ต้มข่าไก่–Thai “Blizzard Soup”: ABC Day 21

I lived in Thailand for over three years, and one of my favorite things was the food. It was not only delicious, but also very cheap–often $1 or less per meal, if you didn’t mind eating at a stand beside the road, or a little hole-in-the-wall sort of place. And it was convenient–there were little stands and restaurants and markets everywhere. As a result, I bought food much more often than I cooked while I was living there.

Since I’ve been home, however, suddenly the Thai food that I crave is hard to find, inconvenient, expensive, and frankly, never as good as I hope it will be. So I’ve tried to cook some of my favorite things myself. The one that I make the most often is actually my very favorite Thai food, ต้มข่าไก่ (the closest English equivalent is Tom Ka Gai). Mom calls it Blizzard Soup, because she says if she ever got caught in a blizzard it’s what she’d want to eat when she got home. It’s got creamy coconut milk, offset with the tang of lime, the more subtle flavors of galangal and lemongrass, and the heat of Thai chilis that warms you up inside: it combines for a pop of flavor that explodes in your mouth. It’s also loaded with mushrooms–my favorite–and other veggies as well, so it’s quite good for you. 

Mom mentioned the soup in her last blog post, and someone asked for the recipe, and I thought it might be easier to write a post about it than to try to write out a recipe. I tend to just kind of throw things in and not measure very much when I make it, but I’ll try to at least give you approximate amounts.

There are a few ingredients that you will probably want to pick up at an Asian grocery store. For locals, I recommend Sunrise Asian Market in Eugene, and Rice-N-Spice in Corvallis. (Rice-N-Spice looks very seedy from the outside, but I promise it’s fine inside.)

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On cutting board, L to R: Galangal, lemongrass, Thai chilis

  1. Galangal. This is a root spice, kind of like ginger, but better. It’s usually in the refrigerated section, often in a tub of water. I usually use a chunk about the size of the one in the picture, or a little smaller, for a batch of soup. It will go bad in a week or two if it’s not used.
  2. Lemongrass. These long, woody stalks are also usually refrigerated. I usually use about 3 in a recipe. Lemongrass lasts pretty long in the fridge.
  3. Thai chilis. You don’t actually need very many, and they usually come in a pretty big package. Be warned, they are very spicy.
  4. Fish sauce. They might have this in your local grocery store as well, but I recommend getting a brand that comes from Thailand or another Asian country, and looks authentic. (don’t get Thai Kitchen brand) If you’re not used to fish sauce, you’ll think it smells disgusting, but in small doses it gives really nice flavor. Fish sauce is included in just about every Thai dish I can think of–I think it’s the most important ingredient in Thai cuisine. 
  5. Coconut milk. You can find this at your grocery store as well, I’m sure, but I recommend getting Thai coconut milk, which has better flavor and consistency. I really like this brand that comes in cardboard cartons. Leftover coconut milk can be kept in the fridge in a sealed container for a few weeks. I like it in iced coffee, or for making curry. 
  6. Kaffir lime leaves. I’ve never found them, but if your store has them, they make a good authentic addition. They should be bruised a little and added in at the same step as the galengal and lemongrass.
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This is the bottle of fish sauce that I’m currently using. I might not have chosen this brand, but it was cheap at Grocery Depot, and it does come from Thailand and has an authentic smell. It also makes me hungry for squid. 🙂

All right, on to the recipe:

Ingredients:

8 cups chicken stock

4-6 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into small pieces (chicken breast is fine as well)

2-inch chunk of galangal, cut into approximately ⅛-inch slices

3 thai chilis, either cut into ½ inch pieces, or just crushed a little in a mortar and pestle. You want them to release a little flavor, but still be in big enough pieces that people can see them and don’t accidentally eat them. (I like this amount of spice, which I think is sort of a medium spicy. Feel free to adjust for personal preference, or just forget about them if you don’t like spicy food)

3 stalks of lemongrass. Remove the dry outer layers until you’re left with the solid inner stalks, hit them with the dull side of a knife, up and down the stalk, to bruise them and release the flavor, and then slice them into approximately 2-inch pieces.

½ large onion, diced (Thai people make about 1-inch chunks, but I cut them smaller)

1½-2 cups mushrooms, in slices or chunks. If you want to really be authentic, you can use oyster mushrooms, but I prefer just your basic grocery store mushroom. 

1 cup diced tomatoes

About 2 cans of coconut milk

Juice from 2-3 limes

Fish sauce to taste

Directions:

  1. Bring the chicken stock, galangal, lemongrass, and chilis to a boil in a large pot. Let simmer for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Add the chicken, and stir. Simmer for a few more minutes.
  3. Add onion, cook a little, then add mushrooms.
  4. After a minute or two, when everything looks done enough, turn down the heat. Add the coconut milk, lime juice, and fish sauce. I don’t usually put in all of the second can of coconut milk, and I start with a couple of teaspoons of fish sauce and then add more if it doesn’t seem salty enough. Same with the lime juice: start with a little, and add more if it seems like it needs more flavor. Add the tomatoes last, so that they don’t get too mushy. 

The lemongrass and galengal are not meant to be eaten, but only to flavor the broth, and I personally don’t recommend eating the chilis as well, unless you love extremely spicy food. I just let people pick these things out as they eat, but if you wanted to you could strain them out before adding the chicken.

Thai people always eat this soup with rice, specifically Jasmine rice, and I highly recommend it as well. Jasmine rice is readily available in normal grocery stores, and if you want a really good deal you can get a 20 lb bag at the Asian market for a pretty low price per pound. It takes less water than other rice, and I think it’s less mushy and has better flavor in the end.

When I cook it, I always rinse my rice first by covering it with water, swirling it around, and then draining it off, several times. You’ll see sort of a white starchy powder rinsing off. After it’s rinsed it’s obviously already wet, so then I add just a little over 1 cup of water per cup of rice, and cook it in the rice cooker. For my family I usually do 3 cups of rice, rinsed, and add about 3 ⅓ cup of water. It can take some trial and error to figure out the right amounts, but the rice should be done, not crunchy, but also have clearly defined grains and not mushy or soggy. And one more tip from my Thai friend Laila: if you wait 10 minutes after the rice cooker is done before you open it, it won’t stick nearly as much on the bottom.

This soup is usually served in bowls beside a plate of rice. You can spoon it over your rice, put some rice on your spoon and then dip it in the bowl to add the broth, or just mix them together, however you desire.

I also like to make a Thai style omelet to serve with this. To do this, mix 5 eggs, ¼ cup very finely diced onion, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon water, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, and ½ teaspoon fresh lime juice (once again, I don’t measure these things, so feel free to adjust to suit your own taste). Beat until well mixed and foamy. Heat a nice layer of oil in a frying pan. Test it with a tiny bit of the egg mixture to make sure it’s hot and sizzling. If it is, pour in the egg mixture. As it cooks, push back the edges and tilt the pan so that the runny egg can fill it. When there’s not enough runny egg to run anymore, flip it, preferably with that cool toss-in-the-air flipping trick. (It works for me about 50% of the time). Cook it on the other side (it doesn’t take very long), and you’re done! 

These amounts feed myself, my parents, and two sisters, with enough soup and rice left over for lunches for a couple of days. We usually eat all of the omelet, but it doesn’t keep very well anyway.

If you’re interested in more Thai cooking, my favorite resource for authentic recipes is Hot Thai Kitchen on youtube.

Also, if any of you wanted the recipe for the salted caramel chocolate cake also featured on my mom’s blog, it’s right here.

Thanks for stopping by, and please continue to support us Smucker ladies by following our April Blogging Challenge posts.

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Truth is Stranger than Fiction: ABC Day 14

Every day on my way to college I drive by a brown sign that says “Thompson’s Mills, next right” with an Oregon State Parks insignia. I’ve always thought it looked interesting, and that I should go see it sometime when I had a free day. But somehow years passed, and I never visited.

Last term I took a writing class, and was required to write a research paper, “about anything you can do research on,” the teacher said. “Not too broad of a topic, but big enough to write 4 to 7 pages–single spaced.” I don’t like making decisions about things when there are SO many options–it’s overwhelming. But my mind kept coming back to that sign that I drove past every day, so I chose to write about the mill and its history for my paper.

So like a good student I went to the library for resources, and found a number of old books with cheap cardstock bindings that recorded the history of this county. I started reading, and it was like being immersed in a sort of parallel universe. I found myself thinking about the past a lot, especially on the long drive to and from college, through endless grass fields and past stately farmhouses, imagining what they looked like 150 years ago. It’s changed so much in such a short time. American history goes back to the 1600’s, but here, the very first settlers only came in 1845. That’s only two lifetimes, if you live to be 87 or so. And these people came with so little, and in almost no time they had drained fields and planted wheat and built grist mills, and on and on.

Anyway, one of my favorite sources was this set of books called “Pioneer Stories of Linn County, Oregon.” In the 1930’s, the Works Project Administration commissioned a project to find people who had connections to some of the original pioneers in the area, and interview them about those early days.

Of course, none of them were around by the time the interviews were done. Most of the interviewees were children of the pioneers, and some grandchildren.

There were a couple of interviews–one with the daughter of the man who built Thompson’s Mills–that I used in my paper, but I enjoyed reading through the others, just for fun. It’s sort of slogging reading, because they tend to go on and on about where their father was born, the names of his siblings, who they married, and all of that…but if you keep reading long enough, you get to the good stories. I thought I’d share a few of the most humorous and dramatic ones with you.

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A man named James Worth Morgan talked about the Methodist camp meetings he attended as a boy, led by a Rev. Driver, who was “a widower and a charming man, or so women seemed to think. At those old Methodist meetings there was always a great deal of ‘falling.’ There was one woman who, most peculiarly, would always manage to be near Elder Driver when she fell so that he could catch her. At one time, I climbed into a big tree so that I could get a good view of ‘the lady falling into the preacher’s arms.” I lost my balance and nearly fell down on the rostrum.”

Mr. Morgan also says, “The first time that my father saw Portland, there was just one house there–or cabin.”

Mrs. Susan Zimmerman talked about her mother, who, as a young woman, rode a horse across the plains on the Oregon Trail. “All of the girls wore gloves, bonnets, and heavy veils. This was to protect their complexions. When my mother reached Oregon and took off her gloves and veil her face and hands were as white and smooth as when she started.

(Young women have changed a little in 170 years)

Mrs. Anna Stockton Millhollen told how her mother went outside one night because there was a disturbance. “The cabin was surrounded by a rail fence and mother leaned against it and let her hand drop down on the other side. As she stood thus, listening, a bear ran past on the other side of the fence and so closely that its fur brushed mother’s hands. That was enough for her and she went back into the cabin and let the bears carry off the pigs.”

On a different topic, Mrs Millhollen notes, “The Indians were sometimes ugly, too. I have heard how at times they would get provoked and follow the immigrants’ wagons throwing spoiled salmon over them.”

(Personally, I find this to be more humorous than ugly–after all, they were responding to people who had invaded their land and taken it for themselves. The book mentions Indians quite often, but there were very few stories of any actual violence–more of people being afraid of them, and cultural differences that the pioneers didn’t understand.) 

Mrs. Winifred Viola Wells talked about her father, who was a sailor before coming to Oregon. “One adventure while whaling very nearly cost him his life. He and three other men were sent out after a whale which had been harpooned. It proved not to be dead, and suddenly lashed out with its flukes. The blow struck the boat full in its center, broke it in two and threw the men high into the air. One of the men had both of his legs broken and father was picked up for dead. For four days he lay apparently dead and his shroud was made and already on him. However, the man whose legs had been broken protested against his burial as his body seemed to retain some natural heat. This man said, ‘Dead men don’t stay warm.’ Father at length regained consciousness. After that he felt he had enough of the sea.”

Mrs. Emma Parrish told how “We often heard of the ‘Forks of the Santiam’ region and the very active Providence Baptist Church there. Whenever we met anyone who knew the Forks region we would be told, ‘Don’t by any means settle in the “Forks” unless you are a Baptist and a Democrat.’ Nevertheless, when we reached Oregon Father purchased land there although he was a Republican….That was at a time when the difference between Republicans and Democrats meant something.”

(I’m pretty sure there are a few people today who would argue that the difference still means something…and I find it rather amusing that the Baptists were Democrats)

Mrs. Parrish also told a story about her uncle Marshall, who fought in the Modoc war and fell in the middle of a battle. “Before he could get up he was shot in the side and back. He lay there for three days and nights, surrounded by Indians and then finally got away in the night. He was very lame after that for a number of years. He was finally operated on four or five years later. The doctors then found that the bullet had struck the overall buckle at his back, straightened it out and sent it deep into the flesh. The buckle, straightened out by the bullet, when removed from his hip measured four inches in length.”

(I’m still trying to figure out exactly how this worked)

Lewis Tycer told a story about their neighbor family, when he was growing up. “It was the custom of the father, when they were short of flour, to put his two little boys upon a horse, tie a sack of wheat on with them, and send them to Brownsville to have it ground. One day these boys on approaching Brownsville were forced to cross an ash swale where water stood to the depth of a foot or more. While crossing this swale the sack of wheat was shaken loose and fell into the water. The boys were not able to lift the wheat back upon the horse, so it lay and soaked for some time before they could devise a means of hoisting it up. They then took it on to the mill. They supposed that the wheat was spoiled, but the iller assured them that he could dry it out and it would be all right. However, it could not be made into flour that day, so he simply exchanged it for an equable amount of flour and sent them on home. The delay had caused the day to pass long before they were ready to start back but they took the long trip–perhaps eight or ten miles–alone in the night. They would have been very hungry, for they had no lunch, save that a hungry neighbor saw them pass late and night and called them in for supper. That is merely an illustration of the way small boys learned self reliance in pioneer days. ”

Mrs. Eliza Finley Brandon talked about the mills her father built, and how the first one was destroyed after it was no longer used as a mill. “This building was washed away during the great floods of 1861-1862. At the time of the big floods, my father was using it as a hog house. He had twenty big fat hogs in the building and he lost most of them by drowning. A few of them, however, found their way to some floating logs and were saved. They were on the logs in the river for almost two weeks, and without food, so that they had to be fattened all over again.”

There are more stories, but I’m tired of typing. The world is full of people, and people are full of stories. YOU have a story. Write it down, so people can enjoy it 150 years from now.

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ABC, Day 7: Welcome Back

Hello, everyone.

To those who have never been here before (Yes, you, readers of my mom and sisters’ blogs), welcome! And if there’s anyone who actually stayed subscribed through the last six years of silence, I salute your perseverance.

So for the last few years, my mom and sisters have done a special blogging challenge in April. Until now I’ve always been away when they’ve done it, and therefore managed to avoid joining in, despite my mom’s hints that she wished I would blog more. This year, I am living at home with no way of escape. It’s hard to say no to your mother’s disappointed eyes when you’re trying to back out of something. (Also, I have learned that most times when my mom is very sure that I should do something, I will eventually end up realizing that she is right.)

So anyway, I thought after such a long absence, a little introduction might be in order.

(Just so no one gets confused, I’m pretending to interview myself.)

So who are you?

I’m Amy, daughter of the famous Dorcas Smucker, sister to Emily and Jenny. As we sisters go, I’m the oldest, the shortest, and the one who most enjoys cooking.

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Me, Emily, and Jenny, about 4 years ago.

Why haven’t you blogged for so long?

Well…for one thing, although I blogged for many years (first on Xanga, and then here) I was never very consistent with it, mostly because I didn’t have enough motivation and dedication. A few months after the latest post on this blog, I went to SMBI (a Mennonite Bible college) for a year, and who has time for blogging when you’re writing essays and term papers all the time? And then I went to Thailand for three and a half years, and all of my interesting stories went into my update emails. Which basically brings us to the present, where I have been lured back into the blogging world by my persistent mother.
Besides all that, there are so many voices and words out in the great big internet world, and I seldom feel like I have anything to say that is engaging or inspiring enough to be worth adding.

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Emily, Mom, Jenny. I tried to find a picture of all four of us, but was unable to.

So…you’re home again now? What’s going on?

It’s a long story. I loved teaching English in Thailand, but eventually I had to give up a lot of things that I wanted to do because I was on a volunteer visa, and the guidelines for where I could volunteer were very strict. I know, it sounds odd, but so it was. I felt God directing me to pursue a college degree, which would allow me to get a job as a teacher, and a work visa, and therefore have more options. Several of my friends lived in Thailand and did an international program at a local university, but for me, coming back to Oregon and living at home while I got to college is much more financially feasible, especially because it means I can get financial aid from the government.

So right now I’m going to a local community college. I have about one more year left here, and then I’m planning to transfer to Oregon State University, which is still close enough that I can live at home and commute. I’m planning to do a double major, in HDFS (Human Development and Family Sciences) and education, and get licensed as an elementary school teacher. I should be on track to graduate in 2021. Studying elementary ed means that I get to take classes about all sorts of interesting things, like history and science and geography, as well as learning about how children develop, and how family life in America has changed over time, and things like that.

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Me and Jenny on the first day of college last fall. We like to carpool if our schedules are similar.

So you’re planning to go back to Thailand when you graduate?

I don’t like to make definitive statements about my life so far in advance. A lot can change in three years. Studying about American education is interesting, and it does feel a little sad to learn all this stuff and not actually teach and use it. But for now, a large chunk of my heart is still Thailand, and I do hope to go back.

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Rice paddies near my old home outside Chiang Mai

What can we expect from your future posts?

I may end up changing my mind, but here are a few ideas rattling around my brain right now. I’d like to talk about some interesting books I found while I was doing research for a paper last term, and maybe some surprising things I found out about stress in my health class. (Most of my life revolves around college at the moment.)

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Flowering tree (cherry? plum?) in our front yard a few weeks ago

Any final words?

Thank you all for showing up! Just a reminder, Emily posts on Sundays and Wednesdays, Mom posts on Mondays and Thursdays,  and Jenny posts on Tuesdays and Fridays. Check them out! They all have good things to say.

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A Day With the Kids

Although my main duties here at the mission are teaching and doing the secretary work, I do spend some time helping with our foster children. Most of the time we only have school 4 days a week, and so between Friday and Saturday I get one day off and spend the other day “on duty” with the other nannies, helping with cleaning or cooking or taking care of the kids.

So one recent Friday I was on “kid duty” with our foster children. We have 5 of them at the moment—Christopher is 4, Kenroy and Ruth Ann are both 3, and Patrick and Oneisha are 2.

So by 6:20 I’m out of bed, clothed and in my right mind, all cozy on the couch in the living room with my Bible and journal and an iced coffee. I love this morning time, all quiet, when I’m the only one up. I need to be there just in case the kids wake up, but it’s usually at least 7, or often later, before the first of them are awake.

This morning it’s 7:45 before I hear anything. Chris is crying, so I go in to see what’s the matter, and hear Sharon talking to him. Oh dear. Evidently he went out the back door of their room, and into Sharon’s room, and woke her up, on this day, her day off, the only morning all week that she gets to sleep in. She goes back to bed, and my day with the kids begins.

Kenroy’s awake too, and so with lots of noise and energy and clothes flung all over the room we manage to get them both dressed. The boys turn off their fans, and of course the ceiling fan doesn’t completely stop right away. Chris scrambles up on Kenroy’s bunk bed to stretch out and try to make the slowing fan blades stop completely. Kenroy frowns at him. “Don’t you spit on my bed,” he says in a menacing tone. I giggle. Kenroy generally does not showcase his most pleasant side first thing in the morning.

Breakfast isn’t ready yet, so we settle down on the couch for some reading time. The older boys love to be read to, and I enjoy it so much, because when I first came they didn’t have the patience and focus to actually enjoy a book. Chris pulls out an abridged version of The Velveteen Rabbit, of course. It’s his current favorite book—and so we read it over and over again.

Finally I persuade him to read a different book. This one mentions fishing, which reminds Chris of something. His eyes get big, and he starts to stutter, as he always does when he gets really excited, as he tells me about the “very-very-very-very-very-very-very-very-very big crab!” he and Sharon saw at the beach.

And then it’s breakfast time and the little ones are awake by now, and as the kids finish eating I haul them off to get all “ready to face the day” as my mother used to say. Chris and Kenroy are done first, and we head to the bathroom to brush their teeth. I get them started, and everything is quiet, except for normal teeth-brushing noises, until Chris randomly starts his own unique version of beatboxing, utilizing his stuffy nose. He starts bobbing up and down to his beat, and pretty soon, there we are, all three of us, just dancing away in the bathroom.

When everyone is clean and dressed and out on the veranda, I look around to make sure they’re fine before scurrying off to quickly brush my own teeth, and Neisha announces, “I pee!” Sure enough, there’s a puddle around her feet. Ugh. We’ve just started potty training her, and she hasn’t really gotten the hang of it yet. I knew I needed to be on top of it, but thought I could wait a little before sitting her on her potty.

Once I’m ready and Neisha has on a dry pair of pants, we head outside.

The morning passes, with giggles and screams and a snack of hard-boiled eggs. Neisha uses the potty correctly, but manages to get her pants dirty again anyway when I’m not looking, and has to be changed again. Jordan and Samuel come hang out with us for a while, and play with the kids, and give them rides in the wagon, which they love.

                         

Sara brings lunch out to us, since she just finished cleaning the house.

When lunch is over, we all head inside. On Friday evenings all of the girls go out for supper, and Mark and Karen take care of the kids, so we bathe the kids before their naps, instead of at bedtime, so Mark and Karen don’t have to do it.

The two big boys love movies, so my game plan for bathing all 5 looks like this: put on a movie to keep the boys out of mischief, and put the other 3 in the tub. Once they’re all bathed and dressed, put them down for naps, and then bathe the boys. Simple, right?

Unfortunately, it isn’t. All 5 kids mill about me as we choose a movie and I put it in the DVD player. Neisha grabs the remote, and starts pushing buttons. I snatch it back, but she evidently pushed on of those mysterious buttons that just messes up everything, because I cannot get the movie to play. As I frantically push buttons, trying to undo the damage, Chris shoves his way in. “I do it! I do it!” he says, and pushes the button to open the DVD tray. Before I can stop him, he grabs the DVD, breathes on it, and rubs it vigorously back and forth on his shirt. He pops it back in, and shuts the tray again, but before it’s all the way in, Patrick grabs it, and the tray jams, stuck halfway open. Meanwhile, in the midst of the hubbub, Ruth Ann has fallen off the couch and hit her head, and is wailing, that “I’m-not-hurt-that-badly-but-I-want-attention” cry.

Aaaaah! I feel myself fighting to stay sane, to hold myself back from screaming and running away, or being too harsh with the kids. “Everybody go sit on the couch!” I command in a frustrated tone, as I try to get the DVD tray unstuck. Finally I succeed, but it still isn’t working. Thankfully Sara is close by, and she comes in and finds the right button on the remote. And then the disc is dirty, and won’t play right, but finally, thankfully, with a little cleaning, everything is ok again.

The 3 little ones go into the tub then, and Ruth Ann is still a rather upset about the attention thing, and tired too, and she cries and cries. I wash her first, and once she’s dressed, she just lies in bed and watches and talks while I get the others.

I love this part, when they’re all clean and smell nice–rubbing lotion into their soft, perfect skin, and getting them dressed. When Patrick is done he stands up and gives me a hug, and I wish I could bottle up this moment and save it forever—the feel of his arms tight around my neck, his head scratchy under my chin.

When they’re all snuggled down in bed, it’s time to shower the boys. Kenroy is first, but when it’s time to get in the shower, he announces he has to go do-do. I sit down on the little stool by the sink, and wait for him to finish. My mind drifts back over the morning, and I smile ruefully at the memory of the chaos of trying to get the movie started.

Kenroy frowns at me. “What’s so funny?”

I grin. “You guys,” I say. “You’re awesome.”

He glares harder. “No, I’m NOT!”

“Well, what are you, then?” I ask.

His face softens as he thinks about it. “I’m just a man,” he announces solemnly.

This sends me into a fit of giggles. “Just a man, huh?”

“Yes.” He pauses. “And you’re a man too!” He grins, as if he just gave me the best compliment ever. I burst out laughing again, all the while attempting to set the record straight. What a kid.

Soon the boys are both showered and in bed, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I love taking care of the kids, but I don’t know what I’d do without nap time. During the next few hours I get cleaned up and ready for the night out, and then curl up on the couch with a book, so that I can hear the kids when they wake up. By the time they are up and have a snack, it’s nearly time for us to leave. We kiss them goodbye, and they holler and wave as we drive away for the evening.

It is such a privilege to be part of these kids’ lives—every day with them is an adventure. 🙂

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watch and wonder

I found it at St. Vinnie’s–one of my favorite thrift stores–while I was home for Christmas.

I’ve wanted one of those bangle-style hinged watches ever since Phebe got that cool one long ago, and I fell in love at first sight with this one—simple and silver, with a squarish face, playful numbers all different happy colors, and an affordable price. And it was running just fine—something you don’t take for granted with a thrift store find. And besides, I actually needed it—I’d been looking for a watch all week, since I don’t have a phone here in Jamaica to use to keep track of time. I was delighted.

A few days later I made it through security at Portland International Airport, and stopped at the first restroom I saw. I took off my watch and laid it on the counter as I washed my hands, then spent some time fixing my hair before grabbing my bags and heading down to my gate.

I settled down in a comfortable place, and reached into my backpack for the packet of notes a friend had handed me at church a few hours before. I read through the messages from the kids I used to care for and their wonderful mother, smiling all the way.

I replaced the letters, and sat for a moment, wondering what to do next. How much time did I have before my flight started to board? I glanced around, looking for a clock, but not seeing one. Then, Duh, my watch, and suddenly I felt the bareness on my wrist. Immediately I remembered taking it off in the bathroom, and knew I must have left it there.

I scurried back the way I had come, praying all the while. I knew it was just a watch, but at the same time, it was one I really liked, and I did need it, and this is not the first time I’ve absentmindedly left something somewhere and consequently lost it.

The counter was empty.

My next thought: if some kind soul picked it up, where would they take it?

So I went to the little TSA cubicle nearby, and asked, and they looked in their little Lost & Found basket, and it wasn’t there. They gave me a card for the airport’s Lost & Found, but with me leaving in an hour and heading overseas, I knew that even if my watch did end up there,  it would take a lot of hassle to retrieve it.

I searched the bathroom one last time, even looking in the trash cans, and then walked dejectedly back to my gate. I kept my eyes open for the little girl who had been in the restroom while I was, in hope that she might have it, but didn’t see her.

And then I passed another restroom, and felt a sudden prompting to go in and look around. That’s silly, I thought. There is absolutely no way that my watch could be in this restroom when I haven’t even set foot in it. But I shrugged and stepped inside.

The first thing that caught my eye was a cleaning cart, and suddenly it hit me—I remembered, as I left the restroom that first time, I had almost run into the cleaning lady, who was on her way in! She, of course, would have picked up my watch.

And suddenly, there she was—the same lady—and there, attached to a lanyard around her neck, was my watch! I was so astonished I’m sure I hardly made sense, but somehow I let her know the watch was mine, and she handed it to me, and I thanked her and walked out with a huge smile on my face, praising my amazing God.

I had been this close to ignoring  Him and just walking on.  It had seemed like such a ridiculous thing to do.

And I wonder, What if I hadn’t listened, pushing away His prompting with all my cold logic, like I do, far too often?

And I wonder, How often do I miss out on the blessings He wants to give me when I ignore that still, small voice?

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One little lovely moment…

It’s called the Hip Strip—the tourist center of Montego Bay, a street that winds along beside the beach, lined with hotels and restaurants and lots and lots of little stores, all selling the same t-shirts and jewelry and knick-knacks, with owners who stand on the sidewalk and loudly cajole any passing “whiteys” to come in and peruse their wares.

And there she sits, silently, in a narrow alleyway between two shops—a grandma, surely, with wrinkled skin and white hair and wise eyes, offering me only a quiet, hopeful smile. There is a small pile of fruit on a tiny table beside her.

I’ve been craving a Jamaican orange. “How much for an orange?” I ask. “Thirty dollars,” she replies. About 35 cents.

“Will you peel it for me?” A definitive nod, and the quintessentially Jamaican affirmative. “Ya mon.”

She rummages in a little basket, and finds her knife, wrapped in a paper-and-packing-tape sheath. She selects the largest orange from the pile, and carefully cuts into it, the yellow-green rind falling in a long spiral onto the table.

She slices the orange in half and hands it to me. I pull out a 50-dollar bill. “You can keep the change,” I say, and her smile is so big and so sweet as she thanks me.

I bite into my orange, and it’s juicy and perfect, a little bit of heaven, I think, which may be an exaggeration, but really, words seem trite when I try to describe the flavor.

And I keep walking, saying “Not today” to the badgering shop owners, and the breeze coming off the water complements the Caribbean sun, and the old lady’s smile lingers in my head, and I nibble at the fruit that makes my taste buds dance, and I can’t stop smiling.

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The Beach

The beach here in Jamaica is beautiful.

The water is a clear and vibrant greenish-blue, cool and refreshing but never cold. The sand is nearly white, and the palm trees sway gently in the breeze. The sun beams down with golden rays. The waves are gentle, little more than ripples, and spend themselves quickly on the sloping sand.

Pictures of the beach that I post on facebook get lots of feedback—comments from people who long to go there. It’s a must-see destination for visitors and tourists. It’s where we go every weekend on our day off.

Paradise, right?

But when I’m there I find myself comparing it to the beaches I know—the  wild, chilly, invigorating beaches of Oregon—beaches where I’ve spent lovely, precious days with family and friends, and ran and screamed for joy and tasted the salt water and heard the mournful cry of the foghorns over the constant roar of the pounding waves.

And I have to say I would take the harsh chill of the Oregon beach, wrapped up in a hoodie, bits of hair, curled from the mist, blowing in the wind—I would choose this, most any day, over laying out, getting a tan, in the golden perfection of the Caribbean beach.

(I feel weird even saying it, because it’s so different from what everyone else seems to think, and almost feels ungrateful—like someone’s offering me caviar and I just want PB&J. I know the beach here is gorgeous, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy it…but it just makes me miss my Oregon beach.)

Oregon beaches are a drab tan, but incredibly fine and soft. When the tide goes out, it leaves a flat, damp expanse behind it, where the sand is smooth and firm, perfect for walking for miles and miles, as far as your feet can carry you—or for writing messages, or building a sand castle.

The days warm enough to do without jackets are perfect for wave-jumping, even though the water is so cold you gasp when it first grazes your toes. Standing with friends, hands clasped for stability, thigh-deep in the frigid water. Screaming as a wave nears, looms, enormous and powerful, and then—pushing off against the sand, perfectly timed to let that power carry you, sweep you off your feet. Landing again, numb toes digging into the silky sand, laughing and steadying the people around you. And then—the undertow, pushing, shoving, against the backs of your legs, pouring sand over your feet, as your heels desperately hold on, and the still it comes, insistently stronger,  and for a moment you have only the most tenuous grip to the ground, and it feels as if the slightest slip would sweep you away, out into the endless raging gray chill of the ocean. And then it’s over, and the waves again, one after another, the sensation of being swept up and carried, pressing forward again to meet the next one, blissfully reveling in that incomprehensible power-bigger-than-you. Just one more…just one more…until, finally, that gigantic wave comes along, big enough to be the finale, and you give in to the reality of aches and numbness and wade inland, shivering and drenched in life.

The feeling alive. That’s what I miss.

I also miss the open space—wide stretches of sand, as far as you can see, with few other people around. I miss the sea birds. I miss the interesting little caves and inlets to explore. I miss the wind-patterns on the sand, and the driftwood, and the grassy dunes. I miss the massive, jagged boulders, and the waves that turn to white foam as they crash against them. I miss the tides, and the pools they leave behind them, and the sneaker waves that leave you sopping wet if you’re not paying attention.

But mostly I miss the feeling alive.

(for excellent thoughts from a fellow cold-beach-person, go here. I actually had this post in my head before Esta did hers, which shows that great minds really DO think alike. 🙂 )

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