Punch to the Face

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I woke to a puff of fur nuzzled against me warm and trusting. The contrast was palpable. Outside the bustling world with all its battle wounds was rearming for another round. I forced myself from my safe cocoon and triumphed over the act of making my bed- a tiny success. Breathing inaudible prayers, I reminded myself my family is well, we have a lot by world’s standards- and that “this too shall pass.” My husband flicked on the news and the anchor’s voice instantly grate on my nerves as she provided a litany of negative morsels for me to chew on or spit out. So much, too much, how much? I wondered silently. I decided to spit and turned off the tv.

Being 6 months into a pandemic and reading about another shooting last night during protests, I had to STOP. Stop digesting the ugly, stop absorbing the poison, stop believing it will always be this way. Yes, it is happening, yes, it is real, yes, I cannot stop it all. I don’t want to deny the truth of events, yet I don’t want them to harden or jade me either.

I read a devotional seeking spiritual asylum from my weary shell. I am reminded the only power I can exert is over my attitude. Attitude, blasted attitude! I have been sparring and wrestling with it for decades. By sheer will, I demand change yet slide right back into the muck of its dark puddle. Seems I am an old dog forgetting my hard learned tricks. I am like the man who keeps looking at his face in the mirror forgetting what he looks like.

Arriving at work, I reached for my belongings from the backseat of the car. WHAM! Right in the bullseye! I’m struck between the eyes by the contents of my bag- a heavy, wooden picture frame. I winced and got completely still. “Okay, okay,!” I cried to no one. Darkness flees and I am feeling Harry Potter “stupefied.” Yes, my face hurt but it was the knock to the head I needed. Yep, I am an old dog, but my tricks are still with me. I remembered it’s not HOW I feel but WHAT I tell myself: that God is for me, not against me; He asked me to be IN the world but not OF the world; We have gotten through much darker, personal storms already; He is ever present in good AND bad times; He promised a glorious future and all I have to do is hang on. Even if it requires a punch to the face. 🙂

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MENTAL LOAD MARATHON

Finally, all three sons in one room. It’s been months. The deep laughter and humorous barbs make me smile. How did we FINALLY get to the place I’d always pined for? When did the “Please, grow up!” statement become reality? When did the maturity hit? I’m perplexed because we didn’t change anything- we just kept on keeping on. And I prayed ceaselessly for years. I wanted so badly to be a good mother and see them to adulthood. I also wanted them to eventually be friends. Had God noticed my MENTAL LOAD?

Recently, a coworker introduced me to the term “mental load.” It’s when a person makes mental notes of things or people needing attention. This certainly captures the hurricane swirling inside my head at any given moment. It’s the “to dos” that are unrecognized by other members of the unit. It could be as small as future appointments to make, mental grocery lists, emotional concerns about another, upcoming birthdays/events, or repairs needed to a paint job. Apparently, I do too much of this. However, it is real and appears women carry this load most.

My husband says I worry too much and that I’m going to have a heart attack. Well, I haven’t had one yet! What he calls worry, I call concern. I’m hyper aware of others and their perceived needs. Perceived, of course, because I have yet to master mind reading. Maybe my personality type makes me overly empathetic. But, hey, I could be a sociopath and that’s not good either. And I’m the one noticing tiny details and nuances. Maybe we are a perfect match? I don’t know but I would love to shut off the perpetual “to dos” in my head.

Seeing all three sons sitting (!) at the table together today chatting is something that started occurring only recently. For some reason, they interacted in passing fragments for two decades or were in a pile on the floor. Now, three humans with albeit humorous words have taken over and I love, love it!

My mental load might ease up in one area with this newfound pleasure but takes over like a V8 engine when it comes to their relationships and future plans. Peace Corps, anyone? Cross country relocations? Can I get an amen? Mamas will always be concerned with details of their childrens’ lives no matter how many times we hear, “It’s really none of your business.” Haha, go ahead, try to make me disinterested. But please, for the love of God, do not stress me out!

GOD, WHERE ARE YOU?

I’ve failed at attempts to reconcile our global pandemic, societal unrest, racial injustice, and political chaos. Spiritually, I am struggling and asking, “God, where are you?” I truly believe He is ever present and all knowing. I believe He is a just and good God. So why is all this happening and what does he want us to do?

Originally, I equated COVID-19 to science fiction, but now it tops my news feed. Reality has become WORSE than sci-fi. I also read in “Time” that global warming is imminent. Climate change is apparently devastating Earth and like Covid, not going away any time soon. If God created this world and man is custodian, we are apparently failing. So what would God suggest we do?

Along with scientifically terrifying scenarios, there’s societal upheaval from decades of injustice. One person unleashed fury that demands to be reckoned with. Whether referring to the current movement or coronavirus, one person’s choice has had an unbelievable reach. I see one person CAN change the world.

From prayer and scripture reading, I’ve come to understand the following: God wants us to recognize we are NOT Him; we are NOT entitled to ANYTHING; we are His creation and only temporarily here. Our comfort and enjoyment are not the point of our existence. If anyone reads the Old Testament, he can read of suffering for waywardness. Is this possibly why God is allowing our circumstances today?

Referring to the Old Testament, plagues, wars, and destruction are not new. All of this can be recounted in scripture. Man has the uncanny knack to obediently follow God but then drift away. If we look at our country’s 200+ year history, it’s not hard to decipher which way the pendulum has swung. So I cannot help but wonder if there’s a reason all this is happening now? Are we at a point of reckoning?

The believer in me wants so badly to find God in the midst of the storm. I desperately want to believe God is still God and He is aware of our plight. Yet life suddenly seems so fragile. People are financially, physically and emotionally devastated. Hospitals are filling up to the point refrigerator trucks are substituting as morgues. Why is my loving God allowing such circumstances?

Seeking further understanding, I look to history. Plagues aren’t new. They’ve happened many times before. It seems we are just the lucky “once in a hundred years” recipients of a global pandemic. And when last has our society collectively been outraged for a movement to occur? That was 50 years ago. If events just happen, why so many collectively now? Could this be one big wake up call?

With all this questioning, I have to return to what I DO know. I DO know God is the alpha and omega. I DO know He wants us to enjoy His presence and a relationship with us. I DO know He loves us and wishes us no harm. I DO know He has provided for and responded to urgent prayer in my life before. I DO know He promises us a future and eternal life in His majestic presence. All I have to do is believe, trust and remain obedient.

I cannot answer the whys of our current circumstances. I also realize I cannot fix them. But I can be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone else who might need them. I can pray and trust and remain obedient. I CAN listen so as to understand others. I CAN develop more empathy for others. I CAN try to be a better steward of Earth. And I CAN exercise my freedom to vote. I also CAN trust that “ALL THINGS WORK FOR THE GOOD OF THOSE WHO LOVE THE LORD.”

HIGHER LOVE

I woke to an unexpected song running through my head. It was unusual in that I had not heard it in ten years and hadn’t been listening to music to recall it. It was the song “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood. The lyrics spoke truth.

“Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine

Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be.”

The song was a segue from a book I had finished last night. The book “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” was a work of historical fiction about C.S. Lewis and his wife. Their shared journeys of seeking and finding Christ lead them to a close friendship. I identified with their honest questioning of the who, what and HOW of Christ. Her exasperation when she said, “He demands too much of us,” was palpable to me. I too have asked God before why things had to be so hard?

The book was so relatable I forgot it was written about an earlier century. Their quest was as current as ever. When I finished the book I felt like I was saying goodbye to kindred spirits. They, like me, had been on a journey of understanding- a quest for God’s truth. It was never about religion for them. I giggled when I read C.S. Lewis hated the organ and sat behind a column so the pastor couldn’t see his face when he disagreed.

Enter Steve Winwood this morning. Why was my mind replaying lyrics from that song? How did the recesses of my mind find a single song so applicable? Higher Love is something everyone wants. We want to be respected, protected and accepted. We want to be adored and treasured. The quest begins in infancy and never really ends. But what of this “Higher Love?” Higher Love has to be that like Christ’s. The selfless kind we give without expectation. I figure it looks something like this:

Loving the unlovable. Showing up when you don’t want to. Listening attentively while not thinking of my next comment- (five fingers at self). Negating feelings and instead acting on truth. Acting with integrity when it is inconvenient and unpopular. Caring for those who cannot care for themselves. THIS, I believe, has to be “Higher Love.”

I wish Jesus would just hand us the blueprint of how to navigate relationships, parenting, marriage and well, everything! I know I want to get it right but nonetheless don’t. I wish my secular leaders would at least TRY. This pandemic has stripped us of frivolity and excess. We are forced to be close to our families and I pray fervently that’s a good thing. I know I’ve interacted more with my college-aged sons than I have in years. And of course, at times it gets tricky.

But what if we all attempted Higher Love? We could treat it like bike riding. We would just try, fall, get up, fall and so on. And then one day we wouldn’t have to try so hard anymore. It would certainly make our current predicament more pleasant.

I think I will reread the book. I need to take it slowly this time. I’m thankful for both the author, Patti Callahan, and Steve Winwood’s song for making me even think about Higher Love. I need to start practicing now.

RESCUED

I was immediately in love. The tiny features, utter dependency and warmth made bonding natural. I felt like some imposter receiving a gift I wasn’t supposed to receive. I had adopted a one pound black ball of fur and did it for me and no one else.

For years our family had pets. One dog per child and a plethora of others. We had smelly turtles in a tank, a demonic rabbit that bit, a corn snake that grew from inches to feet and hamsters. Oh yes, and fish and a mouse named Ronaldo. The fish was interesting in that it was a goldfish that was won at a fair and lived about five years. Another fish inexplicably flipped itself out of its bowl and was never seen again- gone, without a trace.

The goldfish I was telling you about had the most curious name, Grace Cannot Name Me. Our son had enough of our daughter naming pets and so it stuck. The snake, found in the yard, was domesticated by my husband and son while I was out of town for the weekend. They had the tank, heating lamp, rocks and bedding up and running before I could say no. I detested having it inside and its escape four years later was the only way I was finally rid of its presence. Of course, there was the shed snakeskin found behind the fridge some years later that made me wonder.

The tuft I fell for appeared unexpectedly while our three sons were in high school. I was talking with a woman who volunteered at a shelter and told her I would love a tiny dog. Apparently, another shelter I requested a small dog from didn’t trust my motives. I found out later they had contacted my vet and wanted to know if I really did take care of my pets properly. I found that humorous. Regardless, the woman was also a foster dog parent and wanted me to meet this particular one.

My husband, on the other hand, forbade me to have a tiny dog on the grounds that we “were not small dog people.” He said it would get stomped or slammed in a door. I got him anyway and it was love at first sight.

My daughter and sons laughed at me. They said he was the favorite son and that if the house were burning down, he’d be the first one I’d save. My daughter also made the humorous statement that she didn’t know what they were going to do about me if something ever happened to the dog.

At first I felt guilty having him. It was a purely selfish move and it was all about what I wanted. I took him everywhere. He went to work and the grocery store. He was so small I could put him in my tote and nobody knew he was there. He had sweaters and was beyond cute.

I was telling a retired pastor how much I was enjoying him and how I couldn’t believe a ball of fur could bring so much joy to my life. I told him I felt like God had sent him to me at the time I needed him most. He said, “Of course He did! God loves you and wants you to be happy.” At that point in my life, I had come to believe that life wasn’t supposed to be happy or joyful anymore. I felt it was all duty and responsibility. And then along came the furry love note from above.

My boys and husband finally got used to the fact I had a “girly dog” and it took three years for them to quit calling him a “she.” He was the only dog I’d ever had that peed in excitement. He would pee every time I came home and I found there was no remedy. Somewhere along the way, this ball became 27 pounds and became quite portly. He loves food more than anything. I have to be careful to put away our other dog’s uneaten food and buy weight management dog food. I honestly believe he would eat until he burst.

He’s five years old now and my husband calls him his vanguard. My sons love him and hug on him as much as I do. He still thinks I’m some Hollywood starlet. I won’t be correcting that assumption. If I’m gone mere hours, you’d think I’d been gone weeks. He gives more adoration, loyalty and unconditional love than anyone. I am so thankful for him. I think I was the one rescued when I adopted him.

Why Good Friday is So Good

It seems ironic to call it “Good Friday.” Jesus Christ died a horrific, demoralizing, painful death on this day. But I have came to understand that if I look at what He actually accomplished, I can see how “good” this day actually is.

When I saw the movie “The Passion,” directed by Mel Gibson, I could hardly breathe watching Jesus being flogged. It felt like I was there and the cinematography was so graphic I felt ill. I remember Him being made to carry his own wooden cross to Golgotha. It was the ultimate humiliation. He could barely stand after his beating and so someone else was made to carry the cross while he walked the streets of Jerusalem towards his destination. How he made it to Calvary is a mystery to me. He had to have super strength physically and determination beyond comprehension to willingly comply. Last year I walked this route, the Via Dolorosa, in Jerusalem. I saw all of the Stations of the Cross and even put my hand on the wall where Jesus was known to have stopped to rest. It was surreal touching where that event took place some 2000 years ago. Every nationality you could think of speaking dozens of different languages were all there doing the same thing as well.

Station of the Cross where Jesus was to have rested

What touched me most deeply was standing in the cave cell where Jesus was thrust after conviction. I had the realization of how he was unjustly accused, convicted and abandoned by everyone in that moment. He KNEW suffering in a physical AND psychological sense. The despair one would have under those circumstances! And then he had to go through with the inhumane flogging by the leather strips having metal barbs. The psychological pain prior of knowing what was to come had to be unbearable. It makes complete sense He would pray in the Garden of Gethsemane for “this cup to be taken from me, but not my will, yours be done.”

Garden of Gethsemane

Peering at the cross were the eyes of Golgotha or the “eyes of the skull.” Jesus was hung on the cross there and we were able to touch the stone on which He was known to be crucified. We now know that the end was not the end. It was actually the beginning! Because as scriptures foretold, He rose again on the “third day.” He conquered death, physical suffering, psychological torture, and emotional loss of relationships. He experienced firsthand everything painful any of us could ever experience. He overcame everything and redeemed us in the process! Even the Roman executioner saw afterwards that He was the Son of God. The reason it is such a GOOD FRIDAY is because we are redeemed for eternity by His grace and His suffering. He conquered death and sin for us all. It is a very, very good day!

As an old textbook from many years ago attested, “Good Friday is good because with it, Jesus purchased for us salvation and with it, every blessing.”

Site of Calvary Stone

The Twilight Zone

Recently I was wondering if we were on a movie set like “The Truman Show.” Is a director about to yell, “Cut!” And we’re all about to be told this is all a big hoax? Never would I have imagined our predicament were possible outside a Hollywood sci-fi movie. This situation has me recalling Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” and I think we are all starring in a strange, double feature.

We seem stuck in a time warp with people asking when we will get back to normal. I am wondering if instead, we are hitting an invisible reset button that will forever change our existence? We cannot assume immunity anymore. Terrorism was our greatest threat but now even terrorists are being terrorized. The entire world is being attacked collectively. We will all have to learn from each other to manage a future outbreak.

Last Sunday my husband pushed me to join our family for a kayak excursion. Reluctantly, I went and was pleasantly surprised at the meditative calm I experienced while drifting down river. The cool breeze under green canopies was peaceful. I also observed a large cross on someone’s waterfront that reminded me of the cross on the St. Lawerence River and El Cristo Rey in Cali, Colombia. It was huge and rustic and was stuck in the center of their peninsula. I was grateful for it and it’s unexpected appearance. It was like I was being sent the message, “Hey, remember me? Remember the suffering I went through? I KNOW what you all are experiencing.” That was a good reminder to continue to hope regardless of the daily news.

A major concern of mine has been my older ladies in a retirement community. They cannot go anywhere or visit one another. All activities and meals are cancelled. They cannot have visitors less immediate family. This virus has given even more loneliness to people who were already dealing with health issues AND loneliness. I call and send flowers (with MD approval) but that’s all I can do. It seems insult upon injury for them.

My home on the other hand is the opposite. I have everyone home all at once on what feels like an extended summer with endless dishes and laundry. I pine for peace and quiet yet know this is not forever. It is a moment in time in history. We will all remember it vividly as everyone and everything seems impacted.

We all are getting weary and restless. Someone today posted that if anyone was wondering, today is “March 97th.” That is absolutely what it feels like. And tomorrow is the beginning of a new month. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if someone could say April Fools! It’s all fake news and not really happening! I’d probably drop dead like the man on the Twilight Zone episode where his friends had him arrested for some unknown crime as a ploy to deliver him to his surprise party. He dropped dead in the doorway when everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

The Corona Millennia

I sit alone in my room listening to my adult sons dart like missiles through my home. College is out early so we are all here inside. Unfortunately, I’ve been sick for two days unable to leave my bed. My head is pounding and my eyes are pulsating out my head. I don’t know what I have and can only guess.

My daughter came home early from Colombia with a cold. Another son flew home from skiing with a cough. I stayed in bed almost 3 days before I had energy to even shower. Is it Coronavirus? Is it just a bad cold or a virus? I certainly won’t go to the doctor to find out, that’s for sure.

It’s surreal that only last Saturday I was out running errands and a shop keeper lamented the way this was “blown out of proportion.” It’s shocking how wrong that statement was. The WORLD- not just my city, my state, or my country are being ravaged by an invisible foe. We are at war and the militia are our healthcare workers.

As I lie in bed staring at the midnight ceiling, I thought about how much has happened so early in the new millennia: The 9/11 attack in 2001; Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the Recession in 2008; more financially devastating hurricanes followed; the California wildfires of 2019; and now the lightening-quick attack of a virulent giant we’ve never seen before. The history books will be the mirror of how we make out. Our grandchildren will hopefully know much more than we do and be better prepared. One can only hope.

Never in my wildest dreams would I believe my church would shut. Yet here we are. It’s nearly shameful to go anywhere less essential trips. How long will this last- weeks, months, who knows? The unknown is the hardest part.

The only way I know to get through the bleak unknown is to lean on what I DO know. I know that God is STILL GOD. Jesus is STILL HIS SON sent to redeem us all. Peace is to be had DESPITE our circumstances. People are also mostly good. I’ve seen so much goodness on social media that I’m thankful I didn’t give it up for Lent!

One day this storm will pass. We will reflect on it as our grandparents do the Depression or World War II. We will say what we did to bide our time and probably share bizarre, humorous stories. Hopefully, we will rebound stronger, kinder, and able to remember what truly matters.

THE NEW, NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Times Square 2020


Even if it ain’t all it seems, I got a pocketful of dreams
Baby I’m from New York!
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York!
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Hear it for New York, New York, New Yooork!”

from EMPIRE STATE of MIND by Alicia Keys

I first visited New York City when I was a cash poor, college student working upstate. Regrettably, we ate only Pizza Hut and walked around aimlessly. I was warned more about crime than where to eat or what to see. “Don’t look up at the buildings, it makes you a target,” people told me. I was a small town girl visiting the Big Apple but felt I was visiting an entire produce market instead! The masses of people were bewildering. I felt compelled to ask everyone where they were going since everyone seemed in a hurry. When I went again, in the early ‘90s, Mayor Giuliani was beginning his term and I ate A LOT better. I remember seeing the volunteer “Guardian Angels” trekking around Times Square keeping order and a benevolent watch over the city. Times Square was a bit more seedy and undesireable back then. Still, the jumbo screens that only partially existed (compared to now) were a spectacular light show. And I did steal glances up at the towering buildings regardless of prior warnings.

The Plaza Hotel

I went a third time when taking my daughter to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It was the early ’00s, after the horrendous 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. It was a difficult decision to proceed, but we felt it was more tragic NOT to go. We relished the opportunity to stay at the famous Plaza Hotel and see Eloise. She was the little girl famed to live there in a childrens book. Amazingly, the illustrator, Hillary Scott, from the original “Eloise at the Plaza” was there and signed our copy. We sipped tea in the Palm Room, wrote a letter to Eloise, and recounted history of the famed hotel. Seeing Santa at Macy’s and riding the old, wooden escalator were highlights. The Fifth Avenue shop windows were extravagantly decorated for the holidays by designers involving big budgets. Those were worth a stand in line. A chilly carriage ride through Central Park was picturesque, as was skating at the Rockefeller Center. Minus the exact site of the twin towers, the city did not reflect it had just survived its worst tragedy in modern history. Nothing could hold New York City down, it seemed.

The Palm Court at the Plaza

The attack on the World Trade Center forever changed the city (and country). I have read numerous accounts of heroicism and altruism surrounding the day’s events and those after. What terrorists meant for destruction and despair actually had the opposite effect. People began connecting and relating in meaningful ways versus the former “keep to self” mentality. I can attest that on my recent visit, I was aided on two separate occassions by New Yorkers who simply wanted to be nice. One totally inconvenienced herself by walking us to our destination. Another who appeared intimidating at first, was a godsend at the subway. He observed our wide-eyed confusion trying to choose a line and gave us detailed directions when he could have walked on. We noticed incredibly kind and friendly people overall.

9/11 Memorial

My husband and I finally visited the 9/11 Memorial site last Fall. We were silenced eyeing the massive holes in the earth where the two towers once stood. Commemoration of all that occurred in those two towers was aided by deep fountains now in their place. Water cascading towards the center of the earth solemnly recalled the parallel events. Yet now it was beautiful and serene. What irony! Loved ones left flowers by the names of those deceased. Children born well after the devastation played happily on the grounds while young adults lined up at food trucks. The massive structure over the entry to the Oculus, a three story underground mall, appeared to be a gigantic carcass. (More irony.) When I learned it connected all the way down to the subway, I was dumbfounded at its architectural and engineering genius. My husband pointed out the Trinity church directly across the street with its aged cemetery that appeared not to have noticed the events of 9/11 at all. It remained miraculously untouched. The fourth tower is slated to be built next year, I learned, while touring the Freedom Tower Observatory. Its panoramic view was astounding and limitless. With the last tower, the site will be bigger and better than ever.

The Oculus NYC

How can an event so devastating and ugly become an architectural feat that draws millions? How can New York overcome all that it has endured? It can through resiliant, inconquerable souls who love their city and their ideals. It can through those who choose not to live in fear but to look for possibility instead. It can in New York City. I know because I was there, met some of its people and saw all of it myself.

🇨🇴 A Colombian Christmas 🇨🇴

My family and I went to Colombia for the holidays. Not Columbia, but Colombia. Yes, the country where drug cartels ruled and kidnappings once regularly occurred. When I told people what we were doing for the holidays the common response I got was, “Why?” I then would explain that our daughter was teaching there and we wanted to see her. So, we made the family pilgrimage. Little did I know, I’d also come away with some powerful insights.

The trip there was about as smooth as a cracked cell phone screen. We grumbled and complained due to missing our flight because of mechanical failure. Our irritation grew as we were rerouted in the opposite direction. We actually lost an entire day scurrying from airport to airport piecing our arrival together. Then, the requisite cherry on top was the loss of luggage which ensued days of misery for one of us.

Our general misery subsided however, as we arrived to this land overflowing with abundant fruits and generous foliage. The lush, green canopies of aged, coffee plants, towering, wax palms and unidentifiable flora were breathtaking. Of course, seeing our daughter was the real prize. All six of us together on a family trip and we would have unknown memories yet to make.

Arriving during the Christmas season was extra special. My daughter had indicated that Colombia was its most festive around Christmas. The towns were lit up like gigantic, twinkling, tree ornaments. I noticed dancing lights every square inch from our aerial view during our flight from Bogota to Cali. I also noticed something odd- dressed up, lap dogs on our plane. Then street dogs, shop dogs, and personal dogs in just about every place of our first city, Salento. That was where we toured the coffee plantation and horseback rode up a mountain. For the record, most of us did not know how to horseback ride, much less on a narrow path on the side of a mountain.

Colombia is known for their flavorful coffee. I will never drink coffee irreverently again knowing all that goes into it. The back-breaking labor of handpicking ripe red, “cherry” beans (on a steep hill) and sorting through all the beans is impressive, intentional work- especially for the smaller, old fashioned farms that prefer to keep their coffee “pure.” We learned the process and that the country itself drinks the rejected beans and exports their best to the likes of us. “We are spoiled,” I thought more than once on this trip.

Coffee plant

Coffee cherry with beans

Another day, we took off on a Jeep ride to the base of the greenest mountain I have ever seen. There we mounted horses (without any education on riding- instructors couldn’t speak English anyway) and made our way up to the aged, wax palm trees. The trees looked straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. They were approximately 60 meters tall and 200 years old. Standing in their natural arbor, the panoramic view was pure art. Speechless, we took it all in.

At this point of our journey we learned a few curious things about Colombia. First, it is NOT a poor country. Second, you can’t flush toilet paper ANYWHERE in the country and third, people are extremely nice but you can’t expect anyone to speak English. Our most pleasant surprise was how incredibly affordable everything was. Our family of six could eat out for less than half of what we paid at home.

After Christmas, we headed to Cali and attended “La Féria.” It’s a traditional celebration parade of the peoples of Colombia dating from the indigenous through modern times. Each was represented with floats, music, and elaborate costumes. It was quite a site. Next, my daughter and I had a girls day and the boys tried kite surfing. I was thankful to eat a fabulous meal in a spa-like restaurant and shop Colombian designers instead. Custom clothes abound there. Many have the seamstress connected to their showrooms. I’d never seen boutique couture like that before.

New Years is a family event in Colombia, unlike the US. So, most everything was shut for the holiday. We ended up at the Marriott (notably the nicest and most expensive hotel in Cali) for a sushi dinner and people watching. It did not disappoint as people cascaded in wearing ball gowns and international flight crews arrived in their stylish, European uniforms. It was a feast for the eyes.

For our last stop, we headed to Bogota as our daughter headed to Medellin. We had one last day to see sights. A few of us headed up to Montserrat- named for the same in Barcelona- for good luck, per tradition, while others retreated from the rain.

Sadly departing, we immediately said we were coming back. Colombia we found, is NOT the TV show “Narcos,” nor is it a dangerous, third world country. As the small hotelier stated in broken English, “We Colombians don’t have access to everything but we appreciate more because of it. We have peace in our hearts and that comes from inside.”