Cherished Blogfest

Our van pulled up to the marketplace in Livingstone, Zambia.  The air was hot and sticky.   The air was always hot and sticky.  It was the type of heat that makes you forget what it is like to be cold.

Within a few short days, the Zambians we had partnered with already felt like brothers.  They promised to help us navigate the market place, but there were much more of us than them.

With big eyes and Kwacha (Zambian Currency) in hand, I took my first steps towards the market place.

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Photo Credit: Michael Liedtke

They barter everything in the market place.  I would eventually barter my hair tie for a nice hand carved wood bottle opener for my brother.  Bartering is kind of intimidating to me in itself.  I am not a demanding, forceful person.  I could never work in sales.

So here I was trying to barter for my first time.   Of course it would be with a foreign currency.  Not that it really mattered since I had no idea how much any of this stuff would be worth in American money.  Add to that the fact that my white skin screams I have money and no idea what I am doing.  I was basically a moving target for disaster.

The marketplace vendors were indeed happy to see a van full of mzungas (white people) pull up.   I wandered off on my own.  True to their word, my Zambian brothers came to help me.  They helped the marketplace vendors take me more seriously, but besides that they were mostly there for moral support.

If I played confidant, maybe the vendors wouldn’t catch on that I had no idea what I was doing.  One thing I did have going for me, is that I can read people really well.  I could tell which vendors were trying to take advantage of me.

The first thing on my list was a chitenge (a chitenge is a long colorful piece of fabric that the women wrap around themselves as skirts).

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Photo Credit: Michael Liedtke

I know that I paid too much for it, but I also knew that I didn’t care.  The woman was nice and I had talked down the price enough.  Plus she needed the money more than me, and it felt greedy to pay any less.

I had bought my first chitenga.  Oh I would buy others.  In fact I cherish everything I bought in Zambia.   But my first chitenga would always be special to me.  It reminded me of a girl who was fearless, even when she had no idea what she was doing.  It reminded me of the girl who wasn’t afraid to jump in and get her hands dirty.

It reminded me of my last night in Africa.  When I stood barefoot in the orange African dirt looking up at the stars.  The wind was gently whipping my chitenga around my legs.  I scrunched my toes into the dirt and promised myself that this would not be the last time my feet touched African soil. 

**** Michael Liedtke is a professional photography that went to Zambia with me.  To see more of his amazing photos from Zambia, click here.

**** Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read my blog.  If you have a cherished object you would like me to read about, please put in the comments below.

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Long Friendships and Hard Goodbyes

It’s a strange thing to be young and have your whole life ahead of you waiting to be lived.  Life is both very short and very long.  It is a conundrum that leaves us feeling lost in our past and scared of our future.

Last week I was sitting on the deck with the people I have been friends with since my freshman year of college.  Which seems like it should have not been as long ago as it was.  We were sitting out there just listening to the rain crash down on the red Oklahoma dirt.  I now understand the phrase, “when it rains it pours,” because in the south when it rains it always pours.

Rain is good thinking weather.  I started thinking about how crazy it was that this might be one of the last times we are all together.  Maybe not the last, but certainly one of the few last times.   We are all growing up and moving on to become doctors, lawyers, and biologists.  At least that is what we will try to be.  Life might redirect us along the way.

Never the less, someday we will be moms and dads.  Some day this moment will be a distant nostalgic memory of the time we spent with friends we haven’t seen in years.

And I wonder, will we stay in contact over the years?  Will we continue to be apart of each others lives?  Or will life slowly pull us away from each other?  What will all of our lives be like in five years?  In ten years?  Will we be married? Parents?  Will we have succeed at becoming doctors, lawyers, and biologists?  Will we remember the nights we stayed up way too late?  Will we remember each other at all?

Of course we will, I think.  Moments and people like these are not easily forgotten. 

I think people come into our lives for a reason.  A deeper reason than  just our human need for relationship.  People are sent in certain times of our lives to teach us and to inspire us.  People are sent into our lives to show us there is someone in us worth believing in, that we have a future that is worth fighting for.

Some people are meant to be in our lives for a long time, maybe even for our whole lives.  I am blessed to have a large group of people who have been in my life for the long haul.  There are always there in my corner pushing me forward, believing in me far more than I deserve.

There are others for that are only meant to be in our lives for just a moment.  Those people should not be easily discounted.   Some times they can be the most influential people we met.  I can’t explain it, only that it seems life only gives us a few moments together so we fill it like a lifetime.

The hard part is when that time expires. When we must say goodbye to someone who has taught us so much. When we must move on because life is moving on.  When we must let someone out of our arms, not sure if they will ever return. 

I use to be scared of goodbyes.  I was scared of getting too close to someone because I knew one day soon they would be gone.  I have learned that hard goodbyes are a good thing, because it shows just how much that person meant to us in the first place.

I plan to live a life full of hard goodbyes, because no matter how hard a goodbye my be, it is still better than never knowing that person.

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Photo Credit: Kari Lena

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

What Makes a Home

Growing up I was lucky that I never had to move as a child.  Perks of being the daughter of a farmer, moving isn’t normally in the cards.  This place will always be my true home and I am grateful that ever time I leave I know it isn’t goodbye forever.  I love the way the cherry trees bloom in the spring and the how the apples trees smell in the fall.  I love the anticipation of turning out our long gravel driveway and knowing that I am almost home. 

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 However since I have been 18, I have moved twice every year.  I have become an expert at moving.  I have a very tried and true packing system.  I have also learned just how easily I become attached to the places I call home.

There is something heart wrenching about see the place that you use to call home, empty and unrecognizable from the place you came to love as your home. It is if all the memories you have there, all of the adventures, all of the growing, all of the nights you stayed up late trying to figure out what it meant to BE in this life, are just gone.  Washed away in the bare walls and the empty cupboards. It just gets me every time.  I walk through to say my final goodbyes and replay the best moments.  Then I see the empty rooms as erased memories and I just cry.  I am not sure if I am weird or normal for doing this, but I have always been a bit of sentimental sap about these things.

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For John

I think the hardest thing about leaving Caribou Coffee was leaving behind the regulars that I had gotten to know well.  Sure there were the ones that I that I purposely hid from in the back, but there were also the ones that I loved seeing everyday.  They just had a way of making you smile or just treating you with a since of dignity that one does not always get as a barista.

In a sense, our Caribou regulars became like close friends.   Only they were the type of friends you know by drink order and not by their actually name.  As baristas, we watched many hours of their life in Caribou.  It was like getting an inside peek into the movie of their life.  We got to watch as they drank gallons of mango black tea trying to finish their masters thesis.  We watched them fall in love on their first date, and cried as we watched their break up.  We knew more about their lives than you would probably want your barista to know.

But my favorite regulars of all of my favorites were this endearing older gentlemen that came in every weekday morning.  They were like a band of brothers laughing and aruging as they sat at the same table everyday.  I like to think that I was also their favorite barista.  It didn’t matter if I wasn’t working front that morning, I took care of them.  Even if it was just me whispering over the headset to the new girl, “citron green tea in a mug, medium dark roast and don’t you dare put a lid on it.”  I can’t put into words why these guys touched me so much, I only know that they did.

I stopped into Caribou about a month ago one morning before work.  I had seen these guys in months and I wasn’t sure if they would remember me.  I saw them sitting there like a perfect picture I had never left.  They were all happy to see me and fussed grandfatherly.  They told me that being a paralegal suited me, but that being a lawyer would suit me better.  They asked if I had made a decision about law school yet, and offered me about five hundred references for when (when not if) I go to law school.  I was reminded again why I was so touched by them.  They were just so endearing, and they cared about an ex barista they barely knew.

One of them was named John and some of the newer baristas thought he was cranky.  I guess could see how some might see him as a little cranky, but I never saw him that way.  Sure he could be gruff at times, but in the way of someone who is weathered and storied not someone who is mean.  Mostly he just got upset when the new people would put a lid on his coffee.  I never did though so he liked me.  I could always see the slight sigh of relief when he walked in and saw that I was working.  I would have his order ready for him before he got to the counter and his eyes would smile like we shared a secret every time I remembered to keep his lid off.  He would give me his money and then share bits and pieces of his knowledge and wisdom.  I never thought much about our exchanges until one of my old coworkers showed me this picture.  She told me John had passed away suddenly from a heart attack and that they tipped over his favorite chair in his memory.  It just broke my heart.

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I don’t think that death is something we ever get use to.  Whether it be the death of a near stranger or the reminder of the death of a dear one we lost years ago, death still crashes into our hearts in a way that makes us believe something is trying to rip our hearts from us.

So for John, thank you for your smile everyday.  Thank you for sharing bits and pieces of your wisdom and knowledge.  Thank you for always treating me with dignity and respect.  Thank you for teaching me that the way we interact with the people we see everyday matters, because our influence on the lives of those around us matters.  Thank you for showing me how you saw people as people and not just a means to an end.  Because you knew how easily someone can come into your life and touch it in a way that you are not the same after they have left.  For John, thank you.  You will be missed.

Sweet Summer Memories

As the weather gets nicer, dreams of summer begin.  I start having dreams of lakes, boats, shorts, and the sun making my skin darker and my hair blonder.  There is some magical quality contained in the hope of those six letters.  SUMMER.  It sounds restful and awaiting adventure at the same time.

B & L

Ah yes, sweet blissful summer how we pin for your freedom and warmth.

There was a time when summer meant packing my bags and heading to my second home.  No it wasn’t a glamorous summer vacation home, it was a small cabin at a summer camp.  I spent the most defining and memorable moments of my life there.  So naturally whenever the hope of summer draws near I find myself thinking back to the summers I spent there.

Those summers were marked by a sense of freedom and carefree whimsy as I ran barefoot through the grass and snuck to the lake late at night.  It was  place where my soul felt at rest; the place where my soul felt at home. I could not imagine spending my summers anywhere else.

It is hard to explain in words how a place can mean so much to me. Camp is a special place but it is just that, a place. It is just land with poorly grown grass, a wasp infested storage facility, wooden cabins that are falling apart, trails overrun by bugs, and a lake so dirty you can’t see your hand when its six inches under water.

What makes the place so special to me is the memories that are so deeply ingrained in that place that they become inseparable.

The poorly grown grass is where I spent many hours playing rec games, getting tackled in the cone game and tackling others. The wasp infested storage facility is where I spent most of my second summer on staff painting a mural with all the campers. The wooden cabins that are falling apart is where I spent many summers counseling, and where I first learned to be comfortable in my own skin. The bug infested trails is where I drove the gator as fast as it would go as the wind whipped my hair around.  The gross lake is where I spent every afternoon being the queen of dunking children, and trying to not get dunked by the hordes of angry children determined to get their revenge.  The gross lake is also where I lost my favorite necklace and almost lost a sinking jet ski.

The horrible things become the beautiful things when we take them into our life and make them our own.

The director of the camp, Jerry, remains to this day one of my favorite people. I hope everyone has the chance to have a person like Jerry in your life.  He is an intelligent, wise, and hard working man, with a quick wit and a childlike whimsy that made him the perfect person to be director a camp. He taught me a lot about what it meant to live a life with love and without fear.  I have a lot of favorite Jerry quotes, but one of his most used one is, “Safety is overrated, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.”  Jerry was also a big believer in the impact that telling stories about our life would have for the people who listened to them.

I have many stories I could share from my summers at camp.  Stories about midnight skunk hunts and sinking jet skis.  Stories about catfish in toilets and giant rats in our staff lounge.  Stories about learning to love and learning to be loved.  As I said, my summers there were some of the most memorable and defining moments of my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  But for right now I want to share with you the story of the time I learned to sail.

One evening towards the beginning of my first year on staff, Jerry offered to teach us how to sailboat. I, in typical Lori fashion, quickly sprung on the opportunity and was undeterred by the fact that I was the only girl staffer who wanted to learn.

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This was not the day that I learned how to sail.  I wish it were, but then I wouldn’t have a story to tell.

The day I learned how to sail was terrifying.  This is was about our reaction . . .  Crazy singing

Just kidding that is actually from an improv skit we did, but I am sure that is about how we all felt.

Not long after we had the sailboat masked, a storm began to roll through. Jerry being Jerry was not going to let this stop him.  It had a relentless pursuit of life that I always admired.  Needless to say, Jerry ended up teaching us how to sail in 40 plus mph winds.  40 mph winds really doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for South Dakota, but it was the equivalent of driving  75 mph on the interstate the first time your hands were behind the wheel of a car.  Like I said, terrifying.  But also ridiculously fun.

For those of you who have never sailed before, the steering is introverted it.  You have to turn the opposite way that feel natural.  If you turned the wrong way into the wind, you could expect to be dumped into the water, and surface to find an upside down sailboat. This of course was not a frightening notion for someone who was just learning how to sail. Not at all.  Although sometimes the best times in life are the ones when we are absolutely terrified and clueless.

Once I got the hang of things, I dared to go a little faster.  Then I accidentally turned just a tiny bit too far into the wind and was abruptly yanked off of the sailboat by the power of the sails.  One minute I was sailing along, and the next I was flying into the water.  It was a good thing that Jerry was right there beside me (even if he was laughing), otherwise the sailboat would have surely tipped and I would have been a sitting duck.  I could have quit right then.  I could have decided that the sailing life was not for me and asked Jerry take me back to the safety of shore. But I didn’t.  I have never been one for quitting. Jerry pulled me back into the sailboat and I handed me the ropes.  I took the ropes and tried again.  I didn’t let the fear of failing again stop me.  I just grabbed the ropes and learned to sail.

We are often taught the mindset that failures define us.  I don’t agree with that.  What defines us is not the times we tried and failure, but rather what we did when we failed.  Failure shows us what we are made of, it shows our grit.  Do not define yourself by the moments that you splash in the water arms flailing, but rather by the moments when you pull yourself out of the water, grab the ropes, and try again.

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