golems, crematories, ghosts, oh my!

I read a lot of wonderful books this month.

I know what you’re thinking. “Mary Chase, how do you have time to read? Aren’t you in grad school? Don’t you have things to read for grad school? Why would you do this? How can you read this much? What’s wrong with you? Why are you writing this? Shouldn’t you be studying?” 

A few things:

  1. Reading is an important part of my self-care, and I find it very enjoyable. It’s totally okay if you don’t like to read. I’m not going to make you, or think ill of you if you don’t.
  2. I read very quickly. Thanks, mom!
  3. Depending on the size of the book I read, I can finish a book in a week  by reading 30-50 pages a day. I know that sounds like a lot, but depending on what I read, it goes by very fast.
  4. Related, read books you want to read. If you don’t enjoy reading, and you pick up a book that feels daunting and you don’t want to read it…you will never enjoy reading. Read something that appeals to you, and don’t worry if other people give you a hard time about it (remember our good buddy Dr. Seuss, although I’m pretty sure this wasn’t actually his quote: those who mind don’t matter, those who matter don’t mind). I have no intentions of reading Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s not my cup of tea. But just because I/anyone else doesn’t like it/doesn’t think it’s good/whatever, does not mean you shouldn’t read it and enjoy it, if it’s something you would like to read. And you shouldn’t feel bad about liking any book you like. Contrarians ruin everything.
  5. Audiobooks rule. And yes, it counts.
  6. I read many of these during the first part of the month, during my winter break.
  7. Yeah, I’m in grad school and I just basically read 12 hours a day. And it works for me.
  8. I’ll always be studying.

Now that’s settled, and without further ado, here are the books I read this month:

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman*
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders*
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
Lord of the Flies by William Golding^

Audiobook* 
Re-read^

IMG_8251.JPG

Aren’t they lovely? Pardon my dusty coffee table. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: 5/5

golem and jinni.jpg

I. Love. This. Book.

Aunt Carolyn (Christopher’s aunt) gave this book to me for Christmas this year, and I loved every moment of reading it. The Golem and the Jinni is a story about a Golem (in Jewish legend, a clay figure brought to life by magic) and a Jinni (in Arabian and Muslim mythology, supernatural fire sprits that take the form of animals and humans, and can possess humans as well) who try to fit in as immigrants to America in New York City in 1899. This story was such a magnificent adventure. Much of the book is focused on building a gorgeous world, combining American history, Jewish folklore, and Arabian mythology. The cultural aspects are so beautifully woven into the narrative — a lovely reminder that our nation is comprised of immigrants. The Golem and the Jinni is historical fiction, fantasy, and magical realism. Be ready to absolutely devour the last 80 pages. It’s definitely one of those books that you finish, and immediately regret finishing the book because you’re not ready to leave the world or the characters. Fortunately, a sequel is coming out this year called The Iron Season. *squeals with delight*

A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio: 3.5/5

work in progress.jpg

This delightful memoir was our book club’s January selection. Mirna Valerio is an ultra marathoner, and writes the awesome Fat Girl Running blog. She shares details of her life, how she became a runner, why she runs, and shares insight to the runner’s world. This was really fun to talk about with our book club, because we have many runners in the group (including my husband, who ran his first marathon last year, and my good friend Michael, who has ran more races than I can count and recently traveled to Greece to run the Athens marathon). We were all very empowered to run; to conquer physical feats (such as trail running), to do the things we thought we could not do because of stigmas or stereotypes. Because we have bodies that can.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn: 4.5/5

alice network.jpg

My sister-in-law, Meredith, is 2/2 for suggesting books that I will like, that I in turn stay up until ungodly hours of the night reading. The first was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah — our family was on vacation, and I purchased the book per her recommendation and promptly stayed up until 2:30am reading it. It’s incredible. She and my mom are in a category of their own: I know I will love whatever they suggest I read. No questions asked.

Meredith gave me a copy of The Alice Network for Christmas this year (she read it during The Nightingale vacation) and I couldn’t stop reading. I devoured this book. It’s the story of Eve and Charlotte (known as Charlie), two women who cross paths as Charlie tries to find her cousin two years after the end of World War II. The story is told in flashbacks to World War I, where we discover Eve’s past as a spy for the Allies and a member of The Alice Network (that’s all I’ll say, go read it). It’s a lovely work of historical fiction and compulsively readable.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty: 5/5

smoke.jpg

I’m not sure where to begin. I absolutely loved this book. As soon as I finished it, my first thought was, “I have to read this again.” Caitlin Doughty is the host of Ask a Mortician and now one of my personal heroes. Her videos are hinged on death education — to quell death anxiety and stigma around death and loss, combat our cultural (for the U.S., anyway) fear of death and dying, and share though warmth and humor, how to deal with the ultimate concern (Yalom, 1980). I’ve written that a lot lately, so I thought I should cite it in my blog.

I read this book for both personal and professional interest. As many of you know, I am pursuing my PhD in Counselor Education and Practice, and death anxiety is on my research agenda. I’ll share more about that later.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is Doughty’s memoir of her year working as a crematory operator for a funeral home in San Fransisco. The lessons are heartfelt, told with warmth, humor and without inhibition. I cannot recommend this one enough. I’d like to make it a class requirement one day for counselors in training.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty: 5/5

eternity.jpg

My sister Jayme gave both of Doughty’s books to me for Christmas this year (my family knows me well) and I devoured this one as soon as I finished Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. From Here to Eternity is a beautiful book. In each chapter, Doughty shares various accounts of cultural death rituals from all over the world. It really shines a light on our Americanized fear of death/dying/dead bodies, especially learning how so many different cultures deal with grief by spending time with dead bodies. This one is a bit more structured and informational than her memoir, but equally as readable and fascinating. I loved it.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: 4.5/5

char.jpeg

This was, without a doubt, the weirdest book I have ever read in my life, and unlike any book I have read before. The Library at Mount Char is wildly original, bizarre, terrifying, and hilarious. It’s fantasy/science fiction/horror/dystopia and I can’t compare it to anything. I don’t really know how to write this blurb about it. I will say this was one of Victoria Schwab’s (author of my new favorite fantasy series, Shades of Magic) “just trust me” recommendations. I adore Schwab’s work – in fact, I’ll probably write a post dedicated to her books – so I trusted the recommendation she provided on a guest post with NPR. It took me about 100 pages to get into the story — it’s just so bizarre — but once I was 100 pages in, I couldn’t put it down. Also, Scott Hawkins lives in Atlanta, which I think is really cool. It’s a good city.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman: 5/5

magic.jpg

The Rules of Magic was my first audiobook of the year, and it was just fantastic. It’s read by Marin Ireland, and I was sad to finish. I did not want it to end. It’s about the lives of Frances and Jet, the aunts in Practical Magic (side note: I love Practical Magic, and I had no idea it was a book first. The Rules of Magic is the prequel). This book is truly magical — Ireland reads the glorious world Hoffman built, and spans decades. It’s a story of love, grief, family, and the importance of being true to who you are.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: 5/5

bardo.jpg

Lincoln in the Bardo is right up there with The Library at Mount Char when it comes to the category of “weird books that I loved.” I listened to this book, and it is hands-down the best audiobook I’ve ever experienced. If you listen to any books this year, make sure this one is on your list. I’ll probably read the book one day, but listening to the cast of voices (166 total, led by Nick Offerman and David Sedaris) with Saunders’ strange, albeit beautiful storytelling was just incredible. I felt like I was listening to a Greek Chorus tell a Civil War ghost story. Lincoln in the Bardo is a story about heart-wrenching grief and love, told with bursts of humor and fascinating accounts of history. It checks all my boxes, and I will be listening to it again with Christopher on our next road trip.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs: 4.5/5

bright.jpg

Last year, I read Paul Kalanithi’s incredible memoir When Breath Becomes Air, in which he accounts his final days and the journey of having terminal cancer at age 37. His wife wrote the epilogue after his death. I came across The Bright Hour after discovering that Kalanithi’s widow Lucy is now dating Riggs’ widower John. Nina Riggs died of metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She is a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and shares her family history, skill with words, gut-punching humor and profoundly human reflections in this memoir.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: 4/5

flies.jpeg

For my last book of January 2018, I decided to re-read something I read in high school. It’s been 13 years since I first read Lord of the Flies, and I enjoyed reading my copy from freshman year. I’ve changed a great deal about many things in the past 13 years, but not one bit when it comes to reading and taking notes. Highlighters, notes to myself in the margins. My copy looks like I could have made those notes yesterday, rather than 13 years ago. And in a purple pen, no less (What can I say? I’m very on-brand when it comes to purple). It was fun reading alongside 14-year-old Mary Chase.

The book itself is the same dark, dismal story I remembered with profound symbolism. One thing that struck me on this second go-round was a particular character’s death (at the risk of spoiling anything, it was not the one with the glasses that we all remember from high school). I don’t remember feeling gutted by this character’s death in high school. When I re-read it, it really stuck with me.

Most of the books I read this month have to do with death. This isn’t surprising, mainly because death is part of my research and the work I do in graduate school. But I also recently had an experience with death — my wonderful Aunt Ellen died on December 18, 2017, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. I’ll write more about her this year as well. Reading is also a part of how I grieve.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and I’d be delighted to know if you have read any of these books and/or will read any of these books in the future.

Cheers,

Mary Chase

 

an update, two years later

In clearing away the cobwebs and dust from my blog, I discovered that my domain name expired. If you go to marychasemize.com now, the Internet will take you to what looks like an online store for Patagonia in another language. At least it’s not porn.

So, henceforth and forevermore, my blog is http://www.marychasebreedlovemize.com. I’m actually quite pleased to include my full name, and I solemnly swear to stay on top of securing this domain, lest a North Face retailer endeavor to take it away.

It’s been well over two years since I shared a blog post, which I find both disappointing and understandable. My last blog post was an update of my first week of graduate school — a Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Georgia State University.

To say many things have happened since that time would be an understatement.

In this brand new year with this brand new domain, I want to get back to blogging. I have stories to tell, and I hope you will join me.

one week down

*clears throat*

Hello? Is anyone there?

I’ve missed you.  Though I promised to write more in 2015, I have neglected my wonderful little corner of the Internet that is my blog. The hiatus was good. But I’m back feeling incredibly inspired to write and share what’s going on in my life. So get comfortable. Go make yourself a cup of tea or coffee or any beverage of choice. Grab your dog if you have one, snuggle up, and allow me to steal a few moments of your day with my words and ramblings. I hope you enjoy them.

This past Monday, I began the adventure of pursuing my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Georgia State University. Actually, I take that back — I began my adventure of pursing my Master’s degree last Saturday, in the middle of a heavily-wooded section of metro Atlanta, dangling by a string on a high ropes course.

I have expected this course of study to be life-changing. I figured I have been well-groomed for it: in the past year, I took the trip of a lifetime to New Zealand and took part in some serious soul-searching. I quit a good-paying job that made me unhappy. I stepped out of my comfort zone — predictability, stability, routine — and relied on the Providence of God to lead me where I am today. (And let me tell you: if you like routine and control and stability as much as me, this was not a walk in the park). But in the midst of my fears and doubts, I was — and still am– continually astounded by how well my needs were met; when I decided to pursue a career as a counselor, I felt as though every obstacle that could hinder my progress was obliterated. I felt like the path ahead of me was well lit and clear; all I had to do was walk.

What I did not expect in this life-changing course of study was how quickly I would deal with some of my worst fears.

Fun Fact: I’m afraid of heights when I don’t feel secure. I feel safe on a rollercoaster, but not on a Ferris Wheel. I’ve been trying to make sense of it myself for years. 

As it turns out, I do not feel very safe in a harness dangling from a wire while 4 or 5 stories above solid ground.

But this was the beginning of my graduate school journey. I spent the day getting to know my fellow cohort and professors in the context of a ropes course. Communication, trust, and camaraderie were established quickly.  And through their encouragement and my own personal will power, rendered from the depths of my soul and not without some real fear and anxiety, I finished the high ropes — complete with two zip lines to the ground that turned out to be AWESOME. I’ll zip line all day long.

On the first day of class, I didn’t walk in to strange faces. I felt an immediate bond with the people around me.  I’m so grateful to be learning alongside such wonderful people — people who will be my professional colleagues and friends.

My classes are interesting, challenging and wonderful. My professors are brilliant, and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to learn from them.

A few people in the program have told me the first semester is an emotional upheaval — and I experienced a taste of that on Thursday in one of my classes. During our very first lecture, I was moved to tears by the candor and encouragement of my professor.

This semester, I will learn how to become a helper.
I will immerse myself in techniques and skills.
I will discuss, in depth, some of my worst fears — like losing the people I love.
I will learn how the human body can heal after unspeakable pain and tragedy.
I will read more than I’ve ever read before.  

And I will never be the same.

 

 

graduate school

I’m doing that thing again. I hate it. I let dozens of ideas for blog posts buzz around in my head while I write and re-write and think and think and think and not actually post in my blog for six months. But on the bright side, half of 2015 is left to enjoy and pickup those resolutions that slip away. I’m only saying that because my last blog post was somewhat focused around resolutions.

I’m pleased to say that I will be attending graduate school at Georgia State University in August. I was accepted to the Master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and I am absolutely beyond excited/thrilled/deliriously happy. It’s incredible how things fall into place when you’re doing what you are meant to do. I feel like I’m pursuing my life’s calling — not just acknowledging it.

 

 

what are you going to do in 2015?

I love celebrating New Years Resolutions.

I’ve never appreciated snarky people who say things like “ugh,  I can’t wait for all the New Years Resolutioners to quit hogging all the treadmills at the gym.”

I want people to succeed. I don’t mind waiting a few minutes for an elliptical if it means someone is making a life change and is feeling renewed and inspired.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not one who usually make a list of resolutions. I honestly, and I mean this, try to get started on resolutions as soon as I decide to tackle them — not waiting until January 1. That’s not because I’m this noble, aggressive-passionate-go-getter (though I try to be); it’s because I’m impatient. I want to get started NOW! I want everything RIGHT NOW!

In terms of thriving in a schedule, I’m much like an infant. I like knowing what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. I like having a plan. I like order.

I totally get the clean slate approach to beginning a new adventure on the first day of a new year. In a way, 2014 was framed quite nicely for me: I was immersing myself into a new job during the beginning of the year, and ending the year with the trip of a lifetime we’d planned for so long. It was nice. I really liked 2014. There were plenty of bumps and glitches, but for the most part, I really can’t think of a continuous year I’ve enjoyed as much as I enjoyed 2014.

The year 2015 is going to be interesting.

For starters, I decided to leave my job at the North American Mission Board. My coworkers were amazing — and arguably the best part of my job — and I’ll miss my paycheck, but this was an easy decision to make. And since you are interested enough in my life to read my blog, I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t doing what I’m meant to do or want to do. And I wasn’t happy doing it. I spent the majority of my day feeling discouraged, and spent the afternoon commute being angry and stressed in GA 400 traffic.

One of my friends told Christopher that I should pitch a new slogan for New Zealand Tourism. “New Zealand: It’ll make you want to quit your job!” But seriously: spending 21 days away from my job opened my eyes to so much about my life. Frederick Buechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.” I thought about this quote a lot during our trip, and fully realized something I really think God has been pulling me toward for a few years. The intersection of my deep gladness and the world’s hunger is counseling.

So, as of right now, I’ve left my full-time job to pursue my Master’s degree in mental health counseling. I’m applying to a few schools in Georgia and am looking into a few online options. Hopefully by this fall, I’ll be enrolled in a program and on my way toward becoming a professional counselor.

With this comes a whirlwind of emotion. Instead of trying to eloquently compose a narrative of what’s going on in my head, I’ll give you the unfiltered version:

Holy crap. I just quit my job. 
Thank you, God, for giving me peace about this.
Allright, grad school, here I come!
But what if I don’t get in?
Woah. Georgia State only accepts 30 people into their program. 
There’s no way I’m going to get in.
Sure, I can! I have good undergraduate GPA. I can nail a statement of purpose. All I need is a good score on the GRE and I got this!
GRE. 
Wut.
Math. 
STAHP. 
Alight, first go at the GRE. I think I’ll do pretty good on the verbal, but not great on quantitative. 
*Does exactly what I predict I will do and gets disappointed because I didn’t miracle-guess correctly on all the math*
It’s okay, I’ll study and try again!
*Decides this during the holidays, studies but not as often as I wanted, has mental breakdown while math-degree-bearing-husband consoles me and tries to re-teach me how to find the area of a triangle.*
-Flash to the present, two days before my second stab at the GRE.- 
I should study. 
*Reads a book instead.*
Everyone keeps telling me: “You’ve got this! You’ll kill it! You do great on the GRE. You’ll totally get into grad school. You’re so smart.” 
Here’s the thing: I’m not as smart as some people think I am. I worked hard in school, and yeah, I mean, I’m a decently-bright bulb in the chandelier, but I’m not guaranteed a spot in graduate school. 
What will people think of me if I don’t get in? 

There it is, one of my many flaws. My pride. I am genuinely worried about not getting in to grad school for the sake of having to explain to people that I didn’t get in. “Oh, so you quit your job and everything for…nothing?”

But I keep reminding myself this, the absolute truth: I’m going to go where God wants me to go. No, I don’t have a definite plan. Nothing is certain. I’m going out in blind faith here. But, to borrow a phrase from barre3, I’m going to honor my truth. I’m going to do what it takes to become a professional counselor.

So, what am I going to do in the meantime?

  • I’m going to try the GRE one more time and see what happens. There isn’t a minimum score requirement for the schools I’m interested in attending, but there’s just so much fear of the unknown for me surrounding that stupid test. But I’m going to give it my best shot. But let the record show I have been, and still am, absolutely terrible at taking standardized tests. If it ends up breaking my chances of getting into school, I’ll study harder and longer and give it another try.
  • I’m going to finish all of my applications and send them off. Then I’m going to wait patiently and I hope I’m exactly who these schools are looking for.
  • I’m going to write more. I absolutely love writing.
  • I’m going to read more.
  • I’m going to work part time at the barre3 Atlanta – South Bulkhead studio. I can’t quite express how happy I am to be doing this. I joined this studio in August, which was arguably the best decision I’ve made while living in Atlanta. The exercise is amazing, but the people are even better. I love the community it brings, and I’m thrilled have a greater part in it.
  • I’m going to go to a lot of barre3 classes.
  • I’m going to pursue the things that make me happy and fulfilled.
  • I’m going to try a new recipe each month.
  • I’m going to bake more.
  • I’m going to let go of stupid things that give me anxiety or steal my joy.
  • I’m going to run a half marathon in March.
  • I’m going to save money aggressively while living generously.
  • I’m going to spend more time with people and let them know I love them.
  • I’m not going to put pressure on myself that is totally unnecessary. I’m 24 years old. It’s okay if I haven’t moved into a dream house with a baby on the way. It’s okay if it takes a few tries to get into grad school (really, Mary Chase, it is! The world will not stop turning!)
  • I’m going to stop feeling like I constantly have to explain myself to people, and stop feeling like I must have everything figured out.

I want 2015 to be the year of crazy courage, faithful living, and chasing my deep gladness while meeting the world’s hunger.

What are your goals for 2015?

a lesson from ebenezer scrooge

Last Tuesday, Christopher and I ventured to one of our favorite places in Atlanta: The New American Shakespeare Tavern. This theatre is a gem. It’s tucked away on Peachtree Street across from Emory Midtown, and the front of the building looks like the Globe Theatre. You get to sit at a cozy table, enjoy a meal, and watch a company of some of the most talented performers in America perform the works of William Shakespeare. Except for last Tuesday. Last Tuesday, we saw a performance of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. And it was arguably one of the best things I’ve ever seen on stage. Ever.

I can’t thank my mother enough for introducing me to “A Muppet Christmas Carol” at an early age. I’ve enjoyed that movie above all others during the holiday season. The Muppets did everything right by Dickens: most of the dialogue in the movie is verbatim to the novel.

So naturally, as I do, I was quoting nearly every word of the stage production in my head. But for some reason, seeing A Christmas Carol last Tuesday felt like I was hearing the story of Scrooge for the first time. One particular scene really hit me hard and left me teary-eyed: the encounter between the ghost of Jacob Marley and Scrooge before he is haunted by the three spirits. This is the passage from the novel.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?

Scrooge trembled more and more.

“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

“Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house—mark me!—in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!”

It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his hands in his breeches pockets. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now, but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees.

“You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,” Scrooge observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference.

“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.

“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And travelling all the time!”

“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.”

“You travel fast?” said Scrooge.

“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.

“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Scrooge.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Dickens wrote this novel 171 years ago. I wonder if he had the foresight to know how applicable his lessons from Marley and Scrooge would be in 2014.

What chains are we forging in life?

Are we turning a blind eye to those around us in need? “My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house…”

Are we using politics and ignorance to justify a lack of compassion for humanity? “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.” You could insert a number of words to fit the meaning of this sentence. An example: “But I don’t think my tax dollars should be spent to provide healthcare for other people, even if they can’t afford it. That’s their problem for not working hard, not mine.” This way of thinking fits right in with Scrooge’s suggestion to send the poor and homeless to the prisons and poor houses.

As deeply-flawed humans (myself included) do, we make the holidays about ourselves. Are we forgetting that Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus (who, by the way, celebrated Hanukkah), is the beginning of the redemption of humanity? Dare I say it — are we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas?

This Christmas, may we not lose sight of the birth of Jesus: the Son of God, sent to die for us.

This holiday season, may we not lose sight of treating everyone with kindness and compassion. Even if their reasons for celebrating the holidays are different than your own.

May we not lose sight of humanity: the poor, the sick, the hurting, the lonely. Remember the ones who are less fortunate than you — and love and serve them all throughout the year.

May we not lose sight of the things that truly matter, and may we forget about the things that do not.

And may we remember the lessons from Ebenezer Scrooge and the three spirits of Christmas. I enjoy the final chapter of A Christmas Carol perhaps more than the ending of any novel I’ve read. Scrooge is a changed man. This, too, is a story of redemption.

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, and God Bless Us, Everyone.

#mizealand: Aoraki/Mt. Cook, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Auckland

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

Our journey in the South Island continued as we made our way from Arthur’s Pass to Aoraki/Mount Cook. This drive was one of the most beautiful parts of our trip: cruising through the Canterbury and Otago regions was like being in a painting. Majestic mountains, rolling hills, blue skies, brightly-colored wildflowers, gorgeous glacial lakes, and plenty of cute sheep were the backdrop of our travel.

The weather changed dramatically when we got to Mount Cook — it was rainy, cloudy, and cold. All the things I read and researched for this trip warned to prepare for all four seasons in a day in New Zealand: they’re not kidding. We stayed at The Hermitage — a lovely hotel that was home of the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center as well as the southern most planetarium in the world. Sir Edmund Hillary, if you didn’t know, was one of the first people ever to climb Mount Everest. He prepared for this summit by climbing Aoraki/Mount Cook — the tallest mountain in New Zealand. (By the way, if you’re wondering what’s up with this being referred to a Aoraki/Mount Cook, Aoraki is the Maori name of this mountain.)

Since the weather was still a little crummy in Mount Cook, we drove over to Lake Tekapo to see the Church of the Good Shepherd.  This was the first church built in the Mackenzie Basin and is one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand. It’s a tiny church perched right on the shores of Lake Tekapo, and is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Lake Tekapo contains glacial flour, which gives it the alarmingly blue color.

We sat inside the church for a few moments. It was quiet and peaceful with a faint background of choral music playing. While sitting in the pew, I looked up at the alter and saw a long, rectangular opening that showed the vast Southern Alps sitting behind the bright blue lake. I’ve had a few moments in my life where I’ve thought “surely this is what Heaven feels like”….this was one of them. That may sound cheesy to you, but I really have no other way to describe it.

DSC_0041

Church of the Good Shepherd

This was a nice reminder for me, that in all the mess and torment of the world, and all the anxiety and doubt and hurt that it sometimes brings (even to people who believe in God like myself), God’s dwelling is with humanity. I leaned over to Chris and told him I loved him, and reeled in the blessing of this trip, my family, my friends, my health, and so many other things in my life that I simply don’t deserve.

After a few minutes, one of the pastors of the church came over and dropped a small piece of paper in front of me. I picked it up and saw it was a nice little card with the church on it, contact information, as well as the verse Psalm 62:11:

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress: I shall never be shaken.”

I couldn’t tell if she was being friendly by passing out scripture, or if she was passive-aggressively telling me to be quiet; either way, I’m glad she gave it to me.

Moonlight Drowns Out All but the Brightest Stars

Later that night, the weather cleared up and we were able to do one of the coolest things I have ever done.

At 9:00pm, we went to the planetarium. We met up with a nice gentleman named Rodney, one of the astronomers who worked at the alpine center. About fifteen people, including us, sat in the planetarium and watched a really neat video about the southern sky.

The southern sky contains constellations and stars I’ve never seen before. Doesn’t that blow your mind? It should.

Aoraki/Mount Cook is not only home to the tallest mountain in New Zealand — it’s also home to an International Dark Sky Reserve.

After the planetarium presentation, we put on large wind-proof overcoats, loaded into a van, and drove out the the dark sky reserve. We waited for the Sun to finish going down, and watched as the southern sky came to life.

We had crazy-high-powered binoculars and a telescope to view stars, galaxies, constellations, and other spectacular space objects. We saw the International Space Station pass over us. We got to take a look at different versions of constellations we’re used to seeing in the Northern Hemisphere — for example, we could see Orion, but he was upside down.

Guys, I could have stayed out there looking at the sky all night long.

I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. I could see the Milky Way and the Magellan Clouds with the naked eye. I was able to point out the location of the south celestial pole. It was astonishing and one of my absolute favorite things we’ve done on this trip. I’m pretty sure I had my mouth open with awe the entire time.

Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold

The next day of our time in Aoraki/Mount Cook began in a lovely way. We were able to finally see this from our room:

DSC_0200

That’s Aoraki/Mount Cook!

Shortly after lunch, we bundled up and boarded a bus for a Glacier Explorer tour. I had no idea what to expect with this, but ever since I took Earth Science lab in college, I’ve been fascinated by glaciers. This tour was of the Tasman glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier.

We walked about a mile to the base of the glacier, and really felt like we were in Middle-Earth. In fact, the area surrounding us was used as the backdrop for Minas Tirith in the LOTR movies. We met our tour guide Martin (who was awesome), loaded jet boats and soared across the glacial lake. It was a way better boat experience than our previous one.

This was such a fun experience. We pulled up to icebergs that recently broke off from the glacier, and got to touch pieces of ice from it. In fact, I can proudly say I’ve eaten part of a glacier. Martin actually encouraged us to do so.

DSC_0280  DSC_0317

Holding part of a glacier. Check that off my bucket list.

Step on to the Road and There’s No Telling Where You Might Be Swept Off To

After our fantastic time at Mount Cook, we drove to Queenstown. Queenstown is a lovely little town in the southwest Otago region. We were able to stay in a hotel that was within walking distance of everything we wanted to see and do, which was wonderful. We checked in and headed to the race expo for the first ever Queenstown International Marathon.

Christopher and I signed up as walkers for the 10k, simply because we knew we’d be tired from our trip and didn’t want to stress about training for a race. The expo was jam-packed with people from all over the world. We got our race bibs and headed back for a good night’s sleep.

The alarm went off at 5:00 am, and we walked to our shuttle to be taken to the starting line for the 10k. Unfortunately it rained all morning and off and on during the race, but it was still beautiful. We walked a lot of it, simply to enjoy the views around us. Queenstown really is a stunning city, and the race path was awesome — most of it was part of local trails around Lake Wakatipu. We did run a good bit, and of course ran to the finish line.

raceday

After the race, we went back to the hotel to change clothes and shower — we were very muddy and wet from sweat and rain. The rain eventually cleared up, so we ventured into town and ate lunch at the world-famous Fergburger. I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had (coming close to Morris Breedlove’s masterpieces). It was a hole-in-the-wall spot that had a line out the door 22 out of 24 hours a day. I wish I could bring one back for all of you — but take my advice: should you find yourself in Queenstown, eat a Fergburger or you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.

Little by Little, One Travels Far

After our night in Queenstown, we drove to the Milford Sound. This was a long, winding drive through the mountains but it was beautiful (as usual). We made it to our cozy cabin and enjoyed absolutely spectacular views of the fjords and a nearby river. The next morning, we got up early and went on a two-hour kayaking trip. Christopher and I had never kayaked before, but were actually quite good at it. I think we could tackle a more challenging course, but I was thankful for the calm waters.

Kayaking among fjords was another one of those experiences where I felt like I was outside of my body; like what I was seeing wasn’t actually there. It was beautiful beyond words. We saw a rainbow and two penguins. About halfway through our trip, we beached the kayaks and hiked through the jungle (quite literally) to the base of one of the biggest waterfalls in the Milford Sound. Because the weather was so calm, we were able to get very close to it–it was stunning.

DSC_0652 DSC_0661

The next day, we hiked part of the Routeburn Track to Key Summit. This was a gorgeous hike with beautiful views. It was also a steady climb the entire time — our soreness from kayaking with our fatigue from the trip made this track a little harder than it should have been. When we reached the top, some rain had moved in and we were standing in the middle of a cloud. Luckily we got our views right before the clouds moved in. It proceeded to rain for the rest of the day, so we relaxed in our cabin and watched the hundreds of waterfalls that form in the fjords. I probably had the best night of sleep I’ve had since we left Atlanta.

DSC_0764

Fly You Fools

I spent my 24th birthday in Queenstown, New Zealand. We left the Milford Sound and headed back, hoping to take a scenic helicopter ride around Queenstown and surrounding areas. The winds were too strong and the flight was postponed, so Christopher and I had a date night. We ate Mexican food (not too shabby, but no Bone Garden Cantina) and saw Mockingjay Part One. I figured with all the marvelous outdoor adventures we’ve had in the past three weeks, sitting in a theater for two hours wouldn’t be a bad thing. We loved the movie. It was very unsettling, however, to leave the theater and see BBC World News reports of all the riots and protests popping up all over America in regards to Ferguson.

The next day, the weather was perfect. We drove to the airport and loaded a helicopter. This was so unbelievably cool. We saw several of the filming areas for LOTR, and actually landed on top of a mountain that overlooked the Shotover river canyon. Again, this was another experience where I felt like I wasn’t experiencing “real life.” It was magical.

DSC_0838

The next day, we flew back to Auckland and bid a bittersweet adieu to the South Island. Christopher and I are both stuck in that weird feeling of not wanting to leave New Zealand while also being ready to go home. We were able to call our families, since it was Thanksgiving day in America, and felt some twinges of homesickness.

Once we were back in Auckland, Christopher discovered that the amazing Asian-infusion place we went to in Wellington was also in Auckland, so we ate dinner at Monsoon Poon and enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal of tandoori chicken.

Christopher has a nasty cold and I had a neck spasm for the first time ever last night. I think it’s safe to say that we are worn out. We’ve enjoyed a few days of strolling around Auckland, re-packing and re-checking our baggage weights, and relaxing.

And here I sit. Our last night in New Zealand. Christopher and I are deliriously happy and exhausted.

 

-Mary Chase