Sunday, August 15, 2010

Epic UK Road Trip: Volume 8 (AKA: My Birthday!)

Happy Birthday to Me!

I was lucky enough to get to spend my birthday in Ireland. I was even more lucky that I got to spend it with these three fun friends. In fact, I also spent my birthday with them last year, so now its a "tradition" and I have to figure out how to get back to the Continent next June!

On Monday morning, we left the Ballyeamon camping barn - sad to leave the story barn but happy to leave the Midges. We headed south with a plan to head into Belfast for a quick stop and lunch and then down to Dublin where we would stay the last couple days of our trip. The night before we had gotten directions to a restaurant/pub in Belfast - the John Hewitt, but frankly, I don't know that any of us could understand a word of what the guy was saying to us (mayby Collin a little bit) and none of us were taking notes on directions, so we decided to drive to downtown Belfast, near the Cathedral, and wander around until we found it.

Collin was driving and turned a corner... there was an open parking space, so we took it and got out. To find the John Hewitt was 20 feet away from us! Awesome! We walked down through downtown Belfast for a bit and then back to the JH for lunch (delicious!!). Our Belfast experience was not nearly long enough, but that suffices to tell you about it.

My first Coffee Stout
 After loading ourselves back into the car, we headed down to Dublin. Dublin is about 2 1/2 hours south of Belfast (about the distance from LA to San Diego) - but is in a different country! YES! On the way to Dublin, we finally left the United Kingdom and headed into the Republic of Ireland (which was doubly exciting because they are on the Euro - which was almost on par with the dollar!).

Collin matched the train.

Dublin is a notoriously expensive city and parking is super expensive, so we parked at a train station outside of Dublin (in Howth, by the sea) and then walked to our hostel. After a quick rest, we headed out for a little walk and some Dublin nightlife/birthday fun in the Temple Bar District.

We settled in at The Auld Dubliner for dinner and drinks. Even though we were about "pubbed out," the food there was good and the ambiance was nice. The waiters were super nice and during the dessert course (Bailey's pie), Candice went over to give them some candles to put in my pie (she had carried candles across the UK for me. cue sheepish/flattered grin) and they not only served me a birthday pie, but put a birthday song over the PA. I felt loved and super special.

I should have mentioned that my birthday is on the Summer Solstice, so even though we had steadily been traveling south, we knew that it would still be staying light fairly late into the evening. We decided to leave The Auld Dubliner and try to find another location with an outdoor beer garden.

We ended up at The Temple Bar where we had a great time, meeting people, enjoying some live music and laughing a lot! I tried my first pint of Guinness and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it! I met and chatted up and Irish guy named Phillip who was super chatty and fun, and then the group of us met up with some Irish 20-somethings who were pretending to be from all sorts of other countries. Lots of awesome laughs were had with these kids, who then invited us to come with them to a "club" nearby called The Purty Kitchen.

The Purty Kitchen experience involved: getting let in for free by the bouncers, a crazy squished dance floor with awesome American dance music, and Matt holding all the coats and drinks. Basically, it was a rave and I felt pretty cool to be at a rave on my 36th bday with a bunch of youngsters! We didn't get back to the Hostel until almost 2am and I felt like I was 25 again.

Fun was had! Check out the pictures!!

Matt and me at dinner.

Collin and Candice at dinner.

My first Guinness!

My new Irish friend, Phillip.


We had a pretty good time at the Purty Kitchen - Collin and I danced while Matt held the jackets and Candice people-watched.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: Somewhere to Belong (by Judith Miller)

I was reading a lot near the end of the school year - there was so much work to be done that it was great to be able to dive into some uplifting fiction stories.

Somewhere to Belong is the story of Johanna and Berta. Johanna is a young woman who has lived in Main Amana, a sort of devout Christian community, all of her life. In Main Amana, simplicity and community are valued above all things. Community members dress alike in greys and blacks and work hard at various aspects of the community (some do farming, some gardening, some work in the kitchen). Johanna has secretly always wanted to visit the outside world, but after her brother Willhelm left the community and never returned, she knows that it would break her parents' hearts to even suggest a visit. 
Berta is a young woman who has lived a fancy life in Chicago but who suddenly finds her family relocated to Amana. The culture of Amana is foreign to her, and frankly she doesn't like it. She rebels, she snoops, she causes no end of trouble for Johanna - who has been assigned to help Berta transition into the community.

All in all, I enjoyed the characters and the story in "Somewhere to Belong." I expected it to be a kind of average story about transitioning into a new community. Instead, there was a lot of drama and intrigue happening as family secrets were revealed and hearts were broken, as people confronted their fears and explored their true place in the world. I also thought that Miller did a pretty good job of painting a picture of what life was like inside small communities like this at the turn of the 20th century. 3 and a half Harper's Bazaar's out of 5.

2 years later: Remembering

I am currently reading "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving. I'm not sure how this book slipped by me when it was published YEARS ago. A friend of mine read it, and I remember thinking "oh, I'd like to read that" but I guess I never got around to it. Recently, I had finished a book and didn't have one to take with me on a weekend trip to San Francisco, so I picked up "Owen Meany" in the airport bookshop.

It is a terrific book. Irving is a brilliant writer and I'm enjoying it so much.

The main character, Johnny, is writing about his past and as I read this part today about loss of a loved one, it hit home and made me understand even better the grief that my grandmother feels daily after the loss of Grampa Dick, with whom she shared a life for 60 years. It also helped me understand my own grief.

Here is what he said, I hope it blesses you as well.

"When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time - the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes - when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever - there comes another day, and another specific part." (p.139)

A few pages later:
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. I was eleven years old when my mother was killed; I mourn her still. I mourn for more than her, too. I don't feel "comforted"; not yet." (p.147)

When we have loved deeply, and maybe even when we have loved shallowly, our loss goes deep and the ache of loss lingers a long time.

May you (and I)  find some comfort and some peace, even as another day of loss steps forward.

Two years: thoughts on life, death, and change.

I am struck by how much life is changed in two years, and how much it is exactly the same.

Two years ago this week, I was heading with my family to Lake Tahoe to celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary and a family reunion. I was packing to get ready to move to LA and start my doctoral journey. I had no idea that we would lose Grampa Dick in the days to follow.

I have been remembering those days (reading the ol' blog comes in handy in these moments!) and thinking about life, death, and change. Donald Miller (author of "Blue Like Jazz", etc) has a blog I've been following and today it is about death: and it made me think again about my grampa and what he experienced in those moments when he had his heart attack, all alone in the walkway of the Tahoe casino. I hope that he was not afraid of death in the later hours when he was semi-alert in the hospital. Though I know he was fearing what was happening to him and all around him (you could see and sense his distress), I hope that when he finally breathed his last, he was not afraid.

Don Miller's dog, Lucy,  has ostensibly been writing the posts recently and so the one linked above talks about how dogs aren't afraid to die because they don't even know about death. They just trust God and their owners. She wonders who told us about death - because the reason we fear it is that we don't (can't) really know anything about it. And I think she is right. But if we trusted God and what he says about death, we wouldn't fear.

That is true about life, too.

If we trusted God about our lives, we would not fear or be anxious.

One thing that has not changed for me in two years is my not trusting God enough about my life. Also unchanged is my marital status, financial status, and my unsurity (is that a word?) about my future. But if I really trusted God with the plan, if I really believed that I could just walk forward loving God and loving others and God would truly take care of me, then I think I would be less anxious or worried or striving or discontent.

Because sometimes I'm discontent (is that a word?) and it shows in my cranky attitude or bitterness following an event or activity. It shows when my heart aches about being the oldest single person at a wedding or when I ask the leaders of my small group if we could please recruit some other single people because the group has suddenly become "couples and Tiffani."

(to the credit of the people in these various scenarios, they are super gracious and understanding with me)

Yesterday I wrote my friend an email that was full of heartbreak - I vocalized all the things I was thinking and feeling, and today in the Daily Light for 8/12, morning, it said: For the Lord does not cast off forever, though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.(Lam 3:31). And the rest of the verses for this morning were like that. As though God, who loves me even better than an earthly father, thought "now is the time to reminder her of who I am."

I needed the reminder. I need more reminders. I pretty much need to be reminded moment by moment to trust God and not fear or be anxious. To be content and trust that God knows my heart, the he has my back, and that He really will not forget about me.

Maybe if I do, the next two years will indeed show even more change than the last.