February 5, 2016

Homesickness is Its Own Kind of Grief

Last night, after walking home from the grocery store with our grandma-style rolling cart and canvas bags, I sat on the floor of my kitchen and cried.

There is so little space that we can use in the kitchen; while I'm used to it now, I still don't like it one bit. I was in there trying to put things away for over an hour, playing tetris with cans and boxes and ziploc bags of sliced bread, chopping up fresh meat and produce to put into bags because they wouldn't fit in the fridge in their original packaging.

So I sat on the floor trying to find places for the items we purchased because that's the only way I can get to my pantry and keep it organized. I sat on the floor trying not to think about how frustrating it is, trying not to think about all the work I still had to do in order to fit the two eggplants and two heads of broccoli onto our one tiny shelf in the fridge.

Spotify was playing on my phone (oh, how I miss my Pandora stations), and a song came on that I had never heard, or at least that I don't remember hearing. I listened to it, sitting on that cold tile floor with the crackers and biscuits by my side that needed to come to the bedroom because there was no place for them in the kitchen. I listened to the song, to the words, to the music, and it resonated with me. So I sat on the kitchen floor and cried.

[The Head and the Heart - "Rivers and Roads"]

My husband came home later. I had cried to him in the kitchen before he left. I had cried on the kitchen floor when he was gone. And then he sat on our bedroom floor and I sat on the one chair in our room and cried to him there. Again.

"I just want to go home," I said.

The truth is, I have been super duper homesick as of late. It comes in and out like the tide of the sea, tossing me to and fro one minute, letting me sit in solitude on this lonely shore the next. December was good. The first few weeks of January were good. And then it started creeping in once more.

There have been days when I have just cried and cried. There have been other days when I mask my feelings by trying to get things accomplished. And then there are days still when I am genuinely happy and love living here. The latter have just been fewer and farther between lately.

The little things have been bothering me recently. I could write out a list of the things that I hate. I did, actually, but I won't put it here. But it's there, filled with little things and big things alike. The little things trigger the tears, because the big things I somehow have the wherewithal to bury six feet under, deep enough that they won't be revealed by scratching at the surface. But those shallow things, they creep up out of the ground and they get to me - and they get to me quickly.

There are a few things, though, that I can't just let sit there and pretend like they don't exist. Because they do. They're not specific to our place of residence, though; they're just realities of moving abroad.

Feeling so far removed from everything and everyone back home. You miss a lot when you move abroad. You miss out on the good things - friends having babies, family visits, church events. You can't be there for the bad things, either - like when your grandparents go into the hospital or when a friend is in need. And the little things don't exist. No dropping by someone's house or running into someone you know, no spontaneous "hey, want to hang out?" sessions. You're removed from all of that at home, and it doesn't really exist in your new home. Not yet.

Not having a purpose for my every day. Patrick has a purpose here, and that gives him some sense of assurance, of belonging. I envy that. Teaching gave me purpose. School gave me purpose. Nannying and our church and my people gave my purpose. I don't have that here. Not yet.

Feeling as though I am stuck in the middle with no real place. I belong neither here nor there. And that's tough.

(For the record, spending my day by reading or working from home does not give me a daily purpose or sense of fulfillment... it's simply filling my time. Not the same thing for me. So please spare me the "do this" or "volunteer for that" comments. I've heard them all by this point.)

Our British friends give me a lot of flack for hating on Birmingham so much on my blog (really, they give it to Patrick because they see him; I just hear about it). I'm sure they're partially kidding, but there's some truth to what they say, so I don't blame them. There are some really, really great things about living here. I'm working on tons of posts about all of the adventures we've had since moving abroad. Seriously, tons of posts - there are 10 in the works, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. I even have a post in the works about all the things I love about living here, because there are enough to fill an entire post. But there's also a post about the things I miss the most. You know why? Because even though I enjoy a lot of things in England and, yes, even in Birmingham, there are still a lot of things that I miss about home.

Basically, even five months in, homesickness can still be an issue. There are days when I am genuinely happy and content. Then there are days when all I want to do is go back - to my people, my fur baby, my things, my country, my home. But there is no sense in that, is there? Still, it's real and I have to work through it. Homesickness is its own kind of grief, and I'm mourning the loss of the life I once lived and loved.

February 2, 2016

To Age or Not to Age? // Thoughts on Aging Gracefully

This morning, I found a legit silver hair attached to my head (surely it doesn't belong to me?). I promptly removed said hair for further investigation. Yep. Definitely silver.

The concept of aging - and aging gracefully - has been on my mind quite a bit as of late. I suppose that just comes with the territory of being in your late-twenties. Ever since we moved, I've had to completely forego my normal beauty routine and confront my thoughts about the products and services I used in the past. Currently, my skin is becoming thinner and more wrinkles are showing up, and the roots of my hair are more than evident. No hair tools, no hair cuts, and no hair coloring means I'm forced to keep my long, thick, rather unruly locks au natural. The trial-and-error of new skin products paired with my skin reacting weirdly to the cold and damp climate has been an uber pain. But it is what it is - there's no sense denying it or being upset about it. Just have to roll with it.

Finding that silver hair gave me mixed emotions, but I kind of wish that I hadn't pulled it out at all. It's sort of beautiful. Really. But it got me thinking again. How do I want to age, or do I want to age at all?

As a born-and-raised member of modern American culture and Western civilization, long have I been inundated with words and images about what makes beauty. There is a massive amount of pressure put on young adults - even children - to be beautiful, and it plagues both men and women alike. Of course, you know the general idea is that you must do as much as possible to look as thin and as young as possible for as long as possible; you must also spend your hard-earned money (or purchase on credit) products and services that will make you magazine-worthy, or as close as you'll ever get to it. Healthy lifestyle choices, diet/eating fads, and the push to get outdoors are as preached as ever from the pulpits of both politicians and social media alike; fit is beautiful.

(For the record, I'm all for eating healthily and making good choices for your body... and I say that as I sit at my desk and shove half a bag of sea salt & balsamic vinegar kettle chips down my throat.)

In short, your life must forever be centered around making yourself as healthy, fit, beautiful, and young as you can for as long as you live. How exhausting.

But here's the "beautiful" catch: you're not allowed to age. You should look like you're in your 20s or early 30s in order to be deemed successful. You're getting up there in age, you say? Well, don't tell me how old you really are, and don't show the world how old you look.

If you start to put on a little bit of weight, it's definitely not the work of your slowing metabolism; you didn't focus on your food or exercise habits like you should have. If your skin isn't flawless, you're not wearing the right makeup and you haven't been using the correct anti-aging skin products. If you have wrinkles, you spent too much time in the sun without the proper amount/strength of sunscreen - shame on you. If your hairs go gray or the color starts to fade, you have to dye it - and now. Your figure, face, and health are not perfect? That means you didn't try hard enough; that means you're not good enough.

Sorry, I'm not buying it. And I'm definitely not subscribing to that edict, either.

Heaven forbid you look your age. Heaven forbid you be human.

The fact is, we as a society place little-to-no value on the beauty of aging. Other cultures revere its elderly citizens because they are wise, have lived long and full lives, have knowledge and understanding and compassion that we lack. Modern Western civilization, and America in particular, pushes for the beauty of youth and the lie of perfection. We're a culture that focuses on achieving the ideal in every sense of the word, and there's a lot that is lost when that happens.

There's a sort of beauty that comes from those wrinkles, those scars, those imperfections that make a person unique. Instead of seeking to highlight the existing beauty in a person, we demand that they change everything that isn't up to par and ignore the beauty that is already there. We do this in so many different areas, too - not just exterior beauty. No wonder there is so much emptiness and hurt in our culture.

Heck, we can't even allow the youth to be their age. More now than ever, the young ladies and gentlemen in our society are pressured to grow up extremely early, to look older and more mature younger than ever. The world of social media, of glamorized reality television and YouTube tutorials, has shown them how to look and act like they're in their 20s before they've even learned how to drive or apply for their first job. If they take major stock in that stuff, we're in a little bit of trouble. I saw it every single day as a teacher. I can't help but look back to my own high school years and compare, but good heavens - none of us looked like we were anywhere close to approaching adulthood... nor should we have. We still looked young and slightly awkward. Not these kids; they're freaking stunning. Half of my sophomore girls looked like they could be mistaken for a college student when they couldn't even drive, which absolutely terrifies me on the safety/sexual predator front. So they're supposed to look like they're in their 20s as soon as possible, and then they're supposed to stay looking that way for as long as possible.

Why can't teenagers just look like teenagers? What's so wrong with that?

What's so bad about looking your age?

I'm smack dab in the middle of my 28th year.
I've been blessed with really good genes in the face-aging area (I'll say nothing for now about the metabolism and McIver-woman figure I received).
I'm also relatively short at 5 feet, 4.5 inches (although I have a sneaky suspicion that I might be slowly shrinking).

For what seems like forever, I've had to combat my age. I've always looked young, and it has bothered me for years. While I have always considered myself to be mature for my age (thankfully that gap is closing - hallelujah for adulthood!), I looked far younger than I acted or felt. People telling me all the time that I don't look as old as I am got... well, it got old.

And now I'm starting to look my age. It's a weird reality, but I'm trying to embrace it. I've longed for my 30th birthday because this late-twenties thing is just strange. You're technically in your twenties. That sounds so young, but you are miles away from the person you were when you were 21. But the social stigma of arriving at a new decade can kind of get at you if you aren't ready to push against it.

Like I mentioned earlier, moving has impacted my beauty routine quite a bit. I've taken this weird phase in my life to try an experiment - I plan on letting my roots grow out completely and seeing what my hair actually looks like. People always ask me what my natural color is. While I say that it's an ashy version of my current color, I don't really know for certain. I've dyed my hair since I was a sophomore in high school. I've dyed it for twelve years. I'm also trying to wear less makeup - less foundation, less eyeliner, less eyeshadow, less everything. It takes a long time to apply, it's expensive, lots of makeup doesn't look good on wrinkles, and it makes me feel frumpy when I've minimized my makeup, or terribly ugly when I don't have it on at all. That's not how I want to view myself.

Let me say this: there is nothing wrong with wearing makeup or dying your hair. Hello, I've been doing it for everrrrrrrr, and it was awesome. It's just that I look up to women who don't subscribe to the ways of our fickle society and its ideas about beauty, who find their worth in more than what is on their external surfaces. I want to be more like that. More authentically myself.

As weird as this sounds, I've thought about how I want to look when I get older, and I have to say that my mom (and essentially her mother and grandmother) serves as my example. She has always been a bit of a tomboy and has never subscribed to the idea that she must look a certain way in order to be happy and successful. Thank goodness.

When you don't allow yourself to age gracefully, there are all sorts of weird issues that come up that shouldn't really be issues - that didn't used to be issues. We're supposed to try super hard to look as young as we can for as long as we can because that's what society says is best. Then, one day, we are magically transformed into an old woman with gray hair and wrinkles and a walker because we're actually ancient. How in the world is one supposed to age gracefully when you're focused on not growing old at all?

What I don't want to happen is this: I do not want to dye my hair for the rest of my life; I do not want to take my dyed hair and transition it into gray; I do not want to get frustrated about my foundation caking in my wrinkles and desperately bother women who work at cosmetic counters to fix my problem; I do not want to struggle with finding my beauty as I age (more than I already will) because I haven't allowed myself to embrace those changes and age gracefully.

As a woman who hopes to have children one day, I want to start working on this part of my life now, for so many reasons

I want to see myself as beautiful when I look in the mirror with a toddler in my arms, bags under my eyes, hair a mess on my head, and makeup nowhere on my face.

I want to see the hair on my head the way it was meant to be, to see those salt and pepper slivers and regard them as badges of days well-lived and stressful times I've overcome.

I want to look at the lines on my face and know that oodles of joy and laughter went into making those.

I want to look at my daughters and nieces and tell them that they are beautiful and they don't have to be artificial to prove it. Nothing they can add or take away will change that. Their worth comes from their creator, and they will never value themselves if they do not first know and believe that they are truly valued.

I want those precious girls to look at me and know that I mean it because I live it.

I want my daughters to experience the joy of getting all dolled up now and then, to experience that extra bounce in their step for those special occasions. There's something uniquely energizing about that, but it doesn't happen if you're dressed/made up to the nines every day.

I want my daughters to focus on fashioning their character, on improving their minds, on being terrifyingly beautiful souls.

I want my daughters to view other women as beautiful and be able to tell them so. There's not enough of that in our world. Too much of our womanhood is focused on competing with and putting down other women, and I don't want them to think that's okay.

I want my sons and nephews to see that women are beautiful when they are authentically and uniquely themselves, that the allure of superficial beauty is shallow and short-lived.

I want those boys to see that women are beautiful. Period. Not a piece of meat, not a work of art, not a prize to be won, not a conquest to be achieved, not a child bearer, not a house keeper, not a slave to man and society at large to be disposed of when they've lost their lustre. They are beautiful human beings with beautiful souls to match.

I want my boys to one day seek a woman who runs after and puts stock into the important things in life, not the superficial and the fleeting.

I want to embrace my age, no matter the number. I've worked hard and endured many things to get to this point, and for that I am not ashamed. The Lord has blessed me with life and I want to take joy in that - it is not a blessing to be taken for granted.

I want to embrace beauty in all its stages. In all my ages. It all its different forms.

January 28, 2016

New Beginnings as Brummies

Alright, so it has been a while since I've talked about how we got here - to Birmingham. I can't very well tell you about all of the wonderful experiences we've had since arriving here without actually telling about this not-so-fun part because that's just not real life. The truth is that it was an extremely difficult transition in a lot of ways, and it all started the morning we left for good ol' Brum.

After experiencing some of the marvels of London, reality was beginning to set in - and, with it, my anxiety. That was not helped in any way, shape, or form by the fact that the trek to our new home was a new level of awful. But first we had to eat breakfast, check out of the hotel, and get to the train station via the tube.

Never, ever, ever try to move to a new city with all your belongings in massive suitcases via public transportation in the middle of morning rush hour. 

We didn't really know how crowded the tube was going to be, we didn't know that certain tube lines were more crowded than others, and we didn't know how the train system worked with all those bloody tickets and receipts that look like tickets. Add tripping over other people, lugging around 50-pound suitcases, exhaustion, claustrophobia, anxiety, being THISCLOSE to having the tube doors slam shut on you more than once, rude people glaring at you because you're taking up too much room or you accidentally stepped on their foot, running to catch the train only to realize that you got on the wrong coach just to get off (with said suitcases) and run down to the other end (because you didn't know that you could walk through the coaches)... ugh. This is why I never wanted to write this post. That morning was hell. Absolute hell. I can't even write about it in one sitting - I had to leave the computer for a solid ten minutes and come back. It was so awful. Just thinking about my hyperventilating while running for my train makes my chest tight.

I mostly kept myself together on the train from London to Birmingham without going into complete meltdown mode. We arrived at our destination and hopped into a cab because, let's be real, we had no idea what we were doing or where to go. The drive was a bit longer than I expected and the drivers were crazy as heck, but we got to our hotel in once piece.

The husband and wife who ran this hotel were extremely nice and very helpful, but everything was still a bit of a shock to me. The city looked nothing like I expected, we had no real place to live yet (that is a completely different story that unfolded into more drama later, much to my dismay and despair), it was noisy and dirty everywhere I looked, nothing was familiar, the list goes on and on. I was completely exhausted and 100% overwhelmed. The past few hours had pushed me to my limit, and I was about to break into a hundred different pieces.

All I really remember was sitting on the bed with my mom and Patrick across the room as they were trying to decide where to go. They knew that I needed to be distracted, but I recall being asked one too many questions and I just lost it - I completely broke down. Sobbing, gasping for breath - the works. That was the first time I actually cried about the whole moving abroad thing, the first time I truly let my emotions show exactly how I felt, and it was obvious that I had been bottling it in (something I try not to do on a normal basis). I had brought leftover valium with me from my dental appointments a few weeks prior (I'm telling you, anxiety sucks), so my mom convinced me to take one; eventually, I calmed down enough for us to go out for a bit. I'm pretty sure we took a bus back into city centre (things are a little bit fuzzy for obvious reasons), but we got there somehow and explored a bit of our new home - complete with canals, bridges, lots of brick, beautiful old buildings, Victoria Square, the Bull Ring, Selfridges, the works. The pretty parts of the city.

(This last photo is not from that same day, but it's one of my favorites... so there you have it.)

We had our room booked at that hotel through Monday morning when my mom was scheduled to leave for her plane back to the States. The next day, my mom and I were heading on a train to Wales in order to catch the ferry over to Dublin for about 36 hours. Boy, was that a whirlwind trip! But it was definitely one to remember - in a good way, of course.

Over the past few months, we've settled into our new home. City living is so not my thing, but it is what it is. It isn't all bad; it just isn't my cup of tea (haaaaa haaa... tea... in England). Our roommates are wonderful, we're close to so many things, and living in city centre means that I can occasionally see Patrick during a break in the middle of his day, which is extremely nice. Popping into the college now and then means that I get to see some lovely faces as well, which is always a plus. That being said, I love getting out of the city far more than I love coming back in, but you can't always have it all, can you?

And, without further adieu, here's a little tour of our flat and the area of Birmingham in which we live! The video won't be listed as public on my YouTube channel forever (I'm a little bit paranoid), but I'm going to just hope that no crazy stalkers find this video before I make it private. ;) Enjoy, and be sure to let me know what you think!