Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chestnuts roasting over open fire...

I woke up early. Well, that's not entirely true. It felt early. Not too early, just early in a you-didn't-miss-the-day sense. My sheets felt extra soft. I knew exactly what to do.

I crawled out of bed, padded down the stairs, and removed a paper bag from the refrigerator. I read the side of it carefully, then opened the knife drawer. "Hmm," I said audibly to no one in particular. I selected a few knives and took them to the kitchen table, where I dumped out the contents of the paper bag on a plate. I began scoring. The contents? Raw chestnuts, purchased yesterday from the farmers' market.

I giggled as I hummed "Chestnuts roasting over open... heating element?" I preheated my oven to 375ºF (That's 190ºC). The only place I've ever eaten chestnuts - open fire or not - was in Spain. Castañas. Even there, it struck me as ironic that in order to fully experience an American Christmas song, I had to be in another country. Around this time of the year in Spain, street vendors set up on well-trafficked corners. They roast the chestnuts over open fire and the chestnuts are very ashy. You go up to the vendors and ask for how ever much you want to pay. I always got a euro's worth. With blackened hands, the vendors scoops hot nuts into a paper cone. You trade your moneda for a cone and are on your merry way, eating your castañas and throwing the shells on the street.

After 15 minutes cooking in a cast iron pan in my preheated oven, my chestnuts are not covered in ash. I hope to make soup with them. Like a good Spanish wife, I go about my tasks of preparing for the day's meals before I even have breakfast. (As an aside, I could never be a good Spanish wife. I am not tidy enough.) I peel the meats out of the shells before they cool. It makes my fingers raw. I have about eight more to peel as I write this. Back to work!

Friday, November 18, 2011

My first swear word

I held the word in my mouth.
The past few days, drained by a sinus infection and by sinuses that wouldn't drain, I had held several choice words in my mouth.
I've never sworn, you see. When I say that, I mean there are a number of words in English that have never actually crossed my lips. Ever. One time, in sixth grade, I sat with a classmate in my mom's car. "You don't swear, do you Ellen?" she said in a contemptuous way that was synonymous with calling me a goody-goody. Sensing an opportunity to become cooler, I lied "Sure I do," trying to sound worldly and nonchalant.
"Let's hear it."
Oops. I honestly don't remember what word I chose that day. It was either one about a dog or the one I carefully held in my mouth now.
Not a particularly shocking word, I had even sung this word in hymns. It would not merit even a PG-13 rating. But that's not what I'm thinking about. I'm feeling that word on my tongue, measuring it next to my emotions, the situation at hand.
My doctor's office called today to tell me that I tested moderately positive for the antibodies against wheat gluten. The word washes up in my mouth, like acid reflux that turns into vomit. I let my mind wander and wonder if I should spew my word, my first curse word at age 24.
I swallow the word-acid and it burns down my throat as my thoughts bounce.
Bounce #1: "You're just missing some enzyme, some mineral," my mom says. "It could be because you don't eat meat." I consider this, but I am not sure how it is possible after all the research I have done in order to prevent it. She continues, "Your body was used to eating bland food and now you eat so... different and wild. Maybe you need to go back to the bland."
Bounce #2: "If you have the antibody, you might have an increased risk of colon cancer, especially with your family history," my doctor explains. I sit, smiling and nodding as if she is lecturing me on the life cycle of a salmon, or something else that doesn't have the potential to change my life.
Bounce #3: A quote from Ann Voskamp: "Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don't numb themselves to really living... mourning and dancing are but movements in his unfinished symphony of beauty." and "In everything, give thanks"
The ball stops bouncing and simply rolls now. I think, "I wish I didn't know this. Two days ago, I was perfectly happy with my self-diagnoses of a gluten and dairy sensitivity. Now, that's sort of justified, but seems scarier, more looming, more official. And the colon cancer thing? The fact that gluten could perhaps damage my intestines, depending on what the heck "moderately positive" means."
I continue, "This is like opening freaking Pandora's Box!" I realize I am being dramatic, but I am learning to accept my emotions without judgment. So I ride it out. Just as I am hypothesizing what kind of medicines this GI doctor will likely overprescribe me, I remember that I have a choice in the matter.
The realization that I have a choice snaps me out of my melodrama, long enough to realize how semi-ridiculous and yet not so ridiculous my train of thoughts has become.
I step back, survey the landscape. I inhale slowly and let out my first curse word, "Damn."
I say it quietly, although no one is in the house. I am instantly filled with a sense of warmth. It felt good, like putting on sweats and sitting with legs wide after a day of crossing my legs in a pencil skirt.
That feeling passes and the reasons and snapshots that provoked this word come swirling back around. I say the word again, a bit firmer. "Damn."
I contemplate a third time, but it feels unnecessary, like having both a heated mattress pad and a heated blanket.
Unsure of where all of this leads me, I cannot process my emotions. I surf Facebook, numbing out until Caleb arrives for the evening. I tell him about what's happening, but lightheartedly as I have neither the words or the will to dive into it more deeply. He makes me laugh so hard. I feel joy, real joy. After he leaves, I continue distracting myself by eating chocolate sorbet. It feels good, but then it is over and I am left holding the same emotions and pieces of four hours ago. So I brush my teeth, crawl into bed, and write until I understand.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the year of not buying new clothes

A year is a trendy thing.

A year is a span of time that seems more substantial than "a passing phase" but less commitment than "forever" or "long term". I wanted to (and did) spend a year in Spain. A year working with first graders and living at home. We make New Year's resolutions, exalting the future as that pedestal on which we shall finally achieve health, wealth, and happiness. People dedicate their lives to something for a year: happiness, living Biblically, cooking certain recipes.

As I was sitting on the couch eating my after school snack, I glanced down at The Happiness Project. After weeks of me dragging it around our house like a three year old's blankie, my roommate was intrigued. She's reading it now (or as she prefers calling it, "sort of skimming the interesting parts." Personally, I think nearly all of the book is interesting, though I almost skipped the money chapter). My mind lazily wondered what my life might be like after dedicating myself to something for twelve months. Would I actually do it? A one year job is a little different than a one year pastime.

"Wait!" a different part of my brain chirped up, like a six year old tugging on her heavy-eyed mother's hand. "You totally have done this. In fact, you're in the midst of it right now!" (as an aside, I am aware I have used two references to children in this post. I don't know what that means except I like kids?)

And it's true. In January, I stopped buying new clothes. Clarification: I stopped buying new clothes. I have frequented thrift stores, clothing swaps, and friends' don't-want piles. I think it's been formative, particularly juxtaposed with my time in Europe.

Before I get to the formation part of the "new clothes fast", I should take a few paragraphs to explain why I stopped buying clothes and how this came about.

Influence #1
Once upon a time, I read the book Blue Like Jazz. In one small part that is not even the point of the book (although I'm not sure there is one point to that book), the author, Don Miller, mentions how his friend Penny gave up buying clothes for a year. I think her fast was obtaining new-to-her clothes, not just store-bought, as her personal attempt to be less consumeristic. In the book, Miller tells about giving her a pair of new gloves sometime in the winter, and that you would have thought the
gloves were the nicest thing she'd ever seen. That story has stuck with me for a long time.

Influence #2
My senior year of college, I attended a Faith and International Development Conference. It sort of blew my mind and was more formative than I could have imagined. I saw white girls with dreadlocks. I wanted dreadlocks. I drank fairly traded tea and stayed with a really dear friend. I laughed. I cried. I encountered stories of poverty, despair, and hope. I wrote lots of things in my fair-trade journal made from an Indian sari. I wondered why Americans take so many freaking resources from the world. The last day, I was so overwhelmed that I could only sit alone outside and watch the melting snow. "What do I do with this?" I whispered to a robin snacking on previously snow-blanketed crab apples. The only other sound was steady drip of icicles melting.
If only getting dreadlocks would bring about world peace.

Influence #3
Dear Spain,
Thanks for a lot of things. A whole lot of self-awareness, a steady glimpse of self-actualization, helping me learn that I love teaching English, my fluency in another language, a boatload of fun memories, and a bigger picture of the world.
No thank you for making me think it's normal to buy things like cellulite cream, laser hair removal, and hyper-stylish clothes every month. This is not normal! Dressing as a means of self-expression = cool. Dressing as a means of self expression that is dictated by what looks "in" = not as cool, but probably somewhat inescapable.

Soooo, these three combined in the context of January, 2011, and I stopped buying new clothes. You know what? It's been good. It's been fine. I am constantly amazed at how much I don't mind. Thrift stores are full of surprises. The amount of clothes I've acquired for free is astounding. Letting go of something gives a lot of space to be provided for.

Heck yes I miss shopping sometimes. Sometimes, I will see someone wearing something really trendy and I will feel a little sad, like my clothes are inferior or something. I've been doing a lot of yoga lately and I occasionally wish I had some fancy yoga clothes. But my clothes are fine. I think it has counterbalanced my eurotrendy. I usually just feel comfortable. I remember that I am more than my outward appearance. I remember that other people are more than the clothes they wear or the shape of their bodies. I value the garments I have because they are not easily replaced. I feel a bit of peace towards my never ending wonderings about sweat shops.

As it is now November, I am in the home stretch. I wonder what next year will bring. This year has felt really long at times. My socks weren't new when I started, and they're a little thin and pretty scratchy. When I feel a little miffed about it, I remind myself that they still work. They don't have holes, they are still warm. I'm not going to shoot for the stores come January 1. That's not my style. Maybe I will buy something to celebrate, but maybe I'll find it at Goodwill.

I idly wonder what the life implications would be of me taking up yoga, service to others, or meditation for a year. I guess I'll see what happens when 2012 rolls around...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


“It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” G. K. Chesterton.

Have you ever noticed this? I am finishing a book called The Happiness Project. It's the memoir of the author's year of focusing on happiness in her life. Every single person who has seen me with it has picked it up and said, "Oh, what are you reading?" This is usually followed by them thumbing through the book and saying, "Wow, I really like this." or "This is pretty good." or "I should read this!"

Clearly it's striking a chord.

Sometimes I feel like being an adult is supposed to mean being sort of grouchy and responsible and gloomy. I think everyone has seen many adults like this. And for sure, I have been this way. A lot of people certainly have reasons for feeling sad or grouchy or gloomy, and I certainly don't want to minimize that.

But, fortunately, I don't have very many reasons for being emo. For my own sake, I think I need to list some of the reasons I have for NOT being emo: I really like my job. I love where I live. I have a stellar roommate. I like my family and they are close. I have a giant red mug that I'm drinking hot water out of right now. It used to be my brother's, but he gave it to me. Caleb. I generally have time to cook. My health is good. I get to hang out with some awesome bilingual children once a week. I just watched a Spanish novela thanks to the Internet. I have this sweet curtain in my room that reminds me of Turkey every time I see it (even though I've never been to Turkey). There are plants in my house. Like inside it. I have many close friends.

Wow. Once I got started on that, it was really easy to think of things. I could probably continue. But it seems so much easier and "default" to just be heavy and not light. Food for thought...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

in response to a bad gym experience...

I am learning what acceptance means. It is good. And sometimes, ironically, it means fighting other voices. Good is where I am now. And where you are now. There is nothing we are waiting for.

So I share here two poems:

The Call*
by Greta Schumm

We are
to be
the mannequins

thin, mute,
and haughty

set before windows
to be seen
marveled at

where spots of anchored light
will fall.

Somewhere alone
the woman in me
far away from the dollar toys
and dull of window eyes.

Come along,
come along
I have room for you
in the soul of one person singing.

(Written with special affection for
Queen Vashti of Esther 1:10-22)


by Margaret House Rush

Even if a prison
Is called a pedestal
And is bedecked with flowers
and flattery,
It is no less confining,
or demeaning.

*I don't often feel this way. There aren't a lot of voices that send me these kinds of messages. This is perhaps one of the many reasons I'm glad I don't watch TV. Perhaps this is why I noticed so much.
The silence is deafening.

I sit in my quiet house, eating my morning cereal. The cereal sounds like a freight train compared to the silence. When I stop crunching, I hear the quiet hum of the refrigerator and nothing else. Sometimes I hear my roommate's little dog, Ruby, swallowing or sniffing. Oh! I just heard the breeze outside. Make that three sounds. Fridge, dog, breeze.

"It's so quiet." I think to myself, silently of course. "I wonder if I can hear my thoughts better."

First, I notice that it appears a four year old has been playing with my glasses. How did I see anything? I clean them on my t-shirt. Oh yeah. I'm still in my pajamas. At 10 am. This is late for me. Thankful point.

As an aside, exactly three weeks ago, my dear friend Stephanie got married. I was one out of two personal attendants. She verbally gave us P.A. points for each act of personal attending we did. I liked the constant affirmation so much that I decided to bestow points on things all the time.
  • Boyfriend point. Caleb gets a lot of those. Most of them I don't verbalize because I think it would get annoying.And I'm pretty sure he's not in it for the points...
  • Dog point. Ruby got one yesterday when Carolyn (my roommate) taught her how to play fetch.
  • Dog owner point. Carolyn got ten for the information above. Geez. Maybe Ruby should get more than one for that too... Ruby's getting another right now for snuggling with me.
  • Life point. I gave myself one when I made gluten free, vegan pumpkin cheesecake. Yeah.
Apparently I also just gave a thankful point. Where was I? Oh, in my silent house. Listening.

This week has been really full. I continue to be amazed, however at how much more creative, peaceful, and generally happy I am when I clear my calendar for a day and, well, don't do anything. If I get some cleaning done, cool, if I get some errands run, or laundry, or yoga, great. However, the best part is savoring the non-obligations of the day. I am trying to remind myself that, really, every day could be like this. The sun comes up and it starts the same way...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Facebook favorites

Guess what? I like blogging. I like having a blog. I like messing with it and rearranging things. Anyways... some great pictures have been surfacing from the big FB the past few days. I thought I would share on here since I'm not a big fan of posting new things more than a few times a week on Facebook...

And now for something a little less serious...


Sunday, September 25, 2011

The joy of the unexpected

This weekend, I was going to go on my very first camping trip. It was going to be awesomely combined with a float trip down a beautiful blue-green river that looks like it should be in the jungle instead of rural Missouri. But you already know from my past continuous + infinitive sentence structure (was going + to go) that something must have interfered and prevented my plans from taking place.

That something was my health.

The plan was to peace out on Friday at noon. This got moved to Friday at five to accommodate a friend who got off work then. Thursday night, my stomach raged, my sinuses burned, and I went to sleep way early. Maybe I actually was fighting some virus, or maybe I was just exhausted from lack of sleep and too much hurry. Either way, around 10:30 Friday morning, I got honest enough with myself to recognize that the LAST thing I wanted to do was drive five hours and sleep outside. On the ground.

So I stayed home. My boyfriend Caleb came over and we watched Finding Nemo (he's looking for his son, Fabio), which I had never seen before. Saturday, I went to the farmers' market and got eggs, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and my very first paw paws. They are very similar to the cherimoyas I enjoyed in Espain (and lo! I was correct in my assumption that they are related). They are, according to that link I used with paw paws, also referred to as the "poor man's banana". That strikes me as ironic because I am pretty sure the poor man's banana now is... a banana. Paw paws could be re-termed the rich man's banana because they 'spensive.

I also made a gluten and dairy free peanut butter banana cake. So. good. Why? Because yesterday was my dear friend Amanda's birthday. (You should click that link. It took me two freaking years to write that post.) We celebrated with a surprise tea party! It was delightful and perfectly Amanda.

In all, it turned out to be a weekend full of good things, but nothing like I planned. Sometimes I find myself addicted to planning. It feels deceptively as if I am in control...

It seems like I usually find myself happiest though when my plans don't work out because something better comes up. I can't plan to make myself laugh so hard I feel sick. (A good experience, I promise!) Nor can I schedule seeing complete surprise register on someone's face as they open a really good present.

Have you ever been surprised by the joy of the unexpected?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I'm trying something new. It's a little crazy, but so far, I feel really good. I have cut gluten (it's the protein in wheat) and dairy from my life. This is on top of meat, which I already don't eat on account of being vegetarian. Oh. And I stopped eating sugar.

This has been a gradual decline, sort of.

Day 1 I subbed rice noodles for spaghetti and ate all the other things.
Day 2 I ate half a cupcake and M&Ms
Day 3 I ate a cookie.
Day 4 totally free!
Day 5 totally free! but now I am having cravings. I can do it. I went grocery shopping and got some snacks that were G/D/S free. I am not bloated and I feel great. I actually feel hungry instead of just sort of uncomfortable. I can recognize it. Here we go...!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Two life goals in four days? Pretty good.
  1. Catching the bouquet at a wedding. (after which, I let out a really loud "YES!", hence the title of this post)
  2. Biking to work. (17 miles round trip)
What's next? Skydiving?

Expanding on #2... Today I biked to work. It was awesome. It took me an hour and a half and I arrived with back sweat. it felt like such an adventure. I am a pretty happy exerciser, generally speaking. I laughed at least 8 times on my bike trip and at one point, I felt like I knew a secret that almost no one else knows: arriving at work powered only by your body is totally awesome. (But tomorrow, I will drive.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Sometimes it's fun to imagine possibilities. And I love my life right now. I just like to imagine for the future...

I think it would be great to:
get up every day and do yoga
become an urban farmer
have dreadlocks or really short hair
live in community
(am i a hippie?)
make sweet works of art
have perpetually dirty nails from working on my urban farm
have a horse or two and chickens
only eat food from my urban farm
live in a house with no TV or computer
go to sleep and wake up with the sun
carry my future children around in those straps of cloth that you use to wrap them to your body
speak english and spanish every day

that was fun. you should try it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

full hands

I've started a new job. Actually, it's kind of like I've started three new jobs. Let me discuss.

1. I am now an ESL instructor. I don't think I can describe how much I like this. I feel like all of my years of learning Spanish are combining with every single job I've ever had (except for maybe doing the football team's laundry) to make a really great fusion of classroom time. My students are Chinese, Taiwanese, and Saudi. I am writing syllabus and finding homework. I am making lesson plans. I had to make lesson plans in Spain and it was so terrifiying. I had no idea what I was doing. But I've been in schools for two years now. And suddenly, I just know how to do it.

I'm a little scared that I am not doing good enough. I'm scared of being too easy and I'm scared of being too hard. But I'm learning (over and over) that it's about trying it out and making mistakes and learning how to be a teacher. Each day is dynamic and I'm learning when to yield and when to push.

The top question on my mind is this: What does it look like to have a classroom of students who come from a variety of academic backgrounds? I'm trying to assume nothing. I know that some of them come from a culture where children go to "cram school" on the weekend and some come from a country where women and men are never allowed together - and the women's classes consist of a male teacher lecturing on a TV screen.

I want my classes to inspire creativity and imagination; but learning another language is sometimes necessarily repetition and drilling. It's like with playing an instrument: you can't compose music if you haven't learned to play the notes. So I guess for now, I'll keep explaining why we do each drill, even if it's obvious.

This is probably the most highly motivated, responsible group of students I've ever had. (Not hard when you compare them to Spanish teenagers and low-level 1st graders - both of whom I LOVED working with)

I just think I'm going to have to keep being flexible and amping the level. One part of me wanted to be consistent, but if my students are going to keep being awesome, I'm going to have to keep bringing my "A" game.

So that's one job. The main one.

#2. I'm tutoring some fantastic kiddos also, but don't get paid for that.
#3. I'm interpreting in some hospitals. Which is amazing, except that every time I do it, my heart is filled with terror of messing up. Oo. Messing up is a great idiom. I should teach it to my students. Hmm...

In conclusion, if it seems like I've fallen off the map, it's because I sort of have. But I'm pretty happy down here, if only a little tired.

Friday, June 3, 2011

how to make lap swimming more interesting

  1. Pick a pool that is filled with playing children. Then don't get mad - obstacle course!

  2. Think about how you are outside. Swimming in a pool. NOT doing a workout video.

  3. Think about how you are NOT on the computer or watching TV.

  4. Do a no arms lap.

  5. Do a no legs lap (significantly harder).

  6. Speak to yourself in a foreign language. Probs not out loud.

  7. Don't count your laps. Boring! Then you have to think of numbers the whole time. You're getting exercise, don't worry about it.

  8. Pretend you are a dolphin. (very fun when combined with #1 or #4)

  9. Compose blog posts about how to make lap swimming more interesting in your head.

  10. Watch the small children (from #1) do hilarious things underwater.

  11. Reflect on your day.

  12. Do a blind lap. No goggles. No peeking underwater.

  13. Go back and forth between two lanes. Or more. (This may happen unintentionally while doing #12)

  14. See if you can laugh underwater.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

beyutifle* things

"Above all, remember that the meaning of life is to live it as if it were a work of art. You're not a machine. When you're young, start working on this great work of art called your own existence."
-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

I like this quote.

I also like this picture.

*This is a first grade spelling of beautiful. I think it's quite lovely.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It is solved by walking

I have now lived in the same place for *almost* one year. (One year ago today, I was having my goodbye parties at school and my "comida de despedida" with the teachers.) I found myself walking and biking along a certain country road many times in the past year. It has become perhaps the most enduring of any spiritual practice I've taken up. This spring alone I have sprinted down it in my winter coat, danced through the fog, and come home in my sports bra because it was so hot on my bike ride. It's been windy and cold and hot and humid and everything in between. I watched the fields nestled along the roads turn from gold in the fall to the distinctive gray-brown of winter. More recently, I saw the tree silhouettes fill with soft green leaves. The grass is high now, up to my waist in some places. Mulberry bushes sport sour red berries and green wildflowers stretch toward the sky, still lacking colorful blooms.

On Monday, I walked down it and decided to focus on experiencing place with all of my senses. I became aware of the taste in my mouth, the smell of budding summer, felt the wind glide through my fingers, and closed my eyes and listened.

Onomatopoeia are great. I mean, onomatopoeia is a great word in itself, but I like it when words sound like what they mean. Especially in Spanish. ¡Cataplum! ¡Chin! ¡Cuaz! Susurro... So great. However, I think they sometimes (often) fall short. I wish I could describe to you the sounds I heard Monday and today on my walks. The blades of grass whispered as they brushed against each other. Birds noisily chirped as they worked. My shoes trudged along the ground. I was blown away by how the onomatopoeia for each sound fell so desperately short of the actual noise.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday poetry: "our deepest fear"

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most.
We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?'
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us.
And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
~ Marianne Williamson

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

[At least] Two sides to every story...

... and person.

Have you ever had one of those days where you think: "Dang. People are multifaceted." I think I am always blown away by the ways that I even surprise myself. Some days, I just want to live in nature and chill and go barefoot. And other days I want to wear perfume and eyeliner and boots that go over my knees and do my hair with chemicals and heat. And some days, I am very aware of all the ways I am a Kansas Citian or the ways that going to college in Iowa shaped me to that context.

Some days, like today, I feel very Spanish. I'm not really sure why this is. I will say that when I feel Spanish, I am more likely to wear knee-high boots and eyeliner than go barefoot and wash my hair with baking soda. Not always though. There are certainly hippies in Spain. I think some of it is that I mailed a birthday package to Faby, my Spanish housemate, today. I emailed my friend Olíva. I chatted online with mi Ana B. I listened to my DELE exam prep CDs and actually laughed really hard at one of the interviews. DELE is like the Spanish equivalent of the TOEFL exam. I've flirted with the idea of taking it several times, but never felt the need to prove my Spanish to anyone except myself, and that's not enough motivation for me to pay more than $100 and travel to Chicago.

Anyway, I think I'd like to write a letter to la península ibérica: (In Spanish, obviously. And really cheesy. Spanish doesn´t sound cliched to me, so I´m going to be as romantic with my language as possible. After all, Spanish is a romance language!)

Mi querida España,

Hoy te llevo muy cerquita del corazón. No te preocupes. Ya pronto, volveré a tus costas de luz. Ahora me quedo acá, separado de ti por medio de un continente y el mar. Sin embargo, estás conmigo. Siempre llevo una gítana dentro, tu música es mi música, aunque nadie más entienda como me encuentro cuando escucho una canción flamenca o de Los Delincuentes, no importa. Me has cambiado, España, y sigo mareada por las experiencias que tuve dentro de tus fronteras. Aprendí qué es el mar, el sol, el dolor, y el amor. Aprendí lo que es decir ´no´cuando ya no aguantas más, o sencillamente cuando no quieres. Y mientras quiero presentarte a mi familia, a mis amigos, y a todos que son parte de mi vida, sé que es imposible. Nadie más vivió lo que viví yo. Y ahora es imposible robarme de esas experiencias.

No sé porque la vida es así. ¿Por qué es imposible que compartamos todo?


3:40 pm. Phone conversation
"Hello Sameeha!"
"No! It's Nadia! I'll get Mom"
"Sameeha!! Hello habibe!!"
"Oohhh Ellen, habibti, how are you?! Hello!"
"Is it still okay if i come to your house today?"
"Hiyati! Yes! Yes! I wait you!! You coming?!"
"Yes, yes! I come. I'm coming. I'm leaving work right now. I'll see you soon. Habibi!"
"Habibi, okay. I love you!"
"I love you too."
I struggle a bit getting there, clearing the cobwebs from my mental map of KCK. It's certainly expanded since my first Mapquest directions to Catholic Charities in July, 2009. I recognized streets I've walked now and have several pinpoints to homes of friends and students. But where was Sameeha's house? One wrong turn. I reoriented myself and continued north. Talking aloud, I directed myself to continue straight.
"I think you have to keep going, past downtown, and then it will be on the right."
If I called Sameeha, she might not be able to direct me much except for the name of her street, which I knew. My intuition paid off, and I found the turn, the apartment complex, the building, and the apartment. I was buzzed in and descended the short flight of stairs to apartment B. The door whooshed open.
"Hello!!!! Habibi!!! Hiyati!! Ohhh!! My daughter!!! I love you!! I miss you!!"
"Sameeha!! I love you too! Habibi!" We kissed each other's cheeks and hugged. I tried to be as transparent in my delight to see Sameeha as she was in hers to see me.
I caught a glimpse of someone familiar.
"Yasmeen!!! Come here!!" I cried to Sameeha's youngest daughter.
The girl who had been too shy to speak to me two years ago grinned and waltzed over.
"Hello Ellen! Why you didn't come to my birthday?"
"Yasmeen! Give me a hug! When was your birthday? I would have come."
"In March. But why you didn't come?"
"I didn't know it was your birthday. Next time, have your mom call me and I'll come."
Sameeha spoke fast Arabic to Yasmeen. I gathered from the tone and facial expressions that it was about minding her manners. I laughed, like I'd continue doing for the next two hours.

You see, I think Sameeha and I are somehow soul-friends. I have changed her name here and I chose Sameeha because it means "generous". And she is. We are from two different countries, countries who have recently considered each other enemies. Though she's not that much older than me, her face has been wrinkled by stress that I will never know. Stress of leaving her home without her husband, taking full responsibility for their children, moving to the USA. Stress of fearing for their lives before that.
I help her with her English homework and she teaches me to count in Arabic. When I arrive at 10 (ashra), I am welcomed by her overjoyed laughter and cheers of "Goood!!! I love you! You so smart!"
I think she could teach me anything.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

adventures of daily life

I want to tell an exciting adventure story. But right now, my life does not seem that adventurous or exciting, at least not in the travel sense. I ate some horseradish last week. It burned. Also, I tried roasted beet and goat cheese ice cream. That felt adventurous. Now it seems kind of lame.

Maybe I need more non-food adventures in my life. Suggestions?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Taizé part IV

It's Holy Week this week. So along with playing my "What was Ellen doing one year ago today?" game with the Gregorian calendar (In case you're wondering, I was watching them build the casetas or booth things for la feria de Jerez and also watching a centipede, según mis fotos.), I'm also playing the "What was Ellen doing one liturgical year ago?"

One liturgical year ago, I was in Taizé, France. Taizé was one of those experiences that is pretty incomprehensible initially, but keeps growing in richness as I look back on it. Here's part of a snapshot from my time there. That's part II. There's also a part I and a part III, but don't get overwhelmed. They are not prerequisites for this entry.

Anywho (not a real word), because it is Holy Week and because I wish I could observe it as thoroughly as I did last year, I want to take some time and space to meditate on how completely counter-intuitive it is that Jesus died on the cross. My friend Eric recently pointed out that we should maybe spend more time thinking about this in church. But it's uncomfortable, and who wants to be uncomfortable?

So, I'm going to actively try to do that now, I think. Since you are reading this, you are in some way part of my virtual community and I invite you to do the same. If you are needing some guidance, I like this website. Otherwise, sit with the silence and with the questions for a while. (This is advice to me maybe more than to anyone else.) Jesus remained silent in the face of his accusers. May we have the courage to remain silent in the face of ours, even if they are simply our own thoughts.

Much love.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

meditations on a tree

As I stared at the tree, I absorbed its bareness. I thought about how all winter long, it scratched the sky with its silhouette. I know that spring is coming and is here (Paradox!), but today the air is still cold. Then I remembered that inside of the tree, something is happening. From the roots up through the trunk, into the thick branches and into the thin twigs, sap is stirring. Although we cannot see it, it stirs deep in the tree and is moving and bubbling up.
As the tree senses the movement within, the brush of warm air, it responds by bursting forth in buds, tiny, silky, fresh green leaf clusters or flowers. The flowers in themselves are beautiful. Fragile and seasonal, they express hope after so many months of stark bareness. Slowly, these buds or flowers fade away into thick, lush green leaves. The leaves provide shade in the heat of summer, absorb the abundant sunlight, catch the breeze and rustle, rendering the invisible visible. Again, like the flowers or leaf buds, they are beautiful in and of themselves. More durable than the initial delicate flowers of spring, they sustain storms, animals, and the tree itself.
Time passes and summer temperatures gently give way to cooler nights and crisp breezes. The tree again reaches deep inside itself and from those first flowers springs the fruit of the tree. After months of ripening, growth, storms, sunshine, those final leaves give way to something even more life sustaining: the tree’s own seeds. The fruit falls from the tree - a process which must be exhausting and somewhat painful. After the blossoms, endurance, and birthing, the tree falls into hibernation once more, preparing for the next season.

I am a tree. So are you.

bike zen

today I went on a bike ride.

For an hour and a half.

I wish I could do that more often, but the thing is, I don't usually have that kind of chunk of free time at bikeable times during the week. However, I did want to share one thought I had as I was pushing into the gusts of wind. I was biking up the BIGGEST hill and decided that I wanted to make it all the way up without getting off my bike. (If you saw this hill, you'd understand. Plus it's gravel and I have a road bike.) Then I decided to think of it as inviting rather than challenging. I told myself that the hill wanted me to make it to the top, was beckoning me. I explained to myself that my bike wanted me to make it to the top. The crest of the hill was even pulling me forward, willing me to arrive. The gusts of wind felt like they were against me, but they weren't. They were really for me, but a gust of wind can't just switch from north to south, can it? And I did it! I biked up that hill, quads burning, lungs panting, but feeling good because everything was drawing me upwards.

And afterward, one third of me thought, "what kind of weird nonsense was that?"

But the other two thirds really liked the whole idea. I'm not really a fighter. I don't like the idea of battling against a hill. And c'mon. A human versus a geographical feature? You tell me which one's likely been there longer. Don't even talk about dynamite, you know that's not what I mean. And I don't really like the idea of battling against life. I don't really like the idea of battling. (I've now typed "battling" so many times it doesn't seem real anymore.) Far more compelling is the idea of being invited into something. An adventure, a journey, your LIFE! Invited to climb the hill, invited to deeper relationships with others, invited to time alone.

Oh perspective. Oh biking.

Monday, March 28, 2011

hymn-day Monday

I don't know that this will become a theme... but here is a hymn for Monday. I love it.

Good Is the Flesh
by Brian Wren

Good is the flesh that the Word has become,
good is the birthing, the milk in the breast,
good is the feeding, caressing and rest,
good is the body for knowing the world,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body for knowing the world,
sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,
feeling, perceiving, within and around,
good is the body, from cradle to grave,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body, from cradle to grave,
growing and aging, arousing, impaired,
happy in clothing, or lovingly bared,
good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell,
glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell,
good is the body, for good and for God,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hace un año...

Lately, perhaps inspired because it is Spring Break, I have been playing a fun game. I call it: "What was I doing one year ago today?" First, I ask myself that question. Second, I open up iPhoto on my Mac-mac. Third, I check the date. Fourth, I find pictures of what I did one year ago. I took a lot of pictures in Spain. So, one year ago today, I made a baked spinach dish with cheese, went on a fantastically long bike ride (I went out with the intention of getting lost), spent some alone time in a park drawing, and discovered that my neighbor in the building next to ours had left a flip flop on his window ledge. (Especially strange considering we were on the 9th piso or 10th story). Also coming up is the one year anniversary of me refereeing a Spanish volleyball match. I forgot about it... you can read the story here.

And since everyone likes a good picture post, I'll share some of the pictures from one year ago today. Enjoy! (Side note: photos are in reverse chronological order)

Neighbor's shoe

Orange tree blossoms (azáhar) smell soooo marvelous

Inviting bike path

I biked past this but never went there because I didn't have tres friends named Raquel with me

Faby's/ my kitchen! (In Faby's house, but definitely a room I liked more than she did)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

you are not abandoned

If life is a couch,
I want to learn how to sink down into mine,
Rounding out my back, drawing my knees in to my
chest and letting my shoulders relax.

My head cocks slightly to one side and
I breathe in the moments surrounding me.

I think the fabric is chenille,
comfortably worn. Soft, but no longer
Once red, now faded to a mellow wine
deepened by its journeys and experiences.

There's lots of wear left in my couch.
Come sit with me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

reaching out, reaching in

[Preface: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago after volunteering at a hunger-homeless outreach place and now feel the time is ripe to share it.]

People - I think all men - were milling around the entrances. They had easygoing gates and talked with an emphasized midwestern drawl. We met Laura on our way inside - and I was immediately grateful. She is friendly in the no-nonsense way that I am not. I felt safe in her presence, like walking in with a mother hen.

I have always been quiet and reserved. In recent years, I have found my confidence, my strength, my voice. I don't often find myself in situations uncomfortable enough to revert back to shy Ellen - and I've been in a lot of diverse situations. I consider myself fortunate to have lived such a breadth of experiences. I don't think (though I'd like to) that I am atypical for a 23 and 3/4ths year old - so many of my peers are equally well-traveled and experienced (and more). So many of my experiences are memories of me finding my voice, facing what could be considered "uncomfortable" and choosing to bloom there. It is in this way that I have gained a sense of self. And yet, I follow a God who says that whoever seeks to save his/her life will lose it; and if we lose ourselves for the sake of doing things God's way, that is when we truly live out our identities.

Death, you see, leads to resurrection.

And so, when I stepped out of my car, I experienced a kind of death. Not the kind of death you hear about on the news in the "bad" parts of town, though when I tell you what died, you won't be surprised. It was my sense of being comfortable. It started in my stomach and rose almost instantaneously to an all-encompassing sense of being uncomfortable. I searched the faces of the men we passed. They were not unfriendly or unkind, but hardened by weeks, months, years without a home. Or at least without a physical address.

It might have been useful to keep my mantra from Mexico in my mind: "We have more in common than what is different." Yet in Mexico, I was welcomed by children with joy on their shy faces and here there were no children. I looked. Twice.

I checked my companions' faces to see if any expression on them might mirror my heart. No sign of fear or discomfort registered on Caleb, Jon, or Shannon's face. Our mothering new acquaintance was greeting people and navigating us through the door.

As I decided I was alone in my sense of discomfort and fears, new mini waves of emotion surged through my heart. I kept my face composed and calm while instructing my heart to remain open. My friend David's words resounded inside me, "Feed the hungry? You can't mess this up." I drew comfort from it and did my best to push aside the uncertainty, uncomfortableness, and now shame for those feelings.

We stayed from 9:30-12:15, making burritos, cleaning, slicing and plating pie, and for me, just trying to stay busy so I wouldn't think too much about the double-edged sword of being uncomfortable and feeling bad about it.

I struggled to keep my heart and mind open in what felt like an entirely different culture. It was less than an hour from my house and consisted of mostly people born and raised in the same general area as me.

Even in all of my discomfort, I saw Jesus today. He was in the workers and volunteers who consistently form the community at this particular place. They are the ones that can invite the hungry and the chefs to be part of something bigger than frying eggs and clearing dishes. They laugh with us as we (the kitchen people) ask them stupid questions and work through our own prejudices and uncomfortable-ness. So gracious of them.

It's good to be uncomfortable.
It's good to grow.
It's good even if I don't grow, to get out of what I normally do. To serve and to NOT get anything out of it except an awareness of my own discomfort.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Do you facebook stalk people?

I do.

I feel... slightly embarrassed admitting it, but at the same time totally justified because it is so normal to do. Not sure if this is a good stance or not.

The people I stalk though, I usually have very specific reasons for doing it. I like to stalk the facebook philosophers.

The philosophers are the acquaintances I've made over the past two years that seem to be in sync with some part of life that feels very true. This is magnified when we disagree about lots of other things. I read their statuses that pop up on my wall, go to their profiles, because they remind me that life has rhythm, to stop and see the beauty around me. And to get off facebook. ;)

So thanks facebook philosophers. Here's a quote from one of them, translated, "No one is entitled to excess until there is not even one with need."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

stream of conciousness: juggling on a unicycle and word processing

did that just happen? spanish karenni hispanic asian japanese = Monday? Bibles, babies, alzeimers, Indian food, Respect Men, Captivating, dancing, sleeping, focused, prayer (not what you think) as movementfaithfulnesssilencelisteningteachingpatience.

Why is it so much easier to commit to one big thing instead of following Christ into the thousands of tiny actions I complete or start or try to do each day? what happens when home is not a building? what happens when i am exhausted? why can't home always be where I am? Displaced, not troubled. How do you even begin to teach someone a language? start where they are. accept where you are. Where am i? How can I accept me where I am while looking forward? Is progress real? I think I'm a mystic. Sometimes I want to be a nun - committing to one big thing is easier than 1000s of small things. One thousand. Can my students even fathom what that is? Today we practiced even and odd numbers. I hate standardized testing. Maybe strongly dislike. Like coffee - I dislike it and it's strong.

There's a blue exercise ball in my room, but I prefer to sit on the floor. I always sit on the floor. Like the man I met yesterday. Karenni is a strange language because I do not know it. it's amazing that people communicate in so many different languages and that there is little or great overlap. I think I might be a two-language kind of girl. I wish I knew arabic. then if I taught community esl classes, i could communicate with more students. most refugees don't speak spanish.
Spanish. it's hard for me to express myself in spanish. especially with church. i think it's good that I learn and that I'm uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable on saturday. I wish I knew how to handle being hit on in a gracious way. is that possible?
Animals are so nice. I like my dogs. they are really my parents' dogs though. in my parents' house. someday I will move out. David's moving out. not me. not yet. i'm waiting.
on the world to change? no. I should prep stuff for tutoring mañana. the first day is always hard to prep for. I learned that with my niños in spain. I miss them. I long for them. beautiful, beautiful niños. the new american there is named bryan. he lives with one of my most favorite families. heart friends, really. If I ever go back to spain (and I hope i do) it will be to visit paloma and alberto and ana. and abuela. and faby and abuela paquita (i hope she's still alive then) and mar and marta. everyone else will be good to see, but those people are family.

yesterday we had argentinean folk dancers at school. phew. well, he was argentinean and soo charming. his wife was mexican. they danced and the travel bug bit me. i wonder about that... so much desire for new and not becoming rooted. i thought of leandro, obviously. he's the most gypsy hippie person i've ever met in real life. i wondered what he'd think of my life now, working in a school, learning to give myself away. i don't think he'd understand, despite all his thoughts on freedom, love, and how in tune he was with what I'll call the spirit of life. Ana was like that too. bless her heart.
i like my life though. even if it makes no sense. a lot of things i thought didnt make sense to leandro though, especially when i couldn't explain them in spanish or english.

it's weird to lose your own language. and english is so easy compared to spanish right now. i need to practice more though. I should put my rice and beans in the fridge. they're definitely cold now. but I like sitting here on the floor. this is a long post. streams of conciousness always remind me of my friend Samantha. I haven't talked to her in a long time. that's a sad, but natural part of life. you can't always keep in touch with everyone you love. and i love pretty much everyone, but Sam's more than that, she's a heart friend. she was there, in spain, round one. mi compañera de piso y de habitación. de risas, de maria, y de tortilla que olió a tú sabes qué.

i miss the beach. i want to run on it, sleep under the stars, go on romantic walks, swing my feet off a pier. eat ice cream. i like winter though. that's new for me. and good.

okay i need to go now and write a coherent post or put away my rice or print groupons or figure out what i'm teaching tomorrow to my new friend.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

everyday rhythms

I was just rereading my Spain blog. So good. And it's so WEIRD (and, yet, surprisingly NORMAL) to have been in one place for so long. I even have... a routine? We had our first full week of school this week since the first week of January and it's good. It's good for the kids, good for the teachers, good for paychex (yeah, that just happened).

It occurs to me that I do not know how to blog about ordinary life, especially because really good conversations just keep catching me by surprise. And when I have conversations, I feel less of a need to type about it.

Nonetheless, here are some highlights from this week:

A certain first grader compliments me every day on how I dress. I totally think about her when I get dressed in the morning.
I like being alone!
I went to Holy Land Café with my good amiga Kate and we ate Middle Eastern goodness.
For all of my angst in Spain about not knowing how to be a teacher, I'm starting to get a grasp on it and like it a lot.
A NATIVE SPANISH SPEAKER TOLD ME MY SPANISH WAS GOOD! Just when I was feeling like I was losing it too!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

everything i've ever wanted i've found in you ?

I just want to do something hard. What?
I don't know. I don't know what that means.

This is what I know. I am deeply loved by Christ. I have fallen among a really beautiful group of friends. And I keep having these strange urges to not buy any clothes for a year or give away half of everything I own (including my bed to someone who needs it) or to go find hungry kids and feed them, or to move into a neighborhood that is not so nice and clean and is definitely not in the burbs.

But I don't. Or at least, I haven't. I thought I didn't know where to start, but maybe I should start with that paragraph above this one. (I might keep my bed. For now)

This alternatively makes my entire body tight with tension, nervousness, anticipation and softens my abdomen, letting me relax into knowing that life does not get worse if you only have two pairs of boots.

Do you experience this?

Monday, January 17, 2011

becoming known.

This blog has absolutely nothing to do with what I've been up to the last month or so.

And it has everything to do with it.

You see, the events of the past month, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, "the Sundays after Epiphany" have been intense times of solitude + community, late, late night conversations, early mornings alone, phone calls, emails, no fewer than 5 letters and 6 emails from different people from my time in Spain, transitions at work, new friendships, and reconnecting.
Last week I had two snow days, one 12 hour day, and then a day where I planned a spontaneous road trip to Memphis with two guy friends. Why not? This weekend, we drove about 16 hours round trip, learned more about each other, talked about everything from Elvis to civil rights to Jesus (and maybe combined all of them in an adult-sized onesie), arrived in time for Sunday night church and Po's Dumpling Bar (and a "Love Potion: Management not responsible" drink). Then my parents picked me up (cute!), I recounted our Memphis adventures for the... seventh time, we went home and I heard about their weekend party, putting away the Christmas ornaments, and how our van - which we took in Friday at 7:30am - was still in the shop.

It's no wonder that today, Monday, I am having a hard time sitting still and being alone. A person gets used to momentum, and even though I sorely needed some "blank space", me cuesta acostumbrarme al silencio.

So now I'm sitting cross-legged on my floor, bent over my Mac-mac. Typing to think. Writing a blog as a means of creating space in my own life and as tracing over all this activity to connect the dots in a pattern I think I see forming. I think I need bullet points. But not bullets.
  • It takes a long time to develop relationships with people. And if God is relational, how much longer does it take to develop relationships with God? And like any friendship that has been through the rocks, survived, and grows with time, how much more beautiful does our relationship with this creator become over time?
  • I've logged a lot of hours with new friends this past month. A lot of life together. A lot of shared experiences. It was beautiful... And yet, I'm constantly reminded, sometimes painfully, of how much more life I've spend outside the context of those relationships. Sometimes it feels like Spain is this year that no one can really comprehend... and part of it is that a lot of things happened during those nine months that I'm only beginning to express. I NEED to talk about it. I want to share it. So many good stories, characters, painful experiences, raw beauty, and lots of emotion. A place that is so different from this, my native landscape, and is yet somehow my home? It's still a bit incomprehensible. I want to go back. I don't want to go back. I don't know. I think I need to talk about it more.
  • My car is broken somehow. It is the classic story of taking it in for an oil change and there is some part that takes in air on the engine (I don't remember it because mechanical vocabulary does not stick in my brain.) that doesn't work quite right and costs $1200 to fix... One hour later we found out that the minivan also is flawed in some way that, coincidentally also costs $1200 to fix. It's a tense day in my house. Neither vehicle is going to get completely fixed. This is not really related, but it's stressing me out and I wanted to add it to the post.
As life continues, as I develop these relationships, enjoy time with others, it is contrasted with this idea that my friend Katherine keeps telling me, "Schmellen, there are so many stories you don't know about me yet!!"
Every time Katherine (who I really want to call "Schmatherine" and probably will in the future) says this, I think "YEAH! There are so many stories you [collectively] don't know about me!!!"

And I wonder if this is how life is... we keep loving each other, creation, God and entering deeper into life together, sharing stories, adventures and becoming known... forever and ever. I hope so. Becoming known is not easy; but it is beautiful. Let's keep after it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rima IV

One of my favorite pieces of Spanish poetry.

No digáis que, agotado su tesoro,
de asuntos falta, enmudeció la lira;
podrá no haber poetas; pero siempre
habrá poesía.

Mientras las ondas de la luz al beso
palpiten encendidas,
mientras el sol las desgarradas nubes
de fuego y oro vista,
mientras el aire en su regazo lleve
perfumes y armonías,
mientras haya en el mundo primavera,
¡habrá poesía!

Mientras la ciencia a descubrir no alcance
las fuentes de la vida,
y en el mar o en el cielo haya un abismo
que al cálculo resista,
mientras la humanidad siempre avanzando
no sepa a dó camina,
mientras haya un misterio para el hombre,
¡habrá poesía!

Mientras se sienta que se ríe el alma,
sin que los labios rían;
mientras se llore, sin que el llanto acuda
a nublar la pupila;
mientras el corazón y la cabeza
batallando prosigan,
mientras haya esperanzas y recuerdos,
¡habrá poesía!

Mientras haya unos ojos que reflejen
los ojos que los miran,
mientras responda el labio suspirando
al labio que suspira,
mientras sentirse puedan en un beso
dos almas confundidas,
mientras exista una mujer hermosa,
¡habrá poesía!


Friday, January 7, 2011

New year

A quote from

The greatest sale of self-help books takes place every year around the end of December and beginning of January. We see the new year as a time to turn over a new leaf, to make a new beginning. Our best intentions, and the books we buy, can easily become something of a reproach as the year progresses and we see ourselves making little progress. Perhaps we need to be careful about the scale against which we measure ourselves. Growing in patience, self-awareness and in proper love of oneself are tasks that deserve time – even if we cannot always measure or prove our progress. Allowing ourselves to be open to the work of God within us will remain a call to all of us during 2011. God won’t give up but waits for us to awaken to the wonder and joy of knowing ourselves to be always in the presence of God.