DSC02450.JPGJonathan and I are in Ireland!  To see our pictures, click here.

Above the clouds, a blush rose in the cheeks of the Irish sky.  It was early.  A tailwind had pushed us almost half an hour ahead of schedule.  After eleven hours on two separate planes (and one three-hour layover in Chicago), we were finally descending. 

The vast, marshmallow bank of creamy clouds swallowed our plane and before long we'd pushed through them and could see the blue black expanse of ocean water dotted by lights from fishing boats and lighthouses.  Lower.  Lower.  Then we could see the rise  of land out of the water... Ireland.  It was bright enough to make out rolling green pastures divided by thick, dark hedgerows. 

Our plane touched down before 8:00 am.  We disembarked on the tarmac and walked into the airport.  This gave us the perfect chance to grab a photo op with our emerald Aer Lingus plane in what locals would call the wee hours of the morning.

Just inside the terminal, we stepped away from the crowd and took turns in the bathroom... changing into fresh clothes, brushing our teeth and washing our faces.  I'd been lucky enough to snag three hours of sleep on the flight over, but Jonathan hadn't been able to do the same.

Customs didn't take long, and the attendant who stamped our passports found our "quick weekend trip" idea to be cute.  He wished us luck and alerted us to the fact that this weekend is one of the Six Nations Rugby Championship weekends... and it's the BIG one: Ireland v. England.

The good news?  While we know nothing about rugby, we're quick learners.  AND, we couldn't think of any more exciting way to spend our first night in Dublin than at a raucous pub, drinking Irish beer and cheering on the guys in green along with a couple hundred excited Irish rugby fans.
jesus_camp.jpgAlong with a group of Christian friends, I just sat through the controversial documentary Jesus Camp.  The movie profiles a fundamentalist group of Pentecostal Christians on their quest to "teach" the next generation what it means to follow Christ into "battle."  The children in this film, all appearing to be under the age of twelve, are ushered from their kitchen table home schools and their charismatic Sunday school classrooms to a summer camp in North Dakota. 

There they learn about Jesus as Lord, His death and resurrection, the salvation of mankind... all things I believe, too.  But the intense speakers, the comparison to preparation for war, the graphic visual aides... all of these smack of something different, something cult-like. 

The tear streaked faces of guilt-ridden seven-year-olds filled the screen as each of the children dropped to his or her knees and asked for forgiveness, accepted the cleansing of water splashed upon them from a Nestle water bottle brandished by the "minister." 

When this movie was released in 2006, the trailer was all I needed to remind me (and, I hoped, my fellow Christians) about the power of negative imagery involving the church and about our responsibility as Christians to portray the positive, loving side of our faith all the more to counteract such obvious exceptions to the rule.  But now having viewed the movie in it's entirety, I am struck by something else. 
shirts.jpgI'm sitting cross legged on my bed.  My freshly washed hair is hanging in damp, dripping tendrils.  I am flushed and warm.  There are few feelings better than this, clean and relaxed, facing nothing but a weekend of low key fun after a night of sleeping soundly next to my husband.  Especially given that I've just pulled on my favorite sleeping t-shirt.

Livermore Cowboys.  Seniors.  Class of '97.

The shirt was originally Jonathan's, of course.  In 1997, I was finishing up a year of homeschooling as an eighth grader in Newark.  I was still in braces.  I was a brand new Christian.  I played basketball with the boys in my youth group three times a week and had never been kissed.  My crush on Tom Cruise was still new.  I had no idea that my parents were within a year of picking up and moving our family to Livermore, California, a city I'd never even heard of.

Anyway, one of the many senior year festivities is buying the senior class shirt.  Jon did.  And six years later, his LHS Class of 2001 girlfriend found the Class of 1997 t-shirt in a drawer and annexed it immediately.  It's got that super soft feeling of cotton that's been washed ten thousand times.  Ten thousand tumbles in a dryer.  Ten thousand fragrant dryer sheets.

elephant.jpgHow do you eat an elephant?

The correct answer: First, cut it into little pieces.

The Salinger answer: Drag it deep into a cave, all alone, and attempt to swallow it whole.

Or, declare that anyone who would eat an elephant is beneath contempt and then stalk off in the other direction.

This is one of many passages in Dreamcatcher, a memoir by Margaret Salinger, daughter of Catcher in the Rye's J.D. Salinger, which hits home for me. As a stubborn-willed gal born of stubborn-willed parents, I am all to familiar with the concept of approaching a "problem" differently than my friends and peers.

Every once in a while I find myself caught off guard by a Problem, cornered and without any pre-reasoned response, I must admit that my gut reaction is Salinger-esque. Usually, I treat the encounter the way I'd treat an encounter with a mountain lion... I pull myself up tall and swing my arms out wide to give the illusion of massiveness on my part, then holler unintelligibly at the Problem in the hope that it will turn and run, tail between its legs.

Not the most sophisticated solution, to be sure, but one can hope...

control yourself. stop.
loose your hair. open your palms.
alone. sit. think. be free.
IMG_7076.JPGWe see rocks rubbed raw by the sand and eons of devilish heat.  Some places, the rise of dirt from valley into foothills is as graceful and pink as the naked thigh of a woman nestled in mauve bed sheets.  The terrain is alien... from the odd extra terrestrial shapes in the stone to the unnatural colors.  Not just green but hyper copper green.  Not just orange but fluorescent sienna and orange.  Toxic colors.  

A loud snap like a bullet discharging from a gun yanks us from our reverie.  There is a crater in the windshield of our rental car, small but obvious.  It casts jagged, aquatic reflections back at us.

We sigh, wondering aloud about the cost of repair, the amount of our deductible.  I comment that I hope we have a glass deductible waiver.  Nothing is less childlike and imaginative than a conversation about insurance.  But soon the haunting landscape recaptures our attention and we drive on.

Jonathan parks at Badwater, the lowest point in the contiguous United States.  Hand in hand we leave the road and walk into the valley.  White swaths of salt flat run untamed at the center of the basin floor.  Beneath our feet, rolling mounds of salt crunch like fresh snow.  Soon our soles are packed with pure white salt.  We are not alone.  People move in pairs and families at odd intervals up and down the silvery ribbon of the path.  Here and there we pick up laughter and bits of conversation, but on the whole there is silence.  Curiosity breeds quiet.
tree2.jpgThere is a side to my personality which, for a long time, I classified as "boyish."  This wasn't a term I came up with on my own.  I grew up around a lot of boys, but I simply assumed we acted the same way because we were children... not because I was more like a boy than like a girl. 

Instead of making me feel more included in the boys' club which was my neighborhood, hearing that I was "boyish" (especially when spoken in that smug, piteously explanatory way) made me more isolated from my male peers.  Moments before, our game of King of the Hill had been fabulously fun.  Suddenly, when the advent of a new description of Audrey, leader of the pack, the game took on a new tone.  I was "like" the boys I'd been playing with, but they were "allowed" to be that way.  I was breaking some holy code.  Worse, the boys who had been happily following me as the de facto leader, the one with all the answers and all the games stocked up in her head, found a reason to doubt me.  By following my dictates, they were being emasculated.  Granted, this thought wasn't fleshed out for years, but the base, unsettling feeling that comes with emasculation was conceived in the hearts of those boys right then.  I was "other" and needed to be taken down a peg.

How was a ten-year-old girl supposed to know that being called "boyish" was society's way of taking me and boxing me into a finite set of predetermined definitions?  Much later I would learn that words like "tomboy" and "boyish" made my teachers and my playmates and their parents feel more at ease.  Even then, when I had no other option but to acknowledge and agree with the words they tossed at me ("tomboy" being preeminent), I bristled at the boundaries.

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