Death by Dinner Party

It all started with the rain—

–When we had planned to party on the lawn. 

My partner Sara had been planting and pruning, purposefully piddling in the garden for months.  I had joined in on weekends away from blogging, before participating in full-time party prep last Thursday.

I had cleaned our huge home from almost-top to almost-bottom, omitting only attic and basement from my frenzied scrubbing.

Sara had been reading recipes and planning menus, everything from growing herbs to grocery shopping.

We were exhausted but nearly ready, when we woke up Sunday morning to rain—lots of rain—rivers of rain.  We prepared to launch the ark but decided we’d be better off praying for it to stop and proactively setting up inside instead.  (I exaggerate here only a little.)

Sara continued to cook, while I went into frantic but festive over-drive—rearranging and setting up the indoor option—keeping the outdoor one in place, just in case God decided a ceasefire was in order and our pummeling from heaven should come to a quick and less-wet, happy ending.

Once I’d gotten the inside done, the heavens parted, the rain stopped, and we were whiplashed into outdoor mode once more.

To make a long story more mercifully short, the party proved amazing; the blog has been ignored—our outside party on the lawn a huge success.

But I woke up this morning post-less and sick as my Maltese when Mommy’s gone.  (And I don’t even drink.)

So the blog and all my blogging buddies have been sacrificed to party success and ensuing partied-sickness.

But I promise to get back on track tomorrow—a real mental illness post in my bloodied blogger’s fist or housing piece complete and ready for prime time.

In the meantime—please forgive my break from blogging.

Death by dinner party is more than it’s cracked up to be, and I don’t even have the pictures to prove it.

See you in a less-partied, more stomach-settled day or so . . .


Real Boys do Cook Quiche: a Reflection on Fathers’ Day

(in memory of Sam’s daddy Dino–Happy Fathers’ Day from far away)

Much to our delight, my nephew Sam came to visit Sara and me this weekend.  His mother, my younger sister Lynn, is in Cuba for 10 days, so Sam has a series of family, friends, and camp to keep him company.

And his stop Friday and Saturday just happened to be our home.  Goodness–what a gift to us!

The boy is precious–kind, smart, creative, with not only a soul of gold, but also a spirit bright and brilliant.

Sam is eleven.  He plays football, basketball, and a bit of soccer.  He golfs.

But his primary passion is in the kitchen.  He loves to cook, to bake, to create.  I don’t imagine there are many eleven-year-old boys in Kentucky whipping up quiche in the kitchen.  But Friday morning that’s just what Sam did.

So today–a journey in photographs–a quiche-cooking boy–a foodie’s young life:

Aunt Kathy holds her new-born nephew–Sammy’s first day of life:

for the love of nephew!

He’s grown a bit and is visiting Aunt Kathy again:


Sam and Daddy–(Sam’s daddy died when Sam was only six.):

Sam adored his daddy!

Sam and big brother Johnny visit Santa:

seasons greetings from the nephews

Sam graduates from pre-school:

entering the land of "Big Boy"

Sam tends to under-arms:

Sammy does deodorant.

When Sammy was six, we rode together in our town’s 4th of July parade:

I pedaled and pulled. Sammy sat.

Sam’s school picture:

Our boy is growing up.

This weekend Sam and I ate dinner at the Atomic Cafe, a block from our house in downtown Lexington:

We each ate shrimp linguine.

When Sam visits, he and I almost always collaborate on an art project:

Sam adds a logo to his painted bottle of wine.

Saturday morning we visited our local farmers’ market:

Sara and Sam

Smoothie goes green at Farmers’ Market:

pedaling toward smoothie

Yet another bike invloved in Sam’s Saturday:

Riding home fom Farmers' Market

So Sam is off to camp this week, but with Daddy gone, our boy has big pants to fill, as Fathers’ Day approaches:

Sam pulls himself up, britches better than boot straps

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dino!  We love you and know if you were here, you’d assure your son, that real boys do cook quiche.

But then Sam knows that already!

The Butterball Challenge (Haitian Style)

As Sara and I continue to pack up our lives here in Haiti, and I continue to reflect and reminisce about some of Haiti-related “challenges” we’ve faced over the last year, I simply must share, for those of you who may have missed it, the following about our effort to prepare a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner for 24 under, shall we say, less-than-ideal conditions:

In honor of the upcoming holiday, I’ve decided to share, over the next several days, a few of the challenges we’re facing trying to prepare Thanksgiving dinner from Haiti.  So stay tuned all week for the sometimes amusing, sometimes maddening, sometimes mind-numbing complications that inevitably arise when celebrating this most American of holidays in the least American of locations.

Today I give you the oven-related challenges.


Is my Haitian oven up to the Butterball challenge?


I told Sara when we were looking for a house here in Haiti, that I simply had to have an oven.  Neither of the two homes we had in Vietnam had anything other than a cook top in the kitchen, which bothered me to no end, since I like to bake—cookies, cakes, biscuits, pies, muffins.  The only thing I like more than making them is eating them, but that’s another post for another day.

 So Sara did what any Tollhouse-cookie-loving partner would do.  She got us an oven—a real honest-to-goodness gas oven—minus the thermostat.

 I kid you not.  There’s no way to set any specific temperature on this most essential of kitchen appliances, any temperature either Fahrenheit or Celsius.

 Now, I love Sara more than anything, even more than my daily dose of cake and cookies, and those of you who know my inclination toward carb-consumption, know that’s saying quite a bit.  But sometimes she misses the most obvious of details.

 “Oh, that’s not that important.  You’ll figure that out.”

 Twelve attempts and twelve burnt batches of cookies later, I’m still figuring. 

 Which brings me to the matter of needing an oven this week, a temperature controlled oven, I might add.   In America we can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.  It’s the most Thanksgiving of Thanksgiving desserts—even when celebrating from here in Port-au-Prince—especially when celebrating from any far-away, cholera-sickened, earthquake-toppled part of the planet!

 A pumpkin pie likes to bake for the first 15 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit and the final 45 to 50 minutes at 350, temperatures too precise even for the oven thermometer I brought back from the US.  It only seems to get me in the ballpark of a particular temperature, give or take 100 degrees. 

 But what about the turkey Sara plans to roast, what about the thermostatic requirements of the old Butterball?

 Oh, that’s not that important.  She’ll figure that out.

Have you had any memorable Thanksgiving dinner disasters?

Not-so-instant replay

I’m preparing a post for next week about why Sara and I are weird as a couple.  (And the fact of the matter is, we are way, way weird.)  However, that new piece won’t mean as much if you haven’t read the one I’m re-posting below. 

I wrote what appears here only a few days into the life of this blog, so few of you will likely have seen it in its original incarnation.  It was called “Top 10 Reasons I’m Pretty Much a Freak.”  Hope it entertains you over the weekend.

Let’s face it.  I’m not normal.  My partner Sara has always said I was weird—actually her word was “eccentric”—but you get the picture.

At any rate, amid all the seriousness I face living in Haiti, I’ve decided to lighten things up here today by offering you the top ten reasons Sara still insists I’m what you could call—well—“quirky:”

#10.  Left to my own devices, I eat mostly from what my friend Milana and I call the “white food group.”  Edible items in this category include: baguettes, bagels, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, lots and lots of sugar—sugar cookies, cakes, unimaginable amounts of pie crust—and if I were a drinker, which I am not—wine!

#9.  I’m a double fisted drinker.  Not with wine, of course, but with hot and cold beverages, mostly hot tea, Lipton (though since we’ve come to Haiti, coffee has become an option), and Pepsi Max, when I can find it—(Coke Zero, otherwise).  Now, for me, this only works in one direction.  Namely, if I drink something hot, I have to have the cold cola to accompany it.  However, chilled drinks can stand alone—not always needing the hot accompaniment.

 #8.  I tend to collect things—and not the kinds of things most would consider collectables, but which I gather in the name of “potential art”—items I prefer to call “collagables”—buttons, beads, ribbons, rocks, shells, business cards, bottle caps, maps, matchboxes, newspaper clippings, play bills, and, among other things, sales receipts—in my mind the most under-rated and readily available of all the collagables—a free gift with each purchase, so to speak.

#7.  I have a lot of bags.  For a fairly inclusive cataloging, I refer you to a post from 13 July 2009  “Not dog on grass—Not bag on floor—Not bike on . . . .”

#6.  I never use a top sheet.  Don’t believe in them.  Never have.

#5.  I pretty much live with a saint— We’ll call her Saint Sara the Orderly.   (And I have saintly siblings, but I’ll leave that for a later post.)  Sara has “placement issues”—a problem she blames on her training as an architect and which she insists I knew about prior to our partnering and simply can not change, as they are, in fact, evidence of her Saintly origins—rituals of the Order, so to speak.  Bottom line—Sara likes to arrange things: drawers, cupboards, closets, the contents of the refrigerator, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup arranged in tidy rows—like items lined up together—like soldiers—an army of condiments ready for edible action.  Need I say more.

#4.  My partner does disaster response.  She’s a disaster response expert.  Now there aren’t a lot of these people on the planet (though there are quite a few of them in Haiti these days).  I believe (and you are free to disagree), that’s it’s the relative scarcity of this species that makes disasters so, well, “disastrous.”  In all seriousness, I’m grateful that Sara does this kind of work.  It helps make meaning in our lives.   And though that “meaning” often means traveling a lot, we’re not exactly heading to what most would call “vacation destinations.”

#3.  My mother wears clothes pins as fashion accessories.  Actually, at age 72 she uses them as a mnemonic device, so let’s not get all uptight about this one.  However, for further discussion of this semi-strange sartorial habit, I refer you to a post from several days ago called, “Airing Family Secrets Via Haute Couture.”

#2.  I taught at Oral Roberts University.  This may speak for itself—except that I might mention having arrived on campus in 1986, just after Oral sequestered himself in the Prayer Tower for a number of weeks, claiming God was going to “bring him home” if believers didn’t donate 6 million dollars.   I know some of you may be too young to remember this, but it’s true.  He did it.  I was there.  And the play the drama department performed that semester just happened to be—“Death of a Salesman”—I kid you not!

#1.  My father was in the mafia–pretty much, that’s what it boils down to—Enough said.

Now, none of these items in and of themselves makes one weird—not even two or three.  It’s the global picture I’m getting at.

And I haven’t even included here the biggest reason I’m a weirdo.  But, let’s face it folks, we don’t know one another well enough yet for me to share all my secrets.  It seems though the picture’s becoming clearer—

Bottom line–I’m pretty much a freak. 

How about you?

A Rant! A Rave! A Prayer?

I miss Sara terribly when we’re apart, but now that it’s been four days since she’s returned to Haiti, I’m experiencing the separation more intensely.  I tend to isolate when Sara’s gone.  I want to be alone.  I want to sleep.  I can barely tie my shoe or utter a coherent sentence—let alone clean the house, cook a meal, or walk the dog.  It’s a sad state of affairs. 

Yes, yes—I know I exaggerate, but I did have one small victory yesterday afternoon, having managed to extricate myself from the green chair I’ve been living in for days and drag myself kicking and screaming to the grocery store.  But then again, hunger’s a pretty strong motivator, and the only thing I want to do more than absolutely nothing is eat—eat everything—eat any and all things unhealthy and heart-attack inducing— I could so Twinkie and Ho-Ho myself to an early grave, it isn’t funny.

It doesn’t help that I’m on a diet. It doesn’t help that the date I return to Haiti has yet to be determined and will depend on security in Port-au-Prince over the next several days.  It doesn’t help that Kentucky, besides being famous for its fried chicken, is in fact one of the most boring places on the planet—no rioting, no cholera, no real election fraud to speak of.  Things are so comfortably tedious and middle class, that even the excitement phobic find themselves twiddling their thumbs and begging to be mugged, praying to be clubbed by a decent natural disaster.  Even a blizzard would do.

Obviously though, I shouldn’t tease about these things.  Obviously I should change this ornery desire to be anywhere I’m not—and never where I am—never in the here and now, in this city, in this state, on this day.

Please help me, God, to be content in the coming year—grateful for today, in this house with warm meals and clean water to drink.  Please teach me to be grateful for the little things and thankful always for the heart-pounding passion that makes me miss Sara when she’s away. Please keep her close.  Please keep her safe.  Please take me to her soon.

How do you handle separation from the ones you love?  Does humor help?  Writing?  Prayer or mediation?

(And thanks for the fabulous feedback and comments on my previous post.  Please share your thoughts and feelings on this one, as well.  My readers rock!)


Here’s to Fruits, Funerals, and one Witty Nephew: a Post Revisited

(The piece below was originally posted in July of 2009.  I’m re-posting a new and improved version of the original as part of an ongoing holiday retrospective–not so much for the writing but for the interesting information it provides readers who have never traveled to Southeast Asia.  Hope you enjoy.)

In Vietnam I’ve been enjoying the most amazing  tropical fruits—not just the mango, which I adore and is available in the US—but also others I had never tasted before visiting Southeast Asia.

dragon fruit--not one of my favorites--but visually striking

During my first month in Saigon, I tasted the rambutan—which I’d describe as a fuzzy, strawberry-looking fruit—red leathery skin with soft spines, small oval shape, the size of a large seeded grape.

looks like a fuzzy strawberry

  The fruit inside is white, nearly translucent, sweet and slightly acidic—quite tasty.

a mouthful of deliciousness

Also in the last week, I’ve purchased mangosteen from a woman who operates a fruit stand at the end of our block.  These, I must admit, are the most amazingly succulent fruit I have ever tasted.  With a deep purple peel and large leathery leaves on top, the white pulp separates like segments of an orange and nearly dissolves into a nectar-like liquid in the mouth, undoubtedly divine.

tough outer skin of mangosteen

flower-looking shape on underside of mangosteen

inside of mangosteen

So, Sara, who should be pleased by my consumption of something other than bread, has been in Hanoi for more than a week, leaving  Lucy and I l alone in Saigon to deal with my neighbor’s funeral music. 

It all began in the early evening on Friday with what I thought was a band, one I assumed must have been playing at the micro-brewery beside my apartment.  Mind you, I had never before heard music from this establishment or been bothered by any noise from the place that remains open long after I go to bed.  But when the music began again the following morning around 7, I realized it could not be coming from my suspected source. 

Later that morning when I was finally able to communicate my question through a primitive form of sign language I use with my non-English speaking cleaning lady, the explanation came in two words, “Dead man.” 

But———–when the music continued incessantly on Sunday and resumed Monday morning  just after four—well before sunrise, I thought, “Dead man, indeed.”  I felt badly for my grieving neighbors—but good-god—I was becoming increasingly irritated by the clamor and close to homicidal in my mission to make it stop. 

Fortunately, however, as my nephew Johnny rightly pointed out, Monday indeed became “the day the music died.”

Johnny, my witty nephew!

Weighing in on Bangkok: a Retrospective

(Since the holidays have kept me from writing for several days now, I’ve decided to offer a retrospective, of sorts, hoping a peek at past posts would offer decent reading in the meantime. 

The piece below was written nearly two years ago–January 4, 2009–just after this blog was born under another name.  Sara and I were living in Kentucky.  I was teaching writing at a local university, and Sara was considering a return to disaster response work that was expected to take us to Bangkok.  Initially this blog was meant to chronicle that adventure. 

In the post below, I’m moaning about a diet I’d begun as part of a New Year’s resolution.)

Okay, I got on the scales this morning–big mistake!  It may be that we are about to embark on a grand and exotic Asian adventure, but, God knows, I can’t do it fat!  I simply can not walk the streets of Bangkok like this–all 173 bulging pounds of me.

This is how it all went down.  Sara and I had agreed we would weigh on Sunday.  I had begun dieting a week ago but was too afraid to step on the scales.  Sara is to start watching what she eats on Monday.  Sunday then seemed a reasonable day to determine what we weighed.  While I may be a chicken shit when it comes to actually quantifying my size, once the decision is made to put a number on the situation, I want to get the pain over with as quickly as possible.  So when we woke up at 2 this morning to take the dogs out for their middle of the night pee, I brought the scales into our bedroom, as the floor in the bathroom slants too badly to weigh accurately in there, and proceeded to strip naked, because God forbid I weigh even an ounce more than necessary.  I even removed my glasses and seriously considered doing without a barrette but decided it unwise to try reading the numbers both blind and with hair falling in my face.  Then, stepping on the scales like the most over-sized contestant on the Biggest Loser, I was told I weighed a mere 75 somethings or other.  Now I may not have a completely realistic sense of what I weigh, but I did feel fairly certain I hadn’t been 75 pounds since I was seven.  And, of course, being without glasses I was unable to get the stupid scales to stop reading in kilograms and begin weighing in pounds, as I stood shivering and blind in a drafty 100-year-old house–not able to weigh having made the big decision to do so.  This did not sit well with me.  So Sara, who knows my inclination for throwing fits and was herself sitting warm and fully PJ-ed under the covers of our bed–decided to intervene.  After playing with the thing for a few long and chilly minutes and asking me where I had put the manual–when in fact she is the manual keeping half of this relationship–got the apparatus reading in pounds again.  You know something is not right with the universe when a book of directions is necessary for figuring out scales.

To make a long blog a little shorter, let it suffice to say I weighed a good many pounds more than I wished.  So I am an Asian bound woman on a mission.  I will not walk the streets of a Thai city like this.  I may be willing to wear my glasses the next time I weigh, but I will not make a big fat spectacle of myself on the sidewalks of Bangkok.

(Sara returns to Haiti soon, so in a few days postings should resume normally.)