Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Make 'em laugh

Hello people I love!

It’s been way too long since I’ve blogged and I’m sorry. As I’m sure it’s been with you, life has been so busy since Easter. Friends and loved ones have been to visit and I’ve been fortunate to see more of this beautiful island. Work has been hectic with all of our different programs, and I’ve been able to regularly take part in a women’s development group that meets on Friday mornings. And I’ve learned to knit! I made a red square. I have also become queen of the dance parties in our afterschool programs and I’m lucky enough to bust a move on with some of the coooolest elementary aged girls around. With the weather behaving more and (what I consider to be) sometimes spring(ish) temperatures I’ve found myself cycling around more. There’s a footpath that runs from Belfast to Comber called The Comber Greenway and it’s a nice break from the traffic and noise of the roads.

Most recently it’s been called to my attention that I’ll be heading home soon- August 3 actually. Because of this, the most popular question in town these days is, “What are you going to do when you get home?” Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m open to suggestions. I don’t fancy myself in a Dilbert-like existence, but I don’t think my history degree would land me a Dilbert job anyway. If there is one thing I’ve learned this year it’s that I need to work with people who can laugh. As our programs wind up this month and we get ready for the summer I count myself lucky to have been able to laugh daily with such fine folks. So Sally, Heather, John B, John M, and Andrea- thanks for all the laughs so far. :) And on that note, I'll leave you with a joke... Gold walks into a bar and the bartender says, "Au! Get outta here!" Whatever- that's funny.

*"Make 'Em Laugh" is from Singing In The Rain... an appropriate title for my life this year.

Make 'em... Make 'em laugh.
Don't you know everyone wants to laugh?
My grandpa said, "Go out and tell 'em a joke,
But give it plenty of hoke."

Monday, March 22, 2010

More on food...

Yes, you're understanding this correctly- for the first time I've posted twice in the same month. This is going to be more of a food profile, if you will, because I've realized that many of you might not understand what delightful (and sometimes not so delightful) dietary changes I've experienced for the better part of the year.

Favorite new food: Sausage rolls! They're so good! Christina, the owner of Restaraunt X in Davidson sells them during Christmas in Davidson, so make sure you get some this coming Christmas! It's a sausage wrapped in buttery, flakey pastry and it's amaaaaaaazig.

Least favorite new food: Black pudding. Sausage held together with blood? No thanks. There's just no disguising the overwhelming taste of blood. Sure it's a great source of iron, but I'll just take a multi-vitamin if it's all the same to you.

Favorite new vegetable: Parsnip! It's so good roasted. It's a staple at Sunday dinner.

Least favorite vegetable
: Brussel sprouts. Yuuuuuuck. These were EVERYWHERE at Christmas. Maybe it's a genetic thing- dad can't stand them either. Bleh... But I tried them (many times) so at least I made an effort.

Staple beverage: Tea! Lots and lots and lots of tea. I learned quickly to never order coffee in a tea-drinking country. Being from NC I'm used to drinking loads of tea, but it's usually very sweet and very cold. Needless to say, the weather here doesn't exactly lend itself to iced tea. So it's been hot tea, all day, every day, since August. The importance of tea here has even affected the vocabulary of the country. If you'd like tea you ask for a "cuppa", and if you want to really sound local you'd ask for a "wee cuppa." You also get tea before and after any meal you have with company- no exceptions.

Staple snack: Biscuits, to be served alongside your cup of tea. Biscuits are, of course, cookies, not biscuits like from home.

Most eaten food of the year: It'll come as no surprise that I've eaten more potatoes than you can imagine this year. It wouldn't be uncommon to have two or three types of potatoes at Sunday dinner. Seriously, Idaho has nothing on this wee island.

Most missed food(s): Mexican and Chick-fil-A fries.

If the saying goes and you really are what you eat then I'm a tea-drinking spud just trying to make it in the world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A food perspective

"I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate." -Julia Childs

Subscribing to this thinking, I have another ten years before I have to get serious about cooking. That does not mean, however, that I don't have to be serious about what I eat. I'm over half way through my year here and I've been spending more and more time wondering where all the time actually went. When I think back over the last seven months the things I think most proudly or fondly of are, not surprisingly, food related. Here- I'll highlight a few for y'all...

"Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts!" -James Beard

So, every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday DFCI runs afterschool programs for the wee kids in the estate, and part of the program is the promise of juice and toast. I picked up on the art of dilutable juice pretty quickly (1/5 concentrated juice, 4/5 water), and once that was mastered I cockily made my way to the nexus of true afterschool power: the toast preperation table. I mean, how hard can making toast be? It's toast! You put it in the toaster, spread butter on it, cut it in half (down the diagonal) and there you go. A piece of toast. Let me tell you something- that's a dangerous attitude to have. What I didn't account for was the speed at which two whole loaves of bread needed to be toasted, buttered, and cut. After months and months of practice I can now proudly say that not only do I evenly butter the toast and cut it, but I can do a stack of toast 4 slices high in less than 10 seconds.

"And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back 3,000 years haven't yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?" -Bill Bryson

I've spoken about how important the families I've met have been in my life this year, and they continue to be incredibly supportive and very much a blessing as the year goes on. One night Amy and I were invited over "just for tea" to the Campbell's house and arrived to find that Gillian had ordered a veritable feast for us to share with them- more Chinese take out than you could possibly imagine. I was SO excited until they pulled out the chopsticks from the drawer- I had forgotten that they lived in Hong Kong for a year and would definitely be using chopsticks to navigate this meal. As many of you know, Tim Hyde, you in particular, I'm total rubbish with chopsticks. But for some reason on that night I was able to triumphantly lift piece after piece of chicken and ended up absolutely stuffed. Maybe it was the pressure of their entire family watching me, or maybe it was the competitor in me not wanted to fail at something (who would've thought?) but I finally figured out how to use them. Ultimately, though, the thing I really remember from that night is how good the food was, how good the conversation was, and how great it was to be sitting at the table for supper with a famiy. And when I'm back in the States and forgo a fork and spoon for chopsticks, you better believe I'll think of supper that night.

"You mightn't happen to have a piece of cheese about you, now? No? Well, many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese." -Robert Louis Stevenson

One of the favorite stories/jokes of folks up at the church to tell about me is of an encounter that Cheryl, a good friend, had of Amy and I earlier in the year. She came by to give us a lift and found us sitting on our living room floor eating cheese and crackers and an apple for our tea. The whole churh thinks it's hiiiiiiiillllllllarious that we sit on the floor to eat, but truth be known our table is currently acting as our entertainment center, so what are girls to do? We've both grown quite fond of our picnics, and it's when we have our best conversations, both stupid and serious. We also really like cheese, so there's a good chance that whatever we're eating that night incorporates the good stuff one way or another.

The night before my family flew home (life news: my family was over for a week last week!!!) we all gathered in my flat for supper. Mom made grilled cheese (I told you I ate a lot of it) and soup, and for lack of seating for all five of us, Sara, Holly and I ended up on the floor eating together. It was the perfect fusion of my life here and the people I love at home. It was also delicious, and it's widely known throughout Davidson that my Mom makes the best grilled cheese in the world.

So friends, when you're daydreaming of me, as I'm sure you often do, it wouldn't be far-fetched to picture me battling through a meal with chopsticks or sitting on the floor with Amy eating cheese and crackers. But the most important part of the daydream isn't the food but the people and the relationships and the memories being made; the food is just a delicious afterthought.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The roses and lilies

How is it nearly the middle of February already? Where has the time gone? It seems January sure passed by in a hurry. A few things of mention from January:
(From home)
-My younger sister, Sara, turned 19.
-NC State beat Duke.
-It was FREEZING in Belfast. I've always known this part of the world was fond of a cup of tea but I swear half of the tea consumed is out of necessity instead of pleasure.
-Our activities picked up with renewed vigor and energy after the holiday break. But it wasn't just the leaders with increased energy- the kids were also super-energized. There's nothing like the noise forty laughing, competing, squealing children make in a large hall.

So there goes January in a blur of jackets and scarves (and gloves, hats, and long johns), afternoons filled with crafts and football games, and updates from home. Now onto the happenings of February (so far). This past week we had our mid-year YAV retreat on the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal. The retreat was surreal for so many reasons. Firstly, it's hard to believe I'm halfway through my year of service. It seems I've only just arrived. Secondly, it was sunny EVERY day of the retreat. Four days in a row of sunshine (and sunshine today in Belfast)! I don't know what you know of this island, but it isn't known for it's sunny weather. It felt like I was in a different world, surrounded by rolling green hills and the warmth of sun on my face. It was incredibly beautiful. And so GREEN!

The retreat was much needed and appreciated by all nine of us YAVs. We spent Monday through Thursday engaging in good old fashioned food, fun, and fellowship. Tuesday we went up to Malin Head and had lunch on the beach. Unknowingly, Amy, Stephen and I ended up running/sliding down the Lagg dunes, the largest sand dunes in Europe. Many apologies to any plant and animal life we may have disturbed during our adventure. The beach took my breath away with it's cliff-lined coasts. We don't get many of those in the Southeastern US and I couldn't take my eyes off of them. On Wednesday we headed into Derry, a town which, like Belfast, is trying to positively move forward after being very much involved in the Troubles. We took a walking tour of the People's Gallery given by one of the Bogside artists. The People's Gallery is a series of twelve murals painted along a main road in Derry. The Bogside Artists began painting murals in 1994 that depict events surrounding the Troubles. Completed in 2008, the murals are a documentation of history, not expressions of political ideologies or sectarianism as many murals in Northern Ireland are. Derry also has a wall completely surrounding the city cetre, and it is one of the best examples of a walled city in Europe. We also visited a stone, circular structure built around the time of the birth of Christ. Thursday, as we headed home, we caught the ferry from the coast of Ireland back to Northern Ireland and headed down to Belfast via the north coast. We stopped at the Giants Causeway and again at a small, rural church with an impressive bell tower built in the 6th or 7th century. Buildings as old as Christ? Bell towers that are 1500 years old? Y'all- I think buildings at home are old if they've been around 100 years. The history major in me cries with joy when we visit these places. The north coast is stunning, and if I drove it everyday I'd never get tired of its dramatic coastline, ruined castles, and herds of sheep.

I must say, while the landscape of the retreat was stunning, it really was the company that made it re-invigorate the spirit. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Communal life is again being the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the 'roses and lilies' of the Christian life." Well, my friends, this week I remembered how extraordinary it can be. So here's to community! Here's to Sirius Black, sliding down sand dunes, and good conversation. Here's to my YAV community, my Ballybeen community, and my community back home. I love all of you. Y'all are my roses and my lilies.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Grinch didn't steal Christmas!

“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came! Somehow or other it came just the same.” –How the Grinch Stole Christmas

For those of you who know me well, or just know me at all, you’ll know I’m just an overgrown Christmas elf a little too far south of the North Pole. That said, this elf was a little worried about how holiday season, and Christmas in particular, would go this year. I’d never spent Thanksgiving or Christmas away from home and I’m very attached to our family traditions of gathering together for Thanksgiving, cutting down the Christmas tree that same weekend, and decorating like mad for weeks afterwards. I also love all the time you can devote to family and friends at Christmas- it’s a great chance to celebrate the important things in life. So, understandably, I was nervous about what this year would be like with no Christmas tree trek, getting to drink Dad’s REALLY good Russian Tea (ask him to make it for you next winter) or getting a chance to catch up with friends over coffee at Summit. What would the holidays be like without Christmas in Davidson or the Christmas Eve service at DCPC?

I’m happy to report that Christmas comes to Belfast just as joyfully and expectantly as it does in Davidson, in Raleigh, in North Carolina, and I imagine anywhere else you’d find yourself on December 25. The Campbells, a generous family from Dundonald Methodist, invited me to spend Christmas Eve at their house and I joined with them Christmas morning to open the care packages sent from friends and family back home. Gillian, the mom, even had stocking stuffers for my stocking! It wasn’t quite the same; no one videotaped me walking down the stairs in my pjs to open presents (thank God… I mean, I’m so sorry, Mom). It was the best gift to be able to wake up with a family on Christmas morning. That afternoon David and Sally Campton had me over for Christmas dinner, and I again got to spend time in a house full of family playing with their gifts and trying to fight the food coma that comes on so strongly after such a big meal. Again, not quite the Christmas afternoon I’m used to. Instead of watching White Christmas we watched the Dr. Who Christmas special. I’m still not sure what I watched for an hour, but it had something to do with time travel and alien creatures and clones. (For more info on Dr. Who, or to try to make sense of what I just talked about [good luck] go to: ) Christmas came after all, and instead of spending it sad and lonely I was surrounded by laughter and food and the best company you could hope for so far away from your family. I have never appreciated so much the hospitality and thoughtfulness I was shown around Christmas. This Christmas demonstrated what it means to be a part of a community and family that exists across borders and oceans, a family that I’m thankful and blessed to be a part of.

Merry Christmas (sorry it’s late!) and Happy 2010! And look for more regularly updated blogs from now on- it’s my 2010 resolution, and for once I’m going to stick to my new year’s resolution. Much peace and love.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Glamorous: Adjective

1. full of glamour; charmingly or fascinatingly attractive, esp. in a mysterious or magical way.
2. full of excitement, adventure, and unusual activity

I don't know what thoughts or images come to mind when you think of what I'm doing with my life for this year, and maybe the reality is many of you have no idea what I'm doing and have been doing for almost two months now. I'm here to not only give you the scoop about my day to day goings, but both dispell and confirm thoughts that I'm living the glamorous life.

The palace:
The flat that Amy and I share is an older example of public housing in and around Belfast. It technically has three bedrooms upstairs but it's more like two and a closet. For those who are familiar with The Greyhouse, the third bedroom is something akin to the room Laurie used to live in/ Julia now lives in, only without the dining room part. There is also a bathroom upstairs with a tub and shower and fancy dolphins etched into the shower glass. Downstairs is a living room/dining area and a kitchen. The kitchen also serves as the laundry room and when it's too wet to hang our clothes outside, it serves as the drying room. (Driers are rare here and most clothes are line-dried. Bad news for a country that rains as much as this one does.) So, no, our place isn't glamorous by the first definition of the word. We do, however, have spiders the size of saucers- yes people, I said SAUCERS. As in the flatware that goes under your tea cup. I'm living Ron Weasley's nightmare, so I am. I believe spiders the size of small sedans qualify as unusual activity, if not adventuresome and exciting in a terrifying kind of way.

The work:
I've been placed at Dundonald Methodist Church and Dundonald Family and Community Initiative. It's about a five minute walk from the door of the flat to the church/community center which I make everyday except Friday and Saturday. Mondays and Thursdays DFCI runs an afterschools youth club called PAKT for kids in primary school. The club offers the chance to play games, do arts and crafts, and have some time in the kitchen for cookery. (Cookery is my favorite because sometimes the kids will share the wee biscuits or scones they've made!) Monday evenings DFCI runs PAKT+ which is a program for 12-15 year olds. It's evolving from a drop-in center to a club that offers programs such as girl's night and hip hop lessons. The boys go and spend hours playing football, having little interest in either girl's night or hip hop.

Tuesdays bring about Friendship Circle which is hosted by DMC. It's a social club for people aged 50+, and I go to help set up tea and biscuits and talk. It's a little like having 40 grandmothers and grandfathers all in one room, and everyone wants to know how I'm "settling in" and "getting on." There's a program for about an hour, and one day I'm going to have to put on a program about me. I'm thinking of doing it on Southern food and making Southern biscuits and grits and such. Tuesday evenings I work with the Brownies which are a part of Girl Guides (aka Girl Scouts). The girls- 8-11 years old- are really cute and sweet and I've very much enjoyed getting to know them.

Wednesday mornings are precious and a joy. DFCI puts on Sticky Fingers, a Mom and tots group for local women and their kids naught to school age. Every Wednesday morning I'm surrounded by the cutest Irish babies. This program is particularly needed in an estate that has the highest rate of single-parent families in the area. DFCI runs Kidz Club on Wednesday afternoons. Kidz Club is a Bible-based afterschools club for primary age kids. We have praise and dance (one guess who leads the dance portion of the program...), puppets, crafts, and a quiz at the end, all based on a Bible story. It's during the quiz when we get pies to the face if the team we're representing gets the answer wrong. Here's the exciting news about Kidz Club: ever since we introduced the idea of a Biblically based club, our numbers have grown. We now have about 40 kids at the club every Wednesday. Wednesday afternoons really encourage me and energize me.

Thursdays is PAKT afterschools again and also a monthly family tea. Thursday nights I help out with the Beavers- the younger boys in the Scouts program. I even have a Beaver scarf that I have to wear to our meetings. These boys are insane and full of so much energy and I love them.

My weekly work probably doesn't strike anyone as glamorous in any sort of charming or magical sense, but it does have it's moments of adventure and excitement. It was with my work with DFCI that I played in my first ever football (soccer) match, and if you don't think that playing football against Irish men isn't an adventure, you're wrong. I think this also qualifies as unusual activity for me. On Wednesdays I lead 40 kids in maybe the silliest dance ever, and you better believe it's exciting to watch 9 and 10 year old boys dance with you- especially when they just laughed at you the first two weeks. (For those who know the Shryocks, it's a bit like how it would feel if Nick ever actually danced along at Vacation Bible School...)

Fridays and Saturdays I have off to explore Dundonald and Belfast. It's during these days when I realize how great it would be to have the freedom of a car. I've never been one for planning or preparation and so to have to plan my explorations based on the bus schedules and routes is a challenge for me. I must admit, I've slept in more on Fridays than I have taken advantage of the day to get out and have adventures. I'm going to have to change that. I have a bike now thanks to Sally, my lovely boss at DFCI (Hi, Sally!). Saturday mornings are all about relaxing and enjoying the company of the other YAVs. Our group has adopted the tradition of going to St. George's market during the morning and enjoying a late breakfast and live music. It's good craic for sure.

There you have it! It may not be exotic (except for the spiders), but it is fulfilling and challenging. I get to enjoy the sound of my name being called out by kids in the estate who recognize me from one of the clubs. I get to hear stories from people who have lived through much more than I will ever know, and I get to share and experience their love and strength. I'm challenged to rethink the way I imagined the church interacting and growing with the community. I'm given the challenge of being an example of God's love to kids who are being brought up in a sectarian society where the word "church" comes with a lot of baggage. I'm challenged to relate to kids and youth who are being raised in a world I struggle to see in relation to Davidson or Raleigh.

So it isn't romantic or the stuff movies are made of, but it's the stuff my life is made of and my life will be better because of it. My prayer is that I'm able to stay out of the way enough for God to continue to work in small moments like the hellos along the street.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

pants, rubbers, and rides... the perils of belfast.

It's been a month since Amy, Nathaniel, Andy, Patricia, Sally, Lynnea, Rob and I landed in Belfast and it's high time I got on a blogging kick. For those of you patiently waiting and checking the blog for updates, thank you for your interest. For those of you who not so patiently waited (Julia, Holt, David...) I hope this makes all your blog dreams come true. So with love and a little trepidation (I've never successfully kept a journal, let alone a blog) let us begin.

We arrived and completed a week of orientation in Belfast and began working the following Wednesday. I work at Dundonald Methodist Church and Dundonald Family and Community Initiative, both which are right up the road from the flat Amy and I share. The estate we live in, Ballybeen, deserves an entire post unto itself, so more on that later. DFCI runs a variety of programs throughout the week that I take part in. Today, for instance, I spent the morning with Sticky Fingers, a moms and tots group that meets in the church hall. This afternoon we had Kidz Club which is a Bible-based afterschool program for elementary aged children in the estate. It was at Kidz Club where I got pied in the face for the first time in my life. The things we'll do for the entertainment of kids...

The transition to living and communicating successfully in Belfast has been hilarious and perhaps embarrassing. I quickly learned that I shouldn't have written off the culture-shock lectures from the YAV orientation in New York. While we're living in an English-speaking, developed country, I am most definitely not in the southeast anymore. Here are my three favorite mis-communications of the year so far:


We, the YAV group, were lamenting on the articles of clothing we wished we had brought with us, and one of the YAVs mentioned how she wished she had brought more pants with her. She only packed three or four pair, and so would have to "wear dirty pants" during the year. Doug kindly pointed out to us that pants in Belfast are underwear, not trousers, and the YAV had just announced her plan to wear dirty underwear for the year.


This one is simple- if someone is kind enough to drive you home at the end of the day, you thank them for the "lift" and not the "ride." They are VERY different things. I only wish I had known this weeks ago...


A young person asked for a rubber the other evening, and I sat a little shocked while the people around me searched through their bags. Seeing the look on my face, one of the girls laughed explaining that a rubber is an eraser, not what I thought it was. Whew.

This post in no way covers everything we've seen, done, and talked about in the past month. It's overwhelming to think of all I have to share, and it's only been a month! Y'all have my word that I'll be more diligent about blogging in the future. Let me know if there is anything specific you want to hear about! Take care and much love.