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El albergue

El albergue

Monday, November 10, 2014

On food and fellowship

Recently, I have found myself thinking about food. Big surprise, right? I haven’t been really thinking about any food in particular though, haven’t been salivating over some new recipe or idea that begs to be tried out. I’ve just been thinking about food as a whole, about how it fits into a normal life. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how it is such an intrinsically social thing.

All my life, food has been so closely linked with family and friends, with festive gatherings and coffee dates. It has been a thing to be enjoyed and lingered over in good company. Cooking and sharing food long ago became a part of how I connect to people, how I share love and support.

So just the other day, when my little sister sent me a recipe that she told me I needed to try, it was a bit jolting to see myself writing back, “Most nights I’m working, so I hardly ever cook anymore.” All of a sudden I realized how far food has devolved in my life as of late. Working evening shifts and not having someone at home with whom to share mealtimes (my roommate is usually in her pajamas by the time I get home) means most of my meals are hurried, a bit of a helter-skelter operation.

I have been eating just to eat rather than to enjoy and experience.

How terribly depressing that sounds! I mean, many meals do end up being mostly about stuffing in the nourishment our bodies need so we can continue on with our days, but to have ALL meals turn into this unconscious, busy feeding?

I OBJECT!!!

Surely there must be a remedy for this, a way to get fellowship and community back into my mealtimes, a way to bring back the spice of true enjoyment.  I suppose that means I must be mindful, purposeful, seeking to share, experience, and truly connect where I can in the midst of this busy life....


Fellowship and food, man, that’s where it’s at.

Spring Ranch

It was a glorious morning for watching the waves. The warmth of the sun was gently coaxing the dew from the ground in a misty sheen that mixed with the spray from the sea. And what a sea it was. No limp, lax waves were these, whispering softly in the sands. No, these were great, crashing things whose turgid swells brought to mind elephants and rolling grey whales. They reared back from underwater rocks to fall upon them with greater strength, their roar causing us to raise our voices to be understood.


And so for the most part, we remained silent, eating apples from Kathy’s tree as we started out at these waves. And when at last we tossed away our stems and seeds, brushed off our pants, and continued on, they stayed with us, accompanying our stroll along the cliffs.


Their spray spread a veil of mystery over the southward cypress groves. Their crashing was the voice of the elfin pine tree forest even farther south. They lept up to greet us when we stood on the edge to look down. And as we followed the path back to the car, they rocked the buoy whose warning bell came faintly to us on the wind rustling through the coastal prairie grasses.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Stars

Every night, when I come home, I pull into the driveway, turn off my car, and sit for just a minute. I close my eyes and let the keyed-up energy from work seep out of me. Then I look out my windshield, up above our clearing in the woods, and I see the stars. No, I see the entire Milky Way splashed across the heavens in glorious array. It is like a vast, jeweled ceiling put in place just for me, to dazzle me with its beauty.

Every night, this fills me with awe. Complete and utter wonder.

I pick up my things from the passenger seat, swing open my door, and step out into this wonder. I stand by my car, gazing up, my eyes searching, tracing, drinking in these stars to the very last drop of their glory. As I gaze, my spirit fills to overflowing within me, and I feel as if I might burst for the very fullness of my heart. Should I cry? Should I sing? Should I laugh? Should I dance? Should I remain in immobile silence?

Sometimes the stars call forth one response, sometimes another. Sometimes, two or three wriggle out of me together, and it cannot be helped.


Every night, when I come home, I look upon the stars. And every night, as they shine brightly on, they minister to my heart.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Life's Little Things

So often, “stop and smell the roses” sounds like a run-down cliché, sweet yet almost bereft of meaning at this point. I have been in a season of thankfulness recently though, a season in which all the theoretical roses in the world seem to have opened up for my close and delighted inspection. And I do have to stop and smell each and every one of them, I just can’t help it.

“Laura, you’re not making any sense,” someone mutters under their breath.

Here, let me give you a few examples of a few such roses:

The quiet sunshine resting on my flannel-shirted back as a friend and I clamber through the bushes behind my house to pick wild huckleberries.

Watching the orchids on my dresser bloom.


Spying on the doughty little covey of quail that comes through our back yard, their funny head feathers bobbing about the short grasses as they scratch and peck.

Giving my grandma a hug the morning after her wedding, a sheen of tears in her eyes as she tells me she’s so happy I got to be there to help her celebrate.


Falling asleep on a friend’s living room chair, much-needed repose stealing softly over me as we rest comfortably in each other’s presence.

A hike at MacKerricher Park turning from gray and bone-chilling to bright and beautiful, the ocean’s waves spread out below at the end of our exploring seeming to grow more liquid and light as they tease the shore birds scavenging for lunch in the sands.


Getting the sincerest of warm hugs every Sunday from the pastor’s wife, the kind of hug that wraps you tight inside and out.

Skyping dear friends from the coziness of my bed, wrapped in a blanket, steaming mug of tea in hand, sharing laughs and heartache.

Turning off the radio on my way home from work and just singing, letting out all the emotions jumbled up inside.

These are my roses, and I am reveling in their scent.



Monday, October 6, 2014

The joy of the Earth

Sunshine and the dust of ages floated quietly down through the redwood branches from the spots of blue far overhead. My lungs pulled deep, filling to the brim with the green sweetness of the air. My feet trod lightly on the needle-strewn path winding among gnarled old roots. And I was covered, almost chilled, by the calming shadows of the wood, our pace too meandering to warm my fingers and toes.


As I walked along with my friend Kathy, learning about the different habitats of the Jughandle State Park, I looked about me and just had to smile. It was all so beautiful. Even the trailing groups of school kids on a field trip made the scenery seem more real, rather than detracting with their happy vocal antics. The woods felt alive, close, meant to be lived in and enjoyed, a place to listen and smell and simply absorb.



And the path along the bluffs filled me with complete joy and a sense of being at one with the world. I don’t know what it is about a bracing wind whipping my hair about my ears as waves surge against the rocks below and the sun sets gently on the horizon… but it kind of fills me with this strange energy, this desire to run and leap and sing and dance and beat my fists against my chest as I shout to the skies. In this instance, I settled for a bit of a hop skip here and there and a big cheesy grin pasted across my face, but it was still a pretty perfect moment. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

The reason for the delay

I was all set last week to pour my soul out through my fingertips, ready to explore a theme I had been turning over in my head for a few days, and then something came up that trumped pretty much everything in my life except work. Sounds important, right? I wish it was something that warranted happy smiles and maybe a shout or two of glee, but it’s mostly caused grimaces and groans on my part.

So what is this all-consuming issue?

It is the crowning glory to a lovely group of three… blood sucking parasites. Literally, blood sucking parasites. First came the lice from out of the blue a little over a year ago. Frenzied shampooing and the kindness of my brother in spending hours going through my hair strand by strand thankfully took care of those little creeps. Then there was the tick I picked up while on a hike in Australia, which my sister-in-law bravely took care of while I winced and looked away. And now, NOW, I have been hit by a plague of fleas. FLEAS!!!

The previous tenant in my new place of abode didn’t seem to think that her two indoor/outdoor cats needed much in the way of flea treatment, because there those creepy little guys are, jumping around my carpeted floor. The first week, I didn’t notice them, as I don’t think there were many. And then I saw one on my sleeve one day when I was stretching on the floor. That’s about when they started to explode in numbers. Oh goody.

My housemate thought we should try natural remedies first, so we strewed eucalyptus branches about (apparently repels them). A couple nights later, since they didn’t seem to be going away, we put a lit tea light in the middle of a bowl of soapy water, in hopes that the fleas would be attracted to the light, fall in the water, and not be able to get out. In the morning, as the dead candle listed sadly to one side in the water (which was completely corpse free), and the eucalyptus shed its dry seed pods everywhere, I moaned in disappointment at the fleas I continued to find making their home on my feet. The middle of my carpet looked like a crazy shrine to some fickle spirit that had a thing for branches and candles, and those crafty fleas were still sticking around.

Well, so much for those passive methods of flea control! The next day I happened to have the afternoon off when a coworker asked to switch shifts, so after taking care of guests at the inn in the morning, I came home to do battle. I washed every piece of bedding, throwing pillows and un-washable things in the drier to fry any flea that dared to hide on them. I took everything out of my room that I could, vacuumed every inch of carpet that I could reach (and threw away the vacuum bag!), and covered every bit of the ground in baking soda, which is supposed to kill them and destroy their eggs over a few days.

The fight isn’t over yet. I still find a couple desperate characters every day trying to escape death by poisoning by attaching themselves to my feet as I go about my daily business. Today, we’re going to vacuum again, with a chunk of flea collar in the vacuum bag to kill any and all that get sucked up, and when I go home this weekend for my grandma’s wedding, my housemate is going to treat the carpet with some stronger chemicals. 

In the mean time, I find myself scratching at phantom itches and thinking every speck of dirt is a flea coming to claim my life’s blood as its own. I’ve also been avoiding my room. Sad, I know.


Basically, I can’t wait until this is all over, and I can go back to a state of unconcerned barefootedness, the constellations of red spots all over my ankles quietly fading into distant memory.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Here we go adventuring

The native in her (now) local environment
I think one of the things I’m most excited about for this relocation of my life to Mendocino is all the possibilities for exploring nature. Coming from the dry and dusty flatlands of Central California, this wetter coastal landscape offers vistas and habitats completely different from anything I’ve ever had the opportunity to spend much time in before. Here, the ocean meets the rocky bluffs in gray crashes. Salty fog creeps inland between towering redwoods. Green greets me everywhere I turn (and we’re even in a drought right now!). A lonely lighthouse stands guard like a stolid old man. Flowers bloom profusely, even more so I’m told in spring, when the wild rhododendrons go crazy.

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

The Mendocino Botanical Gardens are enough to take your breath away.


And the beach, I can’t forget the beach. Being an inlander, getting to spend an evening at a beach BBQ / bonfire I got invited to by a new friend I just met was like a dream come true. Watching the sun go down, the flames grow brighter, and the smoke drift away (or over us as the fickle winds dictated) was enough to paint a big smile on my face for days. Or what about running on the beach?! That was amazing. I joined my housemate’s community running group on Sunday, and they took me out along a broad, open waterline speckled with whitened sand dollars. I even got some homegrown pears out of the deal because one of the couples had a surplus from their tree.


Yesterday, the adventuring continued with a great hike through Russian Gulch State Park with two friends I’m getting to know. So beautiful. It put me in mind of a resolution one of my best girl friends made for her birthday this year – to go on close to an average of one hike per week for an entire year. And now I want to do that too! I’ll just have to start a log of all this lovely activity and adventure!

The redwoods of Russian Gulch were awe-inspiring.

The windy day brought a little friend down from the trees above.

This serene waterfall was a lovely end goal for the day's trek.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Well, that was quick!

Hmm. Wow. As I sit here contemplating all the things I’ve neglected writing down this past fair bit of time, I’m kind of overwhelmed. There’s so much to tell that my fingers have been baulking all day at the monumental task my brain has been trying to prepare them for the past few days. The last thing I wrote about happened a whole two months ago. TWO MONTHS!!! Did I drop off the face of the Earth? Die a tragically sudden death? Randomly decide that the internet is as evil as *they* say it is and should be avoided at all costs humanly possible?

Well… no.

A whole lot sure has been going on though. For starters, I spent two more lovely weeks in Sydney after that Tazzy trip, enjoying really great quality time with two visiting friends from back home for a little while and then just with my brother and his wife. We spent two nights at a cabin, hiked fun trails, went wine tasting, explored exciting restaurants, and had lots of hugs. Then I was welcomed back to the good ol’ US of A by my oldest brother, his wife, and their charming baby girl, a precious little thing that I got to know during the two nights I spent with them in LA.  A week in San Diego with three of my very best girl friends, and then I was back home in Shafter, unsure of what my next step was going to turn out to be.

Now this is where things get interesting.

During my year in Sydney, I decided that I wanted to get into the Hospitality sector, more specifically small inns or Bed and Breakfasts. Well, remember those friends who were visiting during my last bit in Australia? When I was telling this decision to one of them, she got really excited and burst out with the news “My godparents own a B&B in Northern California!” While I was in San Diego, she emailed her godparents to ask if they needed any help around their place, CCing me of course, and they replied that although they didn’t, they could get me the contact information of two other inns that were going to be in need of an innkeeper soon. A lot to keep track of? I know – this is what I came home to when I finally opened my email!

So I called up the two inns that were looking to hire, and after a little phone tag and mismatching of schedules, I ended up having basically a phone interview with one of them that finished off with the pleasant words “We think you’d be a really good match for us, and we’d love to meet you and have you come check out our inn.” So two weeks into my stay home, and I was heading up to Mendocino for an interview! My mom was a champ and went with me on a lightning trip – 9 hours up, sleep, one day there, sleep, 9 hours back – and by the time I was back home, I had two jobs and a place to live all lined up, ready and waiting for me to start a new life in two weeks.

I had one week of working with my dad and one week of prep, running around trying to make sure I had everything I needed. In that time my little sister was also packing up and heading off to Prague to teach English – craziness was going on in that house, let me tell you! And then it was my turn to grab my parents and make the long drive up to Mendocino from Shafter on my birthday. God bless my parents for helping me out!

Now, here I sit on my bed, in a room looking out on woods and a back yard lit up by the late afternoon sun, nearly a full week of work logged in the books. It seems all a bit surreal to tell the truth. I should leave it here though, because there’s a birthday party I’ve been invited to, and as my new roommate says, “To have the chance to meet people and make new friends in a new setting right away is a blessing.”


So, more later!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A-hiking we have gone

Now, while those quiet morning hours were my favorite part of our trip to Tasmania, they by no means comprised the entirety of our time there. So, what were we doing most of the time then? Well, we were hiking! We were exploring! We were dedicating every daylight hour possible to the seeing of new sights and the wandering about so dear to our nature-starved city dwelling selves.

Besides hours of motoring through many different beautiful landscapes, we ended up with five different hikes/walks under our belts by the end of the trip.


Our first little hike was in Launceston, through Cataract Gorge. It’s a funny little place, a bit of raw nature tucked away in the middle of Tasmania’s second largest city. It makes sense  that the city planners kept a bit away from the white waters of the river flowing through the narrow gorge – heaven knows what a big flood would do when it came crashing by! As our first introduction to Tasmanian scenery though, it was marvelous. We gleefully shielded our sandwiches from overly curious peacocks in the open vista of the gorge’s First Basin, then joyfully set off down the tiny path… or should I say down and up and down again? It was not a difficult hike for the most part, but there were sections where we definitely had to look up the muddy slope and silently applaud the midday runners leaping nimbly past.


On this hike, I think our favorite part was the two old suspension bridges we got to wobble out across the rocky waters on. They were pretty sturdy – industrial strength actually, next to an old hydroelectric plant – yet it was still oddly enervating to feel the boards swaying slightly beneath our feet. Pausing mid-bridge was more about taking in the river below than stilling any quivering of our hearts though… I promise…


The second day of our trip, we got to do two walks. The first one was a little off the beaten path, near Solomon’s Caves. Still being early morning, there was basically nobody about, meaning we got the dripping forest stroll to ourselves. It was a lovely little path only faintly marked out as it wound its way through the ferns and mushroom-covered trees, and I think we were stopping to exclaim over some new beauty every twenty yards or so.


We finally made it back to our van though and headed over to our big destination for the day – Dove Lake.  We arrived a bit later than we were expecting too, the narrow winding roads slowing down our progress considerably along the way, so we ended up having less than two hours to make the circuit of the lake before the last shuttle bus left to take us back to the car park at the visitor center a few miles from the lake. So we busted our butts, working up a sweat to make it in time, and yet we still had plenty of little moments when we had to just stop and stand there on the path, turning around with arms outstretched as we tried to absorb every last bit of the art with which Nature was surrounding us.


It was a cloudy day, the peaks of Cradle Mountain hiding behind a thick blanket, and gentle mists rising now and again from the lake to dance in front of our eyes, but my oh my how lovely it was. We passed through so many different types of landscape, from open brush to dense forest to a stately colonnade of mossy trees, and because of the weather, all the varying colors seemed deep and penetrating, as though the moisture in the air had made them sink deeper in to the earth, the plants, the rocks, the water. Stunning.


The next day, we drove across to Freycinet National Park for a chance to hike to Wineglass Bay, one of the most well-known spots in Tasmania.  This was the day that really tested our hiking mettle – right up and over a pass through the jagged, granite Hazards, we had to take several breaks to catch our breath and admire the beautifully created path that placed natural local rocks into more or less of a staircase winding about between huge red boulders, dense trees, and scrubby bushes filling up all the spaces in between.


The bay itself was lovely as well – a smooth sweep of white sand with rolling breakers that left behind a sprinkled deposit of colorful little shells of all shapes and sizes. We would have loved exploring its beach a little more and maybe even hiking back by another route that went further to the south through the park, but time was pressing since the sun sets early in winter, so we only got a short time to relax and rummage through all those fun shells.



Our fourth and final day, the sun finally made an appearance, lending additional charm to our last hike – clambering over the rocks on the Binalong end of Bay of Fires. Completely different from our previous days’ treks, this little bit of exploration made us feel like little kids playing on God’s jungle gym. The sunlight gleamed off the white sands of the beach and glittered on the huge waves crashing onto the rocks below our climbing feet.  The waters’ roar resounded in our ears. Our toes danced across boulders and dropped nimbly to tiny shell-strewn inlets. It was so exhilaratingly fun.




And then it was over. It was time to head out on the long drive back to Launceston to catch our flight back to Sydney… sigh… We did, however, manage to sneak in one last little bit of fun by stopping at a hidden little lookout to cook up our lunch. And although the hiking in this instance was limited to the ten yards it took to take our steaming bowls of campervan chili up to the lookout platform, it was still a perfect way to end our stint of trekking and say goodbye to beautiful Tasmania.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Tasmanian morning

A few weeks ago, I was meeting up with a new friend from church, and during our conversation it came out that both of us really wanted to visit Tasmania. Bam! In an instant, we had decided that off to Tazzy we were about to go! All a little bit last minute, I know, but we didn’t have tons of time since I had recently set my return to California for the end of July. So airplane tickets reserved and campervan booked, and we were ready for our little adventure.

Those four very full days were not nearly enough to see everything we wanted to see and really soak in every inch of stunning scenery. As it was, we had just enough time to get in a good hike each day in a new location before the sun went down and we snuggled into our sleeping bags in the back of our awesome camper.

Sweet ride, eh?

Still, short as our time was way down there in chilly winter-time Tasmania, each moment seemed packed full of experiences and memories. Making food in the back of the van, hiking, pictures, monkeys in Launceston’s City Park, chai lattes by a fire, impromptu stops for random things, a wild wallaby, sea shells, crashing waves, driving on the left side of the road… So many things, so many reasons to smile!
 
We had quite the little kitchen back there!


Probably my favorite moment of each of these days though, was the morning. That quiet moment when the day stretched out before us with exciting promise. Each morning was different – our first, friendly strollers informed us we had parked next to the town horse stables (haha); our second, it was almost raining; and our third, we were looking out over the waters of Muirs Beach – and yet they stand as a whole in my mind.

I think it must have been the complete peace and rest I felt each morning after our sleeping bags were stowed and our van tidied for the day, when we cradled steaming cups of cocoa in our hands and peered out from below the open hatch as the sun rose below the ever-present clouds. When the dampened world softly emerged from the shadows. When the birds began to twitter in the bushes and the kookaburras greeted the coming dawn from their gum tree roosts with growing choruses of cackling laughter.


In fact, if I ever get the chance to go back to Tasmania again, I do believe that I will have to get up early every morning, just to experience those moments once more.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cloudy day memories

It’s just one of those days. You know the kind I’m talking about, right? The kind where you lack the driving force to do anything at all useful to the world? Where you have no idea why you got up at 8 o’clock, but hey, that works? Where you’d rather cozy up on the couch and search out new and exciting food blogs to give you a stunning case of food jealousy? …yeah… that kind of day.

So what do you do on a day like this? That’s right, you toodle around the apartment, tidying this here and that there, lazily festooning the living room with wet laundry (it IS the best spot for those big white drying racks), brewing yourself a nice steaming mug of tea, and reminiscing through all the pictures you have clogging up your hard drive.

And that, of course, is what I have been doing. Which is why I find myself at the dining room table right now, scrolling through pictures on my laptop, comfy sweats and fuzzy socks teaming up with piping hot chai to defeat the gray skies outside trying to turn my mid afternoon into evening already.

The most recent pictures make me smile with the fondness of fresh memories. They’re from VIVID, a yearly event in Sydney that proposes to bring art to the general public through light, the major attractions being light shows projected onto some of the more iconic buildings in the heart of the city. Sure, like most overly hyped things, it wasn’t quite the extravaganza that the teeming crowds seemed to advertise it should be. And yet despite the throngs, the muddy grass churned up by millions of wandering feet, and a whole lot of walking, it was worth it. Why? For the few truly amazing exhibits, where I wanted to just sit and watch forever like a little kid, entranced by the brilliantly choreographed routines in perfect harmony with the contours of their very unique canvases.
 
Customs House



I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out in front of the Customs House and watch the fantastic interactive display being guided by little dancing kids? The Museum of Contemporary Art’s stunning façade was also host to some really fun imagery, even if a couple of the sequences were a little bit out there.

Museum of Modern Art

It was the Opera House, though, that took the cake. Our little group found a relatively quiet spot above the crowds across Circular Quay, and with the lights and images playing out over its sail-like features in perfect sync with the music, that landmark was transformed from animal to metal to aquarium to rain and to everything in between. I could hardly look at anything else as I leaned against the railing, my camera generally left dangling in my hand, eyes open wide, and a smile of childlike contentment gracing my lips.





As I sit here now with that moment in my mind, that smile seems to be coming out for round two. Let’s see what a second cup of tea does to make it last…

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In other's words

I came across a few quotes the other day that seemed to speak exactly to my heart in this place I find myself. Words and thoughts about life, traveling, humanity, the world. It’s so strangely comforting to find expression through the words of others when you yourself can’t quite find the turn of phrase to communicate the nuances of your emotions. Perhaps the best example of this is a quote from good ol’ Carl Sagan, who seemed to be getting it all just about right when he said:
I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.

That’s so me! I have been researching several options for the near future, making lists and charts of information and pros and cons, trying to figure it all out. And I really don’t know where I’m going, but I’ve certainly started groping my way blindly through the dark.

The second quote to speak to me was from Marcel Proust:
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

I mean, how easy is it to get comfortable with our surroundings and take for granted the people and things in our life? I had to ask myself when I went running this morning, “Am I looking at the ground, or have I got my head up and my eyes taking in the world around me?” The colony of flying foxes screeching in the tree tops, their dangling black bodies looking like so many over ripe fruits weighing down the branches. Last night’s rain dripping from the leaves overhead onto my bright yellow sleeve. The ducks paddling about in a river burnished with the morning sun.

This idea of having new eyes to see the world is perfect in my mind for newer sights and experiences as well. For instance, when we went down to visit some friends near Adelaide in South Australia the other weekend, as it rained most of the time, we did most of our site seeing from the car. Keeping Proust in mind, I tried to soak in as much as I could of everything going on. The solid farmhouse built next to the ocean side cliff, alone with its cows in the open fields. That particular smell of nostalgia and old leather that perfumed a classic car. The luscious taste of local cheese in the warmth of a German creamery. Being open to the different sensations, flavors, colors, sights, like a child experiencing everything for the first time ever – that is what discovery feels like.

And finally, a third quote from Rosalia de Castro, less an expression of my current state of feeling and more an idea of bravely living that I would love to make my own.
I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Barefoot

The other day, after a few hours in town with shoes that just rubbed in that one little spot, my feet rebelled and demanded to be set free. So as soon as I finished coffee with a new friend from church at a cute café only one train stop away from home, I decided to go for it and be a little bit hippie.

I kept on the offending footwear for a block or two longer, and then as soon as I reached the big park on the way home, those shoes were swinging from my fingers, and my toes were practically singing with delight. It felt as though they were expanding, changing, molding themselves to fit perfectly into the ground beneath them. They nestled into soft grass, worn pavement, and those hollows that pit the packed dirt. Nestling might sound like a strange way to put it, but I really felt like the ground was welcoming my feet with open and joyful arms.

I walked gingerly, quietly, letting my feet seek out those moments of sweet softness and settle into each step so as to avoid as much as possible the more prickly things in my path. Those steps felt so elastic. Rather than the long stride of shoe-clad heels, my tender feet curled about away from pokes and my knees retained a springy bend. It felt like my feet were reading the surface below them. It felt like they were connecting with the earth.


Of course, I had to scrub my feet with a pumice stone once I got home to get off all traces of my rebellious stroll, but the smile on my face told me it was worth it. In fact, I think I should probably go barefoot more often…

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Running?

I never considered myself a runner. In fact, you might almost say I hated running, or at least running just for running’s sake. Get me out on the court with a good tennis racket and a friend, and I could run around for hours, but running by itself? No thanks! Swimming? YES. Badminton? YES. Cycling? YES. Running? Umm… I think there’s some chores or cooking or anything else in the world I need to do…

I was used to a pretty active lifestyle though, so when I was in Spain and didn’t have access to all the sporting facilities I did at home and in college, I began to feel the need to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING requiring physical exertion. I started running with my roommate a couple times a week through the park near our apartment, generally getting in a respectable 20-30 minutes of what I called running but were more likely a slow jog. I even went to a group running activity one weekend and nearly died (at least, that’s how it felt). I kept truckin’ along, throwing in core workouts in our miniscule living room when I just couldn’t motivate myself to get on the tennis shoes and get my butt out the door.

I continued like that for a while, and then, strangely enough, it was a day of cycling that really pushed me into running. I spent five hours pedaling a trail that runs all around Madrid with two friends who were more active than me on a normal basis, and they whooped my hiney. It was the most I’d been pushed physically in ages, and the next time I went running, I all of a sudden realized, hey! I can most definitely go a little farther than I normally do! I can do this!

So I started going a little longer, getting from 30 minute runs to almost an hour as I extended my circuit through the park. Then one of my best friends invited me to do a half marathon with her the following spring. It was great having someone to train with. We checked in with each other during the week and did long runs on the weekends, exploring new parts of the city and all its parks, and chatting between pants for breath. And it was good. We finished the race. I was so proud of us.

This past Sunday, I was at the starting line again. Different race, different city, completely different continent, but I was ready to run a half marathon again. I had been taking advantage of this waiting season I have been in to train well, so I really wanted to see how much better I could do. I missed having my running buddy from last time there with me, but as I watched the sun rise from behind St. Mary’s Cathedral next to Hyde Park, I was excited to see where the route was going to take me and thankful for what a beautiful day it promised to be.


And then we were off, thousands of feet pounding the pavement together, sweaty bodies jockeying for position, everyone going at their own pace. It was great. It was one of those moments that I now love about running – when you’re running a new trail, or even just a path you haven’t run too many times before, it’s like some grand adventure. You get to see places you don’t normally go. You get to people watch and marvel at just how eccentric and varied humanity can be. You get to smile at a German Shepherd dribbling a soccer ball. You get to connect your body with the environment you’re passing through, maneuvering your feet to find the best direction and modulating your pace to match the hills.

Believe it or not, I was actually smiling most of the race. I was enjoying myself, thoroughly. I, who used to avoid running as something unsavory, was currently incredibly happy to be where I was at and doing what I was doing. And I was so excited to get to see Zach and Kali at the end and share the moment with them.


Hmm… I guess that’s it then. This must be who I am. I’ve become a runner.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Coconut Lime Bread

Today was a rug-shakin’, floor-sweepin’, dust-dabblin’ kind of day. And as I wiped, rubbed, and vacuumed my way around the apartment, listening to my audio book, I fell into one of those moods that so often seem to come in the wake of a cleaning spree… BAKING TIME!!!

I don’t know what exactly it is, there’s just something about cleaning that makes me want to get my perfectly clean kitchen all messy again and create yummy order out of impetuously unnecessary chaos. Plus, we had about seven lovely little plums on the counter that were just on the verge of becoming unseemly as well as a few crisp Granny Smiths that somehow have been constantly avoided at lunch and snack times this week in favor of the more blushing Pink Ladies in the fruit bowl.

And then I saw the cute little limes Zach and Kali got at the produce market this weekend, and my mind immediately went tropical, with plenty of toasted coconut to top it all off. Mmm…

So I looked up a few recipes online for inspiration, puttered around with the ingredients, scooping this and slicing that, and came out with something that perfumed the entire apartment with a warm tropical breeze to greet anyone who might walk through the door.

It was wonderful fresh out of the oven with a steaming mug of tea on the side, and I’ll bet you it disappears more quickly than… you name it!



For the curious, here’s the general outline of how it happened, although no exact measurements were ever made.

I started with seven plums and two apples, finely diced.
Added in the zest and juice of one lime.
Some granulated sugar (half cup?) and a goodly dollop of honey.
About a cup and a half of toasted unsweetened coconut.
Stirred in 1 egg, more or less 1/3 cup Greek yogurt and ¼ cup olive oil.
Maybe 2 teaspoons baking soda and 2 teaspoons of baking powder plus ½ teaspoon or so of salt.
Then ¼ cup oat bran as well as about ¾ cup oats.
A final cup or so of flour, and it was right away into the oven in two loaf pans.
It baked at 350 for around about an hour, and then got piled up with this lovely topping:
About a cup and a half toasted unsweetened coconut, a cup of powdered sugar, the zest and juice of one lime, and 2 Tablespoons cream.

I popped the two mounded pans back in the oven for another ten minutes, and then served it up nearly straight from the oven in nice, thick slices because no one wants a dinky piece it was so crumbly smaller pieces would automatically have ended up as ignominious piles of crumbs.


Oh yes… and there’s still some left for breakfast! Score!

Monday, May 5, 2014

On waiting

Here I find myself, waiting again. It’s interesting, isn’t it? When going into a period of transition, change, etc, I always tend to focus on all the grand possibilities stretching out before me, like a mountain of fruit I can just reach out and pick from. As though I was the farmer and could actually make the decisions. Hah!

It’s true enough that at times the onus of decision-making really does rest entirely with me, but by that time the large medley of delicious fruits has been whittled away to more of a saucer with a couple plums singly rolling around on it. And then there are the times like right now, when I have been furrowing rows, planting seeds, and watching little shoots begin to grow. The only thing is, it’s not my farm, and I’m not the one who gets to decide which plants I get to pick from, much less when it’s time to harvest.

The nice thing about all this waiting time though, is that it has given me the chance to think, reflect, and realize. First thing I realized was that “Be still and know that I am God” was kind of playing out across my days without me even seeing it. How better to be still than to not have a job? To know that God is there than to trust him with every step of an ongoing and seemingly fruitless job search?

The second thing I realized was that this time of waiting has not in fact been fruitless. I’ve seen that every moment of our lives plays a part in forming who we are and what the rest of our existence is going to look like, even times like this when we are forced into waiting. I’ve seen that this time of stillness has been teaching me a lot – humility, generosity, hospitality, and trust, among other things – both through experience and the example of people like my brother and his wife.  And I’ve seen how ideas and dreams inside me have grown and developed in ways I never imagined. Who knows which of them will eventually come to fruition and to what degree, but hey, at least they’ve had time and space to flourish.


So whether or not a smorgasbord of bright and shining opportunities comes my way soon, I know I’ve already pocketed a few cherries, fruit I doubt I would have had time to find if I had not been here waiting.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Turquoise

As I sit floating in the gentle swells, I can’t help but smile. You know those big grins that kind of take over your entire face just because all the loose ends of your life have been neatly tucked out of view for a short while and everything feels right, wholly and completely right? That’s what has infected me.

Gone is the clamor of neighboring train tracks, cars, and kids. Gone is the dry brown of our inland suburb. Gone the stress of job searching and worrying about the future.

Right now at Hyams Beach, all that exists in the world is the rhythmic beat of the waves on the shore and a feeling of deep peace welling up out of the turquoise waters surrounding me. Kind white clouds frame the brilliant blue of the sky, matching the white sands that softly mark the edge of my turquoise haven.

I look down at my toes far below me, gently moving to keep me afloat – the lens of the water has turned them to turquoise as well, perfectly matching the polish on my toenails. I can even see the sandy bottom a bit farther down, ripples and swirls barely showing where the waters have been moving most.

And so humdrum and normal drift off to sea as I stretch out my arms and swim, soaking up as much of this beautiful turquoise as I possibly can, with a grin that just won’t quit.