Hidden in Plain Sight at the Gum Wall in Seattle

Any tourist trip to Seattle isn’t complete without a visit to Pike’s Place Market, a few blocks east of the famous Elliott Bay waterfront.  Hidden on the lower level of the Market on Post Alley is a quirky tourist attraction called the Market Theater Gum Wall.  It’s been in the news this week because for the first time in 20 years, the wall underwent a steam cleaning and removal of the estimated 1 million wads of used chewing gum.

Gum Wall

A small portion of the gum wall, measuring 50 feet long and up to 15 feet high.

In 2009 this gum wall was named one of the top five unhygienic sites in the world, second to the Blarney Stone in Ireland.   Another little known fact is that a similar and older gum wall, Bubblegum Alley, exists in San Luis Obispo, California.

But don’t worry!  When the maintenance is complete, tourists and passersby can once again leave their sticky legacy on the city.

Hidden in Plain Sight

What you probably haven’t heard about is the secret treasure known as a geocache that was hidden in plain sight on the gum wall.

But what is a geocache?

Geocaching is a treasure hunt that uses GPS-enabled devices to track the specific GPS coordinates of hidden containers, or geocaches, throughout the world.  Presently, there are 2,744,212 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.

The geocache at the gum wall, named “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble,” was a very popular hunt for geocachers.  The online record for this geocache indicates that over 2,800 geocachers logged a visit at this cache since it was hidden in 2010.  Of that number over 25% of the geocachers could not find the cache.  I was one of those, logging the dreaded frown smiley face or DNF (Did Not Find) on my geocaching record.

Where is the geocache?

Can you spot the geocache at this Seattle landmark?

Although I hate to log a ‘DNF’ during my geocaching adventures, this day still holds pleasant memories for me.  It was thanks to Pedro, our host son from Spain, that I decided to search for this geocache.  As a long-time Seattle area resident, I didn’t even know about the gum wall until we started geocaching in 2010.

On the Hunt for Hidden Treasure

The first year Pedro was in our home, one of the student field trips was to Pike’s Place Market and the gum wall.  Days earlier Pedro went out on his first geocaching adventure with my family.  He was hooked.  Unfortunately we didn’t find out about the geocache at the gum wall until after the field trip.

Pedro at the gum wall, July 2010.

Pedro leaves his gum legacy at this famous Seattle landmark, unaware of the hidden treasure camouflaged on the wall.

When Pedro returned to Seattle the next summer, he was eager to find lots of geocaches, and to surpass my husband’s count of geocaches.  It was a good-natured competition to see who had the most caches by the end of his visit.  Pedro made a gallant try but couldn’t catch up.  He found over 50 caches in four weeks scattered throughout Washington and Oregon.

Back to the day of this hunt…

The day was memorable because it was the day that I took Pedro to The Piano Studio for his recording rehearsal.  We met Martin Buff, the studio owner, and Pedro spent some time getting his fingers used to the 9-foot Steinway Grand Piano.  His actual recording date was a few days later.  What a priceless memory watching this young man’s dreams come true.  Pedro has since gone on to compose music for short and full-feature films like Tempting Fate.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle, June 2011.

After a short rehearsal, we headed into downtown Seattle to geocache.  We found a few geocaches along the waterfront and then went to Pike’s Place Market.  Our goal: to find, or to log a smiley (that’s geocaching lingo) at “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble.”

We were surprised when we arrived at Post Alley and found a photography class set up taking photographs of the wheat paste art on the walls opposite the gum wall.  We walked past the students and tried to use our geocaching stealth and ‘geosense’ to search for the hidden cache on the gum wall.

Hints are provided on the online listing for this geocache, but sadly it didn’t help us spot the camouflaged container that measured about an inch in diameter.   GPS coordinates are fairly accurate most of the time, but with that small of a container and the large brick wall covered with gum, it felt like an impossible task.  Besides, even with gloves on, we really didn’t want to search that closely!

We ended our memorable day with dinner at the waterfront, watching the ferries on Elliott Bay, and planning our next adventure—recording Pedro’s first CD at The Piano Studio.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Restoration of the Hidden Landmark

So what’s next for “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble?”  The geocache listing has temporarily been disabled.  The owner of the cache reported that a physical cache container will be replaced after the wall is cleaned and re-gummification begins.

Since I didn’t find the geocache before, I think this gum wall cleaning is good news for me.  The sooner I return on the hunt for this geocache, the better my odds of finding it.  And then I can turn my DNF to an “I FOUND IT” smiley.  🙂

For more information or to get started on your own geocaching adventures, visit geocaching.com.

A Personal Invitation: Conference & Prayer Journey in Spain

Have you ever dreamed of traveling to a foreign country? Learning about the culture and history?  Walking through the historic or religious sites that are centuries old?  Do you have a desire to visit Spain?

If you follow my blog you know that I’ve done that. Twice!

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In Segovia, Spain on mission, October 2014.

A Personal Invitation to Visit Spain

Since those two trips I’ve become somewhat of an ambassador for Spain, sharing about the country, its culture, and the religious climate any time the opportunity arises. I’ve come to realize that Spain is a very popular tourist destination with Americans—often running into people who have traveled there.  I’ve not heard a bad review of this beautiful country.

Friendly people.

Easy to communicate despite the language barrier.

And a place where Americans and our tourist money are welcomed.

So do you want to go to Spain?

Next spring, missionary and Pastor Josh Fajardo, from the church where I spoke last fall, is leading an organized prayer journey through many of the same places that I traveled to on my personal pilgrimage in 2013—from Madrid to Southern Spain.

As a writer who fell in love with Spain, and has a pulse on the spiritual climate, my desire is to put Spain on the radar, so to speak, for others. So I’m putting on my ambassador hat and inviting you to follow your heart to Spain!

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

The Trip to Spain

This 10-day trip to Spain, scheduled for April 14-24, 2016, starts with a women’s prayer conference in Rivas, a suburb of Madrid. The conference is sponsored by Women’s Ministries International, a nonprofit that supports and empowers programs in under-developed countries. Male attendees will have separate speakers and be involved in other activities during the women’s conference.

Prayer Journey 2016During the 10-day trip to Spain travelers will ride via motor coach to sites with historic and religious significance in Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Málaga, and Seville. Each day of the prayer journey portion of the trip starts with a devotional and time spent in prayer.  The mornings are organized group time visiting cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, museums, or royal palaces.

After the traditional midday meal, you are free to explore the city and familiarize yourselves with the culture and the people in a more personal way. Everyone reconvenes over the evening meal (very late by American standards) to share what God is doing in their lives and where He met them in the streets of Spain.

Here’s what Pastor Josh, who organized the trip has to say about it:

“If you studied Spanish history you learned how Spain has influenced continents and has contributed to the economic and spiritual development of many countries in both hemispheres. Today, it’s a different story…Christian history informs us that Spain never experienced spiritual reformation.  This is why we are inviting you to join us in praying for God’s power to be revealed on this nation!  God is calling His people to participate and intercede!  Is your heart moved to pray for a people that have strayed away from God?  Consider becoming a prayer partner, join us on this journey and be a part of a spiritual awakening in our generation in Spain!”

My Personal Experience

As someone who has been to all of these places except Málaga, I can attest to their amazing beauty, and historical and religious significance. Spain was conquered and divided into regions ruled by Muslims and Christians. It wasn’t until the fall of Granada in 1492 that Muslim rule ended in Spain. Granada and the Alhambra, the palace and fortress compound from which the Muslims ruled, will be visited as part of the prayer journey in Southern Spain.  (I toured that in 2013—incredible!!!)

I can also attest to the breadth of religious history and context that Pastor Josh has to impart to those on the trip. For instance, before I returned to Spain last fall, Josh told me about the auto de fé (religious courts) held in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor during the Spanish Inquisition several centuries ago.  I was shocked to learn that after the judgment was pronounced, heretics were burned at the stake (in Plaza Mayor).

Auto de fe by Francisco Rizi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Auto de fé, Plaza Mayor, 1680, painted by Francisco Rizi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I returned to Madrid for the CR mission last October, I visited Plaza Mayor again and saw it in a new light. Josh also told me to look for the sculptures depicting scenes from the religious courts.  This historic scene along with others was barely noticeable on the backs of public benches surrounding the lamp posts in the outdoor plaza.

Plaza Mayor is one of the most popular tourist sites in Madrid, but there is no marker or mention of this piece of history at the plaza. Having this new spiritual context of Plaza Mayor led me to pray for healing in the country in new ways.

Why go?

God got a hold of me and gave me a heart for Spain and the need for spiritual renewal in the country during my first trip there, which was not part of an organized tourist package. What I reference above about Plaza Mayor is just one example from my own personal experience of how seeing a country from a spiritual perspective (like Josh provides) makes it a truly enriching, moving, and life-changing experience.  It will awaken stirrings in your heart for the people of Spain.

I could go on and on about Spain, and as a self-proclaimed ambassador for the country, I will in time write more about it. For now, check out the brochure about the conference and prayer journey, Spain-Prayer-Journey-Brochure-2016, or visit the registration page at Women’s Ministries International.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1, NIV)

Present day Plaza Mayor at night

Present day Plaza Mayor at night

Commemorating Christopher Columbus in Spanish Style, Part 2

What would it be like to celebrate a national holiday in a foreign country? I wondered that myself when I found out that I would be in Spain on October 12 for Fiesta Nacional de España, otherwise known as National Day, or Columbus Day in America.

In my last post about National Day in Spain, I shared some of the historic monuments to Christopher Columbus in Andalucia, the region of Southern Spain. This post is dedicated to the monuments and festivities in the nation’s capital, Madrid. (Neither of these posts take a stand on the controversy with replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. So please vent elsewhere.)

Spaniards proudly display their flag at Columbus Square in Madrid, October 12, 2014.

Spaniards proudly display their flag at Columbus Square in Madrid, October 12, 2014.

National Day Festivities in Madrid

National Day is a public holiday throughout Spain marked by celebrations and a day off work for employees. In Madrid, a military parade has been held every year since 2000, when this day was also recognized as Spain’s Day of the Armed Forces.  Most families stay at home and watch the parade on television.  For me, it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience—sort of like being in Washington DC for a historic parade.  If at all possible, I wanted to attend and experience this for myself.

We woke up on Sunday morning, October 12, 2014, to a rather dismal forecast of rain for the day. Our original plans were to go to El Escorial, a royal palace about 30 miles north of Madrid.  My host family was not in favor of going due to the rain in the forecast.  It also put a damper on my hopes to attend the military parade.

However, much to my surprise, Rosa volunteered to escort me to the parade. Umbrellas in hand, we took the underground metro to the center of Madrid in search of the best place to watch the parade.  By the time we arrived at Plaza de Cibeles, an iconic symbol of Madrid, the clouds had parted and blue skies were glistening above.

The streets were closed and the crowds were swarming the area in search of a location to view the parade.  Rosa knew her way around and led us directly across from the Cybele Palace, a large cathedral-like building that is one of several landmarks in Madrid.

Plaza de Cibeles, blocked off for the parade, Madrid, October 12, 2014.

Plaza de Cibeles, blocked off for the parade, Madrid, October 12, 2014.

National Day Parade

There wasn’t much time to waste. I wiggled my way into the standing-room-only crowd of people, settling into a spot about 10-people deep in front of me.  Rosa had seen the parade numerous times in her years of living in Madrid and waited further back behind the throngs of people.

The parade was ushered in with a rumble of military aircraft soaring overhead. The planes released plumes of red and yellow smoke trailing behind in a formation that represented the colors emblazoned on the Spanish flag.

Spanish pride on display from the air.

Spanish pride on display from the air.

As the parade started I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My only other knowledge of a military parade was seeing tanks and other military vehicles on TV, like seen in old time movies or documentaries in school.  This wasn’t like that.  No tanks.  No large armored vehicles to speak of.

The parade was presided over by the recently inaugurated King of Spain, Felipe VI. The crowds cheered as his limousine passed by with the Royal Family inside.

The parade was primarily a display of various regiments of the military each dressed in their unique uniforms.  They were mostly marching on foot.  Some were prominently carrying their rifles in upright positions pointing straight into the air.  Others traveled the parade route on horseback. Their uniforms were varied as well—bright colors and some with Arabian type robes draped over them.  I didn’t know what branch of the military each was from or understand the differences (and couldn’t ask anyone due to the language barrier).  Military sounding music, maybe the national anthem, was being played on portable speakers scattered around the area.

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I’m rather tall, but didn’t get much of a glimpse of the parade. I raised my cell phone above the crowds to get some pictures and video.  It was the first time I realized how helpful owning a selfie stick would be.  For a feel of the parade, watch the short video clip I recorded below.

Columbus Square

The parade was over in less than an hour, and Rosa and I headed on foot to our next destination, Sunday Mass at a local church, Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora. We followed that by meeting Pedro and Rafa (Pedro’s father) for lunch at a nearby German restaurant, La Fábrica Biermuseum.  Even in Spain, they get tired of eating Spanish food, but not drinking good beer.

Twice on our walks to these other destinations, we passed by Madrid’s monument site to Christopher Columbus, Plaza de Colón, or Columbus Square.  Prior to the military parade, the Spanish flag was raised at this site by the King of Spain, Felipe VI. We missed that ceremony, but thousands of people were still surrounding the site, only a few blocks from where the parade was held.

Location of the flag raising ceremony.

The first time I saw this monument and the flag was my second day in Spain in the summer of 2013. My host family took me on a walking tour into the heart of the city, past Columbus Square and Plaza de Cibeles and several other historic landmarks.  (Oh my aching feet!)

Jet-lagged and somewhat still in shock that I was actually in Spain, I was impressed by the beauty of the Spanish flag towering over the majestic concrete sculptures at the monument site.  It is the largest flag in Spain measuring 46 feet high x 69 feet long.

The largest flag in Spain.

The largest flag in Spain.

The Square is made up of three parts. The first is a statue of Christopher Columbus perched on top of a large column in the center of a traffic circle on the Paseo de la Castellana (the Castilian’s Mall), one of the longest and widest avenues in Madrid.  The statue of Christopher Columbus is pointing west toward America.  The sculpture was created by Spanish sculptor Jeronimo Suñon in 1885 and is surrounded by a fountain at the base of the column.

Next to the statue of Columbus is an entire city block that commemorates this Spanish hero. It is made up of the Gardens of Discovery, where the Spanish flag is located, and another monument to Columbus.  The large monument along Calle de Serrano (Serrano Street) is made up of three large concrete structures that represent the three ships in the voyage to the New World in 1492. The monument was sculpted by Joaquín Vaquero Turcios.  The three sculptures bear texts and figures related to the history of Columbus.

Monument commemorating Columbus' voyage in 1492.

Monument commemorating Columbus’ voyage in 1492.

History Comes Alive

In writing these posts about National Day in Spain, I had to rely somewhat on the internet. Sadly that is because my time at many of these monuments was so limited and because of the language barrier.  (For example on both of my trips to Madrid, I walked through Columbus Square, but never got up close to any of the monuments.)

It is one reason why I take so many pictures and keep a journal when I travel. When I’m back home scrapbooking or just looking at my photographs, it brings my travels, even the minutest details, back to life.  And I can research and translate things more at my leisure, like I did for these posts.

This 2-part series on Christopher Columbus has made my Spanish travels richer and more meaningful, and given me a greater understanding of American history as well. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse of these historic places and monuments to Christopher Columbus in Spain.  I leave you with a few photos from this special day in Madrid.

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Commemorating Christopher Columbus in Spanish Style, Part 1

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The opening line of the poem “In 1492” about Christopher Columbus takes me back to my childhood when we learned about Columbus and his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a new trade route to the East Indies.

Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

I never thought at that time that I would someday travel to Spain or visit the historical places that led to his explorations. But I did!

When I was young, my mind was focused on remembering the dates and details so I could do well in my class. Decades later, the main thing I remember are the names of his first voyage ships—the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria—and the date he discovered the New World: October 12, 1492.

Christopher Columbus’ Significance in Spain

Today is not only Columbus Day in America, it is also a holiday in Spain, Fiesta Nacional de España, or National Day. When I heard that Spain commemorates the day that Columbus set foot in the Americas, it surprised me. Although Columbus claimed vast territory for Spain with his explorations, and governed areas of Hispaniola, Spain doesn’t govern in that part of the world any longer.

When I admitted my ignorance around the subject to Pedro, he explained that Christopher Columbus launched a new era of wealth and power in Spain. Christopher Columbus, known as Cristóbal Colón in Spain, is a national hero. Just like the U.S., there are monuments to Columbus in many places throughout the country.

In my travels in Spain in the summer of 2013, I was fortunate enough to visit some of those monuments and historic places where Columbus ventured on his quest for funding of his journey across the Atlantic. During a week long vacation in the region of Andalucia, in Southern Spain, with Pedro and his parents, I started to get a feel for the vast and complicated history of Spain.

In the summer of 2013, I visited Granada, Cordoba, and Seville, Spain.

In the summer of 2013, I visited Granada, Cordoba, and Seville, Spain.

Let me start out by saying, that before our travels, I had very little knowledge about these places or the history of Spain.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Granada

My first glimpse at the intersection of American and Spanish history related to Christopher Columbus was in Granada, Spain. We walked through Plaza Isabel La Católica.

In the center of the square was a monument to Queen Isabel and Christopher Columbus. The monument was sculpted in Rome for the 4th centennial of Columbus’ journey to the New World. It depicts Queen Isabel granting permission for Columbus’ voyage.

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Columbus monument in Granada, Spain.

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After strolling through this square we headed to the Granada Cathedral and the neighboring museum, The Royal Chapel of Granada. The Royal Chapel is the final resting place of Queen Isabel I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, known as the Catholic Monarchs. History truly came alive for me when I walked through the Royal Chapel and viewed the tomb and crypt of these people whose names I learned in school decades earlier.

The tomb of the Catholic Monarchs

The tomb of the Catholic Monarchs

The crypt of the Catholic Monarchs

The crypt of the Catholic Monarchs

The next day we toured the Alhambra, the No. 1 tourist site in Spain. While touring the Alhambra, I learned that with the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in January 1492, all Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula ended. I was starting to piece together the significance of that year and how history really was shifting at that time and under the rule of the Catholic Monarchs.

Alhambra

The Alhambra, a Moorish fortress dating back to 889.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Córdoba

The next stop on our travels through Andalucia was Córdoba. First, we visited another major tourist attraction, the Mezquita, a former mosque converted into a Catholic cathedral in the 16th century. It is a splendid display of Mudéjar (Moorish) and Renaissance architecture and religious history.

Being so slow and deliberately trying to take in all of the beauty and reverence I missed out on another Columbus monument. We walked through the stifling heat (over 100 degree Fahrenheit), to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (the castle of the Christian monarchs). This served as one of the primary residences of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand.

Unfortunately it was closed by the time we arrived. In the summer, the site closes at 3:00 PM due to the heat and the traditional time for a Spanish siesta.

We walked along the exterior medieval walls of the castle, taking a few pictures, and marveling at the structure from the outside. Inside was another statue with Christopher Columbus. This monument commemorates the first meeting here of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand in 1486.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Seville

Our final destination on this vacation through Andalucia was Seville. It was there that we met Rosa’s brother Paco, and his family. He spoke English and served as my personal tour guide in Seville. He is well versed in the culture and history of Spain and particularly so in the architecture.

That was most evident when we toured the Seville Cathedral, completed in the early 16th century. This cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the 3rd largest church in the world. Unbeknownst to me, it also housed the burial site of Christopher Columbus. It was sort of a surprise at the end of the tour.

At the exit doors to the cathedral, Paco pointed out the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It was a grand monument—with the tomb being carried by four kings of Spain represented by kingdoms in Columbus’ lifetime, from Aragon, Castile, Leon, and Navarre. His remains took a circuitous route from Valladolid, Spain where he died, to the present day Dominican Republic, to Cuba, and now to their final resting place in Seville in 1898.

This partly explains why Paco told me that Columbus’ remains were only rumored to be in this tomb. Depending on who you believe, it does appear that at least some of his remains are buried there. DNA testing was done in 2006 to confirm it.

Seeing this monument with Columbus’ remains towering above the royal figures of Spain gave me much more insight and understanding about the place he played in this country’s culture and history. He was a hero and represented the dawn of wealth and power for this beautiful country.

An Ambassador for Spain

The burial site of Christopher Columbus was a fitting end to my Andalucía vacation and Spanish history lessons. There are many other monuments to Columbus in Spain. Someday I hope to return to Spain and see them—most notably in Barcelona or Valladolid, where he died.

As someone once told me, my travels to Spain have turned me into an American Ambassador for Spain. I still have dozens of ideas on posts I’d love to write about my travels and the sites and history of Spain.

In 2013, I saw it through the eyes of my Spanish hosts. In 2014, I saw it more through the eyes of religious history. I’m fascinated by it and am quick to tell people about Spain whenever I get a captive audience.

Date marker on Columbus monument in Madrid.

Date marker on Columbus monument in Madrid.

In my next post, I’ll describe more about the Columbus monuments in the nation’s capital, Madrid, and my adventures there on National Day (Columbus Day) last year.

On Mission for God, Part 7 ~ Review & Gratitude

I am struggling! It’s not like last year’s return from Spain.  But I am at a loss on what to write about my trip and how to re-engage in my writing discipline since my return two weeks ago.

I’m not sure what’s up with that. Writer’s block?  Writing fatigue from the mission?  Spiritual attack?  Or just plain brain drain from the last eight months of intense planning and preparations?

The one thing I am reminded of is to have an attitude of gratitude. So I cannot help but write a post about how grateful I am to have experienced another trip of a lifetime.

My Week in France

I am grateful for…

  • The Air France strike. My flight from Paris to Lyon was cancelled so I took the high speed train to Grenoble instead.  That provided me with more time to explore Paris.  I attended mass at Notre Dame, stopped by the Eiffel Tower for a quick photo opp, and bought some souvenirs.
  • The invitation from my American missionary friends to come to France to share my testimony at their church. My hosts showered me with their generous hospitality and acclimated me to life in the French Alps.  We explored nearby villages by foot and scoped out some old cemeteries.  They literally took me to new heights (on a perch thousands of feet above the valley and on mountaintops). God took me to new heights spiritually.
  • The opportunity to share my testimony at the Celebrate Recovery meeting In Grenoble. I met women who resonated with my story and shared my desire for spiritual revival in France.

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My Week in Rivas

I am grateful for…

  • The invitation from Pastor Josh Fajardo to come to his church in Rivas and teach about Celebrate Recovery. I hadn’t even met Josh at this time last year.  God beautifully orchestrated all of these steps.
  • The opportunity to share my testimony in front of a Spanish audience. This also provided the opportunity for Rosa and Pedro to attend and hear me speak in their native language.  It was an amazing blessing!
  • The connections that I made with people in the Rivas church, old and new friends, committed to life transformation through Christ.
  • The privilege to announce that the Spanish version of “Walking My Mother Home” was published as a gift to the church in Rivas.
  • The hope of continued partnership with the Fajardo’s, the church in Rivas, and that CR will take root in Spain.

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My Week in Madrid

I am grateful for…

  • The generous hospitality showered on me by my Spanish family, Rafa, Rosa and Pedro.
  • The hours of walking around Madrid and being able to physically keep up with it all. Some of my walks took me to sights I saw last year, but this time around I was able to appreciate them more fully and explore more leisurely.
  • The opportunity to visit and pray in several local churches.  I treasured each one and especially being able to attend mass multiple times.
  • The comfort and safety I felt with my family and in Madrid. I was able to explore one day on my own, taking the subway, meeting new people, walking to new places, and dining out by myself.  It gave me great freedom to experience Madrid in a new way.
  • The short visit with Pedro’s extended family allowing me to reconnect with a niece who stole my heart last summer and Pedro’s grandfather. We enjoyed the giving and receiving of gifts.
  • The ability to give signed copies of my Spanish story to Pedro’s family and that it can now be shared electronically with other friends and family.
  • The closure and peace I had leaving my Spanish family. I have no idea when I will see them again, but I am trusting the Lord to bring us together in His timing.

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Most of All

I am grateful…

  • To the Lord for allowing me to be His Hands and Feet on the ground in France and Spain, and for perfectly putting all of the pieces into place for me to go on this mission of hope. I am grateful that He stretched me outside of my comfort zone and has grown my faith in new life-giving ways.
  • To everyone who prayed for the mission (before, during or after) and for all of the generous donations that allowed me to follow God’s call to Spain.
  • To Timberlake Church for donating $1500 to cover the cost of CR launch materials for Free Methodist churches in Spain.
  • To the CR leader team at Pine Lake Covenant Church for sponsoring and supporting this mission across the globe.
  • And, to my family for taking care of the household for three weeks and supporting my call to Spain.

thank-you

Yes, today is Halloween, but let’s not forget to be thankful for the blessings in our lives. Don’t wait for Thanksgiving.  Let’s start a season of thanks-living.  What are you thankful for?

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Looking for updates on the CR mission to Spain, check out the blog post series on the ministry site where I serve,  celebraterecoveryontheplateau.org or re-blogged here.

CR Mission Update 1 – Arriving in France

Bon jour! It has been an amazing week in France. I am on my way to speak at the Celebrate Recovery meeting in Grenoble shortly. We head to Madrid tomorrow. The seminar is Friday and Saturday with meetings spread throughout the next week. Au revoir!

Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau

I (Ardis Nelson, member of the CR leader team at PLCC) arrived safely in France after 26 hours of travel by planes, trains, and automobiles. My travel included a whirlwind layover in Paris where I was able to attend mass and pray in Notre Dame.  I am 40 miles outside of Grenoble in the French Alps,

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On Mission for God, Part 6 ~ On My Way

I’m on my way! Six months after church meetings here in the States with Spanish pastor and missionary Josh Fajardo, I’m going on mission.

I’m numb. No time to make this pretty. Long lines at security. Rush, rush, rush.

I’m definitely heading to France because all flight announcements are in French and English. Lots to adapt to already.

When I land in Paris 10 hours from now, I’m heading to Notre Dame to take in the majesty of the Gothic architecture and to thank God for the life transformation He orchestrated to bring me to this place and time.

Bon jour.

Update 9/26/2014 ~ I made it to France, with a whirlwind tour of Paris by taxi. My driver spoke no English! I attended mass at Notre Dame and jumped out of the taxi at the Eiffel Tower for a selfie!  More updates to follow.

 

 

A 6-Week Tour of Spain

I can sum up 2013 in one little word, S-P-A-I-N!  It changed me.  It’s a part of me—past, present and future.  So with that in mind, I end my year of blogging, with one final Spanish post.  It is sort of a trip in review, with videos and photos that I haven’t previously shared on my blog. So I’m inviting you to join me, and a few of my friends, on a private tour of Spain.

Tourists (guests) on a private tour of Spain.

Tourists (guests) on a private tour of Spain.

¡Bienvenido a España!  (Welcome to Spain!)

Five months to the day I left America headed for Spain, I embarked on another Spanish adventure.  This time I was joined by a small group of friends who were eager to experience Spain for themselves.  We didn’t physically travel to Spain, but we did all have a Spanish adventure.

Last summer I spent 42 days in Spain living with Pedro’s family—a reverse exchange program, so to speak.  It was a journey three years in the making, after first hosting Pedro in our home in Seattle.  Since my published story in Journeys to Mother Love included this family, my trip to Spain was avidly supported by my friends and family.  So naturally I wanted to personally share my experience with them.

A table full of Spanish souvenirs.

A table full of Spanish souvenirs.

I called this four-hour extravaganza “My Spanish Fiesta.” It was partially in celebration of my birthday, but mostly it was geared at immersing my friends and family in Spain.  Together we explored the sights, sounds, and tastes of Spain.

The Sights of Spain

After the traditional European cheek kiss at the front door, and Spanish greetings, my guests turned their attention to the big screen TV.  Thankfully I didn’t subject them to all 5,000 photos of Spain.  I consolidated it down to a mere 1,000 photos, made into seven videos that related to the various segments of my trip. (Video of the main country of Spain is below.)

We traveled to Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Granada, Cordoba, Seville and several locations on the island of Mallorca.  It was a whirlwind of cathedrals, palaces, historic monuments, and tourist attractions.  They also got to meet some of my Spanish family, see where I lived, and get a feel for what it was like to live in Spain and vacation on the Mediterranean.  (Video of the island of Mallorca is below.)

Other notable Spanish sights for the evening were the Spanish flag hanging on the wall and a table full of souvenirs from my trip.  I collected books, jewelry, clothing, hand-painted fans, ceramic pottery, religious statues and mementos, a leather purse, and much, much more.

I was good for the economy of Spain.  “The economic crisis is over,” Pedro declared after seeing everything I bought.

Demonstrating the use of castanets, a familiar sound with traditional Flamenco dancing.

Demonstrating the use of castanets, a familiar sound with traditional Flamenco dancing.

The Sounds of Spain

Most of the videos included Spanish guitar music by Narciso Yepes and Paco De Lucia, from CDs that were gifts given to me by my Spanish family a few years earlier.  Two of the videos were accompanied by Pedro’s original compositions, one of which was composed while I was in Spain.  When the videos weren’t playing, Spanish music was still filling our senses.

And what kind of music manager would I be if I didn’t also treat my guests to an exclusive video clip from Pedro’s first movie soundtrack, Sed de Amor (Thirst for Love).  When the song “The Last Tear” played, it brought a tear to my eye, just like it did the first time I saw it at my private viewing with Pedro’s family.

The Tastes of Spain

Shopping for culinary treats at The Spanish Table in Seattle.

Shopping for culinary treats at The Spanish Table in Seattle.

The biggest hit of the evening, and hardest part to pull off, was the food.  Since I’m a novice in the kitchen, I usually defer to my good friend Stacie to make the culinary delights for my events.  Using a Spanish cookbook I purchased in Madrid, we carefully chose a varied menu of tapas (small plates) to tantalize my guest’s taste buds.

We shopped at The Spanish Table and the Paris Grocery in Seattle’s Pikes Place Market area for the specialty fare the recipes required.  At the top of my list was Iberian ham—the same kind that U.S. Customs confiscated from my luggage at JFK Airport in New York.  I savored the sight and smell of each freshly cut delicate slice of paper thin Iberian ham.*

A successful shopping trip at The Spanish Table.

My friend Stacie joined me for a successful shopping trip at The Spanish Table.

Since my husband truly is ‘el rey de la cocina’ (the king of the kitchen), especially after the recent remodel, he had a major role in the cooking as well.  He made spicy gazpacho and paella to eat, and Sangria, to whet our appetites.  Other tapas included Pan Amb Oli (ham, tomato, olive oil and bread), Mediterranean grilled vegetables, eggs stuffed with tuna, goat’s cheese and onion, and skewers of olives, sundried tomatoes and Spanish cheese.

Goat Cheese Tapa

Goat’s cheese with onion served on bread.

Paella

Seafood paella

Dessert ended with an assortment of Spanish cheeses, quince spread (similar to jelly), fruit and nut breads, grapes, and chocolate turrón.  It was just the light touch we needed to cleanse our palettes for the evening.  Magnifico!

Turron & breads

Fruit & nut breads with chocolate turrón.

Cheese & grapes

Spanish cheeses, grapes & quince spread.

A Final Note

That was my fiesta in a nutshell.  Imagine how it was to savor each morsel and be immersed in the sights and sounds of Spain—without the language barrier, of course.  It was a lot to take in, as was my 6-week journey.  There are many times that I still can’t believe I was in Spain this past summer, or that I was there for so long.  It is like a dream.

Dedicating the evening with an opening prayer.

Dedicating the evening with an opening prayer.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my husband for manning the fort while I was gone, and also to him and my sons who suffered through the remodel of our kitchen and two bathrooms at the same time.  Of course, I am deeply indebted to my Spanish family, to whom my fiesta was dedicated.

What happened in Spain in 2013 is behind me, but that trip laid the groundwork for what lies ahead.  God is aligning me with new Spanish connections and planting new visions and dreams for future trips.  In the meantime, I am preparing myself internally for what God wants to do through me here or abroad, and taking one day at a time.

Thanks for joining my little tour of Spain.  I hope you get the opportunity to travel there yourself someday.  If you do, by all means, let me know.  I’d love to compare notes.

Adiós, mi amigos.  See you in 2014!

Pan Amb Oli, served with Iberian ham, a Spanish delicacy.

Pan Amb Oli, served with Iberian ham, a Spanish delicacy.

*Jamón Ibérico is made with an ancient breed of pig found on the Iberian Peninsula.  These pigs, known as “Pata Negra,” are believed to descend from the prehistoric Mediterranean wild boar.  These unique pigs are capable of storing more fat, which enables Jamón Ibérico to be cured much longer than traditional ham, resulting in an intense and complex flavor with an unparalleled note of sweetness.  The nuttiness of this ‘meat butter’ comes from the pigs’ exclusive diet of acorns.

España Update 7 ~ Departing Spain

Everybody has a story to share about their travels—some comedic, frustrating, or scary. My return flights from Spain to Seattle, 3 flights covering 25 hours of travel, were plum with anecdotes to blog about.  One month after my return home, I’m ready to tell mine, and in hindsight, can chuckle just a little.

In comparison, my flights to Spain 6 weeks prior were very uneventful. I only had one layover and it was on American soil, so I was familiar with navigating U.S. airports, etc.  I was also met at Barajas Airport in Madrid by my Spanish family.  The language difference never really surfaced.  There were no stories to tell, only excitement to share and jetlag to overcome as I lived out my longest day and started my Spanish adventure.

Farewell Mallorca, Spain, my home for 2.5 weeks, summer 2013.

Farewell Mallorca, Spain, my home for 2.5 weeks, summer 2013.

The Best Laid Plans

The first leg of my travel home to America was an early morning one-hour flight from Palma, Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain, to Barajas Airport in Madrid.  It was a separate ticket from the roundtrip international portion of my itinerary.  That meant I had to physically claim my baggage and re-check it to the U.S., not something I was looking forward to doing alone.  I made plans to meet up with Victor, another Spanish exchange student, for help, and to reconnect since our last meeting three years ago in Seattle.

Determining a place to meet was one of the comical parts of my journey and opened my eyes to the differences with traveling abroad.  In a text conversation with Victor, I indicated I needed help with my baggage and requested that he meet me at the baggage carousel for my flight from Mallorca.  He told me he wasn’t allowed in that area of the airport.  I thought he didn’t understand my request and asked Pedro to explain where to meet.  In the end, I was the one who didn’t understand as the baggage claim area is a secured area in Barajas Airport, unlike in America.  So I had to initially claim my baggage, nearly 100 pounds of it, on my own.

Squeaking by the 23 kg weight limit with my luggage.

Squeaking by the 23 kg weight limit with my luggage.

A Scary Situation

With my bags in hand at Barajas, I patiently waited for Victor to show.  That was when my trip turned ‘interesting’.  While sitting outside the baggage claim area, a man walked up beside me and, without a word, laid down a backpack next to my luggage.  I watched in shock as he hurried off in another direction not looking back.  I realized immediately this was a safety concern.  However, being in a foreign country, and barely able to speak the language, I didn’t know how to report it.  Luckily others noticed it and called security.

I was long gone by the time security arrived.  I had already eaten up a lot of my layover time waiting for Victor and so I quickly turned my attention to getting to my next flight—praying as I rushed from the terminal dragging my luggage behind me.  I never connected with Victor, later hearing that his phone died and he couldn’t contact me.

While I was a bit fearful about the bomb threat, I was reminded that if I died in that moment that God had answered a prayer I’d had for the last three years—let me see Spain before I die.  Somehow that was comforting to me.  I never heard anything about that mysterious package on the news or while traveling.

A comedic moment, spying the overflowing pile of water bottles at the security checkpoint.

A comedic moment, spying the overflowing pile of water bottles at the security checkpoint.

Navigating Barajas Alone

With no personal Spanish translator, except my phone app, I began texting Rafa, Pedro’s father, for help along the way and keeping him posted on my status.  They had warned me that T4, the international terminal, was a long distance from T2, the terminal where my Mallorca flight landed.  I didn’t realize until I was on site that meant actually riding an airport shuttle bus.  I dragged my luggage onto the standing room only bus to T4, a few miles away along the highway.

Checking in at the Barajas main terminal was another learning experience.  Pedro and Rosa helped me at Palma, but now I was alone.  I asked each airline worker or friendly looking traveler within earshot, “habla Inglés?”

Since I had my boarding pass for my flight to New York, I was directed to a self-service kiosk to check in my luggage.  That kiosk spit out my luggage tags.  Then I had go to another line to actually deliver my baggage and send it on its way.  It was in that line that I met my first Americans.  What a relief!  We shared a few pleasantries and our itineraries.  Then they graciously took my photo—the last one on Spanish soil.

Navigating Barajas Airport on my own with 100 lbs. of luggage.

Navigating Barajas Airport on my own with 100 lbs. of luggage.

Security Checkpoint and Boarding

With my baggage out of my hands, I headed to security, which is less restrictive than American TSA rules—no removal of shoes, no dealing with plastic zip-lock baggies, and no x-ray body scans.  However, they were a lot more thorough with their baggage search—or at least it seemed that way as they took a lot of time with the x-ray machine and going through the carry-ons.  I had also heard other travelers mention a worldwide security alert was issued for air travel the previous day, so that could have been the reason.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Barajas is a huge airport.  It is the 4th busiest one in Europe.  That became very apparent to me on the way to my gate (puerta).  Shortly after leaving the security line area, I saw signs that gave estimates of the amount of time to get to the gates.  Mine read 22 minutes!  Yikes, I thought as I realized the flight was boarding soon.  My 3-hour layover had whittled away to nothing.  My laptop bag grew very heavy as I continued on multiple escalators, moving walkways, and a tram to reach my gate, naturally at the end of the terminal.  The timed signs were actually quite handy as they decreased in value along the way, but the initial estimate was a bit alarming.  I virtually walked right onto the plane with no waiting.

Travel times from the main terminal to outlying gates were posted on overhead signs.

Travel times from the main terminal to outlying gates were posted on overhead signs.

Adios España

As I settled in to my window seat and watched the landscape of Spain soar by below, I was filled with many mixed emotions.  I missed my American family.  After 6 weeks in Spain, I was ready to go home.  My trip of a lifetime was ending.  I didn’t know when or how I would ever return to Spain or physically see my Spanish family again (and still don’t).  It is an uncertainty and pang of the heart that I live with daily and trust God to lead me back in His timing.

My final hours and minutes on Spanish soil were scary and stressed.  The late night before, lack of sleep, and early morning were all starting to catch up with me.  It was early afternoon.  I still had 18 hours of travel ahead of me.

Farewell Madrid, my home for 3.5 weeks, summer 2013. I miss you already.

Farewell Madrid, my home for 3.5 weeks, summer 2013. I miss you already

Re-entry to America was anything but fun.  You can read about my remaining flights home on my next update in this series.

What’s your most memorable travel story?  Feel free to share it in the comments below.

España Update 4 ~ The Food

For the most part, eating is an experience in Spain.  The way they approach meals is very cultural.  In America, our meals are often a rushed experience.  In Spain, lunch and dinner are a sit-down family experience, or one reserved for gathering with friends—especially dinner.

The Spanish Cuisine

Americans consume vast amounts of fast food.  We also use a lot of pre-packaged or prepared foods in our cooking.  In Spain, the ingredients are fresh from the market.  For instance with so much bread in their diet, they buy a fresh loaf almost daily.  (Bread is to the Spaniard like rice is to the Chinese.)  The bread comes from a bakery—no Wonder Bread, or other similar sliced and mass produced bread.

Fresh food in the local neighborhood market, Madrid.

Fresh food in the local neighborhood market, Madrid.

Since olive groves are plentiful throughout the country, it is only natural that they use olive oil in so much of their cooking.  The main use of olive oil in my American home is in the summer when we douse our vegetables in olive oil before grilling them on the barbeque.  It is a taste sensation.  In Spain, I use olive oil to fry my very American egg breakfast, to drizzle on my bread at dinner or for a vinegar and oil salad dressing.

Olive groves in the mountainous region of Andalucía, southern Spain.

Olive groves in the mountainous region of Andalucía, southern Spain.

The most common meat in Spain is ham.  But don’t picture the traditional American Thanksgiving or Easter ham.  This is a totally different type of ham (jamón).  This ham has been cured in special seasonings and is then thinly sliced—like paper.

I can only remotely explain it as a sort of cross between bacon in flavor (but not cooked like bacon), and salami in consistency.  It is everywhere and visible in restaurants or markets with the leg of the pig hanging upside down from the ceiling.  I ate this delicacy before ever realizing how it was prepared, etc.  The ham and bread (jamón y pan) are a staple of the Spanish diet.

Ham, Spanish style, a frequent site in restaurants and markets

Ham, Spanish style, a frequent site in restaurants and markets

Other popular Spanish foods are paella—a Spanish rice dish usually prepared with seafood or chicken and gazpacho—a delightful chilled tomato based soup (my personal favorite), and one that Pedro introduced to our family on his first trip to America.  I occasionally add this to our American summer menus.  I was delighted to find gazpacho available in refrigerated cartons in the market so I can still enjoy it while living on my own these last few days in Spain.

My first authentic Spanish paella, Madrid

My first authentic Spanish paella, Madrid

The Food Experience

I’ve done a lot of traveling during my five weeks in Spain.  It has given me a feel for the food in different parts of the country and lots of opportunities to have tapas.  Tapas are similar to what Americans would consider appetizers.  Most restaurants have a full tapa menu as people order multiple tapa dishes and share them amongst the table.  It is a feast of tasting different flavors, and different types of food.

San Miguel Market, Madrid, a popular tourist location for tasting Spanish food.

San Miguel Market, Madrid, a popular tourist location for tasting Spanish food.

I bravely decided to try everything I was offered—even if I didn’t know what it was.  It made for some interesting food experiences.  I’ve truly enjoyed some foods I never would’ve considered trying if I knew what they were—like black pudding.   On another outing, I ordered bull’s tail for lunch.  I’ve also had octopus (not sushi like in Seattle), Vichyssoise, a French soup served cold, made from potatoes and leeks and foie pate, a meat paste made from duck liver.

Sangria, a refreshing wine drink with fruit.

Sangria, a refreshing wine drink with fruit.

The Drinks

The Spanish also like their alcoholic drinks.  I’ve sampled and routinely drank many of these.  One of the main surprises to me is the way Spaniards consume their wines.  I had heard wonderful things about Spanish wine.  Living in the wine country of the Pacific Northwest I expected to taste many wines—as a compliment to my food, like I do in Seattle.

In the circles I traveled and parts of the country I visited, that was not the case.  In other words, wine was not ordered based on what food we were eating.  The alchoholic beverage most served with a meal was either cerveca (beer) or tinto de verano (summer wine).  Summer wine is basically a red wine with a 7-Up type of cola added.  It was very refreshing.

Other alcoholic beverages included Sangria, Mojitos and Valencian Water.  But beware, the latter two carry quite a punch.  One of my favorite drinking experiences was witnessing family members drink summer wine (tinto de verano) from a flask type of bottle called a porron.  It almost reminded me of something one might witness at a fraternity party, but was demonstrated by Pedro’s grandfather.  Pedro demonstrated it as well and I obliged to their initial urging to try this too.  (Like I said, I embraced this lifestyle and tried to fit in.)

Drinking summer wine from a porron bottle.

Drinking summer wine from a porron bottle.

A Virtual Eating Tour

Everywhere I travelled and every time I tried something new or unusual I took a photo of the food or the setting.  So I’m including some of my food adventures for your virtual eating pleasure.

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Eating On My Own

My last week in Spain is already here and I’m living on my own in an apartment with views of the Mediterranean.  It is amazing.  I am writing this at a Chinese restaurant (for a change of pace and taste) along the beach overlooking the Port of Soller and my apartment home across the water.

I’ve enjoyed the Mediterranean and its food, but after five weeks away from home, I am ready for American food.  Bon appetite!  (Oops, that’s French, but you get the idea!)

The food is Chinese, but the view is Mediterranean.

The food is Chinese, but the view is Mediterranean.

~ If this is your first time visiting my blog, you can start reading about my Spanish travels here.

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