pot of red beans

I am torn between feeling like I need to buy all sorts of stuff to see us through the next ten months and wanting to take just the bare necessities. I try to find a balance by making lists, asking people questions, starting a pinterest board about Guatemala, and lots of good old-fashioned stewing, thinking, and waiting.

But I can’t wait forever. Five-and-a half weeks isn’t much time, you know.

On Saturday, in the midst of my knock-down-drag-out cold, we completed the preliminary packing. My husband drug all the boxes of clothes down from the attic and I went through every single one. (Except for a couple plastic bags because by that point I had fallen over on the bed, a roll of toilet paper clutched in my hand.) We put a bunch of clothes in the suitcases, but now I need to go back through and make them into outfits, discard random unnecessaries, and purchase necessary missing pieces.

As far as non-clothing items, I’ve already settled on twinkle lights, votive candles, and a couple low-light decorative lamps. Go ahead and laugh, all you minimalists, but I have my reasons. Where we are going, they get about five weeks of sunshine a year. (Maybe I should scrap the lights and take Prozac. It’d certainly take up less luggage space…) There’s a steady misty rain—called chipi-chipi—most of the time, and it’s cold-ish. Things don’t dry, they mold. Last night I started talking to my husband about installing a heater in the house.

Which brings me to another point: out house. Nothing is firmed up, of course, but it looks like we’ll be staying in a house that’s been vacant for the last six years. Which means that it’s been heavily vandalized. Also, the water line is broken and the power lines are down. I hear the hilltop house used to be quite cute, back in the day. I’m clinging to that bit of hope like my sanity depends upon it. (It may.)

So in other words, we have no idea what our new house will be like. We don’t know what we’ll wish we had until we’re there and don’t have it. Which kind of stinks.

On the other hand, it’s only nine months. I can do anything for nine months. (At least that’s what I keep telling myself.)


My younger daughter is supremely anxious about going to Guatemala. She’s worried about earthquakes and airplane rides and vaccines. Hopefully we’ll evade the former, but the latter two are inevitable, I’m afraid.

Today when we were running errands, I had the radio set to NPR when Fresh Air came on. Five minutes into the show I realized what I was listening to: plane crash footage from the movie “Flight,” oh my word. I immediately turned the radio off. My daughter piped up, her voice tense, “What was that about? Why did you turn it off? Why didn’t you want us to listen to it?”

Our agency has requested that we get the kids’ blood types. This requires a stick-in-the-vein blood draw. My already maxed-out daughter is doctor phobic; this would not go over well and that is an understatement. In mounting desperation, I called every medical establishment I could think of to see if they by any chance, ohpleaseohpleaseohplease, had her blood type on record. I called the hospital, the blood bank, and medical records, as well as her allergist and my midwife. Nothing.

Then someone told me about do-it-yourself blood type tests which require just a finger prick, no blood draw, and now I have four kits in my amazon shopping cart, oh happy day. (Though my daughter won’t think it’s a happy day when I tell her that we’re doing a science project that involves needles and her fingers, but oh well. I’d prefer to sit on her at home than in some strange doctor’s office.)

Do you have any advice on how to relieve a child’s anxiety? Besides, of course, the obvious, like not listening to horrific plane crashes on the radio.


I wrote about beans for my last newspaper column. Because really, what else is there to write about when we’re headed to The Bean Capital of the World? (Corn, I suppose. I could write that. But I’ve never learned to make proper corn tortillas by hand. Maybe I’ll figure it out this time.)

Recently, I’ve been craving beans all the time. You’d think I’d be all about pasta and curry and exotic salads, but no, I just want beans. My kids don’t share my sentiments. In fact, my older son, a bean-enjoyer if not a bean lover, has actually pleaded with me to stop. “Don’t make them any more, Mom. We’ll have to eat them all the time soon, so we need a break to save up our appetites, pleeeeease?”

He does have a point…

Here’s the link to the column and below is the non-recipe. Though knowing how to cook a good pot of beans maybe is a recipe? Like knowing how to fry an egg or bake a potato? It’s the simple things.

Pot of Red Beans

1-2 pounds of tiny red beans

Rinse the beans with cold water. Put them in a large pot and add enough water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil, unlidded (or the water will boil over). Reduce heat, place the lid on sideways so some of the steam can escape, and simmer gently for several hours, adding more water as necessary.

When the beans are partially cooked, add the salt. When they are completely tender, taste and season. Serve hot with scrambled eggs, salty cheese, thick corn tortillas, and a cup of sweet coffee.

For when there is no refrigerator:
Boil the beans, eat what you want, remove the serving utensil and bring the pot of beans to a boil again to kill all the germs. Place a lid on the kettle and let it sit at room temperature until the next meal rolls around. By the third or fourth boiling, the bean broth gets thicker, richer, a bit saltier, and the beans become deliciously tender and flavorful.

This same time, years previous: raveled, peppermint lip balm, Smashing for Pretty opens


  • teekaroo

    I'm way behind, sorry, but as for the finger stick… if you jab on the side of the fingertip, rather than the pad, there's less nerve endings to hit. Just a little tip I learned lately. Good luck with that.

  • Beth Brubaker

    Maybe I'm still in 'house moving' mode, but why are you taking twinkle lights if you have no power> LOL!
    Go to the camping store and get items that are self charging, so you don't have a ton of battires to carry and dispose of. We have a lantern and a flashlight that have pop-out handles and you turn them to charge the lights. A few minutes of cranking will keep the lights on for a good 30 mins- and yes, I know that can be a pain, but with the kids helping crank, you should be fine. 🙂 You might even get some pipes from all that cranking!

    • Jennifer Jo

      The power is supposed to be restored—everyone else has power there, so there's no reason we won't.

      Now if the house is beyond repair, then I'm not sure what's going to happen…

  • Laurie Longenecker

    My personal opinion is that your agency's medical forms and requirements are in need of some updating. We had the same snafu with the blood typing thing before we went to Bolivia. I ended up not having everyone's blood type documented and no one ever asked for it when we got to Bolivia. My thought (and I think you could consider the same for Guatemala)was that once we got there we could go to one of the walk in labs (on almost every corner) and request the test if the MCC Bolivia office really wanted it done. Cheaper and much less hassle. Nathan actually had surgery while we were in Santa Cruz and the blood type thing got sorted out in the moment. (thankfully not an emergency…) Can't speak to that. These days though, even in rural Guatemala, they aren't going to transfuse you without checking your blood type first.
    There is so much to get ready—I'm feeling this all very deeply with you, but take courage, once you are there you will be able to regroup and know what you really need and how to make do in new ways.

  • Margo

    You're right: you can do anything for 9 months! Then you will feel guilty because the people you're with won't leave to go home to running water in 9 months. . . nevermind.

    As for anxiety, G is an anxious child. We practice deep breathing to calm down and it is finally, after several years, starting to pay off. I pray with her – very simple, direct prayers – and in tiny little increments, she is learning to let go of her anxiety and trust God's love. For me (anxious person), a mantra helps me when I'm really in a tizzy; so I pick a mantra when I'm calm and then when I'm crazy in the middle of anxiety, I don't have to think, I just have to repeat my mantra and it brings me down off my ledge. I've noticed that beating anxiety is just being willing to do the same small lifesavers over and over again until – surprise! – it's over and the sun is shining.

    I agree with your son – that you should save up your bean appetite! Can't you switch to succotash and empty out your freezer?

  • Carol S-B

    …Too Much Information (in a good way).
    Riding in an airplane is a lot like riding in a car, except that you're allowed to go to the bathroom at the back of it. Or close to the front. I'll bet the "worst case scenario" stuff is crowding this kind of minutia ( 🙂 ) out of her mind. What if…
    OK, here we go! "What if you want a drink of water?!" "Oh, and then… what if you need to pee!" "What if you get cold while you're flying? Sleepy? what if you get the hiccups? (OK, the same thing you do when you're at home… ha ha!) What if you want to look at your book, and it's after dark? What if you want to take a nap and it's too light out? What if the baby two rows behind is still crying?!" Get some of these "what-ifs" in there to crowd some of those other what-ifs into a corner. Not to crowd them out altogether, that's impossible… but just to diminish them.
    Oh, I've got one! What if you need to blow your nose, and… you don't have a kleenex! Ha ha! OK, your turn…

  • Kathy ~ Artful Accents

    I feel your daughter's anxiety…I don't like earthquakes or airplane rides either. And I don't like the dark or cold or rain…but I do love beans! And I think you should throw in some Prozac for good measure.

    My advice on dealing with a child's anxiety (have a bit of experience in the matter) is to help her focus on the things over which she has control or can be sure of. It sounds almost too simplistic, but it really does work for children and adults too. 🙂 And have her write them down or make them into a song or something that will be a tangible reminder.

  • Carol S-B

    Love the "no refrigerator" option.
    Airplane stuff. I was fortunate enough to work for Westjet for several years: although I was not flight crew, I did help out a few folks who were stressed about flying. So for you, Jennifer, a couple of thoughts: Starting last year, or at least now 😛 , notice when a plane is going over. Wonder where the people on it are going: are they holidaying, visiting grandparents or aunties, are they working? Wonder aloud about the flight crew and what they are doing at this moment: pushing that cute little cart down the aisle, I'll bet. Do you like to drink pop on flights? myself, I prefer tea. I find pop too darn fizzy. In other words, exhaust the subject. Casually talk about a plane every time you see one: they are just flying, as they always do. As she gets used to the fact that they stay up there all the time, it might get easier. Talk about how they handle your luggage, and that you don't have to carry the big suitcases on your lap on the plane. The airline will put them in the plane's "trunk" underneath, and unload them for you at the other end.Talk about convenient! You get to bring your small case onboard, though: what would you like to have with you while you are flying? A book, a craft, some kind of music? OK to keep changing your mind and thinking about how you'd like to while away the flight time. Another time, talk about the baby on the plane two rows behind, who was crying but is happy now. Any happy family scenario you can come up with, babe, do it! Talk about "Do" not "Don't". If you talk about "They don't crash", you're just thinking about plane crashes. Nope. What they do is, they stay up. Oh, look- there's another one!
    To be continued…

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