Albania Day Three

The morning started with a nice devotional led by Natalie from John 14 about how God doesn’t leave us as orphans. My heart was touched because I really feel like an orphan–my parents and siblings are all dead. There’s so much sadness about what could have been and the inability to fix what was broken between my brothers and me. Yet I am continually reminded that God is in all this and I am not alone. Slowly He is healing me of the grief.

Natalie and I had a great time over coffee with friends from Emanuel. One is Kelly’s age and told us how the Albanian Civil war in 1997 started in her home town of Vlora. There was shooting in her neighborhood. Once, her dad went out on the balcony and threw a little rock at her window, and she was sure it was a bullet and was so frightened, and then he came in laughing. When I asked how they got food, she said “Oh, every day from 8:00 to 10:00 am they would stop the war so we could go out and buy food.” Very civilized.

Today was the start of university and Dr. Ted was to give a talk about depression. Three hundred students came, which was more than came to the dean’s opening speech, so she closed it down before he started. He said the students realized it was about jealousy and had good conversations with them and was able to tour their medical facilities, so the time wasn’t lost. He will give the same talk at church on another day and perhaps some will come.

Jason and Jim spent the morning surveying the significant damage to the church building–mostly from a leaky roof, standing water seeping into the walls. It’s not a two-day project, and it’s hard to know what jobs to tackle.

I was able to Face Time with Baby Lydia for a few minutes today, and now she stares at the phone and laughs and smiles. She’s really interested in this talking picture. So precious.

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Albania Day 2

This is our fifth trip to Albania and so far it’s been my favorite for a number of reasons. For a long time Jim and I have wanted others to catch our vision, but have not succeeded when we’ve talked to different people about going with us. First of all, people hardly know where Albania is. (North of Greece, east of Italy.) Second, when we explain, people aren’t that interested. (“Drink coffee? Make friends? Encourage people? No, thanks. I’d rather build an orphanage or do something IMPORTANT.”) Two months ago when Zef, the pastor of Emanuel Church in Albania, came to our church several people were inspired by him. Slowly we formed a team. First to commit were Jason, Natalie and their two boys. Jason is an electrical contractor who has flipped houses, so knows some about construction, and Natalie is an expert at home-schooling. These are two skills that Emanuel Church says they really need right now. Their two boys, ages 10 and 8 are an important part of the team. Then Ted volunteered. Dr. Ted is aFamily practice physician in Ventura. Zef has already scheduled him with too many teaching opportunities with medical students in various cities around Albania, plus preaching Wednesday night and Sunday morning. Last, was Christine, a university professor and published author with an expertise in Christian leadership. The flight over was uneventful. It’s taken only seven years to find the perfect routing–14 hours LAX to Istanbul, one hour layover and a one hour flight to Tirana. We arrived at 7pm, unpacked and got eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, and have had very little jet lag. Today was full of wonderful experiences, but as I start writing about it, I think “Did that happen TODAY?” because it seems like we’ve been here so long. Church, coffee after with our good friends, lunch, church in Vaqarr (the village outside Tirana) where Jim preached, watched a football (soccer) game (Emanuel against the Catholic team–they lost) and then crepes with our team. For lunch we invited our Albanian friend Schpendi, saying “OUR TREAT” because he paid our coffee today and has often treated us in the past. We picked a nice restaurant, and Jim arranged with the maitre d’ to get the bill. But as it turns out the maitre d’ is a friend of Schpendi’s and we were out-maneuvered. Schpendi picked up the bill for all 10 of us, while the maitre d’ laughed at the double-cross. I’m happy that Dr. Ted is the perfect travelling companion–always eager to do whatever he is asked to do without complaining. I’m happy that they boys have been angels and a real asset to the trip. I’m happy that Natalie and Jason are already glad they came and are saying things like “The next time we come….” I found I hardly took any pictures. (And some of the ones I did take won’t upload. Grrr.) Most of what I’m excited about now is people and the great talks we’ve had. It’s hard to photograph these things.

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Dr. Ted, Jim, Marsh, Natalie, Jason, Spencer, and Braydon

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Jim preaching in Vaqar with Zef translating.

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J’apprends le Français

I can remember even as a young child wanting to learn French. I studied Spanish in school instead of French because it was more “practical.” I went on to major in Spanish, which turned out to be an excellent career move. I was chosen over other applicants for every job I have ever had because I could speak Spanish. But French was always my longing. Give me a French podcast over a beautiful song any day. In Paris, I’d rather hear French than eat a chocolate croissant–and that’s saying a lot! If I’m at a random foreign museum and a French tour group comes through, I get a rush. J’adore la langue française.

It always seemed too impractical to spend time learning French. I had little kids. I was paying for college. I had a husband and a job. Who had the time and money to run off to France and learn French? In April Jim strongly encouraged me to do it.

“Study French and go live somewhere to be immersed in the language?”

“Yes.”

“For a summer?”

“Well, for perhaps six weeks.”

“But we’d be apart!!!”

“I could come over in the middle!!”

“Sold!”

So, I’m relentlessly studying French in every spare second. I traded in my frequent flier miles for a flight to Paris. Today I read this from Flirting with French:

Not only does the ability to acquire a second language become greatly diminished after adolescence, but the degradation continues linearly. That is, with each year, each decade, that I didn’t get around to learning French, the goalposts have moved further away. What was once a relatively easy fifteen-year field goal has become fifty-seven-nigh going on fifty-eight years, even by NFL standards a long kick.

Great. Why do I have to be so PRACTICAL???? Why couldn’t I have allowed myself to start learning French when it was easier? My only comfort is that learning new things is really good for your brain. Now, where did I hear that? And where are my keys? And what did I come in this room for????

I’ve already made some good progress. My heart leaps with glee when I speak in French and native speakers understand me. They think I’m cute and they are a little patronizing, but still. Language learning is so much easier than it was in the seventies. We couldn’t just look stuff up on the internet–we had to actually use our 15 pound Spanish-English dictionary, and our 501 Spanish Verbs. I refuse to give up!!

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One Heart Stopped. Another heart broken.

My brother died last week. No one is allowed to die anymore. Ever. First of all, it’s so sad. Second of all it forces you to make important and expensive decisions with irrational and upset people at a time when you just want to rest your head on your knees and rock back and forth. I loved my brother. I remember great times of playing board games and card games growing up, riding our bikes to the beach, building forts and having fun. I remember visiting him where he was stationed in Germany, and how handsome he looked in his Air Force uniform. When Kelly was one year old, Don lived with us and played with Kelly and fixed every single thing that broke in our house for an entire year. Good times.

After he married we grew apart. I felt like his wife never asked about me or my kids, but she always had problems that, apparently, my money could solve. If your spouse died, and s/he had a sister that you’d been tormenting for months years over a PERFECTLY CLEAR WILL, would you expect the sister to pay for your spouse’s burial expenses? Or if the sister offered to pay for the memorial service, in addition to the cremation, would you insist on scheduling it on a day her husband couldn’t come? And would you schedule it some place really inconvenient (where neither of you had any relations or ever lived), so that everyone involved had to drive three hours to get there?

I’m pretty sad about being the only one left from my family of origin. I’m sad I can’t make things straight with my brother. The drama with my sister-in-law has made my grief worse. I look forward to the time promised us when there will be no more “death or mourning or crying or pain” where God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Meanwhile, I’m in the thick of the circle of life. My new granddaughter (born the same month as my brother died) brings me overwhelming joy and has been such a comfort during my grief. This is what gives me joy:

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Google

It’s no secret that if I weren’t already married, I would like to marry Google. I love Google. The angriest I’ve ever been with my work is when they prohibited me from using Chrome because “Google is too innovative.” (Internet Explorer updates at the rate of a glacier and is easier to manage.) I was super excited today to get to tour the Google campus with Jim, Kelly, and Brenna’s friend, Sarah.

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We had lunch in one of their 25 cafes. Coffee and tea in another. Then we visited a juice bar. A smoothie bar. Numerous snack bars. And a dessert bar. Google believes you should never be more than a few steps away from food. See? What’s not to love? The food is legendary, from healthy to otherwise: New York Deli sandwiches, paella, burritos, long salad bars, sushi, free range egg drop soup, pho, reduced gluten rice wafers, big jars of cookies, and more.

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All kinds of drinks, and huge water dispensers with flavored waters, like lemon basil, pineapple, or kumquat.

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They had all kinds of loose tea and water dispensers with different temperatures of water. (Black tea steeps better at a different temp than green tea.) There were at least ten different kinds of milk to put in it. And if you bring your own mug, they will wash it for you. They deliver cookies to your desk at 2 pm every day. And at 1 pm on Fridays.

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I was fascinated by the way Google manipulates makes it easy for their employees to stay at work forever. Employees not only eat meals and snacks there, but can get their haircut, do their laundry, attend exercise or cooking classes (improve your knife work, anyone?), play beach volleyball, miniature golf and tennis, swim in a stationary pool, practice batting, work in a community garden, and get their eyebrows waxed. It felt like a University campus to me…a little city with scattered buildings where almost everyone is young. The Googleplex is so big that workers ask their colleagues for directions. Jim said it felt like visiting a company that decorated for Halloween, but this is their normal fair.

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We saw self-driving cars, and all kinds of fun things like a dinosaur skeleton covered with flamingos. Because, why not?

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It was an incredibly fun afternoon. Thank you SO MUCH, Sarah. 

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Day Eighteen: Barcelona to LAX

When we found flights all those many months ago we were just happy to get to go. We didn’t care about the routes and the times. We had other thoughts when we realized we had to get up at 3:30 am today, and find a cab in the dark to get to the airport and take THREE flights home. When Kelly lived here before, was really hard to find a taxi after midnight. But times have changed, and within thirty seconds we had a taxi. (Usually it’s not the things you worry about that get you; it’s the OTHER. Things that blindside you out of nowhere.) The driver grew up in Barcelona, but “I haven’t been able to sleep in my city for many years because of the economy. People use taxis less, so there are an estimated three thousand more taxis than the city needs.” Jim gave him a tip, and the driver gave it back. “I’m just happy to have the work,” he said. Wow.

Jim had read a tiny article about the new TSA requirements flying into the US that you have to be able to power on your devices, or they have to be in your checked luggage. This means that if your iPad runs out of battery, you have to check it or charge it then. I couldn’t believe they would be able to enforce this without a lot more public notice, but when we arrived at the airport it was clear. If you were about to run out of battery, or your battery was dead, you had to put the device in your checked luggage or charge it. This wasn’t a problem for us, but I see this as yet one more thing that will slow down security lines. I predict long lines at charging stations and more theft of electronics in checked luggage. The worst thing about international travel is standing in the long lines. That, and living so far from an airport.

It took us three hours to get home from the airport on a crowded shuttle service we won’t use again. Roadrunner, I wouldn’t have minded drop offs in Ventura, but Simi Valley is NOT on the way. Fellow traveler who didn’t have the gate code to the gated community where you were staying, I felt bad for you, but also annoyed. Also, Toronto Airport, did you really think six women’s bathroom stalls would be enough for 67 gates? Six.

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Day Seventeen: Barcelona

We spent our last day of the trip wandering aimlessly around the city looking at cool buildings, watching kids play in parks, eating great food, and exploring narrow passageways. It was ideal.

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We don’t typically get sucked in by street vendors, but the restaurant where we ate lunch had a young man in front who was so good at his job. He promised us a fabulous table with a great view and amazing food, and he delivered. And he entertained us for the next hour as we watched him schmooze other tourists. This was our view.

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And our dessert.

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