A Good Lunch

I planned to write a helpful, informative post about traveling efficiently, having just taken a longish trip. The name of the game for us this time was speed, and I had one or two suggestions to this end.

For example, we took two ice chests along. We filled one with water bottles, Sparkling Ice, Gatorade, and Body Armor, threw a bag of ice over them, and enjoyed ice cold hydration any time we pleased, even at 3 am when the rest of the family was sound asleep.

We filled the second ice chest with lunch supplies. At meal time, instead of trying to agree on which restaurant to stop at and what everyone wanted from the menu, I employed a child to hold the ice chest lid and made sandwiches on it. Our stops were quick and cheap (I guess not cheap if you want to figure in fuel prices, but I don’t really want to think about that).

The key to success in packing a lunch, I reflected heroically, is splurging a little. Take all the fixings for an exceptional sandwich, for example. For us that meant mayo, mustard, ham, cheese, lettuce, sprouts, radishes, cucumbers, pickles, and banana peppers. Our sandwiches rivaled Subway, and knocked McDonalds out of the park. We also took big containers of Greek Gods yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, and granola, and made parfaits for breakfast. They healed some of wounds sustained by long nights of switching drivers and calming the baby and (almost) growling at each other in our exhaustion.

Some refreshing snacks helped out between meals, grapefruit cups being one of the top favorites, and garden fresh kohlrabi and carrot sticks following close behind. (And lest you think us completely virtuous in our eating habits, we also ate granola bars, potato chips, and plain old unregenerate Oreo cookies.)

I basked in the glow of my lunch packing success until six hours from home. That’s when the van’s air conditioner gave up the ghost, I discovered that the greasy feeling under my feet was no figment of my imagination but baby soap that had spilled all through my new cosmetic bag and seeped onto the van floor, and our supply of diapers was completely exhausted.

The remainder of the trip felt as long as the previous 26 hours in the van. A ninety degree wind shrieked through the windows, whipping our hair about and cooling us very little. I tried to wipe up the soap, but my feet stayed slimy. Quinn needed a diaper change very badly, and no matter how hard we searched, we couldn’t find any of the strays that had persisted in floated about earlier. One or two of us even lost our grip on sweet interpersonal relationships.

I guess I will steer clear of informative posts that give any insinuation of our having things figured out. I often wonder how people manage to leave a shiny, glowing impression online. As soon as I so much as let my thoughts wander in the direction of smug success, I get shampoo on my feet, the van’s AC quits, and I run out of diapers. Imagine the carnage that would ensue if I attempted to give advice on parenting adolescents, for example.

It was a good lunch, though.

Temporary, But Necessary

“I don’t think my garden is going to do anything this year,” I announced gloomily at the supper table the other day, after noticing many problem spots in my daily walk-through. It’s no joke when my aunt posts pictures of potatoes twice the size of mine, and my tomatoes and green beans show every sign of perishing from too many thrips. When I’ve invested hours and hours of time into a project (knowing that it could be obliterated by a hailstorm or an untimely frost or a heavy population of thrips), my emotional state tends to be delicate and prone to despair.

To my surprise, Tim calmly went on eating as though I had not just dropped a disaster on his head. “Don’t you say that every year?” he asked.

“No, I don’t,” I said, mildly offended, and continued worrying about all my hard work ending in a few shriveled stems with no fruit. I also armed myself with a spray bottle of soapy water and declared war on thrips, whiteflies, and aphids. The victor is yet to be determined.

However.

So much of the work we do could be (and often is) undone in a second. If you are a mom of littles, you live this. If you are a housewife of any kind, you know this. If you do your part in the world, you have probably noticed this. Working hard at anything temporal comes with the risk (and certainty) of evaporation.

Some people use this as an excuse to sit and philosophize and do only eternally lasting things. They make a fair point, but they would not last long without someone to shoulder the work of keeping food and shelter available.

So we go on planting the potatoes and building the houses and polishing the windows, just like our grandparents did. A blight might hit our potatoes tomorrow, but today we plant. A tornado could strike tomorrow, but today we build. The windows will definitely be smudged tomorrow, but today we polish.

What else are we to do? We have to assume that life as we know it will continue for a while, or sit down and give up.

I’m fighting thrips and cleaning bathrooms and fixing food today. It will all need to be done again next week. What about you?

P.S. A couple of days after my announcement of garden failure, I noticed that we had turned a corner and a harvest looks likely after all. I also had the uncomfortable memory of the exact same thing happening other summers. Probably every summer, in fact. So Tim was right, as usual.

We eat rather well these days.

Spokane Stress

We cleaned our house the other morning in a grand rush and ran off to town so Tasha could do a Driver’s Ed drive.

At our first stop in Spokane, I picked up my purse and noticed that it felt suspiciously light. A search revealed that I forgotten my wallet.  Thankfully I had my checkbook, so all was not lost, and I felt that I handled the crisis with considerable grace.

We did our business at the other end of Spokane, then took Tasha back to the B and B Driving School where we met her instructor. She took off on an hour’s drive, and we zoomed (or tried to–traffic was not particularly light) to Walmart to see what we could get done in a skinny hour.

The five of us tramped into the store and got in line at Customer Service to do a return. Four people ahead of us in line provided plenty of time for wishing to be elsewhere.

Later, while Drew tried on pants in the boys’ clothing section, I suddenly realized that my planner was nowhere to be seen. The cart riders stood up to make sure they weren’t sitting on it, and I looked high and low in the cart, which didn’t take long since it was empty except for one pair of jeans and children. I galloped desperately back to customer service. The nice older ladies looked alarmed at the notion of losing my planner. “That’s your whole life!” they sympathized, but they hadn’t seen it. That’s when I found it under the one pair of jeans in my cart. I still don’t know where it was the first time I looked.

My hour had mostly disappeared by now, but we made it about halfway through our list before deciding we had to check out and be on our way. We chose a line with only two people ahead of us. Quinn fussed while the guy ahead of us slowly unpacked an unbelievable amount of bread, rice krispy bars, pineapple, canned beef stew, and drinks. The cashier moved at the pace of a sloth, visiting about the songs on the radio and relaxing between scans. Another cashier invited the people behind me in line to her lane. She ignored me.

Our little pile of wares on the conveyor belt had almost made it to the cashier when Tasha called and said she was done with her lesson early and ready to be picked up. We had a ten minute drive to the school, and she was sitting out on the curb in Spokane alone. This scenario had not appeared on my radar, and I was horrified. The cashier worked languidly through the beef stew and poked numbers in for the pineapple while I chewed my nails. Finally the pile was all carefully bagged up, and the bearded, long-haired customer inserted his card into the chip reader. Beep beep.

“Oh, we’re having trouble with our machine today,” said the cashier comfortably. The customer tried swiping the card, then using the chip reader, then swiping, then using the chip reader, then swiping, then using the chip reader. The cashier looked on calmly with no solutions besides trying one more time.

When it became clear that nothing was changing, I gathered up my children and purse, and we roared out the door, more than one of us nearly in tears. Our Father’s Day gift was there, along with some long-awaited pants and ingredients for our supper.

We inched our way through the forest of bumpers while I imagined all the things that could be happening to my girl alone in this mess.

Tasha greeted us calmly and listened to our tale of woe while I fed the distraught Quinn. We decided that we had recovered our senses sufficiently to dash back to Walmart for another try before heading home.

I had just turned right where I would have turned left to go home when the van began to chug and act like it was going to quit entirely on me. I found a side road to stop on to get my bearings, consulted with Tim, and we turned our noses homeward, Walmart notwithstanding. We had one more sputtering episode on the way home, but made it with no major mishap.

About five minutes from home, I reached for my planner and found it missing. The children in the back looked. We got home and unloaded, and I looked. No planner. 

I called Walmart and jumped through the seventy-five hoops necessary to talk to a real person in customer service. My planner is there in the lost and found box, and they have a note on it to keep it until I go in next week for another driving lesson. 

If you wonder where I am in the next couple of days, check under my bed. I think it’ll be a while before I dare to emerge.

Changes

I would like to say I wasn’t warned, but that would not be true. The little white haired ladies at Aldi warned me, and the just-ahead-of-me moms in the nursery warned me.

“It will go fast,” they said. I nodded like I knew and put another gallon of milk in my cart next to the infant car seat.

“Enjoy them now,” they said, and I read a second chapter in the Little House books and gave an extra bedtime squeeze.

“They’ll be all grown up before you know it,” they said, and I breathed in the sweet baby smells and tried to stamp it into my memory.

“They won’t be little long,” they said, and I took an extra picture or two of church services on the steps and library on the ironing board.

I thought I was prepared for the speed of life. Can someone please explain to me why I feel such shock that we are suddenly being catapulted into the world of driver’s ed and youth activities and all manner of changes? I had ample warning, after all, and I thought I sat up and took notice.

It’s much better to hold the moments loosely, savoring them, but letting them go, instead of trying to keep things I can’t. But dear me. I’m not very good at that.

I know I can’t freeze this one like this either. Can you blame me for almost wanting to?

And then we had children

I thought I had some values to offer our children, if God would bless us with some

I would teach them to be kind and honest and unselfish

They would learn from me how to work hard

How to love the unlovely

How to take responsibility for their own mistakes

How to be a good friend.

I would be an exceptional mom.

And then we had children.

I discovered that I’m the one who needs to learn to be kind and honest and unselfish

Who needs to learn to how to work hard

Who doesn’t know how to love the unlovely

Who doesn’t always take responsibility for her own mistakes

Who needs to learn how to be a good friend.

I’m not an exceptional mom at all, just an ordinary one learning to live.

I have less wisdom than I did before we had children

Less confidence in myself

And more confidence in God.

Tulips and Deception Pass

We tucked into the van in the dark cold of early morning and snuggled down to sleep for a bit longer while the van hurtled toward the west coast with Tim at the helm.

Our breath caught when we saw the bright tulip fields of Skagit Valley (mine did anyway). We didn’t bother joining the long lines of people actually attending the festival, just drove by the fields and took pictures. A farmer drove by and ordered a couple out of the field, where they were stomping around. Two enormous tractors roared through the vehicles parked by the road. I dislike feeling like an annoying tourist, but the farming community vibe made me happy.

A two-dimensional picture feels like sacrilege after standing right there smelling the tulips and watching the wind blow through them.

Next we drove up Little Mountain to view the Skagit Valley from a lookout point.

We could see little squares of red, yellow, and purple tulip fields in the distance.

We headed to Deception Pass next, where two beautiful bridges join Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island. Joseph Whidbey discovered the strait in 1792, naming it Deception Pass because the pass led him to believe that Whidbey Island was a peninsula instead of an island. The bridge was completed in 1934, to the chagrin of the Olson family, who made their living running the ferry before the bridge was built. Some 20,000 cars cross the bride every day, and on Saturday we joined the rows of people walking across. On the far end, we took the stairs down underneath the bridge and walked back on the other side. Swirling green water 180 feet below has a dizzying effect, and I felt quite horrified when a semi whooshed past us, nearly scraping our elbows. Quinn lost a sock somewhere on the bridge or under it.

View from the bridge. I understand that the land in the far distance is Vancouver Island.

We found a beach to soak up the sun in Deception Pass Park.

We grabbed a map of trails from a visitors’ booth and explored the park a bit.

Rosario beach. Don’t go here with children who like to run around close to cliffs.
Some of us take books wherever we go.
Quinn loved all the fresh air and free rides.

On Saturday evening, we found an Italian restaurant and ate salad, pizza, and grilled chicken. We felt a little big-family-ish and out of place with our wind-swept hair and general sandy-ness, among a bunch of middle-aged, genteel-looking diners. Also, some of us developed a giggling problem, and Quinn made very loud, happy noises throughout the meal. You can imagine the shock and delight when our waitress informed us that one of the other customers had paid for our meal and left before we could thank her. The world has such nice people in it.

Quinn slept like a top in the motel, and so did the rest of us. We spent a little more time on the beach in the morning, and then headed for home, stopping to climb a hill and look out over the Columbia Basin on our way. Three people warned us of a rattlesnake sighting at the top, but it stayed hidden from our prying eyes.

The Columbia River

Home feels delicious and unrestricted after hours in the van. We can make coffee exactly how and when we want it, and put things away in drawers. Yay to weekends away, and double yay to coming back home.

Soap Suds and Longing for Jesus

Palmolive soap suds and t shirts to fold have a soothing effect on this Easter Monday. I love the rhythms and predictability of home making.

I confess to feeling more teary than triumphant through this Holy Week. Several situations in my life and in the lives of people I love feel raw and unresolved. I know that Jesus can make something beautiful of them, but it’s difficult to imagine how at the moment.

Probably we all have these unfinished stories hidden away somewhere. I wish for glorious miracles like Jesus bursting from the tomb, but it seems like quiet, slow changes are what I see. Or perhaps I see no change for the better at all and I wonder where the power of the resurrection is hiding. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the hand of God at work until years later. But always, looking back, I can trace places where He came through and showed grace and mercy.

Surprisingly enough, sometimes the biggest miracles happen in our own hearts, not in our circumstances. Often while we long for Him to swoop in and fix the broken pieces of our lives, He is busy transforming us inside, secretly.

If you are also waiting and longing for the touch of Jesus in a situation, take heart. He is there working and redeeming, even when we can’t see Him. I say this because I know it to be true, not because I always feel it.

Also, fill a sink with hot soapy water and wash the dishes. You won’t find a cheaper, more consistently-accessible therapy.

Garam Masala

Once upon a time when I wanted a meal idea or a cookie recipe, I would open the Farmhouse Cookbook or the Kootenai Valley Cookbook and find a recipe that looked good. If it was a success, I might make a note beside it. It was always there in a predictable spot next time I needed it.

These days, when I get inspired along specific culinary lines, I open up Pinterest. I might have a particular chunk of meat to use, so I narrow my search and scroll. I open up recipe after recipe. Every one requires me to scroll past all the author’s dog’s latest hilarious antics, her kids’ accomplishments, or her husband’s idiosyncrasies. Also I must wade past all the meticulous details of how to sauté onions, cut meat into strips, or choose the best red pepper for the job. Every recipe is the very best out there.

One day I decide to make the Indian curry of my dreams. The first recipe I find calls for garam masala. Another takes curry masala. Most of them take plain yogurt. I have none of these ingredients.

After wasting a good deal of perfectly good time, I give up and find something familiar to cook.

The next time I go to Bushels, I look for garam masala or curry masala. Sure enough, they have garam masala. Yay! Now I am well armed for battle.

I write down curry and rice in the meal slot of my planner and get started looking for recipes well in advance. I find recipes that call for curry masala, cardamon, ground coriander, or plain yogurt. Once again, I have none of these things. Garam masala seems to have vanished from the list of essentials for Indian cuisine. I message my sister, who cooks for the fun of it.

“Are curry masala and garam masala the same thing?” I ask hopefully.

No, she doesn’t think so. She starts sending me pictures of her favorite Indian recipes over WhatsApp. Cardamon and coriander pop up again. Trina thinks I can skip them and still have a good meal, since our Indian tastebuds are likely underdeveloped. She sends me her friend Bethany’s recipe for naan bread.

I choose one of the meat recipes she sends me, tapping my phone screen so that I can see the whole recipe, unlocking the screen every time it goes black, and tipping my phone this way and that so I can read directions right side up as I chop onions and peppers, garlic and ginger. This recipe does not call for garam masala.

One of the girls cooks rice. I pop the naan into the oven on a baking stone. I taste the meat mixture and add a heaping teaspoon of garam masala just out of principle since I bought it for this meal.

We gather and eat. The food reminds us of an Indian meal we ate at a restaurant a long time ago.

The garam masala kicks back and relaxes in the cupboard, confident that this housewife has had a Pinterest moment and won’t be back for him anytime soon.

Holding Onto my Kites

If I were an artist and could capture my life in a picture, I would draw a feeble woman hanging onto a dozen kites in a stiff breeze, barely keeping her feet on the ground.

You see why I don’t express myself in drawings much.

I want to soak up these days of the main pieces of my heart all living under one roof. But why does it all have to gallop along at this perilous pace? Every time I settle in to enjoy a stage, it jumps out of my grasp and I’m left clutching empty air.

While I busily turn in ineffectual circles, my kites lifting me almost off the ground, time slips away under my churning feet. Tiny people turn into adolescents, adolescents morph into teens. Front teeth fall out, jeans tear and ride higher and higher on long legs. Winter and summer slide away, and passports expire.

I want to do the important, relationship-building things, but bathtubs grow rings, fridges fill up with large containers containing two bites of baked potato and three beans, and dust bunnies breed and multiply under the couch. Grocery lists stretch across the counter. My children work beside me, and I can only hope that they will survive without the crafts and other amazing activities that I should be doing with them.

In the blur, a little guy needs rocking. I untangle my thoughts while he falls asleep on my lap. I remember once again to breathe and focus on today instead of all the days at once. Life does not bother slowing down for me to catch up, so I will buy the groceries, scrub down the bathtub, reapply for the passports, and delight in the squeaky adolescent voices. I will also tear my hair out because someone stored fresh salsa improperly in the fridge, and the smell is enough to knock one over. I’m off to tackle it.

Hanging on by my fingertips,

Emily