Monthly Archives: February 2008

Hiking (if you can call it that) in the Agua Fria National Monument

Today was not a good day for a hike.

I went to bed last night to clear skies, the kitchen countertops spread with prepartions for an early start for our outing.  Even a simple day hike requires a lot of work beforehand when I’m packing for myself and four kids.  Food, of course, plenty of water, a change of clothes, a beach towel for everyone, maps, guidebooks, binoculars, first aid supplies — it was all ready.  I’d even made muffins so that our breakfast would be hearty but quick. 

I woke up to low, grey clouds which blotted out the sun. Still, I had hope that all my preparations the night before were not in vain. Anyone who has lived in Phoenix for long realizes that 80% chance of rain means that reality will be in that dry 20%.  I kept expecting the morning sun to warm and for those clouds to blow away, leaving a clear, beautiful day for our trip.  It never happened.

But, I’m hardheaded.

We headed north of Phoenix on I-17 to exit 256, Badger Springs Road, which is just north of Sunset Point.  Semi-recently, I had seen a kiosk erected, along with a dirt parking lot.  I thought, “Must have been a new trail put in.” Well, it turns out that it, “Must have been a new National Monument put in.” The Agua Fria National Monument, in fact.  71,000 acres of scenic semi-desert grassland, riparian area, mesas and canyons, and over 400 archaeological sites.

In my trusty hiking guide, the very valuable 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles — Phoenix, the Badger Springs Wash Trail looked perfect for my crew.  Relatively flat, relatively short, running alongside a creek, with a big scenic payoff as the creek empties into the Agua Fria River.  Another plus for a mom with four kids is the well-maintained pit toilet near the trailhead.  The book also said that trail usage was “light,” and I favor hikes where we don’t encounter other people.  (It turns out that we saw four other parked vehicles, observed three other moving vehicles, and encountered one other hiking couple on the trail.  All of that on a rainy, winter weekday.  Doesn’t sound like much, but to me, that’s crowded.)

After about a 45 minute trip in the truck, we pulled into the National Monument.  We had to travel about a mile down dirt road to the trailhead.  It was a spooky mile.  There had been a fire in the area about 2.5 years ago, and the desert is slow to recover.  Dead, dying and blackened flora was interspersed with the normal winter hibernation of most of the other plants.  It didn’t bode well. 

The good news was that, in the end, we all agreed that this would be a perfect hike when the weather was warm.  Trouble is, the weather was not warm. 

For about the first 1/10 of a mile, all of us were eager to hit the trail, even though the wind was blowing, and rain was intermittent.  We oohed and ahhed over the unusual conglomerate boulders (and possibly petrified wood boulders) and the crossbedding in the stone along the trail, all the colors made deeper and brighter with the sheen of rain.  The boys scrambled up rocky outcroppings and collected sturdy sticks for swords.  Even 22-month-old Audrey, who would normally be content if I carried her for the entire length of a hike, was eager to walk by herself.

 

 

But then… the light rain started to seep through our jackets and doubled-up shirts.  Even our hats were pretty well soaked through.  Added to that, a stiff breeze and a few missteps in the rain-swollen creek led to some really unhappy hikers.  Exept Grant.  Eight-year-old Grant is my most willing, energetic, happy hiker, all the time.  He always has to be called back from forging too far ahead on the trail, and never complains of tired feet or scratchy bushes.  Contrast that with six-year-old Wesley, who was a sorry sight with his runny nose and frequent whimpers, lagging behind. 

About 6/10 of a mile into the first leg of the hike (which only totalled 7/10 of a mile), I made a decision that we had to turn around.  Bummer.  We were literally just around the corner from the confluence I was so eager to see (Grant had scouted it out and saw it), but my heart went out to Wesley, who was completely miserable.  Audrey was OK, Ethan was OK, though I could tell that he wasn’t totally happy, as he started getting snippy with our dog, whom he had on a leash.

So, we got back to the truck, extracted ourselves from our wet clothing, wriggled into the dry stuff, sat in the truck and ate an early lunch as the rain picked up.  As much as I hate to leave things unfinished — I hate the feeling of “so close, and yet, so far” — I admitted to the kids that it was a good thing we turned around.

We drove back, the kids happier than I, but all of us pleased to be watching the rain from the inside of our vehicle.

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Give away rice and increase your vocabulary!

My cousin Jeana alerted me to this nifty website.  On it, you play a “game” by correctly identifying the definition of some really tricky words.  For each correct answer, 20 grains of rice are donated, distrubuted by the United Nations World Food Program.  The cost of the rice is covered by the advertising on the site.  Since its inception in October 2007, the site has donated over 19 billion grains.  I don’t know how many pounds that is, but it’s surely a lot.

I played for about 15 minutes and donated 1820 grains getting to vocabulary level 45.

Fun and worthwhile!

Two new birds for the list!

OK.  I know that approximately 0.0006% of my readership will join me in this exultation, but you’ll have to bear with me (or not read it).

It happened yesterday, on the way home from dropping Ethan and Grant off at church.  I wasn’t able to go because I had to stay home with Wesley, who had been running a fever that topped out at 102.6*F.  (We think it may have been a temporary infection in his ear, even though we have him on antibiotic drops due to him puncturing his eardrum.  I kept Audrey with me, too, because I don’t feel right about using the church nursery as a babysitter.  I mean, it’s appropriate when I’m in the service, but not when I’m not…) 

But, I digress.

On the way home, I went to one of my favorite suburban birding spots*.  It’s actually at the edge of a super hoity-toity neighborhood that is built around some manmade lakes, and adjacent to Thunderbird Park.  At one point, the manmade lakes abut a natural reservoir, and the two bodies of water are kept apart by a dam, and a bridge goes over the water, near the dam.  Well, maybe it’s not actually a “natural” reservoir.  I think that without the dam, it would be a natural wash (dry riverbed, seeing water only after rain), but because of the dam, there are a lot of desert trees, and the area is quite lush, and one can always find an assortment of egrets and herons there, along with a great number of migratory birds. 

I only had a few minutes yesterday, and my attention was divided by wrangling my binoculars, my glasses, and my daughter, Audrey, who kept wanting to run down the bridge, out into the street, and over the bridge into the water, all the while proclaiming that she had to go potty.

Still.  Even with little attention actually devoted to the birds, I was able to clearly sight two previously-unseen species, the Black Phoebe and the Double-crested Cormorant.  The phoebe is supposed to be in this area year-round, according to my Sibley guide, though I’d never positively IDed one.  An even bigger score were the cormorants, as they were only stopping by on their migratory way.  And, even though this is only mid-February, the cormorant I saw best was in full breeding plumage, with the bright orange chin and the greyish crests (not as white as the pic below).

And, several years of birding has paid off.  I remember that it used to take FOREVER to properly identify a bird.  Now, my eye knows what to look for much more quickly, and I’m much more familiar with birds than I used to be.  With the phoebe, I thought, “That’s a flycatcher!”  (Phoebes are, indeed, flycatchers.)  And, with the cormorant, I thought, “I think that’s a cormorant!”  So, a quick flip to the appropriate sections in the Sibley guide (once Audrey was buckled in her carseat) was all it took to ascertain their identifications.  😀

(These are not my pics;  a click on the picture will take you to their original source.)

Black Phoebe:

 

Double-crested Cormorant:

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*For any local birders, the area is approximately 5620 W. Melinda Lane.  Take 51st Avenue north of the Loop 101 in Glendale, AZ, until the road curves hard to the west.  Follow that road, which will become Melinda Lane.  Nearing 59th Ave, on the north side of the street, the road will take you over a bridge that crosses the area.  Best viewing is to the north.  Alternately, head north on 59th, and turn east on Melinda Ln.  (Around the corner, on the east side of 59th Ave, north of Melinda Lane/Deer Valley Rd., is an “official” birding spot, but the actual area is frequently choked with overgrown trees and illegal fishermen, leading to spotty viewing.)

Korean Chicken Noodle Soup (sort-of Ddeok-guk)

The best food critic in the Phoenix area, Howard Seftel, wrote something a long time ago that really stuck with me.  He said something to the effect that people think they want pure, real ethnic food, but when it comes down to it, so much of it is so contrary to our American palates that most Americans really do better with a fusion of styles.  Ever seen Bizarre Foods?  Ack.  I think Seftel was on to something.  It’s true for me, anyways.  I think of myself as fairly adventurous, food-wise.*  But, walking through, say, an Asian market, will let me know just how far I am from being truly immersed in genuine ethnic cooking.

Anyways.

All of that is just a disclaimer to state that I’m aware that my “ethnic” recipes are probably mere shadows of their cultural counterparts.  It’s my goal to produce recipes that are new and playful, yet ones of which all six members of my family members will say, “Yum!  May I please have more?”

So.

I created this recipe because I’m newly obsessed with some strange-ish Korean “noodles.”  Made from sweet rice flour, these soft, chewy, oval-shaped pads are known by ALL sorts of monikers:  rice cakes, ddeok guk ddeok, rice ovalettes, dduckgook, duk-guk, and more.  When cooked, they have an interesting, pleasing texture and they soak up the flavors of the dish.

I buy them at a local Asian food store — a 1.5 lb package is found in the refrigerated section, and costs only $1.99.

Many thanks to the Wordpress blog Muffintop for this picture of plain ovalettes, soaking.  Muffintop is a foodie blog, well-worth a visit.  (Though the recipe below does not require pre-soaking them, I found this to be the best picture of the ovalette rice cakes.) 

As always, all of my recipes are gluten-free, and as of the last year, they’re all dairy/casein-free, too.

Korea Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves 6-8
Time to prepare and cook:  about 45 minutes, 30 if you’re quick 😉

  • 1 Tbsp rice bran oil (or other cooking oil) 
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup (3-4 stalks) finely sliced green onions (also known as spring onions or scallions)
  • optional:  about 3 oz. mushrooms, finely sliced
  • 1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 sheet Nori, crushed (Nori is roasted seaweed sheets, often used for sushi)
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock (I use Organic Chicken Better Than Bullion — at last check, their regular, non-organic Chicken BTB contains whey)
  • 1 quart (4 cups) water
  • 3-4 cups diced cooked chicken (I used some leftover grilled chicken breasts)
  • 1.5 lb package Korean rice cakes/rice ovalettes
  • 4-5 cups baby spinach (or chopped baby bok choy or short bok choy)

In a 6-8 quart stock pot on the stovetop, heat the oil over a medium-low heat.  Add the minced garlic and cover.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is tender but not browned.  Add the green onion and optional mushrooms, bring heat up to medium, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Stir in the black pepper and Nori.  Add the chicken stock and water, turn the heat up to high, cover, and bring to a boil.  Stir in the diced chicken, and bring back to a boil.  Stir in the ovalette rice cakes and bring back to a boil.  Immediately turn off the heat and stir in the spinach (or bok choy), stirring just until the veggies start to wilt.  Serve immediately.

Note:  Do not over-boil the soup once the ovalette rice cakes are added.  You want them to just heat through and soften a bit.  Leftover soup is good (I’m eating some right now!), but reheating will cause the ovalette rice cakes to soften considerably.

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*In fact, one of the things that has broken my heart about being gluten-free is now I’m afraid of all the ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurants that my hubby and I used to search out and claim as our own.  So much of them are not gluten-safe, and unless I speak Persian or Korean or Ethiopian, I can’t really ask the chef if a dish contains any traces of wheat.    

A worthwhile blog (and a good laugh)

WordPress has a handy stats page that lets me know where links are posted which allow folks to find me.  I often know the person who is linking to my blog, but when I don’t, I usually visit the page, always finding bright, reasonable, charming, clever folks.  You know, great minds…  😉

By this method, I found a blog that is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re pro-chastity, secondarily if you’re pro-life, and very secondarily if you’re Catholic.  (I’m two out of three.)  It’s the blog home of Dawn Eden, an author and activist for saving sex for marriage.

I was a virgin when I married, and in my 13 years of marriage, have met maybe three other women who were likewise.  It’s an appallingly small percentage of woman who keep themselves for their husband, even amongst Christians.

In addition, on Dawn’s website, I found this graphic that made me literally laugh out loud.  I hooted, actually.

Enjoy!

There’s nothing that’ll quicken a mother’s heartbeat like…

…walking out of the bathroom to find your six-year-old son in sobbing tears, finger plugging his ear, crying that it, “Really, really hurts.”  Looking at her son, the mother notices a small trickle of blood, easing its way out of her son’s ear, and down his jawline.

It was like a punch to the gut.  There is something eerily unnatural about seeing blood dripping from the ear.

Twenty-five minutes later, we were all on our way to the ER.

To my great thankfulness, my husband met us there, meaning that I didn’t have to herd  four children into triage, etc. 

It turns out that Wesley punctured his the bottom part of his eardrum (with a Q-tip he “just found” in his bed).  This was actually really good news, because it turns out that the wee bones that make it possible to hear are just beyond the top part of the eardrum.

So, it doesn’t appear that Wesley has done any permanent damage to his ear, thanks be to God.  And, now he understands why his parents never let him clean his own ears.

That sight of blood trickling from his ear is, I think, forever embedded in my memory. 

Fine-tuning the Hyper-Individual

Note:  This is absolutely ***NOT*** aimed at any particular person, be it any person I know IRL, in the blogosphere, or otherwise.  It’s simply my concerns over a growing trend that is of high concern to me.  Also, please read it as me being troubled in my soul, not as me being snarky with society.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this topic over the last… year.  Maybe more.  

I’ve observed increasingly compartmentalized, partisan politics — and general life — that has been sweeping this country for at least the last decade.  Symptomatically, I’ve also read (or heard) a number of voters (especially Republican ones) proclaiming, “Well, if there isn’t a candidate with whom I agree 100%, I’m either not going to vote at all, or I’m going to vote Democratic.”

Gone is teamwork.  Gone is synergy.  Gone is friendship.  Gone is good sportsmanship and fair play.  Gone is good faith.  Gone is the simple acceptance of, “Not everyone thinks the same way I do, and not everyone should.” 

The Founding Fathers of this country — even though they disagreed with England in a passionate and violent way — did acknowledge that no one person, and no one way of thought was perfect, and thus set up a governmental system with checks and balances, disabling any one outlook from completely dominating the federal government.  (In other words, there are some hills worth dying on, but perhaps not very many of them.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that the politics of most of the 20th century is preferable.  Marked by “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” that attitude makes me want to puke, actually, and seems to have its ethical foundation in Jell-o. 

But in lieu of back-scratching politics of years past has come sharply divided, combative, posturing politics which seeks to create wider chasms and brew enemies.  Name-calling, accusations, spiteful “play,” retaliation, dirt-digging, and filibustering are now par for the course in American politics.  To me, that seems just as bad — perhaps worse — than back-scratching.

In a previous post, I wrote about taking a pragmatic stance when choosing a Presidential candidate.  I was assailed, both privately and in a comment or two, about that “un-Christianlike” position.

But is it truly un-Christlike??

Think about your marriage, if, in fact, you are blessed with a spouse.  Think about your friendships.  Your church.  Think about, really, any good relationship with a person or entity.  Don’t all of them require some sort of practical acceptance in order to maintain them, and certainly in order to grow them?  Don’t all relationships require a measure of love to cover a multitude of sins?  Don’t all of them cause you to stretch in one way or another?  Don’t all call you to hold aside one opinion or two, in favor of a gracious, working relationship?

Now, I’m also not suggesting that we need to adore John McCain and let our love for him cover his unwise, quick temper with those who are likewise combative.

But, my concern is broader than simply whom we choose for President.  

Take friendship:  It would be absolutely fabulous if I could find another Christian, conservative Republican, Sonlight-homeschooling, introverted mother of 4+ children who adores worship, attends the Vineyard, loves Pei Wei, has a classic/antique taste for home decorating, and has celiac disease.  Oh.  Wait!  I have done that.  Her name is Shellie, and friendship with her has been an absolute joy to my heart.  But, are all my friends Shellies?  Should they be??  Even with Shellie, there have been disagreements and struggles, in spite of our almost-creepy similarities.  She recently remarked something like, “Could there possibly be two more people who are so alike and so different as we are?”  There have been times when I think we’ve both been tempted to give the relationship a heave, but by the grace of God, persistence, and a simple value for each other, we haven’t done that.  We’re committed.

In order to successfully engage in relationship of any kind, there simply must be some allowances extended to the other person.  We have to allow them to think differently, value differently, express differently, opine differently, work differently, have different strengths, different weaknesses, different pleasures and tastes…  At least to some extent.

But, that’s just it.  The “some extent” is completely evaporating from American society.  And it’s not just Republican Christians.  Liberals, Democrats, non-Christians and everyone in between are just as biting and divisive as Ann Coulter-types.

Thus, we have a divorce rate that’s, what?  Sixty percent, now, or at least nearing that?

Thus, we have an rising percentage of never-married people, who simply can’t/won’t/are-afraid-to make commitment.

Thus, have a rise in matchmaking services that promise to find someone who is, basically, exactly like YOU.

Thus, we have uncommital, chronic church-hoppers.  Or, simply non-attenders.

Thus, we have scads of websites, forums, blog rings of people with whom we can simply agree, who’ll never ruffle our feathers, nor challenge us to think.

Thus, even within the Church, we have books, websites, television hosts, and seminar speakers who command invite listeners to think, act, be the exactly particular type of Christian they are, and reject any denomination that doesn’t have Mr. Esteemed Whoever as the basis for their theology, essentially pitting Christian against Christian.

Thus, we have folks who regularly troll monster.com and other “jobbing” websites, constantly on the lookout for the bigger and better, for a move up in the world, and a few more disposable-income dollars in their pockets, instead of deciding to commit to an employer for mutual benefit.

Thus, we have professional athletes who take their gripes against a coach to the media and petulantly demand to be traded.

Thus, we have voters who say, “Well, I only agree with 95% of this candidate’s positions, so I just won’t vote at all!”  Or, “That 5% over which we don’t agree is so important to me that I’d rather vote for someone with whom I only agree 5%, instead of voting for him.” 

In short, we are developing a whole culture fine-tuning its own god of Individualism, esteeming only themselves and their opinions, who see pragmatism as a bad word, and who are unwilling to bend, to give, to be gracious, to work in concert, to value each other’s strengths, and willingly compensate for each other’s weaknesses.  We’re encouraging a whole generation of Pharisees and Levites, instead of kind Samaritans

Am I the only person concerned about this???? 

Perhaps not.  But, it seems that the only people really bothered by it are making, of all things, Hyundai commercials, and using America’s growing lack of commitment for marketing purposes.  Hm.

And perhaps, commitment problems and hyper-individualism aren’t totally synonymous, but they’re awfully close cousins.  Maybe even siblings.

Sweet and Spicy BBQ Beans (a GFCF sort-of recipe)

Barbecue beans are served with some regularity for lunch around here.  Lunch only, because my hubby doesn’t really like them.  All four of my kids, though, and myself, really like them. 

Sometimes, I used a pre-seasoned big can, but many times (like today), I just wing it, making my own barbecue sauce.  It’s super-quick, very flexible, and so tasty.

I’m calling this a “sort-of” recipe, because I just slosh in a bit here and there without actually measuring, but I will attempt to make the best approximation of measurements, for any non-sloshers. 

This recipe would still work with many different substitutions and/or omissions.  But, I’m writing it up as I made it today.

Like all my other recipes, this is gluten-free and casein-free (dairy-free).

Sweet and Spicy BBQ Beans
Makes 4-6 meal-sized servings
Total prep and cook time:  15 minutes

  • cooking oil
  • one clove garlic, minced
  • dijon mustard
  • dried, minced onion  (or 1/4 – 1/2 tsp dried granulated onion, or about 3 Tbsp minced fresh onion)
  • gluten-free worcestershire sauce
  • gluten-free soy sauce
  • granulated sugar
  • blackstrap molasses (or about 1/3 cup brown sugar, or about 1/3 cup honey in lieu of BOTH granulated sugar and blackstrap molasses) 
  • ketchup (or plain tomato sauce)
  • 3 cans (15 oz. each) beans of your choice (I used white beans)
  • small amount of leftover, cooked meat, minced
  • optional:  Tabasco or other pepper sauce

Over medium-low heat, heat approximately 2 tsp. cooking oil in a medium saucepan.  Add minced garlic, and stir for a minute or two.  Turn heat up to medium and stir in approximately one tablespoon dijon mustard, mix well.  Add 1-2 tsp dried onion and mix.  Stir in about 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce and 2 teaspoons gluten-free soy sauce, mix well, and bring mixture to boiling.  Stir in about 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses and 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and bring to boil again.  Then, add about 1/2 cup ketchup and taste.  If it’s a bit too spicy for you, add a bit more ketchup to taste.  If it’s not spicy enough, add some Tabasco sauce (or similar).  Bring to boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Drain the beans and add to the sauce.  If you are adding meat, do so now.  Bring the whole mixture to a boil, and serve. 

Good article on Obama

My friend Shellie forwarded me a fantastic* piece, written 9 Feb in The Australian, that perfectly articulated my concerns about Barack Obama.  Many people are very inspired by him and hope he becomes the next President.  On the other end of the spectrum, some think he is — literally — the antichrist (as illustrated by the responses to my friend Iain’s tongue-in-cheek post from just shy of a year ago).  I haven’t read Barack’s book, and pretty much all of my opinions about him are more like impressions than footnoted, well-documented, researched thoughts.  However, the above article’s author, who is much more familiar with Obama specifics, has come to much the same conclusions I have, for many of the same reasons.

He begins the story relating the story of what happened to the folks who completely bought into Mandela’s (possibly unintended) campaign promises, and likening that event to what may happen if Obama actually takes the Oval Office.

 It was early 1994 when Nelson Mandela gave a speech in a slum outside Cape Town and spoke in grand terms of a new beginning and how when he was elected president every household would have a washing machine.

People took him literally. A few months later he became South Africa’s first black president. That’s when clerks in department stores in Cape Town had to turn people away demanding their free washer and dryer.

The story only improves from there.  It’s well-worth a read, whether you support Obama or not.

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*If you’ve read my blog, you’ll know that’s my favorite superlative.  Sorry for its overuse.  Any suggestions for alternate exclamations??

Has to be Us (Make your own CD cover meme!)

Has to be Us

This is my fake CD!! 

And, golly, is this meme weirdly prophetic or something?????

In need of a little levity, I gladly took this fun meme from Daja.

I had to finagle things a bit, since I don’t have a good graphics editor.  I copy-and-pasted the picture into a desktop editor (which is the only program I have that will let me put text on top of a picture), then C&P’d the completed cover into Microsoft Paint, since my desktop editor would not let me save my CD cover as a .jpg or any other filetype compatible with WordPress, and saved it from there as a .jpg.  Still.  With all that rigamarole, it was very fun.  I want to do another one, actually.

You want to make a CD, too?

1. Band Name. The article title is the name of your band.

2. Album Title. The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.

3. Album Cover. The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

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