Sunday, March 28, 2010

Albuquerque Skies

The sun rises in the east.

And the hot air balloons rise in the north (I call this the 'loonrise).

The sun sets in the west.

And the balloons set wherever they want to! Even on our neighborhood streets.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

There's Hope

Last week my little two- and three-year-olds and I talked about the third day of creation in our Sunday morning Bible class. (You remember the song . . . Day three, day three, God made plants and flowers and trees.) As part of the lesson, we looked at some seeds that I had germinated in a damp coffee filter, and talked about how God makes baby plants grow from seeds. Then each child planted a few zinnia seeds in a little peat pot.

I took the pots home and have been babying them all week long -- watering them, kicking up the thermostat when the house was chilly, toting them from window to window so as to catch the changing sunlight, and cheering them on. Yesterday I began to wonder what I should do if none of them sprouted by Sunday morning. How disappointed would the children be? Should I "cheat" and buy some plants at the nursery to replace them?

Oh ye of little faith! (Speaking to myself.)

This morning I saw that God did what God does. He made life come from the dirt. So far only one of the pots has a baby zinnia peeking through the soil, but if one has sprouted, the others can't be far behind. There's even hope that they'll all be poking through by tomorrow morning when I take them back to class. Praise God for the little and the big things He does.

The Daring Bakers' March Challenge - Orange Tian

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris. (Recipe HERE)

The dessert is made of several layers: a
pâte sablée with orange marmalade, a flavored whipped cream topped with fresh orange segments and served with a caramel and orange sauce. You build the dessert upside down, freeze it briefly, and then unmold the dessert so that the bottom layer (the orange segments) becomes the top layer.

I spent parts of two days making this dessert. On the first day I segmented the oranges, a "first" for me. I went online to watch a YouTube instructional video in order to learn the skill. It's not all that difficult, but was fairly time consuming and messy (I had orange juice running down my arms and off my elbows!) to do all eight of the oranges called for in this recipe. But it was worth it, for when I was done I had the most beautiful bowlful of pure, pithless, membraneless orange segments that I've ever seen.



On day-one I also cooked up the orange caramel sauce, since the segmented oranges needed to marinate overnight in half of the sauce. And, finally, I made the orange marmalade.

I have never cared for orange marmalade, but this homemade version was really good. The thin-sliced orange (just one orange) was blanched three times (bring to a boil, simmer for ten minutes, pour off the hot water, add fresh cold water, and start over -- times three). This is what takes the bitterness out of the orange peel, and it ended up sweet with almost no bitterness.




The next day I baked the
pâte sablée (a rich, sweet tart pastry) and whipped up the orange flavored whipped cream, which also had gelatin as a component.


Putting it together, after all the parts were prepared, was quick and easy. The tian went into the freezer for awhile, and then was unmolded. I held my breath on this step, hoping that it would come out of the spring-form cake pan in one beautiful piece. And it did!



I put it back into the freezer while I heated up the remaining caramel sauce, and then sliced two pieces - one for Dan and one for me - and drizzled the caramel sauce over top.


It is a refreshing dessert, probably best suited for a summer evening. It isn't in the running for my favorite Daring Baker dessert, but it was fun to do, posed some new challenges, and was definitely a treat for the eyes. This would be an easy recipe to vary -- using peaches, strawberries or cherries, for instance, instead of fresh oranges. I think I might like it better, in fact, made with a different fruit.

Be sure to come back next month, on the 27th, to see what our growing band (over 2300) of Daring Bakers takes on as the April challenge.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reading Log - February and March

The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler

Published in 1985, this book is the story of Macon Leary, a travel guide writer who, ironically, hates to travel. Macon and his wife, Sarah, lost their only son, twelve-year-old Ethan, in a shooting at a fast-food restaurant. Blaming their marital problems on this emotional crisis, their marriage quickly crumbles. After they separate, Macon takes a bad fall and goes to stay with his sister and two brothers, who live in the family home, to recuperate.

The author skillfully and cleverly moves the story forward using the progress of the obedience training of Edward, the corgi, who had been Macon’s son’s pet.

Although the book deals with serious issues, the eccentricities of the Leary family put a humorous spin on much of the drama. Before long, Macon finds himself in an unexpected relationship with his quirky young dog-trainer and her sickly son, and is forced to face some realities about his own personality and to make some difficult decisions about his future.


Two Books with Similar Themes:

For some reason I chose two fictional stories with very similar themes last month. One of them I found touching, thought-provoking, full of impact; the other didn't make those emotional connections.


Still Alice, Lisa Genova

A respected, intelligent 50-year old, Alice is a professor of psychology at Harvard, a guest lecturer, serving on an exam committee for a thesis defense at Princeton, traveling to psychology conferences all over the world, and married to an equally successful Harvard scientist. They have raised three children, who are all on their own now, although the youngest daughter, Lydia, who is seeking an acting career, still needs financial support from home. Her choice, not to go to college, is a bone of contention between Alice and her husband, John. Alice feels Lydia is throwing away her opportunity at a secure future, while John is more supportive of her dreams.

This story is told completely from the perspective of, and in the voice of, Alice. When she first starts noticing that she is becoming forgetful, she chalks it up to her hectic pace, her multi-tasking, even menopause. But one day, when she finds herself confused and disoriented in Harvard Yard, a place she has frequented for many years, she suspects that something more serious may be happening. Without telling anyone, she seeks medical advice which leads to a devastating diagnosis - early onset Alzheimer's! Out of fear, shame, and a number of other emotions, she chooses to keep this heartbreaking news to herself for as long as she can. But the progression of the disease is steady and sure, and she soon must disclose it to her family. The novel is a month-by-month journey down the road of Alzheimer's, that gives a respectful face and a voice to Alice and others afflicted with this disease.

I marveled at the author's dedication to telling the story from Alice's point of view, despite her worsening condition and her confused perceptions. It really made the story more powerful, and I was completely absorbed by it. I was able to feel Alice's terror right along with her. My heart broke, as Alice lost her identity and her self-worth, as she struggled to remember her own husband and children. And I was touched by the new-found mutual love and respect that developed between Alice and Lydia, whom she no longer knew as her daughter, but only as "the actress."

This book has been endorsed by the National Alzheimer's Association, which is a high honor. I recommend it, first, for anyone who is struggling with Alzheimer's in their family, but also for anyone who wishes to read about the valiant fight of a brave soul against great odds.


The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa

In 1975 the brilliant mathematics professor was in a car accident that left him with brain damage. It was an interesting premise for the book, because the result of this tragic accident was that the professor's short-term memory was, from that point on, limited to a span of 80 minutes. Although he had perfect recollection of his life before 1975, everything since then, with the exception of the ever-changing preceding 80 minutes, was a void. The professor's coping mechanism is a rag-tag collection of notes that he keeps clipped to his clothing, including one note that says, "My memory only lasts 80 minutes."

The story revolves around the housekeeper, and her 10 year old son, who come every day to his cottage, to care for the professor. Each morning, when they arrive, they must reintroduce themselves to the professor, who, over the span of the nighttime hours, has forgotten of their very existence. No names are given to the characters in the book, except for a nickname that the professor gives to the boy - "Root," because the boy's flat-top hair reminds the professor, each time they meet, of the square root symbol.

Despite its potential, I could not connect, emotionally, with the characters, and found many of the situations contrived and unrealistic. The professor's love of mathematics, which he constantly shares with the housekeeper and "Root", was the vehicle intended to move this story along, but, for me, it ran out of gas.

The book was a best seller in it's native Japan, and was made into a popular movie there.


The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri

He was born in 1968, to Indian parents Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli, who were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His great-grandmother, who was near death, was to give the baby his name, as she had done for her other six great-grandchildren. However, the letter from his great-grandmother had not yet arrived when the time came to take the baby home from the hospital. Their culture dictated that a child have an official “good name,” by which he would be called by those outside his family and closest friends; and a “pet name” by which he would be known to those close to him. His parents, therefore, put the “pet name” – Gogol – on his birth certificate, intending to have the name changed, later, once his “good name” arrived from India. Not long after his birth, his great-grandmother died, and, since the letter never arrived in America, she took knowledge of his “good name” to the grave with her.

The story of Gogol's life seems forever tied to his name and his identity. It is a coming of age story. It is the story of the tensions created by the contrasting emotions, shame and pride, over living a life divided by two cultures. It is the story of the revelation of a secret behind Gogol's name. And it is the story of a son's evolving admiration for the father who gave him that name.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Another Birthday!

Today Chris celebrates another birthday. Now that he is a parent himself, I'm sure he better understands how much we love him and how our lives changed forever and for better when he was born. Happy birthday, Chris!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Just Me and My Camera

UNM is on Spring Break this week. Although we, at the UNM Foundation, didn't get the entire week off, we were given today and tomorrow as holidays. I've been looking forward to this day for some time, because I wanted to go somewhere new and different for a photo shoot. My friend, from church, Joanne, was going to go with me. Even though she has no real interest in photography, she is interested in exploring new places and in spending time chatting and laughing with a friend. However, it turned out that she wasn't able to go, after all, so I hopped in the car at 7:00 this morning and took off for El Morro by myself. I wanted to catch the morning light.

El Morro National Monument is about 125 miles from Albuquerque, near Grants, NM. It is a tall sandstone bluff with a pool at its base, kept full, year-round by the rain-water runoff and snow melt. For centuries, travelers came by this bluff to drink the water, which was the only reliable source of water for at least 30 miles. It was, truly, an oasis.



The streaks are spillways, where the run-off comes down the sandstone cliffs and collects in the pool.

But what makes this beautiful chunk of rock important and so interesting is that, from as far back as 1100 A.D., the people who either lived here, or stopped here for water and relief from the heat, left messages carved into the sandstone - little glimpses of their life stories. The earliest inscriptions were actually petroglyphs, left by the Pueblo people who lived in villages on top of this bluff.

Big horn sheep - Pueblo Indian petroglyphs

Do you see the bear paw? It's another twelfth century Pueblo petroglyph.

Hundreds of years after the Pueblo people moved on, the Spaniards came by El Morro. Many of the inscriptions on the rock, known as Inscription Rock, were carved there by the Spaniards. The earliest dated Spanish inscription was in 1539, and the latest Spanish inscription is dated 1774.

Finally, US military personnel and people heading to California in search of gold left their names, thoughts and dates on the cliff beginning in 1846 and ending in 1906, when El Morro was made a national monument.

In all, there are more than 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions covering Inscription Rock. The trail beside Inscription Rock makes a loop from the visitor's center and is only .5 mile long. It is paved and an easy walk. It does gain some elevation in the first half of the loop, then loses it at the end. The first four pictures, below, are what you see, looking up, as you walk this trail. The cliff is impressive and it made me feel very small!





The pictures that follow are some of the inscriptions I saw today. The narratives I've included beneath each picture are direct quotes from Guide to the Inscription Trail: El Morro National Monument, New Mexico, which is available at the site for $2.00. (Copyright 2008 by Western National Parks Association, Edited and written by Abby Mogollon.) If you visit El Morro, I'd advise you to purchase this little booklet, because it really breathes life into what you will see.

"[This] inscription names a frontier governor who is well-known in New Mexico . . . Translation: 'General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown, all of New Mexico, at his own expense, was here, in the year of 1692.' In 1680, the Pueblo Indians revolted against their conquerors. Many Spanish men, women, and children were killed and the remainder fled to El Paso. In 1692, newly appointed governor of New Mexico, Don Diego de Vargas reestablished Spanish control of the pueblos. After the end of his first term as governor he was imprisoned for three years in the governor's palace for alleged wrongdoings among the settlers. He was exonerated and restored as governor for a second term in 1702. He died in Bernalillo in 1704 at the age of 61."

"Many Spanish inscribers wrote paso por aqui, or 'passed through here.' . . . Translation: 'On the 25th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, Ramon Garcia Jurado passed through here on the way to Zuni.' From the time Ramon Garcia Jurado moved to New Mexico as a colonist in 1693 until his death at the age of 80 in 1760, he was witness and participant in the Spanish settlement of New Mexico. It is likely that he was on a campaign against the Navajos during his visit to El Morro in 1709."

"E. Penn. Long of Baltimore, Maryland, chiseled this elegant-looking inscription. Long was a member of a U.S. Army expedition led by Lt. Edward F. Beale to find a wagon route from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to the Colorado River. The group, which first passed by El Morro in 1857, was also testing the usefulness of camels in crossing the deserts of the Southwest . . ."

"P. (Peachy) Breckinridge was the man in charge of the twenty-five camels used by Lieutenant Beale in 1857. After his work with Beale, Breckinridge returned to his home state of Virginia and fought in the Civil War. He was killed during a skirmish at Kennon's Landing, Virginia in 1863."

"Both women and men passed by El Morro, but very few women left their inscriptions. Miss A. F. Baley was one of the exceptions. America Frances Baley and her sister Amelia were part of a wagon party headed from Missouri to California in 1858 . . . If America Baley had known what she would encounter later in the journey she may not have continued. Just east of the Colorado River, eight hundred Mojave Indians attacked the sixty Anglo travelers. The Mojave killed nine and injured seventeen . . . The Baley sisters eventually made it to Fresno County, California."

". . . R. H. Orton became adjutant-general of California after the Civil War . . ."

I have no idea who C.C. Clark was, but I'd like to think he may have been one of my ancestors!

Besides Inscription Trail, there is a longer, steeper and more difficult trail, the Headland Trail, which goes to the top of the bluff, where portions of the ancient Pueblo villages can still be seen. However, that trail is not yet open this season, due to the remaining snow.



Back at the visitor's center, after walking the Inscription Trail, I wondered how difficult it must have been to chisel words into the sandstone cliff. I know sandstone is soft, but how soft? Well, as if the Forest Service were reading my mind, I came across these two sandstone chunks, near the parking lot. The little sign read, "Carve your initials on this typical piece of local sandstone, if you must - but please remember: it is against the law to carve anything on Inscription Rock itself!"



I had to try.

I pulled out my car key and tried to scrape an "L" into the sandstone. Soft? Maybe . . . compared to diamonds! I didn't have the patience to get even one leg of my "L" scraped into the stone. I was also afraid that I'd ruin my key; then how would I make it the 125 miles back to my house? It must have taken incredible patience, skill and talent to carve some of the ornate inscriptions I saw along the trail.

These people who stopped and wrote on the wall over the past nine centuries may not have realized the impact that their "graffiti" would have for future generations. I, for one, was really touched by reading their words.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Grands

Here are a couple pictures, swiped from Kelsey's blog, of the two most precious grandkids anyone could wish for. They are both growing and changing so quickly!

Erin go Bragh


So . . . it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, and that seems like a good time to answer the question that so many people, including many of you, have been asking me . . .

"When are you going to Ireland?"

I’d love to be able to respond with a straight-forward answer, but that’s just not the way things have developed.

In the beginning, we anticipated going in the fall of 2009. It was to celebrate our 40th anniversary, which was on June 15, 2009. Had that transpired, we would already have gone and returned, and Papa John would already have his prize for correctly guessing our destination. But, because of some health issues, we postponed the trip, supposedly until Spring of 2010. But here we are in the Spring, without airline tickets or B&B reservations or, even, another proposed travel date.

So many factors have played into the decision to postpone, or maybe even to alter, our anniversary extravaganza:

• Dan’s eye surgery was a great success, but I have continued to drag my heels about my knee (pun intended). I don’t want to go through knee replacement surgery until I have to, and I’m still getting by for the most part. However I’m not sure the knee is up to an active vacation like we've been planning.

• We’ve had a number of unanticipated major expenses, which partially depleted our vacation fund – home repairs, car repairs, medical, dental, etc.

• We were blessed with a new grandson, which has meant two or three wonderful trips to Texas, not one of which I would have traded for a hundred trips to Ireland, by the way! In fact, we’re eagerly planning another grandkid “fix” in a few weeks.

• For awhile it looked as if there might be reason to choose a different destination. Although that reason seems to have vanished, our once-focused attention on Ireland was scattered by the possibility, opening our minds to alternatives which we continue to consider.

• We are hoping, a couple years down the line, to be able to retire and have been putting some concentrated time, energy and conversation into planning for that, which has, quite honestly, temporarily diverted our attention and enthusiasm away from vacation-planning.

So, in answer to the question, “When are you going to Ireland?” all I can say is . . . I don’t know. The trip is still dangling out there as a likely possibility, but not as certain as it seemed a year or so ago. I’ll let you know if and when anything develops.

In the meantime, happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Springtime

There’s an old song – even older than me . . . so old that Gene Autry sang it back in the 1930s – titled "When It’s Springtime in the Rockies." In the song, the narrator is sitting alone by a cheery fire, looking out at the snow, and remembering a springtime long ago, when he was with his true love in the Rocky Mountains. He talks about the flowers with their "colors aflame," the birds that sing all the day, and the first maple leaves putting on their sky-green.

Just to be clear, Dan and I live in the Rockies, and next week the University of New Mexico, where I work, will be closed for Spring Break. However, this morning, when I got in the car to go to work, it was snowing, and the clever (irritating) morning guy, on the radio, was playing “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow.” On that drive to work, I saw no flowers with colors aflame, no sky-green leaves, and heard no singing birds. In fact, on part of the commute I saw almost nothing, because of the low visibility.

From my parked car.

Near the entrance to my office building, looking back toward my car. As you can see, I'm always one of the first ones to show up in the mornings, come rain or snow.

It’s been a long winter here in New Mexico, with more snowy days than I remember seeing in the previous six winters that we’ve lived here. I do have faith that Spring is near, though, as my drippy nose, sneezes and watery eyes assure me that the pollen count is on the rise.

I have a tentative “date” with a friend, to go on a photo shoot next Thursday or Friday, but if the weather doesn’t sweeten up, I’m afraid I’ll have to cancel.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Hot Diggity Dog!

This morning Dan and I met up with a group of folks from church to do a major shuffle of classrooms for the new quarter, which begins tomorrow. It was a lot of work, but worth it in the end. All the rooms have now been shined up, cleaned out and reorganized, from drawers to cabinets to cubbies to bulletin boards. My adorable two- and three-year olds will now be in a bigger and nicer classroom. Woohoo!

It was nearly two o'clock by the time we took a lunch break. Several of us went to Dion's for sandwiches or pizza, and we were all ecstatic to see this bit of Americana in the parking lot, near the entrance to Smith's Supermarket. The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile driver was inviting people to step up and explore the Wienermobile's inner sanctum. I did not go inside, but did poke my head in for a quick look-see.



In front of the vehicle was a sign with some interesting Wienermobie facts. I'll share a few.
  • The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is 24 hot dogs high, 60 hot dogs long, 18 hot dogs wide and 140,500 hot dogs in weight (translation: 11 ft. high, 27 ft. long, 8 ft. wide, and 14,050 lbs).
  • It is described as a "grilled fiberglass hot dog resting on a lightly toasted fiberglass bun."
  • It is a converted Chevy that runs on "high-octane mustard."
  • It has a hot dog shaped dashboard, a removable "bunroof", six mustard and ketchup colored seats, blue sky ceiling art and an official Wiener Jingle Horn.
  • Carl Mayer, nephew of Oscar Mayer, designed the first Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in 1936.
  • The Wienerwhistle (see photo below) was developed in 1952 and was included in packages of Oscar Mayer wieners in 1958. I don't remember getting one then, but I got mine today. Tweeeeeeeeeet!

And, yes, it's been running through my head all day . . .

Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
That is what I'd really like to be,
'Cuz if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
Everyone would be in love with me!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Dear Kelsey

From the time the boys were little, I made sure they knew about and participated in every special person’s special occasion. For Christmas, I took them shopping and helped them pick out the perfect coffee mug for Papa, picture frame for Nanny, desk calendar for Dad, and baseball cap or Legos for each other. We would sit at the kitchen table together and color birthday cards for friends. And before Christmas- or birthday-week ended, I made sure they put their own personal mark (scribbles and stickers, early on; actual hand-written words, as they got older) on thank-you notes that went into the mailbox. I was hoping they would learn the joy that comes from thinking of others.

Twelve years ago, today, my mom, Dan and I flew from Oregon to Abilene, Texas, for Chris and Kelsey's up-coming wedding. As Chris was driving us from the airport, that day, he told us that it was Kelsey's birthday. I panicked. "Oh, no! It's my soon-to-be daughter-in-law's birthday and I don't have so much as a card for her! That's not a good start!" I was already pretty keyed up about the wedding and the prospect of meeting Kelsey’s family for the first time, so nervous tears were waiting just below the surface, ready to spring forth.

But Chris, who had, his whole life, shown moments of remarkable thoughtfulness, handed me a sack. Inside was a box, with a bow, that contained a little Boyds Bear figurine. Chris told us that Kelsey had a collection of them, but didn't have this one yet. He even had a birthday card for us to sign. I was so proud of Chris. He had learned the lesson well, sitting around the kitchen table, making birthday cards. And that day the role was reversed. It was as if he had provided the crayons and glitter and paper and helped us make something pretty for this special new person in our lives.

I don’t know if Kelsey knows this story or not, but after twelve years it’s probably time to share it with her. I hope she still has that little Boyds Bear, and that when she looks at it now it will have more meaning.

Kelsey, happy happy birthday! You've certainly made our lives fuller and happier.