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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Both my friend and I were looking forward to having a place to base from for the next couple of days. A charming little cottage with great reviews and maybe even a fireplace. We had put in an order for a sturdy drizzle so we could curl up in snug armchairs with tea and a meaty book.
We found out by accident that our hostess, who lived in the cottage, wouldn’t be there to welcome us. No problem, we decided. Surely someone else would be there.
We wound through the countryside to a charming tree-lined walkway; though, admittedly, it would have been more charming had it been daylight. But we found the gate and rumbled our suitcases up the gravel driveway.
When no one answered the doorbell, we hesitantly stepped in the unlocked door. A draft sailed down the hallway to greet us. Although the entryway was dark, a welcoming glow was coming from one of the rooms. We removed our damp boots so not to leave tracks and headed toward the light. It led us to a cluttered sitting room with a pair of ghostly pink slippers residing on a carpet thick with dog hair.
We shuddered. Surely that wasn’t our room. But the rest of the cottage was dark and silent. Were we even in the right house? We tiptoed around, trying in vain to forget every Agatha Christie novel we’d ever read, because this was assuredly the perfect place for murder. “Foreign guests lured to countryside cottage…”
We found our room, at least a room that resembled the photos on the airbnb page. But could we be sure? The trash was overflowing and used towels hung on the back of the door.
My friend tried in vain to shut the patio door, the source of the draft. I set down my luggage, preparing to make myself at home. It was then that I began to notice the depth of the grime. It was also then that I began to lose my composure. We shot our hostess some questions: “Key? Washer and dryer? Wifi password?” but left out the most pressing: “Were you really expecting us? Because it sure doesn’t look like it!”
We left to grab a few groceries and, well, to evaluate our situation. Then we ate in one of the grimiest first-world kitchens I’ve ever seen, washing everything before and after we used it. A powerful odor wafted from the refrigerator, which we hoped were just the aging strawberries. I gnawed on cucumbers and broccoli, glum.
My poor friend was trying to make the best of the situation while I broke down bit by bit.
“Go take a hot shower and you’ll feel better,” she said.
She hunted down relatively clean towels in the overstuffed wardrobe in our bedroom. I went to the shower, hauling my entire suitcase with me so not to gather any extra filth by setting my clothes on her crowded bathroom furniture.
Soon, my friend heard a bellow, which happened to be the last of my expectations oozing out and spiraling down the shower drain. There was no hot water. Nor heat, as we soon discovered. We buried ourselves under blankets of questionable cleanliness which my friend had also dug out of that same overstuffed wardrobe.
My wounded sense of justice was still sending off flares when I fell asleep in a bed that was actually pretty comfortable.
My friend chose to believe that our hostess was grief-stricken, since she had mentioned she was at a funeral. Actually, over the next couple of days, even with socks laden with dog hair, we made quite a few excuses for her. She was a very nice lady, after all. Even if she did forget to clean her house. Or which amenities she had listed on her airbnb page. Or that we needed hot water and heat in an Irish November. Or that the last guest (or maybe the one before) had left a liter of milk and hummus in the window sill.
We began to refer to our country cottage as our “Hairy Haven,” a generous term for a place that wasn’t a haven at all. Although, it wasn’t a total loss for it did provide a space for bonding and quite a few opportunities for memory-making.
But there would be no curling up in front of fireplaces here. And so we slayed our dreams.
I awoke from a deep sleep to a hand grabbing my shoulder and someone gasping, “It’s you!” It was the middle of night. It was also the middle of my friend’s disturbing dream. She was comforted to know that I was not a mustached stranger and promptly fell back asleep. But the interaction left me staring at the dark ceiling, my heart pumping.
Morning came soon enough. We made ourselves tea with the electric kettle in our room and took our time getting out the door. Why rush? While planning our trip, we had both decided we’d rather see less at a leisurely pace than see everything and fully experience nothing.
We gathered a few recommendations from our host and then made our way downtown, where we dropped off our luggage (we had rented a different airbnb for the following nights) and crossed the scenic Ha’Penny Bridge.
Our host had recommended Keoghs for an Irish breakfast. We gladly took his suggestion. I am not a bread person, but I spent the rest of the trip trying to track down more of this bread to eat with those thick slabs of creamy Irish butter. And the greens that garnished the breakfast? Peas!
We walked through St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin’s former execution site, which is now a lovely park full of Dubliners out for a bit of green during their lunch break. We paused before a gruesome monument commemorating the Great Famine of the mid-1800s. A North African family stopped us to ask directions. “¿Habláis español?” they asked and were shocked when we ended up speaking in Arabic instead.
We booked a tour to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is a stunning copy of the four Gospels in Latin, supposed to have been copied by monks around 800 A.D. We only saw one open page, highly protected. Apparently, how long each page is exposed to light is carefully monitored. In the Long Room, a room of one of the world’s most stunning libraries, my friend and I pulled out our audio tour earbuds and sat on the wooden benches to drink in the odor of old books and to feel the smallness of us in a great big world of knowledge.
Then we remembered our luggage and began to consider what would happen if the 5:30 closing happened before we were able to retrieve it. So we meandered through downtown, with only a pitstop at Butlers Chocolate Café, another of our host’s recommendations. We carefully selected our hot chocolate and the little chocolate that came with it, wrapped in a small paper baggie. I have never had such amazing hot chocolate. Never. We moaned our way through our creamy cups, enough-rich and not-too-sweet but just-sweet-enough. We lingered long enough that we had to rush to retrieve our luggage before the storage center closed for the evening.
From there we went to our new airbnb, the “Country Cottage Oasis,” which will require a blog post all of its own…
A friend told me it seems like I’m always renewing my residency. I agree.
But this time was supposed to be easy. I waited for my appointment, full of confidence. Of course, my confidence may have been due in part to the fact that the immigrants in front of me had their dubious paperwork shoved into crumpled plastic page protectors. I, on the other hand, had my blue passport carefully tucked behind a stack of crisp, typed forms, neat photos still in their protective sleeve, and an appropriate receipt matched with a tax form. Bring it on.
But it was I who slinked defeated from the office, ready to throw my hands in the air and tell Spain, “FINE! I’m DONE being legal! So there!”
I was able to stifle that impulse. And I’m not done being legal, of course. But it did take several hours of rigorous cleaning and a listening ear or two before I was inclined to persevere.
Which, in turn, led me to a management office. And then a second management office. And finally, per directions, to a right hand turn by a children’s shoe store and down an alley to a hole-in-the-wall lawyer’s office which mercifully listed “immigration” on the plaque beside the front door.
I stepped into the dim office to find the waiting wall lined with sub-Saharans, North Africans, and Asians. Congratulating myself on finally being in the right place, I took a seat.
The man at the front desk didn’t acknowledge me as he gave slow, clear instructions to a client. So I had time to look around. The attempt at decor was shuffled aside for the sake of productivity. Stacks of paperwork in wild piles. Artwork lost behind taped up notices or a whiteboard. A bookcase filled with untouched manuals and a silent essential oils diffuser.
It was a bit messy, but not dirty, I decided. And it held a slight odor of the people who were crushed inside.
Five minutes later, when the clerk had finished, he turned to me. I explained my situation, finishing with: “Can you help me?”
He took my card. “Maria, we have an American here!” he chirped. I must have been the first. Actually, I almost assuredly was. North Americans are an endangered species in Mytown. And how many of the seven or eight of us would have stepped foot in this office?
Only the desperate ones.
The lawyer peered down at me from her desk. I shuffled my neat stacks of paperwork, aware of the dozens of eyes now trained on me from the waiting wall.
The clerk made a copy of my card and asked some questions. But could they help me?
It turns out, they could, but it would take several more trips to the office. Several more surprised stares from the other clients as I joined their ranks. Several more long stretches of leaning against the waiting wall and studying the half-hidden artwork.
Then on one visit, the clerk removed the whiteboard to let me study more than just the fringe of the painting. On another visit, I was witness to a fight that the clerk helped diffuse before it escalated to the point of no return. On another visit, I bumped into a family I knew which helped to pass the time. That same visit, I took advantage of the clerk’s warm, North African culture to negotiate the fee. And on that last visit, he handed me a neat stack of stamped papers tucked in a plastic page protector. Success.
That was only step one. I will have to return. Being a legal immigrant is not for the faint of heart, no matter where you are in the world. But I’m full of confidence again. Bring it on.
Last week, a friend told me that she wants her appearance to reflect who she is on the inside, to reflect her inner value and worth as the Holy Spirit’s dwelling place (1 Cor. 6:19). Hmm. That’s good, I think as I lounge in my sweatpants and dirty socks and, oh, oatmeal still between my teeth from breakfast.
I’ve been struggling with the elbow grease of my friend’s realization before she even sent that message. See, I hate getting out of bed in the morning. No, it’s not depression; it’s because my morning routine takes too long, a chunk of seemingly misused time. The world is going up in flames and I’m making my bed and starting the tea kettle and washing my face. And, goodness, what should I wear?
These small tasks don’t feel useless, per se, but of such triviality that it’s irritating how they eat up my morning. They are necessary and I do them, but they feel to me like wood, hay, and stubble. Bedtime is even worse because I have to undo what took me so long to do in the morning plus I’m sleepy and *gasps* grumpy.
WHEN WE GET TO ETERNITY, IS GOD GOING TO CALL US TO ACCOUNT FOR WEARING DIRTY SOCKS? That’s what I want to shout sometimes.
Warren challenged me to view my routines as sacred and meaningful, part of the abundant life that Jesus has for me (p. 22) “How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life” (p. 24). And that includes my attitude. “The crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines” (p. 34) because, according to Warren, that is where we can truly start the revolution we’re dreaming of (see Lk. 16:10).
So, God might not call me to account for my dirty socks or overflowing dish drainer, yet, that doesn’t make me unaccountable for how I treat God’s temple (my body) and the gifts He has freely given me.
As I type out these thoughts, I interrupt myself for a shower, to heat a bowl of soup, and yes, to empty that overflowing dish drainer. It doesn’t feel worshipful, especially when I find a spoon that still has dried bean broth on it.
But maybe I’m looking at it backwards. Like my friend, I think I should start by reclaiming my motivation and letting my life–even those mundane fingernail clippings and bed makings–come out of that motivation in something like a sweet-smelling savor of worship.
Thank you, my Illinois library, for creating an expanse of accessible books to those who live next door and those who live an ocean away. Your effort to create this haven of enrichment, adventure, and knowledge is not unnoticed.
With every book recommendation, I drop by your institution first, in case you are one step ahead. You usually are. The delight of selecting my next read or even those gentle reminders that my book is expiring soon and will shortly disappear from my account makes me glad to be a name, even a number, in your system.
On those rare occasions when I step through your creaky door–the one with the same creak since I was little–I take in the smell of the aisles and piles of books and wish I had unmitigated time to read, to learn, to grow.
I remember wandering among those stories, getting lost in The Boxcar Children or Garfield, Gilbert Morris or biographies. I sorted through research paper books to find the ones that didn’t make my eyes glaze over on the first page. I stood before your wall of audio books before every trip. I thumbed through your discard pile to find five cent treasures.
All the time, you were there, like a committed friend, offering what I needed if I had the patience to look for it. Apt to teach. Apt to serve.
Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present by Carolyn Weber. I read this in bite-sized pieces, probably how it is supposed to be read. Sometimes it was hard to find a coherent thread that wove the stories together. Yet, Weber has a way of reverberating understandable messages around inside of me. Messages that make me stop just to breathe in the “now” of life.
Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients Our Hearts by Paul David Tripp is a fantastic book about money that requires a thorough heart examination. Tripp isn’t afraid to ask hard questions and coax hidden motives into the light. Money can become our god no matter how disciplined or undisciplined we are with it.
Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters by Dr. Juli Slattery. This book is a wake-up call to the church. Because the church is so silent on this topic, we are letting ourselves be sexually discipled by our culture rather than by the Word of God. This book gives a picture of God’s redemption of our broken sexuality and encourages the reader to walk in sexual integrity.
MEMOIR / NON-FICTION
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. A story of a migration that changed our country forever in ways we haven’t stopped to notice. This book is hard to read, not because of the writing style–it’s well-written–but because it reveals the ugly side of our hearts. Don’t let the size of this thing intimidate you; however, you might want to clear other books off of your currently reading list first. I’m looking forward to reading her book Caste in 2022.
Things As They Are: Mission Work in Southern India by Amy Carmichael. Don’t read this book if you would rather cling to your glamorized view of overseas work. Don’t read it if you don’t want to be moved by the work that still needs to be done. Don’t read it if you want a tidy success story. Why? Because this book strips away any pretense and shows “things as they were” while still testifying to God’s worthiness. There is a free kindle version, but note that it doesn’t include the photos Carmichael often references.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. The story of a boy on the outside of a Jewish prison camp… until he wasn’t. This book will make your heart ache at the juxtaposition of innocence and injustice.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell is children’s classic about a girl who spends years alone on an island after her people are taken away. I somehow missed this classic growing up, but it is still worth the read as an adult.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. What can I say about this old favorite? Just that it was even more charming than the last time I read it. For the first time, I noted that the story really is more about Marilla than about Anne. Think about it. And for the first time ever, I read through the entire series. Still, book one is undoubtedly my favorite.
That’s all for now. Let me know some of your good reads!
I should be in bed. But I want to hold on to today, let it linger, breathe in the sweet butter cookie smell, sip my strawberry tea, stare at my Christmas lights, and listen to my Christmas playlist.
This month was so full. Today was so full. But this is where I want to be. In right now where I can sit and let my thoughts and memories sort themselves out.
I need to buy thread.
I’m thankful for every moment I have with my family. Tonight, I’m savoring memories I have with my dad. Sometimes it takes a threat of losing someone to remind you how dear they are to you, doesn’t it?
When I passed out Christmas cookies tonight, I had a very different response from the time I passed out cookies after moving in. Ten months of rattling around in the same apartment building has shifted relationships toward friendliness, even catching me off-guard. I wasn’t expecting the invitations, especially from my Spanish neighbors.
I decorated the plates with a note: “…and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” (Matt. 1:23). Because Christmas cookies are a good way to catch up with neighbors but they are a means, not an end to reminding us of our desperate need of God incarnate.
I’m not even halfway done with cookie-passing-outing but sufficient for the day is the sugar thereof. I packed away the remainder to frost another day.
My family celebrated Christmas over Thanksgiving weekend when we were all together. And what a racket we make with 11 adults and 10 children (all 5 and under). Sometimes, our nerves were a bit frazzled–at least mine were–but a case of frazzled nerves is a reasonable price to pay for the wealth of being all together.
I could read another round of Tacky the Penguin if it would merit another delighted smile. Or I wouldn’t mind seeing a cloud of blond fluff cheerfully bursting into the kitchen: “Good morning!” Or cuddling a tiny baby who eventually bestowed upon me one of his first smiles. Or crashing through a dark house in search of a hiding place with littles who burst out of the spot before the seeker even gets close. I could even manage a wet shoulder that smells of drool. Or holding an exploding child during ladies’ Sunday school.
Sparkly eyes. “Yaaaaah,” from an agreeable little girl. Shy grins. Counting the number of years he’ll be next time I’ll see him.
Time to laugh, yes… And a time to cry while remembering with dear friends other dear friends who have passed away.
Coffee. Tea. Chats. Uncontrollable laughter with my mom.
Life feels full.
My finger is cramping. I should have pulled out my laptop.
The men here are definitely creepier than the U.S. Thank you to you men who respect women as beings made in God’s image. May we women not take that for granted… and may we return the favor!
I think my house is an introvert. Some houses fall apart when they’re left alone. Mine liked it. I can tell because the freezer and the washer are working better and the drain smell isn’t as invasive. And it wasn’t even that dusty. I wonder if the poor house is disappointed I came back.
If you followed my trail of thought all of the way down here, I will leave you with a nugget from Paul David Tripp’s Advent devotional Come, Let Us Adore Him (from Dec. 20): “Only when sin breaks our hearts will the coming of the Messiah excite our hearts.”
What does Christmas mean to you this year? Does it excite your heart?
I have been frantically reading over the past few months, mostly research for two essays. And in the evenings, I would wind down my over-taxed brain with audio books. So, here is another pile of recommendations. Again, note that these are not reviews. I don’t detail every flaw of every book, and if at some point, you find you have standards different than mine, please leave a comment or disregard my lists altogether.
This time, I don’t have any fiction recommendations. I did manage to read a few, one of them being in Spanish and one that was just strange enough that I couldn’t recommend it and have you all scratching your heads too. But here’s what I have:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the fascinating story behind HeLa cells. Some of this book was entirely over my head. There were a few parts I skimmed. But the writing was informative and engaging, the kind that makes readers interested in a topic they formerly cared nothing about.
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. Have you ever wanted to know more about Julia Child or the French cuisine? The lighthearted narrative style makes Child’s life in France come alive….and it will probably make you hungry too! There are a few parts of this book you may want to skip, but it’s perky and largely clean.