Friday, September 21, 2018

a bunch of things

A heifer was born over the weekend, so we picked her up — literally, in my daughter’s case — and added her to the pack.

She’s a little thing, wiry and independant. During the day, she likes to go lay down in the tall grass, far away from the boys.


It’s still up for grabs whether or not we will keep her for a milk cow — and it’d be a bit overwhelming since she’d give way more milk than we could use — but we’ll figure that out later. In the meantime, I get such a kick out of her. When she drinks her bottle her tail curls up.


One of the boys has scours, but so far we’re managing it with electrolytes. He’s still eating, and still able to get up and around, so fingers crossed he makes it!

***

Ever since getting home, running has been pure agony. I’m running the same distances I did before we went to Puerto Rico, but it used to be I often felt energized after a run, like I was hardly even breathing heavy, but now it’s all I can do to keep myself going. I figured it would take me a few runs to whip myself back into shape, but yesterday morning, after going on yet another run in which my legs felt excruciatingly weak and sore, it finally occurred to me: I hurt because I’m building muscle!

Four months of running on level ground, and all my leg muscles practically shriveled up, apparently, so now that I’m going up and down hills and trying to keep up with my super speedy sister-in-law, it makes sense that I’m kind of dying.

I’ll keep plugging away and in a couple more weeks I’ll hopefully feel stronger. (If you hate running but kind of want to not hate it, this inspiring post is just for you.)

***  

The whole time we were in Puerto Rico, I felt slightly puffy and bloated, like I was retaining water. Which I probably was. In hot weather, my one ankle puffs up, and my fingers swell, too. Which made me wonder: in hot climates, does everyone weigh an additional five pounds, thanks to water retention?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that within days of coming home, I’d peed a whole bunch and de-puffed accordingly.

***  

A bunch of you wondered about my reasons for wanting Coco (and the other dogs) to stay outside, so here you go:

*I’m sensitive to animal smells and even the sweetest smelling animals have a funk.
*Dirty paws, poopy butts, fleas and ticks, ick.
*Potty accidents.
*Allergies. A couple of us are allergic to cats and dogs, and while our symptoms are mostly managed, some houseguests might be more vulnerable.
*Additional bodies = increased activity = more chaos.
*Their garden protection services are needed outside, where the garden is.

Summary: I have principles, dammit!



P.S. Coco is sleeping in my daughter’s bed at night.

*** 

Earlier this week I nearly suffered death by laundry. After days of rain, I was about bonkers.

The air was so damp that nothing would dry. We hung clothes up in the downstairs bedroom and they just molded. It was reminiscent of our time in Guatemala (and there we got a dryer). The floors felt sticky, the bed sheets soggy. Wood swelled so doors wouldn’t shut and drawers wouldn’t close.


I gave up on even trying to do laundry, and the rancid piles just grew higher and higher. At the peak, the dirty laundry in the upstairs bathroom topped out at waist level.

Weirdly, I felt slightly proud.

I ran out of dish towels. The kids ran out of underwear. Just when we were reaching desperation levels and I was considering a trip to the laundromat, the sun came out. Over the course of the last 48 hours, I’ve probably done at least 18 loads of laundry.

Each time I wake up during the night, I sleepily stroke the sheets, reveling in their sun-dried, crispy-smooth freshness, ahhhh.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.18.17), historical fun, the quotidian (9.21.15). the big bad wolf, baking with teachers, candid camera, the potluck solution, we love Fred, vacationing till it hurts.

Monday, September 17, 2018

the quotidian (9.17.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Is it better to dry English walnuts before or after shelling?


Peachy.


Irritated at the never ending problems; grateful he's able to fix them.


Making something, most likely a mess.


Keeping the jungle at bay.


Prepping for the hurricane that never came.


These days the sun is such a novelty that it's become photoworthy.


Coaxing is no longer necessary; now they come running.


No worries, we all still have eyebrows. 

This same time, years previous: the brothers buzz, cast iron skillet steak, black bean and veggie salad, nectarine bourbon pie, in defense of battered kitchen utensils, the quotidian (9.17.12), goodbye summer, hello fall.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

bottle calves

We’ve been wanting to get a couple steers to raise for meat again, so last week when a friend told us about a local dairy farm that was selling off a bunch of calves, I jumped.

Originally we thought we’d get two calves, but then my husband pointed out that if we were already bottle feeding two, what was two more? We could sell the extra steers after a few months. But then we learned that the farm occasionally sells heifer calves and a few of us thought it might be fun, a couple years from now, to experience death by milk, glug-glug. However, when we got to the farm, they didn’t have any available heifer calves, so, thinking we’d get a heifer calf later, we got only three males.

Though now that we’re home and up to our eyeballs in calf poop and milk bottles, I’m thinking three calves might be plenty enough right now?



On the other hand, maybe we should go back for a heifer calf? We’re kind of leap first, look later people, so this is probably the only way we’d ever actually take on a milk cow. Besides, it’s not like we’d have to breed and milk her. We’d have two years to think it over, and we could always change our minds, right? Right?

Sidenote: At the farm, the owner took a good look at my daughter and said, "You look familiar. Do I know you?" We puzzled over possible connections for a few seconds, and then it dawned on me: the relief sale! Our daughter is the poster child for the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale, and her face is plastered everywhere.


Anyway, moving along....

The calves are crosses between Brown Swiss and Holstein. With their long, spindly legs and high rumps, they’re a lot bigger than I thought they’d be, and they’re encouragingly active. Heavy, too.


Even though we checked to make sure each of the calves had a good suck at the farm, once we got them home, we had trouble getting them to take the bottle. Only one kept at it, sucking and sucking and sucking, but without taking in hardly any milk. Then my daughter enlarged the nipple holes with a knife and — schlurp — down went the milk. Suddenly they were buzzing all over the shed, chewing on our pant legs and butting us in the butts. It was like they'd just had a shot of caffeine.


I bought enough frozen colostrum for two feedings per calf, but then later I read that calves are only capable of absorbing the antibodies up to 36 hours after birth, so, since two of the three calves were two days old — and since at the farm, they’d already given them each three quarts of the colostrum — buying the stuff was probably a waste of money.

But on the bright side: when pouring the colostrum into the kettle to heat it up, I spilled an alarming amount, sending a bunch of the thick, creamy liquid cascading down between the counter and the stove, so we had to pull the stove out from the wall and scrub everything down so now my kitchen is just that much cleaner, yay.


We’re all a little paranoid about the calves getting scours (i.e. deadly diarrhea), so we’re obsessively watching their poos. We’ve read up on home remedies (doses of pectin mixed with water, adding a raw egg to their milk, etc), and my daughter gave them vitamin injections and is keeping their shed clean and dry, but really, we have no idea what we’re doing. We’re just winging it.


Wish us luck!

This same time, years previous: lemony mashed potato salad, what they talked about, the quotidian (9.14.15), the quotidian (9.16.13), cinnamon sugar breadsticks, whole wheat jammies.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

coco

Meet Coco, my younger daughter's new puppy.


Over the last few months, my younger daughter continued to grieve Alice's death, and my own sadness lingered, too. Finally, as we neared the end of our time in Puerto Rico, my husband and I decided it was time to give her permission to get another dog.

When you're ready, we said.
I'm ready! she said.

And within a day or two of returning home, we were looking at Craigslist together.

Last Wednesday we found a potential puppy. Both parents (the mother a Border Collie and English Setter mix, and the father a smallish purebred German Shepherd) were, according to the owner, good with kids and loyal, and— what I was most concerned about — not inclined to run off. By the time my husband and kids arrived on site, only two of the seven-week-old puppies were left. My daughter selected — and paid for — the one remaining female.


Since I'm being very strict about the no-dogs-in-the-house rule this time around (wish me luck!), my daughter has been sleeping out on the porch with her new pup to keep her from crying all night long. She reports that Coco curls up so close to her that sometimes she's practically sleeping on her face.


I’m still trying to figure out Coco’s personality. Much of the time, she’s squirrely and squirmy and hates being held, but if she suddenly finds herself separated from her people — by a flight of stairs or a gate or a chair — she immediately starts caterwauling.


She’s playful and bright (I think?), and smells delicious. And when she's sleepy, she's wonderfully cuddly.


It feels good to have a puppy underfoot once again.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.11.17), the quotidian (9.12.16), ketchup, two ways, blasted cake, hot chocolate.

Monday, September 10, 2018

the quotidian (9.10.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Homegrown, from my parents' place: to go with my pasta.


We didn't miss peach season!


My father planted a fall garden for us.


Thanks, Dad!


He even prettied it up with tiny orange pumpkins and flowers.


He got cookies out of the freezer to thaw and then taped them closed so he wouldn't eat any.


Back to creating: attempting a homemade battery.


SCORE: a craigslist find. 


The dump that is my porch (their "bedroom"): cots, old sofa, soggy blankets, ugh.


Yes we did!!!


Ahhhh, now this was what I've been dreaming about. 

This same time, years previous: proper procedure for toweling off after a shower, outside eating, what writing a book is like, playing catch-up, the good things that happen, 2012 garden stats and notes, how to clean a room, fruit-on-the-bottom baked oatmeal.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

home again

Coming home was wonderful.


Or it would’ve been wonderful if everything hadn’t promptly fallen apart.

It all started when we were still sitting in the airplane and I texted my son to let him know we had just landed. He called me right away, semi-panicked. He’d been on his way out of town to come pick us up when the van’s brakes had seized up — smoke was pouring out of both front tires, he said. He was scrambling, trying to find another vehicle big enough to haul us and all our luggage.

Stay there, we said. We’ll rent something.


We made it home (in a fancy boat of a SUV).

The welcoming committee: they rode bike out to our house to bring us supper!

But then, after tiredly emptying suitcase after suitcase, looking forward to a hot shower and bed, our water went out. Like, just disappeared. Completely.

So now we had a broken-down van AND a potentially failed well. The repair bills were piling up before our very eyes; stress was skyrocketing. We sent the kids to my brother’s house to fetch a few buckets of water so we could at least flush the toilets (never mind the load of half-washed laundry rotting in the machine), and I took a cold sponge bath and went to bed.

The next morning a friend came out to look at the well. It wasn’t a burned-up motor (or worse) as we feared, and soon it was back in working order, yay.

But then we went to return the rental. We were planning to drop it off in town, but when we learned that it’d be an extra FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS to return it to a place other than the airport (we’d worked with the same rental company in PR — and they’d waived the different-location drop fee for us — but if they hadn’t waived the fee, it would’ve cost only an additional 25 dollars), we borrowed my parents’ car and raced the hour and a half back to the airport. Our 24-hour rental was over at 3:41; we got there with one minute to spare.


On our way back to our house, my husband and I noticed a large pillar cloud looming in the distance, directly, we realized, over where our house was located. "Great," my husband said sourly. "Looks like the whole place blew up."

Which wouldn’t have surprised either of us, the way things were going.

The next morning my husband fixed the van's brakes (again, no big bills, whew), but then the AC in the little car went out, ENOUGH ALREADY. But we don't need AC to get places, and the van's AC had already gone out months before, so whatevs.


fall = spiderwebs 

The rough reentry aside, everything’s going really well!

My husband spent a couple days napping on the floor in broad daylight and reading novels until the early morning hours. (For an introverted guy whose favorite thing is to work all by himself, this summer was just a wee bit stretching...) Today, for the first time, he has a smidge of energy. (Which is good, because corn.) (Also, green beans.)

I, on the other hand, have been a whirling dervish. Two bushels of peaches! A trip to Costco! Visits with friends/family! Writing! A haircut! A library run! Cooking for the heck of it!

We returned home in the midst of a little heatwave, but even though it’s for sure hot, it’s felt sooooo cool compared to Ponce’s unrelenting humidity. Get too hot? Sit in the shade and problem solved, imagine that. And at night the temperature actually drops! It’s nothing short of a miracle. Two evenings ago, the wind picked up and the heatwave broke. Cool weather! Goosebumps! The way we whooped and carried on — a temperature drop for the first time in four months!!! — you’d of thunk we’d won the lottery.

A few re-entry impressions:
*The green is so dense that I feel like I’m drowning in chlorophyll.
*After all the rain they've had here, the house smells musty. Yuck.
*Also, rainy days. I forgot what they're like!
*ALSO, running hills. OUCH.
*It's so quiet! No whirring fans and interstate traffic.
*And there are nature sounds — birds! crickets! roosters! — to listen to.
*Ice cubes linger in a glass, long after the drink has been drunk.
*After the fantastic closet space in our Ponce house, our obsenely limited closet situation feels dire. We left with our winter clothes are still in our drawers, and now we’re back with mountains of summer stuff. I’m on the verge of throwing EVERYTHING out.
*The kids spend so much time outside.
*My kitchen is an utter marvel of efficiency. For the first time in months, I actually want to cook, just for fun.
*Hello, appetites. It's been a long time!


Perhaps the most shocking, wonderful part of it all is that, for the first time in four months, we are living for ourselves. It sounds so selfish, but it’s true. We’ve spent the last four months being on call round-the-clock. Everything revolved around our work — what the community needed, what the volunteers needed, what MDS needed.

Now we are, once again, free agents, masters of our schedule. We orchestrate our days based on our needs, our wants.

The strain of constant responsibility is gradually receding.

We’re returning to center.


It's good to be home.

This same time, years previous: five-dollar curtido, in my kitchen, calf wrangling, retreating, roasted tomato and garlic pizza sauce.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

the big finale

I woke at 3:30 this morning, my mind racing, finally ready to write. So much to say, no idea where to begin...

Crunch week turned into Cram Weekend, as in we crammed in as much stuff — work, social events, goodbyes — as possible, and then we kept cramming: belongings into suitcases, and bodies and luggage into cars and planes. Now we’re home and just beginning to unwind.

But backing up. I can’t just move straight from rush-rush-rush to home. I gotta tell you about finishing out the week: closing out the project! the house warming! the going-away party!





Friday was The Big Day: cleaning up the jobsite and packing, plus the house dedication at six followed by our despedida. We were originally going to have the house dedication on Thursday night, but then it rained — hard, and for hours — and the power went out and life slowed waaaay down, and so we postponed. Which was good, my husband agreed, because that allowed them to get a lot more work done before they had to make the house all presentable.

Funny little poop story: my husband cut the sewer lines while my uncle was using the bathroom.


My uncle found the situation very humerous.

I dreaded the dedication. All week long I felt like I was bracing myself for a tidal wave of raw emotions. Speaking in Spanish — my words never adequate enough — through all the feelings, ugh. I knew I’d be a mess.

We got to the jobsite early. The plates of cookies on the new kitchen counter and drinks in the fridge, we walked around looking at the (almost) finished product and taking photos.





Airy and small, it’s built like a rock. Both simple and efficient, it’s beautiful, too. I am so proud of the work we have done, and so proud of all the dozens and dozens of people who volunteered to make Nilda a home. 


During the dedication, we read off the list of volunteer names. My husband and I read the volunteers from the States, alternating back and forth, and then Lery and Chiro read the names of the local volunteers.

Volunteers from the States
Chris, Brad, Zoe, Gavin, Paulson, Shirley, Adam, Jeni, Joe, Adam, Isabel, Anna, Deirdre, Erin, Brian, Marty, Matthew, Kent, David, Delbert, Sandar, Jeff, Ryan, Deron, Lawrence, Ruei-Jen, Emma, Dwight, Isaac, Dan, Jalyn, Sam, David, Esther, Jim, Sean, Nes, Hector, Carlos, Vandy, Jim, Kenton, Nicholas, Caroline, Rebecca, Jonathan, Jennifer, John.

Volunteers from Puerto Rico
Daniel, Jakelin, Edgardo, Maria, Edgardo, Evelinda, Daniel, Melvin, Israel, Rafaelito, Jose, Heydiann, Mia, Heidi, Fransheska, Juan Pablo, Olga, Martha, Pastor Demetrio, Carmen, Minin, Rolando, Glorimar, Kathy, Glorianne, Iris, Chiro, Lery, Leryann, Dereck, Demeric, Carmen, Nilda, Nicole, Norleene.

Those names make up just two small paragraphs, but if you read each name out loud (do it!), keeping in mind the dozens of people backing each name — providing support emotionally, financially, logistically — it’s more than a little impressive. So much love!

The ceremony was, like the house, simple and straightforward: we gave a welcome, there were a couple prayers, a song (What Is This Place, sung by my uncle and cousin and the two younger kids and me, and I kept it together!), a reading (that I nearly forgot about so we added it at the end), and the presentations to Nilda and her family: the key to the house, a photo album that I’d filled with photos of the building process, a wallhanging made by my cousin Zoe, and a Bible.



Nilda, her oldest daughter, and her sister Carmen

We cried off and on (my husband more than me, ha!), but most everyone else did, too, so it didn't much matter.

And then there were the snacks, and lots more photos, of course.

eating her favorite banana cake, which she aptly dubbed "Lery's Cake"

From the dedication, we high-tailed it over to the church for our despedida. And what a despedida it was! We didn’t get home until after midnight, and the next morning when I popped awake after only a few hours of sleep, I felt aglow with the memories from the previous evening, like I was a-light, from the inside out, with twinkle lights, each one a sweet memory from the previous evening.

The church had been transformed: yellow caution tape over the doors, and yellow paper-covered tables had been set up. Shovels and hardhats leaned against the pulpit, and the table at the front was spread with an array of photos and plaques.


We were crying before it even started.

Sometimes all the attention and accolades lavished upon us by the local community has made me squirm. Look, I want to say, we’re just an ordinary family plodding along. Sure, we're giving something (though in the face of so much need, it's hardly a drop in the bucket) but we're getting way, way, way more: friendships and family time, Spanish skills and a heightened sense of purpose, adventure.

But then, over the last few months as I’ve listened to person after person share about how we’ve inspired them, showed them the true meaning of service, taught them to be better Christians, I’ve gradually come to realize that this isn’t about us. It's about something much bigger than the sum of our motley parts: it's about hope. Through dozens of sacks of cement, and a bunch of two-by-fours and sheets of drywall, an entire community has felt, in a very concrete way (ha!) that they're not alone, that goodness is real, that grace and mercy are tangible.


Olga gave a beautiful, thoughtful meditation, and then there was a time of sharing in which a number of people, in hopes of keeping the tears at bay, made a point of not looking in our direction. Rolando showed a video he’d put together, pretty much encapsulating everything. There were clips of the actual hurricane and news footage. There were photos of Nilda's destroyed home. There were videos and photos of them getting ready for our arrival, and then a whole slew of videos, still photos, and drone shots of the actual building process (soundtrack: Lin-Manuel Miranda's Amost Like Praying). There were wonky photo/video collages of  each of the kids in turn (accompanied by the Flintstones theme song), plus old photos of the kids working when they were but little tots (Rolando and his wife perused our photo albums when they were at our house!). One minute we’d be laughing and the next we’d be crying. It was a good thing I packed tissues.

And then we were invited to the front to receive plaques — each one presented by a different person — and then the gifts started flowing. The church had sent out our clothing sizes, and people had purchased everything from shirts and hats, to shoes and socks. Plus, there were handwritten notes, cards with money, gift cards, homemade jewelry, a wooden press for making tostones and a wooden mortar and pestle for making mofongo, coffee, candy, mugs, paintings, and on and on and on. The kids were positively bug-eyed and giddy with glee.


By the time the evening was over, I felt both washed out and filled to the brim. We’d said all the words and heard all the speeches, exchanged hugs, taken a million photos, and both sobbed and belly-laughed. Goodbyes are hard, but done right— and Puerto Ricans know how to do them right! — they are cathartic, too.

Goodbye, Puerto Rico, and thank you. We love you dearly.

This same time, years previous: southern sweet tea, blueberry muffins, in my kitchen: 5:25 p.m., the cousins came, regretful wishing, the quotidian (9.3.12), roasted peaches.