Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Foreigners In Our Lives

“The plane’s here. That’s her flight!” Why am I so excited, I wondered. We have hosted three foreign exchange students, so I should be getting used to this by now. It was less than a month since we said good-by to Gudi, our German ‘daughter’. What a horrible day that was. Most of her friends were there. Her parents who came for graduation were leaving with her, and they did not understand why she was crying. Bob had to push Gudi into the gangway because she wasn’t going of her own accord. I’m sure her parents thought we bewitched her or something.  Actually, the opposite was true.  Gudi charmed her way into our hearts and saying “good-bye” was tearing us apart.
            So here we were doing this again, opening our home to a high school student that we would welcome and treat as our own child for a school year. Our close friends thought we were crazy.
            “If it hurts for them to leave, why do it?” they would ask. That’s a good question. Is it because it feels better when you do it again, like a drug fix? Were we addicted to exchange students? Was such a thing possible?
            I was holding the “Welcome Pat” sign and balloons because our son didn’t want anything to do with it. It might threaten his cool. This was the year we were going to host an Italian, but our exchange coordinator had called to say she had a file on a Brazilian girl that she thought would fit well into our family. So much for the Italian.     
            Finally we saw people deplaning, and took a spot by the gate. That was when you could actually go to the gate to meet your party. The excitement was like waiting for a birth; only the result wasn’t a baby, but a teenager. Impatiently we looked at everyone getting off of the plane.
            “Is this her? No, too old; no too young; no she’s with someone.”  Then down the ramp came this smiling, bubbly, dark-haired girl.  We knew her immediately.  You would not know she had been traveling over 24 hours from Sao Paulo. That’s because she’s Brazilian and they have boundless energy! Welcoming hugs and kisses on the cheeks (I think our son shook her hand) and we were off for another adventure.

That was our life from 1985 to 2006. I can't even imagine our lives without our foreign "kids". It wasn't long before Bob and I took on the role of working as  Representatives for an exchange organization, and finally I became a State Coordinator for Washington and Oregon. I don't need a script to give a talk on exchange students...it just flows out of me.

We've had around 22 students live in our home, most have been year long (9 months) students, but some were here a semester and some for the summer. I can honestly say that hosting isn't something everyone should do, but I wish they would. The student may be a stranger when they arrive at the airport, but they don't stay that way. It does take a conscious effort to make them a part of your family. You have to treat them like a son or daughter. Hosting can be compared to taking in a foster child, but exchange students are usually older, come with their own money, don't require intervention by a psychologist, and can be just wonderful. We developed a deep and abiding love for most of our foreign sons and daughters.

The idea of hosting is that you learn about another culture and country. But it's interesting that you learn as much about yourself as you do about them. You learn what is really important to you when the student doesn't know the family rules yet. You learn how much you treasure something when it isn't appreciated or gets broken. And when they leave, if she left the key to her suitcase in her bedroom at your house, you know she wanted to stay. Thinking of that, even now 28 years later, I tear up.

We gave up hosting when grandchildren appeared. There wasn't time for everything, and grandchildren had to come first. But I still miss the excitement of choosing a new student and waiting at the airport for them to arrive.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Sheba was the name of the horse I learned to ride on. I was in Girl Scouts and a retired Army soldier brought his string of polo ponies for the troop to ride. Sheba was huge, a dapple grey, and I loved her. My parents bought me jodhpurs and riding boots. I already had my leather jacket with fringe on the sleeves and along the bottom. I can't say I learned to ride well, nor have I had a lot of experience on horses. I read and read and read about them. I lived with them in my imagination. I collected postcards with horse pictures on them, and horse figurines. And I watched cowboy movies on TV.  So why shouldn't I write a story about horses?

My story in progress has a horse named Sheba. She's the favorite of the main character Mandy.  I love writing horse scenes. It's like I can be there through Mandy. I check my facts through local people more knowledgeable than I am. Of course every story has to have a crisis. This is a scene that I barely got through because I was crying:

“Come in Mandy,” she said. She was sitting at the kitchen table looking at a photo album. There were pictures of when Mr. Parker was alive and he had the string of polo ponies.
“So what did the vet say?” I asked, a little out of breath.
She looked at me with soft eyes. “He said he thinks Sheba has pleural pneumonia.”
“She must have gotten a cold or influenza. You remember I told you that while you were mending your broken leg, my son brought a horse over for me to look at. Well he did buy it and he brought it again to run in the pasture. This time we were more careful with Sheba, but his horse had a runny nose. Colds can be pretty contagious and turn quickly to pneumonia.” She turned her eyes to the album. “These are pictures of when we first got her.”
I looked over and saw a younger and thinner Sheba with Mr. Parker on her back. “So does the vet have medicine to cure her? She will get better, won’t she?” I asked the questions, but I think I already knew the answer by looking at Mrs. Parker’s droopy red eyes. 
 “No honey, medicine can’t cure this. Sheba has to be put down. We need to clean out the stable so Bubbaloo and Scout don’t get sick too.”
“NO!” I screamed as loud as I could, hoping my voice would rise up as far as heaven and make it not so. “She can’t die, not ever!” Tears gushed down my face and I shook all over. I covered my face with my t-shirt and screamed. Mrs. Parker knelt down in front of me. She held me.
After a long time, she stood and grabbed my hands, boosting me up . “Come on Mandy, I’ll take you home.”
 “I…I’ve uh….got ..my um…bike.” I stuttered through “sup-sup” sounds.
“That’s OK. We’ll put it in the trunk. She put an arm around my shoulder and kept hold of one hand. At the back door, we stopped as she lifted her car keys off a hook. I leaned hard on her.                          

Writing is a strange phenomena for me. I live through my characters. They bring new color to my life. This is a way I can express my love of horses when I don't have the means to own one.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A touch of color

The world is full of color. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and elements. It is physical, spiritual, and literary. This blog is going to be about the color we have in our lives. Open your eyes and you will see it.

You'll probably want to know something about me and how can I talk about color. I came from southern California originally. Grew up with the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and Gidget. The color was body tan and ocean blue.

I discovered how books can bring color to my life. Reading was a passion. Painting came next, bringing life to a blank canvass. I found that people brought color. Enter foreign exchange students.

Besides paint, I think glass is the ultimate color experience. It's pure eye candy. So I discovered what I can do with fused glass, amazing things. However, always lurking in my soul was the desire to paint with words-write. Finally it erupted as children's stories.

I invite anyone to blog with me about your passions that give color to your life. You can also find me on Facebook. Let's have fun together.