What I’m Into, November Edition

Reading:

I read five books this month. Most memorable are:

–Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld.

A couple Sundays ago, I got to church bleary-eyed, and the glass of wine I had with friends at lunch nearly put me to sleep. I was tired, so tired. Why? Not because baby was up a bunch that night, but because I stayed up late to finish this book. Or at least, tried to finish it. I finally had to admit defeat right before midnight and finish it in the morning.

Eligible is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, part of this series of Austen retellings. The Bennets–all but Lizzy and Jane–live in Cinncinati, Ohio: Kitty and Lydia are Crossfit enthusiasts this time around, Mary is a perpetual student, working on her third master’s degree, and Mrs. Bennet is obsessed with online shopping and marrying off her daughters. When Mr. Bennett has a heart attack, Lizzy (a magazine writer) and Jane (a yoga instructor) come home for the summer. There, Chip Bingley and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy enter the story…and the rest is (retold) history.

Sittenfield incorporates many of the details I loved so much in the original, but adds some additional twists. One thing I liked is that Sittenfeld took the meanness out of some of the characters, adding some redemption to Kitty and Lydia, who are both shallow, vain, and frankly unlikeable and unredeemable in the original. (Luckily she leaves Caroline Bingley alone–who doesn’t want to see that bitch taken down?) Highly recommend this book if you’re a P&P fan.

–Artemis by Andy Weir.

I loved Weir’s first book, The Martian, with a fiery passion. It’s nerdy and geeky and about growing potatoes on Mars, for crying out loud. So I was very excited about this book, especially since I love heist stories, and this is one. It doesn’t disappoint. Weir is known for his incredibly detailed world building and exhaustive research, and it shows. Artemis is set on the moon and in a tourist economy, welding plays a huge part, and the protagonist is a female Saudi-turned-moon-resident. Go read it if you like space fiction, or science fiction (with the emphasis on science).

–The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald.

I read this one mainly because it kept popping up on my Goodreads and Amazon profiles. Sara is a Swedish recluse of sorts, who goes to a tiny town in Iowa called Broken Wheel to visit an internet friend/pen pal of sorts. But when she gets there, her friend has died. She stays on, opens a bookstore, and sets about accidentally revitalizing the town. It’s kind of a bookish chicklit, and I liked it mainly for the way it unabashedly celebrates readers and reading.

–Short form:

A Feminist Advent (Or: That’s What Advent Always Is) by Laura Jean. Advent starts on Sunday, and I have conflicted feelings about it. Advent is both my favorite season in the church year and one that reminds me how male-centric the church still is. I actually have a post planned about Mary and Advent and the way we tell her story: it probably isn’t a surprise to you that I think we sell her short in so many ways.

Several highlights from the linked post:

“It is a woman who proclaims the first Christmas message. It is a woman who cries out that God has not forgotten the poor and the hungry, that God has not ignored the violence of the wealthy and the powerful, that the Kingdom of God is on its way and it is literally growing inside her.

One of the most radical things about the Magnificat is that a woman sings a universal song. … Mary’s song is a fierce, unapologetic, and hopeful battle cry to the coming of the Kingdom of God for all people.” Amen to that.

Listening To:

–The Daily on Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts

I was intrigued by this because I would have totally chosen the Boy Scouts over the Girl Scouts when I was growing up. Much in the same way that I ended up quitting baseball once girls had to move to softball–looking back, I think I would have enjoyed softball, but the mandate that girls had to move to their own league as teenagers frustrated me enough to quit. Well, that and the tendon I tore which led to multiple surgeries and all that. But mostly the other thing.

Anyway, the episode interviews two sisters, one who joined the Boy Scouts, one who stayed with the Girl Scouts, and why they chose what they did. It’s a very kid-focused interview and it’s great.

–Fresh Air did an interview with Patton Oswalt, talking about his career, the loss of his wife, and comedy in general, and also talked to Father Greg Boyle, who works with gang members and ex-convicts in LA (to great success, I might add).

–Pop Culture Happy Hour did an episode on Murder on the Orient Express and cozy mysteries–my love for cozy mysteries knows no bounds so I was all over that.

Watching

Black-ish. There was a Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast about it, and I was intrigued enough to finally watch an episode. (Yes, I know I’m several seasons late to the party.) I’m now in season two and loving the Johnson family.

Thor: Ragnarok. My sister babysat while L. and I went out to dinner and then to the movies, and I loved every minute of it. (Well, except the sexualization of the Hella character. Seriously, can we stop doing this thing where women can only draw power from their sexuality?) But the fight scenes were epic and frankly, that’s mostly what I’m looking for in Marvel/superhero movies.

Doing

Dissertation writing (almost done!) and playing with this little girl, who is the light of my life at almost four months old. She’s learning new things every day and it fills me with delight to see her grow. Balancing taking care of her and writing my diss is a little hard at times, but I feel so lucky I get to be with her all day, every day.

Getting outside more. I’m still not fully healed from the fourth-degree tear, but I’m slowly getting back to exercising. We went on a hike with friends on Black Friday (#optoutside, thank you REI), and although I was in significant pain that weekend, it felt totally worth it. Mostly because we saw a banana slug eating a banana (so meta!) although the views at the top were great too.

Linking up with With I’m Into at Leigh Kramer!

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What I’m Into, October Edition

Reading

According to my Goodreads list, I didn’t read a lot in October. (That would explain why I’m six books behind in my 100-book yearly reading challenge instead of my usual five or so ahead.) Most notable books are probably:

It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt. Mike moves to a new town with his parents and sister, where he meets Sean. They play basketball and do homework together and slowly develop a relationship, but as the book blurb says, someone is always watching. The book is very tightly written and doesn’t go out of its way to announce itself as LGBT fiction (in the same way that hetero fiction doesn’t–the characters just happen both to be boys). **spoiler alert** there’s a little bit of the “bury your gays” trope going on, but there’s also a lot of love and acceptance, sometimes from unlikely places. Four stars.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I loved this book so much and don’t know why it took me so long to read it (I’ve owned a copy for at least a year now and probably longer). I don’t know what to call books like these but I love this genre of fantastical, mysterious, nerdy adventure stories. Sloan’s new book, Sourdough, is on my hold list at the library. Four stars.

This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick. This book tackles the art and science of placemaking, or how to feel at home wherever you find yourself living. I loved it. You can find a full review here. Four stars.

Shorter pieces:

Jenny Rosenstrach wrote a post on Dinner: A Love Story about her favorite things to gift people. I loved this idea and have been thinking about what to put on mine all month.

Watching

Grace and Frankie. Grace and Frankie are polar opposites: one’s a hippie artist, the other a classy, classic lady. Yet they find themselves living together after their husbands, partners at a law firm, leave them for each other. Lots of raw honesty and grace in this one, and a lot of humor too.

The Orville. Captain Ed Mercer finally gets his own ship–but his crew includes his ex-wife as his first officer, along with a motley assortment of other intergalatic species. I’ve watched just enough Star Trek to get what is being subverted in this series, and I’m digging it, the occasional slow episode aside.

Parks and Rec. I blazed through the entire series again, because I will heart Ben and Leslie forever.

Listening To

Lots of podcasts, including three from the Utah-based show Radiowest.

Radiowest: A Conversation with Tom Christofferson
Tom Christofferson is the brother of LDS Church apostle D. Todd Christofferson. Tom asked to be excommunicated from the church years ago, as he couldn’t reconicle being both Mormon and gay, but has since then rejoined the church–a decision that included leaving his partner of many years. He wrote a book about his experiences (That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family) that I am definitely going to pick up.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to make of this episode. It sounds like he made a conscious choice and is happy with it, but I so wish we lived in a world in which that wasn’t a choice he had to make.

Radiowest: Essential Oils and the Age of Anxiety. Based on this New Yorker article, the episode explores the phenomenon that is essential oils among Mormons. I listened to this on our drive to Idaho and it gave me a lot to think about with regards to Mormonism and gender (one of my research focuses).

Radiowest: Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation. Craig Harline is a BYU-based historian, the author of one of my favorite Mormon books ever, and has a new book out about Luther. (In case you missed it, it was the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, which has all us Protestants and/or religious history nerds excited.)

Every morning, I listen to Up First, usually while I’m making breakfast or getting dressed. It’s a ten minute NPR podcast that gets you the most important news of the day, so I feel like I’m at least halfway informed about what’s happening in the world around me. My sister told me about The New York Times podcast The Daily, which takes one topic and explores it for twenty or so minutes each day and operates on a similar premise. Well worth your time.

And finally, NPR’s Code Switch did a really interesting series about a new charter school for African American boys in DC, where they practice restorative justice and aim to close the achievement gap. The series, “Raising Kings,” included an episode about the “making of,” where the reporters–all people of color themselves–talked about what it was like to be at this school, what they loved, what concerned them, etc. I really recommend this one.

 

 

 

a reflection on pregnancy, two months postpartum

Pregnancy was really hard on me.

I feel silly typing that, because untold people are out there being pregnant every day, and many of them even enjoy it or at least get through it with a lot more grace than I did.

I may have gotten a lot of grace, but I sure didn’t exhibit it. It wasn’t as much the physical aspects, although I complained about them plenty. I could deal with the fatigue, the 30+ weeks of nausea, the loose joints, the nerve pain that had me literally crying towards the end whenever I tried to get out of bed, the blood sugar spikes that came with gestational diabetes, the heartburn, the low-lying placenta that had me on modified bedrest for a good chunk and took exercise off the table for my entire pregnancy, all the other aches and pains that had my doctor saying, “Yes, I’m sorry, that comes with the territory and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

But I didn’t deal well with the mental aspects. I’m not going to say a lot about it (some things are private, even on the internet), but it had a lot to do with prior traumas which reared their heads in ugly and unexpected ways. Pregnancy thrust me into limbo and an extensive identity crisis–and not because I didn’t want a child. All I’ve ever wanted is a family of my own, and now I was getting one. Yet it upended my life in ways I had not foreseen and couldn’t deal with.

It didn’t help that I was so far from family and friends and many of my coping strategies were now off limits. Whatever the case, it made most of my pregnancy an exercise of endurance rather than hopeful anticipation. It’s not a coincidence that I had been thinking of going back to therapy for a while and finally did so in the third trimester.

And then G. was born. I ended up with a fourth-degree tear that will require an upcoming surgery to properly repair, and a postpartum period that was so lovely in some ways and so, so painful in others. There were some shaky moments in there when I was hit by postpartum hormones and uncertainty about the future and felt incredibly out of sorts, but by and large, any signs of postpartum depression has passed me by. I’m lucky there, I think. I’m still taking pain killers every day and paying dearly for every walk I take, but I’m doing a million times better than I was at 20 or 30 or 39 weeks, and I’m grateful.

Through all of this, I mostly complained about the physical aspects because I felt that was expected and maybe accepted. I didn’t really know how to talk about the other stuff, how it made me feel like there would be nothing left of me by the time it was over. (I see now how women turn into mothers and lose themselves. I see that so clearly.) I still don’t really know how, though I’ve tried with some people I trust.

By now, I’ve heard a lot of stories from other people recalling their own pregnancies and deliveries. Some good, but many not so good. I wish my pregnancy had been easier, or I had been hardier; I’m not quite sure where the blame lies there. But I mostly wish these stories were part of the public discourse, pregnancy not reduced to something natural and mystical and therefore easy or a dismissive joke about irritability and weird cravings. I wish it wasn’t relegated to something women talk about among themselves. Because yes, finally getting to meet G. made it all worth it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But I won’t pretend it wasn’t hard, and I don’t think I should have to.

On placemaking, or a review of Melody Warnick’s This Is Where You Belong

Melody Warnick is no stranger to moving–or the itch that inspires it–, and considers herself pretty proficient at the practice. But then she and her family do move number 6 so her husband can take a tenure-track job at Virginia Tech. Faced with the reality of yet another new town, she longs to put down roots. This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Live is her attempt to figure out what it is, exactly, that makes a place feel like home.

ThisIsWhereYouBelong_CVF_110316.inddIn the book, Warnick talks to placemaking experts (as an aside, am I the only one that reads books like these and finds all these cool careers she didn’t know existed but sound really fun and interesting?) to find out ways to jumpstart feeling at home. She has chapters on volunteering, getting involved with local politics, making neighbors into friends, and even how simply walking somewhere creates a bond between you and where you live in a way that driving won’t. At the end of each chapter she includes a “Love Your City Checklist” with a variety of actionable ideas you can implement in your own community. There’s something for everyone there, and you don’t have to do them all–one of her main points is that just trying at all will be extremely helpful in establishing a sense of place.

I read the book with great interest since I’ve moved around a fair amount–it’s nothing compared to some people, but it’s enough to make the ‘where are you from’ question a slightly convoluted one. The book helped me understand why I felt at home in some places and so displaced in others.

If I think about why Germany and I didn’t mix, well, a large part of that was probably because I wasn’t doing any placemaking of my own. I walked a lot and took public transit, so scored high on that list, but my life there was pretty restricted to the university and my apartment. Mostly due to the language barrier (completely underestimated how long it would take me as a shy introvert to even try to talk German outside of language classes), but honestly also because I spent a good chunk of my time there battling clinical depression without realizing it. When I left Germany in 2013 for a fellowship in Utah, I had very little to show for my time there, and I kind of regret that.

I jumped at the chance to leave Germany, and moving to Utah felt like a breath of fresh air, albeit fresh air with a lot of culture shock. Utah was an interesting experiment, in that it was supposed to be a short-term home for me (the fellowship was nine months), so any placemaking I was doing in those early months had that in the back of my mind. Until I met L. and suddenly I was there for the long haul and had to step up my efforts.  Two things stand out for me there: I took a small seminar-type class at the university and met some other grad students, and I joined a fabulous friend’s fabulous book club. I distinctly remember meeting a friend one Saturday morning at a coffee place in my neighborhood, maybe a year and a half in, and thinking, ‘this is it, now I’m home.’ And that’s pretty much when L. got the California job offer and we made plans to move again. I thought moving with someone would be easier, and in some ways it was, but in some ways placemaking as a trailing spouse is especially hard. Or at least I found it so. I made L. promise we could stay here longer than two years, and I set about the task of building a new life, again.

I found myself nodding at a lot of what Warnick wrote, in the sense that she describes a lot of things I had done unconsciously in my attempt to settle in, like volunteering, or eating local, or just wandering around the neighborhood. I ended up signing up for a century that first spring, and I got to know so much of the peninsula while training (I’d go out on 40-60 mile rides every week). And because we only had one car and I didn’t have a job yet, I spent a lot of time walking to and from downtown, or the grocery store, or around the block with the dog. So I got to know my way around pretty quick. That, coupled with a new church where I quickly started volunteering, our commitment to trying out all the breakfast places in town, and finally landing a job of my own, meant I felt much more at home at the one-year mark than I had ever done in Germany and Utah.

The longest I’ve ever lived anywhere is the ten years we spent in California when I was a kid, so I can’t really fathom staying in one place for 15 or 20 or however many years and becoming a real local. But one of the things I appreciated about the book is that you don’t have to be–Warnick includes both long- and short-term strategies in her book, and implementing them will help you feel at home wherever you are, however long you stay there.

One last note: even if you’re not like me, you’re not a Mover, you’re a Stayer, there’s probably a lot you can learn from this book. You might instinctively being doing much of this already, but I bet there’s a tip or two in these pages that will make you love where you live, even more.

What I’m Into, August Edition

 

(Also known as, why this post is four weeks late.)

Little G. was born on August 12 and is absolutely perfect. Her arrival has shifted my priorities somewhat, so perhaps this post should be titled: “What I’m Also Into, August Edition.”

Reading:

Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Mother’s Guide to the Meaning of Life. Don’t let the saccharine title fool you–this is not a sappy book. I’m six weeks into this parenting thing and so much of what she writes about is still beyond my understanding, but I can see glimmers of truths in what she writes, and glimpses of what is to come. Incidentally, this was my first Amy Krouse Rosenthal book, whom you may know from her beautiful and heartbreaking Modern Love column, published ten days before her death, and I will be back for more. Four stars.

Kevin Kwan’s Rich People ProblemsThis is book three of a series, and while 1 and 2 were entertaining enough (in a “how the other half lives” or more accurately “how the 0.1% lives” way), this felt like one book too many. Two stars.

Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back. I like Cabot’s books as long as I remember that they are romances, not literary fiction, and downgrade my expectations accordingly. Two to three stars.

Donna Andrew’s Gone GullI mention Donna Andrews about every other month–she’s my favorite cozy mystery writer and this new installment did not disappoint! Meg’s grandmother has opened up an arts center but is plagued by vandalism, and then murder. Meg has to solve the mystery before the center is forced to close! (Insert suspenseful music here..) Four stars.

Currently on my hold list at the library: Lucy Syke’s The Knockoff, Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, Roger Horowitz’ Kosher USA, Ken Jenning’s Because I Said So!, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and Katrine Marcal’s Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?. 

On the left: Baby’s first bookstore visit! She was two weeks old. On the right: our haul from that visit. L. and I have somewhat different taste in books. 

Shorter pieces:

On the rise of female powerlifters: I got into lifting before I got pregnant, and can’t wait to get back into it. It’s given me muscles, sure, and aesthetic effects, but mostly confidence. Like the article says, “‘When they’re able to lift a certain weight,” she explains, “then they start questioning, ‘Well, what else did I think I couldn’t do that I can actually do?'”

Plus, it’s really nice to be able to carry whatever I need in daily life. Functional fitness for the win!

On starting new projects (Emily Freeman). 

“If we’re going to bring forth creative work into the world, we have to be able to discern the difference between sacred waiting and scared waiting.” This. There is a difference between white-knuckling the status quo and being afraid of the future, and letting things take their time so new roots can unfold. I have done plenty of both over the past year, and while waiting for anything still doesn’t come naturally to me, there is fruit to be found in sacred waiting and I am learning to see it.

Watching

Happy ValleyThis documentary takes a look at the Penn State community after the sex abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky and other officials came to light. What I took away from this documentary is how much we want people to be either good or bad, and most people aren’t–most people are equal parts innocent and guilty, good and bad, and communities generally have a very hard time dealing with that.

Little Evil. Adam Scott (Ben from Parks and Recreation) plays a man who unwittingly becomes the stepfather to the antichrist. I am not a horror fan, at all, but this is a horror-comedy. It’s both funny and lame–it was entertaining enough but not likely to make my list of ‘movies I’d recommend’ and I mainly watched it because I heart Ben and Leslie forever.

The Good Place. Eleanor dies and finds herself in heaven–by accident. Now she has to prove she belongs there. This series stars Kristen Bell and is produced by the same people who did Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Rec, so of course I loved it.

Bones. A slow healing process post-childbirth means a lot of time spent on the couch. Nursing a newborn also means a lot of time spent on the couch, and Bones, Booth, and the rest of the crew have been good company, especially late at night when I want something familiar to get me through yet another nursing or pumping session.

YouTube:

Jun’s KitchenThis youtube channel features a man cooking traditional Japanese dishes–but for his cats. It’s oddly captivating.

Marblelympics. Picture me reading on the couch, hearing cheering from the tv, glancing up to see a sporting event on the screen, glancing again to see that this is, in fact, a sporting event featuring marbles and professional grade commentary. Epic and amazing.

(You can thank L. for both of these. He has some interesting Youtube habits.)

Listening to:

Not much. I’ve been youtubing lullabies because I am deficient in that department and turns out singing to them does really quiet down fussing newborns. I have sung the ones I know approximately a million times so far and need to expand my repertoire for my own sanity. L. reports little miss also likes the Hamilton soundtrack, particularly “Dear Theodosia,” so perhaps I should just brush up on my historical rap skills…

What have you been reading, watching, and listening to? Anything I should add to my list?

What I’m Into, July Edition

Reading

Screenshot 2017-07-29 10.38.52

Apparently this month was a nice split between more serious books and cozy mysteries. You all have seen me mention Donna Andrews before–she is one of my favorite cozy mystery writers and her books are always a treat to re-read. Otherwise this month I read:

Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most by Marcus Borg. It’s part spiritual memoir, part easily accessible primer of sorts on progressive Christian theology, and an engaging read.

City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles. Sara Miles isn’t your average Episcopalian (or maybe she is, is there such a thing as an average Episcopalian, especially in San Francisco?) and in this book, she reflects on her experiences taking the Ash Wednesday services to the streets and giving ashes to anyone who wanted them. The book is a meditation on the limits of church buildings, the power of liturgy, and what happens when you broaden the confines of your community.

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett. I read Micha’s blog for years but put off reading the book because as a single grad student/non-mom of small kids, I didn’t think it would resonate. Well, now that I’m about to enter the cult of motherhood and am even debating staying home with the baby for a while (gasp), the themes resonate a lot more. Micha writes candidly about her struggle to feel like her life is “enough,” that she is enough, that God loves her whether she’s a missionary in Africa or a stay-at-home-mom in San Francisco. As someone who is always afraid she’s squandering her potential, I found myself nodding at a lot of what she wrote.

Watching

What do you do when you are too pregnant to exercise properly (the most I can manage are short walks, or on a really good day, a 20 minute swim) but miss it anyway? You watch sports documentaries on Netflix.

I have a weird fascination with Crossfit. Every once in a while I google boxes near me and debate whether I’d like it or not and should try out a class. And then I settle for reading about it and watching documentaries, like this one, Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness, that follows a series of athletes as they compete in the 2016 Reebok Games, but also offers a retrospective of sorts about the explosive growth of the sport in the last ten years. (If you liked this, there’s also an earlier one that documents the 2015 Games, also available on Netflix.)

I do not have a weird fascination with golf, but really enjoyed The Short Game too. This documentary follows world championship-hopefuls, but here’s the catch: these are kids. They’re all eight and under, and the documentary talks about their love for the sport, the pressures of being a child athlete, but also the opportunities being a golfer has given them.

We also went to see Spiderman: Homecoming while we were in Seattle on our babymoon, in a theater that had the nice luxury seats but was way overheated, and I was dying through most of it. Still, fun superhero movie. Hated that it technically didn’t pass the Bechdel test, loved that it had two WOC playing lead roles.

Listening

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This is clearly the Americanist in me, but I loved this series. It tracks the rise of Oprah and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Utterly random and utterly delightful:

“In this new WBEZ podcast, Oprah Winfrey tells the behind-the-scenes story of her iconic TV talk show, along with producers, staffers, TV executives, and ratings rival Phil Donahue. The three-part series chronicles the show’s scrappy roots in Chicago, its rise to daytime dominance, and the powerful sway Winfrey came to have in American life.”

 

Tell me, what you have you been into this past month? 

two years ago

L. and I got engaged two years ago, in the rain, at Ikea. (It’s a whole story–ask me sometime and I’ll tell you.)

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It wasn’t a storybook engagement, or probably even romantic to anyone but us, but for me, it was perfect. It was both its own thing that reflected us so completely and the complete opposite of my failed engagement years earlier. (I say failed, but I should probably say successful, in the sense that breaking that engagement was one of the best decisions I ever made.) When my ex asked me to marry him, there was no joyful anticipation, no surprise. I vividly remember thinking, ‘no, don’t ask me this, don’t ask me this, don’t ask me this’ as he went down on one knee. But he did, and I said yes, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when someone asks you to marry him?

Don’t worry, I’ve learned a lot since then.

Saying yes to L. was a completely different experience, and it preluded an entirely different engagement period. I headed off to Europe for a couple months soon after that, and we spent a good chunk of the next year separated from each other by the Atlantic ocean, eight hours of time difference, and 5000+ miles. In some ways, I was saying goodbye to my old life as I was making plans for my new one. And sometimes (often), it’s hard to be so far away from friends and family and a culture that I love and miss dearly.

But meeting and marrying L. felt like coming home, and for that, I would happily travel thousands of miles more.