Dinosaur Dreams

When I was a child I believed that I could be everything I wanted to be, in fact I told my kindergarten teacher I would become a dinosaur when I grew up.  In college, I exchanged that lie for another: “You can do anything, but not everything.”

That’s not true either.

Four years of studying entrepreneurship and economics taught me that we can expand the pie instead of fighting over the last piece.  Our Creator made us creative beings who construct buildings and businesses, families and food, and that’s a beautiful thing.

ECON 101 also taught me that our basic economic resources (land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship) are limited.  We live in a world of scarcity.  There are only so many hours in a day and acres on the earth.

I will never be an Olympic gymnast or piano aficionado, because I’m already too old for those things and I’m not gifted in those areas.  I can’t do everything.  I’m not a photographer or a coffee connoisseur or an amateur guitarist.  I can’t be anything I want.  As I get older, instead of happening upon my “true calling”  I’m mostly just getting good at crossing dreams off my list.

The pessimist in me says I’m giving up on my dreams but really, I’m just finally acknowledging that not only can I not do everything, I can’t even do anything.  Instead of chasing a vague notion of our “vocation”, Luke and I are spending time taking a hard look at the resources we’ve been given.  We still love to dream and scheme about the future but rather than hyping up false hopes, we’re thinking about what God has already provided us and how we can humbly position ourselves to receive the gifts He may have for us in the future.

There isn’t a limited quantity of happiness, wisdom, or fulfillment in the world that only the lucky few get to experience.  It just may not come in the forms we expected when we were 8 or 18. Recognizing that our time and abilities are necessarily limited allows us to more freely explore the possibilities for creation.  It’s okay when the dinosaur dreams go extinct.

Not A Travel Blog

When asked what I write about on my blog, I always respond with a tentative “lifestyle things?” although I don’t really know what that means.  I started writing here 8 years ago and since I’m free from all pressures of monetizing the site, I’ve never defined my genre. Content marketing has a powerful gravitational pull and I’d like to keep this corner of the Internet free of all gimmicks, content gating, and gotchas.

What I do know is that this is not a travel blog.  My husband and I currently call Saint Petersburg home and we hope to travel more than we normally would over the next few years, but this will still be my place to share my musings on the world around me, which just happens to be in Russia right now.

Moving to Saint Petersburg has felt like becoming a child again.  I’m slowly sounding out words on buildings as we walk by them, am fascinated by the bright colors of the buildings and parks, and it takes so much longer to do simple tasks than it feels like it ought to.  Just charging my phone is a 3 apparatus ordeal.  And there is the child-like wonder to it as well.  New sights and sounds amaze me and each day is a new adventure as we explore the town, transportation system, and shops.

Daily life here so far is very similar to life in the States on a large scale, and very different in many minuscule ways throughout the day.  The downsized toilet paper and circle electrical plugs, for example. Differences that are neither bad nor good, just different.  These small changes were threatening to throw me off-kilter (is this what they call culture shock?) until I read this passage from C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet:

It was only days later that Ransom discovered how to deal with these sudden losses of confidence.  They arose when the rationality of the hross [a being from a different planet] tempted you to think of it as a man.  Then it became abominable–a man seven feet high, with a snaky body, covered, face and all, with thick black animal hair, and whiskered like a cat.  But starting from the other end you had an animal with everything an animal ought to have–glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath and whitest teeth–and added to all these, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason.  Nothing could be more disgusting than the one impression; nothing more delightful than the other.  It all depended on the point of view.

By no means am I suggesting that Russians are extraterrestrials, rather, I’m realizing more and more how similar we all are.  But moving to a foreign country can feel like an other-worldy experience and I’ll drive myself crazy if I’m finding the small differences “disgusting” instead of appreciating things for how they actually are and finding the similarities delightful.  As Lewis put it best: It all depends on the point of view.

I’m a big believer in dreaming and doing but reality is a  strong force to be reckoned with. Our expectations about what reality should look like often cause us to be disappointed when life doesn’t deliver.   I’d rather rejoice in the ways it gives me joy instead of constantly comparing reality to what I think it ought to look like and ending up feeling like everything is just a little bit (or a lot a bit) off.

мы идем в Санкт-Петербург

The bags are packed (almost), our visas are in hand, and we’re cleared for take off.

It’s been a while since I posted on here–the last month has been dizzily and beautifully full of family and friends as we completed our coast to coast journey.  In between visits and festivities, Luke and I have been doing our best to learn the language via online tutoring and hours of flashcards.

I’ve been working on a series about Misplacement during this season of transition and displacement from our California home as we wait to find our Russian one.  The last tweaks are almost done (yes, sometimes I actually edit things before I post them) and I’m excited to share these summer musings with you all!

In the meantime, I plan on sharing travel updates and discoveries on this blog.  I don’t want to spam everyone’s Facebook timeline with travel posts so if you’re interested in:

Joining our journey through the written word (and some pictures): follow this blog

Tracking our trek via image: follow me on Instagram

Contacting Luke or I in real time: message me on WhatsApp.

Luke won’t have a smartphone or possibly his current phone number, so your best bet is WhatsApp using my phone number.  I’m assuming you already have it if you’re interested in talking, but if not, put your e-mail in the box below and I’ll send it your way!  This will be the best way to get a hold of us directly, as opposed to messaging on Facebook or Instagram.

And so..The Adventure Begins

6 years ago this month, I was driving my trice-recycled ‘94 teal Chevy Malibu with the windows rolled down from my high school to the Senior Picnic–just days before graduation.  “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer came through the radio waves and it just seemed right.  I was full of optimism and excitement for a fresh chapter.  And what better way to kick off the next adventure than a class-wide picnic with my 700 other classmates?

If I remember correctly, the picnic was lame and I didn’t know where to put myself, like the rest of my high school experience, because some things never change.

I was driving to my last day of work this morning, in my ‘10 Ford Focus that mercifully doesn’t spray water in my face every time it rains like the Malibu did so I’m clearly moving up in the world.  Andy Grammer’s familiar tune came warbling through the FM again and I felt the echoes of that same optimism bubble up.  And then a new Maroon 5 song came on with the same tune they were using 6 years ago. Some things really never do change.

But some things do. I’m more cautious now than I was back then.  I’m not as willing to chase every idea but have learned to patiently wait for my dreams to surface.  I’ve stopped caring about eating lunch at the cool table and although I’m slower to act on new ideas, I’m braver in carrying them out.  During the last 6 years, I pushed to find the limits of how many things I was capable of doing simultaneously and now I’m content to find the few things in life that are worth pursuing deeply.

I’m thankful for nostalgic songs that inspire reflection–even if that includes some awkward high school memories–before starting this next adventure.  Besides learning the Russian language and acquiring a fur hat, one of my biggest goals for our time abroad is to grow in wisdom, character, and flexibility.  Hopefully by the next time I hear Andy Grammer on the radio in June, I can see those fruits in my life.

Until then, just gotta keep my head up.

It All Started With Anna Karenina

I promised some exciting news in my blog post last week so here goes…Luke and I are moving to Russia!  More specifically, to the Saint Petersburg area and even more specifically than that, to Pushkin.

This is old news for some of you and out of the blue for others, so I’ve compiled a list of the frequently asked questions we’ve gotten over the past few months.

Q: Are you crazy?

Maybe.

Q: Why Russia?

Luke spent a summer in Siberia a few years ago and it’s been one of his dreams to go back for a while.  One of the main goals for our time there is language acquisition, for Luke to use for further academic studies.  He’s also excited to gain more teaching experience, another important step for his career trajectory.

Q: What will you be doing there?

Luke has been hired by a language school to be a full-time English teacher.  I also plan to do some teaching on a part-time basis, while also pursuing some dreams and doing more professional development.

Q: Isn’t it cold there?

Yes.

Q: Why now?

Luke is between graduate schools right now and we don’t currently have debts or dependents to tie us down.  After reviewing our 5 and 10 year flow charts (no joke), we realized that if we were ever going to pursue this adventure, there’s no better time than now.

Q: When do you leave?

The first leg of our journey is to get from the West Coast back to the MidWest.  We’ll be leaving SoCal at the end of June and flying for Saint Petersburg in mid-August.

Q: When do you come back?

We don’t have a specific date yet, but the teaching contract is for one year.

I also promised to reveal what our joint anniversary gift was from last week.  You might have guessed it by now…it’s a travel guide to the Saint Petersburg area!  We are so excited to explore our new city–some of our current top sights to see are the Hermitage Museum and the homes/estates of Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoy.

Because after all, it did all start with Anna Karenina.

Lead Me Not

I first learned about the wisdom of working out but not over working your self control in Social Entrepreneurship 101.  We were discussing how to facilitate change in a community and the professor referenced a study conducted by Dikla Shmueli and Judith J. Prochaska where smokers were asked to actively resist eating a treat in front of them for 15 minutes.  Every 15 seconds, they had to pick up the plate, smell the treat, and then put it back down without eating it.  For some, that treat came in the form of freshly baked brownies while the other group of smokers had radishes.

After the 15 minutes, the participants were given a 10 minute break.  The results?  Participants who resisted sweets were more likely to smoke during the break (53.2%) than those who resisted vegetables (34.0%).1

So if you’ve got some bad habits to kick, experts recommend that you beat them one at a time.  Giving up sugar, Netflix, and taking up running all in the same week might just pull your self-control muscle, making it too sore to even get you up with your alarm the next morning.

Instead, focus on one goal at a time and eliminate the everyday temptations. Pick a different route to work if yours sends you right by the donut shop.  Put fruit instead of sweets out on the counter.

In 1 Corinthians 10: 13b, we are encouraged by the fact that, “ God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  We can trust Him to give us the strength we need to resist the temptations we inevitably will face.  But when possible, it is wise try to avoid temptations rather than continually facing and fighting them.  Some sins, like pride and anger–are hard to avoid entirely.  When Jesus instructed his disciples (and us) on how to pray in Matthew 6, He didn’t say “help us to resist temptation” but rather “lead us not into temptation.”

But if we’re constantly slapping our own wrists as we reach for the forbidden chocolate that’s hiding in plain sight in the pantry, we’ve destroyed our own defenses.  It’s far easier to snap back at our spouses, respond in anger to our bosses, or lose our patience with the kids when our self-control has been worn down by resisting small temptations all day long.

Research indicates that the average person spends three to four hours a day resisting desires. Plus, self-control is used for other things as well, such as controlling thoughts and emotions, regulating task performance and making decisions. So most people use their willpower many times a day, all day.

The good news?  Like our biceps, there are ways to strengthen our self-control and increase endurance for when life hands us marathons of temptation.  Eliminating the temptations and daily annoyances we can avoid is the first step as it reserves our willpower for the things that really matter. After that, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, suggests,  “practice overriding habitual ways of doing things and exerting deliberate control over your actions. Over time, that practice improves self-control.”

Trying to supercharge your self-control workout by making dramatic lifestyle changes in a short period of time will have the same result as starting weight-lifting by benching 200 pounds. You’ll probably hurt yourself and give up entirely. The key here is consistency, not intensity.  That could be as simple as using your left hand to brush your teeth or saving an extra $5 a week!

As we strive to become more like Christ, eliminating the small temptations throughout our days and working out our self-control muscle can help us grow in the virtues of patience, kindness, and selflessness–character traits that could surely use some toning up in my life.

  1. Study cited: Shmueli, D. & Prochaska, J.J. (2009). Resisting tempting foods and smoking behavior: Implications from a self-control theory perspective. Health Psychology, 28(3), 300-306.

Mastering the Art of Long Distance Friendship

co-authored by two long-distance friends, Emily Ruch and Chloe Sayers

And by master, we mean “navigate in the dark without a flashlight and minimal bruises along the way.” Everyone knows friendships change after college. What we didn’t anticipate was how the new marriages, new jobs, and new states could create both
emotional and literal distance between friends. No two friendships look alike and different friendships will react differently to the strain of distance, but here’s some lessons these two long-distance friends learned along the way.

1. Reset Expectations

When you live in close proximity, whether that’s a few rooms down the hall or across town, you grow to expect and gauge the health of your relationships by your frequency of 11212707_10153812461504908_672609704767413814_ocontact. Once you’re 3,000 miles and 3 time zones apart, that’s just not realistic. Quality trumps quantity when it comes to connecting.

…. and set Realistic Expectations

Now that the days of spontaneous coffee dates and late-night-dance sessions are few and far between, it’s important to regroup and set new expectations for the friendship. It is most likely unrealistic to think that you will be able to talk to each other every day. Sure, you may go through stages where texts are sent back and forth in quick succession, but typically you are on different schedules (or time zones). It’s important to find the routine of staying connected that can be easily obtained by both parties.

2. Be intentional

You’re not going to bump into your friend around town, so a long-distance friendship forces you to stretch that intentionality muscle and make the friendship a priority by scheduling time to talk, writing notes, and just generally not falling off the face of the earth.

3. Small talk is OK

One of the hardest things for me about long-distance friendships, is that I felt like I was spending all my time talking with friends on the phone just catching up. Since it would be weeks between talking and our lives were moving fast, there was a lot of just general ground to cover each call. I grew to realize that just keeping up with a friend was a blessing and not every conversation had to be a philosophical discussion to keep the friendship healthy and thriving.

4. Allow Yourself to Grieve

“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”

Long-distance friendships are hard. If you are coming right out of college, it can seem especially painful and abrupt to have your best friend suddenly absent from your day to day life. It’s okay to grieve that loss, because that is what it is. This is not to say that you throw up your hands and throw in the towel, but rather give yourself some grace while you navigate the transition.

5. Make New Friends

Still working on this myself – seriously, after college how does one make a new friend? Suddenly it’s not as simple as walking up to someone at Swing Club and saying “Hi, I’m ____,” or striking up a conversation in the omelette line at brunch about that group project due tomorrow. But it’s an important step in the process.

Do you feel nervous about making new friends/your friend making new friends? It makes sense. There is an inherent panic that the introduction of a new friendship will somehow cause the existing pair to find someone that they get along with better/enjoy more. But this comes back to the intentionality that you set up; while life may have a mind of its own sometimes, you do have the power to make sure you don’t drift apart.

And making friends where you are will only strengthen your long-distance friendship. It will allow you to flourish where you are and lose some of that panic over the change, because you will realize that your friendship can remain strong in the presence of other relationships. If something is important to you, you will make time for it.

At the end of the day, you can make a long-distance friendship work but make sure to work in some face-to-face time too!

Onward and Upward

I can’t be my true self around my husband.  I can’t say whatever I want, do whatever I want, or act however I want.

And that’s a really good thing.

Because my true self is selfish and way too worried about schedules and spreadsheets (I would have made an excellent railroad operator).  My true self doesn’t think about the fact that she’s living with another human being who may not want to get dumped on about the day’s littlest details the moment she walks in the door.  My true self has sky-high expectations for her husband’s every word, thought, and action without holding herself to that same standard.  My true self is careless about feelings, quick to offend, and slow to forgive.

So thank goodness that my husband draws out the best in me and challenges me to be my better self instead of my true self.

“But shouldn’t we be able to be vulnerable and open with our spouses?  Shouldn’t our homes be safe places to share our feelings?”

Well, yes.  Of course.  But whether if you’re bound to someone in a marriage covenant or just split a rent check each month; you are no longer an autonomous being.  Our moods and words effect our housemates and spouses.  We should strive to build relationships that encourage truth.  But those beautiful relationships aren’t just the result of throwing all filters out the front door and saying whatever comes to mind.  Sometimes loving your spouse means shutting your mouth.

For me, it means checking my mood when I get home from work. Right before I turn the corner leading towards our studio apartment and right after making a few quick glances into the dark corners of the gardens to make sure our not-so-neighborly skunk isn’t waiting to sabotage me, I think “would I want to greet myself in this mood after a long day’s work?” If the answer is no (and it usually is, because even the best days at work end with a commute in Southern California traffic), then I pause and take a moment to reset my perspective on the day and stop dwelling over the little angsts from the past 8 hours.

My true self still shows up a lot.  I say things that are unkind and worse yet, I really mean them.  I am grateful that my husband and friends continue to shower me with love that appreciates me for where I am but also can see the better me and continually encourages me to become that person.

Bah Humbug.

For the first 21 years of my life, I transformed into the Grinch every December.  I liked Christmas, of course, but I didn’t love it.  At least not the way everyone else around me seemed to.

From a young age, I had a natural distaste for knick knacks and clutter.  So why in the world would decking the halls with snowglobes and messy tinsel and paper snowflakes be a good idea?

And of course it never quite goes away after Christmas.  I threw innumerous death glares at my neighbors tacky Santa still living in their front yard in March.

On a more philosophical level; it bothered me that everyone put so much significance and pressure on one day.  As if this one day of the year had to be the most special and the other 364 were just leading up to the one day worth living for.  In my opinion, I’d rather have 364 really nice days instead.

Then I graduated college and Christmas wasn’t handed to me anymore.  And I found myself inclined to hang up some (tasteful) decorations.  And maybe bake a dozen Christmas cookies or two.  When Christmas isn’t something that’s just guaranteed to happen whether you like it or not, I began to realize how wonderful it really is.

Fast forward to this afternoon when I got teary-eyed walking through the post office.  And no, I wasn’t crying because of the absurd inefficiency created by one of the government’s largest beuracracies, but because the place was packed with people and their packages, all wrapped with care and being sent to the far corners of the country to loved ones.

And while I still aim to make the other 364 days of the year as pleasant and joyful as possible, I know now that special days and excuses to celebrate don’t come around all that often and we should take advantage of the time with loved ones while we can.

So this Grinch’s heart is slowly growing 3 sizes too.  A very merry Christmas to you!img_20161215_162128

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
–William Wordsworth, The World Is Too Much With Us

 

It feels like that alot nowadays, doesn’t it?

At least it does for me.  Life is good.  Really good, actually.  I remind myself of that often when I have gray days.  I write out my lists of gratefuls and count my blessings and I’m blown away by all the wonderful things in my life

  • a loving husband
  • delicious food
  • a great job
  • a caring church
  • family
  • friends
  • flowers
  • chocolate milk

The list goes on and on.  And yet, the world is still too much with us.  The daily drudgery of waking up, driving around, doing work, making food, eating food, doing dishes, and then doing it all over again can be slowly exhausting.

Without real problems in my life, I find myself obsessing over small insignificant decisions.  Do I go to the gym or run errands during my lunch? Stir-fry or spaghetti for dinner?  What does “crisp-tender” actually mean?  Are my vegetables simultaneously crispy and tender? Have I been making stir-fry wrong for the past 18 months?

These are the kind of questions that can make you stare aimlessly at the ceiling for whole minutes until you start worrying about yourself staring aimlessly.

This post is untimely, because we’re facing a lot of political change which many people would classify as a Big Issue and here I am complaining about lots of little tiny issues.  But personal energy and outlook doesn’t sync perfectly with political cycles.

My husband is great at these small problems.  Usually, he reminds me that the exact problem is that I’m thinking about everything in regards to optimizing my schedule perfectly or more generally, interpreting life with myself at the center.

Most of my problems in life do circle back to an unhealthy focus on self.  Which is why I’ll start this blog the way it began–with a poem:

So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

–Robert Frost, Choose Something Like A Star