winter sunrise out my window

Bittersweet Transition: Why I will miss Huron County

shores of an Ontario lake

My time as a resident of Huron County is rapidly ticking away: only four  sleeps left!

As excited as I am to move in with Johnathan and have our own place together with out own backyard and laundry room, and as much as I anticipate being able to regularly visit specialty grocery stores and discover new restaurants and take the bus or a bike instead of my car, I will miss rural life.

a backyard party
A backyard party with lots of yard... and a tent trailer

There are many aspects of life in Huron County that make this transition bittersweet. First, there’s that sense of community that is only possible in small towns and rural areas. I’m talking about when you can count on knowing a percentage of every group and gathering, or on running into someone you know in every store and on every street.

Then there are the small stores where you know the owner and at least a part of their personal story and they recognize you and maybe know your name.

Out of the Storm
After last August's tornado, Goderich held a fundraiser concert called Out of the Storm. It took up half the downtown square, and everyone we knew was there!

Small-town events are the highlight of each season, like Goderich’s Winterfest or Clinton’s Pluckinfest or annual beer tents and parades. That’s not to mention the stag and does/buck and does/Jack and Jills that happen every weekend from April through Thanksgiving in every town, and where you can expect to meet up with friends new and old and be greeted with the same selection of cheap domestic beer and plastic cups with shots of vodka, rye, and rum await ice and Coke.

I will also miss the vistas. Yep, I used the word vista. For example, I live across from a corn field. It likely sounds boring, but I love being able to look out my big dining room window and see not other houses, but corn almost as far as the eye can see, or a snowy field, with a line of evergreens at the far side of the field.

winter sunrise out my window

Who could forget the proximity to the beach? One of the very best parts about Huron County and one of the things that I missed the most when I lived in Mexico is how you can get to the beach of one of North America’s biggest lakes in less than half an hour. Huron County is Ontario’s West Coast, after all! Did you know that several of Lake Huron’s beaches have earned the Blue Flag organization’s designation of quality beaches? Yes, we’re proud, and rightly so.

What I will probably miss the most is that certain smell. It’s clean, fresh, slightly sweet, and I believe it’s unique to Huron County. But I could be wrong. If you haven’t experienced it, you won’t know what you’re missing. Having been raised on it, that smell is home to me. Nothing about having my own house in the city could replace that scent.

Luckily, Huron County is only a relatively short drive away, and I have plenty of reasons to visit.

Flo on a rainy road
My '52 Chevy, Flo, on a rainy country road

On Being Single, Living Alone, and Having Hardly any Single Friends

1. Your back gets patchily tanned and/or burned.

2. There is a distinct lack of motivation to wash the dishes.

3. Nudity can happen frequently at home.

4. Solitude aplenty. Solitude in abundance. Solitude to the extreme!

5. 10 AM seems bright and early.

6. Going alone to the beach is unavoidable.

7. Clothes, magazines, shopping bags, wine bottles, bags of chips, iPod cables, newspapers, mail, and water bottles on the floor in every room is just normal.

8. No one reminds you when you’re road-raging about that tailgater that you just committed the same offense on the way home yesterday.

9. You can drink water, wine, OJ, and coffee every day for a month without running out of clean glasses (at least, I can).

10. Never mind the old adage that you should take off one piece of jewellery before you leave the house; in my case, I have some I can’t put on before I meet up with other people.

11. The things you have in common with your girlfriends (now married with children) grow less and less. And less (something just happened as I wrote this that really drove the point home).

12. Stigmas about Old Maidendom get closer to home, whether in your eyes or others’.

13. Wanting to go out means you either a) scrape together the nerve to go by yourself (not likely); b) wait until that one single friend you have is available on a Saturday night; or c) play the anti-social card. Again.

14. Items of clothing with buttons up the back are, sadly, not for you.

15. You’re the first person people think of when someone asks them for a pet-sitter or house-sitter.

16. Without a man, you really have no idea how to care for your car and just hope nothing happens.

17. No one helps you dig your way out of your driveway in winter.

18. You can only have Housewarming parties so many times. Besides that, what can a single girl register for to get stuff like engaged and expecting girls do?

19. Fashion means more to you.

20. The baby behaviour, baby stuff, baby growth, baby names, and baby care references get old when you’re the only one without a baby.

21. Master of the fake smile you are.

22. You fear the cat-lady reference yet admit to being a candle-lady.

23. Eating in is a novelty.

24. Cooking for one isn’t. You begin to long for NYC, where everything can be delivered. Or, perhaps, to hire someone just to have someone else to cook for.

25. Plant-and-candle lady?

26. Things stay where you put them. Ordinarily.

27. You flip-flop between wanting to nest and wishing you’d never stopped to roost.

28. No one cares what time you come in at, and no one cares what time you come in at.

29. Only you face the consequences for too much shopping.

30. There’s no one to blame for anything else, either.

A Day in My Life, June 2008

I had a sudden desire today to chronicle and compare the different stages of my life, as I look back and notice that my life in June 2008 is remarkable different from that of June 2007, June 2006, June 2005, and so on.

I invite you to be a witness on this journey.

June 2008 finds me 27 years old, living in a two-bedroom second-floor apartment in the only apartment building in a tiny town in East Huron County called Brucefield. This town is known for it’s flashing light, yellow if you’re driving between Clinton and Exeter on Highway 4, or red if you’re coming from either Seaforth or Bayfield. There is one elementary school, one church, one drive-in restaurant, two mechanic shops, one Asian/Home Decor/B&B/Lunch Room location, and one fire station.

My apartment overlooks a cornfield, the view of which is mostly obstructed by a lovely birch tree. Said tree helps me feel more confident walking around in my apartment in less-than-decent clothing on summer nights. After all, who would be driving by slowly enough whose gaze could penetrate the birch branches in the split second I happen to be passing through my dining room, several feet from my beautiful picture window?

I enjoy living alone, though sometimes I do wish someone was there to care whether I came in or not, or to wonder where I was, or to motivate me to do dishes, finally! My neighbours are understanding and quiet, the area is safe, and I actually have a place to call home. MY home. I’ve immensely enjoyed painting and decorating my apartment, putting all of my good taste to good use in a place where I’m the boss, now and forever.

Another addition to my life is that of Trixie the Toyota, a pretty, dark-green 1997 4Runner who goes with me everywhere I go. She hauls the accoutrements of my life and hobbies without complaint. She has survived being rolled over in the ditch after skidding out on an icy country road, being hit-and-run by some unknown person, a not-so-successful attempt at backing up a trailer, and carrying some of my more treasured furniture.

Not so enjoyable are the bills that go with being established and mobile, namely cell phone, rent, insurance, hydro, phone/internet, groceries, gas, repairs, etc. I can’t say as I ever yearned for that part of nesting, but I take it in stride, usually. I’ll be much happier when I can finally get my tax returns done (for the past 2 years), pay off my credit card, and have money set aside for winter tires.

I have spent more than a year at the same job, as a server at The Brew’n Arms English pub and restaurant in Bayfield, Ontario. Earlier this year, I graduated to keyholder and Dining Room Manager, as well as Kitchen Painter and Orchid-Caretaker extraordinaire. My bosses are wonderful people who have become friends and family, as well as the most understanding and flexible supervisors anyone could ask for. They make me want to stay and do my best for them, for their business, for their town.

Last year at this time, I was also working as a drywaller, and, shocker! I don’t miss it a tiny bit. I do enjoy my refined house-painting skills, which I have recently put to good use in a “cottage” in Bayfield, and hope to expand as a second job. If you hear of someone looking to hire a house painter, give them my number!

I’m not attending church because I couldn’t handle the one I had called “home” for years. I’m generally fed up with the institution that is what church has become, with all its expectations and traditions and legalism. I would enjoy a faith-based community of believers that is honest and open, a group that can laugh and be reverent in an informal way. I really could expand this paragraph to a whole essay, but suffice it to say that I have not encountered such a community, but I still seek to hold onto my beliefs. I am discovering more of what life is like on “the other side” (outside the Christian bubble), and it’s very educational, despite occasionally dangerous.

If it were possible to live on coffee, I’d do it.

I’ve joined the wonderful realm of BlackBerry, as I once dreamed of doing. And I’m paying for it, too.

Writing is still my best communication method.

I rarely see earlier than 10 AM, or close my eyes earlier than 1 or 2 AM. I’d like to change that.

The music in my life has developed over the past year as well. I am the youngest voice of the all-female cover band, Cactus Jam, and I love it, despite playing mostly Legions. I was also privileged enough to be part of Noted!, a project sponsored by the United Way in my county, which is helping to boost the music careers of the 17 women chosen to participate. We got to record 14 tracks in a professional studio, and a great-sounding CD is the result. This past winter I also ventured out to sing a few times at Open Mic nights at a local pub, and have been the featured soloist at two church events.

This year finds me recently motherless, a drastic blight on anyone’s life, and definitely on mine. It has changed so many things and finally propelled me into nesting in the first place. It also made my brother and I guardians of our youngest brother and launched me further into the land of disabled children in Ontario. I now have a lawyer, communicate regularly with several case workers, get all kinds of official mail, and have to return junk mail still addressed to Mom.

June 2008 also finds me blonde, and with an even greater fashion sense. I love that about growing older! I predict I’ll still be stylish in my 80s. If I’m not, remind me of now.

I’ve discovered I love flowers and plants, doing the Toronto Saturday Star crossword, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz, premium beer, CBC Radio, brie on melba rounds with semi-dried tomatoes in duck confit, Dollarama’s plain candles, serving dessert, mom’s old couch and armchair (with my apartment’s decor built around them), C&E used furniture in Goderich, Americanos from The Bean, and living in Huron County!!! (Sorry, but that deserved more than three exclamation points)
Being Sarah Elizabeth takes different shapes all the time, and I’m enjoying the process. Here’s to another year!

A Few Days of Soul-Feeding

My entire being smiles at the thought. Three nights away, in a beautiful town where no one is expecting anything of me. In a room that’s not quite beautiful, but it’s clean, peaceful, in some ways rustic and hospitable, and it’s mine. For a price, sure, but still mine.

The next three nights and two days are mine, to spend as I wish. No one knows where I am. I’ll keep my phone on vibrate. I’ve got a fat novel, two bottles of wine, music, brie, comfy clothes, and my computer upon which to (finally) take some time to give voice to my soul through writing.

So my entire being says “Ahh!”

Looking out my 3rd floor window through the streetlight-illuminated darkness at a very snowy, busy street, I thrill that no one knows me. No one knows whom resides in room 311 tonight, or which car in the small parking lot is mine. The pregnant waitress that served me dinner will likely never see me again, neither will the young curly-haired attendant at the desk downstairs.

An envelope on the well-used desk says my room was prepared by Betty. Betty didn’t notice that one side of the bedskirt was tucked up under the mattress, but she’s forgiven because of the fact that there is a bedskirt, and because all of the furniture is made of real, solid wood. The light in the bathroom isn’t flattering, but it gets overshadowed by the presence of five lamps in the sitting/bedroom.

Tomorrow will bring a good coffee (deserving of an “ahh!” all of its own), accompanied perhaps by some writing and an earful of good tunes. I also hope to peruse the wares of some shops on the quaint main street, in search of a new every-day bag, before its would-be predecessor gives up the ghost. Who knows what treasures I might find or what delectable eateries I’ll stumble across?

Meanwhile, I’ll work at ignoring my tasks and feeding my heart and soul. Just for a few days.

Gotta Sing, Gonna Sing, Gotta Sing Sing Sing!

It seems almost every time I observe a band perform in front of a crowd, I tear up. No, it doesn’t sadden me that people sing and play in public , rather I get emotional because I catch a glimpse of a dream that has been growing in my heart for some time now.

Something deep down in the core of me yearns to sing, to sing loud, to sing well and be heard, to sing for the enjoyment of people everywhere.

Rock star?! Not necessarily, though it could be fun. I’ll sing country, gospel, rock, jazz, blues, whatever. I just have to sing!!

A man whom I respect greatly and who has been an inspiring cheerleader of mine once told me that I have to sing, that people must have the chance to hear me. Please believe that I do not write the above out of a presumptuous desire for self-elevation. It’s just a fact about who I am, who I was made to be.

I don’t know when, where, how, or who with, but you heard it first here that I will, someday, sing in front of crowds. I will travel and sing. People will enjoy the experience, and, I hope and believe, take with them a few nuggets of truth.

Tonight, while listening to a talented group with two wonderful female vocalists, something stirred again within me. This time, as many times in the past, was a “God experience.” Instinctively, I closed my eyes and it was God and I, me begging, yearning for the opportunity, someday, to sing as a vocation. This may sound hokey for you non-spiritually-experienced, but in that God moment, I felt like God was asking me to live a pure life, and he would reward me with this desire (Psalm 37:4). I feel like I should reevaluate my decisions, my lifestyle, in order to live a more humble, pure life, one that honours God more than it pleases me. (Questions? Bring ’em on!)

Why? Because God is worth it, and so is that dream. I know that with Christ, all things are possible, even what may seem like a far fetched dream.

With Christ, Against the Grain

As I sit in the quiet bookstore, reading a magazine article called, “Liquidating Your Life”(1), I find my eyes welling up with tears. The author is recalling the choice of one of her sisters to become a cloistered nun. It’s not a sad story, yet I weep.

A few pages earlier, I was reminded of the thing we call Lent and how its purpose is to point us toward Easter. This article’s author encouraged his readers to give up something they’d miss, such as their Blackberry or coffee, to “identify, if only slightly and with great humility, with Christ’s denial of Himself as He went to the cross.”

Perhaps the root of my tears was the segue from the thought that, this Lenten season, I didn’t feel convicted to give up anything, to the idea that a vibrant, university-educated young woman would reduce her worldly possessions to underwear and glasses.

During the weeks before she made her vows, friends who came to say good-bye left with something of hers. Her clothes went to one sister, her books to another. The author drew her sister’s name at Christmas and chose to purchase a sapling to plant as a family so they’d have a reminder of Heather when they would gather without her for future holidays.

It’s not so much the thought that I couldn’t live without coffee or blogging, but more that I feel I’m missing something that goes much deeper. I’m longing for a soul depth similar to the one that inspired Heather to sacrifice her future for the sake of others, in order to pray for them for the rest of her life. I’ve felt it before when doing things much less sacrificial than becoming a nun, and once again I’m humbled by the feeling.

There are days when I can’t imagine how I lived without wireless Internet and a laptop glued to my hip, or before the days of cell phones. Normally, I would cringe at the thought of living without a car to get around in or a choice of shoes or my skinny jeans or new music every week. Today, however, I’m longing. Longing for a reason to give it all up for the sake of Christ, for the sake of others.

I’d like to be able to truly say:

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands. (hear it) (2)
Even as I copy and paste these lyrics, I can feel the reluctance returning, the hesitation that comes with knowing I’ve sung these words flippantly before and I’ll probably do it again; the reluctance to give up all for the sake of King and Kingdom. Yet part of me remains desperate for a reason to do just that, a reason to discover what Much-Afraid did on the altar as the High Priest cut the “root of human love” out of her heart(3) so she could live in true grace and freedom.

I hope that someday I’ll be challenged to give up most of my “creature comforts” and make my heart at home in the simple and functional rather than the sophisticated and fashionable. I suspect I’ll find more joy and peace when I do, because I’ll know that every day I’m choosing Christ likeness.

Heather chose not to remain a cloistered nun for the rest of her life, but the stories of men and women who have similarly set aside their lives of convenience will continue to astound and inspire me. Perhaps I’ll do a Lenten fast next year, even if I don’t feel “convicted”.

(1) “Liquidating Your Life”, Holly Rankin Zaher. (Relevant Magazine, Mar-Apr 2007, p.46) (2) Robin Mark, 1990 Word Music. (3) Hind’s Feet on High Places, Hannah Hurnard.