Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thank You, Pool

As you may have read from a previous entry, we are currently challenged to embark on fun activities during the day that don't burn us to a crisp. Enter new wading pool. This little 8-foot baby has been a great addition to our backyard, providing a cool alternative that keeps the kids active. We got back from the store with the new item at 7:30pm (bath & p.j.'s time), but I just couldn't send them to bed knowing the fun awaiting them. It was still more than 90 degrees outside, so I knew temperature wouldn't be an issue. So after some convincing to Ryan, I put the kids in their swimsuits and headed outside to fill the pool. They were literally jumping up and down with anticipation to climb in!
They each wanted a chance to "man the hose."Unlike the bathtub, they couldn't get in trouble for kicking water in here! Yay!Drew's fun peaked when he realized he could hit me with the water!

White Sands, NM

I love to discover new places, so when Ryan suggested a day trip to nearby White Sands, NM, I was super excited. We got there a little before 10:00am, and the sun was still hiding behind the clouds, so the temperature was nice and comfortable. During the winding drive into the heart of the desert, Drew kept saying, "Look, snow!" It really did look just like snow. Even the sides of the road had darker looking drifts from the "sand plows" that must clear the way frequently. We finally selected a large hill with no one in sight and trudged up with our disc sled and wax in hand.
We had a great time taking the kids down the hill. At first they were both petrified to walk up the hill by themselves because the sand made such an unstable surface and it was very steep. After a while Drew started going up using his hands and feet, and proudly declared that he did it (made it up the hill) all by himself. When he got tired on the incline I would hear him say to himself, "I need to keep going." Matt never really reached that level of self-determination, choosing instead to whine and insist on our help.As luck would have it, the sun came out and Mommy & Daddy began to feel as though they had been stranded in the desert all day. We were blazing hot and exhausted from climbing up the hill over and over. Even people in the best shape would have been challenged by this exertion, but add to it a man lugging his two kids up the hill and a hot pregnant woman (as in temperature) on doctor's orders to restrict activity, and our kids didn't stand a chance to spend hour after hour in this playland. Ryan and I took the kids back down to the van to take a water break. The water break turned into a snack break. Then Ryan turned to me and said with a tired laugh, "I almost feel ready to ready to go." I said, "Me too." So that was it. An activity that lasted less than the drive there, but totally worth it. I took this shot of Ryan as he was getting the sled ready for the first ride down. Then I got the family gathered for a group shot and--the camera died! D'oh! We'll do better next time.

Strawberry Tiramisu

If you like strawberry desserts, I think you'll love this recipe for Strawberry Tiramisu from bon appetit. It's cool and creamy and perfect for summertime. And the orange juice adds more flavor dimension than the typical cream and berry combination you find in strawberry shortcake. (In a pinch you could substitute cream cheese for mascarpone cheese and vanilla wafers for ladyfingers).
1 1/4 cups strawberry preserves
2/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons orange juice (fresh squeezed is best)
1 pound (16 oz.) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cups chilled whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 pounds (24 oz.) fresh strawberries, divided
52 (about) crisp ladyfingers

Whisk preserves and 2/3 cup orange juice in 2-cup measuring cup. Place mascarpone cheese and 2 tablespoons orange juice in large bowl; fold just to blend. Using electric mixer, beat cream, sugar, vanilla, and remaining 2 tablespoons orange juice in another large bowl to soft peaks. Stir 1/4 of whipped cream mixture into mascarpone cheese to lighten. Fold in remaining whipped cream.

Hull and slice half of strawberries. Spread 1/2 cup preserve mixture over bottom of 3-quart oblong serving dish or 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish. Arrange enough ladyfingers over preserve mixture to cover bottom of dish. Spoon 3/4 cup preserve mixture over ladyfingers, then spread 2 1/2 cups mascarpone mixture over. Arrange sliced strawberries over mascarpone mixture. Repeat layering with remaining ladyfingers, preserve mixture, and mascarpone mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.

Slice remaining strawberries. Arrange over tiramisu and serve. Makes 8 servings.

Friday, June 27, 2008

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

I was excited when I found out we were coming to El Paso. The idea of a new part of the country and a different culture aroused my sense of of adventure. I have to remind myself of that when I encounter things that seem foreign, strange or undesirable. First, everywhere I look Caucasians are obviously in the minority. I never thought that would be an issue for me (I thought it would be a fun change), but it seems I stick out like a sore thumb, and it makes me feel a little self-conscious. I also see groups of men or boys congregated at store entrances/exits who seems to have chosen "staring at people" as their official pastime. I'll hear indecipherable murmurings and, growing more uncomfortable, grip my kids hands tighter and hurry past them before one of them tries to speak to me. When I'm at the store and see another "whitey" like myself, I'm drawn to them; fixated on their appearance (amazed to encounter someone similar to myself). Unlike my usual inclinations, I desire to enter into a conversation. "Do you actually live here, or are you just on vacation?"

Most of the prattle I hear around me is in Spanish. I was in the doctors' office and the receptionist spoke Spanish to at least half of the phone customers. An old man walked up to me at Wal-Mart and asked where the %&$@ was. I apologized and said I didn't speak Spanish, but he didn't stop. He held up a package of hamburger buns and anxiously pointed to them. Hesitantly, I said, "Meat?" "Si, si," he replied. Puzzled because the beef counter was in our line of sight, I gestured toward it. He shook his head and pointed toward a qualified Wal-Mart employee, who I'm sure was bilingual. It was like, "Never mind moron, I'll go ask someone who can understand a simple sentence." How can you get along in a place like this without being bilingual? All of a sudden I felt somewhere between a baby trying to communicate with an underdeveloped vocabulary and an ignorant hick who never made it past 2nd grade. In the past I've been praised at work in communication skills, ability to compile reports and make presentations. Now I probably wouldn't qualify to work at McDonald's ("You want what with that?"). Not the best feeling in the world. I also miss browsing through the radio stations without feeling like I'm either being serenaded at a Mexican restaurant or getting blasted with Spanish hip-hop at a nightclub in Tijuana. The other day I was in the car scanning through stations with no luck finding a single song that sounded anywhere familiar. After several minutes of mounting frustration I finally heard Marc Anthony singing, "You Sang To Me." Finally! A song in English that I know! I'll take it! Strange how desperation can make you love something that was just OK in the past.

Another tough thing for me is the extreme heat and subsequent lack of greenery. Now, I was expecting this (woo-hoo, something new), but what I didn't expect was how my kids would cry every time we went to a park because everything was too hot to walk or play on. It must be very expensive to maintain any patch of grass, because most of the parks are landscaped with lush sand and rocks. And what little grass they have is parched and sharp from lack of water. So I spend most of my time lugging the kids from one play thing to the next (fervently instructed to avoid letting their little feet touch the hot sand). Then they cautiously approach an apparatus and usually reject it, shouting that it's too hot. I've tried going earlier in the morning or later at night, but even then it's in the 90s. So we'll just have to treat this summer as our "Iowa winter" and rely on alternatives like the library and exciting trips to the store, where I can't talk to anyone anyway.
Addendum: Ryan read this and thought I came across like I hated El Paso, which isn't true. There are things I love about it, like our house (pictures to come), our location in the mountains, and our super-friendly neighbors (who all speak English). This is a phase of transition, and in time I'll look back with amusement when everything was still new and somewhat foreign to me. As of now I'm still looking forward to getting more familiar with my surroundings and growing more fond of my new city.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Old Latino Man

About 10 miles north of Gallup, New Mexico, Matt notified us that we needed to pull over the car because of a defecated diaper. We pulled off of Highway 491 behind a dumpster at the side of the gas station. I stepped out of the minivan and transformed my seat into a diaper changing station, complete with a pillow on the console for Matt’s head. I noticed a scrawny, elderly Mexican man approach me from behind—only to be greeted with Matt’s browned-out behind. Recognizing that my attention was directed towards the messy task at hand, he excused himself and stood at the rear bumper of the van.

When I finished and replaced Matt in his carseat, he re-approached me. He carried a one dollar bill in his hands and explained in broken English that he was journeying by foot to Salt Lake City, UT. The aroma of beer on his breath was obvious. He asked if I was headed in that direction. Admittedly, I was relieved to be headed south to El Paso...but at the same time did not want to decline him a ride (not that my dear wife would have approved anyway). He then asked for help for his journey and indicated that he was hungry, pointing to his mouth.

I quickly contemplated what I should do when a couple of helpful thoughts rapidly presented themselves (paraphrased): Judge not, that ye be not judged, and do not send away any who are naked, or that are hungry…

I turned to Brenda and asked her to hand me the 2/3’s consumed bag of sunflower seed trail mix and a Ziploc bag full of Honey Nut Cheerios. I pulled out one of the two one-dollar bills in my wallet and handed him the items adding a “God bless you, Sir.” He carefully studied the items—paying a great deal of attention to the trail mix. He shook my hand with his dry, dirty hand and walked to a nearby fence post. I returned to my seat in the car and asked Brenda for a baby wipe, but she pulled out a small bottle of Purell sanitizer. Even better for this germ-a-phobe.

As we slowly pulled away from the gas station, I stole a glance out of my rear view mirror and noticed the man open the bag of mostly consumed trail mix. He began to eat. I was immediately rewarded with feelings of warmth for providing a small amount of comfort to this man. I began to think of my life of abundance and ease. I received more from that experience than the scrawny, old Mexican man. It goes down as one of the few times, more likely the only time, where I have to thank Matt for his timely blow-out.

This is not the man. I wasn't quick enough to think of requesting a picture. The real man was actually older and more scrawny, but I thought a visual might help bring light to the story.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Graduation At Last!

On May 24 we enjoyed watching Ryan graduate from medical school at Des Moines University. It truly felt like something we accomplished together, and I was so proud of him. His parents flew out to be there for the occasion, but a death in the family took them back early and prevented them from attending the ceremony. He jokes about the title "doctor," insisting I now call him "Dr. Miller," the kids call him "Dr. Daddy," and that I be referred to as "Not-a-Doctor Brenda." He makes me laugh.

We are currently getting settled into our new home in El Paso. On July 1 Ryan starts his Ob/Gyn residency with Texas Tech University, so we are going to relish the next 8-9 days of vacation.

Monster Mash

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