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45

Anne Waddoups

Last week I turned 45 and it was not so bad. Actually, the birthday itself was really great. I got to have two days' worth of birthday wishes--my Australian birthday and my American one. G had conducted sneaky reconnaissance on my Pinterest boards and thoughtfully chose some things that I had been secretly (but not so secretly, after all) pining for:  

  • three stacking rings ("one for each child!" I happily exclaimed when I unwrapped them. "....Um, yeah!" Greg almost successfully improvised),
  • a wooden pineapple-shaped chalkboard (apparently Sam, G's gift-selecting apprentice, suggested it since I sometimes text a trademark celebratory pineapple emoji to my kids),
  • artisan chocolate,
  • a luscious German fountain pen.

That guy is pretty fluent in my love languages, one of which is thoughtful (not expensive, not outrageous, just lovingly selected) gift giving. He's practically a native speaker by now.

And yet 45 was super hard. I've planted it in my head that it is pretty much smack dab middle age. And it kind of is, you know?( If I'm lucky, that is.)  It feels like a time for re-evaluation and recalibration and reorientation. Lots of re.  A time to wash the metaphorical laundry midway through this mortal journey and to figure out the path ahead. I can newly relate to Dante's opening lines:

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
where the straight road had been lost 

(Inferno)

G and I went to lunch that day and I fessed up that that particular moment--this noontime on my 45th birthday--marked the apex of my life. All downhill from here, buddy. But then we decided we can make the next 45 years pretty spectacular, regardless. (And, after all, he's already blazing the trail for me at 47.)

It's just a day, this birthday, another in the long string of days I'm blessed to have. Still, it has me a bit more tender than usual. Passages in books have me weepy with love for the beauty of words and the accompanying twinge to string together a few of my own--almost an anticipatory regret if I don't find my voice and just do it. Case in point: can I have Wendell Berry's talent next time around? 

I'm hoping that these words from his character Hannah Coulter (in the novel of the same name) might apply to me soon: "I began to know my story then." 45 sounds as good a time as any.

Spring break lunch club

Anne Waddoups

This week of spring break we've been sticking close to home. Maddy's studying hard for exams and preparing college applications and Sam and I have been doing projects here, too. Still, we wanted to do a few things that felt extraordinary so we invented a new mini tradition on the spot: spring break lunch club. For each of these last three days of break, we've decided to find new lunch places in interesting/spectacular settings before hunkering back down in the afternoon to be (various degrees of) productive.

Today we picked the cafe at the National Arboretum. A few years ago there was a huge bushfire that swept through this part of Canberra, stripping it of its trees. While the Arboretum is absolutely beautiful now it's also all about cultivating patience and awaiting its potential to sprout and grow. The views of Canberra from there are spectacular.

We love the huge script sculpture up on the windswept hill: wide brown land after the lines in the poem My Country by Dorothy Mackellar:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!

p.s. Did you know that this week Canberra was named by the OECD again as the best place in the world to live? We think she's pretty terrific, too--she might not be quite as exciting to visit compared to her glitzier sisters Sydney and Melbourne but we have found Canberra to be a really great place to live.

Away to camp

Anne Waddoups

It's spring break here in these parts. Last weekend we headed to the coastal town Narooma for our stake Young Women camp, Aussie style. We camped in tents, laughed, played, talked, cried, competed, climbed, learned, challenged ourselves on a hike that turned out to be way way more difficult than any of us thought, and grew our love and faith there in that clearing just steps from the sea. 

 You'd never know that just a month or two ago we weren't sure if it would all come together! As the time drew closer, most of the stake YW presidency, the food person, and the stake YW camp leader all had to drop out for various, mostly unavoidable reasons. That left the lovely remaining stake YW counselor, a convert who had never attended YW camp, shouldering the hefty weight of planning & running a 4-day camp for 65 girls and 10 leaders. Happily, people really rose to the occasion: each ward YW leadership took over the running of one of the days at camp as well as spearheading different activities and tasks throughout the camp time and (get this) the stake president and one of his counselors volunteered to do ALL of the food: planning, buying, preparing and serving (!!). Those good men quietly served and got to know the girls while the women leaders ran the show. If actions speak louder than words, their service sang arias. Everyone rallied for these girls.

They're so worth it: genuine, positive, smart, kind, and buoyant. I've not been around a group of young women with so little drama and so much light. I came back filled up with their goodness and energy.

YW Camp 20141.jpg

That last photo sums it up.

So much joy.

Around here lately

Anne Waddoups

"The light is nostalgic about mornings past and optimistic about mornings to come"
Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

That about sums up how I'm feeling, too.

Sam turned 16 a couple of weeks ago. He celebrated with a movie night with a bunch of friends (Guardians of the Galaxy), requested homemade ice cream cookie sandwiches for his dessert and a family birthday dinner at Jamie (Oliver)'s Italian.  The rest of us celebrated the fact that we so thoroughly lucked out in the son/brother department: curious, funny, deep, stubborn, good, bright, compassionate, socks-and-shoes-off-and-on-the-floor, hardworking Sam is a boon and blessing for our family. 

Maddy proposed that we get a punching bag and gloves, thinking it would be a great way to work off the stress of her IB studying, tests, and deadlines. We've been holding FFC (family fight club) a couple of nights a week, trading off turns with the gloves and mitts. She's right--it's very cathartic. (I know, I just broke the first rule of fight club. Oops.)

I'm still trying to figure out what to do with that bay behind the table. Comfy chairs? Right now it's kind of our boxing ring/dance floor, ha!

I'm still trying to figure out what to do with that bay behind the table. Comfy chairs? Right now it's kind of our boxing ring/dance floor, ha!

There's a lot of homework going on around here as the kids are midway through their third term of the school year. Maddy's life is particularly filled with studying and deadlines as she zooms toward the IB testing in November. The International Baccalaureate program has a lot of positives but it is definitely rigorous and demanding! Because of how the Australian schools marking systems are set up, Maddy won't have a GPA when she applies to universities in the US; instead she will submit her IB scores, which are mostly comprised of the test scores she receives from comprehensive exams at the end of this year, covering two years' worth of content. 

Like the AP system in the US, she can also use her IB results to receive university credit (depending on the score, of course). Here's a little bit more about the IB system if you're curious. Basically, it's like taking AP classes in every subject + writing a thesis from original research + completing three service/community projects + completing a theory of knowledge/philosophy project to demonstrate critical thinking. 

All the Year 12 girls get rugby shirts as part of the school's tradition. Maddy chose to just embrace the way everyone loves to invoke our name (and they usually think they're the first one to ever think of it, ha!)

All the Year 12 girls get rugby shirts as part of the school's tradition. Maddy chose to just embrace the way everyone loves to invoke our name (and they usually think they're the first one to ever think of it, ha!)

This month Maddy's FB feed is filled with all of her high school friends' FB posts about leaving for college, their new dorms and roommates. This would have been Maddy's life right now, too, if we hadn't snatched her off to Australia two years ago where the class of '14 graduates in November rather than June. Instead she has another five months of school to go and will start university a year behind her US cohort. Secretly (or not so secretly) we're glad to have her around for this bonus Maddy time but I know it's not easy for her to see everyone else moving on with their exciting new lives and opportunities. But she's a good sport.

As with most things in life, though, there are tradeoffs. Maddy just found out yesterday that she was chosen for the UN Youth Australia delegation to the Middle East, one of 10 students selected from Australia. She went through rounds of essays and interviews and was delighted to be chosen. They'll head to Dubai, Amman, Petra, and Jerusalem in January where they'll participate in workshops and consultations with UN bodies, international NGOs, Australian and foreign government projects, and community organisations who are all working to build peace and understanding in the Middle East. At the end of the trip the delegation will volunteer at Hand in Hand, a Jewish-Arab integrated, bilingual school in Jerusalem that works to bring together members of the community from different walks of life and fosters peace on a grassroots level. As you can imagine, Maddy's thrilled. It's the light at the end of the IB tunnel for her. As you can also imagine, I am equal parts excited and nervous for her, my protective mothering activated by all the news of violence and unrest in the region. Shhh, mother bear. It'll be fine.

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

Anne Waddoups

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? (Psalms 137:1-4)

. . .

I first stumbled upon these verses when I was 19 and far away from home for the stretch of a six-month semester abroad in London. It was actually in my humanities textbook, not in the Bible itself, where I first discovered these words but I immediately turned to Psalms and marked them in my scriptures, that brown leather quad I still use. Those words felt like my own.

I hadn't been taken captive to London, though. It was my fiercest desire to explore the world; studying in London felt like a dream wrested into reality. And yet the nostalgia--for home, familiarity, and for people who knew and understood me--seeped in. More than that, I felt vulnerable and unsure of my song in that new, strange land. Was it even worth singing? Did it matter? (I learned: Yes it was. Yes it did.)

 I felt those words then and have felt them with every move, both physical ones into new places and figurative ones with each new stage and iteration of our family's development. I feel them now.

Oh, I feel them. We are not captive but we are removed, far removed from the familiar and the familial.

We are blessed here, immensely grateful for the good things this adventure has brought us on many levels, but beneath all that I will admit I have struggled a fair bit to get my footing this time around. But, as with every other new wilderness I've experienced, as I stumble my way through the footholds and handholds eventually appear (though often not where and when I expect) and I stretch to reach them.

And (tentatively, tenaciously) I raise my voice and sing.  Like Dorothy's red shoes, this has really been the answer all along.


Watching: My mom recommended the A&E series Longmire and G and I have been loving it. The characters are well developed and compelling. (That Walt Longmire. Sigh.) It makes me miss the stunning landscapes and distinct sensibilities of the American West, though. We've been watching an episode or two a night and I'll miss that daily dose when we catch up. (Fingers crossed for a Season Four, y'all.)

Reading: I loved The Meaning of Names (see my N&L post about it here). Right now I'm reading Neylan McBaine's How To Be a Twenty-First Century Pioneer Woman and Robert Galbraith's (aka JK Rowling) The Silkworm

Listening: