CULTURE SHOCK

culture shock, family, friends, personal essay, photography, small town life

Good morning! A short post to start the day, and then maybe like eight more posts because the internet has decided to upload pictures? We’ll see.

I thought I’d show you a few of the things that have inspired culture shock in the last two weeks since I’ve returned to America. There are always things…not the ones I expect…that throw me for a loop. Sister and I often discuss how we are back in our own country, but having spent so many years overseas, we don’t quite fit in. There are…apparently…many things that we should just know, but we don’t! Such is the life of a third-culture-kid.

America is BIG. The big-ness of it hits me in different ways. When it comes to driving somewhere, you have to drive FAR, and that doesn’t faze anyone. Any place within an hour’s drive in any direction is considered do-able and local. The hills and the meadows stretch on and on and on. This is the big-ness which I love. I like that it makes me feel like a small part of a huge thing, and I like that the roads are overgrown with wildflowers and more trees than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I like that our history is so upfront and personal, that America is still fairly wild, that there are far, far more birds that fly past my window than cars.

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This is a giant bear claw mark on my Aunt’s house, about a mile from our house. Bears are making a come back around here!

And then there is the big-ness that I don’t like.

Our area has a population of 5,402 spread out over a lot of land. Two miles up the road from us is the grocery store, which used to be a small-ish, manageable, slightly run-down place. Then they replaced it. With a fortress. It is the size of a small airport. For all I know, it is ALSO a small airport. It is open 24/7. There is just no reason that anyone around here needs to run to the local store at 3 AM and I have personally only been able to bring myself to go inside it a couple of times because it is just SO OVERWHELMING.

There is a big-ness in the book stores, the grocery stores, the construction stores, the clothing stores, the stuff stores, the more stores, the even-more stores that I can’t tolerate. Things are cheap. If you want cheap, there is cheap. Walmart is KING of the cheap, but this is what happened to me when I made the mistake of venturing into Walmart.

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Sister found me here, on the verge of a panic attack, hiding behind the cooler.

There are so many options. The options sprawl out in front of me and I–who am not good at making decisions–find myself paralyzed.

Here is how you buy a loofah in Europe: You go to the store and if they have a loofah, you buy it. If they don’t have a loofah, that is to be expected, and you will be fine.

Here is how you buy a loofah here in a small town in the middle of nowhere:

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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Yes, the following options are available:

  • textured
  • net
  • scrubbie dubbie
  • delicate
  • exfoliating
  • charcoal-infused
  • and men’s, which are not different from the other ones.
  • on a stick
  • on a different kind of stick
  • on a stick that is ergonomic
  • on a wooden stick with a sponge
  • on a wooden stick with a different kind of sponge

And Target. Oh my goodness, let’s not go THERE ever again. Behold what Target hath wrought:

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Poor Sister. All we wanted were chips!

And then there is tipping. Let’s save that one for another day. But America, just pay people a living wage! It would make everything so much easier!

 

The other day we met Aunt K thirty minutes away for dinner and WONDER WOMAN. (I loved Wonder Woman!) We went to a place called the Recovery Room, which made the following bold assertion:

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It says: EVERY GAME EVERY DAY.

While you’re eating.

Here is what that looks like, and pretend you’re not good with sensory overload:

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SCREENS EVERYWHERE. This was just from my seat at the restaurant. Some of the TVs had four different screens within the screen. Every sport imaginable! Lots of people talking at me! SO MANY DIFFERENT SCORES.

The menu did not have any vegetable untouched by cheese or meat, haha, and because of the decision-paralysis discussed above, this is how my ordering went down:

Waitress (SUPER PEPPY): Have you decided what you’ll be getting tonight?

Me (paralyzed from the menu, points to childhood favorite): The chicken strips?

Waitress: GREAT CHOICE. Okay, will you be having that with a special shake spice blend?

Me: …what?

Waitress: Will you be having that with a special shake spice blend? We could do ranch, or adobo, or habanero, or–

Me: No.

Waitress: And what dip will you be having?

Me: …I…thought it came with the honey mustard?

Waitress (positively chipper): IT SURE DOES, but you can get another dip, too! Ranch? BBQ? Sweet and sour? Or maybe–

Me: –HONEY MUSTARD IS FINE THANKS

Waitress: SURE THING. Okay, and would you like regular fries, onion rings, sweet potato fri–

Me: –JUST THE NORMAL THING. JUST THE THING THAT EVERYONE GETS. THE REGULAR ONE.

Waitress: SOUNDS GREAT. Okay, and to drink?

Me (going crazy): Iced tea.

Waitress: Regular, lemon, raspberry, sweetened or unsweetened?

Me (puts my head down and begins to sob uncontrollably).

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I think four chickens had to die for my meal.

In no particular order, a few other culture shock moments:

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The deer ate ALL THE FLOWERS. Ughhhh.

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There are yard sales everywhere.

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Finding the car battery and figuring it out made possible thanks to Uncle M.

I can hear Brother T and Sister in the other room cackling over Parks and Rec, I am drinking coffee with half-and-half, and later I plan to go and buy the best burrito I’ve ever had in my life. There are beautiful things here. It’s just better for everyone if I don’t go into a box store ever again.

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We are coming for you, Taste Box.

Picking Out Plants & the Mortgage Lifter

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth, small town life
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AHHHHHHHHHH IT IS TOO BEAUTIFUL

Here is how last Saturday went:

 

I was trying to change my shoes while driving the car. That’s not the point of this story, though, it is just essential background information. Sister went into the local coffee roasting place* and when she came out, she had a free mug! So, I decided I would go in and get myself some organic dark-chocolate-covered cherries and a free mug of my own. I went inside and was glad to see the place had expanded and was full of people picking out coffees and nut butters.

But something felt weird.

I looked down.

And yes! I had two different shoes on!

Me: I have two different shoes on.

Lady behind the counter: You sure do!

Lady behind the counter: Would you like a free mug?

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Here is also how our Saturday went:

We were driving up to Target** and SUDDENLY it seemed there was a plastic bag floating up over the hood of the car.

Sister: Alex? Is that our headlight?

Me: Why yes Claire, I believe it is.

And INDEED IT WAS. So we bought duct tape and taped that sucker on, because we are nothing if not resourceful and also good at driving old cars.***

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Here is how our Saturday proceeded:

We went to Uncle Gee and Aunt T’s house and followed them over to the Country Caretaker, which is their favorite garden center. There are so many garden centers! I LOVE THEM ALL.

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I confessed total ignorance to the nice people that worked there and they helped me out by talking about different kinds of tomatoes. We bought: Grapettes, Beef Steak, Brandywine, and one called the Mortgage Lifter, so called because the guy who created this type of tomato apparently used the proceeds to pay off his mortgage! The garden center tomato person told me they will turn red, and then yellow, and then gold, and will be delicious. Can’t wait!!

We got some cucumber plants, peppers, flower seeds, snapdragons, arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, and yellow squash. I CANNOT WAIT TO EAT THEM.

Uncle Gee also lent us a bunch of garden implements and tools which have proven to be essential.

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Look! There’s no dirt on my face!

Following that, our Saturday continued thusly:

Sister and I went to what used to be a church and heard a solo piano concert by Ben Cosgrove, who composes beautiful instrumental pieces inspired by landscapes. It was an hour well spent. There were a few odd ducks there. And by “few” I mean everyone seemed to be wearing loose-fitting linen clothing? But the music! So, so beautiful. Here is a link, go listen to him and buy his new album:

https://bencosgrove.bandcamp.com/album/salt

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The plants are living here until the garden is ready. We figure if they’re up close to the house the deer will STAY AWAY FROM MY PLANTS, YOU HEAR ME, DEER?

Here is how our Saturday ended:

With a visit from Aunt K, who we were so happy to see, and a nice, fun chat in Aunt W’s living room, and a pizza. It was a good day.

*Whenever possible, I am trying not to go into stores. There are so many of them here. They are so full of THINGS and it’s overwhelming. The stores I like are Garden Centers, Produce Stands, and Hardware Stores. Those, I can handle. Everything else needs to get drones to drop things off at my front door.

** Hoo boy. There’s a place to send you into paroxysms of culture shock.

*** This seems like a good time to reference the little local news tidbit I read in the paper this week. It is called LIBERATE THE EARTH and involves a group called the Artichoke Dance Company. Here is the blurb: “There will be a Wearable Art/Costume Workshop on Friday, May 26 at 7pm…Participants will create beautiful wearable items from recycled plastic bags to serve as costumes for Saturday’s performance. Please bring plastic bags to the workshop.”****

****NO!

 

Fence Posts 

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth, small town life, Uncategorized

I’m falling behind on my garden progress posts. But this morning it is RAINING and due to rototill-ing (coming to a post near you shortly!), I can’t move my arms, so I will catch up on my garden progress.

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Pre-Posts. Back when we thought there were only 10-13 rocks in the garden.

One thing is for sure: we could not be putting a garden in without friends and family helping us out! They’ve given us tools, time, and expertise, and I am so grateful for that.

The post holes that Bill helped us dig just weren’t deep enough, so I was trying to figure out a solution to the post hole problem, and it was looking like it would cost $150 to get someone to drill holes for us. No sooner did Cousin P hear about that than he sent me a text saying he’d be here the next morning to help us dig. Did he want me to rent an auger to make it easier? No. Apparently, we hadn’t earned the auger yet. Ha.

Actually, I just checked, and what he really said was:

Me: Maybe renting the auger is the way to go

Cousin P: Part of learning to dig holes is you have to dig several successfully before you are allowed to use an auger. Or you are a city person.

Obviously, being a city person is not an option. That is yet another post for yet another day. City people. Gross.

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Does this look like a city person to you?

Cousin P and A and their kids pulled in around 10 and by 12 we had fence posts in the ground! Wow, it is hard to dig post holes!! I kept thinking they were the requisite 27 inches deep, only to find out that they were closer to 18. Also: rocks. But that is another story.

The kids were so helpful 🙂 J, who is 4, brought his shovel and went to work immediately. R, who is 2, carried rocks back and forth, got totally covered in mud, and then took up temporary residence in a post hole.

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I love these kids!!

We also played a fun game called, “Alex, find this worm a home.” This was brought about due to the necessity of not having all the worms manhandled and bleeding to death*, so I told the kids the worms were homesick and we had to let them go home. “Going home” involved me digging a hole and J stomping on the dirt to really, really make sure the worms got home.

There were a lot of homesick worms out there.

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Not a city person.

Following our adventure of digging holes, Uncle M stopped by and he and Sister discussed lawn mowing, which is Sister’s favorite thing to do. He had to take it home with him, and take apart the carburetor** and put it back together. Sister says we could have done that if we knew what a carburetor was.

 

How right she is.

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All she wants to do is go mow the lawn.

Then we got to stapling up the six foot, vinyl-coated, really-heavy, galvanized steel, deer-proof fencing. (Did you know that we have so many deer here in Upstate New York that I see deer EVERY SINGLE DAY. And did you know that they carry TICKS which carry LYME DISEASE and that I had Lyme Disease when I was in fourth grade and I don’t want to have it again, people.) I WILL NOT HAVE DEER IN MY GARDEN. I WILL NOT.***

Okay, then we went and had bagels.

*BAGEL BREAK*

And then Sister saw a dead mouse and freaked out. And then we picked up a couple garden tools. And then we went to the local hardware store and got stakes for the tomatoes. All of this was to put off the inevitable: ROTOTILLING. It is hard work, people.

Look at me. That is the face of someone who is covered in dirt, and who takes her pet rototiller everywhere.

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Just me, a lot of dirt, and my Mantis.

Did you know gardening is really dirty work???

So, I rototilled and Sister mowed the front lawn, and then I ate pizza.

 

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Fried eggplant, artichoke hearts, tomatoes. AMERICA, I LOVE YOU.

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Intensive scrubbing took place shortly after this photo was taken.

Cousin P: How is garden project going?

Me (boastfully): I got blisters so it was authentic work. I had work gloves on. I used to have soft city hands.

Sister (scornfully): Now you have soft city hands with blisters.

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Yes, there is dirt on my face.

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*apparently giant, bleeding worms are interesting to two-year-olds 😉

**it took me seven tries to spell carburetor correctly

***I WILL NOT

Breaking Ground

friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth

The ground has been broken and that makes me happy!

I didn’t know what to expect when it came to getting the grass off the ground and the garden full of dirt. Options included the back-breaking pick-axe and shovel (sounded hard), hiring someone to rototill (sounded expensive), or finding a plow (sounded impossible).

Uncle G told us it would be easiest to find someone with a plow, though I don’t think he thought we could actually do it. Sister looked at me–I looked at Sister–and we knew that we knew someone who would have the answer.

So Sister texted Bill to ask if he knew anyone with a plow and he–being Bill–ended up in our yard the very next evening with a giant backhoe and a friend named Tom. They also bought a manual post-hole digger and an auger.

Earlier that day…

Me: Sister, we need to find something to dig holes with for fence posts

Sister: Like what?

Me: I don’t know. Google it?

Sister (after Googling): …is it…an auger?

Both of us: What IS an auger, anyway?

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This was in the driveway when we pulled in

Knowing that Bill was coming meant that I had to CHOOSE A LOCATION.

Look, on the best of days I might be able to make a decision quickly. On all other days, I find decision-making tough. I start to think, and over-think, and over-think the over-thinking and before you know it, a lot of time has passed and I have thought of many an eventuality–all increasingly farfetched–and have paralyzed myself. I worry about disappointing people, I worry mostly about making the WRONG choice, or somehow making a decision that is less than perfect. I have operated for a long time on the assumption that there is always one right choice and everything else is a mistake or wrong. I am working on changing that perspective, but Rome wasn’t built in a day (neither is this garden). I am working on thinking that if I put the garden in the back right corner where there is a little too much morning shade or the back left corner or on the side of the house or not…I am learning that there might not be ONE right answer.

Anyway.

I asked everyone for their thoughts because I was panicking a little bit.

I asked Aunt W and Uncle M, I asked their neighbor who I’d never met before, I asked Aunt S and Uncle G, I talked to Sister, Mom, Dad, Brother 1 and Brother 2, I asked Cousin A and and I asked and I asked and finally I arrived at a decision, which was mainly because there was a giant backhoe in the driveway when I got home. Ha.

I think part of this process is learning to trust my own judgment. Maybe my own decision making is just fine.

I am pretty happy with where the ground was broken.

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Onward:

  • We staked out a 15×20 foot plot
  • Bill brought the backhoe around to the side of the house and operated it like he does it every day of his life
  • The backhoe peeled the sod back kind of like an ice cream scoop and soft ice cream. It was so effortless.
  • Bill broke the sod up, patted it down, tore it apart, and scattered it. If Bill operated one of those toy-cranes at an arcade, I bet he’d get every stuffed animal in the case.

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Meanwhile, I continue to adjust to people who have a sense of humor. After more than a year in the Netherlands, where sarcasm is wasted, there has been more than one interaction like this:

Me: It was good to meet you, Tom. Thanks so much for coming over!

Tom: Actually, my name is William.

Me (flustered): Wait, seriously? That’s awful. I’m so sorry. I thought your name was Tom. Oh man. What a disaster. Unbelievable. This is so awkward. And Claire just asked me what your name was and I told her it was Tom. Oh gosh. Oh dear. Here, you know what? Take my wallet. Actually, just take the house.

Bill: His name is Tom. He was just joking.

Me: Oh.

As Bill operated the backhoe with a truly inspiring amount of dexterity, Tom chatted with me and Sister about his wife and how she died, how he came to know the Lord, and lots of little fun facts.

Tom: The round stones are called Cobbles. Or Cobs, if you’re in the stone business.

Me (points to big rock): Oh. What’s that one called?

Tom (looks at me out of the corner of his eye): That’s called a rock.

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Finally, they brought around the auger and got to work. First they thought they would drill 14 holes, but the auger is tough, and then it was 12 holes, but the auger is really tough, so then it was 10 holes.

Holes which ended up needing some work, but that’s a post for another day.

Basically, this particular experience taught me to continue to ask for help and also that everything is easier when you have community and some friends who are willing to hop on their backhoe with another buddy and drive it a few miles up the road and park it in your lawn and break up the sod for you.

I have also learned what an auger is.

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Sister jumping for joy