Saturday, March 28, 2009

Photography 101

As a junior in high school I choose photography as an elective simply because, well I mean, how hard could it be to take a picture?

I wasn't interested in foreign languages or advanced sciences and getting out of class for a trip to the park for a photo shoot sounded like a dream come true. I was already signed up for PE where we went bowling at a local alley AND home economics where all the cute but dumb guys were so unless I wanted to study, photography was it.

My mom was shocked when I brought home the "required items" sheet of paper.

~manually operated camera
~photo paper
~developing solutions
~other items I can't remember the names of

Well, she did what all divorced moms seem to do. She said, "Call your Dad!" And that's just what I did.

Even today if I called my Dad and said, "Dad, can I have....." He'd do everything in his power to provide it. Something I try real hard not to take advantage of. So after a quick phone call and discussion I had the camera and items needed to get started in my "gravy" class of Photography.

Little did I know that my teacher, we'll call her Mrs. Flower, was a hippie from way back. She smoked pot, at least that's what the dark room smelled like after she'd been there, but she put a love for photography in my heart. I managed through all the art history she forced down our throats, so I could have my special time alone in the dark room. Where my negatives would come to life as I dipped the paper into one solution after another. Black and white photography is my passion, but I'm learning to like color too.

Photography now is different than it was then. No more wasted film, paper, developing fees.....Just erase the bad ones and shoot again. Who doesn't love that?! answer your question Dani Joy and Tammy, I use a Fuji FinePix S8000fd. It offers automatic and manual settings, but I pretty much just stick with the auto settings. It has a fabulous zoom for close up and for far away objects as well without additional lenses. Suits this "wanna be" photographer just fine.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Girls Rock!

A few Saturdays ago, my family and I went to see a professional girls basketball game.

In Europe, basketball is a far second to their beloved soccer and I noticed a few differences between professional ball here and the States....

  • First and foremost it was FREE!
  • There were about 30 people there.
  • Kids ran out on the court at half time and shot the ball around.
  • Part of the gym which could pass for an average high school court was roped off with police tape.
  • The players live in a hotel, not luxurious houses.
  • After the game the players walk to the stands and greeted folks.

But let me tell you what.....these girls might not be good enough for the WNBA, but they can play ball! I had so much fun watching the no-look passes, blocks and what amounts to tackles. They won this game and advanced to the playoffs.

We had 4 of them come over for dinner last Saturday and to watch a little March Madness. We had a good time and we plan on going to another game soon.

Look what's for lunch.....


Trinity loves puzzles.

Some friends of ours, (yes, we have friends) made a quick visit to The States recently and brought us back gifts! Who doesn't like gifts?!?

Washcloths are hard to find in Portugal. Most folks uses sponges or nothing at all I guess, so Ms. Julie remembered my frustration in needing these babies. But aren't they adorable with our names on them?? But you know what's NOT adorable though? The stack of washcloths after each kid has taken a bath where they ramble through the whole stack looking for the one with their name on it. I'm sure if they use someone elses washcloth, they'll melt.

The book she's reading is in Portuguese. She actually looks like she understands it....I am SO jealous!

He hates haircuts, so we buzzed him at home. Poor thing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Random Shots

My Love came home with these the other day.

"Break Down" (There's a blade of grass holding up the hood)


"Wash day"


"Cherry Tree Bloom"

"Laranja 2"

"Plum Tree Bloom"






Monday, March 23, 2009

Nina Needs....

I found this over at Our Journey.

Google your name with the word 'needs' in quotes....likes this...

"Nina needs"

and then list the first 15 that are listed.....

check this out.....

Nina needs a home.
Nina needs a break. (coffee sounds good)
Nina needs love.
Nina needs a loving and caring home.
Nina needs a holiday. (IRS took care of that dream!)
Nina needs your vote.
Nina needs a Wii.
Nina needs a new Verizon phone.
Nina needs your help.
Nina needs more sun. (amen...never too much sun)
Nina needs a roommate. (wait a second now...)
Nina needs your prayers. (always)
Nina needs to just die already. (What?!?!!!)
Nina needs a home.
Nina needs a little help.
Nina needs a new home again. (What keeps happening to my homes?)

You think I'm kidding...but I'm not. Google actually said these things.

I'll never use Google again.

This makes me depressed. What's up with me always needing a home...and who in the world wants me to die already?!

Okay, Tracy I'm hearing that twilight music in the back of my head....I'm not sure I like this game.

Surely there's another Nina out there somewhere......yeah...that's it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Love Gives Back - Guest Blogger

Otilia, my Portuguese “mother” died on Saturday. If you read my last article, you know that in it I lamented the thievery of death. The day after writing the article, I received a text message from Otilia's family that she had a precious few hours remaining. Though I knew her death would come, I deplored the thought that our time here on earth would soon be over. She was a remarkable person.

Leaving the gardening for later, I hurriedly made ready and went to the hospital not knowing fully what to expect. I stayed at the hospital all day Friday, rarely leaving her side. The morphine had her sedated, but, more for me than her, I passed the day reading the Bible aloud, talking to her, and praying with her. Most of the family was absent. Quite frankly, they admitted that they just didn't possess the courage it took to watch her die. As is often the case, it was more painful for them than it was for the very one who was dying.

Nonetheless, Otilia had some very good genes, and her daughter got the lion's share. Neusa or Kika (pronounced “keeka”) as her friends call her, stayed strong throughout. I imagine she has had it all of her life, but this weekend I saw the spunk and love of life that she inherited from her mother. She will now be the cord that binds the family together. She will take up her mother's mantle, whether she wants to or not. That's just how she is.

Hence, what I lamented last week, I celebrate today. What death would take away on Saturday with Otilia's leaving, love began to give back on Friday by forming a special bond of friendship with Kika and her husband, Toninho. He has a heart as big the national deficit, which belies the translation of his name – Little Tony. I'm convinced he doesn't have the first mean bone in his body. He's quick with a smile, even with tear filled eyes. I love the balance that I see in my new friends. They're good people, and not that I consider myself good, but they're my kind of people. In that, today I glory.

Though I just lost someone akin to a mother, I have gained two very good friends who could easily be my brother and sister. My family in the states is irreplaceable, but with slight apologies to them now, I feel like I have gained so much lately.

Throughout the day Friday, we laughed when we weren't crying. We talked about days gone by and days to come. We talked about fishing and kids. We talked about hope and pain. We talked politics and religion, and not once did anyone get angry. Saturday when Otilia passed, it was difficult for everyone, but after the funeral today, I again offered my shoulder to cry upon and lent my ear to be filled. With gratitude they accepted my words as those from someone more than just “mom's pastor.” As I turned to go, little Tony called to me and said, “We'll talk this week.” Those are the words of friend.

Through all of this, we lost someone very special to us, but we rediscovered the value of friendship. It was a difficult path to discovery, but one that I would gladly go through again.

Written by Michael Andrzejewski

Friday, March 20, 2009

High Hopes

It's planting season in these parts. A fine yellow haze covers everything and is accompanied by sniffles, sneezes and watery eyes. The sun is bright, the wind is cool and soft...and life is good.

With the pretty weather comes my overwhelming desire to take pictures.

Lord willing, our garden won't wash away twice like it did last year. Here are a few pictures of the beginning stages....

"Big Shoes to Fill"



"High Hopes"


"Big Dreams"

"Independence 2"

Please pray for "Bia's" family. She went home to be with her Lord this morning. Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement for our family. Be in pray for the funeral services.

Fathers Day

Thursday was Fathers Day in Portugal.

Brooklyn and a neighbor friend worked for several days 'perfecting' this song. They first played for Ines's daddy and then came to our house to play for Michael.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Death is a Thief - Guest Blogger

Just before Christmas, we were asked to pray for a lady in our church who had developed a painful hacking cough. She put off going to the doctor until she couldn't catch her breath. They ran some tests, and quietly we began to hear whispers of the possibility of cancer. The breathing worsened and hospitalization became the only appropriate action.

She has smoked for many years, and shortly after the discovery of lung cancer, she told me with humility and remorse that the Lord had “caught her.” Those words stung me. Candidly and honestly she confessed her lack of prudence (in not quitting), and now regrets every last ounce of tobacco and fiberglass that she drew in her lungs. We don't get but two, and she knows now that those are ruined. I didn't judge her. It's not my place. Instead, what she told me about getting caught just made me love her more.

Since coming to Portugal, Otilia has served as my Portuguese mother. She calls me her son and treats my kids like grandchildren. Whenever we meet, she takes my face in her hands and stares brightly into my eyes. From the very beginning, she wanted the kids to sit next to her during services. We had five to sit next to us, and she didn't have any. It was only fair. Brooklyn, our oldest, was the only one brave enough to do so, and once she did, Otilia asked Brooklyn to call her “Bia” - a pet, grandmotherly name. She has given all the girls knitted hair bows and passed down clothes to Justice from her real grandson. Most of what he wears now, has come from her.

One of Nina's most vivid memories of the last year is when Otilia told Nina that she loved her. She did it very slowly and repeatedly so Nina could fully understand. It was the first time that anyone had ever expressed their affection for Nina in Portuguese. Otilia could be anyone's mother or grandmother, and often serves as one or the other to multitudes. She just celebrated her 60th birthday.

But, now she's dying. Each breath becomes more difficult. Each spoken word drains strength. The desire to eat is gone, and in addition to affecting to her lungs, the avaricious disease has eaten away at her bones. She weighs less than ninety pounds and has been in a hospital bed in traction for over a month due to a broken leg. Her time here grows shorter by the hour.

With joy she longs to play soccer with the neighborhood kids or climb fruit trees like she did as a child in Angola. She wants to get out of the hospital and have a time of thanksgiving at church with all of her friends.

Alas, death will soon overtake her. Her heart will beat for the last time, and those that know her and love her will shed rivers of tears. When that happens, I'll lose more than an adoptive mother. I'll lose a little more of my desire to live here on earth, and I'll long a little more for that heavenly city.

There are few things that I really despise – cheese, lying politicians, divorce, and death. The first one is just gross, but the last three are thieves that just keep sucking the life out of people that I love. Sort of like those nasty carcinogens in cigarettes.

Written by Michael Andrzejewsi

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'm Changing

And it scares me to death.

I don't know what to do. Should I shout for joy, or crawl in the bed and cry? Do I put a halt on my thoughts, my feelings, my prayers so that I can remain the same?

Do I fear the change itself, or myself once I've been changed?

Will I stop loving those I've always loved - to make room for the new ones that have wiggled in?

Will these changes eventually hurt, like the changes I've made in the past have hurt? Will I be blessed like I've been blessed before with other changes?

Does God understand?

Okay, so maybe I went a little too far with that last question....ever heard of "the slippery slope"?

My husband says that once I get on a roll, I can't stop....

I love the folks that we minister to.

Now...I've said it out loud. Now you know my deep, dark secret. I am officially loving these people.

The little mission in our city that we've had the privilege of attending the last year has become so special to me. The people so very dear.....

One lady, Otilia who has been diagnosed with cancer in various places throughout her body, is clinging to life at the hospital. She was the first person to tell me, "I love you".

It was just a few short weeks after we began attending the mission. She hugged me, (unusual for Portuguese, usually it's only kisses) and she held on a little longer than I expected. She pulled away and as slowly as she possibly could, she told me she loved me. Speaking slowly helped me to understand every word she said. And all I could say in response was "thank you", not knowing how to say "I love you too".

I wanted so desperately to tell her that I loved her too, but I couldn't and it was extremely frustrating. So I repeatedly said "thank you" feeling inadequate the whole time.

Otilia loves my children. She's crocheted hair bows for the girls, given them enough candy to rot every tooth and always requested one of them sit by her, since I had so many, I needed to share.

Brooklyn was the only one brave enough to sit next to a lady that she didn't understand, thus a friendship between the two began.

Otilia has asked the kids to call her "Bia". A short version of great-grandmother.

Bia weighs all of 85 pounds, soaking wet. She always insists we stand EVERY time we sing at church and she would come to each service bearing fresh cut flowers from her yard. We've not had fresh flowers in quite a while now. She's been sick since Christmas.

Tonight Michael and Brooklyn visited her in the hospital. Brooklyn took her a picture she had drawn for her and when they returned Michael's face was drawn and serious. All I could ask was, "Is she bad?" and he nodded.

My heart is heavy tonight. I love this lady. Unless the Lord works a miracle soon, Bia will be in Heaven sooner than I want her to be. Please pray for her.

Monday, March 16, 2009

President Farkas and the Growing Frustration - Guest Blogger

Do you remember the scene in the movie, “The Christmas Story” when Scut Farkas, the consummate bully goads Ralphie into crying after pelting him in the face with a ginormous snowball? Something snaps in the mild mannered Ralphie, and he commences to unleash a torrent of tiny fists and swear words in an unknown tongue rendering the bully humiliated, bloodied, and reformed.

Well, smack dab in the middle of the winter of our economic depression, the spirit of Scut Farkas has been channeled into the US government. They have pitched snowball after taxing, hypocritical snowball toward the quiet, unassuming Ralphies across the country. How many more snowballs will it take to reach critical mass? What will be the final salvo launched to insight the bullied and bespectacled to punch back?

For the record, I believe that we should pray for our leaders on every level that we may live a quiet and peaceable life. I would never advocate anarchy or revolution; however, I firmly believe if the government continues its current pompous taunting of the citizenry, some will respond in an unprecedented fashion. Atlas will shrug.

Today, the current checks and balances are breaking down and people are starting to understand the intentional destruction that is taking place. At least I want to believe it is intentional and not borne completely out of idiocy.

Since the inauguration we have systematically alienated our closest allies and opened new doors to welcome our enemies. We have shaken hands with Syria, pledged to give $900 million to Hamas (er, Gaza), and spit in Israel's face.

We are genuflecting before Russia and telling the Poles and Czechs to take a slow train to Siberia. Do you know that Poland is such a strong ally that within our intelligence community some refer to them as the 51st state?

In the middle of a recession, we are turning down sales of fighter planes to Taiwan because we don't want to upset the Red Chinese.

We just gave the British Prime Minister 25 DVDs in exchange for priceless heirlooms and blew off a joint press conference. With friend like know how it goes. As far as I'm concerned, the President would have done worse only if he had urinated in the Englishman's tea.

But at the same time we are falling over ourselves to hug the Taliban and sing kum-ba-yah with Islamic terrorists around the globe.

Farkas gave us about a quarter raise ($13 a week tax break) at the exact same time he was lifting our wallets so that he could max out all of our credit cards while buying environmentally friendly golf carts, paying for our neighbors' abortions, building a snowmaking facility in Minnesota, and upgrading intercoms in Alaska. Incomprehensible!

President Scut armed with even more snowballs and insults (aimed at freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms, among other things) daily treads closer and closer to that imaginary line in the sand for so many.

Whatever faith there was in the government has now dwindled down to those who lazily stand with an outstretched hand crying for someone else to pay for their mortgage and put gas in their car. Like a parasitic side kick they look to big brother Farkas to fix it all.

But one of these days that last frozen missile will plant itself for the last time in Ralphie's face. The gloves will come off and the landscape could look dramatically different. Although I'm not a betting man, my money's on Ralphie.

Written by Michael Andrzejewski for The LaGrange Daily News.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Flat Stanley

Do you know Flat Stanley?

Apparently he's a character from a 1950's kids book that was accidentally flattened when a bulletin board fell on him while he was sleeping.

Since then, Flat Stanley has traveled the world via envelopes and has seen some amazing sights.

Flat Stanley arrived at our home yesterday and we treated him like a guest.

We took him to the park,

he survived riding on the dangerous streets...

he went down slides,

climbed up real high....

got some Portuguese on each cheek,

Saw a sunset and boats on the Atlantic ocean,

ate some traditional Portuguese soup,

At an Italian restaurant...go figure?

Can you find Flat Stanley in this picture?

I must say, that Stanley behaved himself like a perfect gentleman while visiting us. He's on his way back to Mississippi to Maya, the sweet young lady that sent him to us. Along with Stanley is a paper telling all about our city and country.

Now, Maya gets to take Flat Stanley back to school and tell of his travels and show these pictures to her classmates.

What a fun idea!

.................Or am I just desperate for visitors?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ankles & Attention

My ankles that are rapidly approaching 40 years old, are not as spry as they once were. For that matter, nothing on my person is as spry as it thinks it is.

After a week and a half of my new exercise program, my left ankle is swollen double it original size, I can't raise my arms above my head and I have pains in places that I forgot existed.

Note to self: When beginning an exercise program after 15 years, take it slow....REAL slow.

I'm accompanied only by women at my gym. Women who stare at me, grunt at me and flip their hair when they walk by. One instructor talks about the size of my feet (43) while bragging that her shoe is a (37). I explained to her that my 9 year old daughter has bigger feet than she does. Although I am well aware that my feet are big, they've always been bigger than my peers, no one likes hearing that they have big 'anything' while working out.

After basically collapsing on the floor, my instructor told me to "get up and get at it!" I told her, "it hurts!" She said "where does it hurt?" I said, " whole body hurts, even my ears!" She said, "your ears hurt from listening to all those babies this weekend."

They're so amazed I have 5 kids. That I'm sane. (depends on who you ask) That I can smile and have a good time while exercising and that I can laugh at myself when I make a mistake with the language.

For the most part, all the other ladies are stand-offish right now. Just watching me. Seeing what I'm all about. Tripping over their feet to run and listen to me when they see me talking to someone.

They're curious.

It's a good thing I like attention.

My plan is to "kill them with kindness". Maybe I'll make a friend. Maybe my friend will come to church with me. Maybe my friend will bring her friends & family. Maybe my language ability will improve. Maybe I'll lose weight. Maybe I won't kill myself in the process.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fishing Away Grief - Guest Blogger

There's a parasitic fish that for some, makes a strangely welcome appearance near the shores of the Atlantic each year. Rubbing against unsuspecting victims, they attach themselves like vacuum cleaners and scour tissue away with razor sharp teeth. Breaking the skin, they siphon away the host's life and leave their target for another mark.

The sea lamprey return to shore each year to spawn. Nights from January to March, on the northern Portuguese shores, fishermen gather - braving the blistering coastal winter winds to spear these repulsive freeloaders. I'm told they have a distinctive taste, being cooked in their own blood – besides the good business. Local eateries fetch $75 for one fish.
Providentially, last week I met a lamprey fishermen. It is was late. I had come believing the beach would be deserted, and it was.
That is, until I was ready leave. It was then that I noticed someone had leaned a thirty foot cane pole against the sea wall. The pole had what seemed to be a miniature grappling hook attached to the end. Curiously I waited while an old beat up station wagon backed into a parking place. The driver steered with his right hand and with his left, he pinned a similar pole to the car. With ends extending past both the front and rear of the car, he appeared prepared for a joust. He carefully lowered Goliath's cane pole to the ground and unloaded a plastic box. It would eventually serve as a seat. He also brought a makeshift work light attached to a car battery.
No way I was going home now. With the light hung half way down the twenty foot sea barrier, he turned the plastic crate on its side, deftly perched himself on top, and lowered his jouster's lance into the icy water.

I made my way over, and for the next ninety minutes I got a fishing lesson that taught me more about life than the elusive lamprey. I made a friend who has lived in the small waterfront village everyday of his 48 years. He was born their. He grew up there with his three sisters and six brothers. He raised a family there, and from what I gathered, he intends to die there – just like his wife did two years ago after their youngest daughter's birth.
She had a pulmonary embolism and died suddenly and somewhat cruelly. The disease left him a widower after 26 years of marriage and four daughters. The others help with the baby, but the sorrow like a lamprey with a healthy cod desperately tries to suck the life from him. Being almost to the day, two years removed from the worst day of his life, he passes these lonely nights fishing – sometimes staying until four or five AM.
He fishes, but he has a lot of time to think. I told him I was bad luck from the very beginning, and we didn't see so much as a minnow that night. With patience he stayed. Probably long after I did. Perhaps the cold stone wall and bitter wind mixed with stinging rain can be more comforting than an empty bed and painful memories. Before leaving, I begged his pardon for the poor luck I brought and told him what a pleasure it had been to meet him. He responded in kind and said simply of our time together, “It was beautiful.” Kind words from an aching heart. My prayer is that on nights like these, he rids his soul of more grief than he does the water of parasites.

Written by Michael Andrzejewski for The LaGrange Daily News.