Tag Archives: Princeton

Fallen limbs and crevices

It hasn’t been a particularly harsh winter here in New Jersey.  I suppose it never is when you grow up in Wisconsin.

I hadn’t been out to one of my sacred spacesthe Delaware Raritan Canal pathmuch since Hurricane Sandy passed through these parts in October.  When my husband and I walked the canal path on New Year’s Day, I kept thinking of a friend of ours who took a walk with his toddler through the streets the morning after the storm.  When his son asked what had happened to the trees and if someone was going to fix them, he didn’t have the heart to tell him that the uprooted trees, the cracked bows, and the bare stumps were now a permanent part of the scenery, and that trees are breakable, fragile, and mortal, just like you and me.

Some local damage after Sandy.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
Some local damage after Sandy. All photos by Evan Schneider.

As I run on these slightly colder days down the path and my eye takes in these changes to the scenery, I think of how hard it is for we as humans to accept such destruction, and what kind of fear it drives into our hearts.  Suddenly as we look at the world around us, we feel everything’s brittle, nothing is for certain.  The bare insides of great trees are marked by great scars, and some of the loftiest, burliest ones plummeted in the storm.

If we can hardly trust that the same tree bows that framed these lovely paths won’t crumble above us, in what can we trust?  Is there no permanence on this earth?

Snow in Princeton, NJ this winter.
Snow in Princeton, NJ this winter.

My generation’s experience of such vulnerability is marked not only by storms (we’ve seen some of the greatest destruction done by tsunamis and earthquakes in our time), but also a terrorist attack on our own soil.  Shortly after 9/11, I read an essay by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in which he preached the scary truth that what the attacks taught is that not even the steel towers we stretch to the sky can protect us from destruction, heartache, and pain.

Waskow reminds us,

There are only wispy walls and leaky roofs between us. The planet is in fact one interwoven web of life. The command to love my neighbor as I do myself is not an admonition to be nice: it is a statement of truth like the law of gravity. However much and in whatever way I love my neighbor, that will turn out to be the way I love myself. If I pour contempt upon my neighbor, hatred will recoil upon me. 

When my husband and I walked that path on the first day of a new year, I grimaced at the branches laid bare and broken around us.  He remarked that animals and insects had found new homes in their fallen limbs and crevices.  Yesterday when I ran along the canal waters, the geese jubilantly honked at me and took to flight, their bulbous, awkward bodies somehow capable of both buoyancy and soaring into the skies.  Later a bluebird fluttered alongside me and took shelter in one of the tattered trees.

Fall on the D&R Canal, Princeton, NJ.
Fall on the D&R Canal, Princeton, NJ.

Life buzzes amidst the changed landscape with an audacious, oblivious vigor.  Where we see scars and imperfections, animals and insects make their homes.  Death will eventually give birth to new life, and yet, how we remove ourselves from this interdependence!  How we seek to believe that if we just build bigger, better towers, stronger, sleeker fortresses, we can insulate ourselves from the pain, the destruction–the humanity of it all!  

When we let fear drive how we live, we seal ourselves off from one another, from the fragility, yet also the incredible resilience of interconnectedness.  We forget that the lessons from nature, the way she rebuilds with the scarred timber, the tattered landscape something even more beautiful, are demonstrative of the fact that we need one another more than we know.

Summer on the D&R Canal.
Summer on the D&R Canal.

What if we accepted the fact that we can’t do anything to protect ourselves from storms and began to worship vulnerability rather than permanence?  What if we found salvation in the new life springing from brokenness and accepted brokenness as our common bond?  What if we found our strength in a God who offers us not permanence or immortality or insulation, but deep vulnerability, interconnection, and communion?

Happy 2013 (a look back).

This past year was filled with so much wonder, discovery, challenge, and I hope, growth.

Exiting a mosque in Cairo's City of the Dead.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
Exiting a mosque in Cairo’s City of the Dead. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I can’t hardly believe that we began the past year in Egypt, on the anniversary of their revolution, traveling with good friends in Cairo and then in the UAE.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever return to the Middle East after such a whirlwind trip, but lately I can’t stop thinking about that trip, the people, the cities, the mystique of it all.

My friend, Emily, and I above Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution this past January.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
My friend, Emily, and I above Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution this past January. Photo by Ben Robinson.

My fieldwork really began to pick up in 2012 as I traveled frequently to a new foster care project for disabled children in a village several hours outside the capital city.  I wrote one of the most popular posts on the blog that month, describing some of the lessons I’d learned from doing fieldwork in China, and tried to give you a glimpse of what I really did everyday!

In March, Evan and I spent 72 hours in Hong Kong, where I presented some initial findings of my research to the Department of Anthropology at Chinese University of Hong Kong.  It was one of my favorite trips to one of my favorite cities!

The view from Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The view from Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Photo by Evan Schneider.

In May, our friends Zack and Kristina joined us in China and we did another tour of Hanoi and Halong Bay.  Soon, Evan was finishing up teaching, and I was wrapping up fieldwork.  My family joined us in June, and we all traveled to the breathtaking rice terraces outside of Guilin together.  Finally, at the end of July, we left China, and I’ve been looking back ever since.

This is our guide, Xiao Pan, looking out on the rice terraces outside her Yao village, Zhongliu, in the Guangxi mountains.  Photo by David Raffety.
This is our guide, Xiao Pan, looking out on the rice terraces outside her Yao village, Zhongliu, in the Guangxi mountains. Photo by David Raffety.

Back in the US, challenges took a different shape–moving, readjusting to our home culture, academic culture for me, a new job for Evan (yay!).  The last few months feel as though they’ve flown by even faster than our time traveling the world and living in China.  We love being back in Princeton, because our friends seem to enjoy coming back here, too, and we’ve had countless visits from dear friends these past few months.

And though I never thought I’d get there, but I’m starting to ache again to set flight for somewhere new and exotic.  Guess that’s just the anthropologist in me!

My friend, Abbie, and I walk on the canal path this fall in Princeton.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
My friend, Abbie, and I walk on the canal path this fall in Princeton. Photo by Evan Schneider.

2012 was also the five year anniversary for this blog.  Five years of anthropology and ministry, Spanish, Chinese, world travels, centering prayer, physical and spiritual journeying, and gratitude–gratitude for you, dear readers, and gratitude for God’s blessings upon this past year and the next.  Thanks for making this journey with me!

In Cairo, with my husband.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
In Cairo, with my husband. Photo by Ben Robinson.

Happy New Year!

What would you like to see more of on the blog in 2013?



Armfuls of grace and mashed potatoes

I feel like I’ve entered a phase where I’ve been forced to live here a bit more, to let others care for me, and receive the grace and abundance of this community.

The gates of Princeton University. Photo by Evan Schneider.

And while sometimes I feel sad and confused that China and her people are feeling more distant to me day by day, at my wisest, with God’s presence near, I realize it’s not an either/or.  God doesn’t want me to or ask me to choose between people in China and people here, but to believe that God’s omnipotence leads to impossible community and connection.

Not last night’s presentation but another one from this season.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

But it’s not just God, it’s God’s people who do that kind of work–the people in my life who generously let me babble about the foster mothers I’ve met until I’m breathless, the people who sat through my presentation last night and inspired and encouraged me with their enthusiasm for my study of families in China, and the people who value and understand that work is not just work to me, but the stuff of vocation, passion, and calling.

Photo by Kayla Nymeyer, Yunnan province.

And so as we enter this season of giving thanks season, and China feels further and further away, I count the blessings so near and pray for God to come closer.  Not just closer to me and mine, but to God’s people in China and people everywhere, because that’s God’s thing–doing the impossible globe-trotting ministry of presence.  

More beauty in Yunnan.

And the rest–the believing and the boldness and the taking in big armfuls of grace just as we do extra helpings of mashed potatoes and turkey–well, that’s all up to us.

Greeting the day

Photos from the end of summer on the D&R Canal, Princeton, NJ. By Evan Schneider.

It’s inevitably the case that I can rise and get myself going much better on the first few days of the week, and greet the day, just as the sun is rising and the crispness of the morning provides all the confirmation anyone needed that fall is here.

Photos from the end of summer on the D&R Canal.

As I run along the canal, I chase the fog, always visible out in the distance, yet elusive once I near it.  Still, it lingers over the waters, enchanting, haunting, tempting.

So I keep on, hoping to glimpse the heron take to flight like I did last week, its majestic wings flapping with exquisite rhythm.  Or stumble on the sun’s rays peeking through the towering, thin trees onto the dewy ground across the waters.

And I feel gracious for those moments, when I am alone with my thoughts, but hardly alone with all the birds, the animals of the forest, the life sprouting and fading in my midst.  I feel wild, too– free, and strong, if only for a moment.

And it is good.

Virtual Coffee Date

There’s a blogger I read and like who does an occasional, reoccurring post entitled Virtual Coffee Date.  She borrowed the idea from another blogger, and I, who love coffee, also love the idea of pretending we’re sitting down here for a sacred cup and gabbing like old friends.

I admit, in the same breath, that I’m kind of intimidated about a post whose very premise seems to suggest that I have this busy, interesting, important life to keep up with, but then I’m reminded how instrumental this blog has been to process this (and many of life’s) transition(s), and I’m thankful for a space to spew some of these fears, hopes, and prayer requests, and especially humbled by readers who attend to them!

A typical morning scene for this gal.

So if we were sitting down to coffee I would tell you all about the dissertation, how much it strikes fear into my heart when anyone mistakenly asks if I’m done yet (I’ve hardly just begun), and how paralyzing it is to think of synthesizing a life–anyone else’s or the one that I had in China–into a word document.  It’s mostly difficult for good reasons: my life in China taught me so much, not just about culture and childrearing, but about God and humility and faith everyday.  So I’m a ball of nervous energy and excitement when it comes to this daunting project!

I’d tell you how much I’m looking forward to fall here in Princeton, how welcome the crisper, cooler mornings are to a girl who was previously living in the tropics, and how I can’t wait to bring on the pumpkin spice, the leaves on the tow path, chunky sweaters, my October birthday, and getting cozy with warm coffee.  I love and have missed all of that!

A foster mother and her daughter in Guangxi, Nanning.

I’d tell you about my friends in China, and my best girlfriend who is in crisis and constantly on my mind, and how hard it is to be away.  Please pray that she feels closer to God and God’s peace and also pray for the mothers, fathers, children, and orphanage workers there.  Pray especially for a twelve year-old girl who will be adopted in the coming weeks to a loving family in the states and for the joy-filled foster mom who has raised this soulful, mature young woman.

I’d tell you (and thanks in advance for listening) all about this course I’m excited to take at Princeton on modern Chinese intellectual history in Chinese that I’ll use to work out my Chinese and my mind this semester.  Feeling pretty blessed to be at one of the best Chinese language program’s in the country and looking forward to speaking and writing more competently about my research in Chinese through this course.

And finally, I’d tell you about the brokenness in my home church, where huge changes are stretching everyone’s patience and faith.  I grew up there and out of that wonderful place of diverse thought and acceptance sensed my own call.  And my deepest prayer is that those in the church find a way to love one another and be one in Christ despite the hurt and the pain.  Healing takes time, and as a child of the church, those suffering are ever in my thoughts and prayers.

My lunch view here on Princeton’s campus. Gorgeous!

And I’d ask you to praise God for finding me here in New Jersey, for God’s persistent call on my life, for the depth and the breadth of experiences these past few years, and the possibilities that remain. 

A Weekend in Princeton, NJ

So, those of you who are frequenters of my blog may have noticed that recently my travel writing has taken a front seat to the usual anthropological and spiritual offerings.  I’ve been traveling a lot lately, but I’ve also been missing my hometown for five years of Princeton, New Jersey.

So while I won’t be spending a weekend in Princeton, New Jersey anytime soon, I do know a thing or two about what I would eat, where I would relax, and how I would spend my time.  If you’re coming into quaint Princeton for a weekend out of either Philly or New York City, consider this your go-to guide to the best of what Princeton has to offer, in my humble opinion, that is!

Fall trees from atop Cleveland Tower in the Grad College, Princeton, NJ.

Arrive Friday afternoon, 4pm

Head directly up Alexander Street toward campus and hang a left down College Road toward the Graduate College and locate the Porter’s Lodge.  Weekday hours are your best bet to get a key to Cleveland Tower and climb for a picturesque view of Princeton’s campus and town.

6:00 pm         
Get settled into the Nassau Inn and then head across town, to Witherspoon Street into tiny Sakura Express, and order one of the dazzling, yet moderately-priced rolls from the Filipino-Chinese sushi brother duo, Andrew and Albert, whose stream of cussing and carousing is not for the faint of heart. It’s worth fighting for a table not only for the entertaining service, but for the heaping piles of sashimi and avocado. Try the spicy tuna roll, the spider roll, or the dragon roll, and enjoy free salad while you wait. Don’t forget to visit the bathroom, like the place, it’s, uh, “got character!”

7:30 pm
Head down Witherspoon Street toward campus and walk through the gates of Princeton University to explore the architecture and scenery by twilight. After you’ve had your fill, stroll Nassau Street for some window shopping, before turning into the Nassau Inn’s basement tavern, the Yankee Doodle Tap Room for some draughts of Hoegarrden or whatever strikes your fancy. Gaze at the famous grads on the walls, take in the college atmosphere (warning- not college prices on beer and appetizers!), and wander into the hotel for glimpses of Princeton past.

Also, don’t miss a chance to try the sampler, at Triumph Brewing Company, just down Nassau Street.  These seven microbrews change with the season: coffee cream stout, pumpkin ale, and wheat are some of my favorites. Get your fill, and turn in early- tomorrow will be a full day!

Saturday morning 7am
Walk to either Small World location and grab a cup of joe for a walk, bike, or some kayaking on the towpath, New Jersey’s true garden state material, 70 miles of beautiful wooded pathways along the Delaware-Raritan Canal.

10:00 am
Head back into town and poke around the Princeton Cemetery (if you’re into that sort of thing), where the likes of signers of the Declaration, preachers, and other bigwigs are buried. Consult their online map for your guide to the graves, or pick one up just outside the cemetery (which is located down Witherspoon Street, across from the public library on Wiggins Street).

12:00 pm
Grab lunch at the Witherspoon Grill, right next to the public library. Check out their new brunch menu.

Children berry picking at Terhune Orchards.

1:30 pm
For the afternoon, get out of town and experience more of the garden state in the fresh produce at the Trenton Farmer’s Market. Choose from heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs, and visit the speciality olive and cheese shop in the indoor portion. Then hop across the parking lot and sample the fresh dairy at Halo Farms.

OR make your way up to Terhune Orchards and depending on the season enjoy apple picking, pumpkin picking, hay rides, farm animals, fresh cider, blueberries, blackberries, and more. Note the two locations, one for farm store, trails, and animals, and the other for picking.

For dinner, head back downtown, just west of the Nassau Inn to Teresa Caffe, and make sure to arrive early as this place doesn’t take reservations, and they do fill up quickly. Part of the fabulous Terra Momo Group, which places emphasis on locally, sustainably grown produce and connecting kids with the earth, Teresa Caffe is my favorite Italian food in the United States, hands-down. So come prepared to spend on good wine, good pasta, good pizza, good bread, olive oil, and dessert. Whatever you choose, you won’t regret it.

8:00 pm
If you’re still hungry after dinner, make your way across Palmer Square and join the line out the door of The Bent Spoon, for some artisan ice cream made with quirky combinations (lavendar marscapone, chocolate cardomom orange, organic nj sweet corn, and cucumber lemon basil, just to name a few) and excellent baked goods (the cupcakes are to die for!) and strong coffee. Find a bench on the square, anytime of year, and enjoy the best that ice cream has to offer.

Sunday 10/10:30
Worship in the majestic Princeton University Chapel on the Princeton campus at 10:00 am. OR if you’re looking for something a little more low key, take in a service of silence at the historic Princeton Friends Quaker Meeting House at 10:30 am.

12:00 pm
Walk into town to Olives or the iconic Hoagie Haven and grab a classy sandwich or a homestyle sub. Eat in town, or if you have the time, make it a picnic lunch out on the historic battlefield, before you have to head out of town and bid goodbye to wonderful weekend in Princeton, NJ.

One of many Hoagie Haven trips!