“The svelte brunette vs. her pimply cousin” or “Coffee vs. tea”

Last time I was Stateside, I confessed to two dear friends that I really liked tea. They smiled but disagreed. “Watery” was one of the agreed-upon adjectives. We sipped our coffee together, because at least we agreed on that. 

Long ago, back when we all still had Facebook, a friend’s sister posted that coffee was a svelte, rich brunette and tea was her pimply cousin, or something to that effect. “What a perfect description!” I thought and stashed it away in a mental file (not a verbatim mental file, apparently). I 100% agreed. 

Until now. 

I still love coffee but my intolerance to large doses of caffeine has curbed my zeal. That and the less-than-desirable church potluck coffee of my past which carried the distinct flavor of what a friend called “burnt Folgers.” In the meantime, I’ve grown fonder of tea. In fact, I like tea even more than I did when my friends called it “watery.”

Nearly every week, I visit a tea vendor at the local market. I ask for a bit of this and a bit of that until I drive her crazy filling tiny baggies. Then I go home with my loot and put the kettle on. 

I’ve never been one to branch out with coffee flavors. Yah, I’m the one who gets a plain latte practically every time she goes to a coffee shop. Now decaf, oh, and no sugar, please. But tea is different. With my little samples, I’m working my way through the tea vendor’s options. 

Rooibos is an acquired taste, I’ve decided, and I’m still working on acquiring it. I thought it was okay until my student said the vanilla blend tasted like a medicine from her childhood. The infusions also leave something to be desired. Flavor, to be exact. After my first cup of some sort of pomegranate blend I had to side with my friends on the whole “watery” thing. Apparently, infusions require a surprising quantity to achieve flavor. Blah. I picked out the now-soggy pieces of fruit and ate them to console myself. The piña colada infusion had to go too. Too coconuty, even for someone who loves coconut. 

Some of the teas that are planning to stay on my shelf are: Japanese cherry (green), black tea with rose, caramelized almond (black), green with pomegranate, and one called 1,001 nights, a green blend that is exotic, romantic, and not at all watery. 

What about you? Are you a tea drinker? If so, which flavors do you like? Any suggestions for non-caffeinated, non-watery-infusion, non-rooibos varieties?

Mr. Rochester

I don’t know his name
But just suppose it’s Mr. Rochester
Who
Doesn’t hide his melancholy from the world.

I meet his appraising gaze
Over the cash register.
“Aren’t you going to seat me?”
Grunt.
Thump.
His cane hits the counter.

I smile unnecessarily
For the brightness of my countenance is lost
On its wretched observer.
“Right away, sir.”
Normal seat at booth five
Where he has the restaurant under surveillance.

“Coffee!”
I help remove his sweater and tuck away his cane.
“Coffee!”
As if I have forgotten.
I flee his scathing presence but return
To serve the coffee.
“Where’s my cream and sugar?”
“In front of you, sir.” Then, “As always.”
I add the last
Not to spite him,
But to pacify my own irritation.

(I wrote this narrative free verse years ago while working at a restaurant. I stumbled across it the other day and started to laugh. I think there was more than one Mr. Rochester during my years in the restaurant industry!)


Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash

Lose your life for my sake: Remembering Grandpa

What does it mean to lose my life for Christ’s sake?

I was sitting on a park bench, feeling the warm sun just under the gentle breeze of a perfect day.

Florence, Italy. My sister, my friend, and I had been planning this trip for months. Flights, buses, trains, shuttles, airbnbs, tourist sites.

But there in the park, I was thinking about losing life. Because while we were still in Madrid, Grandpa had passed from this world to the next.

“Dad, should we cancel our trip?” I would not have been able to travel back for the funeral anyway, but being on a belated 30th birthday trip while my family mourned…

“Absolutely do not cancel your trip!”

So here I sat in Florence, pondering Matthew 10 on the day of Grandpa’s visitation. Have I found life by losing it? This familiar passage wasn’t making sense anymore.

The late cappuccino (we had defied the culture by sipping our cappuccino after 11 a.m.) was still taking effect. Just over the mesh-lined fence, tennis players swung rackets at a yellow ball. I could barely see them, but I heard them. Grunt. Thwack. Grunt. Thwack. “Out!”

Am I worthy of Christ? Do I love Him more than family? Have I taken up my cross?

In Italy—in a world so different from the one I grew up in—it was hard to understand that Grandpa was gone. But I let my mind drift through memories.

Hours and hours of reading “Burn-stin Bear” books and “Dead-Eye Dick.” Patiently teaching us grandchildren (his “coochtie boochties”) to play 42. “Honda” rides. Issuing drivers’ licenses for the golf cart. Constantly wanting to tape record his little grandchildren singing songs. Sketching maps that directed us past where this or that “used to be” as if we had been born in his generation. Chanting “Cumbine coorn and cumbine be-eans,” as we pulled ourselves up to sit with him in the combine. Giving us “bubble gums” from the door pocket of his F-150, the one that had the automatic window buttons in little blue and red bubbles that I would run my fingers over while I waited for my gum.

Letting Grandpa serve you something from the shop was always exciting because it was fascinating to watch him prepare something from his stash of snacks. (Did you know you can make hot chocolate from microwaving chocolate milk? Or a “roastin’ ear” by microwaving an ear of sweet corn wrapped in a wet paper towel?) Sunday night at Grandpa and Grandma’s typically included helping Grandpa get the ice cream out of the “shed” and hiding a pickle or an olive under the heaping scoops in Dad’s ice cream bowl.

And then Grandpa began to get older and frail. Some of his stories came out confused. His tall body began to shrink. His blue eyes got watery. But those watery eyes always brightened when he talked about his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

When I told him goodbye last summer, I wondered if he would remember that I was going back to Spain.

Grandpa had dozed off while Grandma and I were chatting. “Touch his shoulder,” Grandma said.

I touched his shoulder and his blue eyes opened. Instead of watery, his eyes were clear as they stared up at me wordlessly.

“I’m going to go Grandpa. And I wanted to tell you goodbye.”

The clear, blue eyes continued to stare for several long moments. Had he heard me?

And then, “Kiss on the cheek!” So he remembered that my goodbye was longer than a “see you later.” I leaned over to hug him, kiss his cheek, and let him kiss mine.

My voice was still cheerful as I said, “If I don’t see you here again, I’ll see you in a much better place!”

He smiled. I cried. He was silent as I hugged him again.

That goodbye felt like a closed chapter in my life. It was one that I mourned, not only that day but also when Grandma passed away in November. And now again while sitting on that park bench, trying to register the reality of Grandpa’s death.

Death is real. It’s ugly. It hurts.

But what does it mean to lose my life for Christ’s sake? My mingling thoughts that late Florence morning brought me here: It isn’t until you die that the greatest potential for life is set before you.

The pepper coffee experience

I’m not an expert on pepper coffee. But I might be a little more experienced than I was a week ago. My roommate and I both love coffee, so we were excited to try this Senegalese twist on our favorite drink.

I found the package one day as I was browsing through the African shop down the street. Fascinated, I took the package to the cashier. “Fatima, what is this?”

Fatima explained that many Senegalese drink coffee with pepper in it.

No way.

Step #1: Buying the coffee

A couple of weeks later, my roommate and I traipsed into the shop, looking like vagabonds. We were on our way home from a long day, carrying an armload of empty jars and a container of leftover dessert.

When we set the coffee on the counter, a concerned customer interrupted the sale. “Do you know this coffee?” he asked.

“Yes, yes,” we assured him. “We want to try it!”

The man and the store owners tried to explain how to prepare their special drink. But they were still skeptical as we, our empty jars, our leftover dessert, and our pepper coffee pranced out the door.

list of coffee ingredients

Step #2: Research

I wasn’t sure how to prepare it, so I pulled up trusty Google.

google search bar

I found some interesting websites, one even claiming that a nickname for pepper coffee is “kerosene.” Yikes.

It turns out that one can prepare the coffee pretty much any way they want to. That was a relief since we don’t own many fancy coffee-making devices.

Step #3: Making the coffee

We opened the pepper coffee package together and took long sniffs.

Roommate: “It smells like a gift store.”
Me: “It smells like dirt.”
Roommate: “I think I’m having a better experience than you.”

We dumped it in the coffee maker and my roommate dug around in her room until she unearthed a darling little cup and saucer set.

Step #4: Tasting the coffee

coffee pot pouring into small cup and saucer

Traditionally the coffee is hot and sweet. I opted to add sugar right away to get the full experience. My roommate decided to taste it solo.

Roommate: (WITHOUT sugar and wincing)
Me: (WITH sugar and wincing) I think it’s probably better with sugar.
Roommate: It is. I’m positive!

So what is it like? The flavor is not quite like anything I’ve ever experienced. A marriage of spiced tea and coffee. A gift shop. It’s hard to explain.

The next time I try it, I will remove all notions of coffee and try to enjoy it for the unique blend of flavors that it is. But it’s going to take more than one cup.

20 more things I’m thankful for

  1. A night full of sleep and an unresented morning
  2. Early morning messages that change the day’s agenda
  3. Together giggles to lighten a disturbing situation
  4. Handwashed clothes dripping into floor puddles
  5. Picnic lunches that are fun to pack and fun to eat
  6. A little boy casting shadows on an unceasing stream
  7. Giddy laughter and story-telling from children having fun
  8. A clock with a slow heartbeat
  9. Maps covering the wall
  10. The trickle of filtering water
  11. Creamy iced coffee
  12. Honesty that comes genuinely but not harshly
  13. The far away booms of fireworks
  14. Black mountain silhouettes
  15. A thousand nooks and crannies of foothills
  16. The delight of gift-giving
  17. Old city streets baked in the sun
  18. Cool tile floors
  19. Days that don’t end in the woes I had imagined
  20. Plan B when Plan A vanishes

Summer in Immigrantville

Summer in Immigrantville, Spain is not an easy thing to endure.

Why not? For one reason, it’s hot. As I write, a breeze billows the curtain, bringing dust and the sensation of standing within range of a hairdryer. They say it has been a relatively cool summer so far. Fine. But I’m still turning on the fan.

With heat comes lethargy. Trying to think of something to ingest other than iced coffee. Trying to drag myself off of the couch to get out and talk to people. Of course, this whole “getting out” thing is over-rated anyway; very few people brave the heat of the day, so why should I? On the other hand, staying “in” should produce deliberate choices to study language rather than Dickens.

But heat and lethargy are not all that is wrong with the summer here. The worst part of summer is summer vacation. In Immigrantville, this means that families scrape together the means to travel back to their countries for months at a time. Slowly, the town empties and the streets grow quieter. There are fewer people to bump into. Fewer people to talk with.

But that’s the pessimistic view of summer life in Immigrantville. Fortunately for all of us, I can only think of 3 negative aspects. And I can think of a few more positive aspects from my experience so far. Like…

  • Volunteering to help a local thrift store employee reorganize her store. Mostly, I just put clothes on hangers and affirmed her ideas to rearrange clothing displays.
  • Washing my clothes by hand because splashing around in cool water helps beat the heat.
  • Preparing new recipes for foods that can be eaten cold.
  • Taking a grocery trip to a nearby city. Of course, the trip required a date with my Kindle at an air-conditioned café in order to fortify me to haul heavy groceries from store to bus station and bus stop to home.
  • Learning it’s okay to rest in the afternoon while the town is hiding in their respective homes under their respective fans.
  • Strolling down the boulevard after sunset when the remnants of the population emerge from their homes. In fact, one time I even walked home with an invitation to couscous and another to an afternoon tea.
  • And last and least but not least, studying. The quieter days provide a chance to brush up on my languages and pertinent topics. (Note: As much as I love the idea of this opportunity, I am still learning the art of self-discipline.)

See? Rather than wallow in sweat and loneliness, I might be able to enjoy my summer in Immigrantville after all!

A Good Friday stroll

The Good Friday streets were quieter than normal. I plodded along, bracing myself against the wind.

When I was young—not more than ten—I overheard a conversation between my mom and her friend. The friend claimed that it always rained on Good Friday, even if it was just a little. Mom was politely dubious, but the statement impressed itself upon my impressionable mind. Did it really? Was God reminding us of the death of Jesus through a sky full of tears?

However, since this friend had revealed the fact after Good Friday, I had to wait an entire year to see if the statement were true. By then, I had forgotten about it. And I forgot the next year and the next until more than twenty years later, I still had never noted whether or not the rain dutifully came on Good Friday. Would it come to every part of the world if it indeed came at all? Would it come to Spain?

To be my age and wondering these things made me question my sanity. Why would I believe something that had neither Biblical nor meteorological basis?

I continued to walk, lost in rambling thoughts. My morning plans had been changed at the last minute, making me wish I had stayed in bed longer. But since I was up, I thought I might as well go for a stroll. My relaxed pace allowed a stooped, old man to zip around me. As he passed, I wondered what his story was.

Today the world was worth noticing: young voices pouring out of open cafés, elderly men congregating on park benches, a boy with a soccer ball. What did Easter mean to these people?

I wandered into my favorite café. “Coffee with milk?” The server asked before I had selected my chair.

“Thank you.” I smiled and pulled out my Kindle. I read, inhaling a fair amount of secondhand smoke and sipping my coffee from the sweet rim of my mug—I hadn’t used sugar and tried not to think too hard why the rim tasted sweet.

“One euro, guapa.” The server made change for my ten euro bill.

“Have a good Easter.” I smiled at her.

But would she? In Spain, the climax of Holy Week is the passion of Christ. That part of the holiday is celebrated and reenacted until resurrection Sunday is almost lost. Like their Jesus, did these people also keep their faith eternally nailed to the cross? Did they believe in victorious faith? Victorious life?

A dog trotted along a crosswalk, confident he owned the street. His owner followed a few paces behind.

The North African store was one of the only stores open on Good Friday. It bustled with limp produce, loud Arabic, and bodies that were busy making room for themselves in the small shop.

I dropped a euro on the floor as I paid for a few too-ripe tomatoes. The clerk gently smiled at my clumsiness. And then he switched from Spanish to Arabic to bid me farewell.

I greeted the mother of a lesser-known acquaintance and we walked home together in the powerful wind.

“I have laundry on our roof,” I told her as a gale threatened to carry us off like Mary Poppinses.

She had also hung her morning laundry on the roof, so at her street corner we said hasty goodbyes and rushed to rescue our scattered clothing.

It was afternoon when I opened my laptop to write an email. Outside my bedroom window, the clouds lowered over the mountains while the sky and the sea simultaneously turned gray. Then from somewhere came enough drops of rain to make me wonder, against all logic, if Mom’s friend had been right after all.


Photo by Anant Jain on Unsplash

Tips for surviving Spain- Part 2

Previously, my roommate and I compiled a list of a few hints to help you survive living in Spain (or just visiting us!). Click here to read part one. Below are a few more helpful hints…

  1. If you want American coffee, order an “americano” or you’ll get an espresso.
  2. Realize that alcohol is a big part of the culture. Social drinking is everyday life, but drunkenness is not (at least for most people).
  3. Never expect drink refills of any kind.
  4. Learn to ask your server for the bill. For some reason, giving a customer their bill isn’t a high priority. You almost may have to beg for it.
  5. Put your breath mints away. Having good breath isn’t as important in Spain. And Spaniards laugh at Americans for constantly freshening their breath.
  6. Beware of scammers. They aren’t limited to persistently calling your phone and tipping you off with a mispronunciation of your name. They may knock on your door with a fistful of official-looking documents.
  7. Don’t be surprised if the line between church and state is a bit blurred in Spain. More than 70% of Spaniards identify as Catholic. Even the schools teach religion, although there is often a variety of classes to choose from.
  8. When you forget a name, just guess. Many women have the name “María” somewhere in their name. Men often have “José” or “Juan.”
  9. Don’t assume that Mr. Smith’s wife is Mrs. Smith. Women don’t usually change their last names when they marry. And most Spaniards have two last names.
  10. Be aware that the word “husband” or “wife” is more inclusive than an official spouse. It might mean “partner.”
  11. When you visit the beach, prepare yourself to see more epidermis than you bargained for. In fact, you might be shocked by the billboards and TV commercials as well.
  12. Plan your laundry days with the weather. Most places don’t have dryers. And washing machines take longer to run a cycle.
  13. In the winter, dress warmly, even inside of the house… unless you’re running the oven while simultaneously doing aerobics.
  14. Keep your road rage in check. Apparently, double parking is permitted (and sometimes necessary). And street parking is still considered street parking as long as two of the wheels are on the street.
  15. Plan ahead. Public restrooms are hard to find.

Stay tuned! I’m sure we’ll find more things to add to our list!

Guest blog- “Let’s be sisters forever”

I met her twenty-six years ago. No, I shouldn’t say it like that. It’d be more accurate to say, “She met me twenty-six years ago.”

When she looked into my squalling red face and squinting eyes (the world is an awfully hard place when bright lights and thundering noises hit you directly and not through the sound-barrier of your mom’s belly), she probably felt something similar to love…and regret that she wasn’t the baby girl anymore.

Still, I wish I could remember that moment when my then four-year-old sister peered into my eyes for the first time.

Even if she didn’t love me right away, I’m sure she must have learned to love me at some point, but it was years before the love went anything beyond obligatory sibling love.

Our relationship was unstable. I simultaneously loved and hated her—I didn’t do things by halves. I envied her cool poise and aloofness. I longed to be tall and lean like her instead of stocky and square like me. Years later, I found out that she envied my blue eyes and blonde hair. Life’s a funny thing, isn’t it?

She was a stubborn neat freak, me her bull-headed little messy sister, both trying to inhabit the same room without killing each other. I’ll let you imagine how that worked.

She introduced me to classic literature and ridiculed the fluffy books I sometimes read. Thus, she bullied me into reading good books. I’m not sure if I have ever thanked her for that.

When she went on grand and glorious adventures to Mexico, Ecuador, Africa, and Spain, I stayed home and got eaten up with jealousy and cheered her on.

Now she writes and works in Spain, where she has dozens of friends and cool adventures every day (and I’m not jealous at all).

She drinks coffee in exorbitant amounts. “The milk here has a funny taste so I use cream in my coffee,” she told us over a phone call.

“Maybe that’s a good way to wean yourself off of coffee,” my mom suggested.

“But—but I don’t want to be weaned off it.”

She has a hunger for yummy ethnic food and actually makes it, unlike me (hello, 5-year old bubble tea balls). Green and red curry, tikka masala, and egg rolls are nothing uncommon. Before she left for Spain, she bought a HUGE bag of rice (I think ten pounds). She was constantly volunteering to bring rice to things.

“Why don’t you make stir-fry?” she’d tell Mom, “and I’ll bring the rice.”

“Do you know what would be good with that?” she asked me as I pan-fried chicken breasts.

I looked at her blankly.

“RICE!”

She likes to make use of what she has, and is a shrewd shopper for what she doesn’t.

While I look at a rack full of clothes as overwhelming and hopeless, she carefully combs through each item and selects things I end up being jealous of.

She has long been a proponent of living with less, although I’ve never heard her refer to it as minimalism. To her, it doesn’t need a label. She spent years with monthly stashes beside her bed. “If I don’t use it this month, then I don’t need it!” She kept her drawers and closet on the bare side, while my side was stuffed full (I have since fallen in love with minimalism and my closet is beginning to look more and more like hers).

When it comes to being an aunt, my sister, like me, is in love with the little people. However, she is an infinitely cooler aunt than I ever hope to be, taking our nephew outside to “explore,” having him “catch” leaves, see the kitty (which he calls the “deeder-deeder”), and play on an old tricycle. She is a calm presence, not jumpy and flighty like me, patiently loving on the boys and, more recently, the girl.

When she asked me to guest blog for her, I suggested that I write about her. It’s not fair that all of her readers should see only a lopsided picture of her and never know what she’s really like.

She was worried. “Okay. But make sure you send it to me early so that if I want you to write something different, you’ll still have time.”

I laughed. “I won’t write anything bad!

Her voice was hesitant. “Just—just send it to me early, though.”

She shouldn’t have worried. I’m not mean. I won’t tell the embarrassing stories (well…maybe just one…hee,hee). I may be the little sister that she tormented, but I’m not a vindictive soul. I’ll let you simply wonder about all the things I could have said, but didn’t.

I sit here now, wondering how to close up an article about someone when they’re ongoing. I’m not a sentimental person. If I were, I’d probably say something trite about loving my sister and how wonderful she is.

But since I’m not sentimental, I’ll just say, “It’s been great. Let’s be sisters for forever.”


Michelle loves books, family, and working with the elderly at her job. She is passionate about making beautiful things, whether through writing, crafting, knitting, etc. She blogs about life at rhapsodyind.wordpress.com.

I was thirsty and you gave me coffee

When I saw this mural of a homeless man and his hot coffee, I thought of the countless cups of coffee that we serve to immigrant women each week. Some mornings, we scramble to warm milk, fill sugar containers, and pour coffee, remembering that this lady likes her coffee heated especially hot and this one doesn’t take milk so fill it to the brim and that one wants her special cup and saucer.

“I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”

Some of the women are easy to serve. They smile. They are grateful. They ask you to sit with them and don’t mind your faltering Arabic. But others gossip or demand things from you while appraising you with hardened eyes. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that serving these women, “the least of these,” is serving the Lord.

But aren’t we all from the lineage of “the least of these”? At one time, weren’t we all watching the world with hardened eyes, cup out-stretched, thirsty? But did we know for what we were thirsting?

“The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Today we serve, we pray, we speak, we love. But we never want those we serve to find fulfillment in a cup of coffee. We want them to walk away thirstier until they find that spring of water that wells up to eternal life.


(Matt. 25:35 and Jn. 4:14)