Monthly Archives: October 2013

Pumpkin Carving

Usually I’m a Cinderella/fairytale/rascal pumpkin kind of girl. I like the magical harvest look more than the Halloween look.

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But this year, thanks to my cousins,  Lewis and I made a valiant attempt at having a jack-o-lantern on our porch. Jack-o-lantern may be a deceptive term. Why would we do something traditional, when we can have “that pumpkin.”

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I love my cousins. I love having people in my family with whom I can share faith, family lore, and traditions. Like pumpkin carving. If you could look back at the Stolhandske/Dahlberg family home videos you would year after year of intense little boys laying into the piñatas with perfect batting stances and determined grimaces.

When I hear that we’re having a “pumpkin carving contest,” that’s the image that pops up in my mind. A colorful paper-mache star swinging wildly while parents clear the other kids from the vacinity.

Fortunately my cousins married the right women.

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After a lovely evening of backstrap, beer, and strategy…

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There was cleverness to go around, and Lewis’s brilliant move of using a drill to create an avant garde design, a la West Elm, was a hit. It was not however, structurally sound, and we may have done too thorough a job, scraping out the innards.

This picture does not do justice to Lennox (who later had a tiny pumpkin named Leroy in his mouth) or Jack, whose nose was the pumpkin stem.

This picture does not do justice to Lennox, who later had a tiny pumpkin named Leroy in his mouth; or Jack, whose nose was the pumpkin stem.

The pumpkin lived on our porch for exactly 12 days, slowly deteriorating into something truly ghoulish. So Happy Halloween, jack-o-lantern. Thanks for hanging in there. I’ll put you out of your misery tomorrow.

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Something New and Good: Baby

So…three years of marriage, and still I have not experienced the bloodbath I’d been afraid of before I got married. Lewis and I have yet to go to bed angry. I’ve never wished he would just go away. I’m not bragging. I’m the girl who had a panic attack two weeks before her wedding because she was afraid that marriage was going to be a 50+ year battle with untold casualties. No bragging rights here.

I’m saying that marriage has been wonderful beyond my expectations.

But now…a baby on the way. And the voices are back, telling me life is about to get really, really hard. So many were these voices that I put off getting pregnant for as long as I could without pushing poor Lewis over the edge. We are happy. We have balance…why upset it? Why invite what, according to a lot of people I know, is the most emotionally draining and difficult thing they have ever done?

Because it’s time to believe that God makes all things new.

People love to tell you how you’re going to mess up your kids, just like your parents messed you up. They like to tell you how you bring all of your baggage into parenting. They want it to be freeing, to tell you that you don’t have to be perfect, because nobody is perfect. They want it to remind you that you need grace as a parent.

I get that, and I appreciate it.

And it’s true that we’re born sinners. Sure thing.  Got it. My children will not be perfect. I will not be perfect.

BUT, here’s the deal: New life. What could be more of a picture of God’s grace that is new every morning than an actual. NEW. LIFE.

This baby will not come out cynical and jaded. She will not have years of baggage yet. She will be fresh and new, and her experience of the world, the church, and family will be her very own.

This baby, to me, is a celebration of hope. When I feel like so much has been ruined or twisted or corrupted, an entire new person will exist in the world who knows nothing of that. And maybe she will experience her own pains, but she will also have her own joys and see God’s faithfulness to her in her own life.

I’m sure that when she’s two and rolling on the floor screaming…or thirteen and rolling on the floor screaming, I will be glad for the wisdom that prepared me for her humanity. I’m sure I will be glad that someone warned me that I can’t be the perfect parent. Lewis and I are both first children, and we’re having our first child. We will win the award for most neurotic house on the block.

BUT, that is not what sets me free. That is not what makes me feel new and good. What gives me hope is that God makes all things new. And there is something new happening here (between my abs and my bladder) and it has the potential to be good. Not the kind of good that doesn’t need Jesus, but the kind of good that brings him glory. This little girl has her own story, and Jesus loves her. And I have every reason to believe that her difficult toddler/teenage years are nothing in comparison to the person God is already making her to be.

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“Sometimes It’s Best to Lie”: Poetry for the Young Realist

Dear World,

Please please please don’t take this little poem too seriously…I really really really don’t intend to start a conversation on how it’s never best to lie, how you would tell the truth even if it hurt someone in the short term, the exact nature of a lie, etc. It’s just some late night musings on the times when you realize that, “yes, the whole polite world expects me NOT to say exactly what I’m thinking at this moment.”

Of course, if you are now wondering if you are the extended family, neighbor, or friend who was lied to, the answer is most certainly, “of course not.”

Sincerely,

Bekah

Sometimes It’s Best to Lie

I.

You’ve always learned to tell the truth,

And surly you must try.

But sometimes to be kind or couth

You have to tell a lie.

Don’t ever lie to save your skin.

Don’t lie to hurt another.

A lie is not the way to win,

It’s a way to love your brother.

II.

When your sibling’s choice couture

Be it dress or tie

Makes them look like furniture

Sometimes it’s best to lie,

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III.

When dear granny’s getting old

And she forgets your size

Her gifts may smell of cats and mold.

You’ll have to tell some lies.

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IV.

When your host has burnt the beef

Or undercooked the pie

There’s no need to cause him grief.

Just tell a gracious lie.

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V.

When your buddy’s lost a game

You know how hard he tried

The brutal truth would cause him shame

You’ll be glad you lied.

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VI.

When great-auntie buys you junk

That makes you wonder, “Why???”

Don’t act like an ungrateful punk

Just suck it up and lie.

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VII.

When sharing cold hard facts of life

It’s easy to be jaded.

But when your thoughts could stir up strife

They may be better shaded.

Though few would outright tell you this,

They would say be polite

But manners, tact, and thoughtfulness

Are knowing when to lie.

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Autumnals and Anniversaries Part 2 – Sicily

Usually mine and Lewis’s vacations are less like a relaxing getaway and more like well-structured 240-hour game show to see how much we can possibly hike, eat, swim, explore and experience before a buzzer goes off and we’re sent home.

We like to go places we haven’t gone before. Which means we’re on a mission to see as much as we can before we leave.

But this time, we were tired. Work had run us both ragged and I was spacey and tired from all the baby growing I’ve been doing. So we were looking to really VACATE. We wanted to sleep in, go slow, and make very few decisions of importance.

So where better than Sicily, where our main objective was to spend quality time with our friends the Garber family? We took in some sights, hiked around a little on Mt. Etna, and ate some gelato (and discovered granita, which is even better!) but the pressure was off, because the whole point of choosing Sicily was to see our friends, and that mission was well-accomplished. We even got in a game of Settlers of Catan.

These are the Garbers. Gil is in the stroller.

These are the Garbers. Gil is in the stroller.

Some highlights:

Hiking on Mt. Etna with Elliott. The volcanic tuff trails and evergreens winding up the side of the volcano seem a world away from the olive groves of the Sicilian countryside. And with the fog rolling in, the whole place felt almost isolated and private. Even with a merry band of German trekkers right behind us.

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The friends we made in Agrigento, on our two night stay at a quirky little B&B overlooking the Greek ruins.

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Lewis fulfilled a lifelong dream of driving in Europe. And we had all the classic experiences. Driving the wrong way down a oneway street, circling endlessly on the roundabout while we figured out where we wanted to go, and wedging ourselves into the tiniest of tiny spaces. The locals seemed entirely unphased by this. I think that’s what Itallians really have in their favor. In a country where “parking space” refers to any place you leave your car (sidewalk, middle of the road, whatever), people are super laid back about flustered tourists running stop signs and breaking other road “rules.”

The stunning views.

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Scala dei turchi. If ever you find yourself on the Mediterranean, this is really worth a stop. On our entire trip, this was the most spectacular thing I saw.

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Our romantic dinner in Agrigento. It was preceded by a high-stakes parking predicament and followed by a dash through a movie shoot. We stopped and ogled with the crowd as a car full of classic Italian hooligans drove up to a storefront and assumed gangland stance (or at least the Hot Cops version of such) over and over and over. If it was menacing they were going for, they were missing it by a mile. If it was entertaining they were trying to achieve, they hit the nail on the head every time.

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The medieval trumpeters rehearsing outside the Garbers fantastic hillside home across the street from the castle. Yep. You read all of that correctly.

Taormina. A lovely day in a picturesque world.

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The antique market in Catania, which was really more like a citywide garage sale. Becca Garber perused antique toys, and I got some Italian leather shoes for 2 Euro. Happy Leather Anniversary to me! I also enjoyed the chaos and junk tables slowly close in around Lewis until I could tell that even if we’d stumbled upon a work of early Renaissance high art, he would not have been able to see it for all the rotary phone parts and doll clothes.

Gil and Lena Garber. Lena won over “That Man” to the world of little girls. Good thing too…

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Autumnals and Anniversaries Part 1 – London

I’ve taken an “autumnal” trip for the last six years. I was 23 when I first escaped the lack-luster Texas fall for the brilliance of the Berkshires and the company of my best friend.  The next year it was Washington DC. Then Tennessee. In those first three years, more than one person snickered at my annual getaway, another of my indulgent little habits.

I have a lot of indulgent little habits, apparently, and in my early 20’s it was wisdom-chic to tell me that I would not be able to carry on in such fashion forever.

To those who doubted my resolve, I say this: do not underestimate my wanderlust.

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In 2010, I conveniently married Lewis McNeel in October, thus replacing my invented holiday with a tradition even the most strident money-manager will recognize: an anniversary.

This year for our anniversary, which doubled as a babymoon, we decided to take some good friends up on their invitation to visit them in Sicily. Becca, Elliott, Lena, and Gil Garber have been in Sicily for two years (well…Gil’s been there for 8 months, but he’s also been there his whole life). It was high time we paid them a visit.

And you just can’t cross the Atlantic without a good multi-day stopover in the best city in the world, my personal favorite, London. It’s been six years since I left, and I had been dying to show Lewis around (and indulge my own nostalgia).

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And that is how Anniversary #3 (or Autumnal #7, however you see it) came to be.

London was almost exactly as I left it in many ways. In others it was like a whole new city. That’s the secret to London’s success, I think. Curated evolution. New skyscrapers dotted the landscape. The blocks around my former residence on the fringe of Bankside were now startlingly posh. The Olympic Park exists. We visited a new Zaha Hadid designed space in Hyde Park.  And yet…there was the Swan. Covent Garden. Spittalfields. Brick Lane. I was able to give Lewis directions for a running route along the Thames without wondering if the landmarks had changed.

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London’s public transport system still gives me a schoolgirl-like swoon. Sitting on the top front seats of a double decker bus heading west on the Strand, I felt so completely satisfied with life.

There was also the familiar frustration, recalled from deep within my memory, of trying to navigate a city developed as a series of shortcuts and courtyards that eventually became roads. “Grid” was not an Anglo-Saxon idea. However, because the British have a little nugget of genius embedded beneath their stalwart nonchalance, no matter how lost you think you are in London, you are somehow always just around the corner from your destination, magically happening upon the restaurant, shop, or tube station just in the nick of time. (We contrasted this later with Italy, where an apparent total lack of civil engineering means that even when you think you are headed straight for your destination, you are in fact getting further away.)

Of course the most fun new thing I found in London was Lewis’s perspective on it all. Seeing the greatest city in the world with an architect is like going to Napa with a winemaker, or the symphony with a composer. The little treasures that would have been whimsies to me pre-Lewis – like when we stumbled upon Sou Fujimoto’s “Cloud” at the Serpentine Gallery- were moments of real (and well-informed) excitement. The Olympic Park would have been a lovely place to read a book, but with Lewis is was a place to read the park itself.

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When we stepped out of the tube at London Bridge, even an ordinary errand became a sightseeing stop. I was marching around looking for the ticket kiosk, a little disoriented because things were not as I’d left them. Meanwhile Lewis looked up and exclaimed “We’re AT the SHARD!” And so we got to explore while I looked for the kiosk. Which is now quite slick in it’s new Shard cladding.

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I loved sharing old things with him as well. Nando’s, pub food, Borough Market…okay, it was mostly food and shopping. But also just walking though Bankside and seeing it differently because I was not a bleary-eyed grad student in search of wi-fi and warmth. It’s actually a pretty romantic little neighborhood, what with it’s cobblestones and narrow passages. Who knew?

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And jetlag? Not bad when you’ve got someone else awake with you at 2 am.

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All in all, the London leg of the autumnal was a return to Neverland. London was the place where I took a one year hiatus from driving and being committed to things. And to return with Lewis didn’t diminish that magical feeling (as reliving nostalgia usually does), but it added yet ANOTHER layer onto my “I love London” cake.

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