Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Yes, I've been back a little over a week. No, I haven't been blgging. But I have an excuse: our internet service was down until early Monday morning when a fine Southern geek (his word, not mine) came, replaced our modem, wished us well, and went on his merry way. Did I mention that he removed his shoes as he entered the house so as not to track any dirt inside? Many of the repairmen do that here in Charlotte. And you northerners wonder why I love it down here so much?

What's new with me? Currently, I am the mother of only one child. Kristiana is away at camp this week. My brave, organized, and independent eleven-year-old daughter left for camp on Sunday afternoon while I was up in Pennsylvania leading a women's retreat with my mother. We spoke about grace. We all want to receive it by the bushelful, but most of us distribute it by the fistful. But that's a topic for another blog. While Kristiana has been away, Daniel and I have played tennis everyday, gone out to eat (he treated me to breakfast at a local bagel place yesterday morning, kind soul that he is), stayed up late watching sports together, and generally made the best of a lonelier household. In the past three days, Steve has taken him to the movies and to a local minor league baseball game. Tonight we are leaving him with a babysitter and going out to dinner at a restaurant called Zebra. Yum!

What about our trip? Let me summarize it this way: Daniel, the same boy who told me countless times that he didn't want to go to Spain, in the end, didn't want to come home. He spent the entirety of our last three days in Madrid moping and moaning about how much he was going to miss the Internet cafe we became regulars at, the candy store on the corner, the popular Spanish television gameshow called "Alla Tu," and the sweet young woman who served our breakfast at our favorite local coffee shop. Kristiana enjoyed all the museums we had visited, all the walking we had done, and, like her mother, had developed a special fondness for Folder, the little pen and notebook shop where she got a new pencil case and shoulder bag and where I stocked up on so many pens that the two women who worked there giggled every time I walked in. I told them that at least I was leaving a lot of money behind in Spain, helping to build their economy. They laughed and told me to come in as much as I wanted to; they would not complain as long as I kept on spending.

As our trip came to its inevitable conclusion, we went back to all the shops we had frequented most often and said our good-byes to the shop owners. Each was gracious and visibly touched by our gesture.I will never forget one particular gentleman I met at an old-fashioned book and stationery store on la calle Santa Engracia (Holy Grace). After three or four years of floundering around looking for a journal that could replace the one I had loved most, the Miquelrius cloth covered hardbound volume with numbered pages I had found in New York City in the year 2000, I found it at a papeleria just three blocks away from our apartment. I ordered a case of 24 of them! When the proprietor told me it would cost nearly $100 just to ship them, I decided to buy an extra suitcase and haul them home on my own. When he met Steve the day before we returned to Charlotte, he said that Steve hadn't come to Spain on vacation but as a delivery man to carry my newfound books. That kind and helpful gentlemen gave each of the children a set of markers as a parting gift. The beautiful young waitress at Orio, who had on occasion slipped the children chocolate coins and free orange juice during breakfast, hugged me and scolded me at the same time for not coming into the shop more often.

As I closed the door to that apartment for the last time last Tuesday, I wept. If home is where the heart is, then we were leaving home - and we were coming home. None of us wants to wait too long before repeating the month-long field trip. Will we return to Spain or try someplace entirely new? While we were gone, Steve took a trip of his own: down to Costa Rica - and he loved it. He can't wait to take us there sometime next year.

Six weeks ago, I wondered about the wisdom of taking my children across an ocean, moving us into a previously unseen apartment, wandering around the country of Spain and the city of Madrid for a month. I wondered what I would do and to whom I would turn if any one of us were seriously hurt or even killed. Daniel managed to bang his head pretty hard on the granite sidewalk of la Castellana one afternoon. I thought for sure that he had given himself a concussion. His eyes rolled around in his head and he complained of a severe headache for about an hour. Several Motrin tablets, desperate prayers, and glasses of cold juice later, he had recovered from that blow only to crush his left kneecap on a sharp marble corner in our building's lobby a few hours later. I don't think he has ever suffered from such severe pain in all his young life. I came seriously close to taking him to the hospital that evening, but he had other plans. We had made arrangements for him to spend that night with a friend, go into their pool the next day, and watch EuroSports on television all day. Kristiana, Kim, and I were heading to museums and palaces and shops the next day, and he wanted to have no part in any of our activities. He would rather endure the knee pain on Leticia's couch than continue his detox from ESPN as well as the knee pain in a stuffy Madrid hospital room. Who could blame him? Two or three days later, he was running and jumping and kicking the soccer ball as though nothing had happened. But in between feeding him painkillers and watching for signs of imminent coma, I wondered what the heck I was doing there.

In the end, though, I realized that being in Spain alone with the children was one of the best things I've ever done with and for them. They learned to traverse the subway system, how to order food in restaurants, what NOT to order in restaurants, how to open and close the door of both the building and the apartment on their own, how to cross busy city streets, and even made their way home alone from the aforementioned coffee shop by themselves. They are so much more independent now than they ever would have been had we stayed here in Charlotte all spring. I realized that there is a bond between the three of us that was strengthened by having to take buses, trains, planes, taxis, and private cars all over a country that we had never before explored together. We laughed at the ducks and turtles in the Retiro park together, cried together about how much we missed Steve, ate all kinds of foods together that we couldn't even find here in the States, and played "I Spy" together at an ancient synagogue in Toledo, Spain long after all the other tourists had left for lunch. Taking them to Spain was an adventure, a joy, a challenge, and an unforgettable opportunity to see the goodness, humor, protection, and provision of the Lord as never before in our lives. Plus we had lots and lots of fun.

But I'd better stop here. The babysitter is due to arrive in two minutes, and I'm not dressed yet. More later.

Hasta luego, Gail

Saturday, June 11, 2005

It´s Been a While...

but we´ve been away from our home away from home.

Steve joined us here in Madrid last Monday morning. We took our friend Kim to the airport after her long weekend visit here (thanks for being such an excellent houseguest and buddy, Kim! I miss you a lot.) and met Steve at the same time. It was great to see him and catch up after three weeks of single motherhood and adventures with the children.

On Wednesday we took a flight to Menorca, a small Spanish island off the coast of Spain in the blue Meditteranean. Fantastic. Bloody fantastic. I use the strong adjective "bloody" because we had to learn a few Englishisms on our journey. We were the only Americans we came across on the entire island. We were the only non-Brits in our hotel (The Lord Collingwood House)and ours were the only children in the hotel. There were guests there who have vacationed there (taken their holidays, to be more precise) for as many as 40 consecutive years. One couple, Peter and Pat, took us under their wings and proceeded to recommend restaurants, beaches, shops, and even which Renault car would run best for us. She is suffering from cancer (I must remember to pray for her) and he is as chipper and polite and attentive and loving as ever even after 46 years of marriage. They have gone there 12 years running, and another couple there was up to 24 years. While I liked it very much, I cannot imagine returning so many times. No one there could believe we were staying for only four days.

Apparently the "eat and run" method of vacationing is quite typically American. The man who runs the place said that at the end of the summer they get 8 to 10 bookings of Americans, and none stay long. Oh, well. There´s so much to see and so little time to see it all. In any case, we enjoyed our short stay quite a lot. No complaints from anyone in our group - well, except for the children who said that they hadn´t had enough ice cream.

And now the day of our departure is fast approaching: four days to go, then it´s time for us to go. I cannot believe that we have been here over four weeks. It has been a fantastic trip, far exceeding my expectations in so many ways, in practically every way. So many stories to tell. So much to write about. My heart overflows with gratitude and joy and wonder at all that we have seen, tasted, heard, experienced, and all the kindnesses that have been shown to us by so many people here and at home. Thanks to all of you who have written and called and prayed and even visited !!! We will be eternally grateful to all of you.

I am not sure if I´ll be online again before we leave next Tuesday, but I will try to get back here to my favorite MadrileƱo internet cafe once more - for old time´s sake, to bid farewell to the ladies who run the place. Next week will be crazy because I turn around and fly up to PA to do a women´s retreat with my mother over the weekend. And since Steve says that our internet service is down at the house, I will have to try to get that taken care of as soon as we land. To make this long story short, it may be a while before I´m back up and blogging. Please continue to bear with me. In the words our California´s unexpected governor, "I´ll be back." But I won´t have guns or grenades as he always seems to have on hand...

As I approach the end of a most remarkable journey - and the beginning of another (isn´t all of life a journey?) - this traveling correspondent is submitting her final column. Reporting live from Rodilla - Fuencarral, this is Gail Nadine Henderson-Belsito signing out. Farewell from Madrid.

Back to you in the studio...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

This is a test...

this is only a test. Here´s how it works. Go to Spain with the promise of internet access in your rented apartment. Oops, no access there. Find a place where you and the kids can sit next to each other and have access at the same time. Oops, that place goes down for a few days.

New idea: just stay connected to Me, says the Lord God on High.

Well, that´s a little high-minded, I know. But such has been our predicament. Finally the Rodilla computers came back up after days of being out of service. We injected ourselves with this Internet-crystal-cocaine thing. And now we are off to the park, to an early lunch, to meet a friend at the airport train station in two days, to go back to the airport on Monday and meet Steve! Then eight more days. And then we return to Charlotte.

It´s all going too fast. And it´s been amazing - most of the time. I´ll do a lot more writing upon my return. Well, after we restore DSL service to the house. Apparently, there´s a problem there as well. Things that make me say, "Hmmmm..."

Well, I´d better go before these few moments run out and I am left once again without connection to you all - my dear and loyal friends and fans.

Grace and peace to you all, Gail