Posted by: sjuniperj | July 8, 2018

Gardens & Growth

No one has ever told me I take after my mother. I have my father’s eyes, his family’s Irish skin tone, his height and his mother’s curly hair. My mom is small and dark-haired, with beautiful olive skin that deepens at the thought of sun. She is logic to my creativity, order to my laid-back nature. Practical, where I dream.

When I look at my tomato sprouts, I see her.  As far back as I can remember- as soon as we lived in a climate where a garden could grow, we would buy my mom flats of flowers for Mother’s Day. Piling into the car, we’d make the inevitable trek to the greenhouse and walked in, enveloped in the smell of fertilizer. We’d spend what felt like eternity picking out the flowers in their dark grey, square plastic trays. We’d come home and line up them up in the front yard – little rows of greener than life stems and flowers bursting with color.

In front of me on my desk, a Moses in the Valley shoot stands in a jar of water, waiting to root and be taken to work. I never thought I would have inherited my mother’s green thumb, but in truth, it seems like all “a green thumb” is, is trying.

I walked to the hardware store today to pick up planters. It’s about 20 minutes away, just outside of the central city.  I needed bigger pots for my tomatoes. I don’t know what at all compelled me – all of the sudden, I felt a conviction: this house won’t feel a home until it boasts of flowers. How can I take myself seriously if I’ve never grown anything by hand? I imagine my planters on our balcony, sunlit and bold. I having breakfast on a checkered tablecloth on our little balcony table, surrounded by blossoms. Success in adult life, without a doubt, depends on my seedlings. I suppose there is a bit of my mother in me after all.

 

Advertisements
Posted by: sjuniperj | March 5, 2018

Peanut Butter, Passion & Painting

Outside the cars go herrnnking by in noisy puffs. Inside, the refrigerator across the hall is muttering. The radiator to my left is buzzing and the cat on my lap is whistling softly through his nose.

There are perfect days and there are perfect days. Of all the noises that surround me, I am most grateful for the stillness of the voices within. The blessed weightlessness of the quiet house fills up my living room, reaching all the way up to the corners of the ceiling, making the room feel bigger.

The last of a candle spits in front of me, cheerfully throwing bursts of light onto the tablecloth. The changing light fades quickly out of ones perception but is present enough to lend one company.

Today was a wonderful day. The birds woke me at 6 in the courtyard beyond my bedroom window, screeching at one another as the day broke. I didn’t even mind, they’re here early. I hope this is an omen of the coming spring.

As we finished our run this morning I realised that all around us all I could see was white. Snow everywhere. After my legs went numb five minutes in, I guess I tuned it out. There is something decidedly lovely about a carpet of white. We got to watch the dogs scampering in the dog park as we headed home. I made zoodles and garlic bread in celebration and had time to watch a movie. My friends came over to paint & draw, bringing cake, homemade cookies and mac & cheese. I made progress on three projects, we watched the entire Lemonade movie and while we drew, I put peanut butter cookies in the oven. Divine.

I’ve been hoarding peanut butter m&m’s for the perfect moment and today was my day. The cookies came out absolutely perfect, partially because the birds got me up so early the dough had time to chill for a few hours. They chased away the homesickness that’s been hiding in my shadow.

Whether running together, painting or cooking, enthusiasm is so encouraging. It has been a weekend full of friend magic and I could not be more grateful.

IMG_6176

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: sjuniperj | September 28, 2017

My Seoul

There are whispers at times that make it feel as though she’s calling to me.

My Seoul, my city.

I see her in the smallest moments, alive in the cracks between my worlds…

Picking up a pen in the stationery shop in Graz, imagining how the ink would slide over the paper, the characters scrambling out over the page. Every time I see a brush my fingers itch to give it a twirl…

When I walk her streets in my mind it is always with the uncertainty of my first year. The cobblestone pavement under my feet was yellowed and uneven, jarring me back to the present as my eyes rose among the skyscrapers.

I would walk home at night after work, feeling the balm of the sticky evening wrap around my shoulders. The day exhaled into evening, coolness gathering at the edges of the pavement, sighing quietly over the roads leading down to the water. As I walked I let the day roll off from the crown of my head to the ends of my hair, spreading over my shoulders. I shrugged off the incandescent lights of the school building and the clamor of children, their sweet and sticky faces glowing with mischief, creased with worry, or fuzzy with fatigue. As my thoughts ascended into my own being, I began to let my teacher-skin fall as my eyes wandered up the floors of the buildings channeling me home.

Every night I as walked my yellow-brick-road, I felt as small as Dorothy in Oz. The bases of the buildings stood anchored firmly, neatly divided into seafood restaurants, fast food joints, upscale boutiques, cafes and even dojos. The buildings seemed to stretch up forever, each floor layered with its own colorful script. The characters jangled over my head, sometimes tauntingly, sometimes challenging. With every step, they sang to me: “you will never learn to read”.

Yet I still looked until my neck ached. Under the soft coat of darkness, it never occurred to me that I might be seen.  There was never the option of not being seen. My skin tone gave me up as foreign as the text on the buildings. But color took on a new meaning here. There was color was everywhere. Every sign, every window was filled with color. Even the buildings themselves boasted shapes, different colored floors, grandiose hats made of helicopter pads.

I always felt that Seoul was at her finest at dusk. Everything came alive, shown off by the darkened sky. The words popped off of buildings, cars streaked around intersections, streetlights gazed down on passers-by, illuminating their lively fashion. In Shinchon songs from Noraebangs and restaurants mingle with the carrying on of students and businessmen, coming together in a jumble of excitement and fog. As nighttime wandered into the valley of the city, seated between the mountains and Han river, the city’s pulse began to throb.

It’s this pulse, this heartbeat, that I sometimes hear. Sometimes flashes of light from her midnight splendor peek through the blinds shut by time and distance. I sense echoes in the smell of spicy red peppers, sour kimchee, sizzling barbecue. When I hear that tune, her heartbeat, my own heart strains to beat with it. Pulling my memories over me like a throw, I cozy up to the glimpse of my loved one and sigh as our hearts sync in rhythm again. My heart, my Seoul. Apart, but always a part of me.

P1210191.JPG

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, but Thanksgiving has been one tradition that’s stood by me in Graz.

The first year was favorite, probably because I was the most excited.  I spent the day cooking, dressing the chickens and adding the finishing touches, aided by a partner in crime. That year I didn’t have any idea where to get a turkey, so we stood our birds on beer cans like rock-em sock-em robots, and hoped no one would mind the difference. When my guests arrived they piled into my tiny kitchen. My mini-apartment was filled to the rafters with friends. We ate on paper plates off of our knees, sitting on whatever surface was available. The night had a special glow.

My second year was wonderful; candle-lit and filled with people. We fit 15 people in our living room, shoving all of our desks together to make space. The evening grew into a gentle din filled with food and warmth and decorations.  My mom sent me a paper turkey that was the belle of the ball. His tailfeathers folded open in a gorgeous array of crepe paper wings. I did dishes for three days after that party, but every plate 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 always feel like coming home. I should have known not to keep my own enthusiasm in check. I am much happier when I bite off more than I can chew. 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

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 appetizers? Invite everyone I know and cram them all in? I can’t say I’m looking forward to washing up, but there is something marvelous about feeding a crowd. Everyone always asks what they can bring, and I do love to ask everyone to share something they love. The turkeys, stuffing and pies though, I do myself. I like a healthy bounty. When I try to explain the dishes to friends from the rest of the world, I know it’s a little hard to imagine how it all comes together. I’m glad to have a chance to share this meal.

Every year we celebrate Carnival in Graz, and every year it 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. Some of them, of course, are veterans and are eagerly awaiting this years feast. 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, it feels like a little piece of me slips away. Halloween has always been a favorite, am I forgetting who I am? 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.

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. Even as I fret, half of my mind is already calculating pumpkin weights. After three years of pies, my coworkers will be wondering where it is. Some of the joy is in the remembering, but most of it feels like it is in the sharing. As long as I have people around me who value what I have to give, I hope this will honor my history.

img_8676

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 glance 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 by going home. 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.

 

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, it is the first time in three years that I have 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. 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 on both cheeks felt far too intimate, although now a hug might feel equally foreign.

The casual embraces and American music bring 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 favorite haunts. It is quaint and sweet with Instagram-worthy decor; 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 cozy glow to the afternoon. It’s comforting to know that here I can be both a part of the fun and a casual observer. Perhaps that is how to best explain my place in the Graz. Not yet native, but not completely foreign.

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 the 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 to breeze through, or with my nose too deeply into a book to notice. 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 shape my room (and my life?) 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).

Enjoy!

Love from Graz,

Sarah

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.

Older Posts »

Categories