Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas!




I know that Christmas is over but I thought I'd share a few photos from ours...as you can see from the picture of our Christmas tree, we again got way more presents than we need or deserve. I generally spend much of the holidays feeling 'overly-blessed', even spoiled, by all of the gifts, cards, food options, and family members I have. This is magnified even more when we spend time in other countries, like we did this past summer.
Then there are my kids....like Grace in the photo of us in our Christmas finery (it rained a lot this year so we opted for the stylish black). I read the Christmas story from Luke many times in December, but always, always, when I get to the part in Luke 1 subtitled 'Mary's song', where she calls herself the most blessed of all women, I inevitably think, "Well, maybe, for back then, but she didn't have my family," for I do consider myself the most blessed mom of them all. Over this Christmas break, Grace is going on a mission trip to help homeless people in LA. And as a Christmas gift to his sister, Jason gave a donation to FeedMyStarvingChildren.com that will feed 75 kids in Africa a warm, nutritious meal. I know that getting to be the mom of Jesus was an amazing, unique blessing, but I'm just saying, I wouldn't trade this family for anything, and I think they're pretty hard to beat!
To keep me humble, I've added a photo of one final Christmas tradition - the annual burning of the wrapping paper in our barrel. Jamey noticed the white-trashiness of it, especially since you can see the trailer and canvas garage in the background. It started as a chance to keep the recycling bin from overflowing, and when the kids discovered that foil paper 'makes pretty colors', it stayed as an annual event. Like I said, it keeps me humble....
I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas, and, like me, you have had a chance to reflect on your blessings - I'm sure there are some, and it's good to count them as we head into the new year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Neighborhood Birds



Lately we've had ducks wintering in our creek, and a flock of wild turkeys (probably about 30 total) hanging out in our neighbor's field in the early morning hours. I love seeing them when I take Jason to school. Yesterday I took Max The Dog down to see them, and he did absolutely nothing. Not even a sniff or a double-take. Pretty disappointing. Lazy, lazy dog! Although it was hard to see in the fog, I did notice that one turkey didn't quite look the same as the others. The tail was longer. It was confusing, until I realized that it wasn't a turkey at all! It seems my neighbor's peacock had crossed the street to hang out with some birds more his size (he normally lives in a yard with all chickens, and mostly bantams at that!). Later on, when the turkeys had gone back over to the pasture where they spend their afternoons, I saw that the peacock was back in his own yard, strutting around like the big man he is. And this morning, he was in the field again, an honorary member of the flock, hangin' with his turkey friends. It made me smile - I was happy for him. Maybe they swap stories about their different lives. Maybe he likes to show the ladies his fancy tail. Maybe he just enjoys being around large birds for a change. I don't know why I find all of this so entertaining....maybe it's from reading all of those "Mother West Wind" books when I was little.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Thankful List


On this cold, beautiful Thanksgiving, it's a good thing to make a list of all of the things we are thankful for. Actually, it's good to do this any day of the year....
10. Every day when I drive to Cal Poly, or to the store, or to the high school, or anywhere, I drive past trees and scenes like the one pictured above. Amazing!
9. My neighbors, this year, have shared walnuts, fruit and vegetables, books, knowledge about making feta cheese, tree-trimming skills, and gardening hours with each other, among other things. Most recently, they purchased about 500 dollars worth of cookie dough from Grace for a cheerleading fundraiser. They are generous and cool.
8. This summer we got to travel to El Salvador, which is a beautiful place, and meet some of the sweetest, kindest people in the world, and whom we now count as friends. And Jamey and I are heading back next week for another quick visit.
7. For dinner today, we got to choose from dozens and dozens of options and combinations (yams with pecans, or yams with marshmallows? green salad, or green beans?), causing us to be thankful for the plentiful food that we enjoy.
6. My parents are here to visit, and Jamey's parents are with his sister (they will come here for Christmas) - what a blessing to celebrate holidays with all of the grandparents!
5. It rained over the weekend.....and our roof didn't leak!
4. Found at Ross this month: 6 Johnson Brothers "His Majesty" turkey plates for $2.50 each. What a deal!
3. My brother made his second trip down from Portland this year to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. He is definitely a crowd favorite!
2. Our kids amaze us every day with their character, intelligence, humor, insight, and abilities. We are their biggest fans and can't believe how awesome they are.
1. While making this list, I realized that I could make it 100 times longer and still have things for which to be thankful (there, I made it grammatically correct that time). There seems to be no end to our blessings!
And for all of these things and so much more, we are very, very thankful!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NUTS!!


The walnuts have started raining down upon us, which means that it truly now is fall. We are having a bumper crop this year in the neighborhood. My amazing neighbor Monica has 5 acres of walnuts and you wouldn't even believe how many 10-gallon buckets she has harvested, given away, etc. People are actually coming from all around just to pick up all of the walnuts in her yard. Three varieties, and here's how much I know: one kind is "round", one kind is "very small", and the third kind looks a lot like a small brain. In our back yard we have one wonderful English walnut tree. It's the one right out the back door...the one that Max and I guard with vigor all year for these moments (see Pappas Clan vs Squirrels on 8/15/08 for that story). As soon as the nights drop down to about freezing, the walnuts begin dropping, and each morning I go out and collect them. The first couple of days, I could hold them in my hands, but for the past week I've had to use a 4-gallon bucket, or the large basket pictured above, because there are so many. My master gardener neighbors tell me that we are getting so many walnuts because it was so rainy last winter, but I have been pretending to be Annie Oakley since I was a child, so I like to think that some of our bumper crop is because of my sharp-shooting abilities with the squirrels.
The walnuts must then be shelled, which, I have discovered, is a good thing to do while you are watching Steelers games on television, and stored, which I do in 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bags, of which I am currently on my fifth. Wow, it is a good year for nuts!
Here are some of the things I do with walnuts:
Roast them with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon to use in salads, pumpkin bread, cinnamon bread, all kinds of bread, muffins, or to eat by the handful.
Pasta with roasted broccoli and walnuts (recipe from realsimple.com - note: any magazine called "Real Simple" is my kind of magazine!)
Make candied walnuts to give away as Christmas gifts (there's a good recipe at allrecipes.com)
At our house, walnuts can also be used as tiny dog treats, and as a treat that can lure 5 unruly chickens back into the coop - the girls will come running from all over the yard if they hear me cracking a walnut shell. That's how we entertain ourselves in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One Of These Pumpkins Is Not Like The Others...

These are most of the pumpkins that we got out of the garden this year. There's another one that stayed on the back deck because it is very heavy, and I was too lazy to pick it up and move it. And there's another one out in the garden that looks like a rectangle, and is a little gooey on one side. Too unattractive for the front porch, alas. Of this bunch, the pumpkin on the far right is about the size of Jason's basketball, so we have some nice big ones this year. And the one on the far left, well, it actually isn't even a pumpkin. One of my neighbors gave us all what she thought were baby butternut squash plants. But to my dismay, when the squash started growing, they turned out to be 'gold ball squash' - they don't store well, and they basically taste just like zucchini when they are cooked, and we had a million zucchini, so this was about the last kind of squash we wanted.
Now, according to the UC Davis web site (which is where we go for 99 percent of our agriculture questions), a gold ball squash should be picked when it is 'the size of a baseball'. But since we were tired of squash, we decided to see just how big one of these bad boys would get. So we left it for a couple of months past its prime, and, tada! A giant, slightly lopsided, pumpkin-y looking yellow squash!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

End Of Tomato Season


Finally it has begun to freeze at night, which has turned my tomatoes black on the vines. But not before I went out for one final harvest and picked about 40 pounds of tomatoes. Thanks goodness I discovered Ball 'freezer jars' at the hardware store while I was in there browsing (I could browse in the hardware store a really long time - there is something wrong with me!). It made my final tomato-keeping adventure so easy I wish I had started doing it in the spring! All I did was cut the stems off of the tomatoes, squeeze out most of the seeds (my gardener neighbor says too many seeds make the sauce bitter or sour) and toss them into the blender. Then, when it was full, I turned it on, and in a few seconds I had a blender full of tomato sauce - ta da! There is even a fill line in these jars so that you don't over-fill and have an explosion in your freezer (this may or may not have happened once before in my freezer). A few minutes of labeling, then a couple of trips up and down the basement stairs, and there they are, waiting to be used this winter in pasta sauce and soup! It made me feel so farmerish. But in a modern, easy way, which is perfect for me, since I am very lazy and consider actual farming to be way too much work.

A Difference Between Boys and Girls

This summer, Grace took 600 pictures while we were in El Salvador. When she went to Hume Lake, she took almost 300. One day, just to pass the time with friends, she took over 50. Most of her pictures are great - in fact, I am using many of them in my scrapbook of our summer (no, I do not scrapbook - I am ordering online from shutterfly. Real scrapbooking is way too much pressure for me and I cannot handle the stress).
Now Jason, on the other hand, went on a mission trip with his youth group a couple of weeks ago. They went down to Santa Maria, played soccer with kids, put on a carnival (he was the 'bounce house monitor' - that's like putting a compulsive eater in charge of snacks, if you ask me, but no one did), did some clean-up work, put on a drama, and had a huge carne asada taco meal. I know these things because he told me about them. When I asked. I did send a camera along with him. I thought it would be fun to see everything that they did - a story in photos. So when he got back, I took the camera and looked through the pictures. There were 10 photos - like the one below. All in this room. I am told it's the room where the boys slept. And this is a picture of one of the giant pillow fights they had, which were apparently a whole lot of fun, because I looked on Facebook at some other kids' photos, and they looked like this, too. Yep - blurry pillow fight pictures. In their defense, Jason told me they weren't really allowed to bring cameras to the work part.
I just think it's very cute and interesting that my boy and girl are so different. And I am amazed at how great they both are!












Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brilliant!

The following essay was written by Grace in her Honors English class. From time to time the teacher will give them a prompt (this one was on competition in school as discussed in the book Overachievers) and have them write a response. This is one of my favorites - because not only does it show me that Grace knows how to write well, but I really really like the way she thinks! Enjoy:

"Personally, I don't feel like the competition at AHS is as extreme as the cases described in the book. But, after reading this, I'm starting to wonder if I just need to wake up and see the real world. I think academic competition is healthy as a means of inspiration or to encourage students to do their best, but when competition begins to encourage immorality I think it's time for a change. In my opinion, the problem is that students' values have changed, not their morals. Most students know that things like cheating and lying are wrong; that's a moral almost any student will agree with. The problem, however, is that many people, not just high schoolers, value success above morality. So although it goes against their morals to do these things, what's more important to them are grades, college, and eventually a good job. Deeper than that, though, I think what feeds the growing desires of students for good grades is materialism as a means of satisfaction. Because we now live in a world where, from a young age, children are fed the idea that money and happiness go hand in hand, students feel as though they need good grades to go to a good college to get a good job that makes a lot of money. They do these things because they believe it will ultimately lead to happiness. Morality's value is lowered, making cheating a logical step in the path towards satisfaction.
The idea behind academic competition isn't the problem, nor is it unhealthy. Competition can encourage diligence and self-motivation. The problem is that increased materialism is causing students to justify immoral behaviors by saying that such actions are necessary components in one's journey to success. Success meaning lots of money, not a clean conscience, honest heart, and true joy, that is."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Observations From My Second Half Marathon


I ran my second City-To-The-Sea Half Marathon this past weekend. Here are some things I observed:
1. It is much better to run with a friend than to run alone (eternal thanks to my great friend Jennifer, who trained and ran along with me, and drove us to the starting line in her shiny red Mustang)
2. Not all really old people are very slow
3. When you feel like you need new running shoes, you should probably get them, instead of trying to save money by just getting gel insoles (5 blisters taught me this - 3 on one toe)
4. "Whammy" by the B52s sets a great running pace
5. Energy 'Gu' tastes horrible and doesn't seem to work very well, although the jury is still out on that one
6. When you find yourself behind a really large, sweaty man, it's a good thing to pass him no matter how much it makes your legs burn
7. Running a half marathon must be a little like having a baby - afterwards, you just remember the good parts, and not the pain or the fact that there were way more hills than you remember from the first time
8. Girls should run in pink as much as possible - it will make you feel cute even if you are sweaty and stinky
9. The best parts of any race are 1) the finish line, and 2) carbo-loading on butternut squash ravioli the night before
10. Being able to run along orchards, farms, and an ocean view is amazing and might just make you want to do it again

Monday, October 4, 2010

Friday Nights

As in many small towns, Friday night here means high school football. I may not have a son on the team, but because of Grace, I have been able to go to most all of the games for the past three years (home and away). I am rather obsessed with football and am so glad I can go to watch the games. I'm not the only non-football parent who goes - we often have more fans than the home team at our away games. One family even drives a motorhome full of fans to all of the games. But in order to not seem like such a stalker, I usually take along one, two, three, or more of Grace's friends, which is fantastic, because I love them. Pictured above with us are Berenice (or 'Bear'), who is originally from Canada and speaks fluent French with her parents (it is beautiful), and Shelly, who was actually the very first person Grace met in public school - they were next to each other in 7th grade PE. It took Shelly's family four years to build their house out towards Creston; not because they were slow, but because that's how difficult our county makes it for people to build new houses. But when they moved in, they had a fantastic housewarming party complete with a rattlesnake that had curled up beside the patio and was quickly killed, skinned, and thrown on the grill. I am not kidding - it was one of the most impressive things I have seen in a long time!
I'd like to keep 'blogging', but I have to go put on my orange and gray (never thought I'd wear that combo!) and head out to tonight's game (taking three girls with me tonight). Go greyhounds!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why We Love Our Jobs....


This picture reminds me of why we love our jobs after 22 years. Over 900 students from Cal Poly and Cuesta Community College have packed Mountainbrook Church for the past 2 Tuesday nights to come to the weekly meeting of Campus Crusade. The thing that I think is fantastic is not the number. What is so cool is that there are so many of these students who are having an amazing impact on their friends and others. For example, last Tuesday I saw sweet Kaitlyn. Last spring I got to sit down and have lunch with her (at my very favorite deli in SLO - and there are a lot to choose from - Lincoln Deli) and talk to her as she was applying to go on a summer mission trip. Now, our family's trip to El Salvador was work....lots of prep work ahead of the trip, putting things in order, etc, but I feel like ours was pretty cushy compared to what Kaitlyn did. She spent 4 weeks in the inner city of Seattle, sometimes working with homeless people and people with drug problems, sometimes working with kids, and - this is my favorite part - doing ministry in a women's prison (this was her favorite part, too). They showed a video called Magdalena (about the life of Mary Magdalen) to the inmates and then had discussion groups afterwards.
What is so amazing to me is that Kaitlyn is just one of about 100 students who did stuff like this all over the world this past summer. And many of the rest, who 'just went home', or 'just went to summer school', or 'just worked' made an impact on their families, friends, and others. Every student in this photo has an interesting and unique story, and special abilities and gifts, and it is our privilege to be able to work with them, and hopefully challenge and inspire them, and help them to grow. And that, in a nutshell, is but one reason why we really really love our jobs.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Favorite Road


This is my favorite running road. It goes behind our house, on the other side of the creek. I run past fields and oaks, cows, horses, sheep, goats, llamas, pigs, and an awesome donkey named Jack. I've been training for a half-marathon with Running Buddy Jennifer so we've been all over the roads and bridle trails back here. It sure beats the new treadmills at the gym, which have tv screens instead of fans in them (some people prefer this), which in turn makes it difficult for me when 'Overly-Sweaty Guy' or 'Too-Much-Aftershave Guy' end up on the treadmill next to me. Yuck! I've actually met Jennifer at the gym at 5 a.m. twice now to avoid them. For some reason, it's much easier to run 8 miles out here than 4 miles in the steamy treadmill room. I even prefer the smell of cows and horses to the smell of bad after shave. And every time I go, I am reminded of how incredibly blessed we are to live here, where we can run on roads like this just about whenever we want. Even after dark, if we do end up getting the headlamps we are thinking of buying. Until one of us gets sprayed by a skunk....then that will be the end of that.

Saucy


I went into the garden to pick 'a few' squash and tomatoes, and I discovered the mother-lode of ripe red tomatoes (67, to be exact). The squash and pumpkins got hurriedly shoved onto the basement shelves (I will deal with them later). Since I had the morning at home, I decided to make tomato sauce. I already have about 12 cups of roasted tomatoes in the freezer, and tomato sauce is pretty easy. My foodie friend asked me to tell her how I do it, so I told her, but she thought it sounded 'too easy'. I explained that if it was complex, I wouldn't be doing it.....but here are the steps:
1. Wash the tomatoes and cut off the tops
2. Give them a good squeeze to get out some of the juice and seeds, then toss them into the blender
3. When the blender is full, grind them up. I use the "sauce" setting. Probably anything is fine - I suspect all of those settings are pretty much the same, and that all of the labels ('puree', 'smoothie', 'baby food') are just a marketing gimmick. Does this make me a cynic? Or just really smart?
4. Pour the tomatoes into a large pot and add garlic, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, maybe a little sugar...whatever spices you like.
5. Here's the 'trickiest' part - simmer until it's thick. The juicier the tomatoes the longer it will take. Mine simmered for about 2 hours today. I just stir and check every so often. And taste. But I don't taste until it's been cooking for a while, because otherwise it just tastes like tomatoes, and I myself don't really like that.
6. At this point, I let it cool and store it - some will go into the fridge, because we will be eating it over spaghetti squash tomorrow. The rest I separate, in 1-cup portions, into individual ziploc sandwich bags, in the freezer. I lay them flat and freeze them and then put them in larger freezer bags. Then, when I need a cup or a can of tomatoes for some recipe this winter, I can just thaw and use. Easy as pie! Hey, I have some of those in the freezer, too....

Monday, August 30, 2010

apple time!


I love apple season. It signifies the coming of fall, and all the wonderful things that come with it: mainly, baseball playoffs, football, and baking. My weekends are now full of Jason's soccer games (exciting to watch) and high school football games (I am so glad Grace is a cheerleader because otherwise I would have no reason at all to go to those....) and my weekdays are full of Cal Poly students, driving kids around (mainly Jason, now that Grace can drive herself!), and trying to reap the bounty of our garden and orchard before it goes bad (also there is quite a squirrel war going on this year, but Max-the-dog and I are doing quite well, thanks to the new ammo my dad bought me, so I won't mention it, lest any of my hippie neighbors happen to read this). This year, it just so happens that the tomatoes are very late, and the apples are early, so they are all ripening right now. Our apple tree is only about 8 feet or so tall, but God bless it, it has produced about 100 or so apples (I'm not sure what variety....I was told golden delicious, but they start dropping when they are still green. As with many of the plants here, it may have been mislabeled when we moved in). I went out the other day to pick "a few" and came in with a full basket (it's like the miracle of the loaves and fishes). Fortunately for me, my sweet mother-in-law is visiting, so she stood at my kitchen counter this morning and peeled and cut apples while I put them into an apple crisp (which we will eat tonight) and two apple pies, which I am freezing for later (I might add that she is also fixing us linguine with clam sauce tonight for dinner. What a great visit this is turning out to be!). Then she escaped somehow and went shopping with my father-in-law. She doesn't know it yet, but I just went outside and picked a whole new basketful!! Ha! I see apple sauce, apple-cinnamon bread, apple dumplings, and apple butter in the future. This is a huge improvement over last year, when we got zero, thanks to those nasty squirrels, who, in one night, went out into the orchard and ate exactly half of every apple hanging on the tree. I think they did it to taunt me. Dirty buggers!
Anyway, apple prep is a relaxing, mindless task that can be done - while watching football! Maybe that's why I like apples so much....

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jason's Best Beach Day Ever

video
Hey look! I am learning how to put videos on the blog! I thought I would share this video from yesterday, when I took Jason and four friends to Pismo Beach for one final glorious beach day before the start of school on Monday. They sat in the sun, they boogie-boarded, they skim-boarded, they went to the candy arcade, they quoted songs and movie lines and made me laugh. And then they decided that they would try to catch a seagull.....

Monday, August 16, 2010

Garden Surprises

I came home from El Salvador to a neatly-trimmed front yard, thanks to Mom. The garden, however, is being its typical unruly self. Every year the same thing happens - I plant in the spring and the tiny seedlings look so far apart that I think they will have plenty of room to spread out. But then the pumpkins and squash go crazy, and this year the tomatoes have joined them. It makes every trip out there like a little treasure hunt - you never quite know what you will find. The Very Large Pumpkin is easy because it is already turning orange (it will soon have to go into the basement, although I don't know how, since I can't carry it). There are two other pumpkins - one in the middle of my tomatillos, and one over by the cantaloupes (these are at opposite ends of the garden, mind you). And there is a white pumpkin out there somewhere. I saw it once. The vines at this point are beginning to poke out of the fence and head into the orchard. Mixed in with the pumpkins are spaghetti squash (I planted yellow ones, but am getting an equal number of yellow and white ones. No one knows why. One of my hippie neighbors suggested mischevious garden fairies, and I know she was being serious) and what I thought were butternut squash. Turns out they are pattypans. My neighbor made a mistake on her labeling. I found out because I lifted a leaf over by the fence and found a yellow pattypan squash the size of a soccer ball, which caused my friend Heather, who was with me at the time, to laugh until she cried (this is my same friend who got me to run the half marathon - see the Sept 14, 2008 blog entry). I may have simultaneously yelled, "What the?" We cut it in half to positively identify it as a squash and laughed at the size. We are still talking about it - wish I had taken a picture of it. Anyway, there's the garden update for now - in between getting everything ready for the start of school, trying to get to the beach a couple more times, and general house/car/animal upkeep, I head out to the garden every couple of days just to see what surprise is waiting for me next!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Home - Part 2



We are home! Well, three of us are. Grace, Jason and I came home on Wednesday (Jamey and our students are remaining in El Salvador until the 23rd). After a five-hour flight, customs at LAX, and a four-hour drive north (with only a quick stop at the In-N-Out Burger in Westwood), we pulled into our driveway at about 1 a.m. on Thursday. We are realizing that there are many things to be thankful for about where we live:
1. My parents were our housesitters, so we came home to happy animals, a clean house, a stocked refrigerator, and a trimmed yard.
2. The air here is so fresh and clean! After two big smoggy cities, it seemed like we had arrived at a campsite or something. It really does smell great.
3. It was 72 degrees here today. That was the high. In August. I realize that in a few days it could be up in the high 90's, but today we enjoyed the cool breeze with the windows open.
4. Trader Joe's and other grocery stores - especially the abundance of fresh produce and healthy choices.
5. At night, because we don't have streetlights, there are SO many stars! I notice this often, but we did miss all of the stars when we were gone. The view is particularly amazing from Grace's new hammock, which is now in the backyard.
6. We all have great friends - some we are very sad to leave behind in El Salvador, and some we are so happy to see again.

above photos: our last evening in El Sal, and our first freeway view of LA when we passed over the 405 during our landing at LAX

Home



From the smiles on these faces, you might think we were at a school or a playground. But on Tuesday and Thursday our team went to a state-run orphanage in San Salvador to paint, clean, wash windows, make lunch, and generally love on these children. Grace spent her time coloring and playing on the trampoline with the little girls, and Jason played basketball and soccer with some of the boys. It was amazing to me how sweet and joyful the kids seemed, even though they come from horrible circumstances. Rosa, the little girl on the right in the picture with me, was worried that I didn't have lunch as she offered me part of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I explained that we would eat our lunch later, and then she asked me if I have brothers or sisters. It turns out she has one brother, just like me. Her brother is sixteen and has moved back home with her mom, to get a job and earn some money (not all of the kids here are totally without parents - some just aren't able or willing to care for them). She misses him and loves it when he comes to visit. But she told me that she doesn't really know her mom at all - she has never been to visit. Some of the babies we held were found abandoned, and don't have names. Many of the older girls are already mothers, even though they are 13 or 14 years old. Their families have expelled them, and they had nowhere else to go.
It was a difficult and wonderful day at the same time. Later on, when I was talking to Layo, the director of Campus Crusade for Latin America, he explained to me why it is so important for us to visit places like this, and to take the Vida Estudiantil students (about 5 went this day) with us. In El Salvador, as in many countries, there is a huge gap between the wealthiest and the poorest citizens. The students who attend Matias University come from the top 3 percent of the population, and are the children of the richest and most powerful people in the country. Most of them have lived very sheltered lives, so it is a great thing, Layo said, for them to go out and paint schools in poor villages, and to serve orphans at the state orphanage. He explained that in the future, these students will be the leaders of El Salvador in politics, the arts, business, and medicine. And he wants them to remember these days and these people. As they go out with our students, they are growing in compassion along with us, and that is a very good thing.
After the morning, we sat around the pool at the hotel and let students talk about what they had experienced. And Jamey shared a verse from the Bible - Matthew 9:36 - which says, "When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." We are growing in our compassion for people, and are seeing a country full of people who God loves.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

First Day At Matias


Yesterday was the first day of the new term at Matias, and the Vida Estudiantil students had a table up, giving away candy and fliers, and getting contact information from interested new students. We brought a World Cup soccer ball and t-shirt and a designer purse from the states to be given away as raffle prizes at the first VE meeting on Thursday (at noon). We also put together 100 freshman survival kits to hand out; each contains candy, a flier, and a DVD of World Cup players giving their testimonies. It was fun and encouraging to watch the US students, who are brave but speak almost no Spanish, and the VE students, who speak Spanish but are not always brave, team up to meet and converse with the new students. There are a lot of students who want more information about English Club, Vida Estudiantil, or a relationship with God, and our hope is that when we leave in a few short weeks, the VE students will have the confidence and training to just run with the ministry.
One joy for our family has been hanging out with the wonderful Avendano family. Manuel and Ceci are on staff with Campus Crusade and have two fun boys, Geovanny (a VE student at Universitad Evangelical), and Andres, who is in the fifth grade. Jason has been able to hang out at Andres' school a couple of times and play soccer with all of the kids, and on Friday Andres hung out with us all day at our hotel (it's a cool place to hang out, because of the pool, jacuzzi, game room, and proximity to McDonalds). Manuel has been our driver, tour guide and translator, and Ceci is just basically amazing! I for one would love to host them in SLO for a change. How fun that would be!
We will be on campus the rest of this week and will round out the week by taking a group of kids from an orphanage to see 'Toy Story Three' in Spanish on Saturday morning. And we are still thinking ourselves hugely blessed to be here...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Fun Stuff












We have been working hard on campus, but since classes at Matias University begin on Monday, we have had quite a bit of time up front to do some sightseeing and exploring around this beautiful country. On Wednesday, we went to the beach (Punta Roca, for all of you surfers out there), where Jason finally found a coconut tree to mess with, and Grace found a sweet little parrot friend. The sand is black here, since it's volcanic, and on our way we drove past mango trees, starfruit trees, and a rhododendron tree at least 30 feet tall (I have a rhododendron outside of my house, off the porch. It is 3 feet tall at the most - a shrub. I will blame my soil.)
Today we went to "El Boqueron" (meaning 'wide gap') National Park to see the San Salvador volcano, pictured above. Grace said it was like driving through a post card. I felt like I was on a movie set. Someone mentioned 'Jurassic Park'. Unbelievable plants, colors, bugs, birds, and then we got to the crater and were able to hike along the rim a little and look down in (it hasn't erupted since 1917, and there was no steam coming out, or rumbling, so we felt perfectly safe). The jungle here is gorgeous. On the way back down, we stopped for yet another great meal at a coffee plantation. Jamey and I decided to go native and order some typical Salvadorean fare of pupusas, yuca (it actually is a yucca root, but looks and tastes like big thick french fries), and plantains that were filled with beans and cheese, with horchata to drink. YUM.
Tomorrow we will be attending the Union Church here (an English-speaking church, where a lot of missionary families and embassy personnel go), and then we are off and running early Monday morning. We will be on both Matias campuses handing out some freshman survival kits (consisting of a soccer dvd, a flyer about Vida Estudiantil, and candy of course), raffling off a world cup soccer ball (boys) and a designer purse (girls), and just continuing to meet and talk to students. We will be helping the student leaders at Matias (about 10 or so) with their weekly meeting, and just talking to them and encouraging them, and our US students will be running a couple of weekly English clubs. In between, we will continue to explore, and enjoy, and eat, and generally feel very blessed that we get to spend our time in this amazing place!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

10 new things we are learning about el salvador



1. When an elevator says "holds 10", it means 10. Try to put in, say, 13 students, 1 intern, 1 mom and 1 daughter, for example, and you will get stuck!
2. When a minivan (called a "micro" here) says it's a 10-passenger van, now that is just a suggestion. You can stuff up to 14 or so people in one of these.
3. To young Salvadorean girls, Jason Pappas in a baseball hat and sunglasses bears a striking resemblance to teen pop sensation Justin Bieber (see picture above). This could possibly be the highlight of his trip.
4. Barbecued rabbit might just be better than barbecued beef at some food festivals.
5. It is possible to find bread, juice, and peanut butter without 'ickies' (i.e. chemicals) in El Salvador, much to the delight of Grace Pappas.
6. When you run on a treadmill and impress yourself with the distance, it is good to remember that it may just be because the treadmill is calibrated in kilometers, not miles.
7. The jungle in El Salvador is amazing and beautiful (see picture above), even when wet from an afternoon thundershower.
8. Coke zero is everywhere.
9. Washing machines are not (we are spoiled).
10. The people of El Salvador are some of the most friendly, patient, and helpful people on the entire planet.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Buenos Dias de El Salvador


Hello from El Salvador! We arrived at 7:30 yesterday morning, checked into our hotel, and enjoyed our first day in the city of San Salvador, capped off with a traditional dinner of pupusas. If you aren't familiar with them, imagine a very thick corn tortilla with something in the middle, like melted cheese, beans, pork, or squash (my favorite....perhaps a new use for all of those extra zucchinis?) Today we had our students learning about the culture, as taught by Manuel, Ceci, Janet, and Selegna, the San Salvador staff team, along with Brandon, a Cal Poly alum and current stinter here. We walked to the closest Pizza Hut for dinner tonight and ran back in a downpour - evenings here remind me of the monsoon season in Arizona, when there is a quick, crazy thunderstorm about every night. Jason, Grace and Jamey headed up to the 11th-floor game room, gym and jacuzzi (I think Jason is boxing some of the boys on the Wii) while I am sitting in the lobby, writing, 'facebooking', checking email, and watching the Padres take the lead over the Diamondbacks in the fourth inning thanks to my very generous husband and MLB.com. Tomorrow being Saturday, we will be touring the countryside, going to one of the smaller villages that has a wonderful food market and arts and crafts fair every weekend. I will have my camera in hand! The above photo is one that we took at lunch today on the balcony of Shaw's restaurant (and purveyor of delicious-looking chocolate creations). Sunday we will go to church with Manuel, Ceci and family, and then we will begin going to campus on Monday. Every one of us (22 total) is doing quite well so far. Our beds are comfy, the food is wonderful and plentiful, and the people are super friendly and helpful. I will do my best to keep everyone posted on our progress and adventures over the next three weeks....hasta luego for now! Y muy buenos noches...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And We're Off!


Most of you know that because of our work with Campus Crusade, we do quite a bit of traveling during the summer. This year is no different - we are heading to El Salvador tomorrow (after a brief stopover in Orange County). Jason, Grace and I will be gone for three weeks, and Jamey and the students (16 of them) will be there for 6 weeks. We will be helping to run the campus ministry at Matias University in San Salvador, with some relief work and some sightseeing thrown in as well. It is both exciting and hard for our kids to leave home in the summers; fortunately this year's trip is after Hume Lake and the end of baseball season, but before cheer camp and the start of soccer season. And although I love to travel, it is always a huge stress to find a housesitter to care for 1 aging dog, 2 fighting cats, 6 hens, multiple fruit trees, a garden, and an old house (where anything could break at almost any moment). This year my parents are greatly blessing us by staying at our house while we're gone. I am praying that their time will be relaxing and uneventful, except for my dad catching 'the big one' - a halibut, we're hoping. And if he can bag a few rodents with the bb gun, well, that would great, too.
If you think of us, or of Cal Poly, or of El Salvador, please say a quick prayer for our health, our safety, and our project in general. Thank you! It is my intention to update the blog a couple of times (the up-side of needing to stay in a safe place is that it is a nice hotel with internet), maybe with a photo or two if I can handle the technology, so I will try to keep you all posted. Here's to another adventure for the Pappas family! Hasta luego.....

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Fruits


We are happily harvesting the first plums and apricots off of our trees. It's been a crazy and drama-filled couple of weeks. In the past fourteen days we have:
Been to Tucson and back to get a dream car from Grandpa (Grace and Jamey; a 76 vw bug)
Discovered that there is no way we can register the car in California, even after hours on the phone and internet, exploring all possible scenarios (Jamey) and mourned the loss (all of us)
Been beaned in the arm for the first time in a baseball game (Jason - approx. speed 80 mph)
Had wisdom teeth removed (Grace) and subsequently watched 7 movies
Been to LA and back in a day to get a part for the old station wagon (Jamey)
Gotten 2 squirrels, 3 mice, and 1 big fat ground squirrel in the ongoing war against critters (Gretchen and Jamey and Max the dog)
Been in yet another fight with the black mystery feline (Sadie the cat)
Alas, died (Jemima the chicken. Rest in peace.)
The garden and orchard provide a few moments of escape from 'life', but to really get away, we are heading for our favorite spot in Big Sur tomorrow for a couple of days. If you have never been, you should google it and just look at the pictures. Amazing. Keep an eye out for Sand Dollar State Beach and Plasket Creek Campground.....that's where we will be!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Greek Festival


Jamey and I went to the San Luis Obispo Greek Festival downtown on Sunday. It is put on by the only Greek Orthodox church in the county, whose sweet pastor called us once to invite us to their Easter service because our last name is Pappas. I felt a little guilty explaining to him that we actually attend a different church, and that I'm not even Greek. We saw families with yiayias (grandmas). We watched about 10 little children do some Greek dancing, then some grownups try as well. We counted the times we heard non-Greek people yell, "Opa!!" There were booths selling gyros, souvlaki, and "Got Ouzo?" t-shirts. And then we came to the Greek pastry booth, which had an amazing selection of every kind of treat that can be made from phyllo. Jamey was searching for something his Greek grandma made when he was little....and we found something very close, pictured above. They are called loukoumathes and they are quite delicious - kind of like donut holes. The whole family liked them and I'm personally hoping they never ask me to make them, because I've discovered that most Greek dishes are very time-consuming and involved, and I myself am quite lazy. One time I actually made kourabiethes (small almond cookies shaped just so and rolled in powdered sugar). Never again. You can buy the things in town at the Mediterranean restaurant and market! We will just consider these little gems a once-a-year treat. If you ever have the chance to go to a Greek festival, you should do it. Go hungry, and be ready to tap your feet to the music.

This Is Not My Zucchini Plant


It is that time of year again - our garden is in and most things are growing. It looks like once again we will have a bumper crop of pumpkins, butternut squash, anaheim peppers and cantaloupe, some romaine lettuce, tomatillos and tomatoes, and a few runty ears of corn. That's not counting the oodles of apricots, plums, and peaches that we are trying to keep our old adversaries the squirrels away from (note: Grace ran down her first squirrel in the road yesterday. They simply cannot be avoided. I don't want her to try to veer away from them and accidentally hit a tree or mailbox, so I told her I will give her a dollar every time she hits one. Am I a bad mother?).
And of course, that neighborhood favorite, the zucchini (see the blog entry from June 18, 2008). This year I am going to do my best to keep track of how many zucchinis we get off the plant. We will be eating the first 4 tonight, probably grilled, since we are having our first heat wave this weekend and I don't want to use the stove or oven.
I found this picture on the internet of the world's biggest zucchini plant, and doesn't it just put us all in our places! Here we were in Garden Farms thinking we cornered the market on growing large zucchinis. Wow. I guess that shows us!
Zucchini season means that our neighborhood farmer's market is starting up soon. I wish you could all come to that - it's a cultural experience for all! All kinds of goodies will start showing up - but no zucchini....everyone knows better than that!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hooray for Baseball Season











Recently my cousin Brett commented, "You know baseball, in our family, has always run through our veins". And it's true, particularly for me and this boy here. He is the smallest one on his team (note the uniform number '1'), and plays with at least one boy who shaves, and one who is 6'2" and 185 pounds, but is batting over .400 so far, with 10 sacrifices and 12 rbis. Moral of this story? I have no idea. I just know it brings me joy to go and watch these games and watch my son throw down a bunt that catches the other team completely off guard, or somehow manage to whack a liner into the outfield. Awesome!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Vroom Vroom!

Well, today is a glorious day for us. Particularly for Grace Pappas, age 16, and for me, her mom and former chauffer. That's right, Grace Ann got her driver's license today! First of all, I would like to applaud the stoic older man whose job it is to take kids out on their driver's tests. Whatever he gets paid, let me tell you, it is not enough. Second, for all of you who are wondering if I am scared, anxious, etc: Of course I am! Feel free to pray for us whenever you think of it. But I am mostly excited because in my head I am imagining conversations such as the following:
Grace: "Mom, we're out of chocolate soy milk!" (yes, I'm so sorry, my dairy-farming family, my daughter prefers soy milk. I swear I did not teach her this!)
Me: "Here's some money - go get some!!"
Or -
Grace: "Hey Mom, it's time for me to go to cheer practice!"
Me: "Here are the keys. Drop your brother off at the baseball field on your way, please."
I am really looking forward to not driving to the movie theater, to the Pismo Beach outlets, and especially to Forever 21. Now I will have more time to go to the places I like. Mainly, home, Farm Supply, and Miner's Hardware and Garden. A glorious day, indeed!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Speaking Of Survivors...


I took my trusty canine buddy Max for a walk down to the corner yesterday to check on the progress of the beaver dam. These beavers have kind of become the mascots of Garden Farms, and since the creek became a raging torrent back in January, neighbors have been checking on them from time to time. Updates even show up often in our neighborhood blog (gardenfarms.blogspot.com). After the 'big storm', sadly, two beavers were found dead - one down by the church and one back behind the Robertsons' house - and we were afraid there were no more. But then, my neighbor (the one who lives 'off the grid' with the wood-burning hot tub) found some telltale chewed sticks and stumps, and there was much rejoicing. I personally think that folks around here relate to the beavers because they are a) unusual, b) stubborn and c) slightly out of place (I'm talking about the beavers!). So here on the bottom is a photo of our great survivors. We are currently hoping for a baby beaver or two. I'll keep you posted!
While I was at it, I took a picture of another survivor - the ancient sycamore that's been growing beside the creek for as long as there are any records (there are photos downtown at the historical society of Garden Farms in 1918, and this tree is in them). It is gnarled, bumpy, and scary to small children (again, I'm referring to the tree and not any of my neighbors), but its recent claim to fame is that after the earthquake of 2004, a bear wandered down the creek, ate two of my neighbor's geese, then climbed up into this tree and took a nap. It's a Garden Farms version of Goldilocks!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New In The Yard



The clematis - a beautiful flower with a terrible name. We have two blooming with two more buds, which is amazing because this vine got trampled by the dog when it was tiny, and almost froze away this winter. Which means that it is the best kind of plant to have in our yard - a survivor.

I Joined The Club


For years I have enjoyed reading a magazine called "Mary Jane's Farm", which talks about things like gardening, sewing, camping, outdoor cooking (and bathing, which I would never ever do). Snarky Jamey sometimes refers to it as my 'hippie commie magazine' (I like to remind him that the early Christians also had communist leanings, if you think about it, although their motivation was quite different). One day I was chatting with my neighbor and she mentioned a 'farmgirl sisterhood' she had started, and I recognized the term from Mary Jane's mag and asked her about it. Turns out there are several women who gather at her house every other Monday to do 'farmgirl' stuff (although I think if any actual farmgirls knew about all this, they would just laugh in our faces). They made aprons, created an all-organic lunch of soup, salad and bread that they made mostly from their gardens, started a beehive, and have hiked all over the county to view wildflowers. I, being a farmgirl wannabee, have been to two of these meetings. I helped to weed a neighbor's garden, and, along with about 10 other ladies, I helped to make this beautiful soap. Out of goat's milk and lye. Lye is nasty - it is difficult to find and purchase (you have to convince the pharmacist you are not making meth, apparently), it really stinks, and it burns the skin instantly, so we had to wear goggles and gloves (for more lovely photos and goings-on, you can check out the blog at wildatheartfarmgirls.blogspot.com). I learned that it is MUCH easier to buy soap at the store. I really appreciate soap manufacturers, in fact. Then, I went to the store and bought myself an apron. Our next meeting is on Monday and I'll let you know what we do or don't do next!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Benefits of A Rainy Winter


It was a very rainy winter. One week in February this year, we got almost 12 inches of rain. My favorite running route is still closed off because of standing water. Our old house has leaked in two different places. The floor just inside the back door was constantly muddy. The creek was way up and the dog was bored.
But as you can see from the above photo (from our local NBC website, ksby.com) we are currently enjoying the benefits of all that water. We've never seen such flowers - from the bulbs and blossoms in our own yard to the wildflowers in abundance on the hills. I have at this very moment 22 tulips and 10 irises in various vases around the house. Amazing!!
All of this means: it's gardening season!! Planted so far: onions, artichokes. We will keep you posted.....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Feast



It started out several years ago, when the first day of the NCAA basketball tourney coincided with Saint Patrick's Day. Since our whole staff team (of 5) was going to be at my house watching the games anyway, I thought I'd just make some corned beef and cabbage for dinner. When else could we eat such a thing? The next year, I added colcannon, a potato dish, and an apple crisp for dessert. Later on, I decided it would also be fun to try to speak in an Irish brogue for the whole day. Which brings us to this year's St Patty's Day feast at our house.....now for a crowd of 24 (our staff, interns, our kids, and 'significant others'). Menu: Brown bread, Irish cheddar, pickles, corned beef and cabbage with mustard-cream sauce, Irish stew, colcannon, and Irish cream cheesecake for dessert. Here's how my Tuesday (the 16th) and Wednesday (17th) went.....
Tuesday, March 16 - 6 a.m.: set out 48-oz brick of cream cheese to soften, dig giant crab-cooking pot and spring-form pan out of cellar.
6:05 - wash dust and cobwebs off of pot and pan
9 a.m. - prepare first two loaves of Irish brown bread for baking
10:30 - prepare next two loaves for baking, consider eating half of a loaf for lunch but resist
noon - boil 25 potatoes, cook chopped kale and onion for colcannon
12:30 - shove baking dish full of colcannon into fridge (rearranging things to find space)
1p.m. - begin making first of two Irish cream cheesecakes, which require the aforementioned brick of cream cheese, the spring-form pan, and three stages (crust, filling, topping) of mixing and baking. Quickly realize why I haven't made this cheesecake in 14 years (Christmas of '96!). Consider putting some Bailey's Irish Cream in my iced coffee, but chicken out, since I have to pick up 5 kids from school in two hours. Also, I don't really drink Bailey's Irish Cream...
10 p.m. - get last cheesecake out of oven, cool, cover, cram into over-crowded fridge
Wednesday, March 17 - 5:30 a.m.: get bag of produce out of cellar where it was being stored since there was no more room in fridge; secretly rejoice that there are no signs of mice getting into it
6 a.m.- chop 3 onions; cook with 3 lb beef for Irish Guiness stew; begin stew in crock pot
9-11 a.m. - clean house, shower, find green T-shirt and earrings, listen to Chieftans station on Pandora
11 a.m. - chop turnips, carrots, parsnips; add to stew
1 p.m. - start simmering 3 corned beef roasts in giant crab pot on stove
4 p.m. - add cabbage to corned beef, put colcannon in oven, get drinks ready in big tub, get dishes and silverware out (including awesome festive napkins I bought last year after St Pat's Day)
5 p.m. - enjoy the party, the music by the Chieftans, watching Kevin and Jenn's red-haired daughter Abby run around my yard chasing chickens, and trying to master an Irish brogue. Give large helpings of cheesecake to the people who drove my kids home from their youth groups so we didn't have to leave the party
9 p.m. - 10:30 - do most of the clean up (Jamey helped. A LOT), take out several bags of garbage, start dishwasher, store leftovers, eat one last piece of cheesecake, consider making cheesecake more often
Thursday at 4 p.m. - put away last of the dishes, clean sink with bleach because Irish food seems greasy, enjoy a delicious piece of cheesecake with kids, collapse on couch to watch some basketball games, start thinking about next year's feast!

I have been asked why I do this? Why don't I make it a potluck? Truly, I have no idea, except that I like doing it once a year (twice....I also do a staff Christmas dinner). If this is still a conundrum for you, read a short story called "Babette's Feast" by Isak Dinesen (it was made into a movie years ago. In Danish. I actually made Jamey watch it once). It's about a French woman who washes up on a Scandinavian shore after a shipwreck and is cared for by the townspeople. Then she wins the lottery and uses the money to make them all a grand French feast in appreciation. All of the money. They, being stoic, strict Puritan-types, don't get it. I don't really, either, except that I really love feeding the people I like a good meal. Once or twice a year. Or four times, if you count the annual Super Bowl Party and Memorial Day Barbecue, too....