• A potential problem

    On Sunday afternoon the dog unearthed a rabbit nest, and then the kids gallantly saved two bunnies from a set of frothing canine jaws.


    The word “saved” is ambiguous. Saved for what? To be butchered? To be fed to the dog? To die from starvation? Seeing as I don’t care much for rabbits, particularly the wild kind, I wasn’t too thrilled—whatever would we do when the bunnies grew into two adult garden-loving rabbits?—and I told them so.


    But then I remembered the hours of fun I had with my friend Amber back when we were little girls and turned part of her barn into an animal hospital and spent hours trying to feed and coddle their viciously wild barn cats. It was so much fun to (try to) take care of those little kittens, pretending that their survival depended on our hard work and loving care.

    Fast forward twenty-five years and here I was, my delighted children clustered around me, their hands cupping two, real-life, side benefits of country living, looking at me expectantly, hopefully. (It didn’t escape me that I was being handed a free, hands-on educational experience, not that I was about to do any teaching).

    “Go out to the barn and find a cage,” I said. The kids gasped with surprise (am I really that strict?) and then yipped with joy and tore off to round up all the things that two little bunnies could ever possibly need.


    When Yo-Yo came in and asked me to look online to see what bunnies eat, but I pointed him to the world books instead, telling him to look it up himself. He yanked the thick blue book off the shelf and ran back outside where I could hear him reading out loud about grasses and climate and such. Later when they asked for milk to feed the bunnies, I did find a little medicine dropper for them and show them how to wiggle the tip in behind the rabbits’ clenched front chompers and gently squeeze the milk in, drop by drop, looking all the while for the occasional throat twitch that would indicate it was indeed swallowing. (Feeding the bunnies did tug on my heartstrings, just a little).

    The children have been faithfully feeding the bunnies milk and slipping them bits of carrot and snap pea and cuddling them in all their free time, but then the inevitable happened: the littlest Bunny Foo-Foo died. “Are you sure?” I asked, going outside to investigate.

    They lifted the bunny and hung it upside-down to show me how very dead it was. (Mr. Handsome thinks it had internal injuries—the dog, you know…)

    “Okay, then, go throw it on the burn pile” (the burial ground for most of our dead, wild animals). They obeyed, no tears or drama whatsoever.

    The remaining Bunny Foo-Foo appears to be thriving, jumping so high he bangs his head on the roof of his dog-carrier cage. The kids are determined to sell it for the bargain price of five dollars, but I told them I doubted they will have many buyers clamoring to snatch up their pet.

    I’m not too worried about this potential problem yet, figuring I have plenty of time to let it work itself out before I will have to step in and make any decisions. I’ll let them nurse it back to health, raise it, and then, if it hasn’t taken a bite out of a child’s finger, died or escaped, we’ll deal with it then. They can play with their new pet as much as they like as long as they are gentle the the bunny, as long as they take turns holding it without fighting with each other (we’re not doing so well on that one), and as long as they washed their hands with soap after each visit to the bunny’s house, and as long as they keep it out of my house.

    About one year ago: Work. (It looks like we won’t be getting any blueberries this year—our local blueberry farm closed their PYO option after being open for only two days. I’m sorely disappointed and am taking this misfortune as a sign that we need to get busy and plant ourselves some blueberry bushes.)

  • Salvaging the compost

    The other day—

    (You do realize that’s a euphemistic phrase, don’t you? It means that whatever I’m about to tell you happened a while back, perhaps a good deal of a while back, perhaps as long as a couple months back, but since I never got around to writing about it until now, and since I want my words to seem fresh, I say “the other day” because it sounds more recent (and more relevant) than “a couple ages and eons ago.”)

    Where was I going with this? Oh yes, red beets.


    The other day (maybe a week and a half ago, if you’re wanting the hard, irrelevant truth) I thinned out my beets. I don’t have a very big row of beets since no one else in my immediate family enjoys them, but I do plant a handful of seeds so that I have enough to eat some fresh, make a salad (or two or three), and possibly whip up a chocolate beet cake for a church potluck. Right about then, after feasting my heart out, I start to get sick of beets and begin to feel rather glad that there is no point in canning them since no one else likes them anyway. So I cheerfully, and without guilt, toss the large, woody beets that are still hanging out in the garden onto the compost pile, and move on to preparing and eating other foods, relieved to lay off the beets for another ten months until the next beet season swings around and provides me with the opportunity to glut myself once again.

    So anyway, as I was saying, I thinned my beets. For the Amelia Bedelias among you, that does not mean that I slipped girdles on my beets to restrain their slowly swelling bellies, nor does it mean I took a knife to them, trimming their round frames into hourglass figures. It means that I went down the row pulling up the beets that were crowding too close together, making the row thinner, not the beets.

    I’m guessing you probably already knew that.


    Of course I couldn’t throw away the pulled plants, so I gathered them into a bowl and took them inside, intending to cook them up for my lunch.

    I had planned to eat only the greens, but the little beets, some skinnier than a pencil, looked so yummy that I decided I would eat them, too. I cut them off and set them aside in a little bowl—I would boil them first and then serve them along with the greens.


    It appeared that the only beet part I was going to toss out would be the red stems, but then I got to wondering if they would be good to eat as well. So I called my mom and she said, Sure, go ahead and eat them if you want; it certainly won’t hurt you.

    I boiled the little beets in a pan of salted water till they were almost, but not quite, done, and then I added the stems. When both the beets and stems were fork-tender, I poured them into a colander to drain while I wilted my greens in a pan of hot butter. Once the greens were sufficiently cooked, I scooped them onto my plate, piled on the stems and little beets, and dug in.


    It was a huge pile of roughage; I made it three-quarters of the way through before I called it quits. I had eaten salad for breakfast that morning, so I was feeling a little nervous about all that fiber flooding my system. Maybe there was a limit to the amount of salvaged compost that a human body could digest. Maybe I had overdone it. Nothing happened to me though, except that my cheeks turned rosy red, my fingernails lost their white spots, and my split-ends mended themselves. (My ears also grew a couple inches and my nose started twitching, but by the next morning those symptoms had vanished, so I think they were a fluke.)

    Red Beet Greens

    The greens from baby beets, about one large bowlful, or about 8-12 cups
    2 tablespoons butter
    salt and pepper, to taste

    Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the greens, salt liberally, and toss gently till they have wilted. Allow them to cook, uncovered, for three to six more minutes (the shorter amount of time for newer greens and a longer amount of time for the not-so-new greens).

    Yield: Will feed one to two adults when served straight-up as the main meal (the gray fuzz that sprouts on the back of your hands will disappear within twenty-four hours), or it will feed four to six adults when served as a side dish, or, when tossed with a pound of cooked spaghetti and freshly grated Parmesan and served as a main course, it will be make a hefty main meal for four to six adults.

    About one year ago: One freaky kid

  • Chapter Two: The Miss Becca Boo Reading Situation

    Remember all that stuff I told you about how Miss Becca Boo still isn’t reading but she doesn’t seem to mind? The other day my friend Shannon watched my kids, and later she filled me in on a little interaction that transpired between Miss Becca Boo and Jalyn, Shannon’s daughter who just turned six and started to read.

    Miss Becca Boo was sitting on the couch, absorbed in some books. Jalyn walked into the room and asked, “Are you reading those books?”

    Miss Becca Boo said, “No, I’m looking at the pictures.”

    Jalyn said, “Would you like me to read them to you?”

    Miss Becca Boo said yes, the girls snuggled up together on the sofa, and Jalyn read the books to Miss Becca Boo.

    “Did she act embarrassed?” I asked Shannon.

    “Not at all,” Shannon said. “I was watching really closely because of the stuff you’ve said and I think she is either totally clueless or else she has amazing self-confidence. And I don’t think she’s clueless.”

    ***

    Aren’t most people ashamed of (or at least subdued by) their inferior abilities, even at a tender age? By all accounts, Miss Becca Boo ought to be blushing with embarrassment and ducking her head in shame when a child younger than her can read books she can’t. (Mr. Handsome was a late reader and he knows firsthand the heavy shame that comes with falling behind.) But she’s not, and even though I’m grateful (of course), I’m also downright mystified.

    While I know that some of our decisions (keeping her out of the school system and letting her learn on her own time table, to name two) have played a role in this, I am not naive enough to take all the credit. We did the same things with Yo-Yo, and before reading clicked with him, he articulated embarrassment about his inferior abilities. And I doubt she gets her confidence from me. I’m riddled with all the standard feelings of inadequacy and fight many a mental battle in the War of Self-Acceptance (excuse my drama).

    Maybe Miss Becca Boo has a non-judging personality, one that allows her to accept herself and others. Maybe she’s just not aware enough yet to feel bad that she’s behind and once she does she’ll push herself to learn. Or maybe, irregardless of how far behind she falls or what anyone says, she’ll learn when she’s ready, no bad feelings involved.

    I’ll have to wait a few more months till I can find out how this ends. It’s kind of like a real-life mystery complete with twists and turns and ah-ha moments, but minus the smoking gun.


    The story isn’t over yet. Hang on for Chapter Three.

    About one year ago: Brown Bread and Fancy Granola and French Chocolate Granola (the chocolate granola is well on its way to becoming a classic).

  • Another sketchy character

    Here’s the other character sketch. Even though this sketch is part fabrication, those of you who know me will have no trouble figuring out who this is. I’ll just say this: I love this woman … to pieces.

    **********

    Chin Hairs and Chicken Noodle Soup

    Mrs. Sarah Stoltzfus worries. She worries that the stove is leaking gas and spends long minutes adjusting the gas knobs and sniffing above each burner. She worries about botulism. Once when the venison roast was left in the crock pot all morning without being turned on, and even after she cooked it properly, she feared that it would kill them all and threw it out. They ate cold, left-over vegetable soup on top of the rice instead. She worries that the appliances aren’t properly plugged into the electrical outlets and that the plastic casings around the wires are wearing thin, so she unplugs certain lights each night before going to bed. She worries that she won’t notice the hairs that might begin to sprout out of her chin before important people have already seen them. She worries about the old chair by the kitchen stove that is painted with paint that probably contains lead, so she refuses to allow any cooking utensils to be set on it. She worries that her signature looks sloppy; maybe the cross for the ‘t’ has partly slashed through the ‘l.’ She worries that she’s getting old because flab hangs from her arms and she forgot to put the chicken in the chicken noodle soup. And she worries that she’s a heretic for wondering if God really did tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac or if it was just a figment of Abraham’s imagination.

    About one year ago: Cake Extravaganza

  • The chicken that’s been missing from your life


    I love this. The kids love this. As for Mr. Handsome, well, this is what he said.

    First, he said, with reflective tentativeness, “Wow.” Next, he added a bold, “Mmm.” And then he really let fly the culinary praise when he asked, almost peevishly, “Why doesn’t chicken always taste like this?”


    So, there you have it. We’re sold.

    Oregano, Garlic, and Lemon Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Asparagus
    Adapted from Aimee’s blog Under the High Chair

    I didn’t measure my potatoes or asparagus. I used the last bit of asparagus that was hiding in the crisper, and ran out to the garden to dig up a couple potato plants—I was shocked to discover giant, fist-sized potatoes this early in the season.

    The asparagus roasts up kind of soft, I think because of all the lemon juice. I thought I wouldn’t like it (since I don’t like baked asparagus—tastes too slimy for me), but it was great, the texture melded perfectly with the potatoes and chicken.

    There did not seem to be many juices left in the roasting pan when I pulled the roasted chicken from the oven, but after letting the chicken rest for a few minutes and then after piling the veggies up around it, the juices oozed out, seemingly from nowhere. If you want a juicier chicken yet, you can add a cup of chicken broth to the pan the last fifteen minutes of roasting.

    I’m going to be making the pesto-like rub and freezing it in little containers so we can eat this roast chicken year-round.

    Leftover chicken goes great in a lettuce-cucumber salad.

    1 chicken
    3 lemons, divided
    6-8 cups new potatoes, washed
    1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch spears
    1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning
    1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
    2 tablespoons olive oil, plus some extra
    ½ cup fresh oregano leaves
    10 garlic cloves, divided

    For the “pesto” rub:
    In the canister of a food process, combine the following: the zest and juice from two lemons, four cloves of peeled garlic, and the fresh oregano. Process until the mixture resembles a nubbly pesto. Add the 2 tablespoons olive oil, the tablespoon of salt, and the teaspoon of pepper and process till well-blended. Set aside (you may freeze it at this point, if you wish).

    For the chicken:
    Put the chicken in a roasting pan. Rub the garlic mixture all over the chicken: stuff it under the skin, right up against the meat, inside the chicken’s cavity, and all over the outside of the chicken. Bake the chicken, uncovered at 350 degrees for 1 ½ – 2 hours, or until done. (I check for doneness by wiggling one of the legs—if it moves easily, it’s done.) Remove the chicken from the oven, cover it with foil and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes.

    For the vegetables:
    While the chicken is roasting, prepare the vegetables. Wash the potatoes, but do not peel them. If they are not uniform in size, cut the large potatoes into chunks the size of the smaller potatoes. Put the potatoes in a pan and cover them with water. Bring the potatoes to a boil and then simmer them until they are half-cooked (about ten minutes). Drain them and then put them in a large bowl.

    Cut the third lemon into six wedges and add them to the potatoes along with the prepared asparagus and the last six cloves of garlic. Generously douse the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle them with plenty of coarse sea salt and some black pepper. Toss to coat. Spread the veggies out on a large baking sheet.

    Once the chicken has finished roasting, turn the oven up to 450 degrees and slip the baking pan of vegetables into the oven. Bake them, stirring once or twice, for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender and the vegetables are beginning to caramelize.

    To serve:
    Mound the vegetables up around the roast chicken and serve.


    About one year ago: Lemon Donut Muffins

  • One whole year

    One year ago today I took the blogging plunge. It’s been quite the ride. I started with one blog and now have six (mostly just reference blogs—food indexes and such). I’ve clicked “publish” more than 300 times. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures, and I’ve spent countless hours thinking, composing, and editing. I’ve written about everything from airing my dirty laundry to laundry detergent, from husbands to husbandry, from feminine issues to feminism, from birthdays to birth stories, from tearing up the creek to tearing up the town, from smashed fingers and gashed heads to smooshed apples and smashed potatoes, from dumb mistakes to dumbness, from haircuts to hairy issues, and all the stuff in between, most of which has been recipes.

    “Detailing the minutia of my existence in a determined effort to make it more enjoyable—for me” is the phrase I came up with to describe this blog (you can see it in the upper right hand corner by my blue shoes). Has this blog served to make me enjoy my life more? Hm, I would have to say yes….and no. Let’s start with the no.

    I don’t think my life is any more enjoyable than it used to be. The Daily Drudge—paying bills, buying milk, emptying the dish drainer, washing peed-on sheets, kneading bread—has not been transported to a level of rhapsodic ecstasy. Those parts of my life are still just as dirty, messy, draining, and boring as they were pre-blog.

    The truth is, the act of writing this blog can be quite draining, too. I struggle to finagle the time to write, and the constant pressure to get the words out (a mental sort of constipation, if you will) can make me irritable. Furthermore, I mentally fly away to another world when I sit down to write, a world of cool phrases and thought-provoking ideas, and this being-here-and-yet-not-being-here state of being can cause my immediate family members to develop a case of Blog Resentmentitis. I do see the irony.

    And yet, I need this creative outlet, or rather, I need a creative outlet; if I didn’t have the blog, I would have something else, and whatever that creative outlet is (be it teaching Sunday school, mentoring a teen, being a foster parent, making cheeses), it would be accompanied by the same tensions and frustrations that come with this blog. This is how life is, one giant balancing act complete with Give and Take, Push and Pull, and maybe, if you’re lucky, some clowns thrown in for good measure.

    This blog has provided me with a space to be creative, my artist’s palette, so to speak, and for that I am grateful. I love the satisfaction that comes from arranging words and photographs into a shareable format; I love hearing back from people that appreciate my work; and I love, love, love learning that my work has been meaningful to somebody. (While I like writing for the sake of writing, you, my dear readers, and your comments have been the icing on my bloggy cake. So here’s a big bear hug to all of you who read my blatherings, and here’s a giant bear hug to all of you who blither right back at me. Thank you!)

    This past year of blogging hasn’t been all roses and it hasn’t been a magic cure-all to my mild malaise, but it has provided me with a platform from which I can soapbox to my heart’s content, and boy oh boy, do I like to soapbox. So I think I’ll stick with it, this thing called a blog, continuing to teeter-totter my way through as I try to find the balance between living my life and writing about my life.

    Year Number Two, here I come!

    One year ago: Reasons for blogging

  • There’s a red beet where my head used to be

    Commenter S just informed me that the reason I’m having trouble shelling my peas is because they are snap peas and snap peas are not meant to be shelled. Oh. Oh?

    OH. MY. WORD!

    I can not believe that I spent hours upon hours upon hours shelling snap peas.

    Do you know how sick this makes me feel? Do you know how utterly embarrassing this is?

    I am totally and extravagantly mortified. I actually thought of deleting my pea-shelling rant because it makes me look like (nay, it shows that I am) a complete fool, but then I thought, no, I’ll leave it up there so that everyone else can feel good about themselves because I’m sure no one out there has every done anything that totally stupid. I mean, who would ever try to shell their snap peas?

    I can not believe I did that.

    I’m still presenting a pretty stoic front about the whole thing, still pretending that I’m normal; wouldn’t want to frighten any little children or faithful bloggy readers, you know. I want to laugh, but I’m afraid that if I crack my carefully arranged facial expressions I might just dissolve into a puddle of blubbering snot. Then again, I might laugh so hard I pee myself. It’s a toss up at this point.

    Though I appear calm and placid on the outside, my emotions are going haywire (as if you couldn’t have already guessed that). I picture my emotions as little men (funny they’re not women) romping around inside my brain. They make lots of noises, too. Right now the predominant sounds are chokes, gasps, high-pitched giggles, jeers, chortlings, and moans, and under all that commotion is the steady slap, slap, slap, the sound made by many little hands striking against many little foreheads, repeatedly and in unison.

    Crap. Not only did I inadvertently broadcast what a fool I am to the whole entire world, but now that I’ve spilled the beans (or maybe the peas) about the little men housed in my head, I’ve proved that I’m also certifiably crazy. Hi! Ima Cray Zeful. What’s your name? I have no shame.

    Due to heightened feelings of vulnerability, I’m laying down some ground rules for comments to this post: You may only post a comment (and I do screen them after all) if you deign to share a gardening blunder of your own. If you haven’t made any gardening mistakes, then just make one up, okay? (Oh, and I’m also open to advice on what to do with all my hull peas that are now snap peas.)

    Let the healing begin.

    Love,
    A Subdued, Contrite, and Humbled Home Gardener
    (otherwise known as Ms. Beet Head)

  • A public service announcement

    Never, never, never, under any circumstances whatsoever, buy Amish Snap peas.


    You know how hull peas are supposed to make a satisfying pop! when you squeeze their fat bottoms with your thumb? Well, there is no pop to be found anywhere in these peas. In fact, the only thing that happens when you give them the butt squeeze is that the butt tears off. The best way to get the peas out, I’ve learned, is to tear off the heads of the pods and string them, working from their heads down their curving backsides. Then, oh wretched Extra Steps, you flip the pods around in your hand and pinch their butts. This method might work if you could string them the whole way to the end, but more often than not the strings disappear halfway down the pods so that you still have to use both thumbs to carefully split open the pods. And the pods still shred and rip.

    And you know how you’re supposed to scrape the peas out of their pods with one deft swipe of your thumb? There is nothing deft about scraping these peas out. On the rare occasion that you open a pod and keep it intact, the little peas cling fiercely to their umbilical cords so that it often takes two fingers, plus lots of valuable time, to wrestle them out. More often than not, you end up picking each pea, some of them smooshed, out of bits of mutilated pod.

    The Amish Snap peas also cause marital strife, something that the writers of the Seed Saver Catalog failed to mention. I’m pulling the still-producing, worthless things out by their roots today.

    These peas are bewitched, I tell you. Beware.

    Love,
    A Pissed-Off Home Gardener

  • In honor of Father’s Day: The Giant Green Slug

    Fact: It is hard to keep your balance with a giant green slug on your head. Mr. Handsome knows this firsthand because he tried it.

    Preamble: Parenting does not come natural. When people say, “I just can’t do it! It’s too hard,” and then look at us like we’re from a different planet since we have four kids and we homeschool them, I want to tell them this little fact: It is hard, and it doesn’t come natural. All parents—and maybe some more than others (we belong to the “some” group)—make bumbling fools of ourselves in the process. It takes awhile to find The Parenting Rhythm (not to be confused with The Rhythm Method). It’s super tricky to find the middle ground (not to be confused with “selling out”) between Being Yourself and Being A Parent. But it can be achieved… for about two pointy-toed steps, and then the wibbling-wobbling starts back up again. Oh, the joys of parenting!

    Introduction: What follows is a little story about Mr. Handsome finding his balance, slug and all. It’s an awkward story, one that show’s Mr. Handsome’s gangly edges, but rest assured, he doesn’t fall off the edge and get squashed by the slug. After a little faltering, he reorganizes his principles, chucks the slug, and regains his balance (and some common sense). And he laughs about it now. He’s a good sport (in my meaner moments I might add, “Because he’s had a lot of practice”, but I’m feeling kind now, so I’ll bite my tongue and keep the peace).

    Miss Becca Boo and Mr. Handsome working out their balancing act.

    (By the way, this is an excerpt from our book. And remember, the setting is Nicaragua.)

    ***

    Mr. Handsome refused to use disposable diapers. Ever. When Yo-Yo was born, the hospital staff put him in a disposable, but as soon as we had Yo-Yo in our care, Mr. Handsome switched over to the cloth diapers, safety pins, and rubber pants that my mom had sent from the States. I, too, thought disposables were an awful waste, filling up landfills all over the world, taking decades to decompose. How much simpler (and more satisfactory) to wash out the rectangular cloths every few days and bleach them dry in the tropical sun. An added bonus was that the poop, once solids were being consumed, could be tossed in the dry latrine and reused as fertilizer after it decomposed.

    I was thankful that I had a husband who didn’t baulk at the diapers and laundry, who understood that the extra work was worth it. So we martyred through the first couple months of Yo-Yo’s life, changing him about a dozen times a day and several more at night, proud of the upright life we were leading.

    Then, when Yo-Yo was two and a half months old, our whole MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) team had to make a two-day bus trip to get to Guatemala for the regional retreat. Afterwards, Mr. Handsome and I were planning on attending language school for a couple weeks to brush up on our Spanish. I told Mr. Handsome that I thought we should take disposable diapers. He was horrified, “And spend all that money?”

    “What?”

    “Disposables cost way too much, like five dollars for twenty!”

    “But honey, MCC pays for them. We don’t need to worry about the money, and besides, it’s an MCC function, so they can help us out. I don’t want to lug around all those cloth diapers on our bus trips! And where do you think you’re going to wash them and hang them out? And when? We’re supposed to be in meetings and studying?”

    “I’ll figure something out. Don’t worry about it,” he said.

    “Fine. You can be crazy if you want. But it’s all your problem. I’m not helping out one iota, and don’t you dare ask me to do any of it! Got it?”

    I was perturbed. I thought we were using cloth diapers because we wanted to save the environment; I didn’t realize that saving money was what was motivating Mr. Handsome. Somehow that didn’t seem as noble. And I was mad that he insisted on being insane. I was positive that I was right, but there was nothing I could do but let him find out for himself.

    It only got worse. Mr. Handsome and I packed a couple backpacks for ourselves, and then he packed the largest duffle bag we had, an enormous green slug of a thing. He filled it with all seven dozen of our cloth diapers, a medium-sized plastic tub for soaking/washing the diapers, some bars of hard laundry soap and a container of the powdered detergent, rope for a wash line, and a big bag of clothespins.

    I could hardly bear to watch when it came time for Mr. Handsome to drag the bulging monster of a bag out of the MCC gates and down the front steps. The taxi driver had to get out to help heave the bag into the trunk. I watched enviously as the other MCCers skipped along with just one bag slung over a shoulder (including the other couple that also had a baby), while I struggled to manage our own two backpacks and the diaper bag and Yo-Yo. The others all piled into the taxis, squishing in together. We, the rich, loaded-down gringos, filled our taxi all by ourselves.

    In San Salvador we spent the night in the bus station’s hotel. Mr. Handsome had by then rearranged the bag’s contents so that he could carry it on his head and wear one of our backpacks. He looked crazy.

    When we finally got to the Chiquimula retreat grounds, we were informed at the registration table that the planning committee had debated whether or not to put the parents with young children in the hotel-like rooms that had just been built, or in the cabins and cottages with everyone else. The good thing about the new facilities was that they were secluded and modern; the bad thing was that they didn’t have running water yet. I watched as Mr. Handsome had an internal hissy fit; my smug smile refused to stay hidden.

    When we got to our room, I couldn’t help pointing out to Mr. Handsome that the rooms were fabulous and that the other parents didn’t seem fazed in the least bit. Mr. Handsome stomped around, hissing under his breath so that the people next door wouldn’t hear of our absurd problem. “How can they have a retreat with no running water? This is so stupid! What are they thinking?” He stormed outside to a grove of trees where he rigged up a clothesline, and then went off in search of some running water, a couple plastic bags of dirty diapers and the bag of detergent in the tub under his arm.

    Mr. Handsome fell into a rhythm of washing diapers every morning and folding them in the evening. I pretended not to notice when he was late for breakfast or the first session, but I was pleased to note that he was late. Just like I had told him he would be.

    One of the other MCCers, an experienced older woman who had birthed two children in Central America, saw our diapers hanging on the line and told us that oh yes, after her baby was born she refused to use disposable diapers, but then they went on a trip with cloth diapers and she vowed never to do that again, lugging around all the extra baggage on over-crowded buses was way too difficult. Mr. Handsome listened quietly, beginning to catch on, I hoped.

    Retreat over, we set out for Quetzaltenango, a beautiful city situated above the clouds. Our host family was kind, but right away we noticed that they had only several small clotheslines in the tiny courtyard. Once again Mr. Handsome went about setting up shop. The first morning he tried to wash out the diapers, his fingers about froze off, the water was so chilly, and the diapers turned to sheets of ice as soon as he hung them up. That evening they still weren’t dry since they had received no sun and the day was damp. We tried to drape them over the night table and chair that were in our room, but they still hadn’t dried by morning. So that afternoon Mr. Handsome packed up the cloth diapers, shoved them into the giant green slug, and went to the market to buy some disposables. On the second try he purchased the correct size, and we both (Mr. Handsome’s an agreeable loser) gloated over how convenient they were.

  • Rainy day adventure

    The garden has stressed me out this spring. Actually, it’s not the garden that’s stressing me out, but the fact that I have not been able to get into the garden due to the incontinent skies. It’s been raining almost every day, often in the afternoon. It reminds me of the three years that we lived in Nicaragua, a country (that used to be) filled (until we cut most of them down) with rain forests.

    I have an announcement, people: Virginia weather is not supposed to emulate the weather patterns of a rain forest. It’s kind of freaky.

    Anyway, so it rains and rains and rains and rains. And the weeds in the garden grow and grow and grow and grow. And then it stops raining for a day and the ground starts firming up a bit and I get all excited because I think that the next day I’ll be able to actually get out there and wield a hoe….but then it rains again.

    I think I spied a banana plant shooting up among the asparagus fronds.


    We did have two days without rain this past week (I think it was Sunday and Monday), and so on Monday I worked in the garden till noon and then when Mr. Handsome came home he took his turn, walking behind the bucking tiller, inspecting the plants, weeding. The next day it rained all day, continually. But I felt a little better.

    Well, um, I should say I felt a little better about the garden since we had gotten a chance to rein (ooh, bad word) it in a bit, but the heavy skies and cool temps were a real mood-damper (eek!). I piddled. The kids hovered. I felt itchy-crazy under my skin and my voice acquired a note of panic. But I breathed deep and tried to pretend that we hadn’t all been really piled on top of each other for the past seven hours. And then I made myself walk out through the gentle rain to the garden to pick some chard for supper. That was nice.

    And then I went back outside for an onion. And basil. And parsley. And oregano. It was better than nice; it was kind of fun. I made splashing sounds as I slogged through the grass in Mr. Handsome’s flip-flops, making the little trips out to the garden kind of like an adventure. And goodness knows, I sure needed an adventure.


    I whipped up such a delicious dinner—a culinary adventure of the best sort—that I felt better for a little while. And then we had a family movie night because we had to have some type of reward for making it through a day like that, and because not everyone in my family would call Swiss chard rolls a reward.


    There were lots of leftovers so I had the privilege of discovering that chard rolls make fantastic leftovers. I ate these rolls for five meals straight, not counting breakfast. I looked forward to each meal, and I was sad when I ate the last one.


    Swiss Chard Rolls
    Wildly adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites Cookbook.

    These rolls scream for creativity. I used the ingredients I had in my kitchen (and garden), but you can switch them up, substituting fresh tomatoes for the dried (or canned), dried herbs for the fresh, different grains (bulgur, couscous, orzo, white rice) for the brown rice, and ground beef, ham, or bacon for the sausage. Or you could omit the meat all together.

    The original recipe suggests two different fillings for the rolls, neither of which call for meat. The first is a mushroom filling with celery, marjoram, mushrooms, cooked bulgur, dry sherry, soy sauce, dill, thyme, currants, and lemon juice. The second kind is a simple cheese filling involving leeks, scallions, cottage cheese, and basil.

    12 large leaves of Swiss chard
    2-3 cups cooked brown rice
    ½ cup cooked sausage
    1 medium onion, chopped
    4 cloves of garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    ½ cup oven-roasted tomatoes, chopped
    1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
    2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
    3/4 cup ricotta cheese
    1 cup grated cheddar cheese
    1 pint stewed tomatoes
    ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    ½ – 1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper

    Wash the chard and cut out the central stem. Stack the leaves of chard on top of each other and loosely roll them up. Place them in a steamer and steam for a couple minutes, or until the leaves are bright green and wilted. Drain the chard and set aside.

    In a saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil till translucent, about five minutes. Set aside.

    Strain the pint of tomatoes and reserve the juice. Set both the tomatoes and the juice aside.

    In mixing bowl, combine the rice, sausage, sauteed mixture, the fresh herbs, roasted tomatoes, ricotta and cheddar cheeses, and the salt and pepper. Taste to adjust seasonings (do not under-salt the mixture).

    Grease a casserole dish (a 9 x 12 was a little too big for the amount I had, so I used my 7 x 11 pan). Pour the drained tomatoes into the dish and spread them out so they cover the bottom of the pan.

    To assemble the rolls:
    Being as gentle as humanly possible, separate the leaves of chard and lay them out on a work surface.


    Pull the leaves together so the gap from where the stem used to be no longer shows. Place about ½ cup of filling in the center of the bottom part of the leaf.


    Fold both sides up over the filling (it will not cover the filling). Fold the bottom part of the leaf up over the filling, and then, working up from the bottom of the leaf, flip the ball of filling over a couple times till it is completely encased in the leaf.


    Repeat the process until you run out of either the steamed leaves or the filling.

    Place the rolls with their seam-sides down on top of the stewed tomatoes. Pour the reserved tomato juice over of the rolls. Sprinkle the leaves with some more salt and pepper.


    Cover the dish tightly with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. About ten minutes before the rolls are done baking, remove the pan from the oven, take off the foil, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the rolls, and return to the pan to the oven, uncovered, to finish baking.

    Serve the Swiss chard rolls with some crusty bread.