Tag Archives: Baltimore

The Message

In case you missed church today, click here.   This is a longer video of Bono and Rev. Eugene Peterson discussing The Psalms.  I promise the truth will make an appearance.  Produced by the Fuller Theological Seminary, this series of videos helps illuminate why the Bible is relevant today.  Eugene Peterson’s seminal work  is The Message:  The Bible in Contemporary Language.

Here is Rev. Peterson’s explanation of his impetus for taking on this monumental task:

“When Paul of Tarsus wrote a letter, the people who received it understood it instantly, When the prophet Isaiah preached a sermon, I can’t imagine that people went to the library to figure it out. That was the basic premise under which I worked. I began with the New Testament in the Greek — a rough and jagged language, not so grammatically clean. I just typed out a page the way I thought it would have sounded to the Galatians.[“5]

To find out more about Eugene Peterson and his work, click here.   The Rev. Peterson and I share Stanwood, Washington and Baltimore, Maryland in common.  Who knew?

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Candy Land

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This week at Homework Club my task was to converse in English with the adult women who accompanied their children.  Ethiopian, Eritrean, Mexican.  Most speak a pretty solid basic English.  Vocabulary is what is needed.  To that end, we got out a game called Rory’s Story Cubes.  Basically, you throw a bunch of die with pictures on them and try to tell a story.   Have you ever tried telling a story in a foreign language?  It was tortuous.  

When we lived in Mexico, my friend Martita had a theory that the household help in Mexico loved to play Barbies and other games with the children because they themselves had never played with them as children.  Mostly, this theory of hers made sense, although some of us are just not good at playing with dolls. I was never a good player of Barbies and perhaps had a total of three of them, at least one of which was a hand-me-down with bubble hair from the ‘50s, now worth a fortune.  My mother pitched them all at some point.  (In any event, I was always about the Dream House).  The bottom line was that these women could play for hours with the children, down on their knees, imagining new and different worlds in ways that Martita and I could not.   

In any event, there are no Barbies at Homework Club.  But there is Candy Land.  With Martita’s words ringing in my ears, I pulled out the classic board game.  None of the women had ever played it with their children (and why would they?).  Invented in 1949  by Eleanor Abbott who was stricken with polio, this game is so basic three year olds can play it. For those unfamiliar with the game, you do not know how to read and need only be able to count to two.  Color recognition is the primary skill set needed.  The goal is to travel a plastic Gingerman along a path and end up first at the Candy Castle, thereby winning the game.  Cards with color squares on it dictate how far one travels along the path.  There are also special cards with characters on them.  Drawing Queen Frostine moves a player ahead to the Ice Cream Sea and picking up Mamma Gingersnap will send an unlucky player back to the Molasses Swamp.   Landing in a licorice patch will make you lose a turn.  The game involves no strategy – pure luck – and is a player’s introduction to the lesson Life Is Not Fair.  The Luck of the Draw determines one’s fate.  Most players do not appreciate this lesson but grow into it, moving on to the more strategic game of Parcheesi, which teaches treaty-building and the value of alliances.   

This Life is Not Fair theme has been rattling around in my head all week, while Baltimore has been on fire and Thing 1 has been deciding whether or not to accept a job there.  She is well suited to the job (a noble pursuit) but the hours are long and the pay is crap.   It will be difficult to make ends meet, especially having to pay her student loan and her needing to eat.  As her mother, I have been attempting to open her eyes to the arduous ascent to the Gumdrop Mountains and the fragility of the Peanut Brittle House.  They look tasty but how expensive are they?    How safe will she be as she navigates the Rainbow Trail?  What if she encounters Lord Licorice? Coming from a legal background, I am all about damage mitigation.    In life, she has not drawn the best of cards but she likewise has certainly not drawn the worst. 

On my own pilgrimage to a Candy Cathedral (Santiago de Compostela), I was a tortoise.  I am a sloooooowwww walker.  And as I walked, reveling in my surroundings, the scripture came back to me over and over, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.*  Now, Jesus was not talking about walking (but maybe it applies in some other cosmic sense).  He was really talking about the poor.  I like to think that, in the end, I will be holding the door open for all those who drew lesser cards than me, for reasons that neither of us understand, inviting them forward. “Adelante, my friend, adelante.  Scootch on up to the front.” Some of us were blessed with brains (to help us navigate that path and look out for the pitfalls), some of us have brains and have been blindsided, some have financial health, some physical, some mental.  Some are blessed with good friends, a wonderful family,  or a guardian angel that rides herd.  Never do we get it all.  Some have precious few of all of the above.  But in the end we were all blessed with something.  Can we find it on that colorful path? Can we help others to find their blessing?  How about just being a blessing?

As we ended Homework Club, the mothers were howling with laughter.  They especially loved it when I got sent back to the beginning – I lost both times – and wanted to know where they could purchase the game so they could play it with their children.  So much better than TV! 

As the Charm City faces another night of unrest, I am praying that it ends well and that the Holy Spirit makes a special appearance.  I am praying Thing 1 sees the Peppermint Forest for the trees and is at peace with her decision, taking into consideration a mother’s concerns while following her heart and not taking the Gumdrop Path shortcut through the decision making process.  Furthermore, I am hopeful the PC police will not change the name of the game to Veggie Land, plonking rutabagas, radishes, and rhubarb along the path, headed to the Organic Farmer’s Market.   Pour some SUGAR on me at the Candy Castle!  Even if I get there last  – having made a bizillion mistakes – it will be oh, so sweet, and worth the long, twisted journey.   I’ll meet you there, no matter what cards we draw.  

*Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30 (repeated several times – impressive message!).

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Trivial Pursuit

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This will be a short blog post as I am busy being a mother …  prom dressing shopping with Thing 3*, hanging with Thing 2 home on Spring Break**.  This is really an addendum to my visit to Baltimore.  If this doesn’t interest you, come back in two weeks when I am back from the very truncated College Trip 3.0.  What colleges have we not seen within driving distance?  We are going south, to get out of the snow. 

Anyhoo, I forgot to write about one of my favorite evenings ever with Thing 1.   On the Tuesday night of my visit we went to PJ’s Pub (3333 North Charles Street, Baltimore) for Trivia Night with two of her girl friends.  For two hours we drank cider and answered questions erudite and inane,  pitted against a host of other 21-22 year old teams.  Teams with names like:  Check All That Apply, Rehab is For Quitters (ours, an inherited name), and my favorite, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sharia? (sung to the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune).  When I heard the last team name, I actually barked with laughter, much to the embarrassment of Thing 1.  Besides the owner of the pub, I was by far the oldest.

Right before the bonus round, where points are gambled,  we were in first place.  Although I helped out mostly in the beginning, I was a hindrance towards the end and learned to shut my mouth.  The best I could do when a baseball question came up was suggest Hispanic last names, which was more helpful than you’d think.  (An all girls table at Nerd U Trivia Night does not bode well for sports questions.)   Here is one for you:  without looking, who wrote The Tale of Rip Van Winkle?***  If you lived in Spain, you should get this question.  Thing 1 and I did not, even though we’d both lived in Spain and visited the Alhambra (hint, hint).  The other girls at the table, though, did know.  Thing 1 correctly identified Ghandi as a British lawyer who was an expat in South Africa, which made me proud of her IB diploma. 

We ended the evening humbled, in third place.  I was happy to know that some young people in America knew what sharia law was and dismayed to have to explain it to others.  Mainly, I was grateful to share the experience with the other college students and to see my daughter socializing in a rather wholesome way.  

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It has been a tough news week.  Having flown over the Alps several times, this week’s events have left me bereft.  But, as we head into Passover and Easter, I leave you with two quotes from the Mahatma Ghandi and a bit of Scripure: 

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world.  It was a perfect act.” 

And, as references the image above, “It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” 

Finally,  Psalm 121:1-2: “ I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

The hills ARE alive with the sound of music.  Let us strain our ears to hear it, even though it seems impossible to do.   

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*an activity fraught with tension but an area in which I hope to outdo my own mother.

**don’t waste money on Spring Break for freshmen.  It is better for them to come home, detox, and sleep. 

*** Washington Irving

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Calibrated to Infinity

Most of this past week was spent in Baltimore, Maryland, attending medical appointments with Thing 1, my oldest child, at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  As she attends university in Baltimore, this is convenient.  Thing 1 has a rarish genetic syndrome that requires rather extensive follow up on a semi-annual basis.   Blessedly, she has a light case, even though she is heavily burdened.  Having said that, we made the week into a party, now that she is 21 and can legally imbibe.  Why not?  Our favorite was the Owl Bar in the Belvedere Hotel.  A former speakeasy, the owls’ eyes above the bar blink to indicate whether or not it is safe to have a cocktail.  Woo hoo!  What a hoot.  

Our first cause for celebration was a beautiful cardiac angiogram.  When I have the photos I will try to post one.  Stunning, to look at the heart so literally.  No bulges in the aorta!  No twisting (“tortuosity”) in the arteries!  It was such a beautiful image I might have to frame it.  

We also saw two eye specialists, one an eye surgeon who will remove and replace her right eye lens and then a retinal surgeon who has to be on hand in event of a detachment.    Dr. G asked what kind of lens Thing 1 would like implanted – one for distance or one for seeing up close.  The goal is to get her close to 20/20 vision as possible.  If she went for the distance lens, he said her vision would be “calibrated to infinity”.

How can one not be in awe of the the Creator of the eye?  I am not a scientist, and only barely understand its workings, but to me the eye is a big miracle in and of itself.  And it does not work alone – the brain takes whatever image it’s given and turns it right side up.   (Cameras are basically mini-eyes and function in the same way – photographers can read about calibrating to infinity here).

While we were waiting waiting waiting in the various waiting rooms, I started reading Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous book All The Light We Cannot See about a blind (coincidence?) French girl, Marie-Laure, and a young German solider Werner, in World War II.   (Coincidence?)  Although Marie-Laure cannot see,  she compensates with other heightened perceptions.  Werner trusts in his radio signals, sound waves that come over the air, unseen, guiding him towards his fate. Both are empathetic characters.  I finished the book Sunday and have been pondering it ever since.

As it happens, my bible study homework unearthed this gem this morning, which helped me figure it out a bit:

Hebrews 11:1-3 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. …. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

The world in the year 67 AD, the approximate time the book of Hebrews was written in the New Testament,  did not know about light rays and sound waves.

And then I remembered this one: 

1 Corinthians 13:12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

“12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 

I am so excited for Thing 1 just to see me face to face from ten feet away as opposed to three – she has been seeing dimly for so long.  What will it be like, I wonder, for her to wake up and have her vision restored?  Calibrated to infinity?  I like to think we are all calibrated to infinity, focused on what matters, able to see what is unseen, faithful to our true potential, fully known.   This St. Paddy’s Day, my Irish eyes are smiling.  Slainté!

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Mr. Doerr, a native Ohioan, now lives in Boise, Idaho. Here is his calendar of events.  I will be bringing my book on October 11 for his autograph.   

Hot movie tip:  Focus with Will Smith and Margot Robbie.  Awesome! 

Beth Moore’s Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit

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Comfortably Numb

So this is what it has come down to – sporadic 8 minute conversations with my daughter on Skype or Facetime. After seventeen years in the same house, your relationship is radically condensed. You raise your children to be independent, self-sufficient, and it turns out that they actually are, aside from the checkbook. Thing 1 is happy, well-adjusted, and loving her new life at Johns Hopkins. There have been no hysterical phone calls in the middle of the night, no panicked texts. I am assuming this means that her father and I did our jobs as parents … but cutting the umbilical cord the first time was much, much easier. (Among other things, I did not have to do it.) That silent bedroom taunts me, asking me if/how I am going to convert the space.

The learning curve for college drop off is steep. First, let me just say that all those orientation activities for parents to attend are all for organized parents. Domestic parents. Parents who have driven in with their childrens’ bedrooms and do not have to recreate one from scratch and two pieces of 50 pound luggage. We did not attend a single activity as parents, besides the initial coffee. We had to return to Target instead.

Target, during a college dorm move in, looks like a picked over landscape, parents scavenging like vultures for that case of water (hurricane coming), bedside lamp, or curtain rod and curtain to help block out what light the dorm room blinds do not. It is not the Target I know. My only comfort came from seeing other parents making the same trek. It does beg the question, “What can you live without?”

For setting up the dorm room, especially if you are an expat, is a splurge I equate with the modern day dowry. (If only people today gave as much thought and research to their future spouse as they do to the university they attend!). It is important that your child have a stocked medical chest, two sets of sheets, two towels, and enough underwear to get through a week or ten days. Then there are the items one shares. In Thing 1’s case, her roommate brought the fridge, she brought the printer, and the suitemate, a beauty pageant teen queen from Arkansas, not only bought the router but she set it up. All of this takes time and money – for the first time parent, well, nothing quite prepares you.

The parameters on the family’s life have forever shifted; the earthquake we felt in Baltimore was minor in comparison. I had been in deep denial before this moment, progressing through the family chores during the summer. Now back in Madrid, I am just rather numb, feasting on books like I am dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Life is akimbo and until I/we get used to it, there is nothing I can do, except process it little by little each day and play Scrabble after dinner. Re-entry is bad enough but this is just an extra layer of glum until the routine of the “new normal” sets in.

One final thought, unrelated: yesterday at church, the Gospel was Matthew 18:21-35.

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”*

In the Anglican church, the readings repeat every three years with little variation, marching to the calendar based on the liturgical seasons, intent on drumming into one the most important messages. I am quite sure the hijackers did not consult the calendar ten years in advance. They did not anticipate that the tenth anniversary would fall on a Sunday and that the message would be forgiveness. And therein lies the true victory. I’ll keep working at it.

Thanks to Mood Ring Momma, Nittany Kitten, and Stephanie for sustaining my banquet of books. Here is what I’ve read lately:

When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box – John Ortberg. Soul food.
Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story – Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor. Soul searching.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot. Soul defining, on a cellular level. Awesome.
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art – Madeleine L’Engle. A reverberating ripple in time.
The Last Stand of Major Pettigrew – Helen Simonson. Dry, wry humor – dessert for the brain. Absolutely hilarious. If I had money, I would buy the movie rights.
Origin – Diana Abu-Jaber. Overly prosey mystery.
State of Wonder – Ann Patchett. Surprisingly did not relish as much as I thought I would.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin – Erik Larson. An absolute must read.

* Also interpreted as seventy times seven. Wow.

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Conditions Permitting

Never, ever, get off the New Jersey Turnpike leading into Newark Liberty International Airport. Ever. Do you hear me?

Thing 1 and I, headed north last Saturday after saying good-bye to Martita and her Things on the Jersey Shore, to meet up with Mr. Understanding and Things 2 and 3 at the ticket counter of Continental Airlines. A week earlier, at the last minute, Mr. Understanding and I decided that we would gamble: I alone would take Thing 1 to her medical appointments in Baltimore and Mr. Understanding would wait in San Francisco for the visas. We were gambling that the consulate officials would not capriciously ask all five of us to return to the Spanish consulate to pick up the visas which were promised within 72 hours, a full 2 weeks earlier than anticipated. Worse case scenario: Thing 1 and I would fly back to the West Coast to join the family before heading east again to Spain. It seemed sane at the time.

The cell phone had 2 bars when I left Martita’s house, tears running down my face. Minutes before Martita and her Things had climbed into a stretch limo to take them to the airport for their return to Mexico City, her extended family lining the street, waving white Kleenex per their family tradition to wish them godspeed. I try to never cry at good-byes until I get on the airplane when I can bawl over a glass of cheap champagne but I violated one of my own rules of expatriatedom. Hugging her Thing 2, who I first met as a one year old and who was now a bewildering combination of man/child, I was acutely aware of the passage of time; he is still the same person but his legs are hairier and he shaves his upper lip. How did that happen? How did we move from whacking pinatas at birthday parties and scrambling for candy in Mexico to muscles? And why was I not there?

I continued to cry at the breakfast joint Depoe Market over pancakes (one needs fortification for driving in Jersey). The nicest waiter in the world gently ignored my tears and filled my coffee cup. Crying now because I realized it is not just the immediacy of leaving my friends, the reality was that in a few hours I was really and truly leaving my family and country. Again. Soon it would be my nephews with the mustaches and I would have missed it.

Pulled together, Thing 1 and I contemplated buying an additional suitcase to fill with marshmallows and other forbidden fruit, due to our soon-to-be increased luggage allowance, until we realized another suitcase won’t fit it in our tiny rental car (heroically, I did not complain when Hertz gave away my reserved-a-month-in-advance minivan at the start of our voyage in Baltimore to a mother traveling alone with her four small sons at midnight; the woman looked like she was on the edge of a deep precipice, one I have seen before). Instead we opted for a mani/pedi. We had lots of time to kill before meeting up at the ticket counter.

Nails dry, we eased onto the Garden State Parkway which travels through truly beautiful country, flat marshland and grasses, underneath a blue, blue sky, which extend out to the Atlantic ocean. Who knew? The New Jersey I hear of is ugly and industrial and full of important exits to unimportant places. The traffic going south to the shore was backed up on the other side of the highway for at least one hundred miles. Underneath the posted speed limit is the phrase “conditions permitting”, a phrase I have seen nowhere else in America, a phrase urging drivers to use their heads and pay attention to the road before them.

And then suddenly we were on the New Jersey Turnpike and the landscape shifted terribly. Gone was the green and in were transponder towers and gray, gray, gray. People were driving twenty miles an hour faster. Ahead was the exit to the airport but we still had time on our hands. I ignored the GPS and went off the beaten track. Maybe, I thought, we can park ourselves at a Starbucks for an hour? There has to be a Starbucks, right? Starbucks are American, Starbucks are ubiquitous, right?

Wrong. This is the thing about the GPS navigational system. It does not tell you where not to get off. It doesn’t say, “Entering scary part of New Jersey, abort, abort!” It doesn’t say, “Girl, there is no Starbucks for fifty miles.” We fill up the rental car with gas at a nearby station and some tattooed Harley riding couples asked us – us with the Arizona plates! – for directions. They have no navigational system, obviously. Sorry! I said. Back on the main road, the GPS chick told me to go right on Laura, which a block or two later is evident was Flora. We go right on Anna and end up in a neighborhood, only a block in from the land of used car lots, the cars the kind people pay cash for in which to commit crimes and later abandon, and I am instantly reminded of the opening scenes of Tom Wolfe’s book “Bonfire of the Vanities”.

“It’s broad day light, Mom! Don’t worry so much! What are they going to do, come get us in our car?” Thing 1 said.

What you don’t know …

Lips clamped, I said nothing but realized then how sheltered I have permitted my Things to become – have they never heard of carjackings? And how dumb am I? Has someone kidnapped my brain? For really, Newark, New Jersey is no different than Sao Paulo, or Mexico City, or Baltimore where Baltimore Sue says only 50% of highschoolers graduate. This is not a good thing; I should know this kind of information. Having escaped violent crime in each of these cities, I consider myself and my family blessed a bazillion times over. Shanghai, for all its’ pollution, does not share the same specter, as if it is waiting for time to catch up to it. My cell phone only has one bar. I go right on red.

Poof! The GPS miraculously led us back to the airport. I dropped off Thing 1 and the luggage with the surly skycap and returned the rental car to the nice Hertz attendant, each cosmically balancing each other out, a little ying and yang. We sat on the luggage and waited patiently for Mr. Understanding’s plane to land, a woman and her luggage cart monopolizing the row of four chairs until an Arabic speaking man sat down next to her, when she moved to another area. Whatever.

Suddenly, Thing 3 appeared at the top of an escalator, running towards me with arms outstretched, just like in the movies, and I am hugging my other Things and their father, the gamble having paid off: conditions permitted. Visas in hand, reunited, we get on the Boeing 757 and bank north over Newark. Far below, at the north end of the runway I spotted a Toys-R-Us. Could the Starbucks have only been one exit further up? How off is my compass??? I wondered as I craned my neck across the aisle in the hopes of glimpsing the Statue of Liberty aglow in the night sky.

During our visit to the Jersey shore, waiting for our visas, Martita’s father-in-law, an 87 year old former Presbyterian missionary and man of wisdom, told me about an African philosophy of just stopping work when it gets to be too much so that “the soul can catch up to itself”. Between his words and the speed limit sign, there is a certain symmetry. Before school starts, before the furniture arrives and Mr. Understanding returns to his real job, we are going to put the visa madness behind us (another story for another day), and be thankful we are all together, that Thing 1’s heart is stable, that the sky in Madrid is a precious, unpolluted cerulean azul. The swimming pool in the back yard is a happy, deep rectangle of clear water. For now, it is time to stop, reboot our internal navigational systems, and let our souls catch up to us.

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