Three Months and Five Scraps of Joy

August 11, 2018

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One: Mail

I got mail! You dear people have kept my neighborhood Postie busy, and I couldn’t be more grateful. The first time I came home to see an envelope peeking out, my eyes clouded with tears and I could hear the swell of the movie-moment orchestra in the background. I reached for it with all the tearful, dramatic anticipation of Gwyneth Paltrow accepting an Oscar as I eagerly scanned the return address to see it was from…the bank. (Getting my New Zealand bank card was actually very exciting, but not quite worthy of the same sentiment as a letter from Mom.)


You’ve stuffed my rickety mailbox with books, delicious-smelling soaps, crayon-scrawled pictures, even a fairy wand. I was never a princess kind of girl, so believe it or not, this is the first fairy wand to come into my possession. Now that I have one, I’m a little surprised I’ve made it this far in life without it.


Best of all are the letters. My Aunt Lola wrote in her sweet card that she remembers with fondness the quiet joy of reading and re-reading letters from home, even if they’re just snippets of the day. There is so much truth in this, and every letter I’ve gotten has been savored several times over. Imagining the everyday goings-on – grain-dusted harvest suppers in the field, bleary-eyed nights with sick babies, kiddos packing up their crayons and fears and eagerness for the first day of school – those are the moments that somehow make everyone feel a few miles closer.


After the most recent tear-stained journey back from the mailbox, I texted my mom, “Do you think I’ll ever stop crying when I get mail from home?” Not anytime soon, it seems.

How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.

William Faulkner

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Two: Belonging

I took the first wobbly, earnest step in my PhD journey and submitted my research questions. If you’re not into the snoozefest of academic writing, here’s the one-word version: belonging. More specifically, it’s a deep dive into what makes us feel like we belong (at work and in the other spaces of our lives), why that matters, and how we can make it happen more often.


Whether it’s collectively or with just one person, we all want to feel like we are not just allowed to be here, but we are welcome, that there is value inherent in our presence. Life can be hard, and some days it’s easy to feel like the world has gone mad. This work reminds us that in the midst of the madness, there is a place for all of us.

When we try to pick out anything by itself,

we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

John Muir

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Three: Libraries

After a long and rather accidental break-up, the library has made a reappearance in my life. You might think this is delightful news (I certainly did) but in fact, it is turning out to be dreadful for my productivity. I haven’t had a library card since the beginnings of my nerdhood in elementary school and I’ve been e-reading for several years now, so the rediscovery of real, touchable books has been a sensory and intellectual feast. (There’s a little story in this post about my relationship with libraries, past and present.)


To thank me for my return, the biblio fairies saw fit to open a brand new, multi-level library in the central city, a breezy ten-minute bike ride from my cottage. It’s an architectural wonder of blonde wood, tall windows, and cozy nooks. I remarked to a friend recently that when I made the decision to move, I think God just started dumping all my favorite things in Christchurch. I’m pretty cool with that.


A smattering of the tastiest books I’ve scarfed down from the library: Bird by Bird, The Undoing Project, Being Mortal, and The Signature of All Things (the charming novel by Liz Gilbert that she spoke about in her stunning recent TED interview).  For more of my bookish musings, you can mosey on over here.

With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?

Oscar Wilde

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Four: Wisteria

Wisteria made a mystical appearance on my front porch. This is important for two reasons:

1) I adore wisteria. I mean, if you don't immediately find yourself dripping in sentiment, sobbing for long-lost lovers at the sight of it, then are you even a real person?

2) This particular wisteria showed up to remind me that we’re all a little bit magic.

Here’s what I mean.


A few weeks ago, I was walking through my neighborhood a bit slower and daydreamier than usual, savoring the first breath of spring drifting through the streets. Suddenly, there it was, climbing up the lattice of a sweet storybook cottage a few doors away: the most audaciously lilac wisteria I had ever seen. It unearthed a deep longing to have one of my own, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since I first set my sights on an American Girl doll. (I have Samantha, who is obviously the best American Girl. Feel free to debate me on this, but I don’t think you’ll win.)


I developed a serious crush on that wisteria, thinking about it all the way home, altering my daily route to see it more often, smiling at it affectionately every time I went by. Note to the future man in my life: if I can muster up half the adoration for you that I had for that plant, we’ll probably make it.


A few days later, little green buds started to sprout on the tangle of bare branches nesting quietly and inconspicuously next to my porch. They looked suspiciously like…wisteria. I furiously googled “wisteria buds.” Oh. Yes.
Ever since the first bud sprouted, I’ve been lavishing praise on this beauty.

“Look at you, growing so strong and lovely!” I tell her as I leave in the morning.
“You get more gorgeous by the day!” I exclaim when I get home.


She has responded to this ardent attention by growing several inches a day, wildly sprouting tender new branches that she flings gleefully in every direction. She even reached out and gave me a grateful, viney hug when I walked out the front door yesterday. (Actually, I got slapped in the face by a branch, but I know that wasn’t her intention.)


“That wisteria was there all along. It was going to sprout anyway,” you might scoff. I know. But I prefer life with a healthy dose of enchantment, and so does my wisteria.

Miracles are like pimples, because once you start looking for them you find more than you ever dreamed you'd see.

Lemony Snicket (a v. serious literary source)

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Five: Neighbors

I met my next-door neighbor, a 76-year-old delight of a character who is so colorful, you’re going to think I’m making her up. (It seems likely she’ll make an appearance in a future book.) It was about 8:30 on a dusky weeknight evening and the birds were just beginning to slow their gossip outside my open windows. A spirited knock clattered on the front door and before I even opened it all the way, a hobbly old yellow lab brushed politely past my legs and disappeared somewhere behind me. I found his I’ll-just-make-myself-at-home manner to be quite endearing – even when I later discovered he had left a neatly piled, pungent “gift” on my kitchen rug.


“Well! Aren’t you a gorgeous creature!” Colorful Neighbor said, looking me up and down. Let’s be clear here: I was braless and fresh from the shower, my hair a damp mop having its way with my head. It didn’t dim her enthusiasm a lick, and she explained that she had come over to get the lawn mower, which we apparently share. (Isn’t that just sensible and lovely?)


“You’re a tidy one, aren’t you?” she said, peering over my shoulder into the hallway. “Don’t mind Charlie, he’s just old and friendly and curious. A bit like me, love,” she chuckled. We chatted for a few minutes as she clucked and sighed in delight over everything – how I ended up in New Zealand (“Such a brave girl!”), life as an academic (“Stay away from the boys in Forestry, they’re terribly boring!”), and my over-zealous pruning of the “dead branches” winding along my fence (“Oh no, love, those were the most beeyoootiful grapevines!”).


Charlie came ambling back and nonchalantly snagged a flip-flop (or jandal, as the Kiwis say) from my shoe rack. He limped around the front yard with it as we made our way to the garage to retrieve the mower. Colorful Neighbor snuck a peek in my bedroom window as we passed it and murmured to herself again, “Such a tidy one.”


For a moment, I zoomed out and I could see us there in my front yard, two ordinary neighbors wrapped in soft darkness and the scent of wisteria. She talked about her historical fiction series set in the sixteenth century Middle East, the Aston Martin convertible she used to rip around in, her personal meeting with the Dalai Lama, and of course, politics. (It’s impossible to be an American in any other part of the world without the discussion turning to the state of our political system. The whole world is watching.)


She told me about the astronomical youth suicide rates in New Zealand (an interesting dichotomy for what is also one of the happiest countries in the world) and reminded me that it’s precisely why the work I’m doing matters so much. There we were, chattering on about things deep and ordinary, with an old dog lumbering around on the fresh grass. For that sweet and familiar minute, it felt very much like…home.


As I opened the gate for her, she turned suddenly and wrapped me in a squishy, squeezy hug. She looked straight in my eyes and said, “We’re lucky to have you here, you brave girl. If you ever get lonely, you come over any time, love.” We all need a Colorful Neighbor in our lives. I feel awfully lucky this one’s mine.

You don't ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you. When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see, or hear, or touch...So, in all that you do in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are.

Fred Rogers

31 Comments

  1. Kate on November 21, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Hi Natasha! What a lovely post … thank you for the vivid mental picture of your home and said Colorful Neighbor!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Natasha on November 24, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      Thank you, Kate! I’m so glad you found some joy in it. (And thank you again for the fairy wand! Clearly, I’m quite enamored with it.) Hope your Thanksgiving was filled with gratitude and laughter!

  2. Judy on November 11, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    Hi dear Tash– just love your musings/sense of adventure. Hope to see you— later. 😘

    • Natasha on November 13, 2018 at 1:13 am

      Thanks, Judy! I can’t wait to see you guys over here on this side of the world. I know you’re going to love it!

  3. Kathy Bean on November 11, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Natasha I enjoyed spending time with you virtually…thinking about many of your comments they were right in time I needed some encouragement… can you message me your address again please? You take care!!!

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 9:50 pm

      I’m so glad to hear it was valuable to you, Kathy! You all still cross my mind so often, and it’s nice to feel like we can “connect” in little ways like this. I will send you a message with my address. 🙂

  4. Bobbie Krueger on November 11, 2018 at 11:08 am

    Natasha, you are an extraordinary young lady of whom I truly admire! You have many gifts and you share them and I love that too! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of such a sweet person and lifestyle! I am very proud to know you.

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 9:49 pm

      What a lovely compliment, Bobbie! That really means a lot to me, and it makes sharing so much more meaningful. Thank you for the extra sparkle of happiness today!

  5. Jade on November 11, 2018 at 2:55 am

    Such a wonderful wee read! I too have been adoring all of Springs gifts. I was out walking/day dreaming for hours with Jett the other day appreciating all the lovely flowers and getting “high” on their scents 💐 Your a brilliant writer Natasha! I look forward to reading more 😊

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 9:41 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, Jade! There is so much joy to be found in the simple pleasures of nature, isn’t there? The springtime flowers in New Zealand seem especially fragrant to me. I’m glad you and Jett took some time to bask in the sunshine!

  6. Steph on November 10, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    You beautiful soul. So glad you are sharing this page with all of us. You are magician with words and I could read your posts forever… Thankyou for creating this, so I can revisit again and again. xxx

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 1:04 am

      My dear Steph, where would I be in Christchurch without you? 🙂 I am so, so grateful for all the ways you brighten my spirit and encourage me to be my realest self. You’re a big part of the reason I feel at home here already.

  7. Erin Aldinger Simpson on November 10, 2018 at 11:09 am

    Such wonderful little treats these snippets of stories are! What fun adventures you are having and are able to beautifully capture in writing for us to live vicariously through you. I loo forward to reading more.

    • Erin Aldinger Simpson on November 10, 2018 at 11:10 am

      *look

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:39 am

      Thank you so much, Erin! It’s such a delight to share my musings like in this way, and it means so much to me that you are finding joy in it.

  8. Rose Hanson on November 10, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for sharing your adventure! I am not a writer but enjoy reading. Take care and keep in touch.

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:59 am

      Thank you, Rose! I really appreciate hearing that.

  9. Sherry Myers on November 10, 2018 at 9:58 am

    Natasha, you definitely have a gift of writing! It is so interesting to see New Zealand through your words!

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:59 am

      Thank you so much, Sherry! It is a privilege to have such enthusiastic readers, and it certainly makes it more fun for me to toss out a few words now and then!

  10. Supper club friend ..M on November 10, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Natasha, Natasha.. you are so graceful, daring and just full of positivity.
    I really enjoyed reading your “blog”, I hope one day I can visit that beautiful place you now call home! Your neighbor sounds like a lovely neighbor, we all need more neighbors like her.
    Be safe and can’t wait to share some memories in person 😊

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:57 am

      Thank you, Minerva! I’ll be patiently waiting for Les Convives to bring their talents to New Zealand. 🙂 It is a place you would never forget. (Plus, you could meet Colorful Neighbor and Charlie!)

  11. Sherlene Sorenson on November 10, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Your writings are a delightful read! Thank you for sharing! By the way, I have a mysterious Wisteria, too. It is not supposed to survive in our climate zone in Fargo, so I am pleasantly surprised every year when it comes back, and most summers it even blooms.

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:50 am

      Thank you so much, Sherlene! They are quite the captivating plants, aren’t they? I think when we live in a climate where we see something infrequently, it becomes even more special. You’re lucky to have one that is braving the frigid ND temps! It must have a sprinkling of magic all its own.

  12. Cheryl Hailey on November 10, 2018 at 8:40 am

    You are truly a gifted writer, Natasha! I love reading about your observations, musings and encounters… I can actually hear your giggle… miss you!😘⛷🚣‍♀️

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:53 am

      Thank you so much, Cheryl! You can’t imagine how much I miss you all. I’m rowing here too, but it’s not quite the same. And strangely, no one has suggested canoeing down a river full of hillbillies. I guess I’ll have to come back to Cleveland for that. 😉 Sending heaps of love!

  13. Krista Myers on November 10, 2018 at 8:17 am

    Thank you for sharing your adventures!
    I’ve always wanted to visit NZ, so I’m living vicariously through you…just a tish. 😉

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:44 am

      I’m happy to provide some fodder for your imagination, Krista! Be sure to keep New Zealand on your bucket list. I think it will exceed all your expectations, and it’s certainly become one of my favorite places on earth!

  14. Barb Harris on November 10, 2018 at 8:01 am

    I loved reading this! You have a gift; you are an exquisite writer – a future novelist I’m sure. If we ever have a chance to visit, your writings make me feel like I already know and love the place. Happy adventures! Thanks for sharing❤️

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:42 am

      Thanks a million for your kind words, Barb. I’m so grateful you’re enjoying the reading end as much as I enjoy the writing end. I hope you do get a chance to visit New Zealand someday – it is a magical place indeed!

  15. The SixPiks on November 10, 2018 at 7:52 am

    Such a lovely compilation of words to mark your journey this far. Thanks for sharing a bit and maybe we’ll send a few mutterings from here before too long.

    • Natasha on November 11, 2018 at 12:41 am

      Thank you so much! I would heartily welcome a few mutterings from your direction any time you want to send them my way. I absolutely love seeing glimpses of the everyday adventures of your adorable brood!

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