Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Meanderings

Being a grandmother is the best! I'm loving all the photos of precious little Simon, and can hardly wait to hold him.

91 days and counting.

Tina's taking weekly photos to document his growth.
I'm grateful for technology that allows me to see photos as soon as she posts them, and then turn around and share them with other friends and family. It makes it a little easier being so far away.

A little.

But to be honest, this is THE HARDEST PART of being a missionary. I knew it would be tough, but I didn't realize how tough.

Christmastime in Argentina is quite different from what we were used to in the U.S. But we enjoyed the sweet fellowship of friends who invited us to join them for the holiday. Here the big meal is on Christmas Eve. Instead of turkey or ham with all the trimmings, we feasted on suckling pig and massive amounts of beef grilled outdoors. We ate outside too, starting at 11:30 p.m. with a variety of salads before moving on to the meat and then finishing with fruit salad and a cousin to fruit cake called pan dulce. At midnight the fireworks began.

Christmas Day we had leftovers for lunch with our friends, and went swimming to cool off. It hit 104 degrees that afternoon, so we really appreciated the pool. Not sure I'll ever get used to Christmas being in summer.

After three straight nights of thunderstorms, we realized the newly plastered wall in the garage had wet spots. So instead of prepping and painting like we'd planned, we're going to wait until we can get the exterior part of that wall completely finished. Poco a poco.

The heat makes me crave salad. Cold, refreshing salad. So yesterday I spent an hour looking up new recipes to try. I hope they taste as good as they sound -- and look in the pretty pictures. Do you have any especially good salad recipes you'd like to share?

I've quit believing the weather forecast. We have consistently blown right past the projected highest temperature. Like today. It was supposed to reach 91. It's 99 right now. This has happened for weeks now. Is it that hard to get it right once in a while?

I would like to send some of our heat to you, in exchange for some of your cold. Okay?

How are you bringing in the new year? New Year's here is like the 4th of July in the states, with massive amounts of fireworks. Only they don't start until midnight.

This year we're going to celebrate with friends from church and their extended families. Guess what I plan to take for my contribution to the food table? Salads!

And yes, I'm sure it will be like Christmas Eve with dinner starting late. Just because it's not how we do things in the U.S. doesn't make it wrong. Just different.

Have you made any New Year resolutions? Nah, me neither.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Traditions: The Ornaments

Yesterday I shared how I'm vacillating over whether to have a tree next year or not. If I do decide to to have one, it will be the ornaments that tip the scale.

Unpacking the ornaments one-by-one gives me warm fuzzies, for each and every one is special because of who gave it, or where we bought it. No theme or color-coordinated trees for us; we like our mix of homemade and store-bought ornaments that in no way relate to one another; not in design, color, or size. And that suits us just fine. Because, just like the tree, it's not about the ornaments. It's about the people we remember as we hang each ornament on the tree.

Back in the mid-to-late 80s we lived in Florida and the church we attended hosted a homemade ornament exchange every year. By the time we moved to Michigan I must have had 75 or more ornaments from those exchanges alone. Sadly many of those have broken or fallen apart, or just flat out disintegrated. But a few dozen remain, including these pieces that were to be part of a full nativity set (but since I moved away I wasn't around to finish out the set):
One shepherd and two of the wise men. Made by Betty Tappan, a dear friend and fellow quilter who passed away earlier this year.

Back in the mid 90s my SIL Sharon and I shared a craft booth at a holiday sale, and she gave me the most adorable salt dough ornament of a reindeer all tangled up in Christmas lights. That did not survive being in a damp storage unit, which makes me really sad. But she has since given me this darling little hand-painted bell:
(Don't look too close or you'll see where I dropped and broke it this year. Ivan was able to glue most of it back together but we couldn't find a few of the slivers.)

This isn't exactly homemade, but it's not store bought either:
It was part of a set of portraits we bought the year after Jon was born. I'm hoping that next year maybe Tina can get something similar of Simon for us? [hint, hint ;) ]

We like to pick up special ornaments when we travel, as well, and this year two of those ornaments made it on the tree: a ceramic cross we picked up in Ireland and this little cactus we bought in Arizona two years ago:

We started a tradition when the kids were little, of buying them each an ornament every year for their own collection. We tried to find ones that represented something important in their life that year. Like the patriotic Santa that Tina received the year she turned 18 and could finally vote, or the puppy that we gave Jon after he and Nat got Leo. And sometimes I'd find one I just had to get for Ivan, too, that reflect his interests:
His handyman status is undisputed, so of course we have a couple that represent that skill set. It was his passion for missions that prompted me to pick up the little world globe. It was a little (cough, cough) more colorful than something I'd normally pick out, but he likes it anyway.

I could keep going (but don't worry, I won't) because we have dozens of ornaments and each one tells a story.

What about your ornaments? Do they tell a story? Have you inherited any? (I'd love to have some from my mom!) Do you make ornaments yourself?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Traditions: The Tree

I've been thinking a lot about how we celebrate Christmas. I grew up celebrating one way, had to adjust to a new way after getting married, and again when we moved overseas. Some things are the same, but others are different.

One of the constants throughout my life has been the Christmas tree. I've always loved decorating it, and the hours spent gazing at its loveliness at night with all the lights twinkling.

But this year I didn't enjoy the tree as much.

Is it because I had so little time, I wondered? (Just five days.) Or is there more to it. So that's what set me on this sentimental journey down memory lane. That and this blog post.

My birthday falls in the first week of December, and I always begged my mom to let us put up the tree that day. Decorating the tree was my favorite birthday activity while growing up. I don't think I had to beg very hard; pretty sure my mom was just as excited about putting up the tree as I was. In fact, I'm pretty sure my attitude toward Christmas came directly from her.

Even though she was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, working at a small diner as a waitress/short order cook/dishwasher, she always made sure to do Christmas BIG. She saved some of her tips throughout the year to make Christmas really special for me and my sister. We always received one big gift and numerous small ones, along with much needed new clothing. Mom wrapped each individual item so we had plenty of gifts under the tree. In addition to the tree we had other Christmas decorations we spread throughout the house, and when snow-in-a-can came out, mom was probably the first in line to buy some. It may not have been snowing outside, but the front window would have indicated otherwise.

Because mom was allergic to plants, we had an artificial tree. A glorious tall sparkly silver tree with a large floor light that had a rotating, multicolored plexiglass front causing the tree to turn different colors: red, blue, yellow, green. 

We had an artificial tree after we were married too, because Ivan couldn't see the sense in paying for a real tree that only lasted a short while. A really short while some years. He would have been happy if we put the tree up on Christmas Eve and took it down the morning after Christmas.

So we compromised and usually put the tree up in mid December and took it down right after Christmas.

One of the bargaining chips when he wanted to move from Florida to Michigan was my insistence that from henceforth we would have real, LIVE trees for Christmas. He agreed.

And for twenty years we had a real tree. Ahhh, nothing beats the scent of pine at Christmas! But as we prepared to move to Argentina, I began lobbying for an artificial tree we could take with us. I was pretty sure real trees wouldn't be quite as available as they are in the states this time of year. And I was right, so I was really glad we included a 6' fake Alaskan Spruce in the shipping container. I chose a skinny tree because I knew most houses here have smaller footprints and I wasn't sure how much space I'd have to work with. It was the perfect size for the rental house on Canning Street, but isn't quite skinny enough for the casita. Frankly, nothing short of a flat cardboard tree would be skinny enough for the casita.

So last year we had no tree at all. Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth. But I determined to have a tree this year, one way or the other! I realized we could set it up in Sta. Rosa, and that's what we did. The only problem is that we're only there for a short time -- and that's a lot of work, setting it up and taking it back down, for only five days.
And like I said at the beginning of this post, I just didn't enjoy it as much.

In my musings about why this could be, I came up with what I think is the answer: It's not about the tree. It's about the people I'm with when I'm decorating the tree! As a child I had my mom and sister to help decorate. Then I had my kids. My first year in Argentina we had co-workers and the second year I invited some of my friends (and English students) to help me. The third year good friends had the tree decorated when we got back from Tina's wedding, and as I've already mentioned, we had no tree last year.

I'm still debating on what to do next year. I might just put away this tradition, at least until we have our house built and there's space -- and friends to help.

Or maybe I won't be able to help myself, and I'll dig all the decorations out next December anyway.

Vamos a ver.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Simon says...

I fully expect to become one of those obnoxious grandmothers, always pulling out the photos and bragging about what my grandson has done or said...

And I get a big kick out of the fact that since his name is Simon, I'll get to say "Simon says..." a lot!

We are over-the-moon excited about the birth of Simon Joseph Herschberger, who arrived Sunday, December 22, at 11:52 a.m., 18 inches long and weighing 8 lb. 11 oz. He's a butterball! And, of course, the most gorgeous baby ever born.

Don't believe me? Here's the first of what I'm sure will be many, MANY photos I'll be sharing:
That's Simon all tucked into the carseat on his way home from the hospital yesterday.

And here's a photo of the happy little family:

Congratulations Kyle and Tina! 

And thank you for the best Christmas present: our first grandchild!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Corruption Perceptions Index 2013

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, the U.S. comes in at #19 (out of 177) while Argentina is waaaaay down the list at #106. And Uganda, where we spent a year, is even further down the index at #140. It's fun to use the interactive world map and see where different countries fall in the ratings.

I think it's pretty accurate. Before we went to Uganda we paid for one-year VISAs, but upon our arrival they refused to accept them and we had to do the paperwork all over again. It took 9 months, untold trips into Kampala by "Uncle" Sam*, and a chunk of money. [*No, I'm not referring to the U.S. government; "Uncle" Sam was on staff at Kasana Children's Center and his full-time job was handling the mounds of paperwork required by the government. Everyone on staff was called "Uncle" or "Auntie". But I digress...]

One of Ivan's responsibilities while there was to serve as the titular head of the vocational school, where they taught auto mechanics and various building trades. An NGO in Europe (non-profit organization) had donated equipment for the school to use, and the container arrived some months before we did. It was not released from customs until well after we left; I think it was held up in customs for over two years altogether.

These things are common, as different officials use their positions to get bribes or other types of benefits. We've heard of instances where mail was intercepted, items removed and replaced with cheap junk. And the list goes on...

You know I've made no secret of the hassle we've had since moving to Argentina, with everything from getting our permanent residency status to trying to get money into the country to buy our property... No wonder my mantra has become "¡Es lo que hay!"

So whenever you're tempted to complain about something in the states, take a minute and reflect on how much worse it is in 90% of the rest of the world!

Friday, November 22, 2013

El Dinero

I took a picture recently of the new $100 peso, next to one of the old ones.
The new bill features Eva Perón, whom you probably equate with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita", if you think of her at all.

I have no desire to get into what kind of a woman she was, or what role she played in Argentine history. I'd rather take a more pedestrian view of the new bill: What can I buy with it?

If you're my friend on facebook, you'll have already seen this link. We've known that inflation has been an ongoing problem here, and we knew we were spending more at the store, but we've never taken the time to figure out just how much more. This article breaks it down, showing what $100 pesos would buy three years ago compared to what you can get now.

liter of milk 
1/2 kilo coffee
kilo of yerba (tea)
1/2 kilo of sugar
package of pasta 
bottle of pop
cooking oil
1/2 kilo milanesa (meat)
a yogurt
4 roll package of toilet paper

liter of milk
package of pasta
cooking oil
1/2 kilo milanesa (meat)
a yogurt
4 roll package of toilet paper

Half the items are missing from the second list: coffee, tea, sugar, bread, pop and bleach. 

Makes me wonder what $100 pesos will buy three years from now. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Crazy Weather

Here it is mid-November and, as is typical, it's getting warmer and warmer. We've been holding off on the a.c. but there have been days we've been tempted to turn it on. Only the hope of cool nights has kept us from giving in to that temptation. Because it does usually cool off at night. It's been dropping into the low 60s and even into the high 50s some nights, and that makes for good sleeping. We open our windows wide at night, letting in the cool air, and then close them in the morning to keep the cool in/hot out. It works most of the time.

But two nights ago it didn't cool off very much. Yesterday it was in the low 70s by 9 a.m. and it got progressively hotter. And windier. I managed to get one load of laundry done. Twice. Because the first time I took the basket outside, set it down on the slab while I went in to put the cotton shirts in the dryer for a few minutes, and when I came back out, the wind had blown the basket over and the clothes were tumbling along the slab, picking up dirt as they went. So that load had to be rewashed, and then I was careful to hang onto the basket while I quickly hung things on the line. And let me tell you, that was no easy matter! The wind was whipping so hard it practically tore things right out of my hand as I pinned them on.
The wind was blowing pretty much sideways, as you can see.

We've been opening up about 9 p.m. It was 82 degrees inside at that point last night but when I opened the door to check, it didn't seem any cooler outside. I tuned into the local weather and discovered it was still 100 degrees! So it was after 10 p.m. before I opened the windows, and that was more for some of the breeze than hope of cooler air. With the ceiling fan in the bedroom it was barely bearable.

And then overnight a storm blew in from the south, bringing rain and hail -- lots of hail pounding on our metal roof at 5 a.m. -- and cooling things off. It was a pleasant 59 degrees at 6:30 a.m. We're supposed to have a few days of low 80s, but we'll see if that actually happens. Seems like the forecast is always on the low side (yesterday's forecast was for the low 90s and we passed that at a dead run) so I don't put much stock in it. But anything in the 80s is a welcome relief.

I'm so glad we put in air conditioning last summer. Pretty sure we'll make good use of it in the coming months. Painting the exterior should also help deflect the sun's rays rather than absorbing them, which is what the raw concrete does now.

I'm anxious to get started on that, but like everything else here, things just move slower and we haven't even had a chance to buy the sealer or paint yet. November seems to be a month for conferences and things. So far Ivan has been to a men's retreat, a missions conference, and now he's attending a Bible conference. He'll miss the last session of this conference on Sunday night because there's a 75th anniversary celebration at the church in Almafuerte where he spent some years as an MK.

Add in the regular responsibilities and commitments and there hasn't been a lot of extra time. But hopefully within the next few weeks I'll be able to tackle the painting and then we should see a marked difference in the interior temperature of the casita. Vamos a ver.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sort of like Monday Meanderings, Only On Tuesday

Yesterday we went to Cordoba, with a rather long "to do" list.

It involved some shopping.

And some price comparison.

Getting lost was not on the list.

And yet we did it anyway.

You'd think that after five years we'd sorta have a better handle on where things are in the neighboring big city.

Warning: Do not, I repeat DO NOT, rely on the free map phone app from NavFree when in Argentina.

I think whoever programmed this country for NavFree is a sick, demented individual who likes to send people on wild goose chases and takes joy in their misadventures.

Thankfully we are (kinda) still laughing about the two-hour journey through parts of the city we've never been (and hope to never go again). I mean, seriously, you could drive around the perimeter of the city several times in two hours, but we couldn't get out of one puny pie-sliced portion of it?

We managed to knock off most (but not all) of the items on the "to do" list, but were absolutely done in by the time we made it home. Like practically crawling-into-the-house done in. We'd forgotten how exhausting a day in the big city can be... And that's without getting lost. I think it might be a while before I want to go back.

We were both really tempted to give up entirely on the list at about 5 p.m., but pushed on for purely selfish reasons. Because there was one item that was not optional: buy coffee beans. I will economize in a lot of areas, but coffee beans is not one of them. Waking up to a really good cup of coffee is an indulgence we have become quite accustomed to, and would rather not do without. The best beans I've found in Argentina cannot be bought in our city, but thankfully can be purchased in Cordoba. So you'd better believe we made the extra effort and drove across town again in order to buy those beans.

We've been shopping around for mattresses, for the house in Sta Rosa. To say we've experienced sticker shock would be an understatement. Prices were high before, but inflation has pushed them up to what we consider the ridiculous. We've been to three stores in Carlos Paz and to a store as well as a mattress factory in Cordoba. In the end we're buying locally. While the factory gave us a pretty good price, it wasn't that much lower than one of the stores here in town. We pay a little more here, but avoid the cost of transporting the mattresses from Cordoba, as well as the hassle (which in our opinion is worth something too).

Prices, in general, have gone up 30-50% in the past six months. I find that staggering. How does the average Argentine get by?! Even with a fairly decent exchange rate on our dollars, we're still paying more for things than we did six months ago. It's a little scary to contemplate inflation continuing at this rate.

I've mentioned my love for doing laundry before. Today I'm in my element, cranking out load after load. The only thing is, it's so windy I can't dry our shirts on the line like I usually do. I've come up with a strategy to avoid having to iron (something I hate worse than cleaning toilets), that includes popping them into the dryer for 10 minutes, putting them on hangers and then clipping the hangers on the line (prevents all those little pinch marks you typically get from the clothespins). But with the wind whipping around at over 20 mph, that strategy won't fly. Well, actually it causes the shirts to fly -- right off the line and onto the ground -- so instead I'm hanging them on the shower rod in the bathroom after their 10-minute stint in the dryer. But everything else is going on the line, and it's kinda fun to look out the kitchen window and watch things go sideways in the wind.

I'm making zapallitos rellenos for lunch, but not really following the Argentine recipe. Instead of filling them with ham, eggs, scooped out squash, onions, bread crumbs and milk, I'm doing more of a stuffed pepper-type filling with rice, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Julio and Magdalena stopped by, and this is more along the lines of what she might do as a vegetarian. They were on their way to the vegetable store to pick up supplies so one of their granddaughters could make lunch. I hear homemade french fries is on the menu. Yum!

Have you ever had tennis elbow? I did once about 15-20 years ago and now I have it again. It's been six weeks and it's not getting any better. Do you think it could be because I'm still using that arm like normal? But the pain level is getting to where I might need to re-think that strategy.

I spent a fun 20 minutes wrapping Christmas presents this morning. One of our co-workers has small children and while we were in the states I picked up a few toys to give them for Christmas. We don't do much at Christmas now that we're empty nesters AND 6000 miles from family. But I did want to make sure and have something for the little ones.

I'm also planning to pull out the Christmas tree and all the trimmings and take them to Sta Rosa this year. The men are having a retreat there in early December and I thought it would be fun to decorate beforehand so they could enjoy it. And it will be nice to have it all decorated when we go out later that month for a few days. In spite of not doing much in the way of gifts, I do love to decorate for the holidays!

Lunch is almost ready, and the final load is ready to hang on the line. So this meandering must come to an end.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Morning

I've been up for a while, which means breakfast dishes are done, lunch is in the crockpot, and I'm ready for church...

So I decided to take a few moments and write a short update.

I've been a bad, bad Project 365er. I have taken only one photo all week :( I keep remembering after the fact that I should have taken a photo while someone was here, or we were somewhere, or something was happening...

I'm too much "in the moment" as we are welcomed back by this friend or that friend, and I simply don't think about taking out my camera to document the moment.

Es lo que hay.

I've been saying that a lot this week. Yep, back in Argentina, land of the trámites infinitos (not sure that's a proper Spanish saying, but it expresses the sentiment exactly). I will not bore you with the details but simply say it made me want to pull my hair out. Good thing I'd just gotten a haircut, so there wasn't much to yank on.

I'd also forgotten how long everything takes. I'm like a horse somebody reined in suddenly. Whoa! Slow down girl! 

And yet, as long as it takes to get things done, the days seem to be flying by. How do you explain that?

I am enjoying doing laundry and hanging it on the line again. It's so hot and arid that a load is dry long before the next load is ready to hang out (remember, it takes my washer 2 hours to do a load).

We rarely had time for long, leisurely visits with people in the states, unless we were staying with someone. Here it is a given. It's nice to kick back and not have to watch the clock but just enjoy the coffee and conversation.

I should not be surprised at how it takes me a while to shift from one culture to another. I should be used to this by now, shouldn't I? I guess I thought it would get easier and happen faster the more we go back and forth. Although this was only our second furlough, it was our fourth visit to the U.S. since moving here (we also went up for Tina's wedding, and then for dad's funeral).

There are things about both cultures that I like and dislike. Just so we're clear: It's not that the things I dislike are wrong, it's more an issue of a personal preference.

So here I sit with the time to type a blog post on a Sunday morning, because my speedy, efficient American self has already taken care of the things that needed to be done. But I look forward to a time of greeting each person at church with a kiss and the chance to leisurely catch up on their week. The best of two worlds.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

One Week In

I have to admit our time in the U.S. feels a bit like it was just a dream. It went by so fast! And now that we're home and getting into the routine of life in Argentina again, it all seems rather surreal.

Not sure if I mentioned on the blog that kids tried breaking into our place a couple months ago until the neighbor chased them off. They managed to really tear up the screen and break the kitchen window, but a friend had the window repaired by the time we returned (Ivan dropped off the screen last Thursday and we're still waiting on it).

Other than that the casita was intact, but very dirty. I immediately swept the main traffic areas so we wouldn't track too much dirt around, but waited until the next day to do a thorough cleaning... since we arrived about 7 p.m. on Wednesday, tired from a 30 hour trip that took us from Middlebury, Indiana, all the way to our humble abode in Carlos Paz, Argentina.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that almost a week later, I still haven't put everything away and it might be another couple days before we are completely organized. In my defense, we have been rather busy. Here are a few of the things we've been up to since getting back:
~ took our friends Julio and Magdalena into Cordoba on Friday, for a doctor's appointment and other errands
~ Ivan had the windshield in the car replaced (there was another big crack in it when we got back), made sure we were all caught up on tramites, took our car for it's annual inspection and accompanying sticker that allows us to buy gas, and today is in Cordoba doing some shopping and getting our tickets for next year.
~ I've been cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, doing laundry, taking care of emails, doing laundry...
You get the idea I've had a little laundry to do? Well, that's because I put dust covers over most of the furniture in the casita while we were gone. Which by the way, was the best idea I've ever had! It cut down on cleaning time considerably -- BUT, it did mean I had to wash all those dusty dust covers (very appropriately named). And since my washer takes about 2 hours to do a load, it took me the better part of two days to get them all done.
~ Have had various friends stop by to welcome us back! That's been the fun part :)

It doesn't look like much when I get it down in print, but honestly, we've been on the go pretty much from the time we landed.

And last night after Ivan took Charlie home and I washed up the supper dishes, we just both sort of collapsed, like someone suddenly let the air out of our balloons. I've been fighting a head cold since last Tuesday, and not sleeping very well at night because of congestion and coughing, so I think it just all caught up with me, and I was done. I put my pajamas on and was in bed by 9 p.m.

This morning we got some shopping done locally. There's a place that sells mostly to other stores, but the public can shop there too and it's a little cheaper. That's where I get things like butter, lunchmeat, cheese, oatmeal... And I hit up my favorite vegetable stand, which doesn't have much variety at this point since it's early Spring. I bought very little at the local grocery store because they didn't have a lot of the things on my list, but Ivan was going to stop at Walmart while he's in Cordoba this afternoon and he should be able to pick up the remaining items there. It's not like starting completely from scratch, but there are a lot of things we have to stock back up on after being gone over four months.

Our yard is a sad sight. Brown and yellow crunchy dried grass is all that's left of our lawn, and almost all the plants died too. We did get some rain Friday and a little bit yesterday, but we need a LOT more! The lake, which we drove past this morning, is really low again. Not quite as low as it got in 2009/10 but still pretty low.

Once we get a little more settled I hope to get back to blogging on a more regular basis. Our neighbor's internet has worked at least a part of every day since we got back! If that continues, I should have no problems posting more often, but not sure if we can count on that continuing to be the case. Vamos a ver.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Furlough 2013

Today's our last full day in the states, and I decided to create a little photo collage of our time here:
Obviously this barely scratches the surface, because we were able to see a lot of people and go a lot of places over the past four months, but as far as collages go, it's a fair representation of furlough, I would say.

We get asked a lot if we're ready to go back. Yes, yes we are. But at the same time it's always hard to say goodbye. And it's going to be especially hard, knowing I won't be here for the birth of our first grandchild.

But it's not quite as difficult because we'll be coming back for a short furlough next April. By that time Simon should be 3-4 months old, smiling and cooing a lot, and we should have a lot of fun interacting with him.

So we leave with mixed feelings. An eagerness to get back home, and an eagerness to come back next year.

It's called anticipation.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Baby Shower

I'm getting really creative with my titles, aren't I?

Last Friday my friend, Pam, and I co-hosted a baby shower for Tina, inviting the ladies from church as well as other friends here in Michigan. We had a wonderful time!

Because Tina's going with a storybook theme in the nursery, we thought it would be fun to use that theme for the shower too. I wish I had a photo of the invitation to show you, but I don't. You can see where I got the idea from, though, on Pinterest.

I got pretty much all the ideas for decorating from Pinterest as well, including the idea to pair the food with books:
Since you can't see the Very Hungry Caterpillar very well in the photo above, here's a close-up:
We also had milk and cookies to go with "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie", apple slices and apple cider paired with "Johnny Appleseed", tortilla chips with "Tiny Tortilla" and the über delicious black bean and corn salsa with "Jack & the Beanstalk".

One idea I didn't get off Pinterest you can see in the background of this photo:
See those book covers on the wall? That wasn't my idea at all; when I stopped by the library to pick up books to display by the food, the librarians offered to let me use the covers too! Wasn't that nice? I do love the library here. And the librarians. They have always been super helpful, but this was going above and beyond. I borrowed enough covers to scatter them all over the walls in the living/dining area where we held the shower.

We asked that in lieu of cards, the ladies bring their favorite book. Tina received 27 books to start a library for Simon. Isn't that fun?!
There were a lot of practical gifts, like bibs, diapers (she's going to use the bumGenius brand), thermometers, burp cloths, pacifiers, and loads of other things.

She also received some lovely homemade gifts, including this embroidered blanket with Genesis 1:1 that our friend Loretta made:
And an adorable hooded sweater that my SIL Rita knit:
I'm relieved to say Tina liked the quilt! Here's her first look at it:
And here's a photo of the two of us with it:
They plan to do an alphabet wall with various sizes and fonts of letters, so that's where I got the idea. It allowed me to use a limited color palette (aqua, white, gray and lime green) in a fun way. I wanted to make every letter with a different fabric but couldn't quite pull it off; a few of the fabrics are repeated. And I have to give a shout-out to another SIL, Sharon, who helped me pick out the border fabrics. I was very grateful for her artistic eye for color!

It meant a lot to be able to participate in this shower, since we'll be returning to Argentina in two weeks and won't be here for the birth of little Simon Joseph. I love knowing that he'll be snuggling up under something that I made especially for him.

San Francisco

Technically this isn't only about San Francisco, but the title would have been too long if I'd included all the places we visited while with Jon and Natalie: Sonoma, Petaluma, Belmont, Half Moon Bay, and, of course, San Mateo where they actually live. But since all of these are suburbs of San Fran, I think it's okay to group them together under the one heading. All agreed?

When we left my sister's house on Thursday, we meandered back through Sonoma and Petaluma. First up was a lunch stop at one of their favorite Sonoma restaurants, the Sunflower Café. I'm still dreaming about the stuffed sweet peppers! The filling including chevre, ground pistachios, honey, orange zest and a drizzle of olive oil. Sooooo yummy! In Petaluma we stopped at a fun antique store housed in a former bank; a very grand edifice stocked full of lovely (as well as downright odd) pieces, including lots and lots of artwork. I took this (not-so-great) shot from the second floor balcony, with my iPhone:
We also stopped for the requisite photo shoot by the Golden Gate Bridge:
It's quite lovely to look out from there and see the city spread out below, as well as the bay.

Knowing it would likely be late before we got to their place, Jon and Nat had already planned to take us out to dinner. We went to the Mongolian Hot Pot and enjoyed this new experience of cooking our meat and vegetables right at the table in boiling broth:
Jon and Nat chose meat and vegetables they thought we'd like, and they were spot on. It was all delicious!

Friday was a very full day and I'm including a couple photo collages to represent our wonderful day in downtown San Francisco! The first collage is all about Github headquarters where Jon works, and the second collage is full of photos we took as we walked along the Embarcadero.
From left to right, starting in the upper left corner: Natalie, Jon and Ivan in the "Github Oval Office" -- fun factoid: the dimensions are exactly the same as the real Oval Office! Eating lunch on the rooftop deck (we had southern soul food from Farmerbrown's Little Skillet). Jon in a "coding cave", one of the many different work spaces Github has provided for employees. The official seal of the Octocat -- this is in the center of the Oval Office! haha  One of the meeting rooms has a distinctly "Mad Men" vibe going, don't you think? One seriously loooooong couch! I wonder how many Githubbers can fit on that?!

The crazy thing about San Francisco is that you're constantly walking in and out of windy areas, so I kept putting my jacket on, then taking it off...putting it on, and taking it off...All.Day.Long. Oh well, small price to pay for such a fun place!
From left to right, starting in the upper left corner: A large sailing boat that we think was there for the America's Cup. A cute tugboat. One of the piers had tile insets like this along either side, depicting ships we assume have some kind of historical relevance to the city. Ivan took this fun "artsy" shot through one of the many metal sculptures that dotted the Embarcadero. We came across this amazing display of mushrooms at the Ferry Building Marketplace. Ivan hanging onto a trolly car, and enjoying every minute!

Having someone who lives there and knows the area helps so much; Jon and Nat were great tour guides during our day in the city!

Saturday was a more laid-back day. We visited the fabulous Farmer's Market in San Mateo in the morning...
...and then relaxed at home the rest of the day. Jon and Natalie prepared a most delicious meal in the evening, after slow cooking pork in the crockpot all day with a variety of herbs and spices.
We made our own soft tacos, adding whatever fillings we wanted. I added everything except the hot peppers; I guess I've been in Argentina long enough that I just can't handle much of the hot stuff any more.
After church on Sunday, Pastor Steve took us all out for dim sum. It was a first for both Ivan and me, and we can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried it yet.
We are sure having lots of opportunities to try new things this furlough! (We also tried pho for the first time, at a new Vietnamese restaurant in Warsaw, Indiana.)

It was wonderful to catch up with Steve, Daisy and their girls. By the way, Pastor Steve is the one Ivan had the adventure with, back in April.

Monday was another more relaxed day, with a drive out to a beach at Half Moon Bay.
The dogs absolutely love going there! Leo runs in and out of the waves while Bailey tries to get as close as he can without actually getting wet. Those two are so funny! And adorable. Which is why I decided to create yet another collage. But this isn't only the dogs, I had to include the cats too.
From left to right, starting in the upper left corner: Leo (he's the black one) and Bailey racing along the beach. Leo curled up on the couch. Dickens, who is actually a very affectionate cat, apparently doesn't like getting his photo taken... hence, that "look". Bailey is such a cute little puggle! Both dogs like to be near their humans and are often as not on the couch if someone else is there. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Libby, who is shy and skittish around humans, but decided to come close enough to see what was in our bowls. I just liked this photo of Ivan and Jon with "the boys" as we call the dogs. One final shot of Bailey, who is much easier to photograph than Leo because (1) he does stop occasionally, and (2) his lighter brown coat photographs well whereas Leo always appears to be one great big black blob. FYI, in person Leo is very handsome; it's just that it's hard to capture his gorgeousness with a camera.
Natalie needed to find a clutch to use at the Github charity ball later in the week, and knowing I wanted to visit Chinatown, we took the train into the city on Tuesday afternoon, leaving the guys at home to do computer stuff.
It was a lovely day and I was especially happy to score some great deals in Chinatown.

I mentioned the Github charity ball (which was on Thursday of last week). Jon got a new suit (only his third or fourth EVER), and he looked so good in it I had to take some photos.
He cleans up pretty good, doesn't he?!

An altogether fabulous week and we are so grateful for the opportunity to go to California. Thanks again, Jon and Nat, for making that possible!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Never long enough...

I had a wonderful week with my sister, but it wasn't long enough. I'm thankful for the week, but the greedy part of me wants more!

It was a relaxing week of hanging out, fitting into their life, and laughing over nothing and everything. We find it amusing that although we look nothing alike...
...we are alike in soooo many ways. Seeing us in action and how we do things, by that alone you'd know we were related.

And because we have this shared history, we can make a face or say a phrase -- even just one word -- and dissolve into laughter.

My baby sister hit a milestone birthday this year and my gift to her was a 12"x12" photo book of that shared history. It worked out well to do it this year, since we're scanning all our photos anyway. Without giving away the reason, I had her send me her collection of childhood photos too, so I could scan them for my own use as well as put them in the book.

It was disappointing that the book didn't arrive while I was there (its scheduled delivery is today, actually) but I did show it to her on the computer. I'm especially anxious to find out how the photo on the cover turns out, since it's pretty large. I'm hoping it isn't overly pixellated or fuzzy. It's a formal portrait our mom had done when we were 5 and 10, and we were totally rockin' the 60s 'dos:
A lot of our childhood photos are small, many are black and white, and most are not the best quality. But it doesn't really matter, does it? Because despite the poor quality, those images bring back memories of people and places, special events and everyday life while growing up. 

I also passed along the family Bible since I can't take it to Argentina and there's no sense keeping it stored in a box where no one has access to it.
Our maternal grandfather gave it to our mom in February 1958, and over the next few years mom and someone else recorded births, deaths, and military service records on the pages allocated for them. We easily recognize mom's handwriting but are not sure about the other person, and now I think it's probably too late to ask anyone who might know.

One evening my nieces had softball practice -- in two different towns, which is typical, so we split up and I went with my sister to Emily's practice. The coach had them playing different positions throughout the two-hour practice, and I snapped this photo when she was pitching:
I started a craft project with the girls that we sadly didn't have time to finish (they have a very busy schedule!) and I helped my sister put up a few freezer meals for those nights they have ball practice and get home late, tired and hungry. We played games, watched Candice Olsen (even our TV tastes are similar!), and talked and talked and talked.

Wednesday Jon and Natalie drove up and we headed back to San Francisco on Thursday morning. We drove off the mountain, me crying the whole way down, knowing it will be several years before I see her again. There's just nothing like that special relationship you have with a sister!

As much as I miss her, we are thoroughly enjoying our time with Jon and Natalie. We took our time getting back to the San Francisco, sight-seeing along the way. Today we'll be going into the city,  getting a tour of where Jon works, and doing more sight-seeing. But more about that in the next post. Right now I need to get my walking shoes on.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

In the California Mountains

California is certainly a diverse and beautiful state.

We landed in San Francisco late Wednesday afternoon, and enjoyed some time with Jon and Nat at their place in San Mateo. They're just a few blocks from B Street, which is lined with restaurants and stores. In just one block, on one side of the street, I counted seven restaurants:
Within walking distance of their condo, I think Jon and Nat could eat at a different restaurant every night and not hit them all in a month.

Thursday morning my sister and two nieces arrived to pick us up and take us to their place in Nevada City. Since we last visited them (six years ago) they've bought a house in the country and have been busy working on the property. After a couple big storms that first winter felled a number of trees, including a couple that landed on the roof of their two-story garage/apartment, they had a crew come in and cut down over 150 trees. Sounds like a lot, right? But you can barely tell...
And it's like this every direction you look...trees, trees and more trees.

Aside from clearing out the diseased and dying trees, they've also had the driveway paved, built a new deck, added two grassy areas, and refurbished this gazebo:
It's absolutely gorgeous up here, although I think I could do without the wild animals that turn up on occasion. They had a lot of problems the first couple years with bears, that would go right into the garage to get to the garbage cans. Since getting a dog in February, they haven't seen any bears -- but that's not to say there haven't been any, just that the dog seems to be keeping them at bay. And one day while Beth was sitting on the front porch, she saw what she initially thought was the neighbor's dog coming closer, only to realize it was a bobcat! Needless to say, she made a hasty retreat into the house.

I've always loved the Little House on the Prairie books, but the reality is I probably wouldn't make a very good country girl because I'd be afraid to leave my house half the time, for fear of running into an animal bigger or faster than me.

But I am enjoying my visit with Beth and her family, and feel fairly confident that the dog's barking will give us enough advance warning should any wild animals come around.

I hope.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Two posts in a matter of days -- that's a record for me this year. Not having regular access to the internet has put a serious crimp in my blogging style.

Anyway, it was suggested I post this recipe. Now why didn't I think of that?!

I first had this at a family potluck in June. Kristie had no idea what she was starting when she brought it! It's pretty much my Kryptonite, and I can't get enough of it. Other people seem to feel the same way.

One of the best things about this recipe is that it is so adaptable. I've made it a little differently each time, depending on what I had on hand. Of course there are the basics, but after that you can add or delete to your heart's content. Also, while you could just use a can of corn, with all the great fresh sweet corn we've been getting this summer, I haven't had to resort to the canned stuff.

Black Bean and Corn Salsa
3-4 ears of corn, cooked and the kernals sliced off (or a can of corn, drained)
can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes (or can of diced tomatoes, drained)
1/2 cup diced onion (optional)
1/2 cup diced sweet peppers (optional)
1/2 cup diced cucumbers (optional)
handful of chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup Italian dressing
1/2 cup Ranch dressing

Mix all ingredients and chill at least two hours. Serve with tortilla chips.


Okay, easy-peasy and oh-so-good! Tell me, what would you add to (or delete from) this recipe to suit your family?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Some Pretties

This is more for me than you, whoever might be reading this. I wanted to document my time at the AQS Quilt Show in Grand Rapids, since this blog serves as my online journal. But hopefully you'll enjoy the quilts too.

It's been over 20 years since I attended an AQS quilt show, back when they were only held in Paducah. I was thrilled to learn they were having a show practically in my back yard, while we are in the U.S. this summer. Even more fun, I was able to go with two friends!

We'd signed up to attend the show on Thursday and Friday, so when we arrived in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, we took the opportunity to visit a couple museums who had special quilt exhibits in conjunction with the show. At the Grand Rapids Public Museum we were able to view a dozen quilts from their collection.

This Virginia Star Variation was made sometime in the late 1800s but they don't know who made it.

Charity Goold worked on this President's Wreath from 1860 through 1880.
Isn't it amazing how the colors are still so vibrant over 150 years later?! And the detail is phenomenal. Charity carefully stuffed the red roses and buds to create dimension.

Thursday I took an all day class, and I shared one of the few photos from that day on my Project 365 blog, so I won't repeat it here.

I spent Friday looking at the hundreds of quilts in the show. Seriously, it was sensory and inspiration overload! I took lots of photos, and most of them weren't so great. I really need to learn how to use our new-to-us camera.

Anyway, I'm only sharing a few of them here. I tried to pick a good representation of the wide variety.

"In Orbit" by Evelyn Evers of Canada is one of those mind-bending, optical illusion quilts:
Absolutely stunning but thinking about the math that had to go into making this quilt just makes my head hurt.

When I saw the name of this quilt ("Sushi III"), I had to take a photo for Tina.
I sent the photo to her via e-mail while she was hanging out with a group of female friends who all love sushi, and they thought the quilt was fabulous. It's definitely fun and colorful! Made by Mary Kay Price from Oregon, who used reverse appliqué, batiks and hand-dyed cottons.

This one made me smile.
Jan Berg-Rezmer of Michigan used raw-edge appliqué, fabric paint and photo transfer to create "Ask The Cowboys". This gorgeous art quilt made me want to try my hand at another portrait quilt.

There was a section of the show devoted to individual competitions by various quilt guilds. These small quilts packed a punch!

Across the Squares Quilters from Charlotte, Michigan, had an "Under" theme and I really liked the playfulness of this one by Carol Randell that she named "Under Cover".
The quilt "fort" was just adorable and you could actually lift it to see the little girl playing underneath.

Bridge Project 2013, hosted by the Eureka, California, based Fiber Art Friends, had so many lovely little quilts -- I think I took a photo of each and every one of them. But for the sake of brevity I'm only including one here.
Diane May created "Bridge of Dreams" and I really liked her use of color.

And finally I just had to share a photo of this stunning piece by Mark Sherman, that took over 3,000 hours to complete!
Included in the Master Pieces section, "Wings and Feathers" has won multiple awards -- for obvious reasons -- and absolutely blew me away. Here's a fun article about Mark, if you'd like to know more about the man behind the butterflies.

I included two photos of a quilt by another man, this one from Cairo, Egypt, on the Project 365 blog. Two of the Tentmakers of Cairo were at the show, displaying several dozen quilts and demonstrating their technique.

And although I thought I'd taken photos of a few of the Caohagan quilts, apparently I did not. But I am linking to their website, because the quilts are just so much fun. Caohagan is an island in the Philippines that's actually owned by a Japanese man. Confused? Yeah, me too. However, I applaud his introduction of quiltmaking which has provided a sustainable income for the burgeoning community of quilters. All the quilts are designed free-hand and the islanders use of color and pattern make for some super happy quilts!

So there you have it, a quick overview of the AQS Show in Grand Rapids. So what do you think? Which was your favorite quilt?