Friday, December 28, 2012

From 8/9/10

I am feeling a bit lost.

As I continue choosing steps that walk me farther from Spain, I feel like a small part of my identity is left huddling about three steps back saying "but... I don't know if I want to go there yet!"

Last Wednesday, my friend Amanda and I embarked on a great American road trip... to Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska (mostly in that order). We also passed through Oregon and Paradise [park]. I didn't realize when I carefully stored my Shakira, Alejandro Sanz, Jarabe de Palo, and Maná that I might be carefully storing a little part of me that's becoming increasingly difficult to get back.

Life is interesting y da muchas vueltas. I left feeling nostalgic about Spain, wanting to write letters to every one of my friends and acquaintances. In between excellent conversations about adapting, self-disclosing, and making community after college, I felt something hard dissolve in myself. I was part of a group, my group, my friends. We encouraged each other to love better, to see Christ in others, to be healthier. We laughed and cried and prayed. I realized I hadn't prayed aloud with a group of people since May of 2009. That's a long time ago.

I remembered, reinhabited the intellectual side of myself. I had to ask what words meant. I found myself saying "oh my gosh! me too!" or "me neither!" countless times. We understood each other, this eclectic group of people from Michigan to LA.

It's so weird though. I loved it with every fiber of my being. I ended with a cold and danced up a storm, but...

There's a "but".

I am different now. Part of me exists that didn't exist when I was in college. College feels like a lifetime ago. My year in Spain was four years of education crammed into one. And so as much as these friends are home to me, so is my colegio where I taught and they don't know or understand that. It's not their fault. It's just strange to feel so torn and divided. 

Best day ever...

[From 12/17/10]

"So, Dad, I planned out our whole day. First we'll make snow angels for two hours, and then we'll go ice skating, and then we'll eat a whole roll of toll house cookie dough as fast as we can, and then to finish, we'll snuggle."



Both, and

ways we spend time

making space for others



peace with emptiness


beginner's mind (life-long learner?)



i'm coming to grips with what it means to be a searching, wandering 20 something...



Sometimes I wish I were Spanish.

In first grade, some of the kiddos and I have been talking about how we are all different. Even if you have freckles or don't have freckles or have skin that's different from your neighbor's, you are still you. And that's valuable.

But sometimes... I really wish I were Spanish. :)

Sex + Money

Last Monday, I had the opportunity to see a screening of the documentary Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth. It is about slavery right here in the USA.

I was blown away.

First of all, I think this is an issue we all need to know more about. With that said, I will add the trailer at the end of the post.

Secondly, the quality of the documentary is just outstanding. Seriously.

Thirdly (I'm going to switch to a numbered list now, because I don't want to write numbers with -ly at the end.), I got to meet the filmmakers and they were... wonderful. Any description I give will not convey how much I enjoyed, loved talking to them. They were exceedingly gracious and

4. Did I mention I think this is important? I have a lot of opinions and thoughts on it, but don't really know how to put them into a blog-friendly format yet. I'm also not sure that this is the best place for me to share that. It really reminded me of my time in Amsterdam, which was my closest experience with the whole matter.


[A post from 9/21/11]

Today I found myself eating lunch with a colleague, a man who used to work where I work, a man from Costa Rica, and a woman from Peru. We were all speaking English - mostly.

Later I walked outside of the cafeteria and was surprised to find myself it what I will call "expat" mode. "An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence." (Thank you wikipedia) What does that mean for "expat mode"? It means that I have turned on a filter to the best of my abilities to make my English as non-regional and dialect free as possible. This includes not slurring words together: "I'mmina go" as well as specific cultural references: "hipSTER" and probably more things than I can just list off consciously.

I was snapped out of my expat mode, or perhaps snapped into awareness that I was IN expat mode, when I walked past two students in full small-college-in-the-midwest jargon. Regrettably, I have not experienced this enough times to be able to tell you how this is different. I will keep listening and practicing awareness, but know that my experience of it was "Wow! Those people talk like I do when I'm not in a foreign context!" Then I realized that all my students were experiencing Kansas City English with all its eccentricities the same way that I experienced Jerez Spanish. It was trippy. This led me to ponder: why do people leave their countries? What causes someone to become an expat, to uproot themselves from the familiar context of home and move far away? Feel free to weigh in with a comment, but I'm going to share a two loose categories I have observed in my many hours logged with foreigners.

The Party-er.
I think we can all relate to this relocating person. I mean, who hasn't wanted to go to Europe for a month and take in the culture? For some, this means excellent sights, museums, wine, food, or villas. For others, perhaps ranging in age from 16-30, this means late nights in discotheques, no getting carded, no parents, and no responsibilities. I have students like this and it's weird to see them enjoying the party life in... suburbia USA?

The Expat
Perhaps they started a successful business and simply decided to stay. Maybe they fell in love with a local. Or maybe, they just found that they culture they moved to fit them better than the one they left. Maybe it's a retiree who always wanted to move to ____.

These are two categories and there are certainly more. No one, of course, fits into one category all the time. That's just how people are.

What do you think? What makes people (or you) leave their countries of origin?

Pringles and Patience

[post from April 2012]

"Hey baby girl, you want some Pringles? Yeah, Pringles. Mmm. You love Pringles!"

I try to squash the thoughts that come into my head about my fellow shopper at Aldi. "Oh gosh... all of the chemicals and additives... gross... No, Ellen. Just focus on why you're here. Don't judge." I scan the shelves of nuts, wishing Aldi would carry unsalted cashews. And chickpeas. I really wish for cans of chickpeas...

But the commotion in the cart next to me draws my attention once more. The baby, somewhere between 1 and 2 is whimpering. "No, we can't open them now.... No. I said NO... JEEZ. JUST STOP IT." Then the mother hisses insults at her daughter. "You're so stupid! Cut it out! Quit it or I'mmina hit you. I'mmina beat you up. Shut up!!"

I am ashamed to say that my first thought was not very nice. "Well, you're the one who dangled those nasty chips in front of her in the first place. And what's she learning from that kind of talk? Not helpful."

My next thought was, "That could be me."

That mother. Does her reaction seem a bit overblown? Have you ever been stressed out and overreacted? I sure have. I have been pushed too close to my breaking point enough time to understand how out of control you feel when your reserves of patience have been depleted.

For reasons I don't quite understand, that's been me a lot lately. Depleted in every way and not quite sure how I ended up flipping out over something so seemingly small as a daughter who wants Pringles. (Here, I need to clarify that I firmly believe it's never okay to threaten a child with violence or things that lower their self esteem.)

I have been stressed about money and my job and sometimes those two things can just infiltrate my life like that and it's like becoming a different person. That's why it seems critical to give people space, to not judge them. Even when it's hard. Even when it involves Pringles.


[post from July 2012]

A question from a  job interview this year: "Tell about a time when you had a lot of deadlines to meet and had to prioritize."

If you gave me that question now, I would have a lot more examples. On May 15 of this year, I got a text message from my roommate, a high school Spanish teacher, planning two week trip to Spain with her students. "Julia's (another Spanish teacher) mom is sick and she can't go. Are you sure you have to work??"

Confession. I was driving to work to sign my summer contract when I read this message. I called Carolyn immediately and said, "WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUS?" She was. I drove to work and spoke to my boss. He said, "Well, I don't see how I can tell you no."

And just like that, I was going to Spain.

That night, I had a job interview for a part time job teaching swimming lessons. The next day, I turned 25 and actually started to believe that I might be going back to Spain. By the next Friday, I had been hired as a tutor for a sweet little boy and had purchased a plane ticket to visit my Spanish home of AndalucĂ­a while the girls did homestays.

Have you ever been on a ride at a carnival, or even a merry-go-round at a playground and experienced the sensation that everything is spinning around and around? You can see colors and maybe whatever is moving on the actual merry-go-round, everything else is out of focus. My life has felt like that for the past month and a half. Most of the things spinning out of focus are positive and beautiful, and for a while, they jump onto my merry-go-round a few at a time and I can see them and enjoy them. But I sort of wish the whole thing would just hold still.


[post from July 2012]

The United States is a great country. I don't ever make the claim that anything is the "best" (this even includes never picking a "best friend" my entire life), but we have a phenomenal amount of diversity in this country. We have deserts and forests and plains and mountains and rivers and oceans and bays and seafood and top technology access and running water and electricity.We are in the middle of a DROUGHT in the midwest and yesterday the water companies said "We don't have a water shortage, just problems with the pipes handling the demand."

We also have an unfathomable (to me) amount of debt, lots of pollution and waste, startlingly clear lines children who go to schools so underfunded and worn down that you can pretty much write their report card when they first walk in the door.

Clearly, we've got some problems. I haven't even talked about hunger, poverty, homelessness, and joblessness.

But wait. Isn't this country also extremely educated, talented, and creative? We have all these problems, but we have so many resources.

Here's the problem. I will illustrate with a story:

The mayor was on the radio. I personally like the mayor. I think the mayor is very competent and has great ideas and is not too fiery. I think it must be a huge asset to remain cool when you are involved in politics. I am happy to have the mayor in charge of my city. So the mayor was on the radio and a woman called in with some concerns.

She was trying so hard to be respectful of the mayor and how he had said that his number one priority was education. But the emotion kept creeping into her voice as she asked him what, exactly, our taxes were paying for with sky-high water bills and not exactly awesome schools.

The mayor (kudos Mayor) kept calm and must have heard the fear in her voice. He tried to assure her that it was hard to pick only one priority to be "number one" and that in no way negates the importance of education. He continued, but I was so struck by how well this illustrates the problem of conflict resolution that I don't remember everything else that was said.

We are scared and our fear makes it really hard to work together. We're scared because we're tired, we're in debt, it feels like no one cares, and our tummies kind of hurt. We feel excluded, not safe, and polarized. No wonder it's so hard to work together.

We've all experienced fear. It's crazy the way it fires up our insides and keeps us from thinking straight. Have you ever been on the outside of a conversation like the one I heard on the radio? Fear kept this woman from being able to understand the mayor. It was paralyzing.

When we can't put ourselves in the place of someone else, it makes resolving the conflict next to impossible. Both parties must be able to turn from confronting the other to standing next to them. And until that happens, polarizing fear will keep us apart.

Let's stand next to someone today in love, this week, instead of standing across from them in fear.

Late night celebrations

[post from fall 2012]

It's not often that I feel like staying out until almost one in the morning. But tonight was a special night celebrating a special woman. The gifts we bought were cards written with affirmations and blessings. Shana is in transition and we were marking the end of her time in a leadership role.

We filled our tummies with yummy food, saffron lemonade, wine, and moscato. We filled our hearts with laughter and our eyes with tears. No one judged anyone for eating 12+ oreo/cream cheese truffles. We knew we were celebrating and enjoying.

Shana shared metaphors with us about what the transition was like, explaining that the soul speaks in imagery and not words. After listening to her metaphors, we prayed for her; and as each woman spoke, it was clear that her vulnerability had once again reconnected us with that place in ourselves.

It's funny when a leader in your life transitions out of a leader role. Suddenly, I realized that Shana wasn't awesome because of her role in our church. She was simply awesome. Her way of being was no doubt deeply influenced by years of conversations in and around the church however her being, her essence, her presence is simply who she is. We didn't have a rock awesome women's ministry leader. We had a rock awesome woman leading ministry. A subtle distinction, no doubt, but it encapsulates that she will continue on, though not in the same role she once filled.

Driving home, through unknown neighborhoods and on the interstate that winds under city buildings and leads to known neighborhoods, I pondered the conversations I'd had. I felt grateful for the time spent out late, knowing it was worth every minute. I am starting to recover from a season in my life where I automatically answered every invitation to spend time somewhere negatively due to hectic days. I can now answer, "Yes! I do want to do that!" and then do it. It's weird to let myself begin to flip that switch...


[Post from November 2012]
[a very honest post]

Well, not exactly unemployed. I nannied for three days a week and sometimes taught up to three yoga classes every week. Friends bought or gave me almost all my food. I clamped down an iron fist on my earnings, paying only my rent and student loan bills every month. Oh. And gas.

I stressed out a lot, but I also read voraciously, laughed really hard, cried honestly, took photographs with a camera and with my mind, and last week, I even BIG cleaned my house. I applied for lots and lots of jobs, interviewed extensively, and learned that sometimes people who are interviewing you for a job actually don't really know how to interview someone. They asked me lists of questions that had little to do with the position in question, and seemed to be from an online how-to article. It was a good reminder that all of us are human, all of us can be prone to put off something important until the last minute, and all of us are still trying to figure things out. I hope we never stop.

The reason I am writing this post is because Monday, I start a full time job. I loved the organization, loved the interview, and got a good sense of the atmosphere of the company. Nonetheless, I am full of trepidation. I am an idealist at heart, and it's one thing to imagine and wonder and ponder; it's another thing to dive into a real job, with hours and wages and an office.

I am wholeheartedly grateful to be moving into a place where I can provide for others as I have been provided for; while working in a supportive place doing work I believe is meaningful and important.

Thanks to what I might refer to as my sojourn from the working world, I understand some important things though.

1. A job is a job. It neither completes nor defines me.
2. Anxieties and worries occur working or otherwise. Some jobs (and I've had one of these) directly increase our anxieties while decreasing our ability to cope with them. These are worth leaving. In other instances, we look for a place to pin our often nameless fears and worries. Jobs are convenient. So are family members and loved ones. It's good to be aware of this.
3. We live in a country with more than enough, that constantly tells us we need more. We don't. There is always enough.

These are some of the lessons I hope to take into my new job. I am hoping to give myself lots of patience and plenty of time to transition. It takes a long time to transition. I learned this in Spain, in coming back from Spain, and in starting other jobs.

Here we go - the beginning of an end and the beginning of a beginning. 

The Story of the Tomato Plant

Someone very wise once told me that while our minds try to explain everything, the heart speaks in pictures and metaphors. This is the story of a tomato plant that speaks a picture better than I can explain.

This spring, my roommate and I were suddenly inspired to garden. We went on a long walk past a plot of community gardens and picked up a brochure.

"Carolyn?" I said to her. "I wonder if Bill (our landlord) would let us garden in that raised bed with those tiny ugly bushes."

So Carolyn called him up. I was sure he'd say no. I listened to Carolyn's end of the conversation.

"We were wondering if we might do a little gardening in the raised box outside our house... Yes the one with the bushes in it...Well, we know it's not very much room, but we'd like to try!... Okay, thank you!"

And just like that, we were gardeners! I went to work clearing some of the very sketchy mulch, saving it in my old humidifier box, in the unlikely event that Bill wanted it back at the end of the summer. I planted zinnia seeds we'd been given at church and documented their growth with my camera. Despite having almost no money, I went to our local hardware store and splurged on a trowel, a pack of four marigolds, a flowering plant that promised to come back year after year, and an heirloom tomato.

Caleb, my boyfriend, gave me a bag of potting soil to work into the heavy clay soil so common in this area. He also brought me a pair of gardening gloves which I stained black and green with nature and earth. I turned the potting soil along the row where I planned to plant things, watched the box for the times of day it had full sun. I planted the marigolds in intervals throughout the box, the tomato plant in the corner where it would get the most sun, and basil and sage from our CSA. I also planted the flowering plant, but it withered and died only days after.

It was one of the hottest summers on record. My May dreams of harvesting my own tomatoes were deferred again and again. I worked three jobs, still made almost nothing, and went on an unexpected two week trip to Spain. While I was gone, Caleb stopped by our house every day to water the tomato plants and others. The tomato plant grew, and grew, and grew. It put out flowers. It dropped the flowers. It grew some more.

I came back from Spain. Caleb's beard was enormous. So was the tomato plant.

The summer and I synced our rhythms, racing around frantically, knowing that the heat couldn't last forever and neither could this pace.

By July, I was weary. I watered the garden out of sympathy for our mutual heat exhaustion. I lifted up tomato branches, searching for a sign of red and spotting, again and again, the tag I pushed into the ground with pictures of what I hoped would be coming.

At the end of July, I quit my job as an ESL instructor, much to my parents' surprise. It was a huge relief. As the summer finally started to wind down, I found myself watering the garden while carrying the baby I began to nanny. I let him pull at the zinnias and tomato leaves.

In late September, I looked at the tomato plant. The thing was a giant mound, ten feet by ten feet. I had pruned it several times, to see if it would spark anything. It had been in the ground since May and had yet to produce a single tomato. I thought about Jesus cursing the fig tree and wondered if I should just rip the darn thing out of the ground right then and there. It had been, I decided, a waste of water to water the thing since May. Oh well. I love plants, and I don't like it when they die. I could never have killed one with intentional neglect.

The first two frosts came. No one could understand why, including myself, but I covered the tomato plant with two sheets (One wasn't big enough.)

And then a miracle happened. The tomato plant flowered, and almost overnight it was filled with tiny green tomatoes. They grew, and grew, and grew. Some were the size of softballs and still green. I could only laugh. It was October. The season for squash and pumpkins and greens. Not tomatoes! I pulled off the flowers where no tomato had yet formed so that they plant could put all its efforts into the tomatoes it already had. The plant had a mind of its own and put out more flowers than I pick. Tomato after tomato grew forth. I covered it for the frosts again.

Eventually, I picked those tomatoes and put them in my windowsill. Slowly but surely, they ripened one by one or two by two and I had garden tomatoes when I least expected - all the way through December.

Carry on friends. Don't grow weary in your waiting. The time will come.

Yobbity, yob

I am living a new kind of existence. Every day, I wake up at the same time and get dressed and leave my house. Recently, I've been walking but sometimes I drive.

I go to work.

From about mid-August until the end of November, I didn't really do that. A very, very sweet baby was  delivered to my living room two - four days per week and I walked to a local yoga studio to teach classes. After a blisteringly hot summer full of activity, a two week trip to my second homeland (Espain), and working three jobs flung from all over the city, I was ready for a break. So I quit things. And hoped and applied for others.

I don't think I realized it at the time, but it refreshed my soul in a way I still don't understand fully. One day I was sitting in my grandparents' armchair, which I've inherited. I was feeding him a bottle, hoping he'd fall asleep before the bottle ended. I realized, "Why would I want to be anywhere else besides right here with this little baby?" At that moment, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

I don't know if you've ever been schooled by a seven month old, but that sweet baby taught me how to be present to my body, mind, and spirit. I am learning this still. I am learning gratitude and that God always, always provides.

So I have this new job now. And most of the time, I love it. When I was first starting, someone said to me, "The money's not great. None of us are getting rich here." I snickered inside my head and thought, "That's what you think. This is more than twice what I was making before starting here!"

Starting a new job is an adjustment though. It's been good to walk to work, to be at work, to feel like I am getting things done everyday. Watching a baby sometimes does not feel like getting anything done. I'm glad for both practices though. One job of presence and one of task accomplishment. They overlap though. Presence is something that I often feel the need to race through in order to complete something. I am actively fighting this though, and trying to take the time to linger at lunch and when speaking with a coworker.


Sometimes I start a blog post with an idea of what I will be writing, and by the time it's finished I no longer remember what I was going to say in the first place. I think, mostly, I am writing to remember the woman I became in those four months of liminal space, to hold on to it, and to carry it into this new place in my life called work. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Simply having an wonderful Christmas time

When I was a little kid, I loved Christmas. No school for a week or more! Presents! Lingering meals and time with cousins! Lights on houses! Christmas songs! One year, I even got to dress up as Mary. That was epic and my life-long fifth grader's dream.

Now as an adult, I observe the same things I observed as a child. It looks different though. I see homeless friends on the street in the midst of the Christmas shoppers. I pause as people swirl around me to say a few words to the man ringing the Salvation Army bell. He looks worn and tired. I watch as Christmas decorations go up around my neighborhood. Flashing lights nearly cover one house and I wonder how they sleep at night. "Silent Night" ironically croons out of the temporary speakers they've installed.

Don't get me wrong - I love traditions and meaningful decorations. I just wonder, sometimes, if the best way to prepare for Christmas might be emptying our homes, our selves, our lives of everything that distracts us. How much more meaningful would remembering the gift of Christ be if we had spent the first four weeks of December quieting our souls?

I don't mean to be cynical or to sound judgmental. I did not spend the first four weeks of December quieting my soul or emptying my life of excess clutter.

And this, in some ways, is the message of Christmas. Christ comes. Ready or not, God becomes flesh and moves into the world and into our lives. Mary would have probably preferred to have the baby with her female relatives surrounding her, close to home for her first childbirth. God comes anyway, letting the shepherds know to be not afraid. God meets us where we are, whether or not we think we are ready.

May we be transformed by the little baby who comes into our broken, over-cluttered world. And maybe I will start giving away my possessions to those with less.

This post was inspired by two of my favorite bloggers:
Amanda's post
Mary's post (This one gets into some things I didn't cover here, but feel very strongly about.)