Thursday, July 30, 2009

Time for a Change

I have a new blog posting, but friends, it is time to convert. I have been back in the States for 8 months, so I really should move on from the “carmen-in-zambia” blog site. The new address:

Tales from an American Vicar


An appropriate title I think...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What up Queens?

Unequivocally, a cool day. Yesterday my friend Kekla and I snooped around Long Island City in Queens to seriously expand our cultural awareness. There is a building complex beside the subway line just as you emerge from beneath ground on the 7 train into Queens that is full of beautiful graffiti. I have always been curious about the place, so I recruited a companion and headed there with my camera yesterday. A row of rather unfriendly looking men sat in lawn chairs along a paint-laden concrete wall just outside the building and until we got a nod from a gentleman at the end of the line, I thought perhaps Kekla and I were going to get booted out of the place. As it turns out, a guy named "Meres" had a vision for this public art space years ago and it attracts artists from all over the world. Artists who prove themselves worthy are given a wall where they can paint anything they want for free. The better the art, the longer it stays. Meres, donning a stylish fedora hat and wearing paint smudged jeans, was the one that gave us the head nod to enter his fascinating maze of colorful tributes to life and art and crumbling fame and fortune.

We talked to a tall, lanky Irish kid who fidgeted with excitement as he stood before his palette, preparing for his second attempt at creating something worthy of attention. I was expecting him to tell us that his work was "subversive" or a "critique on modern social ills" or something like that. But instead he told us that his graffiti is about "becoming famous. I want people to know my name." So much for subversion.

We then headed to PS1, a modern art space that hosts a block party every Saturday. The space is beautiful and fascinating and worthy of a visit. Dark sun glasses bobbed rhythmically to the house music being spun in the courtyard while white wine and beer sloshed in the hands of pretty, sleek 30-somethings.

There were some interesting, interactive media exhibitions that Kekla and I had fun playing with.
All in all, a good Saturday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My sister is having a baby...

... any day now. I am thrilled. Pleased as punch. I love my two darling nephews and now we are adding a girl to the bunch.

But, procreation is something I struggle to wrap my mind around.

Clearly I get it, biologically. But this whole procreation thing is a miracle. An everyday miracle that people I know and love have achieved. One good friend meets another good friend. They fall in love and voila, 9 months later, a tiny, unique individual comes into the world. Two people become three.

The math does not add up: 1 + 1 = 3 (or sometimes 4).


Lots of things make me want to burst into tears. If society would allow it, I'd probably be a blubbering mess most days because the world can be so stinking beautiful. I walked past a dry cleaners that had this sign hanging in the window:

Redemption is all around my friends. All around us.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I got nothing

I am in a blogging slump.

And it isn't because my life feels particularly boring.

My life has been interesting since returning to New York: seeing old friends from high school, going to dinner with fabulous people, playing softball on warm summer Sunday evenings (my team is really nice to me despite the fact that I am a disaster on the field), went to the opera in Central Park and watched a movie under the stars and the Brooklyn Bridge last week. Visited friends in Princeton and followed the "bridge and tunnel people" back to New York on a Saturday night (I have never seen so many pairs of five-inch heals in my life). Had a lovely time with my friend Tracy who was visiting from Chad (yes, THE Chad. THE Chad where less than 1% of the population has access to electricity and was deemed the most corrupt country in the world a few years ago), and got to talk to Cheryl, my dear friend from Zambia on the phone the other night.

So, what is wrong with me? Plagued by fantastic experiences and plagued by writer's block.

Maybe it is because life feels jumbled. You ever feel like this? Jumbled. Mixed-up. A little unclear. Fabulous and simultaneously a little un-fabulous.

I have just two more months left in New York and although there are two viable job opportunities on the table, I still feel a little .... mmmm.... jumbled.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Post-Vacation Flu

Does this ever happen to you? Just when your body begins to relax-- WHAM-- sick. I just got home from vacation, which was fabuloso, but now, here I sit in my underwear (the air conditioning hasn't kicked in yet), box of tissues in hand trying to figure out if I am hot or cold. I am breathing like an 80 year-old smoker on oxygen.

I just popped in a cough drop and am looking at pics from the last two weeks as Allison Krauss and her blue-grass band serenades me. My life is pretty darn great. Went camping with my fam over the weekend, went to the Oregon Coast, ate ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, swam with my nephews, built sand castles, stayed up late reading novels, saw whales in Depot Bay, went to the aquarium, worked out in the garden with my sister, ate halibut that just might be the best fish in the world, and laughed at countless hilarious things my nephews said and did.

I love vacation.

Right before I left this morning Tyson was strolling the "Practice Baby" around the house. My sister cleverly put a doll in a car-seat to prepare the boys for a baby sister, but the boys pile toys on her and "pretend she is a boy."

I am happily sunburned and refreshed after 2 weeks away from the craziness of New York City. Gonna go crawl into my cozy bed and hopefully sleep like the dead. I'm bringing the kleenex box to bed with me.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Welcome babies!

Welcome to the world baby Maddie and baby Laney! My friend Jess just gave birth to these beautiful baby girls and despite the fact that they were born into a pretty tough situation, mommy and girls are doing well. I got to visit them in the hospital while home on vacation.

Tiny, beautiful girls. I am so glad to meet you!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

a few days on the farm

I love vacation. Spending time with the fam can be stressful for some people, but I love it. When I stay with my sister I sleep with the windows open and you can hear the cows in the pasture out back and the rooster crow at dawn. I unabashedly listen to country music and wear overalls and boots to work out in the garden.

I have bruises all over my legs from my nephews who love to climb Aunt Carmen and nap in my bed and ram their bicycles into my shins. We have been to the library, swim lessons, to the park, to the batting cages, and I have read endless books on Thomas the Tank Engine. This morning I helped round up chickens to clip their wings (this doesn't hurt, all you city folk).

Life is good in Canby, Oregon.

We are going camping this weekend and I am crossing my fingers that the weather will be lovely so I can try out my new frog-green bathing suit. I'm dying for some sun. My sis and I will probably lounge around with novels because she is PREGNANT and the wee girl growing inside her is demanding more and more of her energy.

I'll keep you posted on the adventures...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cheer from the New York Times

I love this picture. I was reading an article in the Times over the weekend and was charmed by the hand-scrawled bike and sunshine.

The world can be such a messy place. Just reading about Iran and North Korea and Zimbabwe and spending some time with clashes here at home can make one feel awfully small and awfully dreary.

But then there are pictures like this that remind us that the world is full of sweetness. A sunrise and a bicycle made for two. May the coming week be full of bright days, blue skies, and deep delight-- ice cream, a hand to hold, and belly-aching laughter.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ode to stupid things

In the last week I have made a number of profound mistakes. Predominately around communication. I have misread some communication that proved earth-shatteringly embarrassing. I have said a litany of ridiculous things and worse, I have done a few ridiculous things that have made me pause and say, "Really? You did that?" And to top it off, I have offended a few people.

Almost all of this has been done completely by accident.

Some days are like that. Some weeks are like that.

Then I remember a little thing called grace. Something that I am not all that great at giving or receiving. I hold grudges. I endlessly critique myself and others. I can just hear my mother saying, "Be kinder, Carmen. Be kinder to yourself and be kinder to others." My mom has been gone more than 9 years now. I have nearly forgotten what it is like to have a mother who calls and writes and sends packages and cares about all the things that no one else cares about. But hopefully her words have taken root even more deeply than her DNA and one of these days I will grow a little more wise and a little more gracious.

And so I say goodnight with words my mother always used to say, "Don't worry, dear. Things always look brighter in the morning."

Friday, June 12, 2009

No sacrifice at all

It is 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I have been awake for almost 2 hours. This is a rare phenomenon. Even more rare is the fact that I really don't want to go back to sleep.

Last night I was having dinner with a friend, not so unusual on a Friday night, when I got a phone call from the church receptionist asking if I might step in at the shelter that evening because the volunteer for the night had failed to show. I felt inconvenienced, but as a martyr, accepted to invitation and gathered a few things before meeting the group of guys outside the church. As soon as I saw them any smug self-congratulation was squelched and replaced with the more accurate realization that this really was no sacrifice at all, but instead, a much needed reality check. The men were laden with "things" for when you are homeless, you carry all you own on your back or in roller suitcases.

As some of us went to the shelter kitchen to make sandwiches for dinner, one man carefully laid out his regiment of pills treating his diabetes and heart condition. Another man put in the latest Van Damme movie while another opened up his bed, pulled a sheet over his head and went to sleep.

"Lights out at 10 p.m." and our short evening together came to a close. I set out coffee and cereal and muffins in the morning and I received warm and insistent thanks as they ate and gathered their things for the day. Thank you nice, rich lady for sacrificing a whole evening of your time to make sure we didn't have to find a place on the street last night.

Not much of a sacrifice at all.

One gentlemen, let's call him 'R," was telling me about what life was like in Alabama where he was raised. His mama used to make him grits and eggs and cold cereal has been ruined for him forever. He said he was catching a bus later that day to go to Rockaway to fish for the weekend and I wished him well. I cannot help but wonder what it would take for R to obtain the dignity of a safe place to keep his clothes, his diabetes medication, a fishing rod, and a collection of goods for cooking grits. Wouldn't that be nice.

Here I sit, fingertips on a laptop, reading facebook posts from my lovely 16 year olds who are preoccupied with their clothes and shoes and parties and exams completely oblivious to R and others like him. I don't suppose I am all that different. But I should be.

Photo courtesy of a friend (Udo Wiegartner)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

a walk in the park

The light was unimaginably perfect tonight. Wish I had brought my camera. The park was bathed in gold.

A man played his guitar for some children who draped themselves over concrete benches while nearby girls preened long tendrils of hair and smoked cigarettes on the lawn. Sandals and dresses and ice cream cones and dogs on leashes and a pace that reminds me it is June.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

emaciation vs. indulgence

There are a lot of skinny people in New York City, which as most readers will concur, is not a common phenomenon in the United States of America. Yesterday was the annual commencement for the wee people at the church "Day School." Proud parents watched their children parade around the neighborhood, sing songs, and receive some kind of accomplishment certificate (the director tried to explain why it was not a graduation certificate, but this went over my head). All the moms and dads looked great. Right out of a magazine, great. Fab shoes and suits and dresses and diamonds. One perk to my neighborhood: despite the fact that I live along designer ally, I never feel judged for wearing mismatched athletic gear and a baseball cap. But I digress from my observations... skinny New Yorkers...

My friend Mary got married a few years ago and told me she decided to to a Weight Watchers support group as she tried to thin down for a slim wedding gown. This was somewhere in the Carolinas and she recalls walking in and saying to herself, "Wow! These women are FAT!" She has lived in my neighborhood here in New York for awhile now and recently decided to return to Weight Watchers to lose some post-baby fat. When she walked into the support group this time, she silently exclaimed, "Wow! These women are skinny!" In a place like Miami, Florida, you go into Weight Watchers to save yourself from a heart attack. In New York City, you try to get your hip bones and collar bones to protrude more dramatically.

This city is full of indulgence (believe me, I will be lucky if I get out of here without a double chin!), and yet, many women still manage to look emaciated. This lonely endeavor must be torture. After living in Zambia, both extremes, overindulgence and intentional starvation, seems especially strange. You cannot get two more radically divergent worlds than New York City and rural Zambia.

You know what I miss? Today I miss waking up in the morning and pulling on the same skirt I wore most days, putting my hair in a pony tail and going out the door without much of a glance in the mirror. In the last 6 months I cannot tell you how often I have said to myself, "I really need to get a full length mirror." And for what? To make sure my outfit creates an illusion of slenderness or to make sure this pair of shoes or that pair of shoes looks nice with the cuff of my trousers. Blah.

I included a picture of me cooking in Zambia to remind us all of what life used to be like... when the power goes out and the neighbor boys set fire to the leaves at the base of your tree, you take advantage of the heat. Cooking over the open flame.... ahhh, those were the days.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I heart NYC

The pic says it all. Winter was awful this year, but I have concluded that winter is just awful in general: darkness by 4 o'clock in the afternoon, frigid weather that numbs your guts, and a sour malaise that descends over all of us that would rather be hibernating.

But something happens in spring. Restaurants drag their tables and chairs out onto the sidewalk, refreshing beverages appear on menus, and sun dresses come out of the closet. Today I met a friend for lunch in the Village and we both faltered when Victor Garber walked by. Silly, starstruck fools.

Sometimes I think life sucks. Even for us spoiled, privileged folks. But a blue sky and sunshine is for free. And worthy of devoting just a smidgeon of my heart toward gratitude. Selfish little heart that I have. Today I said goodbye to an old job, hello to a new job, and continued to mash around options for my next job (I wonder if I will ever cease to be a brooder?). And now I am off to meet some friends for dinner. This is a great city. An outstanding city, actually. So, I toast thee, NYC on this late spring evening!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

stinking thinking

lesson for the day: being tired is better than being crazy

p.s. how great is this picture? holy kitty cat.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

a few random nothings

You never really know just how dirty your windows are until you wash them.... or when window washers come and wash them for you. I am sitting at my desk in my apartment and I keep getting distracted by the VERY CLEAR view. Nice work window-washer guys!

The clouds are thick and heavy this afternoon, but it is hotter than hades. I am going on a run with my neighbor Millie and I might expire in the process. I am dreading it already.

My last post was a bit drear (there have been some 'blah' days lately) and I happened to be highly stressed at the moment. Not the "I have cancer" stress, but "I am transitioning into a new job and am contemplating other positions and a bunch of other stuff that one just doesn't post on public sites" stress. But there have been some lovely moments worthy of sharing.

Church is full of characters, for better or worse. Usually worse. No, that is mean. And really isn't true. There are fantastic people left and right. On Sunday afternoon I visited with the father of a baby I baptized recently. He shocked me as his eyes filled with tears as he described the gratitude he felt for being laid off these last 5 months. He and his wife never planned it, but he has been a stay-at-home dad for most of his baby girl's young life and he said he wouldn't change it for anything. He says his daughter has taught him more about a capacity for love in these last five months than he had ever thought possible in his entire life. Very sweet.

On Sunday morning I stumbled upon a man standing in the columbarium of our church where he was talking with his wife--her ashes are hid behind a pretty stone placard along one wall. He looked up at me as I walked through and said, "My Ann was a good girl."
"She must have been" I smiled.
His smile disappeared as he shuffled away and reminded me as he went "I miss her every day you know."
I said nothing because nothing was all I had at the moment. His Ann has been gone 7 years now. That is a long time to miss someone.

I went hiking in the Catskill's on Monday and this picture is of little Martha, one of my hiking companions. She is at that perfect age where she is full of wonder and spunk and fun and still thinks boys are annoying. I love this picture. Her little back curved in perfect submission to comfort and that boulder beneath her. Gotta love being a kid-- when finding old rusty bear traps in the woods and eating cheese filled pretzels are all the delight you need in a day.

P.S. Remember the film "Dirty Dancing"? It was supposed to take place in the Catskill's.... little known fact... small camps and resorts were popular getaways for New Yorkers and although not as popular now, they can be seen as you wind your way through the area.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Sometimes you have to run until your body hurts more than your heart.

Sometimes you have to catch frogs in your hands and fish in bottle to remember the wonder of being a kid isn't that far gone.

Sometimes you gotta notice the man sleeping on the bench, the woman pregnant and abandoned, and the man lingering in front of the grave of his wife to remember that life can be cruel.

Sometimes you've got to read poetry and novels and watch a brave performance and hold the fingers of a baby and drink a tall glass of lemonade on a hot day to remember that life can be astonishingly beautiful.

And sometimes you just need to do a load of laundry, take a bath, and go to bed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Some highlights from the past week

Went to a photography exhibit of Richard Avedon on Saturday. As I read about his career post- WWII I was struck by a description of his colleagues at Vogue magazine. The careers of designers from Dior and fashion editors from Harper's Bizarre were called legendary. Legendary.

I had never heard of any of the names listed.

Perhaps this speaks to my lack of sophistication. Or, perhaps it speaks to the ease with which some people offer the title. I walked home from the art museum behind a woman wearing spectacularly tall red patten leather shoes and an immaculate coiffure. She swayed with perfect undulation and peered carefully into the windows of designer stores along Madison Avenue. Perhaps she knew some of the "legends" mentioned at the exhibit.

Call me crazy, but my legends include much more valor and much less fashion. These designers are brilliant in their own right, but legendary? I am not convinced.

Highlights from the week: my cousin Tonya Lynne came to visit, which was great fun. I got to see my friend Kristin from Norway (pictured here with the "Naked Cowboy" in Times Square). I celebrated my birthday with friends new and old, sang some karaoke (dressed up 80's style), went to the philharmonic and an amusing little piece of British theater. Played softball last night for the first time (church league) and had two major "star sightings": Hugh Jackman and Woody Allen. All in all, a pretty nice week.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

30 things in my 30th year

1) started the year by holding a baby chimpanzee
2) ate caterpillars
3) swam with a whale shark off the coast of Mozambique
4) drank coffee in a village in the Doi Sutep Mountains in Thailand
5) received a marriage proposal from a prince in Lesotho
6) sobbed and sobbed as I left the continent of Africa
7) sung Christmas Carols on Park Avenue at Christmas time
8) was “sharing” in my nephew’s kindergarten class
9) baptized a baby for the first time and 30th time
10) read my first book published by a friend
11) tried my hand at documentary filmmaking
12) personal guest of the organist at the Messiah at Carnegie Hall
13) chatted with the ambassador to Malawi and the former ambassador to Greece in the same day at church
14) road on the back of a motorcycle in Bali
15) mastered NYC transit system.... mostly
16) stayed in a 5 star hotel for the first time in my life
17) fell in love
18) began a yoga fettish
19) spent my first Christmas alone
20) played Settler’s of Catan on two continents and 4 countries
21) went on a date with an opera singer
22) had malaria
23) became addicted to facebook
24) learned to appreciate hot showers, fast internet, and clean running water
25) returned to consumer-land with far too much ease
26) hung out on a beach with penguins
27) watched the world’s economies falter from South Africa
28) discovered the genius of the haiku
29) smoked cloves with my good friends from Princeton again
30) realized at 11:55 p.m. May 10th that year 30 may have been the best year of my life thus far

Friday, May 1, 2009

A PTS Reunion

Princeton, New Jersey looks like a make-believe town. I never felt this way when I lived there, but when I return to visit, I usually can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it feels strange. Today as I walked along one sidewalk lined with quaint stone colonial homes and picture-perfect dogwoods and cherry trees, I decided, “This place doesn’t feel real.” Princeton is an idyllic place filled with well-groomed yards, towering deciduous trees, smartly dressed intellectuals with book-bags in tow, and gobs of families parading on foot toward their favorite cafe on Saturday mornings. I was in a consignment shop with my friends Becky and Emily and laughed when I heard Bob Marley singing about resistance on the sound system overhead. Seemed rather inconsistent with the locale.

I returned to Princeton last night for a mini-reunion of good friends from seminary. We ate and drank on the Roberts and Tennent lawn with a few rousing games of “stick” and delighted in all kinds of nerdy and more meaningful conversations. It felt good to be with these old friends, but I was reminded that time has a way of distancing us from special seasons of life whether we like it or not. Our gathering brought friends from as far as Seattle, Chicago, Glasgow, and a small town in Texas whose name escapes me at the moment. It was fun to see Eric and David and reminisce about working with the junior high kids at a Presby church in Montclair.

It was good to drink some sangria with pals who are now pursuing PhD’s and ministering in churches (weird how many pastors I know) – the same people with whom I cursed summer Hebrew and played flag football.

And now I will return to New York City. I am tired. I helped host a delegation of 5 from Zimbabwe last week, but hosting can be taxing. I was in charge of rounding up appropriate gifts for our visitors and accompany them on excursions around the city. It was interesting to begin to learn some of the differences between Zambian and Zimbabwean culture and some of the subtle similarities made me miss living in Kitwe where chitenge and dancing and bartering and sunshine are typical fare.

I get a couple of weeks off in June and I am ready for a break. Will go home and be with the fam, which will be fun. My dad is already planning a fishing trip and perhaps a day at the beach. Sounds good to me. I’m going to find some delicious books to read and lay around with my nephews (unless they insist on trips to the pool or the library or t-ball or something).

Happy RAINY Friday!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Good day, sunshine!!!

Two of my favorite high school students Emma Jenkins and Elena Juliano came into the city yesterday for a gal's day out. Key phrase: DAY OUT!!! It is warm and sunny in beautiful New York, so we did a lot of walking along the Hudson River. Played at the Chelsea Pier, ate at a fab little cafe and topped it off with a bit of shopping. Three pretty girls, sunglasses, and a mission: we all brought our cameras and chose a theme for the day.

We took pictures all afternoon, creatively finding our theme in the city. Emma chose "culture," Elena chose "music," and I chose, "blue.

Here are a few of my "blue" discoveries:

I worked with the youth group at the Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair when I was at Princeton and these two lovely ladies were some of the girls I mentored. Yes, those were the days.... breaking my rib while mattress surfing at the winter retreat, cracking my skull on a pew in the pitch dark while playing Berlin Wall, weird food games that I never really want to do again in my life... and so much more. Mostly enjoying the privilege of knowing these young people in ways that really matter. I tried to describe my job to a friend I met in Zambia. Perhaps you remember him from past bog postings?! Dear Scott from Vancouver B.C. After stumbling through a complex definition of pastor, I finally ended up with this: "Basically my job is to love people. Yep. Love people. Attend to the work of God in the world and love people."

Now that is a good job description.