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

Back to the land of the greenhouses

If you have the time and energy, check out part 1, part 2, and part 3 before reading this final part of my family’s visit.

Somewhere along the line, the family travel journal petered out. It may have been due to the fact that Spain felt like coming home to me, not another adventure. Or perhaps it is was due to my sister’s stomach bug which made her less ambitious. Or–ahem–simply due to a lack of discipline. Regardless, some of the details of our time in Spain are fuzzy. So I’ll stick to the things that I remember…

After a teammate picked us up from the airport, we ran out to get chwarmas for supper. Sure, we could have cooked something, but none of us felt like generating any more excitement that day.

The next morning, after first breakfast at home, we strolled down the street to a café for second breakfast. My family enjoyed their tostadas, even if they didn’t enjoy the booming café music. “THIS IS SPANISH CULTURE!” I bellowed over the din.

A few of us zipped around town with a grocery cart, buying most of what we needed for the next week. Mom exclaimed over each new load of groceries we brought home but dutifully put everything away while we went out for another load. (Let the record show that we ate almost everything we bought and had to buy more!) Our shopping trip ended just in time to race–somewhat disheveled at this point–to my teammates’ place for a yummy lunch.

I tried to whip up soup for dinner but mostly just whipped up a giant disaster, which Mom cleaned up while we raced across town to pick up the rental car. The soup, partially cooked, was put on hold until the next night.

busy market scene
Photo credit: R.K.

Wednesday was market day. Everyone had been looking forward to the market, but with PEOPLE EVERYWHERE it was much more stressful than they had anticipated. Before long, I deposited them in plastic chairs by the churro stand and finished the shopping on my own. It’s strange, I thought, how much I’ve adjusted to living in a crowded space, to waiting in line or catching the vendor’s attention to get some service, to holding my ground when people get pushy and reaching around people when they’re in the way. New experiences quickly become normal life.

tomato plants in a greenhouse
vegetable samples on plates

That afternoon, we went on a greenhouse tour. Our enthusiastic tour guide showed us the variety of methods they used for planting, ventilation, and pest control. After pigging out on the samples and buying a bag of produce to take with us, we spontaneously slipped over to the beach to watch the sun set and dip our toes in the chilly Mediterranean.

sunset over mediterranean

We finished the evening with the North African soup I’d tried to make the night before.

Thursday consisted of mostly cancelled plans, due to my sister’s stomach bug. No couscous with my friend and no drive up the mountain. Mom and I slipped out to some North African stores. My usual shopkeepers were delighted to meet my mother. I should have brought Dad along too because they probably were wondering how the American giant belonged to a woman half her height. 🙂

My sister was busy being sick so the rest of us took it easy, putting a puzzle together, reading, and the like. My brother-in-law cheerfully fixed my leaky washer, changed out the dorky bedroom light fixture, and reassembled a malfunctioning drawer. Meanwhile, my adorable and unsupervised nephew amused himself by dropping things from the balcony, as we discovered later.

Our big outing of the day– “Come on guys. We have a rental car. We HAVE to use it.”– was going to two grocery stores: Aldi and Mercadona. Since there is a tiny piece of Roman ruins right next to Aldi, I led my family there to see it.

skinny wall
Photo credit: N.H.

Dad stared down at the puny wall. “Oh wow.” Mom didn’t say much of anything. I’m not sure she even saw the wall because she spent the whole time trying to avoid the dog piles. My brother-in-law dutifully snapped a photo. At Mercadona, Dad disappeared for a bit and then came sidling over with a guilty grin and a container of pecan praline ice cream behind his back.

We tried to fuel the car, but due to the confusing labels, had a hard time deciding which was diesel. The guys stood at the pump, sniffing the dripping nozzles. Finally, I went inside the station to verify that they guys’ noses were accurate after all.

By the time we got home from our mini-adventure, my sister was feeling a little better. But she was not feeling good enough for pecan praline ice cream. So the guys took care of it for her…and for the rest of us, come to think of it.

The next day, we took the rental car up to the mountain lookout. We bounced all of the way up, the guys discussing the quality of the tires and such. We got out and admired the view of the sea of white plastic greenhouses before heading back down. By then, the clouds were moving in and visibility was limited.

My downstairs neighbor brought up a big plate of couscous, which hit the spot. Besides wandering over to the Spanish pastry shop and the nearby park, we didn’t accomplish much else that day.

arab fortress

I guess we were storing up energy for the next day. Saturday we went hither and yon–to Immigrantville to visit friends, to Almería to climb up the Alcazaba. Then back to Immigrantville for tapas in a loud and crowded tapa bar. Then to visit another friend who insisted we come in for tea and sweets. Then finally, home.

I whipped up a pot of puchero and then a few of us returned the rental car. Handing over the keys was melancholy, like our time was winding down too quickly. And it was. Sunday was our last day together. We were in charge of team lunch, so late morning we worked on food prep and then spent the rest of the day with the team for lunch and a church service. I was pleased to see my worlds unite: some of the people I know best in the world getting to know each other.

By Sunday evening, part of me was ready to get back to real life, but the larger part of me was trying to hold on to every single minute.

They left early Monday morning. I came home from the airport to wash a load of sheets. But I chose to leave the tiny fingerprints on my windows at least for a few more days.

Rewarded loyalty

“I would like five carrots,” I told the market vendor as he weighed the other produce I had collected from his stall.

A moment later, he breezed back with a bag bulging with considerably more than five carrots. 

“No.” His coworker pointed to the bag and looked at me. “That’s too much, isn’t it?” He had overheard my tiny order.

I remembered the first time I had bought produce at this stall. It was the coworker who had pretended to forget to give me my change and then came back, minutes later, surprised that I was still standing there–neither oblivious nor angry. He quickly handed over the correct change without my reminding him of the amount. 

Now I found it refreshingly ironic that he was the one looking out for me. 

Long ago, I wrote about how I tend to be a loyal shopper, shopping in the same places, even when I know other places have better prices. I still do that today. On market morning, I make sure to stop at my normal vendor stalls first before picking up what I couldn’t find at other stalls. 

You may think my loyalty is blind, but that’s not fair. And this is why…

One day I was meticulously selecting the brightest pomegranates from a pile. My produce vendor noticed what I was doing and slipped over to show me how to tell when pomegranates are ready–and it has nothing to do with how rosy they were! 

Sometimes I’m offered samples of special fruits. And when I ask if new apricots are sweet, they answer honestly because they know I’ll be back even if they’re not.

The first time I made puchero, I ordered my bones and cuts of meat. The shopkeeper happily filled me with advice on preparing the dish. “Boil these bones for 15 minutes before putting them in your soup or they will make the soup too salty.”

One day I bought semolina flour for harcha. “You like harcha?” the shopkeeper asked. At my happy sigh, she disappeared to the back of the store and came back with harcha, still warm from breakfast. More than once, she has given me handfuls of mint leaves from her personal stash when there wasn’t any to sell.

Another shopkeeper refused to sell me a lone chicken breast. He quietly shook his head until I understood that it probably wasn’t the freshest chicken breast north of the Mediterranean. 

Sometimes when the fabric vendor sees me coming, he pulls out the bolts he’s pretty sure I’ll like. And if I stroll into his stall wearing something homemade, he spots his fabrics with delight.

Just the other week, my shower curtain rod was repeatedly falling down. Finally, after several days of clattering, banging, readjusting, and scratching my head, I decided a new rod was in order. But the store down the street didn’t have any. “Come back this afternoon,” he said. But that afternoon, he still didn’t have any. So he opted to get to the root of my problem–what was the problem exactly? 

As I was still making feeble attempts to explain without the proper vocabulary–”The thing in the middle of the stick…”–he began to work on something he had dug out of the dusty depths of his under-counter. Then–pop!–out came a yellowed suction cup and he told me precisely how to position it to keep the shower rod up. “You can even trim around the edges if you don’t like how it looks.” And my curtain rod has stayed up ever since. The yellowed lip of the suction cup is a happy reminder of the resourceful people who are looking out for me.

My meager loyalty has been rewarded so many times over that it has been crowded out by their generosity. In fact, I’m not even sure that my loyalty has much to do with it at all!

It’s February

It’s February. February. February. 

I have to remind myself of that. The other day during our team lunch, I declared with a sigh, “I’m so glad it’s March!”

They all laughed at me. Or with me, because I laughed too, even though I was startled. Was I really an entire month off?

You may wonder why I feel like I already have one foot in March. Because a few family members have tickets to come to this side of the world. Yea!! It has been a long time since the last “exclusively-mine” visitors, especially family. Long, as in, 2019.

But it’s still February, and that is a good thing. More time to anticipate my visitors, yes. But also more time to just plunk myself down right here in the middle of today. To study elusive Arabic vocabulary, to take a spontaneous walk with my neighbor, to attend Spanish class, to plan and teach English lessons, to stand in the middle of the market listening to a soul’s sad story, to spend an hour orienting myself at my new job as a space heater thaws my feet, to bake a batch of granola, and even to reheat leftover soup and eat it straight out of the kettle (*cough* Yes.).

So, it’s still February. And I’m glad.

Here is Joy

Here is Joy.
Look, right here!
See her in the slippery soap suds puddling around the soap dish?
And in the far corner of the deepest cupboard you're cleaning,
Back, back, back until you can just dab the dirt triangle with the corner of your rag?
Do you hear her bursting through the speakers of your car stereo?
Or in the grunt of an awakening work computer?
She's here on the supermarket shelf, coming along free in the celery stalks just because.
Do you see her?
In the scuffed magnet that pins a child's artwork to your refrigerator?
And in the orange flame waltzing on the tip of a match as you light a candle and open the front door?
She's whisked into the batter and adds just the right nutty note…or is it woody…or just plain sweet?
She's here. Always here.
Even when your neighbor tells you never ever to add cinnamon and now you've ruined it completely.
Yes, sometimes Joy tastes a little like hot noodle soup during a head cold.
Or enlivens an aroma with a world of redeemed memories.
She's more than a good tiding at Christmas.
She's now. Today.
Riding along on the eternal breeze of faithfulness.
Look for her.

Give thanks

To me, the holidays bring a sense of belonging. There is a warmness, an extra niceness. 

Yes, the world gets frantic and grumpy when the store shelves aren’t stocked with what we want and the check-out lines are too long and the children need naps and, well, so do we but we still need to make that Aldi stop because Wal-Mart was out of pumpkin pie filling.

But then we come home and the individuality fades and there is a togetherness again, even in the hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen.

Celebrating far from family isn’t quite like this. The sense of belonging is lessened. Not vanished, but subtle, something I need to search for. But those remaining shards are precious too. Even from far away, I belong. And that belonging tints the world with bright, warm tones and I find myself extra happy this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. 

I don’t want to spend the holidays wishing I were somewhere I am not. I choose to contribute to the joy of right here, because this is where I belong too.

Ten things I’m thankful for this year:

  1. the great faithfulness of a loving Father
  2. Spain’s acceptance of my 5-year residency application
  3. the tail-end of COVID-19
  4. friends and neighbors that I bump into every time I step outside
  5. strong family dynamics, even though I live thousands of miles away
  6. music
  7. opportunities to travel and experience other worlds
  8. my team, my “right-here” family
  9. sweater and boots weather
  10. enough, even with climbing energy and food prices

What are you thankful for?


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Pride and apathy

True love drives away laziness, that’s what a young friend learned in philosophy class. It drives away apathy too.

Then why do I grow apathetic to the woundedness that surrounds me?

Overwhelmed, that’s what I am. Overwhelmed by the dissonance of compassion and my own limits. I am one person with moderate abilities and stamina. I cannot be a superhero no matter how hard I try. My tiny contribution of self-sacrifice will not change the world.

And so I begin to seal off my heart, and what began as love is reduced to apathy.

Or was it even love to begin with?

When I fill my schedule to the brim with world-changing activities, what is my motive? Can it be love? It might be, but, if I’m honest, my motive to change the world often starts and ends with pride. And it’s a pride that turns apathetic when I refuse to be humbled by remembering my limits.

There always will be busy seasons in our lives, some longer than others, but a sustained frantic pace, even under the pretense of love is not truly loving.

Love isn’t defined by the absence of laziness or apathy. The real meaning isn’t found in the absence of something. It’s not even found in the presence of something like hard work or compassion. It is ultimately found in the Presence of Someone.

When I realize that I am not the one who must save the world, I am freed. The burden to be the savior rolls away. Finally, I can stop panicking over my limits in light of all the work that needs to be done. I am finally free to love well.

I can sit with someone who needs to cry. I can make cupcakes for a team event. I can read a captivating book. I can agree to tutor another student. I can have a friendly chat with my neighbor from the patio. I can probe deeper into the heart of a young woman who isn’t sure who she wants to be just yet. And I can do all of this, recognizing that I am just a small piece in what is happening, and, praise the Lord, I get the joy of being a piece.

I am a created being, created with limits. And that is very good. Why? Because the work does not begin and end with me but with the One who is limitless.


For an excellent resource on human limits, I recommend You’re Only Human by Kelly M. Kapic.

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.

A few more thoughts on hospitality

A few months ago, I mentioned that I hoped to share with you some of what I learned while writing an essay on hospitality. In May, a day trip to a mountain town with my neighbor’s family jogged my memory. My memory continued to jog, but only in place as the busyness of June took over.

Now here I am at last with my hospitality essay at my side. But my mind keeps returning to that mountain town…

As I sprawled out on the little sister’s bed during siesta time, my eyes roamed the room, spotting things stashed here and there. A rickety binder that looked as if it had been tossed on top of the wardrobe and promptly forgotten. Broken drawers in a dresser decorated with childish markers. An abandoned attempt at decor.

The untidiness spoke of things not cared for.

Yet there I was, a stranger to the family, welcomed into their home and offered a bed. Rather than buy expensive things and focus on protecting them from harm, this family created a space that said people mattered more.

The women set up a chair in the narrow kitchen doorway for me to sit and hold the baby and then spent the evening tripping over me as they bustled about. And they didn’t mind.

As we finished dinner around midnight, a deep weariness came over me as I looked around at the pile of people in the living room. As soon as they left, the cleanup would need to begin.

And then they left, and rather than being overwhelmingly dirty, the house looked almost clean. As I helped to stack the green plastic chairs and fluff the postage stamp pillows, I wondered why.

It was as if the people who had been in the room were the only decor. The room was serviceable not beautiful, because the emphasis was on the relationships of those who gathered rather than the things they gathered around.

I don’t believe that hospitality and taking care of things are mutually exclusive. However, coming from a culture that often values possessions more than relationships, I appreciate the reminder to engage the relational side of hospitality.

Oops. I’ve been rather long-winded and I haven’t even started my essay summary. Maybe next week? 🙂