Masquerading as Ronald Reagan, among other things

28 March 2013

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I can pick up accents. It's kind of a gift. Drop me anywhere in the western hemisphere (so far) and I can pick up the cadence, the lilt, the structure and the pronunciations of someone else's mother tongue. Places I've experimented with this include, but are not limited to, Wisconsin, Canada, New England, the Deep South, Ireland and England. Scotland is the lone exception. It it an impossible - though beautiful - accent.

And I used to do impressions. As a kid I had this great Ronald Reagan catchphrase. I don't even remember it now, but my mother would have me do it for her friends, my teachers would laugh with pride at my political wit, and late at night I would practice it for my inevitable audition tape for SNL. I was hilarious.

Oh, and I changed my name. A lot. Karen was just too... plain. Homely. I filled an old mead notebook with practiced signatures of Callie, Kali, Kim, Kat, Karin, Kari, etc, etc. Nothing stuck, though, apart from a 5th grade English teacher in a bolo tie who nicknamed me Irish, on account of my auburn hair and super shortness (you know, like a leprachaun).

Only recently have I put my finger on the pulse of this weird and slightly disconcerting talent.

I am always trying to be someone else. And when someone else doesn't work, I conform quickly and effortlessly.

Nearly every personality test (and teachers and most friends I have) told me I was an extrovert. Life of the party, friend to everyone, comfortable being out front and in charge, ready for action. This was me. This was who I wanted to be. Growing up, I would throw affection and attention to anyone who would return it. I'd cast my net out looking for a bite, a positive response, affirmation, and love.

Being loud and gregarious - and well, let's face it, dramatic - was the best way to get noticed. This was the Karen people wanted, I thought. But this Karen... this Karen was so uncomfortable, unhappy, and afraid. Being me was exhausting! Actually, it is exhausting! Because I'm still trying to figure out who Real Karen is (and I have the sneaking suspicion Real Karen is an introvert).

Even today, I mimic what I see and hear around me, quick to mirror the images I perceive to be normal, better, prettier, smarter. And I do this a lot here. Without even realizing it, I sit with an Irish friend and I project her beautiful words and phrases back at her. I replace my midwest tongue with a manufactured Irish brogue and, like a reflex, think to myself, "There, that's better. I'm Irish now."

What am I trying to hide? Who am I trying to be? Why can't I just, you know, be me? Karen, from Kansas. (or Kah-ren, from Kahn-sas, as the case may be).

"We should always start with who God made us to be and out of that find direction for our actions."

This quote scares the crap out of me. Today at 34, three great kids, a husband I love, a new life abroad, and I'm still asking, How has God made me to be?

"You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day." Psalm 139:15-16 | the message

You know me, You know me, You know me.

I'm trying to drop the accent; the faux-Irish one, that is. Nearly three months in, and it's harder than it should be. I'm Karen, from Kansas. And I still don't know what I'm doing here, who I'm supposed to be here, where I fit or how this will all work out.

It's a little hilarious when you think about it. Mid-30s me, still a mess. But I think, deep down, I'm not alone in the mess. I think you might be here with me, too. I think, if we were to be honest about it, there's a lot of us here, trying to figure out who we really were made to be.

Then again, it could be just me.



Make me feel better. Are you a mess, too? Can we cut the crap together, leave Reagan in the 80s and just be real?

Reading equilibrium

25 March 2013

A lot of things get put on hold when you move: organizing, cooking, and cleaning, to name just a few. Also on my hold list these past few months? Reading. You know I love to read, whether I finish the book or not, and I've missed these down times of quiet reflection (or late nights of page turning thriller).

But as we've begun to normalize over here, I've found that I have a bit more head space and emotional energy to put into my first love: books. Here's what's gracing my nightstand, nook screen, and library check-out/overdue bill:

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel // Confession: I've seen several episodes of The Tudors. I'm sorry. It was a moment (month) of weakness (boredom), and I utterly regret it. I do love me some British monarchy historical fiction (go, therefore, and watch Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth) and Cromwell is a fascinating character study. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but Mantel is a beautiful writer and has fleshed out a complicated and cunning Cromwell. And her descriptions of the English countryside in late summer... breathtaking. Fingers crossed I finish it! (ooh, fun fact: Bring Up the Bodies won last year's Man Booker Award. Do you know who was on the judging panel? Matthew Crawley! (may he rest in peace...))

Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young // I was turned on to this devotional (I cringe to even use the word, as I'm notoriously terrible at keeping up with devotionals and moonwalk away from typical women's ministry-type things) by Sarah Bessey, who is a trustworthy reviewer of the legit spiritual genre. A couple of girlfriends and I are reading this together, and so far I am really just loving it. Jesus Calling is written as if Jesus were talking directly to the reader, so when I find a spare moment for the day's reading, I am immediately quieted and stilled (not an easy task for me).

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn // I wanted to love this book. Everyone seemed to love this book. And truth is, I couldn't put it down. It is an utterly engrossing book. But it also left me with a major no feeling, like I was duped into a story I did not want to know about, with characters I did not care to see survive the finale. Flynn has a gift, to be sure. And she's a Kansas City gal, so I do want to support her and her "local art," so to speak. But, no. I hated it.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans // Another one of my blogging favourites, Evans spent a year trying out several supposed biblical mandates for us ladies, ranging from covering her head to sitting on her roof. I purchased it on a great Nook sale this weekend and look forward to sharing my thoughts with you after I read it. (Spoiler alert: I may end up being biased, and as I've read a lot of review of this book, have a fairly good idea where I'll stand on it... but I want to actually read it before I rave about it.)


What are you reading these days? Any recommendations?

We are living

19 March 2013

I can't get over this, how it actually is snowing here. Right now. Nearly every day this week has been tainted with the white stuff. It never adds up and it never lasts long, but we sit at the kitchen table with a friend, talking about life and culture and adapting and learning and there it is again. Snow. We all laugh as we're all from America and it's not like we ever get enough here to need shovels or plows. But still, the weather is like this: slow cycles of drips from heaven. Wait a minute and it will change again.

We are in a sweet spot. A clean office/library/playroom, or whatever it's moonlighting as today. The books are put away, the lamp is on, the wee lad spins wooden toys on the floor. Matt pauses an extra second at the door before heading out, smiling my way. I catch his face in the glass. It's been a good morning, we are content, the snow has tapered and the children will be home soon.

We are living. There's not a moving box in sight.

He comes to me with a new creation, a story about his cartoon, a toy in his hand. He dances and shouts yes! with his hands. Today I want to dance, too, because I know tomorrow will probably be hard. Our moments of peaceful settlement are often followed by bits of frustration. It's our new rhythm, a slow cycle. Wait a minute and it will change again. 

And it's ok. I'm recognizing it now. 

Asher kisses me, grabs my arm. Glancing outside for one last look and the snow is gone. Rain has come. I've been sitting here too long and it's time to play.


Linking up with the EO and Just Write. I'm needing to do this more. With the boxes put away, I've no excuses left.

Paddy's Day, as renewed Irish residents

17 March 2013

This was our first St Patrick's Day in Ireland since 2010. Spoiler alert: still green, still chilly, still wet. :)

Actually, this has been a mostly brilliant week weather-wise, and the country has a distinct festive feel in the lead up to its national holiday. It's like Christmas and the 4th of July rolled into one mega celebration. We knew it was meant to rain today, so yesterday Matt kicked us all out of the house and took us to Clonmacnoise, a national heritage site where the remains of a medieval monastery lay along the River Shannon.

In the exhaustion of new life, new rhythms, new words and new people, it's easy to ignore the beauty just around the next bend in the road. It does our hearts good to roam in it, breathe in the river air, run till our feet are wet. 

So Happy St Patrick's Day from this very green isle. Wish you were here.


How do they celebrate Paddy's Day where you are?

Sentimental birthday typo

15 March 2013

We just celebrated Matt's birthday this week, and like all things with Big Plans, the day got little out of whack. I came down with a bad full-body cold and the weather dipped below freezing, so our fun day out with Ash in the city was a no-go.

I decided to redeem the day by special ordering snow (thanks, God) and designing a subway art picture to commemorate the life Matt and I have lived together all these 13+ years. I've seen these everywhere online and thought to my delusional self, "That can't be that hard." And in truth, it wasn't. I just picked an idea - cities we've called home - played around with fonts and layouts, and voila! Homemade pressie for husband of the year.

I mean, really, look at this touching, yet simple, sentimental work of art.  I was seriously so proud of this I posted it on Facebook so people could ooh and aah over my wifely awesomeness. Oh, hey, what's that? A typo?! Yeah, so apparently, not that awesome. I am queen of submitting, publishing, printing, sending of anything and everything right before discovering the typo. This is just the latest in my line of almost perfection.

But Matt, he loves it anyway. He says it's an homage to one of our favourite albums, (Come on Feel the) Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens. And maybe he's right and it's only for us, anyway. And he can't spell, either. Match made in heaven.

Flint Hill Fellowship (a call to art)

10 March 2013

Sometimes God forces our hand. He leaves us without many options, in a tight place, and we find ourselves calling out for help. It's hard to do that, to lean on other people, to make ourselves vulnerable, allow ourselves to be needy. But this is where service, compassion, and love come in. And that's what makes communities, families, and homes come alive. That's where Jesus dwells.

We found ourselves there more than once. And one sweet time (or two) John and Hailey answered the call. These guys, they are a gift, filled to the brim with fresh air and laughter, cocktails and books. They do it all and have done it all for us, including love on our kids and create lyrics and melodies.

I told Matt once I think I had found my heart language. We were new at Crossroads and new to this type of worship (a small, acoustic family circle, really), and I breathed it all in, came up new again. It wasn't John and his guitar (though talented) or the old hymns come to life (though inspired), but it was the atmosphere of peace. Of Spirit. Of humility and joy. Of stomping feet and raised hands.

Writing about it is hard, because we're gone now. So here's a taste for you (if you look closely, you'll see the wee three make a special cameo):

Praise and Thanks from John Dunne on Vimeo.

John and the Flint Hill Fellowship have recorded an album due to be released late Spring. But like us, they need a team of people to make it come alive (like the music, itself). We are so honoured to share the passion they have for God, for art, and for community, and we hope you'll consider joining us in supporting this work.

Erin Martinez, cello. Credit: Flint Hill Fellowship

Oh, and for your support, John is offering up awesome perks like name credit, handmade book of chord and lyric sheets, or a limited edition poster (have I mentioned that John is also a fantastic graphic designer?). I mean, really, how you can say no?

UPDATE: only a couple of days into their indiegogo campaign and they're already over halfway to the $2500 goal! Get in on this fast. :)

Sometimes I design

07 March 2013

In my previous incarnation I was a lowly amateur graphic designer, meaning I whipped together church bulletins, logos, business cards, the occasional HIPAA manual and a really colourful U2 fansite (don't judge). I freelanced, emphasis on free, and today still enjoy doing a few small projects here and there for my friends (and my mom).

I am a total photoshop novice (even though we've had it on our computer for ages, I find it overwhelming and never seem to find the time to take a proper class or tutorial on it), so the majority of my design work is done in MS Word for Mac. Yep. Lame. But that's how I roll. And my friends don't seem to mind as you know, it's free. :)

My best lady friend, Nicole, whom you've all gotten the chance to know and love, has a fantastic user-friendly blog on living naturally. Nicole's on her own journey towards finding the diet, lifestyle, and home that suits her and her brood of boys best, and I love seeing what she comes up with. I often pick her brain on what she's cleaning with this week or how her garden thrives under harsh boy conditions. And when she gave up wheat, I knew I needed to empower her decision with a new look.

The overall look - and idea - of Nicole's blog is clean, simple and natural, like her. I hope you'll pop over and say hello and even try a recipe or two. Yesterday I tried her apple (or pear) sauce and it was a hit. And if I - being so culinarily challenged - can do it, anyone can. Also check out her reviews! This girl inhales books like no other. I should know... she makes me read almost all of them.

Helping Nicole has inspired me, too. I'm currently enjoying the Blog (Design) Love e-course offered through A Beautiful Mess, and while it's taking me more time than I realized, it's so much fun and totally worth it. I can't wait to show you the end result... whatever that ends up being.


Do you have an hidden talent on the side? What is your creative outlet?

Nose-picking rhythms

05 March 2013

Asher picks his nose before falling asleep. Every night, without fail, it is the last thing he does before closing his eyes. I know this because I am always beside him, sharing his twin bed, listening to his music, trying to coax him to sleep. On nights like tonight it takes just minutes. He plays with a couple of action figures, rolls to his side, picks his nose and out like a light.

Other nights are long and loud and full of tears, his and mine.

He's not yet fallen asleep on his own on this side of the ocean. Whether it's big brother or Matt or myself, he is in need of one of us in the dark hours. Last night was one of the long ones. I was trying to rock an angry three-year-old to sleep, except without a rocker, which was left behind in America. I've not wanted for many things we didn't take with us (the couch and the dining room table and the pallet headboard have all found better homes), but last night... all I could think in that moment was how much I missed the soft underlying rhythm of that rocking chair. And we both cried.

We are happy here, enjoying life here, having several victories in hand for every one overly-hard day. But we've got no rhythm, no backbeat. Asher cries in the night - every night - and we all switch beds. We're staying up too late and getting up too late. Eczema still lingers on my hands and on Ella's arms and legs. And I can't even begin to think about meal planning or cooking or grocery shopping. We're still eating in pasta-marinara-survival-mode. We still feel off.

When will we feel normal again? When will we sleep again? When will we eat well-balanced meals and go to bed at a decent hour and maybe sleep through the night again? When we will find a rhythm again?

As I bask in the success of a painless bedtime routine tonight (so far... the night is still young), I wonder if it isn't so much about us finding a rhythm, as it is letting the rhythm find us. I read an article in a magazine this week where a woman describes her lack of musical beat, her reticence to dance. Her husband tells her, "count the steps... let me lead you."

Count the steps... let me lead you.

What we're doing right now, we're counting the steps. We're learning the dance. We're getting the timing right and letting good days wash over us like rain after a long, long draught. And soon we look up and remember the way, feel the rhythm.

Our life here before, it's not like memory foam. We can't just lay into the dent our bodies once made. It's a whole new dance, but the backbeat, the reason, the calling and the God... still the same. And if the rhythm now is laying in bed every night next to a nose-picking toddler, He'll find me there... I hope.


Do you practice rhythms in your life? What are they? 

Dear Sister {I am not cut out for espionage}

01 March 2013

Dear Sister,

So there we are, sitting in immigration for unending hours, our number just about to be miraculously called, when Matt has to leave. E is done with school in 40 minutes, and we are in the city centre, a 20 minute bus-ride away. He asks me, "Are you OK here?" and I'm all like, "What? Me? Me and the stress migraine? Yeah, sure, I'll be fine. What can possibly go wrong?"

This is all a part of moving to another country. Visas (or immigration bureau cards) have to be applied for, procured, renewed every year. It's routine, really. Except you gotta be specific, have to assure them we won't work here, that we live off of funds from the United States and won't be a drain on their own fragile State. There are words you should use, words you definitely cannot use, and then there's the fingerprinting. No matter how honest and upright we are in the citizenry department, I still feel like a criminal. I still feel like I'm in deep cover, using an alias. 

As it turns out, I am not cut out for espionage. I text Matt all panicky and maniacally. I forget I have a bank card. And the fingerprinting - done digitally - takes as I can't hold my shaky hands steady. I joke with the immigration officer about my dad being a policeman, how I should know how to do this, how it's really so crazy they can't get a clear image of my prints and we have to do them over 2, 3, 4 times. "I'm sorry," I say, "I really don't know what the problem is."

But today I remember, the hours we sat there with the television on. Sky News and the dragging of a man behind a police van. A police van. Images may be graphic, they say, but it's really the best way to get you to pay attention. You can't unsee this, is what they should say, as a crowd of men pulls him kicking and screaming, ties his hands behind his head, and attaches them to the bed of the van. It pulls away slowly, maybe to make sure he holds, I don't really know. Then it takes off, and the man - hands over his head and backside banging along a dirty South African road - is gone. He died in custody, they tell you.

And you, you just can't unsee that. In a room filled with immigrants, veiled and exhausted and babies crying under unfamiliar eyes, we all can't unsee that. And it's not until later when I think, maybe the others there, from every country and language imaginable, maybe they've been much closer than a television screen to that man on the South African road. Maybe that's why they're here. Giving fingerprints. In deep cover.

So no, Sister, for as much Alias as you and I have watched together, I'm just not cut out for espionage. Or international intrigue. Or torture. Or police with blood on their hands. But I am cut out for here, and for these people, and when he says, "You must've liked it well enough to come back here again," I say, "Yes. We love it." And my shaky fingerprint leaves a smudge.

I miss you. Hug dad.



A new series of posts entitled Dear Sister. I have four of them, each one unique, each brought to me in a different way (and now I realize I have so many more than four sisters, most of them brought to me directly by Jesus). I thought I'd write to them here... it'll save me a stamp. Plus, I get to make another button!