William Thomas (Happy 3rd Birthday!)

A few days ago was this little dude’s third birthday. Today, my family is gathered to celebrate Willie T and his super rad parents. I really miss my family and days like this make me miss them even more – I guess it’s a little bit of that sehnsucht I felt the day Willie was born.

To celebrate three years of life (and also celebrate him becoming a big brother in the spring!), here’s what I wrote to mark this new generation and remember the one that’s gone before. I’ll celebrate with a few tears too, and by sending ghost emojis around to say that I’m there in spirit. Happy birthday, Willie!


Original post: October 15, 2013


The summer I was seven, I lived in the woods. Well it wasn’t just me; I was with my brother and cousins. And it wasn’t the whole summer; it was only a week. And we came back into Pop and Nana’s house for meals and to sleep. The hours spanned like years made up of minutes that felt like days. We made up stories and we “fed” ourselves on acorns wrapped in maple leaves. We even built our shelter. Okay, my cousin Evan built our shelter while we claimed it was a group effort (we know better now). Evan is three years older than me, and he knew what he was doing. Each summer he’d come alive in those Pennsylvania woods. It wasn’t just the woods that made Evan come alive – it was being with Pop. I remember our fathers’ father, William Lindemann, in his waffle breakfasts, his hearty laughs, and his warm welcome of “Hello there, sweetheart,” every time I walked through his front door. Evan had a deeper relationship with Pop, one that I can’t quite explain. Even now, almost twelve years since Pop’s death, I see so much of Pop in my elder cousin – in his loyalty to his friends and family, in his hard work, and in his moccasins and old man clothesLast summer Evan got married and we celebrated a new cousin joining the family in his wife, Emily. At their reception, my father gave a blessing to the new couple before he asked God’s blessing on the meal. Dad shared with the friends and family gathered of Evan’s bond with Pop and spoke aloud what many of us were feeling – we wished that he was here to celebrate. We wished that he was sitting at the ceremony with a smile on his face as his young partner-in-crime watched his bride walk down the grassy aisle. We wished that he was there to eat with us, to drink with us, to celebrate life with us. Dad told Evan that if Pop were here, he’d say he was proud of him. And he’d have added, “It’s about damn time.” We all laughed, with tears in our eyes, hearing Pop’s voice in our minds. I laugh, even now, to think of it.

I learned a new word this weekend – sehnsucht. It’s German and I still can’t say it quite right, but I wonder if it’s a little of what we were feeling in that moment. Hard to translate, it has meanings of “intense longing” and C.S. Lewis spoke of it as a “deep joy.” As we sat there laughing and crying, I felt a longing for what couldn’t be and a joy for what was.

Yesterday afternoon Emily gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. As pictures flew around the family through texts and Instagram, my heart leapt with joy over this new life – this new beautiful life in our family. Soon after the pictures arrived, we received the text with his name – William Thomas. Instantly I felt what I could now only describe as sehnsucht. I felt a longing for what can’t be – that Pop will never hold his great-grandson and that he isn’t here to celebrate. And I felt joy for what is – a new generation beginning, bearing the name of a family legacy.

I wonder what will make Willie come alive. Will it be the woods and art? Maybe waffle breakfasts and being with family. I can’t wait to hear his laugh and welcome him through my front door. I know his dad will tell him many stories of his namesake, and because of that he’ll bear it well.

The Rainbow of Home: Vancouver Island

The Rainbow of Home: Vancouver Island
We lived on Vancouver Island for three months during our first year of marriage. A few years ago, my husband’s family moved to the island, planted some palm trees in their front yard, opened up a bed and breakfast and called it home. As they dig their roots in deep in their new home, we also begun to call it home – home is where people we love are, right?

On this trip, we only got to spend five days with our family on the island but it was both restful and memorable. We got to explore local coffee shops (photo above at Regard Coffee Roasters in Nanaimo), visit an Indian spice store (we bought rose water, but it was later confiscated when we accidentally left in a carryon), window shop at the thrift store (and wish we weren’t tight on luggage space!), and spend good time with family. Again I tried to keep mindful of the colours around me (spelt with a “u” because this is Canada, after all) and found that by doing so, I felt even more grateful for the beauty we saw!

Red: My in-laws live within walking distance of a quiet lake. There’s a path around the lake and an area to swim. When we go, we see people walking dogs, people on paddle boards, people jogging, talking, children playing, it’s a lovely place to be and breathe. A few weeks ago, after much research, Dad bought a red tandem kayak. He rigged up his truck to carry it and even bought some equipment to bring it on the ocean (which also isn’t too far from their house). We got to take it out on its maiden voyage at the lake during our visit – taking it to the middle of the lake, surrounded by pine trees and quiet. A perfect place to breathe.

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Orange:
When we visit, we get to stay in the bed and breakfast. It’s a large room with two big beds, an elegant chandelier, and an electric fireplace. The rug, bedding, and and two large housecoats in the closet are fluffy and white and the accent colour found in the throw pillows are a lovely shade of orange (you can see photos of the room, and book your next trip, at their page on bookings.com!). With cozy colours, textures, and lighting, it’s the most comfortable room in the world. (Shout out to my mother-in-law who has an incredible eye for decorating and hospitality, both of which she passed along to her son!)

Yellow: Off of the room where we stay (where you, too, can stay if you wish!*) is a small patio area with adirondack chairs and a small table with a potted plant. There’s a tall fence around the yard so you can’t see or be seen by the neighbors, and the grass is a lovely shade of green that’s sprinkled with dozens of yellow dandelions. Each morning, I made a cup of tea and took my journal to sit outside, reflecting on our trip and meditating on God’s word. It was just the perfect place to rest and slow down before the day.

*While I wasn’t paid or even encouraged to give an advertisement, I will also add that the breakfasts provided here are delicious and nutritious.

Green: Something I love about the West Coast becomes more noticeable in the winter, but is also a delight all year round: evergreen trees. The lake is surrounded by green year round. This trip, we also drove up to a look out point, looking out onto acres and acres of evergreen trees in the middle of the island. First of all, I didn’t realize Vancouver Island was so big. And also, we found it fun that both Trent’s dad and I went out close to the cliff while both Trent and his mom stood back, eagerly beckoning us to not stand so close.

Blue: We rode the ferry to and from Vancouver Island from Vancouver. Going there we traveled at night and missed out on the view, but we left the island on our last day on a sunny, clear afternoon. The sky was a radiant blue and the water was a deep indigo making for a stunning two hour boat ride onto the mainland. (Note: While BC Ferries is definitely the way to travel, two years ago we took float planes from the island to the mainland and that was an incredible experience! Plus, it gets you there in just 20 minutes.)

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Indigo:
There’s a new coffee shop in town! Well, new to us as it opened just as we left for the Philippines two years ago. Regard Coffee Roasters is where we went once a day, with Trent’s sister, Shae, and got to try their delicious coffee and tea.  Inside their shop (which has just two benches and a long table) in their roaster, an old Probat they bought from Drum Roasters in Duncan, BC (another awesome shop we visited last time). It’s indigo and metal and from what we tasted gives the roasters a tasty cup.

Violet: One of our adventures was to the mall with Trent’s other sister, Kay. She came to hang out with me for a bit while I was writing this list and she wanted to make sure I mentioned how lovely she is. Kay is a teenager and wonderful. She’s hilarious, creative, and deeply cares for people. I love watching her serve her family around the house and see what she’s drawing and writing. My sisters-in-law are all so cool. When we were with Kay at the mall, we ate lunch at the food court and then did some browsing. But after our meal, we took our trays to throw away our trash and we met with six bins. One of them was violet (making me think it was a good story for this rainbow). I stopped before them with my tray in hand and stared for a good, long, while. Kay stood next to me and laughed. “Compost, trash, recyclable, paper, plastic…” In Manila, you leave your trash on your table and someone cleans it up. In most places in Connecticut, you throw it all away into one bin. I really like it when recycling options are available (I’ve carried around plastic bottles before until I could find a recycling bin), but in that moment – I felt overwhelmed. Kaylee helped me figure it out and we may have thrown stuff away we shouldn’t have, but we laughed about it as we walked away.

We’re so grateful for such a good time with family. In the midst of these five days, we also got to host a coffee cupping of Philippine-roasted coffee, meet a couple in town who are setting up their own coffee shop (with a focus on cinnamon buns!), visit a new tea shop along the harbour front, and have many conversations and meals with family.

The Rainbow of Home: Wisconsin

The Rainbow of Home: Wisconsin

I didn’t expect Wisconsin to feel like home. I’ve known it for a while as other people’s homes. And I’ve heard of its cheese. But something about spending time with new family in a new place and helping dear friends start their new lives together as husband and wife makes a place feel like a new kind of home.

I noticed the colors here too. The fields of corn stalks that went on for miles and the dark blue star-lit nights took my breath away and again I tried to capture their beauty and the way they made me feel small. We drove through towns with populations like 185 and stayed in a place where the only fast food chain for miles around was a Subway. We ate farm fresh corn and poured maple syrup on our breakfast plates that was just poured form the tree itself.

We strung lights and set tables and ate food and made friends and worked together to celebrate some of the most wonderful people I know – a guy that I’ve gotten to call “brother” for the past two years and his new bride. And while the colors for their day were a light blue, mint, and lavender, the colors of my week were even more numerous.

Red: Greg and Susie got married in an old, white wedding chapel in the middle of a small town. The couple who run it have operated their business as a wedding chapel for over twenty-five years and know the show. They take pictures throughout the day and sell them afterwards (printed, framed and all!), they decorate the pews and offer rentals of unity candles and whatever else you’d need for the perfect ceremony. And out behind the chapel there’s a small gazebo covered in bright, red roses that were the perfect photo backdrop.

Orange: This week was one of food-on-the-go. We grabbed granola bars often as we ran out the door and stopped a few times for a snack at a local store. We ate a light dinner of fresh corn-on-the-cob one afternoon to hold us over until a late night dinner. One of the foods we always had on hand was oranges. These were easy “throw in my purse” type foods that were also a good immunity booster for an intense wedding week.

Yellow: I wore my wedding shoes for the whole weekend. They went with the blue dress I wore for the rehearsal and I wore them with my long blue and yellow dress for the day of wedding festivities. When I bought these shoes for our wedding day, I wanted them to be something I could wear again and again and again – not just that one day. I love that I got to celebrate another wedding, of two people I think the world of, while wearing these yellow shoes!

Green: The fields! The trees! The grass! Susie’s family owns a golf course just down the hill from their house and one day we got to go to the putting range. It was my first time to hit a golf ball, aside from mini-golf, and it was way more fun than I expected. We loved learning from Susie and getting to experience that part of her life.

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Blue: Greg and Susie’s wedding theme was travel. For their engagement photo shoot, they used maps and their passports as props. They met in Haiti and got engaged in the Philippines (with us!), traveling between the U.S. and Canada while dating (long distance is tough, yo). One of my favorite multi-purpose props during the weekend was this set of suitcases that was probably scored at a thrift store. Multiple suitcases of varying sizes fitting inside each other – and they were used for things like collecting cards and serving bags of chips. It suited the travel theme and added a little vintage flair!

Indigo: The sky always makes me feel small, in the best way possible. Living in a city, we don’t see a lot of stars at night (but often I can see Orion from our rooftop!). Out in the fields, driving around the empty streets, I’d catch a glimpse of the indigo sky as the sun was completely gone and the moon in its proper night time place, and I’d go weak at the knees. The pinpoint stars covered the indigo sky in white glitter every night and I couldn’t take it in enough.

Violet: Susie showed me pictures of her flower girl a few days before she joined the wedding adventures in Wisconsin. At the time she met Greg, Susie was living and working in Haiti at an orphanage called God’s Littlest Angels. That’s where she first met the little girl who would walk down the aisle before her in an adorable violet dress, diligently sprinkling violet rose pedals to grace the white path for the bride. Now adopted and living a few hours away, this little girl beamed with each flower-girl task and also skillfully led the dance at the reception by showing us how to whip and nay-nay.

We loved our time with Susie’s family and ours in Wisconsin. Not only did we grow in our love for cheese and breathe deep in the open spaces, but we gained a whole new group of friends to thankfully call home.


Greg and Susie had a wonderful photographer (and friend) capture moments from their wedding day. You can see photos of those red roses and the beautiful flower girl dressed in violet on her blog here!

Stuff Worth Sharing: Hong Kong

Stuff Worth Sharing: Hong Kong

One of the perks of living in the Philippines is the seat sales on Cebu Pacific. Not the most on-time airline unless you fly out early in the morning, but it gets you where you need to go and at a great price. Last month we found a couple of round trip tickets to Hong Kong and jumped at the chance to get a little vacation and explore another city.

Hong Kong is just a two hour flight from Manila but drastically different. Less traffic, more trees, and a beautiful mix of east and west – it was my first time to explore this city and I found a few things I think are worth sharing.

Octopus Card

I heard about this helpful piece of plastic before we arrived, but I didn’t realize how convenient it actually would be. The Octopus Card is a reusable card used for payment on public transit around Hong Kong and it’s also so much more. It’s accepted at most restaurants and stores like 7-Eleven, leaving you more worry free about needing to carry so much cash. The public transportation system feels flawless (especially coming from Manila) and we never waiting more than 5 minutes for a train. You can buy the card at any train station (we got ours as soon as we arrived), loading up the minimum amount of $100 HK. You also pay a $50 HK deposit which you can get back when you return the card at the end of your trip in addition to cashing out any left over money on the card (we returned ours at the train station where you catch the airport train). Simple, convenient, and looks cool too.

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Mingle by the Park

We watch HGTV and we saw the common theme for Hong Kong dwellings: small. Even still, finding an affordable place to stay wasn’t hard (Trent did a lot of online research). With the expectation that wherever we stay in the city would be tight quarters, we weren’t disappointed with what we found at Mingle by the Park. Located just a few blocks from the Wan Chai MTR station on Hong Kong Island, it was convenient for walking and transit. We found a close by market with fruits we bought for breakfast each day (cherries!) and multiple nearby coffee shops (see below) to choose from. Rooms were clean, bed was comfortable, price affordable, and I liked drinking the complimentary tea while standing on the balcony each morning.

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McDonald’s Next 

This. Blew. My. Mind. McDonald’s is most notable for convenience – with their drive throughs and literal fast food. In Manila we often order for delivery and have it come right to our condo door (dangerous ability, I know). But here in Hong Kong (and I’m told in Singapore too), they have leveled up their game.

Touch screens to place your order, cell phone charging stations at each table, staff who deliver your food to you in a presentation which rivals any Chili’s or TGI Friday’s I’ve experienced. More than a place to grab a quick bite to eat, this McDonald’s is an experience – and one I hope is just a glimpse of what we’ll see from them in the future.

For coffee enthusiasts, their espressos are made on a McDonald’s-yellow Victoria Arduino Black Eagle (the machines used at the World Barista Competition). Don’t expect light roasted coffee, but this is definitely a giant leap above other McCafes.

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McDonald’s Next is located just off of the Admiralty MTR station.


Coffee

Filters Lane  (111 Caine Road, SoHo) – We stayed here the longest – partly for the coffee, and mostly for the friendly service and connection we made with the owner and barista. We loved hearing the stories of the Hong Kong coffee scene and getting business advice from the owner of this well designed cafe with delicious coffee. Another favourite part: these cups that are served on a wooden tray that holds them upright. But set it down on the table and it also won’t tip, leaning on the handle of the cup in a perfect weight design.

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The Cupping Room (32 Swallow Street, Wan Chai) – A speciality chain with the best tasting Americano I’ve had in my life: smooth and sweet, a blend of coffee from South America. They champion their 2nd place win in the World’s Barista Competition a few years ago and they deserve it: well designed spaces and well presented beverages. We were impressed by how they elevate their barista position as well, explaining to us that certain beverages couldn’t be made that day because their barista was at a different shop at the moment.

Omotesando Koffee (this is Trent’s favourite website of all time, be sure to click!) – INTERIOR DESIGN HEAVEN. Minimalist. Quiet. Light. Oh, and the coffee is just as delicious. The customer flow is notable as well – as soon as you walk in the front door, you’re greeted by a person behind the counter who is ready to take your order and answer any questions. He inputs your order to a computer and hands you a printed ticket that you take up the stairs to hand to the barista. While your coffee is being made, you can watch and chat with the barista who’s attire resembles a mad scientist. Taking your drink to an empty table, you swing a stool out from beneath the table top and have a seat to drink the beverage and relax in the quiet surroundings.

Hazel & Hershey (Shop 3, 69 Peel, Central) – If you need to know where to get coffee gear in Hong Kong: this is your place! Here you’ll find helpful staff who advise on the perfect brew method and and an entire wall filled with your heart’s desire in home brew equipment and espresso machine accessories. If you’re there to drink some coffee, I recommend ordering the nitrous cold brew. We also may have geeked out a little over the fact that they sell coffee from Project Origin, World Barista Champion Sasa Sestic’s coffee distribution company.

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Tea

As she brewed us a remarkable aged puerh tea, the woman at Gong Fu Teahouse explained that while their company has been around for a while, they are trying to brand themselves now in such a way that appeals to the younger generation. Our friend at Filters Lane also told us that tea, it seems, is more for the older generation while the millennials are gravitating toward coffee. We’d love to highlight both of these delicious beverages at Narrative Coffee Company, so we’re always up for exploring both worlds!

Bonus HK Tip: Try the duck and egg tarts from any restaurant where you can’t read the menu.

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With Those Who Mourn

I’m reading a book right now called Wearing God. It’s by Lauren Winner and while I’m still early into it, I’m inspired by each page.

She talks about how, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Bible says to “clothe yourself with [God/Christ].”

She explains that the clothes we put on tell a story to the people around us and to ourselves. She tells of how, years ago, a grieving person would clothe themselves in black for months after their loved one’s death. It told the story to other people around them that they were mourning. It told the story to themselves that it is okay to mourn. It meant that they could show up and people around them would know how to treat them, how to care for them well. It meant that they wouldn’t need to explain themselves or feel like they had to.

She makes a beautiful parallel between how wearing black tells an acquaintance to squeeze my hand or friend to give me a hug just as how when we wear God, we tell the world around us who we follow and to whom we belong. We identify with Him and it often tells the people around us how to interact with us.

I love and am challenged by this truth. I got something else, too, out of Lauren’s writing and the writings she quoted. As she spoke of the grief journey, it reminded me how mourning is beautiful and best done in community.

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At the end of last year, my community in Connecticut lost a dear friend. My heart grieves for her death and my heart grieves for the distance between me and that community. A few friends in my community here lost important people in their lives this past month.

I only met Uncle Bob* a of couple of times and I sat with tears running down my face at his memorial service.  His five sons spoke (one via a pre-recorded video from California) and his wife read something he had written before his death. Each story expressed love and gentleness and kindness – not just within their family, but also toward strangers. Toward the nurses and doctors who attended to him in his final days, one nurse even calling him “Dad.” Each story made me want to be like him just a little more – to love tenderly and act boldly.

The tears came as my friend, Maow, led the group gathered (in the first of the three memorial services) in singing “I Can Only Imagine.” When he sang, I wasn’t imagining heaven, exactly, I was imagining Maow imagining heaven. I was imagining how he was picturing his dad, pain free, and bowing before the Creator of the world.

As I sat watching, listening, and crying, I couldn’t help but think of how beautiful this is. This time of mourning is a time for the living to gather and retell stories of hope, of love, and affirm the empty space in our lives.

My friend Ynna tells me stories of her Lolo too. He was 88 and it sounds like he was the rock of their family. Everyone called him “Lolo Pete.” Her home feels empty and there’s a place missing from the table setting. She misses his greeting to her when she comes home: “Hello, sweetheart!” She misses his singing. I hear her stories and I miss this man whom I’ve never met. But I’m also missing my own grandfather. He greeted me the same way and sang the same songs.

When we mourn in community we get to tell those stories together. The creators of the video game That Dragon Cancer explain their experience in a recent episode of Reply All: “Grief is the emotion, and mourning is what we do with that emotion.”

We can isolate ourselves when we’re grieving. Sometimes we want to get to a new normal as fast as we can. Sometimes I don’t want to be a burden or have people wonder why I’m still aching.  In today’s world, we may not wear black for months to express our grief, but when we get to walk alongside each other in these seasons, we learn from their stories and grow a little closer through shared pain. I think that like wearing black communicates grief, mourning with those who mourn communicates a bit of who God is and the comfort He offers too.


* I do have an actual uncle named Bob who I fondly call “Uncle Bob” and this is not him.

Urban Hiking and a Renewed Spirit

Today is my day off.

My days off are usually spent like this:

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Coffee. Journal. Books. Solitude. Sometimes a TV show. Sometimes a nap. Always in our apartment, usually on the couch.

Today, for some reason, was different.

Oh, I started off doing the normal things. I even made a to-do list for such an occasion. It read: “Wake up. Coffee. Silence.” Et cetera. It’s been a long, packed week, and my soul has been craving the usual life-giving, down-time activities.

But about the time I took Gordon (the pug) outside for his morning bathroom visit (which ended up being in the early afternoon; he’s a trooper) and by the time I’d eaten my lunch (a random mix of whatever I had in the ref), I felt a strong urge to explore.

To go outside my apartment.

To put on shoes suitable for walking. To lock the door behind me. To have a rough idea of a plan but no set goals or directions.

This, my friends, is a strange feeling.

For the past ten months of living in a city, a foreign city, I’ve used my days off as a day of retreat. A day to retreat from traffic, from pollution, from the heat, and from my own inability to communicate.

But today, for some reason, was different.

And so I donned my walking shoes and packed my small backpack (because a backpack is more adventurous than a purse). I brought the necessities: water, money, an extra shopping bag just in case. I grabbed my cell phone and keys and walked out the door.

As I waited for and then journeyed down the elevator, I pondered why the sudden courage. Why the desire for fresh air, no matter the pollution and the traffic? Why the change of heart? The next thing on my to-do list was to sit down and write. I’d been mulling over a few more writing pieces and was eager to put them to words. But instead I decided that this time, its as better to live a story than to write one.

The air felt cooler at the start and this may be one of the factors that called me outside. There’s a breeze and it feels like my concept of late June and I can see the mountains beyond the city from my balcony.

I walked toward a market (which happened to be closed on Mondays) and I decided to look for the wildlife in the city around me. I chucked when I named the drainage “flowing stream” and the weeds “plant life.” I was changing the way I see. For a while, the city around me became a jungle to explore rather than concrete to walk through. The people around me became people to smile at rather than threats to reveal my own inadequacy.
 

I stopped at the street vendor for a cup of buko juice, a refreshing treat I usually desire but rarely dare inquire. The determination I felt as I approached surprised me and my past fears seemed almost laughable. It was delicious.

I walked and I noticed and I felt joy. The surplus store didn’t have any planters and the market and new coffee shop were closed and I continued on. I bought ingredients to bake doughnuts and I treated myself to a can of ginger ale.

Coming home I felt satisfied and eager (there are still doughnuts to be made, after all). I felt confident and as if the city around me is less scary. My communication is growing (thanks to my patient friends and language teachers) and I’m feeling more and more convinced that a smile really does cross language barriers. I’m learning to see with new eyes and embrace hard things with a renewed heart. My stomach, on the other hand, is now longing for those doughnuts.