Art as Therapy

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Ever since Charlie died, almost two years ago, I no longer identify myself as a photographer. It’s very hard for me to pick up the camera with the same joy I had when Chuck was by my side. But happily, I’m still being creative. Now my medium is poetry and painting.

In October 2017, my friend, Amy, introduced me to found poetry. Found poetry is the art of reforming another writer’s words into your own story. Most of the time this involves cutting out words and re-arranging them out of context and creating something new. It can also be achieved through the Black Out technique, where instead of cutting out words, you simply black out the words you want to disregard so your chosen words are left on the page. I’ve done both techniques and enjoy the challenge of finding my own story or poem in someone else’s story.

‘Stars are Shed Tears’
My first painting and my first attempt at found poetry.

I created my first painting and first found poem in October 2017. I didn’t know what I was doing, but creating was a nice distraction from the daily pressures and stress of, what for now will remain something private. The above is called ‘Stars Are Shed Tears’ and the source words are from ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’.

Between October 2017 and Chuck’s death on November 27, 2017, I painted and wrote as much as I could. About a week before Chuck died, I found a poem, again from ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ and shared it with him:

I am a Queen

of all the fierce beasts

with claws so long and sharp

that would have surely destroyed you

when night came

but I shall pretend

I have no heart

for you to hurt

and I will wipe away my tears

With the benefit of hindsight, I think the poem was able to voice what I couldn’t at the time. I had a feeling that something was ‘wrong’, but couldn’t pinpoint it, let alone face it or confront it.

Then suddenly Charlie was gone.

My grief needed an outlet so eventually I painted an image to go with the words, and added two more paintings and poems to compliment it. I call it ‘Ternion’ and each individual piece is called ‘The Queen’, ‘The Apology’ and ‘The Good By’

Here is the complete poem, again all sourced from ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, (hence the antiquated version of ‘Good bye’).

I am a Queen of all the fierce beasts, with claws so long and sharp that would surely have destroyed you when night came. But I shall pretend I have no heart for you to hurt, and I will wipe away my tears.

Then in an instant he was gone and I’m alone. I’m terribly afraid of the journey I must walk. It is long, dark and terrible. Where is my courage? I begin to weep. All I could feel was the dreadful stillness of the forest, when suddenly, a low quiet voice, quite grieved, came from the trees and said, ‘I’m sorry’

In the middle of the dark forest are wild beasts, but they do me no harm. The Lion stood silently beside me until I found courage to walk along this road without my love. The Lion saw my face was covered with tears and said, ‘He who is asleep had crossed over and will live on forever in your heart. But it takes time to make a heavy heart sing. Therefore, Queen, have courage to be who you are and to find that he did not want you to cry bitterly, but live bravely in this beautiful land.’ ‘Very well,’ I said sorrowfully. ‘I will promise to be brave and strong enough to live on my own’. There in the woods, with the Lion, I cried a little while longer and then said goodby.

This piece has given me great comfort and I realized that creating is my form of therapy. In the last 18 months, I’ve written and painted many pieces, and I hope to share them here. Yesterday, I completed my latest piece, and I’m quite fond of it.

One of the fascinating things about creating, at least for me, is that I’ll have an idea of what I want to paint, but once the paint brush is picked up and colors are mixed, something completely different appears on the canvas. That was the case with my newest piece, that so far is unnamed.

Before I introduce it, let me share some back ground on how it came to be. I painted a space scene, for my dining room as it needed some art. I wanted a quote about stars to go with the painting and after several suggestions from friends that I disregarded, I found the perfect quote: ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ These words were sung by Leonard Cohen in his song ‘Anthem’ and was perfect for my piece.

‘There is a crack…’
Mixed media on foam board

As I listened to ‘Anthem’, I found another stanza which inspired my newest painting. ‘Start again, I heard them say, don’t dwell on what has passed away, or what is yet to be.’

These words hit home and I knew I wanted to use them in another piece. I envisioned a landscape and a traveler, and wanted to put the finished piece above my computer in the living room.

For my space piece, I used eight pieces of 11 x 14 mixed media paper to create a large canvas – something I had done with another earlier painting of mine. For some reason, I decided mount the pieces on foam board, so it was one big piece. Because I decided this at the last minute, and not at the beginning, the foam board warped, but the effect is pleasing. For my newest piece, I remembered I had 8 x 10 canvases and decided to use eight of them to make one large piece.

I started my painting and knew I wanted mountains in it, as I am a mountain girl at heart. As I started painting, the mountain scape became familiar to me and I realized I was painting the scene from ‘Ternion’. I was so excited because it felt my new piece was a full circle from one of my earlier pieces, but filled with hope and healing.

I know I’m not the best painter, or even a good painter, but this piece is very special to me, even with the mismatched mountains. I hope Charlie would be proud and I hope you enjoy it.

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Day 8 ~ Coming Home

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Disclaimer:  The Original travel journal entry is written in italics. Addenda and clarified thoughts are written in regular print.

Today we come home. I’m looking forward to seeing the kitty cats and being in my own home but I’m so happy I came.

I took a sleeping pill last night and slept in until 9am or so. Hopefully I won’t have too much jet lag.

We’re heading out at 12pm. I hope I feel better by then. My stomach has been upset.

At the airport in Santiago, there was a little bit of drama. Aurelie and Aidan were both subject to special security questions and Mark had to have his carry on inspected. But Andy C’s name was paged by security. He, Andy T and Mark brought power tools and machetes with them for the work they were to do. Andy dutifully and carefully packed his machetes in a checked bag. The bag got flagged and he was called in for questioning. At the time, it was quite suspenseful because he was gone for about twenty minutes. Finally, he reappeared to a visibly relieved Amy, and told us that his machetes were the subject of special interest. The security guys didn’t seem fussed that he had them, they wanted to know if they were for sale (they weren’t) and where they could buy them!

Our flight to Miami was uneventful – just like a flight should be. My luggage was noticeably lighter and Mark was kind enough to stash my rum in his checked luggage.

We arrived in Miami 30 minutes early, but were unable to proceed to the gate. Miami was experiencing some weather so the planes at the gate were not allowed to take off. Our layover was tight to begin with, considering we had to go through Customs and Immigration, and by the time we got off the plane, we only had about an hour left to catch our ride to Nashville.

Customs and Immigration were not properly prepared for the scores of people attempting to go through. (Our plane was one of many that had been held up). We were invited to download an app that promised faster lines, but I couldn’t download it and Aurelie couldn’t either, so we decided to stick together and hope for the best. We somehow managed to get in a fast line, but I had lost sight of most of the group. I saw Aidan eventually, and was texting with Amy, but Aurelie and I still had to go through Immigration, find the terminal and board our flight to Nashville. And the clock was ticking.

Aidan eventually joined us and I spied Lucas and Andy C behind us. Amy was waiting for us at the checked luggage pick up on the other side of Immigration and presumably the rest of the group was ahead of her.

Aidan, Aurelie and I finally got through Immigration, only to run through Miami Airport to catch our connecting flight. It was awful, anxiety ridden, frustrating and nerve wracking. Aidan ran ahead of us but we were too late ~ our flight had left without us.

Because Aidan reached the counter first, he was secured a seat on the next flight to Nashville, departing at 10.40pm. Aurelie and I were assigned standby status. Both of us were visibly upset but I was determined to get Aurelie home, even if I had to stay. Andy C, Amy and Lucas finally caught up with us, and our tired, stressed out, slightly grumpy group grabbed dinner, which for me was the first time I ate anything since breakfast, more than 12 hours earlier. Amy was on the phone with Father Chris and American Airlines to see what could be done as everyone, except Aidan, was on standby status for the next flight. I am sure an irate priest and mission team leader was too much for American Airlines to deal with so I’m happy to say that all six of us were able to board the flight. We were finally on our way home.

Mark, who had given me a ride to the airport when we left, was able to make the original flight with his daughter Anna and the rest of the group. He was extremely kind to offer to pick me up when I landed to take me home. In the end, Father Chris picked us up and shuttled us home, but I’m so grateful for Mark’s selflessness and generosity to come and get me.

We arrived safely to Nashville in a plane that wasn’t even fully booked, so I don’t understand why we weren’t given seats on it in the first place. (I never want to fly American Airlines again and certainly don’t want to fly out of Miami Airport again). As I live in Nashville, and everyone else was traveling to Murfreesboro, I got dropped off first. Andy C and Father Chris walked me to my door and made sure I got in OK (thanks, guys!). Eleanor and Elliot didn’t understand what was going on in the middle of the night, but when Eleanor realized I was home, she came running up to me and started snuggling. (Of the two, Elliot is much more snuggly and social, while Eleanor is reserved and demands to be admired from afar. It was nice to see that she missed me.

It was 1.30am by the time I finally got home. But I was home and quickly feel asleep with the two best cats in the world and a heart overflowing with love.

~~~~

I participated on this mission trip because I wanted to be a blessing to someone else. I wanted to change someone’s life, even in a small way for a small amount of time. But I’m the one that reaped the blessings. I feel closer to members of my Church – not only those who attended the mission trip with me, but also with those who stayed home and prayed for us continuously. I was able to do something that I never dreamed of doing and I hope I can participate in more mission trips in the future. I have a better understanding of Community and Family. I have a better understanding of Grace and Humility. I saw God at work through everyone I encountered – Jr, Carlos, Tata, the children, our team, the parents – the list goes on and on. I saw some of the most beautiful things in the world. I knew Charlie was with me. I made new friends. God is so good and I am so thankful for this experience. I can’t wait to see what He has in store for me next!

Day 7 ~ 23 June

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Disclaimer:  The Original travel journal entry is written in italics. Addenda and clarified thoughts are written in regular print.

Today is our last day in the Dominican Republic. We were able to sleep in a little bit but then we are going to the children’s church service at the satellite location. I’m told the service will be long and hot. After that we’re going to one of the lunch lady’s home for lunch, then back to the hotel for a bit, then off to the adult church service, which I’m told will be long and hot. And I don’t feel well.

Delia, Fiona and Nikki left for home early in the morning. Nikki has family in Miami and it worked out that she was able to get to Miami a day early to attend her grandfather’s service and burial. She would be meeting us in Miami for the final leg home tomorrow. I’m so happy it worked out for her so she could attend the services. I know how much she loves her grandfather. Fiona left early to attend Camp and Delia traveled with her so she wouldn’t be alone.

The first children’s service was nice. It was actually at the school, not the satellite location. I don’t know why I thought it was at the satellite location – unless I subconsciously wanted to return to it. Kids ranging from 2-12 participated in songs then divided into groups for Bible study in various locations of the school. Amy, Aurelie and I went to the gazebo and watch a group of 8-12 yr olds practice their demonstration. We even participated, much to the delight of the children and their teacher. Aurelie left and Anna came and she was able to translate for us.

The children meet in smaller groups to practice their demonstration

We went back to the church and almost every group presented their lesson/demonstration. The lesson was about how Jesus is the model to live – if we follow Jesus’ example, people will see God in you. It was very interesting and fun.

There was a nice sized gathering of children for the Children’s Service

After Church we went to one of the lunch lady’s home (Tata’s home). I was quite impressed with her house. It was much bigger and more modern than Danel’s. She served us a stew of pork and chicken, plantains and yucca. Served over rice. There was also fresh guacamole. It was probably the best meal we’ve had. There’s something about a home cooked meal and being a guest in a person’s who, a week ago was a strong but is now a friend.

After lunch we walked to Danel’s house as it was only a block away. It was great to see him and his family again. He is so happy with our work and when we said goodbye, he said he loved me.

No sign of the kitten. I hope he’s OK.

I can’t believe I forgot to write about this in my travel journal: before lunch at Tata’s house, we gave the children shoes that were donated by another parish. The shoes are called Shoes that Grow as they are adjustable as a child grows. They were a huge hit with the children.

Amy and Anna hand out Shoes that Grow to excited children.
Anna, Amy and Jr help the older children with their new shoes.

Back at the hotel, I took a power nap and was woken up by Michael Jackson claiming that the kid was not his son. The hotel sells wristbands to the neighborhood for $4. From 11am-8pm they can use the pool and facilities (basketball court and bar). It’s a nice arrangement and a popular one with the neighborhood!

We arrived back to the school at 5pm for adult Church and have enjoyed praise songs. They have a projector with the words of the song displayed and I find it interesting that most of the songs also have a dance incorporated with it.

Song lasted for 35 minutes and now Jr’s father is on stage. His sister (Jr’s not his father’s) is acting as translator again.

We are not having a sermon (yet). Instead, people who attended a seminar last week (?Sunday) are sharing their experiences. 6.10p – Jr’s dad is doing a sermon about the importance of imitating Jesus so people can see Him in us. It seems to be the theme of the week and tied in well with the children’s service.

Now it is time for the offertory (I meant offering). He said God loves a joyful giver. I gave my 500 pesos. It seemed appropriate because comparatively I have so much more than these people, even though by America’s standards, I don’t.

6.30p another sing along but first hugs from everyone than a Happy birthday song to several members – actually it must be announcement time because there was a slide advertising Drama Night, which seems to be a play on Good Vs Evil.

We were asked to come onstage, where the congregation prayed for us. Several people came up and placed their hands on us in prayer. It was very moving.

6.50pm. It ends.

As we left, I was feeling bittersweet. It had been a long, hot and exhausting week but in that time God redefined community and family to me. These people are so grateful and so generous with their love and food and community that I really feel like a changed person. I’m so glad I came.

After we said our goodbyes we headed to Jr’s house for dinner. He bought 12 pounds of meat and grilled kabobs for us with chicken and pork. It was delicious. There was also boiled potatoes and peppers and onions. The best thing, though, was seeing the stars! All week they had been hiding but tonight they came out blazing and shining.

God is so good.

Day 6 ~ Saturday 22 June

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Disclaimer:  The Original travel journal entry is written in italics. Addenda and clarified thoughts are written in regular print.

I so love the sound of birdsong in the morning. Back home, I often wake to the sound of birds singing, and enjoy their serenades whilst I walk to work. I think I’m ready to go home. I miss my own birds and of course E² (my cats, Elliot and Eleanor). I hope they have been good for Shannon and that Amy can spend some time with them. I can’t wait to snuggle with them though I’m sure they will make me pay for daring to leave them!

Breakfast was to go – juice box and grilled ham and cheese

Today is our free day – meaning no work. Honestly I would rather go home.

~~~~~~

I changed my mind. I’m glad we stayed. We drove to a beautiful beach that seems isolated and is simply gorgeous. I swam in the Caribbean Ocean for about 25 minutes then walked along the stunning shore. I’m now sipping a Pina colada that is served in a hollowed out pineapple! I really need to up my drinks and use pineapples as a vessel.

I love standing at the base of a tree and looking up. Palm trees at the beach.
One view of the beach. It was simply lovely.
Andy C, Fiona, Tyler and Aiden swam to the island. However, they weren’t able to climb up to it because of the jagged rocks surrounding it. While they swam to it, Aurelie, Nikki, Anderson and I enjoyed splashing in the ocean. It was amazing
The view looking the other way down the beach. It was so beautiful and peaceful. There wasn’t any loud noises or tomfoolery, just people enjoying God’s creation. I especially liked the large piece of driftwood that had washed up.
A view of the huts and palm trees from the shore.
A kite shop on the beach.
I really liked this crooked palm tree.
The palm trees created some lovely shade on the beach.
No lifeguard on duty.
A Pina Colada served in a hollowed out pineapple!
My view whilst sipping on a Pina Colada under the shade of palm trees on a beautiful beach.

~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m currently swinging under a huge tree in a lagoon park. We had lunch here (it was OK – nothing special or new) then went swimming in a lagoon. This place is unimaginably beautiful and is a park like setting. There are so many beautiful plants and flowers, including my beautiful bougainvillea. I’m rather upset with myself because I didn’t realise my camera battery was low, otherwise I’d have charged it. It died at the beach earlier today and I’m upset because this place is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. I’ll try my best to describe it.

First of all, I have no idea where we are in the Dominican Republic. But this place, Laguna Dudu, is off the beaten path. I don’t know if there is several different lagoons (there must be) or one main one with off shoots from a river that might have dried up. But it’s not beachy- it’s more like being in a forest with a park in the middle of it. One the campus are several huts scattered about for picnics or just to get out of the sun. There are several swinging areas like the one I’m at as well as hammocks. There is even a small soccer field (kid size). There’s several caves and even an underground lake, at least according to the tour guide that just walked by.

I swam in the larger, deeper lagoon then Aurelie and I went to a smaller more intimate shallow lagoon. It was breathtaking. Aurelie was catching tiny tiny fish and I just enjoyed the solitude. But it didn’t last because eventually a large group came down and lit up and cracked open beers and the tranquility was no more.

I’m being asked to wrap things up so more later. Seriously, I could have stayed all day at the lagoon. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.

We regrouped at the hotel then headed back out. This time we’re going to a food truck park. Is was very cool and I managed to take some photos after charging my battery a bit. I had the Dominican Republic version of poutine, which was great.

I’m exhausted so off to bed. Oh! Amy sent me photos of E²! I miss them!

Amy sent me this photo of Eleanor
And here’s Elliot. I love how he’s like, ‘Woman, come home!’

Day 5 ~ Friday 21 June

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Disclaimer:  The Original travel journal entry is written in italics. Addenda and clarified thoughts are written in regular print.

Today is our last work day for the school. I’m determined to get the house finished but just remembered that we are running low on white paint. Hopefully we can get some more. (We didn’t).

My plan is to finish the house by lunch, have lunch, then go to the satellite school where there is going to be arts and crafts. I haven’t worked with the children and I’d like to do that.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear agenda or plan for today which could be disasterous.

We finished painting the house! (Aiden, Nikki, Aurelie and I. Fiona, Delia, Anna and Amy were working at the school, and the school children requested Anderson to be allowed to play with them!) It looks wonderful and the family seems very pleased with it. I checked on the kitten, too, and his eye looks much better. I gave him another dose and gave the bottle to the woman of the house, who we learned was Danel’s mother.

Eunice made us fried plantains to enjoy while we finished up. They were amazing!
Miss Eunice in her kitchen.
Aiden and Danel finishing up the touch ups
Danel finishing up on touch ups
Danel and Eunice’s youngest daughter, Davnice, who stole our hearts.
Nikki reads a book to Davnice
Kittens at play! Someone is feeling better!
Kitty’s eye looks much better!

I have much joy in the job. I felt like I was painting God’s house and wanted it to be as nice as it could be. My OCD kicked in to make sure missing spots were covered and messy spots were cleaned up. I’m very happy with everything and have so much satisfaction!

Another view of the finished house
Aurelie and Aiden representing part of the best paint crew in the Dominican Republic, with Nikki who returned to read to Davnice and help with touch ups. Big thanks to Fiona and Anderson, the other original paint crew members, and to Anna, Amy, Delia and Nikki who helped out on the holiday. Thanks for your amazing work!

Lunch was yellow rice and corn, fried chicken and potato salad with pimento (I didn’t have any). After lunch, I helped the lunch ladies with the dishes and general cleanup. After lunch we cleaned up trash around the school. The Dominican people tend to dump their trash or just leave it. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, a lack of service or an economic issue. Probably all three.

Dina preparing lunch
Dina, Tata and two lunch ladies make up the best cooks on the island!
Sorry for the poor quality photo
Jr and Andy working on the plumbing job. Yes, Andy got yelled at by the ophthalmic technician for not wearing safety glasses!
Mark inspecting the water line
Aiden, Fiona and Lucas clear some weeds from the water line
Anderson and Nikki attack weeds in the playground
Anna takes a well deserved break and strikes a pose on the playground

We were going to go to the satellite school for crafts and give out the shoes that were donated by another parish. However, the only road to the satellite location was blocked. Apparently, there was rioting going on so we turned around and returned to the school. The rioting had something to do with electricity – or lack thereof. Our driver, Carlos, went through one blockade made of branches and small tree limbs, but continuing down the road we saw another blockade of rocks, with a tree trunk blockage that was smoldering further down the road. We asked Jr what would have happened if we kept on the road, and he said we would like have had stones thrown at us. Apparently, rioting is commonplace and though I’m glad we turned back, I would have liked to have seen the satellite school and children again. But there is always Sunday.

I ended up spending most of the rest of the afternoon at Delia’s English class. Delia is a teacher by trade and was wonderful with the kids. I’m glad I was able to see that part of the mission.

Delia teaching the children English
Delia and Nikki with some of their students
New friends were made

Today was hotter and more humid than the other days – or I’m just worn out.

They started dinner earlier than I thought (6.30). By the time I got there at 6.30, the eggs were gone and there was only plantains and the meat steak. I thought the dish that had the eggs in it was a dish that had fried cheese and voiced my disappointment that it was gone. (The fried cheese was my favorite). Andy T must have heard me and saw that Anderson had two eggs, so he asked Anderson if I could have one and Anderson said yes. Anderson is the youngest member of the group (10) but is a powerhouse worker and great kid in general. He, Anna and Aurelie have impressed me the most, but all the kids worked hard on their given jobs.

After dinner A², Mark, Amy and I sat and discussed our trip over beers. (I choose not to reveal what we discussed only because at the time of this writing (4 July), there hasn’t been, to my knowledge, a meeting about our experiences with Father Chris. This is the only omission to my travel journal).

Tomorrow is our free day. We’re going to a beach that is two hours away and will be there for a few hours, then I think we’re going to a market and the dinner will be a variety of food trucks. Apparently credit cards will be welcome for lunch and the market (I think) but probably not the food trucks. I have 500 pesos left and no American money, not even in my wallet, as I had to pay back Delia for the chocolate plantation tour. If Nikki can get to an ATM she said she’d float me $40 but we’ll see if she even has the opportunity to get to one. I’m not worried about the lack of funds. It’s not like I can’t afford to not miss a meal.

Day 4 ~ Thursday 20 June

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Disclaimer:  The Original travel journal entry is written in italics. Nothing has been removed. Addenda and clarified thoughts are written in regular print.

Today is going to be a half work day so I’m wearing the same clothes from yesterday. I brought two teaching outfits and two working outfits, but it’s all good. I seriously misjudged the amount of clothes I needed. I hate checking bags and I only had a carry on and a backpack that were both filled with supplies for the mission. I also only had five outfits. Luckily, I borrowed a skirt from Amy and was able to wear that a couple of times, so it worked out.

The plan is to return to our work sites and work a half day. Today is a holiday in the Dominican Republic (Corpus Christi Day), so no school, which means Nikki, Delia and Amy will be joining my paint crew! 🙂 Tyler and Aiden switched working assignments, too. Yesterday, Tyler over-excreted himself and became sick, presumably from dehydration and exhaustion. He was happy for a change of pace, though I’m not sure how Aiden felt about working in a ditch!

Clearing out the inside of Danel’s home so we can start painting

Nikki’s grandfather passed away this morning. She just heard and is understandably upset. He was 92 and mostly raised her.

After our half work day, we are going to a chocolate factory and then shopping!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Just back at the hotel after an adventurous day. We got more brushes for the paint job and I really wanted to finish the inside by noon. But it got complicated and we were able to finish most of it. So we’ll be heading back tomorrow to finish and I hope we’ll be able to do it in a half day and finished by noon.

Jr upset me today. I shouldn’t be so sensitive but he was critical of our work from yesterday, indicating we hadn’t done a good job. I was very proud of our work and of the kids and thought we did a wonderful job, considering we had limited resources. The paint job was difficult. The house’s wooden walls were made from different types of wood, so one beam would capture the paint with ease, while the next beam would require several coats. We didn’t have paint stir sticks – Danel used a tree limb to stir the paint, and the yellow paint was a different type of paint than the white paint and required more coats. We didn’t have drop cloths so spills were made even though we were so careful to limit them. Our white paint supply was running low and we still had the interior of the house to paint. Anyway, he made me cry in frustration, and I hate when I do that. I think I cry when I’m frustrated because I feel like I’ve failed, or am unable, to verbalize my feelings and intents. Also, I’m not the type to have immediate verbal reactions. When I do, I’ve always censored them. I never said anything to Jr about how he made me feel, but I mentioned it in passing to Delia. Whenever someone upsets me, I always give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Jr was having a bad day. Maybe he’s under a lot of pressure that I know nothing about. Maybe he just wants everything to be perfect. I shouldn’t be so sensitive. I shouldn’t listen to him. He has no idea about circumstances surrounding the job. Let it be – you know you and the kids did a hell of a job. Do what you normally do and pull back, saying nothing because the world is still not ready for 40 years of pent up uncensored frustrations to be unleashed, especially on an unsuspecting man you hardly know. It just sucked that he didn’t even recognize how much we had done before criticizing the work.

I know conflict resolution and speaking up about my feelings is something I need to work on. Honestly, it would be so much easier if people would just think before they speak! I really struggled on whether or not to even include this incident. In the grand scheme of things, it is a very minor and petty situation. But it bothered me enough to write about it in my journal and I want to be true to my journal here.

Back to the journal….

Danel and his family were very appreciative. Because today is a holiday, his wife and children were home. She made us a fantastic limeade and Danel said we were always welcome in his home. On the way to lunch, he escorted us back to the school and he saw me admiring a flower bloom and so he picked it for me.

Me, Davnice, Danel, Danai, Eunice and Cori
The flower Danel picked for me

I saw the kitten from yesterday. His eye was looking better (I instilled a drop of Besivance in his eye yesterday). I gave him another dose today. He’s so tiny!

The kitten after he received his eye drop
The kitten getting some love from Aurelie and Amy. He quickly learned that being held was a good thing! Such a sweet boy.

Lunch was again wonderful and at the school. Rice with sausage, mashed eggplant casserole, salad, fresh avocado and fried plantains. Breakfast today was fruit salad, mashed potatoes, omelettes and sausage.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel for a quick change then we head to the chocolate factory. It was more of a chocolate plantation that we toured and it was fascinating. We saw everything from seed to chocolate bar and even made a chocolate bar for ourselves. I can’t wait to eat it.

Lucas, Tyler and Aiden make a new friend at the chocolate plantation.

Jr rushed us out so we could go to a souvenir shop. But I bought a souvenir canvas bag at the chocolate place. It has less calories and is less likely to melt, compared to the yummy stuff. Such restraint!

Oh, before I forget ~ I found a Charlie stone at the school! He is with me!!

I told Aurelie about my Charlie stones. I’m convinced that Charlie communicates with me through wishing stones that I find on my adventures. A wishing stone is a stone with a white band going all around it. I’ve also found heart shaped stones. It’s his way of telling me he’s still with me. She’s such a sweet girl. She held my hand and hugged me in the van.

My Charlie stone and Danel’s flower. Note the wide band on the stone – it’s one of the widest I’ve found. I wanted to press the flower as a keepsake but it didn’t work out as planned.

I owe Delia $50 for the tour. I told Aurelie earlier I’d get her ticket.

After the chocolate stop, (oh! we got a sample of hot chocolate that was AMAZING!), we headed to the souvenir shop.

This place was a cross between a market and a souvenir shop. I found a wooden carved elephant for Joe, a key chain for Shannon and picked up two magnets for myself. It was fun.

Tyler, Aurelie, A², Anderson, Anna and Mark

On the way to the shop we drove through a town that had many pretty murals and almost every telephone pole painted with different flowers. Very pretty.

I’m a little nervous about money. I have 500 pesos available and $22 left of my spending money. I used the credit card the other evening but don’t know if I’ll be able to use it on Saturday, which is our free day. Hopefully, everything will work out.

Dinner was a let down – basically Chef Boy R Dee spaghetti with chopped up sausage. There was an amazing sunset, though.

Sunset

After dinner I had a very great and insightful conversation with Aurelie. I really cherish that girl. I told her about Chuck and his death and the revelations afterwards, and my pain, sorrow and anger. I told her about how difficult photography is now because I did concert photography with him and how I want to travel to honor him. Chuck loved to travel and try new things, and by traveling by myself to new places, I feel I can keep his memory alive. She listened attentively and then offered her suggestions. She said I should pick up photography because I love it and not to feel guilty about it – basically do it for me and not out of ‘duty’ (she said it better than that but this is the gist of it). When I told her I wanted to travel in May and November to honor him, she again said to do it because I want to do it for myself and not for him, because he would want me to be happy. I told her that I would and that I’ll go to places that Chuck didn’t want to visit – like California and Europe!

I had an interesting dream last night, probably stirred up by our conversation. (I wrote this paragraph the next morning). In my dream, I had started a relationship with a man named Killian and I was happy. I think Charlie would want me to be happy.

Day 3 ~ Wednesday 19 June

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Disclaimer:  The Original travel journal entry is written in italics. Addenda and clarified thoughts are written in regular print.

Hurry up and wait again seems to be the mantra of the day. Breakfast was earlier (7am) with the intent of leaving at 7.30am, but it’s now 7.55am and we’re waiting. I guess there was miscommunication with the van. Today is our first full work day.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs, sausage slices and mashed yucca. Again, delicious.

Our painting project might be delayed. Was just told that the stucco for the house has yet to be done. We’ll know more when we get to Pimentel.

While the Paint Crew waited for clear directions, we helped Amy, Anna and Nikki get ready for their Arts and Crafts day at the satellite school.

Once we go there, our plans changed again. There seemed to be a conflict with the woman’s family and our intent to paint her house. She has cancer and was home instead of the hospital which was expected. Then there was the question of if she or her family really wanted the painting done in the first place.

In the end, we left that house and moved to another house. The second house belonged to one of the school’s cleaning ladies and her family. We mostly dealt with her husband, Danel. He didn’t speech English and we didn’t speak Spanish but we made it work.

At Danel’s house. Jr stayed long enough to serve as translator to get us started.
Danel taking off stickers from the front door. The stickers have the names of God printed on them.

The plan was to paint his tan colored house white – at least the street view. Then we were to trim it in yellow.

Paint crew unite! Where’s Aiden?!

It took a bit of time to get the paint open but once we did we were off. Aiden and I started on the street side and the girls and Anderson started on the porch. In no time we got a lot done but needed a step ladder to reach the highest areas.

We eventually got a ladder and took a lunch break. Lunch was at the school cafeteria with all the students joining us. Rice, chopped chicken and veggies were the menu and again it was delicious.

This is Julia. She’s a student and artist and her mother works at the school. She and Aurelie became close friends during the week. I hope their friendship continues to grow in the coming years.

After lunch we headed back to Danel’s house. Aiden and Fiona finished the high white areas and we [the rest of us] started on the yellow trim. The yellow paint was very thin and took three coats to even look good. We only had three brushes so we got bottlenecked because two of the brushes were being used for white touch up. However, we did the best we could with what we had and by the end of the afternoon the house was finished. It looks beautiful if I do say so myself. We’re going back tomorrow morning to do touch up and to paint the interior of the house. Then in the afternoon we are going to a chocolate factory

The house ‘Before’
The house ‘After’. Not bad, eh?

Oh, I almost forgot ~ I met a kitten! So tiny and so cute! It had an eye infection. I gave it a drop of Besivance and will check on it tomorrow.

Dinner was boiled plantations, fried cheese, pork, hard boiled eggs and pickled onions.

Day 2 ~ Tuesday 18 June

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Disclaimer:  The Original travel journal entry is written in italics. Addenda and clarified thoughts are written in regular print.

Breakfast of fruit, papaya juice and hard boiled eggs, then we were off to Pimentel, which is about 30 minutes away. Jr and Carlos picked us up and most of us rode in the van, driven by Carlos. Andy² (the two Andys) and Anderson rode with Jr.

The Dominicans are a lovely, generous people. They are easy-going and even-tempered. As drivers, however, they are bold, carefree and fearless. They have adopted the understanding that the bigger vehicle has the right of way in almost every situation, and that lines on the pavement and traffic signs, including stop signs, are purely decorative. Most Dominicans ride mopeds or motorcycles, and weave through traffic and race along road shoulders. They are also the most likely to get cut off by larger vehicles, but take it in stride. They also zip through stop lights, and are ingenious about transporting people and goods on only two wheels. I saw a family of four on a motorcycle, but Mark saw a family of five on one! We also witnessed everything from propane tank, a stove, enough baked bread to fill a grocery store, and live animals being transported by motorcycles. Toddlers sit in front of the adult and babies are held on laps by one hand, whilst the other hand operates the cycle, or sit on the mother’s lap who is sitting in front of the father who is driving the cycle. No big deal. Cars were mostly Asian models and always had dark tinted windows. Pick up trucks were diesel trucks and carried everything from fresh fruit, construction items, people and animals. Being driven in the Dominican Republic was an event in itself as it was filled with excitement (yeah, that’s the word), sights and colors. I am also convinced our van was filled with prayers! Carlos was an amazing driver and kept us safe.

The school in Pimentel is on its own campus, with the main building surrounded by outbuildings which served as classrooms and an outdoor lunch cafe. There was also the home and farm of the founding pastor, who’s son, Jr, served as our Mission host and guide. Radhames Quezada, became a pastor at the age of 20 and built the school with many years of hard work, faith and sweat. He shared his testimony with us and his daughter served as translator. The school is a family run operation. Pastor Quezada’s wife is the school superintendent, and two daughters, along with Jr’s wife, serve as teachers.

Jr introducing his parents to our group
Jr’s parents. Mom is the school superintendent and Dad is the Founder and Pastor.

We walked around the campus and each classroom greeted us with a class cheer. Lunch was rice and sausage, salad and fried plantains.

The children were very shy but curious about our motley crew!
Anderson is just as curious as the school children. Moments later, they were playing together
The courtyard of the school. The big two story building is the original building with classrooms and offices on the first floor and the Church on the second floor. The outbuildings that serve as additional classrooms are at the perimeter of the courtyard.
Hola!
The front of the school’s main building
School graffiti on the side of a building
An example of the the bright colors are are used throughout the Dominican Republic. This was taken at a shop/garage area on the school grounds
A handprint on the side of the school bus. I really liked the textures and color.

Two of the school Lunch Ladies, Dina and Tata

We had a lovely meal then toured Pimentel on foot. The colors and sights again were amazing.

This is one of the few kept dogs we saw in Pimentel. Most of the dogs were presumably strays that wandered the city. Anna remarked that this dog reminded her of her own dog back home named Milo, so we started calling this dog Milo whenever we passed. He was sweet.
Cat!
A beautiful flower and some of the colorful buildings of Pimentel.
A curious little boy
A man in his shop

I saw a street vendor selling coconuts and we stopped to take pictures. There was also a pineapple vendor so I bought a pineapple for me and Aurelie to share. It was delicious! We found ourselves in the vicinity of the police station so Andy² thought it would be funny to take a photo of Aiden in jail and send it to Father Chris (Aiden’s father)! I thought it was childish and inappropriate, but was clearly in the minority.

Amy and her fresh coconut with the coconut vendor
The Pineapple vendor preparing our pineapple. So glad I bought a pineapple instead of a coconut!

The van picked us up near the station and then we drove to the satellite location that served even more children. The children present were precious but very shy and didn’t want to get their photograph taken – much like some the Chinese adults were when I visited China with my parents years ago. I coaxed and smiled an even showed them that I, too, could do a cartwheel! I was finally rewarded with some lovely photos.

Some children from the satellite location

Back at the main campus, I was volunteered to head a painting project. I thought I was going to be painting school classrooms, but it is a local woman’s house. I’m not sure on the details but Fiona, Aiden, Anderson, Aurelie and myself (Kelly! Poor grammar!) will tackle the job! Our team was divided into three working groups. Andy², Lucas, Mark and Tyler formed the Work Crew who would be tackling lawn work at the satellite school, before returning to the main campus to tackle a plumbing project. Delia, Nikki, Amy, and Anna formed the Teaching Crew that would be teaching English and Arts and Crafts.

We arrived back to the hotel around 6pm and everyone was hungry. However, the teenagers dove into the meal and ate most of of it. It was a small amount of sliced sausage, fried cheese and plantains. Jr seemed embarrassed that there was so little food but that’s teenagers for you. To be fair, the teens didn’t eat all the food, but by the time the last person came to dinner, most of it was gone. Jr explained that in the Dominican, lunch was the biggest meal, not dinner. Andy² and Aiden explained that Americans tended to eat more at dinner than at lunch. Jr said he would adjust the food levels for the rest of the week.

Immediately after dinner, Nikki, Amy and Delia and I went to a local store – much like Walmart – for some supplies. I didn’t need anything but wanted to go for the experience. I ended up buying a few things – juice boxes, Dominican coffee, meringues, lime flavored potato chips and Dominican rum to make Charlie proud. Nikki said she’d pack it for me as I’m not checking any bags.

It’s now late – after 10pm local time so I’m going to end today’s entry. I watched the full moon rise and know it’s from Charlie. I hope I can find a rock from him while we’re here. Maybe at the beach!

Day 1 ~ Monday 17 June

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Disclaimer: The Original travel journal entry is written in italics. Addenda and clarified thoughts are written in regular print.

Packed and ready to go!
Back row: Anna, Fiona, Aurelie, Lucas, Nikki, Mark, Andy, Andy, Anderson
Front row: Delia, Aiden, Amy, me
photo by Chris F

‘Hurry up and wait’ was the theme for our travel day, that started for me at 2am. Mark managed to convince his wife to wake up just as early to take him and his daughter, Anna, to the airport, and he was kind enough to offer me a ride. Our flight was scheduled to leave Nashville at 5.40am and the group had agreed to meet at the airport at 4am. I was excited ~ it was my first mission trip and we were heading to the Dominican Republic to serve at a school. I was a little unclear on the specifics of where exactly we’d be, or what exactly we’d be doing, but I was excited for the opportunity to serve. I was a little apprehensive about the recent mysterious deaths, but knew God would keep us safe. Our initial flight to Miami was held up by an over booked (American Airlines) flight, and then the connecting flight to Santo Domingo was delayed due to weather. By the time we got through Customs and Immigration, we were hot and tired, but safe in the Dominican Republic. We had also picked up another member for our crew in Miami. Tyler is a pre-med student from Texas and joined our group. We were very happy to have him.

Mark, our driver Carlos, Nikki and Amy in the front of the van
Aurelie, Tyler, Lucas, Anna (hiding!), Fiona and Aiden
There’s Anna!
Not pictured is Delia who was sitting next to me. I have no good reason to not have taken her photo. Sorry, Delia! Andy, Anderson and Andy were riding with our Dominican host, Jr, in his car.

After a scary? boldly driven? adventurous drive through the countryside, which was filled with color, sounds and smells, we checked into our hotel [in San Francisco de Macoris, about an hour ride from the airport]. I’m rooming with Nikki and Anna, and we each have our own bed, though Anna’s is on the floor and next to the bathroom. (Before we left, there were rumors that someone would be sleeping on a sofa bed. I had already decided that the person who didn’t pay federal taxes would get the sofa bed! I was very happy that everyone had a proper bed and Anna didn’t seem to mind her frameless bed – probably because it was directly under the air conditioning unit!) Group Missions, who organized our trip, left a gift bag of candy, along with the week’s agenda and meal plans in each room. Tuesday we would travel to Pimentel, the location of the school we’d be serving, to meet everyone and explore the town. Wednesday would be a full working day, Thursday was a holiday (Corpus Christi Day, so no school) and would be a half day with the afternoon set aside for adventure, Friday was a working day. Saturday was our free day and I knew we’d be visiting a beach. Sunday was Church All Day day, then we’d head home on Monday.

Our first meal was wonderful. Mashed plantains with corn and pickled onions was the main course (I forget the name) [mangu] and sides were scrambled eggs with scallions, fried cheese slices, and a sausage patty. We drank pineapple juice.

After dinner, we hung out after a quick meeting with our Dominican host, Jr. I think I’m really going to enjoy myself. I emailed Dad, socialized for a half minute, then crashed around 7pm local time. All in all, it was a very good day.

To be a blessing . . .

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Above The Caribbean Ocean, on my way to the Dominican Republic
Above the Caribbean Ocean, on my way to the Dominican Republic

My Church, St Patrick’s Anglican Church, has the tag line ‘Invite, Train, Send’. We are a welcoming bunch who love to worship God, grow in God, and spread God’s love. Ever since Charlie died, St Patrick’s not only welcomed me with loving and open arms, but they helped me pick up the pieces of my shattered life and get back on my feet. The Sunday after Charlie died, back in 2017, was the first time I attended St Patrick’s, and I keep returning to the white church with the red door, even though it’s 30 miles away and there are many closer churches for my consideration.

St Patrick’s is a growing church with an active Youth Group, Men’s Group and various outreach programs. They are especially active in short international Mission trips. Last year, a group traveled to Puerto Rico. I was intrigued, but didn’t participate.

‘Next year, I’ll go,’ I told myself. ‘I need firmer ground under my feet before attempting something like that’. I made a mental note to put it on my 2019 calendar and kept moving forward in my journey.

Word soon came that a mission trip would participate in the Dominican Republic and I volunteered to go. I didn’t know what to expect or know how to prepare, but my heart knew I needed to be on that Mission Trip.

My strongest desire in this new chapter I find myself in, is to be a blessing to someone else. So many people have blessed me ever since my husband died, by helping me emotionally, financially, spiritually, often all at the same time. People have been so generous to me. I thought by participating in a Mission Trip, I could finally be generous to someone else.

The Mission Trip was 17 ~ 24 June 2019. I returned home very early yesterday morning. I am a changed woman, albeit a tired one. I supposed only time will tell if I was a blessing to someone.

I kept a detailed journal of my experience and will be sharing it, along with photos of the trip in the coming days. I hope you will enjoy reading about my travels.