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 just 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 moments sticky tacked to my well-lived-in student-apartment walls. I haven’t had time or 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’m not the person who decorate these walls, or bought this furniture. I’ve never been motivated enough to borrow the tools to finally hang my mirror or owl clothes hook. I only painted the living room, because it is for everyone, and that was all the money I wanted to spend on paint. Is that a bad thing?

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? I want so badly for things to become clear. 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 tastesūüėČ Here is the latest in our exploration of natural care products at Two Curly Girls¬†(click the text for the link).

Enjoy!

Love from Graz,

Sarah

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.

Inhabitants:

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 upūüôā

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 dayūüôā

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Posted by: sjuniperj | October 15, 2013

Cozy White Bean, Garlic and Greens Pasta

When it is gray and cold and the corners are looking a bit dark and dodgy, I need a little something warm and earthy and rustic to stir some magic into my winter. Tonight this pasta dish was the absolute perfect solution.

As always, I am not the best for measuring. I’ve changed measurement systems too many times to do anything but eyeball, but I have tried to recreate what I’ve done in appropriate quantities.

Cozy White Bean, Garlic and Greens Penne

(recipe is for four servings)

1/2 a large head of chopped garlic, 7 cloves or so

3 Tablespoons cooking oil (I used sunflower oil)

2 1/2 teaspoons spicy red pepper powder (paprika, to Americans)

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth/clear broth

1 1/2 cups white beans, cooked

2 cups spinach/slightly bitter greens (frozen or fresh- if fresh chop)

1 cup grated zucchini (about 1 1/2 zucchini, depending how big they are)

pasta for four: I used 1/2 of a kilo of penne, which made a big bowl for each person.

olive oil to coat the penne, salt for taste

salt and pepper to taste.

grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Instructions:

Grate your zucchini on the large side of a box grater. Nom nom nom! Also, get your water boiling for pasta.

Mince the garlic, in a large saucepan, combine with oil and brown. Once everything is deliciously simmering, add the paprika/spicy red pepper and stir to combine. I also like a little bit of salt and pepper thrown in: about three pinches of salt and a quarter teaspoon or so pepper. Once combined, pour the veggie broth in. At this point, your water should be getting closer to a boil, throw those noodles in.

On a cutting board, chop the greens if you are using fresh salad, they’ll need about 5-10 minutes to soften depending on how hearty or rooty they are. If you’re using frozen spinach leaves, you’ll one to cover your pan to let the spinach steam. Once your greens are soft, add you rinsed white beans. Let the whole pan cook on medium heat until your whole kitchen smells absolutely fantastic and the broth has almost all evaporated.

Now, since you’re exceedingly clever, your noodles have been cooking at the same time. When finished, rinse them and toss them with olive oil and a few sprinkles of salt. Now, in a large bowl, combine the noodles and shredded zucchini. Delightful!

Finally, now that your saucepan of garlicy, beany delight is spicy and simmery and lovely, turn the stove off and spoon over your zucchini noodles. Sprinkle cheese on top and congratulate yourself. Your friends and family are lucky to know you. You have brought the warm and cozy back to the winter blahs.

Simple, cheap, hearty, delightful, happyūüôā

Posted by: sjuniperj | September 23, 2013

In My Bones

Bones hurt in the most earthy way. They ache languidly, taking their time, swishing a slow mouthful of pain like a fine, smoky, dark red wine. Lying in bed I can’t ¬†sleep; tetchily they complain inside¬†me. Now it is my hips and the small of my back. Herniated discs. Too much running.

I know what I want. Heat. Half-way in and half-way out of sleep I feel my heartbeat thudding through my peat-y haze. If pain were a smell, tonight it would be wet fall leaves and hardwood smoke. In my room over my bed it twirls a little, looking down, contemplating. I’ve felt it before, tasted this flavor. I had heat stroke this summer and thought I was dying. It was new and unfamiliar and viscerally uncomfortable. Pain and I, we’re old friends, we wear each other well. I have my moments though, where all I can think of is escaping. So escape I do.

Hands fascinate me. I love the strength in their fragility, their reach, their minute characteristics and differences. I am a sucker for big hands, warm ones smothering mine, mine are always cold. The right hands change everything. I imagine they are here, I dream them, wrapping around me in the night, their pressure releasing my discomfort. I want the heat of a steam sauna, and if not that, of a human. That is what gets us in our misery, isn’t it? No one wants to die alone.

The heat of my dream sauna deepens with every breath and it feels like it’s curling up inside me, filling me up. The heat is omnipresent in the most intoxicating way. As drops of sweat pool on my chest I am awed by this creation. It is better than lying on hot black-top, better that the one ray of sunshine sliding over the floor in fall, better than the beaded cat-shaped pillow pack I heat in the microwave. It is incredible.

He was incredible, lying behind me, holding me so tightly his arms around my ribs actually hurt. I felt the rise and fall of his stomach against my back and thought I’d missed out on a lifetime. From my dorm-issued, narrow-long, valleyed, lumpy single mattress, I saw the scratched, flawed walls around me and couldn’t believe I’d never been held so tightly. My neck was dewy from being so close, but the heat of another person gave me the shivers. Could I possibly keep it?

I was burning up, glassy-eyed, one of my killer migraines. I wanted to empty my stomach, fall into my dizziness until it was nothing but a swirling pinprick. That was in college, when the migraines began.  I woke suddenly in the night to the sharp stab of an ice pick; ended my days with the toothy, churning throb of overusing my eyes. I tried to stay as still as possible, clutching my pillows as tightly as I could. My knuckles went white pushing against anything that could relieve the pressure. One night the boy I fancied sat on my bed  and took my face in his hands, just laid them over my features, cool and heavy. I felt like I was burning from inside out. His hands floated over my countenance, light as clouds as on a summer morning. He kept me on the surface of reality, left them there until I could sleep. They were neat hands, big and square, calloused. They saved me.

Hands have always been important. I remember stretching mine impatiently across the cold, fine keys of the piano. How long until I could reach an octave? It hurt, that stretch, reaching thumb and pinky impossibly long. Back then they seemed so small against the long, plastic keys. In orchestra, hands fluttered, stroking noses and backs of ears, sliding over strings. nervously tuning and twisting. In those days the conductor carefully monitored our teenage manicures: no nail polish or long fingernails, no colors to distract or bone to dent wood . My wrists grew strong in gymnastics, wrinkled from swimming, deft from painting, chapped from washing dishes in the pizza parlor.

Those are not the hands I want tonight. The hands I miss are the¬†ones I’m trying hard to forget.

The sun shone through the tops of trees on the mountaintop, touching down golden and strong against the warm mahogany stained wood on the deck. Sweat dried against my back and I shivered, letting the pale sunlight smooth over me, prickling as it smoothed the goosebumps on my arm. His hands dwarfed mine. They had their own cartography: massive, ropy, muscled, round.  In smooth circles he churned the life back to my fingers, our arms bent at the elbows, and fingers intertwined where they met. He held them until my elbows went numb, then lent me his gloves, turning me into a clown, large and floppy. I walked down the mountain with my hands balled inside them, clenched in fists while the fingers flapped beside me.

Now my fingers press hard enough against my hips to leave big bumbling bruises. In the mirror this week I will see them tucking in my shirt and wonder how I could have done that. Now, the pressure is all I want, to push from the outside hard enough to beat the pressure from within. Sometimes all we need is equilibrium, balancing dreams and reality with a place in the middle that must be happiness.

At the base of my spine, a nerve is flickering. It dances the way a flame does in a cool breeze, throbbing like the intoxicating thrum of a Spanish guitar. In a way I am thankful for a reminder of the things that have come to pass. The past gives us the strength to conquer the future, and I am starting with a well placed flick to an unflappable flame.

Posted by: sjuniperj | September 10, 2013

Time Travel: the Years Away From Home

“They get older, you know” my host dad said. “They stop moving at the same speed. Five years ago, they (Grandma and Grandpa) were still moving with tremendous energy, now he (Grandpa) would like to go slower.”

The wind moans around the my door, it’s “gekippt”: tilted forward on its hinges, leaving a gap at the top and through the sides for the night to blow through. I’m a bit sad, partially because of my host father’s¬†words and partially because everything tonight sits a bit funny in my belly.

I forgot to add a slice of bread in one of my host siblings’ lunches today, which is astounding because I even checked to make sure everything was there. I was so distracted quarreling over cell phones that I¬†overlooked it. No cell phones at the table is a cardinal rule that as soon as both parents are out the door, my brother and sister promptly ignore. It drives me absolutely mad.¬†As if the constant peep of text messaging and clack of fingers on keyboards under tiny, ten-year old fingers isn’t enough, the cold food I served hot fifteen minutes ago goes uneaten and¬†everyone goes tearing out of the house in a grouchy rush. I still feel guilty for forgetting the bread.

The thing about integrating into a household is that no one notices I’ve done four loads of laundry, swept the floors, scoured the kitchen twice and ran three loads of dishes. Forgetting the bread stands out far more than feeding the cat or putting away the groceries or waving my quiet magic little wand. I like it though, I enjoy the look of the clean floors and the tidy house and not seeing¬†cat kibbles on wood. I like not seeing little fly corpses or errant socks or dirty towels. I like that most of the time my family knows that I’m trying hard. Maybe.

That’s not the only thing sitting ill tonight. I miss you all, I suppose, the sea of faces of people I love, far away. Even the ones close by, who just aren’t here now. In two weeks I depart for my second year of teaching in Graz, and I’m nervous and excited and scared and happy. I feel so much better prepared this year, and I’m chomping at the bit to see where it takes me, but there is a small part of me that wonders what time is taking away. I wonder about your speed, and your wrinkles, your adventures. What sort of things am I missing, over here? Who have you been becoming while I’ve been becoming me?

Living abroad has some properties of magic. While I grow older and pass through more trials and breathe in experience and triumphs and stumbles, you are suspended in time for me, the people I love. I can’t fully imagine your slings and arrows, nor can ¬†I be there to see for myself. It hurts, knowing that you are changing without me. Living abroad is like a time machine. We’re both aging, but when I travel back, some things haven’t changed at all, and some things have changed forever. True love and true friendship do not age though. They ripen and get bolder through all the far off exchanges, or wait patiently for a reunion as if the stretch of years do not make a difference.

How do we decide what does make a difference? How much can I miss and still count? How much can you miss and still understand? After two years in Korea I was most astounded at how different I was in your eyes, and how much my family had changed in mine. I see their faces on Skype once a week and hear what is going on in their worlds, but it is not the same. Even so, outrageous fortune, I am much looking forward to what will come next, and hope that all your paths have not brought you too far away mine.

Love, SJ

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