31-Day Challenge: Day 28

Today is my mom’s 60th birthday. Weird.

I thought the same when my dad had his a few years ago. It didn’t seem possible, but there it was.

When you go abroad long term, it’s inevitable that you miss out on a lot of things. There are birthdays, weddings, babies, divorces, deaths. All those things that make human life human life.

They exist here too, of course, and sometimes you become part of them as well. There have been weddings and births among friends here since I’ve been here, and deaths, too. Just like the threads of life bind people together in one place, they stretch across distances as well.

Sometimes it’s easy, and a digital message of goodwill is all it takes. Other times it’s devastating, but you soldier on. Sometimes people feel that they’re missing out on too much “at home” and the time comes to return. Sometimes they don’t have a choice. Sometimes they want to return but circumstances  say not yet. Every case is different.

Though I’ve missed out on eight years of birthdays now, eight years of celebrations, I have made it back for the occasional big event. I also acknowledge that I am profoundly lucky that my parents, and some friends, have the means and health to travel here to visit. In fact, my parents are planning a Christmas trip here this year. Not everyone has that luxury, and I’m thankful for it.

It makes it a bit easier to miss those really big milestones when you know that sooner or later you’ll be able to meet in person. Then you can celebrate the birthday, or just the circumstance of being in the same place at the same time, in whatever way you see fit.

31-Day Challenge: Day 27

The most difficult thing about my age right now…

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…probably has something to do with other people’s expectations of what a life should or should not look like.

Being from where I’m from in Wisconsin, being over 30, not being married (or divorced), and not having had a few kids, I’m basically a unicorn. People I went to high school with are on their second (or third) marriages, and have kids going to their own high school proms. Or graduating. It’s wild.

When I was kid I remember making the Barbies play wedding, but I also remember throwing a knock-off ‘Ken’ doll that looked like Elvis and came in a bathrobe that wouldn’t have been out of place in Hugh Hefner’s closet, across the room because my Barbies didn’t like him. Apparently they also preferred blondes.

I remember one of the first “couples” getting “married” on the playground on Valentine’s Day when we were in the fourth grade. Some of the teachers got quite angry that they were being disrespectful, but I was mostly confused by the whole thing. After that it was just kids pairing up and having their first boyfriends and girlfriends in fifth and sixth grade, but (as mentioned in earlier posts) this nerd remained puppy-love free. No awkward middle school dances for this girl, and lots of playing look out so one of my less-nerdy friends could hold hands with their crush on the bus.

The first official boyfriend finally rolled into the picture at 16, complete with pink tips and Jnco jeans. The late 90s were really weird. That was a good experience, in the end, but I went to college single. I was especially grateful for that as I watched all my new friends painfully try to hold their high school sweetheart relationships together for the majority of freshman year. Unsurprisingly it didn’t work out for any of them, though many of them went on to enter a series of long-term relationships throughout the four years.

Some even married those guys shortly after graduation. Similar to high school sweethearts, those unfortunately had varying levels of success.

There are a few conversations I distinctly remember having over the years. One of them came when I first met my random roomie (Courtney of the House Hunters extravaganza). She couldn’t wait to marry her high school beau, and had already picked out what sports all the kids would play. She was an athlete in high school and so was he, but the fact that she had put thought into that absolutely blew my mind.

Other girls routinely read bridal magazines, and cried over TLC’s ‘A Wedding Story,’ which mostly made me want to staple things to the subject’s heads. Who were these people?

Another memorable evening of summer drinks led to one of our friends proclaiming that she just wanted “to be pregnant in summer and wear lots of flowing dresses.” Or she said muumuus, and my memory just wants to be kinder to that statement… hard to say. But again, this was something that she had thought about?

For years, I had absolutely no interest in having kids, my rationale being that there were so many dogs in the world without homes. And kids, for that matter. Now it doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world anymore, and some of our friends have created some of my favorite tiny little people on Earth. But I’m over 30 and I’m not exactly panicking that BV and I haven’t taken that step yet.

And yes, I do want to get married at some point in time but again, while it has been discussed… we’ve been together nearly five years so of course it’s come up… not panicking over that either. We’re very happy together, have built a pretty solid little life with each other, and that’s really enough.

I’m also profoundly thankful that the people who know me well are not the kind to be all *wink wink nudge nudge* on these kinds of things. I know a lot of people get a lot of pressure on these matters and “when are you going to get married/have kids/buy a house/get that pony” can get really old really fast. I’ve got no patience for that and if people know that about me and are too scared to ask those questions, honestly, I’m kind of okay with that.

At this point, I’m living a fairly conventional life, apart from the fact that I’m doing it in a foreign country, and we don’t have any paperwork to prove it. And that is good enough for me.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 26

Describe a walk around your block…

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We don’t really have a block, so to speak, at least not in the traditional grid sense of your typical American city. Instead, I’ll tell you a bit about my new walking route, which has been deemed “Upper Dorf.”

A couple years ago when I started walking and trying (unsuccessfully) to job, I formed a “Lower Dorf” route. I still like that route, but it involves crossing a lot more streets, even going directly through a new neighborhood, and frankly, there’s just more people than I like to see when I’m wandering about.

BV went questing into the forest one day in search of dirt (don’t ask), and discovered a new trail, which has now become part of a larger track that I’ve been developing.

As I mentioned a few posts back, since getting the Fitbit, I’ve been trying to get those ten thousand steps a day that we all supposedly need. I’ve got my new trail down to right about nine thousand, which ensures that even on the laziest days, as long as I do that, we’re good to go.

To start off, we leave the house and go around the train station. Don’t make eye contact with the loitering teenagers, and watch out for broken glass on the ground. Also, if they’re having noise contests with their scooters, just ignore them. Passing by the small area of rowhouses and the old station building, go through a gate and under an archway of flowering bushes. This will bring you out in a duplex’s parking area, but just go around the house and turn right back towards the street.

At the next street take a left and in a few steps you’ll be onto the gravel road that goes to some of the local garden plots. Past them, the gravel street narrows to a bike path that connects us to the next village. But we’re not going that far. The short stretch of trees on the right will come to an end, and then you turn right too. Across the field and past the fish ponds, go up the hill and you’ll come to another gravel service road and a few isolated garden houses.

Off to the right you might hear some traffic, but that’s our direction. When you come to the street, check for cars of course, and then go across. It doesn’t look like much now that everything is blooming, but there’s a small path through the forest here. After a quick uphill climb, the path will widen and more paths will come and cross at every which angle. Despite the myriad of trails, it’s rare to see more than a dog walker or an old farmer checking on his trees here. Keep going straight and after passing through the thickly planted area inside a fence, start to the bear to the right. Coming to the top of another small hill, you’ll see another street, which we’re crossing again.

Through another small field with three carp ponds waaaay off to the left, and we’re back onto a gravel farm road. A quick pass under the trees and then a great expanse is in front of you. Depending on the season the squares in front are brown, green, yellow, or right now, all of the above dappled with wildflowers. Time is of no importance and the sun is shining, so again we’ll turn left. On a sunny day all around the field we can look off in the distance and see the Nürnberg TV tower, and beyond that, the soft blue outlines of the hills that surround the city.

The long straight road comes to an intersection. In front of you to the left and the right are small fields with horses. Turn right, passing horses and freshly turned over ground on the left, and a field of waving grasses on the right. A few more minutes brings a T-junction, with more horses to the left. Left also goes to the next village, so we’ll turn right. The road abandons its square lines here, instead snaking into the forest. We follow that through a stretch of forest and come out on the edge of yet another grassy field.

Off to the right we can see a few farm buildings, but let’s turn left again. Around the square we go, today having to pass around two cars that are parked side-by-side on the small farm road, while their owners have a chat. A few more turns and we pass by a dog walker, nodding hello to both man and dog.

Three sides of the field pass by, bringing us to the front of the farm buildings. A sign advertises fresh eggs and milk, and the occasional cow can be heard from deep inside an enormous barn. We caught glimpses of the chickens as we passed by the hedge, but they much have a much quieter rooster than our neighbors.

The farm buildings are connected to yet another village by a long allée lined with birch trees. We follow the trees, just keeping up with a tractor kicking us dust far off in the field to the left. Another patch of forest behind the field on the right comes closer and closer until the field narrows and the forest meets the road. Here we turn right again.

Following the edge of the forest on the right and another field on the left, we start to hear a faint humming sound. It grows louder and louder, and then between the trees we see the outline of some brightly painted boxes. The beehives are open for business. A safe distance away is an insect hotel, where a few bees buzz in and out, in addition to its other residents.

Circling another field we have a view to the skyline of our own small village. Most of the houses are shielded from view by trees that are bright green, though just a few weeks ago they were white with blossoms. Now the white blossoms are all around us, as we’ve left the farm field behind and are crossing through a grassy meadow. Ahead of us the first farm field grows closer and closer, the yellow heads of the rapeseed waving in a slight breeze.

The field gradually slopes uphill, until we come to the first intersection we met. Reversing our path, it’s back through the trees, across the roads, through the forest paths, back around the train station with its loitering youths, and home again. Now it’s time for a book, a sunny spot in the garden, and a loooooong drink of water. Or a beer, your choice.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary. 

31-Day Challenge: Day 25

Today was Father’s Day in Germany, but since it’s conveniently paired up with the Ascension of Christ holiday, pretty much everybody has the day off.  Most men, fathers or not, typically spend this day dragging wagons of beer around while they gallivant with their friends. The ones that do spend time with their families are almost deserving of a special reward, or at least so says the internet.

Last year I remember spending most of the sunny day laying out in the garden with a book. At some point during the day, a literal tractor full of youths starting circling the village, blasting music as they drank their way up and down the streets. This year it was much quieter, so perhaps they decided to drive their tractor on over to another town.

We’re still in recovery mode from vacation, and were in thorough need of a real day off. I did a little bit of cleaning and sorting of things, and BV did some more work out in the garden. He’s now made a permanent spot for the tripod, but we’ll still need to make a real fire circle to go around it. But, baby steps. He’s also got the day off tomorrow, and the weather is supposed to be glorious for some more weekend barbecue action.

As far as I know, I have two classes in the morning, and it seems that myself and my two students will be the only people working in the country. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as we haven’t met in a few weeks due to my vacation last week and their schedules prior to that. Also this is the same company that asked for a trial lesson during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. In my nearly six years in Germany, that has only happened once. Still weird.

The good news is though, that I’ll be done at noon, home by one, and can relax after that. I’d like to take a crack at getting the garden in order this weekend, but that would involve driving to the Gardener, and I’m not sure BV plans on starting the car again until Monday. There are worse ways to spend the weekend than not doing anything. And given how packed June and July are, we’ll be rather short on relaxation time.

As of right now, we’ve got a friend’s party, a Polterabend, and a wedding in June, then one free weekend before we leave for vacation. Chances are though, that the last free weekend will be filled with either an invitation to BV’s parents, or them wanting to come to us for grilling, and then that’ll be shot too. I know time flies when you’re having fun and all, but this girl needs her quiet time. Classes are pretty much running as scheduled as well, so not much chance of a break there. But vacation is looming and that’s what I’m shooting for. Last week was fantastic, like a little appetizer. We can get there.

31-Day Challenge: Day 24

Write about the places featured on postcards you’ve received in the mail.

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We have a little shelf space in front of our stereo where we always put the postcards we’ve gotten recently in the mail. I’m a big fan of both sending and getting postcards, although sometimes I am much better at writing them, then actually getting them in the mail. BV on the other hand, is extremely organized, with an excel spreadsheet of addresses for just such an occasion. The only flaw in the plan is that sometimes those addresses are not correct. We discovered this when once again, his mom did not receive the postcard we sent her from Ireland, and he learned that he was about three numbers off on the address. In a small town it would probably slide by and end up in the right place (my parents have a notoriously tricky address to spell), but her street is apartment block after apartment block.

I think my fascination with postcards goes back a long ways, as I remember my great-grandma Merry (of the aforementioned Norwegian heritage) having a whole photo album filled with postcards that she’d received over the years. Some were from nearby, some where from much more far-flung places, but they had all found their way to her, and to this little album. One of these days I might do the same thing, and start filing ours away.

My grandparents also sent postcards from their vacations almost religiously. The messages were mostly about what they did that day, and always included the weather. Not that there was much variation in Florida temperatures, but it was good to have the reassurance that everything was in order.

At our house the moment there’s a bit of a mix on display, as well as stacked up on top of the stereo. There are two wedding invitations, one that has passed, and one that is yet to come. There are two thank-you cards from last year’s wedding celebrations. There’s a birth announcement as well as a photo Christmas card.

There’s a blank postcard from Salzburg, which was hand-delivered by a friend of mine who knows of my eternal love for the most perfect city on the river. Another postcard comes from Reit im Winkl, from our Airbnb host that we’ve visited a few times now. Apparently once you’ve passed a certain visit number, you get a Christmas card as well as a summer favor. Can’t go wrong there.

Another postcard celebrates the German-Austrian border, and came from BV’s parents last summer. Yet another shows a cairn, and came from not so far away in the Oberpfalz. That one came from the Gardeners, who know of BV’s enthusiasm for stones. Our postcard from them last year was from somewhere around the Baltic Sea, and simply showed the smooth stones found on the beaches there.

Somewhere in the office, hastily moved away in the last rounds of pre-Christmas cleaning, are postcards from Africa, from the Mediterranean, from Asia. We have some well-traveled friends. I also tend to collect postcards from places, sometimes just to get those shots that it’s nearly impossible to get yourself. I’ve bought postcards from the Trinity College Library, and other places where taking pictures are prohibited.

Two of the best things that I’ve acquired in my years abroad are two vintage postcards. On a long, long, walk around the enormous Vienna flea market where my friend Cassie was hunting for gifts for her sprawling family, I happened to find these two beauties. Printed on heavy board and dating from the turn of the century, one pictures the Powder Tower in Prague, and one pictures the Opera House. Though I was still living in the Golden City at that time, I knew that these would be treasures to me long after I had moved on. On my list of things to do this year is to get them in frames. Practically speaking, vintage postcards do not fit in any off-the-shelf frames, so that’s a project to figure out exactly how to display them.

Postcards are incredibly simple, but such a bright light sometimes. There’s nothing cheerier than opening the mailbox to find a quick note from a far away place. When cleaning through my childhood bedroom over Christmas, I found quite a few that had made their way into the folds of books and corners of drawers. Most of them were ones from my grandparents on those frequent trips to Florida. I was okay with saying goodbye to a lot of things from that old room, but many of those postcards went into the boxes of things that are to be kept. For what, I’m not sure. But, for now it doesn’t matter.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 23

Today was my first real day back to work. My last class yesterday ended up cancelling, which I expected, but that meant there was no easing back into the week. Perhaps it’s better in the end though, as this week is shortened anyway due to Thursday’s holiday. I think I work Friday morning, but I haven’t had confirmation yet so we shall see.

A full day of class today was almost enough to knock me out of commission, but since the weather was sunny and warm, the beer garden in the next village beckoned. We’re fairly regular visitors over there and on warm summery days, there’s not much better.

There was the usual village traffic on our walk over, from little girls on rollerblades to dogs leaping through the grass. This time of year I usually see enough cats wandering around in the evening that I start to get suspicious that they’re organizing something. The beer garden is on the “main road” in the village, but the vast majority of the traffic is from the tractors as they run in and out of town to the fields and back. My favorites are the old men who take the grandkids with them, the little ones hanging off and around the driver’s seat. There’s also a guy who often travels with his dog in the cab. He appears to be secured with a leash, but it’s hard to tell. No leashes on the kids, as far as I can see.

The beer garden is attached to a small country hotel, and there are always a few dogs  on the terrace as well. Those typically belong to the visitors, but there are usually a few cats wandering about that belong to the hotel. On warm summer days, you have to look before sitting down as often a cat will have curled up on the chair cushions.

In between the tractors rumbling past, there are often people whizzing by on race bikes, or the local beer truck making deliveries from the drink market. There are a fair few regulars that we see there as well, including the waitstaff.

Even if it’s the same place, it’s always nice to go there and see the changing flowers in the window boxes, and to track the progress of the enormous chestnut tree that pokes up through the middle of the terrace. This time of year, it drops light pink flowers on your head, and it’s necessary to put the beer coaster on top of the glass to prevent bees as well as flowers from falling in. The air above hums the whole time from the number of bees in the tree and flying around town. Across the street the first posters have appeared for the surrounding villages upcoming Kirchweihen, and if that’s not a sure sign of summer, I don’t know what is.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 22

Editor’s Note: I didn’t fall off the daily writing wagon, I swear. Our spotty internet was rendered useless by a day’s bad weather, and never recovered. The posts will be transcribed from my notebook and post dated asap.

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Write about a family vacation you took as a child.

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This one is a piece of cake because we almost always took the same vacation. With a few exceptions when my grandparents wanted to take everyone to Disney World, we went camping in Upper Michigan every summer.

I had a bit of a flashback to that time today, in fact. BV’s birthday present was leaning against the door when we got back home last night but since we were too exhausted to unpack it last night, he did it after work today. He had changed his mind as to what he wanted several times before I ordered it, so he had almost no idea what he was unwrapping.

As the packing materials fell away and the metal pieces spilled out onto the floor, he realized what it was and started to laugh. We’d been discussing our need for a new grill in the summer, and his last birthday request had been a tripod. The pieces came together slowly and the enormous circular grate was the final part. As we started to figure out how to put it all together, I picked up the chain and it slid through my fingers.

You know how some things jog incredibly strong memories? Sometimes it’s a smell, or a song, or a taste (Speculoos, that took me straight back to my grandma H’s house), and this was one of those times.

Since we went camping mostly when I was a kid, and when I was a sullen and cranky teenager I’m sure I wasn’t helping with set up, but picking up that chain just took me straight back to a wooded campsite. Whenever I touched that chain, I’m sure it wasn’t anywhere near as silvery and clean as the one that arrived today, instead covered in smoky ash or slightly sticky from years of use.

We had a small Coleman camping stove that we used for cooking when camping, but in my memory that was mostly brought out at breakfast time. Coffee was brewed on the stove in a splatter-painted black canister that matched the rest of the camping dishes. Evening meals however, were mostly prepared on the tripod over the fire. Maybe it was hot dogs, maybe it was fish if we had been lucky that day.

After dinner the grate was removed so we could roast marshmallows over the fire. I’m not sure if we’ll be doing much of that with our new tripod, considering the fact that Hershey’s bars and graham crackers are fairly hard to find here. Marshmallows are possible but all the ones that I’ve come across here have had an odd consistency. We’ll see.

A bit of discussion was needed but we found a spot in our garden that we’ll test out for a permanent tripod location. There are trees everywhere and not much open grass that I want to sacrifice, but I think the spot we’ve chosen should work. I think we’ll have to clean out the area around it a little bit, but I hope that pretty soon we’ll be able to sit around it in the summer evenings. Especially after all the outdoor time we had in the last few days, that’s something I feel like I need to be doing more of.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

 

31-Day Challenge: Day 21

We’re packing up to leave and while neither of us are happy about it, we did just come back from getting ice cream. Also, we stopped to pet a very sweet foal on the way. That helped ease the pain a bit.

The first time we stayed here, our host offered us to stay another night for free, which we happily took her up on. This time it’s not possible as we both have to work tomorrow, but she said we could stay as long as we were able. On the last day of any vacation, that’s about the greatest gift there is.

Since BV and I have gotten together, we’ve only occasionally stayed in hotels, instead going for holiday apartments (very German), or Airbnb (German holiday apartments for hipsters). Our experiences have been overwhelmingly good, so I see no need for hotels. Anyplace that doesn’t let you check in until 3pm and throws you out before noon is not for me. The fact that you don’t even get 24 hours most places is ridiculous.

To be fair, one of the “less good” Airbnb experiences we had was also in Italy. Online it said that the check out time was flexible, and the host’s friend didn’t say anything different when he met us. He didn’t say much, in fact, besides “here it is, bye.”

Then at nine o’clock the next morning, we had cleaning ladies knocking down the door.

At nine o’clock this morning I also heard movement on our terrace. Peeking outside, I saw that one of our chairs had been moved so that it was sitting in front of the kitchen door.

Curious.

I went into the kitchen to get a closer look and what did I see? A plate with two fresh, homemade donuts on the chair. The door was closed over to deter cats and birds from our treats.

Breakfast delivery plus a thoroughly relaxed morning, makes the thought of returning to the real world more palatable. But maybe I should go back and pet that little horse again, just to make sure.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 20

Yesterday we walked through seemingly endless fields of grapevines. The sun was hot and the wind barely blew.

Today we hiked up 800 meters to a shelter. While we stopped for beer and a snack, I stepped outside to take a few pictures of the ever-changing skies. As I turned to go back into the house, something soft and cold hit my hand. It was snowing.

We’d been watching rain showers pass over the valley and peaks across from us, so of course we didn’t expect to escape it totally. There was something special about it; watching out the window as the soft drops fell, chatting to the Wirtin on the first day open of the season. That was as unplanned as the snow, and felt as lovely.

When people think of Italy, they think of the Mediterranean, brightly colored houses spilling down to the sea. They think of Rome, of Vespas and ruins. They think of Tuscany, of golden sunsets and dusty hills, vineyards and villas.

But this place?

I had never really heard of South Tyrol before coming here, and my theory is that the Germans are keeping it secret. It’s got all the charm and the same language as South Bavaria, with a slightly different accent and better food.

The area we’re staying in has one of the most striking landscapes I’ve ever seen. The views in the valley are lovely, all pastoral with a mountainous background. But when you go up?

You have to work for it, but the result is worth so much more than I can express.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 19

If someone threw a surprise party for you, it would include…

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honestly, a fair amount of confusion on my part. Any friend who knows me well, will hopefully know that I’m not really a fan of parties, surprise or otherwise. There’s a very good reason that I usually try to go away on my birthday. I’d much rather go off grid up a mountain, than have to feel obligated to answer messages as they come in. That is the opposite of relaxing.

Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the fact that many people take 30 seconds out of their day to write and wish me well. And that’s a million times preferable to calling (BV’s Oma is the lone exception to that rule). I do enjoy seeing friends, I’m not completely anti-social, but parties? No thanks. I am much more comfortable in a small group (less than six, I’d say), or one-on-one.

Part of it probably goes back to me having been a decidedly nerdy kid. Especially going into the preteen years it was pointed out to me more and more, and I always got the feeling that I was the butt of the joke. Sometimes it was in front of me, sometimes not. But I was never quite sure where I stood. And who wants to have a party if you’re not sure if anyone will come? Or if you’ll end up being the one locked out of the camper at the sleepover?

In other news, kids are giant assholes sometimes.

From that phase, I developed into a mostly sarcastic smart-ass teenager as a defense mechanism. I probably owe a fair few teachers apologies but those were rough years. We moved to our town when I was in second grade, but all of the above, plus a few other factors (a brain but total lack of athletic ability* leap to mind), equated to me never feeling like I really belonged.

That was a long time ago and thousands of miles away, but those feelings are hard to shake. On the plus side, I am incredibly comfortable on my own. I don’t always have to be in motion, or with friends. I see people when I want to see people, and that’s it. The fact that we’re on vacation, it’s 10:30 on a Friday night, and I’m writing about my dislike of parties while BV lounges in the bathtub? Seems pretty fitting, actually.

 

*#priorities

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.