Friday, December 27, 2013

Goals vs. Resolutions

Several of my colleagues are avid soccer fans.  In fact, at least two of them are planning to go to the World Cup this coming year, and everything World Cup is a normal topic of conversation in the break room.  Since I began working here, I have learned more about soccer than I ever knew before, even from my host brother in Germany. Our student workers has gotten into the act as well, but they have taken it a step further and have created a tournament based on the FIFA video game, and dragooned some of my colleagues into it, in spite of the fact that they don't know how to play the game!

This is the game that everyone is playing at work.
Of course, since I still don't know very much about soccer, except that there is a huge inter-office rivalry between those who root for Mexico and those that root for the US soccer team, this post about a more serious type of goal (not that soccer fans don't take their goals very seriously...), specifically where I want to go from here.

When I started this blog almost a year ago, I stated my goals as follows:

I plan to chronicle my journey, both spiritually and physically here, so that my friends and family can join this journey with me.  While on pilgrimage, I plan to blog whenever I can find internet access, so there will be pictures and narrative as I walk.  In the meantime, I will talk about all of the planning I do, as well as any and all spiritual insights as the Lord gives them to me....

I am contemplating the possibility of entering religious life.... Since this is also part of my personal pilgrimage, I will talk about things as they develop.... Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given unto you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened unto you." (Matthew 7:7)  So, I plan for this year to be my year of asking, seeking and knocking.  Will you join me on the pilgrimage?

 So, really, my goal was to make it here:
The Cathedral in Santiago as the moon rose behind it.
and here:

Yep, this is an inside look at an actual human heart (image taken from Wikipedia), although my looking was more metaphorical!

I know that I made it to the first, and I started to get glimpses into the second, but the journey isn't done--I don't think any of us quit walking in pilgrimage until we stop breathing, even if the physical journey is over with. I'm just not sure what is next.  Of course, none of us know what the future holds, although many of us begin to think about the coming year and make "resolutions" about next year as it looms on the horizon.  I don't like resolutions because they are usually either: 1. too vague--"I'm going to get in shape this year!" 2. too drastic--"I'm going to quit my 3 pack a day smoking habit this year!" or 3. too frivolous--"I'm going to eat cheese puffs at every meal this year!" for us to stick to them.  

That is why I'm thinking in terms of goals rather than resolutions this year. I've been thinking a lot about questions like, "When I think about me 12 months from now, what do I want to see that is different?  What would I like to strengthen within myself?  What habits do I want to cultivate?  What habits do I want to get rid of? How do I plan to get from here to there?"  That last question is key--without an action plan, nothing will change--it is the key weakness of most resolutions! 

At the same time, I am one of those people who tend to fail at keeping resolutions because my goal is too lofty/drastic. One year, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon, so, Jan 1st saw my couch potato self running 4 miles with predictable results--I had wrenched my knee by the second week of January, and lost the will keep trying by the time my knee healed enough to begin running again.  Running a marathon is still on my bucket list, but I now know that you can't go from no miles to 4 miles immediately and expect to do so injury free. My motto for this coming year:


I'd like to add some specific goals that follows the above motto, but I'm just really not sure what those will be yet.  I do know that I want to make exercise something that is a natural part of my day...something that I do without thinking about.  I also know that I'd like to get back in the habit of several spiritual disciplines that used to be part of my routine: Adoration, saying my Rosary, daily Mass, etc. They were my bedrock of survival in the last years of my marriage, so I know that getting out of the habit was at least partly because of relief.  And yet, it is also no excuse to neglect my relationship with God because I no longer have emotional trauma in my life on a daily basis. I'd also like to be better at keeping my house clean, and I want to break the habit of being late all the time.  I want to be out of debt, and hope to make a major dent in that over this coming year as well. I want to write here at least once a week. I want to become fluent in Spanish.  I want to finish my novel. I want to finally run that marathon. 

If I were to take on all of these from the beginning of the new year, I know that I would give up long before Ash Wednesday, so I will likely choose one habit and work on that for January.  Then, I will add one more in February or March, and so on. If I chip away at it, then I can get all of these goals done for this coming year, but it also means a lot of discipline--something that I seem to be in short supply of right now.  I know that this is my own fault, because I have been listening to the negative voices in my head. Without the above spiritual disciplines to underpin my resistance to the dialog in my head, I tend to succumb to the despair and depression that those voices engender.  One of my Camino friends, Jillian, calls those voices the fear monster, and actually named hers George!  Check out the above link to see her comic strip about her interactions with her fear monster.  She makes some valid points about what those voices do to us, as well as how it affects our relationships with one another.  

Really,  if I were to be honest with myself, that needs to be my main goal this coming year--conquer the pessimistic voice in my head that tells me that I'm not good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough to be, do, accept, etc. I don't want it to be a fake kind of affirmation, like the Stuart Smalley Skits on Saturday Night, Live, though.


What I'd really like is to continue to build upon the healing that has happened in my heart so that I have a firm foundation for whatever God has for me in the future.  That way, when I sit here and look back on next year, I can be like all of the soccer fans I'm surrounded by at work: "GOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


I woke up this morning with this song, Lady Gaga's Applause, stuck in my head (the preceding link is to the lyrics only).  You can see the official video below, but it is pretty explicit, so it isn't good for little ones.

Anyway, I first heard this song because one of my colleagues likes to turn up his volume really loud and then lay his headphones on his desk rather than wear them on his ears.  It is a catchy song, and I think it points to something that all of us crave: affirmation.  We all want to be liked, to be cheered on.  But, earlier this week, someone on my Facebook feed posted this response to this article in the Wall Street Journal about how annoying it is to see people with 13.1 or 26.2 stickers on their cars.  I used to have a 13.1 sticker on my car, and will probably put one on my car again at some point.  Why?  Because I'm proud of the fact that I have finished a half marathon, and because I hope to finish several more before the end of 2014 (at least 4 and maybe 5, in fact).

There is also a pitfall to this craving for affirmation, and it is one that both the original article and the video for the song point to: when we live for the applause rather than for ourselves, it leads us further and further away from who we are (note that Lady Gaga has several moments in the video where she looks almost deranged--living for applause is making her crazy!). Applause in our culture is very fickle, and unless I continually talk up my own achievements or conform to the most recent fad, it is also very fleeting.

It is so very easy to fall into the trap of constantly seeking affirmation.  I've actually been trying to refrain from posting about my exercising/races on Facebook because my nephew once tagged a post #humblebrag.  His tag had the sting of truth, and that little response was enough to make me think more about what and why I'm posting on Facebook, or even here.  Am I writing because I want to see more traffic on my blog, because I want to see who is "like"-ing my posts, or because I really have something to say?  I'm not immune to doing the same thing in person either, though.  To my chagrin, I worked that I had run a race before coming to dinner on Thanksgiving day into the conversation.  It was entirely unnecessary to even mention it unless I wanted my family to ooh and aah over my discipline, and I should have kept my mouth shut.

Ginger and me at the Turkey Trot.  I couldn't resist adding a picture...

Like the Bible says,

It's not like I expect God to reward me for running, although He does all the time through the sheer joy of it. It's also not like my running times are anything to really brag about.  I get done faster than the people that are walking these races, but just barely! I know that some would say that I'm still lapping the people who are still on the couch, but is rubbing my new-found active lifestyle a valid way to motivate them to join me?  I don't think so. The principle of the above verses is still valid--If "I live for the applause" as Lady Gaga sings, I'm doing it wrong.

Instead, I want to have more of the attitude of this song, Katy Perry's Roar (The above video is more cute than racy, so it should be safe to watch around kids as far as I can tell).  It is the difference between saying, "look what I did." and *shrugs* "Of course I did. I'm a runner."  I'm still working on transitioning from the first to the second, and I'm sure that I will have the occasional slip up like what happened on Thanksgiving. I guess it's hard not to brag when something is so integral to my personal healing process... In the year since the divorce was final, I believe that building my identity as a runner has been a means for me to repair my identity of myself as a woman, as a human being, and as someone worthy of respect and basic decency.  It is something that I cherish, and because of that, something that I want to share with those that I love.  And lastly, it is something that this Katy Perry song exemplifies. I'm stronger and more healed than I have ever been in my life, and I can't help but want to share that... Not for the applause, but for the sheer joy of being closer to what God intended me to be than I have ever been in my life.  All the glory goes to Him, but please rejoice with me about it!

"So look at me: I'm sparkling!"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On Writing

Gotten from
I often end up in this pose when I am trying to think of what to write.

It is official...I signed up for the NaNoWriMo once again, and I'm probably not going to make it this year either.  I did this last year, but didn't get very far because I was incredibly busy as well as dealing with a lot of emotional turmoil.  I like the idea of NaNoWriMO, but can't seem to stay motivated throughout the whole month.  I may just go back to using as a way to become more disciplined about writing, and just leave it at that.  At the same time, in preparation of attempting the NaNoWriMo again this year, I made a list of ideas for novels, some more developed than others, and part of me is itching to actually see if I can develop them into actual novels.  I don't know if I have a successful writer lurking back in psyche somewhere or not, but I do know that I want to develop these stories and not taking the time to write means that they will remain locked inside my brain.

So, with that in mind, I have been thinking about those books and series that I tend to go back and read--what characteristics cause me to want to re-read a book or a series?  I know that the characters tend to speak to me for one reason or another--they are either people that I would want to know or people that I love to hate or pity (Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility or Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, anyone?). They are also nuanced and not 2 dimensional.  The plot is arresting and not one that you can see through.  If it has a Christian theme or character, they don't preach at you, and they have flaws and struggles like anyone else.  Sex, if mentioned, is not explicit.  Characters are not static--their experiences change them in plausible ways. If it is a series, I fall in love with the universe that the story is set in and there is a coherence to the setting, making it fun to return over and over again, just like a favorite vacation spot.

The above is a really tall order, though, and I'm still learning about how to do that.  I seriously doubt that my first attempt at a novel will be very good!  Of course, I have to finish writing it first, don't I?

Monday, October 21, 2013


Earlier this week, I realized that I was losing the hard-earned calluses on my feet.  Considering that they were created in the places where I got blisters (the side of my left big toe, the ball of my right foot and on the heel of both feet), the process actually looks a little bit like it does when a blister pops and the skin flap comes off, but without the pain/weepiness involved.  Yes, I know, not the prettiest of mental pictures, but just a reality of not walking anymore.  The fact that I'm not doing near the exercise that I was makes me sad, as does the fact that I'm going to have to start all over again once I can actually handle walking more than a mile without pain again (and I'm currently at about .35 miles of running without pain!).  If nothing has brought home to me that I'm really not on the Camino anymore, this has.

Honestly,  getting over tendinitis has greatly restricted my exercising, although I am finally adding this part of my routine back into my days.  I have to say that  I will be incredibly happy when I can get up to 3-4 miles running again, but I'm thinking that it is going to take at least another month of recovery, even with taping up my ankles.  I found this really cool way to tape my feet for the type of tendinitis that I have, and I'm going to be trying it out later this weekend.  Keep your fingers crossed that it helps!

At this point, my goal is to be able to run about 3 miles by the time the beginning of December gets here, although I will be happy if I can run about 2/3 of that plus walk the rest.  I just don't want to lose the level of fitness that I have achieved, but every day that I'm not able to get out there is another day that I will be closer to my sedentary, unmotivated, couch potato self--an iteration of myself that I hope to never see again!!!

Losing my calluses made me think of other calluses I have lost.  You see, playing any kind of stringed instrument will give you calluses on your finger tips, and I spent most of my high school and college years getting and then losing calluses on my fingers, depending on how much I was practicing at the time.  When it comes to instruments, there comes a point when practicing becomes torture until those calluses form, and if you don't grit your teeth and fight through it, you will never develop the calluses you need to be able to play pain-free.

There is also a down side to calluses, though.  The thicker skin means that you don't have as fine of a sense of feeling through the calluses.  It protects you from the rubbing or the pressure, but it also means that you won't feel certain things as easily as you used to either, which made doing things like trying to pick up spilled straight pins more difficult than when I had no calluses.

A picture I drew in my journal while on the Camino.

Life has a way of putting Calluses on our hearts as well--those places where life or our own sin rubs or chafes us.  Before my Camino, my heart had a lot of calluses: my former daily life required that I protect myself just to get through the day.  In the Bible, this process of gaining calluses on our souls is often described as hardening our hearts, or that our hearts had become hearts of stone rather than hearts of flesh.  Walking the Camino began working on those calluses on my heart, softening them like a long soak in the tub softens calluses on the skin: you can now attack them with a pumice stone!  The Lord was scraping away on the hard places of my heart in order to expose tender, new flesh underneath. He's not done yet, but I'm closer to the tenderhearted person I used to be, and that, too, is part of the healing process.  I don't relish the process, but I like the result.  May the Lord help us all to lose the calluses on our hearts!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: Infinite

I saw this particular challenge on another blog, and just had to go with it.  While you might have seen some of these pictures from my Camino before, others you might not have, but all of these speak of the infinite for me...

Sunset from my drive home one night.  
Sunsets seem to show all of God's glory as He uses the sky as his canvas.  It is one of my favorite things about living in the Southwest--I think we get the prettiest sunsets here!

"The Road goes ever on and on..."

I took this picture on the day before I contracted tendinitis as I was walking to Ledigos.  I can't imagine the time it took for pilgrims to pile these rocks on the Camino.  And yet, there is a feeling of timelessness that overtakes you on the Camino.  No, that isn't right...the road stretches out before you, and time becomes irrelevant as you think about putting one foot in front of the other.  You become a part of the line of pilgrims that stretch out through time, both before and after.

This is a door to the cemetery surrounding a little church on the way to Samos.  Sometimes, when I am not in a hurry, going through an open door evokes a scene in my head from Pinky and the Brain: 
Pinky: What are we doing tomorrow, Brain?
Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky. (pregnant pause) Try to take over the world!
 Doors open up new and exciting possibilities!

I took this on my next to last day on the Camino at Monte de Gozo.  This particular Albergue has something like 900 beds, and this is just one of many dorms. I found my reflection in the glass door, as well as the light shining through my reflection from the door on the other side of the dorm very compelling.  And, that is what the Camino did for me: opened a door into my soul to shed light on what was found there.

If you want to join in, feel free to use the link below to add your own post on the weekly photo challenge!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Godliness with Contentment is Great Gain." (NIV)

This verse in I Timothy 6:6 has been going through my head ever since I have been home from my Camino, and at least part of it is that the greatest result from my pilgrimage has been that I have "found my peace." So, really, I have found some contentment in my life and in my current state in life.  That doesn't mean that I'm like Mary Poppins ("Practically Perfect in Every Way")--Not by a long shot!

Graffiti in Yellow on a Grey wall that says, "Still a long way to go!"
This is some of the Camino-related graffiti that is on the trail...If you can't read it, it says, "Still a long way to go!" It was at about the 150 km mark from Santiago.  One of my friends told me after the fact that she mentally gave the writer the middle finger when she saw this.  Of course, she had already walked about 650 km at that point, too!

One of the things I'm realizing as I integrate back into my "real life:" I am still the same person I was before I left, only more joyful. I still struggle with getting up in the mornings, especially if my niece and I left the A/C on all night.  I still struggle with being lazy at work, and procrastinating (although staying on track is easier since coming back).  I still struggle with what it means to be creative, and what my role is at my place of employment.  And, I still struggle with doing the same chores that I found onerous before I left for Spain! The difference is that I don't feel this all-consuming discontent about my life and where I am.  I don't have that "itch" in my gut that is telling me that I need to be doing SOMETHING (only God knows what) to change where, what, or who I am right now.

This is the Femur bone of St. Benedict, the father of Monasticism.  It was given to the Monastery in Samos by the Monastery in Monte Cassino in order to show how important their community is to history (this monastery is the oldest monastery built to care for pilgrims on the Camino) and to the Benedictines.
That is why we have so many different types of saints--It is because God doesn't change us into something that we aren't when we become saints.  Instead, he makes us into the people He truly intended us to be, and in the process, we become lenses for His Love to shine through to the people around us.  That means what I would look like as a saint, and we are ALL called to be saints, is different from any of the saints that have gone before. Honestly, I really like the idea that God doesn't make cookie cutter saints--only one type of saint would be boring, and it would mean that only certain personalities would have a fighting chance of becoming one!

This particular sign in Leon made me giggle--we have been prohibited, El Paso!

One one level, I have expecting the contentment to dissipate because I have a hard time believing that it can last the onslaught of all the craziness that is my life. While walking the Camino, life had a different pace and a different rhythm to it... But, it hasn't been going away, and for that I am very thankful.  For the first time in my life, I can truly say that I am comfortable in my own skin--something I'm not sure I have ever truly felt until this point.  Now that I have been home for a little over a week, I'm beginning to suspect that this contentment may last for the long-term, and that is a joy and a blessing in and of itself.

As I have been exploring this contentment (much like a child worries a loose tooth), I think a large part of it stems from the fact that I have come to a greater understanding of what it means to trust God, no matter what the circumstances.  Like I told one of my co-workers upon coming back, I didn't get the Camino that wanted, but I got the Camino that I needed. God seems to be incredibly good at that, just like any good parent would be!

The arrow on this post is actually pointing right, but I really liked the blurb someone had written on it, about 100 km away from Santiago: "No amount of miles can make a mockery of IRON WILL."

I also gained some insight into how my free-will interacts with God's plan for me.  Heck, I think I became the queen of getting lost while on my Camino, in spite of the fact that I was trying to faithfully follow the arrows along the trail.  And really, I only ever had to backtrack once.  All of the other times, my "lostness" ended up becoming slight detours that, pleasant or otherwise, still got me closer to my goal.  Some of my prettiest pictures were the result of getting lost, so good even came of those times when I wasn't sure of where exactly I was going.  This process made me realize how utterly ridiculous my deepest fear and insecurity really is: I have always feared that I would wake up some day and find that I had totally missed God's will for my life.  Pilgrimage is our walk with God writ small, you see, and every time I lost the trail or got lost, because I was seeking those arrows, I never strayed very far.  There were also people along the way that pointed me in the right direction (and a few that got me lost unintentionally--unless you know the pilgrim has walked this way before, DON'T follow their directions!!!).  If God sees to it that I don't end up in the middle of Nowhere, Spain, how much more will He see to it that I fulfill His will for my life, especially if I am seeking it out?

So, I am basking in the contentment and joy that I have been given, and seeking to be more godly in my thoughts and my actions.  I'm not there yet, but my prayer of late has simply been, "God, make me a saint."  I don't know if I will ever make it, especially considering all of the selfish, thoughtless things I do on a pretty regular basis, but the Yellow Arrows embedded in the Sacraments, Scripture, the lives of the Saints, and in my little corner of the Church Militant keep me moving forward and redirects my path.  As C.S. Lewis writes in The Last Battle,

Come further up! Come further in!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

St. Francis Was HERE!!!

It is hard to see in this picture, since using a flash wasn't allowed, but this is the pillar underneath a statue of St. James in the Porto de Gloria.  So many pilgrims have touched the pillar that a hand print has been worn into the pillar.  However, the pillar has been cordoned off and pilgrims can no longer touch the same spot.  I was saddened by that.

So, as I was going through the museum of the Cathedral, I noticed that there were a lot of pictures of St. Francis.  So, the next time I was in the Tourist Information office, I asked if St. Francis had done the Camino.  HE HAD! She went on to tell me that he actually started a monastery here in the city, and asked the order founded by St. Martin if he could have some of their land to build upon.  They allowed him to rent a portion, and the rent was a basket of fish.  She went on to tell me that the museum of sacred art has a picture of St. Francis giving St. Martin a basket of fish, and that the Franciscans here in the city still rent their monastery from the other order, and once a year, there is a ceremonial giving of a basket of fish from one monastery to the other.  I am sure the rent has gone up since then, though! (Or maybe the deed has changed hands long ago--who knows!).  It is still kind of neat to be someplace where one of my personal heroes has been.  I plan to visit that museum with the painting tomorrow, as well as the church attached to the Franciscan monastery.  I am hoping to hear more of the story behind St. Francis being here.

 There is a museum near the Cathedral that has a scale model of the Cathedral in it, and it tells who has been instrumental in building what part, when and by whose plans.  Quite fascinating, since some of the renovations meant tearing down or tearing out the masterworks of famous artists.  For instance, Master Mateo created the original facade and a stone choir area that was torn out when the current facade was created.  They incorporated much of the statuary elsewhere, but the work was destroyed in the process.  As much as possible, it has been reconstructed in the Cathedral museum, but a lot has been lost.

One of the best things about being a pilgrim is that I get reduced rates into most museums, but I like to read everything, so I am a bit of a slowpoke when going through a museum.  Today I was kicked out of the above museum at 2:00 pm, since almost everything closes from either 2-4 or 2-5.  I will be going back at 5:00pm in order to see the rest of it.  I only hope that I can see the rest before it closes sometime around 7:00!

This is the lovely sister who has been the cantor at both pilgrim's masses that I have attended at the Cathedral.  She has taught us the music for all of the sung parts of the mass before it starts, and then leads us in the Angelus right before Mass starts.

On another note, I think I am getting a cold.  About noon today, my throat started feeling scratchy.  I am hoping that some good sleep and a lot of tea will nip it in the bud, but it is hard to tell.  Worst case scenario, I will end up staying in my room tomorrow instead of visiting the Franciscan monastery and the Museum of sacred art.  I am also hoping that eating yogurt for breakfast these next few days will help. When I went grocery shopping for the next couple of days, I also made sure that I had lots of vegetables to add to dinner, since veggies are few and far between on the pilgrim's menus!

My dinner from last night: rice, ham, bell peppers, carrots, and squash.  I garnished it with a little grated parmesan cheese.  

The next day, about 4:00pm

It is official...I have bedbugs again.  I am currently waiting for the Hospitalera to come up here with the  disinfectant spray, and then I will be moving to another room.  All of my clothes have been in individual baggies, so I don't think they are infected, but I also don't have time between now and heading home to wash everything in very hot water.  It will have to wait until I am back in the states...I don't plan to unpack anything at home, but will do so some evening next week at the Laundromat.  I will probably drag Amber or Tabitha along to double check all the pockets of my backpack before I throw it in the wash.  

I didn't realize it until last night, but I have been using the last existing part of the wall around Santiago ever since I got here.  The rest of it has been torn down to make room for more buildings/roads.

I don't know which I dislike about their stupid bites more, the fact that they itch so much, or the fact that they become little tiny blisters that weep incessantly if you accidentally pop them.  They grow when they are scratched, too!  All I know is that I will never, EVER forget what bedbug bites look or feel like.  The next time I do the Camino, I will be staying at higher priced Albergues, since they seem to have less issue with Chinchos (chinxos? Xinxos? It is the name given to bedbugs in Spanish, but I have noticed that x usually is used instead of either the ch or the J sound we usually see in Mexican Spanish, so I have no idea how to spell it!). I met one pilgrim that kept his backpack in a huge industrial strength plastic bag whenever he stopped--it seemed like a lot of hassle, but it worked for him, since he never got bedbugs, even when some of his friends did!  I have also heard of people bringing Tyvek sheets that are treated with permethrin.  That also might be worth looking into... Although, who knows?  Maybe bedbugs will be stamped out from the Albergues by the time I get to do this again!

A monument outside the Franciscan monastery.  They didn't have a whole lot to see, since a portion of the monastery has been turned into a 4 star hotel.  They seem to be a working monastery as, well, though, since I saw a Franciscan monk walking down the street and talking on his cell phone... It felt very anachronistic, and I was tempted to take a picture!

Of course, it also means that I will likely not be seeing any more of Santiago this evening, since I still have to spray down my room and my backpack, as well as to move this evening, not to mention make dinner.  I am sad about that, but I am also getting excited about coming home.  I went to the Cathedral for the last time this morning, and I am glad that I was able to attend one of the "Chapter Masses" of the order that takes care of the Cathedral.  I didn't understand most of the sermon, but the chant done by the monks was very beautiful.

In one of the museums I visited, they had an exhibit about the use of wine and food in sacred ceremonies.  This picture of Jesus in a wine press is both a little surreal, and an interesting way to explain what the Eucharist is.

And, I was right last night--I definitely have a cold.  I have been blowing my nose incessantly, and have begun to cough, probably due to post-nasal drip.  I am just thankful that this didn't happen while I was walking!  I actually have a lot to be thankful for.  I am still walking on my own two feet, I already have a place on the bus to Madrid, and I get to head toward home in less than 24 hours.  I have my Compostela.  I have a clearer head and a lighter heart.  While I still haven't gotten any clear direction about my future, I DO know the next step.  I am abundantly blessed!

I went to the museum of modern art here in Santiago, and this is one of the sculptures there.  This particular artist had a thing for potatoes, so many of his sculptures incorporated them.  I'm afraid I can't remember his name at the moment...

And, tomorrow, I will leave my Albergue with the single room, go to Mass, and then head for the bus station.  I will then be traveling the first leg of going home--the trip to Madrid.  In just a little over 48 hours, I will be heading back to my normal life.  It is a little weird to think that my trip is basically over, and that it is time to turn toward home.  I will miss this, and I won't.  Just like I carried all of you with me, I will be carrying the Camino with me.  I hope I never quit being a pilgrim.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I left my shoes in Santiago...

Monte de Gozo to Santiago, 5 km

So, I ended my Camino as I started it... Walking in the dark by myself by the light of the moon and the street lamps, although thankfully, I didn't get lost this time!  

Today has been a very emotional day for me, with a lot of tears.  The whole time I was walking toward Santiago, I was telling God how I didn't want it to end--so I made the decision to remain a pilgrim as long as I could today, even if I technically wasn't anymore.  I knew that I needed to wait until at least 1:30 pm to check in at my Albergue, so I made the decision to hang around the Cathedral all day until I could check in.

My first glimpse of the Cathedral... The spires in the far background that you can barely see over the cloud cover are the spires of the Cathedral.  I was about 2-3 km out, and dodging early morning traffic.

So, at first, all I did was follow the arrows to the Cathedral, then wandered around the center of the city until I found the pilgrim's office.  The volunteers there were very nice, especially when I burst into tears while there.  I was both happy to have gotten my Compostela, and very much not wanting it to end.  One of the gentlemen there gave me his handkerchief, which I will be washing tomorrow in order to give it back.  And, as I left, one of the volunteers ran after me to make sure that I was alright.  In spite of my roller coaster emotions, it was so nice to be taken care of, and to know that there was someone who understood the feelings I was feeling--all of the volunteers at the pilgrim's office have been pilgrims themselves.

The Camino goes right by this small church on the way to the Camino...I think the name is San Anton...and the first thing I saw on my left was a statue of St. Rita, my patron saint.  So, I stayed and prayed a little bit before heading further.  It was with a bit of melancholy that I would no longer be collecting sellos, or stamps, of the various places I went to.

Next, I went to a place where they will hold your back pack for 2 euros, since there has been some issues with theft at the Cathedral, and several people have recommended that we not bring our backpacks in to the Pilgrim's Mass.  The people there were very nice, and even let me get things out of my pack several times when I realized that I had forgot something.  Normally, a pilgrim just goes to their accommodations, but since mine doesn't open until 1:30, it was well worth the money.  When I left, I kept my boots and the stones I took from all of you with me.  Originally, I wanted to leave the stones at Cruz de Ferro, but since I had to skip it, I felt that there was no better place than leaving them with the apostle.  I did the same with my boots, and left them at the crypt of he apostle as well.  I have heard that the Cathedral donates such things to the poor when they are left for the Apostle, and I couldn't think of any better place to leave them.  So, that is exactly what I did.

The Porto de Gloria of the Cathedral. When I first got there, these doors were shut because Mass was going on, but they opened as soon as Mass was over.  This is a Cruciform church, so these doors basically sit at the bottom of the Cross.

There were more crowds than I thought there would be, and it was a little sad because many of the visitors weren't incredibly reverent.  I had really hoped to have a few moments in quiet and solitude to contemplate my journey, but as soon as I stepped foot in the Cathedral, I was part of the throng.  Once I left my boots in the Crypt, I then went to "embrace the Apostle" or to hug the Statue of St. James which is part of the altar piece of the Cathedral.   It used to be that this statue used to have a crown as well, which Pilgrims would put on, but it is lost in the annals of time.  Later, it was popular to put your hat on the Statue, but the lines were so long that there really isn't time for that.

It is kind of hard to tell, since I was so far away from it, but the center figure is the statue of St. James I embraced.

Then, I was able to go to confession and then found a seat for the Pilgrim's Mass, which is at noon.  Words cannot express how I was feeling during the Mass, although there was this beautiful nun that spent the 10 minutes before Mass started to teach us the songs we would be singing during Mass.  Then, much to my surprise, they used the Botafumiero.  As the censer was being lit, the presiding priest explained that incense is a beautiful symbol of what our prayers do--waft up to Heaven.  When it started swinging, that is when I really lost it.

 This is where the Botafumiero was being lit and they were just about to get it swinging. This is quite a feat, since it is one of the largest censers in existence, weighing in at over 300 lbs.  If you were to stand it on the ground, it would reach a little over waist high on me.  I was actually kind of surprised that it wasn't bigger, but it does the job quite nicely!

One of the other things I was surprised about is that there is Adoration daily in one of the chapels in the Cathedral, so, after Mass, I popped over and spent some time in Adoration.  I hope to do the same thing tomorrow as well. Even though I will be here for 2 more days, because of the price hike of being in a tourist town, I probably won't see much of the city's museums, etc.  Instead, I plan to spend a lot of time enjoying the city's wonderful parks, and looking for places that let you in for free (there is a tourist's office, so I will start there--I hope that they have some good information!).  I also expect to sleep in and maybe read a little bit, since I haven't had a chance to do so my whole time here in Spain.

Tonight while I was walking around with friends made on the Camino, I saw this.  I know the picture isn't very good, but the moon was rising behind the Cathedral, and it was so incredibly beautiful.  It is times like these that I wish I owned a better digital camera!

One of the things that has been the most pleasant surprise is that there are a lot of street artists here in Santiago.  Just in walking around, I saw 2 harpists, 4 living statues, a bagpipe player, and two different troubadour bands, one of which were wearing the elizabethan pants and hose, as well as capes bedecked with ribbons and patches (no collars, though), and other musicians as well.  Not surprising is the fact that there are several people begging all around the center of the city as well.  With close to 25% unemployment, I have to say that I'm actually surprised that there aren't more beggars around.

My friends Holger and Annette from Germany.  We had dinner together tonight, as they will be going to Finisterre tomorrow, and I probably won't see them again.  I was blessed to walk with them at the beginning of my trip, and now to see them at the end.  I hope to see some of the other friends that I met along the Way, although I know many of them have already flown home... It is the perils of being a slowpoke!

So, my pilgrimage is now ended, and it is time to think about coming home.  God has been very good to me, and I will cherish this trip always, even if it is to gross my friends out by talking about bedbugs!

Wishing Tomorrow Doesn't Come

Pedrouza to Monte De Gozo, 16 km

Today has been a day of contradictory feelings and emotions... It started with an email from work mentioning that a position I was wanting to apply for had already been filled, and then progressed to seeing planes fly overhead all day, and then I started crying when I saw the map here in the Albergue that indicated that there is only 5 km left.  

The church last night at Mass.  It was only built in the 1950's on the site of a pilgrim's graveyard, but I thought the shell behind the altar piece was neat! 

I think the problem is that my head is already at home, while my heart wants to be walking the Camino for forever... I know it isn't prudent for me to stay here for forever, but my heart is also telling me that there is some unfinished business for me here on the Camino, so I am pretty sure that I will be doing this again--maybe for the next holy year, which is 2021; possibly as a gift to me for my 40th birthday; maybe even as a treat for myself when I am finally debt free.  I just know that another Camino is in my future, because me and St. James have some more things to hash out, and I have some more lessons to learn.  As Jennifer Fulweiler says (well, she quoted her husband), "your priorities are the things you plan for," so I will be adding a Camino fund to my budget.  I may not be able to put much in there each month, but even a few dollars each month will grow!

Soon after seeing this, the km markers disappeared, at least in part because they are close to 5 km off.  I was really hoping for a 10 k and a 5 k picture, too!

What has been really fun has been seeing some of the people that I started with showing up here in Monte de Gozo.  I am debating about whether I should go spend time with them and hear about their camino or going to Mass... I think that friends will win tonight!  

All of the fences along the Camino on this leg have been enhanced with crosses woven into them like this.  A few pilgrims got rather creative by using shirts, socks, or scarves to fashion a cross on the fence!

Later, same night.

I actually opted for time with friends rather than Mass tonight.  Part of it is that I haven't seen these friends since Fromista, and part of it is that I will be going to Mass and Confession tomorrow in Santiago.  There is joy in seeing each other after such a long time, and I think that is part of the Camino experience.  There is a lot of joy for me in going to Mass as well, but my love for Jesus and the sacraments are not diminished by my love of good company and good wine.  I would actually argue that being physically present with my friends enhances my love for the sacraments, but I also know that choosing friends over Jesus can be a dangerous precedent.  

This is the spring in Lavacolla.  At the height of the use of the Camino in the middle ages, it was required that you clean your private parts in the spring here (colla is the latin term for scrotum, according to one of my books, and lava means wash in latin--the spanish term is lavar).  I just took a picture and saved my ablutions until I stopped in Monte de Gozo.

I suppose that my skipping of the pilgrim's mass makes me a bad pilgrim--but then, I'm still not sure what it means to be a good pilgrim.  I do know that the only requirements for my Compostela is walking the last 100 km (or riding the last 200 km, whether by horse or by bicycle).  For the most part, I have attempted to attend Mass every evening as well, when it was offered, and I have been praying for all of you and your intentions as I walk... But, if I were completely honest, I could have done that at home (and I try to do so, but I don't always succeed).

This monument was erected at Monte de Gozo when Pope John Paul II visited in the nineties.  One of the more unfortunate ideas was to plant trees between Monte de Gozo and Santiago in order to beautify the area.  Because of them, you can no longer see the spires of the Cathedral from Monte de Gozo, or Mountain of Joy, which got its name because it was the first point where pilgrims could see the Cathedral of Santiago.  However, this was still a place of joy for me, as I got to stop for the night, I got to reconnect with friends, and I got to meet some new ones as well.

Whatever it means to be a good pilgrim, all I know is that I will be arriving in Santiago tomorrow, and that this adventure will be coming to a close.  My greatest question at this point is how to retain the changes and shifts in my own personal being?  Every time I have gone on a trip like this, I have returned home different in some way... And in a month, six months, a year, I feel that I have slid back into my old self again.  I am not the only one who notices this, and this is why I believe there are so many who repeat the Camino.  Last night in the Albergue, I met a Dutch man who was about to finish his 7th Camino, in spite of the neuropathy he suffers from.  If we don't seek constant conversion, we end up stagnant, and sometimes even worse than we started off to begin with.

The Albergue I am staying at has over 800 beds in somewhere between 10 and 30 dormitories.  Because of this, the laundry facilities are in a central location.  Without a laundry basket, I found another use for my bandana--laundry carrier! (And, yes, that is all of my dirty laundry--it is also almost every stitch of clothing I have with me excluding the clothes I have on!)

So, my night comes to a close, and I will begin my last 5 km tomorrow morning.  When I get there, it wouldn't surprise me if I shed some tears, as tears seem to be my most constant of companions.  Even so, whether I want to or not, my Camino will be finished by this time tomorrow.  This makes me incredibly sad as well as incredibly excited.  What will the next stage hold?

What I saw of sunrise this morning.  I love it when Nature frames the shot so beautifully!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Walking Packless

Melide to Arzua, 15.5 km
Arzua to Pedrouzo, 19 km

The view of Melide from a little park around one of the two churches in town.  Everything is closed on Sunday after about 2pm, so I wasn't able to go to the museum here or buy toothpaste... I got in about noon, and instead of going shopping, etc., I took a nap...

So, I have finally broken down and sent my pack on today, as all of the hills in the area have been wreaking havoc with my ankles.  While they don't hurt that badly, they are swollen, so it just seemed prudent to remove most of the weight of a pack in order to make it easier, especially since I will be doing around 19 km today.  I decided to go a little further today so that I never have a 20 km means only 16 km tomorrow, and I will probably send my pack on then as well.  

My favorite part of the altar piece at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Melide.  I know that people get used to the art around them, but it has been such a priveledge to worship surrounded by such beautiful art... It all just draws you in to Worship, or it does for me anyway!

However, I will definitely carry my pack the last 5 km on Thursday into Santiago.  I hate not carrying my own pack, but Ice is sometimes hard to find.  Honestly,  I wouldn't have made it today if it weren't for the fact that I wasn't carrying my pack.  My ankles were hurting at the 10 km mark, and by the last 5 km, I was limping pretty badly.  If it weren't for the fact that I'm gimping along like a hundred year old granny, I would seriously consider just toughing it out and getting to Santiago tomorrow.  However, if my ankles hurt this bad without my pack, there is no chance that I would make it these last 21 km in one stage.  I think the real issue is the hills, since they are giving my tendons a workout--I'm not really gaining or losing any altitude, but towns tend to be in valleys, and the hills are in between.  It makes for some pretty scenery, but not great on already swollen tendons.

Yesterday, at a picnic area along the trail, this little creek was wandering by.  I was sorely tempted to soak my feet for a while, but didn't because the idea of retaping my feet seemed more trouble than it was worth.  I should have, though, since I think I would have arrived in better shape if I had.

I am also finding that I am taking less pictures as I go along.  Some of it is that there are really only so many picturesque views of nature that one can be interested in.  I think it is also that I am beginning to really focus on getting to Santiago.  

One of the most common sayings/graffiti that one sees on the Camino is the phrase, "the path is the goal." ( and in just about every language, too!). When I first started my Camino, I could at least see some truth in the phrase, as my greatest worry was where my next yellow arrow would be, not how far I am from Santiago. It was enough to be on the road, on the Camino, and headed to Santiago.  Now, As I get closer to Santiago, I find that I'm not so sure this is absolutely true any more.  Even though we often get caught up in the path God has for us from day to day, we really should keep our eye on the destination. If we don't, we could end up lost or worse, on an entirely different path altogether--one of my favorite stories by another pilgrim is of her following ANY arrows she found (blue, black, green... it didn't matter.), and in the process, she ended up having to walk through someone's vinyard to get back on track.  I also read a sign today reminding us pilgrims that we should be following the yellow arrows, not other markings in yellow, as they might be pointing to a local bike path, not the Camino.

Arrows on anything that moves make me nervous!  Thankfully, that stone pillar on the other side of the road is a way-marker pointing in the same direction!

 One of my fellow pilgrims said that walking the Camino was basically life writ small, and I think I replied that life shouldn't be full of tendonitis, blisters, and bedbugs!  All kidding aside, I can see how the lessons learned as I am walking could be applied to every part of my life, even if some lessons are unique to the Camino, like remembering to wash everything early enough that it dries by the next morning.  And, I have to say that I learned from each of the above situations: learn from people who have gone before (blisters and bedbugs); problems are rarely insurmountable--cry a little, regroup, gather strength from your friends, and change our plans accordingly (tendonitis); prevention is always easier than dealing with consequences (blisters and tendonitis).  There are others, but I won't bore you.  

Someone knew I was coming!

So, I am now only 21 km away from Santiago, and I will have one more night on the trail after tonight.  The km markers say that we are only about 18 km away, so they are about 3 km off.  I am hoping that they get more accurate the closer we get to Santiago, but I'm not holding my breath.  Even so, I couldn't resist taking this picture:

I had really hoped that they were more accurate than they are, since my feet and ankles had already started hurting by this point.  

I am blessed to be here, and blessed that all of you have been praying for me as I continue my journey.  I know that arriving in Santiago doesn't really make me no longer a pilgrim, but puts me in the category of "pilgrim of life's journey."  So, in that respect, whoever coined the phrase is right, the path IS the destination. And, that is at least part of the reason that I chose the name of Perpetual Peregrino for this blog.  Heading toward the end game is incredibly bittersweet, but I am trying to cherish every moment.

I saw this on the road today... Someone had lined their field with rose bushes, and the blooms were quite beautiful against the backdrop of the field of corn.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Inane Observations

Ventes de Naron to Palas de Rei, 12 km
Palas de Rei to Melide, 15.5 km

As I was walking today, I realized that I only have 4 more days of walking, and only 56 km to go before Santiago.  That being the case, I have started to think about what I have learned about Spain, about myself, and about the Camino.  So far, most of them are pretty pedestrian, so I will just list them as bullets.

More fog yesterday on the way to Palas de Rei.  I felt a little like I was stepping into the Lord of the Rings!

*I don't mind the smell of cow dung so much... You get used to it after a km or two, and it adds to the It is the flies that come with the dung that I have a hard time dealing with.

*Eucalyptus really doesn't smell that bad in the wild--I actually found it quite pleasant while walking today. It is only in the flower section of Hobby Lobby that it is overpowering and headache inducing.

This particular yellow really concerned me, as it can be picked up and moved!

*If you ask for green tea here in Spain, most of the time it is mixed with mint.  I like the combination.

*I think that I am getting sick of my hiking clothes.  For the last 2 evenings, I have put on my skirt rather than one of my hiking outfits, and I am enjoying wearing something other than running clothes.

My dinner last night.  I never thought of mixing sweet potato fries and regular fries with bell peppers before--very tasty!

*I am seriously thinking about chucking my hiking shoes in Santiago.  They are smelly and dusty, and the thought of packing them usually evokes a response of, "eeeewwwwww!"

*I hope that we never go to strictly one dollar coins like they have with makes spending them that much easier.

Today I passed into Coruna, the province where Santiago is. Every step gets me closer!

*As I lay here in my Albergue in the center of Melide, I have to say that I really miss the quiet of the trail.  I don't know what I am going to do when I get home, as I have gotten used to living in quietude.  The fact that it is directly beside a hopping night spot means that I will be listening to the base line of the techno music all night.  It is a good thing I tend to sleep like the dead!

Me at the hundred km marker. The mile markers aren't very accurate, since they have moved the trail since they were erected, but I am glad for at least a ballpark figure!

*Speaking of quiet, my iPod nano has become a really expensive watch.  In the whole time I have been in Spain, I have listened to a sum total of 2 hours of music, and ditched my earphones in Leon because I lost the earpieces someplace along the way.  I haven't even really used the mileage tracker, since my guide has a more accurate reckoning.  Next time, it stays home!

*Many of the things that I used to think of as necessities are really wants.  I have come to value tea with sugar, although honey in my tea is still my preference.

A little Roman bridge on the way to Melide today.  Right after crossing it, I saw the awesomest Crucifix in the Church there in Furelos.

*The hotter the water, the faster your tea will steep.  All of the bars use the steam function on the espresso machine to pour water over my teabags, and I get a nice, strong cup in about 2-3 minutes rather than having to wait 6-8 minutes or more.

* Even though I grew up in a city, I think I'm a small town girl at heart.  I prefer the quiet of the small towns I have walked through to the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities.

This just says it all, doesn't it?  They were giving away prayer cards with a picture of this at the church, and if I could have, I would have gotten one for all of you.  However, they were giving them away for free, and I didn't want to be greedy...I only took 2.

I am sure there will be more as time goes on, but that is what I have been thinking about while walking today!