You are Here Stories: Unexpected Favorite Things

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“…but don’t you think the gazebo looks a little bit small?” The voice of our Austrian tour guide settled comfortably at the top of the treble clef. Saccharine as Salzburg’s famous Mozartkugel, this woman might as well have been a recording playing from an MP3 player hanging from a lanyard around our necks.

“How could they do the sixteen-going-on-seventeen dance here?” She jutted her head forward, the rest of her body remarkably stiff.

At this point in the tour, I could see where her query was going. Similar rhetorical questions had lead to the revelations that the front of the Von Trapp family home was a different property than the back of the house, that we couldn’t get to the exact spot where the opening had been filmed, and that the free place to stay in the downtown was in fact the city’s prison.

While the Alps were, well, the Alps, just about everything else from the movie was a jumbled amalgamation of buildings, Hollywood soundstages, and private properties that we whizzed past on the tour bus…

Check out the rest of this piece at You Are Here Stories!

You are Here Stories: Tongue Depressors and Other Teaching Relics

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I curate a small store of relics from my years teaching in Chicago– crayon-drawn cards, apology notes with misspelled superlatives, and portraits where the size of my head dwarfs my torso. In one early drawing, a student depicted me with flowing red hair and a bikini. I have two guns in holsters at my hips and a rainbow behind me.

I’ve packed away most of my memorabilia in a catchall file in our spare bedroom, trying to organize and place memories from a time that spilled outside of any boundaries I tried to create for it. One lone tongue depressor has made it through three apartment relocations and three school changes. Each time, I considered tossing the stick, but I always ended up keeping it, laying it back amongst my pens. It’s small enough, important enough to keep.

It’s Corvell’s stick. I met Corvell in my first year of teaching, and he was my first student to disappear…

Read the rest over at You are Here Stories! This month’s theme is “Mess in Place,” which is a perfect topic for most human beings. Enjoy!

A Very Revealing Baby Story: Trying or Surprised

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In the world of baby conception, society dumps moms into two categories: trying or surprised. I have prepared the following infographic to illustrate these sociological groupings:

When Drew and I began to tell people about baby Vosburg, many presented us with this binary question, “So were you trying, or was it a surprise?” In other words, were you having copious sex with the purpose of making a baby, or did your forget to take your birth control pill?

Not only did I not want to let mere acquaintances into my boudoir, neither category painted me in the way I wished to be perceived.

Baby stuff is weird. It seems like magic, things swishing around in some primordial alchemy, and then… a baby? So many friends, and siblings of friends, friends of friends, and kids of friends struggled to get pregnant. Sometimes, out of the blue, the reproductive magic worked, but others continued to wait. I wanted to skip over this part, the “trying,” which involved taking your temperature, paying attention to what comes out of your cervix, and making monthly pass/fail appointments with your period.

I also rarely like to admit I’m “trying” for anything. Trying reveals desire and volition. Saying I’m trying to become a professional writer exposes me and spotlights the fact that I’m mostly a part time library worker who occasionally takes freelance work and even more occasionally writes on her personal blog. Saying you’re auditioning or applying or throwing your name in… all of these things invite commentary, invite phone calls and text messages, invite prayer, invite vulnerability.

I wanted to be breezy about my fertility and baby-making. But people who say they’re breezy are rarely actually breezy. Breezy was a phrase I repeated over and over again on my wedding weekend when the napkins didn’t show up or the roses weren’t garden roses, or when our intimate first look included a fairly distant uncle sniping pictures from the bushes.

By “I’m breezy!” I actually mean I’m wound as tight as a top, I live in fear of what people think of me, and I carry an overwhelming sense of doom and worst case scenarios.

I took a  pregnancy test within the “first response” window after our first month of being “breezy” with fertility. Nothing, same old control line and three minutes of nothing else. This justified my breezy path; a baby would come or not come in its time. I was so fricken breezy about it all.

Flash forward several nights, and I’m waiting in bed for Drew to get back from CVS with more pregnancy tests. I imagined that he probably wasn’t back yet because he got in a tragic car accident. The police would hand me the pink box of pee sticks along with Drew’s cell phone, wallet, and other items confiscated from the wreckage. I’d take out one of the tests and find that I was expecting twins and also that I had become the main character in a Christian romance novel about faith through trials called “Labor of Love” or “Fourth Trimester: Grief.”

So after Drew came home alive with a box filled with fate wands, I ripped through the packaging and headed to the bathroom to put my mind at ease, to continue my breezy journey where I painted with all the colors of the wind and accepted my body… and “GASP!” I don’t remember the test advertising sound effects but when the second line appeared almost instantly, it seemed to come with a “thwonk” or a “boom.”

I did not move from the toilet seat for forty five minutes, yoga pants still shoved down to my ankles, hand holding the debris of my breezy fertility. This was supposed to be a year long journey of life and love. But apparently my womb happens to share characteristics with the plot of land nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates River. I called my mom, I stared at the wall, I saw my breezy life blow out the window not in a gentle lilt of air, but in tempest gust.

Everything had changed. Oh my God, maybe I did just want a cute puppy.

So could I say surprised? I knew what happened when you mixed the boy stuff with the girl stuff, but quite frankly I was surprised. And weirdly ashamed. I felt like a Duggar getting pregnant before my first anniversary, like someone who naively thought the “pull-out” method worked 100 percent of the time or heard some other myth about birth control. “Surprised” was also a relative of the unfortunate sub-category, “accident” that usually lands kids in therapy (but seriously, everyone should be seeing a therapist anyway).

If I said “surprised,” I could take away my agency. I could take away my responsibility and the fact that I’d gotten mad at Drew when he wasn’t sure if he was ready. I could take away the moments holding up baby sleepers next to Drew’s 6’4″  tube sock body in Target and act like the universe caught me by surprise.

But I didn’t want to be in the trying camp either. I didn’t want to offend my friends who had been truly trying for so long. I hated my story because it seemed so stupid. I couldn’t really use the word “oops,” but I wanted to. My breezy fertility story sounded better in my head than when relayed to the Eastern European doctor administering my blood test.

“So do you want the baby?” He asked me the question as a formality.

And the worst part was, I didn’t know.


IMG_1291As I write through these posts, I’m continually reminded how complicated and sensitive pregnancy and fertility can be. By sharing my point of view, I by no means want to generalize or make light of other people’s experiences.

If anything, I hope to remind us all how specific and unique everyone’s story is. I want to create space for laughter and moments of honesty, but also want to encourage one another to be more careful and attentive in the way we approach these issues. For example, asking a woman if she is “trying” to get pregnant or pressuring young couples with questions about the start of their family may cause significant hurt. Lets keep listening in and paying attention to one another!

A Very Revealing Baby Story: A Blueberry

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Do you remember all those “story” shows that used to air on TLC in the morning? My favorite was always Wedding Story, but in a pinch, I’d settle for Baby Story. The show always mildly freaked me out, especially the sounds coming out of women sitting in birthing tubs or splayed on hospital beds. The dads were usually cops or firemen, and most of the couples had east coast accents.

Throughout my life, I’ve been exposed to all different baby stories, especially once I got that positive symbol on my own pee stick. I’ve been writing down thoughts throughout my own pregnancy, and most don’t match up with the cutesy language we often ascribe to pregnancy and babies. Many have commented that I share more on my blog then most people share with their closest friends, to which I say, you can only imagine what I divulge to my closest friends…


When people tell evangelical conversion narratives, they usually tell the story in several parts. There’s the first time you say the sinner’s prayer, kneeling by your bedside in your toddling years. You are led by your mother and the images of the cross from the Sunday school flannel graph.

Then, there are the subsequent renewals at summer camps and youth retreats, decisions to keep walking in the light despite a year or so of forgetting one owned a Bible and playing MASH with friends instead of leading them down the Romans Road.

I spent the majority of my childhood mothering American Girl Dolls in elaborate historically themed games of pretend. As early as second grade, I carefully discerned the names for each of the five kids Nolan Kelly and I would have. But despite these initial moments of maternal fervor, by my early twenties, I had growing doubts about my early commitments to produce and multiply.

imageI’m not exactly sure what triggered my fall from reproductive grace. It wasn’t the promise of repeating my mom’s days long labors or even the weekend spent in 8th grade with the mechanical “Baby Think it Over” designed to keep me abstinent.

Somehow after college, I decided I was in no rush to bring a child into this world. I weighed the ethics of creating life when my child might live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where California no longer existed and the oceans all felt like hot tubs at the Fairfield Inn. With time, alternate roads to family grew into passions and deep convictions.

Why make life when so many around already needed temporary and permanent homes?  I would mother in a different way; I would mother to reunite children with their family of origin, I would mother those who had no family, whether old widows at church or thirteen year olds stranded somewhere in the DCFS system. These convictions remain very strong for me and my husband and remain a part of our hopes for our family.

But one day, I found something out that nearly knocked me off my feet with the utter and amazing cuteness: a blueberry.

At seven weeks, a fetus is the size of a blueberry. A BLUEBERRY! For whatever reason this tiny blue fact re-set my biological clock in a way that startled my roommate at the time; she must have sensed that I was headed down the road to motherhood with the fire of a new convert.

A BLUEBERRY IS SO TINY!
The blueberry made me reconsider the error of my anti-pregnancy ways. I felt something in me take on the form of a runner on a starting block, poised, reaching and stretching their limbs back with potential energy. I gave into all my primal instincts to reproduce and continue on my species.

I wanted a berry-sized baby in my uterus, a little raspberry with a zooming heartbeat or perhaps a blackberry with the sockets where his daddy’s eyes would eventually grow in.

At times when mothers would talk about mastitis or when I would conceptualize the idea of my cervix dilating to ten centimeters,  I considered settling for a cute puppy. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew a little Spot or Fido wouldn’t suffice. Also, our landlord allows babies but not pets.

Lest you are worried that I altered the course of my entire life based on the one week produce comparison for the gestational size of a baby, I will reassure you that there were other things that led me to desiring a little one. Books, conversations, hours of Call of the Midwife, marrying Drew, a new phase of life…17591258878_fb64defe8d

But I will also admit that some of the change seemed supernatural, a shifting of the wind, an opening of something deep inside of me, primal and maternal. I was curious about me and babies and starting to long for a little one of our own. My body and mind began to prepare and wonder and dream of our own little blueberry…


Tune in next time to hear about the positive pregnancy test and the weird culture around “trying to get pregnant.”

*Me and Blueberry photos courtesy of a fun photo shoot before the launch of my blog with the super talented Peter Dean Thompson. Check out his amazing work! I’m so excited to finally share these photos almost two years later… woof.

You are Here Stories: When I Was Your Age, We Went to the Bank

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On Saturdays, we went to the bank with dad.

The Regency Savings Bank of Geneva, IL welcomed its patrons with platters covered in white paper doilies, piled high with a variety of butter cookies. Dad would fill one of the provided styrofoam cups with coffee from the percolator.

We started coming with Dad when I was a toddler, an era when my memories blur one into the other. In those early days, my older sister and I waited at the Playschool picnic table, laid out with coloring books and crayons. At this point any of our collected coins got plopped into Piggy Banks on our dressers. Soon enough we started to trail Dad to the bank counter, to watch the magic.

The tellers counted the cash onto the counter like tarot cards, experts at slipping paper across paper. They moved through their tasks without looking: stamping, signing, unlocking, typing on the number pad on the computer, and printing receipts by feeding a machine with a small slip of paper that got pulled into the machine to be stamped with account balances…

Read the rest over at You are Here Stories (One of my favorite places on the internet).

 

 

*Photo Courtesy of Maria Rui on Flickr

You are Here Stories: She Will Grow On Laughter

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When my mother was pregnant with my older sister, she was a visiting nurse. She drove around Aurora, Illinois in her blue Plymouth Horizon, stopping at the Dairy Queen drive through on the way home from work. She’d slurp banana milk shakes while listening to the instrumental theme from St. Elmo’s Fire.

While pregnant with me, she chased around my toddling sister. She exercised weekly at a local Christian workout class called “Believercise.” That is, until mom lunged too far, causing significant bleeding; the doctor ordered at least a week of bedrest. She had to pee in a bucket, another reason she’s the best mom of all time. In her third trimester, she survived summer days by scarfing down dripping slices of watermelon, a fruit I still consider to be one of my favorites.

There’s something sacred and terrifying about the way babies go wherever their mothers go. They eat the same foods, hear the same noises, and even pump the same blood. They can benefit or be harmed from the womb they inhabit, which is why pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat Subway or drink cocktails. Now that I’m pregnant, I worry my tiny has been anchored to a sinking ship.

You see, I’m not the best at being pregnant…

Read the rest over at You are Here Stories!

You are Here Stories: While We’re Renting

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Old houses have a way of making themselves dirty, they crumble pieces of rusty radiators and cracking tile grout. My husband and I rent a place like this. In beams of sunlight, I can track fuzzy dust trails intertwined with all kinds of hairs and particles from disintegrating flooring. Clumps cling to the baseboards and slip under doorways, blown by invisible air currents.

After living here for well over a year, certain quirks get my particular attention. I can get quite distracted by the kitchen flooring, a 1980s white linoleum that turns mop heads and rags black, even on the tenth scrub. The dirt captured by its textured surface has been sealed in by grease and time, yielding just enough to fool me into thinking I’ve made progress by attacking it on hands and knees.

Under the cabinets, the edge of the linoleum curls up, a page of history begging to be turned. Splattered, brown grime creeps up in the crevice between the base of the cabinets and the well-worn flooring. This inevitably sends me into panic, a deep heaving, sweaty fear of mold and the other things that lurk in nooks and crannies…


Read the rest over at You are Here Stories. I’m so excited to be working with this amazing community all this year as a fellow! Click around their sight to read delightful place based writing!

I Want to be Afraid of Other Things

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I’m so honored to be guest posting over at Lindsey Smallwood’s blog. She and I met up because we circulate around the same online writing watering holes . I immediately connected with Lindsey’s spirit and her writing, and let me tell you something, this woman is a fierce encourager! In spite of the pervasive “scarcity” culture that haunts online writing, Lindsey makes me believe in abundance. She shares the work of her writing friends and makes us feel seen, heard, understood, and valued. Check out her work on her blog, at Middle Places, and across the Internet. I hope I get the pleasure of meeting her in person some day!


 

One of my improv teams went on a trip to a cabin in the middle of a series of corn fields. It was an unlikely retreat, a small town in Wisconsin where bars and churches compete for the attention of bored citizens. Certainly not a vacation town, just a place where people live, farm, drive their pickups, and gaze at outsiders with suspicion and curiosity.

After arriving under the cover of night, straining our eyes in the darkness to discern whether we were on a road, long driveway, or cow path, the daylight made the area seem friendly– a pastoral ideal or perhaps a Mayberry, where everyone knows your name.

We walked down the country roads as a team, and I even picked a wild violet and tucked it behind my ear. We sang to cows, taking thirsty gulps of the country air, stretching our limbs in the wide open spaces. Those who had arrived yesterday had some magical locations to show the rest of us, places already storied with the adventures of the day before.

As we approached one of the properties, I felt my palms begin to sweat. I hated the feeling that I might get caught, and as we sauntered down the road, it felt like the eyes of the town were on us…


 

Read the rest at Songbird and Nerd!

*Feature Photo courtesy of Lilliana Winkworth

A Line With No Order

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Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of sharing my work on Abby Norman’s wonderful blog. Abby shared a piece in my own series this summer. When you become a blogger, you start to get overwhelmed with just how many bloggers there are. Amidst the overwhelming experience of reading the body of work available on the internet, you find a few places to land, writers that have you saying, “me too!” Abby’s page, Accidental Devotional, has been one of those landing places for me. Not only do we share experiences as educators but I find that she fits words to the the things I’m mulling around in my head. I’m thankful for Abby’s strong voice and her convicting word-smithery! Here’s an excerpt from my addition to her “Modern Day Parables” series.


A line curved out the door of my church and wrapped around the block. I hadn’t intended to stop at the church, but driving past this event, I found myself pulling over and parking on the side of the road. Frankly, I had never seen this many people here ever. Not even the Sunday my pastor preached a sermon from the roof (a story for another day).

A few women pulled blue coolers and children along with them as the line inched forward, leading to something through the double red doors of the church; people were piling into God’s house. The June day paraded around like one in mid August, cloaked in heavy, humid air. The voices and sounds outside the church layered on top of one another, the sounds of caps popping off bottles joining low resonant voices, all punctuated by the high squeals of children’s laughter. Sweaty in my car, I watched out of suburban curiosity of the unknown, watching the citizens of the line.

I could not tell where one family started and another family ended, or which children belonged to which adults.  Kids wove in, around, and through the line, running and taunting one another, while the parents watched them together. A sign stuck in the church lawn announced the presence of the Mexican consulate helping with “los pasaportes.”

Read the rest over at Accidental Devotional!


 

*Image courtesy of shoehorn99 on Flickr

Unexpected Sacred Spaces: Pure Hearts

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I connected with Pradnya through another dear blogging friend, Lily Dunn, and I’m ever so glad! Pradnya approached me with this piece which invites us into the sacred space and tradition of another culture. I’ve enjoyed reading her blog and getting to know her adventurous spirit which encourages me to try new things with bravery and commitment! She’s also a wonderful encouragement in my own work and I’m thankful we’ve connected and that I get to share this special piece with all of you!


Marriages are made in heaven, or so they say. I started firmly believing in this quote when I witnessed my younger sister’s wedding. India is a diverse country with a rich cultural heritage and every regional place has its own sets of rituals and customs. My sister’s marriage was an alliance between two completely different cultures, and hence it was huge fun for both families!

This marriage was adorned by a mix of rituals from each side – Marwadi customs from the groom’s side and Kokani customs from the bride’s side.

1-Mehendi

The mehendi (henna) ceremony happens usually one or two days before the marriage day, where we put mehendi on the bride’s hands and feet. For my sister, we had to put mehendi from her palms to a little above her elbows on both sides of the hand. We put henna is put on her feet as well. The other members of the family and the bride’s friends also got mehendi, but not as elaborate as the bride’s.

2-Haldi

The devkarya is a ritual where in the bride and her parents do a pooja (prayer to God) for the
happiness and well being of their daughter and for her to have a great married life. Following this pooja is the haldi (turmeric) ceremony. During this ritual, all the ladies of the family put a paste of turmeric, milk, coconut oil and gram powder on the bride’s face. Turmeric is supposed to be a soothing agent for skin, plus this ritual gives all the ladies a chance to have some fun. Some aunties were so enthusiastic that they smacked my sister’s face with turmeric as if it was a birthday cake!

3-Sangeet

Since this was a Marwadi wedding, we had a ceremony called the sangeet. Our Kokani fraternity do not have this ritual. In sangeet, the bride and the groom’s families perform rehearsed dance performances on stage. We, the bride’s side, are not very great dancers. My parents outright refused to dance on stage, so it was my sister and her friends and me who took up the challenge.

The evening started with dances from some professional choreographers who happened to be the groom’s cousins and friends. And seeing that we realized… this is their definition of dancing! The groom’s family was full of energy and zeal, bouncing and leaping gracefully to all Bollywood songs. And we, the bride’s side, were sitting in the audience thinking, how will we be able to match this?! Our dance was to be after groom’s parents, and we were certain our dance would be better than theirs for sure. But we were completely mistaken! The groom’s parents’ dance got an encore! We were began to wonder, how bad can this get?

However, we managed to put up a decent performance and had a lot of fun, too!

The Marwadi wedding was a BIG one day affair from eight in the morning until seven thirty in the evening. The groom’s side first comes to the marriage hall, where the bride’s side welcomes them with a small ceremony. This is called the ‘swagat samarambh’.

4-Marriage

Following that, the groom comes again on horseback at noon, and the bride’s side washes his feet, apply kunku (vermilion) on his forehead, and give him a sweet to eat. Then the bride and the groom come on the stage. A few prayers are chanted and the bride and the groom exchange garlands. After that they stand on the stage, kneeling and smiling down at every elder’s feet. There were over a thousand guests, and it was really a huge task to stand there and greet everyone. Once they were done meeting all the guests, my parents did the ‘kanyadaan,’ which means giving away their daughter to the groom and requesting him to take good care of her. After this, we had lunch with all the family members.

The last of the ceremonies was the bidai (farewell), where the bride’s side give a farewell to the bride. It is a very emotional moment for the bride’s side. Almost all of us were teary eyed. After the bidai, the bride and the groom leave for the groom’s place leaving behind ‘us’.

5-Bidai

It was in this ceremony that I realized this was the most sacred place I have ever been in to date. My father hugged my sister, and that picture is etched on my mind. It was two human beings who love each other unconditionally just being in the moment, expressing their love through actions and no words. Two human beings who share the deepest of love, care, and affection. It was such a pure unadulterated moment, only heartfelt endearment.

Don’t the Bible, the Gita and the Qur’an preach to love your parents? Don’t all holy books from all religions say ‘Pure love is supreme’? Aren’t we taught from our childhood to love everyone and keep hate away? Think of a world with everyone having such pure love within them, won’t it be a great place to live?

Let us make a vow to cultivate love and eradicate the weeds of hate from the garden of our life! To make this world a better place for all of us!


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About the Author

: Pradnya is a dynamic HR, an avid reader, an amateur poet and a natural writer. She is an ardent believer in God and tries to dig up happiness even in the darkest of mines. Join her as she takes you on a joyride called ‘life’ at Wanderings of my Mind and 52 Weeks of Adventure.