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

“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.

Ireland- part 3

Our Country Cottage Oasis awaited.

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.


Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

Notes from Hospitality 101

I had promised I would summarize a few of the things I learned (and am currently learning!) while researching for an essay on hospitality. If you’re interested in reading the entire essay, send me a message. 🙂

  • We think of hospitality as taking place in our homes. But hospitality is broader than that; we can take hospitality with us wherever we go by honoring those around us.
  • Hospitality is not about bowing to the expectations of others. It’s not that we ignore expectations, but neither obligation nor martyrdom is true hospitality. Why? Because our work, our hospitality will never validate us; only God can do that.
  • Christ followers are commanded to show hospitality. (Check out Titus 1:8, 1 Timothy 5:10, Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Peter 4:9.) However, the truth is that we love our comforts. And the other truth is that hospitality isn’t always comfortable. So while it would be easier never to invite anyone into our homes and lives, as Christians, we no longer worship the god of comfort.
  • If you’re an introvert like me, hospitality may feel like it requires more than you can give. But it doesn’t. Everyone needs boundaries and everyone has limits. If you’re introverted, it doesn’t exempt you from hospitality; it just means that you prepare for hospitality differently than those who have different limits.
  • True hospitality starts with worship. God is the One who empowers hospitality because He shows us both our imago dei and our depravity, reminding us that we are on the same level as everyone who walks through our door.
  • Hospitality can be grand and life-changing, but day-to-day hospitality is usually quiet, small, and insignificant.
  • We cannot wait until we know how to do it “right” or have the “right” circumstances before we show hospitality. If so, we will never start. Perfectionism can stand in the way of God working through us. In fact, hospitality goes hand in hand with humility, creating a space for our own vulnerability.
  • Speaking of creating spaces, hospitality creates a safe space for relationship regardless of life’s circumstances. Not only that, but we need to be fully present, committed to the privilege of walking with someone on their journey, even as they walk with us on ours. In other words, we should be invested for the long haul.
  • Hospitality is both living and speaking love and truth, all the while acknowledging that our story is only a part of a bigger story, God’s story.
  • Yes, hospitality requires much but it also blesses much. We connect with people we may have never known otherwise. We learn to enjoy them instead of use them. We are enriched when we enrich the lives of others, sharing our gifts and partaking of their gifts. We also bless God when we live in obedience to His Word.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The “little” of what’s happening

Today you get bullets because that’s how my thoughts are arriving. After most of a day buried in a textbook, my brain is sore. There are big things happening in life right now, probably for both of us. But today, I’m bulleting the little things, the things that fall between the cracks of the bigger things because they don’t announce themselves but wait to be noticed.

  • There is a plant store nearby with inexpensive little green things. My pots and plants were a little like chips and salsa– too many pots, oops! too many plants, oops! and so on– until the day I walked past the plant store and the shopkeeper greeted me like an old friend. That was my wake up call.
  • The first tray of cookies I put in my convection oven, I grilled. I couldn’t find the user’s manual in my landlord’s things until the first singed round emerged.
  • I passed out cookies to my neighbors, my heart pounding all of the way to my toes. It was thrilling in the sense that I had no idea who would open the door– man, woman, child and what nationality– what their response would be, or if they would have a frothing rottweiler at their side.
  • A shopkeeper glowed when I asked him a question in Arabic and rattled off something that started with, “You understand Arabic!. I thought…” He rattled on for another paragraph before noting my blank expression.
  • Two long-time friends visited me in my new apartment, and reclined on those couches that were meant for dear friends to recline upon. 
  • I found cookie butter at my local Día!!! (I just found it. I haven’t bought it… yet).
  • Meanwhile, I discovered that the post office no longer carries stamps to the U.S. of A. How does this happen, Spain?
  • My old roommate and I accidentally spent some time wandering the beautiful old streets of Almería while trying to find a shortcut.
  • I have found local places to charge my bus card, charge my phone, send letters, withdraw money, buy quality light bulbs, and make photocopies and print. It’s small, but so much new takes time.
  • I have spent a lot of time trying to track down why my bathroom smells like drain all of the time. Either it’s going away, or I have a head cold coming on, or I’ve stopped noticing because I’ve started smelling like it too.
  • This week, I bought too much fabric at the market. I knew it was too much when the vendor threw in another piece just because. “Un regalo,” he said. Now, to find time to pull out my sewing machine…
  • On my way home one afternoon, a young man stepped into my path. He wore a towering chef’s hat like he had stepped right out of Ratatouille.  “Excuse me!” he said and I paused to look into his wide-eyed, breathless face. “Do you know where I can find a Chinese store that sells white wine vinegar?” After I apologized that I didn’t, he went on his way, even more panicked than before. And I can’t help but wonder if I misunderstood him…

I’m unfashionably lounging in gray socks and flip-flops (as if I didn’t have fuzzy slippers in the next room). The next door neighbors are thick in their nightly shouting match and I’m using Yiruma to drown them out (not working). And my bullety brain is ready to shut down for the evening. Buenas noches a todos. 🙂

We’re going on a house hunt

We’re going on a house hunt.

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day!

We’re not scared.

Or was I? 

House hunting during a Spanish lockdown was agonizing. 

Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! went the first few weeks. Not too bad. I mostly strolled around the town (this was between the two lockdowns), trying to find my way around and which area would be my preferred place to live.

I looked at online ads and then I started making phone calls. The online ads were rarely current; real offers were snatched up within hours. I realized I might need to adjust some of my ideals. But I had time. It was only January. Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh! 

I found one that I wanted and seized the opportunity. But when the realtor contacted the owner again, she had already rented it out to someone else. Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch! And that was only the beginning.

The more realtors I contacted, the fewer the options seemed to be. Thus began a series of realtors who pretended to be helpful and passive-aggressively stopped responding to my messages or phone calls. 

Prices soared. The demand was so much greater than the supply. Meanwhile, everyone knew that there were empty apartments all around the city, but no one wanted to open their doors to renters, especially of the immigrant variety. I learned to ask in a roundabout way if the place was legal. I learned to carry papers with me that showed I was indeed earning money and indeed a legal resident. I even learned a few self-defense tips along the way. Stumble trip! Stumble trip! Stumble trip!

At this point, I decided that I didn’t care what the place looked like. I am creative and could deal with that later. Just please. Something.

In the middle of all of the realtors who took great pleasure in ignoring me, there were a few who promised to call me with options and then did. I teared up the first time that happened. The place was on the opposite side of the city from teammates, but I didn’t rule it out right away. Instead, I begged the realtor to let me work with her in the future (I didn’t tell her she was the practically the only one who was willing to work with me). Hoooo woooo! Hoooo woooo! Hoooo woooo!

Time wore on. I lost hope. Or very close to it. My emotional pendulum clattered unpredictably between “God, You’ve got this under control” and “The sky is falling!”

Even as towns shut down again due to covid, I continued contacting the faithful few until I became a dripping faucet. 

“Are there any new apartments for rent?”

“Have you found anything new?”

“Could you please tell me if you find a new apartment?”

Drip. Drip.

Then it happened. 

A realtor contacted me and said his friend wanted to rent out her place to a single female. NO MEN ALLOWED. Within a week, I was in contact with the home-owner. And we met, despite the travel restrictions. (Don’t ask too many questions; as far as I know, it wasn’t transgressing the law, but I’m not asking questions either.) I saw the place and realized it was better than the grainy pictures she had sent me. 

She was hesitant because of the nature of my work, afraid that suddenly she would find the floors lined with makeshift beds full of the city’s homeless, namely MEN. And since men weren’t allowed to move in, she told me she would have to think about it.

I was stuck in the middle, wondering whether or not I should keep looking. I didn’t. Not because I had great faith that I would get the place, but because I was too tired to keep on. I offered the home-owner a few references and she took me up on them. “I like you as a renter, but I don’t want your friends.”

Tiptoe! Tiptoe! Tiptoe!

And then one morning, she told me she was in Immigrantville and could she stop by? Was this a sneaky way of seeing inside of our current apartment? I swept our not-very-dirty floor just in case. She clarified a few things and smiled all over. “I will tell you tomorrow morning, but I think it will be you. The other girl is from town and she will have a boyfriend move in with her, I know.”

So, my friends, it seems that abstinence has won the day.

And I have won an apartment in downtown Mytown. As I settle in this week, I keep finding quirks that may one day drive me crazy, but still, it’s a beautiful day!


Note: Italicized words are from the children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury