Friday, 31 December 2010

New years reflection: Where are you going, where have you been?

Yes, I'm one of those people who love, love, loves goal-setting. That's why the week between Christmas and New Years gives me such a rush. The tree and lights and nutcrackers are still out from the holiday build-up, but there's this calm that abounds before the new year starts. Perfect for reflection and dreaming.

This year I've been inspired by Chris Guillebeau (author of the Art of Nonconformity which I'm reading now) to do my looking back and forward in a more structured way. I followed his format (with a few deviations) because I think it's a good way to ask yourself lots of key questions. I thought I'd share some of the highlights, and I'd love to hear what some of your goals are.

Looking back on 2010

Two priorities
For the past few years I've chosen just words to focus on for the year. Any more and it gets a bit overwhelming. This year the words were writing and simplicity. I definitely gained momentum with writing, wrote a rough draft of my manuscript and found some supportive writer friends to encourage and keep me accountable. Not bad for a years' work!

In the simplicity department I think I'd also give myself an A (self-evaluations are always the best), because I do feel like I succeeded in enjoying some of life's simple pleasures (food, drink, time with loved ones) and in not stressing (too much) even though living out of a suitcase for 8 months, moving internationally twice, having no solid plans for what we'd do when we moved to the TBC location that turned into Seattle, and then settling down into said city. Oh the lessons in patience and faith you learn when you move every few years!

Focusing on simplicity has helped me to just take one step at a time, to not feel overwhelmed in all that I don't know and to focus instead on what I do know: that I have enough and things are going to be OK. Starting from scratch (over and over since we've been married) has given me a lot of practice in guarding my priorities as I build a life from the ground up. In this culture of busyness and more and more, simplicity isn't something you can just fall into, but it's worth the effort for me.

What went well?

In a nutshell, quite a bit! I am so grateful to have spent the first six months of 2010 living in New Zealand, reading, writing, drinking coffee and swimming in the sea. Staying with Dan's parents in Auckland all that time was such a surprise that was so good for the soul, the
perfect transition from England to life in the US.

I'm also thankful for these past six months, moving across the world once again and settling into a city I'm proud to call home: Seattle. We had no idea what to expect (that's how we roll), but think things have turned out nicely. We love our little one-bedroom apartment, our flexible income streams (ie jobs) and the community around us. It's also just nice to be home.

I know that years don't always play out like this one did, but rest assured I haven't taken one moment for granted.

What could have been improved?

There are always little things to learn from -- challenges and imperfections that are part of the journey. But overall, I wouldn't change anything. I am thankful for for seasons of stretching and challenge and disappointment, but even more that winter always breaks into spring, and seasons like this year come along to restore and recharge. 

Looking forward to 2011

Two priorities

For the third year in a row, writing's in the spotlight. But this year I'm upping the ante and have some specific goals, like finishing my manuscript and finding an agent. I'm planning to write at least one day a week and pushing forward with all the progress I've made. The other word is going to be balance. Balance isn't something that comes naturally in American culture (try over-the-top!/ busy!/ ambitious!), but it's something I know a lot of people want. For me, work-life balance is so important. I love working hard on things I love, but also having flexibility in my schedule to just hang out with my husband on a Thursday afternoon if I so choose is really important.

What am I looking forward to?

So much! It's nice to feel like we can unpack our bags for a while finally, and build on the past six months rather than prepare to up sticks again. Some of the words that I feel about 2011 are growth and roots. I've always thought that for the last 8 years living the life of a nomad I been growing roots in potted plants. I love the freedom that comes with being mobile and unattached. But I'm also glad to put those plants into some local soil and let them flourish.

I've got a lot of things I'm looking forward to, but here's a sampling:

  • Writing:
    • Having a writing day once a week
    • Doing a writing retreat
    • Going to a writers conference to practice pitching to agents
    • snagging an agent 
  • Design:
    • I've always wanted to learn graphic design, so I'm going to sign up for an InDesign class at the local community college 
  • Travel:
    • Dan and I are kind of obsessed with travel hacking and traveling for cheap. So we're trying to wrack up our frequent flyer miles and score some free trips. Here's the list of places we'd love to visit this year:
      • Dallas to see some great friends
      • San Francisco and NYC (I'm going for work anyway, so why not?)
      • Shanghai and Korea (dream big and all that)
      • New Zealand
So, those are some of my reflections at the end of the year. Right now the sun is streaming into our wood-paneled apartment, Dan's reading and I'm drinking coffee. In a few hours we'll be celebrating the new year with fondue and friends and hope for a wonderful year ahead.

Happy New Year to you! What are some of your goals for 2011 or reflections on 2010?

{Photos: one under the sun , banana strudel, and me}

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Great Expectations and Hard Times

In Birmingham several years ago I got on this short-lived kick to read the classics. That is, if you call reading The Brothers Karamazov short-lived. After the beautiful punishment of two months with Dostoevsky I decided to find something  a bit lighter and slightly closer to my adopted home and chose Dickens for my next book choice. Surely Dickens would help me savor life in England.

With Mr.Dickens' whole literary portfolio to choose from I'm not sure why I picked up the rarely acclaimed Hard Times.  Maybe I thought a novel about Victorian poverty would cheer me up, or at least help put my life into perspective.  Maybe it was the cheapest of the Penguin classics at Borders. Either way, what is true is that though my hopes for England were more Great Expectations, Hard Times is what I got. Nothing turn-of-the century or anything, just harder than I'd have liked.

I've been thinking a lot about expectations and reality these past weeks. Christmas will do that to you. I love Christmas and every year endeavor to recreate the magic of Christmas as a child. But magic creation (especially the homemade variety) is hard work and takes time. Time I don't have right now.

Living with great expectations can sometimes be a burden, especially when reality doesn't match.

I'm dreaming of a blue-skied Christmas with handmade stockings, a robust Douglas fir lined with perfect gifts and cookies and reading books wrapped in a blanket with a steady stream of eggnog latte. What I have is dead tree branches against grey skies, perpetually wet feet, hour-long drives to Kent (which is the total opposite to Kent, England) and a steady stream of tasks. And an eggnog latte (some things I can control).

But the other day I had the epiphany that this is enough. Like the vibrant berries sprouting out on trees across town, even in the imperfection of reality, there are little bursts of magic.

This December I've been so thankful that, even though aesthetically my Christmas won't be appearing on design*sponge anytime soon, I'm happy. I'm thankful for my husband, our little tree in our little apartment in a city I love, redcurrant candles, working in the Int'l District and the view of Seattle from the parking lot, the drive through Pioneer Square, the Christmas party with World Relief catered with Ukrainian food. Even grey skies and barren trees are somehow beautiful in their own stark way.

This year I'm appreciating that even though in our culture Christmas is laced with great expectations of what the spirit of the season should look like, there's so much beauty rooted in unmet expectation. Two-thousand years ago, to many waiting for a revolutionary savior to tangibly free them from an oppressive regime, a baby born in a manger would have been a disappointment. Or at least certainly not what was hoped for. Salvation so often looks different than what we hope for -- less outwardly glorious, much harder, still wonderfully what we need.

I will always be a Great Expectations girl and I will never seek Hard Times (nor re-read it). But so rare is it for life to meet expectations, that embracing reality and the glory of the mundane is a useful skill.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, appreciating all that you have, imperfections and all. 

{Photo by Irene Bush}

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Working with refugeees this Christmas - you can help

Recently I've had the privilege of working with World Relief Seattle on their Christmas mailing. World Relief does a fantastic job resettling refugees in the Puget Sound area, many of whom have incredible stories and have endured so much hardship on their journeys to safety in the USA.

For the Christmas card (featured here, that went out last week - phew!), we decided to feature a precious Burmese baby called Bawi Kung. This little one arrived to Seattle in late September as 5-month-old. The mother is a 23-year-old woman who must have some strength: not only does she have three little boys, but she's lived in a refugee camp for the past four years and has just uprooted once again to find safety in Seattle with her husband.

The Burmese government is one of the most brutal regimes on the planet right now, and it makes me so happy to see families who've lived in fear and insecurity arrive in Seattle to find freedom, opportunity and a community of passionate volunteers and staff rallying around them in support.

Most people in Washington (and everywhere) are making sacrifices due to tough financial times. Right now the Washington state government is figuring out where to make needed budget cuts. Scarily, Governor Gregoire has proposed a complete elimination of all state funding for refugee programs.  For World Relief, the implications would be awful. This would cut off vital services to hundreds of refugees who are fighting to get their lives together after moving across the world to find freedom, suffering post-traumatic shock and culture shock and figuring out how to live in a modern urban world. I can tell you from personal experience that moving across the world by choice as a relatively privileged, educated, English-speaking couple with no children is hard enough; my heart goes out to refugees everyone.

If you live in (the great state of) Washington, please join consider asking your state representatives and senators to keep funding for these programs. You can find your representative here. I can give you more information about the specific programs affected if you ask.

If you would like to support vulnerable refugees through the work World Relief Seattle does, please consider donating before the end of the year.

I don't normally (or ever!) make financial appeals, but I really wanted to share what I've been working on non-stop for the past month, especially since it's an issue so close to my own heart. And really, how can you resist precious little Bawi Kung?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

From the US to Holland for Love

You know I love a good international love story, so today I'm happy to have American Tiffany Jansen send a guest post from the Netherlands about how she met her Dutch husband. Enjoy...!


So, I’m cleaning out the drawers of the nightstand next to my bed when I come across an old diary of
mine. I had started it back in the winter of 2006 as a means of helping me through a recent break-up. I
decide to sit down for a read.

Eventually I got over this guy. According to the diary, I did this by convincing myself that I would end
up growing old and dying alone. But then, this is nothing new – I’ve always had a penchant for the

Skipping through the embarrassingly low-confident, heart-broken dribble (“Come on,” I’m yelling at the diary. “That guy was a rat!”), I come to my account of a trip to Europe in July of 2007. What really strikes me about this entry is the part where I predict “Wherever my soulmate is, I have a feeling he’s not going to be American.” Apparently I had forgotten my earlier entry where I doomed myself to spinsterhood
for life.

The fact that I fantasized about meeting an exotic foreign hunk is nothing spectacular. Tons of American women dream of being swept off their feet by a suave European. It’s when I read the following entry that I get goosebumps: “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.” That was in the fall of 2007. That’s when I met the man who stole my heart.

Now what does this have to do my prediction in the entry before, you ask. Well, let me rephrase that
last sentence in the above paragraph… That’s when I met the Dutchman who stole my heart. Though
that entry is followed by nothing but blank pages, much has happened since then. Four months later, we were engaged. Eight months after that, we were married and I was Mrs. Jansen. Mrs. Jansen with a one-way ticket to the Netherlands.

Hard to believe it’s been almost two years since I left the US to make the Netherlands my home. The
saga continues of course: residence permits, driver’s licenses, language classes, international clubs,
naturalization requirements, etc. But finding that diary somehow made it all finally hit home. I saw what I lost, what I gained, what changed, what’s the same, and how so much can happen in such a short period of time.

It’s amazing where life takes us and how, somehow, we instinctively know where that will be. I guess
that’s why they always tell you to follow your heart.

Tiffany and her dog moved to the Netherlands in 2008. Like so many expats in the Netherlands, Tiffany’s move was a result of being swept off her feet by a Dutchie. Tiffany writes about her dutchification adventures at Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland and teaches theater and musical theater workshops at Little Broadway.

and the winner is...

katie leigh!

Can you send me your address and I'll get a copy of Bittersweet to you straight away. Just in time for cozy holiday reading... Congrats!
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