Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Fire of 2010

When we were getting ready for dinner the other night, I spotted a couple of black things on the kitchen floor that looked rather like dead beetles. They really stood out, of course, because my floor was impeccably clean as always. (Okay, it's actually only clean for about an hour other week, when I mop it whether it needs it or not.)

Anyway, I didn't want to touch the dead beetles, so I asked Bill to investigate. He knelt and picked one up without hesitation. "Looks like an ember from the Great Pumpkin Fire of '10," he said.

Ethan, who was dutifully setting the table, paused for a moment. "The what??"

"Oh, didn't I tell you about that? I'll tell you over dinner."...

The week before last, I roasted one of the three sugar pie pumpkins I've bought so far this season. While the puree was draining into a bowl, I whirled up my very first pie crust in the food processor. It was easy!.. Until I rolled it out.

Bill, who was doing the dinner dishes while I worked on dirtying the kitchen again, had to listen to a lot of whining at that point.

"Why is it all cracked around the edges?"

"It'll be fine."

"But I can't make the cracks roll together."

"Don't worry, Sarah. It's all good. But hey, it doesn't look like you used enough flour. It's going to stick."

"No, I read that too much flour makes the dough tough."

Even though Bill was the only one who had successfully made a pie crust at that point, he didn't argue with me. He coached me as I wrapped one side of the dough around the rolling pin, and then the other.

As I maneuvered it over the pan, he said, "Now center it over the pan and-"

I plopped the dough down haphazardly.

"...or you could just drop it in any old which way," Bill muttered wryly.

Again, he bit his tongue as I struggled to smooth out the dough and conform it to the shape of the pan. Of course, half of it tore apart. All I said was, "DARN it!", but it could have been much worse.

Now Allyson decided it was time to put in her two cents. "Why didn't it work, Mommy?"

"Because I'm not Daddy. I can't just make a pie crust on the first try without any trouble at all."

"Now, now. No need to get testy," Bill said. "Just roll it out again. It'll be fine."

"Listen to Daddy," Allyson admonished. "He knows how to make pies." 

I was sorely tempted to say, "Why don't you do it, Bill? You're better at it." Instead, I squared my shoulders, added a bit more flour, and rolled it out again. This time I almost managed to get it into the pan all in one piece, and I was able to pat the dough back together on the marred edge.

Following some instructions I found online, I brushed the dough with an egg wash, lined the empty shell with parchment paper, and added some dried beans and rice to weigh the paper down. Then I slid it into the preheated top oven, a small one just the right size for pizzas and cookie sheets. Just as I began to worry about the possibility of the parchment paper brushing against the heating element, one side of it burst into flames!

"Oh no, Mommy! It's on fire," Allyson informed me. "This is horrible!"

I started to jerk the pan back out, but I was afraid to dislodge the beans and rice and burn the dough. I carefully slid it out halfway, cascading some rice onto the bottom of the oven, and started blowing on the flame, which flared even higher. I expelled all my air, as if I were trying to blow out 40 birthday candles. The flame flickered. I blew again, so hard that I saw stars, and it finally went out.

Ethan interrupted my narrative at that point with a very good question. "Weren't you worried about the house burning down?"

"Well, maybe a little. But I was really more worried about saving the pie."

"You mean you were more worried about a PIE than our house?"

"Yes. I worked really hard on that crust!"

"It was horrible," Allyson interjected. "I ran out to tell Daddy about the horrible accident."

"It was already out by the time he came in from the yard," I reminded her.

In the end, all was well. I replaced the parchment paper with foil and prebaked the crust for about 10 minutes. Afterward, I agonized over whether I could still use the rice and beans and finally threw them out. At last I poured in the filling and baked it.

Wow! It was fabulous. The crust was flaky and tender even though I used 100% whole wheat pastry flour, and even though I had to roll it out twice. I guess Bill's not the only one who can bake a pie!

Couldn't Stop to Take a Picture Until AFTER We Tried It

Update 10/24/10 12:05 AM: You'll never guess what I found at the foot of the stove right after I published this entry! Yes, it was a black beetle. I kid you not; I can't make this stuff up. It was on its back on my impeccably clean floor (truly--I mopped today), flailing its legs frantically. Bizarre.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

For Me, It's Birds

The other morning, I strapped Allyson into the dilapidated bike trailer that she's almost outgrown, and we set off for the babysitter's house in the gentle warmth of the mid-morning sun. There was a hint of a bite to the crisp air, and I savored this perfect fall weather, such a sharp contrast from the brutal summer heart that had stretched on and on.

The Trailer Before It Was Dilapidated (8/2008)
Allyson prattled on behind me, her voice muffled by the plastic rain/wind shield. "Mmm hmm, baby," I answered at intervals, and she replied, "Huh? What did you say, Mommy?"

Finally we both gave up, and I just drank in the beauty all around me. Many of the crepe myrtle trees are still in bloom, especially the bright fucshia ones, and there were many other purple, yellow, and red flowers that I couldn't name. "Beautiful," I murmured, glancing heavenward.

As usual, the ride home was even better. That time alone, with the sun on my face and the profusion of colors all around, and the steady pump of my laboring heart, is like... church. I feel so close to God, alone and yet not alone. It's my very favorite prayer time, though sometimes I have to refrain from moving my lips because of the passing cars.

On this particular morning, I prayed fervently for a friend who's been very sick. "Give her joy in your strength today," I asked. Remembering Isaiah 12:3, a verse from this week's Bible study lesson, I added, "Let her drink with joy from the wells of salvation. And let rivers of living water flow from her belly."

Just as those words left my lips, a bird flew out of a tree to my left and soared into the sky, passing so close to my face that I could see and hear the flapping of its wings. I laughed with joy because I saw that humble brown bird as my friend, set free of the weights that have held her down and flying up, up, high above her suffering.

Seeing that bird reminded me of another encounter with a bird, about three years ago. I was pushing Allyson in the stroller after walking Ethan to school one fall morning, much like the one I just described. It had rained recently, and I saw a bird drinking from a puddle. As we approached, it fluttered up into the bright morning sun.
"Oh Lord, thank you. It's so-"

I never finished my sentence because at that moment an almost audible voice filled my mind. "Come and drink."

Normally when God speaks to me, it feels like part of my thoughts, and I'm never entirely sure it's really Him. But the way He interrupted me that time, I just knew the thought was not my own.

"Oh God, thank you," I thought. "Tell me more. How do I come and drink? What do I need to do exactly?"

I didn't hear anything else, yet I still knew what He was saying somehow. "That's the whole point, isn't it? I don't have to DO anything, just come and drink like that bird. Oh, help me do that!"

For years, I've sensed God's presence through birds. I think that feeling started when God led me to one of my favorite memory passages, in which Jesus promises to feed and clothe us just as he cares for the birds of the air. Every time I hear a bird sing I remember that promise, and it makes me feel loved and secure. So whenever I see birds, I thank God for them (except when they are tormenting Lola in the backyard).

How does God speak to you? Do you hear him in your thoughts? Through scripture? Through someone else's words? Is there some special sign He gives you that reminds you of His love?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

So Long, Sweet Paco

Well, that didn't take long. We had planned to walk the neighborhood after church looking for Paco's owner, but the man showed up around 11:00. Though Paco had no collar, he did have a radio frequency chip implanted, and the man just followed the signal to our house, where he found Ethan walking him on the borrowed leash.

We hastened to explain that we'd been on the way to look for his home, but the man eyed us rather suspiciously, as if we'd been plotting to keep his dog.

"We fed him and gave him water," Bill said. "He seemed to enjoy playing with our dog this morning."

"Our dog is big!" Allyson chimed in. "She tried to bite him."

"No she didn't," I assured the man, whose eyes widened in alarm. "They were just playing."

He extended his hand to me and Bill. "Thank you for taking care of him. My wife will be so happy."

"What's his name?" I asked, not mentioning that Ethan had already named him.

He grinned. "Poppy!" (Not so far off from Paco, don't you think?)

"Tell the puppy goodbye," Bill said to Allyson, who leaned against his side, sheltered in the crook of his arm.

"Bye, puppy!" she said in a quavering voice. She broke into sobs after the truck pulled away, her little shoulders heaving. She should have listened to her father: "Don't get attached!"

It hurts my heart to see her sobbing, but honestly this was such a relief. Bill and I passed a pretty difficult night. At bedtime we put Paco/Poppy in the garage in the collapsible carrier that we'd put Lola in on her first night. (She rolled it around like a hamster ball, but Poppy looked lost in it.)

There Really is a Dog in There, Trust Me

Ethan gave him a tiny serving of canned dog food, a free sample we haven't given to Lola for fear that she'll disdain her (cheaper) dry food. That little dog devoured the food and licked the bowl clean! Apparently the reason he hadn't eaten before was that Lola's dry food wasn't good enough for him.

Have you ever wondered how long a little dog can yap and yap? I'll tell you. For hours. Hours. Around 11:00, we tried transferring Poppy to the back porch. We locked Lola in her run again and set up the carrier at the back door. That made her yaps a little fainter, but it stressed Bill since we knew the neighbors would be bothered. The rigid set of his shoulders and the tightness of his jaw as we sat watching Seinfeld reruns gave away his frustration.

"Are you mad at me?" I asked meekly.

"Not mad exactly, but frustrated. You guys just don't think things through."

"I'll walk him around myself in the morning," I promised. "It's just one night."

We tried to sleep, but every time we dozed off, Poppy resumed his lament. Interspersed with his high pitched yipes were Lola's deeper barks. I also heard little scritch-scratches at the back door, and I hoped Bill wasn't hearing that too.

Around 1:00, we heard a woman outside, calling frantically for someone or something. Bill thundered down the stairs, and I stumbled down behind him. Could this be the Chihuahua's owner? No, it was the neighbor behind us. Their tiny white Pomeranian mix had gotten away around midnight, and she'd been hoping the yapping in our backyard might be coming from her dog. We wished her good luck and good night.

At that point, Bill let Lola and Poppy out of their enclosures and watched them for a few minutes. They seemed to be best buddies, and now both of them were quiet. Maybe Poppy had just been lonely.

I fell into an uneasy sleep around 1:30 or 2:00, with visions of Lola eating the poor dog, but when I woke up this morning they were both standing at the back door begging to come in.

Please, Please?

I think Lola was a little sad to see him go, but I wasn't so much. Why? Maybe it was the little surprise he left us in the dog carrier (which Bill cleaned up, by the way).

Still, I have to admit it was a pretty exciting 18 hours. It was especially cool getting to return him safely to his owner. Thank you for your prayers and good wishes!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Paco Needs YOUR Help!

When I opened the front door to call Ethan in for dinner tonight, I found him on the porch holding a tiny Chihuahua.

"We saw it walking across the street while we were playing basketball," he explained with a sheepish, hopeful grin. "I'm afraid to put it down because it's too small to be out here on its own."

I opened my mouth to tell him to put that dog down NOW, but then I saw its big, frightened eyes. Its body was perfectly still in Ethan's arms, but its eyes darted nervously.

I sighed. "Is it a boy or a girl?"

"A boy. I call him Paco. Spencer chased him a couple of blocks, until he just gave up."

"Poor thing," I said. "Is his heart pounding?"

"It was, but now he's calmed down a little. I know we can't keep him, but..."

"No, we can't keep him. We're not inside-dog people, and I don't think this dog could live outside."

"Lola would probably eat him," Ethan agreed. "Well, can we keep him for a day or so until we can take him to a shelter?"

I hesitated, my resolve weakening. "I'll have to ask Bill. Maybe we could keep him in the garage."

Allyson appeared in the hall behind me. "Come out, Allyson! We found a puppy!" Ethan called. She rushed out in her bare feet, still wearing her chef's apron from helping make a pizza.

"His name is Paco," Ethan explained.

"Baco?" Allyson repeated.

"No, Paco."

I locked Lola in her run, and Ethan put Paco on the back porch, tying him to a chair leg with a leash he got from the neighbors. I made Ethan and Allyson each scrub up to their elbows, and we ate our pizza on the porch under Paco's fearful gaze.

The poor dog stood rigidly at attention, ignoring his food and water and refusing even to sit down. After a distracted dinner and a couple of urgent voicemails to Bill, who was at the baseball game, the three of us got our cameras and started snapping shots for the blog. Paco turned out to be quite photogenic, though he cringed at the repeated flashes.

Allyson's Picture

Sorry For My Camera's Crappy Night Shots

Ethan's Picture

Bill finally called back just now, while I was working on this entry. Allyson grabbed the phone and started jabbering ecstatically, something about a little dog named Taco and Mama said maybe we can keep him and he's sooo cute.

When I finally got the phone from her, I asked, "Did you get any of that? About the Chihuahua?"

"You're telling me there's a... CHIHUAHUA tied to the chair on our porch?"

"Yes. A chihuahua tied to a chair," I repeated calmly.

"How did this happen?"

I told him the whole story. "So I thought we might be able to keep him in the garage, just until we can get him to a shelter."

"Listen to me," Bill said, enunciating very clearly, "All of you. Listen. He's NOT staying. Do you understand?"

"Not staying," I repeated obediently, making eye contact with the kids.

"First thing tomorrow morning, Ethan is going door to door looking for the owner," he continued.

"I don't think he has an owner. He doesn't have a collar, and he's so skinny you can see all his ribs. But he's really cute!"

"Do NOT get attached," he warned. "I don't care if he's cute. I'm not a Chihuahua person. I'll give Ethan until tomorrow afternoon to find someone to take him, and then I'm taking him to the pound."

"Do you think the pound is open on Sunday?"

"If it's not I'll just tie him to the door."

Oh boy. I'm afraid I'm already attached. Ethan and Allyson are down on the porch now getting who knows what kind of germs from him, and he's actually warming up to them. I don't see how we can turn this sweet little dog over to the pound. What if they...

So, all of you locals: Know anyone who could take a cute little dog? Please. Paco needs your help! If you're the sort who prays for dogs, maybe say a prayer for him... or for Bill to fall in love.

Note: I'm pretty sure Bill was joking about tying the dog to the door. Just thought I'd mention that.

Monday, October 4, 2010

In Case You Were Wondering

I tried out my cloth pads, and I loved them! They were everything I hoped for and more--and that's saying a lot! I will never go back to disposables.

For the benefit of any of my male readers who haven't already bailed out, I won't go into a lot of detail, though I could wax eloquent about all the benefits. I'll just say that they are incredibly soft, like little pillows, and they are super absorbent. Washing them was no big deal, and they still looked pretty afterward.

I love the pads so much that I'm practically a cloth pad missionary now. I've literally carried them around in a bag to show many of my female friends and family members. (I didn't do that when Bill was around, mind you, or he would have disowned me.)

I can't believe how good Gentle has been to me. She made all of these, and brought them to me in a pretty gift bag:

On the left are the waterproof circle liners and folded flannel and fleece inserts. In the middle are four all-in-one pads, two with cotton and fleece and two with bamboo and fleece. (I think the bamboo is the most absorbent.) On the right are two extended waterproof circle liners and eight pad inserts.

This one is my very favorite. These colors are way off due to my crappy camera and the low light conditions, so it's actually much prettier in person. Can you tell how cushy it looks?

After all that laughing when we first came up with the idea, Gentle and I gave some serious thought and prayer to starting our own business. But it turned out that making the pads took a lot longer than Gentle expected, so maybe this isn't the right time given her busy life caring for two preschoolers. Someday we'll do it, though. And you'll be the first to know when that day arrives.


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