Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sopa de Lima y Pollo

So, the origin of this soup started way back in the day when I was living in a small house in South Bend with my sassy half-Brazilian Roo Juliana.  One day in winter I came home from work or class or some sort of activity to find her making chicken soup in the kitchen since she was getting a cold.  Her usual method of cold symptom treatment involved overdosing on Vitamin C and taking homeopathic drops that smelled like rotting fungus, and in addition to that she was also on a gluten-dairy-soy free diet due to food sensitivities and thyroid issues.  So, naturally, I was generally intrigued by whatever she cooked.  Every home cooked meal was a struggle to triumph over overwhelming odds stacked against deliciousness.

But what caught my attention in particular that day was an unusual odor in a chicken soup kitchen.  It was bright and fresh and utterly welcome on a cold February day.  It was crisp, but also strangely comforting.  It was lime. 

“What are you doing?” I asked, slightly alarmed but overwhelmingly intrigued. “Are you putting lime in that soup?”

“Yeah,” she answered much too casually for my taste.

“In chicken noodle soup?” I pressed on, my tone hopefully conveying my growing bewilderment.  Lime in chicken noodle soup?  I demand an explanation!

“Yeah,” she turned, smiling at my insistence, “It’s Portuguese.”

“Ooohhhh…Interesting…”  She knew there was no faster way to derail my attention than to say that something was Portuguese or Brazilian or Mexican or French, or from any one of the places that she had family or that her family worked.  I would immediately go research it, and buy her a few minutes time to finish her dinner.  Clever girl.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it, I believe that this was where my dissatisfaction with traditional chicken soup was born.  Chicken noodle soup just tastes flat to me.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever really made chicken noodle soup, at least not unless I am under duress.  At best, store-bought soup is either too salty or flavorless, the chicken is dry (how, how you ask, can chicken that is floating in a liquid matrix be dry?  Well, go grab some canned chicken noodle soup and see for yourself) and the noodles are one nudge away from disintegrating.  To quote the newly budding food critic we have in the house “mama, that’s gwoss.”

The pollo in Sopa de Lima y Pollo.

If I make chicken soup, I make chicken tortilla soup, but I have always been dissatisfied with the traditional (by this I mean traditional American) base recipes for chicken tortilla soup as well.  When I make soup, I usually want to make it from scratch.  I want to own everything about that soup, from the chicken bones in the stock to the chopped vegetables to the tortilla…ok, well, not the tortilla chips in this instance.  But I just can’t abide adding a can of enchilada sauce to soup, it seems wrong and weird.  To me, who is a total soup psycho.  I have had this kind of tortilla soup before and don’t get me wrong, it is delicious.  It’s just not what I was looking for.
I own this stock, baby.

In fact, it was not until I came across this recipe for Sopa de Lima on one of my favorite food blogs, Homesick Texan, that I realized what I was looking for all along was some sort of Portuguese chicken noodle soup and chicken tortilla soup hybrid.  I wanted the thickness of the tortillas in the broth, the chunks of chicken, the myriad of chopped veggies, and none of the inevitably soggy noodles.  I wanted to freshness of the lime and the cilantro.  I wanted no chunks of tomatoes that I would put in out of guilt but end up throwing to my dog or giving to my daughter or just leaving in the bottom of the bowl.  I wanted the chicken to be the star, and the limey broth to be the best supporting actress that wins the Oscar.  I wanted this, what I have so arrogantly called, Sopa de Lima y Pollo.

Sopa de Lima y Pollo
For the soup:
2 medium yellow onions, diced
10 cloves garlic
3 bell peppers, diced
1-2 poblano chiles, diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups chopped cilantro, divided
Pinch of cayenne
Zest of one large lime
4 cups of tortilla chips
32 oz of chicken stock, home made if you can
4 cups of shredded or chopped chicken, your choice
4 ears of sweet corn, cut off the cob (or one bag of frozen sweet corn)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Juice of one large lime

For Garnish:
1/2 cup shredded Monterrey Jack or sharp Cheddar
1 avocado, pitted and peeled, cubed
Sour cream
1 lime, cut into slices
Tortilla chips

Dice the onions, peppers, and chili.  Grate the garlic cloves.  Chop the cilantro.  Zest the lime.

Throw the onions into a big, biiiiig pot and sauté them for a few minutes until they get happy (you know, translucent, goldeny).  Throw in the garlic for a few minutes, then add the peppers and chili.    Let all of the veggies get happy together for about five minutes.  Remember to salt and pepper the veggies each time you add something new.

Add in the cumin, coriander, cayenne and lime zest and let them fry into the oil for a little bit.  This will make the spices “bloom” and you will be happier when you eat the soup!

Slosh in the chicken stock.  I say slosh because when I added mine in I added all 32 oz at once from another giant pot on the stove and there was a lot of sloshing involved.  Then squeeze in the juice of one lime.  Please, please, please use fresh lime juice!

Take your four cups, or four handfuls, of chips and crush them up in your hands into the pot.  The more crushed they are, the better, so really get out your aggression here.  Stir the chips into the pot.  The point of this addition is to help thicken the soup with the corn flour and meal in the chips, so there are a number of other techniques you can use.  You can use corn tortillas, corn meal soaked in hot water or hot milk.  Corn tortillas would probably be more muy authentico, but I didn’t have any so I used tortilla chips.

Add in the chicken, corn, and cilantro.

Bring the soup to a low boil and then turn it down to low and let it simmer for an hour or so.  Or, really, you can eat it at anytime right now.  But it is nice to give the flavors a little time to come together.

When the game is over and all your guests come home, start dishing out the soup.  Add in a little cilantro, a slice of lime, some diced avocado, shredded cheese, more crushed tortilla chips.  This soup also freezes and reheats really well, and is great in a crock pot in case you are taking it to a tailgate, party, squirrel fry, etc. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Picture Day

This week, we finally got around to taking family photos, something I have been wanting to do since Lucy was born.  I put it off and put it off, always using finances or Don’s residency schedule as excuses.  But now that Don is an attending we have the spare change and the time to do it (horay!)  Last week Don and I agreed to just pull the trigger, find a photographer, and get some pictures taken before Lucy is going off to college and I am sitting on the porch, sobbing, wondering why I don’t have any professional family pictures of her in addition to the 20,000 “amateur” photos we have.

On Monday, scrambling to get everyone ready, fix my hair and makeup, pick a top for Lucy, and several other things it became apparent that I was totally unprepared for the session.  I hadnt figured out what we should wear, I didn’t have any idea of where we would go or what we should do, I hadn’t thought about whether or not to bring our dog with us.  I went to the gym and 90 minutes before we were to meet the photographer at a park 15 minutes from our house I was still un-showered and screwing around on my computer.  After huffing and stomping around the house, we finally all managed to get dressed and made it into the car in a sullen silence. 

Don peeked at me and asked if this was something I even wanted to do, or if it was just something that he thought I had really wanted to do, and I was doing it because I thought he wanted family pictures.  It took me a while to answer, and when I did all I could say without bursting into tears was "I want to do it…I'm just not happy with how I look."

I know that this is something that deeply resonates with many other mamas, and many other women, out there.  I know because I remember the way my own Mom would react whenever the camera would appear for a candid picture.  She would cross her eyes or stick out her tongue or do something else funny.  I know because later that same evening, after we celebrated our family picture fait accompli by going out to dinner, I read this article by Allison Tate.  It is about her own fear of being photographed, and her deeper fear that she would not be photographed. 

What a curious and heart rending paradox of feeling, one that was incubating inside me only hours before.  I didn’t want to be in those family pictures.  I was considering asking if maybe we could just take pictures of Lucy.  I didn’t want a picture on the wall chronicling the ten (or fifteen) pounds I still need to lose and the new wrinkle by my mouth and the way one of my eyes always closes more than the other when I smile and my weird hormonal acne.  Even after getting a good workout at the gym I still felt bloated and muffin-topy and my hair was doing it’s frizzy not really going to curl thing.  I looked in the mirror, and the image I saw staring back at me was so discordant when compared with the image I have of myself.  My brain was releasing clouds of neurotransmitters that started breaking down my post-workout endorphin rush.  I was too hideous for family pictures, pictures that I wouldn’t want to look at in an old shoe box let alone frame and hang on our wall.

And yet, at the same time, I wanted to take these pictures desperately.  I want Lucy to look back on pictures of her family, and not wonder “where was my mama?”  I don’t want her to grow up thinking that if a woman doesn’t conform to society’s standard of beauty then she doesn’t deserve to be loved or celebrated.  That she doesn’t even deserve to be remembered.  I wish there was an instagram filter that captured the joy in a picture instead of bringing out blue or sepia tones, which could make you look the way you feel you should.  But there isn’t.  That joy, those memories, come from my presence and my attitude; they have to. 

I may not look like a model or an actress, or myself when I was twenty.  I may stiff be haunted when reading a magazine or watching TV or even looking at my friends pictures on Facebook by images of other women looking younger, more beautiful, more put together than I ever remember feeling.  I may feel frazzled and ill kempt and 10 pounds too heavy all the time.  But I am me, and to my daughter I am the image of what a woman looks like.

I want that image to be beautiful because I am happy and joyful to be together as a family.  I want that image to be playful and smiling and serious by turns because I am in the moment, not stuck inside my own head.  Most of all, I just want those images to BE.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I Lied...But Only A Little...OK, Now A Lot

So many weeks ago I promised you a culinary adventure featuring black eyed peas and home made masala.  Well,  am sorry to say friends, but I lied.  In the face of life coming at me faster than a freight train on a down hill track with no brakes I did the safe thing, and made them into rice and beans.  A huge, huge pot of rice and beans, which filled my heart with comfort and security and now fills several of my largest Tupperware containers in the fridge.  Oh well...a little grated sharp cheddar or cotija cheese and you have yourself a fantastic meal. 

So that is the point when it also occurred to me that I have never, through some sense of selfishness or self preservation, shared my newly cherished recipe for rice and beans, somewhat Haitian style.  And because of the little white lie, I decided to give you a two for one and throw in my favorite summer salsa as well.  Because I'm just that awesome.  Or because I am too lazy and raw to write about other things right now.  Except now it is once again many weeks later, summer is sadly waning (maple leaves are changing, just face it) and this salsa might not go so well anymore because awesome avocados are a little harder to find.  But I will give it to you anyway in case you are planning a huge holiday weekend celebration!

Rice and Beans, Kind Of Haitian Style
The reason I call this recipe kind of Haitian is because I leave out some ingredients that are staples (namely shallots and a scotch bonnet pepper) and because I usually don't make them with dried beans.  I usually cheat with canned beans.  This past go around I did use dried black eyed peas and the process was much less painful than I thought, which makes me think we will be using more dried beans in the future.  The only other problem with using dried versus canned is that it is physically painful to me to use less than a whole bag of dried beans, and if you use the whole bag then you have to make at least 2 1/2 cups of rice, and then you end up with a literal TON of rice and beans.  But hey, its your choice!  If you are having a party this weekend then a giant pot of rice and beans could come in handy.

2 small cans or one large can or one small bag of your choice of beans. (I usually prefer either black beans or red beans.  I am not an expert on this by a long shot, but I think diri ak poi is mostly made with red beans.  But I have made them with black beans, red beans, and black eyes peas and they are delicious either way.  If I do use canned beans, I always strain them to get rid of that dubious, bubbly stuff at the bottom of the can)
1 small onion
1 bunch cilantro (if you don't like cilantro, probably just don't make this recipe.  You can substitute parsley as many people do in recipes who don't like cilantro, but I have never tried it and can't vouch for it.  Also, I love cilantro.  So, in summation, I think you gotta just not do it.)
1 jalapeno
4 cloves of garlic
1 lime
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use either coconut or plain vegetable oil)
2 cups of long grained white rice (you can use  brown rice if you are on a health kick, just factor in the difference in water requirements and the longer cooking time)
3 1/4 cups of rice (Usually the rice I use calls for 4 cups of water to 2 cups of rice.  But the puree you are going to use has a lot of liquid in it, and if you use a full 4 cups of water your rice will come out disgusting and mushy.  So at this point, you just need to play with it and subtract some liquid from the recipe.  I have found that 3 1/4 cups works well.  Also, sometimes if I make the beans from scratch I reserve a little of the bean water and use that for the liquid.)

Cut up the onion into quarters.  Chop off a chunk of cilantro and give it a very, very rough chop.  Peel four cloves of garlic.  Cut out the membranes and seeds of the jalapeno.  Put onion, cilantro, garlic, juice of half of the lime and as much of the jalapeno as you want into a food processor and process it into oblivion. It is ok if a few pieces are chunky, that will just contribute to the texture of the meal.

Pour your vegetable oil into a large stock pot or soup pot and heat it to medium high.  Then add the puree from the food processor and let it cook for about two minutes.  Add your salt and pepper now while the puree is cooking.  You want to get some of the raw flavors out, but don't want the bright green of the cilantro and the jalapeno to brown on you at this point!

Add your rice into the cooking puree and mix it up to coat the rice.  Cook for another two minutes.

Add in your water, bean water, etc.  Cook the rice until it is done, usually about 25 minutes for white rice and 45 minutes for brown rice.  If your rice is fully cooked but there is still liquid in the pot then cook it a little longer with the lid off.

Add in your beans and fluff the rice and beans together.  Or stir.  The mixture is going to be heavy anyway so you can forget about this whole fluffing your rice with a fork.  Just stir the beans in any way you can.  And voila, diri ak poi.  Kind of.

My Favorite Summer Salsa
I usually make this salsa about once a week from July to early August, and I always make it in this ridiculously huge quantity.  If you have any people over, you will end up standing in the kitchen just eating salsa out of the bowl with a bag of chips at hand.  It also goes on burgers, sandwiches, rice and beans, chicken, fish, salads, and pretty much anything else you want to put it in.  Another favorite thing to do is make a batch of plain nachos (aka cheddar cheese toasted onto chips in the oven) and then mix a little salsa with some sour cream and dip.  Heaven!

2-3 mangoes
2-3 avocados
1 bunch cilantro
1 lime
1  quart cherry tomatoes or two large tomatoes or any combination 
2 bell peppers (red and orange make a nice color combination)
1 jalapeno
1/2 red onion
4-5 green onions
4 ears of summer sweet corn (NO CANNED OR FROZEN CORN!)
1 can of black beans
Salt to taste

First, the corn.  Just cheat and cook the sweet corn in the microwave.  4 minutes for the first ear, and another minute for every additional ear.  Wrap them in a wet paper towel before placing in the microwave.  And make sure you let them cool before cutting the corn off the cob, or you will burn yourself.  A lot.  Which has obviously happened to me before. Also, when you cut the corn off the cob place a towel underneath it, or cut the corn in a shallow bowl.  This will keep the corn from jumping all over your counter and floor, and will keep you from cursing me while you do this.  I learned this method from my Hoosier husband, Mr. Indiana-Sweet-Corn.  Once the corn is cut off the cob throw it all into a huge bowl.

Drain the beans into a strainer and wash them off.  Throw them into the bowl with the corn.

Chop the cilantro and green onions to your preferred size, and throw them into the bowl.

Cut up your tomatoes to your preferred size (mine is small) and add to the bowl.

Dice the peppers, red onion, and jalapeno.  I usually put a finer dice onto the jalapeno than the bell peppers, and a medium fine dice on the onion.  Into the bowl.

Cut up the mango next.  My preferred method is to cut off the long sides of the mango, and then holding the slab in my palm I score the mango with a small, sharp knife, being careful not to cut too far through and slice my palm open.  Then I pop the mango out so it looks like a chunky porcupine and cut the squares into the bowl.  If you use the two long sides of the mango on all your mangoes this leaves you the short sides and the stone to consume at your leisure.  Or give to your toddler on the back porch and see how many leaves and twigs can stick to her hands and face.

Cut up the avocado.  Use roughly the same method as the mango.  Cut the avocado in half and twist the two sides apart.  Then remove the pit with a knife, and you have two perfect halves.  Hopefully.  I score the inside of the avocado, and then remove the flesh with a spoon.

Squeeze the lime over the avocado, which will keep it from browning.  Salt the avocado a little bit before stirring everything together.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Night Ninja

“Mmmm…Hi honey.  How was your night?”

“Pretty good.  Very busy all day though.”  Don pulls out his iPad and starts surfing the web, catching up on the Olympics and various other sports blogs.  “How was your day and night?”

I struggle to process the question through my still half asleep at 12:35pm brain. “It was good.  Good bedtime.  She fell asleep in my arms around 8pm so I think she’ll get a good nights rest finally.”

Don sputters out a few laughs, the tone if which jog me most of the way out of my sleep fog.

“What?  What’s so funny?”

Through his laughter he chuckles out “I just put her down to sleep for the third time.  She’s been up the last hour and half with me!”

“What?” I am truly stunned.  I usually have a good ear for our daughter’s night time roving’s, and last night I hadn’t even heard Don come home let alone our two year old up and gallivanting around the house.

“Yeah!  It was actually really nice.  She came down and found me while I was eating dinner.  Thanks for the salad by the way.  I was watching Breaking Bad and I looked up and saw her silhouette in the doorway.  It scared the shit out of me actually.  So I turned the TV off and she ate with me and we went outside and listened to the crickets and ate ice cream on the back deck.”

My brain was 98% awake at this point, but I still managed another “Wait…seriously?”


“Oh.  OK.  Cool?  Well…if she gets up again I’ll get her now.”


This is a conversation I had with my husband last night when he got into bed after working the 12:00pm until 10:00pm (or 10:00pm as it were) shift at the hospital.  Ninety minutes, three trips into Lucy’s room, half a bag of tortilla chips, a huge bowl of fresh corn salsa, and one episode of Breaking Bad later, Don and I finally went to sleep. 

For those of you who are parents and have dealt with the innumerable pitfalls and complications of your children’s sleep, this may be a familiar story.  For those of you without children, this may serve as an added layer of birth control and a hilarious anecdote you can mention to your other well rested, single friends at those fancy parties and bars you all go to (something like “Oh, the Zimmer’s small human is doing the drollest thing lately…she gets out of her room at night to scare her parents!”)

Don and I thought we had the sleep thing figured out.  Barring late nights with friends or travel, Lucy was an awesome sleeper.  Bedtime was fun and usually fast: brush teeth, read several stories, sing a couple of songs, lay her down and tuck her in with her bunny and her bindie, and sleep happened.  Magic.  She would sleep anywhere: in the car seat, the pack-n-play, on a bed.  Sometimes she even fell asleep in our arms, and then we would steal an extra few minutes, or twenty, just rocking her and marveling at the way her lashes fell against her chubby little cheek, or the feel of her little hand curled around a finger.  More magic.

Very adorable sleeper from an early age.
Car sleeper
 And then we moved.

And our daughter became a nighttime ninja.

After we moved into our new house, our daughter’s penchant for occasionally climbing out of her crib accelerated.  She had been sleeping in her pack-n-play for several nights and could climb out of it at will.  However, she would only climb out when she was done with her nap or when she got up in the morning after a usually reasonable amount of sleep.  So when we finally set up her crib, and she continued to climb out of it when she woke up and then climb back into it when she wanted to sleep, we thought she might be ready to take the crib rail off and try a big girl bed.

This was our first mistake.

Trying to transition Lucy to a big girl bed while she was getting used to a new house was a pretty amateur move on our part.  But we talked to her about it and trusted her when she said she wanted a big girl bed.  We wanted to respect her judgment, and give it a try.

This is the stuff they don’t tell you about in parenting books.  Oh they may mention sleep regressions that cause them to change habits, and developmental phases that limit their sleep, and drone at length about life changes causing separation anxiety.  But they do not talk about the gripping terror that wakes you in the middle of the night when you hear the faintest tinkling of bells. 

You sit up on bed, gasping for breath.  Sweet Jesus what is that noise?  You scan the room for evidence that your house is being taken over by reindeer.  You listen for the telltale sound of creaking that indicates that anything is moving.  After all, you now live in a 100 year old house.  Every floor and staircase creaks.  Every.  Single.  One.  Nothing can go undetected in your house as long as it walks on the floor.  Or so you thought.  Calmed by the hush that now lies over the house, you move to settle back into your pillow when the tinkling of bells sounds once again directly to your right.  The specter of your two year old in her ruffled zebra jammies standing in your doorway shaking her bunny blanket (the malicious source of said tinkling) causes you to have a coronary event (yes, this is accurate medical information.  My husband is a doctor.  No, I have not consulted him on this.)

Swiftly and silently you steal from the bed so as to not wake your still slumbering spouse (seriously, how the hell does he not hear these things?) and you spirit your daughter back to her room.  A little rocking in the rocking chair, a softly hummed tune, and you put her back into her crib.  You tuck yourself back into your bed, and are, God be praised, back asleep within five minutes.  Until something touches your face.  In your sleep addled state you can’t think rationally, and, heart racing, eyes still closed, you contemplate all of the hideous things that could be touching you right now.  The ghosts of people who died in your hundred year old house.  The gun of the murdering psychopath who could have stolen into your house.  A spider.  You slowly open your eyes, dreading the sight that will greet you, and it is worse than even you could have imagined.

The grinning face of your toddler, her hand upon your cheek.  In the next moment she says that phrase that incites more terror in you than any Saw movie could ever hope to stimulate.

“Mama!  I’m awake!”

"Mama!  I'm awake!"

The time is 4:15am.

You gently shush her as you once more steal from bed and spirit her back to her own room just down the hall.  While rocking her in her chair you explain to her that it is night time, and that we sleep in our own beds and cribs at night.  You point out her nightlight, Gus the Firefly, who will go off when the sun comes up and it is time to get out of bed.  You rationalize with her that mommies and daddies need sleep to, and if she wakes up at night and wants to play she can do so in her crib or her room with her many toys and books.  She looks at you, nods in understanding, and promises to stay in her room tonight.  You tuck her into her crib with her bunny, bindie, otter, teddy bear, two blankets and two baby dolls, and kiss her goodnight. 

“Goodnight mama,” she whispers back.

That seemed very convincing.  You are sure the rest of your night will go as planned: you, in a cocoon of blankets, drifting blissfully in and out of REM sleep, waking up refreshed and ready to face the day in another 2-4 hours.

Just as you are about to slip back into sleep, it happens again.  The tinkling of bells.  It is a cruel irony that such a seeming innocent sound can be enough to send your heart rate through the roof and pump adrenaline through your veins.  The ninja is out again.

"Mama!  You found me!"
This scenario has played out many times over the last four weeks in our house.  Some nights are still restful.  Lu falls asleep in my arms, Don and I snuggle into bed (either together or separately, depending on what shift he is working) and I wake up 8 hours later.  On a perfect day, I wake up rested at 6am and have a few hours to myself to write or catch up on some business with a cup of coffee.  On another kind of perfect day I wake up rested at 8am as Lucy comes into our room, climbs into bed with us, and snuggles for a while before we all go downstairs for coffee and breakfast.  The ninja is dormant, the night peaceful.

Dormant ninja in its crib.
Some nights are filled with the presence of the ninja.  Don or I get up four or six times with her, finding her in our room, right next to our bed, or bedded down with her rabbit shaped pillow and blankets on the floor somewhere.  We try rocking her back to sleep, pulling out the favorite lullabies and tunes.  We try just putting her directly back in her crib, to discourage her coming out just for the fun of having us rock her back to sleep.  We try talking to her, or not talking to her at all.  When she said she got up because she was frightened of monsters we got her a nightlight to stand sentinel against the dark, and she named it Gus the Firefly after one of her favorite stories.  Sometimes, if she doesn’t come get us, we just let her lay down somewhere and sleep the rest of the night in our closet or on the landing.

Ninja in its nest on the floor of our closet.
Evidence of another ninja nest on the floor outside of our bedroom door.

Regardless of the presence of the ninja I think Don and both try hard to appreciate that every night we have as a family is to be cherished.  Sometimes that feeling of gratitude is hard to hold onto after the sixth trip carrying an irate toddler, two blankets, and a huge rabbit pillow back into her room, but only for a short while.  I don’t know if it is Lucy herself, or the imprint the loss of Riley and our experiences in Haiti have left on our hearts, but amidst the thoughts of “Dear God, how am I going to make it tomorrow on only 4 hours of sleep?” some variation of another thought always sneaks through.

Thank you, God, for this stolen moment.  Thank you for this little sneaky baby, that she loves us enough to seek us out at all hours.  Thank you for this chance to show her that we love her and that we stand with her against everything that walks in the dark.  Thank you for every request for water, ice cream, or watermelon at 3am.  Thank you for every tantrum and snore and hand reaching up to pat my cheek.  Thank you that we have a roof over our heads to shelter our family, and a bed in which to place this little ninja.  Thank you for all the ways we are blessed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'll Just Start In The Kitchen

Since I seem to find it nearly impossible to complete an entire post lately, I'll just start in the kitchen. That seems more manageable. We're expecting the return of the little cactus icon on the weather forecast for the next few days, which clearly means spicy bean curries are in order!

I've got a bowl of black eyed peas soaking tonight and hope to dive into some black eyed pea masala tomorrow as we hit our peak temperature. I'll let you know how it all plays out. And I'll finally post some pictures of the house. Soonish.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The House - The Look

Note: this post was initially written May 30th, and amended July 20th.

So, we are trying to buy a house. If we succeed this means we are officially grown up. For some reason, in our set of philosophies, having a child does not make you a grown up. We got close last year when we bought a car, but we still felt like we had some wiggle room, some general maturing to do.  But now we are able to nod sagely when people use words like "mortgage," "equity," and "PMI."

This past weekend we looked at eight houses in two days, which is just a weird and exhausting process.  You kick a family out of their home for an hour, and then walk through it judging every choice they have made in the time they have lived there, as well as every choice made by every family who has ever lived there, and snarkily using such phrases as "crown molding" and "updated kitchen" and "open plan."  In the process you learn a lot about yourself and your spouse, such as the fact that D is alarmingly tolerant of wallpaper and carpeting that I find horrific, we both love craftsman style, and ceilings lower than ten feet make feel like the house is trying to kill me.  People, you know you are not shocked by the fact that I anthropomorphize houses.

So after hours and hours of walking through other people's lives and trying to imagine our life in their place, I came to a certain realization about houses.  There are two kinds of houses: the first kind is a house.  It can be a great house, it can become a great home even, but it will always be just that.  Roof, walls, floors, ceilings, appliances.  While everything doesn't have to be new or updated, usually everything works and is well laid out and makes sense. There can be beautiful spaces inside and out, and it can become filled with beautiful memories for you and your family.  You can be very happy in this kind of house. We saw several of these houses over the weekend, and one was a very top contender.  We live in one of these houses now, and have had three years of insanely happy memories within its walls.  But we have had a very hard time naming it.  Usually we just call it the Rochester house.

The second kind of house is different.  It is not just a house, and it is not just a house with character.  It is a character.  These are the houses you do not have problems naming. They don't have to be glorious mansions or big country houses a la Downton Abbey.  Our first character house was about 1,000 square feet, but every square foot was busting with elderly teacher charm.  There were foxes worked into the decor everywhere, a bright purple bathroom with black cats in red hats painted on the border, and a pastel quilt painted on the 16 foot high wall in the master bedroom.  You had the walk through the downstairs bathroom to get to the guest bedroom, which was formerly a sewing room, and the upstairs bedroom had a bay window seat.  We called it the Fox Den.

In a house, you have to contribute the entire story.  Your belongings, your voices, your memories are what fill the house.  In a character house, the house is another character in your story.  We didn't just have a New Years Eve party in the Fox Den, the house was there with us when we had the party, when we cooked our very first spaghetti dinner as a married couple, and when we brought home our foster daughter Joyce for the very first time.

We saw a lot of both kinds of houses over this weekend, and both Don and I agreed that we could be happy in either. But when I dig down deep, and am honest with myself, I know that I am usually happier when living in a house that contributes something more to our living arrangement than a roof and four walls.  A house than can contribute its own history and style and even opinions. A house that can say "Oh no, that color is never going to look good with my wood trim," or "Yes, a porch swing is exactly what I needed here!"  I have an active imagination, and I like having a house around me that I can have a conversation with.

It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that when buying a character house, it is best to find one whose character you can get along with!

This weekend we went back and forth with a lot of arguments, but kept coming back to one house in particular who would not be ignored or passed over.  To say that it had character would be a gross understatement.  It was built a hundred years ago, and seems to have spent the passing century just building up awesomeness and weirdness.  It has been a duplex and possibly at one time a triplex.  It has been the home of doctors, families, dogs, and during the 1980’s was restored by a fabulous gay man. There are stairways to no-where, secret basement rooms, nooks, crannies, a secret hot tub room on the second floor, sky lights, built-ins, butterflies, and four fireplaces all in a three story craftsman prairie style brick and stucco house.  

Don and I are already fighting over the name.  Don thinks that Shatterly Place fits it very well, but I feel like that will either be heard as Shat-erly Place or Slaternly Place, neither of which are really awesome.  I, being slightly more insane, feel that the house has revealed to me that it's name is Maurice and that it is the house incarnation of the recently deceased Maurice Sendak.  Don hates this with the fire of a thousand suns and now we have agreed I will never bring that up again under the threat of having all Maurice Sendak books removed from said house.  Except for here, on my blog.  Ooops.  Just don’t repeat it.

We put in an offer yesterday, and are keeping our fingers, toes, arms and legs crossed!

It is now the 20th of July.  I am updating this blog post from the den on the second floor, which is the room adjacent to the secret hot tub porch.  We packed all our belongings into a moving truck on the 30th of June, drove to Indiana the 1st of July, bought this house the 2nd of July and moved in that very same afternoon (thank you Jim Lee, T J D’Agostino, Paul Sacquitne, Cliff Arnold and Kevin Healy for all of your moving help!).

I promise to post a Part II to this series with lots of pictures soon!

We still have not decided on a name.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Moving, Part Deux

New things I have learned about myself while moving: our family is just plain weird.  I will illustrate this to you in a series of box labels that I have personally written in the past three weeks, McSweeny’s List style.

To Library:
Medical Texts (Don)
Baby Bottles

To Library:
Books (Don,Curriculum)

To Living Room:
Tape Collection
Wedding Albums
Polar Bear/Monkeys

To Living Room:
Sinatra Books
Wedding Albums
Couch Pillow

To Downstairs:
Sweaters (Don)
Winter Shirts (CJPZ)

To Office:
Books (CJPZ)
Ceremonial Sword
Sweaters (CJPZ)

To Office:
Haitian Metal Art
Flight Suit
Sweaters (CJPZ)

Legitimate questions that could be asked based on the preceding packing lists.

Wait…is the office the same thing as the library?  What the hell?
            No, its not.  We will have an office and library.  We will have many leather bound volumes (not really) in multiple places throughout the house.  This is why it has taken me two weeks to pack our books right now, into roughly 40 boxes. So now I get my own office for my ridiculous scribbling (lucky you!) and Don gets a PLS wet dream library with wall mounted bookshelves and a fireplace.  But don’t you go thinking that I got the short end of the stick with this deal – no, no dear reader.  My office has a sun porch off the side just big enough to contain a weird, 1980’s hot tub.

Oh yeah.

Why do you label your books separately than your husbands? What the heck is the “Curriculum?”
            Don and I have a long standing, somewhat humorous joke about our books.  We both have a lot of them, collected over the years, and they are not very good at sharing space.  I believe we had one bookshelf in our current house where Don and Crystal books casually mixed, but it was a forced casualness.  Beyond that level of silliness, Don has one extra-special bookshelf that is just reserved for books from his college major, the Program of Liberal Studies.  The wankers, er, I mean the awesome people lucky enough to have taken this major refer to it as “the Curriculum.”  Their alumni have Symposiums every summer at ND to talk about pressing issues and new research done on old issues and other generally very important and impressive things.

Of course, seeing as all of my friends in college were Anthropology, Peace Studies or Political Science majors we all like to make fun of PLS people a lot, because they think very highly of themselves.  Which, in all honesty, they should, because most of them read a lot of really amazing classical pieces, are incredibly intelligent, can converse with people from any walk of life, and are really interesting.  Except for the wankers.  But there a re wankers in every major, so it’s not really that big of a deal. It’s just that I have more fun making fun of PLS wankers than almost any other kind.  Except for business wankers.  You know who you are….

Um, ceremonialsword….again, what the hell?
Yeah.  I have one. It’s called a Kris or Kalis,and it’s from the Philippines.  My Dad gave it to me.  It’s awesome.

Why are your box contents so completely random?
            Theyaren’t.  They just appear that way to someone who hasn’t been packing for the last three weeks. Or maybe they appear that way to someone who doesn’t have so many random things.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Four and Twnety Blackbirds, Baked in a Pie

I have a weird thing about songbirds.  Specifically, I hate them.  There…I said it.  Phew. 

You’re not shocked, are you?  I can understand.  I am the kind of person who has “a weird thing” about any number of things, and you are understandably not shocked to find out that one of my weird things is about birds.  Well, I am sorry to disappoint you further, because the reason for my “weird thing about birds” is utterly mundane.

They are so. Damn. LOUD.

When my husband was in medical school he lived in a house in Indianapolis that was known amongst our friends as the Viking Beer Hall.  The owner of the house had seemed to go to great lengths to instill a sense of medieval frivolity in the place.  Wood paneling everywhere.  Wall scones shaped like dripping candles.  Tiny windows highly placed along the wall to minimize the risk of crossbow attack from the neighbors.  Rolling and pitched wooden floor that gave one the effect of walking on a Viking longship after a few horns of ale whenever you attempted to cross the living room.  A basement that could give any castle or mead hall’s torture chamber a run for its money.  All in all, an interesting place.

Whenever I would drive down to Indianapolis to visit Don for a weekend, I would have to prepare myself for any number of trails at the VBH.  I frequently brought my own cleaning supplies, and would give the one, tiny bathroom a thorough scrubbing with the most caustic cleaners I could find before attempting to use it.  Usually this would require a mask and me sitting outside with my inhaler for two hours afterwards trying to stop the burning in my lungs because of the lack of any ventilation whatsoever in that tiny hellhole of mildew and whatever else it was in that shower I don’t want to think about it anymore.  Some people just have different threshold levels for cleaning.  OK, it’s fine.  No it was seriously gross, but whatever.

By far the biggest issue I encountered when visiting Don was the colony of sparrows that lived in a giant vine on the wall of the house next door, a mere four feet from his window.  A window that was usually open, because Don is one of those people who likes to sleep with his window open until the threat of frostbite exists.  And then he closes the window but still doesn’t turn the heat on.  It’s sick.  I like to sleep with the window closed, but I never really knew why until the Spring of 2008.  When the birds came back north.  And every sparrow in Indiana came to live in the vine next to his bedroom window.  And they all started singing at 3am.

Suffice it to say I am a very light sleeper.  If our dog is having a restless night I can hear him turning around in his kennel downstairs and it wakes me up.  I have vivid, and anxiety filled memories of the first sparrow chirping every morning and the mental battle that would ensue:

Oh God, they’re starting already.  What the hell time is it?  The sun isn’t even coming up for 3 hours what do they want?!  Maybe it was just that one…damn it.  They’re all up now.  OK maybe I can do it this time.  They are melodious songbirds!  Just close my eyes, breathe evenly, they will lull me to sleep with their sweet trilling…fucking evil ratty brow plague monsters!!  Shut up shut up shut up I will kill you all and pluck you and make your little worthless breasts into a stew!  I will roast you and eat you whole, singing beak and all!  I hate you, you colony of hell spawned vermin!

Eventually, after an hour or so of stewing in my own, unnecessarily hateful juices, I would get up and quietly close the window.  Why the hell didn’t you just close the window in the first place?  Clever question.  I will explain.  When I closed the window, then I have to do one of two things.  I have to turn on the overhead fan or turn on the little fan on the bookshelf.  Because if I close the window and don’t turn on the fan, and the temperature in the room raises one degree, Don will sense the minute temperature increase, and begin thrashing about and shedding sheets and blankets and sweating.  And when he wakes up two hours later he will say he didn’t sleep well because it was too hot, and why were the windows closed?  And I just don’t want to deal with that. 

OK, fine, you are a wuss, so just turn on the fans then.  Good suggestion, my friend.  But which one?  The overhead fan, duh, it will cool the room the fastest and most efficiently.  Oh ok…but hey, do you remember if the light was on when we turned the switch off last night?  Or was the light off and the fan on?  I don’t remember.  So if I turn on that switch, and the light is on, then I have a desperate scramble onto the bed, probably on top of Don, to pull the chain that turns the light off while keeping the fan on, and definitely waking Don up in the process.  OK so the little fan.  OK fine, the little fan.  Which is poised so it blows directly onto the bed, wrapping Don in a lovingly cool vortex of air.  And wrapping me in a hateful frigid vortex of air, where I will lie, awake and shivering, for the next two hours.

I know I know, it’s a desperately first world problem I am facing here, and it doesn’t really matter at all.  I am just saying its complicated, and there are some almost convincing and not crazy reasons why I hate songbirds.  They wake me up.  They make me cold.  They reveal to the outside world my true inner craziness.  And when our daughter Lucy was first born, they became a symbol of parental defeat for me, and my hatred ascended to a new level.

New parents don’t sleep much, everyone knows this.  But when one of the new parents is a medical resident, who doesn’t sleep much anyways, that level of sleep deprivation increases  exponentially for both parents.  I would try and stay up or get up with Lucy more to protect Don’s sleep, because I felt it was more important for him to sleep than for me.  All I had to do all day was keep infant Lucy alive and feed her.  Don had to save people’s lives and make split second decisions that really mattered.  Also I was nursing Lucy, so the chances that she was awake because she was hungry were pretty large, and Don couldn’t really help in that department.  If he got up and gave her a bottle, well I was just going to have to get up to pump soon anyway, so he wouldn’t be helping me sleep really.  So I’ll just get up.  And, lets be honest, I was so wound up and anxious that I could hear every breath she took even in my sleep.  So when she woke up, I was usually awake anyway.  Thinking crazy thoughts about birds.

It was this new level of sleep deprivation that elevated the song birds in our Rochester, MN neighborhood from the level of annoying hell spawn to truly evil servants of the dark lord.  There I was, nursing Lucy at 3am or, having just nursed her, trying to put her back to sleep in her crib or swing or bouncy chair or anywhere really so that I could climb back into my bed and get some sleep.  And the first bird of the morning would sing.  It would sing a song that went something like this.

            I know you wanted to sleep tonight, but that isn’t in the cards for you my dear.  It’s morning now.  A new day has dawned.  It’s time to get up.  No sleeping for you tonight.  It may still be dark outside, but not for long.  The sun will rise and you will not have slept.  You failed!

I know, I know.  That is extra crazy.  But all new parents are a little bit crazy, and ones who already hate birds have a little bonus dose of crazy anyway, so what did you expect?

Every birdsong in the morning was a symbol of defeat to me.  When I heard that first song, my body would literally flood with stress hormones, my stomach would roil, I would tear up and think about how tired I was and how tired I was going to be for, literally, forever, and how I was never going to sleep again.  Ever.  And on top of that I was a terrible mother, because the birds were signaling the end of the night and Lucy hadn’t slept enough yet, or it had taken too long to put her back down, or she had broken out of her swaddle again.  Every time a bird sang I would be filled with negativity.

I would channel all of that gross badness into hating the bird.  Which, really, was probably not a bad place for those feelings to go when I couldn’t logically think them through.  At least they weren’t going towards Don or Lucy.  Much.

Every sparrow I saw got a death gaze.  Every cardinal was an affront.  Every red winged blackbird was the devils own messenger.  Really, the only thing that saved every songbird in my immediate area from being poisoned or trapped and eaten was my father-in-laws persistent love of songbirds.  It is my love and respect for Don’s Dad, a man who once did not use his front door for a year when a family of purple martins built a nest on it, which has kept the songbirds of south eastern Minnesota alive these last three years.  Albeit they rarely use their front door anyway, but it is the principle of the thing!

So the sweet swallows and sparrows and doves get a reprieve….for now.  It is well enough into summer that I have turned on the air conditioning, this eradicating the window open at night procedure in our house….for now. 

All I can say is that the song birds of Indiana better watch out.  I know the eaves of our new house look welcoming, but I warn you.  Come fall, when the air turns crisp and the promise of hearing the Notre Dame band practicing in the evening or catching the scent of fall leaves on the air seduces Don into leaving the windows open again, you better watch out.  Because I have been looking up recipes for roasted Ortolan’s lately, and it may be against the law in France right now, but this is America!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Where The HELL Have You Been?

If you are asking yourself this question, and are really (understandably) tired of reading back through old recipes and stories, then you are in luck.  I am going to tell you.

In just under a month now, Don, Lucy, Boss and I are moving back to Indiana.  South Bend, Indiana to be precise.  This is probably not shocking news considering we have know this for some time and have been talking about it all the time, although we never made an official media announcement.  Because we are not pregnant nor have either of us cured a disease or done some insanely awesome thing, which is the only reason anyone should announce anything.

So for the last month or so, basically since my last post, we have been busy.  Don finished all of his many requirements for graduating from his residency program: research project, several other projects with acronyms that I don't know what they mean, Grand Rounds presentation, etc.  Horay!  We drove to Indiana, bought a house (post on that coming ASAP), and then drove back to Minnesota for possibly the last time.  Don't worry my MN loves...this just means that hopefully from now on we can fly instead of drive!  And now I am...packing <<insert picture of me looking like a deer in the headlights here>>.

Most people find me a reasonably organized person.  I usually have my shit together, papers in proper file folders in the filing cabinet, several copies of important documents tucked into safe places around the house, computers backed up online and on a hard drive, etc.  I like to be prepared for things.  One of the major "discussion topics" D and I have in our marriage is my obsessive level of preparedness.  If we have a conversation in which several possibilities for dates or plans are mentioned, he will check back with me in a few hours to find I have secured a babysitter just in case we go through with one possibility.  I have learned now that is just helps to get things in writing when possible.

As organized and prepared as I like to be, when people start talk about packing and moving, I have a very marked physical reaction.  My palms get sweaty, my eyes widen, and I literally start looking around me for exits.  Because when it comes to packing, it takes me about 2 seconds to get completely overwhelmed with the idea of putting everything I own into boxes and then physically moving them from one place to another.  How can life be that portable?  Where the hell did I get all of this stuff?  Why  do we have so many heavy books?! 

In fact, I will do, and have done, just about anything I can to get out of actually packing myself.  Get drunk the night before moving day in college and pass out on the porch swing in front of my dorm, leaving my roommate and her parents to pack up my stuff and load it in their car?  Check - Junior year of college.  PS I love you Christine, George and Marilyn!!!  And yes, I know that is a completely heinous thing for me to have done, especially considering they were graciously letting me live with them that summer.  So horrible.  All I can say is that I learned something from that experience.  No, nothing about packing.  I learned that you cannot trust the Long Island Iced Teas at the Linebacker in South Bend, Indiana.  There is a two Long Island limit at the Backer.  I suggest you just stick with one.

A couple of years after that I was moving from Tacoma, Washington back to Indiana and had a complete mental shut down when it came time to pack my measly one room of worldly possessions.  Thank God D was there.  He put me in a corner, said "pack everything in this corner into this box and do not leave the corner until everything is packed unless you need more boxes."  Even with those simple instructions he would walk into the room every now and then to find me wandering around, seeing if the piece of driftwood from over the closet door would fit into the box of dresser things, and would have to reorient me.  Several years after that it took my entire family swarming my bedroom the day after D and I got married to pack my things, load them into a truck, and drive them down to Indianapolis where D and I moved into our first little love nest.

My history of moving doesn't include horrific amounts of things.  The most Don and I have ever moved was a two bedroom house, when we moved from Indianapolis up here to Rochester.  And I was lucky and peaced-out of most of that process because we had Joyce with us, and I was taking care of her.  Which is what I told everyone.  Before that, at most I had a room full of things and no more to move.  One room.  And still I would totally shut down and be unable to deal with the situation rationally.  Complete and total panic.

Now, we have a three bedroom house and seven thousand pounds of book and five million toys and a basement full of beer.  So in order to stay sane, I have come up with an excellent plan on how to pack a larger house without going insane or melting down or becoming catatonic.  It involves a series of cliches that I repeat to myself like an extended mantra whenever I think about packing, moving or attempt to actually pack.  It goes something like this:

Start early.  Slow and steady.  Keep calm and carry on.

I am considering asking one of our friends to borrow his awesome British WWII morale boosting poster to be a visual aid for my packing experience, but bringing a large framed picture into the house in order to aid me in removing other large framed pictures from the house seems a little too insane even for me.

I addition to delving into the horrific and exciting adventure of home ownership and thinking about the logistics of packing and moving, Don and I are now entering the last month of his residency, and the last month we have in the foreseeable future with our amazing Rochester friends.  Don't become hysterical, Rochester people reading this post.  We are not there quite yet.  So what we have been doing, when we are not packing and Don is not working (which is actually almost never this month) is sucking the marrow from this Rochester life.  That's right, lets get visceral about it.  Life in Rochester is a big juicy beef bone, and we are going to crack it open and suck out every fatty, nutritious, delicious drop.  And then spread it on some crusty bread and eat it.

Play dates, picnics, trips to the zoo and the park and impromptu pot luck dinners and moving parties and birthdays and walks.  Yes.  That is my answer to any invitation I get in the next thirty days, barring vomiting or fever, of course.  Unless its a really low fever.  Just kidding....?

And now, with that, I am off to suck some marrow from the bones of the Mayo Clinic, getting every doctors appointment out of them while we have their ridiculously excellent insurance coverage.   Maybe I can get Lucy's pediatrician to throw in some anti-anxiety meds for me while I'm at it....or at least a "Hang In There, Baby!" sticker.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Happy Mothers Day

There is a moment that sometimes happens between two people when you look at each other and, without any words at all, speak to each others souls.  You reach across the divide, however large, that separates you from that other person in less than an instant.  And somehow we realize that we are thinking the same thoughts, and feeling the same feelings.  That we are more alike than anyone, especially us, could have ever realized.

I know, because this happened to me when I was living in Haiti and visited a tent camp nearby the compound that we were living in, where many of the women who work at Kado live with their families.  I call it a tent camp, but it was more accurately a ruin.  Many of the families who had been living in a tent camp in the nearby field after the earthquake had actually moved back into the cinder block village where their houses had been, patching them with reclaimed cinder blocks held together with no mortar and USAID tarps.  Here, amidst the piles of rubble still present, hundreds of families lived together, nearly on top of one another, going about their daily lives.

Children ran and played in and out of broken foundations of houses.  Laundry was hung on lines stretched between walls.  Women and girls carried old buckets to a few wells to get water – I am not sure whether they were filtered and treated against cholera.  Men gathered in knots, talking and laughing and sharing stories.  Women gathered in groups to talk and laugh too, cooking over charcoal and rock fires or bringing some other task with them.

Amidst this all, Don and Lucy and I walked, visiting the camp to deliver some medicines that Don had promised on a previous visit.  Several of the boys from the baseball team had seen us right away, and came to grab our hands and lead us to the families we sought.  As usual, a knot of curios people and bolder children formed around us, trying to figure out why we were there and betting on whether Lucy was a real human or a doll.  When we finally reached the little cluster of houses we were a five minute walk into the camp through twisting and turning paths between closely built houses, and I knew there was no way I could find my way out without help again!

While Don went from house to house talking with people and dispensing his medicines, I sat on a chair that someone had immediately brought for me with Lucy in my lap and tried to play with some of the children clamoring for her attention.  All around us a group of kids and “ti mamans” formed, little girls no older than eleven or twelve with babies on their hips, charged with taking care of their younger siblings.  I finally stood up and walked around with Lucy to encourage her to get down and play, and that was when I saw you.  A woman, around thirty years of age (it is always hard to tell in Haiti, where some eighty year olds look forty and some twenty year olds look fifty), you were leaning against a broken pillar of concrete, watching Lucy and I.

People might think that when I look at you and when you look at me, all we see is the vast gulf of circumstances that lay between us.  You see that I have everything that you do not, and vice versa.  And at first, they might be right.  It is hard to ignore the poverty that surrounded us there, in the camp that you called home.  But then I looked closer and saw the little boy behind you, clinging to your skirt, and I realized that despite the almost crippling differences that we have – language, education, poverty, opportunity – we have something in common that transcends any boundaries that might lay between us.

We are mothers.

Being a mother is a vocation, not an occupation, whether you are in the tent camps of Haiti or the maple lined suburbs of Minnesota.  In the best of situations being a mother is the most difficult and most joyful vocation a person can ever take up.  I think to myself all the time what a difficult task I have ahead of me, raising my daughter Lucy, even when I can offer her the best possible chances to succeed in life.  Safety, good nutrition, available heath care, education, family.  I have such a large network of support around me to help, and still from day to day I find myself at a loss of how to do the right thing.  How to be a good mother. 

When I first saw you that day outside of your house – a room or two at most made out of un-mortared cinder blocks, tarps and tin – I was struck by the impossibility of your life, being a mother in that situation.  Not knowing if you would be able to feed your children from day to day.  Not knowing if they would be safe when they went off to school, if they were lucky enough to be able to go to school.  Not knowing if your roof would blow away or the walls of your house would fall down in the next storm.  Not knowing if your child would grow up to go to school, or have a job, or grow up at all.

When I struggle, and think that I am failing, I remember that sometimes all it takes to be a good mother is to love, which is something that you taught me.  I saw that day that you love your children with a ferocity that is inspiring, because no matter what your situation is, you never give up.  Ever.  You find a way to feed your children, even if it means selling a few tomatoes a day along the side of the road.  If your child is sick, you borrow money from friends and family until you have enough to get them to a doctor, even if you have to carry them yourself eight miles to the hospital because you cannot afford the doctors visit and the tap-tap.  If your house falls down in a storm you make a shelter for your family from USAID tarps until you can find a better solution.  You give everything you are, because you love your children –that is what it means to be a mother.

I held my daughter in my arms, and looked into your eyes as your own baby clung to your skirt.  And when Lucy finally squirmed out of my arms and ran to say hi to your son, we smiled at each other instantly.  As I drove away from your home a while later, back to the safety of the compound, I knew one thing to be certain: I would do anything in my power to help you succeed in your vocation. 

Being a mother is hard enough…Let's make sure to give each other all the help that we can!

Please visit Kado today.  Every gift you give helps a mother make her children's lives a little better.