imagine my confusion and surprise when our campus director (also one of my professors) excitedly announced to the student body the following:

“you all have the amazing opportunity to go mudding this friday or saturday! sign up in the office. you do NOT want to miss this.”

y’all know why i was confused.

y’all know what “mudding” means back home.

i looked around the room and couldn’t imagine a single one of these folks “going mudding”.

i spent the next day completely confused, hoping someone would put it into context for me…. and they did.  you see, around these parts, “mudding” means working with adobe!

we went downtown to work on repair and restoration of the oldest church in santa fe, the san miguel mission.  in my southwest lit and film class, we are learning all about the architectural and anthropological history of santa fe. in my other class we read a historical fiction book about the first bishop of santa fe who was directly involved in this church. the church was built in the 1600s, burned, and was rebuilt in 1710.

santa fe went through an interesting period of colonization when european style came into fashion over the natural adobe style.  in 1912, the local government established an official “santa fe style” and retrofitted many of the buildings that had been columned and bricked.

the repair and restoration of this church is a multi-year project. they are using original building materials. some of my peers actually slung adobe on walls and trowled it smooth. mine and a few other’s task was to crush the salvaged adobe from the walls, make mud and form bricks.  i spent the first couple of hours breaking up clay while the offical workers on the project mixed the clay with straw and water to make the adobe:

then we moved out to the front of the church to make bricks.  the first step is to wet the forms and brush off any mud from the last set of bricks:

next we scooped the adobe into the forms and packed them in nice and good:

then you lift the forms away and are left with a brick.  or (…if you were me when i was a kid playing outside) a delicious chocolate cake. really, it was just like being a kid again making mud pies. except it was very hard work in the hot sun.  in five hours we made about 80 bricks:

they will dry in the sun for 24-48 hours and will be rotated so all sides can dry evenly. then they will move to a covered area where they will continue to cure or harden for a few weeks before they are used as bricks on the side wall of the church.

i enjoyed the work immensely. working with our hands to recreate building material from the earth was pretty amazing. the most interesting pheonomenon of this day was the fact we were a tourist attraction.

while we made the bricks in the front of the church, dozens and dozens and dozens of tourists stopped in to talk to us. i’ve never been in that position before. i imagine i felt a little bit like a zebra at the zoo or a fish in an aquarium or a native pueblo indian sitting in her village making pottery.  people were generally polite and inquisitive, but being photographed all day and being asked to be photographed and being watched as craftswomen of antiquity… was strange.

i enjoyed educating people and really had fun when i started turning the questions on them. like when parents would shove their kids up and say, “excuse me, miss?  little suzie here wants to know what’s in the adobe. can you tell her?”

my response:  “well susie, what do you think is in the adobe?”

when you get a bunch of teachers and teacher wanna bes out there… it can get sassy and fun real quick.

a teenager asked me the following: “are you a hippie?”

my response:  “well, what do you mean by “hippie”?  gimme some adjectives and i’ll tell you if i am.”

his (very serious) response:  “what’s an adjective?”

game on. pandora’s box was officially open for buisness. three english majors on one poor teenager turned into an all out noun-verb-adjective lesson.  he came up with hippies are “chill” and “smoke pot”.  i told him in that case, i’m only partial hippie.  he also asked me how old i was and swore i couldn’t be older than 21, and was positively floored when i told him i was the big 3-0. then he rapped for us.  bless his heart.

two really gussied up ladies came and just “HAD to make bricks!!!” we suggested they come back tomorrow in proper attire to really get the experience, alas they were only in santa fe today, so in their high heels, floppy hats and very low cut dresses, they made some bricks with us. bless their hearts too.

all in all i am probably in about fifty (not kidding) different family vacation albums. keep an eye out and you might spot me in your second cousin’s “my awesome summer vacay in santa fe!” facebook album.

a great day of kinesthetic and immersion learning on oh so many levels.








quick! who knows where i’m going with this one? prize if you guessed before reading past this point.

tonight a few of us continued the tradition of sitting on the steps outside our dorm and watching the sunset. this happens every summer, so it’s not unique to us, but this was the inaugural evening.

we all brought delecacies from the depths of our dorm rooms and created a dessert buffet consisting of:

-teddy grahams (both cinnamon and regular)

-jelly belly jelly beans (only the best four flavors: pear, cappuccino, cinnamon and…i forget)

-trader joes white wine

-trader joes dark chocolate pomegranate seeds

-box of red wine (it’s come a long way since franzia)

-a wrapped up brownie from the dining hall

we drank our wine and enjoyed conversation.  some topics of discussion:

-jane austen (duh. what do you think happens when you get a bunch of girls in english school together?)

-gardening (half of us have gardens and miss them.)

-canning (one fourth of us have attempted to can.)

-professors (they are all awesome and we wonder what they think about us and why they heck they give up their summer to teach of bunch of type a nerds. then we realise we very likely probably be just like them one day.)

-altitude:  hiking, sleeping and drinking. so far, the main benefit is that you can feel awesome and have fun after just one drink. nice on the pocket book.  one bottle of vino goes much further.

-books books books.  (cormac mccarthy to fitzgerald to …. too many to name.)

-films, films, films.  (the new woody allen to texas chainsaw to mama mia to the shining.)

-how we each explain “bread loaf school of english” to people so it actually sounds legitimate.

-4H.  four out of the eight women on the steps tonight spent significant time in 4H as kids. none of us cut it as brownies or girl scouts.  we recited the pledge from memory and had a great laugh:

I pledge my Head to clearer thinking,

my Heart to greater loyalty,

my Hands to larger service and

my Health to better living, for my club, my community,

my country, and my world.

yep, that pretty much sums it up.  i am very happy.

one of the courses i’m taking is ‘southwest literature and film’. my reading list includes local and regional writers including the poet jimmy santiago baca. we received our reading list months ago and i am happy (and shocked!) to admit i actually did most of the reading ahead of time. perhaps i turned a new page in my scholastic patterns where i leave procrastination behind? we shall see.

i read baca’s poetry first, then his autobiography. both are gripping. his story is an amazing story of brokenness and redemption. i highly, highly recommend all of his poetry and his autobiography: A Place to Stand.  read them together. at our welcome dinner tonight they announced he will come for a reading of his work. i heard this might happen, but when it came official, i got tears in my eyes! i am so excited! ok, so i had tears in my eyes a lot as they explained all of the courses (i wish i could take them ALL…well, except the gothic and chaucer ones). plus all of the opportunities to learn outside of the classroom: lunchtime discussion groups on classroom strategies, To Kill a Mockingbird, film viewings, traditional fiesta dances, repairing old churches with adobe mud… on and on and on…

back to baca.

he writes a lot about nature, particularly the rio grande river. nature is healing to him. this resonates with me. personally, one aspect of nature i love is it’s healing beauty, but also it’s uncontrollable power. nature is soothing but also terrifying. sometimes putting me at ease means putting me in my place.

one of my most terrifying encounters with nature was a snowshoeing trek in colorado. i told no one where i was hiking. i went alone up to 12,000 feet in an avalanche warning area. at the start there were tracks of previous snowshoers and i ran into two women on their way down, spoke with them for a moment, and proceeded upward.  here is a picture of the trailhead:

the tracks stopped well before the summit.  i continued. i walked past an avalanche warning sign and realised i had absolutely no gear to use nor knowledge of how to survive in these conditions. i did not care. in my mind i had come too far to turn around.

some people do reckless things in their teens. i saved them for my twenties.

the wind became fierce. i’m guessing 30 mph sustained and up to 50-60 mph gusts. i kept walking even though there was no trail. eventually i could see the summit. there was a lake at the top. i wanted so badly to make it to the top to see the frozen lake. there was no path to get there, just a 50 foot hillside covered in snow.

i made it about 20 feet up the hillside. the wind blew so hard i literally could not take a step forward. the snow felt very deep but very unsteady under my feet. the top layer was crunchy with ice and i felt like a sheet could break off easily, sending a cascade of underlying powder (and me) down the mountain. i stood there for a moment encapsulated by fear. i knew i could not go any further. i took this picture:

i have yet to experience another moment of utter beauty and complete terror so taoistically bound.

“click,” said the camera….then i hauled my little ass down the mountain.

when i was a kid i used to feed the horses at night. in the early darkness of winter nights, i let into my mind the idea someone was hiding in the barn waiting to get me. i would run as fast as i could from the barn to the house. i hated when we left the horses out because it meant i had to stop to chain the gate. but if we left them up, i could sprint right through. i knew i looked ridiculous.

high tailing it down this colorado mountain, i think i looked about the same. looks aside, i’m certain fear feels the same whether you are eleven or twenty seven.

on our adventures around new mexico last week, julie and i took a great drive along the mighty rio grande. we wound along its banks for a few miles and came upon a very old wooden bridge. i slammed on the breaks and pulled the car off the shoulder. the bridge was condemned, sagging and plastered with warning and no trespassing signs.

naturally, it becokoned me.

i saw what i think was a fox scamper across the length of the bridge. i tiptoed out a little ways and could hear the creaking of the old wood, which was at least beautiful if not stable.  i went back to the edge. i thought about it for a moment. i judged the situation and gave julie my camera.  i’ve heard it said you should do something each day that terrifies you. i decided this would be the event of the day.

the wood creaked and the river roared underneath my feet.

beauty and terror.

peace and fear.

infinite and finite.

i don’t regret it for a second.

now back to baca.

this poem is one of my favorites of his and comes to mind as i think about my walk across the river:

This Day
I feel foolish,
     like those silly robins jumping on the ditch boughs
     when I run by them.
            Those robins do not have the grand style of the red tailed hawk,
            no design, no dream, just robins acting stupid.
They've never smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, consumed drugs
as I have.
            In their mindless
            fluttering about
            filled with nonsense,
                 they tell me how they
                       love the Great Spirit,
            scold me not to be self-pitying,
            to open my life
            and make this day a bough on a tree
            leaning over infinity, where eternity flows forward
            and with day the river runs
                       carrying all that falls in it.
            Be happy Jimmy, they chirp,
            Jimmy, be silly, make this day a tree
            leaning over the river eternity
            and fuss about in its branches.

so, i’m hoping to make this summer a tree.

the truth is, the life i lead is eternal. there is time to open it up to my fears and my joys, to be happy and silly…

which is why i need to go to sleep pronto so i can wake up for the traditional first day of class 530 am sunrise hike led by our loco (local) alfredo!

go read baca. you won’t regret it.

I watch the stars from my window sill
The whole world is moving and I’m standing still…
and the world spins madly on.

the weepies-

October 4, 2009

My mind pictures Charlotte in the heat of summer.  Green grass and shade giving trees, just as I left it.  I pressed pause and walked away.

Babies celebrated, engagements bestowed, moves away, leaves dropped.

People on pause do not pick up and move away while I’m gone.  Wait.  They do.

I realised these as I walked under Cambridge’s glorious Autumn canopy.  There is blessedness in enjoying a foreign city.  An autumn I may never experience again.  But there is a season I’m missing.  A season with joy and sorrow, hellos and goodbyes.  There are people I miss.  The ocean feels too big some days.

Even though I return in the season of winter, the epitome of death, life remains.  In friendships, in delayed celebrations, in tears finally shared.  Though things, trees, and people may look different, I will treasure them more fondly after walking in longing.

i’ve returned to charlotte, with stops in south carolina and georgia.  all places i’ve at one time called ‘home’.  i was ready to return, and overall sigh a contented exhale of joy, peace and contentment to be here (and there).  though i’m constantly reminded through moments of sadness, loneliness, awkwardness, insecurity, exhaustion, frustration that none of these places are truly my home…

this great poem says it much better than i.

Travel Advisory

Remind yourself, when you wake to a strangeness
of foreign lights through blowing trees
out the window of yet another hotel,
that home is only where you pretend your from.
What’s familiar sends you packing,
watching for “some lost place called home.”
You’re from wherever you go.

Don’t admit what you’re looking for.
If you say to a baker in Bremen, to a barmaid
in Provence, “Back home we think of you here
as having deeper lives,” they’ll shrug you wrong
and won’t respond. And then you’ll know:
they’re strangers too. Broken and wrinkled
stones and skin, brush strokes and chords,
old streets and saints you’ve read about,
flute-notes in the laughter of foreign children,
the nip of the local market cheese–
there’s a life we almost knew once.
Watch. Just let it in.

The return ticket will take you only
to the town where you packed to get on the plane.
It never missed you. You’ll notice
alien goods in your kitchen, wind in a wall,
losses in the middle drawer of your desk.
Even there, the strange is the cup of communion
you drink; that dim outlandish civitas dei
you’re a citizen of never was a place.
Remember not to feel too much at home.

by Rod Jellema

i had the priviledge of returning to l’abri for my final three days in the UK…

i realized i’ll never find words to adequately describe…

these images tell parts of the story of the place that brought me to tears, joy, uncertainty, insecurity, laughter and peace.

images, rather than my feeble words, leave room for God to fill in the blanks, the spaces, with exactly what you need to know of Him and how He met me there…

…THIS much!


i love fall….this much!


my new favorite picture.

i’ve been back in england a while now, greeted by golden leaves and just the right mix of cozy gray skies and crisp autumn sunshine.

kate and i enjoy mornings on the bike and at the park.  they always culminate in “miss jessica, i love you”.

emma, john and i enjoy “art class” where emma works on beautifully detailed watercolor designs, john designs houses and i destroy my fear of art failure one stroke of the brush at a time, usually attempting to recreate a watercolor of a landscape photo i took.

melissa made the most delicious homemade pumpkin chocolate chip bread (roasted a real pumpkin and everything!).

and though my return flight from south africa landed over two weeks ago…i’m still floating on a cloud.

a sweet season, indeed.



“We put the walls up, but Jesus keeps them standing.
He doesn’t need us, but He lets us put our hands in.
So we can see, His love is bigger than you and me.

And we all can feel the calling,
to make the world a little smaller.
And so a girl got on a plane,
for two weeks in Africa.”

-Caedmon’s Call-

I’m headed to South Africa today.  My long awaited journey to the continent of Africa is finally here.  I’m very excited.  Though my flight isn’t until 8pm tonight, so in typical me fashion, my packing is strewn across my room…

My excitement is tempered with sorrow as a brother in Christ back home has gone to be with the Lord.  Dear friends are grieving the loss and I am very sad to not be there with them.  Now I fly even further away, an entire ocean still keeping me from crying with them, listening to them share memories of their friend.

I am hopeful being in Africa, like any new place I visit or person I meet, gives me a more complete picture of heaven and therefore joy and the wiping away of tears.

Lest you worry, this isn’t one of my wander around alone trips.  I’ll be visiting with fellow North Carolinians, my friend Jeremiah and the Passaro family, who work with this preschool and church for God’s glory in ZAF!

Photos, thoughts, etc.  when I return…

“And I can’t wait to see this dream in which I’ll be a child again and

feel happy again because everything will be still ahead, everything will be possible.”

-Andrei Tarkovsky-

CAN09 = Contemporary Art Norwich 09 = The art festival I walked around in Norwich the failed bike adventure day.  It was at multiple venues across the city so a perfect catalyst for exploring.

My favorite exhibit was photographic works by Norfolk-based artist Frances Kearney.  One author describes her work in relation to film director Tarkovsky:  “The notion of finding sanctuary in nature has echoes in the films of the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky whose characters frequently escape the city to find solace in the landscape.…Kearney and Tarkovsky are asking questions about the role played by the country in relation to the city.  On a more fundamental level, they are also exploring the degree to which solace is linked to time and place.”


Here’s how a festival brochure describes her work:  “These fictitious, carefully constructed, large-scale colour photographic tableaux explore the idea of finding sanctuary  in nature during childhood.  The works consider how notions of fear and anxiety are often projected by the adult viewer onto the subjects, yet absent in the experience of the girls depicted.”

The title of this series was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Big Two Hearted River; returning from war to find his village dstroyed, Nick seeks solace in fishing for trout.  When Kearney returned in 2006 to live in her childhood home, she realised how important the landscape was to her sense of well-being.

Kearney says:  “A few months after returning, I realised that it was “the edge” I had longed for:  the point where the land meets the water, in this case, the sea.  I have realised that living by water is immensely important to me as is the open sky, space and freedom for one’s soul that this region provides.’

Yeah,  I ate this up.


“Clearly the images have been created rather than captured; instead of lying in wait for the ‘decisive moment’…Kearney plans and deliberates; these are not split-second responses to fleeting moments…her images occupy the present tense of paintings, in which the moment is extended into an endless continuum.  Because of their beauty, clarity and intensity, her images are often compared with film, but these narratives unfold only in the imagination…as viewers, this gives us the chance, deliciously, to indulge our longing for beauty and desire for meaning.”  (Sarah Kent)


Kearney took the photos in her native Norfolk’s broads.  Ironically, the setting is where I was to have been cycling that day, so at least I got to see what I was missing.  Which might have looked something like this:


“Can solace be sought, or must one lie in wait for it?  As a state of mind, maybe it can be accessed anywhere and, if this is the case, perhaps the children in these complex multi-layerd photographs provide some sort of key to its attainment.”  (Kent)



I just returned from ten days at L’abri, which is French for ‘the shelter’.  L’abri Fellowship was started by Francis and Edith Schaeffer at their home in Switzerland and now there are several L’abris all over the world.  I attended England L’abri in the small village of Gretham about an hour southwest of London.


It’s hard to explain, and therefore comprehend, what L’abri is until you’ve experienced it.  I will say I had high expectations and reality was both different and more than I expected.

A major theme is space.  There are families who live there who make it their work to create space, shelter, saftey for people to come and be human.  At L’abri, being human includes physical work (gardening, cooking a meal for 25 people, cleaning toilets, dusting baseboards), mental exercise (reading, studying, thinking, asking questions, being challenged), recreation (volleyball and cricket at daily tea breaks, going on walks), being creative (arraging flowers, playing music) and relating to other humans in community (sharing a room with 10 other girls, eating meals together, serving meals, doing dishes).

So, it’s not a retreat center.  You don’t go to “get away” and be alone.  However, you do get to get away from some things we busy ourselves with that eat up our space- both physical and mental.  So, no internet (except on a shared computer and only a few times per week), no tv.  It’s amazing what our spirits do when left to wander…it really forces you to reckon with your emotions and thoughts and fallen natures of our hearts.  No hiding from others or from God…

So, here’s one day:

7:30 AM : Awake

8:00 AM:  Breakfast in the dining room with everyone.  Toast, jam and hard boiled eggs.  Tea.  Morning devotional reading by one of the workers from Dietrick Bonhoffer’s “Life Together”:

“The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth.

Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

8:45 AM : Reading in the “Morning Room” (my favorite room in the house)


9:30 – 11:00 AM :  Study time.  Here are things I read/listened to while I was there:

The Healing Path by Dan Allender

Beyond Identity by Dick Keyes

Are Women Human?  by Dorothy Sayers

Collected works of Emily Dickinson

Cash:  The Autobiography by Johnny Cash

Some Hemingway short stories

Mars Hill Review (a literary journal with essays, poems, short stories, music reviews.  all around goodness.)

Forgiveness:  Lecture series by Dick Keyes

“Ifs” by Amy Carmichael

11:00 :  Tea Break on the lawn.  Tea, volleyball, cricket, frisbee tossing or chatting.

11:30 – 1:00 PM Study/reading

1:00 PM:  Lunch with half of the students/workers (about 12 of us).  Anyone can introduce a topic.  Topics at lunches included:  How do Christians live out their gender/sexual humanity appropriately?,  What can we expect from God?,  Is it fair to generalize about people groups, gender, age, nationalities, etc?  What’s helpful/hurtful about generalizing?,  Considering the Levitical Jubilee law for modern society- what could we apply today?  How could we treat the poor?,

3:00 – 4:30 PM:  Work time.  Weeding the gravel driveway or helping cook dinner.

4:30 PM:  Tea break.

5:00:  Back to work.

6:30 PM:  Dinner with half of the group in a home.  No formal topic, just conversation.  My favorite meal was a butternut squash and red lentil stew with rice and fresh bread.  My favorite dessert were baked apples with crushed cardamom and sweetened yogurt.

8:00 PM:  Evening activity:  Lecture (topics included:  What is spirituality?, The gospel of Mark, The book of Job)  or film followed by discussion (Babette’s Feast).  OR free time:  going to local pub, painting/drawing/art time around a table while others played guitar/piano.

In the midst of all of this I was introduced to new places around the world:  Hungary, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Canada, Brazil, and Scotland and enjoy the familiarities being around people from my neck of the woods:  South Carolina and Tennessee!

In summary, perspective was the theme of my time there.  My eyes were opened to the sheer enormity and amazingness of this Earth and every thing and every one in it.  Ultimately, a renewed sense of the enormity and glory of God.

I’ll never be able to convey the experience to you.  If there is even an inkling in your heart from reading this that you might enjoy or need time like this, you should go.