Limiting choices and such

When I sit down to write, I like to have a plan. Today I have none. I have a mental list of undeveloped ideas that I haven’t had time to think through. Not yet. So welcome to my stream of consciousness, which has no theme nor plot nor point.

Summer is coming. The forecast says that May is supposed to cool off partway through, but so far we’re careening towards a hot and dry summer. It makes me glad to miss it. I’m booked now: my bus ticket, my Airbnb, my flights, my airport pick-up. Everything is arranged for physically arriving Stateside come July.

The trip is planned. It’s everything else that worries me.

I don’t enjoy closing down a house for three months, especially when I have an inkling that a host of other townies would be delighted to change the locks and move into my house while I’m gone. (Yes, yes. This does happen. And regularly.) The landlady says she’ll drop in every now and then to check on things, and it’s her house, so I guess I’ll let that inkling evaporate. But cleaning out the fridge and freezer and purging the cupboard of anything inclined to hatch moths or rot… Sigh. My down-the-hall neighbor volunteered to babysit my plants. “Don’t worry if they die,” I told her. They lead a fairly risky life with me anyway.

I’d like to buy some new clothes and maybe sew too so I don’t return to my passport country looking like a tramp. The other day, my neighbor boy was delighted to find the shoe rack I recently tucked behind an inner door. “Shoes!” he cried, exposing the rack to his mother and me. Shoes indeed. All two pairs of them. Well, three if you count my walking shoes which can only be differentiated from my “good” shoes by how worn the soles are. Oh, and my good shoes have a smudge of yellow paint from when I slipped on a freshly painted curb. It wasn’t until my neighbor boy exposed my shoes neatly lined on the rack that I realized how slim my pickings have become. So I promptly ordered a pair of sandals.

But the truth is that I like limiting my choices. When my days are filled to the brim with choices, it’s nice to have an area I don’t have to consider at length. Sneakers or flats?

Then again, I also run the risk of looking like a tramp.

I make myself a weekly menu too. Beans on Mondays and Tuesdays. Fish on Wednesdays, etc. Of course, I am forever changing my recipes and portions–the fun part for me. And there are those days when I could happily devour everything in my refrigerator because I can’t stop being hungry. But always sticking to a plan isn’t much fun anyway.

Do you limit your choices in certain areas of your life? If so, which areas? Do you find it repressive or helpful?

I think I should sign off now. I’m realizing that the only reason I wrote this much is because I’m dragging my feet about the next items on my to-do list. So until the next time, when I can hopefully provide writing with a bit more substance (but don’t hold your breath).


Note: I have a new pair of sneakers waiting for me in the States. They *cough* may be exactly the same shoe that I already have two pairs of, but at least they’re a different color this time!

Also note: The purple striped wallpaper was not even close to being my idea. If you want to discuss limited choices further, we can talk about moving into a furnished apartment with a very involved landlady. 🙂

When the world shifts

I awake to my bed shaking. The window frames click and tick with the shifting earth beneath them. Another earthquake. Is it a bad one? In my sleepy stupor, I wonder if this time we will all have to dash onto the street in our pajamas. My heart pounds as I listen for voices and wait for more tremors.

But all I hear is the thump and whine of the garbage truck making its rounds like it does every night. It is comforting to wake up in uncertainty and then find the world is familiar after all.

Is this what my neighbor boy thought when I slipped across the street in the middle of the night to pick him up? While Mommy and Daddy were at the hospital awaiting baby brother, Little S had spent the evening with another neighbor but would not consent to spending the night. He filled their home with his wails.

When he saw me standing at the front door, he ran into my arms, sobbing as if he had just been waiting for something that made sense.

I picked him up and brought him home. He knows my house, and he knows me. We curled up on the couch after he had fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion. For hours, his breath shuddered from leftover sobs. The body does not quickly forget its tears. Spending the night away from his parents for the first time in his life wasn’t easy…for either of us.

But in a sense, I got to be his garbage truck–the familiar presence as the earth shifted beneath him.


Photo credit: Lucas van Oort on unsplash.com

Back to the land of the greenhouses

If you have the time and energy, check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 before reading this final part of my family’s visit.

Somewhere along the line, the family travel journal petered out. It may have been due to the fact that Spain felt like coming home to me, not another adventure. Or perhaps it is was due to my sister’s stomach bug which made her less ambitious. Or–ahem–simply due to a lack of discipline. Regardless, some of the details of our time in Spain are fuzzy. So I’ll stick to the things that I remember…

After a teammate picked us up from the airport, we ran out to get chwarmas for supper. Sure, we could have cooked something, but none of us felt like generating any more excitement that day.

The next morning, after first breakfast at home, we strolled down the street to a café for second breakfast. My family enjoyed their tostadas, even if they didn’t enjoy the booming café music. “THIS IS SPANISH CULTURE!” I bellowed over the din.

A few of us zipped around town with a grocery cart, buying most of what we needed for the next week. Mom exclaimed over each new load of groceries we brought home but dutifully put everything away while we went out for another load. (Let the record show that we ate almost everything we bought and had to buy more!) Our shopping trip ended just in time to race–somewhat disheveled at this point–to my teammates’ place for a yummy lunch.

I tried to whip up soup for dinner but mostly just whipped up a giant disaster, which Mom cleaned up while we raced across town to pick up the rental car. The soup, partially cooked, was put on hold until the next night.

busy market scene
Photo credit: R.K.

Wednesday was market day. Everyone had been looking forward to the market, but with PEOPLE EVERYWHERE it was much more stressful than they had anticipated. Before long, I deposited them in plastic chairs by the churro stand and finished the shopping on my own. It’s strange, I thought, how much I’ve adjusted to living in a crowded space, to waiting in line or catching the vendor’s attention to get some service, to holding my ground when people get pushy and reaching around people when they’re in the way. New experiences quickly become normal life.

tomato plants in a greenhouse
vegetable samples on plates

That afternoon, we went on a greenhouse tour. Our enthusiastic tour guide showed us the variety of methods they used for planting, ventilation, and pest control. After pigging out on the samples and buying a bag of produce to take with us, we spontaneously slipped over to the beach to watch the sun set and dip our toes in the chilly Mediterranean.

sunset over mediterranean

We finished the evening with the North African soup I’d tried to make the night before.

Thursday consisted of mostly cancelled plans, due to my sister’s stomach bug. No couscous with my friend and no drive up the mountain. Mom and I slipped out to some North African stores. My usual shopkeepers were delighted to meet my mother. I should have brought Dad along too because they probably were wondering how the American giant belonged to a woman half her height. 🙂

My sister was busy being sick so the rest of us took it easy, putting a puzzle together, reading, and the like. My brother-in-law cheerfully fixed my leaky washer, changed out the dorky bedroom light fixture, and reassembled a malfunctioning drawer. Meanwhile, my adorable and unsupervised nephew amused himself by dropping things from the balcony, as we discovered later.

Our big outing of the day– “Come on guys. We have a rental car. We HAVE to use it.”– was going to two grocery stores: Aldi and Mercadona. Since there is a tiny piece of Roman ruins right next to Aldi, I led my family there to see it.

skinny wall
Photo credit: N.H.

Dad stared down at the puny wall. “Oh wow.” Mom didn’t say much of anything. I’m not sure she even saw the wall because she spent the whole time trying to avoid the dog piles. My brother-in-law dutifully snapped a photo. At Mercadona, Dad disappeared for a bit and then came sidling over with a guilty grin and a container of pecan praline ice cream behind his back.

We tried to fuel the car, but due to the confusing labels, had a hard time deciding which was diesel. The guys stood at the pump, sniffing the dripping nozzles. Finally, I went inside the station to verify that they guys’ noses were accurate after all.

By the time we got home from our mini-adventure, my sister was feeling a little better. But she was not feeling good enough for pecan praline ice cream. So the guys took care of it for her…and for the rest of us, come to think of it.

The next day, we took the rental car up to the mountain lookout. We bounced all of the way up, the guys discussing the quality of the tires and such. We got out and admired the view of the sea of white plastic greenhouses before heading back down. By then, the clouds were moving in and visibility was limited.

My downstairs neighbor brought up a big plate of couscous, which hit the spot. Besides wandering over to the Spanish pastry shop and the nearby park, we didn’t accomplish much else that day.

arab fortress

I guess we were storing up energy for the next day. Saturday we went hither and yon–to Immigrantville to visit friends, to Almería to climb up the Alcazaba. Then back to Immigrantville for tapas in a loud and crowded tapa bar. Then to visit another friend who insisted we come in for tea and sweets. Then finally, home.

I whipped up a pot of puchero and then a few of us returned the rental car. Handing over the keys was melancholy, like our time was winding down too quickly. And it was. Sunday was our last day together. We were in charge of team lunch, so late morning we worked on food prep and then spent the rest of the day with the team for lunch and a church service. I was pleased to see my worlds unite: some of the people I know best in the world getting to know each other.

By Sunday evening, part of me was ready to get back to real life, but the larger part of me was trying to hold on to every single minute.

They left early Monday morning. I came home from the airport to wash a load of sheets. But I chose to leave the tiny fingerprints on my windows at least for a few more days.

A snow day and yodelers

For context, read part 1 and part 2 before reading this.

Snowy hills

Saturday morning, we awoke to a white world. The green hills of yesterday were white today. We had a few minutes of fretting about being stuck in our hairpin curve neighborhood until spring, but we soon settled in for the joy of a wet snow day. We did laundry, put puzzles together (although the puzzles were decidedly not for adults), and made spaghetti and garlic bread.

It was this day that we hunted high and low for trash bags, and, after perusing the Airbnb folder, discovered that we would have to pay for a second trash bag and corresponding disposal! Nonsense! I stood on the trash. I think my brother-in-law did too. And later, Dad pressed it down even more. Hopefully, the bag of now-bricks did not put out our hostess’ back when she stooped to pick it up.

Now that I’m done discussing trash and our remarkably uneventful Saturday, I might as well mention that one fantastic thing that we did: a yodeler concert!

Yodeler group on stage

My former roommate had found a concert about 15 minutes from our place. And by the time evening rolled around, the roads were clear. We wandered into the concert hall, feeling very much like we were wandering into a Central Illinois gathering. Again, it was both delightful and disconcerting how much we physically fit in. We relied on Mom’s high school German and my German pronunciation of my own name to claim our reserved tickets (which, as it turns out, I still mispronounced my name so I might as well have just used the English version). Several people wanted to talk to us, but our blank smiles deterred them.

We sipped Rivella and ate the little chocolates at our places. The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. People chatted until the lights suddenly dimmed. I checked my phone. It was 8:00 p.m. on the dot.

By the first song, we had already settled back to enjoy the evening. The music was exactly what Dad had spent years of hours watching on YouTube. His dreamy expression made the rest of us warm and happy too. The mixture of traditional music groups was delightful. My nephew was the only baby present (this might tell you the age bracket of the audience), and he did pretty good, considering the concert started at his bedtime.

During intermission, a man came around and tried to talk to us. When we apologized, he backed away and said something about “American!” Word had got around.

Trachselwald Castle

On Sunday, we went out for one last scenic drive. The snow was mostly gone, and the landscape was green again. We wound through the countryside and eventually found our way to Trachselwald Castle, where Anabaptists were once held as prisoners. We didn’t think we could get into the exhibit, but decided to enjoy the outside anyway. Then, my nervy brother-in-law pushed open the unlocked door and we wandered inside the damp, cold tower. It was an unexpected peek into our history, and the unexpected part made it that much more meaningful.

That evening, my former roommate brought over her fiancé to get my vote of approval (that was my idea). We had a delightful evening of talking and praying together. And in the end, he got my approval. 🙂

After they left, we realized we were pretty low on food. In our effort to “work it out just right,” we had underestimated our appetites. My brother-in-law and nephew polished off the tube of mayonnaise… plain. With a side of butter… plain.

The next morning, after a few hiccups–such as not filling up the rental van with fuel and my nephew promptly wetting through all of his layers just after Mommy checked in the carry-on–we were on our way to Spain!

Not having been able to reserve an exit row, Dad passive-aggressively manipulated circumstances by stretching his legs into the aisle until the stewardess took note and moved all 6’6″ of him to a roomier seat. It was a rough flight. My nephew cried for a good part of it while my sister and brother-in-law felt like “those” parents. There was enough turbulence that my sister and I wore matching pale green faces.

At our layover in Madrid, we had the perfect amount of time, which we squandered by making various and sundry trips to the food bar only to end up with stuffy sandwiches and a tasteless salad… and an almost missed flight. We made a wild dash when my brother-in-law saw on the screen that our flight was boarding.

“We are about to close the gate,” the attendant told us. And we frantically collected our people and things. But after that trauma, our flight was uneventful. And then we were home–at least I was home.

But I will have to write about that another day.

“We scaled a mountain!”

(For context, read part 1 before reading this.)

mountains and lake

Our goal to leave at 9:30 got us out the door by a remarkable 10:30. We were planning to mosey over to Interlaken to find those stunning picturesque spots that end up on everybody’s Instagram feed. Instead, the closer we got to Interlaken, the closer we also got to Schilthorn, and the closer we got to Schilthorn, the more excited my brother-in-law got about taking the cable car up the mountain.

rolling green valley with brown houses
green field with snow-capped mountains in the distance and train
mountains and valley

It was the perfect day for it, or the perfect morning at least. One glance at the forecast told us that it was now or never.

So we left Interlaken without any of those Instagram-worthy photos. (It’s just as well; none of us have Instagram anyway.) Oh, but first we stopped for a short fuel stop which turned into a loooong bathroom break. My sister, nephew and I waited in the rental car as the minutes streeeeeetched on. “Should I go check on them?” I asked. But we decided to stick together, just in case. The three of them finally emerged with a reconciliatory bag of clementines and cherry tomatoes. It turns out that they had been waiting outside of a locked bathroom door with nobody inside, until someone had enough mercy to give them the key.

We bought our cable car tickets at the bottom of the mountain. “Let’s go,” Dad said weakly and we began to question whether or not this was the best idea. Heights are–eh–not Dad’s thing, and riding a bulky cable car up the mountain on a skinny piece of wire was particularly frightening. But, in the end, we were all game enough to get on board… although, the incentive may have been partially due to choosing the lesser evil– “Stay at the bottom and watch my family plummet to a certain death or plummet along with them?”)

So up we went, Dad relating a story of a cable car crash he had seen recently on YouTube.

cable car arriving
snow covered Alps

It was a blast. No plunging or swaying. As we glided up the mountain to 9,744 feet, the view was progressively more breathtaking. At the top, my sister and I went outside for a stroll and came in stiff from the icy wind. But oh the view!

We climbed a final set of stairs to Piz Gloria, the rotating restaurant at the tippy top of the mountain. The outer ring of the restaurant makes a complete circle every 45 minutes. Initially, we almost left Dad behind when his chair leg stuck to the immobile wall and kept him in place. He waved at us. “Well, goodbye!”

“Bye, Dad! See you in 45 minutes!”

Before and after lunch, my brother-in-law kept checking our oxygen levels. He claimed I was turning purple. I wasn’t the only one who got a headache before it was all said and done.

On our way back down the mountain, we discussed what rating we would give our day. Dad gave it a 9, but only after our feet were on solid ground again. Still, I would give him a 10 for conquering his fear of heights!

We got home, tired. “Well, no wonder,” said Mom. “We scaled a mountain!”

colorful sunrise over silhouetted fir trees

The next morning was our earliest yet… which wouldn’t break any records except our own.

My Swiss friend came to spend the day with us. It was rainy and muddy, a perfect day to spend tracking down a bit of Anabaptist history. Due to complications with the directions, we were late for our tour, practically unacceptable for the Swiss. I guess we got away with it since we were American. Our tour guide was kneading dough when we arrived. My sister wanted to roll her eyes, assuming it was an act to replay Anabaptist history. It turns out that our guide was simply working on lunch so we saved the eye-rolling and sat back to enjoy the tour.

She gave us a long bit of history and showed us around her house which was built in the 1600s with a hideout for persecuted Anabaptists. It was a fascinating peek into our heritage.

old Swiss farmhouse

My friend took us to a Mom ‘n’ Pop style Swiss restaurant where we ordered rosti and Rivella (a resourceful soda made from leftover whey). It was glorious to have an interpreter rather than just offering blank, ignorant smiles. The food was yummy and [relatively] inexpensive. My nephew took it upon himself to charm the other restaurant patrons and spent most of the time turned around completely in his seat.

Later, we discovered that the restaurant claims to be the oldest restaurant in Switzerland, dating back to 1356!

traditional Swiss rosti

My friend had warned us not to order dessert because she had something else in mind–a visit to the local Kambly cookie factory. There, we shamelessly helped ourselves to the samples–the only free thing we had found in Switzerland so far!–but then walked out with arms laden with purchased cookies. It turns out Kambly knows what it’s doing after all! One of the favorites was a chocolate merengue that managed to be both fudgy and crisp as it silently melted in our mouths.

shelf with bagged cookies

Our last adventure was a local store which was really quite large and overwhelming. We bought chocolate and groceries mostly. And then topped off the evening with creamy Swiss ice cream which may have ruined our Prairie Farms palates forever.

Cheese and chocolate

Hello, everyone! It’s been a few weeks. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I have…mostly because the nudge to update has been less of a nudge and more of an ominous cloud above my week that I. Just. Can’t. Quite. Get. To.

But now it’s Sunday and I have a quiet morning before our afternoon church service. So here I am, pecking away on my phone because I’ve been staring at my computer screen far too many hours this week and the idea of voluntarily sitting down in front of it again threatens my emotional stability.

First, the reason I have fallen a bit behind in writing:

FAMILY!

Yes, my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew came for a visit! Well, to be more accurate, we met up in Zurich and after a luscious week in Switzerland, came back to Spain for them to get a taste of my life.

This post is a bit of an introduction to our time together. We’ll see how wordy I get along the way. I was tempted to copy and paste the online journal we created for this trip, but as I read through it, I realized just how much it was not written for public consumption. *slight blush*

We met up on March 7 after we had all missed a night of sleep and felt covered in layers of trip grime gleaned from public restrooms and random people coughing on us. I arrived a while before my family since my flight from Madrid was more on time than their flight from London.

While I waited, I was startled by how much the people looked like me. Or I looked like them. I’m not sure which. As would soon be discovered, this caused some confusion because “Guten tag” can only go so far.

After the joyous reunion with my family, we were more than ready to leave the airport. But first, our reserved rental vehicle was a 5-seater for 6 of us. And then there were seatbelt issues that kept the car dinging at us as we wandered through the labriynth of airport traffic and had to pay 12 CHF for even daring to be there at all.

But as we left Zurich, the scenery continued to improve and so did our moods. Dad and I made the first shopping trip while everyone else snoozed in the van. Dad made a beeline for the meat and cheese and looked disgruntled whenever I dropped vegetables into our shopping basket. We may have spend a considerable amount of time in the chocolate aisle, but it was nothing compared to the time it took us to find a simple tube of mayo.

As we wound up into the mountains, we kept exclaiming over the stunning scenery…and the lack of guard rails on the narrow roads. Forget hairpin curves; winding up to the farm where we stayed was hairpinning all of the way! (My poor brother-in-law was very patient with the other 4 gasping drivers in the car with him.)

From the outside, our Airbnb looked a little dumpy. Mud. Dogs. Random farm equipment. (All of which we would eventually realize is part of small farm life in the Bern area.) But once we were inside, our place was warm, clean, and welcoming. The hostess had left us a loaf of fresh bread, homemade butter, cheese and jam.

We made ourselves at home.

green grass, fir trees, and snow covered mountains
hill with houses and trees

Our first full day in Switzerland was rainy. We didn’t get a whole lot accomplished since it took considerable effort to drag everyone out of the house by 1 p.m. (Which means I don’t have to try to make a long story short for blogging purposes–the long story is short!)

We puttered along, “oh my”ing at the incredible scenery. We also snickered at the “ausfahrt” (exit) signs all along the way. My Swiss friend sent a message to welcome us to Switzerland.

“It’s so beautiful up here in the mountains!” I wrote back.

She laughed when she responded in a voice message. “These are the hills.”

close up of town with mountains in the distance

We drove to Gruyère where we strolled around around the free part of a cheese factory and then feasted on cheese fondue until I wondered if I’d ever want to eat cheese again. Our waitress spoke English, which was helpful. She also spoke Spanish, which was fun.

fondue pot with fondue dripping off of piece of bread

Side note: The prices took us a while to get used to. Visiting Switzerland isn’t for the empty-of-pocket. Even though we had tried to prepare ourselves, at least one of us would often sigh or grumble.

We sipped hot chocolate from a shop across the the street from the cheese factory as we wandered back to our van. We tried to get a peek at the local castle, but we would have had to park and walk through the rain to even see it. So we started for home.

That was pretty much our day besides a quick Aldi stop and two liters of fresh milk on our doorstep when we got back to our Airbnb.

I’ll write more another day. We really did do more than eat cheese and chocolate, although those two reasons alone are enough to warrant a trip to Switzerland!

Have you ever been to Switzerland? What sorts of things did you do?

Rewarded loyalty

“I would like five carrots,” I told the market vendor as he weighed the other produce I had collected from his stall.

A moment later, he breezed back with a bag bulging with considerably more than five carrots. 

“No.” His coworker pointed to the bag and looked at me. “That’s too much, isn’t it?” He had overheard my tiny order.

I remembered the first time I had bought produce at this stall. It was the coworker who had pretended to forget to give me my change and then came back, minutes later, surprised that I was still standing there–neither oblivious nor angry. He quickly handed over the correct change without my reminding him of the amount. 

Now I found it refreshingly ironic that he was the one looking out for me. 

Long ago, I wrote about how I tend to be a loyal shopper, shopping in the same places, even when I know other places have better prices. I still do that today. On market morning, I make sure to stop at my normal vendor stalls first before picking up what I couldn’t find at other stalls. 

You may think my loyalty is blind, but that’s not fair. And this is why…

One day I was meticulously selecting the brightest pomegranates from a pile. My produce vendor noticed what I was doing and slipped over to show me how to tell when pomegranates are ready–and it has nothing to do with how rosy they were! 

Sometimes I’m offered samples of special fruits. And when I ask if new apricots are sweet, they answer honestly because they know I’ll be back even if they’re not.

The first time I made puchero, I ordered my bones and cuts of meat. The shopkeeper happily filled me with advice on preparing the dish. “Boil these bones for 15 minutes before putting them in your soup or they will make the soup too salty.”

One day I bought semolina flour for harcha. “You like harcha?” the shopkeeper asked. At my happy sigh, she disappeared to the back of the store and came back with harcha, still warm from breakfast. More than once, she has given me handfuls of mint leaves from her personal stash when there wasn’t any to sell.

Another shopkeeper refused to sell me a lone chicken breast. He quietly shook his head until I understood that it probably wasn’t the freshest chicken breast north of the Mediterranean. 

Sometimes when the fabric vendor sees me coming, he pulls out the bolts he’s pretty sure I’ll like. And if I stroll into his stall wearing something homemade, he spots his fabrics with delight.

Just the other week, my shower curtain rod was repeatedly falling down. Finally, after several days of clattering, banging, readjusting, and scratching my head, I decided a new rod was in order. But the store down the street didn’t have any. “Come back this afternoon,” he said. But that afternoon, he still didn’t have any. So he opted to get to the root of my problem–what was the problem exactly? 

As I was still making feeble attempts to explain without the proper vocabulary–”The thing in the middle of the stick…”–he began to work on something he had dug out of the dusty depths of his under-counter. Then–pop!–out came a yellowed suction cup and he told me precisely how to position it to keep the shower rod up. “You can even trim around the edges if you don’t like how it looks.” And my curtain rod has stayed up ever since. The yellowed lip of the suction cup is a happy reminder of the resourceful people who are looking out for me.

My meager loyalty has been rewarded so many times over that it has been crowded out by their generosity. In fact, I’m not even sure that my loyalty has much to do with it at all!

Bricks and churros

Meeting her was like being handed an armload of bricks. Surprising, heavy, and requiring concentration to keep the bricks from tumbling everywhere. She was sturdy and strong. Like she was giving the world the finger, and the world was cowering. And yet… and yet, her inner chaos spilled over on everyone she touched. 

I had noticed her for years, only ever at the market. She was eye-catching: tall, broad, non-conformist, and always purposefully raiding booths at the traveling market. 

Then one day, we crossed paths. Literally. And she stopped me. “Who are you?” she asked with bright eyes. 

She was thrilled with my stumbling Arabic, my height (we stood eye-to-eye), and my nationality. We exchanged numbers and parted ways. I walked home, a little dazed by my ability to attract strong women who longed to take me under their wing. How many times had this happened before?

She and I messaged back and forth for a couple of weeks. She had a situation costing her a lot of time and energy. “Pray for me,” she said. 

Last week, I messaged her. “Are you going to the market? Can we meet for churros?”

I found her at the market, rooting through piles of merchandise, somehow sniffing out deals I had already walked by once. 

When she reached out to hug me, body odor clogged my throat and I tried not to breathe. It wasn’t her, but her clothes, I thought. She might not have access to a washer. “SHE’S AMERICAN!” she blared at the market vendor in a voice as big as she was.

She insisted on paying for the churros. “It’s all the same.” She waved me off as I fought back. We found a table and she started talking. Loudly. As she told me her problems, neighboring tables shot us glances. 

I was hyper-aware of the intrusive volume as I munched on churros and wiped my fingertips on the gray churro wrap, but it took most of my concentration to follow her story. I felt like I was juggling those bricks now, trying to keep all of my senses from screaming at me while I focused on her words. There were a lot of them. Both senses and words.

When she told me why her marriage had crumbled, she shrugged. “We get along fine now. But you know, we were too young to know how to solve our problems.” Another shrug. Another middle finger to the world of pain.

An airborne brick was about to land on my foot. What should I say? Was she anything but “fine”? Even with all of the pain she had just detailed? Had anyone in her life ever let her be anything but “fine”?

I pressed my greasy fingers against the paper again, admiring the pristine fingerprints I left behind, dark against the pale gray. My fingerprints. Beautiful. Special.

And the woman sitting beside me left her own greasy fingerprints on everything she touched. Also beautiful. Also special.

“Was it hard to relate to his family?” I asked finally.

And when I looked up from our fingerprinted churro paper, my breath caught. This “load of bricks” in front of me was dabbing her eyes. She wasn’t crying. Not quite. But I had touched something still raw. I sat quietly, ignoring the cooling churros. Ignoring the eavesdroppers around us. She didn’t say more, and I didn’t pry. Our friendship was too new for that. 

But I walked home with this God-given reminder that I had just had greasy churros with God’s image bearer, His beautiful creation. Her wounds and scars would never be able to disguise that.

Snippets of life

Below are a few things I’ve seen or experienced recently. They’re not written in any particular order or of any particular importance (or of any particular grammatical observance, truth be told). Just some snippets of life.

  • Speakers wound up in trees and fastened to light posts play “Joy to the World” as I walk down the street, in step with the music. Then I notice others in step with the music–a Muslim family, several Spanish businessmen, and others. “Let eevery heeeart prepaare hiim rooom…”
  • Russian classmate #1 is disgruntled that she cannot absorb a complex Spanish grammar structure. Russian classmate #2 says: “You’ve only been here 7 years and you want to understand everything. Calm down. We’ve been here for 20 and we still confuse this.” Bulgarian classmate begins to giggle. “Yes, calm down! You still have 13 years of confusion ahead of you!”
  • After a rain, crushed snails in crushed shells dot the walking/biking trail like flattened M&M buttons.
  • An elderly man I meet on my morning walk that tells me that his mornings are better on the days we cross paths.
  • Little boys at the Kings’ Day parade, squeeze around me to get to the front, chattering in hopeful Arabic and clutching rumpled plastic grocery bags to fill with candy.
  • A winter evening curled up with a book and a cup of lemon balm tea…and Christmas lights I hesitate to take down. 
  • A shopkeeper tells me how long I should spend with the friend I am planning to visit in another town. “Are you going to spend the night at her place? No? Then you need to go before lunch and eat with her and spend a lot of time with her before you leave in the evening.” Oh, how I love to hear the North African perspective on relationships!
  • As I walk by, an elderly man comes out of a café to speak to me. “How tall are you?” he asks and all five feet of him steps back in surprise when I tell him. He says that the other day he was breakfasting with another man in the café. When I walked by, the other man said he would not like to take me out for breakfast. Because I was so tall, surely I would eat a lot! That makes me self-conscious as I walk home, realizing that my oblivion doesn’t exempt me from being a topic of discussion.
  • On my way to catch a bus, I notice a lady with her head in the dumpster. She doesn’t have that look of someone who usually sifts through others’ garbage. (And I’m not judging because I have rescued a few garbage items in my life.) But I pause, curious as she bats her broom handle around. “Can I help you?” She mutters something about losing an item. She doesn’t know if it could possibly be in the garbage she took out. I peer in and see a lavender bag of trash on the very bottom of a very empty dumpster. She doesn’t relinquish the broom when I reach for it, but I hold open the dumpster lid while she fishes around. Finally, success! She snags the handles and pulls it out little by little (still muttering). I manage to avoid the linty end of the broom that is headed my way and still make it to my bus on time.
  • I am at the counter of a North African store when a little boy comes in, not even big enough to see over the counter. He sets a hand-written list on the counter. The shopkeeper grins at him, “Peace be upon you, Arkan. How are you? At peace?” He looks down at Arkan’s mother’s list, reading aloud the first item before Arkan interrupts him. “I want a sucker.” Ahh, that’s how it’s done. And I wonder if suckers are free because he is so stinkin’ cute or if his mother ever notices that the grocery bill is always a little more than she anticipated.

Ireland- part 5

I am determined to finish writing about my trip to Ireland today. I doubt it can be as much fun to read as it is to write because it is I who get to relive all of the memories. And with time, the bad memories fade–the exhaustion from a missed night of sleep, the grimy cottage, and so on. (Although, for the record, there aren’t many “so on”s.) It is the good memories that grow and blossom and put a little burn in my heart: that marriage of pure happiness and incredulity.

So, where did I leave off?

Saturday. I will skip over the morning escapade with the washer and the dryer and our hostess because I already wrote enough about our experience. We arrived downtown during a morning drizzle. My friend stopped to ask directions from a group of jolly men sipping their foaming Guinness outside of a bar. She did it for the experience, I think. For the kicks and giggles. It turns out the men weren’t Dubliners and couldn’t help us despite their trying. But they fit well into the friendly Irish stereotype we had already formed in our minds.

We managed to find a market after studying a map and then trailing someone with a market cart. We paused at one of the stalls for some mouth-watering paprika almonds and a free sample of creamy mozzarella balls. The drippy weather and the live music made the tiny market charming, although we probably couldn’t find the place again if we tried.

wooden buckets with savory market goodies

We meandered to the Chester Beatty Library, but when we stepped inside, we both decided we’d rather not do the tour. We may never know what we missed, but it was nice to decide to miss it together. We caught a bus to Phoenix Park, where we picked up free tickets to tour the President’s house and then crossed the sunny lawn–yes, the sun was beaming by then!– to a picnic bench under a tree. It was there in that slice of heavenly greenness and almost-warmth that I was able to say a prayer for our Airbnb hostess and my own attitude toward her. The residual irritation of the morning faded and stopped marring the day. We ate our picnic lunch. Without trying, we had planned the perfect amount of time to eat a relaxed lunch and then meander down to the tour bus.

sun shining on green park

We were about 15. A very small tour. Our guide was amazing, explaining the obvious points of interest in the house as well as the lesser noticed nuggets that mortalize history somehow. Some of the other people on the tour added a layer of excitement, like the elderly gentleman who decided he was thirsty and went over to help himself to the bottled water on the president’s desk. And his wife, as composed and sweet as a queen, continued to look composed and sweet in her darling hat even as her husband raided the president’s personal stash. We admired the ceilings–I especially enjoyed the Aesop’s fables one–, the artwork, and the vast back lawn.

After the tour, we refilled our water bottles and headed back downtown. For the first time, I managed to nab a seat in the front of the upper level double decker bus.

James Joyce bridge
dublin street
street with colorful doors

Our next stop was a Luke Kelly impersonation concert on the lawn of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. We had thought we’d like to tour the cathedral as well, but nope. That was another tour that we both decided wasn’t something we wanted to add to our afternoon. (Is it any wonder I came home with a stash of travel money still in my wallet?) So we sat on a concrete lip of the edge of the sidewalk and watched the concert and grew chillier.

concert in lawn of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Then, at my friend’s insistence, we decided to use the free hot drink vouchers we had been given upon entering the concert. We stomped into an elegant hotel restaurant in our winter gear and backpack… maybe looking a little homeless at this point. And we almost lost our nerve, but my friend wanted a cuppa badly enough that she summoned her courage and soon we both had steaming to-go cups of milky Irish tea. We meandered down the street and then stopped to sit on the pedestal of a statue just across the street from the Christ Church Cathedral. We talked about life. People may have looked at us oddly, sitting there on a statue at a busy intersection with our cups of tea, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t notice.

Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin

After our tea, we were hungry. We walked to Lundy Foot’s, a restaurant that offered a traditional beef stew. In retrospect, it may have been more of a tourist attraction than a real Irish pub. And the musician was playing Jonny Cash. But the men at the bar (my sneaky and blurry photo below) seemed Irish enough and animated the atmosphere, especially after a couple of “jars” and a goal or two in the soccer game.

soccer game in irish pub

The beef stew was amazing. So was dessert. We left, flushed from the warmth of the place, and wandered home, happy.

I have very few pictures of Sunday. We had decided to take one day of the week where we would not plan anything. Originally, it had been our “curl up in front of a fireplace” day, but since that was no longer an option, we walked down to the bay. We spread our rain gear on the grass and held a mini church service, ending our time by praying for each other. It was a special time, minus the dog poo on the bottom of my friend’s shoe. We ate our picnic lunch and then strolled up to Insomnia, a coffee shop, and picked out some comfortable chairs. I ordered tea with tea brack, which didn’t end up being my favorite, most likely because it was packed with raisins which I don’t especially like.

We read and journaled in perfect together-solitude. I even crocheted. Then we returned to our Hairy Haven to pack up. We said our goodbyes before bed and I left the house by 5 the next morning.

The bus app directed me to a stop. When the airport coach came, I held out my public transit card hopefully. The driver asked if I had a ticket. Instead, I asked for directions to a Dublin airport bus that would accept my card, but he didn’t know. I finally nodded and decided to pay the extra money to save myself the hassle of finding the right stop. I pulled out my wallet.

Then he asked, “Is this your last day in Ireland?”

I nodded. “I’m going back to Spain today.”

He pushed my money away, patted my shoulder, and quietly said, “Get on board and make yourself comfortable.”

And with that, beautiful, wonderful Ireland sent me back to Spain.