a couple of reasons going to a place like Salem doesn’t bother me. In fact, I feel that it’s pretty important.

1) People confuse today’s witchcraft practices with what is actually superstition. They read about the Salem Witch Trials and to some extent believe the things the community in Salem believed about the women accused of witchcraft—that they had a special communion with the devil, that they held evil power over the people in the community. If we study the Salem incidents, we find that those were superstitious, bored people participating in mass hysteria. Their belief that the women accused of witchcraft had some communication with the devil or demons actually stemmed more from superstitious beliefs about evil than biblical teaching about it.

2) Even if I did think there was inherent evil in today’s practice of witchcraft, I believe the Bible. Throughout it I see that God has more power than any evil spirits. The New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus and his disciples taking control of evil spirits, and they don’t seem intimidated in the least by them.

3) I’m not afraid of other religions somehow corrupting my faith. I don’t mind hosting a Muslim for dinner or talking to Hindus. Witchcraft is another religion, and I don’t feel more threatened by that than other world religions. I know what I believe, and I don’t have to change that because I’m with a person who doesn’t believe the same as I do.

IMG_9853

In front of a shop full of witchy stuff. If you look very closely, you can see Andrew in his blue hoodie inside the shop talking to the owner, a self-described shaman who responded enthusiastically to Andrew’s request for information about his beliefs.

4) Signs and symbols and the interpretation of natural events are things Christians see as part of Witchcraft. They shy away with fear that learning what they mean to other people will somehow give them power in their own lives. However, those things only mean what we let them mean to us. For example, when we lived in Ukraine people told me over and over not to sit on concrete. They said the cool concrete would give me a “cold” that I didn’t even know I had until years later when I couldn’t conceive a child. Then I’d know I probably had sat on concrete once and gotten that mysterious cold in my reproductive organs and, well, I had to pay the consequences. I told them if that’s the case I’m surprised the US is populated at all since everyone sits on the concrete! My friend, a highly educated young woman, told me once, “I know it’s not true, that it’s just an old wives’ tale, but I still just can’t do it. It’s still in the back of my head.” The old fiction meant something to her because she gave that meaning to it. She gave it power over her thinking and her actions.

5) If believers don’t reach out to people of other faiths, even witches, who will? This should probably be #1 in the list. Are we just waiting for them to come to us for some reason. Put a church on the corner and surely witches will want to go there? I don’t see that happening.

What We Saw

Most of what we saw there was people. A lot of people.

Most of what we saw there was people. A lot of people. In fact, this picture doesn’t show well how big the crowds were.

When we finally found a parking space in the small town of Salem, which was flooded with more people than it was ever meant to hold, and made our way to the middle of the town, we saw a huge crowd of people, many dressed in anything from Harry Potter to Frankenstein and lighted jellyfish. Music and laughter filled the air. People stopped for selfies with scary zombies and ducked into souvenir shops full of witch-themed memorabilia. Tourists lined up to take tours of the important historical spots in town and museums dedicated to the history of the area and the witch trials.

Andrew was hunting the pastor he’d corresponded with who leads an outreach to witches during the festival. We didn’t know what to expect and only had a basic idea of what they do, but he wanted to see their outreach firsthand. We never managed to meet up with that pastor, but we did meet people working with him. One of them had a tent with signs advertising free spiritual readings, free hugs and dream interpretation. This ministry rents space around a small square in the heart of the festival. A great band singing pop music played at one end, and people sat around the square eating or talking.

Andrew started a conversation with one guy standing in front of the tent. He led us into the tent to a woman who sat in the corner. Andrew introduced himself and said he was doing research on outreach to the Wiccan community. The woman, Kelly, was friendly and open. She offered to interpret a dream for him. Now this is where I know I’m losing you because in our branch of the Church there’s not a lot of dream interpreting going on. Most people I know don’t put much stock in it or in God communicating with us through dreams. Hang in here with me, though, and give it a chance!

A Dream’s Meaning

tent2

The tent we visited.

What Kelly did was no different from what I’d do if someone came to me for advice or asked me why I thought they dreamed something. While I don’t know if I really believe God usually talks to me through dreams, I believe that our dreams can tell us something about ourselves and can lead us to seek God in certain areas of our lives. So it makes sense that someone intuitive who listens to God and seeks him in her own life could ask the right questions to help a person understand why he’s dreaming what he’s dreaming.

Kelly did just that. She asked Andrew to describe a dream. She told him what she thought it meant. She asked how God could use his dreams to show him areas he wanted Andrew to turn over to him.

That’s pretty straightforward, I think, but she did something else with it that neither Andrew nor I had thought about. She said that sometimes the things we worry about, when turned over to God, become strengths to us. The things he worries about and sometimes dreams about could become areas where God could use him more powerfully. That makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Since Andrew told her about the research he’s doing, he asked some questions about her work. She told us a little about the outreach she’s involved with, how it aims to connect with people at the festival by meeting them on their own turf and communicating in ways they could connect with. Obviously, dream interpretation appeals to the people there. Her kind demeanor, her care for the people who come into her tent attract people who are in need of that acceptance. She spoke to me as well, and I felt so drawn to her that I could completely see how effective she is in her ministry. I left that tent feeling positive and with a renewed sense that people are doing some great things for Jesus in the world.

It is possible to minister to people very different from us. I think God prepares each of us through our life experiences, our personalities, our giftedness and even our family histories to do what it takes to reach out and share Jesus with those who need him. We don’t need to fear contamination by the world but can step boldly forward into the work set in front of us!

Advertisements

What I Learned on a Big Long Road Trip

Taking off work and pulling the kids out of school for a week and a half to go on a cross-country road trip sounds like an adventure, but about nine days into it you realize a few things. 

  1. Those things about your family members that you find slightly annoying at home where you can slip off into the other room when they happen become unavoidably difficult when you are stuck with them for days in a car. Does he smack his lips when he eats or mispronounce the word “Massachusetts” every single time he says it? You’ll be planning a Boston Tea Party by the end of the voyage!
  2. Trying to avoid dropping a chunk of lettuce or an avalanche of black olives on your lap when attempting to enjoy a Subway sandwich while hurtling down I 80 at breakneck speeds will only result in mayo all over your already disgusting travel clothes. 
  3. The youngest will always run out of patience before the others. The point at which this happens is inversely related to the amount of patience you have remaining.   
  4. Someone will inevitably see a stuffed animal/pocket knife/best snack in the world that he or she will choose not to buy at a truck stop and then will lament this choice for at least the rest of the trip.
  5. Fast food, when eaten at every meal for ten days, does bad things to every family member’s stomach. 
  6. A sack full of bananas brought in an attempt to counteract the effects of the fast food will go uneaten and become black and bruised and smelly just a few short hours into the trip. 
  7. The child complaining most about a tummy ache will be the first to demand a snack.  
  8. The most important item, whatever that may be, will be left in the trunk in a bag underneath all other bags and will be needed within 40 min of leaving home. The most important item changes from day to day so it is impossible to predict what that may be and keep it unpacked. 
  9. No matter how exhausted you feel, you will not be able to fall asleep. Unless you’re driving. Then you’ll struggle not to nod off every few minutes. 
  10. When taking turns driving, the driver will decide to stop for a potty break within ten minutes of you finally, finally falling asleep.   
  11. The road construction signs you see for miles in the middle of nowhere will lead you to absolutely no actual road construction but a significant amount of slow traffic.  
  12. When you finally arrive home from this epic journey, you will face a mountain of dirty laundry, a schedule that didn’t pause just because you’re tired from your “vacation,” and a full work week ahead. 
  13. No matter how carefully you budget, you will spend more than you expected you would. 
  14. Within a day of departing, you will find it hard to remember where you actually live, especially if you have moved within the last few years. You may also lose track of info you once thought was firmly ingrained in your mind. Things like what projects you’re working on at work or your current address. You will, however, memorize the complete menu at Arby’s. 
  15. Places like The World’s Largest Truck Stop and the Danish windmill museum become intensely fascinating after hours of monotonous Midwestern landscape.   
  16. You’ll meet some surprisingly nice people in places you never thought you’d meet nice people. Places like a gas station in Connecticut, a parking lot in Illinois and a pastel-colored tent at a festival in Salem, Massachusetts.   
  17. You’ll be so tired of wearing basically the same pair of jeans that you contemplate throwing them alway instead of washing them. 

As I write this, we are on the last leg of a multi-legged trip. We’re within 3 1/2 hours from home, and I am dreaming of driving that whole distance without stopping and without anyone arguing. 

I can’t complain, though. We’ve driven about 60-65 hours in the last ten days and there have been relatively few difficulties. We’ve visited all of the grandparents, talked to more friends than I can count at ICOM (the missionary convention) in Richmond, Virginia, told everyone there how great Nebraska Christian College is and researched Andrew’s book on pagan religions by celebrating Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts!  

 
Right now the kids are all reading quietly except for Emma. She’s sitting in her seat with a blanket over her head, probably in an effort to block out the rest of the world. I don’t know how she can stand it, but I’m thinking of trying it out myself!

How an Introvert Survives a Party

My name is Laura, and I’m an introvert.

You may think because I talk a lot that I’m an extrovert, but that just means I’m an introvert in recovery. Or something. I admit that despite my introvert qualities I like being with people. I search them out and tell them stories, and some people might just run the other way when they see me coming, especially after I drink a cup of coffee because caffeine makes me extra talkative.

I think, though, that I like being with people on my own terms. I like them in small groups. I like them when I approach them. I like them when I’m ready for them. I like them when I know them. I like them when they like me.

This weekend, I found myself in a situation that put me waaay outside of my introvert bubble. My youngest daughter, probably not an introvert herself and probably the only extrovert in our family, got invited to a Christmas open house at her friend’s grandma’s house. I remembered that this friend of hers invited her last year, too, and she could not go for some forgotten reason. This time I told her she could go before I actually inspected the invitation closely. Her friend is moving far away soon, and she is pretty sad about that, so how could I tell her no?

After I read the invite Saturday afternoon, I remembered why I told her she couldn’t go last year. It said “All children under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult who stays with them.”  What?! When I saw that, I knew it must be me who went. While I am an introvert on the introvert/extrovert chart, I’m also much closer to extroversion than my husband, who falls solidly in the very introverted category. In our family, that means that if there’s a social gathering that requires only one of us to go, I’m probably the one, and I’m OK with that most of the time.

This time I headed to the house with not a little bit of trepidation. Apparently this family holds a huge Christmas party every year, and all of the family members invite friends. That includes Grandma and Grandpa, who actually organize the thing, Mom and Dad, and all four kids, so there are a lot of people there. We arrived at the house. I walked in, and my daughter disappeared upstairs with her friend. I looked around. I knew no one. I mean not one person looked even remotely familiar. An older and very friendly lady hugged me and said how happy she was that I could come, and I had no idea who she was or who she thought I was for that matter!

I went straight to the bathroom and stayed there while I adjusted to the idea that I was about to be surrounded by strangers and expected to party without knowing anyone, but a person can only stay in the bathroom for so long when the house is chock full of people. I left the bathroom and tried to look nonchalant while furtively scanning the rooms for someone who looked familiar and might be the boy’s mom, whom I’d only met once or so. I feared that when I saw her she would remember me and I wouldn’t remember her, and how embarrassing would that be?

In the process, I ended up finding another woman with a face that registered the full range of confusion, alarm and false cheer that mine probably did. I made my way toward her, and, careful not to scare her off, I introduced myself. We chatted for a moment, and I could tell she was holding onto me as much as I was holding onto her, so we had each other. After a while of hiding in a corner, talking to her, and observing the party together with her, I noticed that, while some of the men did have on suits, my jeans fit in with many of the other people. I noticed that the woman/lifesaver I was talking to and I weren’t the only ones who did not know anyone. I also noticed that quite a few people had gravitated toward the front room, were singing 60’s and 70’s songs and appeared to be antique hippies, and for some reason that disarmed me a little. I guess I figured if the hippies were having fun, I could too. In addition to that, I noticed that there was one group who felt much more intimidated by the crowd and even found their lives in danger in such a house full of people. The homeowners had these tiny chihuahuas who scurried around, nervously shivering in their little Christmas coats, dodging people’s feet. I tell you, if all of them are still alive today, I’m surprised, since I was sure all evening that they would either be smashed by the crowd, fallen on by an unsteady toddler, or just die of sheer terror.

Since I know a lot of introverts, I bet a bunch of the people reading this understand completely where I’m coming from. Here are some tips for introverts who want to enjoy the party scene:

  1. Take something to distract yourself. If you’re messing with your phone, you’ve got a reason to be solitary. If you’re trapped by someone you prefer not to be trapped by, you’ve got an out. You can make the excuse that someone is texting/calling you, and you don’t even have to worry that the other person will notice that the phone didn’t ring or vibrate since it’s so ridiculously loud in that room.
  2. Take a baby or a toddler with you. I can’t believe that I’m saying this after my angst at having had to leave many a social gathering because one or more of my children had a meltdown or a nap or a blowout, but if you really don’t want to be there or don’t want to socialize, a tiny human will give you a reason not to interact with adults. Plus they will inevitably cry, and you will leave. For probably the first time ever, I envied the woman chasing a toddler around the house at that party.
  3. Find someone else uncomfortable and team up. Misery loves company, and finding someone who doesn’t know anyone or feels left out can help.
  4. Eat. Or drink. Find the food and eat it. This one is self-explanatory.
  5. Help the hostess. Hey, I wish I had thought of this Saturday! If you’re helping, you forget that you’re a dork without a friend in the world and stop feeling like you’re just bouncing around helplessly.
  6. Play with (or in this case protect) the dog. This will bring you around other people who also like dogs and then you’ll have allies.
  7. Watch tv. I was about to get into football big time because there was a tv playing some game. I mean, I think it was football. There were guys and a ball on a field.
  8. Snoop around. Hey, why not? They’re all partying in the kitchen and dining room. It’s the perfect time to look around the rest of their house. (I promise I did not do this–except the bathroom. Remember, I spent quite a bit of time in there at first. Interestingly enough, there was a vacuum cleaner in the bathtub!)
  9. Just stand there. How bad can it be just to stand there and watch everyone? If you smile a little, you look pleasant enough. I bet you can find out lots of stuff just by watching and listening to the people around you.
  10. Make it a game to talk to as many people as possible. Wait. Games are supposed to be fun, and that doesn’t sound fun whatsoever. Forget that one!

I survived Saturday night and the work party on the previous night and the work friend’s open house on the next night, and guess what! I actually enjoyed all of the parties. I am also happy that I got most of the Christmas partying done in just one weekend. If you’re an introvert faced with a slew of Christmas parties, buckle on your elf shoes and dive in. But remember my ten suggestions in case you feel overwhelmed at the open house!

The Best Way to Travel with Kids

 

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

I’ve been a mom for almost thirteen years. All of that time, we’ve lived far away from family. That means that most “vacations” have been trips to the grandparents’ houses and have involved driving long distances with very small and very squirrely people. We’ve tried all kinds of methods to get from point A to point B without a murder/suicide pact, but I discovered the best one yet last week: travel with coworkers.

It sounds crazy, I know. In fact, before we left for our 14-hour road trip to ICOM (International Conference on Missions) in Columbus, Ohio, I dreaded the idea of packing my husband, my three children and myself into a mini van with my boss and another professor from the college where we work. I imagined hours of monotony infused with severe whining and me maybe doing something horrible like yelling at the kids while simultaneously trying to hold an adult conversation with a Ph.D.

My boy is the cutest boy.

My boy is the cutest boy.

As it turned out, though, I was very wrong about the whole thing. In fact, I hadn’t even considered the idea that the presence of outsiders might make our family nicer to each other. My children, being preteens and old enough to entertain themselves for longer stretches than 3.2 seconds, brought books, notebooks, homework (!), DS games, and they actually kept themselves busy about 70% of the time.

Of course, kids their ages are decent at being nice to each other, but sometimes they get tired and feel cramped and bored. When that happened on this trip, the children did something wonderful. Instead of yelling at each other and pushing each other around, they calmly (most of the time) expressed themselves and guess what! Having two extra adults in the vehicle proved wonderfully handy. Instead of Andrew and me shouldering the entire burden for entertaining and refereeing, whenever the boredom started setting in, one of the other grown-ups came up with something interesting for them to talk about or listen to or do. Imagine that! We brought a village in the van with us, and they helped us raise our kids for a few days.

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving...

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving…

One of the professors regaled us all with stories from his doctoral dissertation in literature, and that proved interesting and informative.  During the long ride home, in what felt like the middle of the dark night but really was only about 6 pm, the other one broke out in a narrative poem/story he recited from memory. Very impressive, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss.

The best parts, though, were not related entirely to the children’s behavior. I watched us all together and I realized a few things.

1.  I enjoyed seeing my coworkers in a different and unusual setting. I see them at work, interacting with students and other faculty and staff, but I never see them on a ridiculously long road trip with children. They both have grandchildren of their own, though, and I got to see the grandfather come out in them. I like them better now, having seen how gently they treated my children. Like I said above, my children don’t get to see family very often, and this trip reiterated for me how God provides families for us when he leads us far from our biological families.

2.  Children spend more time with their parents than anyone, and I think that sometimes can get oppressive. They need other people’s input in their lives. Seeing other adults, listening to them talk, hearing the way they spoke to each other and to their own children on the phone during the trip gave my kids a different perspective, little glimpses of other ways to view the world. Not to mention that they listened to us converse about things other than what was for dinner and whether the cats and dogs will ever get along in our house. They got to hear about theology and literature and ministry and all sorts of important things that I know very little about and rarely discuss with them.

3.  My own behavior improved drastically on this trip because nothing will make you nicer and more patient with your children than having your boss sit there and listen to you talk to them. I realized how much my attitude affects the children’s behavior. The old saying holds some truth: “If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” That can go for Dad, as well, of course. One person can bring down a carload, and one person can build up a carload as well. I need to remember that in everyday life!

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year's ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year’s ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

So now that we have made it home and have managed not to do anything horribly embarrassing, we can be thankful for the experience. I think my kids will remember the time they travelled with the faculty! Now if we can just convince them to go with us on our next family vacation…!

What If People Talked About Soft Drinks the Way They Talk About Coffee

I’m visiting my sister in Hawaii this week. Yes, I know. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it. You know, beaches, beautiful sunsets, warm weather. We ate dinner outside last night, and no mosquitoes attacked us, no prairie wind blew our dinner off the table, and we did not even have on jackets.

How interesting that the beautiful lamp silhouette appears just in front of the sun...

How interesting that the beautiful lamp silhouette appears just in front of the sun.

But I hate to unload my troubles on you.

Besides the heavenly surroundings, I get to be with my sister. Until this trip, I hadn’t seen her since she and her husband moved away from the midwest about three or four years ago. It seems like a lot longer than that, since my kids were just little things when they left and now they’re getting ready for being teenagers, but I guess it was just a few years ago.

At the beach, in case you didn't notice.

At the beach, in case you didn’t notice.

I’m blessed with a good relationship with my sister, which is interesting to me because I can’t say I’ve had the very best relationship with the rest of my family all of these years. My sister and I never really argue about stuff. We did some when we were little, and I remember an epic battle when we were teenagers. It had to do with a fan that she kept pointing at me, even though I said I didn’t want it pointing at me and moved it away every time she moved it toward me. (I only fight over really important stuff like that.) Full of rage, I saw her impossibly large, 80’s-teased-out, curly hair and impulsively grabbed a handful of it and pulled. She rose from the couch in painful indignation and ripped out half my bangs. I mean, I heard those babies screaming as their follicles left my head.

At that moment, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Although she is younger than I am, my sister has always been a force to be reckoned with physically. I have always been able to reason my way to winning just about every argument, but if it ever comes to a knock-down-drag-out with her, I am destined to lose, lose, lose. And in a way that I will probably never forget. Like the time she punched me in the stomach and knocked the breath out of me or the time she grabbed both of my arms and wrestled me to the ground. Yep, I think twice before I tangle with her physically, especially now that she’s a personal trainer and I’m an overweight, middle-aged mom who would rather sit at her computer than run a mile.

That last big fight over the fan ended with her chasing me to my parents’ room and me waking them up to beg for protection, which is what I usually did, being the tattletale oldest who could probably make anything look like the other’s fault (sorry, Emily!).

So we get along pretty well and have come to the comfortable place where we don’t really bring up things that I can verbally bash her in or things that she can send me to the ER about. Instead, we like to make fun of things. That was one of the things we were both looking forward to doing when I came here, and I yesterday we started the fun.

It was morning, and I saw their coffeemaker and told her how I have thought about getting a Keurig machine. I don’t really drink enough coffee to make a full pot of it, so it seems like a waste of time to get out all of the stuff to make coffee. Seems like it would be easier just to pop one of those little thingies into the machine and make one cup. She said she didn’t drink coffee, and I said I don’t like coffee, but I drink it because if I don’t drink it I’m going to want to drink Mt. Dew.

There, I said it. In the morning, first thing, I will pour a cup of super-healthy Mt. Dew if I can. Before I even think about it, I will grab that 2 liter and swallow down enough calories for a meal. Now that I’m on a health kick and at least trying not to consume a week’s worth of calories in one cup, I’ve cut back on Mt. Dew and all soft drinks. Instead I drink a little bit of coffee in the morning, just so I can have something different and not boring, like water.

The bad thing is that at work people make coffee because they like the caffeine, and I really do not want the caffeine. I would rather have decaf, and I would love it if I could find caffeine-free Mt. Dew in the stores. Unfortunately, it is as rare as a snowball on the Hawaiin beach.

This led to our discussion: what if people talked about soft drinks the way they talk about coffee. Every morning, I read my newsfeed and find all kinds of memes about coffee and how people can’t live without it. When you put it in a different context, you can see how strange it is. What if the newsfeed were clogged with memes about drinking soft drinks early in the morning?

coke baby

mt dew demon

cat

batman

 

Mt Dew sad

Mr Pibb raccoon

It seems odd to me that so many places offer free coffee now. Churches hand it out, my daughter’s orthodontist supplies it, our bank gives it to customers. Why is coffee such an acceptable thing to hand to people, but nobody offers a free Coke to every person who enters. Now that the Keurig machine has made it easier to make a single cup, it seems even more places offer it, but don’t tell me it’s because it’s cheaper than a soft drink. Those little Keurig things cost money, too.

Well, anyway, we had a good laugh over it, and now I’m wondering what more we can laugh about while I’m here. Maybe the teenagers posing like porn stars in their bikinis on the beach?

Like Riding a Bike

Today I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I rode a bike.

I did not ride this kind, and I did not end up on my face. So all in all, a good experience.

I did not ride this kind, and I did not end up on my face. So all in all, a good experience.

My bike sat discarded in the garage through the births of three kids and a lot of sleepless nights that produced days when bike riding was the last thing on my mind. I taught my own children to ride, but I have never been much of a rider myself, so I never rode it. In fact, I think the last time I rode a bike was the summer after my oldest was born. I can’t remember any bike riding after that.

Once in a while the kids ask me to ride with them, and I say something like “I don’t really like to ride. I’ll walk, and I’ll meet you at the park (or wherever).” They’re old enough to do that now. Before I could let them go ahead, I sat outside with a book or the phone and watched them ride up and down the street in front of our house. Today I decided to join them.

I don’t know what got into me. Why did I decide this was a good day for me to break my 12-year bike-riding moratorium? Whatever the reason, I found myself pumping up the tires on my husband’s bike (mine has squeaky brakes, and, believe me, I don’t want to draw any more attention to the middle-aged me wobbling down the street than necessary). I got on confidently. I mean, why not? I don’t have any skinned-up-my-whole-body stories to tell. I took off down the driveway. It went faster than I expected. A lot faster. I tried to put on the brakes, but I realized I reverted back to the bike riding I learned as a five-year-old…when there were brakes on the pedals. I felt a moment of panic as a tree approached and I veered around it while frantically groping for the brakes. Somehow I managed to stop slowly enough that I didn’t hurtle forward over the handlebars.

What my girls saw when I got on the bike today.

What my girls thought of me when I got on the bike today.

As my heartbeat returned to normal, I heard the girls behind me. They weren’t laughing, thank goodness. Instead they were worrying. “Do you think we should do this? Maybe she’s not ready,” one of them said. “It’s been a long time. I’m not sure she really knows how to ride one,” the other one answered.

“We’re not going until you ride down the hill and back up,” my oldest called out to me from the driveway.

“What do you mean? I’m fine. Shut the door and let’s go!” I answered.

“Uumm…I’m not so sure. The ride up the hill is pretty hard.” Now keep in mind this hill is barely visible. I’m not kidding. We live in Nebraska, people. It’s not the Rocky Mountains. I rode back up to them, convincing them I was ready.

Here’s some of what I heard on the way:

“She’s still back there, Hannah. She’s ok!” (after turning to check on me).

“What would happen if Mom fell and skinned her knee really bad? Would she cry?” LIKE I WASN’T EVEN THERE!!!

“She’d probably get mad and make us leave her alone!” What am I, a mother bear?! ROAR! Sadly, they’re probably right.

So what did I learn from the bike riding experience? For one, the old saying is true. You don’t forget how to ride a bike! I was a little nervous riding with children around me. Children who tend to cut in front of me and make me think I was going to hit them and maybe do something like run over them. But I’m pretty glad I did it.

Second, I probably should do more things that I’ve written off in the last decade. My kids have been my excuse for not bike riding, not travelling, not working out, not doing more stuff like that. For a long time, they really were too young to do much with, and for a long time I mourned losing those things that I would have done if there were no kids. Then somewhere along the way I started kinda liking not doing a lot of different stuff and fell into a habit of doing the same things all of the time. They’re older now. Maybe it’s time to branch out.

Hopefully, it won't come to this.

Hopefully, it won’t come to this.

Third, they’re going to take really great care of me when I get old. I always wondered if they’d just let me wander off down the interstate in my nightgown in February, but apparently they are pretty good mother hens. Maybe we’ve done something right. Whew! It’s about time we saw some fruit of all these years of labor!

I’ve been sitting in the library writing this. I just heard the librarian say that the library closes in fifteen minutes.

Does this mean I have to ride home?!

 

Why You Can Go Home Again

This one really isn't packed. I've seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on one once.

This one really isn’t packed. I’ve seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on once.

A few weekends ago, I went to Cincinnati to pick up my children after their visit with friends. I experienced something I hadn’t experienced since I lived in Ukraine and traveled back and forth every summer. No, it wasn’t a good bowl of borscht (although I kinda wish it were) or a packed trolleybus in 90 degree heat (very glad it wasn’t that). What I experienced was that feeling of going home again.

I drove into town from the south and caught sight of the skyline across the Ohio River. I have never been a big fan of cityscapes, but seeing it reminded me of how my husband always pointed it how beautiful it looked when we drove into Cincinnati from that direction. I drove across the Ohio River and remembered that claustrophobic feeling of being caught in the very narrow space between the wall of the bridge and a semi truck in the lane next to me. That bridge was the one that gave me an unreasonable fear of accidentally driving over the edge and plummeting into the water below, not knowing which child to save if they were all buckled into their car seats. I’m glad I rarely cross any bridges these days! Even more glad my kids can swim!

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

Seeing the place we used to live and our friends who still live there reminded me of a few things.

1. Living in a new place and navigating around it for the last year, I forgot the feeling of knowing where I was going and understanding where places are without having to plot out my driving plan ahead of time or plug addresses into Mapquest. Being back in the place we called home for 13 years made me miss living somewhere that I felt connected to in a deeper way than just knowing the path to the grocery store and back. Not only did I remember where things were, but I remembered that sense of really being a part of life in a particular location. It takes a while to feel completely integrated into the new place, and being back home reminded me that we aren’t really at that stage here yet.

On a positive note, though, moving somewhere new shows us all that we really can learn a new place, find friends, and fit in. We may feel a sense of “otherness” at times, but we still feel like part of what’s going on in our new place. I think that has built confidence in our children, and I’ve seen them become more outgoing and mature since we moved.

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I'm not the one holding the camera?

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I’m not the one holding the camera?

2. Not only did I see places I remember, I saw people I hadn’t seen in a year. In my experience, when I see the people I know and love after an absence, I often feel like we are just picking up where we left off. Maybe I have these grand ideas about emotional and exciting reunions, hugging and crying, but in reality those things don’t usually happen to me. When I arrived at my friend’s house to pick up the kids, one of her children greeted me nonchalantly, and then my friend walked in the room. We both said, “Hey!” like we’d just seen one another last week. I love that. I wouldn’t trade that easy familiarity for all of the hugging, crying, made-for-tv-moments in the world!

The kids and I went to dinner with other friends on the spur of the moment. I called them up, and before I knew it we were all sitting in Skyline laughing and eating and having fun. More fun than I remember having had together when we actually lived within five hundred miles of one another. When you live close, you just think you’ve got all the time in the world to get together…but then you don’t.

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

On the way back to Nebraska, we talked about how weird it was to see everyone and how Nebraska seemed almost like a dream. The children wistfully said they felt like they’d never left Cincinnati in the first place. I reminded them how nice it is that we have people we love in both places, how if we’d never moved we would never know that out here on the prairie live a whole bunch of great people! My children are learning early in life a lesson I didn’t realize until my adult years. A seasoned missionary once told me, when talking about how hard it was to leave people you love, “When you’re a missionary, no matter where you go, you’re leaving people you love, but you’re also going to other people you love.” That concept has stuck proven true time and time again in my life.

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter's. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world's best ice cream place?!

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter’s. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world’s best ice cream place?! Alex looks a little less-than-ecstatic about it, though. Can you tell who the introvert is after a lot of social interaction?

3. Some things are more important than sleep. I hadn’t willingly pulled an all-nighter for years. Having babies cured me of the desire to stay up past about 1 am. However, I stayed up late both nights I was there. One friend and I stayed up until 4 am! Does that time even exist anymore? After hours of sitting on the couch talking about everything in the world, she asked me, “What time is it?” I looked at my nearly useless watch that has not one real number on it, and my exhausted eyes crossed. I said, “I think it’s 4:00. Is that what this says?” The next night I went to Applebee’s and then cruised around Colerain Township with my former coworkers until way late. Who needs sleep when you have such a limited time together?!

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

I think that the longer I live, the more I realize that it’s not true that you can’t go home again. Home just changes definition, becomes more fluid, and grows to include a new place after you leave the old one!

 

We Crashed a Family Reunion

This is how I sometimes feel when visiting relatives.

This is how I sometimes feel on vacation. I know I’m not alone in this growly, too-much-fun-is-just-too-much feeling.

I am smack dab in the middle of a week of visiting relatives. And by relatives, I mean step relatives. My youngest daughter, surrounded by my stepfather’s family at a reunion, looked at me with a look of shock and awe and said, “Are all these people my relatives?!” She’s grown up with my stepdad as one of her Papas. He’s treated her like a regular granddaughter. So how to answer that question? Do I say “No, these are just some strangers who have taken us in and treat us nicely”?

I thought for a moment, then said, “Yes, they are your family.” She’s heard all about divorce and remarriage. She knows that Papa isn’t my dad, but I think she needed to fit the new people into her life in some manner, and this was a good way. After all, you can never have too many people to love your children, right?

And maybe I sometimes also feel like this on vacation.

And maybe I sometimes also feel like this on vacation.

Besides, these relatives are actually really great. My mom and stepdad, Tim, have been married for twenty-some years, so even though much of his family lives in Colorado and I live in Nebraska I’ve met many of my stepdad’s relatives before. I went to their family reunion about 18 years ago, when my parents’ divorce and remarriages felt somewhat fresh to me still, and I was unsure how to answer that question of who they were to me myself. I felt strange as an outsider coming into their homes and meeting all of them. Would they even want me there? But they accepted me as one of them from the beginning. Treated me like one of the family when I probably did not, in fact, seem like one of the family to them. Even so, I felt accepted by them.

Last weekend we packed up our car and my parents’ SUV and headed west to Colorado. The vacation promised greatness from the beginning because the children rode in the car with my mom and Tim, and Andrew and I got to spend the entire eight hour trip alone in our car! We all checked into a hotel in Denver, and each night one child slept with my mother, giving us the luxury of only two children, one per parent, and a much easier bedtime routine.

We did some typical touristy things.

We went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You can see Denver in the background.

We went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You can see Denver in the background.

Lookout Mountain in Denver. Not pictured: Buffalo Bill's grave...or maybe not. There's controversy over whether he's actually buried there or not.

Lookout Mountain in Denver. Notice that there is at least one stuffed animal in every photo. This is true of just about every picture ever taken of my girls.

Crossed the Continental Divide...

Crossed the Continental Divide and had our picture taken…along with a stranger’s fingertip. So glad we have that little bit to remember him by!

In the evenings, we had dinner with Tim’s family. The children were shockingly polite. My son even impressed his elders by removing his hat during introductions and inside the house. Nobody argued. Nobody spilled anything or had any wild bodily fluid episodes… not even the children!

The very best part of the whole trip so far, though, happened after a discussion of an injury of my mom’s and how she still is taking medication for it. This came on the heels of a conversation about how Colorado has legalized marijuana, so naturally someone commented about how Mom should self-medicate her injury while at the same time enjoy the state’s newest legalized drug. Of course, my mother would never, ever do such a thing, and that made the joke even more funny.

Andrew and I were talking to Tim’s sister-in-law, who was hosting us at this reunion, and told her about the joke. We said she should have made brownies and sprinkled them with some parsley to offer my mom. She laughed and said, “Well, actually, we have brownies for dessert!” We laughed at the irony and thought no more of it…until she came out carrying a tray of brownies and sporting a twinkle in her eye. She held them out and offered them to us. “I made these special brownies for our guests from out of state. Because you can’t come to Colorado without sampling some!”

Brownie, anyone? Come on, you know you want one!

Brownie, anyone? Come on, you know you want one!

This was possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. This woman, a sweet and beautiful great-grandmother with wonderful artistic ability and a soft-spoken demeanor, offered my mother a plate of pot brownies! I still laugh just thinking about it.

Maybe it’s because this other family hasn’t been intimately present in every minute of my business or because I have only a few pleasant memories of them at two short family reunions. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been an adult in their eyes and have been treated like one from the first day, or because I don’t hold them to the high standards with unreachable expectations like I do my own family at times, but sometimes other people’s relatives who have become your own can be a whole lot of fun! And maybe answering my child’s question the way I did showed me that it’s ok to love stepparents and that loving one group doesn’t mean I don’t love the other.

Five Fun Things about a Small Town Festival

Bright, colorful, sugary, savory: what's not to love?

Bright, colorful, sugary, savory: what’s not to love?

 

A few days ago, my husband and I spent a fun evening eating whatever junk food we wanted, and we didn’t even have to share it with our kids! This fun date night was made possible by a joint effort between our church and our town. The leaders of neither knew when they scheduled Vacation Bible School and Papillion Days the same week that they were contributing to a fun night out for at least one tired couple, but this year they did just that.

The festival our town holds every year is one of the first things we attended here when we moved to Nebraska, and it helped create some of our best memories of our year. Here are five things I think are great about a small town festival.

Looks innocent enough, right? One long bar, four rows of people on each end...

Looks innocent enough, right? One long bar, four rows of people on each end…

1. Family legends are made. Last year, my then ten-year-old son and I rode the scariest and most ridiculous ride ever created. Everyone else in the family cowered at the enormity of it, but we looked at each other and said, “We will brave the ride known as OMG.” And we did.

Oh, what's that happening? The bar turns circles in the air?

Oh, what’s that happening? The bar turns circles in the air?

And the people dangling on the ends of it also spin? That's a recipe for motion sickness for sure.

And the people dangling on the ends of it also spin? That’s a recipe for motion sickness for sure.

All the way around. Yes, indeed.

All the way around. Yes, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I must admit I screamed. Quite a bit. But in my own defense, I was much, much more afraid that my iphone would slip from my back pocket and smash to the ground in a million beautiful, high-tech pieces than I was of the ride. If we ever brave the OMG again, the iphone will remain safely in my husband’s pocket!

2. All the junk food you can afford. Where else can you get a fried hot dog wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese? Who even knew these existed? I’m a little sorry I didn’t try it, although it probably contained enough cholesterol to clog even the cleanest arteries.

What? A hot dog wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese, and all of it is fried. I don't know if I should eat it or use it to oil the hinges in my house.  Cholesterol crazy...but also sounds kinda good.

I don’t know if I should eat it or use it to oil the squeaky hinges in my house.

And who can resist Grand Dad’s Homemade Ice Cream? That brings back childhood memories of the county fair . Yum!

Why are these things always powered by John Deere engines? There must be a story there somewhere.

Why are these things always powered by John Deere engines? There must be a story there somewhere.

3. Nice people, and usually a few that you know. Hey, it’s a small town, right? So you’re bound to run into someone you know. For me it was a woman who might or might not have been the mother of one of my daughter’s friends. I saw her. She looked familiar. I thought maybe it was my daughter’s friend’s mom. I smiled. She smiled back. She looked like maybe she recognized me. I had that moment of should I or shouldn’t I say hi. I didn’t know her name, and, sadly, I don’t even remember her daughter’s name. I walked past and whispered to my husband that I felt bad for not talking to her if she is, in fact, someone I’m supposed to know. He said, “Well, she should feel bad, too, because she didn’t talk to you either.” Classic man answer, but a pretty good one.

I don’t have a picture of her for obvious reasons. That would have added the adjective “creepy” to the list of “rude” and “snobby” she was already silently using to describe me.

4. Lots of cool junk nobody wears anywhere else. Did you ever notice that when they set up booths selling clothes or jewelry at these things they display an awful lot of Native American dream catcher-y kinds of stuff. And those flowy, tie died, lacy, scarfy type dresses always hang in a couple of booths. Do they sell a lot of that? They must. Do people actually wear that stuff? Not sure about that. They did in 1990.

I'm afraid if I put on one of these whispy lace blouses, I might just float away. Like a ghost or something.

I’m afraid if I put on one of these whispy lace blouses, I might just float away. Like a ghost or something.

 

 

5. A parade the likes of which my 1950’s-loving relatives would have been proud. Just take a look at this gigantic American flag followed by old men in tiny cars, fire trucks, marching bands, and clowns throwing candy.

The main street through the historic part of town.

I didn’t know places still did this sort of thing.

 

White fire trucks! How cool is that?

White fire trucks! Oh, and there are fireworks. Forgot to include that in my list of great things about festivals!

Don't forget the white horse and carriage to go with the white fire truck.

Don’t forget the white horse and carriage to go with the white fire truck.

All of this goes on every June. All of it is within walking distance of our front door. Small enough that we walked to the festival, walked around the entire thing to scout out where to bring the kids this weekend, bought a sandwich and two very good lemonades, and walked home, all within the two hours we had before VBS ended. Seems like a pretty good deal to me!

 

Hannibal, a Hermit Crab, and a Hairy Dog

One year ago tonight, we slept in a hotel in Hannibal, Missouri. We smuggled our dog in, although this will remain our secret since I’m pretty sure they had a no pets rule. We had her with us because we had everything we owned with us. One year ago today, we packed up everything and headed west.

The kids stopped for one last picture as they closed the door on our old house.

The kids stopped for one last picture as they closed the door on our old house.

 

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

My oldest girl and I drove the car. The un-air-conditioned car. She held the dog on her lap. I chose to drive the car because I didn’t like the alternative: our 12-passenger van. The weather people predicted thunderstorms and lots of rain, and the thought of navigating that enormous thing over the prairie with all of our most important earthly belongings packed tightly around our invaluable children in the back pushed me to choose the car. Of course, the only rain came on the very last leg of the trip, when our son had just guilted me into driving the van so he could see me for a while, but we all survived anyway.

The little one brought her hermit crab, so in the back of my mind I worried that a small Rubbermaid container would not be enough room, that the hermit crab that had lived three or more years would die on the trip and what would become of my child’s emotional health during a big move when she’d already left everything behind?! Of course, it lived until a few months ago and she remained emotionally healthy, but that’s a story for another day.

This is our youngest with Missus, her hermit crab.

This is our youngest with Missus, her hermit crab.

Gracie behaved herself very well. I'm sure her fur made her pretty uncomfortable, but she and my daughter made the trip without complaining.

Gracie behaved herself very well. I’m sure her fur made her pretty uncomfortable, but she and my daughter made the trip without much complaining.

So, anyway, we stopped in Hannibal just so we could see Mark Twain’s boyhood home, and it did not disappoint. We had dinner in a quaint little restaurant and walked down to the river. The town has fixed up the riverfront to look like it did when Mark Twain lived there, and if you visit during regular business hours (which we didn’t), you can tour some of the homes. We settled for looking at them from the sidewalk.

It was extremely sunny. We had trouble finding a spot to take a picture because the sun was apparently burning everyone's eyes and blinding them. At least that's what they claimed.

It was extremely sunny. We had trouble finding a spot to take a picture because the sun was apparently burning everyone’s eyeballs, turning them to small spheres of char, and, therefore, blinding them. At least that’s what they claimed.

He's a stranger to hard work.

Yep. He’s a stranger to hard work.

We took the obligatory tourist picture of our boy acting out the famous paint-the-fence scene from Tom Sawyer.

We got up the next morning and drove the rest of the way to our new home. We rolled into town around dinner time. I snapped a photo of the water tower in town as we drove by. I pass this every day on my way to work, and I almost always think of that first day here. Especially on rainy spring days when the green fields contrast with the purplish blue sky. You can’t see it in this picture, but the colors stand out so beautifully on days like that.

Don't judge. We were at a stop light when I took this.

Don’t judge. We were at a stop light when I took this.

We didn’t have a home yet, although we would in a few days. My family, along with the dog, spent the weekend in the dorms at the college, where I’m pretty sure they had a no pets rule too, and one of the very first things I did after settling our stuff in was take my daughter to buy a cage for that hermit crab!

Although my husband and I moved a few times before the children were born, including a move to and Ukraine and back, we had never moved with children. I didn’t know what to expect, how they would adjust, if the move would traumatize them in some way. Not only did I wonder how the children would adjust, but I also wondered how I would do. I left behind friends and a support network, a place I had struggled for about a decade to feel like I belonged before I finally found my niche.

In the end, it was worth it, and everyone just settled down into life in the small town without much trouble. Surprisingly, it felt like home pretty quickly.  Here are some things we learned in the transition:

1. Wherever we go, there we are. We don’t leave ourselves behind, which means we bring all of our baggage with us when we move. Real change takes more than just a change of location. We can’t expect that everything that we hated in the old place will just disappear when we move. For example, I hoped that leaving a job in the mall with daily access to a food court and unlimited refills of every soft drink imaginable would help me improve my dietary habits and lose weight. Not true. I found that my new job boasted a pretty great cafeteria where I could eat lunch AND breakfast, and for a small fee could get as much Mt. Dew as my tummy could hold.

2.  Sometimes taking one step to change something really does change a lot of things. Seems contrary to number one, and maybe it is. Sometimes I am afraid to change things in my life. I prefer the known to the unknown, so I just stay in whatever mess I’ve made. Taking one step in a positive direction gives me a different perspective and encourages more positive change.

3.  The negative scenarios usually don’t happen. I worried that the kids wouldn’t like their new school, for example. I thought maybe it would take a long time for them to adjust to being somewhere new. That was unfounded, though. The principal told me a few months ago, “We love your children! They fit right in at the very beginning. I forget that they haven’t gone here all along!” The feeling is mutual with the children. When I ask them what they like most about living here, they say that they like the school and the people in it the best.

4.  We have to let go of some things to get other things. And its corollary: We don’t need half of the junk we keep around. This applies literally and figuratively. We had so much stuff in our house. Moving forced us to get rid of it and leave behind the things we never used. Even the kids gave away a lot of their toys. And guess what. We hardly even remember what we gave away!

5.  We’re not as indispensable as we think we are. I loved my job in Ohio. I knew I did it well, and I was proud that I could pierce ears and help manage that store, but now that I’m gone someone else does that job. Almost all of the people I knew there have moved on to other jobs in other places, and nobody there even knows who I am. And I’m OK with that.

This time, the change was good, and we all survived. Even the hermit crab!