Farewell, 2017

We’ve hit the season when everyone reflects on what has occurred during the past year and dreams of the year to come.  I am no exception.

What strikes me, though, is time’s beautiful ability to slip elegantly from one minute to one day to one year.  Tomorrow may be a new year, but take away the countdowns, the parties, the reflection, it is simply a new day.  Just as today was a new day.  I love that.

It is difficult to pinpoint the significance of 2017.  Before, each year had deep meaning, filled with momentous occasions and deep soul searching.  2015 was the year I finished college, filled with questions and striving.  2016 was the year I trekked across Europe and stumbled into my life’s work.

But 2017?  I suppose it is an extension of all the years before, as if all the momentous occasions, questions, journeys, and stumbles were leading to what I am doing now: living day by day, moment by moment.

This year, I continued life in the small town library where I work.  I experienced my first Summer Reading Program, started a Lego Club, and continued building relationships with my patrons.

This year, I applied, was accepted, and began graduate school online through the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.  Grad school is not easy, but it’s taught me to make time for self-care and that sanity is more important than grades.  This attitude helped me get through my first semester with my sanity and GPA in tact.  Already, pursing my Masters in Library and Information Science has helped improve my skills and understanding of my work.  While I frequently whine and complain about the stress of my studies, I am deeply thankful for this opportunity.

This year, I continued living with my parents.  All year, I have bounced back and forth.  Should I move closer to work?  Do I want to live in that community?  Is it worth it to continue driving an hour to work and back each day?  I’m still struggling with these questions.  While I like living with my parents, I’m ready to be on my own.  But I have absolutely no desire to live in the community where I work and cannot afford to both pay rent and continue commuting.  This is something I’ll continue to wrestle with as the new year comes.

This year, I made new friends and continued walking with old ones.  From road trip buddies to coffee shop chats monthly letters, I am extremely blessed in the friendship department and am so, so thankful.

This year, my faith journey brought me somewhere between the desert and the river valley.  I’m attending church again and am encouraged by friendships, but still feel like I’m walking alone.  In college, my faith journey was wild, frantic, and I pursued the path with relentless passion.  My faith has changed dramatically since then.  I’ve evened out.  I’ve simultaneously rejected the fundamentalism of my upbringing while holding firmly to my spiritual beliefs and heritage.  I’m calmer now.  I continue to study, but I hold my faith with open hands.  I long to be a person of high character, quietly bettering the world around me, letting my actions speak louder than my words.  2017 was a step in that direction.

This year, I spent each day with Wendell Berry.  As part of my devotions each morning, I ended by reading one of his Sabbath poems.  Of all my routines, this was my favorite.  Morning by morning, his words brought me into still forests, quiet fields, and sunlit meadows.  I reached the end of the book in October and went right back to the beginning.

This year, I continued my never ending love affair with the written word.  Thanks to audiobooks during my long commute and a deepening passion for YA, I blew past my previous reading records, making it through 212 books in a mere 12 months.  For more about my reading year, check out my previous post.

I suppose, in light of all these things, 2017 was a pretty good year.  (Minus the dumpster fires of national politics and natural disasters, of course.)  I grew, I worked, I learned.  What more can one ask for?

Tonight, when the clock strikes twelve, we will slip elegantly into a 2018.  Where will this year take us?  What decisions will I make?  What people will I meet?  What places will I go?  What words will I be writing one year from now?  I haven’t the slightest clue, and that is a very exciting thing.

Whoever you are, wherever you may be, I wish you a very happy New Year!

Thoughts on Blogging, Social Media, and Finding the Right Balance

I’ve been giving my social media habits a great deal of thought lately.

I won’t go into the messy details, but over the past few months my habits have changed a great deal.  In January, I made the decision to scale back my consumption and deleted Facebook from my phone.  This may not be a huge change, but it’s deeply impacted the way I experience the social media world.

For one thing, I have more time on my hands.  Instead of wiling away the hours scrolling through status updates and baby photos and engagement announcements, I spend my time doing things that I love.  I go for long walks.  I read more.  I hang out with family.

Another consequence is that I’ve shifted more time to Instagram.  With only photos and stories, Instagram is more curated and eats up far less time.  The more time I spend on Instagram, the more I fall in love with it.  I love putting together photos that I find beautiful and coming up with captions and quotes.  This summer, I started using the story feature and am able to share quirky, more casual bits of my life.

And then there’s my blog.  At the beginning of this year, I set out to be more of an official blogger… and quickly fizzled out.  I attempted to do a series of posts of literary places I’ve visited.  That lasted for two weeks.  Here and there, I’ve done several one-off posts that I’ve been pleased with.

I’ve been blogging for nearly ten years now on a variety of sites and, over the years, I’ve tried a number of different techniques.  (And, before you ask, no I will not share a link to my blog from high school.)

I think that part of my inconsistency is that I lack a central focus and vision.  While I adore my title, Keep Your Feet, and all that it implies, I definitely don’t have a theme.  Sometimes, I’m a book blogger.  Other times I write about travel and adventures.  Other times, I write about more personal things.  And, sometimes, I hardly post at all. Continue reading

Thoughts on Being Alone

As I drove home from work one evening this week, I got thinking about the variety of the experiences you can have being alone.  I have a great deal of friends near and far, but I’ve spent a lot of time in my own company over the years–sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance.

For example, as an introvert, I spend a great deal of time in my own company and love times of peace and solitude.  I work a job that is heavy on customer service, so at the end of the day, all I want is to curl up in my room and read my book.  I’ve recently taken up hiking and, when I have the trail to myself, the world gets all quiet in a way that fills up my spirit.  Being alone is restful–a haven away from the loudness of life.

But being alone isn’t always bliss. Continue reading

Tear Ducts of Steel

I rarely cry.  Is that weird?

I know people who cry at everything from sad movies to diaper commercials (apparently, the babies are so cute they can’t emotionally handle it).  Tears of devastation and rage are shed in the wake of global tragedies and tears of joy flow forth when reunited with loved ones.  There are tears for everything–tears of frustration, of deep sadness, of the messiness of everyday life.

And then, there’s me. Continue reading

The Drunkenness of Things Being Various

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to camp in Northern Minnesota.  A friend and I stayed in my uncle’s self-built rustic cabin in the woods a few miles from Lake Superior.  We had a wonderful time going on hikes, sitting by the lakeshore, exploring waterfalls, discussing morality in Game of Thrones, and reading poetry aloud at the campfire.

It was a peaceful weekend.  I felt all the clutter in my life fade away.  The sounds of daily life fade in comparison to the rush of a waterfall.  Alone time in nature, for me, is soul detox.

In my quiet moments, I reflected a great deal on how complex the human experience is–how beautifully multifaceted we all are.  I wrote in the margins of my sketchbook:   “Personhood is a complicated, beautiful thing–what an adventure it is to live inside myself.  There are so many corners, so many contradictions–How can I be so many people at once?” Continue reading

Traveling Solo: Thoughts From the Road

I’m about two weeks into my European adventure… and boy, is it going fast.  It feels like yesterday that I was preparing to leave L’Abri and now I’ve been to Scotland, Holland, and Germany.  There are so many posts I want to write, but every time I sit down, I’m too exhausted to find the words.

(On a side note, if you want more frequent updates, I post photos regularly on Instagram.  My username is ameliab648.  I keep my account private, so send a request.)

Maybe some day, I’ll tell you about the two days I spent in Utrecht with my Dutch friends, Jorijn and Petra.  Maybe someday, I’ll tell you about wandering the beautiful town of Heidelberg, Germany.  Maybe someday, I’ll tell you about all the footage I’m taking on my phone for videography projects.

Processed with VSCO with x1 preset
Heidelberg, Germany
Today, though, I’ll tell you that traveling alone is hard, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.  After months surrounded by people all the time, it is sometimes comforting to be alone. Sometimes, though, it’s not.  It’s lonely and, at points, I long for someone to share my adventures with.  Often times, I’ll go a full day without having a single conversation.  When I come to stretches of my journey where I’m staying with people, I find it hard to stop talking.  All the words that have been building rush out.

So far, I have only had one emotional meltdown and that was because I forgot to take care of my basic needs.  When you haven’t eaten or slept for a long time, your body tends to shut down.  In order to pay for all the museums and castles (and ensure that I’ll still have money when I get home) I’m keeping myself on a tight budget, so most of my meals have been supermarket food–sandwiches, yogurt, bananas, salad, nuts.  It’s healthy food and keeps me going.  I do like to splurge once in every country to try an authentic meal.

I’ve learned that half the battle is the hostel.  When living on the road, it’s important to feel secure in the place you sleep.  No matter where I am, I see my bed as a safe place, a refuge from the chaos of the world.  My bed is my temporary home. In it, I can relax, breathe, and have peace.  There are other things, though, that make or break a hostel: cleanliness, locker space in the rooms, plugs by every bed, good wifi, and a self service kitchen.  It’s important to know that my laptop and phone will have a place to charge, that my belongings will be secure when I am gone, and that I can cook a hot meal for myself.

As I journey from place to place on busses, trains, and airplanes, I usually pass the time with a book.   I’m reading That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, the final novel in his Space Trilogy.  It’s a pretty heavy book, so I’m taking my time with it. Being in the Scottish Highlands put me in the mood for Susanna Kearsley, who writes historical romances.  I’ve finished The Winter Sea and am close to the end of The Firebird.

Another important part of any adventure is the soundtrack!  Music helps me stay sane as I wait out long bus rides and navigate strange cities.  Since its release on Friday, I’ve been listening non-stop to The Lumineers’ new album, Cleopatra. Here’s the title track:

I wish I could write more, but I’m off to catch my bus to Nuremberg… Until next time!

England Bound

Today is the day.  I’m still a mixed bag of emotions, but am ready for what lies ahead.

On the threshold of a journey, I can’t help but think of the quote that inspired the title of this blog:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkien

This quote goes with me not only in my heart, but physically.  I got a necklace bearing Tolkien’s words for Christmas (Pictured below).

It’s a dangerous, wonderful, messy, beautiful world.  As I go, I need to keep my feet, always remembering who I am and where I came from, lest I lose my way.

Sadly, I can’t promise frequent blog posts from this point onward.  Once I reach L’Abri, I’ll be relatively off the grid.  But, hopefully, I’ll be able to find ways to post every once and a while.

So, dear readers, wish me luck.  The time has come to step onto the road and begin my journey…

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset
Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Of Faith and Refugees

My Facebook newsfeed today was filled with opinions this morning.  This isn’t unusual, as I have friends on both sides of the political divide.  I usually don’t like to engage in such things on social media.  I don’t like to associate with a political party.  Such things breed division and strife–so I keep my opinions to myself.

But in lieu of current events and the hate that has risen in their wake, I’m finding it hard to remain silent.

As I’ve been following the debates regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, I have been absolutely appalled by the response from Christians.  My Facebook feed is filled with messages along the lines of “Close the boarders because we don’t want terrorists to get in”.  I saw a comment that said, “I’m all for helping the refugees, I just don’t want to let them in.”

Or, in other words, “I’m all for helping people as long as it doesn’t impact my life.”  “I’m all for taking care of the poor and needy, as long as my comfort isn’t threatened.”

This makes my blood boil.

What, then, is more valuable?  Comfort or human life?  The ease of the rich or the despair of the poor?

To make things clear, I understand the fear.  The refugees are people who are very different from us.  They look different, sound different, and follow a different religion. Differences are unknowns and unknowns are scary.  And yes, there is a risk that the wrong people can get in.  Is this a risk we are willing to take?

A couple of my friends posted links to a short piece on Relevant Magazine titled “What the Bible Says About How to Treat Refugees“.  I recommend giving it a read, for it is very good. It is a list of verses with little commentary, letting the Bible speak for itself.  These verses speak of loving the poor, caring for the needy, and putting the needs of others before your own.  They talk about setting aside what is comfortable in favor of preserving human life.

I’d like to add a verse to the list.  1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (ESV)

Is allowing refugees into America worth it, despite the risk of letting terrorists in?  Absolutely.  Because perfect love, God’s love, casts out fear.

We, as Christians, are called to love the needy and care for the broken.  It’s not an option.  Loving one’s neighbor as ones self is not only a command, it’s the GREATEST command.  So are we going to obey? Are we going to trust that, even though there are unknowns and even though we are afraid, God is in control?

I realize that I am addressing this from a Christian perspective and you may not share my worldview. This is okay. Biblical rhetoric aside, I think my questions are still valid because this is, ultimately, not only a Christian issue. It is a human issue. These refugees aren’t faceless, soulless drones. They may be different, but they are human beings with just as much right to life as I. They have the same capacity to love, to feel, to dream as you and I do.

Are we, Christians and non Christians alike, going to set aside our comfort, riches, and fears, and care for the refugees?

I honestly don’t know what this looks like in my life.  As an American, I live a life of incredible privilege. There aren’t poor and homeless people lining up at my door. The refugees are on the other side of the world. But with privilege comes responsibility. If and when the time comes to take action, I hope that I am able to do what is RIGHT and not settle for what is EASY.

It’s a complicated issue.  There are a thousand arguments and counterarguments that can be made.  It can be discussed for hours on end.  Your opinion and worldview may be different than mine, and that’s okay. I don’t mind. Differences are not something to be afraid of. They are our greatest strength.

But I’m tired of remaining silent. I’ve been given a voice and am choosing to use it. So this is me, adding my thoughts to the universe.

Thanks for reading.

  

Apples & Writing

Lately, I’ve been embracing my identity as a writer.  I currently live at home and work on my family’s farm, so writing and agriculture have been on my mind.  I’ve been learning that writing and farming are more similar than one would think.

My family’s business is apples.  In the spring, apple trees bud and blossom.  Alone, these flowers are beautiful and fragrant, but fleeting.  It takes external forces, namely bees, to preserve their beauty.  Once the flowers are pollinated, fruit sets in.  But that’s not the end.  It takes months and months of growing and care for the fruit to grow.  Even then, it’s not always ready when you think.

This process reminds me of writing.  As a writer, I have universes in my mind.  Thoughts, feelings, ideas, entire novel length stories exist between my ears.  Sometimes when I sit down to put these sentiments to words, I find myself unable to speak.  Like apple blossoms, bursts of inspiration alone aren’t enough.  It takes external forces–life experiences–to give the inspiration the depth and meaning it needs to bear fruit.  Even then, sometimes the words aren’t ready.  It takes months and months of bouncing around in the back of my mind to grow and take shape.

We have field trips at our orchard and one of the things my mom tells the kids is actually really important: Just because an apple is red doesn’t mean it’s ripe.

It’s the same with words.  Recently, I’ve found the need to write bubbling up in my spirit and bursting forth at unexpected moments.  But just because words are building at the tip of my toungue does not mean they are ready yet.  It doesn’t mean they’re ripe.  I’ve got an ever-growing list of post ideas, but not all of them feel quite right yet.

So I wait.  I mull over the words and scribble drafts.  I put down my pen and let the world around me pollinate my ideas.  I wake up in the morning, go to work, read books, spend time with friends, and wait.

When the time comes for the words to burst forth, I’ll be ready.

photo-1414396914239-e70522479d13.jpeg

swiftly, silently (a poem)

swiftly, silently

the hours slip into the fog

as she gives up counting sheep

no bleating penetrates the haze

boundaries between light and dark

are lost amid vacant pastures

of unspoken verse

and today slips into tomorrow.

she loses herself in the rhythm

of poetry that has not been penned

savoring the unsung words,

        rolling the idea of vowels across the threshold of her lips

like a puff from a midnight cigarette

what will she say to you?

what will she say to you when her time comes?

in that moment

when syntax must harden

when the verbs and nouns align

into concrete—

will you press your hands into the cool pavement?

will you make your mark upon the page?

empty fragments floating amid

ungrazed grass, waiting for the Sandman

to sprinkle his dust and claim

the syrupy, smooth whispers of verses

melding as midnight and morning intertwine

fog shifts over the water

she braces herself against the steel railing

white haze encompassing

stirring in her the need to reach out—

to grasp the words, to fill a pasture with her pen

but the damp river air washes away the sounds

they slip through her fingers

kissing her ears before sliding away

as a blush on the horizon signals the coming of dawn. . .

alone she remains.

hand extended towards the fading mist—

silently

swiftly

I don’t often write poetry, but when I do, it shows up on my blog years later.  This was drafted during my semester abroad in London.  I submitted it in my Innovative Creative Writing class a few semesters ago, where I received lots of wonderful feedback from my classmates.  As an inconsistent poet, it feels good to let these words finally see the light of day.

What do you think?  Should I do the whole poetry-thing more often?

photo-1430921688227-2c59c6489072