Lessons From A Four Year Old

It was the shoes that first caught my attention.  They lined both sides of three wide steps which led up to platform on which sat a  tent. A sign on the top step said, “Please leave shoes here,” and people had – sandals, boots, flip-flops, sneakers.

What was this place?  Could I go in?  Any place that asks me to remove my shoes before entering is one I want to be in.  There’s automatically a sort of reverence, somehow there’s a sense of peace and sacredness.  Whatever this place was, I wanted to experience it.

I was at the Lake Eden Arts Festival and had just finished participating in a chant, so stepping into a tent that required me to remove my shoes seemed like the next logical place to go.

I sat on the steps, unlaced my hiking sneakers, and pulled them off.  I placed them in an empty spot on the steps, got up and headed toward the entrance.  I pushed the flap aside and walked in.

There was a long, low table at the opposite end of the tent covered with stones and crystals and candles – an altar of sorts.  On either side were low tables surrounded by cushions and floor chairs.  The floor was covered with straw mats.  The walls were draped with fabrics in maroon and green.

The people gathered around the two tables drank tea and conversed quietly.  Everyone seemed at peace in that moment.  I could stay here forever, I thought.

At the table to my left, each spot around the table was occupied. At the table to my right were a few people who seemed, due to their posture, to be in deep conversation not to be interrupted.

Wanting to quickly fade into the scene like I knew what I was doing, I sat on a cushion just outside the circle of people to my left.  A couple decided they were finished and offered me their seat.

The girl behind the table wore a colorful scarf draped over her hair, and had dots and swirls painted across her right cheek and nose.  She explained to those of us that had just joined what kind of tea we were drinking, where it came from, and how the leaves were processed.

A little girl – maybe four years old – and her father walked in.  The girl took the empty seat beside me and was greeted by name by the tea master woman.

“Would you like some tea Maeve?”

“Yes, please,” she said.  The tea master filled a small glass bowl with translucent green liquid.  She passed it to me, and I placed it into the little girl’s hands.  It was the perfect size for her.

I was surprised when my tea was served to me in the same sized bowl, but loved the feeling of being a child again drinking out of something so tiny.

Maeve took a few sips and then announced she was done.  I took her bowl and placed it on the table in front of her.

I never expected to see a four-year-old in a tea house.  Nor one as well behaved as Maeve.  She chatted with the tea master, with her dad, and eventually with me.

She noticed the altar with it’s pretty colored stones.  She picked up a smooth pink stone and asked the tea master, “What’s this?”

“Rose quartz,” she said, and then went on to explain some it’s qualities – how it symbolizes love and compassion and kindness.  In that moment I knew I was where I was supposed to be.  These were things I was not offering to myself lately, and I appreciated the reminder.

Maeve turned the stone over in her tiny hands. I remarked that it matched her outfit – Maeve was decked out in pink that day.  Maeve then gave the stone to me. I rubbed my fingers over it’s surface, admired it’s color, and then gave it back to her to return to the altar.

Maeve next picked up a brown crystal.  It looked like a 3-D tetris – blocks sticking up from its surface at different heights.

“What’s this?” she asked the tea master.

“I don’t know, but there’s a book over there about the crystals – you can look it up.”

After a little searching, Maeve found the book.  She flipped through the first few pages, which were mostly words with an occasional picture.  One picture was an old drawing depicting a bearded man from a long ago time.

“Look at him!” she said, turning the book around to show the rest of us.

Then, she flipped randomly to a page in the middle of the book.  “There it is!” she exclaimed. Sure enough, there was a picture of the crystal she held in her hand.

This little girl was adorable.  Her father mostly sat by her side and let her take center stage.  But Maeve wasn’t there to show off – she was just being a four-year-old: curious, inquisitive.  It was obvious she was comfortable talking to adults and making friends with anyone she met.

After Maeve and I had a few more rounds of tea, I told her I was going to leave now.  “Well, you have to give me a kiss and a hug before you leave,” she said matter-of-factly.

So I kissed her cheek and wrapped my arms around her tiny little body.  She hugged me gently and then said good bye.

As I sat outside the tent putting my shoes back on, I noticed a silver sequin in the dirt in front of me.  I picked it up and placed it on toes of tiniest shoes sitting on the steps.  I had no doubt Maeve would notice it – unlike me, she wasn’t rushing on to the next thing moving through life without stopping to notice the little things.

Sitting here two days later, I wonder why I left that tent when I did.  There was no place I had to be.  I loved the space I was in.  That little girl made me smile and in those moments I was living in the present – in that serene, beautiful tent, sipping my tea, conversing with a four-year-old who, I’m sure, had a lot more to teach me.

Smoking Hot

In the junior high cafeteria, I sat alone every lunch period.  I knew no one and no one seemed interested in getting to know me.  I had braces, no fashion sense, and a body that was all out of proportion.  I ate my lunch as fast as I could without making eye contact, then stuck my face in a book.  A few weeks later I learned we could go to the library during our lunch periods and after I ate, I’d get out of that cafeteria as fast as I could.  The next semester when the guidance counselor asked if I’d mind not having a lunch period so I could take the classes I had to take, I said that was no problem at all.  Inside, I jumped for joy.

Fast forward twenty three years.  As I walked up Merrimon Avenue yesterday, a man at a stop light leaned out his window and said, “Girl, you’re looking good today!”  I smiled.  “Thank you.” There was a time I didn’t appreciate men yelling anything to me in public.  Actually, if it was complimentary I assumed they must not be talking to me anyway.  It’s still not my preferred method of receiving compliments, but at least now I can appreciate some kind words – even if they are tossed out from a car window.  As I continued my walk, I smiled thinking back to those teenage years when I wouldn’t have dreamed anyone would ever tell me I looked good.

High school wasn’t much better than junior high – but at least I had people to sit with at lunch.  My fashion sense may have improved a little (thanks to secretly “borrowing” my little sister Liz’s clothes), but I still had braces all four years and a body I hated.

Now the braces are gone.  I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for this body I’ve been blessed with – it did, after all, get me through a 500 mile walk across Spain.  My fashion sense: well, I know what looks good on me.  That doesn’t stop me from showing up to holiday family gatherings, looking around, and thinking I should hire my three sisters to redo my wardrobe.

~~~~

I walked into a bar a few weeks ago to meet a friend.  He flooded me with compliments on my appearance and over the course of the conversation said some more wonderful things about me to some of the friends to whom he introduced me.  The next day, in a conversation with another friend, I said how this has happened quite a few times since I’ve moved here – men here seem to be pretty good at giving compliments.  (I am still learning how to be good at receiving them.)  “Is it Asheville?” I asked him, wondering if men were just more forthcoming with compliments here.  “Well, you are smoking hot,” he said.  He continued on, but I didn’t hear anything after that.  Smoking hot?  What? I know I’m not the timid, body-conscious kid I was in junior high.  But “smoking hot”?  Me?

I tell my students all the time to give themselves credit for the progress they’ve made before telling me all that they didn’t accomplish.  I often find myself giving the advice I most need to hear .

So today I’m going to give myself some credit.  After trying on seven different tops and four different pairs of jeans, I finally looked in the mirror and told myself I looked good.  But smoking hot?  I think that’s pushing it.

Changing Tastes

I scoured the shelves on the door of the refrigerator.  Dijon mustard!  Score! I smiled as I squirted it into an empty salad bowl.  I hate mustard.  But I always have some in my fridge to make this very dressing – one that I loved from the moment I tasted it sitting in my host mother’s kitchen in Domdidier, Switzerland.

I had not seen Mrs. Rimaz make the salad dressing that afternoon, so had no way of knowing one of my most detested foods was a major ingredient.  I was a notoriously picky eater, but something changed that summer in Switzerland.  I was in a land where people ate a lot of things I didn’t like, but my mother taught me to be respectful, so I ate what was placed in front of me – even if I didn’t know what it was.

My first night there, having used most of the French I knew in a conversation with Pascal, my first host-brother, I was delighted when dinner was called.  We filed out to the patio – which was completely bug-less on this June night.  I looked at the plates in the center of the table and panicked.  One held chunks of what looked like various cuts of raw bacon.  The other held at least four different kinds of cheeses. I was sixteen.  And I hated cheese.  Well, not all cheese.  Parmesan and mozzarella were fine on spaghetti and pizza respectively, but other than that this girl of half-Italian descent didn’t eat cheese.  No lasagna.  No manicotti.  No macaroni and cheese.  And raw meat?  The only raw meat I’d ever eaten was swiped from the bowl when Mom made meatcakes – ground beef mixed with onion, pepper, Worcestershire, a slice of wet bread and raw egg.  That was delicious.  But raw bacon?  Was it even bacon?  I really didn’t know.

What I did know was that I was in a foreign country, a guest at someone’s table, and I was hungry.  So I took a deep breath and did as the rest of my host family did.  I placed pieces of the raw meat and cheeses on my plate – and ate them.

The meat wasn’t so bad.  And the cheese?  It was some of the best food I’d ever eaten.  I reached for seconds.  What was this stuff?  Did we have cheese like this in the US?  If we did, I’d never had it.  Probably because I had no idea it could be this good.  My mother would be so proud of me, I thought.

A week later I left that temporary host family and moved to the little town of Domdidier. To a farm.  With 10,000 chickens.  And two host parents, a host brother and sister, none of whom spoke English.  But back to the food.

Our big meal was at lunch time.  My host father came home from his job as one of the two men in charge of this province of Switzerland.  My host brother came in from the fields, dressed and smelling like a farmer.   My host mother had the table set and the meal ready to go.  I sat quietly as they spoke in rapid-fire French, only understanding them if they spoke directly to me and five times slower than they spoke to each other.

It was at that table that I first tried Dijon mustard dressing.  Of course, I didn’t know it was made with one of the foods I most hated.  I hadn’t seen my host mother prepare it that day.  All I knew was that this was one of the best salads I’d ever had.

The next day this budding chef got to the kitchen early enough to see how my host mother made her dressing.  I brought my journal down with me, and flipped open the back cover to mark down the ingredients.  There was no packet of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix.  Instead, she squirted Dijon mustard into a salad bowl, then whisked in some red wine vinegar, then a little oil.  Mustard? I thought.  But I hate mustard!

~~~

Today finds me in a mountaintop home pet-sitting five animals – two of whom require twice daily insulin shots, one of whom also requires thrice daily eye drops.  “Eat whatever you’d like,” my friends told me before they left.  “There are two vines of grape tomatoes, and plenty of green beans in the garden.”

 

Ripe for the pickin’

This afternoon I harvested just enough of both, delighted when I came in and found Dijon in their fridge.  I whisked it together in a salad bowl with some red wine vinegar and a little olive oil, sprinkled in some fresh ground salt and pepper. I chopped up the beans, halved the grape tomatoes, and dumped them into the bowl. I still hate mustard.  But Mrs. Rimaz’s dijon dressing?  Absolutely delicious.

I ate it all before I remembered to take a picture… (Camino friends – note the shape of this bowl)

Epilogue:

Five months ago I became a vegetarian, so raw meat is not something I’m into.  But cheese?  Love it.  Goat cheese.  Camembert.  Gruyere.  Manchego.  And my Italian ancestors are smiling down on me: I now eat (vegetarian) lasagna and manicotti:)

The Joy of Blogging: Grandma and the Camino

Before my parents took off for the weekend, they asked if I could do them a favor and drop something off at my grandmother’s house.  I agreed – not just to maintain my #1 Daughter status, but also because I was moving in less than a week and visiting Grandma was something I needed to do before I left.

Time with Grandma, however, wasn’t on my checklist. I had to pack for my move.  Call the editor of Busted Halo with a decision as to if I would again blog for them. Answer the fifty e-mails sitting in my in-box in my quest to get down to zero before I left. 

Instead of doing any of that, I sat on the internet looking up delicious-sounding vegetarian dishes.  I switched over to BustedHalo.com.  I perused the other articles, trying to figure out how/if I could fit in and what angle I would take.  I went to the posts I had written earlier, and that’s when it hit me.

I started to print all the posts I’d written about the Camino (on white paper) and the comments (on yellow paper).  When I was finished, I called Mom and Dad to find where they stored a three-hole-punch.  I punched all the pages and put them in a black one-inch thick binder.  Then, I headed to Grandma’s.

As I walked toward the front of her building, I saw her and one of her friends heading out.  “Where you going?” I asked.

“Oh – I completely forgot you were coming!” Grandma said.  “We’re going to pick up Chinese.  Why don’t you come?”

Getting in a car driven by my 88-year-old grandmother wasn’t something I was looking forward to.  I was a little slow on the uptake and agreed – later wondering why I didn’t just offer to drive. Off we went.  I tried to look out the side windows, or at the speedometer hoping she wouldn’t go too much faster than I would have.

The drive wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Probably because the Chinese food place was less than a mile away and only required right turns. We brought the food back to her house and sat down to eat.  I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life I’ve eaten anything other than Italian food at my grandmother’s home.  I felt a little like I was in another dimension.

She asked about my trip and, as happened frequently since I’ve returned, I stumbled over where to start, what to say.  But I had a book of words I had written along The Way.  I don’t think Grandma fully understood what the binder was when I handed it to her, but she promised to look at it before I came back two days later for the traditional Sunday meatballs.  (Note: Sunday would be the first time I headed to Grandma’s and would not eat meatballs as I’d become a vegetarian three months earlier, but I wasn’t going to get into that yet.)

That evening, back at Mom and Dad’s, the phone rang.  I don’t usually answer their phone as I don’t really live there and the calls are not usually for me.  But the caller ID said it was Grandma, so I picked it up.

“I just had to call,” she said.  “I’m three-quarters of the way through your book and I just can’t put it down!”  Well, apparently she could since she had to put it down in order to call me…but that’s beside the point. “This is just so amazing.  I feel like I’m right there with you. I can’t believe you did this.”

Though I had printed out the comments more for me to relish in later than anything, Grandma loved those too. She was amazed, like I was, that total strangers wrote responses to my posts.

During this conversation, it struck me that the best part of writing for Busted Halo while I was on the Camino was this: that I had a book my grandmother could read to understand a bit more about what I had just accomplished.

~~~~

Epilogue:

On Sunday, I went to Grandma’s and turned down meatballs explaining I was a vegetarian.

“Well, at least have some of the sauce,” she said.

“I can’t eat that either.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because you cooked the meatballs in the sauce.”

“Really?” She scrunched up her face, thoroughly mystified.

She scoured the refrigerator.  Like any Italian grandmother would have, there were plenty of other choices in there. She breathed a great sigh of relief when I accepted her offer of roasted red peppers.

A Down Day

Walking the Camino, like walking any other path in life,can sometimes have its “down” days. Today was one of those days. I just didn’t feel like walking anymore. I opened my pedometer to see I’d only walked 200 steps since last I checked it. The route was descending steeply and full of rocks. It took not only physical but mental energy as I had to focus on each individual step. I walked with others, but even their company didn’t help — I was just ready to be finished. For the day. Or with the Camino? I wasn’t sure.

Click here to read more.

On Walking

As we walked toward Piazza Venezia, I flipped open the pedometer on my belt.

“How much?” Daniel asked.

“Nine miles.”  I’d made a mistake earlier of telling him that I set a personal record ten days ago when my sister Jessica and I walked seventeen miles one day in Rome.  He, of course, wanted to beat that.  Not competitive by nature, I had no desire.  But as we roamed the city, the miles started adding up.  Villa Borghese Gardens, the Dali Exhibit, gelato at the Cremeria.  By the time we got back to our hostel, I’d clocked 15 miles – my second highest day yet.  (To his credit, we would have probably beat the record if I didn’t have us take a bus back to the hostel that night.)

4/22/12: Me and Daniel at the Trevi Fountain in Rome - Mile 13

Italy was a great place to rack up miles for three weeks.  Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome.  Now that I think about it, though, every place I’ve been since I started training for the Camino in January has been “meant to be” – for both the walking conditions and the people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of walking.

Would I have started training in January were I not living through such a mild winter at Glenda’s house in Hayesville, NC?  Would I have not continued training had I not spent ten days on Kiawah Island with all it’s options: walking trails, bike trails, golf courses and beaches?  What about those unexpected ten days I got to go to Florida? Walking in 70 degree weather with Sarah and Russ surely beat the temps of winter in my home state of New York.

Speaking of Sarah and Russ, I was pleasantly surprised by all the friends who accepted my invitations to join me on a walk.   Leslie, Kate, and Dianna met me at different times on the Norrie/Mills Mansion Trail.  Stacey, Lois, and Lynne on Kiawah Island.  Sr. Peggy and John on the Walkway Over the Hudson.

“I don’t know if I can keep up with you,” my friend Dora lamented when we took off from her doorstep in Maryland.  I’d stopped there for an overnight visit on a drive between Asheville, NC and Hyde Park, NY.

“I’m not walking for speed – just distance.  I mostly stroll.  You’ll be fine.”  Indeed she was.  In fact, we walked a trail her husband has volunteered to maintain for their town.  Would I have known of his good work had Dora not agreed to take a walk with me?

Kate did my first mountain with me which happened to also be the first time I hiked in the snow.  I’m hoping I don’t have to repeat the snow experience in the Pyrenees.

4/1/12: Hiking Overlook Mountain in Woodstock, NY

Greg and Scott were patient as I lagged behind on the hundreds of steps up the hillsides of the Cinque Terre.

4/19/12: Greg and I on the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

Dad and Mom walked the Walkway Over the Hudson with me.

“How many more miles do you need to do today?” Dad asked.

“Eh – probably another two or three would be good.”

“This trail keeps going – Mom could turn around and get the car, then meet us further down the trail,” he suggested.  Mom did just that while Dad and I added more miles to my daily total.

I’ve done plenty of walking alone, as well.  Sometimes that was fine.  Other times, I needed the distraction of a phone call to keep me going.  So thanks to Dawn, Tara, Terry, Mom, Jessica, Meg, Liz, Jenn and Jeff for taking my calls.

A few weeks ago I made a list of everyone I’ve walked with since I started training.  My cousin Stephanie and I caught up on a walk around her neighborhood.  My Asheville friends Todd and David accompanied me on trails in North Carolina.  I’ve got a list of 19 people I’ve walked with since January.  And I’m pretty impressed I’m managed to mention every one of them in this post.  (If I left you out, please let me know!)

So thanks to all those who put foot to pavement with me.  And also thanks to those who were with me by phone on those days I needed someone to keep me going.  Know that you all helped to get me to this point: in thirteen days I’ll get to see all this training pay off.

Another Cinque Terre Tale

“This is ridiculous,” I called down to Scott, thirty feet below me on a trail of our own making.  “This is the kind of stuff you hear about on Dateline NBC.”

With that, he and I started to create the opening monologue of the program that would tell our tale and subsequent demise.

It was pouring rain when the three hikers decided to set out at 5pm to hike a steep, uneven trail overlooking Italy’s coastline.  The two men were in the military and on leave.  They wanted to make the most of their one day in Italy’s famed Cinque Terre region, so decided to set out despite the poor weather conditions.   The woman with them had only met them that morning on the train and decided to join them.  At their halfway point, unable to find the next trail marker, one of them forged ahead, down a rock path meant only for access to the water pipe that ran along it bringing water from one mountain town to the the town below it.

Scott and I laughed at our tale as Greg forged ahead of us, scoping out our descent.  “This is why I only tell my mother what I’m doing after I’ve done it.  And you know what? I left a note on my dresser as to where I’d be today in case I didn’t return, and we’re no where near that.”  I know this all could have had a bad outcome but – as the Dateline story would explain – I figured I was safe with two US Military-trained men.

“Post here,” Scott said to me pointing to a rock wall.  I figured out that “post” meant “put your hand here for support.”  He graciously did that at all the tricky spots.  Thanks to these two men, I made it down safe and sound, though soaking wet.  And here I am able to tell you about it, so you won’t have to hear about it on Dateline.