Wednesday, July 11, 2018

the cow that tried to stop the little engine that could

Deep within the peaceful sublimity of the Swiss alps, a continuous contest is waged. 

Train conductors versus cowherds. 

Who will win? Nobody knows.

It had been a long day, with a strenuous 10 mile hike through the Swiss alps. Our group boarded a train, ready to get to our chalet in the next valley, eat food, and rest our weary feet.

The train chugged away from the station, moving slowly along the cog track that aids it up the steep incline. It lulled me into a semi-conscious state. There is nothing more soothing than a train ride after a long day hiking.

Until, that is, a truly ear-splitting whistle rent the air, and the train ground to a stop. Ears ringing, I looked out the window to see a cowherd flipping the conductor off. A cow had planted itself stubbornly on the tracks, bringing the train to a screeching halt.

One would think the cowherd would be glad that the cow survived the encounter. But it appeared that he was busy working to move an entire herd of reluctant cows up the mountain to greener pastures. The shrieking whistle had not only scared the cow off the tracks, but also scared the rest of the herd back down the mountain, to the ire of the cowherd.

The conductor was not particularly cheery, either. The train chugged to a start, resuming its journey up the mountain, and then it stopped. For quite a while. Just as we were getting antsy, it started back up again. Then stopped.

This time we heard a lot of banging from the front of the train. Then the conductor barreled through the train, muttering to himself something along the lines of "I can't believe this happened AGAIN."

The brakes had locked up after the stress of stopping to spare the cow. We were in no danger of rolling down the mountain, but it seemed that we might not move up it any time soon either.

More banging, then another false start.

Just as we began to wonder what would happen if they couldn't fix the train, it began to move again - and continued chugging. I thought of the little engine that could. One for the train conductor - cows scared down the mountain and a train that made it to its destination.

We wended our way home, glad that the only hamburger on the menu for the night was the hamburger that we'd bought at the store.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Things I Learned This Month | June 2018

June is ending, which means we're halfway through 2018! (Crazy.) As per usual, today I'm sharing a list of some of the things I learned this month.

1. I learned how to use real ink in my fountain pen! I've had the pen for just over a year now - it was a graduation present - and I've been using disposable ink cartridges. Earlier this month a friend of a friend came to visit. It turns out she loves fountain pens, and we talked shop for a bit. A few weeks later a package arrived in the mail - a bottle of Majestic Blue ink and a converter so I can use it. I'm still blown away by the thoughtfulness of the gift and excited to be progressing further into the world of fountain pens.

2. Uganda is made up of 54 tribes and 40 languages. A Ugandan woman who goes to my parents' church told us about her homeland during a church picnic. I was flabbergasted by the vast range of cultures encompassed in this one country.

3. Captain Cook's goal was to discover a vast continent that people were convinced existed in the Pacific. It is amazing to me that even in the late 1700s we still didn't know what was out there.

4. 2 c heavy cream + 1 can sweetened condensed milk + toppings of choice = no-churn homemade ice cream. Guys. This stuff is amazing. I made one batch of rocky road and one batch of cinnamon, and it tasted better than store-bought ice cream. You whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks, then drizzle in the condensed milk with the mixer on low, then fold in the toppings. Stick it in a loaf pan and freeze for 5-6 hours and hey presto! deliciously creamy ice cream. I want to try infusing the cream with Earl Grey the next time I experiment.

5. Yogurt is a terrific substitute for oil in homemade brownies. What do you do when you have a craving for brownies and no oil in the house? The internet told me to use yogurt, so I gave it a go. Result: the fudgiest, yummiest brownies I've ever made.

6. Germany is the fourth defending champion to be eliminated from the Group Stage at the World Cup in the last five tournaments. Germany is going home from the World Cup without progressing for the first time in World Cup history. My mind is kind of blown - and not in a good way. I honestly can't imagine a World Cup without Germany.

7. I've been wasting my money on face cleansers. When we went to London early this month, I forgot about the low liquid allowance for carryon baggage, and I therefore had to toss my face wash and face moisturizer. Rather than using extremely harsh hotel soap, I just washed my face with warm water and a washcloth. My skin was so happy with this setup that I've been doing it all month. It actually improved! No more purchasing fancy facial cleansers for me!

8. Protestants and Roman Catholics speak the same language, but we have different dialects. I heard this on a podcast recently, and I love this way of articulating the truth that we share the same faith in spite of significant doctrinal differences.

9. There's an important difference between comfort and encouragement. Last month I mentioned how informative and cathartic it's been to read Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. There's a lot of good stuff in there, and one thing that stood out to me is a distinction they made between comfort and encouragement.

"Comfort doesn’t change the situation itself, nor can it take away the pain, but it relays the message that someone cares and understands. Comfort validates grief and gives permission for the grieving process, or mourning, to take place. For example, when a person walks up to a widow standing by her husband’s casket and puts an arm around her shoulder, that gesture, with or without words, is comforting. It can’t bring the husband back to life or stop the tears or the pain, but it lets the widow know her grief is accepted and understood. She’s not alone in her sorrow. . . .Unfortunately, in our very efforts to help another person “feel better,” it’s easy to confuse comfort with encouragement and end up giving neither. Encouragement is an attempt to change the griever’s perspective. It may be a reminder to look at the bright side of a situation instead of the loss or to think about a past success and presume this present situation will turn out just as well. Obviously there’s a time for both comfort and encouragement, but what happens when the two are confused? If the grieving widow is told that it’s a good thing at least her husband had a substantial life insurance policy, how does she feel? Neither comforted nor encouraged! . . .When encouragement is given before comfort, the subtle or not so subtle message is, “Buck up, you shouldn’t feel so low.” It becomes a shame message rather than an encouragement. In fact, offering encouragement—no matter how well meant—when comfort is needed is another common way that permission to grieve is taken away."

Monday, June 18, 2018

Write 100 | Conclusion

99 days ago I posted about jumping on board with my friend Rebecca's Write 100 project - a crazy challenge to write every day for 100 days in a row.

It was a leap way out of my comfort zone, between my not writing long form and being horrible at any kind of do-something-x-number-of-days-in-a-row endeavor.

For those of you who are curious about how it actually went, here's a report.

I haven't looked at the handy dandy calendar for the challenge in weeks. Since day 67, to be precise. As of day 67, I had missed two days. I'm guessing that out of the last 99 days, I wrote on 94 of them. Which puts me at a 95% success rate, assuming I write tomorrow.

But that's just a guess, due to the many different places I write and my record-keeping failures. It's good for the perfectionist in me to know that I didn't reach my goal and that's ok.

The point never really was to be able to pat myself on the back and say that I successfully checked off one more box.

The point was to write.

And boy, have I written a lot.

During a conference that involved lots of fun things but not nearly enough sleep, I propped my eyelids open each night to journal about the experience.

I wrote pages and pages of letters to pen pals scattered throughout the world.

I wrote twelve blog posts - more than I've written some years.

I even wrote a poem. Well, a poem and a half. Considering that I have not voluntarily written a poem since middle school, that is quite an accomplishment.

In the last 99 days I've had some big decisions to make, some challenging news to process, and so many experiences that come with the territory of living in Germany. Having the specific accountability of the Write 100 challenge in the midst of the crazy has helped me incorporate writing into my life in a way that I've always wanted to.

Now, instead of thinking, "I should write about that sometime," I am much more likely to pick up a pen and actually write. And for that, I'm grateful.

So Rebecca and the Write 100 team, if you ever end up seeing this, thanks for the challenge - it's been a blast. And the writing adventure will most surely continue.