Friday, April 27, 2012

Zucchini and Boggle

What do zucchini and Boggle have in common? I'll get to that. But first, some breaking news...

Guess what Ethan and I made last night? Tortillas. Yes, our own 100% fresh-ground whole wheat, lard-free tortillas. I mixed up the dough in the food processor, formed it into 10 little golf balls, and let it rest on the counter for an hour. Then I proceeded to throw flour over every inch of the kitchen, including my purse:

I pressed each ball flat between my palms, sprinkled on even more flour, and rolled out little circles with a Pampered Chef pastry roller (a small wooden handle with tiny rollers at each end) that I had heretofore never used in the 10 years or so since I paid way to much money for it. It was perfect for the job! My circles were almost... circular.

As I finished each tortilla, I carefully peeled it up and handed it over to Ethan, who was manning the electric skillet. (We tried an iron skillet first, but the sides were too high and it was hard to get them flat and to flip them; we kept burning our fingers.) Ethan watched for the bubbles and then carefully flipped each tortilla.

Look at this lovely stack:

While we waited for the electric skillet to heat up, I devoured one of the rejects. "Oh, this is SO good," I raved. "You've got to try one, Ethan. Here, put on some butter and honey."



"Nah," he said, eying our misshapen, slightly holey first attempts. "Are you going to start making all our tortillas now?"

I nodded vigorously. "For sure."

"Why?"

"Because they're healthier, softer, tastier, and even cheaper."

"You know, sometimes things you buy at the store taste better."

I rolled my eyes. "Puh-lease. You've never even tasted a tortilla fresh off the griddle. Really, try one."

"Nah."

He stayed with me until the tenth and final tortilla, and then he was out of there. I was afraid the tortillas would be too thick to roll into enchiladas, but I was wrong. They were soft and pliable, and just the right size. (Actually, they came in various sizes, which was just fine.)

Chicken Enchiladas

And Ethan changed his tune at dinner time. He and Allyson devoured the two remaining rejects at the table and asked for more. Guess we should have made 20.

So Back to the Zucchini
Back up a few days to last Saturday. Ethan, a couple of friends, and Allyson were getting ready for their first swim of the season (actually Allyson's second). Meanwhile, I was making a cake that looked like a giant oreo for Ethan's 15th birthday party that evening.

Allyson asked me to help her put on her new swimsuit from Nana, but I told her she'd have to wait until I got to a stopping point. She pleaded and pleaded, but I kept telling her to wait a minute. At last she said, "I'll try to put it on by myself." And there were ten blissfully quiet minutes after she disappeared into the bathroom.

She emerged triumphant. "I did it! I'm wearing my new zucchini."

"I think you mean bikini," Ethan's friend Clayton said.

"Yes, it's my bikini. Will you hand me the boggles, please?"

Allyson's New Zucchini

Speaking of Zucchini
And in gardening news... For the past few years, planting The Family Garden has marked the beginning of spring. But this year spring came later for us because we've been horribly busy lately. Bill and Allyson had planted some seeds several weeks ago...
The Tall Ones are Green Beans

...and the cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, and cantaloupe were all thriving in our window seat. They finally got around to transplanting them to the garden last Sunday, just when I was afraid they would perish from lack of root space. Bill spent the whole afternoon lovingly tending to them while Allyson dug up worms and occasionally mounded up some dirt around a seedling. I wasn't even around to take pictures this time because I was busy cooking.

The very next morning, I heard Bill hollering in the backyard. "You stupid dog! Do you know how long I spent...? Four hours. FOUR HOURS. Go get in your pen. Yes, go before I... Git!"

I was pretty sure I knew what had happened. I pictured Lola cavorting in the moonlit garden, or skulking around in it at first light.

But I asked him about it anyway when he finally came back inside. Just as I'd suspected, Lola the Garden Wrecker had struck again. She'd jumped the fence, dug a bunch of holes, uprooted a few plants, and trampled the green beans flat, breaking some of the stalks.

"I can't believe she was able to get over the fence," he said. Now Allyson and I had told him several times before that we'd caught Lola in the garden, but I guess he just didn't believe us until he saw the evidence for himself.

"Do you think the plants will survive?" I asked.

He sighed. "Maybe. All I know is Lola's going to live in her pen for awhile."

And that's what she did, for about three days. She could only come out when Bill was there to watch her. Today he relented and let her out while he was at work. I'll keep you posted.



Thursday, April 19, 2012

Speaking of Cruise Ships...

When I told you recently how I learned I was pregnant while we were on a cruise, I was reminded of another cruise ship story that I just have to share. It's a favorite with my family, especially my Aunt Becky, who always says, "Tell that story about the cruise" when I see her in Indiana. So here it is...
Back in the spring of 1998, my ex-husband Byron and I went on a Caribbean cruise with our friends Thomas and Julie. Eleven-month-old Ethan stayed with Aunt Emily.

It was a budget cruise line, on a relatively small refitted military ship that seemed gigantic to me. It was rather spartan, but the entertainment was good and the food was phenomenal. It was a smaller group than you find on the larger lines, more relaxed and personal. You could actually get to know people, or at least recognize them--as we would find out later.
Me (age 27) and Byron
I immediately developed a raging allergy attack or perhaps a cold. I paid a ridiculous sum for allergy medication in the gift shop and then spent the rest of the trip in a fog. For example, I fell asleep during a high-stakes bingo game where I could have won big money. Here's what I do remember about our trip...

One of the stops was in Jamaica, where we took a raft ride down a lazy trickling stream surrounded by lush greenery. The rafts were propelled by wiry, sweaty young men with long poles.
Thomas and Julie--I Suppose They Have the Matching Pic of Us
We rode docile horses and battled mosquitos on a trail ride in the blazing Mexican sun. We browsed through outdoor markets where you had to haggle over prices with proprietors who followed you down the street. I came home with a beautiful tanzanite ring; it was the first time I had ever seen that lovely purple stone.

The highlight of our trip was supposed to be the stingray excursion in Grand Cayman. We went out in a boat on the shallow water to a spot where a school of tame stingrays came for daily feedings. My heart pounded as I climbed down the ladder. I have an irrational fear of all fish, let alone fish whose sting can be fatal.

See that girl in the yellow bikini petting the stingray? No, that's not me. Are you crazy? See that other girl with both hands up, looking nervous? No, that's not me either.


Where was I? Back in the boat with the old ladies and the little kids. I'd made it about ten feet away from the boat. My legs almost went out from under me when I saw hordes of sting rays swirling around us. But it was all over when I stepped on one--almost, but it darted away, brushing against my foot with one velvety smooth wing. I would have drowned had the water not been waist deep. I spun around and tried to climb out of the water on an imaginary staircase. I might have even climbed over the nearest strangers in my scramble for the ladder.

So there I sat, woefully watching other people have the time of their lives while I berated myself for my cowardice. Byron tried to coax me out, but I wouldn't budge. He stayed out there until the guide shooed everyone back into the boat. He petted stingrays, swam with stingrays, and took lots of pictures of stingrays.

Just before we left, one of the guides lured one of the biggest rays over to the boat and held it while the tourists petted it. I watched one person after another take a turn, even the little kids and the old ladies. Just before it was time to head back, I forced myself down the steps and ran a trembling hand over the silky surface of that gentle sting ray. It wasn't gross or slimy at all. It felt like wet satin, and was not much thicker than satin at the wings.

As memorable as that experience was, it was nothing compared to what happened on the next stop. Each morning when we left for the excursions, the ship's staff would have us synchronize our watches to the latest time zone, and they would repeat the ship's departure time over and over. "Do NOT be late," they warned. "We will not wait for you, and you'll have to make your own travel arrangements to get to the next island or back home. It will not be cheap."

I shuddered at the thought of being left behind. No way I would ever let that happen. Usually, there was no worry anyway because if you went on an organized excursion, they brought everyone back to the ship in plenty of time.

But by the time we reached Cancun, we were running low on funds and decided to spend the day on our own. We did a bit of shopping and then lazed around at a famous bar whose name escapes me. The whole time, I kept eying my watch and getting more and more antsy as the 3:00 deadline approached.

Around 2:00, I insisted on heading back. "Relax. We have plenty of time," Byron said as he stopped and admired little trinkets in the street market. We bought a couple of things along the way and arrived back at the port by 2:30.

It took us a moment to notice that the port was empty. "This is the wrong place," I said.

Byron looked around. "No, this is where we docked this morning. I'm sure of it."

My heart started pounding, and my chest felt so tight that I could scarcely draw in a breath. "Wh-where's the ship?" I sputtered.

"I don't know," he said. He noticed some sort of guard hut at the water's edge, and we hurried over.

A uniformed officer spoke to us in Spanish.

"Where's the ship?" Byron asked.

"No hablo Inglés," he answered.

"The ship," I repeated, spreading my arms out wide and then pointing at the water. "Where is it?"

He pointed out to the horizon, where the ship was a tiny speck.

"What are we going to do?" I wailed, tears streaming.

"Un momento," the officer said, holding up one hand as he spoke into his radio.

A couple of minutes later, a tiny motorboat pulled up to the wooden dock, and the officer herded us over. He spoke to the driver and another officer, probably telling them about these foolish Americans who were too careless to get back to the boat before it embarked. The driver gestured to Byron, who clambered into the boat and held out a hand to me. I hesitated for a moment, but then the officer on the dock took my elbow and helped me down onto the bobbing boat.

I huddled next to Byron on the hard bench, my heart fluttering as we chased after the ship through the choppy water. Shouldn't we be wearing life jackets?

At last we pulled alongside the ship, so massive next to this toy motorboat. "How on earth will we get onboard?" I asked no one in particular.

Just then, a hatch swung open about halfway up the ship's hull, about 25-30 feet up. Next, a rope ladder unfurled down the side of the ship. No way!

Yes way. Our driver maneuvered the boat right up to the ship and pointed at the ladder, which moved up and down just like our boat, only not at the same time. I stood up on rubbery legs. "Wait!" I said, leaning to whisper in Byron's ear. "Do you think we need to pay them?"

"Vámanos," said the officer, taking my arm and nudging me toward the ladder.

I slung my shopping bag over my shoulder and grabbed a rung with both hands, my knuckles brushing against the cool metal. Holding my breath, I groped for a lower rung with one flip flop and then the other. I clung to the ladder for a moment, stock still against the solid, relatively stationary hull. 

"Come on up. You'll be fine."

I looked up into the eyes of a man leaning casually out the hatch and reaching a hand down toward me. And then I saw some fellow passengers watching us from the deck railing, laughing and shouting and pointing.

I inched up that ladder and into the hatch, almost collapsing in relief when I stepped inside. But the man didn't even wait for Byron to make it up the ladder before commencing his lecture. I honestly didn't hear much of what he said but it was something about "Do you know how much money you cost us?" and "Did you not hear that we were departing at 3:00?"

As soon as I could get a word in edgewise, I said, "B-but I don't understand. It was only 2:30. They said 3:00."

He looked at me like I was crazy. "No-o. It's Three-forty-five now."

I looked at my watch. "No, it's 2:45."

"You forgot to set your watches back this morning," he said as he led us through the bowels of the ship, past twitching boilers and humming gears, to an elevator.

"No one told us to set our watches back," I said. "And I don't think it was in the bulletin. How were we supposed to-"

Byron took my arm. "Come on, Sarah."

"But we didn't forget. No one told us," I repeated.

"Just don't let it happen again." The man turned on his heel and walked away without a backward glance.

I leaned against the side of the elevator and sobbed.

"It's okay," Byron said. "We're fine. We didn't get left behind."

"I just need a n-nap," I said.

After a nap and a warm shower, I felt ready to face dinner. But I was not prepared for our reception up on deck. Some passengers laughed and slapped us on the back while others just pointed and whispered. "That's the couple who missed the boat!"

Over dinner, Thomas and Julie explained that at least two other couples had been late for the same reason; not all the groups had been informed about the time change. They'd had to let the gangplank back down twice. This was very lucky for us; without that delay the boat would have been out to sea.

For the rest of the trip, we were greeted like celebrities. After I'd had a good night's sleep, I had to admit that I rather enjoyed the attention.

I wonder if even the captain knew about us. If he did, he didn't say so.

So now you know what it feels like to miss the boat. May it never happen to you!

Monday, April 9, 2012

She Took the Plunge

After an eternity of waiting (or maybe it was only a month), Allyson finally got her wish to be baptized last Sunday, April 1. As I was tucking her in on Saturday night, she piped up during bedtime prayers: "God, please don't let anything stop me from being baptized tomorrow."

I smiled. How sweet, I thought. All the plans are made, but Allyson's not taking any chances.

On Sunday morning, we caravaned out to my mom and dad's church along with our neighbors Elizabeth and Lexie (the ones who gave us the pumpkin pie) and my friend Gentle. My sisters Amy and Emily were there (with Emily's family), as well as my brother Rick and his wife Diane, who took all the photos. Of course, Dad and Mom were there too.

Before the service, we met with the pastor and with the elder who would baptize Allyson. Both of them stooped down to her level and explained exactly what to expect. She nodded vigorously when they asked her if she was ready for this step. She said she wasn't afraid, though she clung to my leg the whole time.

When I was seated alongside all my family and my dear friends, I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing would stand in the way now. My heart was full as I enjoyed worshiping with loved ones on such a momentous occasion.

But when the pastor called forward anyone needing prayer, his next words sent a chill up my spine. He explained that the elder we'd just talked with prior to the service had fallen on his way out of the prayer room and cut his forehead. "He said he'll be okay, and he wants to stay for the service. But please stretch out your hands and pray for him, that he will heal quickly and suffer no ill effects from his fall."

Brother W. came in then, leaning on the arm of one of the other men. He had a band-aid on his temple, and his steps were tentative.

How could a man be perfectly fine one minute and bleeding the next? Was it a coincidence, or was this some sort of opposition to Allyson's baptism? Was this why she'd had the urge to pray the night before?

I prayed fervently for this dear man who had baptized me when I was 16.

At the end of the service, Emily tapped my shoulder and led me to Allyson's classroom, where my mom was teaching. (Nice!) I helped Allyson into a royal blue gown, and then we walked hand in hand to the baptismal.

Brother W. again stooped down and showed Allyson how she would cover her nose. Before he straightened to his full six feet, he kissed her cheek. I pressed my lips together to hold back my tears and followed him up the cement stairs, holding my breath and praying he wouldn't fall.

Allyson settled onto the seat in the warm water and immediately covered her nose. I could see her trembling, and my heart went out to her. All our family gathered around, with Bill, Ethan, and me lining the sides of the baptismal--close enough to feel the anointing when Brother W. spoke the name of Jesus over her.


Grandma and Aunt Amy
When Allyson came up out of the water, she scrambled straight up the stairs and into the towel I held out to her. She was radiant!


She changed straight into the T-shirt that the pastor's wife gave her:
I took the plunge!

We stood out in the sunshine enjoying the mild spring day and visiting with people I'd known since I wasn't much older than Allyson. When I told Brother W. about Allyson's prayer, his eyes filled with tears. "Thank you, Allyson," he said. "I'm so glad you prayed. I could have been hurt really badly."

Me, Brother W. (age 81!), and the Happy Girl With the Crazy Hair
I'm going to send him the picture above. He promised to keep it on his desk to remind him to pray for Allyson in her new faith walk. God, bless that man! And bless Allyson too.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Nothing Short of a Miracle

Here's the next chapter in my love story with Bill...
Excerpt from Allyson's Journal, 1/1/06
I think you are nothing short of a miracle. First, there's the fact that your father is from British Columbia, and I'm from Texas. Then there's the fact that we waited so long for your conception (19 months), and that my doctor didn't think I'd be able to conceive without drugs.

I'd taken an oral fertility drug when I conceived your older brother nine years ago, and I didn't want to go through that stress again. I'd prayed and asked God to give me the gift of a "surprise" pregnancy, but after a year and a half of waiting I just relaxed and asked for His will--baby or no baby, fertility drug or none.

At the beginning of October 2005, I filled a prescription for Clomid and then waited for the right time to take it. I had gone on a Caribbean cruise with your father and Ethan.
Ethan, Age 8

I was supposed to take the pills on the cruise, starting on cycle day 5, but my period was late. I didn't really believe I could be pregnant, but I was having a few symptoms, especially mild nausea; however, almost half the passengers were seasick because the ocean was pretty rough.

Still Wondering - 5 Days Late and Counting
On Friday, the last full day of our cruise, I used a pregnancy test I'd brought from home. Here is what I wrote in my journal that day:

Friday 10/7/05
I slept fitfully last night, waiting for the light, waiting to take my test. I got up around 7:30 and crept to the bathroom. I set the test stick flat on the lavatory and watched the fluid spread across the window. The reference line appeared immediately, but there was no test line at first. My stomach sank. [This experience had become far too familiar.]

But then I saw a second line, very faint, begin to materialize. I strained to see it, and yes, it got darker and darker. There definitely were two lines, though the second was lighter. I sat and smiled at myself in the tiny mirror. I didn't cry.

I climbed back in bed and snuggled up to Bill. I was too excited to fall back asleep, but I lay there for another hour enjoying my secret....

"No way! Really? For sure? Awesome!" That was Bill's reaction after breakfast when I told him he was going to be a father. We were standing on the ship's railing, looking at the water while Ethan ran around the deck. Bill gave an incredulous laugh, that little-boy laugh that I love. We kissed and hugged....

That Evening at Dinner
"Lord, how do I begin to thank you for such an unexpected blessing? You knew the desire of my heart, and you surprised me! I'm so thankful that I won't need to go through the suspense of taking Clomid.

"Thank you for all that you've taught me during these months of waiting, Father. I feel I have learned to trust you so much more. Thank you for ordaining my days. Thank you for knitting together this baby in my womb.

"Now I must learn to trust you even more. Help me trust you to keep this baby safe, to keep my body strong. Help me not to worry if the baby will be 'perfect.' I know you will form this baby according to your perfect plan, and you will make me ready to be everything my baby needs in a mother--by your grace....

"Thank you, thank you, Father, for giving us this precious gift. Thank you for blessing me among women. My heart is full today."

Allyson's Journal, 5/17/06
We learned our wonderful news at the start of October, and then we had to decide when to share our news. We wanted to tell Daddy's family in person, which meant we had to wait until Christmas. Daddy wanted to wait until then to tell my family, too, but I told him we could never keep it a secret for that long. So we decided on Thanksgiving, but it didn't work out that way.

A couple of weeks after we found out, we were all over at Aunt Emily's to help her move. I was feeling a little green that day, so I wasn't much help. And I was avoiding lifting and other heavy work like mopping. Grandma looked sharply at me and asked, "Are you expecting?"

I couldn't very well lie to my mother, so I just smiled. She and Aunt Amy shrieked with excitement and crushed me in a big hug. Then, of course, I had to tell everyone else: Emily and her girls, Uncle Rick and his family, Grandpa, and your big brother.

Ethan was busy playing when I told him, and I don't think he really heard me. He said, "Oh, that's nice." Then he went back to his playing. I was a littled disappointed at his reaction.

Later that day, he asked if I wanted to jump on a pogo stick. I told him I didn't think I should. He said, "Why not? The weight limit is 150 pounds. You don't weigh that much, do you?"

I said no, but it wouldn't be good for the baby. Ethan looked around and asked, "What baby?"

I laughed. "The baby in my tummy, silly!"

He touched my belly and said, "You have a baby in your tummy?"

I said yes, and from that point he has been very excited about your arrival.

We somehow managed to keep Daddy's family from finding out. We flew up just before Christmas with Ethan, your cousin Mindy, and my Little Sister Brandy. As planned, I wore a snug sweater and a loose jacket.
Mindy and Brandy at White Rock Beach, BC

When we got to the house, Bill introduced Brandy to everyone, and then he announced that he had another introduction to make. Everyone looked around, confused, because they'd already met Mindy the prior Christmas, and of course they knew Ethan.

I opened my jacket to reveal my growing belly, and there was lots of shouting, hugging, and crying. It was like they had won a car on a game show.
Itty Bitty Baby Belly
When we flew home a week later, we brought maternity clothes from Nana and baby clothes from Great Grandma Faye. Gram couldn't resist buying one girl outfit, just in case. I'm so glad you'll get to wear it!

DISCLAIMER: After the reaction of some of my readers to the last chapter of our love story, I want to point out that this story takes place in the past--back in 2005. No, I am NOT PREGNANT right now!
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