The End of the Beginning

I stepped into a mall during the holiday season. Not just any mall, but THE mall of my youth. This particular mall quite literally makes an appearance in the telling of my birth story (more on that later), so when I say it’s the mall of my youth, I truly mean my ENTIRE childhood. 

There were other malls in the county, but Lakeforest was closest and it had everything we needed. White Flint felt small and fancy. Montgomery Mall was too expensive and far away. Lakeforest was just right for us. 

The mall is dying. 
Three of the anchor stores have closed. Many shops are empty. Even Starbucks abandoned their post. 

I was struck by a wave of nostalgia mixed with sadness as I walked through the mall and still found Santa in the center, sitting on his chair and posing for photos. That’s the spot where I took my first photo with Santa, and my siblings did as well. 

I haven’t been a regular shopper at the mall in years, so I’m a contributor to the decline of such establishments, but I found myself mourning the end of the kind of memories I made in that building. Many people see malls as monuments to consumerism, but those walls created a social space that we no longer possess. The gathering areas in the center of the mall and in the corners by the anchor stores became places for people to chat and hang out while their kids had safe places to deplete their rambunctious energy. Most of my memories are not about money spent, or things purchased, but about people and quality time in that space.

I haven’t created new memories there in quite some time, but I’ll miss being able to walk through and reminisce – to point out those memories to people who are new to my life. So, I’m going to share some of them with you now. 

Let’s start at the very beginning:

The day of my birth: Mom went into labor. My Aunt was working at the mall, and Grandma called to say she’d be there in 10 minutes so they could get to the hospital before I was born. 90 minutes later, Grandma finally pulled up to get my Aunt who was frantically wondering what had taken so long (this was before cell phones, kids). To this day, no one knows what Grandma did during that time. She called it the missing hour and a half for the rest of her life. 

Other memories I cherish:

  • Countless hours of playing in the middle of the mall with friends and kids I’d just met.
  • Eating Jerry’s pizza after hours of playing. 
  • So many family photos at the Sears studio.
  • My high school senior photos (also at Sears)
  • Grandma’s illegal parking spot in the service lane at Sears – no one ever stopped her!
  • Walking many, many laps around the mall with my mom when she was pregnant with all three of my siblings.  
  • Family dinners and celebrations at Chi-Chi’s.
  • The clerks in the women’s department of Hecht’s knowing me by name because I walked my sister Amanda to the bathroom there so many times. 
  • Turning all the rain sticks in the Natural Wonders store at once to make the waterfall sound as loud as possible. 
  • Wandering through the music box store and always playing the ones from Phantom of the Opera. 
  • Shopping at Claire’s and KB Toys. 
  • Saving up all my money in 6th grade to buy one “cool” outfit at Limited Too. 
  • Being trusted to shop with my friends while my Mom was somewhere else in the mall. 
  • Buying cd’s. 
  • Getting an egg bagel toasted with cream cheese and a Mystic drink from Bagel Time. 
  • Sitting in the couch alcove under the staircases with a book and feeling like I’d found a hidden oasis.
  • Tasting my first caramel macchiato – the real thing, not the Starbucks version. 

I could write pages and pages of things I did in that mall. It was quite normal for our family, when I was growing up, to spend a day just being there. We always ran into people we knew. 

I snapped a photo of Santa, knowing this is probably his last hurrah in Lakeforest…and mine as well. My mom asked if I wanted to wait in line and sit on his lap for old times’ sake, but I chose instead to capture an image of the center of the mall…and the place of so many memories.  

We’re closing another decade. It’s hard to summarize all that’s happened in ten years except to say that things have changed – just like the mall. To call it a tumultuous decade would be fair, but that’s not the whole picture. I’ve experienced the deepest valleys accompanied by the most inexplicable joys. It’s been far from safe, but it’s been good. 

Here’s to the twenties. 

What I Read in 2019

Each year I  keep a list of the books I read.  It’s fun to look back and see what I read and how it corresponded with my personal and emotional journey. It’s also a nice record-keeping tool. 

At the beginning of every year, I create a basic list of things I intend to read. I do this knowing that I will inevitably add many more titles along the way. Sometimes I’m in a store or a library and a book just calls to me. I cannot ignore it. So, it gets added to the pile for the year. My basic list this year was more of a goal than a collection of specific titles. I wanted to be intentional about reading works written by people of different faiths, cultures, and backgrounds than my own. I wanted this for both fiction and non-fiction choices.  It is a practice I will continue. 

I am a firm believer that fiction can teach you things you’ll never glean from non-fiction, so I’ll never shy away from including both categories. The power of story can plumb the depths of your emotions and insights, so don’t discount fiction! 

Non-fiction

Pure – Linda Kay Klein

White Mughals – William Dalrymple

The Color of Compromise – Jemar Tisby

A Year of Biblical Womanhood – Rachel Held Evans

A Forever Family – Rob Scheer

Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance

Pastrix – Nadia Bolz Weber

Faith Unraveled – Rachel Held Evans

The God Who Sees – Karen Gonzalez

All the Places to Go – John Ortberg

The Very Good Gospel – Lisa Sharon Harper

The Ultimate Exodus – Danielle Strickland

Everything Happens for a Reason – Kate Bowler

 

Fiction

Rise of the Mystics – Ted Dekker

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

Sundowners – Lesley Lokko

Little White Lies – Lesley Lokko

Where’d You Go Bernadette – Maria Semple

The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

The Tree Bride – Bharati Mukherjee

Paris by the Book – Liam Callanan

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness

A Private Affair – Lesley Lokko

Big Stone Gap – Adriana Trigiani

This is how it Always is – Laurie Frankel

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf – Mohja Kahf

The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness

Time After Time – Lisa Grunwald

Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood

Drowning Ruth – Christina Schwarz

The Identicals  – Elin Hilderbrand

The President is Missing – Bill Clinton/James Patterson

Summer of ’69 – Elin Hilderbrand

A Spark of Light – Jodi Picoult

What did you read this year? 

Growth Cycles

For the first time in years, I have a backyard.

In the spring, I cleared all the debris and made plans: hammock, string lights, and a vegetable garden. I did all kinds of research to find the best planting containers, the ideal crops for my climate, the right soil to use, and the best times to plant each crop. I got all my necessary supplies and told all my friends of my intentions. 

I planned all kinds of posts for this site to document my progress, my harvests, and yummy recipes created with my produce. 

I marked the planting dates in my calendar…and when the time came, I put seeds in dirt. 

It felt meaningful to plant seeds and care for them. Every day after work I went out to the yard, anxiously waiting for something to sprout. 

And then…seemingly overnight the planters went from dirt to luscious greenery. 

I had this overwhelming sense of accomplishment as the plants grew! 

The excitement was short-lived. 

We had flooding rains for weeks followed by extreme heat.

In the end, none of my plants produced any vegetables. 

I was frustrated. The venture failed. 

But did it really fail? I learned things in the process. I have more knowledge about planting and soil conditions than I did last year. I know that I’m capable of growing things- plants did sprout- I just have a couple adjustments to make. I know what to improve next time. 

The whole process seemed like a lesson for certain aspects of my life: So many seeds planted, so much potential – yet nothing grew. 

I’d grown weary of getting my hopes up, sharing the anticipation with others and then having to share the let-down. Mourning dreams is a grisly business. 

But every once in awhile, I’d take a look around and notice a few things. My dreams may not materialize in the manner I expect, but the essence of what I hoped for shows up in various ways – A dream for a family manifests itself, for now, as a solid community of trusted friends who share in my journey. A dream for a fulfilling career manifests itself, not in a new job, but in role changes and support from my supervisors. 

The spirit of Advent reminds us that the things we hope for, the things we wait for, may arrive in ways that are wholly surprising. 

What’s caught you pleasantly off-guard lately?