Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Don't Do It

I was driving in the rain to Kansas City this morning. The windshield wipers were working hard and I felt tense. Lots of shifting over three lanes for left-handed exits. I missed one turn. I ended up at the wrong clinic.

I had to call for directions at one point and the nice man didn't understand what I meant by a block looking "sketchy." I have been around teens for decades and so I explained to the aged gentlemen that it meant "not quite right and perhaps a bit dangerous."

We made it, though, and Mary Pat will soon have an "Augmentive Communication Device." She still can't speak well but her understanding of letters gives her the ability, in the experts' evaluation, to pick out some words and pictures on this tablet-like device.

On the drive home I listened to the radio. There was a "quick minute" with a theologian, a nun named Mother Angelica. She quoted the Bible: "Do not let your hearts be troubled..." She made the point that God didn't say that He would necessarily take the troubles away. Troubles will come. They happened to Christ so they'll certainly happen to us. But we should fight discouragement. There is always hope.

I imagined some recent troubles in my life. Did I trust God enough to handle them?

Yes. I decided I did. And in anxiety's place came peace.

When I got home I google-searched the verse: John 14:27

I might have to keep reminding myself to let God handle troubles. Truly, some situations are much harder than others. But I will claim his promise. I hope you'll read the verse, too.

I don't have time to add to Renata, but I'll share some recent photos from the farm. They are from yesterday morning: misty, crisp and Fall-like.

God bless you.

Monday, October 26, 2015


       I read a quote yesterday that really got me thinking: 

       "Wisdom, after all, is just healed pain."

       Healed pain?

       I have prayed often for wisdom, but I have never prayed for pain. If wisdom only comes after pain, then our society is a bit backwards. Don't we emphatically try to avoid pain? 

       Can we strive too hard to avoid pain, and in so-doing, lose something very valuable...sense, priority, judgement, principle?

      Strangely enough, I think the answer is yes.


Chapter 6

       The morning seemed slow and Claire's stomach was growling. She looked at the time on her computer: 11:45. She turned off the screen and straightened slowly. She was sore; not the achy pain under the cast, but her back and hamstrings. Even in the couple hours she did get to ski, her body was not used to it. She walked over to Jan's office. She felt tired and just a bit sad from the weekend.

       "Jan, time for lunch."

       Jan looked up over her reading glasses, taking a second to focus her green eyes on Claire.

       "Oh, hey, Sweetie," she sighed. "I have so much. And I brought a sandwich and stuff. You wanna share?"

       "Aw, no thanks. I'm having a KC craving for some barbecue. Maybe Jack Stack."

       Jan smiled wanly, "Sorry--Phil might want to go..."

       Claire waved her hand impassively. "It's fine. I don't want to be chastised anymore." She smiled,
"And the exercise'll be good. I'll change shoes and walk, then just come back and eat at my desk. See ya!"

       Jan waved and looked back down at her computer and Claire headed over to change into the sneakers she kept at her desk. The walk would feel good.


       Ernesto was used to being called "Ernie" by most people. His Mom and Dad and grandparents were about the only ones who still called him by his given name, but he liked it. It was a connection to his roots in Central and South America. He took Spanish in high school because his Dad said it was wise being the second-most spoken language in the United States. He did well, and then he was able to take Portuguese in college. 

       He was determined to speak each without an accent, and most native speakers complimented him. Some of the construction workers he'd worked with over the years were Brazilian and some were Mexican. He was able to get to know them better, and to respect them better. He, in turn, earned their respect.

       He was at lunch with a few of his crew and overheard a young woman at the table beside them lamenting to her friend in Spanish about a bad date that weekend. Despite her speed of delivery, he understood, and he found himself feeling sorry for her. He began to imagine Mexico, pondering why he had never traveled there. He made a mental note to do just that when this job was finished.

       "Boss! Ernie!"

       Ernesto looked up at the man across the booth. "Sorry, Pete. What?"

       "Where were you, man? Hey, the waitress wants to know if you want fries, they're out of potato salad."

      "Fries are great--sorry." He looked up at the waitress who shyly looked away as their eyes met. There were some drawbacks to being a good-looking man. Many times he couldn't get a good look at a woman's eyes. She turned and rushed off, and the men continued talking about the Royals and draft picks. 

       The door opened and Ernie saw Claire walk in and over to the counter. He noted her athletic stride, the polite chat with someone in line ahead of her. She placed her order and turned to survey the restaurant. He looked plainly at her, wondering if she'd see him, or pretend not to. 

       She did see him, and reacted immediately. With a quick wave she mouthed "Hey," and walked over to the table of men. Ernesto's co-workers looked up at the attractive woman striding toward their table, then back and forth at themselves. They realized, then, (of course) she was there to see Ernie. They looked at him and one elbowed another. 

       "I know you," she said to Ernesto; then to the other men, "Hi, I'm Claire." Pete, whose rounded belly was indented with the table made an effort to stand. Claire quickly motioned to him, "Please--sit," which he gladly did to mitigate any further embarrassment. He glanced shamefully at his co-workers' poor manners. 

       Claire kept speaking, "Are you guys working with Ernesto?" They nodded and grunted amiably. "Well, I'll be seeing you sometimes. I'm to help monitor the progress." She narrowed her eyes at them playfully. "So make me happy, okay?"

       The men might have been put off, but she was just so sure of herself and so dang cute. She was likable. Ernesto made quick introductions and one of the men motioned for Claire to sit.

       Ernesto hadn't stopped smiling, watching her effect on the men. "Yeah, join us, Claire."

       "Thank you--I would, but I have a bunch of work. I should've finished more before the weekend, but I was so excited to get away." She looked disappointingly at her arm.

       Pete noticed the near-matching cast. "You two do that together? Ernie, man, you didn't say a girl was on your guys' weekend." The men laughed.

       "I wish, 'cause I might not have gotten on that four-wheeler. No, Claire was skiing in Colorado."

       Pete interjected, "You know you can stay right here in Kansas; there's a slope up North near Weston." 

       Pete scoffed, "No way. Kansas is too flat! Who are you kidding?"

       Claire snorted a teasing laugh, "Well, there actually is, but...I was spoiled on the East coast, and by Colorado. Bit of a ski snob." She did that snort-laugh again.

       Ernesto pretended to be insulted. "Hey, I spent lots of winters on that slope. It's near my home."

       "No offense intended!" She laughed. "Maybe I should try it one day. I just think I'll be on lifts a lot more than any runs."

       Claire's order was called by the woman at the counter.

       "Gentlemen. Until Thursday. Nice to meet you! She cocked her head at Ernesto.  "Mr. Smith." 

       "Miss Ski-Lady..."

       There was no self-conscious looking away with Claire. 

       Claire turned and was out the door with her order in a minute. The men were already making jabs at Ernesto. 

       She heard them as the door closed behind her, and smiled to herself.  Her mood had lifted considerably.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Never Waste a Chicken

       Before I left for Nashville our stove had just been repaired. Normally I would have left homemade casseroles, but instead filled the freezer with corndogs, frozen pizzas and the like. The kids were happy about it; convenience foods are a treat to them. Marie had specifically asked for a couple of rotisserie chickens, hot out of the oven.

       Like many busy Moms, sometimes the menu plan has not been made and we're left looking at the cupboards. I play a game with myself--that I'm on Chopped or The Next Food Network Star and I'm given some random ingredients with which to make a dish. Today was easy. I tell my kids to never throw away chicken or turkey carcasses. I keep hambones, too and freeze them for later use in soups.

       So today the rotisserie chicken leftovers became a lovely pot of chicken and dumplings. My mother used to make it, and my grandmother before her. It's super-easy.

Grandma Breiner's Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken bones and leftover parts
Two or three stalks of celery
One coarsely chopped onion
Two chicken bouillon cubes
Two cups of flour, divided
Two eggs
About six to eight cups of water
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cover chicken bones, and leftover meat with water in a soup pot. Add about a teaspoon of salt, and the chopped onion and celery stalks. Bring to a boil, covered, then reduce the heat to low and allow to cook two to three hours (you can rush it in about one hour, but the flavor will not be as developed). 

Turn the soup off and allow to cool until you can handle the chicken, about an hour. Strain the soup into a large bowl, preferably with a pouring spout. I use a glass one from Anchor Hocking or Pampered Chef. Separate the edible pieces of chicken and break up into bite-sized pieces, placing them in a separate bowl. I have a bowl for bones, and bowl for the soft cartilage and skin, which will later be fed to the outside dogs. 

Once separated, throw out the bones, unless you have another use for them. I am told that pets can eat raw bones, but that cooked chicken bones break into sharp shards. I play it safe and feel I've gotten great use out of them. Press the soft, inedible pieces in the strainer with the back of a spoon to allow juices to run into to the large bowl of soup, Return the soup to the pot. 

Stir about half a cup of the flour into a cup with about a cup of water. Beat it until the flour is no longer in clumps, and add this liquid to the pot. Whisk it and turn the heat on medium to bring to a boil. The flour mixture will thicken the soup slightly. Stir it frequently. I add a couple cubes of chicken bouillon for extra flavor, and add about a quarter teaspoon pepper. Taste and see for yourself.

For the dumplings:

My grandmother used to put a pile of flour right on her kneading board and make a well in it, to which she would crack a few eggs to make her dumplings or noodles. Using a bowl is more "modern." Today I put about a cup and a half of flour into a medium bowl and cracked in two eggs. Beat the eggs while pulling in a little flour at a time, and add water a little at a time, until the mixture is a very thick batter, not pourable--more like a wet bread dough. Let it sit until the soup in the pot is bubbling and has thickened. Then, using a teaspoon, scrape up the side of the bowl, bringing a teaspoonful of the batter up. Drop it into the soup, allowing the spoon to get wet--which keeps the next spoonful of batter from sticking to the spoon. Repeat this until all the batter has been spooned into the soup. Return the saved chicken pieces to the pot and stir gently. Turn off the heat when the dumplings are floating and allow to cool a bit. Serve in big bowls with a salad or green vegetable on the side, and some bread. There are rarely leftovers to refrigerate, but if there are, they taste even better the next day. Enjoy!

Chicken and dumplings also come up in the Renata story a little later on. For now, here's the next chapter:

Chapter 5


       Ernesto was starting to loosen up and have a good time on the trails. Karl had already rolled his Odyssey, much to his happiness as they were designed to roll and keep going. Ernesto was more at home thirty feet high on a beam than four-wheeling, but the adrenaline was beginning to flow chasing the guys around. The jumps were pretty fun. It was a beautiful, crisp day, it had rained the night before but most of the trails were already dry.

       Suddenly his front wheel hit a patch of mud and the whole ATV shuddered and went into a spin. When a second wheel caught, the whole thing heaved over and dumped Ernesto over a bank into some brush. It all happened so fast, his friends in front of him turned to hear, 

       "Oh! Shiiiii..."

Bev turned back to look up the slope as she heard someone yell.


       In a second, Bev's skis were off and she ran as best she could up the slope. She recognized a ski sliding past her as Claire's. She looked over the bank and saw that Claire had taken a fall. She looked conscious.

       "Claire, you ok?! I'll flag down ski patrol!"

       "Oh, man! I think I broke my wrist!"

       Claire hated the fuss and bother and staring, but when she looked back on it hours later, she had to admit that being papoose'd and slid down the mountain by buff ski patrol men was kind of fun. 

       But the injury-- Oh, man, this blows my weekend! And she knew, there would be looks and shaking heads when she returned to work on Monday.


       Luckily, Claire was right-handed and she'd fractured only the ulna of her left forearm. Her lime green cast garnered many looks when she was back at work. Jan and Phil would not let the subject go, they always warned her that she took too many risks skiing.

       Claire finished putting some things away at her desk, picked up a portfolio and pen and started off toward a meeting. She worked in human relations, and read the memo to Jan that morning, "...you will work closely with Ernesto Smith from the construction company, to monitor time-line, make recommendations  and keep Corporate apprised."

       She cleared her voice. "Ernesto Smith. Makes me think of a chubby, balding, middle-aged guy with a cigar."

       "Claire," Jan frowned.

       "I'm just trying to be funny. I have to try to laugh after that weekend," Claire lamented.

       The conference room was humming with the chatter about people's weekends. Claire filled her coffee mug carefully and took a place at the large table. About a dozen people would be at the meeting. Her boss, Chris Walker, announced that it was time to begin. He was a nice guy about six years older than Claire. He'd moved up in the company quickly and most agreed he'd deserved it. Claire had always been on good terms with him and had good evaluations each year.

       "Ok, everyone," Chris began, "Thank you for being prompt, I know it's not easy on a Monday morning. I promise we'll finish up quickly." 

       He went on, beginning a presentation on the white board, and Claire noticed one man coming in just as the meeting started. He was dressed in a sweater and khakis, with work boots. His eyes met hers and he flashed a brilliant smile. Did she know him? Oh! This must be Ernesto Smith.

       He took a seat directly opposite and she noticed he had an old Thermos. He had a little difficulty pouring his coffee into the silver lid-cup and Claire immediately noticed why: Mr. Ernesto Smith was wearing a fresh, tan-colored cast on his left wrist, identical to hers. She looked up quizzically and met his gaze. He'd noticed her cast and raised his cup in tribute. She managed to get her left fingers and thumb around her mug and raised hers as well.

       Claire sneaked a sideways glance toward Jan, and saw that Jan had taken note of him also. Jan's eyebrows raised almost imperceptibly at Claire. How could one not notice? Ernesto was not bald, fat, nor middle-aged. He looked a bit older than Claire, with chiseled features, a strong chin, beautiful green eyes and thick, dark hair. Mexican? She thought to herself. She felt a line of perspiration break out above her upper lip. He was disconcertingly good-looking.

       Chris' voice broke through her distraction, "Claire--I see you've met Ernesto. You two will be working with each other to ensure that we stay on time with the parking project. Please develop a schedule to meet regularly and let me know if there are any problems." Chris did not notice their casts, he was all business and efficiency and jumped immediately to the next item on his agenda.

       Ernesto mistook Claire's stare for one he encountered regularly. People were always guessing at his nationality. His last name of Smith did not help. Usually, with a name like Ernesto, they thought he was Latino. People were usually bold in their curiosity and Ernesto learned long ago not to take offense. Often, he would play along and let them guess a while, or he would fake an accent. Rarely were people actually rude or racist, but he had encountered it enough to learn how to deal with it.

       As the meeting broke up and people got up from the large table, Ernesto made his way over to introduce himself properly. He, also, was efficient and meant to keep a tight schedule. He needed to get back out as soon as he could. But there was something about this Claire Greene. Not beautiful, but more than cute. He wasn't usually shallow, but there was something he felt very attracted to. He decided this might be a good time to have a little fun.

       Jan got to Ernesto first. She was a very attractive, older woman, her red hair pulled up in a bun. She wore a suit that had to be tailored to her; she was, in a word, curvy.

       "Hi Ernesto, I'm Jan Goedtze, I work with Mr. Walker and with Claire. Oh, here's Claire. You've met?" She looked at Claire who had just come up beside her, and Jan raised one eyebrow at Claire. Claire reached out her hand.

       "Claire Greene. We'll be working together."

       Ernesto affected a fake Mexican accent, rolling his r's and exaggerating his vowels. "Pleeezy to meeet you. I. Am Errrnesto." He bowed slightly when taking Claire's hand.

       Claire's eyes widened. This might be harder than she thought. She repeated, slowly, "We_will_be_work-ing_to-gether." 

       Ernesto couldn't continue, it would be too inappropriate, too coarse. He laughed, "I'm kidding, I'm sorry. I speak English, very well in fact. I was raised here. No offense taken, I hope."

       Jan and Claire both laughed. "I don't mind jokes," Claire began, "And my Mom always told me "Laughter heals bones" so I think both of us could use it. What did you do?" She indicated his cast.

       “Rolled an ATV this past weekend.”

       Claire shuddered. “Oh, I hate those things! So dangerous!”

       Ernesto grinned wryly and nodded. “What did you do?”

       “Fell off the side of a mountain, skiing.”

       It was Ernesto’s turn to react, a little loudly, “Oh! Geez, you’re lucky to be alive. Remember poor Sonny Bono.”

       Jan’s face fell, “God rest his soul! I grew up watching him. And I said the same thing to Claire. She’s a dare-devil.”

       “I am not. There is a difference between taking a risk you are not prepared nor skilled for, and in pushing physical skill to…”

       Jan cut her off…”I’ve heard it before, I know. I just can’t help worrying about you.”

       Claire put her hand on Jan’s shoulder. “I love you. I know. Hey, Ernesto, when do you want to meet?”

       "Thursdays are best for me. Toward the end of the day?"

       "This Thursday it is, then. I'll meet you at the site."

       "Great. Jan. Claire." He bent his head slightly and turned away. After he'd walked out the door, Claire and Jan realized they were last to leave the room. They looked at each other with wide eyes.



Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Best-Laid Plans

       This past weekend Bruce and I had plans to fly to Nashville to see our new baby granddaughter. We haven't been away from the children for more than two nights and I even think our honeymoon was three. This was to be four nights away! Was. As we turned our phones off airplane mode they were filled with notifications of texts and calls.

       Ben, ten, had taken a bad fall, breaking both bones in his forearm. The paramedics stopped the bleeding (I won't be more graphic), had given him pain medication intravenously and were taking him to Children's Mercy Hospital. Our daughter Susanna, a nursing student, was following the ambulance.

      Even if I'd taken the very next flight back I would have missed the surgery necessary to reset his arm. Bruce and I went to see our beautiful granddaughter, and took time to formulate a plan. Holding Norah was soothing and lovely. Grandparents say that there is nothing like having a grandchild, and it is true. Sharon had flown in from Japan. Bruce stayed to visit, it was his birthday weekend. I flew back the next morning.

       Bruce has told me that there is a saying in the Army: "Planning is everything, but the plan means nothing." In other words, do have a plan--but be ready to adapt it. I don't really think the plan means nothing, so much as the plan must be flexible. We are told the Bible says not to be anxious, and I believe planning is important to that end. One must look ahead to be wise. There are verses about fools running into lions and bad folk, because they were not looking ahead and being safe.

       When I read about "preppers" I have some admiration; they are far more ready for emergencies than I. While it is wise to have food and supplies in store, and even a back-up generator, I wonder if those who have loads of firearms and supplies for a year or two might be taking it too far? I wonder. Perhaps I'm just feeling inadequate, but the attitude seems key, especially the attitude toward fellow man in need. There was a man in the Bible who stored up so much for his own household and was proud, and then promptly died. The lesson was about trusting God. Each must find his "middle-ground."

       Ben is doing well. He had a rod placed in one bone and he is in a bent-arm cast for eight weeks. He's a happy fellow. Today his teacher texted me a photo. He sat out of recess and instead taught the Kindergartners about dinosaurs. Bones heal fast in little ones. "Happiness strengthens the bones." Another Bible verse. Ben is happy so I also choose to be. I missed a weekend planned, but there will be others. I got to hold Norah, and I got to be with my Ben when he needed me.

       Ben is the name of someone in my story...

Chapter 4


       The landing gear engaged after that long, droning hum one feels through the seat and floor of the plane. The wind seemed audible below his feet as Ben looked out from the small window into the brilliant blue sky over Mexico. He smiled; it wouldn't be much longer now. Wispy clouds flew past, and below he could see Saltillo, Coahuilo; all of the many ruddy-colored rooftops, and mountains in the distance. He looked at the photos on his lap before bundling them back into his carry-on. 

       His photo taken for graduation from Kansas State University showed a handsome young man with faded freckles, auburn hair and a boyish grin. He flipped it over and read the sentiment he'd penned: To Renata, You are a part of this. Love always, Ben. He looked at another photo, a family photo from when he was about twelve. He turned it over and read the faded ink: To Ben, Always my adventurer. Thank you for making me feel a part of your family these last few years. My Bem, Renata

       He smiled, sitting back up from stowing away the photos. "Bem," he remembered, meant "love" in Portuguese. Renata spoke both Spanish and Portuguese, as her mother grew up in Brazil. She had affectionately called him her "Bem." Ten years his senior, she had come to America from Mexico through an au pair program. Ben's family were hard-working farmers and his Mom needed help with seven children, soon to be eight. It was a way to learn about other cultures, to have some childcare in the home, and to help a young woman from another country earn some money and strengthen her English.

       He could remember the first time he saw her at the airport in Kansas City. He thought she was beautiful, with sparkling green eyes and long, curly brown hair. She had a funny accent and he immediately took it upon himself as the oldest, to help her in this new country. Her duties revolved more around the younger children, and he felt proud when she addressed him as the big brother. He always wanted to make her proud.

       She stayed two years before she had to return to Mexico, and in that time he fell in love with her. His heart felt broken when she left. She never knew of his feelings, and she never patronized him. When she learned how to drive, Ben's father Harry let Ben come along. He had an old 1974 El Camino with a convertible top he'd installed. When Renata passed muster, she took the children to the local park in it. Ben would sit up front and they would play pretend. They had many adventures. The younger ones loved it. Renata often let him be the heroic knight.

       The flaps extended and the plane touched down with a little double-hop, and Ben lurched forward just slightly as the plane slowed and the pilot's voice came on overhead. First in Spanish, then in English, he welcomed them to the state of Coahuila in Mexico. Ben's heart pounded with excitement. His parents gave him this trip as a graduation present. With a degree in Agricultural Engineering, Ben could work almost anywhere in the United States, but he wanted to stay in Kansas to work his family farm, and to contribute as much as he could in the industry, much like his father.

       Renata would show him Saltillo, where she had grown up, and they would drive to visit farming communities as well as sightsee historic places and farmland. All would be circumspect. Renata had no idea of his past adoration, and she had gone on with her life. She had written to his mother, mentioning a boyfriend here and there, and classes she'd taken. She had a job teaching English. But she intimated that she was lonely, and missed Ben's family; she had no brothers or sisters, and her parents were divorced and distant.

       It felt good to stand and stretch, and to exit the cramped airplane. Ben was 6' 5" now and the window seat did not afford very much leg-room. The stiffness wore off as he walked out onto the ramp and into the terminal. He paid the aches no mind because he was so intent on seeing Renata, in finding her face in the crowded airport. And then, there she was!


       Renata stood on tip-toes to see over and through the people in front of her. The flight from Dallas had landed, and she was thrilled to see "her little American brother," her "Bem." People were filing out of the gate and she strained to see any red hair. They looked so tired. She remembered the long flight well--even a decade later. A decade. She shook her head to think so many years had gone by. 

       She looked down and smoothed her worn sundress. She hoped to look presentable. This little boy whom she loved so very well was now a man. She hoped that it would not be awkward. Her feelings had not changed, but he was older now, no longer a boy. She hoped she would not offend him in any way for being too demonstrative. She was not shy, and she was not quiet.

       She had not changed in the last decade in looks or in character; a loving woman, always willing to help someone in need. After returning from her years in America she had gone into somewhat of a depression. The au pair coordinator had warned her of it. It took so long to acclimate to the United States, but once done, it was hard to return to her home country. She stayed with her mother at first, but then soon knew it was time to rent a small apartment on her own. Her parents were rarely on speaking terms and explaining depression and reverse-culture shock over and over came off as nonsense to them and an effort to hide something far more wrong. She was accused of love affairs in America, even of abortion. She hadn't spoken to either of her parents in a long while.

       After a teaching course she was able to get by on money earned tutoring and teaching English. But it was hardly a living. By American standards she was dirt poor. The weekly "fancy" coffee she would have in Kansas at the local restaurant was next to impossible in Mexico. She added what milk she could afford to her coffee at home, and dreamed of America. 

       After a year or two, she had re-acclimated to Mexico, but she always longed for the United States. The program that got her to America accepted no one over 26 and so she felt that she missed the opportunity to return. She had tried once, even got an acceptance at a community college near Ben's family, but after much money spent on that endeavor, her country denied her a Visa. Another bout of depression followed, and then after some time, she recovered. 

       Renata was indeed beautiful, inside and out. Unfortunately, she seemed to attract men only intent on short-term relationships.  A handsome man, the uncle of one of her former students, truly broke her heart. The man had promised marriage, had encouraged her to stay at his apartment; they even spent a weekend in Mexico City. And then he suddenly left, no word, his apartment empty.

       She was dealing with her grief when Ben wrote her, asking if he could visit. It brought her out of a dark place. Not long after, she realized that she had missed her monthly cycle not once but twice. The unused pregnancy test was still in her bathroom. It was hard to find the strength--to know She wanted to be as happy as she could be during Ben's visit.

       She strained to see the passengers and almost overlooked one very tall young man. She gasped. The hair was darker, but it was the face of her Bem! She called out his name and waved wildly. He looked up, and she saw his brilliant smile. Renata was happier in that moment than in a long time. Ben was here.