Sunday, March 29, 2009


My sister Tamara and nephew Tyson came to visit for four days. They were great sports despite the fact that their lame hostess forced them to travel by subway at rush hour TWICE, which was just plain mean! And my sister is pregnant! Sorry Tam!

Tam loved visiting the pretty lady (the statue of liberty) with the inspirational quote: "Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..." and Ellis Island. Tyson loved the Thomas the Tank Engine section at Toys R Us and Dunkin' Doughnuts while Aunt Carmen was most thrilled by the big piana at FAO Schwartz. Fun. Thanks for coming guys! You are the best!

I love this picture of Tamara and Tyson. We were in Grand Central Station and they were enjoying the massive constellations painted on the ceiling. I find Grand Central Station absolutely delightful-- the movement of the commuters looks choreographed and the craftsmanship of the place is just plain impressive.

More friends are visiting this week, so stay tuned for more touristy pics!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A little bit of sun can go a long way...

A friend gave me a handful of sunflower seeds to plant here in New York City-- a little experiment actually-- and as it turns out, I planted them too early. Yesterday I was complaining about my small pot void of any signs of life and my sister said, "Of course sunflower seeds cannot be planted in March!" I must have looked sour because she quickly said, "There is always hope. You have planted to early, but there is always hope."

Why do I write this? Because there must be a lesson in this somewhere.

I'm not much interested in dwelling upon heedless or reckless behavior. That is too easy. I am quite hopeless in this area anyway. I fall in love easily. I throw myself into adventures and friendships and new ideas without much restraint. But how about this one instead:

Winter is long. Brown earth and sky and the skeletons of leafless trees linger in NYC this time of year and spring comes late. Warm days tease weary, wool-clad city folk and every Sunday a fine old gentleman leaves the 9 o'clock service with a glint in his eye and tells me, "Don't worry dear. Spring is coming." I pause for a moment and think, "Do I wear a tee-shirt that reads 'Seasonal Affective Disorder' or something?" More likely this man is simply a wise read of people.

Life churns and rolls ahead rather obstinately, like the line across my forehead that seems to be deepening on a daily basis. That will be a new one to deal with: smile lines that become permanent creases. But these are the least of my worries and I won't wax poetic here about aging. I think me and this pot of seeds are about looking for a miracle. We could all use a miracle or two. And we all need hope to shout a little louder some days.

And maybe life will spring up where we least expect it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Yesterday began with a flood. Literally.

I had taken an early commuter train in from Jersey (I spent Sunday night in Montclair after giving a presentation on Zambia) and arrived at my apartment just in time to wade through 5 inches of water courtesy of a randomly uncapped water pipe that flooded the 10th floor. Who would think that in NYC I would need to kick off my shoes, roll up my pant-legs and pound on neighboring doors to warn them of flood waters?! The maintenance staff was quick to shut off the water valve, so we were saved from a serious disaster, but it was a lively way to begin a day.

High blue skies in NYC today and the job hunt is on. Already have received "thanks but no thanks letters" but I gotta keep on keepin on. My sister and nephew Tyson arrive this evening so we will spend the rest of the week enjoying the city kiddie style, which will be fun. Toy stores, carousels, the park and dinosaurs courtesy of the Natural History Museum.

Life has been sad lately. But as Johnnie Mayer reminds us, "Bad news never had good timing, but the circle of your friends will defend the silver lining." And we all know it's true. I have some darn good friends. By the way, re-writing lyrics sans music really does not capture the magic of a song. In fact, it looks kind of stupid, but I have given up on looking cool. Long ago actually.

Keep on keepin on friends.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


It is a beautiful day in New York. Not a cloud in the sky and a high of 62 degrees today! Can you believe it? And yet, my stroll through Central Park was not especially cheerful. I talked for a long time with a friend who is going through an especially crummy divorce and her tears somehow struck a chord with some of my own places of sadness. Sure sucks when life feels out of control. And just as my fingers were growing cold in the chilly evening air and my slovenly pace was looking especially pathetic for a privileged white girl on the Upper East Side, I met Sam.

Sam came bursting out of a building with a big smile on his face, waving at me as if we had been good friends for years. His friendliness literally stopped me in my tracks and I looked around me to make sure he wasn't trying to get the attention of someone else. Sam is the doorman of a building at 5th and 72nd street and simply wanted to know if I was enjoying the spring weather. He took off a pristine white glove, extended a warm hand, and introduced himself. Now, this man probably has no idea that he made my day. If life allowed such things I would have walked over and thrown my arms around his neck with thanks. Sometimes the smallest gestures of kindness can renew your hope in the world.

The figure in this picture is stuck to the sidewalk near my house. And he reminds me of Sam. A pleasant surprise out of nowhere.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why Starbucks should hire me....

I was riding the bus home with my friend Millie today and I realized as shop after shop along Madison Avenue advertised "store closing" that perhaps my back-up employment plan may not be as solid as I once thought. My Fellowship ends at Madison Ave Presbyterian Church at the end of May and it is slim pickins folks! I found a job at the World Council of Churches in Geneva that looked awesome but before I had a chance to apply: HIRING FREEZE.

Yipes. This is the word on the street. Lay-offs and hiring freezes. At church yesterday my friend Kerry said a bunch of her colleagues at her law firm were laid off. Hmmm. Now I know who my competition will be. Who will be hired for the barista job? The former minister or the former lawyer?

The way I see it, attorneys have some things going for them: they are used to long, weird hours and offer total devotion to their employer. What I've got going for me: people skills. People skills and........ does it help that I have visited a coffee farm in Thailand that sells some of its coffee to Starbucks? Dang. Here is the major problem: NO barista skills. Nothing. Nada. Can hardly make a pot of coffee.

Since the attorneys clearly have some advantage over me here, perhaps I should keep seeking out creative ministry opportunities. Let me know if you have heard of anything!

Cheerfully Seeking Employment,
Your Carmen

Friday, March 13, 2009

A night at the Met

Tonight I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my friends Josie and Allison. We went to see a new exhibit of African textiles (mostly North and West Africa) and then go to a food tasting event that served "African inspired" courses. All quite delicious and nothing like the food I ate in Zambia. No nshima, no village chicken. One course was Zimbabwean collard greens, which were quite good and tasted authentic, but the red snapper on top, although muy delicioso, didn't seem very African to me.

There was a beautiful exhibit of chetenge fabric on small,brightly painted squares on one wall and the familiar, vibrant colors brought me right back to the small wooden shacks where these same fabrics were bought and sold in 1-3-6 meter units. You'd barter and bargain and finally walk away laden with beautiful fabrics meant to be worn, to be embodied. That is the beauty of these textiles: they are meant to move. To change in the wind; to take on new meaning as they follow the curve of a hip or drape over shoulders or are wound around the head. It is three-dimensional, moving art. Magnificent.

It was lovely and strange to see all of these very familiar fabrics on display in an art museum. These fabrics were a part of every day life- in the market, at church, at work, in the homes of the wealthy and in huts in the poorest villages. I danced with these fabrics wrapped around my waist, watched women dry dishes with this colorful cloth, watched it become a bag for groceries or a carrier for babies.

Here are some of my own chetenge pictures. Zambian textiles on display. Aren't these women lovely?!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A grand sigh

I could use some 70 degree weather and a tall mojito. That's the ticket. A hike in the desert, camping with friends, a good conversation around the campfire and maybe some folk music from Central America played on a Bolivian "backpackers guitar".... Doesn't that sound nice? I want some hilarious stories and some stories of injustice that motivate us to "Be the change that you want to see in the world" (Gandhi). What's with me wanting a perma-vacation? The news is depressing, the job market is depressing, and despite the fact I am listening to that song that goes, "Give me the beat boys and free my soul, wanna get lost in your rock n' roll and drift away..." I'm just not feeling it tonight.

Over the weekend I was in Louisville, Kentucky where I spent four days with folks who just returned to the U.S. after service all over the world (teachers in China, Japan, Guatemala, and Sudan; physicians in Pakistan; ministers in Ghana and Ethiopia; development workers in El Salvador and Nicaragua; etc...). Lots of inspiring and heartbreaking stories and it was good to be able to share some of my time in Zambia with this eager bunch of adventurers. I took long walks in a lovely park near the campus where we were meeting and enjoyed the squirrels and birds and turtles-- a really restful time until the tornado sirens began (I have an irrational fear of tornados) and got lost in the woods. Aaaah, the comedy of life.

I am shaking my head because my blog postings feel so "blah" lately. Thanks for reading though! Perhaps more beautiful images will capture my attention in a creative way sometime soon and I will be able to share something provocative and newsworthy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

24 years and counting....

I walked into the elevator this evening and joined an older gentleman that was holding an exquisite bouquet of red roses. I complimented his fine bundle and he explained he was bringing them to an AA meeting.

"I have been sober for 24 years and tonight is the year anniversary of sobriety for a friend" he said.
"24 years? That is amazing!" I smiled.
"24 years, 63 days," he said, "And the first year was the hardest."

I congratulated him as he departed and thought, "Gosh, this world is full of good people." I love that he chose such beautiful flowers for such an occasion. Don't get me wrong, tulips are beautiful and daisies a very honorable choice, but red velvet roses? He went all out and those mean something. Congratulations to both of you.... you strangers that have chosen life and sobriety! I tip my hat to your choice and I tip my hat to your love!


A conversation I had with a colleague today:

Me: "I think you are worried about me."
Him: "I am not worried about you."
(insert lengthy pause)
Him: "I am worried you are going to waste your gifts."

If I had a dime for every time someone told me that I would be a rich woman. When I began talking about going to Princeton to study theology in preparation for work in the church many friends said, "O Carmen, please don't. Don't waste your gifts on the church. Go to law school. Go to Washington D.C. Do something MEANINGFUL with your life."

When I went to Princeton lots of people were concerned that I was becoming too intellectual in my faith. Some family members were concerned I was using my gifts in "mainline churches where the Spirit does not live." Don't waste your gifts there Carmen.

All of this has me thinking, "What exactly constitutes a wasted life?" I accidentally happened upon the blog of a 25 year-old Seattle woman who was just diagnosed with MS. A woman in the prime of her life who wants to climb all the peaks in the Cascade Mountain Range and dreads the day her healthy boyfriend walks away. What constitutes a wasted life?

I got news this week that the marriage of two good friends is ending. He has found happiness elsewhere and he has chosen to leave a pregnant wife. Doesn't get much worse than that. What constitutes a wasted life? This man has decided that another woman will pave the way to greater happiness and joy and satisfaction. He is walking away in dread of a wasted life. And this man is a fool.

So, here I sit with a promise to you and promise to me. I will not waste my life. It may not look orthodox. It may not look traditional. It may not look loud and powerful, but it will be honest. As honest and attentive as possible. I will savor and I will sacrifice. I will leap and I will love. I have a heart full of treasures: sights and sounds and people and memories. And yes, even hope. On the darkest of days, there is hope. Life is short. So damned short. And I am not going to waste it.

Therein ends the soapbox for the day.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hello Broadway!

I love this photo! Chloe looks as cute as can be with her eyes squeezed shut.

Excursions in NYC with friends are delightful. We ate lots of good food and last night went and saw a hysterical Off-Broadway show called "Altar Boyz"-- Boy Band meets Evangelical Christianity in a satirical little show. I honestly expected it to be much more critical in its social commentary. It was hysterical and surprisingly generous! The characters were really lovingly written.

Three days ago it was 60 degrees. Today it is 22 degrees.... ?!?! Weird.

I am supposed to meet some friends for dinner. Taxi please!

Wishing you well no matter what madness the weather has brought you today! :-) Cheers from New York!


My toes are cold and my cheeks are rosy red. I am quite satisfied with the last two hours of my life. My friends Tina and Chloe got snowed in here in New York, so we took a long meander through Central Park. They fly out later tonight and then I suppose I should do some work. Sidestepping some crazy sledders and avoiding the wind tunnel that is 5th avenue, we found our way into the heart of this winter wonderland. Took some photos of these funny looking statues adorned in white. I should have a name for this series. Wait... I am not feeling creative. If YOU are feeling creative you can name the series instead.

This was all very ironic because 2 days ago it was 60 degrees and I was taking pictures of the first signs of spring (daffodils and crocuses beginning to bloom in the park!!). And now? COLD. At least it was a snow day and snow days are good.