I love going to conferences. I'm blessed in every way when I can pack up and take a break from the everyday hustle and concentrate on learning and listening. For me conferences are not just opportunities to listen to speakers but opportunities to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I learn something from every interaction, not just in the workshops or presentations, but at the breakfast line and luncheon table. I've only been here a little over 24 hrs and my mind is bursting.
I feel a little anti-social right now writing and trying to process instead of sitting down at hotel bar networking, but I felt a stronger than usual need to think and process on my own tonight. I feel caught in that productive discontent of sorting through the inspirational, convicting, challenging and occasionally frustrating things I've learned & trying to think about what things I want to bring back and do & which of those things I can realistically tackle.
This school year I made a choice to scale back some of my efforts, to reserve my energies and not over perform to the sacrificial degree I had done in the past. That was not a easy decision. I love my school, but it is a part-time position that I was treating and working as if was full-time because I love them so much. But in the long run it wasn't fair to my family nor did it set up the realistic expectations. I advocated for myself, and was able to get a schedule that didn't set me up for overwork. I've asked for help more than I've ever have in the past, and said no to things that couldn't accomplish within my paid hours. It has been hard to scale back my expectations of myself but it I needed to pull back in order to respect myself and my family.
I thought I knew what I was going to do with the time I was reclaiming. I had plans. I thought I would sub more, clean more and catch up with everything but that wasn't what I've ended up doing. While I am reading more and writing more (which I deeply love to do), in the end the majority of my reclaimed time has been taken up by unexpectedly by homeschooling. While there is still a gap there between what I aspire to do, and what we have been able to do, I've at least I had the time to try to tackle it.
Despite my greater than usual need to pull back and process I am as always incredibly thankful of being been able to come. I know that I can't aspire to do everything I'm inspired to do, so I'm storing up some of those big ideas for later, and I will content myself with the smaller ways I can improve my practice.
I don't know about you but I'm a very practical person. I like to be able to fix and do. I have a hard time listening to people vent without suggesting solutions or taking it as invitation or request to take over and fix the issue. This can lead to unwarranted frustration when the solutions or fixes are not wanted or in fact requested. Over the years I have learned to set boundaries, learning to ask and double check to see if people in fact want me to take over or help them. I've learned that there are some kinds of venting that I can simply listen to, and learned to excuse myself from the conversations I can't handle listening to without intervening.
Last week in Sunday School we were watching the second 1/3 of a video on the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We talked about his ministry and activism in Germany as part of the resistance movement against the Nazis. As those conversations are wont to do, we ended up at the end of class talking about Putin and the ISIS, and what kind of responses our nation and we as people should have. A few people suggested bombing or military intervention, others like me didn't feel that would be the right response, but we all understood the desire to act, to do, to not simply stand aside and watch atrocities occur.
Afterwards I was talking to a friend, and I tried to express how saying, Pray and actually praying in the face of injustices, atrocities, feels so small, so feeble, so inactive. But again and again, it should be where we start.
Nearly 8 years ago I was part of an amazing conversation with a nun at Coptic Convent in Cairo. She was serving as the interim Mother Superior, and welcomed our small tour group into her office for tea, when we showed up at the convent to see some of their amazing icons on the wrong day. It was a Friday, a day when the convent is normally closed to tourists and open only to friends and family. She would have in her rights to simply turn us away, but instead she welcomed up and treated us like family. We asked her questions about her life in the convent. She told us she had not left that convent for over 50 years, only seeing the friends and family when they came to see her on family Friday's. We asked what it felt like to see the world outside the convent walls change as dramatically as it had in her lifetime and how she felt about being cloistered within the walls of her convent. She responded by telling us about her call to a life of prayer. How she dedicated her life to it as she saw the Coptic church in Egypt face greater and greater persecution and upheaval. The certainty and peace she had in her call was a powerful and unexpected lesson.
I am in no way saying protests, calls to action or even military interventions cannot be the right response, but over and over for me, I need to remember to pray, especially when my first desire is to move and act under my own power.
When a friend calls or texts with tough situation, I will always offer my hands, my sympathy but I need to remember that it is no minor thing to say, "I will pray".
Praying is a surrender, a sacrifice of my will to God, and to say, "this is not something I can do alone". It is often painful, quiet and lonely but we are called to pray, and I so often need to remember that.
One of the magnificent pleasures of our Maunabo apartment is it's fantastic ocean view. I love just sitting in the living room, reading or writing and being able to look out at the view. It is always captivating, always changing. I love watching the clouds roll in from the northeast. The Trade Winds bring us all sorts of skies. Some are bright and clear, some hazy with "Bruma", but most often full of big lazy clouds.
Today as I prepared coffee and breakfast I watched a bank of extremely dark clouds appear on the horizon, deep gray sheets of rain trailing behind it into the ocean. As I looked out I wondered what it meant for our day. Will the bank of clouds roll past us or over us, will we be able to go down to beach or be stuck in the apartment. Should we try to wait it out, or run out and do what we can now? After much internal debate I decided that even if all we could get was 15 minutes at the beach before it started to pour it would be worth it. Soon everyone had changed into their bathing suits, grabbed towels, chairs, bogie boards and books and climbed into the car. We got a lot more than 15 minutes. We had 45 before the first light sprinkles urged us to pack up. And when the rain didn't follow us in-land, Zee and Chris enjoyed another half hour in the pool. We took a chance, and didn't keep the specter of dark clouds keep us from doing what we wanted to do.
I've been thinking about that morning sky all of the day. Right now Zee's mood swings, and flash meltdowns are the dark clouds in my horizon. I think it of them often as I evaluate my daily plans. I evaluate how challenging certain social situations might prove to be, how difficult it could be to leave and often question future plans. Will this be okay or will this push her over? Will I be able to go to that conference I booked? Are our sight-seeing plans too ambitious? Am I helping her enough or too much? There are lots of great days where no plans are upset, we try new things, and have a lot of fun. Some days are long days, where everythig goes great, till it suddenly doesn't, and of course it is front of people who don't understand or have any context. Other days are filled with a string of mini-battles and situations, not a single one terribly remarkable or difficult, but still exhausting. Most days I feel like, like I felt this morning, determined. There are dark clouds, and many challenges ahead. I can make plans, and give myself appropriate expectations & the clouds might miss us and we will have a better day than expected or we might get drenched and overwhelmed but it is better to get going and enjoy the day we have been given, instead of sitting inside and wishing we had a different one.
This morning we woke bright and early and packed up to leave Edmonton. But we couldn't leave without seeing its skyline and some of it riverside neighborhoods. It is truly a pretty city. We spotted some of the CRC churches in town, drove past Chris's sister Janelle's University and finally got on the Calgary Trail.
Fields of Gold canola?
The lands outside of the city quickly changed from forest to wide open farmland. The fields were brilliant yellow, and despite some awful driving etiquette we made it to Calgary by lunchtime. We had decided at breakfast to bypass the Royal Tyrell Museum and its dinos and instead revisit the Calgary Zoo. Zee had some late decision regret which I think was related to hunger.
The zoo was packed and hot but we had a good time. We particularly enjoyed the Canadian Wildlands section (one that we used to skip) because we had a chance to see Moose, Bison, Cariboo, Grizzlys and Black bears.
I had a great time people watching, so many people were dressed in their Stampede finest. People of all colors, creeds, sizes and ages where sporting cowboy hats and boots. The multi-culturalism of modern Canada was on display and it was beautiful to see.
Over 3 hours later we dragged ourselves to the house of Chris's old Seminary and College classmates the V's on the Northwest side of the city (we can see the old Olympic ski jump from their neighborhood!). Even though they are out of town they lent us their house for the night. It was unexpected and gracious, and saved us having to spend the Stampede inflated prices this weekend. Being in someone's home after a week of hotels is both incredibly nice and discomforting. It is almost like being home, but not quite.
We had dinner at a local neighborhood restaurant Mitillini's, and took advantage of their half-price pizza special. The food was good, the place hopping and everyone we met was very nice.
So we are packed up, wiped out and ready to be home. Hopefully tomorrow we won't be hassled to check our bags, even if they are a bit overstuffed. This has been a great trip. I am so glad we brought the girls out west. And like always I am already dreaming, thinking and planning the next trip.
I've been to Jasper once, about a decade ago, with my dad and siblings. We drove up the Icefields Hwy to the Athabasca Glacier, trudge up the path to it and then turned around and drove back to Banff. My biggest memory of it was how long the drive from Banff was. That memory was the stongest I think because it was our first big driving trip with the girls, and we were trying to figure out how our upcoming drive to BC was going to work out. Chris remembers pushing A in the jogging stroller all the way up to the glacier.
As we walked up to the Glacier this time, the girls joked about how few things they will have left on their bucket list when they grow up. Seeing the Rockies, check, walking up to a Glacier, check, Paris, St.Petersburg, check and check. I responded that there were plenty of places we haven't been to yet, China, Australia, New Zealand, South America and they responded, oh I am sure we are going to get to those. I told them, that this just means they will have room on their bucket lists, for colonizing the moon and visiting Mars, or to add experiences instead of places. Zee told us what is on her list now: Scuba Diving, Sky-diving and mountain climbing. We didn't walk on the Glacier as she had hoped but we go really close.
Leaving the Ice fields behind, driving toward the Jasper townsite, we told the girls this was the furthest north they have ever traveled in North America. We drove past some enormous mountains into wide beautiful valleys. We had the makings of a picnic lunch with us, so we entertained ourselves looking for good picnicking sites. We passed several camping sites, and trailheads, and while they looked lovely, I was feeling picky. I was hoping for a site by water. About a half-hour out of the Columbia Icefields, I saw the sign for the Sunwapta Falls. There was actually a restaurant and lodge at that turn off but we drove past them to the falls. The falls were amazing. At the site the Sunwapta River merges with the Athabasca River which originates at the Columbia Icefields. They pour in together into a narrow canyon, and we had could cross the small bridge and admire the power of the rivers, as they carve the stone walls. We feasted on ham and cheese sandwiches, Doritos and cherries before tossing pine cones into then into the gorge.
Reluctantly we climbed into the car and set off for Jasper and the Jasper Skytram. We passed popular and crowded trailheads for the Athabasca Falls and the Valley of the Five Lakes (which I missed read as Fire lakes!) and arrived at the Jasper Skytram by mid afternoon. We bought tickets thankful again for the small discounts packages for families of four available at most attractions. We took a nine-minute ride up to the top of Mt. Whistlers. The top station is about 1.3 km short of the summit, and Z. and Chris made it all the way to the top. A. and I huffed and puffed up 3/4 of the way before deciding the view was impressive enough. We did climb past Park workers who were cleaning out the trail, and moving rocks 2,400 some meters in altitude. I only have the greatest respect for them.
Zee loves dream catchers
Jasper is very compact, pretty town that houses 5,000 year-round residents, but balloons up to 20,000 with seasonal workers and visitors in the summer. It took some work (our gps was baffled) but we found our hotel on the very edge of town. The girls swam in the pool for a hour before we hunted for parking and dinner in town. We had a great meal, while enjoying magestic mountain views and collapsed into bed early.
This morning we are waiting for our resident sleeping beauty (Z) to wake up so we can pick up breakfast, visit a couple of lakes before leaving the Great Canadian Wilderness behind for Edmonton, where I hope to meet up with Mr.Bratt my favorite teacher.
Yesterday was our last full day in Emo. We were lazy bumps on logs. The weather warmed up a bit so we spent the day reading on the back porch, watching the World Cup, introducing the girls to Euchre and helping Oma in the garden. There were things we could have gone out to do, but on the Eve of the second half of our trips we just wanted to rest.
Oma and Opa
This morning we got up and packed up the car. Oma and Opa marveled at our efficiency but we are old pros . We had a great breakfast together, posed for pictures and we headed off. According to our original plan, we would have been driving from Winnipeg to Regina today, but do to the car-rental fees incident we drove back to Thunder Bay. The drive was beautiful again, we avoided all the forecasted thunderstorms, and instead enjoyed the sunshine. We saw float-planes land on Rainy Lake near Fort Frances, we spotted beaver dams and kept our eyes peeled for the ever elusive moose.
We snacked as we drove, arriving into Thunder Bay around 2pm, and stopped to look around at Chris's old grade school. The school has expanded since he left but their playground still had some of the same dodgy equipment that was there when he was a kid. The one serious upgrade the school made was to its outdoor skating rink. The girls wished RCS had one too.
We then headed down to Historic Fort William. A interactive living history museum, that Chris used to visit as a kid, Fort William used to be one of the major rendezvous point for the Voyageurs who operated the fur trade for the NorthWest Trading company. The girls loved it! We watched a woman stitch together cedar bark for her Wigwam, another fed us fire-baked bread, we chatted with the Tinsmith &Gunsmith, watched a canoe be assembled, walked the palisade, petted goats, toured the banquet hall and the kitchens, used a old water pump and watched a skirmish between drunken trappers and soldiers. We had a great time, and would highly recommend the stop to anyone interested in Canada's Fur trading past.
We closed our last night in Western Ontario at the Tokyo House, all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. It was the girls choice and despite the restaurant looking decidedly sketchy on the outside, it was beautiful, clean and modern on the inside. The girls tried lots of new foods and we had a blast. The dinner was pricey but delicious.
Tomorrow we fly off to Alberta and revisit our old stomping grounds. In what was either the best or worst coincidence our visit coincides with the Calgary Stampede, so who knows what that will mean for us.
We had a break in the clouds yesterday afternoon and had a chance to explore the amazing countryside around Emo. After a leisurely morning we drove back out to the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung National Historic Site of Canada, otherwise known as the Manitou Mounds. They have a wonderful interpretive center there, and it was both fascinating and sad to read about the site's history and the legacy of broken treaties and hurtful practices by white settlers to the region. After walking through the museum we took a tour of the extensive grounds. Our guide, Dan, a local member of the Ojibwe First Nation, drove us around, sharing both his personal history and experiences as a status Indian in bi-national tribe, what he has learned from
Elders about regaining the land and restoring the mounds and recent archeological work done in the area. I am so glad we stopped and visited. The land was beautiful and it is always awe inspiring to see evidence of the long-history of people in the region. To stand in front of a burial mound over 3,000 years old and think of the different lives led by the people who once walked the landscape. It was also fascinating to see other parts of the grounds where they have been restoring the forest that was cultivated by the indigenous peoples there. If you are ever in this area, I highly recommend visiting.
Aay and Kittens
Opa and Kitten
Zee and Kitten
After a quick stop to visit the kittens we picked up our passports for quick jaunt over the border to eat at the Thunderbird Lodge, one of the many inns on the American side of the border. Dinner was wonderful and the view amazing. The high-water levels don't seem to be affecting tourism over much, despite some closed roads at the Voyageurs National Park across the road.
When visiting family shy away from building very busy agenda. It allows us to relax, and avoid disappointment. The only thing that we plan on is spending time together, playing games and eating good food.
Yesterday I woke up and did some writing before the rest of the household woke. Eventually we shared breakfast (Peach French Toast) and devotions together. We decided to try visiting the local First Nation interpretative center, but inline with our lack agenda the drive out there turned into a long wander down the country lanes.
On the way out there we stopped at a farm owned by one of Ann's nieces to see some kittens. I've never been happier to have flown up here, because if we had been driving I am sure the girls would have not let us leave with out a couple of the kittens. After playing with the kittens for nearly an hour the girls reluctantly set the kitties down, consoled only with the knowledge they they would be able to visit them again before we left town.
Setting out again toward the interpretive center but we soon had to stop and visit a quaint little two person chapel off the side of the road. Originally the steeple of area church that burn down in a fire, a local man turned it into a chapel, and maintained for 30 years until his death. We stopped and signed the register before continuing on.
Our explorations also brought us to large millwork, where gigantic stacks of timber are turned into reinforced particle board. We then followed the river that doubles as the border with Minnesota, to a lighthouse usually high on the banks of the river, but is now surrounded by water on all sides. The Rainy River region has been incredibly wet this spring, and all the lakes and rivers have risen to alarming levels. Hoping for the sake of everyone around here that it stops raining soon.
After driving down lots of small country roads we finally found the interpretive center closed. Back to Emo. We will try again today, but we contentented ourselves watching the World Cup and playing card games. Z. did make friends with the neighbor kids and we didn't see her for the whole afternoon.
The day as a whole was just a blessing, a day of rest.
As we drove west out of Thunder Bay, Ontario across the rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield I found myself thinking of the places that anchor us. We are traveling across Western Ontario to go visit Chris's Dad, who relocated here after retirement. Chris spent a good chunk of his childhood in Thunder Bay, but has only been back three times since he left as child. We drove the girls past his childhood home, pointed out to them the corner store he used to spend his money on candy and baseball cards at. As we drove he shared stories of bear sightings, sauna & lake dipping, cadet campouts on rocky islands. Some of these stories were familiar, others were new prompted by the reminder provided by the landscape.
Chris's Dad and Step-mom relocated to Emo after decades near Toronto drawn back to the familiar geography of her childhood. Her siblings, nieces and nephews are there. The area feels remote, a small community west of town of 10,000, north of International Falls, Minnesota. It is beautiful lake country. Yet as much as I was blown away by the beauty, my mind whirls with the complicated travel scheme necessary to get here from Puerto Rico. It was then that it sunk in how even 20 years after I moved away, Puerto Rico is still my anchor, the center I circle around.
I am thankful for how frequently I get to Puerto Rico, how familiar our kids are with the geography of my heart. That they see the mountains, and sea of Puerto Rico as their second home.
I am eager to take my girls back to Alberta to see big sky, and the expansive prairie where they spent the early years of their childhood. What memories if any will it trigger for them? Rochester undeniably is their hometown now, but what do they remember from those early years?
The undisputed highlight of our trip has to be our visit to Corsica. We visited with our Corsican Cousins, (3rd and 4th Cousin's at this point, they are my great-grandfather's brother's descendants) in the mountain towns of Pieve and Sorio.
Around 1946, after a visit to Corsica with her father my grandmother started a correspondence with her Cousin NouNou. NouNou and Nana corresponded for over 50 years. As Nana's health declined she asked me to continue the correspondence. I have done so sporadically for the last 13 years, sending Christmas cards and a yearly note.
Last fall, as we began to seriously plan for this trip I sent off a emailed note (with the help of Emily a friend who is a french teacher) to Nou Nou and Janette, to see if it would be be possible to see each other and for us to visit the family home in Pieve (where Nou Nou's grand-daughter Sylivie lives with her children). Janette let me know that NouNou had passed away since we had last corresponded, but that they would love to see us. News of Nou Nou's passing were a disappointment but not a shock as her health had become frail in the last few years. It was sad to contemplate that we would not have a chance to visit with her again (I had a chance to meet her in 1997 on our previous trip to France) and ask her more question about family history.
Janette and Sylvie and her children were amazing. They went to great effort to host all of us. I had told them that we would be happy to rent a house or find a hotel room, but they found a way to room us all. They opened up Nou Nou's house in Sorio (which had not been used for several years), and Slyvie's children gave up their rooms so part of the group could stay in the house in Pieve. The house in Pieve is the house my great-grandfather Jean had been born in, and Slyvie has done a outstanding job restoring and enhancing since she moved back to Corsica ten years ago.
Despite Janette and Sylvie's concerns we were all very comfortable in the homes. My brother Juan Daniel, Chris, the girls and I had Nou Nou's house in Sorio to ourselves. We arrived late at night, after stopping the Pieve house for a midnight snack. The next morning I opened the shutter to find this amazing view out of my window! =>
On our first full day Janette, and Sylvie met us at the Sorio house and led us on a short hike on of the many walking trails Corsica is known for. The views and flora were amazing. The trail led behind the village up the mountain. The terrain is wild and rugged, with ruins of shepard shelters and cisterns dotting the trail.
After our hike we headed over to Pieve house for lunch. After sharing Corsican beer (flavored with Chestnuts) at the town bar, Janette and Sylvie made us delicious Quiches and salads. Every meal was beautifully laid out, and served in the traditional course style. Sylvie is invested in maintaing Coriscan traditions, so nearly everything we ate was either grown or produced in Corsica from the tomatoes in the salad and the wine on the table to the figs and cheese served for the dessert. It was lovely touch, that deeply touched us. Not only were we eating in the family home, but were eating the fruits of the land of our ancestors.
In the afternoon they escorted us down to St. Florent, a seaside town world famous for its beaches. The girls dug into the sand, and we took some time to enjoy the sound of the surf and feel the sun on our skin.
In many ways Corsica reminded us of Puerto Rico, the size of the island, the mountains, and beaches, but it is a much drier, more rugged environment, the mountains much taller and the roads much much narrower. Yet we felt at home, the views filled our hearts and the small streets welcomed us. After our beach excursion we headed back to the house and another wonderful dinner. The highlight of this dinner was local goat cheese and figs.
For the next day Janette and Sylvie had an ambitious expedition planned: Wineries and scenic roads of Cap Corse, the finger-like peninsula sticking up in Northern Corsica, where our ancestors were said to have come from before the settled in Pieve. Chris and I while tempted by the wineries and views opted to stay home with the girls since we knew a long day on the curvy roads would lead to sick and cranky girls and ruin everyone elses fun. Instead we chose to dedicate the day to exploring Pieve and Sorio on foot. We wandered down each alleyway, sat on the terrace of the Pieve house, walked around the churches, and made a mental map of the towns to take with us.
The day was peaceful and restful. Our goodbye dinner was memorable as it featured a very strong Corsican fish soup that stretched most everyone's culinary palette. The night before Janette had asked us to add an entry to Nou Nou's Casa Nuncia book. A memory book made for her by her grand-daughter Isabelle's husband in 2001. In it Nou Nou shared her memories of living in the houses in Pieve and Sorio and of her family in the days leading up to her marriage. My father asked me to write our entry. And in it we shared our family connection to the Pieve house, and the affection of our grandmothers. We thanked them for the opportunity to come and visit with them and let them know how welcomed they would be in coming to our homes in Puerto Rico, Miami, Rochester and Lansing.
The visit was too short and just long enough at the same time. Having the nine of us descended on them was surely exhausting, so leaving after 3 nights was a relief for them. However there was so much left to see and explore in Corsica, that I think we all wish we could have stayed longer. I hope to return someday again, maybe when the kids are older and hike more of the trails. I would love to tour the island, maybe visit the cities. Maybe next time, I will find out if there any family records in Bastia or at the central Catholic church since the churches of Pieve and Sorio are closed.
If you have ever considered visiting Corsica, do it. The air is fresh, the land beautiful and the people fantastic.