love people. take pictures. write things down.

photos and words by Caroline

croutons

Getting into Hungary was surprisingly easy. After the relief of realizing that I could fly into a foreign country on a one-way ticket with no work visa or official documentation besides a letter that I could have easily made on Microsoft Paint stating my affiliation with a scarcely heard of teach-abroad program, my first thought was that I could finally use the present tense. I would never again say, “I am moving to Budapest to teach English.” I live here, finally.

 To be honest, I prepared myself relatively little for the trip. I didn’t research techniques for teaching ESL or devote hours to mastering Hungarian. Between in-flight movies, I memorized some survival phrases and studied some basic history on the plane ride, so that I would be able to say ‘thank you’ to people and not offend anyone by clinking beer glasses when saying ‘cheers!’ (The Habsburgs apparently did a lot of toasting when they hanged thirteen Hungarian generals in 1849.) 

 During orientation week, I joined my fellow teachers-to-be for lessons in cultural differences, lead by an middle-aged, spunky, Hungarian woman named Maria. Perhaps more interesting than her explanations of Hungarian culture were her remarks on American culture. She was particularly excited about American skirt categories: pleated skirts, pencil skirts, A-line skirts, etc., as well as the fact that a grocery store in America would have an entire aisle devoted solely to croutons. She teased us, lovingly, about having the right to pursue happiness, when in Hungary, history has taught one to be ready for anything but to expect the worst. Maria explained, “Americans manage their lives. Hungarians live their lives…until they die.” On our Cultural Differences handout, there was no missing the only sentence written in all capitals: NOTHING IS STABLE. YOU CANNOT PLAN. I took this as an affirmation of my lack of preparation for my new life and have decided to welcome all surprises.

 Something that never crossed my mind before coming here was the fact that the English learners would be taught British English. (Duh, England is thousands of miles closer to Hungary than the United States is.)  In order not to confuse my students, I practice saying ‘lift’ instead of ‘elevator’ and ‘rubber’ instead of eraser. In Budapest, I do not live in an apartment, but a flat.

 Some notes on moving into a flat: “Furnished” doesn’t mean that any of the furniture was purchased in the last fifty years. Also, dryers, non-fitted sheets, window-screens and shower curtains are not included or even seen as necessary. Also, a futon is the same thing as a bed. And, a two-bedroom flat means that there is one bedroom and one living room. Bekah, my flat-mate and fellow Calvin alum, sat across from me as we spent the first four hours in our new home sitting at our kitchen table, while four Hungarian women scurried around us, setting up computers and printers to produce multiple copies of contracts (in Hungarian) for us to sign and taking an inventory of the trinkets left in the apartment that we would not be needing. (No, we do not need 16 painted vases. However, we could use a coffee-maker.) Meanwhile, our landlady’s 19-year-old son, Ivan, asked for our phone numbers so that he could help us out with anything we needed. Last week, we texted him at 2:00 am to ask how to close the blinds. He responded immediately.

 Despite some initial confusion and the obvious need for a trip to Ikea, I am incredibly grateful for the hospitality I have been shown since arriving. Bekah and I have already been adopted into a family of colleagues who have insisted on doing our laundry and taking us grocery shopping. Bea, our assigned contact person who told us to think of her as our Hungarian aunt, recently arrived at our door with a coffee-cake like dessert with whole plumbs baked into it. “To have with your tea,” she said.

 Still, what has surprised me the most is my attitude. Before the big move, I saw my decision to go abroad as some huge leap of faith, a great risk that I was slightly crazy to take. But now that I am here and working alongside my Hungarian colleagues, I am humbled by the hard work and responsibility of routine. Without a native speaking English teacher, Hungarian schools lose their bilingual standing, which explains why I was hired with little teaching experience. I make the same salary as a Hungarian teacher (very little) but I do not have a family to support or taxes to pay. It makes one ponder some bigger questions, mainly about why we are born into certain times and places, and what an example of American privilege it is to be able to spend an “adventure year” abroad. Again, I am reminded of Maria’s remarks on American culture, and living a life that is full of choices. “Why are we here on earth?” she once asked, “…surely not for the croutons.”

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Superlative Syndrome

 

note: originally published on August 7, 2013 at http://calvinwritersonline.org/superlative-syndrome/

I am regularly teased for using too many superlative phrases. “This is the best,” I will often proclaim. Another one of my favorites is, “This is all I have ever wanted,” which I have been known to use in a situation as daily and simple as reading a well-worn book with a warm cup of coffee. I realize that I can’t keep telling multiple people, “You are my favorite person!” and I should probably stop referring to certain vacations, or even fun-filled weekend excursions, as “the best trip ever!” A friend once told me that I couldn’t keep telling people that swimming out to the sand bar at the beach was “SO much fun” because then, what will I say when we actually do something that is extraordinary?

But the truth is, it was so much fun, and all of my friends are my favorite in their own way. Sleeping in is my favorite. Waking up early is my favorite. Cooking healthy food is my favorite. Eating mac and cheese for days? Also my favorite.

Can’t we love it all?

I am comforted by the fact that I am not the only one who has been faced with this problem. Kerouac, for one, was puzzled by the fact that he had too many ideas and passions. “I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another til I drop,” he writes in On the Road. It is in this book that he also writes, “the only people for me are the mad ones…desirous of everything at the same time. ”

I hate making decisions. Put me in front of a Redbox and I will be there for upwards of twenty minutes.  I prefer to order last when eating at a restaurant, in hopes that the pressure of everyone turning to me, the waiter’s hand outstretched to retrieve my menu, will force me into finally choosing between the vegetable pad thai and the fish tacos.

Do I embrace new adventures joyfully because I can’t make decisions? Because I need a change? Or because there is a good chance that I will love it?

In early July, I spent a week in Alberta, where my best friend and former roommate, Emily, had grown up. Ultimately, I was there to be a bridesmaid in her wedding.

The wedding was at her dairy farm, and everything about the experience was beautifully rustic. Remembering the way Emily had thrown herself into my family’s New York life when she visited my my hometown (despite the “I’m the only blonde person on the subway!” comment), I was excited to experience everything about the dairy farm where my best friend grew up.

So I let baby calves with rough tongues suck on my fingers before I unpacked and followed Emily up a dangerously rickety staircase to a hayloft. I listened eagerly to every detail about how Holsteins are bred and how often the government milk truck comes and when and how the oldest son of the family is going to inherit the farm — all while riding around muddy roads in the John Deere Gator.

I stopped caring about whether or not I was getting dust on my white shorts or cow manure on my shoes. I jumped at the opportunity to drive Emily’s father’s farm truck to pick up more wedding attendees and friends from the airport. After driving around the nearby downtown area with them for a while, to purchase wedding gifts and such, I jokingly commented, “This city driving is exhausting! I need to get back to the farm!” A good friend called me out, “Caroline. You grew up twenty minutes from New York City. Stop pretending to be a farm girl.”

I surprised myself with my genuine love for the country life. I could see the appeal of growing up in a place where you are sometimes awakened by your father getting up at 5:30 am to milk the cows, sometimes spend your afternoons running through fields and around your mother’s vegetable garden, and sometimes spend evenings swinging on big wooden swings that your grandfather built.

I loved the way the wedding party and relatives from afar congregated and camped on the farm, dozens of people arriving days before the wedding to contribute their hands and hearts. During the day, groomsmen climbed trees and hung twinkle lights and constructed the dance floor, while aunts and cousins set tables and folded place-cards. At night someone inevitably built a campfire which was then encircled by everyone from small children to grandparents, us kids in our twenties being the last to linger over the smoking embers. It grew amazingly cold (we could see our breath) and one night the northern lights were just visible enough for the out-of-towners to stand in awe only to hear the locals say, “This is nothing.”

After watching an incredible sunset from the end of Emily’s gravel driveway, I was ready to buy a piece of land, raise a family down the road, and never look back. As I considered my options and prayed a two-word prayer I read once in a book by Annie Dillard (“Last forever!”), the photographer in me came once again to believe that everything and everyone is beautiful in the right lighting. But this–right now–is my favorite.

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Cast Iron Love

note: This was originally published on July 7, 2013 at http://calvinwritersonline.org/cast-iron-love/

Talia entered my life exactly when I needed her. Before meeting, we messaged each other a couple of times via Facebook, asking the necessary questions: What kind of kitchen utensils do you have? Where can I get my key to the place? What is our zip code?

 A few weeks ago, people began asking me about the girl with whom I was living for the summer. “Her Facebook profile picture is her canoeing into the sunset,” I would respond, “So I’m assuming she’s pretty cool.”

Really, I all I knew about Talia was that she was moving to Grand Rapids from California to work on an organic farm. For me, moving to our shared home was only a six-mile journey, in an attempt to live as closer to my friends in Eastown before leaving the country in August to spend a year abroad. Since everyone I knew already had a living arrangement, I moved in with a girl I had never met.

Is it really that strange to move in with a stranger? I suppose it’s odd to know someone for twenty-four hours and then find yourself yelling from the bathroom: “IF I’M IN THE SHOWER AND YOU NEED TO GET IN HERE TO BRUSH YOUR TEETH OR SOMETHING DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT JUST WALK ON IN BECAUSE I NEVER CARE.” After the fact, I realized that I don’t know which makes for a better first impression: being the kind of girl who locks off the entire bathroom when she takes showers or the girl who doesn’t wear pants until after she has had her morning coffee. Five years ago, when filling out the necessary housing survey prior to entering college, I checked the box that indicated that I was “very messy” although I am actually fairly neat — thinking that the housing gods would then pair me with someone messy and subsequently more interesting.

Talia and I became friends by sitting on the porch together every evening. Sometimes, we invite people I know over. “Bring out the vices,” Talia will say, and I’ll bring out a bottle of wine and a bag of chocolate chips—cold from being in the refrigerator, a preventative measure against melting in our old house that lacks air-conditioning. Together, we watch our neighbors across the street like a late-night TV show. They have a grill on their roof and use it daily. One night, we listened to the couple next door plan their wedding, laughing silently to ourselves when the bride-to-be repeatedly struck down her husband’s ideas with a playful but forceful, “Honey…just no.” One night we watched in horror as a baby chipmunk fell from a tree branch, only to see him scamper off happily along the sidewalk. In the afternoons, we see young men biking home from work, pausing to put a foot on our curb and a cigarette to their mouth. There are fireflies every evening.

I like Talia because she has a bumper sticker that proclaims, “The Day of Non-Judgement is Near” and she buys all her clothes from a thrift store. I once told her that I still found someone who once broke my heart irresistibly attractive. She told me, “There is nothing wrong with seeing beauty where it is.”

We feel strong because we stay up late and talk about God. We feel spiritual because we go to yoga in the park on Sunday evenings and our tattooed instructor tells us to “come as you are and breathe through it.” We feel dangerous because have a couch on the porch, which happens to be illegal in the city of Grand Rapids. The couch was a Craigslist find. We got it for free and covered it with a bright purple duvet cover. We are unashamed.

This life is simple and beautiful and temporary; we are only summer sub-leasers. The house is furnished with dressers and uneven tables we found in the garage, and late at night we eat forgotten boxes of macaroni and cheese which we found in the cupboard and cover it with Talia’s Mexican with hot sauce. Talia cooks everything in a cast iron skillet, which I love. I love her because she is here and I am here and we are together. To stumble upon such a true, unexpected, companionship is a blessing, especially after what had been a lonely post-grad year in terms of true, female companionship. That is what college does to you. It gives you amazing friends and then scatters them.

Author Leah Stewart writes, “Adult friendship doesn’t grant you an exclusive—isn’t meant to be ranked above romance and family. I couldn’t imagine ever living that moment again when you say with a shy and hopeful pride, ‘You’re my best friend.’ The other person says it back and there you have chosen each other out of everyone else in the world.”

Talia has lead to me to a renewed appreciated of having a truly good friend. I recently overheard someone say, “Caroline and Talia became really fast friends.” How lovely it is to have a fast friend and a summer day. So I spend another evening on an illegal purple couch, opening my whole heart to a girl I met two weeks ago.

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culinary.

It’s not in the whistle of a tea kettle or in seeing another face at sunrise

Or bare knees touching yours under an old wooden table—

It’s comfort food.

 

I ordered an autobiography with a side of hash.

And she explained to me how you lose a day when you sail around the world

but gain something else.

“My father gave me those years as a gift.”

She misses Yemen the most

and the salt(water.)

 

I am somewhat novel at cooking.

golden hour

I often refer to my childhood home as my “home home” and it reminds me of the way we would talk about our romantic affections in middle school by saying “I like him…but I don’t like like him.” I love going home home, and not only because with mom and dad money, luxuries such as paying someone else to wash my car or paint my nails are suddenly a beautiful possibility.

I was home home recently, visiting my parents and siblings. The first day home home is like a dream. I wake up at six, excited like a kid on Christmas morning. I scour the house for old articles from the New York Times and make a full pot of coffee because — for once — I am not brewing for one. By seven thirty I have already learned that marriage is a modern indicator of adulthood, why children are drawn to stories about animals who act like humans, and that a new breed of “upscale hostels” are sweeping Europe. By eight o’clock I am driving my sister to school in the Toyota Highlander, honking at a girl who I used to babysit who is now seventeen and beautiful. Abby is wearing her Calvin College sweatshirt for “wear paraphernalia from the school you will be attending in the Fall” day and I feel elated that my younger sister thinks well enough of me to attend my alma mater.

The morning is spent on the kitchen stools, backs slouched over a sunlit wooden table where my mother and I read the paper, drink several cups of coffee, and discuss breakfast options, not deciding until almost 10:00 am, when we eat something that we have agreed is a worthy combination of healthy and delicious.

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I need to have a home home because I’ve moved every year for the past four years.  A year ago I had already relocated most of my possessions to my private apartment located adjacent to the beautiful yellow home of a family of three, whom I babysit for in exchange for a no-rent, all utilities paid apartment. I tip-toed around the place for the first few weeks, waiting until a game of father-son basketball was over before I went out to my car to drive back to the neighborhood where all my friends lived. I slept through alarms without friends to wake me up. It’s been hard living fifteen minutes away from everyone, but I can’t complain — because that’s what everyone who moved fifteen hours away is doing: lamenting the fact that their Grand Rapids life is over, trying to find a way back or a way to stay with these people. We try out other cities — for years even — to return to what we love. And when we are here we talk about leaving.

Even though I had moved my bed and furniture into my apartment when my parents attended my graduation last May, I slept in the house I shared with my girlfriends right up until June 1, when we were legally obligated to abandon the premises. We spend the night of May 31, 2012 on the floor of the living room, surrounded by blank walls and empty pizza boxes. There were also an assortment of kitchen gadgets, a piece of paper with an arrow pointing toward them lay next to the assortment, where someone had written “TAKE ME!” in angry Sharpie. I had no need for 7 spatulas in my new apartment, so I took them and everything else abandoned to the salvation army, a home for the shared items we individually no longer needed.

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I’m now getting ready to move to Easttown, the area of Grand Rapids populated by hipsters, dive bars, coffee shops, and basically everyone I’ve ever met who hasn’t moved out of Michigan. This isn’t even a real move, since I will only be there for two months  before departing on my “grand European adventure”, which I also like to call my “crazy hair-brained scheme that will probably sabotage everything I have going for me in my life.” (But what if it doesn’t?) I went over to see my home of two months last week. The porch is amazing, and the location is prime. The rent is $195 a month, which would make my friends in New York drop dead probably — or move here. I surprised myself when I internally reacted negatively upon hearing that I would be sharing a bedroom. Picturing it, something inside of me recoiled. I thought of my little apartment with space just for me and how I have become accustomed to watching Netflix and eating cheese in bed without fear of judgment and hitting snooze ten times in the morning before I wake up. What have I become?

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Tonight, I am writing alone on the porch of this beautiful yellow home with my apartment attached. Something wonderful about Grand Rapids is that it is on the western edge of Eastern Standard Time and so it does not get fully dark here until 10:30 pm during the summer. Something not so wonderful about Grand Rapids right now is that it rained for almost the entire month of April and all the water caused some sort of mosquito baby boomer generation and they are attacking me and my Sangria. However, I refuse to sit inside because the light is perfect, and light is something I care about. There’s a certain slant, you know? All of this to say: I do love it here. I’m moving again, and like the golden hour, everything is the most beautiful right before it leaves you.

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why i wake early

Lately, I have been preoccupied with the idea of happiness and what our sources of joy in this limited life can and should be. Questions that infinitely fascinate me include:

  • Is happiness a byproduct or a goal?
  • Can happiness become an idol?
  • Is happiness a feeling or is joy a choice?
  • Is it foolish to chose happiness over success? How are these related?
  • Is it selfish to seek one’s own happiness or is my happiness leading to others happiness?
  • What does the Bible teach us about choosing joy?
  • Does choosing joy mean ignoring reality? Does being cynical make one appear more educated?

I am a verbal processor, and these questions have been the subject of many of my recent conversations with friends and family. I could rant forever about these ideas — probably without coming to any real conclusions. I was going to gather information and write ONE AMAZING BLOG POST about happiness but have found that these questions are too large for one blog post. They may even be too expansive for one book, or perhaps too large for this mysterious life.

However, as Dr. Suess reminds us, “sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple.”

I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and was very inspired by her resolve to change her life in simple ways in order to produce more joy. While this book has been criticized as a  self-serving list of “common sense” principles, I found it inspirational. Maybe I just need to be reminded about common sense rules of life more than other people. I found her book inspiring because while her changes were primarily about her, they lead to a more harmonious atmosphere for her family and furthered her community.

So, for today, I will focus on one simple change in my life that I am hoping will lead to greater happiness (or joy, or vitality, or productivity, or fulfillment, or whatever.)

I have been trying to embrace and enjoy the mornings.

I am resolving to wake up earlier. Not crazy early, though. When searching online for famous early risers, I found out that a bunch of CEOs of various important companies wake up at 4:30 am to talk to business associates in Asia and get a jump on the days news so that by the time they get in to work they know more than anyone else. That isn’t really my goal. (Actually, another goal I am working on is not being someone I’m not. I’m not a business-oriented person and I can’t make myself one. See my complete list of personal rules below) I do believe I can wake early and that mindful time in the morning is unique and important.

Rising early regularly is difficult for me, because on a work day I am already out of my door by 7:45. I honestly love the idea of waking at 6, and having a whole 90 minutes to myself. Of course, this would mean going to bed at ten every night, which would cause me to miss out on many of my beloved social weeknight traditions (I’m not only referring to weeknight drink specials — even my humble book club doesn’t meet until 8pm) Right now, I am simply working on making a change from waking up at 7:30 to waking up at 6:45. Instead of bolting out the door in clothes pulled randomly from my closet, make-up half done and full mug of coffee spilling onto my hands — I will take time to look out the window while my coffee brews, locate my glasses and what I want to read during my lunch break, read my daily devotion while I eat breakfast, and check the weather before getting dressed.

On Wednesday evenings, I babysit a delightful ten-year-old. He is an introverted, only child who prefers to watch shows such as How It’s Made and Myth Busters and is a devout vegetarian. He also goes to bed every night at 8:00 pm, without argument. He is allowed to read or draw for a half an hour until “lights out” (the two words most children dread) at 8:30. I never need to remind him that it is time to turn off our third episode of Bones for the evening and head upstairs. Once, I asked him if he enjoyed sleeping in on the weekends. “Sometimes I will sleep in until 7.” he answered. I refrained from teasing him and simply responded. “That’s not very late.”

“I usually wake up at 5am on school days,” he explained, “Then I get to have two hours to myself before my parents wake up. I like having time where no one is asking me any questions.”

I have always operated as someone who does not require very much “Caroline time.” In fact, too much Caroline time freaks me out, and when I find myself faced with several empty hours I literally have to schedule my life down in one-hour segments so I don’t go on major Facebook and Pinterest binges. It is not in my nature to want to wake early, but it is somewhat in my nature to be a morning person. I enjoy writing in the morning. I am a “once I’m up, I’m up” person. I can hit snooze numerous times from the bed, but once I’ve washed my face and turned on the electric kettle, I am ready to face the day.

I have found that time to myself in the morning is very different than time to myself in the afternoon and evening. Something about the mind being clear, or the sun rising, or the idea of God meeting you in the morning stillness, perhaps.

Waking early is a sign of embracing the gift of life. I am grateful for today. If I am healthy and have slept well for the past six to eight hours, I will be awake—living simply and receiving new mercies.

wakeup

If you are interested in other small rules that I have created in order to pursue  joy (and–hopefully–bring joy to others) here is my  complete list (inspired by Rubin’s 12 Commandments):

  1. be caroline
  2. act how i want to feel
  3. love like jesus (to love is to give)
  4. do it now
  5. embrace and enjoy the morning
  6. go outside
  7. throw it out / let it go
  8. remain calm
  9. pray (out loud) for others
  10.  write it down
  11.  ask God for the energy/strength
  12. complete this sentence regularly: I am grateful for _______

 

wyatt & water // adventures in nannying

it has been a very rainy week. wyatt and I embraced the H2o by hot tubbing in a the cold, morning mist and practicing “swimming” (aka blowing bubbles) in the bathtub. his new googles bring him serious joy. we also had several conversations about thunder being the result of God bowling and, therefore, nothing to be afraid of.

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winter visits

Was so lucky to be visited by my lovely and long-time friend Meghan for the new year, my beloved brother and wonderful father in late January, and my joyous and bubbly baby sister in March. In February, I hopped over to Chicago for a weekend to visit with the intelligent and amazing Ian G baby.

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moving.

I know, the third part in this health series is long overdue. The lack of motivation I have been experiencing about writing is actually akin to the lack of motivation I have been feeling about exercise. How fitting. I blame February and its grey sky and the general malaise of a seemingly never-ending winter. Blegh. Also, I apologize if it’s been frustrating that these posts have been mostly geared toward females. I blame my constant reading of Women’s Health.

Anyway, here are my Top 5 exercise tips:

1. Learn to spell exercise. I have been auto-corrected every time I have written the word so far. There is no “Z” in exercise.

2. Try to have fun. Exercise is very difficult for people who don’t like doing things that aren’t fun. My father always says that he will start running when he sees someone running who looks like they are having a good time. Granted, I used to hate running but practiced enough that I came to enjoy the simple monotony of it and found that it cleared my head and reduced my stress. But running is definietely not for everyone. Which brings me to…

3. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Zumba may sound intimidating but you don’t have to have Shakira hips to be able to successfully Zumba dance or to have a good time doing it. Yoga (or hot yoga!) is a great way to exercise that is low impact but still very refreshing. If you hate sweating, there is probably a pool at your gym where you can swim laps. You don’t have to be an old lady to do water aerobics. (I took a class in college!) I tried snowshoeing for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Yes, it was a date. Yes, it still counts as exercising.

4. Don’t forget about the internet. There are great at-home workouts, Groupons for local fitness classes, and online (free!) workout videos available to you! I am WAY too accident prone to run when it is snowy/icey/slushy outside (I once walked into a glass window that I thought was a door. I have also twisted my ankle playing badminton) — SO I have been doing this Zumba video! It’s 50 minutes long, and the quirky British guy who leads it is just adorable. I feel kind of ridiculous doing it alone is my apartment, but less ridiculous than I’d feel trying to run on the ice rink that is my street. More things:

http://www.fitbit.com/zip

http://thetumblrgym.com/workout

I should add: Beware of Pinterest when looking for fitness inspiration. While some of it is helpful and motivational, looking at pictures of super-skinny girls and wanting to be like them is not healthy. I would rather look at/read about healthy food that I want to cook! I have also seen things on Pinterest that have captions such as, “Eat ice when hungry” (ICE?!?) and quote Kate Moss as saying “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Well, Kate Moss clearly never ate frozen yogurt. Or macaroni and cheese. Or pad thai. Which brings me to…

5. Remember that your ultimate goal is to be healthy. It’s hard to write these over-arching health tips because everyone is different. Yes, obesity is a serious problem in our country…and yet there are still thousands of young girls who are starving themselves and doing jumping-jacks before bed in order to burn off the one bite of food they ate that day. I am not joking. Search through some hash-tags on social media. It is very real and heartbreaking. If you are running because it burns lots of calories, make sure you are intaking enough fuel so that your body can accomplish these runs. We don’t exercise to be thin. Your body is a gift and NOT your enemy. Take care of yourself. You are already beautiful.

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sleeping.

Ah, I am writing this after having just awoken from one of those lovely Sunday afternoon naps—the kind where you don’t exactly plan on napping but simply start to drift off while reading for pleasure or watching a rerun of a show you’ve seen a million times. You’re doing something not very important because it’s Sunday and for some amazing that means you don’t feel as bad about not working out or watching a Gilmore Girls marathon on Soap net or eating nachos for dinner. I tried to nap earlier today but it was only three hours after consuming major amounts of coffee while out for brunch and I found myself lying awake and thinking, “this is what people who can’t sleep must feel like.”

I have never really had trouble sleeping. I’m great at it. I am almost as good at sleeping as I am at making a delicious guacamole. I know this is a blessing and millions of people have trouble sleeping at night, but I have rarely lied awake in bed for longer than five minutes. I will often sleep until noon when I don’t set an alarm. (I don’t recommend this as it is usually followed by intense feelings of having wasted your life.) I have fallen asleep while talking on the phone but neither do I recommend this as it is never appreciated by the person you are talking to even if it is 3 in the morning. (Can’t believe I did that so often–sorry.) I never even have trouble sleeping on the floor, or in close proximity to another person. (There was a certain spring break trip that involved ten people splitting the cost of renting a one bedroom condo. Yes, one of us did sleep in the kitchen.)

Of course, being able to sleep on command is not necessarily a good thing. Feeling sleepy and irritable during the day when you are unable to nap is bothersome, if not destructive to your career performance or personal relationships. Excessive sleepiness can be countered by maintaining a steady sleep schedule, eating right, and exercising—the three most important things to staying healthy! Or, your sleepy-ness could be out of your control and need to be diagnosed or medicated. Sleep disorders are very common, and I have been suffering from one for the past year and half or so.

I was taking a beloved afternoon nap when I awoke in my bed to find that I could not move. I couldn’t lift my arms, move my legs, or fully open my eyes. I could see the room, and was very aware of where my body was and also saw my roommate Emily enter the room, when I began shouting for her to wake me up. This lasted for about thirty terrible second before I was able to jerk my head enough to wake myself up. Emily was not home.

Feeling frightened, I did what anyone else would do. I googled, “I wake up and I can’t move.” Try it. You will find hundreds of links leading you to information about sleep paralysis. You will also learn that many of the webpages about this disorder not only mention demons but have pictures of creepy ghosts and ghouls on them. Very reassuring.

Despite the creepy 18th century paintings of demon-possesion, I dug a little deeper and found out this phenomenon is relatively common (although I have not met a real person who I know who has experienced it) and not dangerous. Your body becomes paralyzed while you sleep in order that you don’t act out your dreams. Smart thinking, really–but sleep paralysis is when there is a miscommunication. Basically your brain is saying “I’m awake now!” and your body is saying “Noooo, you’re not!!”

The creepy part about all of this is that I almost always hallucinate. I have only experienced sleep paralysis while napping (this is typical, because your body is unaccustomed to the unusual time of day and/or length of a nap) but I either see someone who can help me, or hear an intruder in a distant room. The last time I had SP, there was someone in the kitchen banging around. Other times, my boyfriend has entered the room and I have called to him for help. I have also seen my mother. No, I have never seen dead people. It isn’t like a dream. When I wake up fully and can move again, my hands and feet and body are right where they were when I was hallucinating. The only thing not there is the person I could see and hear so vividly. A description that is almost identical to mine is on an episode of This American Life called “Fear of Sleep.” Skip to two minutes in and listen to Denise’s quick story. Or listen to the whole episode, because it rocks.

Now that you think I’m crazy, I should say that this has only happened to me about a dozen times. It’s enough to write about, but not enough to disrupt my daily life. If I do experience sleep paralysis, I am usually able to calm myself down and remind my crazy brain that no one has walked into the room. Although I refuse to believe I am being possessed, I have actually found that talking to God while it was happening was very effective in waking my body up.

I haven’t given up  on naps completely, but they are rare. I now try to nap in moderation—only when I am very sleepy or didn’t get at least six hours of sleep the night before. It’s amazing how thankful I have become for a peaceful nap, and the whole experience has been a reminder of how much we don’t fully understand about the human brain and body. I could write forever about how freaking weird dreams are, but I will refrain and simply leave you with my story and hope that it has provided some comfort for those who struggle to find peace and rest. When it comes to sleep, we’re all a little crazy.

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