Archive | August, 2015

Today I Freely Choose To Be Here Now

30 Aug

We didn’t have much of a choice when we moved to the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, three years ago this month. A ridiculous immigration system was kicking my partner out of his home of 10 years, and effectively taking me and our 7 week old daughter with him. Of course I could have stayed behind, but that wasn’t an option I was interested in. So I was going, but it felt like I was forced, like we were forced, like our life was all totally out of our control. If there’s any time in life when you’re aware of your total lack of control over your life, it’s when you first become a parent. Add being uprooted from your home to the mix and it’s a recipe for personal crises (yes, crisis plural).

When we arrived we had nothing but 5 bulging suitcases, a newborn, and a whole lot of faith in our love. We were lucky enough to have a home to arrive to, going to live with Conan’s mom, but it was still not quite our own home. Lots of things have greatly improved in our lives since then. We’ve far outgrown our 5 suitcases. Our newborn has turned into a preschooler who has a baby brother to boot. We have a car. We have our very own house. We finally have electricity in our house, complete with a refrigerator and washing machine. I have a full-time job that I enjoy. We don’t live with anyone’s parents, and we don’t live in a tiny town that we both hate. If that’s not progress, what is?

So we’ve moved up in the world and everything should be perfect now. Except it’s not. This week in particular I had a personal crisis that made me totally rethink and question where I want to be. And boy, was I pissed about it. How could I think about being somewhere else when finally our life is put together here? How could things be falling apart if everything’s finally great? I have a washing machine, for cripe’s sake! What could I be unhappy about now?

The problem is, progress isn’t what actually sustains us, right? “Moving up” in life can only mean so much, since life doesn’t appear to be some vertical venture. Despite having all the things I was sure would make my life great (and our car didn’t even break down this week), I was terribly, profoundly unhappy.

Partly I was unhappy because this whole time I’ve held onto my anger and helplessness at the injustice of us being forced to move down here at that moment. I’ve spent too much time visiting if-only land. If only we hadn’t moved here, we wouldn’t have this problem. If only x, life would be better. If only y, I’d be happy. Partly it’s that this time of year, full of anniversaries (our move, our first kiss, Lucia’s conception), makes me nostalgic and frustrated. I was clinging on to some happy, joyful memories, trying to cut and paste them into the present.

Five years ago, in the steaming hot months of August and September, Conan and I converted our friendship to something more. We went out for bike rides through Louisville’s beautiful parks. We went out for beers at all the microbreweries. We posted up on the back porch of my charming, cheap Victorian apartment and talked, for hours and hours and hours. We held hands at WorldFest, the fabulous festival of world cultures. We went to the farmers’ market, and I cooked us elaborate, local, vegetarian dishes that he devoured appreciatively. We went to friends’ parties and weddings and birthday celebrations. We ate Mexican fusion sushi and drank Vietnamese avocado milkshakes and decided on our favorite Indian buffet, among other culinary delights. We sipped bourbon on the front porch. We fell in love. Those places and activities epitomize what I love about my city, about my culture, about what I left behind. They remind me of moments, too, when my love for Conan was so uncomplicated, so easy, so perfect.

Nowadays nothing ever seems to be simple or easy. In theory I know that nothing stays the same, that you can’t return to the past. That love is a lot of work to maintain. That nothing is ever perfect. That the past wasn’t as easy breezy as it seems in hindsight. That Louisville is not utopia, and we’d just have a different set of problems there. I never did and never would love everything about my city and my culture. And while in the beginning of any relationship it can seem that everything is perfect about the other person and they way that you interact, that illusion of perfect can’t last, either. I know all these things, I do. And yet it doesn’t stop me from torturing myself, wondering how our lives would be if we could just go back. If we could have stayed. If we could return.

I did just return to Louisville for a visit, and I had to face the fact that our relationship to a city evolves while we’re away. Some things disappear, like our favorite Indian buffet. Some people who were central to your life there move away or pass on. Other things remain, but they’re not what they once were to you. Like Big Rock, my favorite spot in Cherokee Park. It used to be my spot to climb around and sit by the creek to think or talk. But this trip I could barely tear Lucia away from the playground area long enough to notice the creek, and we didn’t even climb up anything. My charming beloved apartment is still there, with the same weird neighbor who plays guitar horrendously. (Yep, I even have nostalgia for that.) But I don’t actually want to live in that apartment anymore. We payed a fortune to nearly freeze to death every winter! We had recurring mice attacks! All kinds of things were wrong with it, and, more importantly, it just wouldn’t suit me anymore. It’s not part of who I am now, even though for a good while it was the “perfect” place for me. My city’s changed, but I have changed, too.

So I know. We can’t go back to before. We can’t know what would have happened if we’d stayed. And we can’t know what will happen in the future, even if we’ve got it all planned out. We don’t have control, even if we think we do. I know. But living this knowledge, breathing it, feeling it when I’m stuck in an emotional crisis, is quite a different matter.

But today, suddenly, after days of walking around in a funk, in a daze of depression, I woke up and remembered who I am. I am a badass Kentucky girl, living in Mexico, raising children, trying to make some kind of tiny positive difference in the world, trying to find laughter and love in all kinds of places, rebelling from the system like always, albeit in different ways than before. I am my brave, wild-spirited, fiercely-loving Nonna’s granddaughter. I am my mama’s daughter. I am my dad’s daughter. (Two amazing spirits). I don’t need to freak out about what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go in the future, because regardless, I’ll make it work. I don’t need to worry about what other disasters will happen, because I’ll just deal with it. There will be good things and bad things and struggles and joys, and it’ll all be okay. Repeat after me: I am a badass, and I will be okay no matter what happens.

I woke up this morning and drank my lovely Oaxaca coffee and wrote my three “gratitudes” for the day, even though and especially because I had not been feeling so blessed. I did some yoga, and actually focused on my body, and noticed how wonderful and strong my body felt. I chose not to get upset or yell when Lucia woke up grumpy and freaking out about Cheerios and everything else possible. I put on Paul Simon, a makes-me-happy-from-lots-of-good-memories CD I inherited from my dad, and danced around my kitchen while I made breakfast, singing loudly and off-key. I decided to be happy. I decided to know that I am worthy and good just because. To feel it and breathe it in. To just be here, for now.

Because I know now that I can be here and have a good life. Or I could be in Louisville and have a good life. Or I could be in Timbuktu or somewhere, and somehow I will have a good life. It’s always going be a struggle of some sort or another. No place is perfect. Getting established, in terms of getting your physical and social needs met, finding furniture and friendships, is a process. But even if we started over again somewhere else, I now have a much better idea of how to incorporate and appreciate the things- the moments- that make life so worthwhile. I know, suddenly, finally, that I always have choices.

Even if the options don’t seem plausible, even though none of the options are ideal, I do have options. Of course they’re not ideal! Life’s really hard. And it’s also really great. It’s taken me three years of this exile with my partner to come to terms with it. To finally decide that this is my choice. We weren’t just victims of a messed up system. That’s only a partial truth. We did have other (less appealing, more difficult) options, and we chose this. I chose this. I’m here, so I might as well own it as my choice. Because the alternative is to keep resisting it. The alternative is to keep feeling angry, bitter, cheated. To wistfully romanticize the alternate life we could have had theoretically. And I don’t want that anymore.

Feeling free! If freedom's just another word for accepting that I don't have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Feeling free! If freedom’s just another word for accepting that I don’t have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Today, I made the choice to be here, just for now. Today, I decided not to ponder the effects of now on my future. Today, I decided not to lament what could have been. Today, I decided to trust myself and my feelings and my choices. Three years later, this is my true “progress.” Even though I don’t have control over all kinds of things in life, that doesn’t mean I’m a victim. This is my freedom- accepting my lack of control while acknowledging my inherent, universal worth as a human and my personal power over my life perspective. I won’t be happy all the time because of it, but I sure won’t be sad all the time, either. I am a badass, and I’ll be okay no matter what happens. Today I actively choose to be here, just for today. Tomorrow I can choose all over again.

Hard Travelin’

21 Aug

This should really be title something more like “Happy Trails” rather than “Hard Travelin'”, but the Woody Guthrie song is so much cooler! When you have a child, traveling is not the same kind of adventure it once was. But at least you can still travel some; it’s not impossible, especially when there’s just one. When you have two (or more!) children, it’s a whole other ballpark, especially if there’s only one parent (luckily Conan and my mom both accompanied me for parts of the trip, although I was on my own for some). But people have done it before me in much more difficult circumstances, and other people do it all the time. Besides, I wasn’t going to get to visit Kentucky if I didn’t pull off the trip with a baby and a three year old, so I got the Little Engine That Could motto stuck in my head and chugged along. Here’s what I have to say about it, now that we all survived it (and mostly had fun to boot).

in the airport together, ready for flight one of three on the way up

in the airport together, ready for flight one of three on the way up

My Tips (By the time my kids are grown, I might be an expert)

I’ve flown with Lucia several times now, starting when she was 7 weeks old. Plus we’ve gone on numerous road trips, both in private cars and on public transport.  I’m no kind of expert, but I do have a couple tips for travelling with small children.

Really, layovers are your friend when you’re travelling with kids. You want time to get yourself a coffee or an alcoholic beverage if needed (no, just one, not the five drinks you might really need). You want time to eat something besides the granola bars and junk food treats you packed (do pack as many snacks as possible, though- some healthy and some outlandish). If your kid is crawling or walking, you want time to let them do that, to play, to stretch out more than they can on a plane. It’s a wait, but you can make the airport a fun place. I tell Lucia we are going on an exploring adventure! This is the keep-the-kid-entertained way of saying we walk around looking for someplace good to sit/ someplace good to eat/ something else fun to do.

For early morning (or middle of the freaking night) flights- put them to bed in whatever you want them to wear the next day. If you want them to wear pajamas to the airport, cool. If you want them to wear some other comfy-but-not-quite-pajamas outfit, then they can just sleep in that.

If your kid doesn’t want a real meal while travelling (sometimes I don’t either), then there are at least some pretty healthy snacks these days in most US airports. Get yourself something, too, or you end up with cranky, over-sugared, hungry child and parent.  (I mean, there’s stuff like fruit and greek yogurt! Hummus and pretzels! Seeing stuff like that readily available is always my first culture shock.)

If your kid is still in diapers, take an extra change of clothes in the carry-on (your purse or backpack or whatever will actually be on the plane with you). Your kid will almost inevitably have a poopy blowout, or vomit all over you at some point on your trip. So while you’re at it, throw an extra t-shirt or something in for yourself, too.

Rent a luggage cart! If they’re old enough, the kids can help push it around, or at least they can ride in it if they’re past infant stage. Even as infants, it’s nice to only worry about the baby.

Now for the serious details about this trip:

The Difficult Moments (But we got this, y’all!)

The way back home was hard in general because 1) the three of us were all sick with a cold and exhausted from 10 days of non-stop visiting and adventuring in Louisville, and 2) we had to get to the airport by 5am the first day! Lucia was having asthma symptoms with her cold and had to use a nebulizer every 4 hours (thank the goddess my best friend was able to lend me one for the trip). I’d gotten 3 or 4 hours of sleep, thanks to packing all night and nebulizing Lucia. Our saving grace was that my mom was going back with us as far as Mexico City, so really it wasn’t nearly as hard as it could have been.

On the way up to Kentucky, it had seemed like it might be perfect- Lucia wore herself out at the playground and promptly fell asleep on the last plane. Khalil was a little fussy, but I was able to get up and move around with him since Lucia was sleeping. Then she woke up. She couldn’t get comfortable. She wanted to go back to sleep. She didn’t want to be on the plane anymore. Etc, etc. I tried to sit down and pat her. She wanted me to carry her. Khalil started crying. Lucia started crying. Yikes! Double trouble crying on the plane, mom with the deer in headlights look! No one to rescue any of us!

I resolved the crying monsters problem by force-feeding Khalil (sorry, kiddo, use this as a pacifier, please) and singing to them both, with Lucia half-way sprawled onto me and me patting her head. Luckily, this worked, although I’d like to propose that people to have a little sympathy for the screaming kids and babies on planes, please. The parents don’t like it, either, and neither do the kids, really. Travelling is hard and makes everyone cranky sometimes. Parents are doing their best to keep everyone happy, but you can’t always solve everything.

The Outrageous Moments (But there’s still hope for humanity)

I was lucky enough to have a lot of help. Conan flew up with us as far as Mexico City, and then my mom flew back down with us to Mexico City- and they both turned out to be vitally needed. Additionally, strangers helped along the way. Someone helped me get my suitcase in the overhead bin on one of the planes. A lady in the seat across from me held Khalil for a while on another flight (yes I let strangers hold my baby under some circumstances). A flight attendant took Khalil on a tour of the plane for a little bit. When milk wasn’t a drink option on our early morning flight, another flight attendant gave Lucia some of her own personal milk (whole cow’s milk, not breast milk, folks). There were some definite good feelings about humanity happening at certain points.

Unfortunately, I also saw a lot of calloused, lousy behavior. I mean, I know you’re busy in the airport, but be a Good Samaritan when you can, please! If you notice, for instance, like my mom and I did, a woman with a sleeping toddler strapped to herself, a backpack on her back, a carry-on in one hand, the toddler’s drooping head in the other, offer that person some help! Maybe for health reasons some people can’t help. Maybe for time reasons some people can’t. But surely somebody can. Ask yourself: could I be that person to help?

My mom, the kids and I were the last people off the plane in Mexico City, besides this lady, so of course my mom offered to help her, even though my mom was already helping me. The flight attendants just stood there watching while my (short like me) mom had to climb on the seats to get this woman’s other carry-on out. Then my mom dragged the lady’s carry-on, as well as one of mine, as far as the gate in the airport. Luckily, after that, the woman found some other help. But I thought it was outrageous that no one had offered to help her up to then.

Then I got the dreaded red light in customs. I’d been hopeful for a green light, since someone two people before me in line pressed the button and got a red. But no. It was dreaded because I had two giant suitcases, two carry-ons, and a backpack for them to go through, not because I had anything prohibited (although they did eye my bottle of Annie’s Goddess Dressing for a long time; maybe they were just jealous). (And yes, like the other lady with two carry-ons, I do need all that stuff, thank you very much. No need to judge me.)

So Customs people say, okay, “Put all your bags through the x-ray machine…. Now put them up here on this table.” And they just watch you. I don’t know if there’s some rule about them not being able to help you, or if they’re just rude, but geez. Luckily, I am able to lift 50 pound bags, as long as I don’t have a baby strapped to me, and luckily, my mom was there to hold the baby for me. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I were there alone, with the baby on my chest. And there was certainly nowhere else to put him. And what if I just couldn’t physically lift them like that for some other reason? What do they do- send you to jail if you can’t put your suitcases on the table by yourself? Detain you until some other person gets the red right, too, and offers to help? It seems pretty ridiculous to me.

The Best Moments (Sharing the joy of discovery with my babies)

 

On the way up, we passed through the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for the first time. We had our normal good time giggling about the magic stairs and magic sidewalks (escalators and moving sidewalks). Then someone clued me in that there was a kids’ play area behind the McDonald’s. It turned out to be a purely electronic play area. (No, we did not eat McDonalds, and yes, I could make a snarky comment about kids eating McDonalds and then sitting around playing computer games instead of doing physical activity. But I won’t, because travelling with kids is all about survival! Whatever it takes!) I found Lucia some shapes-matching computer game that she could play while I nursed her brother. She liked it so much she forgot about her previously dire need to return to the magic stairs. (Score one for McDonalds. Thanks!)

Then I hit the jackpot, while wandering aimlessly looking for something good to eat. We were “on an exploring adventure” and suddenly a miraculous set of words appeared before my eyes: Children’s Play Area, along with a gate number. “Lucia, you want a surprise?” I asked her.

She put on her super smile, the one so big her eyes and nose get scrunched up, and said, “Yeah! Is it chocolate?”

“Even better,” I told her, following the signs.

When we got there her eyes went wide in awe. “It’s a playground! For me!” She yelled and ran over to it. It was everything we could’ve dreamed of! A safe and appropriate place for my kid to run around, climb on stuff, play with other kids! Why doesn’t every airport have these? And why isn’t it advertised in the airport? I only found it because I stumbled across it. But you know parents 3 terminals down with long layovers would be there if they knew about it. Somebody send that airport a memo! Good job building this but please tell the people about it. The other passengers will be grateful, too, to be riding the plane with children who haven’t been sitting down all damn day.

the kid play area at Dallas Fort Worth airport is awesome!!!

the kid play area at Dallas Fort Worth airport is awesome!!! Lucia’s having so much fun, she’s just a blur. Bless her culture shock; she started talking to all the other kids in Spanish.

driving, of course, in the play area

driving, of course, in the play area- getting tired, but the need to play is greater than her sleepiness.

Khalil is a trooper everywhere we go. At the hotel restaurant in Mexico City, Mommy needed to eat without holding the baby, and ta-da! Khalil learned to sit in a high chair. He's  a good traveler, too.

Khalil is a trooper everywhere we go. At the hotel restaurant in Mexico City, Mommy needed to eat without holding the baby, and ta-da! Khalil learned to sit in a high chair. He’s a good traveler, too. (Notice how even the baby has bags under his eyes from our exhaustion by this point.)

The very best thing, though, was realizing that it’s also just a joy to travel with Lucia now that she is so communicative. She still remembered our last trip from over a year ago, and she loved that trip, so it’s easy to get her excited about travel. I think the two of us were equally thrilled, discussing who we would see and what we would do in Kentucky. (Yes on the zoo, but she’ll pass on seeing the lions. Yes to all our family members there- and we name each one of them. Yes to parks. Yes to eating asparagus. Ad infinitum. I don’t get tired of talking about it with her, either.)

She got a piece of candy for takeoff and landing (“Another treat?!). I taught her my prayer to the patron saint of travelers (which she didn’t want to repeat, but she listened nicely). We hold hands and say, “Here it comes, here it comes, almost there” when we’re almost “down to the ground” as Lucia says. I love love love sharing these moments with her. Even when she was over it and telling me she didn’t want to go on any more planes, she still hung in there. Even when we had to find a spot to plug in and use the nebulizer in the middle of the airport, she enjoyed our cuddling, book-reading time while she breathed into the machine. In the difficult moments, we still found something good and were able to discuss the happiness in what would happen next.

I am overjoyed that my baby girl likes to travel like her mama. I am proud that she is brave and tough, willing to see what happens next, hanging in there like a badass little 3 year old. I am so pleased that she is becoming a good little traveler in her own right. I can’t wait to do see what we discover next time!

Lucia in Cherokee Park, one of my favorite places in the world

Lucia in Cherokee Park, one of my favorite places in the world. Learning to explore is beautiful. 

Bluegrass Basic Nourishment (A Love Song via Recipes)

16 Aug

This latest trip to Kentucky was all about feeding me. I sounded like an exaggerated porno during every meal I ate, with my oohs and mmmms every 3rd bite. I smiled and laughed and reveled in the joy of good company like nobody’s business. Family, friends, and food are all important forms of sustenance for the body and mind, and while I have all three of those things down here, to some degree or another, I can’t get the same ones here as there. Despite all the obstacles, I made it to Kentucky at the end of July for a much-needed recharge on all three of those things I’ve been missing so badly. I got the chance to break bread with many great folks, and I got to cook for some of my favorite people, too (one of my big pleasures in life, and something I feel like is at the core of my being). In so many ways, this trip fed my spirit.

So I thought I’d share some of my near-orgasm inducing dishes with you lovely folks. Think of this like a little thank you note in recipe form. I want you to enjoy these foods in my absence! It makes me feel better about missing out on them if I know someone is savoring them. (Lots of these recipes you can make down here, either with a couple tweaks, or if you’re willing to spend the money on expensive stuff, or if you pay attention they’ll occasionally have things in the market like okra or brussel sprouts- but only every once in a while.)
The Beautiful Brunch 

Salad and Artichokes for Breakfast
Salad and Artichokes for breakfast? What? Yes! I was down to the wire, with only two more days worth of meals to enjoy, and I still had a bunch of food calling my name in my mom’s fridge. So this is how it played out, and even at 9am, it was perfect. It was more perfect because we ate it with my fabulous friend Shannon (the Super Shannon, as Karina calls her, and surely one of the only people who would agree to this absurdly luscious meal first thing in the morning).

These two hit it off like peas in a pod! My shy-with-strangers kiddo couldn't resist the Super Shannon! And she loved artichokes.

These two hit it off like peas in a pod! My shy-with-strangers kiddo couldn’t resist the Super Shannon! And she loved artichokes. She ate half of mine and then hit up Shannon for hers!

Salad:

-packaged mix of 1/2 spinach and 1/2 other salad greens (yay for pre-washed, pre-mixed greens!)
-walnuts
-red onion
-blue cheese
-berries (any kind works on this- blueberries, strawberries, cranberries)
-heirloom tomatoes (if it’s summertime)
-avocado (optional)
-US version dressing: Annie’s papaya poppyseed dressing (from the makers of Goddess dressing, yum yum yum)
OR
-make your own dressing version (adapted from my friend Anna):
1 cup olive oil (or mix canola and olive for a cheaper version)
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 small onion, chopped
salt to taste
Throw it in the blender and it’s ready.
Whole, luscious, sensual Artichokes:

Boil or steam for about 45 minutes, until outer leaves are tender and falling off. Melt some butter for dipping. Also for dipping (Chilean style), squeeze some fresh lemon and add some salt to it. If you’ve never eaten the leaves before (geez, I’m making orgasm noises just typing about it- how embarrassing!), you dip the not-prickly part of the leaf in butter or lemon, then scrape the “meat” off with your teeth. Repeat, repeat, repeat. As you get closer to the center, the heart, the leaves get smaller and more tender. Dining on artichokes is a nice, slow process. Yes, you have your reward in the center, the tender heart (nothing like what it tastes like from a can), but the leaves and the eating process are their own reward as well. FYI, this is like the best romantic dinner food, ever. I’m pretty sure that’s what sealed the deal between Conan and I. Although Shannon and I proved you can safely share artichokes among friends as well, so don’t feel like you have to wait for romance. Any beautiful friend will do.

So Much More than a Work Reunion
Kidney beans with Stir-Fry:

I don’t know why I can’t get red beans down here. There are black beans galore, white beans, pinto beans, lima beans, even black-eyed peas, but no kidney beans. So I bought a couple cans of red kidney beans, which normally I love to mix with okra.
But instead I stir-fried some bok choi with mushrooms and corn fresh off the cob (of course with garlic and onion), then threw the cans of beans (liquid included) on top and let it cook a few minutes on low to blend the flavor. It’s not complicated or exact enough for there to be an official recipe. But it’s quick, nutritious, and yum-inducing, so enjoy.

I got to enjoy this dish with some of my very favorite humans on the planet, some folks I used to get paid to work with, who now I’d pay money to work with again! (Well, okay, maybe I don’t have that kind of money. But still. They’re that great.) These are people who are radically, consciously, lovingly making our world a better place every day, in the way they work, the way they live, the way they raise kids. It was just a couple hours, but the hugs alone recharged part of my very being. And you know, great people, great food. For example, there was sriracha hummus (genius)! And next time I’ll get you Gabriela’s recipe for some kind of chocolate banana bread, which was one of many things that destroyed all my hopes of eating in moderation during my trip.

Some folks couldn't make it, and only some of the crew agreed to have their picture taken, but it was still all joyful.

Some folks couldn’t make it, and only some of the crew agreed to have their picture taken, but it was still all joyful.

Making Family Believe in Vegetables, An Inherited Trait
Damned Delicious Brussel Sprouts:

My dad used to always cook brussel sprouts with elaborate sauces, like béarnaise, or some fancy cheese-based sauce. This is one of the many reasons I grew up loving vegetables. While I’m not half as good with sauces as he was, I have some other vegetable tricks up my sleeve, and my damned delicious brussel sprouts are one of them. I took them to a family get-together my step-mom threw for us. The family time was much too fleeting, and I didn’t even see everyone, but it was still medicine for my heart. So I took some love in the form of food but then I sampled about half of the sprouts myself (oops). I tried to make sure everyone tried them, but I felt the need to try them again every time someone else did, so they would be in good company. Sorry, guys, I was just trying to make sure they weren’t poisoned! Next time I’ll make a triple batch.

If you just can’t wait till next year, though, here’s how you do it:
Cut off the hard bit at the bottom. Then cut them into halves or thirds. Sauté over low-medium heat with chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning (if you’re in the US with your fancy pre-made spice combos). Just cook them until they’re al dente- they should still be a bit crunchy. Then try not to eat them all before the other food is served. (Especially when the food is chili! A life necessity!)

family loving- Khalil with his Great Aunt Linda

family loving- Khalil with his Great Aunt Linda

The Potluck

My mom threw me a potluck, as well, which is my very favorite kind of get-together, what with the mixing of food and good company, all the variety of flavors that result from everyone bringing something to the table (figuratively and literally).

I was already in heaven with the company, and I haven’t even told you about the food. I didn’t make anything for this potluck, unless you count cutting some fruit. Nonetheless, there was an excess of food, including about 8 different desserts that I had to sample (especially pecan pie and some kind of spicy brownie business- wow). There was succotash and pizza and curry chicken salad, and I ate the best cornbread I’ve ever had. And I’m from Kentucky, folks; I’m a corn bread connoisseur. It was kind of like the company and conversation- so many great people in one room! Who do I talk to? How can I talk to everyone? I overloaded on everything, in all the best ways. And I even finagled the recipe for you!

Dan’s Cornbread (my new favorite cornbread)
Obviously, Dan made this- not me. He is a chef after my own heart, in that he didn’t want to commit to an exact recipe. As you can see from my recipes, I’m more of a spontaneous, don’t measure, throw it in there kind of chef. But when someone begs you to write it down, you’ve got to come up with something. So here’s how he got it down for me.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put 2 Tablespoons of vegetable in cast iron skillet and place in oven.

Mix
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup white flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Optional: 1 teaspoon of each or any cumin, chipotle, garlic powder, onion powder. Your preference.
Optional: 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Mix
1 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4  cup vegetable oil
1 small can diced green chilis (4 oz)

Combine wet ingredients and dry ingredients. Mix well.
Pour into cast iron skillet.
Bake at 400 until edges are brown and toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. (Guessing at the time, but no more than 30 minutes)

The beautiful Kathy! Who takes lovely photos. Just one of the many fabulous moments of the potluck.

The beautiful Kathy! Who takes lovely photos. Just one of the many fabulous moments of the potluck. She and her mama spent a lot of quality time with Lucia.

My best friends, sitting on the porch
Easy Kale:

Okay, I didn’t eat greens with my two best friends while I was there. I sat on the porch and drank bourbon and beer with them (so worth it to stay up later than the kids- so, so worth it). But while we’re talking about Kentucky food and people and things that I love, let me talk about the plethora of greens. (Because I don’t have a recipe for bourbon, after all.) Turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens- my bluegrass home is full of greens! I took advantage of the cheap and plentiful kale, which is so easy to make. Here’s one of my simple versions:

Sauté onion and garlic, then throw in the washed and chopped kale with a tiny amount of water (think of it like a version of steaming, not boiling- you don’t even want the water to cover it). Put in salt, pepper, and some lemon juice (yeah, lemons! The yellow ones! We only get limes down here.) And voila! Cook until tender.

me and my girl b.f.f., on the porch. even the photo is blurry with squinty-eyed joy!

me and my girl b.f.f., on the porch. even the photo is blurry with squinty-eyed joy!

at the end of the trip, the three of us are sick, but my male b.f.f. is still rocking it with us!

at the end of the trip, the three of us are sick, but my male b.f.f. is still rocking it with us!

There were a lot of other moments I could highlight. It was pretty much non-stop moments of fabulousness and nourishment. But since I don’t have days on end to reminisce, I want to just say thank you.

Thank you so much to everyone who took time out of their busy life to see us. Thank you to everyone for sharing with us. Thank you to everyone in Kentucky who I didn’t get to see this time, but who is still a beloved friend or family member, who still makes our lives rich just from knowing you. Thank you to everyone here in the state of Oaxaca who is making our lives richer and more delicious here, too.

So I’m going to try to keep making a yearly pilgrimage to my homeland, for my beloved family, friends, and food that I can’t get (or can’t get enough of) down here. There’s more food and joy to write about, but this will have to tide us over for now. Buen Provecho! (That means enjoy the food, folks!) xoxoxo

The Price of Paradise

9 Aug

You know you live in a tropical paradise when your three year old names one of her dolls after the currently popular virus “Chikungunya.” Not that there weren’t already plenty of other glamorous signs that indeed, we dwell in the land of eternal summer, aka the land of tropical disease and pests. There are signs like the ever-present layer of sweat and grit no matter how many seconds ago you bathed. There are sudden plagues of ants invading your house on a regular basis. There are giant flying cockroaches (which luckily don’t tend to invade my house). There’s knowing that you always, always need to check your shoes for scorpions before you put them on. There’s the ease with which fungus grows in your house and on your body. Pretty much nothing but glamor around here.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by my daughter’s ability to pronounce Chikungunya, since everyone is talking about it these days. Maybe she doesn’t know what it means, and I hope with all my parental fervor that she doesn’t have to learn through experience what it means. But somewhere she picked it up and it caught her attention enough to want to go around saying it herself. It does sound pretty funny, even if the reality of it is anything but.

Chikungunya is just the latest exciting tropical virus I’ve learned about. I learned about dengue before I visited Paraguay back in 2006. Dengue is very similar; they’re both mosquite-borne illnesses that cause sudden fevers and some flu-like symptoms, including joint pain. Dengue can occasionally turn deadly, especially with repeat infections, or among children. I’ve known people who have had dengue, but thus far I haven’t been around for a serious local outbreak, so I haven’t worried too much about it.

Chikungunya was named in Tanzania, and according to the World Health Organization,  “The name ‘chikungunya’ derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning ‘to become contorted’, and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain (arthralgia).”1 The joint pain can be severe, and last for months for some people. On the positive side, it doesn’t usually lead to death. On the negative side, there’s a huge outbreak happening right here in my town! Some of Conan’s family members have had it already. Everyone knows someone who’s had it already, and rainy season is still going (albeit without much rain lately), so they’re predicting lots more cases before it gets better. (Fun fact: During rainy season pharmacies don’t sell drugs like ibuprofen- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents- without a prescription because of the risk of hemorrhaging if you take it when you have dengue. Imagine ibuprofen being like a black market drug for 6 months of the year! Only in paradise.)

Personally, I have some sort of natural repellant in my sweat glands or something (See! I was meant to live in eternal summer!) and I almost never get stung. My partner and daughter, on the other hand, attract those beasts like revulsion in a port-a-potty. It’s just inevitable. So we’re dousing the kids and Conan in mosquito repellant (no, not the natural kind; that doesn’t work down here) and crossing our fingers all the time. I am grateful that these days we live in a house with screens on the windows. The possibility of this, and other new-to-me diseases is just part of the trade-off for living down here. But mosquitos aren’t the only ones causing havoc down here.

Another interesting disease I’ve learned about since moving here is called Chagas. It’s transmitted through some weird parasite that lives in bugs called “kissing bugs” in English, chinches in Spanish. But get this: (do not read while eating) it’s actually spread through their poop. These little bastards bite you, then poop nearby on your skin, and when you go to scratch your itch you rub the poop into your open wound, thereby infecting yourself. Gross, right? Then you may or may not have symptoms and then 20 or 30 years later your heart may suddenly explode if you didn’t know you had it and never got treated. Fun and excitement in paradise!

No matter where you live, there’s something dangerous, something uncomfortable. I come from the land of violent thunder storms, tornadoes, ice storms and the like. That kind of stuff sounds terrifying to folks down here! I’m willing to pay the price for never being cold and having sunshine most days of the year.

And here’s another upside to it all: Conan and I just marked our 3 year anniversary of moving down here. For me, that also means in a couple more years I could gain a little more immunity to some strands of E.coli! That infection they call “traveler’s diarrhea,” according to NPR 2, will become less painful and less common for me as I continue to live here in the coming years. Woo hoo! Cheers to my tropical paradise, and cross your fingers that Lucia’s doll is the only one with Chikungunya! Just another day in paradise…..

Here’s the link to the NPR article-

http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/08/06/429356591/can-you-protect-your-tummy-from-travelers-diarrhea

And here’s more information about Chikungunya-

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs327/en/

Here’s a picture of chinches, which transmit Chagas.

The image is from this website: http://www.laprensa.com.ni/2010/10/20/departamentales/41206-japon-apoya-combate-al-mal-de-chagas      (I think chinches are related to bed bugs. Ewww.)Una campaña para eliminar  el chinche transmisor del mal de Chagas se lleva a cabo en Jinotega. LA PRENSA/F. RIVERA

Learning to Take Care

2 Aug

Lucia is a great big sister. So far we’re really lucking out in terms of her treating the baby well and not being a total nightmare of jealousy and havoc. It helps that we try to find ways to give her extra attention. It helps that she’s started school. It helps that she’s really stoked about being a big girl and being able to do all kinds of independent things (use the potty, get dressed semi-solo, etc.). We talk all the time about how she can talk, she can eat food, she can walk and run and jump, and the poor baby can’t do any of that stuff yet. I don’t know how she’ll feel when the baby can do that stuff, too, but so far we’re enjoying the way she interacts with Khalil.

We also constantly rehash the when-you-were-a-baby scenario so she doesn’t feel left out. When you were a baby you ate num-nums (breastmilk). When you were a baby you wore this same cute outfit. When you were a baby you had this toy. She says, “When I’m a baby I cry like, wah,wah, like the baby, huh?” That’s right. Exactly like that. Sometimes it’s a stretch- when she says things like, “When I’m a baby I laughed at the cat, too, huh?” and really, “no, because we didn’t have a cat then, but, you know, you liked to watch other animals when you were a baby.” Anything to appease the big baby, to remind her that she’s special and important, too.

I think that her age- or her life stage / phase / whatever you want to call it- helps, too. Right around the time that I got pregnant, she started playing with dolls and stuffed animals. Before that she was completely uninterested in them. But she hit that stage where she started reenacting scenarios of ways in which we take care of her. Suddenly she was singing to her “baby,” reading to it, taking it to time out, taking it with us to go out, patting its back, and much, much more. Her baby of the moment can be any stuffed animal or doll, depending on her whim. It is incredibly endearing and also wildly funny the conversations she has with her baby, the way she replays her relationship with us, her parents, trying to internalize lessons. “Baby, we don’t color on the walls!” she scolds, for example. “Baby, we don’t hit people! Do you need to go to time out?” Or my personal favorite, “baby, you need to take a nap.” (Because Lucia never, ever believes she needs to take a nap.)

One of her many “babies”

Lucia playing Mommy- a bit too realistic!

And once the baby came out of my belly, her baby-caring just amped up. “I’m taking care of my baby, too.” She says, mouth set in a line of serious determination. “I need to change my baby’s diaper, too. Pass me the wipes. Pass me a diaper.” She shushes the baby, rocks him to sleep in the hammock (her babies are now almost always boys- what a coincidence since Mommy’s baby is a boy!). “Mommy, my baby needs num-nums,” she says, pulling her shirt down to uncover a nipple and putting the baby there to nurse. I’m sure many people in the U.S. would be appalled by her realistic mothering. I’m proud and enamored.

Matching Babies in their Wraps!

Matching Babies in their Wraps!

Lucia reads a book while she puts her baby down for a nap in the hammock- just like Mommy does for her!

Lucia reads a book while she puts her baby down for a nap in the hammock- just like Mommy does for her! (this is not our house, btw)

I came home from work a few days ago to find little brother strapped into his swing, big sister in the chair beside him, reading him a book. “Mommy, I’m taking care of him!” She squealed, so pleased to be taking care of the real, live baby. Although Khalil was trying to chew on the book as much as look at it, she was certainly taking care of him- keeping him occupied and not crying. I told her I was impressed and happy, and that she’s a good big sister. After I got settled in and Khalil started crying a bit, I went to pick him up to nurse him. “Mommy, no!” Lucia shouted at me. “I’m taking care of him!” It took a while to convince her that I could take care of him in a different way for a little bit and that then she could take care of him some more. She’s a bit possessive about her role, which is nothing but great even if I do have to convince her of my role in the matter.

But of course, I’m sure she won’t always adore her little brother. And as soon as something more interesting happens around her, her baby gets dropped and abandoned. She did just turn 3, after all, and “Mommy, it’s just pretend, okay?” as she likes to reassure me. It’s all just a learning process, and she’s still my baby, too. “Mommy, you take care of me, okay!” she orders sometimes, lest I forget that she needs special attention, too. And maybe that puts her a step ahead of the rest of us, because she already knows that we caregivers need caring-for, too, and sometimes you have to come right out and ask for it. Here’s to learning to take care!