Monday, December 28, 2009

El Olentzero (the wintertime gift giver in the Basque country) paid his regards last week at Malachai's school. Now, Malachai knows the truth about all the Christmas gift-giving characters - - we tell it like it is from the beginning, but even so, this year's visit made an impression Malachai;He told us all about his encounter with El Olentzero later that afternoon when we picked him up from school.
he told us how he had gone with the rest of his class so that they could put in their gift requests;
he told us how Olentzero had asked him if he had been good this year,
and how he told Olentzero yes, he had been good.
then Malachai told us how he had started to cry, because he knew that he hadn't been only good all year long; so he admitted that he had also been bad, but that he had repented for the bad things that he had done.

"that is very valiant of you to admit" said Olentzero, "you will be getting lots of gifts this year"
apparently Malachai gained confidence from the kind words of praise from Olentzero, because then, it seems that he caved, and he told Olentzero that,
all the other kids that had said that they had been good all year long . . . had actually been lying.
So after Malachai finished telling his story, we had some good dialogue with him,
including encouragement for his honesty,
and reproof for his attitude towards the other kids;

and we turned our heads and plugged our noses and snorted as we appreciated the humor in the account; and I wondered if Malachai would come up in Olentzero's dinner conversation that night.

Friday, December 25, 2009

on December five and twenty

Dear Mercy,
please come soon; I know how much you love a pretty Christmas tree, but our pine needles are all falling off already;

p.s. did you know that super mario brothers has an invisible player? that's the one that Selma plays; she's awesome

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

morning errands

Brett was over last night for pizza and a movie; while he was here, we finished wrapping up the (imperfect) Christmas packs and sent a couple home with him to pass out to his local coffee shop and fish shop.
We spent this morning out in our neighborhood going to our hangouts:
to the paper shop (where we were sent on our way with three chocolate kings),
to the pharmacy (where the pharmacist pulled out three suckers for the kids to put in their pockets to save for later),
to the coffee shop across the park - - one of Joshua's study points,
and to the government building to the ladies that always process our paperwork,
and then finally to our own coffee shop, where we got kisses and more kisses from Adrianna
Selma always gets kisses from Adrianna; but she's the only one;
all it took was a packet of homemade sugar love.

Sunday afternoon

Sunday afternoon:
our church family came over a little earlier than normal this week so that the kids could help decorate the cookies that had somehow made it off the baking sheet with all six snowflake arms intact. (seriously, though, is there no way to control a child with sugar sprinkles?)
After the cookies were frosted and (generously) sprinkled, we spent some time singing together. Joshua had asked last week that we all come prepared this Sunday with a song to share with the church; most of us brought a favorite Christmas carol or hymn - - some in English, some in Spanish (I think we even got one it Basque somewhere in there);

little Raquel recited a poem about a tiny ant that made it through a series of obstacles to arrive at Jesus' birth . . .

9 y/o Jhoel, brought his guitar and sang some carols that he has been learning in music class - - the songs he chose had just the right amount of repetition and clapping for us all to jump in and sing with him even though we didn't know the songs.

Malachai chose to sing a carol that he learned this year at school;
and because of a stimulating conversation he had had with Joshua the day before about his carol-of-choice, he gave the sweetest, clearest little explanation about how
even though the carol said that Mary was a baker, that the bible doesn't really tell us that,
even though the carol describes Jesus and "fair and blond", that, well . . . he probably wasn't.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday morning

Sunday morning:
I slept later than I should have, went for a coffee, and then joined Rachel in the kitchen to make Christmas treats to pass out this week to our neighbors and local businesses.
I ruined my second batch of toffee (so I felt discouraged)
then the arms on the snowflake sugar cookies kept falling off (and I felt angry)
then I discovered that the brownies were baking at 500 degrees instead of 350 (and I just wanted to cry)

so I had to stop for a bit in my sticky, messy kitchen, and remind myself that having perfect brownies or snowflakes should not drive my emotional state

and I had to remind myself that the true delight of Christmas is not a perfect cookie package (um, you knew that, right?), but rather, the gift of God becoming flesh in order to carry out the greatest rescue plan in the history of mankind.

the neighbors will get toasty brownies, crumbly toffee and broken snowflakes; that's ok

Friday, December 18, 2009

the bible speaks to me

it's getting colder; my clothesline is a permanent fixture in my kitchen; we find ourselves drinking more tea; we dress in multiple layers with scarves draped around our necks all day long; afternoon trips to the park have been replaced with snuggling reading time on the couch - - or in the kitchen if bread is baking in the oven

(here comes my transition sentence)
Today I didn't bake bread, I did, however, have a coffee with Miriam and Rachel. Have I told you about Friday coffees with Miriam and Rachel? I think I've told some of you. This is how it goes:
We commit to reading 30 chapters of the bible every week;
sometimes it's one book, read through once,
or maybe it's a couple of books, read through several times each;
If one of us is unable to complete the reading, we all read the 30 chapters again.
When we get together, we talk about what we learned from our reading, and we go through a series of accountability questions.
It's all as daunting and wonderful as I thought it would be . . .

this week's reading was I & II Timothy, and I noticed this:

As for the rich in this present age . . .They are to do good , to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. - - I Tim. 6: 17a & 18

So today, there I sat - - my cold hands wrapped around my hot coffee;
right next to my sister Miriam
who works all day and rushes home in the evening so she can spend time with her kids,
and who can't pay her mortgage,
and who has worn the same three pairs of jeans the four years that I have known her,
and whose 9 year old son asked her this week why she couldn't bake with him like Naomi bakes with her kids?

and I felt so rich.

Friday, December 11, 2009

we are cheered by Malachai's hobbitish jig

Selma and I spent pretty much the entirety of Thursday on the couch like this:
I don't know what was wrong with her, she was fussy and squirrely and delirious. the only thing that could mildly calm her was this fabulous soundtrack that we keep listening to over and over again (that I keep promising myself that we actually will purchase, because we believe in musicians being supported and all that goodness):

and Malachai danced to the music to cheer her up. I may have been more cheered than Selma.

we did tell Malachai yesterday that he was due (long overdue, in fact) for a haircut. he said that - no thanks because he wanted the hair to hang in front of his ears like Joshua's does. sweet; my kid has awesome fly-by-nights.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

creating sub-cultures

Yesterday was a national holiday in Spain.
Everything was closed;
except for the coffee shops. They always stay open.
those are the best days to go; we run into everybody on those days.
so yesterday, after the morning madness of eating breakfast and getting dressed, we packed up our books and our coloring pencils and took the five minute walk down the street to our pasteleria - - our local coffee shop. We settled down at our table; the man at the table behind us passed us the newspaper when he finished it (it's common coffee shop courtesy). We flipped through that and then passed it on to the person at the table next us, then got out the pencils and colored for a while.Then we read the very last chapter of The Return of the King. (and cried a little bit because, as Malachai said - - it was a very sad ending and now the book is over)
and Maite walked by our table to talk to Selma and Malachai about the dinosaurs they were coloring, and Josu noticed that the abuela came in to buy her bread.
"say hi, Josu " I poked him "you know how that makes the abuela feel loved!" He called out and waved.
then Ana came in;
Malachai was swept off his chair and into Joshua's lap
"sit down , sit down" we insisted (she never takes much convincing)
almost as soon as she did, Gabriella came in with her baby boy to buy bread
Selma was whisked into my lap
"come and join us" we called "come on, come on!" (she's harder to convince)
"ok" she said, "but just for a minute!"
as she slipped into the seat,
Mar walked by . . . .

and it was this magical moment of
and belonging,
and of welcoming in those around us,
and I was reminded of how we are capable of actually creating a sub-culture of friendliness and inclusion within the routines of our daily lives. Our pasteleria has really been the the heart of that for us in our neighborhood; I wonder where you guys may be creating those sub-cultures within your communities?

p.s. look at what my clever kid can do:

Saturday, December 05, 2009


dear Castaic bible study group,
we got your package; thank you!
because it wasn't just a package . . .
it was a package of care . . .
it was:
  • the joy and of introducing our children to Lucky Charms (and being able to tell them "you won't find these on the shelf of a Spanish grocery store; no sirreee!)
  • a whole season of Lost (disguised as itune cards)
  • freedom from the tight marshmallow rationing we've been imposing for the past six months
  • the exciting mystery of two wrapped red boxes that will miraculously reappear on Christmas day
  • a chance to talk to our boys about how our church - - far, far away took the time and spent the money to send us fun treats just because they love us
oh! and then the package with the coat came
(I glued it to her body - - the coat that is, not the package)
I think she likes it too.

Friday, December 04, 2009

hey! we found one!

I think that hunting for the perfect Christmas tree is a fantastic holiday affair.

Some people go into the rugged wild - - donning snow boots and plaid flannel shirts, with their axes slung over their shoulders, sludging through the forest until they come upon the tree they have always dreamed of . . .

I think that's reeeaaaal niiiice.

Some people don't have a snowy forest in which to hunt for their perfect tree . . . so maybe they load the kids up into the minivan and drive to the local tree lot where, in the midst of cheery Christmas music and bright lights strung all around, they weave in and out of the hundreds of cut trees, spinning them all around to make sure that they pick just the right one.
I think that's nice too.

Our Christmas tree hunt this year included a trip to the local flower store (where we bought our tree four years ago), the grocery store down the road (where we bought our Christmas tree last year), the largest hardware store in the state of Navarra (certainly, they must have one!), and then finally to the Super grocery store across town;
and it was there that we found the trees - -
a collection of 20 of the pokiest variety you could imagine
all wrapped up tight with nets and twine and then tape (just to make sure no one could get a good look at the tree they were purchasing)
so Josu and Malachai and I chose the one with the nicest looking tip
and carried it, wincing and wining, back to the car

We had one entire day to recover from the hunt, and to confess our sins of complaining (Malachai) and of getting angry and impatient (me) and thank God for a thing like being able to actually find a silly tree

and then we decorated it, and it was the loveliest tree decorating event ever.
this may be because Joshua spent his morning off taking care of the kids so that I could sleep late, late, late. (that, my friends, is me being able to enjoy the fruit of a gospel transformed life!)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

giving thanks on November twenty-two

Words of thanks from Josu this week

"thank you, God for this food
that we have eaten for three days!
that is so crazy!"

we had a very nice Thanksgiving celebration on Sunday. Sitting all around my table there were:
church family,
friends of friends

(just the way Thanksgiving should be)

Brett shared about some of the history of Thanksgiving,
Joshua asked some provocative questions about the concept of being thankful (he never disappoints!)
and we all shared about what we are thankful for (which is, in my understanding of Thanksgiving dinner, a given. All families, all over the united states of America do that, right?)

also, I think it should be known that I believe that pumpkin pie has never looked quite so good as it did with four candles poking out of the top!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Josu's almost four day

The oven technician came last night- - but didn't have the right piece.
In desperation I called my friend Ana and asked if I could use her oven for an bit
"of course", Ana said, "as long as you don't mind that my house is kind of a mess"
"oh, no, no, no . . ." I promised her "I totally don't mind"
(um, her messy house is cleaner than my just-cleaned house)

so I packed up my sugar cookie dough rounds and hung out at her place for a pleasant hour.

and this morning, (gracias Ana!) I had cookies to take to Josu's class; I actually got to go into the classroom and read Josu's class a book, and join along with the class in singing the happy birthday song, and watch Josu's sweet rosy face beam as he got the birthday crown and passed out the birthday treats.
(I don't think any Spanish mother in the history of the school has ever gotten to do that; I'm blazing trails here.)
To continue the celebration , Josu wore his birthday crown to the dentist office where he got two cavities filled - - without any anesthetic, I might add.
you didn't know that was possible?
neither did I.
the hygienist and dentist told me he behaved perfectly in every way
(I think it's because he's almost four)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

the Simpsons are funny and all, but . . .

Josu's birthday is coming up.
The day of his birthday we are having a big Thanksgiving to do at our place; our Christian community will eat together and reflect on well . . .giving thanks . . ;we all have friends or family that we are thankful for, and we'll invite them to come and join us.
and there will be little time to focus on celebrating Josu.

Friday, though, I will take some birthday treats to Josu's school for him to share with his class. he asked me to make a cake with Bart Simpson - - "just like Stephanie brought for her birthday"; he showed me - - his tooshie pushed out, making a kissy face.
I said something like "yeah right, kid"

I'm going to make the cutest little sugar cookies with little faces on them. In fact, I was going to make them this afternoon; and then I found out that my oven wasn't working.

So we spent some extra time at the park,
where we played a rousing game of five flies up
(except for Selma who did her own thing)
this is Josu telling us all to go back, back, waaay back:
this is Joshua running in place because he knows Josu can't throw it waaay back:
When we got home from the park we called the oven technician, and he's supposed to come by tomorrow. I'll pay him anything he wants.
I have a turkey to cook on Sunday,
and cookies to bake before Friday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

can't you just see it?

remove bicycle.
replace with vespa:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

apartment living in Spain

I suspect that the neighbors one floor down and one over kept pressing their snooze button between 6am and 7am

and that this resulted in the neighbor below us pounding repeatedly on the wall between 6am and 7am

which is why we couldn't sleep between 6am and 7am
and climbed out of bed tired and a little bit grouchy.

but we can break this chain reaction.
it doesn't have to go any further;
we choose.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Selma Rachel Smith
age: 2
race: human, (with suspected traces of elf)
occupation: garlic peeler extraordinaire

Monday, November 09, 2009

who am I? (and do I talk like it?)

Jaime, Miriam, Brett and I signed up for a 2 hour Senegalese cooking class this week (Joshua signed up to watch our kids).
Being a christian community in our local community, right?

Jaime and Miriam weren't able to come, but Brett and I went - - and then Rachel got home from her class and took over kid duty so that Joshua could join us.
We met Carlos and his wife Mar; and found out that they are neighbors of our friends Enrique and Marisol, and we met Sonia - - the head of immigrant awareness in our little city. we chatted a bit with them - - asking about who they are and what they do, and what other international food they have tried, where they have traveled. And we talked about who we are and what we do - - about what it is like being an American living in Spain, and about that horrible, horrible time that I forgot to buy bread when some Spanish friends came over for lunch, and of course- - about our passion for Christ and for his church

Brett came over to our place afterwards and we all spent a good while reflecting on our conversations as Christians within an unbelieving world; reflecting on what it means to be authentic Christ-lovers, speaking true to our identity; always,

I think we need to be purposeful about it
and creative
and bold

It's hard work for me
because I think I have spent a good part of my Christ-loving life training myself to talk true to my identity only when I'm with other people that are also Christ-lovers
(it's so comfortable that way)

It's hard work
but I'm retraining myself
(I think this may take a while)
but I'm convinced.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

food, and the people behind the food

We sat down for lunch yesterday - - we were eating baguette sandwiches with jamon and sauteed green peppers - - and Malachai announced to us how much he loved Spanish green peppers, and mused abit about how much he had liked the peppers we had eaten when our friends Brian and Sarah visited us from Rome . And when Malachai volunteered to thank God for our lunch, he forgot to mention the food, but he did pray that many people in Rome would enjoy hearing about Jesus, and that "not just that, but that they would also get to enjoy the church with Brian and Sarah"

I layed in bed alone last night, thinking.
Joshua was dropping Brett and Isabel off after movie night, and my mind was racing, thinking about the events and conversations of the day. I remembered the green peppers and the memory trigger that the peppers were for Malachai - - and I realized the tremendous list of recipes that I have in my recipe book that do the exact same thing for me. I can't help but think of Caroline when make pizza dough, Catherine when I roast tomatoes, Whitney when I make green thai curry, mom when I make scones, Luke when the pasta maker comes out, Chris as I skewer the bb-q beef sticks,Ginny when I make those sugar cookies that the Spaniards always request the recipe for . . . (and that's the extremely abbreviated list)

I wonder what recipes you might have that remind you of someone you love?

Friday, October 30, 2009

on the road to San Sebastian

once, many, many months ago we took a family trip up to beach-side San Sebastian (the Brits love to holiday up there from what I hear.)

on the way there we stopped for a coffee. good thing Malachai had his trusty 1.3 megapixel sidekick. he got this cute picture of me and Selma:
he also got a picture of the shirtless rockstar that was on the cigarette machine behind me:
but I made him delete it.

he took a picture of my cup of water:
and then we all squeezed in tight for a group shot (minus Malachai, of course)
and then he surprised this neighboring coffee drinker by taking his picture:
I gave Malachai some good basic guidelines for photographing strangers - - especially up close. when the kind gent assured Malachai that it was ok, Malachai suggested a Josu and stranger portrait. they both complied:
what a day!