Saturday, October 28, 2006

A blog idea taken from Leonie's Blog: "What is Good"

- Saturday night dates with Steve: mojitos and Spanish food tonight followed by raspberry cheesecake (which is not very Spanish)

- last-minute preparation for celebrating Kristiana's birthday on Monday

- recognizing how much she has improved in softball over the course of this less-than-stellar season. She has never lost her will to win or her desire to do better each game than the last one.

- hitting the jackpot with scrapbooking supplies lately: cardmaking and Christmas gifts will soon be in the production stage

- reading other people's blogs: faith journeys, family crises, travel to Japan, turning 40 with pride and gusto. I love to tell the story, but I love to read the story also.

- phone calls and emails from friends helping me solve my clogged drain problems, commiserating with my carpet cleaning trauma, and encouraging Kristiana to get back on her horse. You are the best, all of you.

- emails, text messages, and phone calls "just because"

- planning future jaunts to England, France, Italy, and Spain - with and without the hubby and kiddies

- dreaming about taking month-long escapades every year; we need only decide where to go

- working on the talk I will give to the South Carolina social workers on Tuesday. Yup, they've invited me back. I hope I don't disapppoint them...

- excellent journaling and work on my Spain photo album today

- planning to teach another spiritual journaling class - it is set to begin in January. May many hearts be open to new ways of seeing, experiencing, and recording the story of their spiritual growth.

- settling in to my wonderful, cozy, warm bed knowing that I have an extra hour during which to enjoy it tomorrow morning! I love when we turn our clocks back in the autumn.

Buona notte.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cleaning Day

There's nothing like pouring the water out of the carpet cleaning machine's retrieval tank to remind me of the filth we get so used to living in and with. The water I put in was crystal clear and warm to the touch. The water I discarded was chilled and brackish with hair, carpet fibers, and only Heaven knows what else floating in it.

But before I could use the carpet cleaner to suck up the dirt that was deeply entrenched in the carpet, I had to use the vacuum cleaner to get up the visible dirt. Threads, dust bunnies hoping to hide, blades of grass from softball and baseball socks, and again, who knows what else?!?

What I loathe most of all are those tiny yellow spots that remind me of the times we didn't get Maya outside in time. One of the downsides of having a dog that barks only when the doorbell rings is the fact that she gives us no indication of when her bladder is full to overflowing! Those and many other unmistakable signs of a full, sometimes untidy, always animated life are visible all over our carpet.

As things stand in our house, there is wall-to-wall carpeting only on our two staircases leading to the second floor and in all the rooms upstairs - except the bathrooms. One of our strict rules is that no one is to wear their shoes upstairs. (As a family, we don't wear shoes anywhere in the house, but we are less rigid with guests as long as they stay on the first floor.) I cannot imagine what the machine would reap from our floor covering if we had carpet on the first floor of our home. Or if we wore our shoes upstairs.

While filling the cleaning tank in my daughter's bathroom tub, I made the grim discovery that it had clearly been a while since she had last scrubbed her tub. Yikes! I'll chalk it up to brain damage due to the horseback riding incident... Nah, that won't hold water because what I saw today has been there since long before Monday. I'll say it again: yikes! So I sprayed her tub with organic orange oil cleaner, left it to do its duty, and returned later to scrub it out. I poured a healthy dose of drain clearing chemicals down the drain in her tub, her sink, and Daniel's sink as well.

A digression here: Kristiana and I went to Home Depot on Sunday to buy their "strongest drain clearer" and were led by two orange-apron-wearing gentleman to the red Ten Minute Drain Cleaner bottles. Both swore that they had used it themselves with great success. One spoke eloquently and reverently about the product's success in dealing with his wife's thick, long blonde hair. He assured us that, although the bottle said it worked in ten minutes, we could leave it in the pipes "for as long as twenty minutes." We thanked him and his colleague for their assistance and stood there staring silently and frightfully at the bottles.

When at last we spoke again, we discovered that our thoughts were along the same lines: Do we want to use a product that can stay in the drains for twenty minutes max? A product that advises the use of gloves, a funnel, and great care that it doesn't come into contact with the faucet, the drain stopper, or any surface other than the inside of the pipes? What are we pouring down our drains and out into the water tables of the earth our God so lovingly created? Kristiana was genuinely concerned about the aftereffects of such a chemical concoction; she preferred to live with her slow drains rather than scorch them with something vile. I love her gentle, earth-loving soul.

Well, we bought the big red bottle because our sinks and her tub were draining too slowly to ignore - we needed serious help. To assuage our guilt, however, we also purchased the organic drain cleaner as a follow-up.

Anyway, this morning I poured the last of the red bottle stuff down her tub drain and ten minutes later, true to its claim to fame, it had cleared the drain.

Drain cleaning. Heart cleaning.
Ten minutes of acid. Ten minutes of prayer and meditation.
Clean for weeks, but needs follow-up clearing.
Clean for moments, and needs daily, hourly reassessment.

Deep down stains that only a special machine
with its specialized cleansers can remove.
Even deeper stains that only a strong, loving, gentle God
with His strong, loving, gentle Word can cleanse.

"Kids," I yelled just before lunchtime, "Stay off the back staircase.
I just cleaned it." Okay, Mom. (I believe that Daniel said, "Yes, ma'am."
He's turning into quite the little Southern gentleman, I do declare.

I look back at the work I've done.
The place looks great. It smells fresh and clean.
No more Maya-messes.
No more drips of tea, soda, and whatever else they sneak upstairs
even though I rant and rave about
keeping all food and drink on the first floor.
No more stains from all my lotions, potions, oils, and perfumes
on the floor in front of my lovely dresser with its tri-fold mirror.

The carpet is fragrant and clean, for sure. But it's so unlike us.
We live an abundant, messy, fun, tasty, smelly life here in this house.
Maya runs and plays so hard that she wets herself.
We drip pen ink and paint and sweat and all kinds of other
stuff all over our house.
Now that I think about it, Kristiana fell off her high horse on Monday
because we are blessed enough to be able to afford riding lessons.

I started out grudgingly cleaning the carpets and
ended up unexpectedly giving thanks for the mess.
Whudda thunk it?

Simple abundance.
Simple gratitude.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

She Fell Off Her High Horse...

My daughter did. Literally.
Off her high horse at horseback riding class.
Three years of riding. Her first fall.
Fortunately, she is fine.

Steve called me after picking her up and told me. She got on the phone and cried. I was sitting at Daniel's baseball game at the time, helpless, feeling sorrowful for her, but enormously grateful that she wasn't hurt.

Normally, she sleeps at the other end of the house in her super-cool, ultra-pre-teen aqua blue bedroom with the enormous giraffe painted on the wall. Last night, I told her to sleep closer to me, in the super-boring, blue and yellow wall-papered guest room. She readily obliged. I cuddled with her in the bed for a while, wiped her tears, prayed with her, encouraged her to cry as much as she needed to, to let the fear out, and to journal through every detail of it. I got her some Motrin, some water, and kissed her a dozen times before leaving the room. She was out cold within minutes.

She fell sleep with tears on her cheeks and complaining of a headache. I went to sleep with a broken heart and the phone number for a criminal negligence lawyer clenched in my furious fist.

This morning, she was fine. Shaken, frightened, but fine. Right now, at 6:15 PM, she is outside playing with her friends. The sound of her laughter is more beautiful today than it has been in a long time.

What would I have done if she'd been seriously hurt - or killed?
I am reminded of the fragility of life.
The way in which life can be drastically altered in a flash.

I love my children. From the moment I laid eyes on them, I have been enchanted. Kristiana will turn 13 on Monday. She was born 15 days past her due date, wrinkled, hairy, fat, and luscious. Daniel came only one day late, arriving while I sat in a tub at the Birth Cottage in New York State. It still blows my mind when I think that my body produced their bodies. That I was the channel for the passing of two new souls, new spirits, new human beings from heaven onto this planet.

When they are hurt, I writhe.
When they are happy, I am ecstatic.
My heart isn't on my sleeve.
My heart is on my driveway playing basketball and out on the street playing tag football at the moment.

She fell off her high horse yesterday and landed on my heart.
Soft landing, I hope.

Be well, my sweet girl.
Be strong.
Cry whenever you need to.
Laugh whenever you can.
And come to Momma for a hug anytime.

PS. She read it and told me that her room is green, not blue. Also, her head still hurts, so say a prayer for her, okay???

Monday, October 23, 2006

He said, she said...

He said I'd been selected for the most thorough search the TSA offers to airline passengers. No, it wasn't a random selection, he said; the ticket agent had handwritten a special code directly onto my ticket. I had been singled out from the crowd for some reason.

I thought to myself: I've always known how special I am, but this is taking it a little too far. Later on while we sat waiting for the flight, I remarked to my friends that they had neglected to detect my bag of cosmetics, lotions, and potions. I had been wanded and searched, but my bags had not.

He said that he used to write notes and leave them in obvious places for other people to find. He said that he hoped someone would find them and help him. He knew he needed help, but didn't know who to ask or what to ask for.

I said, "That's exactly the point of keeping a journal. Write down what you need, how you feel, what you think, and what you hope for. Except now we know Who has the answers to our questions. We know Who is always listening to the cry of our hearts. And we believe with all our hearts that He is ready, willing, and able to do more than all we could ask or imagine. That's what He promised."

She said that the reason I journal so much and so well is because I have a vivid imagination. I can look at ads on television or photos in magazines and respond because of some inherent quality in me, something she didn't have. I disagreed with her assessment.

The next day, after she read her responses to the journaling prompts I'd assigned, I was the first one to tell her that her words, her list of things that make her smile, her responses to the word "music" were some of the most eloquent and expressive words I'd heard in a long time.

He pointed out the plazas where Christians were martyred during the Inquisition. He pointed out the neighborhood where Jews lived and from which they were later expelled. He explained the language of sculpture with regard to soldiers and their horses: One horse's hoof in the air meant that the man had died of wounds inflicted in battle. Two hoofs up meant he had died on the battlefield. All four feet on the ground meant that he had died of causes unrelated to war. Then he led us to a downtown tapas restaurant where we stood at the bar eating, drinking, laughing, and telling stories of earlier journeys.

I pulled him aside later, hugged him, and said, "Thanks for everything you told us. You are an excellent tour guide." He smiled, blushed, and kept on talking.

He said, "It has been a blessing to meet you and have you spend this week with us. Your love for Spain, for journaling, and for the Lord are obvious. And your teaching has opened my mind to new paths and inspired me to start journaling again."

I said nothing. He had said it all.
What can she say in response to something like that?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What I miss...

1. the children on the playground in Tres Barrios, Sevilla

2. toasted fresh bread, drizzled with olive oil and layered with Spanish jamon, washed down with sweet, hot coffee at Cafe de India in Espartina

3. watching the people at the airports along the way

4. teaching the journaling class and watching their hearts and eyes light up

5. painting little Marta's fingernails light pink

6. the look on her face when I greeted her by name the next day

7. standing next to the enormous statues of the men who carried the tomb of Christopher Columbus inside the cathedral of Sevilla

8. the interior patios visible from the streets of Andalucia - the plants, the hand-painted tiles, and the stained glass above the doors and windows

9. the woman who showed me her mastectomy scars and the necklace that bears the image of her deceased husband. What did she see in me that gave her such freedom to tell me her story and show me her scars? (This is an oft-repeated question in my life: Why did you choose me? Why did he choose me? Why me?)

10. watching Ada, David, Loida, and Manolo frolic in the waves of the sea off the coast of Cadiz

11. gluing ticket stubs, receipts, empty sugar packets, and words torn from bags and newspapers into my journal

12. the immaculately dressed infants that slept peacefully under elegant blankets in princely carriages as their parents paraded them through the center of town - Such a contrast to the inner-city children who wore the same clothing two or three days in a row.

13. the poetry on the walls of the Sevilla airport, posted in spaces where there might otherwise be advertisments. Poems by Antonio Machado, Vicente Aleixandre, Gustavo Adolfo Becquer were presented there in Spanish; please accept my humble translation of one of Machado's stanzas:

Floating in the afternoon atmosphere
that aroma of absence
says to the luminous soul: never,
and to the heart: wait.

14. waking up daily with the knowledge that there was yet another connection to make, another hand to hold, another smile to give away

- Hey wait! Number 14 doesn't have anything to do with Spain. There are connections to be made, hands to be held, and smiles to be shared right here at home.


As I look back on the trip, read my journal,
reflect on the lessons learned, I am moved to tears.
So much comes back to mind. Faces. Stories. Fear. Doubt. Jokes.
Quiet moments of grace. Big moments of booming laughter.
Wishing I could stay there forever, but knowing that I could not.
Wishing I could hear more stories, tell more of my own,
but knowing that the stories would never end.
Wanting to share every moment with others,
but also longing to be alone, to absorb it at my own pace
and in my own way.
Wondering if I will ever see them again.
All of them. Any of them.

Contradictions. Contrasts. Confusion.
The places and people I miss.
The questions that plague.
The doubts that consume.
The wishes that are unlikely to become reality.
In all of life's in-elegance, there is beauty.
Depth. Grace. Insight.
Love. Laughter.
Always deep gratitude.

Gracias por todo.
Grazie per tutti.
Thank you.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Spiritual Provisions

Back in 2001, I read a book called The Way of the Traveler. I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned it here on the blog before. The author offers suggestions for how to make every journey - whether to the supermarket or to Sevilla, Spain - an epic one. One of his recommendations is that along with clothing, money, and a camera, travelers ought to pack spiritual provisions.

Ever since I read that book for the first time, I have set time aside before each trip to pray and ask for Divine guidance as to which spiritual provisions will be needed on each trip. What attitudes, emotions, and virtues must be included in my satchel? This adventure was no exception. Ask and it shall be given. I ask for guidance, and I write down the words, the phrases, and the ideas that come to mind. I have quite a collection of index cards packed with spiritual provisions taken on previous trips.

This time I packed: joy, gladness of heart, flexibility, fluidity, patience, gentleness, gentle answers, and wonder at the beauty I would see there in Sevilla.

So when the obnoxious teenage boy asked me if I was a man or a woman, I was able to ask him what he thought of my jewelry, my skirt, and my matching green sandals. Someone standing close by at the time, later told me that her answer would have been laced with enough verbal poison that he would have walked away crying. Gentle answers.

While one teenage girl repeatedly asked annoying questions, made sarcastic and insulting remarks to everyone within earshot, and seemed almost completely insensitive to the feelings and thoughts of others, I was able to maintain my cool and direct her attention in other ways. Gentleness.

When we had to pack our suitcases and move from one residence to another without sufficient warning, I was able to be flexible in my housing expectations.

As we strolled through the ancient streets of Sevilla, listened intently to the history of the Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews in the earliest parts of the last millenium, and dug our toes down into the hot sand in Cadiz, I never lost sight of the moon as it hung high overhead - even in the early afternoon hours. I collected fallen jasmine flowers. I tucked two rose petals into my journal, petals that were collected by an observant new friend who knew my penchant for including small momentos of life's journey between the pages my journal. We had just finished applauding for a pair of radiant newlyweds as they exited a church we were walking past when he came up to me and handed me the petals, saying that he hoped they would always remind me of the wedding I had seen in Cadiz. I hugged him, thanked him for his kindness, and wiped the tears from my eyes. Wonder.

This morning, I woke my husband up at 6 am and regaled him with stories of my trip for ninety minutes. I laughed. I cried. He listened. Asked questions. And together we prayed and gave God thanks for all the sights I'd seen, the lessons I'd learned, and the fabulous people I'd met.

I'm already beginning to think about the spiritual provisions I will need to pack along for my next trip to Spain - and especially for my return trip to Sevilla.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I'm Back...

I'm exhausted.

Sevilla and its surrounds are magnificent. Jasmine and other flowers called "ladies of the night" scented the air every evening. Date, lemons, and olive trees dropped their delicacies onto the streets, gardens, and playgrounds below. Hand-painted tiles adorned doorways and inner courtyards in the elegant city center.

In a farless elegant area of town, I taught journaling to a group of people ranging in age from 18 to 78. I painted fingernails for teenage girls and younger girls alike. I got both a chuckle and tears in my eyes as adolescent boys lined up to have me rub cream on their hands. Why should the girls be the only ones to benefit from the free manicures?

The looks on the faces of those children as I touched them, simply applying cream to their soft hands, the giggles from the girls, the obvious nervousness in the eyes of the boys moved me to tears. Like everyone else, they long to be touched, loved, noticed. I learned their names and ages and spoke to them whenever I saw them in the neighborhood. One boy came five times, two times one day, and three times the next day. Andres is his name. He's eleven years old. "Is it really free?" he asked several times.

As I sat there with their hands in mine, I prayed for peace and safety, for love and friendship, for hope and a future for each one of them. Every time I look at their pictures, I will pray for them. Sweet children. Lonely children. Needy children. Funny children.

Boys and girls told their friends about the women from America who came to teach classes and give manicures. We cleaned up the local playground - including the dog park! Beer bottles. Sunflower seed shells. Candy wrappers. Before long, a few of the children, including a two-year-old boy, began to help us pick up papers from the concrete jungle gym they played on and around.

I have dozens of stories to tell.
They are all jumbled up in my tired mind right now.
I need some time to write the stories down. To process them.

But first, I have to go braid Kristiana's hair and take her to her last softball game of the season. And tomorrow morning I need to call the dentist and apologize for forgetting to take the kids to the dentist today. At 2 PM, I was waking up from a brief nap. Oops.

Yes, I'm back.
It's good to be home.
And it was GREAT to be in Spain.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Next Twelve Days

Tomorrow at this time (8:51 PM) I will be cleaning up after a team meeting here at the house. What team? The four women who will be going to Sevilla, Spain to teach workshops to folks we expect will quickly transition from strangers to friends. One of us will teach cooking, one music, one conversational English, and one journaling. Guess which one I am???

On Thursday, I head to the beauty parlor early in the AM. After all, how can I possibly go to the country that captured my heart twenty autumns ago without looking my very best?

Wow! I hadn't thought about that factoid until I just typed it: my first trip to Europe was in the summer of 1986, and I remained on the continent for the fall semester of that year studying Spanish language, culture, art history, and boyfriend-science from late August until the middle of December that year. My life has never been the same. Yes, it's true: I fell in love with Madrid, Spain, Europe, and Jorge twenty falls ago. I wonder where he is now...

After the beauty treatment, I will make a few stops on my way home. Final packing. Final instructions to the kids. Final hugs and snuggles with Maya. Checking email. Making sure that not only is my last will and testament in order, but also my financial statements - just in case I decide to make a new life there... One never knows, do one???

On Friday, I will enjoy a leisurely breakfast, quiet morning, and decadent lunch with the children. One last check of luggage and carry-ons. Then the early afternoon trip to the airport for our 5:15 PM Lufthansa flight from Charlotte to Munich. Then Barcelona. Then Sevilla.

My return trip on Sunday, the 15th of October, isn't the same route. It's even more bizarre, thanks to Bristish Airways and Northwest Airlines: Sevilla to London Gatwick. London to Detroit. Detroit to Charlotte. Good thing I love to fly. I've got a lot of flying ahead of me.

I'm going away. On the road again.
Meeting new people. Seeing old friends.
Sneaking off for walks in the old city of Sevilla whenever I can.
Wandering through the plazas, parks, and cathedrals that dot that lovely city.
Marveling at the wonders I see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.
Taking photographs.
Reading poetry.
Journaling like a mad-woman.
Actually, I will journal like a deliriously happy woman.
Not mad. Not even a little bit.

Pausing. Dreaming. Wondering.
Thinking. Praying. Talking.
Laughing. Learning. Listening.
Wishing. Missing. Loving.

I covet your prayers, your good wishes, and your words of travel wisdom.
Peace to all of you on your respective journeys.
Traveling mercies.
To me.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Who, what, where, when, how, and why?

Who are these people that enter our nation's schools to shoot and kill our children? Our teachers? Our beloved family members? Who will our surviving children become as a result of these horrific incidents?

What are these gun-toting maniacs thinking when they look into the face of a child and pull the trigger? What do they think will be the outcome of their behavior? What is it going to take before we rethink our ridiculous policy of allowing anybody who wants a gun to buy a gun?

Where are our children safe? They are abused, neglected, and turned into obese, sedentary, passive-aggressive couch potatoes at home and then sent to school where they can easily meet their doom at the hands of an armed lunatic. Where can our children be children?

When will this madness stop? When will we turn away from violence and violent means to settle disputes and grudges? When will we give peace and disarmament in our homes a chance?

How do we expect the rest of the world to want to be like us when we are like this?

How do I explain this insanity to my homeschooled children? How could I ever seriously consider sending them to public school after three school shootings in one week?

Why do we sell guns at large discount department stores? Why do we sell automatic weapons at all?

Why do we defend our inalienable, and increasingly inexplicable right to bear arms when the place they are most likely to be borne is into a school, a post office, a bank, or a gas station convenience store by someone whose purpose is to wreak havoc, to maim, to kill, and to destroy?

Why is the rate of death by gun so high in this country and so low in so many others?

Why are children so often the targets of our society's violence?