Snippets of life

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

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

Ireland- part 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

Conglomeration of life

Below is a conglomeration of life I either noticed or experienced in recent weeks. The thoughts are scattered and unpolished (like everything else on my blog, except maybe just a bit more). But I hope you enjoy a peek into life here.


“Hola, American.” A sub-Saharan man said the words almost under his breath as we passed on the street.

I didn’t think much about it until I was a few steps beyond him. How did he know I was American? Someone must have told him.

Due to the abundance of Russian immigrants and the lack of North American ones, my community assumes I’m Russian. In fact, when I started Spanish class, my Russian classmate told me that she’s seen me around and always thought I was a Russian.

Last night in class, she worked on forming a sentence with the imperfect subjunctive: “Trish has a face as if she were Russian.” After various corrections and alterations, we all were very familiar with the idea that Trish looks Russian.


“I thought to myself: I hope she makes brownies. And you did!” My student pulled the brownie plate closer to her and grinned at me with shining eyes. And she didn’t protest when I sent the leftovers home with her after class.


Little arms thrown wide with delight in overhead bubbles.


Four neighbors were on the front stoop when I stepped out the front door of the apartment building.

“Are you having a meeting?” I asked with a laugh.

No, two were just out for a smoke and had collected the others coming in or out the door. Like me.

“Sit down here. Join us.” Demanded the middle-aged man from the second floor. We hadn’t seen each other for a while so maybe he thought he needed the latest scoop on my life.
Not really wanting to wedge myself between two people with lit cigarettes, I stood back just enough to enjoy the breeze that waltzed down the street.

“You don’t smoke, do you?” The second floor neighbor asked.

“No.”

“Do you drink?”

“Not that either.”

“What about the other thing?”

Was this a morality test? I hesitated, not knowing for sure what he meant. “Marijuana?” I asked hopefully. “No, not that either.”

“No. Making love.” He tinged a bit with this. I suppose you could say I had forced him to say it.

The lady on the other side of the stoop eyed me. “It’s not worth it. Men are too complicated.”

“You say men are too complicated!” He was indignant. “It’s the women who are too complicated.”

It was a good time to leave. So I made a light, overgeneralized comment. They laughed. I told them goodbye and continued on my way.


I had almost reached the language school when I noticed a woman was getting out of her car. She was a bleached blonde with dark eye makeup. The combination made her seem sad somehow. Behind her was a mural of a woman with streaking mascara.

Two sad ladies on the corner, almost like a piece of visual poetry, I thought, and continued walking.

I was in the middle of the crosswalk when muffins, donuts, and bread came skidding across the road toward me. I hesitated mid-stride. Was I hallucinating, my subconscious pulling up cravings for foods I rarely ate?

But no. A delivery van’s door had slid open as the van bumbled through the roundabout. The goodies inside had tumbled onto the street with enough momentum to shoot them in my direction.

I helped gather the packages littered across the roundabout and toss them into crates. The poetic sad lady from the corner helped too.

“Gracias!” the man told Sad Lady. “Chokran!” he told me.

I paused and looked down. Sometimes when I wear a dress, people ignore my fair coloring and assume I’m North African. Not that it matters, I suppose. Russian. North African.

Why not?


I trailed Sad Lady into the language school–who knew she was going there too?!–and when I couldn’t get my questions answered at the front desk as I had hoped, I began to chat with her.

She was planning to test for English; I for Spanish. “Let’s meet for coffee to practice!” she said and we exchanged phone numbers.


The next evening, my neighbor and I were only a couple of blocks from home when we saw the drunkest person I have ever seen in Spain. He stumbled out of a salón de juegos and clambered on his bike. Both he and the bike splattered onto the sidewalk. He gave an unintelligible monologue at high decibels but appeared relatively undamaged.

Just a block later, a man bumped into my neighbor. “I’m sorry! I was looking over there while I was walking and didn’t see you!” he said while his arm gave an exaggerated swing in the direction of the park.

“No problem,” my neighbor said graciously. “It happens.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not a racist. And I’m not a thief. You have to be careful on the street. Hold your bag like this!” He tugged the strap of his man purse. Then he clasped his hands together, and gave a wobbly bow in mid-stride and began the same speech again.

And again.

And so we continued several blocks with his cycle of effervescent apologies and wobbly bowing.

My neighbor and I finally stopped at a store to let him get ahead of us.

“Well,” I sighed. “We’re only a few blocks from home. What else is going to happen? Should we go back?”


Hopscotch boxes drawn all of the way to 85, progressively lopsided from weary little hands.


I fell out of bed the other morning. I was freshly awake and rolled over, only to realize that during the night, I had perched myself on the edge of the bed. Fortunately, I caught myself with flailing limbs before I made a resounding boom on the downstairs neighbors’ ceiling.

Who needs caffeine? There’s nothing quite like tumbling out of bed for a delightful adrenaline rush.


A friend cried when I brought her a gift. We sat on the floor together just inside her front door while she fingered every item in the gift bag with grateful tears. Someone cared.


The safety of Grandma’s hand holding fast.


A house with crumbs and sticky that remind me that someone has honored me with their presence in my home.

Aging alone

Back when I was teaching, we took a field trip to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. There were these cool machines with cameras that would age a photo depending on life choices. Are you a smoker? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? And so on went the questions.

One of my junior highers got me to pose for the camera. My mistake was not taking over the controls afterwards. Having already gone through the process once, he knew all of the answers to age my photo as much as possible. He ignored my protests as the screen spun out an image of a worn out old lady who eerily resembled me.

Thanks, kid.

I remember that photo sometimes when I find a new gray hair or a neck wrinkle or an age spot I never noticed before. The realization that one is aging is hard for many people; however, as a single, I wonder if aging alone is different. Not harder, but different.

As a single, there is no togetherness in disintegration. It’s just a party of one who watches the body in the mirror stoop and droop a little more each year. A party of one who gets pitied as she grays because there go her chances to snag a husband and, if she doesn’t have children, she can’t even attribute the grays to the honorable occupation of child-rearing.

His eyelids sag and he gets an extra roll of fat at his waistline.

There is no together giggling at age creeping over two bodies become one. It is just her facing irreversible doom as she watches those creeping spider veins.

There is no one to notice that mole on his back slowly changing colors. No one to miss that tooth except him.

Those freckles that once were becoming are overcome by age spots and they’ve scattered farther than she ever imagined. Her body is no longer what it used to be. And sometimes she’s glad she doesn’t have to share it.

I read through 1 Peter recently, about beauty being internal rather than external. Because remember, these bodies were not made to last forever. Whether one is aging together or aging alone, that truth is comforting.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear other perspectives. What has it been like for you to age alone, man or woman, single or widowed? Or what has it been like for you to age beside someone else? Maybe you’ve had both experiences. What are some things you’ve learned over the years?

Prepositionless laughter

A friend was telling us about someone she knew who got a fine for not wearing a mask. “The police gave him a fine for 300 euro and 50 cents.”

“Fifty cents?” I asked.

She nodded vigorously. “Yes. Three-hundred euro and 50 cents.”

We giggled and speculated where the 50 cents came from. Disobeying the law isn’t something to laugh at, but the ludicrousness of the amount caught me off guard. In Spain, indecent exposure has nothing to do with nudity on the beaches and everything to do with not putting a piece of cloth on your face. 

I told my family, “I get tired of wearing a mask all of the time, but I found a way to amuse myself. Yesterday, I made a beaver face almost the entire time I was in a store. It gave me this strange and private satisfaction.” 

So we laugh because sometimes we are helpless to do much else. Except maybe go crazy. A friend told me that when she worked in the Alzheimer’s ward. The pain, the sadness doesn’t disappear with a laugh, not even close. But the day we lose our sense of humor, we are treading close to insanity. 

Maya Angelou said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” 

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line, waiting to get onto our late bus back to Immigrantville. A man who had just disembarked, stood in front of the bus and snapped a photo. He didn’t look angry or particularly devious. A little high, maybe, but I didn’t bother accounting for his mental state. He looked non-confrontational enough. 

That is, until he approached the bus driver’s window. Shouting echoed through the hollow bus station. I still didn’t pay attention; Spanish culture is usually loud and abrupt.

But I gasped when coins suddenly showered the bus floor. The man had reached through the driver’s window and flipped the coin drawer. I didn’t hear everything that went on, and I’m probably glad I didn’t because as the man slinked away, the driver bounded off of the bus, bellowing a word I won’t record for posterity. 

There in the bus station waiting room, one pummeled the other with a “caution wet floor” sign. Then one threw the other against the glass wall with a thud. It was impossible to tell who was winning, but they were planning to kill each other, I was sure.

With the other stunned observers, I started toward the action with absolutely no clue how to help. Someone had the presence of mind to flag down a passing police van and a crew of armed officers piled out to join the action. 

Shouting, police removed curious onlookers. I was praying aloud from behind my mask. The anger was real, hot, coming from somewhere deep that had risen to the surface after being suppressed for too long.

As we waited for the information to be gathered and fines to be issued, passengers gathered the coins that had scattered, whether to help or to help themselves was a little unclear. Others returned to the bus, laughing. 

Wait. Laughing? What was wrong with these people? Had they no respect? Maybe not. But maybe, the incident was just enough to push them to their own edge and they had two options: lose it or laugh. 

In Arabic, there is an important distinction between laughing at and laughing with. In those near-crazy moments, the distinction isn’t so clear. Sometimes it’s just prepositionless laughing, laughing to keep your nose above the murky waters of life until your flailing arms snag the rescuing hand of Hope.


Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Happy fall

Crisp fall air. Charcoal smoldering in a grill. A porch swing caught in a breeze, beckoning. Drying corn along quiet country roads. Baby giggles. Sun-scented laundry. Family wedding plans. Fresh clothes on happy babies. The steam of a busy iron. Ice cream rivers on shirt fronts. Late night talks. New honey. A church building smelling of Pinesol. Uncontrolled laughter. Spontaneous neighbor visits. Children’s books over and over.

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to be present in too many places to really be present anywhere at all. Ever feel that way? My blog updates probably will be scatter-brained over the next couple of months, but I’ll try to check in anyway. 🙂 Have a wonderful autumn in the meantime. 

Along the coast

I felt more at home with the worn travelers and scruffy men bumming cigarettes than I had browsing a mall full of things I didn’t need and lounging in Pad Thai Wok after my pad thai was gone and all I had left was C.S. Lewis.

I moved on to Willa Cather at the bus station. A French speaker asked for a cigarette. A worn man asked for 80 cents. Neither bothered me. I belonged enough not to care that I had a bad hair day and the hem of my skirt was brown from being too long on dirty streets two days in a row.

A group of loud Americans clambered off the bus. I knew they were American before I heard them speak. –Why are we such a loud culture?– Their laughter pulsated under the metal roof.

A retired Baptist preacher introduced himself. We’re involved in the same sort of work, he said. But he’s short term and I’m long term. That’s about as far as we got before my bus pulled up and nearly bumped us with its stout nose.

It was the end of my stay in Málaga for a two-day literacy training. I could post pictures of my trip, but the truth is, the hours I wasn’t in training, I was parked on my airbnb couch, basking in the aloneness.

Besides my trip to Málaga shortly before the coronavirus lockdown, my roommate and I also spent a day in Adra. Yes, there is a pattern: both Málaga and Adra are along the coast. Sound lovely?

Well, I’m not going to lie; the trip to Adra wasn’t great. The wind quickly banished my dream of lounging on the beach for countless hours. To say nothing of the few rude people that cast a shadow over the rest of the trip. But, I’ll flood you with pictures that make you believe our trip was a blast. Really, it was okay, but it might be a while before I go back. (And next time, I’ll bring my own personal bathroom and a can of pepper spray.)

Night at the beach

It is evening as I descend from the bus stop to the beach. Red-faced, dripping families are ascending after their rigorous seaside adventure. Is it too much to hope for a quiet evening, alone with God and the waves?

I get closer until I can smell the salty water. Brightly colored towels hang from the balconies of a beachfront hotel.

Despite those who have left, there are people everywhere. I am not the only one who thought of enjoying the post-sunshine beach. Laughter punctuates the dull roar of voices.

I slip off my shoes and enter the chaos. The thick sand is rough against my bare feet. Each step half-buries my foot. I find the quietest spot available, spread out my towel, and shake my head at an African vendor who is trying to make a sale.

The waves froth over the rocks. A jet-ski roars past, spinning to dance in its own wake. A boat skims along, a child in an inner tube bouncing and shrieking behind. Another boat passes, this one with less drama.

The sun disappears and the air is almost cool. But the sand still sticks to my sweaty arm as I reach down to adjust my towel.

I soak in the moment. Just as it is.

The night thickens and so does the salty scent of the waves. And finally, I pick up my things and start the uphill plod. I can’t hear the waves anymore. A bustling restaurant is playing Caribbean music while customers sit in wicker chairs shaped like hard-boiled eggs.

That fades too. And it’s just me and a few other panting stragglers going uphill toward home.

Victim of the Tower of Babel

As a life-long language learner, I often always struggle to find the right word in the right language. And I always often end up using the wrong word anyway.

One time, a friend in the thick of language school told me that she had burst into laughter when a non-native English speaker used the word “elephant” to describe an “eggplant” dish. Although she was embarrassed by her own uncontrollable giggles, she knew that it was coming from a sense of relief that other people make mistakes too.

I can understand.

Heavily accented English. Mispronounced vocabulary. Misused idioms. Misspellings. I can smile… because when I do, I am smiling at my own mistakes too.

Like my language school director once told me on a particularly bad language day: “You’re a victim of the Tower of Babel!”

I’m glad I’m not the only one.

peanut butter label
electric lint remover instructions

Embarrassment in an airport

Some embarrassing moments haunt you all of your life and make you groan whenever you remember them. Other moments are so embarrassing at the time that they are not easily forgotten; yet, their memory makes you giggle instead of groan. Why? Maybe because we can relive the humor without reliving the embarrassment.

For example, recently I had a embarrassing moment that was completely mortifying for about 20 minutes before I started giggling. Why so short? Well, it happened in another city in an airport with people I am 99% sure I will never see again.

My friend and I took a trip to the desert for the holidays. We had a lot of luggage due to the fact that we had to haul bedding and towels with us (“a lot” perhaps being relative to someone who usually travels with a backpack). Therefore, when our train arrived at the small airport, we decided to take turns using the restroom. I went first and my friend waited at the bottom of the stairs with our suitcases.

Although I had never used the upstairs restrooms at this airport before, I followed the signs. But there appeared to only be one option. At least, there was a “WC” sign with a little man beside it. But where was the women’s? I looked farther down the hallway, but there was nothing close by. I was ready to continue on my way when a woman appeared in the restroom doorway.

Startled, I asked, “Is this for women?”

She gave an affirmative response. And spotting another woman behind her in the restroom, I shrugged off my hesitation and entered. But at some point, behind that closed stall door, I realized that I was no longer hearing women’s voices, but men’s.

I admit that I wasn’t initially embarrassed and just tried to decide whether to hang out indefinitely in the stall or make my entrance into the male-dominated room. But I couldn’t hang out in the restroom forever. I would miss my flight!

So I emerged. I kept my head down as I walked to the sink to wash my hands. Therefore, I don’t know how the men reacted to my presence. I assume it wasn’t favorably. After all, we were still in a culture where gender distinctions are clearly defined. But they didn’t say a word to me. Maybe they didn’t know how to confront the foreigner who was pretending to be oblivious.

Actually, it was the cleaning lady passing by the open door that hollered inside, “Madame! Madame!” When she had my attention, she continued in French, pointing to the little man symbol next to the WC sign.

Feeling the need to justify  myself (human nature, I suppose), I protested that someone had told me it was for ladies. But the delay only prolonged my presence in the room of unsettled men. Finally, I gathered my wits enough to apologize and scurry down the stairs to where my friend awaited me.

“Don’t go to the first restroom!” I admonished her wisely. And she vanished up the stairs while I waited with the heap of luggage. But as I waited, I realized I was standing by the doorway of the only restroom exit.

And there I stood, incapable of desertion for the sake of our luggage as one by one the men emerged from the restroom and came down the stairs to find me blushing on the bottom platform.