Sunday, September 30, 2007

Entry for September 30, 2007


I wondered whether I should cook something for myself or not.  I was in my room, and it was nearing that time when the body wants to eat.  I had just bought groceries, and I had a selection to choose from.  But I wondered if I would be asked to go to the party, as well.

I was updating my website up in the beer hut when Bernd and some fellow Germans came in.  They were looking “dapper,” simply meaning that their hair had the wet remnants of a previous shower, and they had put on non-beach clothes.  No suits, no ties, no real dress shirts, but these men weren’t the type to ever dress that way.  I’m not even sure if they could bring themselves to do it for a funeral.  But I could tell that their dress was different, and they had a reason for doing so...

“We will be leaving for the party in 20 minutes.”  Bernd had mentioned something about a party.  Hmm.

“Ok.”  I nodded in affirmation.  I didn’t know who all was going, I didn’t know what Bernd was going to do with his young kids, I didn’t know if I was invited, I didn’t know anything.  So I finished up the website, then headed to my room.  And waited.

A few minutes went by.  Nothing.  I poked my head out the door a couple of times.  The truck was still here, and I could still hear voices from the beer hut.  There was still the possibility that I would be I couldn’t start supper yet.

Another few minutes.  Still nothing.  I looked out again, making sure that my light was on so they could see it...just in case they needed to know where I was.  I tried to make sure that they couldn’t see my silhouette against my bright room.

Another couple of minutes.  I was now just walking in my room.

Knock!  Knock!  “Are you ready?!”  Bernd’s wonderful German accent quickly followed his rapping at my door.

“Yup!” I said back.  And with that, I knew that I was going to this party!  What party?!  I didn’t know.  I only knew that I was being outdressed (if possible!) by these laid-back Germans, and my Adidas shorts and baseball t-shirt just didn’t feel right.  I threw on some khaki shorts and a nice shirt and headed out the door.

Several people had come together now...Bernd and family, Klaus, Renata, Willy and family...and we piled into two vehicles.

The drive was about four minutes.  Bernd’s place is already in the middle of nowhere.  And I don’t know how to get further from civilization, but we managed to in just a short amount of time.  I still didn’t know where I was going.  Or what type of party to expect.  I was only told to bring 10 Euros for the food and music.  Honestly, since the kids and all were with us, I was banking on a night around a table with wine.  I mean, these Germans were looking suave, I had on clothes that would work in a church, and we had kids!  We had to be going to a mellow party.  That was our only option.

We drove through a one-car-wide road for a bit more, followed the turns, then headed up a hill.  And I saw a car parked on the road, obviously there for a party.  And to my left, the first thing I see is a gazebo tent popped up.  We were expecting rain, and I assumed this was to protect the gear.  Sure enough, band equipment was inside.  This was in the front yard.  Behind the huge tent was a very large house lit up by many lights...with a huge banner hanging on the side.

What type of party was this?!

We were some of the first to arrive.  I walk through the gate with the little kids, and I am immediately greeted by two men concentrating on this large pot of food.  Now please understand me...I have seen many fine foods in my day.  I have seen 10-pound pizzas, 11-pound hamburgers, 72-ounce steaks...I know large.  But before my very eyes was a HUGE pan of food.  Underneath the pan was a fire constantly being kept up by more sticks.  The flame continually mated with the underside of the pot, and these men worked tirelessly to keep the whole mess from sticking.  Stir, stir, stir.  Shake.  More water.  More sticks.  Stir, stir, stir.  It was quite a site.

Behind me people were gathered on the large porch, already talking the night away.  There is just something about Portugal get-togethers...lots of slowness and lots of talk.  It’s a good thing.

“Hello, Andy.”  One of the Germans I had met in the beer hut greeted me.  I do not ever fully understand it, but I have encountered people on numerous occasions that I have seen before.  Just last week, I was sitting in a small town, on a patio at a restaurant, and I recognized the guy sitting at another table.  But where from?  It took me 30 minutes to figure out that I had met him at Bernd’s beer hut.  Ah, yes...

And also last week, I met Bernd as we was searching for a house.  We asked a woman where to find it, and I instantly recognized her as the woman that spoke to me at church like I was fluent in Spanish.  I saw her two more times that day.

In just a week and a half, I have ran into people that I have just recently met.  And I love it.  The towns are spread out here.  The houses have large distances between them.  But the region is full of constant interaction, and I have only begun to taste it...

“Over here you have beer on tap.  Self-serve.  Just grab a cup, and help yourself.  And if you want wine, or tea, or water, or mineral water, it’s in the fridge next to it.”  Very well!

I walked around a bit, trying to figure out what type of party this was!  I saw some Germans, and I saw some obvious Portuguese people, but I just couldn’t make out the dynamic of the party quite yet.

So as to not be dependent upon Bernd or another, I made sure to keep moving and have my own way at the party.  I could see into the house, and I wanted to see more.  I saw some people inside, and I wasn’t sure if it was allowed or not, but I went inside anyway.  Futbol on a wide-screen TV inside a very large and quite colorful living room.  A piano stood tucked away in a corner, and all eyes were on two teams from Portugal.  Vibrant colors indeed...the room was decorated with an African flair.  Very welcoming for a party!

I stayed and watched futbol with them.  The passion for these teams is quite enjoyable, and I have found myself more and more in love with the game.  If only I could score myself one of those jerseys!

Some guy (whom I had met sometime in the previous weeks) came in with a plate of food, and he mentioned something to me in Portuguese.  I don’t know what it is about languages, but sometimes with no understood words, everything is understood.  I knew that the food was ready, and I better get myself out there before it was gone.  Except I don’t know about that last part, because seriously, how does one get rid of a 40-inch wide pan of food?  I mean, seriously.  And I was fascinated with this man.  I could tell that he was the host.  He sat in the nice chair in charge of the television, and he carried with himself an aura of confidence, familiarity, and delight.  He wore a loose white shirt, the type worn by pirates...with untied cords from left to right showing his chest.  He was free, he was happy, and he was home.  He just had something about him.  He appeared to be rich, yet he could have passed for a homeless man, just as easily.  I wonder how he was able to acquire such a place and throw such a party.

But what type of party was this anyway?!

I walked outside, and the number of guests had grown.  The huge pan of food was now no longer over the fire, and it was being attacked by several guests, though they appeared to be getting nowhere.  I hopped in line.  I didn’t know what I was going for, but that had never stopped me before.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a huge source of rice, vegetables, and chicken.  I filled my plate and grabbed a slice of bread, then headed back in to watch the game.  I finished my plate, realized that I would rarely have this opportunity again, so headed back out to have some more.

Where are these people coming from?!  The party was growing in size.

And I was greeted by another pan, though not quite as big.  This one was only 35 inches wide, and I was told that it had a seafood meal inside it.  And sure enough, after a close look, I saw lots of shrimp, potatoes, and a ton of mollusk shells sticking out of the mix.  I didn’t know if those were for decoration or for eating.  So what to do in a situation like that?!  First of all, take a picture.  Done.  Second, follow what the people ahead of you do.  And hope that they aren’t like you.  And wouldn’t ya know it, they were putting everything on their plate...the open shells included.  I covered half my plate, then headed to the other pan to fill up the rest.  And another slice of bread.

I had wonderful shrimp, gorgeous potatoes, and a I even tore out the little sea creatures from the shells and ate them.  Tasty!  I think there was some other seafood in the mix, too, but I couldn’t tell.  I just ate!

The futbol game ended, and so I headed outside.  The rain had started, and it was here with a vengeance.  Rain is not very common in this part of Portugal, but tonight you couldn’t tell.  But we all knew that this was not just a passing had the feel of a long, constant downpour.  So we all huddled like sardines on the porch.

I was a bit turned off to beer from the night before, and so I just ate my food.  I didn’t know anyone outside of the Germans, and they were all on one side of the porch, and I was in the middle, and so I just stood there, trying to play it cool.  I had met an Indian girl inside who spoke brilliant English and Portuguese, and I made some small talk with her, but we were separated again.

Then I saw some people I knew...the Latvian crew was here.  They had come to Bernd’s beer hut sometime last week, and I had talked with some of them in the hut.  Their crew had grown larger, though, and they now touted some blonde women.  Interesting enough.  I overheard one of the girls (not blonde) talking in English to the Indian girl, and when the Indian girl left, I went over the asked if she was from Latvia.  I think I completely threw her off.  We had a very difficult two-minute discussion, and she quickly parted ways.

Ouch.  That was a rough one.

So I played it cool again.  Stood on the porch.  Watched the rain.  With other guys playing it cool.

And I watched the people keep on coming.  But I still couldn’t find a dynamic to this party.  I asked a couple of people how often this party happens, and I was told either once a year or twice a year, they weren’t sure.  Someone said it was to celebrate the end of summer.  The host is a restaurant owner on a beach, and up through August, the tourists pack southern Portugal.  Now, though, in September and later, the beaches are given back to the locals, and the once-bustling towns are quiet at night.  Something to celebrate, I guess.

But the people were so vast...and so different.  There was a healthy dose of surfers here...guys in their 20’s and 30’s...sporting the small t-shirts, bronze faces, long and dark curly hair, and sideways hats.  If ever there was a poster with surfers, these guys would be on it.

But there were also the Latvians...a motley crew that only led me to one question:  did they mean to dress like this or is this normal?  I learned in the beer hut that these guys had come over to Portugal to start a pizza shop.  A group of friends, an idea, and a place.  To be honest, I don’t see it working out, but they were happy for now.  And that was good enough for them.  But when they arrived tonight, they seriously looked like they stepped out of a circus.  Where other people were wearing “normal” clothes, these Latvians came in with the brightest of colors...reds, blues, yellows, from head to toe.  Not knowing how else to put it, their clothes were “loud,” and for a second, I thought they had just wanted to dress like that for the party.  Until I thought about how difficult it would be for them all to find clothing like that in such a short time.  Bright shirts, jackets, hats, shoes.  Girls and guys.  Could it be that this country really dressed like this?

And then while watching the rain, I thought about how funny it would be for just one country in the world to be the jokesters.  They wore bright clothes, they played jokes, they enjoyed each other’s fanfare.  From the businessmen to the homeless, nothing but bright colors everywhere.  Just think about it!  The Wizard of Oz and Ocean’s Eleven joining hands.  Quite a sight...

Back to reality...who were these people?!  Elsewhere we had the Germans...a crew within themselves.  Bernd has been here for over 20 years, and some of his friends have just recently moved here (within the month).  We have Mike the German-speaking Canadian-truck-driver (who I learned was only rains when he comes to Portugal...without fail...every time he steps foot into the country, it rains.  Mike came in yesterday.  It rained today...for the first time in awhile...well, since the last time Mike was here, I think), we have Blondie, we have the American traveling across Europe, we had this English & Portuguese Indian girl, and on and on and on.

Then the band started.  They were a young mix and played some very interesting (what I would say poor!) songs, but the people didn’t seem to mind.  Actually, they loved them.  Of course, the free beer-on-tap and unlimited alcohol seemed to be the band’s best ally, but I didn’t say anything.

“Andy, come here.”  I was taping the band and the people, and I thought it rather awkward that I was being grabbed, but this German is a bit different anyway.  He is the millionaire-alcoholic, and he was pulling me through the crowd.  I had a quick fear that I was going to end up behind a microphone.

“Here, meet them.”  Before me were two blonde surfers.  I introduced myself, and I was pleasantly surprised to find two fellow Americans.  Georgia and Florida.  I shared my story with them, and they shared with me.

“We just arrived five days ago.  We flew into Lisbon, and we refuse to pay for our beds.  We tried to learn as much Portuguese as we could on the plane, and we ended up taking a bus when we landed.  As we approached our destination, we started talking to the people on the bus, looking for jobs.  And wouldn’t ya know it, a German chick says that her dad owns a German hotel in the country.  We could work for him in return for free food and a place to stay.”

I listened in wonder, as I saw my life being played out in another form.  They asked how long I had been here, and I said I had been traveling around 50 days.  They were delighted (though not impressed!) to hear that I hadn’t paid for a single night of lodging.  They were simply as confident and eager to do the same.

They had already spent three days surfing in the ocean, and I wanted desperately for them to ask me to come travel with them!  How fun it would be to have someone else to share the memories and experiences with!

And for the first time in quite awhile, I wanted someone with me!  I have been absolutely delighted to take this trip, and often being alone has its advantages.  But here, all of a sudden, I was hoping to find two guys that would invite me in!  We would work together by day, then play together by night.  It was one of those friendships that you wouldn’t even have to work on.  We talked like we were old friends, and everything that would happen would come naturally.

But one of them left, then after grabbing a drink, the other went after his friend.  Aye.

How fun would it have been to fly over with a friend?!  Trying to learn Portuguese in just a few hours!  How silly or stupid would we have been to even think we could?!  And then to get on a bus without knowing where we were going!  And then to have found a place to stay just like that?!  With food!  And a bed!  And beaches nearby!  And to end up at one of the biggest parties in Portugal after only 5 days?!

And to repeat that above paragraph to each other every night while lying in bed?!

It would really be sweet, actually.  I’m not lonely (though anyone that knows me will know that I have been there...that this trip even brought out some loneliness early on), and I haven’t regretted anything about taking this trip.  But in the blink of an eye, I instantly yearned for something that I haven’t had in a long time.  I yearned for the friend that I didn’t have to work for.  I yearned for the friend that just happened.  I yearned for the memories...for the cold days in Salt Creek, for the family vacations that are only complete when he comes along, for the nights of driving in the country with no purpose...but complete all the same.

And it’s a hard feeling to describe.  Because right now I am not lonely.  I love the freedom that I have.  It’s something that is only available when you have nothing tying you down.  Which is the beauty of it all.  You see, right now, I have nothing tying me down.  If I want to go somewhere, I go.  If I want to hit a country, I do it.  If I want to stay somewhere, I stay.  But that’s where the natural friend comes in.  He’s not a burden, either!  You are one and the same.  He doesn’t tie you down....he actually gives you a better experience!  Not that going alone is worse.  Or that going with two is better.  They are both good!  But each has its place.

And as I write this, maybe for the first time, I am beginning to see that the marriage thing can have its place, too.  Well, maybe not for the first time.  I often realize more than I let out, but that’s a different story.  But look at my website!  Because I have no wife!  And frankly, it’s true!  I have friends back home that have done the marriage thing...they have bought the house, they have married the mortgage, they have popped out kids, they have found the steady jobs, or they have popped the question, and now they do the planning, and on and on and on.  And what I see is this...

Birth—eat, poop, sleep

1-4—drive your parents mad, but make ‘em smile, too

5-18—School, school, school

19-22—More school!  After all, a good job requires more education!

23-25—Get married, get a job.  You’ve got to move out, show your independence, give your parents some peace of mind in the house, prove your self-worth, and start building up that retirement account.  After all, retirement is only 40 years away!  Gotta start now!  Those inflation prices can sure wreak havoc for you!

26-60—Work, work, work.  I have this to do, that to do.  9 to 5.  Pop out a kid.  More of this to do, more of that to do.  Raise my kids to do the above scenario.  Pop out another kid.  Aye, more!  School, sports, bills, mortgage, second mortgage, work...and then you have people like my pops that are 10 years out from retirement, and that is all they can think about!  Do they enjoy life?  Sure.  Is it hectice?  Sure.  Do they enjoy work?  Nah.  But it’s 9 to 5.  Nothing else.  A vacation here, a vacation there.  But the idea be safe is to be well.  And a long job is safe.  And secure.  And it provides the money for my mortgage, kids, new car, and on and on and on.

60-90—Finally do the things that I had dreamed of doing when I was 21.  If I have money.  And if I have legs.  And if I am still living.  Or don’t do the things that I wished I had done, and tell others to do them for me.  Or don’t do the things that I wished I had done, and make sure to keep others in the above scenario, too.  I mean, to branch out is scary.  It’s a big world out there...

So I have had the conversations with everyone about getting married.  You can’t work at a church without every mom and grandma ask you why “such a fine young man” such as myself isn’t attached to a girl.  And so they look.  And so they ask.  They try to get me to date Barbie, or a girl my age in the church, or a girl that they read about in Montana who is also in the 20-25 range.  It’s madness.

And so I naturally retreat.  Do I like girls?  Love ‘em more than most.  Do I wish I had a girl to walk along the beach with me?  Sometimes.  Yes, it would be great.  Hand in hand.  Crashing waves.  Full moon.  Dreams live in Portugal.  But sometimes not...because they don’t always like to climb the steep cliffs or go through the water that I go through!

And so I find this at work within me.  I would like to have a girl, and I would very much not like to have a girl.  How is this so?  Because the girls that I see seem to fit precisely into that mold I just mentioned above.  I have always said that I am not overly impressed with the female variety.  I don’t mean that as a cut-down (though, yes, it can seem that way).  I’m just saying that a girl for Andy Polley is not going to be your ordinary girl.

“Oh, well, then let’s hook him up with so-and-so.”  Or so-and-so.  And these people find the most strange varieties of girls for me.  And so I get rough-and-tough cowgirls that frighten even me.  “She would be Andy’s type!  She is so different!”  And I don’t know what it is, but the girls that are sent my way scare me.  But what scares me more is that they think that I would like them.  That deeply frightens me.  Am I that odd?

So I share all of this with my sister.  And she asks me then what I like.  And, lo and behold, I like cute girls.  Not the other ones that can beat me in arm-wrestling.  Is that so wrong?  But when I meet cute girls, either one of three things happens...and it’s gone from a theory to a fact...every cute girl of what I would call my type is either...

1.  Married or already married.  I can give you countless examples.  At age 25, I ALWAYS do the ring-check.  And I have seen MANY beautiful rings.

2.  Bonded to the above scenario.  “Let’s get married, have kids, move into a Chatham neighborhood, go to our kids’ soccer games, and on and on and on...”

3.  Not a Christian.  It turns out that I hate to say it, but being a beautiful girl seems to be more of a curse than not.  Why is it that all of the hot girls don’t like Jesus?  Why do hot girls have sex in junior high?  And high school?  And college?  And not find Jesus (if at all) until after they marry and are age 33, then realize that they need more in their life, their marriage, and in their two sons’ lives.  I hate to say it, and I even feel like I do a disservice to God, but it’s what I feel, it’s what I see, and it’s what makes me quite angry and frustrated.  Hot girls don’t like Jesus.  And Andy is attracted to hot girls.  What to do?

And so I bring myself to make a website entitled “Because I Have No Wife.”  Not that I want to.  Seriously, if there was a girl out there that would be a match for me, that would complement me, that would climb mountains with me, that loves Jesus, that also doesn’t want the above mold, that realizes that there is much life to be lived before the age of 30 that doesn’t involve kids, mortgages, and the like, that would rather walk along the beach than watch TV, that would play in the rain even at age 25...and 35...and 70, that is above the age of 18, and on and on and on, then count me in.

But what I have found or am finding are girls that don’t meet what I am looking for.  And so I am relegated to the conversations that I had with my dad on the way to the Chicago airport...”Your Mom and I were talking, and we finally think that maybe it is best that you don’t get married.  We just don’t think you will treat her well.”  And it wasn’t an insult, and I didn’t take it as such.  It’s where I was at in life.  I needed Andy Polley time.  I needed “before the age of 30” time.  I needed to not be in American any more.  I needed to hear people say that getting married at age 30 is ok.  That traveling is ok.  That being me is ok.

I needed this time because I had older people telling me to travel.  I needed this time because I weekly receive e-mails about people encouraging me to follow my dreams, to take life by the horns, to travel when I am young.  I needed this time because I get e-mails that applaud me for bravery.  I needed this time because I get countless e-mails about people living vicariously through me.  And this is just too much for me.

What is it about other peoples’ lives that makes them need to live through mine?  That is exactly what I do not want to happen in my life, is what.  And so I fight against it.

Wow!  So I just took a huge tangent from the party, but that is ok!

And so I make my way back to the porch.  I go back inside, watch part of another futbol game, and then watch the people all around me.  The Germans, the Americans, the Latvians, the Austrians, the Portuguese, the British, the Indian...I would imagine a good 15-20 countries may have been represented!

And I watch people keep going back for more beer.  And I see a couple of blunts come out.  And I see wild dancing.  And I see a Latvian take off his pants and dance in his boxers.  And I see a beautiful girl go from attractive to falling-over drunk.

And I sit there, wondering when we are going home.  I appreciate the beauty of the party, but the more I watch it, the more I just don’t appreciate it anymore.  I have that problem with people...with life.  I have such a hard time enjoying so much of life because my mind is always remembering other parts of life.  What do I mean?

I mean today I was watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup on television.  In the beer hut.  Several Germans had come to watch the championship game.  And I watched 90 minutes of intense and fun futbol...I found myself clapping, cheering, and really enjoying the action.

But at the end, I just had to question sports again.  The arena in China was full...literally thousands of spectators...the companies were out in full-force with advertisements...Adidas, Minute Maid, Vodafone.  And these girls with these great bodies, nice abs, huge salaries, and relentless devotion to the game...walked away with a free t-shirt and a piece of metal.

And so this is what I see.  I see millions of dollars going to a game, and I see child sex slaves.  At the same time.  I see passion, devotion, sweat, tears, and I see devastation, poverty, and hopelessness.  It has seriously become a curse for me.  The very events that I used to love to take part in now leave me wondering...I have such a hard time enjoying so much of life, because I have seen so much of life.  I have seen poverty, and so it’s sometimes hard for me to watch dollars be spent for pleasure.  It’s easy to comment on, hard to live by.

What would happen if every single dollar at the FIFA Cup was used to support a child?  To hire lawyers to fight sex slavery?  To feed the hungry?  But then I realize that if people heard that, no one would show up to the stadium.  Because supporting a child is boring, hard work, and we don’t get to cheer and scream with bright colors and loud noises.  Because getting involved in fighting against child sex slaves might get you killed.  And who wouldn’t rather do the wave than be shot?

And so I sit at that party, and I see people laughing, dancing, whistling, having what appears to be a good time.  And here I am, sitting on a trash can, in the middle of it all, not even drinking.  Of course, it was a bit difficult, too, because I didn’t have anyone to talk to outside of the occasional Indian woman, and I recognize that.  I know it would have been completely different if I had had a friend with me.  Would I have been dancing?  Hardly.  Clapping?  Maybe.  Whistling.  Sure.  Talking?  You couldn’t shut me up.  And I’m wise and mature enough to realize that part of that played into why I was ready to go.

But the other wise and mature part of me knows that I would still have been torn for the people that didn’t know how to walk.  That were high as a kite.  I would have wondered why people would come up to me and ask...

“You not drinking?”

“No, I already had one.”

“You don’t drink much?”

“Nope, just one or two.”

“Well, you’re better off for it.”


“Well, that’s a good thing.”

And I would wonder why they would say that with a beer in their hand.  Their seventh one.  What would bring people to think that a life of less drinking is so good when they would come to parties to get plastered?  It made no sense to me.  And still doesn’t.

What are we looking for, and why aren’t we doing something to get it?

We ended up leaving the party a little before 3:00 A.M.  Roughly five or six hours there.  I’m not sure.  But the party was still going strong.  I found out today that the party had to be broken up at 5:00 because of a neighbor’s complaint.  Bernd was thrilled with the party and asked me what I thought about it.  Very diverse...nothing like this in America, I would say.  And there isn’t.

But I really wasn’t fulfilled.  The food was great, the futbol was fun to watch, the experience was just experience!  But I still wondered about it all.

And I wonder why our churches aren’t packed with excited people.  From 15-20 different countries.  In Portugal.  Someone said it would take a kegger in one of the comments from another post.  Yeah, maybe it would.  But there’s got to be something else, too.

If people don’t want to feel the way they feel.  If people think that we’re better off for not doing what we do.  If people are looking for something more.  Something else.  Something different.

I don’t know.  I’ve said before that traveling can make you gain hope and lose hope.  Last night I think I lost some hope.  It just feels like a never-ending uphill battle.

Yet at the same time, I saw something beautiful last night, too.  No nationality borders.  No language borders.  No age borders.  No social class borders.  Young and old, Americans, Germans, Portuguese, Latvians, working, retired, rich, not so rich...all coming together.

A melting pot in the corner of a country.  A hope at traveling with some American friends.  A look at a special wife.  A fun...and empty party.  A man with more questions than answers sometimes.  It’s just another day in Portugal.

2007-09-30 23:06:01 GMT

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Entry for September 29, 2007

More pics added today!  Another beach trip (no surprise there!) and some pics of the work I am doing.  I also updated the couchsurfing hosts page!

2007-09-29 18:26:47 GMT

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Entry for September 27, 2007


I can’t even begin to tell you what pulling weeds has done for me.  For about a week now, I have been working as the “yard boy” at a camp/resort in the mountains.  My job is to make the place look nice.  I love this type of work!

Well, as it turns out, much of my job has been getting rid of weeds.  With a place this size, weeds can take over pretty quickly.  And a couple of my days have been spent weeding thorns.

I woke up today just like any other.  The sun was already shining through the front door and the back window.  I had gone to bed at 11:30, though, and I wanted to sleep some more.  I pulled the comforter over me to try to block out the light.  It worked, but I was already awake.  For the week that I have been here, I haven’t set an alarm clock once, but I always wake up around the same time...between 8:00 and 9:00 (except for that one late night where I slept until 11:00!).

I take a shower, then grab a t-shirt and jeans.  Today I am going to tackle a huge patch of thorns that has taken over what used to be a garden.  The garden was neglected, and the thorns saw a ripe opportunity for conquest.

I grab what has become my tools of trade here...two gloves and a large pruner.  And I get to work.  The thorns are so intertwined with each other that it is hard to know where they begin or end.  The thorns themselves are sharp, and an uncautious move will inevitable land me a scratch of remembrance.

Snip, snip, snip.  Before I can even get down to the bottoms of the plants, I have to clear away the tops to see the ground.  This is going to be a long day.  I only have to work two hours today to complete my 10-hour work week, but at this rate, I will have two days of work ahead of me!

Snip, snip, snip.

Last week on my first day of work I was doing the same job...this time around the pond.  When one is cutting thornbushes, there is no need for accuracy.  You need not worry about cutting at the right angle, about pruning at the right spot.  All you have to do is destroy.  Do whatever it takes to completely rid the land of all thorns in sight.  And because of this, my mind is free to wander.

And wander it does.  I don’t suppose I could tell you what I think about most of the time.  Sometimes it’s the chickens pecking next door, sometimes it’s the peacocks walking around, sometimes it’s the seldom plane that flies overhead, sometimes it’s what I’m doing this weekend...and on and on and on.  I just let my mind wander.

Well, last week I couldn’t help but learn a few things from cutting thornbushes.  When you spend a couple of hours behind the shears, you tend to think about life.  Here are soe can apply them to whatever area you would like.

Much of the time I think how easy this job would be if someone had just tended to the first sight of thorns in the first place.  The owner said that this garden has been unkempt for two years.  Two years!  Yet none of these thorns would be here if someone would have just kept an eye on the garden.  I always heard the phrase “A stitch in time saves nine” when growing up, and that phrase kept on coming back to my mind.  Of course, I would be out of a job, but I’m sure I could find something else to do!

How many of our problems could be avoided if we just addressed them when we first noticed them?  Kids involved in bad behavior, a marriage now on the rocks, being overweight, pornography, having to have another smoke...

After 20 minutes, I stopped and looked at what I had done.  It was barely even noticeable.  I had cleared a tiny corner of the large garden.  And the corner that I had cleared wasn’t even the thickest part yet.  I was only just beginning.  So what did I do?

Snip, snip, snip.

Immediately after college, I began pursuing my Master’s degree.  I had planned to graduate at the age of 23.  I am now 25 and still have no Master’s degree.  Yet I have completed all of the required coursework.  So what’s the problem?  It’s an 80-page paper.  I took months before I even started that thing.  And it’s not that I can’t write 80 pages.  Frankly, through college, I probably wrote a good couple hundred of pages.  So what was my problem?  Well, the answer is actually as diverse as the colors of the ocean, but one of the reasons was that it was 80 pages.  If it was 10 pages, I would have been done in a heartbeat.  Actually, if it was 10 pages, I could have probably written eight papers!!!

Exactly.  And again, we have a saying... “How do you eat an elephant”?

One bite at a time.

Snip, snip, snip.

The problem with thorns is that the branches of the thornbushes are long.  I might very well be working on this thornbush in front of me only to find out that it is connected to five other thornbushes.  I’d cut one branch, and I’d try to pull it out with the shears (even my gloves wouldn’t allow me to pull the branches...the thorns would easily go through as I quickly learned!).  But I couldn’t pull out the already-cut branch until I cut another branch...and another...and another...from different bushes!

For years I have been fascinated with people.  My sister and I have taken up the habit of people-watching.  Whether at the mall or at a restaurant in the middle of New Mexico, we love to sit and watch people.  You just never know what you’re going to get.  She is actually pursuing a degree of “people-study.”  To think that you can spend your whole life actually studying people.

Well, I am always fascinated with why we do what we do.  Why do a make a certain decision.  Why do I do this and not to do that?  Why do I not do this?  Is it morals?  Is it desire?  Is it both?  Is it good fighting against evil?  Is it spirit against flesh?  Is it hunger against boredom?

I spent years teaching kids.  And before that, I myself was the one being taught.  What always fascinated me was what someone does after they learn something.  It’s quite simple in some areas of life.  Once you learn how to say “hola” in Spanish, your hellos south of the border are always “hola.”  Or when I fly, once I learn how to speak over the radio, I am forever speaking pilot talk.  “Logan County, Cessna 757 Kilo-Whiskey...”  But it’s the other lessons that amaze me far more.

“Well, you should stop drinking then.”  And later that week, he is tipping the bottle.  “I have been trying to quit smoking for six months now.”  We talk through the fog from his last puff.  “Pornography has a negative effect on my marriage.”  But a weekly meeting only reveals more hits on the websites.

And so I begin to wonder...snip, snip, snip.

Is it really just smoking?  Or is it really just drinking?  Or is it really just pornography?  Or eating?  Or anger?  Or jealousy?  Are these the actual problems?  Or are they just the symptoms of something else?

One of the most frustrating parts about pulling these thorns is that I never know when I can actually pull one of the branches out.  I snip it, then tug on it.  Nope, it’s still connected.  So I snip some more, then tug.  Nope.  Still connected somewhere.  It has interwoven itself in another bush.  Snip.  Tug.  Nope.  Snip.  Tug.  There we go!  It has finally given way.  I tug a bit, but then I am forced to stop.  I now have a little more slack on that original branch, and I have separated it from another bush...but now I find out that it is connected to yet another bush.

Snip, snip, snip.

Maybe the reason we don’t stop smoking, drinking, having sex, being jealous, or looking at pornography is not that we don’t want to stop.  Maybe it’s because if we stopped doing those things, we would have to address other issues that are so deeply rooted in why we do what we do.  If I stopped having sex, I might have to actually face my loneliness each week.  I might not like being single.  If I stopped smoking, I might actually have to realize that I am deeply in debt.  And I have no idea where I am going to turn.  If I stopped drinking, I might actually realize that my marriage is worse than terrible.  I treat my wife nowhere close to what I did when I first started dating her.  If I stopped looking at porn every night, I might realize that I am an empty man on the inside.  I just want to be loved.

Snip, snip, snip.

I could have been done in under a half an hour with these thorn bushes if they were spread out over a large field.  But in fact they were not.  They were tightly interwoven, and I think somehow the thorn bushes know that to stay together they are protected.  A stray thorn bush along a path is quickly uprooted.  But an entire garden full of thorn bushes?!  That would take some time to clear.  “I’ll get around to it later...”

And the thorn bushes continue to grow.  And intertwine.  And mingle.  And spread...

I wonder what would happen if we actually took the time to address our actual problems.  Not the symptoms.  Not the first thorn bush that we come to.  But the actual mess that some of us are in.  Maybe all of us somewhere?  I wonder what would happen if we told each other that we are lonely, that we find it hard to love our wives, that we feel so empty inside, that we have an eating disorder, that we keep buying on credit, that we...

“45 minutes more.  Then we watch USA.”

Bernd (the owner) popped up on the other side of the fence.  He came to help.  I had been working for nearly an hour maybe, and I was quite tired.  My knees were spent, and the constant bending over while holding the long pruners starts to wear on you.  Not to mention the sun is now at its peak, and there are flies that literally bite through my shirt.  They are nasty ones...ones that even covered skin can’t avoid.

And maybe it’s just me...or maybe it’s just people in general.  But I found a renewed vigor inside of me.  I watched across the fence as Bernd snipped away at the thorns.  I started snipping with a renewed passion.  Snip, snip, snip!!!  The thorns were going away quicker now, not just because Bernd has helping, but because I was now working better myself.

And I had a goal, too.  In 45 minutes I was going to head to the beer hut and watch women’s futbol...the 51-game unbeaten streak was on the line for the USA women.  Brazil wanted to take it from us.

“You know what I don’t understand?”  Bernd was quick to break the silence.  “When I was in America,” (his German accent is so thick!) “I would watch your news.  There would be 25 minutes of what is happening in your town, then five minutes of what is going on in the world.  To me, you all seem so ignorant.”

Some would be inclined to take offense at such comments, but after 45 days of traveling abroad, one gets used to hearing comments about America.  And I have learned to take them all, whether good or bad, whether true or not...and then I weigh them.  What is this person trying to say?  Does he have a point?  Does she speak from experience or bias?

News Channel 20.  Breaking news...we’ll head out to the State Fair for live coverage...yes, we are having fried twinkies again this year!  And a few people were killed in Burma again.  Gus, how’s that weather looking?!  Great!  I hope you all have a nice weekend.

So really how was I supposed to know what the European Union was?  How was I to know that the dollar was weak over here?  How was I to know that...

Bernd interrupts my thoughts.  “And what we Europeans don’t get is why you don’t understand what these things are for.  Here in Portugal, when we use a hammer, we understand that it may smash a thumb.  It does not need to have a sticker on it.  But you take each other to court when you smash your thumbs.  This does not make sense to me.”

And I couldn’t argue.  This was the second time that I have been accused of coming from a country that is obsessed with lawsuits.  We talked about someone suing McDonald’s for their coffee being too hot.  Bernd just didn’t get it.  And neither did Marcel.  Marcel was a friend of mine from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We lived in the same house while in Boston, and every day around noontime, Marcel would watch Judge Judy or The People’s Court or some other court show on TV.  But he wasn’t interested in the system or in the hearings.  This was Marcel’s comedy hour.  He laughed and laughed and couldn’t believe why someone was taking someone else to court for not feeding their dog.  Or for not paying $75 rent.  I tried to explain to him that not all of America was like this, but this was the only court that he ever saw while in the States.  And so who was he to believe?  Me or TV?

And then I was reminded of a story of my own.  A couple of years ago, I was sitting in Dairy Queen with a couple of students.  Some girl comes running in the door, screaming, “I’ve just hit someone on a motorcycle!”  Then she disappears out the door.  Just like that.  It took two seconds total.

A serious state of “What in the world just happened”? came across all of the employees and consumers in the restaurant.  Including myself.  What?!  After the words that she said came together in my head, I asked the students if I had heard correctly.  Then I ran out the door.  Sure enough, there on the street was a man lying underneath a motorcycle.  A couple of us ran out to him, and his foot was so twisted in the opposite direction that it was painful even to look at.  The bike’s weight was keeping him from moving.  And he was screaming...”Help me!  Oh, my foot.  MY FOOT!  Someone help me!”

And it was easy to see that the bike simply needed to be lifted up to remove the pressure...but it was a large bike.  “Hey, will someone help me...we’ve got to get this bike off of him.”  I was eager to help.

And they all stared at me.  Then one of them yelled at me.  “Don’t you dare touch that bike or that man!  Leave him alone!”  But the bike was on him!  It was crushing his foot! And I looked around as everyone was paralyzed with fear.  They didn’t want to touch anything for fear of being sued.

I was appalled.  No one would help me. And they even made me stay away from him.  We had to wait until the paramedics came, and the first thing they did was raise the bike off of him.  He was now able to lay on the pavement.  Sure, his foot was still backwards, but he was a step closer to freedom.

This is exactly what Bernd is talking about.  And, sure, we have the Good Samaritan Law, of course.  But what good is a law when the people don’t even know how to use it?  My brother works for 911, and he has stories where people call in reports of wrecked vehicles out in fields or ditches.  “Well, is there anyone in there, sir?  Are they injured?”  But the person doesn’t know, because they refuse to leave their vehicle.  What have we created?!

“This is just too much for me.”  This is one of Bernd’s favorite quotes, and I love hearing it.  He only uses it when he doesn’t understand someone...whether it is a British person who comes to live in Portugal for 20 years but never learns the language...or whether it is an American that thinks they have everything they need in their own country...

He asked me what I thought about 9/11, and I said I didn’t know.  What seemed to be a terrorist war now seems to be an oil war.  And he asked me if I had ever seen Michael Moore’s documentary (which I haven’t).  He says he has it if I can watch it.  And I was reminded of the time in Galway, Ireland, where I was ever-so-confidently told that our very own government was responsible for the collapse of the twin towers.  I mentioned that to Bernd, and he just raised his eyebrows and turned his head in a “Well, friend, you should do the study yourself...I’m not going to say anything.”  But we both knew what he thought.

“And what I don’t get is how you voted for Bush a second time after watching documentaries like that.  This is just too much for me.”

Snip, snip, snip.

“Hey, the game has started.”

And just like that, we were done.  We had accomplished quite a bit in those 45 minutes.  I had learned a lot, and I had worked harder with someone there with me.  But now it was time for the game.  I have become a huge fan of futbol.  Some of my most fond memories are of watching German women’s futbol in Bernd’s beer hut.  I listen to the German announcers, and I even look forward to the commentary from the German women commentators.  At first glance, I didn’t think they were cute, but now the more I see them, I think they have grown on me.  Maybe it’s just a week of being in the mountains!

Well, for the next hour and a half, I watched a very physical game, and I watched a more-hungry and more-passionate Brazilian team defeat USA 4-0.  Bernd was surprised.  He had thought Germany and USA were going to meet in the finals, and I had wished that as I would have been the odd one out.

The game was great.  All I could think about was playing futbol myself, and I was overcome with more sorrow as I think about my ankle.  It has really become a burden to me as of late.  I want to run through these mountains, I want to play futbol in the towns with the kids, I want to run every day and not be sore the next day.  But, alas, I can’t.  And that hurts sometimes worse than the foot itself.

Well, after a couple of German beers, I left that hut with a renewed passion yet again to conquer those thorns.  I have discovered that working with people makes me work better, as well as having breaks.  After a good break, I am refreshed and ready to go again.  And on top of that, I hate leaving projects undone, and this was not about to be the day to do so.  Besides, a Portuguese man was working on making a beautiful brick wall, and he had been working even before I was up.  I have awoken to his whistling the past two days, and he was whistling again at three o’clock in the afternoon.  How could he maintain this enjoyment of work all day long?!

I wanted to be done with those weeds, but because I now hated Brazil (actually just the fact that we were taunted and that we looked like we couldn’t run and because I couldn’t run) and because this man was whistling seven hours into his day, I wanted to tear those thorns apart.

Snip, snip, snip!

The sun was still hot, and I had to go fetch some juice.  I sat in the shade to relieve my knees, and I looked over at the man laying bricks.  Unbelievable.

I hopped right back up, then continued again.  But not before standing in the corner and looking at what I had accomplished.  I was about 2/3 of the day finished.

When I grew up, I had a list of things to do and not to do.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I couldn’t drink, smoke, or chew.  And I couldn’t cuss, lie, steal, know the list.  Of course, I could smile, give encouragement, play for fun and not to win, congratulate others, appreciate my brother and know that list, too.

But there was another list, too.  It was one that was handed down to me from the church.  And frankly, the list was much the same as the one I had in home.  Home and church were so intertwined while growing up.  If I did these things, great.  If I did those, not so great.  Good and evil were so apparent.  It was all black and white.

Until college.  And then until seminary.  And until talking with friends.

Case and point.  Here is the situation...a guy has been addicted to gambling for years.  Insert smoking, drinking, chew, pornography, whatever.  And he has decided to stop.  Let’s say for spiritual reasons.  He used to gamble five days a week.

So the question comes in...what is considered success?

Is it four times a week?  Is it three times a week?  Is it twice a month?  Or is it only stopping cold turkey?

Honestly, I really don’t know the answer.  In my former years, I would have said cold turkey was the only way to go.  You’re either good or bad.  You’re either for God or against God.  Then the argument comes in for the personal struggle...

I remember a friend of mine who used to work at a homeless shelter.  She had been involved in drugs and prostitution, but she had become a Christian, and she no longer wanted to do that.  It turned out that she ended up dying in her 50’s...and it was only after her death that I learned that she still battled her drug addiction.  Even as a believer, she still wanted the cocaine.

So I am forced to ask myself that question....does the Spirit require a quick end to sin?  Does the Spirit have absolutely no room for darkness?  Do all of the Asherah poles and high places have to be destroyed immediately?  Or does He take a gambling addict who has gone from 20 times a month to only three.  He hasn’t stopped at three...he wants to get to zero, but in reality, he is at three.

Where the rubber hits the road, though, is when you start looking around at everything that this could apply to.  A student learns that sex before marriage is not God’s plan.  He used to sleep around a lot.  Now he only occasionally has a night in bed with another.  Hmm.  Or is he to end it all just like that?  Does the Spirit work like that?  Or maybe a better question is...Do people work like that?

When someone looks at pornography, should they feel guilty every time?  Or should they be able to rejoice that this month they only looked once rather than the 20 times they used to do?  Hmm.

Snip, snip, snip.

I backed up to look at it again.  I now had just a couple more feet to clear out.  I had worked well over the two hours that I needed to work today.  But I had a garden that needed to be found.  And these thorn bushes were in the way.

I was sweaty.  I was dirty.  I had bug bites.  My legs were tired.  My hands were starting to get callouses.  And I now had a huge mess of dead thorn bushes to pick up.

But the neat part about it all?

I now had a garden.  And I think I am going to leave Bernd a board with these words posted on it...

“Whenever you see the first leaves of a thorn bush, take the thirty seconds out of your day to kill it.  You will be forever thankful.”

If not, I know exactly what will happen.

And this is just too much for me.

2007-09-27 21:47:25 GMT

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Entry for September 26, 2007


Portugal has taught me much.  For starters, I have become a drinker.  Not an alcoholic, mind you.  But virtually every day, there is a meal or a get-together that involves either wine or alcohol.  It's just the culture here.

And I will say that I enjoy the brew.  It's kind of frustrating to me that back in the Midwest, I was raised with the understanding, "Don't smoke, drink, or chew, and don't go with girls that do."  I heard that quote many times.  I fully understand the reasoning behind such a desire (the argument is what good can come from any of the above?),  and I will not argue that such items can produce harmful results.

My frustration comes in the fact that these are the only items highlighted.  Why not sugar?  Why not fat?  Why not Big Macs?  Why not fried foods?  As long as we don't drink, we are fine.  But let's go out to eat and have a 3000-calorie meal.  Or let's sit down and watch a television show as a family that portrays sex with no consequences, cussing, murder as if it's a snack, and insert your other favorite non-good thing to do here.

I was raised in a family where drinking was taboo.  You just don't do those types of things.  After all, we are Christians.  And Christians don't drink.  No mention of the fact that wine was common in Scripture.  I had to learn those facts on my own.  So I would find myself in Boston with a group of Christians at a bar, and I would order tea.  Or pop.  That was the first time, though, when I realized that maybe the Midwest wasn't as "cut and dry" as we thought we were.

I will admit that I enjoy drinking wine.  And beer.  And frankly, I have no problems in saying that.  As a youth minister for six years, I would never touch alcohol.  Actually, no alcohol ever touched my lips until I was 24 years old!!!  It's hard to believe, but it's true.  Outside of mouthwash, I didn't drink.  After all, I was a Christian.  And Christian's don't drink.  Or is it can't?  I'm not sure.

But even as a youth minister, I would wonder if I was doing more harm than good.  The more I studied, the more I learned that it was a Midwest idea.  Christians on the East Coast drank.  Christians in Europe drank.  Christians in California drank.  And then I even learned that, lo and behold!, Christians in central Illinois drank.  Could it be?!

So back to the more harm than good...I would question if it was better for me to say no to alcohol completely...or to model what drinking wisely looks like.  In other words, when I turned 21 (and let me insert that I will never support students under 21 drinking due to the national law), would it not be better for me to drink but to drink well?

Let me put it this way.  We teach our students not to have sex before marriage.  Sex is powerful, it has consequences, it is made to be a bond between a man and a woman, it can be abused without mature understanding, etc.  But let me ask you how many people you know that decide to put off sex on their marriage night?!  "Sorry, honey, but we have to remember that we are teaching kids.  And if we have sex, then they might, too.  Let's hold off..."


Is it not better to be a husband and wife who enjoy sex?  Who show how to have sex within marriage?!  Who appreciate beauty, the complexity, the simplicity, of sex?***  (***These are all things that I assume to be true....haha!!!).  And who wait to have sex until after they are married?  Wouldn't it be foolish to never have sex after married?!

So my question is this...just how different is drinking?  It has consequences.  It is a dangerous thing in excess.  It can be abused.  It has a time and a place.  (Insert the word "sex" and see if these aren't also true).

I drink often here.  Have I been drunk?  Nope.  And I will never encourage drunkenness, either, as I believe (and can point to Scriptures) that it is dangerous and not healthy for a person.  But I have probably averaged at least a drink a day here.  Wine and beer.

Just today I had two glasses of beer over German futbol.  And we had a great time!  Last night I had a couple of beers over a campfire.  And we had a great time!

Could I have drank pop?  Or tea?  Or water?  Sure.  Was it necessary?  Not at all.

The Midwest is a beautiful place to live, and I am thankful for my heritage.  But I will continue to question some of my upbringing.  Just because something can be dangerous doesn't mean you run away from it.  Fire is destructive, but we would be fools to never use it to cook, to heat, to see.

And about the other "vices" that the Midwest doesn't address?  The topic of obesity has come up far too many times here.  As a whole, Europe is much skinnier than America.  Just today I was talking to a guy about "Supersize Me."  He is a bit on the chunkier side, yet he said he felt tiny in America!  And he said he is fat here!

But we never talk about food in churches.  I can't ever think of a single sermon or talk on over-eating.  Drinking?  Yup.  Smoking?  Of course!  Sex?  Almost weekly!  Eating?  Let's do it after youth group!

I wonder if we shouldn't start spending some time looking at other things.  We are often quick to judge when we ourselves are slaves of our own masters.  See what Scripture has to say about eating.  About gluttony.  About living in excess while the aliens, widows, and poor are all around us.

Just some thoughts I've had.  And if you're ever up for talking more about them, let's grab a drink or two and discuss!

(Your thoughts would greatly be appreciated on this one!  Leave a comment, and let's discuss!)


Ok, I'm going to completely shift gears here!!!

(I will also mention here that today is a very special...but unique day.  Last night we had a campfire here.  It turns out that it's a great time to hang out with people!  Campfires are as perfect in Portugal as anywhere else!  There is just something about people gathering around a campfire.

Well, anyway, we didn't really need a campfire, as the moon as out.  And its almost lit up the entire countryside.  Absolutely beautiful.  Well, about a couple hours into the campfire, some more people come from out of the woods...I love this place!  I start talking to one of the ladies...

She is petite...dark black hair...seldom combed and rather coarse...and the sides of her head at her temples are shaved.  She is a pleasant 45 years attractive woman!  And I talk with her for a while...she is an absolute delight.  I talk about my trip, and she makes some interesting comments.

"Oh, that's great...yeah, you have to line yourself up with the cosmic forces."  I think I nodded...

I shared some more, and she made another comment that kind of threw me off.  When asked if she wanted a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, she asked for water.  It's the most pure, she says.

Well, we talk some more, and then the fact that tomorrow (now today!) is going to be the full moon comes up...

"Yes, I am very excited!  I'm a witch..."

And with that, the Midwest boy is again in new and fascinating worlds.  And, frankly, I was not at all surprised.  It all made sense now.  She carried with her a different set of beliefs, of values, of living.  It just resonated from her.  Softly.  Yet fully.  But she wasn't what I would picture if I was asked to think of a witch!  She was cute...enjoyable...and pleasant.

I wanted so desperately to ask her what she was going to do tomorrow night, but I just didn't feel like it was right to do that.  I did learn that she will be doing witchcraft on a local beach, though...

And, honestly, some part of me is eager to see exactly what that means.  But the better part of me is very believing that demons and Satan are very real.  And I really believe that Satan will be very present on that beach tomorrow night.

I don't even know how to deal with such things!  But I just thought I would share.  No answers.  No conclusions.  Just another dose of reality.)

2007-09-26 17:41:38 GMT

Entry for September 26, 2007


I think the best part about Portugal is the time to think.

For the first time in a long time, I have had enough time to just sit and have time to think.  Of course, I guess the time is always there.  But I found it so difficult back in the States to use that time for thinking.  It seemed that there was always an errand to be run, a game to be watched, or a mile to be ran.  I just never sat down long enough or consistently enough to think.

So what am I thinking about?! name it, it has probably crossed my mind.  I have thought about everything from traveling to people back in the States to money to future plans to girls to skills I have to what trades I can learn....and on and on and on.

As of late, I have really been focused upon what to do in my next phase of life...especially on the job front.  I had desired to teach English over here, and I pursued that goal with what I had available...I talked to an English teacher from London, I went to English schools in Portugal, I tried to make connections with a teacher in Portugal, and I spent hours on the internet trying to figure out what exactly I needed to teach.

But as time wore on, I became less and less interested with that idea.  Not that I have put it aside’s just that something else has come and taken its place.  I cannot stop thinking about being a pilot.  Night and day, that is what I keep coming back to.  I have now had my Private’s Pilot’s license for four years, and yet I have minimal hours because I would always focus my money on paying down debt or on motorcycles or something else!  And my flights always ended up being labeled AAA-AAA.  I would fly from Lincoln to Lincoln...for sake of time and money.  An occasional flight would land me in Champaign...or Springfield...or Bloomington...but they were few and far between.

And then in 2005 and 2006, when I was better able to fly time and money-wise, I was often unable to fly physically.  I found myself in and out of a cast on my leg, sometimes for months at a time.  And then I found myself in a cast on my arm...for more weeks.  I need both arms and both legs to fly.

I would slowly add hours to my logbook, but they were essentially minimal in terms of it all.  I was only flying to stay current...I would have to fly once every three months to keep currency.  I would fly once at night to stay current there.  And then right before I left, I remember being a little bit nervous as I went to have my 2nd bi-annual flight review.  I was to fly with an instructor to make sure that I was proficient.  I passed with flying colors (pun intended!!!), and I realized how much I love flying again.

I sat in a hangar, and I listened to the planes coming in and taking off.  I would watch the different styles of aircraft in the skies.  I would talk to other pilots who all had the same passion as me.  I talked with a guy about owning an airplane together.  But what sticks out the most in my mind is me sitting in that hangar, with the breeze blowing all the way through, watching planes on the ramp and in the skies.  And I loved it.

But I couldn’t think too much about that because I was leaving in just a few weeks!  I even remember being cautious about how much money I spent on the aircraft rental, though because it was the only one available, I rented a brand-new LightSport with a glass cockpit!  If that means nothing to you, then know that it was a brand-new six-figure airplane with computers instead of the old instruments!  It was fancy!  And I loved it!

But I was leaving soon!

Looking back now, it is pretty easy for me to see my passion for flying.  When I went to Mexico a couple of weeks before leaving for my trip, I stepped inside the cockpit of the jet we were flying.  I talked with the pilots, asked what it would take to further my training, and then took my seat.  But I never really felt like I was ready for that.

Then I left for Europe.  And I found myself in airports.  And time and time again, I found myself watching the Captains as they pulled their briefcase and stickers of countries visited behind them.  Sometimes I thought it would be a rough life, but I also found myself fascinated with these men and women.  They were flying!

And then several weeks later I found myself in London.  I was staying with a guy who used to be a flight attendant.  He has visited 48 countries, and he could identify every single airplane that was flying over our heads into London.  He had been on most types!  And when he realized that I was a pilot, airplanes and pilot talk soon became our norm.  We were dreaming together!

He would talk about his dream of becoming a pilot, and for the first time, because of talking to me, I saw his dream become within his reach.  We talked about the financial part of it, and I could almost literally see a switch go off in his head.  He realized that he could actually become a pilot.  And more than that, he could become his dream:  a Captain.  And his words were contagious.  He had a passion that could only be fulfilled if pursued.

And I think he stirred up that often-dormant passion within me...

But I had to move on.  From London I moved to Portugal.  More airports.  And I was again fascinated with them all.  Looking back, I now see myself watching the flights come into Faro, Portugal!  I walked to the end of the runway, and they would fly just feet overhead!  (And now come to think of it, when I was in Glasgow, Scotland, I took a bicycle ride out to the hills....and I stopped to take pictures of airplanes flying over my head!).  I am just fascinated with flying!

So there I found myself in Portugal.  Beautiful sun.  Beautiful people.  Beautiful beaches.  And a life that is highly-desired but foreign to me.  Slow.  Relaxed.  Peaceful.  And the funny part is that things still get done!  I have cleared the weeds around the pond, I have cleared the weeds from the island, I have fixed a broken mower, I have mowed the lawn, and I have worked on an electrical system.  And somewhere in there I have enjoyed a brunch on a patio, enjoyed a Sunday afternoon meal with 15 others, enjoyed a campfire under the stars, been to the beach a couple of times, visited with people from church, enjoyed a lunch in twon on a patio, gone shopping numerous times, enjoyed a couple of outside patio suppers, and enjoyed a couple of futbol games in the beer hut with Germans.  And to think that all of this took place in one week.  In a culture where things are “slow.”  And I have time to think, to sit and relax, to sit in the sun, to lay on the beach, and to write and study.  In a culture where things are “slow.”

I love Portugal because it has given me time.  Time to think.  Time to visit.  Time to work.  Time to relax.  Time to enjoy life.

So, again, there I am in Portugal.  With time.  And I came back to this whole pilot idea.  I started doing my research, and I realized that this dream of mine is not too far off.  I looked at what it would take to further my training, and I realized that I could be flying in the clouds in several weeks, that I could be flying twin-engine airplanes in just a few days, that I could land on water in a couple of days, and that I could became a well-qualified full-time pilot in about six months.  For the first time, this far-off dream all of a sudden seems possible.  From the old lady in the feet of the mountains telling me, "Do it.  Just do it." to the understanding of what training it will take, I now realize that I can do it!  The dream, the fog, the distant possibility now has definition and reality to it.

And I have become giddy.  Seriously!  I think about flying day and night!  I think about what it would be like to load up my family or friends into a six-seater twin-engine airplane and head for Lambert’s.  Or the coast.  Above the clouds!  Just like the big jets!  It didn’t matter whether we had six seats or 300...being above the clouds was still the same!

And I am seriously thrilled about the whole idea.  I think I could wake up happy and excited each day as I prepared myself to fly yet again.  I used to wonder if it would get old...if flying every day would get boring.  Well, excuse me for my boldness, but allow me to share a conversation I had with a close friend a couple of years ago.  We were talking about sex, and we wondered if it would ever get old.  He was married, and I, of course, was not.  And he said, “Do you ever get tired of playing basketball?”

Come to think of it, I never did!  At times I would be tired during basketball, but in college, I often found myself playing basketball every single night!  It never became old!

”Sex is better than basketball.”

And so I had my answer.  And so I have my answer!  Flying has never become old for me yet...there have been some long flights, and sometimes the Illinois terrain can look the same throughout!  But all flights end up having a memory or something enjoyable in the end!  So I don’t think flying every day will ever become old!

So I want to become a pilot.  A professional pilot.  Instrument, Commercial, Multi-Engine, CFI, CFII, MEI.  I am about six months and $30,000 away from making that dream a reality.

And as it stands now, I hope to have my first commercial pilot job by summer of 2008.

Thank you, Portugal.

2007-09-26 17:02:41 GMT

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Entry for September 22, 2007


Short but sweet!

Just wanted to let ya know I went to the beach again!  But a different one.  Yup, I spent my Saturday laying in the sun.  (And climbing mountains!).  I just thought you would like to know that.  haha.

I'm pleased to report that no waves tried to kill me this time.

I woke up early today and was able to watch it go from black to day...and I took some time to watch the sun set tonight, too.  In the morning, I saw perhaps the largest planet/start I've ever seen (next to the sun).  It was so bright it looked out of place.  That's what the mountains will do for ya!!!  This, my friend, is what Saturdays are for.

Take some time today to just slow down a bit!

Enjoyed my second brunch in three days.  Eating out on the patio again.  It's hard to describe, but eating outside is much more healthy.  I heart it in a BIG way.

And I'm headin' to a Portuguese church tomorrow!  I won't have a clue what they're sayin', and I'm lookin' forward to it!

Oh, and I'll probably go to a gypsy market, too.  I saw 'em already settin' up shop tonight...vans filled with all sorts of items.  Big tents being erected!  I can't wait to see how it all turns out in the morning!  Looks like a big circus!

Ok, time to go eat.  It's 9:52.

2007-09-22 20:53:22 GMT

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Entry for September 19, 2007


A couple blogs up today.  And pics!  Check 'em!

Just to bring you all up to speed, I'm still in Portugal.  I'll be stayin' here for some time...I don't know how long, but I'm no rush.  I asked for six weeks, and I was granted it at the customs check-in!

I picked up a job yesterday.  Technically, it's not a job.  I get absolutely no cash for my work.  But I get a place to stay.  More or less, I am working at a resort/camp out in the middle of nowhere.  No, I mean out in the middle of nowhere.  The camp is situated on the bottom of beautiful, green hills.  But we are miles from civilization!

I have to bike into town to buy groceries or to get anything else!  And it's great...the bike is an old German fella.  I pulled it out of the garage yesterday.  After inflating the tires, lubin' the rusty chain, adding some more oil to the brakes to get them moving, I was off!  It still makes some noise when I go up hills, but it gets the job done!  And it's the type that has me sit up in a proper position.  Go ahead, picture the wicked old witch on the Wizard of Oz ridin' through the sky!  That's me!  I feel so proper when I bike!  yikes!

So here's the deal.  I am the groundskeeper.  The Yard Boy.  The Lawncare Maintenance Specialist.  Whatever you want to call it.  That's me.  I work 10 hours a week in exchange for a nice room complete with shower, kitchen, double bed, etc.  Not a bad deal if you ask me!  I can work the 10 hours any way I want to.  All at once....spread out.  Whatever.

So here's my in the morning.  Then have the afternoon and evening off!  It works out great.  I tried it out today.  I spent three hours clearing away a big thorn bush from 0830-1130, then I cooked some lunch, then took my wicked bike to the coast!  I didn't know where it was, so I just headed for the clear, blue sky!  And I found it!

And, oh, did I find it.  Beautiful coast, it is.  It's much different than southern Portugal.  Western Portugal has sheer cliffs and ROUGH seas.  And that makes for some fine viewing!!!  I climbed down the very interesting cliffs (the rock is very thin and falls apart in your hands!), then made it to the remotest of beaches if I ever did see one.  I put the first footprints in the sand!

And, of course, I was eager for pictures!  And as any good cameraman does, I went to the best locations for pictures.  Out on the rocks!  I became a new man after a wave tried to attack I soon left (the video is in the pictures section!).

But I went to other rocks.  The entire time I am walking along the beach, I am thinking..."Hmm, the high tide comes in WHEN???"  And I didn't know.  But from the debris of shells and some plastic bottles high up on the sand, I could tell that the ocean came all the way up to the cliffs.  On the very sand that I was walking on.

Remember that fact as you are walking along the beach with me.

I go to another part, far away from the place where I had climbed down the cliffs.  The cliffs behind me are now impassable, and in the back of my head is still that high-tide idea.  Well, I am taking BEAUTIFUL pictures on the rocks, and I take notice of some higher waves coming on shore.  Nothing to worry about really.  The ocean goes up and down.  Some waves come up higher on the sand than others.

More pictures.  I pose for a's good times.

Then I look out to sea to see what I am taking pictures of.

"[insert not-so-good word]!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"  I didn’t mean to say it.  But it found its way out anyway.

About 100 meters out, I see 15-20 foot swells.  Huge waves.   One after the other.  coming in fast.  And I don't have time to appreciate their beauty.  The waves have been powerful all day, but these are 2-3 times the others’ size.  And all I can think about is high tide.   “It’s coming for me!”  I throw my camera into my bag, grab it, and just start sprinting as best as I can on the rocks!  I'm rock-jumping!  I'm not even on the sand yet!  Jump, jump, jump!  Run!!!!  I'm now on the sand, and I am sprinting.  I look back to see how fast my doom is approaching...

And they have been absorbed by the rocks.  The swells are gone.  At least for now.  More come in...but they are absorbed again.  Wow.  I know not what high tide looks like or how fast it comes in here.  But I was sure it was coming for me.  Obviously, a Midwest boy was out of his element.

But I wasn't ready to risk anymore.  Without having the tide schedule in my hand, I wasn't up for trying to survive on jagged cliffs in a raging ocean.  I walked back to the beach and hung out on the other side where I had come down.  I laid in the sun for awhile, then climbed back up.

And, oh, what an experience!  I imagine only a handful of people in the entire world have seen such beauty!  This beach is so remote I had to pass by a farm house to get to it, bike down a sandy road, ditch my bike when the road ended, and then walk through brush, and then maneuver my way down an unstable cliff!

But it’s easily one of my most favorite places on earth.

Work in the morning, play in the afternoon, write and relax in the evening.

Yeah, I can get used to this.

2007-09-19 20:52:58 GMT