Monday, May 31, 2010

Sweet Carolina

I'll be honest. For most of my life "the South" has been a mythical place known only through country songs and movies about slavery and plantations and redneck ferocity distilled by female gentility and bourbon. There are lots of us non-Southerners that are truly afraid of the South. We don't get the whole confederate flag thing, nor seersucker suits and bow ties. Your accents and debutant balls, grits and greens are perplexing and I feel like a deer in headlights when I am called a Yankee or a Northerner. I was born and bred west of the Rockies and have no sense of where the Mason-Dixon line begins and ends. But I decided to expand my horizons this weekend and spend a few days visiting friends and camping in the mountains of North Carolina.

What a beautiful place.

The pictures do not capture it, but I was immediately smitten with the rolling hills, the red-clay soil, and the magnolia trees that perfume the air. Stereotypes were fulfilled left and right as I was warmly welcomed with a slow, sweet drawl everywhere I went. Do you know that in many circles the CIVIL WAR is referred to as "The War of Northern Aggression" (by the way, the word "war" is two syllables here)?! Years of unpleasantness in which the government infringed upon States rights. Yikes.

I was in the heart of the Bible belt and was amused (and incredulous) at the number of conversations amongst strangers that involved "the Lord." Spent a couple of days camping in the mountains Northwest of Raleigh and visited Winston-Salem (yes, the cigarettes) and Chapel Hill (UNC). My friend Clark and I hiked and played in mountain streams and swimming holes, studied trout and toads and snakes, and hung out in hammocks under a perfect Carolina blue sky. I especially loved that our food included brie, pepper jelly and homemade bread. This is my kind of camping.

I am feeling relaxed and refreshed and wonder why I don't do things like this more often? Lovely.

Thank you for your hospitality, friends!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I love Denmark!

These flash-mobs are all the rage and I have yet to see one that disappoints. Check out this wonderful surprise birthday celebration for a Danish bus-driver named Mukhtar!!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Getting Saved

I just reread my blogpost from Saturday and chuckled as I thought, "For God's sake Carmen, so melodramatic!" That first line from Shakespeare's Richard III comes to mind: Now is the winter of our discontent.

I've never read that play, by the way, but what a great line.

A new work week has begun and I am feeling much more cheerful. On the way to a meeting this morning I had two different people stop me to hand me a tract and ask if I had been saved. European friends, you are going to think this is insane and I imagine it would be rather shocking if something like this happened to you on a Monday morning in say, Stockholm or Zurich. But this was not especially surprising. I took both tracts, smiled and said thank you. I know these people truly have my best in mind even if I think it is a rather weird way of showing it. I suppose I could have stopped to engage one of these strangers, perhaps saying something like, "To be honest, I feel like I am saved, or rescued, on a regular basis." Belly-aching laughter has saved me from all kinds of despair. I had a cup of coffee with an old friend from college who knows all kinds of crazy things about me and still likes me. Friendship saves people all the time.

I know these people are probably worried about my eternal salvation, worried that I'll be turned away from the pearly gates. But I'm not so worried about the pearly gates these days. If there is a God, which I happen to believe, I think God is pretty interested in our todays. God is probably pretty sad about this oil spill. Doesn't like the violence that ravages homes and entire countries. God is busy delighting in all kinds of births and new loves and still probably gets excited about the sun rising and setting day in and day out.

Funny Americans.

I have some fun things planned in the coming weeks. Going camping in North Carolina (what up, Southern states!?!? Stoked to check you out!) and I get to spend a week at home with the fam in early June. I cannot wait. I plan to hold baby Alissa as much as possible.

Wishing you all kinds of joy and love today!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


2 hours on the phone with Jessie.

Walk in the sunshine.


Day 5

I am unreasonably depressed today. Ugh. You ever have those mornings? It is Saturday. I should be frolicking outside. Instead I am planning a couple of lessons in a general malaise. I could use some pals. Philadelphia has not been an easy place for pals.

According to facebook I have 569 friends. This is hilarious, outrageously hyperbolic. I need some of them nearby, skin and heart in tow.

But I have a date tonight. I swear to God, this poor guy has no idea what low expectations I have for him. I am well on my way to despising men forever. Giving them up entirely.

Pain seems to have a longer, more powerful shelf-life than love.

I am fairly certain that Jesus would not agree. A cup of a coffee and a run. That's what I need. And maybe someone should punch me in the face and remind me of just how good I've got it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The birthday girl

I love that 16 year-olds still call me for advice. Last night I had an exchange about prom with a girl who is now officially half my age and needed some non-parental wisdom. Young people are the best.

This week I turned 32. I am glad 31 is over. Not my best year. My good friends Becky and Andy threw me a birthday party and I was reminded again that I know some pretty wonderful people. My friend Bill celebrated my birthday with a "Church Lady Cake" and I received some wonderfully kind birthday notes. I was given poetry and flowers and dainty napkins to add to my collection (for the hospitality I will extend someday when I have a kitchen again).

Tonight I went to the gym and came home and ate a microwave dinner. It was a less-than-glamorous evening. I spent some time pondering the Quaker meeting I attended on Wednesday morning, skyped with my nephews, and wasted time on facebook. One year ago at this time I was in New York. Two years ago at this time I was in Zambia. Three years ago at this time I was graduating from Princeton. This year? I am eating microwave dinners in Philadelphia! Ha!

Amidst all my foolish whining, I am reminded that I have all kinds of agency and I better do well with what I have been given. I am not losing a house, no coup to contend with (Madagascar), no unexpected teenage pregnancy, no surprise affair and divorce (all situations I have encountered in some way this week). Life can be tough, but life can be sweet and worth savoring. That is what I plan to do today. Day 4 of being 32: savor. And do SOMETHING worthwhile and meaningful for someone else!

Monday, May 10, 2010

I'm a groupie

I became a groupie this week. My friend Stephanie invited me to go to a show-- some friends from Seattle were visiting and playing a gig and like an idiot I never bothered to find out the name of the band before showing up. Thank god I had the good sense to text her for fashion advice because my poshity-posh outfit would have been ridiculous. As it turns out, Minus the Bear is a popular Indie rock band with quite the cult following in Philadelphia. The venue was packed. I maneuvered through the crowd to a stage door, flashed my backstage pass (a first for me) and found the dressing room where I greeted my new band friends with a surprised, "You people are LEGITIMATE."

Thank God they thought this was charming.

The show was fantastic. Check 'em out on Youtube if you have time.

I am on a bus back to Philly after spending Mother's Day in NYC. I played softball in Central Park with my old team and caught up with some friends at the Dive Bar. All in all, an excellent weekend.

May is a strange month. Mother's day, my birthday, and the anniversary of my mother's death. All bittersweet. But life is full of lovely gifts-- like the blue sky and lush green trees outside my window and the hilarious, open-mouthed couple sleeping to my left. May your Monday surprise you with snippets of joy!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Some Construction

I am currently house-sitting in a glorious apartment overlooking Washington Square Park in "Society Hill."

Society Hill. Such a snotty name for a neighborhood, especially since there is not a hill in sight. This city is as flat as a pancake. The houses in the area are grand, brick colonials woven into this historical district by small cobblestone streets and the occasional cemetery. It is full of charm and the neighbors are friendly. Philadelphia has taken religious freedom very seriously since its inception and the neighborhood reflects this. There are dozens of churches and synagogues of all variety in the area and it makes for a fascinating place to take a walk.

It has been nice to be away from the haunted manse. Construction has taken over the 3rd floor where I live and while I am grateful we will finally have a kitchen (yes, that is 7 months without a functional kitchen), I am glad to have a break. These last couple of weekends I have had time to explore the city and I am fascinated by the dozens of abandoned churches that seem to crop up everywhere you turn.

Philadelphia built its infrastructure to cater to roughly 2 million people when its population peaked in 1950, but the city is currently only home to 1.5 million. There was a sharp decrease in the population due to “white flight” during the Civil Rights movement, so thriving neighborhoods gave way to large abandoned city blocks. This is likely one of the reasons there are abandoned churches all over the place.

Some people take pictures of the bones of old castles. Lately I find myself taking pictures of old churches.

But the story is more complicated and I find it rather soothing to go and stand in front of these dilapidated, old buildings and contemplate some of the larger issues at hand. Statistics suggest that people in the United States value church less and less these days. As I took these photos my back was to a filthy set of buildings home to a doughnut shop, laundromat, check-cashing joint, and an army recruitment office. I plucked up some purple irises that refused to give way despite the massive chunks of marble and stone that had fallen into the flowerbed. I plunked down on the steps next to some beer cans and cigarette butts and found myself at home, pondering the salience of this whole enterprise. You know what I mean—the church, my unrelentingly unique job, all the goodness of a faith community, all the shameful ways religious people behave, etc etc. It's an interesting season of life. We shall see what will come of it, fistful of purple miracles notwithstanding.