Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Crossing It Off

During church Sunday I made a list of all the things I want to do during my stay-at-home-vacation. (What? You don't make lists during church? You do know that lying is a sin, right?)

Look at how much fun I'm having! I am crossing things off left and right.

Clean out Boy#3's closet? Cross it off!

Clean refrigerator? Check! (And, whoa. Gross. I definitely need to take more days off to get things done around the house. Or maybe I need to give up Breaking Pointe and clean the refrigerator instead?)

Meals into freezer? Crossed off, because who am I? Rachael Ray? No, I am not.

Next up is lunch with a friend, a friend with whom I don't lunch nearly often enough. Then this afternoon I'll re-pot the philodendron, and work on the shawl that may be part of my Mother of the Groom attire and watch a couple more episodes of Homeland (I'm only two and a half seasons behind now)

Envy me. This is my life for three more days. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

I Refuse to Call It That

If things had gone as planned Husband and I would have been waking up in the cool fragrance of the Colorado mountains this morning. This was the week we had set aside for our annual camping trip, and every year we look forward to the books and knitting and cool breezes. Well, one of us does; the other one looks forward to hiking and exploring nature, but whatever. Po-tay-toes, po-tah-toes.

That was the plan until last Monday anyway. We had our national park camp reservations and I'd cleared the vacation hours with my boss, but we've been running pretty much non-stop since my mother-in-law's health began to fail at Christmas. We're down to fumes and the to-do list before vacation just kept getting longer. As we were eating supper and trying to plan when we would pick up the camper, clean it and get it stocked for travel, Husband looked at me.

"What would you say if I suggested we just stay home instead?" he asked.

"I'd say this, right here, is just another reason I love you," was my reply.

We decided we'd treat this week as a vacation, but stay at home and divide our time between taking care of the non-urgent household tasks that hang over our heads all the time but keep getting pushed behind things that are on fire at the moment, and doing the things we normally do on vacations--books, knitting, day trips to antique shops. I declared a limit of two hours on "work"--if the linen closet isn't straightened out in two hours, it's waiting until the next day.

Today we spent two hours cleaning out a closet in Boy#3's old room, packing up two big boxes of Star Wars and Star Trek books for the attic and stuffing two garbage bags full of clothes for Goodwill. Next I'm going to shower, then work on Boy#1's t-shirt quilt for a while, then maybe take a nap.

You might call this a "staycation," as you legitimately could since it was added to Merriam-Webster's dictionary in 2009, but for some reason that portmanteau sets my teeth on edge and I don't plan to do anything this week that sets my teeth on edge. Just knitting, reading, and using my own bathroom.

Aaaaah. This is going to be nice.

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Day With Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas |Occidental Dissent
(Someone asked me about the original story I wrote for the alumni magazine about my day with Helen Thomas. Here it is, reprinted with permission.)


So what’s it like to spend the day with the world’s most famous woman journalist?

Yes, that one—the one whose piercing “Mr. President, I don’t think you’veanswered that question” have made her feared by eight administrations. The one you saw boogeying with Aretha Franklin just one seat down from Hillary Clintonat the White House Correspondents’ Dinner less than twelve hours before she stepped off the plane in Wichita on her way to speak at Small College's Commencwment. The one mentioned in the same breath as Sam Donaldson as the White House correspondent most likely to make a press secretary sweat.  

Well, I’ll tell you what it’s like.

It’s like spending the day with your very intelligent, very energetic, very lovable grandmother.


The Helen Thomas who had been my idol since I saw her for the first time in the front row of the White House press corps turns out not to be the hard-bitten harridan I had anticipated (and dreaded). She came off the plane with a black bag holding her return ticket and her passport (she doesn’t drive; it’s her identification at airports) in one hand, and a plastic carrier holding a copy of the New YorkTimes and a pair of red shoes in the other. She’s tiny, only five feet tall or so, and much prettier than cameras would lead you to believe, with a jeweled red pin in her hair. She is, in fact, huggable.

Within minutes this woman who has brought entire administrations toaccountability is asking me about my family.  Helen Thomas is asking me about my family. And it seems only natural to be telling her all about them.

She is charming, self-effacing, direct. Her stamina is unbelievable: The correspondents’ dinner had lasted late, she explains, then she wanted to catch CNN to find out what was happening with the release of the American servicemen, and she was afraid she’d miss her 6:40 a.m. flight so she just stayed up. An all-nighter at age 78.

She is a news junkie, who quietly frets about being out-of-pocket, and needs an afternoon CNN fix more than she needs the opportunity to put her feet up in front of it.

Nearly six decades in the news business have given her a unique perspective—her thumbnail sketches of presidents are based on personal observation (Jack Kennedy had the most vision, Jimmy Carter is the best ex-president, Clinton will beremembered for his gains in education and the economy as well as for his sordid affairs).

Her comments are surprisingly kind, for someone who has seen politics at its most down and dirty. But she can turn sharp. She reads prodigiously, and talks about columnists she admires. How about Cal Thomas, one mischievous questioner asks? “Hell, no,” she says tartly. (In fairness, that was the only expletive out of her mouth all day.)

At Commencement, in a speech she predicts beforehand will be “utterly forgettable and filled with cliches,” she charges graduates with the responsibility of dealing with a world that is producing Kosovo and Littleton. Get a life, she tells them.

Then she walks away from the stage party, and tells me (by now she’s calling me her den mother) she’s ready to go back to the plane. It’s still an hour early, but she’s a worrier—“so much can go wrong on the way to an airport, and I have to be back tomorrow for Clinton’s summit with the Japanese prime minister.”

So as we sit in the airport waiting for TWA 516 to board, we make final chitchat, the legend and the den mother who met only eight hours ago.

“You’re coming to Washington? Are you going to bring all the boys? Make sure to call me—promise to call me, and we’ll see the sights together,” she seemsgenuinely excited at the prospect of herding us around her town. “Here, I don’t have a card but let me write down my phone numbers,” and she carefully prints her home address and home and office phone numbers.

And then, after a final hug, and last waves, the tiny figure is back on another of a lifetime of planes. She’ll sleep on the way back to Washington (“I can doze on anything that moves”) and be up in time to cover the most powerful man in the world tomorrow.

As my husband and I leave the terminal, the security guard asks us about her.

“I watch her all the time on television—is she a relative of yours?”

No, but I wish.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

She Was Just Like Us, Only Incredible

Boy#1 and Helen Thomas. He's on the right.
I believe I've mentioned that I have the best job in the world, and 90 percent of the time I would do it for far less money. Fortunately, the remaining 10 percent of my job is taxing enough that on average, I'm paid decently. (Have you ever had to notify a newspaper after the death of a student? Then you know what I'm talking about.) Today I'm going to talk about the 90 percent. 

I had been working here for three years in 1999 when Helen Thomas gave the Commencement address at Small College. I was the director of public relations at the time, and was assigned to make sure Ms. Thomas was where she should be when she should be, and that the president didn't have to worry about this famous visitor.


Helen Thomas had been my idol since I had been old enough to realize that a WOMAN was sitting in the front row of each and every White House press conference I watched. She repeatedly went  head-to-head with the president of the United States, and the man in the office always answered her with respect.

Teenage and even slightly older than teenage women today have no idea how powerful this image was when I was that age. We were still of an age where it was daring to think girls could be doctors as well as nurses, principals as well as teachers. And there was Helen Thomas, asking hard questions on behalf of the entire world. She was the opposite of the one-named rock stars whose fame abbreviated their names--Elvis, and Cher, and Bing. Her body of work had made it impossible for me to think of her in anything less formal than her full name--she was always Helen Thomas in my mind.

Helen Thomas turned out to be delightful. She was tiny, not even as tall as my shoulder, wearing a red jeweled pin in her hair, and genuinely interested the college and (flatteringly) in me. She called me her den mother, and when it was time for her to board her plane back to Washington she wrote her home phone number and address on a piece of paper and told me to be sure to call her if I was ever in the city. "Promise you'll call me and we'll see the sights together," she told me.

In the article I wrote for the alumni magazine I described the experience as "like spending the day with your very intelligent, very energetic, very lovable grandmother."

She had been my professional idol for a couple of decades, but the best part wasn't that I got to talk to Helen Thomas and pick her brain about presidents, it was that Boy#1 also had the chance to meet her. To say he was an avid fan of the political process would be gross understatement. He lived and breathed politics, to the point that we had to put a ban on dinner table discussions of favorite presidents. And here he was, getting to meet the woman whose "Thank you, Mr. President" had closed White House press conferences through several administrations.

I still look back on the day I spent with Helen Thomas with wonder. I met my professional idol, shared the experience with my husband and with Boy#1, then wrote about it. I regret that we didn't call her when we were in Washington a decade later, because I bet she would have remembered her trip to Kansas and her den mother.

And when I heard of Helen Thomas's death this week, I thought about that day. It was the first time that I realized I might have the best job in the world.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kansas, You're Mean

Oh, Kansas. Why you gotta be so mean?

No, no, Kansas, I still love you, even though you huffed and puffed and blew most of the sweetgum tree in our back yard down onto the deck last night. I do appreciate the rain that came with the wind, because I remember all too well that last year at this time I was doggedly emptying water out of the aquifer and onto our dying lawn and this year the Boys are MOWING.

And I'm not even mad because this tree is the one we we rely on to shade the back of our house--I appreciate that you left the apple tree on the other side of the deck mostly intact. I mean, you had taken down half of that tree a few years ago, but we still have the potential for enough apples to make a pie this year! Woo!

And I do appreciate that you blew last night from east to west rather than the customary west to east, because you could have brought the top of the sweetgum down on the roof rather than toward the back yard, and then we'd be having an entirely different conversation, one that begins with a call to the insurance agent and ends with fretting about rising premiums.

No, I'm irritated with you, Kansas, because as I was scoping out the storm damage this morning the phrase "Why you gotta be so mean?" popped into my head, and I vaguely knew it was A Thing so when I got to work I Googled it. Then I watched the Taylor Swift video that came up in response to the query, and now all my brain can think is "Someday, I'll be livin' in a big ol' city...."

Oh, Kansas. You have infected me a tween song. Why you gotta be so mean?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

At What Cost?

My parents raised me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be. They were extravagant in their encouragement of my dreams, their extravagance neatly balancing my lack of confidence.

"Sure, you could write for Sports Illustrated," my mother told me once when I was admiring the story-telling journalism this magazine did so well. "Why not?"

"You could be Miss America if you keep practicing the violin," I remember my dad telling me, and it warms my heart to remember that he wasn't concerned that I was beautiful enough; he wanted to make sure I had my talent ready to go.

I am one of the lucky ones, though: I have grown up to do exactly (EXACTLY) what I dreamed of doing. I wanted to be a wife, and a mom, and I wanted to write. And here I am! Sitting smack-dab in the middle of my dreams.

But what about people whose dreams lead them into a funnel so narrow that only a few ever make it through? What if I had really dreamed of being Miss America? That was not going to happen, not in any parallel universe. What if I had really wanted to skate in the Olympics? What if I had really set my heart on being an ambassador to the United Nations?

The truth is that not everyone can do what they dream. If you have a minute or 20, you should read Bounced Around, a non-judgmental feature story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about an assistant basketball coach who has been willing to go to any legal length to prolong his dream of being a college basketball coach. He has worked for almost nothing, worked harder than anyone can imagine, to keep this dream alive. He has separated from his family for months and years, and still, as he enters middle age, he's living in crappy dorm rooms and sleeping in his car because he believes in his dream.

I am tormented by this story. We, too, have told our Boys their options are limitless. We encouraged them to keep their options open, to follow their hearts, to explore and sample (with some restrictions--I could not bring myself to let them play football). And with the exception of piano lessons, which were mandatory through eighth grade, they were not required to sign up for a second season of any sport or activity. Each filtered down into a comfort zone, and while they are still in process, they all seem to be pursuing lives that are joyful.

What would we have done if we had been blessed with one or more of those children whose dreams drive them? What would our lives have been like if Husband or I had been so consumed in our drive to get through that narrowed funnel that we sacrificed everything to that goal? What if one of the Boys had had the drive and the talent and the physical attributes to be a world-class swimmer?

I have no answers. I have only gratitude that my dreams and my reality have, in this stage of my life, been the same, because for some they are not.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Back to Normal

This is the first day in about a month that I've had to cast around for what to write. I've had adorable children and wedding tastings and oh-so-much food and cooling pillows and all sorts of things drifting in and out of my life, and it was an embarrassment of riches for blog post subjects.

And then....nothing.

So today I'm posting a picture of our new television room couch, which replaces the saggy old futon that for the past decade has given this room a distinct dorm-room-cast-off decorating vibe. We bought the new couch Saturday at ONE-QUARTER of its original price during Small Town's sidewalk sale. This purchase makes me inordinately happy, almost as happy as the pair of lamps we bought at the same sale for ONE-FIFTH of their original price and which may be my favorite piece of home decor ever.

The lamps are especially fun because I loved them but we didn't need them so I had started to walk on down the street. Then, when Husband asked where we would put them and I replied "Well, one of them would replace the lamp we got for $3, at an auction, 15 years ago," and it struck me that buying those lamps would probably be okay with the universe.

Especially when Husband went back to get them and the saleslady, without being asked, discounted the price even more.

What have you bought lately that you didn't really NEED but that pleases you immensely?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Orts and Blurb

Well, hello there, Friday folks! Have you missed this little spot of the internet while I've been waxing rhapsodic over FOOD and  MEXICO? Well, I'm back with my reviews of what is working or not working for me this week. First up, as seen in the poorly lit photo above, is a segment I would call "Let Cooler Heads Prevail" if I were wittier.

As I've mentioned here six or eight (hundred) times, I am a chameleon of temperature. If it's warm outside, I turn into a sweat fountain. If it's cool outside, I'm a veritable block of ice. I'm pretty much resigned to this state of affairs (although it's still disconcerting for onlookers when my face projectile sweats at them without warning) except at night. I HATE being too warm at night, and in spite of multiple fans and Husband's late conversion to nighttime air conditioning ("NO! I DO NOT think it would be nice to open the windows!") I tend to be too warm at night.

So through the miracle of modern technology, this summer I'm experimenting with two different forms of personal chillage. The first is the Cooling Gel Bed Pillow (CGBP), seen above. I don't remember the brand, and after kicking it a couple dozen times on the bedroom floor, Husband insisted that I throw away the package it arrived in, but I bought it at Sam's for $25 or so.

Coincidentally (or desperately?) a few weeks before impulse-buying the CGBP, I had ordered a Chillow from As Seen on TV.

Yes, I did. A Chillow. And I'm not sorry. This, too, lowers the temperature of my head from waking-up-in-flames level to sleeping-through-the-night comfort. It's kind of bulky, and kind of heavy, and the fact that it's water-filled initially made me nervous about putting my fat head down on it for fear it would burst, but it has not burst, and now I sleep with it as the bottom layer, my CGBP the middle layer, and my head the top layer. This way if the CGBP warms up I pull the Chillow on top of it without even waking fully up.

People, especially my overly-warm lady friends, you need these products. Now at night I rest my face on my personal climate controls and literally say "ahhhhh!" So, so cool against my cheek.

This picture was taken at the drive-through and may explain why I'm having trouble losing those 10 pounds for the upcoming wedding. Did you know that you can now buy a Pork Chop 'N Gravy Biscuit at Hardee's?

No, I did not order this, but do we live in a great country or what?

Finally, the blurb.

Husband and I went to see The Heat because I like Sandra Bullock and I like Melissa McCarthy and I like buddy films and the reviews had been pretty good. The reviews did warn that the angel-faced McCarthy was the foul-mouthed half of the buddies, but hey, I've lived a long time and I've heard a good many f-bombs in my life.


I do not believe I've heard as many f-bombs in my entire life up to this point as I did during the 117 minutes of that movie. Whoa. Someone's mother obviously did not convince her of the truth that cussing is a symptom of a deficient vocabulary, as mine convinced me.

So my review would be this: I still like Bullock and McCarthy, but I'd have laughed a lot more and made the sequel a must-see if the writers had been just a smidgeon more inventive in their use of the Queen's English.

I laughed. I cringed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Eating and Getting Married

When Boy#1 and Lovely Girl announced their engagement last Thanksgiving, the first thing I did (well, the first thing I did after squealing uncontrollably) was calculate how long it was until the wedding. I had almost a year before the happy moment, and I decided I wanted to lose at least 10 pounds before that date. 

Oh, who am I trying to kid? I decided I wanted to lose a LOT more than 10 pounds, but I know myself and I know the emotional commitment needed to lose any weight at all, so I decided 10 pounds was a reasonable figure to make my figure more reasonable. 

I had not calculated ion the Summer of Eating Generously. 

Holy cow, but the past few months have been a gobblefest of unprecedented magnitude. There was the week in Mexico, when I had chicken mole for lunch. (Husband wants me to clarify that this was not chicken cooked with underground rodents. Chicken mole is chicken cooked in a scrumptious blend of spices and chocolate, which may sound gross but is actually oh, so tasty.) There have been Boys (and a Lovely Girl) around all summer and while they are more fun than a barrel of monkeys, I'm far less likely to say "Oh, let's just have cereal for supper" if actual people are in the house. There was even the weekend spent helping Boy#3 make his house habitable, because if you're working as hard as we were you feel absolutely justified in going out for Mexican food three meals in a row, and could you bring me extra chips and salsa, please? 

So what I'm saying is that I was not exactly making progress toward my 10-pound goal, but I still had several months to go. And then came last Saturday. That was the day when we joined our engaged couple and her parents for a catering tasting at the wedding venue and my weight-loss plan completely derailed. 

Oh, my. That was a heaping helping of deliciousness. If I counted right, I believe I had seven proteins (salmon, two chickens, two porks, two beefs including ribeye and prime rib), two vegetables (asparagus, green beans), two salads (Ceasar, Mediterranean), and seven (count 'em, seven) cakes. I passed on the macaroni and cheese, because seriously? Macaroni and cheese? For a WEDDING? And this doesn't even count the appetizer room, where I felt myself getting green around the gills as I contemplated the sliders, mini-Bratwursts, build-your-own tacos, and deviled eggs. Oh, and some kind of cucumber thingies filled with strawberry jam that were entirely too healthy to contemplate.

I waddled away from the tables feeling like one of those force-fed foie gras geese, except that the goose probably would have less trouble deciding which of the delicacies it preferred to serve guests on the big day. There was only one food I definitely did not like, and I won't say what it was, but it rhymes with Smarsley and Myme Scented Pinoa. I prefer my Pinoa unscented, thank you.

I'm just glad we stopped by the tuxedo place before the tasting. Otherwise I'm pretty sure One would have been trying on the next larger size.

But me? I'm still determined to make progress toward my 10-pound goal. Or at least find a beige dress that features a discreetly-hidden elastic waistband.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Conclusion to Mexico Postings. For Now.

They're just kids. Kids who can REALLY play soccer.
Husband and I spent Sunday evening, Monday, and yesterday in Boy#3's "new" house. We cleaned and painted and scrubbed and rearranged and Husband was a total lumberjack when it came to clearing out the scrubby 15-foot trees that had grown up into the landscaping.

Three could not have been more appreciative. "I've been here for the past week, and it was fine, but what you've done in the past couple of days really turned it into a home," he told us.

The whole time we were working I had the eerie feeling that I was going to turn around and run into my own mother. She's been gone for more than three years now, but this was her role when I was single and moving into a new place: Mom would clean, rearrange the traffic patterns of the living room so they made sense, add a plant in just the right place, warn me about the tricky cupboard door, etc., and when she left the house felt like home.

It occurred to me as we worked that the children at Children's Haven International never had this in their lives until became part of the CHI family. They're here mostly because they were in intolerable family situations--a few are orphans or abandoned, but most were in families that simply couldn't take care of their children either because of addictions or economics.

There are the four brothers who were removed from the jail cell of their mother. They had been in that cell with her so long that they spoke neither Spanish nor English; they communicated with each other in their own gibberish. They also weren't toilet trained, couldn't sit on a chair, didn't know how to drink out of a glass. Today you wouldn't be able to pick them out of the 53 healthy, happy kids at CHI.

There is the young man whose mother didn't complete sixth grade and could not make enough money to care for her children so she brought them to CHI a decade ago--he's now in his second year of dentistry school and living in the house for university boys.

And of course, there are Carolina, and Dulce, and Dan, and I could go on and on.

I've never been a person to send money to the big-eyed waifs in child sponsorship programs, but I'm signing up to sponsor a child through CHI. The link is on their web page if you would like to join me.  I can quote scientific studies that show child sponsorship is an effective means of changing a child's future (the story is long but the bottom line is this--the money is less important than the child's relationship with the donor, because that relationship gives hope) but I don't really care about the science.

I just know that there are kids in this world whose mother couldn't provide the love and stability my mother provided for me, the love and stability I hope I'm passing along to my own children. I want those kids out there to know I'm rooting for them, and if I can send that message for $25 a month, it's a bargain. If you decide you want to do the same, tell Betsy that MomQueenBee sent you.

It's even easier than cleaning a stove or rearranging furniture.

The End. Or at least the end of this chapter. 

This is not an official statement from Children's Haven International. If I've made mistakes in information, they're my own, and not those of CHI. However, I asked permission before writing any posts or publishing any pictures of their residents and activities. I paid for my own trip to the facility, and was compensated in hugs and smiles from adorable kids.

Updated: Oh, hey! I'm catching up on my behind-the-curve blog reading and Swistle, who I like to think of as the younger, hipper version of me (she just recoiled in horror) wrote about this very subject just a few days ago! I'm in the "a cup of water in Jesus' name" camp and she's in the "not if it's faith-based" camp, so she has some different suggestions, but we used the same scientific research. That means it must be true.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Yuck. Also, Gag.

Oh, it did not start out like this.
We interrupt our steady stream of posts about adorable Mexican poppets to talk about filth. Specifically about other people's filth.

Husband and I are visiting Boy#3 in his brand-new-to-him rental home a couple of hours from Small Town, because JOB! He has one!

I was with Three when he chose this house and thought it was a perfectly good first-time-out-of-college habitation. It's not too fancy, but doesn't seem to have critters, so all is good. But I warned him to wait until I could come up and clean his kitchen before he did much cooking because sometimes previous tenants don't leave stoves in the most pristine of conditions.

This morning, after spending four hours cleaning the horror that was this stove, I have a few questions, namely this one:


Mind you, I grew up on a farm. Where we raised PIGS. I have birthed four children, and we will draw a merciful curtain over the lack of white-glove-ness involved with that process. Heck, I have RAISED four children, and not a single one of them was born toilet-trailed. (More's the pity. A side note: I never minded changing the diapers of my children, most of the time. I knew exactly what had gone into their mouths, the stray Lego or crayon notwithstanding, and I figured the internal process was fairly straightforward. But changing other people's baby's dirty diapers? Oh. My. Gosh. My gag reflex roared with the power of a Sharknado. I have no idea why this is so.)

Anyway, I knew the oven was a mess so I sprayed it last night with no-fume EasyOff, and no, I am not receiving so much as a plugged nickel for plugging this product, but it is AMAZING. I was patting myself on the back for knowing the housewifely tricks of the trade when I turned toward the drip pans.

"Hmmm," I thought to myself. "This drip pan seems to be stuck." And I pried it off with a spatula.

People, words fail me.

I understand the occasional spill, or even the not-so-occasional spill, but who boils over rotini AND macaroni and leaves them sitting in a pool of grease that has congealed for, oh, a millennium or so? And then burnt into a gummy I-don't-even-know-what-to-call-it?

And who, for the love of everything holy, leaves THIS under a drip pan?

This was in a cooking appliance.
That's right, it's a cigarette butt.

Let me repeat that: It's a cigarette butt I found UNDER the drip pan.

I spent the next portion of my life scrubbing under that specific drip pan with scouring pads, sponges, single-edged razor blades, and every manner of other cleaning heavy guns.

Two hours later the stove was clean enough to eat off of, or at least to eat things that had been cooked with a half-inch of cast iron between the nasty stove surface and the food. I did it with cleaning products, elbow grease, and the sweat of my brow. And gagging. Lots of gagging.

But the stove is now clean. I can leave Boy#3 in peace.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nom Nom Nom

Oh, have I not mentioned that we ate on our trip? This was not something I was particularly worried about, considering that during my Peace Corps experience one of the first foods I scarfed down in-country turned out to be cow's tongue on a tortilla. In complete honesty, I may not have eaten it with quite as much gusto if I had realized what it was, but hey, I survived. I also survived tasting a marañon, which has the same olfactory appeal as a dead possum that has been in stored in a plastic garbage can in the sun during a Kansas summer. For a month. They're disgusting, is what I'm trying to say.

But if marañones are at one end of the gustatory spectrum, the food we ate during our week at Children's Haven International was at the other end. Oh, my, gosh. So good.

Just look at those mangoes in the snack tray above. Here is one five minutes later after I had fallen upon it making slurping noises:

And here is E.'s mango, which she did not love so much but that probably was because this was her first experience with that wonderful fruit and it obviously fought her back:

For breakfast, T. made a work of art out of the pancakes Hermana Maria had piled into the warmer. Why, yes, these have strawberry jam, peanut butter, and bananas on them, and we did not feel ONE BIT GUILTY because we knew we would be working hard.

Another day we chowed down on eggs scrambled with ham and green peppers, with a side order of the most delicious tortillas in the world. And a banana.

Betsy, the co-director of CHI, had warned us that most people who do work trips here waddle away a little pudgier than they were before they arrived just because Hermana Maria is a wizard in the kitchen, and after a week at home I haven't had the courage to step on the scales, what with the taco a la plancha, and the sopa de fideos, and the chicken mole, and whatnot. (Why, yes, I said CHICKEN MOLE. For lunch. Oh, my, gosh.)

But then when I would ask the CHI children what their favorite food was, only one food got multiple mentions, and any other food was in second place with no mentions at all. Ask a kid who can have CHICKEN MOLE for lunch what constitutes a really special meal, and you'll get what we were served at the Thursday night going-away dinner they held for our work team. 

Yup. Little Ceasar's Pizza. Hot-n-Ready.

If we didn't already know it based on the grins and hugs and general kid-ness, this confirms it: Kids are the same no matter what language they speak.

To Be Continued (but not for very much longer)

This is not an official statement from Children's Haven International. If I've made mistakes in information, they're my own, and not those of CHI. However, I asked permission before writing any posts or publishing any pictures of their residents and activities.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Who's That Pretty Girl in the Mirror There?

I don't really have six fingers on my right hand; that's just the way the mirror tiles divided. But don't I look pretty?
I don't consider myself a particularly prideful person (except when it comes to being all high-and-mighty about grammar usage) but normally I have certain appearance standards I try to uphold. I've never been the Prettiest Girl in the Room so it's not as if those standards are particularly high--I'm not shaped right for looking chic in pants, for example, so I never wear jeans or slacks unless I'm at home. If I'm going anywhere, even to WalMart, it's a skirt for me.


When our first-day devotions on the way to Children's Haven International had not one but two references to humility, I had a feeling some taking-down-a-peg was coming my way, and I was right. During the week we worked at CHI I had to continually remind myself that no one except me was concerned about my prettiness or lack thereof. Playing the grande dame señora would benefit nothing except my skewed sense of propriety.

So I put on my old T-shirts and denim capris and started painting. Then I started sweating so I wrapped a bandana around my head and kept painting. Then I splashed orange and green paint all over my hands, giving myself the oddest-looking manicure ever, but I kept painting.

And you know what? It turns out that despite your preconceptions, people probably are not being all judgy-judgy about how you look. And if they are being judgy-judgy about the way you look, it doesn't kill you. And not only does it not kill you, it may turn out that a handsome young man might come into the corner where you are painting and keep you from killing a spider ("No! That one eats flies!") then catch-and-release the spider, and give you a bonus hug because he appreciates the fact you are painting his classroom more than he is horrified by your flushed, sweaty, unsuitable for WalMart appearance

And then you will let someone take your picture, and you will post it on the internet.

Dan, who looked spiffy, and me, who did not.
Humility wins.

To Be Continued

This is not an official statement from Children's Haven International. If I've made mistakes in information, they're my own, and not those of CHI. However, I asked permission before writing any posts or publishing any pictures of their residents and activities. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Well Played, Carolina

This is Carolina. She is 11 years old. Carolina not only stole my heart during our mission trip, she folded it into an origami swan and put it in her pocket where I knew I would never get it back again.

Carolina has been at Children's Haven International for about a year. She has a perfectly healthy twin brother, but for some reason Carolina was born with severe physical handicaps. Although she arrived at this facility in Reynosa in a wheelchair, doctors believe with proper surgeries and therapy, she could eventually walk unaided, and she is getting those treatments at CHI. Here she lives in a house full of girls, and for the first time is attending school.

Several months ago Carolina had her first surgery and now she gets around with the aid of a walker. It is brutally hard work--imagine learning how to walk at the age of 10, on legs that still aren't cooperative. She's often the last one to arrive at an activity, slipping in quietly after the other children have stormed in, but she is doggedly persistent and doesn't expect (or receive) pampering.

I had noticed Carolina during our week, and had occasionally helped her when her walker was being especially wayward, but I hadn't had the chance to talk with her until the final day of our stay. She is soft-spoken.

"So, Carolina," I said (in Spanish). "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

She smiled, and told me in her sweet whisper that she didn't know yet.

"Maybe a teacher?" I prompted. "Or maybe a nurse?"

She sat straight up and looked me in the eye, pausing for just a moment before she replied and punched my condescension right in the gut..

"Or maybe," she said, "a lawyer?"

Oh, Carolina, my money is on you.

To Be Continued

This is not an official statement from Children's Haven International. If I've made mistakes in information, they're my own, and not those of CHI. However, I asked permission before writing any posts or publishing any pictures of their residents and activities.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What I Was Afraid Of

I went to Mexico with a very specific list of fears. (And this doesn't include the fear of ending a post title with a preposition--see how brave I've become?)

I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up with the young'uns on the work projects, because I'm really, really old. 

I was afraid I would drown in my own sweat, because when I get warm, hooo boy. My face turns into a fountain as each individual pore opens and decants every single drop of fluid from my body. It is a truly spectacular display of waterworks.

I was afraid I'd be captured by banditos, because the publicity on Mexican border towns has been less than favorable lately what with all the shootings and kidnappings and drug cartels.

I was afraid of spiders. But of course, you already knew this because I have whined interminably here about my fear of spiders.

So let's check off these fears one by one and see how they played out.

Keeping up with the young'uns? I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar! Yes, I sang this phrase over and over as I ascended to the SECOND step of the ladder to finish painting the trim in the classroom where the self-appointed A-Team of Painting worked. It was completely endearing, I'm sure. I know, I know, the other team was using actual WTDs (Weapons of Tile Destruction) in their assigned task and that meant they were hoisting sledgehammers repeatedly over their heads. Pfft.

Drowning in my own sweat? I have an actual photograph of a pool of sweat which I inadvertently created on the cement floor as I stirred the big bucket of orange paint, but lifeguards were on duty and I did not drown.

Banditos? Children's Haven is located on a large compound that has excellent security and I never once felt I was in danger from human beings. However...

Spiders? Yikes. Want to see how close I was to the actual TARANTULA pictured above? This close:

Yes. Those are my feet, and the tarantula was just on the other side of that piece of concrete. Fortunately, Betsy had warned us that we were in their natural habitat and compared to a couple of the other critters whose natural habitat is northern Mexico (see also: rattlesnakes) that furry critter seemed downright friendly. He scurried away before I could do more than catch my breath to shriek.

So, to recap: I was afraid of a whole lot of things unnecessarily. In other words, it was a lot like my real life.

To Be Continued

This is not an official statement from Children's Haven International. If I've made mistakes in information, they're my own, and not those of CHI. However, I asked permission before writing any posts or publishing any pictures of their residents and activities. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

They Do This For the Least of These

Her name is Dulce. That word means "sweet."
Children's Haven International has a wall of their Texas office covered with pictures of the 53 youngsters, ranging from 18 months to college age, who live in the homes CHI maintains in Reynosa, Mexico. The great majority of these children are not orphans; they are kids who have been abandoned, or whose caretakers (parents, grandparents, other relatives) are unable to care for them for reasons ranging from poverty to addiction to imprisonment. We gathered in front of the wall to ask God's favor on our efforts.

Just before we prayed I looked through the pictures and a five-year-old girl practically jumped off the wall and into my arms. She was big-eyed and laughing, her grin a wide jumble of half-grown teeth and dimples. Her name was Dulce.

Dulce and her older sisters, Fabiola and Belinda, have lived at Children's Haven for a year now. Her father is not part of the family; her mother is poorly educated and barely able to care for herself, much less three growing daughters. At Children's Haven the girls live in family groups with houseparents they call "Tio" and "Tia."

Still, when we met Dulce as we made our initial tour of the facility, she was cuddled in her biological mother's arms. It was visiting time on Sunday afternoon, and Mama was checking on her girls.  Dulce's face was the portrait of sadness as she leaned against her mother's chest. She wasn't crying, but her eyes brimmed with tears and her mouth was turned down, teeth clenched against sobs.

"She wants to go with me," her mother said. "Look how sad she is?"

Betsy, the director of Children's Haven, was gentle but firm.

"She's sad just for a moment, but look how well she's doing. She's eating well, she's doing great in school, she loves her Tios and her friends here. We love her, too."

And when visiting time was over, her Tia scooped her up in a hug, and within moments Dulce was all smiles again.

During the week I found myself gravitating to Dulce. She is a typical little girl, and most of the time she was giggling and shrieking with laughter and grabbing my hand. "Amiga! Amiga!" she called to me.

But when she's sad, her face may be the most heartbreaking sight I have ever seen. She doesn't make a sound. She clenches her teeth and holds it in when she doesn't get to make two picture frames or when she is left behind in a game. But those eyes, swimming in unshed tears. They're a reminder of days when open sobs could have resulted in punishment.

Here she won't shed tears because she is hungry or in danger or living in the streets. She will have the only tears a little girl should know--tears of momentary disappointment, kissed away by loving adults.

To Be Continued....
This is not an official statement from Children's Haven. If I've made mistakes in information, they're my own, and not those of CHI. However, I asked permission before writing any posts or publishing any pictures of their residents and activities.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Little Background

I should preface this with a confession: I am the Doubting Thomas of mission trips.

During my years in the Peace Corps I saw groups appear and disappear, staying for a week or so and presenting a couple mornings of Bible lessons in terrible Spanish before skedaddling off to the beach or the zipline for some tropical fun.

It infuriated me.

I hated the self-righteous attitude I inferred from these Americans, the idea that they were doing the poor natives a huge favor when they distributed the crayons and coloring books packed in their spare suitcases beside the extra bikini and beach towels. I hated that I heard so many talk about the country they had visited for one week (ONE WEEK!) as if they were experts on Costa Rica, when I had lived there three years and still felt I'd barely scratched the surface of knowing this beautiful culture. I was embarrassed by the hidden smiles of the Ticos who played along with the visitors' conceit that a more luxurious lifestyles somehow makes one wiser.

I hated everything about short term mission trips. And still....

I am unapologetically Christian. My relationship with God defines me. And I found myself saying that if my congregation ever took a short-term mission trip to a Spanish-speaking country, I would be part of it. It was a promise I made God in pure thankfulness because He had given me the gift of the Spanish language--I love everything about speaking Spanish. I love the music of how it sounds, I love the liquid vowels and lilting syllables, I love the stepping-through-the-looking-glass feeling I get when I hear it spoken.

So there I was, when our youth pastor announced a trip being planned to Reynosa, Mexico, raising my hand to indicate I was interested in going. I didn't even know where Reyosa was, or what we would be doing, but I knew I had to be there.

There ended up being seven of us who spent last week together at Children's Haven, International:
  • K., the youth pastor, who is still a kid but led this trip with confidence and joy even though he had just finished three solid weeks of youth camps and was suffering from a severe case of shingles the the whole time.
  • T., K.'s wife, whose parents cared for their two pre-school children for the week. T. is tiny and beautiful and dark-haired--she reminds me so much of Lovely Girl that I found myself hugging her with no provocation during the week. 
  • S. and V., who have been Husband's and my friends since the Boys and their children were toddlers. The only experienced short-termers in the group, they've served at missions around the world.
  • E., a high school senior, a girl-woman who can only be described as feline. She is lithe and beautiful and moves silently, and loves art and literature. 
  • D., who just had his 13th birthday. His mother babysat our Boys when we were growing up and it is a joy to see her raising her own babies. 
We knew each other, but not really well. But we did not know at all what the week would bring.

To be continued