Minnesota and longing for home


Unless you count the summer I lifeguarded there during college, I have never actually lived in Minnesota. As a result, I sometimes feel silly professing a deep love for it. But I have more strong emotions about that place — a deep heart-tugging, if you will — than any other.

I think it’s because I feel that if I were to belong anywhere, it would be there. My dad’s side moved around a lot. My mom grew up mowing hay and picking rocks out of fields in Hinckley, Minnesota.

Minnesota, where my great-great grandfather, Jan Albert Sikkink, started a farm on a road now known as Sikkink Road. Where my great-grandmother made her screened-in porch and dinner table famous by her hospitality. Where my great-grandfather was the county sheriff. Where he bought the land for Grindstone Lake Bible Camp, which every member of the family thereafter attended and where I and many others first remember wanting to follow Jesus.


I remember teeter-tottering on my grandparents’ swing set, still to this day one of the oldest-looking swing sets I have every seen, rusty and well-used. I remember playing in my great-grandmother’s playhouse, pulling dishes from the little cabinet, and returning to it one day and realizing how tall I’d grown as I could no longer really fit inside. I remember three-legged races in the woods at my great aunt’s Fourth of July party. I remember fireflies. I remember cold swims in a lake cut deep by a glacier ages ago. I remember horses and fields and cows and pine trees. I remember sledding on ice and snow down into the gravel pit, the same pit that saved dozens of lives during the Great Hinckley Fire.

My grandparents have a sign on their house: “Welcome to Poverty Flats.” How’s that for understated, self-deprecating humor? And the Os! The long, beautiful Os in their words.

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I think the attachment I feel to Minnesota is the closest I can come to feeling, in this modern technological age, what the Bible says the Israelites felt about their land. I’ve been reading Jeremiah and Lamentations, and the ache of exile is haunting me. “Weep not for him who is dead, nor grieve for him, but weep bitterly for him who goes away, for he shall return no more to see his native land.”

I often wonder what life would be like if my mother had not felt the pull of ambition (the same pull I feel) and left Minnesota for college. Would I now live on the same road my mother, grandfather, great-grandfather grew up on? Would we get together every week for cookies and Rook? Would I drop in and see how the cows are doing? Wouldn’t it be some sort of beautiful agrarian ideal? I’m sometimes so envious of people who have everyone they’ve ever known and loved in one place. As my sister once said to me, as best I can remember: “What is this dumb system where people have to grow up and move away from their families?”

But I’m not Minnesotan. I would have made the same choice as my mother. I make it now, by living in Washington, D.C., far from my parents, far from any sort of ancestral home. And as I realized recently, were it not for a chances, risks, decisions, happenstances of the past, my family would also not be Minnesotan. I dug into history a little bit on our most recent trip to Hinckley and found that many of my mother’s ancestors who immigrated (mostly from Holland, but also from France, England, Scotland) first settled in New York, Wisconsin, Iowa. Some of them made their way to Minnesota; some of their children did. But they had no special attachment to the state. They were wanderers. Their families became as spread out as mine. They left native homes with far more personal history and heart-tugs to cross an ocean to come here. More than Minnesotans, they were pilgrims.

Christians (and the Bible) talk often about pilgrimage and home. We are meant to be pilgrims in this world, longing for the better home of heaven. Perhaps God gave me a love for Minnesota so that I can know that longing for a homeland.

And certainly I can ask “What if?” all I want, but if my family had not spread out so much, I probably would not have met my husband, the best gift in my life, who himself came to America as a toddler and has his own sets of questions about home and longing and identity. Perhaps it is best to know I am really only a Christian and a pilgrim, and as Betsy ten Boom said: “There are no ‘What ifs’ in the kingdom of God.”

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Bubbles in Central Park

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog. I’m still thinking of fairy stories. Homère is well and loves his job. I finished grad school. And I went to New York City this last weekend and saw this man making giant bubbles at a corner of Central Park. It was magical.

More photos and updates to come, I hope.





Fairy stories

I’m in grad school and working now. Homère is doing different shifts every month on his training rotation. (Clearly I haven’t updated this blog in forever.) Our house is usually a mess, and I have a long list of household tasks and homework assignments that need attention. So what did I spend my fall break doing? Yep, you guessed it: re-reading Harry Potter.

How does a grown woman still cry when Gryffindor wins the house cup because Neville tried to stop his friends from leaving the common room? I don’t know. This is just the first book, people. Not super emotional stuff. But it totally happened.

And the wonder of it all has me thinking of J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay on fairy stories, and their “fleeting glimpse of Joy,” their foretaste of eternity:

“The consolation of fairy stories, the joy of the happy ending; or more correctly, the good catastrophe, the sudden, joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to a fairy tale); this joy, which is one of the things that fairy stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially escapist or fugitive. In it’s fairy tale or other world setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace, never to be counted on to reoccur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, or sorrow and failure, the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies, (in the face of much evidence if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

(Image by N.C. Wyeth, because I am in love with his illustrations and his son’s paintings after a recent visit to the National Gallery of Art.)

Mile High for Year One

Homère surprised me with a weekend trip to Colorado to celebrate our first anniversary. He knew I love nature and the Rockies, so he took me there, even though he himself is not a fan of 1) heights 2) hiking. (At one point during our time traipsing about Rocky Mountain National Park, he said: “That’s it. Bump nature. Our kids are going to be city slickers.” I love him.) The views were beautiful, and while I have many more thoughts on our first year together, for now I will just share photos.

Pictured below: Georgetown, Colorado; Mount Evans; Rocky Mountain National Park, including Dream Lake and Emerald Lake.

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4 things we’ve done lately that I recommend

We’ve been busy lately. Who isn’t? The Sanitation Saga required us to move out and move back into our apartment. (More on that later.) But the past few weekends have been filled with quite a few fun adventures, some of which I thought I’d share here, as they come highly recommended.

Once you live in D.C. for a while, and you’ve gone to the monuments and museums five zillion times, it’s easy to think there’s nothing else really to see—which is false. Lately it seems like there’s a concert around every corner, a bit of history on every walk. J. Edgar Hoover’s grave is a ten-minute walk from our apartment. The cathedral across from my office hosted JFK’s funeral. I’m preaching to myself as well when I tell you: Go exploring. It’s good for you.

So without further ado, a few things I recommend:

1) Go to Harper’s Ferry.



Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia is oozing with history (Thomas Jefferson’s Rock, John Brown, Battle of Harper’s Ferry), but no one told me the National Park Service had preserved a nice little row of old-timey buildings for visitors to explore. You can poke your head in at the 19th century watch shop and the sweet shop, as well as the museums. And you can cross the river on a foot bridge, splash in the water, and eat delicious ice cream. And guess what? It’s only an hour and twenty minutes from D.C. Geography is weird.

2) Play games at LabyrinthIMG_5336I love this store. If I could, I would just buy all my relatives games on every birthday and holiday. The nice store people also let you test out the games in the back of the store. Homère and I tried out a game called “Jamaica” the other day—it was decent but sadly taught me zilch about Jamaica.

3) Go to open houses. IMG_5330Open houses aren’t just for home buyers! They are for nosey people who might buy a home someday but really just want to see more of D.C.’s nooks and crannies and marvel at D.C.’s crazy home prices. This million-dollar home had a beautiful backyard patio but super creaky wood floors and a scary basement. And kind of a weird bathroom.

4) Go to next year’s Truck Touch.IMG_5583Seriously, this is like the best idea ever. What is a Truck Touch, you ask? It’s when D.C. brings out all its trucks — garbage trucks, cement trucks, street cleaners, SWAT trucks, fire trucks — and a horse and a helicopter, and lets kids (and grown-ups) TOUCH them! Genius. The kids can also climb into the driver’s seat on some of them, so prepare yourself for a lot of honking. If you don’t have kids, the best way to go to the Truck Touch is to borrow one of your friend’s kids (like we did — pro move) and pretend like you fit in with the parent types. Go next year, or find one in the suburbs. It’s awesome.

That’s all for now. Let me know if you have more secretly amazing D.C. things we should do this summer!





Good Friday

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Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thy incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation;
Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

For dappled things

March was a terrible tease here in D.C.

One weekend we got this beautiful weather:


Followed, not too long after, by this:


But since March ended, spring finally got its act together, and more and more the days and the flowers and the breezes are reminding me of this poem I like, and which I thought you would like, by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
 Praise Him.







Photos from ye ol’ iPhone, of Congressional Cemetery, some places in the Capitol Hill area, Lincoln Park, and the National Arboretum.


Love and toilets and such

As you may have read, Homère loves Valentine’s Day. Like really loves it. All the standard V-Day things that some people loathe, he embraces wholeheartedly. And I have decided I am super OK with that.

This year had roses. photo1 (1)

And a fancy, delicious dinner out.photo3

And a gift of Bananagrams.photo1

And even a gift from me!


But mostly this year’s Valentine’s Day was special because it will be forever remembered as the Valentine’s Day of the Troubled Toilet.

You see, because we had been doing this a lot this winter…


…we got to send each other Valentines like this:


To make a long story short, our toilet and bathtub backed up 7 times this winter; our sewer line is full of tree roots; DCWater is currently digging a 16-foot hole in our yard; I have an especially violent dislike for the automated phone menu of a certain home warranty company; and the night before Valentine’s Day, Homère spent scooping gloppy brown water out of our bathtub, lest it overflow and make us even more sad. Please note that I am married to a man, who, on his first solo babysitting gig, decided it would be best to take off his shirt to change the baby’s diaper, as well as use an entire bath towel for protection while burping the kid. He really hates germs.

The plumber finally came a few hours before we left for our Valentine’s date. We had to clean and disinfect everything (no, really, everything. The plumber made a huge mess), but we got it all squeaky clean right before we left for Bistro Bis.


And when we got there, Homère said to me: “This night is about you… and celebrating our bathroom.”


Because he cleaned up our apartment nearly every time this sewer backup thing has happened, and because he just looked like he wanted to die while emptying our bathtub of who-knows-what the night before, my heart was filled with a special love for Homère this Valentine’s Day. I still really don’t get why he likes me and wants to get me roses, but even more, I am completely bewildered that he would do things like bucket out sewer water.

Marriage is fun. Marriage can be really difficult (though, let’s be real, we’re newlyweds — we’ve heard this is true but hey, I still think he smells good all the time).

But mostly so far, marriage is beautiful and so, so humbling, as it is filled with daily reminders of God’s grace that I don’t deserve.

Reminders such as roses, delicious dinners, and overflowing toilets.


Our apartment

These pictures are long overdue, but TADA! I finally framed our Jamaica map, and voila! photos.

When we returned from our honeymoon, our apartment was a room full of boxes. It’s been really fun to turn it into a home.

apartment442In this photo, the chair Homère calls “the Dekoekkoek chair.” Thanks, Jennette, for finding it at the Women’s Commissioner Sale so long ago! The carpet is my attempt to bring color to a room that we can’t paint. And in the corner is our fireplace, which we’ve loved using this winter and is definitely one of my favorite things about this little place.

apartment439Through that door is the kitchen, not pictured here.


Come visit us! We have a couch and an air mattress and even… a TV! It’s a recent addition; I just now managed to convince myself we weren’t returning it and it was OK to take the plastic off.apartment443

I wanted big art on this wall, but didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Thus, this Pinterest project. I got insulation from Home Depot and covered it with fabric.

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The entire living/dining area, made to look way bigger by panorama. Basically a map of our entire apartment.

apartment_redo437Map of Jamaica from Eastern Market. I like to look at the towns’ names. There are lots of good ones, such as “Friendship,” “Cabbage Hall,” and “Breadnut Bottom.”



Gallery wall! A work in progress.apartment444



The painting above is another DIY project (thanks to my friend Paige for doing the actual DIYing). apartment447


So thankful for windows and the genius who invented duvet covers that are supposed to be wrinkly.


The view out our living room windows. It’s better in summer, but I love those trees.


And the best part of our little apartment: this guy. Reading his Time magazine.

New Jersey in the summer

Now that we’ve transitioned to the more wintry part of autumn, how about a good healthy flashback to summer?

A few months ago Homère and I visited his parents in New Jersey. We spent a day walking around Ocean Grove, a seaside town that definitely earns the adjective “charming.” I loved it, and Homère rediscovered it.


Old-school shore hotels!



oceangrove_combo2We had the best, the most delicious ice cream ever. Seriously the best I’ve ever had. From Nagle’s, a pharmacy that’s been there since…. forever.




And of course there’s no point in going to the shore if you don’t spend some time at the beach. I love the beach; I’d been begging Homère to take me for months. Since it was windy and a little cold, I got a promise that we’ll go back next year.



oceangrove_combo1On the upper right is the Great Auditorium — the big chapel of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which has held summer concerts and revivals and prayer meetings and whatnot there for years and years, since 1869. Homère also graduated from high school in there.

oceangrove432These are some of the tents the association rents out in the summer. And people live in them. Isn’t that interesting? I would love to live there for a summer.

And now I’m off to enjoy my autumn. Happy November!