Back in Connecticut it's about a twenty minute drive from my house to Stew Leonard's, touted as the world's largest dairy store. It's quite an experience, with animatronic cows greeting shoppers in the bakery and dancing bananas singing the praises of a fruit-filled diet, all while the masses make their way through the maze of aisles--my personal favorite attraction is the huge wall of pistachios. Just down the road from Stew's, however, a small and markedly more quiet store attracts its own fair share of visitors. Penzey's Spices is set up like a smaller and specialized Stew's, with little showcases of baking and cooking spices and flavors decorating the wood-paneled visage of a small country store, with samples available for scent-tests. One of my favorite stores, I was delighted to find another location in nearby Arlington, MA, and on Saturday my friend Kim and I drove down to visit the storehouse of goodness. We encountered vanilla sugar (and a recipe to make cocoa pancakes), Chili3000:the chili of today!, Chili9000:the chili of tomorrow!, and saffron, which as the most expensive (and hard to harvest) spice available goes for $114.89/quarter of an ounce. After we were satisfied with our purchases (I got "pasta sprinkles" and "hint of mint hot chocolate") we journeyed into Cambridge, settling on a smoothie place to quench our thoughts. Much as I love Gordon, it is nice to be reminded that the world is a very big place, and so very accessible. This was again affirmed on Sunday morning when I went into Boston again with some of the girls on my floor to visit an Orthodox church that one of my girls attends every Sunday. What I've been learning about my relationship with the church is that I do actually love tradition and history, and this church, with icons of saints of the faith decorating the walls and a service based so closely on the eucharist, was a beautiful witness to the enduring faith of the servants of God. I also love cities, and to worship with such a diverse group of people all incredibly accommodating of the strangers who didn't know any of the melodies to the prayers made me so happy to live within such easy access of a close-knit community of people who love God.
Not that I'm unable to find that here at school; my roommate and I just got back from a Ben & Jerry's run, and now we sit content and full of good conversation.
I spent four hours on Skype on Saturday, catching up with friends in places as far away as England and Illinois. It is a strange balance, learning how to be present where life has planted you and take full advantage of new opportunities while paying heed to past relationships and humbly recognizing that the past and future are inextricably linked. Apart from waxing emotional, it was truly good time learning what the lives of Gordon friends abroad entail. Speaking of which, I had lunch today with my friends Peter, Jenna and Austin who have all spent time abroad recently as part of Gordon programs. Jenna and Austin studied in Costa Rica while Peter spent time in Uganda. All had stories of how their lives had been enriched and how their senses of academic endeavor had spread so much further than mere major. It got me excited for my own adventure, which, while not as international, still promises to be an amazing experience. The Gordon Biology department as well as other Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) schools sends students to the Au Sable Institute's Great Lakes campus in Mancelona, Michigan. I'll be flying out the last day of school and spending the month of May and the first part of June in Michigan taking a class called "Field Natural History," which will be an awesome study in reading fields and forests as well as general knowledge regarding reptiles, birds and other animals. My best friend Kaitlin is taking the class, too, and we're both chomping at the bit to get our galoshes on and explore the woodlands of upper Michigan. I've never been further west than Pennsylvania, so I'm really looking forward to traveling a bit more toward the middle of country. I bought my ticket this past week and am already itching to put my environmentalist skills to the test. There was plenty else to keep me busy this past week; a lecture on Tuesday on "the Philosophy of Rock and Roll" complemented a discussion in my Fine Arts class on what makes things beautiful, and discussions with friends about the image of God paired up perfectly with a discussion in Bible Study at my church on what the movie "Avatar" says about the presence of God. It's been so mindblowing to see how supposedly distinct areas of my life have found such tangible and clear intersections. I love when the things I study in one class become fodder for another; it gives my schooling such a large feel, and a good one, because I never want to stop learning, and here (and this past week) I've been especially excited by that. Keep growing wiser, friends, wherever you are...
On an unrelated note, I'm waiting until it gets a little warmer so I can go running in my favorite purchase of the fall semester:
I'm not sure what exactly counts as an irresponsible start to a semester, but the first few days back at school always involve wanting to spend more time with friends than books. On the first day of classes my roommate Anna and I went out to breakfast at Stephy's, a local and DELICIOUS little diner, which was a wonderful way to kickstart the semester. Yes, classes began on Wednesday, and so did Nerts Nights. A variation on Dutch Blitz that is played with normal 52-card decks, my floor took to competitive matches with unparalleled enthusiasm. Mixing seven or eight decks and bringing our most intimidating game faces to the ring, we don't keep score, but we still throw our cards into the middle of our energetic circles as if our very lives depend on our wins. My floor acquired three new members for the Spring, as we had some dearly loved residents leave for study abroad experiences. Anna, Christine and Angela are all art majors, and a study trip to Panera on Saturday found us splitting a loaf of ciabatta bread and discussing the role of Christianity in art and culture (I'm reading a book called "But Is It Art?" for a class and was eager to dissect its theories with experts in the field), and whether we excuse some things "for the sake of art" or whether everything is truly permissible. I love good conversation and try to stir it up whenever I can, and to find such ready conversant spirits was a wonderful surprise. I've also caved into a coffee-drinking habit, and the gift of a French Press for Christmas ensures that I have plenty of wonderfully-flavored
drinks to offer visitors, of which I've had many these past few days. Last night, Sunday, a huge snowstorm started to lend its cold flakes to the campus, and some friends and I ran around the quad, lobbing snowballs at each other and eating as much as we could. School is out on
Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. day, so my floor is spending part of the night at a nearby furniture store, Jordan's, which also houses an ice cream place and a water lights show. Massage chairs and ice cream--a perfect start to the week.
It's become an annual event--the sleepover at Kaitlin Wills' house. Even though we're growing older and supposedly more mature, we take joy in our ritual, grateful for the guaranteed "get together," which is actually how we phrase it when explaining to curious onlookers at the grocery store. Once every winter break, as we've done for the past three years, my friends Meagan, Christina and I lug too much over to Kaitlin's house and blow up air mattresses and take over her family's TV room. Armed with bags of Smartfood, Ruffles and bottles of Diet Coke, we sat under fleece blankets and hooked Kaitlin's laptop up to a projector and huge speakers and watched "Up," "The Proposal" and "Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian"--all on the makeshift silver screen of her family room wall. "Up" was the best movie I'd seen over the summer, so I was glad to revisit the commentary on growing older with some kindred spirits. "The Proposal" was actually filmed around Gordon, so my friends (who had visited me at Gordon over the summer) and I squealed in excitement as we pointed out places in Rockport and nearby Singing Beach where we had walked just months after the camera crews had left. In between movies we battled it out over MadGab, saying phrases faster and faster and in higher and higher pitches until answers came to us out of nowhere--for some reason not keeping score makes us more competitive... In the morning a snowstorm hit our area, and Kaitlin, whose dad partly runs a plowing company, took us all out on a blustery adventure, clearing parking lots and driveways before heading home. That night I decided to walk around my neighborhood, and was amazed at how clear the night sky was so soon after it had dumped its every ounce on us. The stars were out in full force, and I started thinking about this coming semester. It will most likely be my last as an RA; as a senior I am hoping to move into a wonderful apartment and have a kitchen with which to welcome people, so it will be bittersweet. But my personality remains excited
to invest in whatever comes my way regardless--be it museum exhibits that come alive, or simply growing up.
The picture to the right is of one of my cats, Brutus, quite incorrectly using his playhouse. He is a very strange cat.
I realized this past week that I've been incredibly blessed in my friendships, this break proving one full of love and laughter, two of the most important things in my little world. Some snippets of how I spend my time:
I was sitting at home on Wednesday night when my best friend Kaitlin called with an invitation to use a gift card to go go-karting. Bored, I eagerly accepted the invitation, and joined her family and some friends in an impromptu drag-racing challenge. We drove to a race course a little ways away and found ourselves shaking in our kart seats as we prepared to race on a very slippery indoor track, and ten minutes after the green flag let us begin we stumbled back out of our tanks with shaky legs, all of our party having spun out multiple times--each spin-out warranting the fabled "black flag" that noted our sins--and grateful to have survived. Drag racing on the Utah salt flats has now been inked onto my bucket list.Thursday night some of my best friends and I co-hosted a New Year's Eve party. We cooked spaghetti and meatballs, blew up balloons (I made mine too large, and so every so often one would unexpectedly pop, scaring us out of our minds), and chatted until 1:00 am when we decided to take a walk in the freshly fallen snow. I've never been much into New Year's celebrations, but I never find time moving too slowly when enjoying good food and good company.
Friday evening I went to coffee with a friend at a local Starbucks. I had never been to this particular one before, but it is now my favorite, with a second floor full of comfy couches facing a humongous window that gave us a front-row seat to a gorgeous sunset. As we talked about God and life--she gave birth to a beautiful girl in March--we found great joy in caramel mochas and good friendship.
Saturday afternoon my mom decided to recreate The Olive Garden, a local Italian restaurant specializing in soup/salad/breadstick combos. She invited over some of my favorite people--the Garretts, a wonderful family we've known for years--and we eagerly dug into carrot and clam chowder soups, catching up on the year that had passed since our last joint shindig. While the adults (I still absent myself and claim "child" status at times) chatted, my brother, sister and I engaged Stephen and Bryan, the two Garrett kiddos, in a heated game of Dutch Blitz, and while Stephen beat us soundly in both of the rounds we played, the competitive nature we share made for a gloriously fun experience.
May your breaks bring similar joy, and may you find love in similarly simple places.