23 August 2012

Summer rains

rainy season One of my favorite and most vivid memories of rainy season is from the summer of 1995. All of my friends had gone back to the States for the summer, so I was going through social detox. There must have been some sort of prescription drug shortage in our town that summer because I remember my dad often driving hither and yon to large pharmacies to pick up meds for the hospital where he worked. I would often ride with him and take a book. I’d sit in the car while he went in to see if the pharmacy had the meds he needed. We had a big blue van that year, the kind with the high roof. I would sit in the way back seat and watch the rain or read my book.

Now, our town in Nigeria is allegedly one of the most lightning-prone places in the world, so I’ve seen a lot of lightning in my lifetime. But as far as I know, lightning there is not a sign of coming tornadoes or hurricanes, or even necessarily high winds. So while I have a healthy fear of lightning in and of itself, I’m used to it. I know to unplug important appliances. and stay away from windows. But it doesn’t scare me as long as I’m being careful.

That’s today. That summer I was 13. One particular day, as I was sitting in the car, the lightning was just a little too close for comfort. I leapt out of the car and ran into the warehouse to join my dad and sit out the worst of the storm. Only later was I informed that a car is one of the safest places to be in a lightning storm. (Is this really true, Dad?)

But one of my favorite things was to sit in the way back on the drive home and put my arm (or my face if we weren’t on the main road) out the window into the streaming rain. The windows were the kind that manually slide open horizontally, so I could open it just enough to put my arm or my head out. There was nothing more exhilarating to me that summer than letting the wind and rain lash my face and hair as we drove along. Of course, once we reached the main road I’d have to bring my drenched head back into the van and be satisfied with sticking my hand out. But it was always fun while it lasted.

Thanks, Dad, for letting me tag along in those summer rains.

(Photo courtesy of Gary Payne: http://thepaynes.wordpress.com/page/10/#)

21 August 2012


I grew up in a reasonably conservative family. When my dad was a teenager, he was one of the first to be allowed to play guitar in his church. For us as kids, Halloween was about dressing up as fun, wholesome characters such as Laura Ingalls Wilder or a jelly bean jar. No skeletons, witches, ghosts, period. While we heard about Santa Claus from other kids, we didn’t do Santa at home, and we certainly never did anything with the Easter Bunny. Easter was a time for family and remembering the Resurrection.

Clothing was similar. I don’t remember ever wanting to wear clothes with skulls, but it certainly would not have been allowed. My sister and I were expected to wear our Sunday best to church, and that meant no trousers or skorts, even nice ones. Lacy collars were a definite bonus. I don’t remember really arguing about the guidelines or feeling restricted.

When we moved to Nigeria when I was nine years old, we had to adapt our clothing somewhat. We were coming from Los Angeles, where we could wear shorts and tank tops most of the year. While we were allowed to wear shorts at our Christian school in Nigeria, they had to be long, and tank top sleeves had to be several inches wide. Outside of school, if we went walking in the community or to market, we had to wear long skirts. And in Nigerian church, we had to cover our heads with scarves. I’d say we both adapted pretty well. My mom might have a more accurate memory, but I don’t remember complaining too much. I learned to want to dress modestly. At our Christian school we heard a lot about modesty and how women should not dress provocatively to cause men to stumble. Made sense. No argument there.

After I graduated from high school, I spent the summer camping with my aunt and uncle and wore my cousin’s hand-me-downs, mostly stylish and shorter shorts than I was used to.  My aunt had to buy me my first pair of “real jeans,” since the only ones I’d had in high school had an elastic waist. By the time I got to college in the Chicago area, though, there were only a few weeks left of weather warm enough for shorts and bare arms. For the next four years, I dressed perhaps more modestly than ever. I fell in love with jeans, turtlenecks, and sweaters. I was all about comfort and had almost zero interest in style. Whatever I could get free at our college’s clothes swap was awesome. I was probably one of very few who wore only skirts and dresses to church, even in the winter. One summer, two friends got me a spaghetti-strap shirt as a gag gift because they knew I’d never wear it. I did end up wearing it when I drove long-distance but always put a shirt on over it when I got out of the car. It made me feel so exposed when I was around other people, but it was super comfortable for summer driving on my own.

Now, eight years later, I wear spaghetti straps and shorts that are above the knee. I even have some skirts that are above the knee. And I have a couple pairs of flowy dress trousers that I wear to church. What happened?? Do I dress provocatively? Hardly. On the other hand, I am hardly ever around men besides my husband, so if I feel comfortable without sleeves, why not wear what I want to? Will I ever wear a bikini? Not likely. Will I ever wear a halter top or show my tummy? I don’t think so. Will I ever wear something with a plunge neckline? Um, no thanks. But I am curious what has changed about my worldview that has caused such a visual change in clothes. Mostly I still wear longish shorts and t-shirts in the summer, and 3/4-sleeve sweaters and jeans in the winter. I still dress mostly for comfort and low cost. But my boundaries have moved back a bit. Why?

17 August 2012

Two roads diverged

This fall, we will be taking one of two paths, which means that I personally will be taking one of two paths. They may eventually lead to the same place professionally, but for now, they are quite different.

If X happens, I will need to work full-time. I’ve been looking at jobs and applying for several weeks now. I’ve even read bits and pieces of some of the books recommended by friends, family, and the helpful librarians. (I’m afraid I haven’t gotten through all of any one book yet.) Mostly I’m applying for administrative-type office jobs. There are lots of these types of jobs out there, but no employers yet who want me in particular. Granted, the last time I did administrative work in an office was going on eight years ago. Not entirely recent, but I still remember how to do everything.

So this has been a challenging and stressful time for me. I quit my part-time job at Ashford that I have been doing on and off (but mostly on) since March 2009. Changes were happening there that I just didn’t gel with. Now I can focus on job hunting and researching day cares near where we might live, as well as a pre-K for Timothy. I read in a book that the average time it takes a full-time job seeker to find a job (as of 2010) is 33 weeks. I’m starting a little late to begin a new job in November at the latest, but at least I’m trying.

On the other hand, if Y happens, I will not be working full-time. Instead, I’ll be going to school full-time… and we’ll be moving to a different state… again. And by “going to school,” I don’t mean getting my MFA in Creative Writing or an MAT. I’m talking about getting a second bachelor’s degree or doing some program that’s very—er—vocational. While I might be able to find a job as an entry-level editorial assistant in New York, Boston, or Chicago if I were willing to try one of those cities for 33 weeks, we wouldn’t want to raise our family there, so publishing has to take a back burner. I’m exploring lots of options, including Accounting, Engineering, Social Work, and Nursing, but my top two choices so far are Engineering and Practical Nursing (LPN). Either one would be a rather huge leap out of my comfort zone, but that is probably good for me.

For now, in any case, I have to keep all my options option as much as possible. Neither X nor Y has happened yet, and we’re not sure exactly when to expect either event. Either way we will be leaving this little tiny town and moving to the city. (Note that “city” means different things in different regions. Consider, for example, that Savannah is barely larger than Visalia, CA, but is rather more—ahem—citified.) Sometime between October and January, we’ll be loading up the moving truck and hitting the road again. While I have enjoyed some fun times here and have liked getting to know a handful of people, I’m more than ready for a new adventure. So bring it on.

I Go Back

There are two country songs I keep hearing on the radio that I love if only because I can identify with the sentiment. Both songs (Kenny Chesney’s “I Go Back” and Eric Church’s “Springsteen”) refer to the vivid memories recalled by certain songs. You know what I  mean. Some songs you like just because. Other songs remind you of a period of your life. But then there are those songs that take you back to a specific day, a specific place, that one moment you will always associate with the song.

I have lots of those, being someone who loves music and typically pays attention to it. And they remind me of both the good times and the bad times throughout my life. For example, I can never hear the songs “Sold” and “Cotton Eye Joe” without thinking of the Hillcrest Carnival when I was in middle school and my best friend Laura’s brother was the DJ. That was a good, fun day with Laura and the other girls.

On the other hand, “Heal the World” makes me cry because I remember the intense loneliness I felt on our 7th grade campout, the night Tammy came to sit with me by the lake and rename the stars. Everyone else had learned the song in choir while I’d been in the U.S. on furlough, and they all sang it together around the campfire, leaving me out completely. And the song “When I Fall in Love” takes me back to a very painfully ended relationship in college. I’d thought it was dumb the first time I’d heard it. After all, who falls in love only once?

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” makes me think of Michael Kingsley, who sang it for a sort of recital when I went to hear my roommate Megan sing. And when I hear “On My Own,” I think of one night studying in the Fischer 3S hallway with Elisabeth LaVigne our freshman year, when she told me she’d sung it for a talent show in high school (or something like that). Even though I never heard her sing it, i still think of that night. And the song “Blessed Be Your Name” reminds me of chapel sometime in 2006 or 2007. Our missionary friend Ken had returned to Nigeria to pack up his family’s belongings. They had left Nigeria several months earlier after their pre-school son had died in a tragic drowning accident. I knew Ken was at that chapel service, though I couldn’t see him from where I sat, and I just couldn’t imagine being able to sing those words, “You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord blessed be your name.’” I cried.

And finally, here are two of my most vivid song memories. When I was just finishing 9th grade and returning to the States for furlough, we were in Kano, getting ready to fly out (back in the days when you flew out of Kano instead of Abuja). We were with the youth pastor, Patrick, who was picking up some summer short-termers. It was evening, as we had a night flight, and we were gathered around the van. He had already that year introduced us to the song “Stress” (which we all loved) as well as sketches and songs from Monty Python. This evening, he played David Wilcox’s “Johnny’s Camaro” for us in the van. I could never remember the words after that—after all, the song is over 15 minutes long—but I carried the message with me. I so wanted to be that girl Laura in the song, returning to the States after being in Africa… That scene stands out so clearly to me.

The last one that really stands out—and honestly, I could write a book just on the memories I relate to songs—is the song “Coventry Carol.” While it’s associated with Christmas, it is actually a song about the Massacre of the Innocents. The song has a lovely but haunting melody, and I’ve always liked it for its musicality. But not until I heard Cal Horlings play it on the trumpet with piano accompaniment did it really come alive for me. It was Christmas Eve 2007, and Cal’s trumpeting so vividly depicted the mood transitions in the song. Haunting indeed. I’ll never forget it.

So those are some of my song memories. What about you? What are some of yours?