Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The weekend of the 17th, Miss Chef and I did a slightly different kind of kayaking. It was through the Charlotte Parks system; they do 2-hour guided kayak tours of Lake Wylie. As you can see, these kayaks are different than the sit-on-top ones we’re used to at the Whitewater center. These are closed cockpit kayaks. They’re slightly more tippy than the others, but they stay a lot drier—the sit-on-tops have drainage holes all along the bottom, so your butt and thighs are immediately wet. I was glad for these, because as you can see, it was a bit chilly that day. And neither of us tipped--though Miss Chef got a wave that sloshed into her lap!
Miss Chef at work!
Me: Can I put this picture on my blog?
Miss Chef: I guess. I look all dirty.
Me: That’s what happens when you work in a kitchen! You should know that!
The salmon dish at the restaurant. Served with coconut rice and mango salsa. You know I have to make you hungry when you come visit, right?
This is for Bossy Betty. She gives us flower pictures every Monday, and I thought she could use a little flower of her own. Here ya go, hon!
And finally, a silly, fuzzy little video of Rosie at dinner time. She dances for her dinner every night!
Thursday, September 22, 2011
I wasn’t sure what to write about today; there have been different themes running through my brain lately. I thought this might become a Friday Fragment, but my first fragment has grown to full-post size. See for yourself…warning: serious thoughts ahead!
Always in search of another book to
devour read, I settled this week on Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. This will be the second time through for me. I don’t think I got much out of it the first time, as I don’t seem to remember any of the last third of the book! It’s about the family of a white Southern Baptist preacher who go to the Congo on a mission in 1959. Not to spoil the book for you, but…things don’t go well. Still, even after the mission falls apart, the remainder of the family spends the next three decades processing what happened and how it changed them (or didn’t). The book highlights the themes of the western (white) world imposing its ways on a “primitive” culture and geography, without examining them first to understand how the system already works.
This is not a book review; just an introduction to my own thoughts. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been aware of those who have less—much less—than we do. When I moved into my first apartment alone in my twenties, I was a bit embarrassed by the overwhelming number of material possessions I had to move with me. Clothes, bathroom supplies, kitchen gadgets and gewgaws, curtains, framed pictures, stereo and cds, computer and furniture… And I kept thinking about truly poor people in Central America or Africa, who have nothing but a tin cup and the clothes on their backs. How can I possibly need so much when they survive with so little?
My mind cannot wrap itself around the wide separation in our fortunes, those of us who fret over matching napkins and those who pray for enough extra harvest to sell for meat. Those of us who scour the shops for the perfect shoes to match a bridesmaid’s dress, or argue over whether probiotic yogurt is really effective, versus those who cross a river hoping the crocodiles are downstream, or watch their children wither with dysentery. How can I seriously be expected to care whether my pants are properly ironed when I know across the globe others are going hungry?
But honestly…what can I do? What am I supposed to do? I’ve never mentioned here that I do sponsor a girl in Sénégal—Fatou. I’m not a great sponsor; my letters to her have been ridiculously spotty. Still, because of my paltry but regular $24 a month, I know one girl has stayed in school rather than go to work to supplement her mother’s $800 annual income. One girl has learned enough math to keep a budget and enough French to speak her mind. One girl has gotten information about basic hygiene which will hopefully protect her from malaria, dysentery, AIDS… One girl out of millions.
I could do more, though. Besides writing Fatou more often, I could send her more money. Or sponsor another Fatou, or maybe a Maria in El Salvador, and a Chan in Cambodia. Why is it ok for me to not sell all my worldly possessions and join Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross; to dig wells or teach French and English to a classroom of Fatous?
Because we can’t all do it, I guess. Because there’s no point in going if you’re not called to it, otherwise you become a bigger liability than a help. I know myself well enough to imagine I’d be pretty dang distracted by missing air conditioning and my big king-sized bed at home. Teaching is hard enough for me with AC and all the comforts of home. So much for the shirt off my back.
That’s what gets me: as a Christian, I am supposed to give up everything, all my worldly attachments, to serve God. But does God really want me to wander naked and possession-less in the wilderness? No, I don’t think that’s the point; I can’t serve if I can’t survive. So where’s the dividing line; at what point is it ok to stop giving away and keep some to live on? In the States, “enough to survive on” has a very different meaning than in the Congo. We have to keep up appearances here: to keep our jobs, to keep a roof over our heads and to have enough extra to sponsor a child in Africa.
This post is full of questions, but not so many answers. I suppose what’s most frustrating is knowing that this is the way it’s always been…and for the foreseeable future, this is the way it will always be. No matter how many sponsor children or run off to join nonprofits in the hinterlands, there will always be those who have more than they recognize, and those who have less than they need. You and I, we were blessed to be born into parts of the globe that have a great variety and depth of resources. I just wonder if somewhere, a thousand years in the future, the reverse may be true.
Deep thoughts for the end of a week, huh? I’d love to hear yours!
Friday, September 16, 2011
Somehow, though, I magically started to feel normal again this afternoon. I forgot how good normal can feel! In celebration, I’m going to finish up the last day’s worth of photos from our trip. It’s only been two months since we got home; it’s about time I wrapped this up, dontcha think?
Our last day with my brother’s family was a Saturday, and Miss Chef and I wanted to spend one final day in London. This time we brought along our 12-year old nephew Alex. During our time in Paris, he and Miss Chef had decided they were going to cook dinner that night, and he wanted to join us in our search for potential ingredients.
Although we were headed to a market of sorts, we had a very specific product in mind: a toasted cheese from Kappacasein. My obsessive research on TripAdvisor had revealed that these were worth hunting down, even though the vendor had been asked to leave the major Borough Market. They’ve joined a small group of vendors clustered around warehouse-like areas created under railroad trestles known as the Maltby Street market. It took a bit of hunting to find the market area, and then Kappacasein was even harder to find! But find them we did—after Alex started wondering aloud what the heck we were doing wandering around a semi-industrial area that looked kind of sketchy to him.
Until lo, there appeared unto them a vendor of cheeses!
How’s that for simple, non-industrial food, huh? Three products available today, and not a centimeter of plastic wrap in sight.
As you can see, it was quite the informal operation. While the young assistant toasted our sandwiches—two kinds of Kappacasein cheese, with soft leeks for punctuation—the owner invited us back into the cavernous rooms with curved cement ceilings, to show us how the new space was going to be used. He’s got big plans. And it’s a great place for his business; the cave-like concrete space will maintain a fairly even temperature and humidity year-round.
Once back up front, we also managed to buy an illicitly-supplied local brew to go with our toasted cheese. What’s vacation for, if not enjoying a grilled-cheese sandwich and illegal beer before noon!
Doesn’t that greasy, gooey goodness make you want to break out the frying pan right now? Alex was not interested in grilled cheese for breakfast…until he saw this. Then he was happy to ask for seconds. Unfortunately, even this shared sandwich was too filling for us to attempt to eat their other offering of raclettes. That’s a specialty from northern France, which involves pouring melted cheese over small steamed potatoes, with some kind of cured pork (bacon, lardons, whatever the local specialty may be). What’s not to like?
Oh, and for those of you who “complain” about my making you hungry…looking at this picture has made me hungry!
The sandwich gone, Miss Chef and I finished our rapidly-warming beer, while Alex enthusiastically trotted to the neighboring stall to buy some cherries for dinner. So serious!
Our last food goal accomplished, we then proceeded on foot back toward central London. In hindsight, we should have taken a bus or something…but we had walked nearly as far, I thought, earlier in the week. Well, no, we hadn't; my estimation of distances was rather optimistic. Fortunately, as we trudged along, Miss Chef and Alex discovered a shared interest in fantasy novels and movies, so they chatted happily while I tried to figure out which of five intersecting roads was the one I was looking for.
But you know of course, this kind of wandering can be rewarding, too. We stumbled upon Potters Fields Park, with great views of Tower Bridge.
Once we finally reached the Thames, we headed west along the Millennium Walk. Our search for a public toilet led us to another, completely different view of the bridge.
I was beginning to find my photographic feet here in London, so to speak.
We also ran across this moving sculpture in a galleria off the Walk. Miss Chef and Alex were particularly drawn to it.
That trumpet-like extension at the upper right was a sort of shower head that sprayed water down onto the two sou’wester-clad figures on the er…poop deck? Once we figured out the whole thing, it was a rather whimsical sculpture.
Here's a tiny video of the thing in action:
As it turned out, my ultimate goal for our long, long walk was frustrated. I still wanted to try climbing the dome of St. Paul’s to see the fantastic views of London. At least…I thought I might still want to climb it. My feet had taken quite a beating over the previous two weeks, and after climbing the Arc de Triomphe, about a third the height, I wasn’t so sure I was up to this monument.
So, truth be told, I may have been a little relieved when, after an hour of walking, it turned out that St. Paul's was unexpectedly closed, due to an off-schedule service.
Not all was lost however; as we made our way back toward the train station, we happened upon a cool little candy shop, which Alex deemed worthy of crossing the street to visit. And right outside the door, I noticed this view:
So that was it, our last day on the town. The day wasn’t quite over yet, as we still had dinner to put together. Duck was on the menu, but we hadn’t happened across any stores upscale enough to carry it. So once on the train for home, we called the house to ask about driving to the local store. They were hosting neighbor kids for the afternoon, so in order to get to the store, we were going to have to drive!
On the left side of the road. Hey-oh!
Since Miss Chef isn’t comfortable driving in strange areas even on the usual side of the road, it fell to me. I’d been to the store once with my sister-in-law, and with the help of directions programmed into the GPS, I felt reasonably sure we could make it. Amazingly, both Miss Chef and Alex were willing to let me drive them!
I was feeling surprisingly confident as we headed out, and other than missing a turn, I did pretty well. However, on the way back, I wasn't at all comfortable on those narrow, twisty roads! Don’t worry, we made it back in once piece, but trying to “feel” where the left side of this strange car was, all the way over there…well, I may have popped over a curb or two when approached by large vehicles. Still, I never pulled into the wrong lane when making a turn, so I call it a successful foray.
No, I do not have pictures.
Oh, well, of dinner, yes, I may have a picture of that…
|Duck breast w/cherry sauce, broccoli rabe, sautéed zucchini and risotto|
So that was it; the grande finale of our stay. The rest of the family had eaten early, since kids' stomachs don't understand "late dinner." However, the duck was good enough to lure my brother back to the table for another plate.
We wrapped up our evening by packing four suitcases, and deciding to just pay the extra fees to check everything through. Amazingly, we had plenty of room for all of our food, wine, souvenirs, gifts and memorabilia. I even McGuyvered a poster tube to protect the poster Miss Chef
The next morning we said our goodbyes in the driveway, wondering when we might see each other again. It was hard to believe it was all over, that there weren’t more adventures awaiting us. Well, unless you count the sprint from customs to luggage transfer to gate at JFK…but we don’t want to talk about that.
No, I’d prefer to leave this post with my head in the clouds.
If you ever want to revisit this trip, just click on the “Big Trip” label, and they’ll be lined up for your reading pleasure. I know I’ll be doing that quite a bit this winter.
Update: Thanks to Garret's pointing out of one small flaw in that delicious picture of dinner, here's a 'shopped version for anyone who may have been offended by Alex' attempt to be responsible with his retainer:
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
|photo found here|
There is now one cup of fresh-squeezed persimmon pulp sitting in our freezer. The Thanksgiving dream of turkey with persimmon sauce is one step closer to reality! (What am I talking about? Check out the second half of this post if you feel like you missed something.)
In other news, we went rafting Saturday at the US National Whitewater Center. Yes, we went swimming again, but this time everyone went in the drink, including the guide! I'm all dried out by now, but carrying a bruised bum as a reminder.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
This is a post I wrote two years ago, as I noticed fewer and fewer people were making a conscious effort to mark the events of 9/11. Of course, on the tenth anniversary, the media are trying to make us feel like we're there again. But in some, unconscious way, many of us carry it with us every day.
I did not lose anyone on that dark day. But I came too close to ever forget the feelings of fear. And having family ties to the city, having visited the towers and Manhattan many times, the extent of the physical and emotional damage for all who were involved that day is beyond comprehension.
All I can say from the heart is what I wrote two years ago. Please remember...for those who are not here.
Planes, crashing into a building in New York City? Please; the likelihood of that level of mechanical and human failure happening in the middle of one of the largest metropolises in the world? Not hardly.
I didn't think about the failure of human minds and hearts.
At the gym, I was on the elliptical machine watching the news on tv when I saw that it was real. That something was gravely, horribly wrong. I don't remember when the word "terrorist" first rolled across the screen (do you remember when we still thought it was just an accident?). My first concern was for my uncle Paul, who had worked for NY Bell and was part of the repair crew on the Towers in 1993.
But he was long retired; surely he wouldn't be down there.
And then a moment of sheer terror: I had completely forgotten that my brother worked there, somewhere in lower Manhattan, not in the Towers, but I didn't know where. As the story spread, the towers collapsed; ash and dust coated the entire area and I finally panicked. I grabbed my water bottle and towel and ran to the car.
How odd; nobody around me seemed moved or concerned. They had no connection to this news story unfolding up there in "the corner." But my dad's family is from New York; we had all visited the Towers one summer when I was ten or twelve. I had been there; I knew what it was like, the sheer enormity of the place.
And my brother was there now.
As I drove home, I called his house in New Jersey. Busy.
I called his cell phone. All circuits busy.
(Do you remember how the phone lines on the entire east coast were tied up that day?)
Tried his home again. Still busy.
Tried my parents' down in Georgia. Busy.
Finally, I noticed the voice message icon on my cell phone. It was from my father; they had heard from my sister-in-law that my brother was ok. He was trapped in Manhattan (remember how they shut down all car traffic to and from the island?), but he was safe.
I called my father and finally got through. My brother had watched the whole thing from his office in the Traveler's building, two blocks from the World Trade Center. He was on the phone with my dad, watching the first tower burn, assuring him that they had been told to stay where they were, everything was fine.
Then the second plane hit.
My brother said, "I've got to go," and hung up the phone. That was the last my dad heard from him for the rest of the day. I never did talk to my sister-in-law that day, but I knew there were vastly more important calls that needed to get through.
My brother was the recipient of some of the amazing generosity that bloomed that day. He walked tens of blocks north, and was given shelter by a friend's sister, or something like that. Her landline was the only way he was able to call his wife that day. I don't remember how he got home, or when. That day, it was enough to know that he was alive. (Do you remember the confusion; the "Missing" fliers plastered on every vertical surface?)
He worked for Citigroup at the time, in their International Treasury division. He spent the next weeks at an emergency backup site in New Jersey, working 12- and 14-hour days to ensure that his small part of our financial system remained functional. (It didn't sound all that impressive back then, but after 2008's financial meltdown, I'm a bit more respectful.)
When I finally got to talk to him about it, weeks later, he wouldn't. He wanted to put it behind him and move forward. He had lost colleagues and neighbors. He had watched people leap to their deaths rather than face hell on Earth. That detail was the only thing he would say about it, and he said it angrily: "You don't understand what it's like."
No, he's right. I don't.
Less than six months later, in February 2002, I flew up to visit. (Do you remember how brave you had to be to get on an airplane again?) My brother took me into Manhattan, and we visited his office. Two blocks down the street, there was the raw wound, the huge square of nothingness. "If they had missed the Towers, our building would have been the next one they hit."
So every September 11th I fly the flag for many reasons, but mostly to commemorate the innocents who lost their lives that day. The ones who were in the wrong building. Who weren't lucky enough to flee, covered in ash, panicked and cut off from their loved ones, but alive. Who ran in the other direction, into danger.
I fly it in the hope that it will keep the memory alive another year. To remind myself of the inconceivable tragedy that still should haunt us. To remind myself to be grateful that I still have a brother, no matter how little we may agree sometimes.
My nephew Ethan was born in 2002.
My niece Keira was born in 2006.
My sister-in-law is not a widow.
I know that by the time Ethan's and Keira's children are in school, this will be just another date in history. A bunch of people died. They'll learn the definitions of "isolationism," "nationalism" and the names Bush, Hussein, Al-Qaida, Desert Storm. And it will mean as much to them as Pearl Harbor meant to me growing up.
That's the nature of history; as it retreats further into our collective past, it gathers dust, a soft coating that makes it difficult to see clearly. It's inevitable. Over the years, plenty of other, more immediate crises will push our country this way and that. Yet, for the time being, I'm doing my part to keep the memory alive and distinct.
I don't know anyone who actually died that day. But my flag, this post, and my tears are for their memory, and for the ones they left behind.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Ever since we moved in to Flartopia Manor, I’ve been working various beds, both vegetable and flower. Miss Chef tends to build them, I tend…to them. Sort of. Everyone who sees my pictures of fresh, happy vegetables or bright flowers comments on how they thrive. No, no, I insist, notice these are all close-ups! You don’t see the bed next to it, overgrown with grass, or the half of the garden that’s dried up and dead.
There’s also a tradition at the office that every new employee gets a cutting from a pothos plant in my supervisor’s office. It probably started as an attempt to cut it back, but today at least half the desks in the office have a plant on them. And people frequently comment that mine is the most healthy and pretty. No, no, I insist, it’s just that I bought a pretty blue strawberry pot to wrap it around, so it looks big and full.
But now, I’m ready to believe that I must have some extra talent with growing things, because of these:
Just a handful of green beans, picked from the garden. Not much, but let me tell you two details:
1. I haven’t tended the garden since we got back from the Big Trip two months ago. I’ve watered it twice, and 7/8 of the space is overgrown with grass.
2. I didn’t put a single bean in the ground this year.
These are what Dad calls “volunteers.” We often have tons of tomato volunteers, and sometimes dill (which isn’t called “dillweed” for nothing!). But three bean plants came up late this spring, all on their own. Two of them just happened to spring up right next to where I’d put in the tomatoes. And when those delicate fruits began to pout from neglect and putter out, the beans were happy to take their place on the poles.
All I had to do was recognize the seedlings as bean plants (grudging thanks to Mom and Dad), and not pull them as weeds.
So, okay: my name is Flartus, and I have a green thumb.
Now, here’s a blast from the past for those who’ve been reading for a while. A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a food I’d never tasted, seen or really ever heard of before: persimmons. They grew on a tree in our neighborhood common area, and I had never seen it fruit before.
If you happen to know persimmons, there’s a good chance these are not the same: most persimmons sold in the States are an Asian variety (bigger, sweeter, easier to clean seeds out). This is a native variety, which I suspect is fairly rare. I wasn’t sure why the tree fruited that year; maybe we had a wetter than usual spring; maybe the wind blew in just the right way to aid pollination; maybe Tinkerbell moved into the neighborhood and sprinkled fairy dust on it.
Sadly, the tree did not fruit last year. I was afraid Tinkerbell had moved out.
But this year, it’s back again!
Aren’t they beautiful? Ok, there aren’t many, but they are kind of a pain to harvest. There are a couple of reasons. First, they must be absolutely ripe, or they are incredibly tart (or so I’ve read). That means they have to feel like a sac of gel, and be ready to fall off the tree. Which they’re more likely to do, than to wait for you to come by and pluck them gently from the branch.
Secondly, this particular tree grows at about a 45-degree angle over the pond, at the base of a steep bank. Which means Flartus has to clamber out onto the trunk and try to reach out her short little arms in all directions without falling in! (I took my mom with me one time, and watching me made her as nervous as she used to get during my horseback riding lessons as a teenager.)
I’m hoping to get more, enough to freeze and do something with. Last time Miss Chef had wanted to make a sauce with them for our Thanksgiving turkey, but…well, since I’m in a confessional mood…we didn’t freeze the pulp in time and it went bad.
If we manage to make something of these, I’ll be sure to share it. In the meantime, click here to read about the harvest and processing from two years ago. Really, I could have re-posted it; it was almost the exact same experience today! And there were more pictures then.
…and then I walked happily home in the dusk…and straight into a giant spiderweb. Gaaahhhh, spiderweb dance!
Friday, September 2, 2011
As I look through my last day’s worth of Paris pictures, I remember that it finally struck me that I should probably get a few shots to use in class. So I thought I would go ahead and prepare you a crash course in some random French vocabulary.
I didn’t take any pictures, sorry. I was busy. Drinking. Wine. In fact, why don’t you go get yourself a glass to fully enjoy this post? Go ahead, I’ll wait. This post is a little long, you may need refreshment.
So. We opted for a “flight” of three reds and three whites. You can even choose your pour size; I think we went for the 3 cl size. (Not sure, it may have been 6 cl; for some reason the details are a bit fuzzy…) We also ordered some dishes off their small menu, and were blown away at the top-notch quality. Often the food at wine bars is an afterthought. Turns out their chef is a woman from California! I seem to remember a sort of mini-club sandwich and maybe a cheese plate. And some wine.
Um, so, yeah, the wine was faboo. I actually did note our impressions on the back of a couple of receipts, but I didn’t get the full names, vineyards, whatever. The whites were Alsace, Sancerre and Chardonnay; the reds were Corbières, Côte Roti and of course Bordeaux. I was excited about the Corbières, but it was too harsh for my taste. The Bordeaux was quite good, and I re-confirmed that I like Sancerre.
Oh, looking at my notes, I see it wasn’t a cheese plate, it was a charcuterie plate. Also, “muddle mint w/Tabasco bottle” and “raspberry mojito.” Hmmm…
Whatever was going on, the fact remains we drank lovely wines, ate delicious food, and even chatted with one of the owners for a good twenty minutes. Lovely. Miss Chef had an even better time than I did. We didn’t get there until close to 10:00 and were among the last customers to leave.
And then, I had a special plan for our walk home. It involved this:
I had been wanting all week to stroll by the Seine at night with Miss Chef, but we were always too tired or already home by dark. It made it extra memorable to enjoy it on our last night, so I’m not sorry it took so long. No matter how the city may adapt to modern times, Paris has not lost its famous charm.
So do you feel ready now for your French lesson? Here we go! (Remember, if you want to see any of the pictures larger, just click to biggerize.)
The rest of these pictures except for one were taken steps from our building’s entrance. I told you it was a great, fun neighborhood.
Yup, chicken nuggets are everywhere. Wonder if there are French children who eat only these and la pizza, as in the States? Miss Chef and I lost each other as I got distracted taking photos in the grocery store. I was waiting for someone to kick me out for being just a bit too weird, but no such luck. I’ll spare you the pictures of the various kinds of meats.
Paris has a program called Vélib, where for a very reasonable price you can pick up a bike at one of these stands, wheel away to wherever you wish, then deposit the bike into another stand at your destination. We never used it, as it seemed a bit confusing as to which American credit cards are accepted, and oh yeah, Miss Chef isn’t very comfortable on a bike. I didn’t think Parisian traffic would be the place to work on that!
This is the street we stayed on, named after the “King of the Franks, Emperor of the West.” This was also my last picture in Paris. I took it as we were eating lunch at the restaurant at the base of our building. A bittersweet meal, as it was in fact one of the best we had, and there were, for once, no other Americans within earshot. Le Bistrot des Compères
After this, we grabbed our bags and took a taxi to the Gare du Nord for our Eurostar train back to London. Au revoir, Paris, et à bientôt!
Since this post is so long, I’ll save our last day in London for a separate one. Bon week-end!