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May 26, 2011


Have you ever seen a tree with lavender blossoms?  Leave it to Portugal to surprise me once again!

I haven't had a chance to blog much lately, as my schedule has filled up pretty quickly with a job (YAY!!!  Praise God!) (more on that later) and the beach, which, when you really think about it, isn't something the blog can really compete with.  Sorry.  You can be sure, though, that the next few blogs will enrich your lives in such a way that you won't even remember the 3.5 weeks that I didn't blog at all.

Happy spring-almost-summer!  Unless, of course, you live in Wisconsin or Minnesota, in which case you have just received another bout of frosty weather.  Maybe these chilly temperatures are just another incentive to come visit Portugal??

On a more serious note, our sincerest thoughts and prayers are with those in Minneapolis and Joplin who have suffered immeasurable loss as a result of the servere weather this week.  We pray that hope rises out of the devastation and not only hope, but a renewed sense of life and community as well.  We know God's ever-present hand will heal and provide for all that was lost.

See you on the flip-side... which can probably be translated to "this weekend", but no promises... With the first sign of sun, I'm headed to the sea!

May 1, 2011


Imagine that you have a 5 day weekend over the Easter holiday.  Now close your eyes really tight and try to wish yourself to Portugal, where these sorts of things actually happen.  After you realize that wishing just isn't enough, comfort yourselves by thinking that the 5 days before and the actual 5 day weekend had a forecast of rain.  Grey, unfriendly rain.  Definitely not the kind of rain that allows you to drive to the beach and "wait it out" while you eat sandwiches in the car.  This rain keeps you inside for days on end.

Now imagine it's your birthday weekend as well. Bet you're getting pretty discouraged, eh?

Don't be!  Chin up!  Your fabulous, budget-savvy, and super handsome international husband found a great deal on a beachfront venue... in one of the few cities where it WASN'T raining this weekend!  You now have permission to be happy!  Well... that is... if you're me.  Which you're not.  (But if you come visit, you could come a little closer to being me.  Just saying.)  But be happy anyway!  You get to see photos!

Just to save you the time scrolling down to the actual photos (and with the hope that after seeing the photo here, you will actually read the story instead of skipping to the photo...:) ), here is the view we had for 2 days...

Amazing, eh?  That's Portugal for you.  And our guest room is ready whenever you are.  Just sayin'.

We started our trip with a visit to the Grutas de Mira de Aire... the biggest caves in Portugal.  But not before a picnic lunch in a roadside park... whose sign warned us about... bats?

An ironic coincidence, to say the least, considering we were miles away from the caves... which didn't have bats anyways.  I digress.... but not before I show you a super fabulous castle that we just happened to pass by on our way to the caves... the shooting of which my ever-patient husband tolerated while I schlepped out of the car while he waited on the side of a slightly dangerous curve on a hilly little village road.  Oh, the things we do for love.

Not only were there castles along the way, but there were sheep to greet us upon arrival.  After walking through a sparse parking lot, we approached the small store that sold the tickets, which just so happened to be across from a small grassy area with a wooden fence which apparently was there to keep the sheep in.  I kept creeping lower to try to see his eyes, but each time I stooped, so did he... elusive little sheep.

As for the aforementioned caves, no description does them justice, and I would need an f-1.2 lens to capture them in their glory since it was so dark, so you will need to view the location's personal website and Google and click on the photos to see how great it really was.  Click now!  I promise it's worth it.  I remember my grandparents showing me photos of caves like these in the States, but never have I experienced such amazing forces of nature, working such marvels at such a slow pace. The formations are hundreds of years old, and 500 meters deep underground.  As the water (humidity from being underground) drips from the ceiling, it brings with it sediments of the stone, thus forming long "stalactites", or extensions of the rock which hang suspended from the ceiling like this...

They then drip water off of themselves, depositing sediment on the rocks below, which form small pillars everywhere... stalagmites... at a rate of 1 millimeter per year.

That's right, per YEAR.  Unreal.  And yes, I do realize what they really look like.... but they are rocks, people.  Rocks.

With each staircase we descended, each spectacle became more breathtaking than the one before...

I couldn't help but imagine God's joy in creating something so hidden, yet so magnificent, and something which created marvel after marvel year after year.

And... speaking of God... for those who think He's only in America... think again...

Upon arriving at our destination, we relaxed on a balcony and drank in the seaside air... which, might I add, was full of clouds, which made it feel a bit grey, but without rain, it felt heavenly.  Here's the same view as above, only on the day we arrived...

We had a lovely dinner, which we dressed up for... Is it just me, or does dressing up seem to make a simple meal a whole lot more special???

Too bad the server got that ugly rolling cart in the photo and I no longer have a Photoshop program to edit it out.  Sad.

The next morning brought a bit of fresh air that created a seaside haze... which just can't really be appreciated anywhere else except for on the sea...

... and to give it some time to pass, we headed into a local town called Caldas da Rainha ("spa of the queen") to find an evangelical church we had heard about.  It was Easter after all!  [insert cheesy Christian grin + thumbs up here].  We couldn't get a hold of anyone to find out service times before we left... or after we got there... or that morning (welcome to Europe)... but after assuming it was probably at 11 am, we made it with quite a bit of time to spare!  Good thing, considering we had to ask about 6 locals before actually finding the church, which was not, in fact, on the street that was listed as the address.  No worries... that's why there are locals!

I mention this story for two reasons:  (ok, three)  1) So my mom knows I went to church on Easter, 2) Because the entire service was a very, very strange and out-of-the-ordinary mime-with-powerpoint presentation... first one for the kids (1 hr) and second, one for the adults (30 min).  It included, to be brief, a large pink Easter bunny costume, lots of singing to soundtracks, a Christmas tree, and... to finish it off... 3) the "actors" left the stage to the final song on the Sister Act soundtrack, "I Will Follow Him", complete with Whoopie's solo parts here and there.  Wowzers.  I am disappointed in myself that I didn't take photos, since so many parents took photos of the bunny (cleverly discovering the message of Jesus for the first time), but I can't do anything about that now, can I?

The service concluded with a message from an English pastor (giving the message in Portuguese of course).  Clearly, as with the story above, this piece has no real meaning for the blog entry, except to mention that 1) he used a Power Point presentation with various photos of Jesus life, our lives, etc... talked about building our house on the rock and not the sand... and then proceeded to show a very dated photo of a woman building a sandcastle on the beach... which completely enhanced his message... except for the fact that she was topless.  That's right... she was topless. In church.  To his credit, she was wearing a large floppy sun hat, which provided adequate shadow over her bare bosom... but the poor guy was so concentrated on his message that I'm not sure he realized why people were snickering.  Wowzers again.  After that #1, it doesn't really seem worth it to mention #2, but I will... 2)  He spoke Portuguese with an English accent, so it was really easy for me understand his Portuguese!  (Note:  normally, for me, the words "easy" and "understanding Portuguese" rarely, if ever, appear in the same sentence!)  This in itself could be proof that Jesus is in indeed alive today!

After walking around Caldas da Rainha for a bit after church (I'm including a photo, as many people have shown interest in random city photos),

we headed back to church with some roasted chicken for our picnic lunch at the beach... er, pool... because it was quite windy and cool on the beach.  We made do, though, and I can't really complain, since this was the view of the pool from above...

... and this was our view from the deck!

Since my stolen Kindle had been replaced by a new one for my birthday (thanks, Mom & Dad!), Luis and I both started reading Stieg Larsson's Milennium series together and had ourselves a lovely Easter afternoon.  We would have swam in the indoor pool, provided it wasn't full of screaming children, excruciatingly stuffy and chloriney, and if you didn't have to purchase a swim cap for two euros and then wear it. Gah.  For real, Portugal, get with the times.  Nobody needs swim caps anymore.  Sunny enclosed deck with no wind and a view of the ocean, though?  I'll take it.

In terms of relaxing, the beds weren't the softest and the pillows had lumps, but comparitively speaking, I really can't complain, since the sound of the lazy waves lapping the shore put us right to sleep!  I'm now convinced that this is the best sound to fall asleep to.  And, on a side note, I, like every other American, do really love sunset walks on the beach... 

... even when the path there is fairly long... (but flanked by a beautiful wall!)

... and the descent slightly steep... (see the stairs over on the right?)

... the walk lined with enormous, man-eating cacti...

... the waves quite rough...

 ... and even when the water is chilly...

 ... having the sun on your back and the sand between your toes is worth it!

And aren't these stone stairs so beautiful?  I do believe their texture and personality were formed from years and years of the waves making an impression as the tide came in and out...

A few other things worth noting:

1)  The dusk light through the door to our veranda, combined with the ocean waves and the curtains from the early 70's, was quite serene...

2)  Just to give my dad a little incentive to visit, this venue also had a golf course... But let me just ask this to the general blogosphere... Am I the only one that thinks that sticking a road in the middle of a golf course is not the smartest idea...??

 3) I love big floppy sun hats... but not as much as I love my husband for a fabulously thoughtful birthday weekend!

4)  And, just because... my favorite shot of the weekend!

5)  And last, but not least, a reminder that our celebration was not just about our gratitude that I have another year to live life to the fullest (and my last year in my 20s at that!), but more, that we were celebrating our reason to celebrate:  the miracle of Christ's resurrection on Easter morning, which reminds us that...

Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
Death is strong, but Life is stronger;
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right.
Faith and Hope triumphant say...
"Christ will rise on Easter Day"!

::: Phillip Brooks, an Easter Carol :::

Seeing this small plant triumphantly growing up through a crack in this lifeless rock on the beach reminded me that death is strong, but life is stronger.  Like this boulder, life is heavy, cracked, and lifeless at times, but because of Christ's resurrection and final sacrifice for us, we can poke through the cracks and live... and triumphantly at that!  We have no need to earn our salvation, to prove our worth in God's sight, to clean up our lives so that He will love us.  We have every reason to grow, though, because He promised that we would!  
But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
   whose confidence is in him. 
They will be like a tree planted by the water
   that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
   its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
   and never fails to bear fruit.”   
::: Jeremiah 17:7-8 :::