Lisa


So I had a birthday last week.  In the swing dancing community it’s a tradition that when a dancer has a birthday you give them a Birthday Jam.  This is a kind of exhibition dance in which the birthday girl starts out dancing with one guy in the center of a large circle of the other dancers.  As the song plays, the other guys present take turns stealing her.  If it’s a birthday boy, then the girls take turns stealing him.  I, in particular, always seem to have very interesting birthday jams.  They’re good fun, and can be the source of a lot of hilarity and/or showing off.  Showy steals, flashy moves – who knows what will show up?

This year my family showed up.  Well, half of them (I am one of eleven siblings).  It was Dad, Larry, Michelle, Heather, Lisa, and Gabe.  Liv was the Mastermind who got everyone there.  This was a big deal.  My family has never come out to see me dance.  When I was in my first competition, Liv came to cheer me on, but my family didn’t even ask me how I’d done.  Just the week before I’d been whining about this.  Trey’s family came all the way from Maine to watch him dance.  My family couldn’t go across town?

And then they showed up at the regular Wednesday night dance.  I had no idea, not the shadow of a suspicion, nothing.  I had dropped the swing club kids off early for the lesson (it was Shim Sham, which I already know how to do), and gone to chill at Barnes & Noble until the dance would start.  Of course I got caught in a book, so I was late to the dance.  I walked in, and there they were.  I was utterly flabbergasted.  It was awesome.  What made it even more awesome is that both Dad and Gabe jumped in during my birthday jam.  Gabe did a little swing dancing a few years back, so he sortof knew what he was doing, but my Dad had absolutely no clue.  He was so cute.  His idea of dancing was bouncing very energetically opposite me.  I thought, “Well, ok.” and turned it into a kicky-Charleston sort of thing.  Then he ran out of breath (my Dad bears a striking resemblance to Santa Clause, complete with white beard and rosy cheeks) and called for someone to rescue him.  It was so much fun.

With all this love, I don’t mind being another year older.

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First, the good news. Lisa is coming home from Kenya! Hurrah! She has officially booked her ticket, and should be safely back in Ohio on Thursday. I won’t completely feel the relief until I know her plane has touched down in our local airport, but already the tension has eased so much. So that’s good.

The other good news is that I finally was able to scan in my garden plans I’ve been sketching on scrap paper during classes. I reuse paper, so anything with a blank side (flyers, handouts from previous classes, papers that printed out incorrectly, etc.) is my note paper. Most of my doodles were done on what would have been part of the course packet for one of my classes, only the printer was running out of toner. This is why there’s fading lines of text on some of the sketches. I had originally planned to photoshop that out, but I kinda like the way it looks. So you get to see it in its original, unadulterated form. Enjoy!

back yard

This is my plan for the whole back yard. Some of this is already planted, and some of it is hopes for the future. The lavender, snapdragons, and the bulk of the herb garden are already established. The other flowers, most of the roses, the vegetables, and the rosemary and basil wings on the herb garden are what I hope to accomplish this year. This is a better diagram of the herb garden:

herb garden

The “x” were where I had rosemary this year. I pulled one out and tried to keep it alive in the kitchen over the winter. This has not been successful. Sigh. However, I did learn that my basil tends to turn into total monsters (mine was as high as my waist this year no matter how severely I cut it down), overshadowing the other plants. So this year I’m going to plant it on the other side of the herb garden where the only thing it will overshadow is the roots of a pine tree. The sage and oregano will happily fill in the place of the rosemary, and I’ll plant some parsley where the basil was. I love fresh parsley.

lavender bed

This is a view of the side flower garden. I have four varieties of lavender planted in a six foot bed centered on a picturesque crack in the cement wall that edges our property. I want to extend the flower beds out on each side, with hollyhocks and cosmos on the side extending towards the garage, and asters on the side towards the house. This should help cover the seedlings of first year money plant, since that won’t flower until the second year.

rose garden

This is how I hope the rose garden will look. The only rose there now is the one furthest on the right. It’s a tea rose I haven’t been able to identify, with magenta-y red blooms. I plan to balance it with mostly white roses, and perhaps a bi-colored miniature rose in front to anchor everything down. Please also note the bird feeder to the left of the rose garden. That’s already there, and is swiftly becoming the place where all the birds want to be.

front porch

This is what I want to do with the front of the house. Most of the front yard is in impenetrable shadow from a tree I haven’t been able to identify. However, the sides of the house receive enough sun tha tI think we’ll be able to do something interesting. There’s already another rose bush, perhaps a climbing rose, with magenta-red blooms similar to the bush in the back yard. I have no idea how long it’s been there, but I rather like it and the link I imagine it to be to some other woman who lived here and loved flowers.

So… that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.

You can tell you’re starting to recover from your ravaging bout with sinusitis when you start almost forgetting to take your antibiotics.  You can tell you still have a ways to go when what used to be normal activities leave you exhausted.  Sigh.  Yesterday and this morning I did what would have been a normal schedule for me back in the day.  Class, work, pit stop home for dinner, Ash Wednesday Mass, another pit stop to pick up some things I’d forgotten, dancing, home, sleep, wake up, classes.  My day is far from done (I have another class in about an hour, then an appointment, and then my Catholic young adult group in the evening), but right now I mostly want to crawl back into bed and call it done.  Still, this is progress!  A week ago I wouldn’t have made it to half those classes, or dancing, or Mass.  So we’re doing better here.

Lisa is currently still in Nairobi, hopefully making arrangements to come home in the next couple of days.  There are so many conflicting reports about whether things are getting better or getting worse, it’s been hard for her to decide whether she should come home or just wait things out so she can finish her teaching stint.  The US Embassy had a town hall meeting a few days ago for US citizens and their families, where they were sounding fairly upbeat, not at all encouraging people to leave.  So it’s been hard to know what to do.  However, recently the opposition leaders were threatening more rallies, which really means more rioting.  This stupidity irritated Lisa so much that at that point she had decided to leave as soon as possible.  Most of our communication with her is through text messages (phone calls are so exorbitantly expensive that they have to be carefully rationed, but we found out that Judy’s cell service plan lets her send texts to Kenya for $.25), so it’s a little hard to know what she’s thinking.  Personally, I want Lisa to come home.  She may not be in any danger at the moment, but the situation is completely unstable, and it doesn’t look likely to settle down any time soon.  Everything could change at any time.  Within half an hour a place that was perfectly safe could become a war zone.  I don’t want my sister to be caught in the middle of something like that.  Plus, the sad truth is that as a young, white, blond American woman traveling alone overseas, she is uniquely vulnerable.  So, yeah, I want her home. Now.

On the up side, the gardening catalogs have been coming in for a little while now.  I’ve taken to doodling garden plans and ideas on my scrap paper during class instead of taking notes.  I used to write letters instead of taking notes, but now it’s mostly drawing gardens.  When I get a little time and access to a scanner, I want to scan them in to show you guys.  I think the one of my proposed small rose garden for back by the garage is especially lovely.  Liv and I went to the garden center to buy seeds a few days ago.  She got peppers, tomatoes, and green beans for her buckets on the back deck.  I got asters, sunflowers, cosmos, and money plant for the flower garden, and carrots, radishes, zucchini, and lettuce mix for a small vegetable garden.  Plus I also got sweet peas to grow up over the deck railing.  I wish it were March already so I could start planting things!

Today I went to my Parish Credit Union to cash a check. It’s a tiny credit union, tucked away in a corner of the basement of what used to be my parish grade school (now the common grade school for three inner-city Catholic parishes, of which my parish is one). It’s only open three afternoons a week, and is accessed by going through an unmarked door at the bottom of a flight of concrete steps on the back of the school. There is no sign, no posted hours, no advertising. You only know that it is open because when you try the doorknob it is unlocked. I’ve been a member of this credit union since I was in third grade. The ladies who run it, a gang of almost-geriatric matriarchs who could run the world if they ever cared to try, have known me since my family moved to the area when I was five. When I went in, I didn’t bother to bring my bag or wallet in with me. I presented the check I wanted cashed, the woman behind the counter asked me my account number, had me sign on the dotted line, and handed over the money. Just like that, with inquiries after my family’s health, and telling me how good it is to see me again.

On the way out, I passed another Matriarch of the Parish, Mrs. Richardson. She smiled and asked how I was. I replied politely, and it seemed that was it. Then she stopped and asked me how was Lisa, where was she now? I said that she had made it safely to Nairobi, where hopefully she would be able to make arrangements to come home soon. She smiled and nodded, and said she was praying. We parted, but as I walked away, I was shaken. You see, Mrs. Richardson’s sister is Sr. Dorothy Stang, the Sister of Notre Dame who was martyred in Brazil in 2005. She was gunned down on a forest road by hired killers in the pay of rich landowners who didn’t like her work with poor farmers. Her death stunned her family, and our parish. Mrs. Richardson’s sister went into a dangerous situation and never came back. Now she was asking me about my sister, who is in a dangerous situation. Hopefully, however, my sister will come back.

Most of the time I take for granted the kind of community I live in. Even though I usually attend Mass elsewhere, I’m still part of the parish I grew up in. My family is embedded deep in the web of relationships. Because of the strength of that community, I can walk into the credit union and cash a check without ever having to produce any ID, a situation most people haven’t experienced since the 1950s. Every person I encountered knew who I was, knew who my family is, and cared about us. This is partly because we’re an unusual family, but it’s because they’re unusual too. We are a parish that gives birth to martyrs and missionaries and free spirits. We are a parish that cares about God and about each other. We are a parish that trusts and prays for one another.

This is what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.

High on my list of Things I Am Not Fond Of, far above People Who Turn Into My Lane, even beyond Writing Daily “Thought Papers” For An Entry Level Class (I hate these kinds of forced reflections with a burning passion that will never die) is a special category titled People I Care About Being In Unsafe Situations. Here there is, of course, the ever popular Friends Being Deployed To War Zones, and also Family Members Living In Underdeveloped Countries With Insufficient Health Care. However, far and above anything previously named, there is a very special section I have created just this past month. It is called Family Members Being Caught In Undeveloped Nations In Which There Is Uncontrolled Violence And Possibly Ethnic Cleansing Going On.

My sister Lisa is in Kenya. She arrived there shortly before Christmas to begin a five month stint teaching grade school at St. Jude’s Academy, the second half of her year of service in Africa. I don’t know how many of you guys have been following the news, but the country is in a downward spiral of violence that is threatening to turn into a total meltdown. Just after Christamas there was an election in which the two main candidates were members of rival tribes. The election was massively corrupt. Protests by the party that lost turned violent, there were reprisals, and everything quickly spiraled out of control. Now there are gangs of men from one tribe armed with machetes and clubs studded with nails actively going out to hunt down members of the other tribe, and being disappointed when they can’t find any to kill. So far the police have been unable to stop the violence, and have lately been given orders to shoot to kill. The US State Department’s warnings have been growing progressively grave, although they have not yet warned US citizens to leave the country.

Here’s the good news: the village where Lisa is living is out in the middle of nowhere, far from where the violence is occurring. Moreover, the violence seems to be almost entirely between the members of the two tribes. Europeans and Americans so far do not seem to be targeted at all. The area where she lives is populated entirely by the tribe of the politician who is in power, so the violence is unlikely to spread there. The family she lives with is being extremely careful, barely even letting her go outside by herself. She doesn’t go outside at all after dark. So for now it seems like she is safe.

However, the situation is volatile. In a split second all this could change, and Lisa could be swept up in the kind of unpleasantness I don’t want to think about. The temptation is to tell her to get the heck out of there, to get home as fast as an airliner can take her. However, in order to get out of the country she’d have to travel eighty miles over unsafe roads (the State Department website warns that travel may only be safe as part of an armed convoy) straight into Nairobi, the heart of where the violence is occurring. It is true that the airports are still operating normally, and that most of the violence is happening in the slum areas where she would not go. The problem is… can she get to the airport safely? We don’t know.

They make adventure movies about this stuff. However, this was never the kind of movie I wanted made about my cuddly, bubbly, blond little sister!

So, you know, if you could pray…