Monday, June 29, 2015

Martha Stewart Is Not Afraid of Me

Not fit for sleeping on, but useful.
One of the delights of our mission trip a few weeks ago was that we had several fabulous late-teenage women with us. They were young and gorgeous and flat-bellied and looking at them made me feel pretty much like a cross between Methusaleh and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but they were so NICE that I wouldn't help but love them, and they were so SMART that I couldn't help but admire them. Every once in a while one would toss out a nugget of young smarts and I would think "Oh, I need to write a whole blog about that thing she said." My favorite was something one of them said as we were painting, a task a trained monkey could do but one that was giving me some challenges.

"You have to adjust your goals according to your skills," she said. My goal of perfection, I inferred, probably wasn't going to happen given my inability to paint a straight line.

I thought about that often Saturday when Husband and I spent the day with Boy#3 helping him spruce up his rented house. Husband's job was putting some new shelves; my job was to figure out window coverings for the living room. I've not done this before, but I had good intentions and Pinterest--what more would it take? Could I not do better than this?

Yes. The answer to that question is 'yes.'
I started out like gangbusters with a link to a pattern for Roman blinds. It was easy, the blogger said. No-sew, she promised. All you need is fabric, an old mini-blind, scissors, and fabric glue.

Unfortunately, Three lives in a town so small that not a single store sells fabric. Not even the "super" WalMart. Also, fabric glue? It is to laugh. So these became the most MacGyver-ed Roman shades ever. Let's see, we'll start with the broken mini-blind off the window:

Then if the WalMart has no fabric, how about a craft kit that includes a couple yards of cotton duck material, and for the lining the absolute cheapest bed sheets ever? (Actually, cutting up those 120-thread-count sheets made me remember what a super special princess I am, now that I sleep on much higher thread counts. These scratchy things are for linings only.)

Okay, disassemble the miniblind and throw away the extra slats, use spray adhesive to form the remaining skeleton...

And, as we say in the orchestra, viola! Pair with a valance purchased for a dollar at a garage sale and it's looking not so bad at all.

The Roman shade is imperfect. You have to hold your head just right and say a few magic words to get the up-and-down system to work, but eventually it folds and unfolds. Look back to first picture of this window, though, to the eight-inches-too-short kitchen curtain that had been filtering the morning light.

Martha Stewart feels secure, but this is a definite upgrade. And considering my skills, I met my goal. Thank you, young friends from the mission trip. I plan to use that advice often.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Tantalizing Glimpse of Our Lives a Decade From Now

Husband had a minor surgical procedure yesterday that required sedation so in the interest of keeping him from signing any contracts during the 24-hour clearing-the-drugs-out-of-the-system period, and because I have accumulated enough sick leave that I stopped accruing more hours a couple of years ago (she said, thankful for good health) I spent the day in the House on the Corner with him.

(Alas, we were not joined by the penguin in the picture, which is a sticker I plopped onto the photo because I thought it was cuter than the tangle of cable cords that are there in real life.)

The day turned out to be lovely, a series of old Cheers episodes on Netflix, interrupted by naps and an occasional "Oh, how are you doing?" when I remembered my role as nurse.

However, because Husband seemed to be doing fine--thank you improved anesthetics for not having the nasty side effects they had not so long ago--I spent a few moments reflecting that I made the right choice when I decided to not become a nurse. I tend to not have as much patience for the unwell as I should. I mean, my sympathy was obviously gone when I rolled my eyes so hard at the sight of a casserole soaking in the sink.

I've noted before that to my mind soaking dishes is the exact same as writing a note that says "Hey there! I can't be bothered to swish this out, so please do it for me! Thx!" And what had the casserole contained that made it so difficult to clean that it required soaking? Jell-O. So I went downtown and got a pedicure.

Last night as we ate a leisurely supper and discussed world affairs over my cup of coffee rather than dashing off to a meeting or heading back to the office, Husband had a good question.

Is this what retirement is going to be like? he asked.

I hope so. I sincerely hope so, except for the Jell-O bowl.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Woodman, Back Away (Leaf Me Alone!)

The stop sign is now visible, so stop trimming.
There are two kinds of Kansans when it comes to our trees. There is the first kind, who apparently grew up in western Kansas where trees are scarce. This kind of Kansan believes trees are kind of like swimming pools--what the lawyers call "an attractive nuisance." They're pretty, all right, but falling limbs! Impeded sight lines! Hidden stop sign! Disorder and untidiness!  Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Then there is the second kind of Kansan, many of whom grew up in the north and east parts of the state, where trees are friends. This kind of Kansan believes trees are part of the family, the friendly old acorn-bearer who was planted when the house was build a hundred years ago and still whispers leafy lullabies outside the bedroom window. This kind of Kansan loves their trees so much that they would try to persuade Husband the other kind of Kansan to take a glamping vacation in a treehouse.

I will not speculate on which view of trees is right or wrong--oh, who am I trying to kid? The first kind of Kansan is absolutely wrong, and the second kind is absolutely right. Husband and I are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to appreciation of trees in their natural state. Which is why, on Friday evening, I crooned these sweet words to my best-beloved:

"Oh, I don't even care. You're going to do what you want to anyway."

Yes. I did.

Husband was trying to involve me in his annual ritual of tree-trimming, when he pulls the dead branches out of oak and maple in the front yard, and trims up the undergrowth so people walking their dogs don't have fight their way through the leaves. I hate this necessary maintenance with every irrational fiber of my being, mostly because I anthropomorphize trees until they are more alive to me than some mammals (I'm looking at you, cats).In the olden days, I would be called on to steady the ladder while Husband climbed up into the upper reaches of the trees, but for some reason he tired of the soundtrack I provided for his work.

"Ouch, that hurt!" I would call as he drew the saw across a dead limb. "Oh, please don't do that, Mr. Woodman!" And when that whimsy failed to stop the carnage (limbage?) the heavy sighs got tiresome.

So now I provide the annoying soundtrack from inside the house, and later take the tour.

"See?" he escorts me down the sidewalk. "See how nice it is to walk here without having the branches in your hair all the time?" Then, when I am unconvinced, he becomes just a tetch exasperated, "Every single year I trim these trees, and every single year they're taller."

"Oh, yeah? Well, every year I dye Easter eggs and every year I get more wrinkles. Maybe those two things are RELATED."

Yup, I'm pretty much my most logical and charming when I'm in my "Woodman, Spare That Tree" mode.

Someone probably deserves a chocolate sheetcake for putting up for me, at least until next year when tree-trimming comes around again.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Four Hollow Legs

I'm sorry that this week's postings have kind of been food and more food, but today I must pay tribute to something amazing that happened this week.

One of my favorite cousins spent a few days in the House on the Corner with her two boys, 13 and 16, who were playing in a golf tournament near Small Town. I'm not sure what the relationship of the boys are to me (are they first cousins once removed? I think?) but they brought back many memories, specifically the memory of boy appetites.

On the final night of the tournament we ate out in one of Small Town's restaurants. The 16-year-old, who is 6'6", ordered sizzling fajitas. The 13-year-old, who is at least a foot shorter, ordered a breakfast chicken fried steak. The slab of gravy-covered fried beef (see photo) came with hash browns, two scrambled eggs, and two pieces of toast. He also ordered a side of two pancakes.

"The pancakes are enormous," I warned him.

"Really, the pancakes are really, really big," the waitress warned him.

"Are you sure you want pancakes? That's quite a bit of food," his mother warned him.

It was okay, he told us all. He going to share them with his brother. And he sliced off a third of the gigantic cakes to share.

An hour later this was the same scene:

No Food
That kid had polished off the steak, and the hash browns, and the eggs, and the toast, and the hubcap-sized pancakes.

Then he had a cake pop for dessert.

If I kept a list of all the things I miss about having Boys at home it would be lengthy but keeping them fed would be at the bottom of the list. Or on the back of the list. Or not on the list at all.

Because hoooo-boy! Like my own Boys, these boys are appreciative and non-critical eaters, but the hollow legs are long.

I'm just glad my cousin is the one who needs to keep those legs filled.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jicama: A Cautionary Tale

A couple of months ago the World's Best Next-Door Neighbor™ approached me with a proposition: Would I be interested in sharing a Bountiful Basket with her?

I'd heard about this food co-op program around Small Town, and the reviews were unanimously positive. Lots of nice fresh fruits and vegetables, delivered bi-weekly, and priced reasonably. The only catch is that you don't order what you want; you get what you get and you don't get upset (as we mothers say to our children umpteen million times when they're ticked off because THEY WANTED THE RED POPSICLE NOT THE PURPLE ONE). The only problem is that one box is more appropriate for the kind of families WBN-DN™ and I had a decade ago, which is to say families with four teenaged appetites in them. Now that both of our houses are empty nests, half a box each is plenty.

So WBN-DN™ and I have been splitting up the goodness, and it's like Christmas every other Saturday. I never know what might be in that cardboard box; all I know is that chances are it won't be frozen green beans or iceberg lettuce, which had tended to be way too high a percentage of my vegetable purchases.

We have eaten daikon radishes (roasted with a little olive oil, and delicious), yellow squash (roasted with a little olive oil, and delicious), and well, lots of other stuff that is delicious roasted with a little olive oil. (Why, yes, that's my go-to vegetable prep method. How could you tell?) Plus mangoes and apricots and other fruity goodness that either is out of season or never in season in the Midwest.

This week the box contained two cucumbers and a jicama that my neighbor tossed into my pile when she was splitting up the bounty.

"I never know what to do with that," she said of the tuber. Well, honestly, neither did I, but you can bet your olive oil that Pinterest did. Cucumber-Jicama Salad. Perfect.

So last night I peeled and chopped and diced and combined the cucumbers and jicama and red onion and cilantro, then I poured a red wine vinaigrette over it and served this fresh new taste to house guests.

Have I mentioned that you should never have a new recipe on the menu when you have houseguests? Yes. That is a rule of life that should be embroidered on a sofa pillow. Because this fresh new taste was...interesting. I took a bite of the jicama and chewed, and chewed, and chewed some more. I would say the taste it most resembled was "oak." Husband and the guests valiantly plowed through a hearty helping of the salad, but you know back in second grade when we had #2 pencils, and it was really fun to put teeth marks all over them? That. That's what it tasted like, if you poured a red wine vinaigrette over your #2 pencil before you dug in.

Later I asked Dr. Google what I had done wrong.

"The Jicama root can sometimes grow to a large size, but if the root gets too large – approximately around the size of two closed fists – the plant starts turning the sugars inside the Jicama into starch, which turns its sweet flavor and makes it taste like wood." (It says so right here.)

Aha! That's what was wrong. This jinormous jicama was the size of a baby's head, and not just any baby's head, it was as big as the enormous noggins of the babies born into the QueenBee family.

Next week when I do my shopping I'm going to throw a regular- or small-sized jicama into the cart. We're all curious to see if this salad recipe can be saved. And the next time an enormous baby-head-sized jicama shows up in the Bountiful Basket, I'm going to leave it for the World's Best Next-Door Neighbor. She can roast it with a little olive oil--it'll be delicious.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Two Things That Make Me Cringe

It was a lovely weekend, one that reminded me that not all Saturday/Sunday combinations are already pre-committed to work activities, travel, etc. In fact, I'd say it was only marred by two things, both of which make me cringe.

The first was when Husband asked me Saturday morning what I had planned for the day. 

Young brides, heed my advice: If you are asked by your dearly beloved what your plans are for a day, have some. It is theoretically possible that you haven't yet committed the day to anything productive because in your heart of hearts you had said "Wahoo! It's raining! I'm going to knit and read trashy novels and watch Netflix all day long!" (Your heart of hearts is pretty self-indulgent.) But if that is the case, for heaven's sake don't admit it. Make up something else. 

"Well, honey," you could say, "today was the day I had set aside for achieving world peace. Would you like to join me in that?" or "Well, honey, I'm almost there with my calculations on perpetual motion. Maybe you could help?" 

Take the offensive, I'm saying, and leave no opportunity for your dearly beloved to say "If we just spent half an hour on it, we could get the back bedroom cleaned out." Because when he says that you will see your plans for knitting and reading and Netflixing grow wings and fly out the rain-spattered window. 

Not only is half an hour a ridiculously optimistic estimate (because, ha ha ha, really? Half an hour?) delving into the back bedroom means you will confront the second thing that will make you cringe.

All of you Small Town parents of freshmen biology students surely recognize the skeletal remains Husband is holding in today's picture. It's probably triggering flashbacks to the night before the cell model was due and your dear child was saying "Hey, what do we have around here that looks like mitochondria?" And because it's a Small Town and all of our Boys had the same freshman biology teacher, that means I heard that question four times. Quadruple the adrenaline rush in watching a Boy in the pantry or the sewing room or the workshop trying to figure out what could stand in for a plasma membrane or a ribosome or a Golgi complex. (No, of course I didn't remember those words--that's what Google is for, and if I'd known about Google a couple of decades ago I would have told the biology teacher about it.)

This is Boy#4's cell model, which has been lurking in the back bedroom for a decade now. Ten years during which I could not actually bring myself to throw out this final cell model to be constructed in the House on the Corner. Boy#1's cell model, with its oozing spray insulation/cytoplasm that kept growing and growing even after the project was graded and returned, had been pulled down from a closet shelf and disposed of years earlier. I don't remember what happened to cell models #2 and #3.

Finally, on Saturday I was ready to cut the chloroplastic cord. The final cell model is in the trash, the half-hour of cleaning was expanded to 2 1/2 hours, and we have a newly usable back bedroom. All in all, it wasn't a bad use of a spare Saturday.

But now I'm ready for another rainy day. This time, though, knitting/trashy books/Netflix world peace and perpetual motion are on the schedule. Please do not disturb.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mexico Orts and a Blurb

A few final observations on last week's experience:

See that girl on the left? She's the one Husband and I have been paired with through the Children's Haven International sponsor match program. Most of the time I'd say this girl got the wrong end of the stick when it came to this sponsorship. I am awful at writing letters, and I have no experience whatsoever with eight-year-old girls whose interests are unlikely to include book discussions and knitting, so she's often left out when the other children are hearing from their sponsors.

The day before we left for Mexico, though, I was in WalMart picking up some extra bug repellent (good idea, by the way) when I saw a stack of clearance kids' purses. On a whim I picked up the shiniest, pinkest one in the stack and stuck it in a gift bag to take to this kid.

Oh, my, gosh. You would have thought this $4 purse was a Cartier watch with diamond-studded hands. Not only did she wear it with her school uniform every day, she was the princess of the world as she shared it with one "sibling" after another. My stony heart grew three sizes watching her break into a smile as she posed with the purse.

Because her name and my name only differ by one letter, I teased her that people were going to think we were twins--we'd be Las Gemelas, I told her. They won't be able to tell us apart, I said.

"Oh, yes, they will know which one is which," she assured me, all brown skin and dimples as she looked solemnly into my red-faced, sweating visage. "I'm the one with the purse." And then she doubled over in giggles.

It may be the best four dollars I've ever spent.

The blurb this week also comes from a new culinary experience that all of  y'all probably know about already. But just in case I'm not the absolute final person to this party, I present lime chile.

I know! How could I never have heard of this before? According to the Colorado guy in our group, it's a big hit out there but it hadn't reached the House on the Corner. There was a bottle of this sprinkle-on seasoning set out with the fresh fruit we had for morning snacks, and may I just say a couple of  dashes of this lime-y red powder on fresh pineapple is amazing. Sweet, spicy, citrusy, delicious.

I brought back two bottles (well, I only intended to bring one but Husband didn't know I'd already gotten one and purchased another) and I plan to try it on everything I eat, from grilled chicken to brownies.

The thumb on the hand with which I'm sprinkling lime chile on everything is pointed way up.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Mission Trip: A Clarification

I've debated with myself about this post. Monday's post about my week at Children's Haven International prompted so many of you to make such lovely comments that I was beginning to think "Hey! I'm some kind of Special Wonderful!" Then I realized I had to come clean with the truth.

In truth, I am not any kind of Special Wonderful. Not at all. The time I spend in Reynosa is, much like this blog and pretty much the rest of my life, all about Me. Here's are several points why:

Point the First: For the entire time my group is in Mexico I get to speak Spanish. I love to speak Spanish more than I love cheesecake, which is saying a big, big mouthful. Even before I spent 3 1/2 years in Costa Rica in the Peace Corps I loved the sound of Spanish, and finding meaning in those musical phrases was like discovering a secret passageway into another culture. This leads to two sub-points:
     Subpoint A: Because I was the only one in our group who spoke Spanish with some degree of fluency, I felt useful. There is no better feeling in the world than feeling useful. Well, maybe feeling loved. Or maybe that feeling you have when the van FINALLY pulls over for a rest stop and you make it to the bathroom in time, but feeling useful is pretty spectacular.
     Subpoint B: I've gotten old enough that I'm not embarrassed when I make grammatical mistakes. (Not in Spanish, anyway.) In my callow youth I wouldn't try to talk to someone in that language unless I had all the direct objects and passive voices and subjunctive tenses straight in my head, and that often led to some prolonged silences. Now I just babble, and if it doesn't make sense to the real Spanish-speaker I babble some more until it either does make sense or the person moves on.

Point the Second: I really, really needed that week. This has been pretty much a killer spring at my job, and I had frayed threads and untucked edges all over my psyche. If I take a week of vacation where I have internet access, I feel compelled to check email and put out work fires, no matter where I am. Except during this week, when I am completely out of electronic reach. We had internet for about 15 minutes mid-week and I pulled out my phone to see if I was needed. The first email I saw was someone who wanted a picture of something on campus, and I thought "Nope, not doing this now," and turned off my phone. By the end of the week the frayed threads had been woven back in and the untucked edges smoothed. I felt reasonably mended and was looking forward to getting back to my job.

Point the Third: We were surrounded by kids for whom I had no responsibility whatsoever except to love them. It was like having 42 grandchildren--someone else was feeding and clothing them, someone else was refereeing the playground squabbles (except that the children were refereeing their own playground squabbles to an admirable degree), someone else was supervising their personal hygiene.

Point the Fourth: Those kids...oh, those kids. See the little boy in the picture above? His mom sent him to school with with a baggie containing three strawberries for his recess snack. He gave one to my friend (seen with him), one to me, and kept only one for himself. Then he explained to us earnestly that the seeds on strawberries were on the outside. This is why I pack my luggage completely full on the way down: If I left room for a child there's a high probability one would "accidentally" arrive back home with me.

Point the Fifth: There is a tangible sense of hope in the atmosphere at Children's Haven. In spite of the odds against these kids overcoming their pasts (and some do not), you just feel good about their chances. The mission directors are clear in their aspirations--they expect lives to be divinely changed and that the "graduates" of CHI will be productive citizens, leaders in their homes and jobs and faith communities. And because they believe this with confidence, so do the kids and so do we.

Point the Final: Everyone serves in her own way. For this trip we had people who contributed financially, people who worked on the administrative end to get the logistics in place, people who prayed for us, and one woman who sewed a dozen neck coolers. But because I was one of the group that was actually on-ground and painting, I take the kudos for all those behind-the-scene folks, and that's not fair because I am no kind of Special Wonderful.

But thank you for thinking I am.

Monday, June 8, 2015

My Retreat

Four and a friend.
The Mexico mission trip just gets better and better. It's my third voyage to Children's Haven International, and while every trip has its charms this year it was my joy to share the experience with Husband and Boy#4. They thought they knew all about me, but now they know me even a little better because they have seen what recharges my spiritual batteries.

I'm quite sure there are people in the world who take spiritual retreats that are somewhat different than this one. They sit in darkened cathedrals and pray, they walk through labyrinths and reflect. They think deep thoughts, and I'm so glad they do because then they write them down and I appreciate the deep thoughts but I'm spared the effort of thinking them myself.

Instead, my spiritual retreat is at this tiny little enclave of sanity in the million-person madness that is Reynosa, Mexico. Inside the concrete block walls of this mission right across the border at the very tip of Texas are seven yellow houses where children take shelter from families of indescribable dysfunction. Children who have been chained to beds by mothers desperate to earn enough money to keep them alive. Children who were found in jail cells with their mothers. Children of drug addicted, or mentally ill, or abusive parents.

Relatives or loved ones have brought these youngsters to Refugio Internacional de Ninos. Here they are fed, clothed, housed, and educated until they graduate. That doesn't mean graduation from junior high--they are educated through college if they choose to attend, and CHI foots the bill.

Most of all, though, these kids are loved. Houseparents in each of the yellow houses flat-out love these kids. Hundreds of volunteers who do work projects on the campus love these kids. Contributors from the States may never even meet the children they sponsor, but you can trust me when I say they still love them.

And the kids love back. They swarm visitors with hugs and smiles, and use the few English words they know to communicate--"Push?" they pull a volunteer toward the swings. Or "Bite!" as they brush the ever-present ants off a sandaled foot.

For four days my group painted bedrooms and swung sledgehammers to break up a cement floor where new plumbing will go. We sweat copiously and probably smelled atrocious, but doing this work felt as cleansing as a cool shower.

You see, I'm of the belief that when it comes to sharing my faith, a cool drink of water (or a bedroom painted, or a toilet installed) in the name of Christ  is more convincing than a sermon. There's nothing wrong with using a lot bigger pulpit to get the message across, but this one-on-one demonstration of solidarity for humanity and against the lunacy outside the campus walls is much more my style.

It's my spiritual retreat, and I needed it so very much.