Posted by: sjuniperj | November 4, 2016

Keeping the Faith: Traditions

I’m debating whether or not I should do Thanksgiving this year. I am invited to a friend’s Thanksgiving that I know will be uproarious and cozy and full of people. I don’t really have to do my own. Thanksgiving has been one tradition that’s stood by me in Graz.

The first year was my favourite, probably because I was most excited.  I spent the day cooking, dressing the chickens and adding the finishing touches. I had willing and ready help to keep me company. In the end my guests arrived and we piled into my tiny kitchen. My mini apartment was filled to the rafters. We ate on paper plates on our knees, sitting on whatever surface was available, but the night had a special glow.

My second year was wonderful- candle-lit and filled with people. We fit at least 15 people in our living room. It was gently loud and filled with warmth and decorations.  I was so grateful for that paper turkey that my mom sent all the way here. I did dishes for three days after that party, but it was worth it.

Last year we kept things small and my oven failed me. I think I made my own stress, trying to re-create that “coming home” feeling. It felt out of place to set a small table, and to me Thanksgiving should aways feel like coming home. As I start my fourth year in Graz the lines are blurring, and I am not totally sure how to lay my cards. Shake things up and have wine and Thanksgiving themed appetisers? Invite everyone and cram in? I’m not looking forward to the dishes, but I do miss cooking for a crowd.

Every year we celebrate Carnival in Graz, and every year it slightly baffles me. I love the party, I love how happy my co-workers are, I love the bright costumes and joke donuts filled with mustard. It seems like it should be my kind of holiday, but without the sentimentality of tradition I just can’t quite get a grip on it.

I just realised this must be how people here must feel about my holidays. That’s not totally true- at least one friend is looking forward to Turkey Day. I regret not taking time off for Halloween though- it rushed by and I didn’t even have time to carve a pumpkin. If I don’t honor my traditions, I feel as though I lose that piece of myself. I was raised for this- am I paying proper respect to my culture and family? I don’t want the lines to blur so much that I lose who I am, or who I was. I’m worried that as I adjust to my new home I will lose my ties to my homeland. I guess I’ll have to make that extra pie then. After three years my coworkers will be wondering where it is.


Posted by: sjuniperj | October 10, 2016

Home is Everyone I Love

img_4967You know what? Tonight, I’d like to go home. If I could somehow open the door to my balcony, throw one last glace over the Vienna skyline and magically step over the edge to land on my parent’s porch, I would. Just for tonight, for a few hours. I just want to be in my kitchen, eating something sweet and fall and Uhmerikan, pampering the cat and catching up on the neighborhood gossip. I’d drive to Lansing and see the siblings, try to fit in as many visits as I could, marvel at the size of America, and all the things that have changed. I would live every minute.

I wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t. A week in MI and I would be antsy to hit the road and head to California, Colorado, Chicago, Virginia, Vermont, Traverse City, D.C, Seoul…. all the places calling my heart. Soon enough I’d pine for Austria; I’d wonder if I made the wrong choice. My heart would be full of happiness for seeing friends and family, but I’d be unable to shake the foot that would inevitably still be in this world. Home isn’t one place to me, it is many, it is everyone I love.

(Edit: I unearthed this draft from 3 years ago and found it perfectly fitting still.)

Posted by: sjuniperj | October 8, 2016

Coffee Shop Clatter

They’ve redone the Tribeka cafe near the Technical University. It’s doubled in size but is equally cramped with white hipster chairs, mismatched tables and modern minimalist light fixtures. Excessively loud music settles over our heads and in the corners of the room. Taking a seat just over my shoulder, it noisily butts into people’s conversations, giving the room both an intimacy and the need to shout to be heard. It’s cozy though, and endearing. Breathy electro-pop-folk music trickles through the general clatter and constricts the edges of my heart. The atmosphere here makes me feel like the star of an introspective sitcom amiably fringed with growing enthusiasm, self doubt and self awareness.

My four Euro mocha is little more than lukewarm but my glass is large and satisfyingly heavy. Besides which, it is the first time in three years I have even found a place that serves mochas at all. They are new to the menu and I’m calling it a victory. The aftertaste is slightly mineral- not heavy or sweet like I expected. It isn’t bad, just different. The interference could be from the zinc drops I’m taking. By the bottom of the glass I feel electrified and focused.

Uni profs and students fill the tables, hugging each other hello. I forgot that people did that, and the cheerful gesture warms me up. When I first arrived in Austria the traditional kiss to both cheeks felt far too intimate, although now a hug might feel equally foreign.

The casual embraces and American music brings back memories of home: sipping high percentage craft beers in poorly lit apartments, listening to records or albums until we became joyfully inebriated. The clatter of spoons could be Seoul too; this could have been any of my haunts there. It is quaint and sweet with  instagram-worthy decor. it’s a staging area for potential.

From somewhere inside our public living room, a voice sails over the chatter in English. I can’t tell who it was or where it came from, but it adds a feeling of warmth to the afternoon. It’s comforting to know that here I can be both a part of the fun and a casual observer.

Posted by: sjuniperj | April 8, 2016

Austria: I Can’t Write Here

Austria is such a mystery. For a long time I’ve thought about why I can’t write here. I’ve always been good about putting down words, but in the last two years, I’ve just stopped. It certainly isn’t for lack of interesting experiences; on the contrary, my life here effortlessly blends into months and moments and experiences. Maybe it is too much, or too few quiet moments.

As I look around my room I see the past in living color in postcards, pictures and mementos sticky-tacked to my well-lived-in student-apartment walls. I haven’t had time, energy or desire to change them, I guess. I don’t spend much time here anymore. When I do it is in either under the anchoring weight of the cat, or in a hurry, or with my nose too deeply into a book. I haven’t been motivated enough to borrow the tools to finally hang my mirror or owl shaped clothes hook.

It feels a bit like being at home after college…which makes me really miss home. I want my bed and my cool, quiet room and all those other fragments of who I was. I want my parents and my friends next door and the convenience of nostalgia.

This nostalgia, now, in Graz, feels splintered. I think that is a good thing, it’s pushing me to get uncomfortable enough to make it into something else. Will I finally get the landlady to unlock the balcony? Finally start my planters? Do I spend enough time here to own plants?  Things are in motion, just on their own time. Thinking about it is a start. And I guess I did find a few words 🙂

Posted by: sjuniperj | August 13, 2015

Beauty Blogging! A Completely Addicting Side-Project

I know I have been a bit scarce when it comes to updating my blog this year, but as I busy myself with words for most of the day at work, I seldom find time in the evenings for my own thoughts. Since I have been spending a good amount of time writing on my other blog, I thought it was time to share.

Seoul transformed me into a beauty product junkie, and Austria refined my tastes 😉 Here is the latest in our exploration of natural care products at Two Curly Girls (click the text for the link).


Love from Graz,


My roommate’s cat follows me into the bathroom. Here he alternates between biting my knee and fervently rubbing his face over mine. I am stuck on the toilet because I have not yet told him “I love you” enough times to the point where I think he can understand. He squints his eyes and purses his lips and purrs as he melts his little body onto my lap. I don’t know if he will ever understand the words I say, but I think we are both saying them. I didn’t lock the door. We’re not a door locking house. I imagine anyone would be confused if they saw us, but in our apartment I don’t think it would raise too many alarms.

In the not quite two years in which I have lived here, I have had 9 roommates, four cats and three dogs pass through. We are now in the market (short term at least) for roommate #10.

If we ran an honest roommate ad it would read like this:

Muenzgrabenstrasse ****, **** Graz

Location is incredible, neighbors are great except for the one who shrieks obscenities (in English) during odd hours. Don’t mind him, he has anger issues. The two lads upstairs are pretty fit though, the girls in our apartment have given their thumbs up. Apartment itself is also amazing. Kitchen leaves something to be desired in prep space, living room could use more furniture, steps could use some love (tile is falling off) but otherwise, no complaints. Don’t mind the ants in the spring. At least we don’t have mushrooms here.


B: sassy, bluntly honest, adorable early twenty-something with mood swings ranging from foul rage to the picture of sweetness. Just avoid communication if angry. Power cleaner, great at cooking anything involving cream and bacon or pasta, in quantities to share. Absolute charm with baked goods! Foul moods totally worth it. Wonderful with children and sparkly nail polish. Trademarks: short hair (nearly always misunderstood in Austria) and Kaerntnerisch (Carinthian Dialect). Favorite phrases include: ist lei Spass, havi d’Ehre and Quatsch mit Soesse.

M: bashful, completely flips out at the mere mention of her Italian lover. French, mostly quiet, known for strange noises and hiding from the cat, although she is warming up to him. Trademarks: bringing home soft cheeses, tiptoeing through the house, disappearing to play tennis. Favorite phrases: Gahhh!!! Neeeeiiiinnnnn!! Cooookieee!! Ich sag’s dir.

Cookie: cat. Indulges in hate/love relationships with all occupants. Bites and scratches for no reason at all, but is the sweeetest little nugget when it comes to cuddling. Known for his stink eye, 4am wake-up calls and completely photogenic nature. Known for sleeping on our shoes, battering my laundry basket and trying to escape late at night. His perfect night is spent fighting your feet (hide them wisely under the comforter, it doesn’t hurt) and snuggling up around your face and or neck.

Me: the description I heard was: “is almost never home but when she is, is very likeable”. I hope this is true. Additionally I would like to add that I am the owner of the washing machine and blender and am very good at taking out the trash and vacuuming. I also make a mean waffle.

As often as we have looked for new roommates, I am actually looking forward to it this time. Highlights of the last round were:

– the 18 year old who asked if we would do his laundry

– the bro who slept through his 7pm appointment, then showed up at 10 and stayed an entire hour. Told funny stories about other bro apartments where no one wore pants, even to go get Kebaps.

– the girl with the tunnel vision who wanted to bring her free range guinea pigs and rabbits (see CAT)

– the girl who admitted she wasn’t interested at all but stayed forever

– the guy who wanted to move in immediately but admitted he probably couldn’t pay rent

– the aggressive physicist computer game player who warned us that “it might get loud” at 2 or 3am, but advised us to just knock on his door frame

Can’t wait to see who turns up 🙂

Posted by: sjuniperj | May 14, 2015

When Words Fail You: Lost in a Second Language

In the residual grumbles of the thunderstorm who is still lazily shaking out her carpets, I’m letting my candles burn long, listening to Death Cab and trying not to be homesick or Graz-sick or yearning for everything at once. I’m editing a translation tonight and sit fiddling with the sentence order, no longer totally sure of my own.

Tonight none of the words work, in any of my languages. I came home used up. Trying to talk to my roommates was overwhelming; none of my sentences would connect. So I left my sentences sitting unfinished in the hallway while I hid behind my book. My German has gotten worse since I started working full time, I don’t have time for the newspaper or films or adventures with friends that used to keep me sharp. Now English feels dumb and unwieldy too. My computer is old and unsteady and the music keeps skipping because it is thinking too hard or too slow; at the moment we are the perfect companions. My thoughts are as jagged and scattered as the playback, as unfocused as our internet connection.

How do you make the time for all of the things? I used to know. How do you keep both your languages on track?

I know the things I should be doing- reading, speaking, thinking, questioning. No time is no excuse, but for the record, I would like to add at least four more hours to each day 🙂

I started wearing nailpolish when my hands became craggy with chalk dust. You underestimate the talc that rises each time words are unwritten. As the eraser clapped over the surface of the blackboard, the chalk erupted with a feathery light touch, kissing every last breath of air around it. At the end of a day teaching it felt like the dust I encountered working with horses- it infiltrated.

Later we had those brilliant white boads with their sleek lines of clean ink and bold colors. That ink gathered in the corners of my fingers too, painting lovingly over the whirls of my fingerprints, stubbornly refusing to retreat from my calluses. The sharp acerbic smell of those markers, the pop of the caps coming off, the squeel as they skated over the board…those experiences will always remain with me…

but that isn’t the story I wanted to tell. I look down at my hands today and see a gorgeous spread of pale, light pink. Somewhere inside the halos of each one of my splendidly painted nails is the vaguest trace of hot pink glitter. Hot pink. If that doesn’t spell excitement, I don’t know what does.

Every color, to me, tells a story. They possess moods, and characters, they are like jackets worn by others that I can slip and try out for a day, a week, a year? As a teacher nail polish masked the grit, the stains, the ink that marked my busy hands, announcing: I may be covered in school supplies, but I am a damn classy lady.

What story do your colors tell?

Let us introduce you to some of ours.

Posted by: sjuniperj | March 12, 2014

Great Lakes Red

Last night I dreamt of Michigan wine. It’s early now and I’m still half dreaming; the thick grapey scent dallies in my head, meandering smokily over my senses. In a rush it all comes back: the heat of the summer earth, the aroma of the ground snaking out of the pavement, the palpable buzz of cicadas filling the air with tension. In my morning haze marshes stretch before my eyes, thick and musty and loud with summer insect sounds, ripe with the grit that the sand of the Great Lakes leaves everywhere. I smell the tangy spray of winedrops hovering in the humidity, hear the pop of an uncorked bottle.

In my dream I took a bus to Leelanau on a mission to find my wines.

I arrived to a large, light, wood paneled shop, crowded merrily with tourists slowly browsing the shelves. In the Michigan heat everything moves slowly. The shop was filled with things I miss: Keebler Elf cookies and pink and white sprinkled animal crackers, post cards with Great Lakes views. Soft plushy trillium embroidered hoodies lined the rows, tempting me to distraction. Even in dreamland, however, I had a purpose.

Winding my way through a jumble of kettle chips and sour cherry candy,  sunscreen and waders, I passed shortbread and marshmallow fluff, canvas jackets and sturdy brimmed hats. My heart was racing, suddenly I felt short on time, frustrated that I couldn’t find what I came for. Then I saw them: three bottles on top of a high shelf, still intact in my memory, exactly how I didn’t know I remembered them. The precise shapes of the labels alluded me, but as the colors and lines came into focus, I tasted the wine I know so well. Dried cherries and sun-baked fields of wildflowers, tangy red and tart sweet white. Three familiar bottles stood just out of my reach. I gazed.

Dark red, the color of dried cranberries. I remembered the black and yellow label, the Great Lakes blooming around the bottle. Leelanau Cellars: Great Lakes Red. Grand Traverse Whites: a sailing ship cresting the curve of the glass. As the taste began to blossom in my mouth I pictured myself in front of Wildflowers in Glen Arbor, watching fleshy magnolia blossoms bobbing in a spring breeze. The taste of tart cherry candy flooded my senses. I miss the sting of that familiar fruit and places and people who made it memorable.

I took it all in as I stood at my alter, alone in a crowd of cheerful sales girls and visitors. They sold me the last bottles off the shelf and uncorked a barrel of red to shake out the last drops. I bought whiskey too, even in dreaming I missed the snap and twang of a shared bottle, the slow warmth of friendship passed in flasks around campfires and over songs. The sharp scent brought me back to the time we raced the setting sun to the top of Boreas Pass and went camping in the pouring rain. It was my first visit to Colorado and I wanted to go so badly that my friends didn’t have the heart to deny me, even in a downpour. Downy 80’s ski vests, whiskey and friendship kept us warm, and the memory burns as bright as the stars did over our heads.

In Graz, I drink sour cherry juice instead, introduced by a friend to who didn’t realize where it would take me. The dream shop didn’t have a name, it was an amalgamation of Glen Arbor and Leland, Benzie County or Lake Ann, one of the one-stop sell-alls/local art galleries that I know best from unplanned adventures.

I dreamt so hard I can still taste it. I crave it: hot asphalt and steamy fields of flowers, sailing ships and sand dunes. Tart red berries and wide smiles and honking, nasal vowels. Marshes, mysteries, Petosky stones. Ghost stories, beards, Chacos and bicycle repair nightmares. Uncharted rivers and pies and smokey stout beers and peeling white paint on shabby white porches. Golden retrievers and fanny packs and Fudgies.  I woke with tears in my eyes and the taste of fruit on my lips.


Posted by: sjuniperj | March 5, 2014

Love at First Sight

It happened. Our eyes met across the crowded green. Wind sang in the tree tops, brushing leaves aside the way a lover brushes hair out of his beloved’s eyes. Blades of grass turned their heads, whispered to one another, craned their necks to see. The earth held her breath. Launching into a run, the world around us blurred at the edges like an old-time photograph. Opening my arms, I smiled as his legs stretched over the space between us. He hurtled toward me like a rubber band snapping, so far away, then suddenly near.

Jumping, squirming, winding his way around my body, his floppy ears and short, fluffy legs bounced all at once. He found my face and planted dozens of doggy kisses on my ears, cheek and chin. His eyes met mine and I melted. Then his owner gave a whistle and he was off again, a cattle shepherd rocketing along the park.Ten Thousand Feet 037

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