Reading, writing, and Ramadan: What’s been happening recently

#1

Recently, I read through the four gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on what Jesus did and said, John focuses on who He was. As I read John, I began underlining references to Jesus’ deity. A lot of people proclaimed that He was the Son of God. Although we have no record that Jesus said, “I am the Son of God,” His references to His own deity (e.g. being one with the Father) were enough to make His accusers say at His trial, “…he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (Jn. 19:7). 

#2

Ramadan was a socially slow month for me. Even though I wasn’t fasting, most of my friends were. So I decided to prayer walk the streets of Mytown. All of them. “How hard can this be?” I wondered. 

One neighborhood’s streets wound around and around, making it impossible not to circle back again and again past those same elderly men on the park bench or that delivery man slowly unloading at the café door. I told a friend I should fill up my market cart with junk and haul it with me because then onlookers would have a mental box to put me in! Alas, I did not finish this project during Ramadan, but I’m at 198 kilometers and counting!

#3

I took advantage of the quieter days to get ahead in planning English lessons. I’m finally one whole unit ahead. Plus, I’ve added “work on curriculum” to my weekly schedule. Not that it wasn’t there before, but this time the rule is that I can’t gleefully erase it each week. 

#4

My sister and I have been doing a writing challenge. Writing is another one of those things that is easy to erase from my weekly schedule. But it feels more important with accountability. This year, I’m also attempting to help write a VBS curriculum which mostly leaves me feeling very, very green.

#5

One Saturday, I scoured my shower with an abrasive powder and simultaneously inhaled the powerful aroma of the toilet bowl cleaner. Dizzily, I wondered if there was a better way to clean my house. I began researching and testing. Do these DIY cleaners actually work? Time and grime will tell. Although research shows that the DIY ingredients are less harsh than typical cleaners, I still have nightmares of peeled laminate flooring and warped countertops.

#6

Familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps I wasn’t contemptuous yet, but I felt the constant pressure to dedicate unreasonable chunks of time to a friend, even when I had many other things to do. She wasn’t respecting my boundaries and I was worn out and indignant. Then I realized that I was the one who had stopped enforcing my own boundaries. I had pretended to be more flexible than I was. Essentially, I told her that I was always at her disposal and she believed it.

So, I’m back to square one with this boundary thing, and the times we’re together are farther apart but more enjoyable because we manage miss each other on the off days. 🙂 


These are the less social bits of what has been happening recently. I could drone on, but I’m tired of writing, and you’re probably tired of reading. So what’s been happening in your life recently?

Top 10 things I do to fill scraps of time

Do you know what I’m talking about when I say “scraps of time”? Those potentially useless minutes tucked between important things like a business meeting and lunch with a friend. We all have those, but some of us are naturally more productive than others of us.  I tend to fall into the latter half of that statement, but this week I’ve been noting how I spend those scraps, be it 5 minutes or an hour. Here is what I came up with:

  1. Organize something, anything really. A cupboard, a refrigerator shelf while sniffing suspicious condiments, or a drawer. Maybe that’s why people comment on how clean my house is. All I have to do is run my finger along a piece of furniture to prove them wrong, but it’s organized and so it looks clean. Then again, last night my neighbor pulled open my overflowing junk drawer. Now maybe she’ll stop commenting on my cleanliness.
  2. Do the background work for DIY projects (e.g. sanding, getting out supplies, creating a pattern, etc.) That way, when there is a block of time, I can move at the rate of my inspiration rather than the rate of my sandpaper. 
  3. Sit with my eyes closed and absorb nothing. These are quiet spots when my brain can relax. Sometimes, I pray. Sometimes, I fall asleep (but not before setting an alarm!).
  4. Look in the mirror. Really. I’m the one who is strolling down the street before she realizes she forgot to look in the mirror. It’s unnerving to wonder what everyone else is seeing that you forgot to. A booger? A hairball on the back of your black sweater? Bedhead eyebrows? So it’s always helpful when I remember to give myself a minute to primp.
  5. Come up with menu ideas and shopping lists. I can do this pretty much by standing in front of my pantry which happens to be a corner cupboard. Cocoa? Check. Rice? Check. What in the world am I going to do with this bag of barley? Maybe some kind of barley soup… Onions? Check. 
  6. Catch up on messages and emails because, who doesn’t do that these days? Those waiting-for-public-transportation scraps of time are ideal for this.
  7. Read, especially that book that I had to tear myself away from last night at midnight… Kindles and Kindle apps have made this exponentially more convenient.
  8. Eat. Years ago I had to learn to stock up on protein to keep myself from feeling faint between meals. I literally learned to “eat for the hunger that cometh.” However, on high-scrappy days, the hunger never cometh because I’m so busy fixing myself exciting little snacks. High-scrappy days are also high calorie days. Hmm. I think I need to work on that one.
  9. Trim my fingernails. Isn’t this one of those tasks that ends up like an abandoned middle child? It’s there, but other things are more demanding…until you have that scrap of time within which your hangnail catches on a hand towel to make you notice that you’ve fallen behind on your personal grooming. Speaking of which…
  10. Find things to get rid of. I think I drove my sister crazy by always having a box or a bag at the end of my bed with stuff to dispose of. Now I have a discreet corner of my wardrobe, but the bag is still there, accumulating junk. I know. I know I’m sheltered when hauling a bag of stuff to the clothes bin or a thrift store drop-off gives me a high. But here’s a tip for you town and city dwellers: the next time you get rid of something, carry it rather than drive it because when you arrive at your destination weary and heavy laden, depositing it is that much more freeing.

What are some of the ways you fill in your scraps of time? I’d love to hear about them and maybe even implement some of your ideas.

That I’ll probably be a snowbird and other things you might not know about me

  1. It’s true. I’ll probably be the old lady who moves to Florida every winter. I used to scorn the idea, but as I get older, I understand that cold makes joints stiff. And that’s why I think I’ll be a snowbird.
  2. I only drink decaffeinated coffee because caffeinated coffee makes my heart race, my hands shake, my stomach growl. Speaking of being old…
  3. I don’t drive a car here in Spain.
  4. I’m scared of filling up with fuel at unknown fuel stations. (It’s good I no longer drive!)
  5. I was 27 before I tore down my guard enough to realize that my Savior loved me unconditionally. 
  6. People tell me I’m a lot like my grandma, which I don’t mind at all because she was a special lady. 
  7. I love to DIY (or would that be “DIM: do it myself”?), but often still use store products because, well, they often work better.
  8. I hardly eat bread. No, I’m not gluten-intolerant. I just don’t like it very well. I am my father’s daughter, I guess, because I would declare along with him that most of it is too “stuffy.” 
  9. I have a vein in my forehead that bulges every time I get worked up, for the good or bad. (My sister suggested I put this one in here; I think she likes my bulgy vein.) 
  10. I love plants but I have a hard time keeping them alive. I must have a toxic aura. 
  11. When I was little, I had a crush on Jimmy Stewart… until I found out he was no longer living. Come to think of it, I had a crush on Disney’s animated Robin Hood too…

That’s all folks. All of the rest of me is as expected and normal. 🙂 I wouldn’t mind hearing some of the lesser known youisms too!

Cheese, soap… and plants?

“Are you going to write about this on your blog?” my roommate asked as she watched me tie a dish towel full of curds on the cupboard handle.

“I don’t know. Should I?” This wasn’t the first time I had made cheese, but it was the first time I had tried making paneer.

The man at the Asian store looked at me funny when I asked if they sold paneer. “Paneer? No, you make that at home.”

“I’d rather buy it,” I assured him. But since that wasn’t an option, I picked up a few liters of milk instead.

All of the YouTube videos crow that it’s the easiest thing in the world to make. Blah, blah, blah.

I couldn’t even find cheesecloth for sale.

But you know what? It is the easiest thing in the world to make. At least close. Heat one and a half liters of milk and add a bit of vinegar and zaz. Cheese. Well, at least curds that are easily pressed into cheese with the help of a brand new cotton dish towel.

I used the cheese to make saag paneer. But was more pleased with the cheese than anything else. (I think I may have even convinced my sister to try making cheese too, although she scoffed at my use of a “linty” dish towel.)

A few days later, I was making soap. (Sort of. I was stirring the soap that someone else had masterminded.) Homemade soap! So cool! I had been dying to try it for ages but was afraid I’d burn my arm off with lye. At least, my roommate was afraid I would. 

But together with a good friend who has been making soap since forever, we made little bars of soap so smooth it took hours of stirring. We watched music videos and talked about dreams and life in general. The hours passed quickly. 

The problem is, the soap is refusing to set up entirely. (Maybe with some more time, we hope.) My friend isn’t sure what went wrong. I guess I don’t know either, but I’m pretty sure my inexperience had something to do with it!

And what’s my next project? Well, I’m currently trying to keep two plants alive. One is a birthday gift (only one more day until I can give it away!). And the other was a gift for me. It came with the guarantee that it was easy to keep alive.

We’ll see. The day I received it, I forgot it at work in a dark windowless room… for the weekend. Fortunately, my roommate rescued it for me, but it hasn’t forgotten. Oh, no. I can feel it glaring at me from the windowsill.

plant in window sill against blue sky

Crocheting in Spanish

In October, I started something I never dreamed I would start: crochet class. Last semester, I always left the nun’s home directly after Spanish class. But this year, I carved a little more time out of my schedule for the second hour of craft class.

My first class, I forgot to bring yarn with me. I sat with the other ladies and we chatted in Spanish and Arabic as I unraveled a sweater to recycle the yarn.

“I’m better at undoing than doing,” I warned María, the nun in charge of the class.

That day, I went to the store and bought a ball of yarn and my very first crochet hook. I still was less than enamored with the idea of crochet, but I knew I would enjoy the fellowship with the ladies.

It turns out that the fellowship came at a pretty steep price for me: my pride.

I was usually ahead of the ladies in Spanish class, but this time, they were far beyond me. Even when we started on the same level of nothingness, they were crocheting in squares  by the second class. One show-off was even making a doily. I plugged away at my simple chain, class after class.

As a left-hander, I struggled to imitate instructions, especially since they came at me in rapid Andalusian. Not only that, but sitting in the courtyard made me vulnerable to anyone and everyone passing by on their way to class.

One moment, I would be wiggling my crochet hook through the invisible yarn triangle, and the next moment, my project would be whisked out of my hands and somebody else would take a shot at it. Or another would critique how I held my needle and try to teach me something new.

Once, an elderly nun came to teach me a stitch. A few minutes later, she came to check on me… only to be disappointed. “No, no, no! That’s not how you do it!”

I sighed and half-laughed to cover my frustration. “I think I need to practice in private.”

She backed away quickly. “Okay. Okay. You practice in private.”

I went home and watched youtube tutorials to no avail. I was a terrible crocheter.

One day, I went to the store and impulsively bought thicker yarn. (Maybe now I would be able to see what I was doing.)

I made a scarf. Success!

María proudly examined my work and told me that no one would even notice how I went from 13 squares to 12.

Spanish with the nuns

Buried in my neighborhood is a tiny green door that leads to a tiled courtyard full of vibrant plants. Charming little rooms surround the tiled courtyard, completing the charming little haven.

In one room, there is a set of five sewing machines. Four treadle. One electric.

In another room, there is a plastic table with accompanying plastic chairs and a rough blackboard.

This is a sewing and Spanish school for immigrants. It is managed by nuns. A friend brought me along to class one day to see if I could enroll.

The first time I met the nuns, I had to bend over at the waist to greet them with kisses on their dainty little faces. Only one seemed more than five feet tall. And not one of them was under seventy. Maybe eighty.

I was captivated. “Is it possible to sign up for Spanish class?” I gripped my friend’s elbow as I awaited the nuns’ answer.

It was possible. After Semana Santa, I officially enrolled for the final trimester of the school year. (And by officially enrolling, I mean that I jotted my information on a scrap of notebook paper.)

On the first day of class—a lesson of body parts vocabulary—the teacher chalked a stick figure on the board with a rectangular trunk. For good measure, she placed a few wild curls on the faceless head to classify the figure as “female.”

During class, the figure was blessed with a chalky esophagus. No other organ required equal visual explanation, so the figure proudly sported her solitary organ until the end of class. And as the teacher erased both the figure and her esophagus, we students trickled out of the shadowy room and into the blast of sunlight that spread across the courtyard.

Since then, class has brought me in close contact with other immigrants as we reveal tidbits of our lives in choppy Spanish and laugh about our language woes. We share struggle and community. We even share goods: sometimes we carry home peppers, cucumbers, handcrafted sewing class projects, or even potted plants.

As the final trimester enters the final month, attendance has dwindled as most of the women fast for Ramadan.

The first and second hour classes combined and I suddenly found myself in a class of women who struggle with pronouns and simple verbs. But the energy and fun we have together is rewarding enough for me.

Yesterday, while practicing the structure “I like,” a classmate smiled and said, “I like Trish’s face.”

“Yes, yes,” agreed the teacher. “Trish has a nice face.”

The other students murmured their agreement and admired my reddening cheeks. Until, for lack of a Spanish equivalent, I burst out the Arabic expression, “God be blessed!”

Small town librarying

After a couple of months of life in Spain, I gathered up courage to visit the local library. Through the park that hosts elderly men in the morning and rebellious teenagers in the afternoon. Down a long hallway lined with local photography. Until I stood in a room full of books.

Unruffled by my presence, the librarian looked at me over a piece of cardboard she was painting. A prop for a children’s program? “Can I help you?” she asked.

There would be no subtle spying out of the library grounds. I was an outsider and expected to state the purpose for my unheralded intrusion. “Uh, I live here now and-and I would like to read m-more books in Spanish.”

“You need proof of residency from city hall and a copy of your residency card.”

I retrieved the documents and filled out the paperwork. Then I selected a book.

The librarian scrawled the due date on a slip of paper inside the front cover of my selection. I admit that even in that small town, one-room library, I was startled by the lack of technology.

The book I had chosen was boring, so I returned it the next week.

“Did you finish it?” the unruffleable librarian asked without glancing up from her new craft project.

Why this sudden sense of guilt? “No.” I cleared my throat.

“Okay. Just leave it there on the desk.” And she continued unruffledly crafting.

A week later I slipped in again, determined to select a more interesting book. This time, the unruffled librarian was in the middle of a sewing class. She barely looked up while I selected Las Memorias de Sherlock Holmes.

She pulled out my file without confirming my name, made a phone call to the main branch—the internet was down, she said—and then picked up a pencil.

I’m sure my eyes widened when she penciled the due date in the corner inside the front cover.

Sherlock Holmes was a better choice, but I still didn’t finish it by the due date. So I attempted my first renewal.

The librarian’s hands were covered in black paint as she was undertaking yet another craft project. “Did you finish it?”

“No. I would like to renew it.”

“No problem. Just bring it back when you finish.”

Assuming she was referring to the due date, I pointed out that the date inside the front cover said tomorrow.

“No, not when it is due. When you finish,” she clarified. She held up a black hand while the other still clutched a dripping paintbrush. “My hands are covered in paint right now. When you finish, bring the book back and I will erase your fine.”

This week, I returned the overdue book. There was a painting project spread across the entire library floor. The librarian’s pre-teen volunteers cleared a skinny path for me between the massive sheets of damp paper. The unruffled librarian continued hot-gluing safety pins to name tags as I selected another book and brought it to her.

Inside the cover of the old book, she jotted down the number of the new book, handed the new book to me, and returned to her gluing. Apparently, she didn’t feel like traversing the skinny path to her desk.

But this time, she was not the only one unruffled. I had grown accustomed to small town library dynamics and was quite unruffled myself.

Adventure on Hardware Alley

My motive was to not look lost. I fingered the plastic washer in my pocket as I turned down “hardware alley,” a street lined almost exclusively with hardware stores. Lest you question the logic of this arrangement, note that most of the stores specialize in certain areas such as light fixtures, mirrors, tile, etc. And often, they don’t overlap merchandise. For example, only one or two stores carry little items like screws, nails, and washers.

Which was exactly my problem. I had yet to ascertain which stores I needed to visit and I felt out of place tromping from store to store on a street operated and patronized mostly by men. My task was to find metal washers to replace the plastic ones that had come with our new toilet seat. Ideally, the metal would grip the porcelain and keep the seat from sliding around.

When I whipped out my plastic washer for the first store owner, he pointed to the store next door. The store next door did indeed have washers.

“What do you want them for?” the owner asked.

I was embarrassed to admit that I was trying to fix a toilet seat. After all, this man was from a culture where Western toilets were the exception rather than the norm. So I offered a blank smile and pretended not to understand his question. Sometimes being a foreigner is helpful. Then again, being a foreigner was what got me into the situation in the first place.

The man eventually dug out two metal washers. They were small, but they were the only size he had. He suggested I keep looking for bigger ones and if I couldn’t find any, to try out the ones he had given me. When I pulled out my wallet, he said, “No problem” and ushered me out of his store.

I stopped at a third store where the man shook his head and told me to try another store.

“Where?” I realized how ridiculous the question was as I asked it. My directional comprehension still had much room for improvement. I prepared to nod and smile despite the fact that I wouldn’t understand.

And I didn’t understand everything, but I understood that the store he recommended was somewhere in relation to a nearby bank. So I meandered around, trying to look purposeful rather than lost.

Eventually, I made an educated guess and entered a store that was overcome with men. (One of my friends refers to such places as “the valley of the shadow of men.”)

I sidled up to the counter. “Do you have something like this…” I plunked the metal washer from the second store owner on the counter. “But bigger. Like this one…” Another plunk as I set the larger plastic washer beside the tiny metal one. “But not plastic.”

The owner didn’t give me any smart remarks or pick-up lines. He didn’t even give me a strange look. He just asked how many I wanted and fetched me precisely what I was looking for.

I fought the urge to cast a smug look around to see if anyone was astonished by my smooth purchase on hardware alley.

How far is heaven?

Was it even open?

The handle turned beneath my eager fingertips. It was!

I hadn’t been to the library in months. I wasn’t even sure why I’d come today except that I wasn’t ready to leave town and go home. I wanted to be alone. It was one of those days: interruptions at every turn; repeating everything I said at least once; everyone expecting me to be a team player when I just wanted to grab my journal and disappear until next week.

That’s why the library was such a good place to vanish for an hour. Here, the shelves were lined with stories of people who had lived and breathed life’s struggle. They had faced the same problems I faced today. I felt a camaraderie with these characters beyond the lettered spines on floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

“Are you looking for something in particular?” A librarian approached me, even as I was still inhaling the tawny scent of explored pages.

She seemed satisfied when I said, “No, just looking.”

I fought the urge to just stand and soak in the stories. I was in the fiction section anyway, so I slipped over to the next aisle. Art. Music. History. Sewing. Biography. Religion. I pulled books off the shelf to page through them before adding them to the growing stack tucked in the crook of my elbow.

There were books for sale- 5 cents each- that town citizens had donated to the library. I browsed that section and found a book about heaven.

Heaven.

I wove through the displays of cheap romance novels and heaved my stack onto the check-out counter.

“Do you need a sack?”

“No. Thanks. I have one in the car.”

“Can I get the door for you?”

“Thanks. I got it.”

I loaded my car and was on the way home–beside the elementary school and the reduced speed limit signs–when I remembered the book about heaven.

I had only forked over the nickel to give the book away. I didn’t read books about heaven. The incessant chatter of an afternoon radio show interrupted my emerging thoughts. I hit the power button.

“Why?” I said aloud. “Why don’t I think about heaven?”

Was it that I was comfortable on earth? Hardly! I was always yearning for something.

“But what is it?” Was I yearning for heaven or the “next big thing” in my life wherein lie coveted fulfillment? Couldn’t I pretend that it was all just a subconscious longing to be with God?

Or was it more like a choice of where I based my citizenship?

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seem them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.”

(Heb. 11:13-14)

On the drive home, the dusty wind and thick, angry raindrops reminded me of life’s trials. But somehow, with the hope of heaven, trials didn’t look so scary.