Speed dial

Big plans this summer: relevant for this post being my plans of working on photography skills. That didn’t happen. At all. BUT I have a phone with a camera and so here are a few shots from our summer. A summer which is almost over, can you believe it???

Michael and his grandmother on the porch of her home in Gadsden. Mawmaw, at the tender young age of close-to-90, still makes the best fried chicken in the world. Michael (and his dad, come to think of it) get their lighthearted personalities directly from her.

When mutual friends asked her brother why the oldest sister was still in such good health, he replied: “Stella just doesn’t give a care.” (That may or may not be slightly edited to protect the dignity of Michael’s great-uncle.) The truth is, she doesn’t worry about much, a lesson which I could stand to learn, but one which Michael probably has a hold on for the both of us, at this point.

Playing ladder ball (at midnight in the pitch black) with Suzanne, my Chattanooga sister-in-law, and our husbands. I think Michael and I took an early lead but in the end got smoked by Matt and Suzanne’s late comeback.

Black-eyed Susans, on the porch of my parents’ house in Sylacauga.

Braves game in Atlanta with the Farnsworth familia. (Braves won, Hanson pitched, and Chipper hit a homer. Not bad if I do say so!)

Post-race at the Waterfront Tri in Chattanooga. Michael did the running leg of this race with a couple of buddies; I cheered and ate Panera bagels. Sounds fair to me!

View from the house at my in-laws lake, where we’ve spent most of our time while in Chattanooga.

Last of all, last week at the beach (Seagrove, if you care) with my family.

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Worth pondering

“Anyone worth possessing can never truly be possessed.”            –Sara Teasdale


Five

Top five, and also bottom five, things about this summer.

The Good:

1.Family time. It’s a long summer and we’ve had heaps of time with our families, immediate and extended. They’ve cooked for us, cleaned for us, taken us out to dinner and the movies, hugged our necks and told us how much they love us, and fussed over us. Living overseas means you miss Christmas and Thanksgiving and random mid-year weekends, but we’ve made up for those in a big way this summer. You can tell we’re being loved, because I think the both of us are more than just a tad chunkier than we were coming in. (Who cares? It’ll fall off once we hit the steady diet of rice and noodles and have to find time to cook for ourselves.) Speaking of which…

2.The food. America is a great country, let me tell you. The proof lies in things like this: guacamole dip, endless chips and dip, margaritas (are you sensing a TexMex theme here?), pizza, ice cream and froyo, arugula and baby spinach, CHEESE (feta and blue cheese and queso and fresh mozzarella), pizza, blackberry cobbler, shrimp and grits, fried chicken, turkey wraps, burgers and hot dogs and sweet potato fries…. y’all, the list could go on and on. I’m not even mentioning Asian food on here (we are on a rice hiatus this summer), but I love that in America you can get almost any type of ethnic food. It’s truly a land of freedom and opportunity, culinarily-speaking.

3. Sunshine. I know for a fact that it wasn’t always like this (just ask my mom, she grew up in the 50s in the steel- and iron-producing, heavily polluted city of Birmingham, AL) but this Stateside summer has been all about blue skies and sun. Has that meant high temperatures? Well, sure. But we also have this thing called central air which makes it bearable. Of course, sometimes it’s a little too bearable and I have to carry around a cardigan for the indoors. Anyway. This summer I’ve been soaking up the sunshine like a cat in the perfect sun spot in a wintertime window (always with sunscreen, of course!). We drove through Atlanta recently and saw flashing roadside signs that warned of a smog day. Michael and I couldn’t help but laugh as we looked at the clearly defined white puffs in a Carolina-blue sky. America, thankfully, knows nothing of East Asia smog levels.

4. Outdoor activities. This one is often dependent on sunshine but is definitely distinct. Tonight after we finished dinner, I went for a run on Chattanooga’s River Walk, a great walking/running/biking trail that runs along the south bank of the Tennessee River. Sunday, Michael and his dad and several other friends participated in the Waterfront Triathlon, an Olympic-distance race here in Chattanooga. And even little Sylacauga has some beautiful hiking trails (and we hear biking trails) that we’ve walked this summer. There’s a definite beauty and nature-shaped hole in my heart that sometimes is left unfilled in our metropolitan part of East Asia. This summer, I’ve been gorging.

5. Friends. Absolutely one of the best things about this summer…. and I’ve not even seen some of my very favorite people yet! So far (and there is much more to come), this summer has been full of refreshing, courtesy of our America friends. I’ve felt such joy and liberty and release from seeing friends, lots and lots of them, from different places and with whom we have different types of relationships and who’ve known us for different lengths of time and who share all sorts of different and varied interests with us. Or who have interests that are way different from mine but who challenge me in those areas. One of the harder things about Asia is that we have a really small community. On the bright side, this means you (hopefully) learn a lot about loving and accepting others and that your fellowship can be insanely tight knit. On the down side, this can also mean that you feel restricted and trapped. This summer it has been such a gift to remember that this world is very broad. There are all sorts of sides of me (Michael, too) which are more difficult to express in Asia, but which I’ve loved getting to remember as I am in relationship with friends here. My America friends have also reminded of God’s grace and sovereignty in a way that my heart sorely needed. I’m grateful that God uses other people to point us to himself. This summer, I have felt richly fed by moments and hours with friends. I’m gonna miss it when we head back.

The Bad:

1. Driving. I swear, we are tearing up the road. Last Thursday, we drove up to Charlotte, NC, to spend the night with Michael’s brother and his wife, Holley (6+ hours). Friday, we went to a wedding reception in Raleigh (3 hours there + 3 hours back to Charlotte = 6). And then Saturday, we got up and hopped in the car to hoof it back to Chattanooga (another 6). That’s just an example; two weeks ago we went from Sylacauga to Gadsden (to spend the night with Michael’s grandmother), then woke up early the next morning to jet up to Chattanooga for an appointment, and left straight from there for Atlanta. Driving wears me out like nobody’s business!

2. Limits. It’s hard and sad to realize that we can’t do it all and that there is not unlimited time to hang out with everyone we want to. It breaks my heart to only see some of my closest friends for a few hours the whole summer, especially when our times together are separated by years, not months. But it’s reality and there is simply not “world enough and time” for all we wish.

3. Boundaries/priorities. I wasn’t sure exactly what to label this but I’m trying to describe the state by which Michael and I try to maintain and build into our marriage this summer as we are constantly surrounded by others. We’ve had alone time in the car, which is good, but overall it has been awful to try to find time for just the two of us. Hoping for dinner on our own next week while vacationing with my family; if it happens, I think it will be our first intentional night together, just with us, this whole summer. That is crazy! (And also completely our own fault… we were warned.)

4. Lack of routine. There’s a large-ish portion of me that longs to get back to Asia solely so that I can lounge around my apartment on Saturday mornings and get up Mondays with a definite plan for the day. I love structure (often to a fault) and that has been hard to come by this summer. We’re filling our days and planning a lot, but those plans generally look 100% different from day-to-day. Today I spent awhile going through bills and mail and other mundane tasks and realized that I would just love to sit down and spend a day doing paperwork. I never feel like that (most people probably don’t! and I’ll deny it if you invite me over and plop me down in front of yours) but my organization-loving heart is ready for some plain Jane, vanilla, day-to-day regimen.

5. Good-byes. I don’t want to go into it; we’re not there yet. But they’re looming.

I’ve gotta redo this list, Asia-style, once we get back. Just a hunch, but that might be a bit more exciting! At the very least, exotic.


Summertime

When I was small, I remember lying in the front yard, smelling the newly-shorn grass and listening to the rhythmic hum of sprinklers. Letting the Alabama heat soak into my skin and playing freeze tag with my sisters as the long afternoons faded into evening. Summer seemed as though it would last forever, like all there was to do was ride my bike and knock on my friends’ doors to see if they could play and cool off with popsicles (the push-up kind they still sell in skinny plastic sleeves) and fight off boredom. This year, Michael and I have the luxury of a summer. And while I knew that the long and stretched-out summer days of childhood are gone, never to return, I suppose I expected a bit more leisure.

We’ve been blessed, beyond measure, with lake time and family time and time to exercise outdoors and see friends and go to a Braves game and eat delicious treats. I want to do these things, I need to do many of these things, but somehow I didn’t bank on it being so labor intensive. And now the summer has passed the 50% marker and we’re trying to pare down our to-do list, to accept that some things just won’t happen. And that’s OK: all that can be done is plan and prioritize and choose and live with it. (This post may sound whiny. Not my intention to be a brat; I realize we are so blessed to have this time. Just trying to deal, inside my own head, with the reality that time is limited and requires choices, ones which are hard to make.)

Last night, sitting on the porch after dinner with Michael’s parents, it sunk in that we are probably not going to get another chance for the whole Gregory family to be together. The whole summer of family togetherness, in the end, boiled down to just one night, already past. My side is a little, but not much, better; everyone will be together at the beach for about two days before sisters start peeling off to return to jobs that require attention. We don’t know what the next year or more will hold, exactly, but it’s entirely possible that this is it for another two years.

So. Deep breath. We’ll get through, and it will be worth it, although difficult at points. It’s a good thing, this tug that we feel on our hearts in lots of different directions, and we’re glad for it. Glad for the long visits, and the quick ones too, for friends all over the world and family that will probably shed a tear when they see us go. And glad that we get to be here now.

While summer is fleeting, this one’s not over yet.