Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Light Week

If there was theme for the past week, it would be light.

Monday I stayed up late (powered by a coma-like evening nap) and watched the entire lunar eclipse and a bit of the meteor shower as well. I switched off the lights in our back yard and waited as the moon got darker and darker. I've never seen the stars so clearly in Fort Worth and I don't ever remember seeing a lunar eclipse like that. The breeze and 65 degree weather were perfect, too. I sat listening to a random playlist of songs including the words moon/stars/luna/estrellas, drinking hot tea and just generally letting the last year and my future sink in. I won't say I had an epiphany, but I will say that out of the fog some shapes are starting to form. Which feels like a nice place to be.

Tuesday I basked in the glory of our 85 degree weather (in the shade!) by taking it to the park. I threw on a sun dress (on December 21st!) and went to smell the roses. Smelling the roses resulted in me barely being able to breathe by the time the afternoon was over, but it was worth it. Fort Worth's Botanic Garden is one of my favorite places and sitting in the sun after three months of cold rain was pretty close to perfect. THEN I got to watch some stars of a different kind--Dallas Stars hockey! I used to be a huge fan, and even though I hadn't seen a game in probably years, it was a lot of fun to be in the arena and see the guys beat up on one of the original Canadian teams.

Wednesday I got to get together with the girls from church and go look at Christmas lights. After the warm weather and busy last weeks, it was great to sing Christmas carols, look at lights and just generally get in the Christmas spirit.

And finally, to wrap up the week, I got to celebrate the light in a different way--in the form of celebrating Jesus coming as the light of the world. Christmas is always a big holiday for me, and a time of reflection. I love Advent, the time in the Christian calendar leading up to Christmas, which centers on hope and waiting. As a person who always seems to be waiting for the dust to settle so that I can see where the next turn in the road will take me, I can resonate a lot with a season all about looking toward the future with anticipation. And today, Christmas, is and isn't the climax of the waiting--it's both the now and the not yet. It's the day on the calendar and it's the baby in the barn two thousand years ago and it's also the reminder, or the hope, that God still cares today. It's inbreaking of the light.  It's the thrill of hope for which the weary world rejoices. After all, yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 


Merry Christmas. And may you all be able to see the light on the horizon.


(Also, Sufjan Steven's version of Joy to the World might be one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Amazon Woman?


Each day a new country is on top. It depends on my mood and what I am reading and how tired I am.

The last couple days I have been fixating on Chile. I found nice bus company that offers a hop-on/hop-off service for backpackers that takes them around the country. It looked intriguing.

Today I keep coming back to Brazil and Colombia. Brazil doesn't make a ton of sense because it requires a visa, some shots and Portuguese. I've wanted to go to Colombia for a long time and still stand by the assessment that it is perfectly safe for travelers, but not everyone seems to agree with me there.  Apparently they haven't seen the videos, other wise they would know el riesgo es que tu queiras quedar (the only risk is wanting to stay).

Anyway, I was listening to Joe Purdy, and probably subconsciously still thinking over Mark Twain's journey from the West coast to the East coast of the US...by boat through Nicaragua (!), when I came across this article: An Amazon Cruise for $17 a Day. Hammock Not Included. How 'bout that for a relaxing adventure?

Vamos a ver...


(And seriously, if you have ideas, send them my way!)


{Photo cred: Seth Kugel for The New York Times)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Now What?

The only bad part about graduating is that everyone wants to know, and feels free to ask, just what exactly you plan on doing with the rest of your life. I might as well just put it out there that I don't know. Character flaw or not, I try not to get too tied down to any super specific plans.

I once read some statistics about how people of my generation no longer have careers. We will end up in, on average, as many as 5 different job changes throughout our lives. Whether or not that is exactly true, I like the sentiment and it makes me feel better about not having some giant life/career goal that I am working towards. Besides, I have always felt that the events/interests/opportunities that have shaped me the most are things that I have rather unexpectedly fallen into. (I mean, who would have thought I would live in Spain? I was the person that always had my Mexican friends help me do my Spanish homework in high school.) Anyway, I also change my mind a lot.

OK, all that to say, I don't know exactly what I will be doing in the future. I don't have details on the big picture. I've got some ideas in the back of my mind, but I'm just going to let them simmer for a while back there.

I do however have some relative plans for the next six months or so. Ever since I started my Master's program (ok, actually even before I started it) I knew that I would need a break when it was finished (and oh-boy do I ever!). I started a travel fund. I ate rice and beans for 3 years, worked sometimes 2 and 3 jobs, and set aside a little sum.

And now it is sabbatical time (alternately known as my pre-tirement or quarter-life crisis). I'm taking the plunge and letting my bank accounts lie fallow.  It's time to rest, and travel, and just live for a bit. I'll figure out the rest later.

Now, my only problem is that I have been so busy and generally too singularly focused on finishing my degree that I have not had much of a chance to even begin planning my trip. Did I mention that I was planning on leaving just after the new year? Oops. So I have spent the last couple days holed up in coffee shops and bookstores trying to plan. I've got some general ideas, but the possibilities are so enticing and endless that I'm swinging back and forth between overwhelming excitement and mini-anxiety attacks. All this to say, if you've got ideas--send them my way! Nothing is (totally) out of the question.

Which is kinda how I like things.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Go West Young (Wo)Man

I never planned to actually go to Abilene, much less make it my home (on and off again) for six and a half years. I swore I would never go to college there and then once I was there I swore if I ever did grad school I would go far, far away. We all see how that turned out. I won't lie though, it wasn't all easy: I spent a large chunk of time hating the place, the Mesquite trees, red dirt and ridiculous wind. Eventually though, I came to like the place. I even miss it when I'm gone. 

This past week I drove out and was busy both catching up and saying goodbye. It's tough cramming a semester's worth of socializing into one week, but I think I was lucky enough to touch base with just about everyone--from classmates and professors to friends, old roommates and former students who are now speaking English and holding down jobs with the best of them. On top of that I got to take in a few Abilene institutions like La Popular for breakfast one morning and The Paramount for their Christmas showing of It's a Wonderful Life. It was good week, so good in fact it even had me considering staying and taking a job there. 

Abilene I tell ya, it sucks ya in. 

I thought it through though, and I know I can't stay. So finally I got to say goodbye to Abilene (maybe) for good. 

A few pictures from the week: 

Driving out I remembered just how amazing west Texas sunsets can be. 



My friends also threw me an "engagement" party.

Thaaanks, guys. 

It was also time for our second annual Christmas cookie decorating party. This year thankfully Krystal made sure Abby didn't steal any of my cookies.  

Krystal's

Mike's 

Mandi's 

Mine

Abby's 
And, Cody's. Which are always a little special.  

Yum! 

Krystal's airplane cookie 

I also found this guy hiding away in my master's hood (which, I wore all weekend by the way). He came into our possession when we all worked in the Williford/Ellis suite at Logsdon. Some undergrad made an extra-credit 3D map of Paul's journeys with this lovely little guy standing in as Paul. Somehow we decided it would be fun to hide it in each other's bags/gas caps/furniture/desks/etc. Apparently it was my turn, but friends beware: I found him before I left town, so there is no telling where he is!

I also got to spend a lot of time with this little lady. 

Overall, it was a great week (even if I didn't make it out before my allergies exploded!). A big thanks to the people who made this week (and the last 6.5 years) great!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Free At Last, Free At Last

This morning I got a text early and panicked thinking it was my alarm. I get a bit antsy because I have a habit of only oversleeping things...when they are vital. Final exams, trains, you get the picture. But I won't lie, once I was up I was too excited to go back to sleep. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. 

Why?

Today was graduation day!!!!!!!!! (As an aside: I have been trying to lay off my addiction to exclamation marks, but when it comes to graduation, they all seem merited!)

This is my third graduation (after high school and undergrad) and I was really thinking it wouldn't be much of a big deal. I even debated, when organizing things for Brussels, over whether I should come all the way back in time to graduate. I figured, if you have graduated once, you don't have any new excitement to look forward to. 

Boy was I wrong. Third time must be a charm, because I was so much more excited about this graduation than either of the others. I got there an hour early and got to see and catch up with some of my favorite Logsdon people. And I won't lie. I was getting a bit cocky. I looked over at the undergrads, having been in their position 3 years ago, and at the others graduating with grad degrees much shorter than the grueling 90 hour Masters of Divinity degree and felt that we somehow deserved our degrees so much more than everyone there. 

Three years people! I could build a moderately sized log cabin with all of the books I have read. I have written more papers than probably 100 average people write in their entire lives. I can (and do) use words like concretize, cogent and hermeneutical in everyday sentences. And I've drunk enough coffee to fill up Lake Superior.

Today has been a long time coming. 

Overall it was fantastic. I got to sit next to one of my favorite feminist friends during the commencement, the speech was good (and brief!), and I couldn't wipe the perma-grin off of my face throughout. My parents and lots of my lovely friends were there to share the moment with me, and I got the chance to say a final thank you to so many of the professors who have tortured taught me so much over the last 3 years. What I thought would never come, did in fact come. And, what I always generally assumed was an oncoming train, turned out to be the light at the end of the tunnel after all. 

And, let me tell you, I am enjoying being in the light!

The Lowden Ladies

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Home

It's always good to be home after you have been gone for a while. There's all the things you have been missing, along with all the things you missed without ever realizing it. It was good to see family, especially my niece and nephew, and it was great to see my church family yesterday. It was good to bask in the sunshine (even if it wasn't 72 like I was hoping for). It was great to go without socks for the first time in 3 months. Nice to walk on carpet.

It was great to drive again, and to laugh with my best friend. And, of course, it was good to eat all the nice things Texas has to offer: a big salad with ranch dressing, fajitas still sizzling on the plate, and the traditional after church lunch of roast with all the fixings (Squash casserole? Fried okra? Oh yes.)

A few other things:

Dr. Pepper

Folgers!

With powdered creamer!


Mmm, and my mom even made homemade biscuits and sausage gravy. 

Needless to say, it is good to be home. Today I am headed out to Abilene to make sure everything is in order for graduation on Saturday. And of course, to take in even more of the things I have been missing!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Week in Review: Au revoir Belgique--Hello Texas

Four different countries, lots of snow, goodbyes and reunions--What a week. Some snippets:

  • My flight to London yesterday was cancelled. The computers needed to rebook us all were broken. Fuuuun. Eventually it got worked out though and 22 hours later I made it back to my house in FW. Hello lovely Texans!
  • With early flights, jet lag, and lingering migraines, consider yourselves warned that I am feeling pretty filter-free at the moment. 
  • British Air rerouted me onto two American flights. Hello downgrade. And BA owes me 50 bucks for the bag American made me pay for. I think they should give me a voucher for the trouble. I'm crossing my fingers...
  • You know what I realized I missed without ever knowing it? Carpet. This morning I was walking around the house and thought, wow this is nice! So warm and soft. 
  • Monday morning my mom and I made our way to the train station and took the Eurostar through the English Channel to spend most of the week in Bath and its surrounding areas. Roman Baths, Georgian squares, Saxon churches from 600 AD, ancient stone circles and Christmas markets. It was a fun trip. 
  • Mom left from London and I was going to take the train back through the channel to Brussels. Except my train was cancelled due to snow. They decided to rebook everyone who had train tickets for the whole day on a first come, first serve basis. The line stretched from one side of the train station to the complete other side--but I did make it on the last train to Brussels. Snow in Bath, snow in London, snow in France, and when I got to Brussels? Snow. 
  • Yesterday when I landed in Chicago? Snow. 
  • A long train ride is the best way to think. 
  • When I took the metro home from the train station I was almost relieved to be surrounded by all Arabs. There are so many white people in England that it is almost unsettling. 
  • The day we went to Stonehenge we had the place almost entirely to ourselves, which was fantastic. Except for the fact that it was FRIGID. With the wind coming through I am pretty positive it is the coldest I have ever been in my life. 
  • Today it was great to go to church in English. I would usually try to sing along rather futilly with the French and then just hum my way through the Arabic (except when we sang the "lalala" song...) so it was nice to sing in English today. 
  • I won't lie though--3:30 PM still seems like a much better time for church than having it in the morning. Also, can we get on the Moroccan tea before church bandwagon?
  • Did everyone give their kids steroids while I was gone? It was only 3 months, why are all these kids so big?
  • I also didn't remember everyone having such strong accents. 
  • I had fajitas last night and they were tasty! And I drove for the first time in 3 months! 
  • Time to for the cap and gown in 6 days. Whoop!
  • Also, now that I have a little time and some stable internet, I'll try to get up some pictures and catch up on all the fun stuff I've been seeing/doing. 
The end. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Just a few things...

A) I am in Bath, England! It's beautiful. But FREEZING. Literally.

B) It feels really strange to be back in an English speaking country. For one thing, I feel all self conscious that everyone can understand what I am saying when talking in a crowd/on the bus/etc. And then there is the part where I throw out a bit of French or Arabic and no one gets it. But on the other hand, it is a great feeling--I understand everything! (well...almost everything--the accent is beautiful, but throws me off a bit) And no one makes me feel like an idiot for not understanding.

But, maybe just a little, I miss that feeling?

C) Adjusting back to Texas might be a bit rough. Prepare yourselves to hear me say voilà and ooh-la-la repeatedly.

D) The fact that it should be 72 (more than 4 times tonight's low) on Saturday when I get back to DFW should soothe my pain.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Week in Review: Week 12

Ah, my final week in review from Belgium! But, I'm soo tired, so just a quick overview (when I get home, I promise to fill you all in):

  • My mom is here! We've had a tour around the "Belgian" part of Brussels along with the "Moroccan" part of Brussels, along with a day trip out to Bruges. Good times. 
  • Thanksgiving was this week--so much to be thankful for! Especially for green bean casserole. 
  • Tuesday we had a potluck/thanksgiving/end of course celebration in conversation. We had a nice mixture of Moroccan, African, Polish and American dishes. My students ended up staying hours late and it was a good time over all. 
  • 2 of my students (the twins) gifted me a USB powered salt-rock lamp. The most random gift I have received, but awesome nonetheless. 
  • Tomorrow we are headed to England! Yay for English!
  • After all that complaining about French, the last few days I have realized just how much I have picked up over the last 3 months. Considering I came with little more than Bon jour and je t'aime I guess its not too bad.
  • Today at church I said goodbye to a lot of people. I am not a huge fan of the goodbyes. 
  • I might have to come back in March for our neighbor's wedding...
  • I love our neighbors. 
  • The Belgian Christmas market is up! So pretty!
  • It has turned very, very cold. It's supposed to be -10 sometime next week. Tomorrow has a low of 18 degrees. That makes coming back to Texas all the more enticing. 
  • I will be home on Saturday! Bring on the Mexican food and sunshine!
  • Our neighbors made us a Moroccan tea tonight that contained absinthe--the plant, not the liquor. It may or may not have contained a drug. 
The end. I'll catch you all up later!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fall

Fall, the verb, is decidedly not a favorite of mine. But fall the noun? As in the season? That one is a favorite.









(Blurry, but look! Bunnies!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week in Review: Week 11

It's the next to last Week in Review from Belgium! Here goes:

  • Here's the count: 13 straight days of headaches, 8 full days of migraines. I've officially turned into a vampire. I'm ready to get off the migraine-train. 
  • The painkillers are leaving me relatively "filter"-free. It almost seems appropriate for this time of the semester. 
  • Speaking of...I FINISHED ALL MY COURSEWORK. I'll bring back my evaluation and then walk myself across the stage at graduation. Man, this has been a long time coming. 
  • I think I've gotten dumber, not smarter, but I won't be opposed to you all calling me Master Brewer. 
  • I've enjoyed helping take care of Phoebe this week, but it also makes me miss my little girls in Texas. I can't wait to see Madeline and Emma and see how much they have changed over the last 3 months!
  • English classes have also been wrapped up. I have to put the finishing touches on the exams for levels one and two and then give them tomorrow evening. They will come for their grades and certificates on Wednesday. Tuesday we are having a potluck/Thanksgiving celebration in my conversation class. It should be interesting to see what kind of food my students turn up with. 
  • With just 2 weeks left I officially gave myself permission to think about Mexican food and Dr. Pepper. 
  • This last Tuesday was the Fête du Mouton, which is one of the biggest holidays in Islam. Families get together to sacrifice and eat a sheep in honor of God providing a sheep to sacrifice instead of Abraham's son (Isaac for Christians, Ishmael for Muslims). Part of the holiday includes sharing the meat with friends and the poor. Our neighbors said they would send over their son with some of the lamb, which turned out to be an entire raw leg of lamb. 
  • I rode back to Brussels from the neurologist Wednesday with a family from the church who had gone to the hospital to visit Phoebe. The husband is Egyptian, the wife is Syrian. They have two adorable little hellians. He exhibited the best steering wheel drumming I have ever seen. (He drums at the church and was a professional back in Egypt.) They ended up taking me home with them for a while and fed me mashi (sp?)--little stuffed grape leaves. Very, very tasty. Also, I realized after almost 3 months that the husband speaks English! Who knew...
  • I cannot say enough for the Flemish Belgian healthcare system. Everyone was ridiculously nice, almost everyone spoke English, and they all went out of their way to be helpful--the neurologist even game me his personal email should I need more information or help filing on my US insurance.  
  • The amount I paid to go to the ER, have a CT scan, an appointment with the neurologist and an EEG with no outside insurance? 108.22 euro. Let's all say it together--government healthcare is not the end of the world. 
And, that's all. It has been a long week, but when I look back, most of what I remember is just cooking, cleaning and sitting in a dark room as much as possible. Maybe I'll remember some of the more interesting tidbits later!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Moussaka Bi Zeit


So while the last week has not been full of triumphal moments, I did have a strong showing in at least one area. As I attempted to get in touch with my Southern roots and cook up some casseroles, I decided to branch out a bit. Janee has a good Lebanese/Syrian cookbook and I found a recipe for Moussaka that I wanted to try. (As an aside, Lebanese and Syrian food is almost exactly the same. Hary says that even if the people are Syrian, they market the food as Lebanese because Lebanese food is more well known.)


Lebanese Moussaka is not the same as its Greek incarnation--there's no cheese or potatoes. Hary does tell me that there are different kinds of Moussaka. Moussaka Bi Zeit, or Moussaka with oil, is what I made and it is a vegetarian variety. Making it is pretty straight forward: you peel, slice and fry a few eggplants, add a layer of chickpeas, then top it with a mixture of sautéed onions, garlic and tomatoes which have been simmered together. To finish it off you top it with a layer of sliced up tomatoes, and then bake it. It can be eaten cold, but we ate it hot with rice.



I hadn't realize that Hary was coming back to the house the day I made it, but he was really excited when I told him what I had made. I was a bit worried for him to try it because it was my first go at moussaka, and I hadn't even tried it myself, but I am happy to say he liked it. Now honestly this isn't saying much because I have been around long enough to know that Hary will eat just about anything. Yet as the days went by and he kept eating it, meal after meal, I started to believe him. And the highest praise of all? He said it tasted just like an Arab woman made it.


Triumph indeed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

ER Adventures

So not long ago I ended up on a date with the Syrian Mr. Collins. This week? It was a date with the neurologist.

I should have never mentioned that the culture here reminded me of a Jane Austen novel. First the whole Mr. Collins thing, and then I also unwittingly acted out a scene from Persuasion. In the need of a brief novel to give my brain a break, I picked up Persuasion off of Janee's bookshelf. My mom and I are going to Bath in a couple of weeks, so I thought it would be a nice read. I hadn't realized a large portion of the plot revolved around one of the girls falling and knocking herself unconscious. I might would have avoided the book otherwise.

Anyway, we all know what I then preceded to do--I fell down the stairs and banged the back of my head into the concrete wall. That's nothing new though, I told you about that last week. Everyone kept insisting that I go get my head checked, but I refused. It wasn't that big of a deal. By Sunday though, I was feeling worse instead of better. The headaches were getting stronger, so much so that I thought I might pass out during church on Sunday. My vision was getting a little blurry and I was feeling dizzier than normal.

I started to rethink the idea of going to the doctor. (I've seen way too many medical shows where someone dies of an aneurysm all because they didnt go get their headaches checked out.) The system is a bit different here, so Janee suggested I go to the ER. At this point they were still at the hospital in the next town over, so I hitched a ride there with a couple from our church. After a 10 minute wait (!) I was back in the ER getting checked out, and then got to do one of my least favorite things--a CT scan. Thankfully it came back in the clear but the doctor scheduled me an appointment with the neurologist for an EEG the next day.

Really Lauren? I don't know how I get myself into these things.

The EEG in itself was an odd experience. She started taping probes on my wrists and ears and then pulled out a giant syringe. I panicked--nobody had mentioned injections! Thankfully it was just to squirt gel. She then pulled a cap with about 87 wires attached onto my head and started filling all the little holes in the cap with the gel. (Which I am still trying to wash you of my hair...) Once the test started it was a lot of open your eyes, close them, breathe through your mouth, breathe through your nose, and then a lot of try not to go into a seizure as we blink all kinds of colored lights in your face.

Anyway, I finally got to see the neurologist, who was incredibly nice. After doing a couple dozen little tests (and him squeezing the bruise on my foot!) he showed me my CT and EEG results. All in the clear. (Hamdula) He said since I have had migraines before it is probable that the trauma has triggered them. He said that Post Concussion Syndrome can explain all of my symptoms, and that it could last a week or two or a month or two (lets all pray for weeks not months!).

In the end he prescribed me some good painkillers (which I should probably mention I am taking at the moment...so if none of this makes sense, now we know why), we chatted about healthcare and Belgian and US politics, and he mentioned that if life were like Grey's Anatomy that by that time I "would have been whisked away to the OR for brain surgery with McDreamy." He then followed it up with "or whatever his name is." But it was too late, he was caught.

So in the end, it has been a long, strange week. My head feels like someone is massaging my brain with brass knuckles. But on the upside, they gave me my CT scan on a CD. How cool is that? And while I lament my ability to do the most ridiculous things, I figure everyone who's traveled to Brussels has seen the Grand Place and the Atomium. But how many have seen the inside of the neurology department?

That's right, probably just me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Picking Up The Slack

Janee and Phoebe will be in the hospital until Thursday, and Hary has been back and forth between here and the hospital (which is in the next town over). I've been trying to pick up the slack around the house, which has meant mostly some cooking and cleaning (and like I mentioned, a lot of TAL podcasts!).

I made a list of goods I wanted from the store and headed off. While looking through the shelves, guess what I found?


Tortilla de patatas! Now the price on this bad boy was significantly steeper than the big ones we used to buy in Spain, but considering it taste just like I remember and didn't involve me frying potatoes all afternoon, I was sold. This sent me down Memory-of-food-I-ate-in-Spain Lane which caused me to remember (how could I forget?) that I bought this when we day-tripped to Germany:


That's right, Salsa de Pina y Curry! (Which also cost me an ojo de la cara, but who cares!) I will be eternally thankful to Kate for introducing me to what is definitely my all-time favorite salad. It consists of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), white beans, red bell pepper and avocado mixed together with a pineapple curry sauce. Eaten with potato chips it will change your life. Yum.

So here I present you, the best lunch a girl could ask for:


More on my the rest of my cooking adventures later.