Friday, October 24, 2014

Making Tortillas

About a month after we came here, I wanted to make something for dinner that used tortillas. I realized I hadn't bought any at the store so I decided to take the plunge and see if I could make them. Pinterest to the rescue! My results were tasty, though warped. I used a glass as my rolling pin, and my shapes were not perfect circles. The kids weren't so sure about them; they were used to the ones I always bought back in Michigan--the standard packaged kind. We could get them here, too, and did, because that was the only way I could find flour tortillas. Guadalajara is known for its corn tortillas, and if you go to any shop you'll find bags of fresh ones, not to mention shops that are devoted to making them. We don't mind the corn ones, but we're still partial to the wheat. While the kids were leery of these homemade ones, Kraig delved in with gusto and declared they were the best ones he'd had and we should always make them that way. I had cooked myself into a corner.

There was still the problem of the rolling and shaping. But a few weeks ago a local acquaintance mentioned that I could buy a tortilla press at most of the local groceries. With one of these, I could throw my disc of dough down, squeeze the lever, and have lovely round tortillas, all set to toss on the griddle. I found one, and have used it a couple times now, and it makes life much easier. The kids love to help out with the dough, which is one of those frustrating processes that I allow because I know it will help them down the road. But today I wanted to make them without interruption, and I needed to pay attention to the process for a writing assignment, so I worked on them while the kids were at school.

I have to admit, when one has the time, it's worth making tortillas. Mine aren't perfect by any stretch, and I don't know if this is my own ignorance or the fault of the recipe. For one thing, mine don't stay as flexible as I'd like them. If they have a touch of moisture, they're okay. I'm wondering if they need more oil. Despite the flaws, though, the process is therapeutic.

First I mix the flour, salt, and baking powder. Today I experimented by using one cup of whole wheat flour with two cups white. We'll see if that works. After this, I add oil and warm water and mix it up. I've made this as a double-batch as well, but that takes forever, so I've stuck with the single batch. It's more than enough for a meal. Once the mixture is a doughy ball, I start to separate it till I have sixteen balls approximately the same size. I scatter flour over the granite countertop, and lay out the balls, pressing them down with the palm of my hand so they become thick disks. The whole wheat added flecks of darker brown to tan. I lay a kitchen towel over these discs and let them sit for about fifteen minutes. Meanwhile the griddle heats up.

The press eases the process of flattening the disks, and I can have two prepared and on the griddle within half a minute. The griddle isn't greased, but the tortillas land on it with a hiss and sizzle and immediately start to bulge here and there as if the heat were blowing hills into them. The raw dough smell transforms into the aroma of roasted wheat and within a moment I need to flip them or the scent sharpens to burned toast. On the cooked underside, the cinnamon-colored flecks are interspersed with coffee-colored blotches. Soon it's time to flip them off the griddle and into a container which I can quickly seal, and so keep them soft for eating. 

There is something beautiful in the texture of the dough. I love the separation process as I ball the dough and weigh each section in my hands, compare and contrast, estimate. A soft thump as each lands on the counter and the give of raw dough under my palm as I press it down. I love the smooth white flour I pinch and scatter so the dough won't stick, and the clank and squeeze of the press as I shove the lever down as far as it will go. The sizzle on the griddle and the steady heady scent of baking create magic. This is a task worth doing.

Classroom Observation

It's been a busy week, busier than normal, and we've had a few curve balls. On Monday when I went to pick up Evie for our outing I was talking with Ms. Mariana the English Coordinator for a bit. This has become a regular check-in; I've really appreciated Ms. Mariana and her help for our family as we learn to navigate this new school and system. I've asked about ways I can help at school. Most of the schools here (from what I've observed and heard) don't make much use of the parents, and the parents don't try to help. Part of this, I think, comes from many of the schools being tuition-based. There's a perception that since payment has exchanged hands, responsibility has as well. One of the things we liked about the school we chose for the kids is that the philosophy is more open to parents. The reality, though, is farther behind. I've been able to go in a few times to read to classes, but for the most part there's little request for my help. There is a chance that I'll be able to work in the library, so I've been pursuing that.

However on Monday my question as to whether Ms. Mariana knew more about the library possibility took a sudden shift. Suddenly we weren't talking about the library need; we were talking about a new need--an English teacher for Evie's class. Apparently that day was her English teacher's last day. My heart dropped, because I liked Ev's English teacher. Ms. Mariana assured me, though, that this was a good thing. Apparently things have been difficult with this teacher from day one. I knew Ev had really easy assignments for this class, but I assumed it was because it was lower level English. It seems that more of the problem was that the material wasn't being covered.

"If you have any connections," Ms. Mariana said, "Anyone who could teach, please send them our way!" Now, technically I'm qualified. I have a graduate degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages. For an instant my heart leapt and I thought, "What a chance!" But then sense took hold. I can barely stay on top of things as it is, much less work a full-time teaching job. Yikes! However I could offer help now and then, and I could pass the word along to one of the teachers in our apartment building who has TEFL certification.

My offer to help ended up with my going in this morning to hang out with Ms. Mariana as she taught Ev's class. It turned out that my primary job was to sit against the wall and look pretty, but I also got to help with one of the exercises and read a couple books to the kids.

It was an interesting experience; I'm not sure how much I can put into words yet. The classrooms are small, and while the class size is also small, the room is cramped. Each room opens onto an outside corridor and students are constantly coming and going along it.

The walls and floor are concrete and tile, so every sound bounces...and there is a lot of sound. My kids have mentioned a number of times that the students here are *loud* and don't respond to teacher requests for quiet. It's true. They're cute kids, bubbling with energy and inquisitiveness, but they haven't learned or been taught the art of attending.

I felt like I was back in college when I had to do classroom observations. My brain whirled with opinions, ideas, comparisons and contrasts. I've seen a lot of my kids' classes back in the States, but usually on party days, so I didn't have a good frame of reference for how the lesson was taught today. It did seem to be a question/answer style. I had to remind myself, too, that this wasn't just an English class; this was English as a foreign language. Some of these kids are still struggling with the basics of English, and Spanish flowed alongside the English. Would I have run things differently? That's the question I can't answer right now. I knew some things could be done more effectively, but I didn't have enough of a framework to be able to say how.

We wrapped up the morning with a visit with the class to the school library. I was so thankful when we looked at schools back in June that this school had a library. Some of them don't, and it seems more important at the kids' school than it does at other schools. It is very small, though. They're in the process of building it up, and I'm hoping that I can be a part of that. I'll take on that job before I take on a classroom of squirrelly second-graders.

And that is all I've got at the moment. I had the roots of some deep pedagogical observations that I was going to make here, but I think I'll end as is. For now, I'll keep observing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Exercise Routine

Before we came down to Guadalajara, we had a whirlwind of final check-ups with various doctors. I dreaded my doctor asking the inevitable question, "So, how often do you exercise?" Actually, though, I don't think she asked me that question back in June. Instead she looked at the question and said, "You know, don't worry about this one right now. Once you get to Guadalajara and get settled, then you can figure out an exercise routine." I'd never heard such freeing words. Of course, an "exercise routine" has never been an established phrase for me. My sister Jessie loves to exercise; for her it is stress relief. My idea of stress relief is time to sit down with a good book; exercise has always been a necessary evil unless somehow it is part of my daily life.

So I was looking forward to living on an upper floor of an apartment building and what that would require in terms of stairs. But when we arrived here, we found that we'd been put in the first apartment on the first level. Also, we had use of a car, so we didn't need to walk many places. Kraig got the most exercise because he trotted across to the campus every day. I felt that my plan for exertion had been thwarted.

But one month after arriving, extenuating circumstances necessitated that we move to the third floor and my desire was fulfilled. Now I get to climb two flights of stairs each day, sometimes multiple times. On laundry days, it's down three flights of stairs to get to the laundry room in the basement. And on Wednesdays when I usually do my big shopping trip for the week, I can add even more trips up and down, with weights! (Big shopping days are the only days I regret our move to the third floor....)

For the past couple months we've had our Spanish class on Tuesdays and Fridays, so on those mornings I walk across to
the campus with Kraig. It's a fair distance, plus the classroom is on the third floor (seems to be our favorite floor), so there's more leg-work. After class, I have to leave by the visitor entrance rather than the one Kraig can get us through with his ID, the one that's directly across from out apartments. This means I have a longer walk back to the apartment than to class.

Now, in the past week I've added a new part to my exercise regime: daily walks across the entire camps and up two flights of stairs to get to the purchasing department to check on the status of our shipment. I sometimes have a kid or two in tow for this, so that's bonus points. I can't walk as fast, but my arms get a better workout as they're yanked here and there by kids' explorations. The nice thing about these walks is that the campus really is lovely, and often we're shaded by large trees. It almost makes up for the weariness and repetitiveness of the purpose.

So, all in all, I think I've set up a pretty good exercise routine. It would be nice to know if I've actually lost some weight or trimmed up a bit--I have no idea. I'll just pretend it's working. Not only that, we're running around at about 5,000 feet above sea level, so my lungs have gotten a better workout, too. Just wait, Michigan friends. When I come at Christmas, I will run around you in circles.

Yep, so all around I'm happy with my new exercise plan.

Do you think it counts?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Clare in the Afternoon

As it worked out, today ended up being the best day to take Clare out, so I had my girls right in a row--a study in compare and contrast.

When Clare was born, Kraig and I had two first names we were playing with. Within a minute of seeing her, we went with the one that means "brilliant light" (Clare is her nickname). There is something in a name, and Clare has shown hers to be more than accurate. "Lightning bolt" might have been even more appropriate.

She can seem so innocent and winsome if you are observing her in repose. This happens more often nowadays because she's perfectly happy to get lost in a book for hours on end. However, if the book is shut, beware. The winsomeness is only appearance deep. Interacting with Clare can be like wrestling the edge of a hurricane.

Today the book was set aside (except for when we were driving) and the tongue ran free. With Clare, there are no quiet times unless she has her nose in a book. She is constant chatter and motion. Most homework sessions take three times as long as they should because they're spent constantly herding her back to work. I like it when I don't have to herd her and can let her loose, because I love to hear her talk, and to hear her questions and ideas.

We didn't have far to go today. Clare's great goal was to get to the Wal-Mart that just opened up down the street last week. She's had her eye on and has been saving toward a Barbie kid that she saw at another Wal-Mart and she wanted to see if it was at this one. We were also looking for a notebook for an online writing class that she's starting next week. So we started off at home with some lunch: leftovers of her favorite white chicken chili.

Then we headed down the road, entertained on the way by the pig in the back of the pick-up truck in front of us.

Once we got to Wal-Mart we headed straight for the stationery aisle. We spent quite a few minutes there, because it's one of our favorite places. Clare found a binder and paper to create her notebook, and I tracked down some of the materials I needed for a family project.

We headed over to the toys and scoped out the Barbies. There were no kid ones, but no matter, LEGO was in the next aisle over, and one can never get tired of that. Clare eschewed the LEGO Friends--too pink and purple--but she set her sights on some of the Creator sets.

We weren't rushed, so we were able to explore more of the store and then ran to another stationery store to find some poster board. Clare expressed her definite opinions on all sorts of things she saw. She knows what she likes and doesn't like. The trick is helping her understand the difference between opinion and fact, and the importance of phrasing opinions (or facts, for that matter) gently. 

The outing was rounded off with checking out a new ice cream shop near the kids'  school. We both got double-cones, which were delicious but huge. I think we'll all have to go there again sometime, but Clare and I agreed a single scoop would be plenty. 

Clare stated that her cone looked like it had a deep moat surrounding a fortress. She also said that she wished she had two tongues, so that when one got too cold she could use the other to lick. "But then," she said, "I'd speak double." I am thankful she only has one tongue....

Ice cream cones are perfect for leisurely conversation and so I probed a bit, asking how school was going. Apparently it's fine. I asked her why she thought we were here in Mexico, and what she thought about all of it. Clare's probably had the roughest time with the transition. She's inclined to see the worst in things--it's a constant battle to get her to not complain. This is a huge topic, though, and not easy for her to express in words for all the vocabulary she's internalized with all of the books she's read. I asked her toward the end of our time if she talked to God about some of this stuff, and asked how she interacted with Him. She's always had amazing insights about God and the Bible, but so often it seems more cerebral than heart. When I asked her this today she didn't answer, and I decided not to press it. After all, I don't know if I could have put that into words when I was her age. Once her cone was finished we went into the store restroom to wash our hands. And then she said, as if there hadn't been a hiatus, "I think when I have a problem I speak to a grown-up. But when I'm afraid, I talk to Him." 

And that is my Clare all over.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Luminous Ev

I seem to have stumbled on something with this idea of pulling my kids out of school for half a day so we can have some one-on-one time. I suppose this isn't a new concept to some people, but I'm discovering a world I hadn't expected and I really like it. I was always so concerned that they'd miss something important at school, or that the teacher would have to spend extra time helping them get what they missed. But to tell the truth, I don't care this year. My kids need some special treats, and this is what we're doing. It won't be often, but I'll make the most of the times we do it.

So today it was my Ev's turn to go out.

I wanted to listen to what she had to say today--really listen--because when she gets talking she always says things that open the eyes of my mind. She's always been highly verbal, and she has an imagination that has triggered ideas for me more often than I can count. When she was four, she created a giant in our neighborhood, the evil giant Chompchucks. Since then, other creations have risen to life from her brain, and interesting observations take flight. The other Sunday as we drove to church she noticed a bike hanging on the back of someone's car and commented on how it looked like the car had glasses. A little later on the same ride, she and her siblings were checking out the sun that was pushing out from the clouds. "It looks like the dark clouds are trying to eat the sun!" Ev said.

Surprisingly today Ev was not talkative. She was content, there was no question, but she wasn't bubbling with words. Today I saw the other side of Ev that I love: the luminous side. She can just be, and she glows with being-ness. We got stuck in some traffic and I took a wrong turn that made our trip take longer, and while she groaned about it a bit, she mostly just watched quietly out the window and listened to the music we had playing. "Everything okay?" I asked at one point. "What'cha thinking?" "I'm just looking at things," she said.

We headed to her favorite mall, the one that Jon and I had not gone to last week, with the open central court and fish. Ev loves to see the koi, so we spent all the time she wanted there.

And when she'd had enough of the fish we searched for a jewelry store we had seen a couple months ago when we were there. Unfortunately we didn't find it; things have shifted. But we did get back to a pet store she likes, and she took her time checking out the animals. Her favorite are the very affordable mice...affordable before you get the cage and the food and all the other things that one needs to keep a pet. Someday, maybe.... Of course, she also likes looking at the tarantulas, and today there was a fabulous macaw by the register, fluffing his crimson plumage and peering at Ev with one golden eye while she tried to get him to say "hola".

We finished up our outing with some frozen yogurt that definitely satisfied Ev's sweet tooth...and I liked mine, too.

Ev can be as silly as any kid, and she has a flair for drama that isn't pretty when she's upset. But there is a sweet, accepting spirit in her that I love to see. She wants to do what is right, to do what God would love, and it shines through her. She's more willing to take things as they are and enjoy them than my other kiddos. I asked her how school was going, and she said happily, "Great!" This in the midst of trying to navigate a new language. She's just happy because she has a friend at school who helps her with Spanish words and who likes to have Ev help her with English ones. When one has that, what else is needed?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cheese Please

Cheese platter at Hutchmoot
Photo by Mark Geil
We like cheese. I wouldn't call us connoisseurs, but we do like good cheese. Real cheese. My children have been known to get excited about grilled cheese sandwiches at friends' homes only to push them away when received because of they were made with American cheese or processed. I've apologized for this, and we're working on their response to undesired foods. I won't apologize for their taste.

When we got to Guadalajara, we realized very quickly that we were going to have to learn new cheeses. This was exciting, but was also daunting, particularly when one is used to using particular cheeses in certain recipes and suddenly one has to scramble to find it or an equivalent. We did break down and get a Costco membership, partly because at Costco we can get the cheddar and Monterey Jack we're used to, not to mention we have access to good Parmesan and gouda if we really need them.

As for the cheeses we've found here my primary impression is that most of them are--well--bland. Not bad. Just, well, they're all kind of the same. Please note that I have only been here for three months, so my learning is still in its infancy. My impressions are still first impressions. And Kraig and I lean toward strong cheese. The sharper the cheddar the better. Asiago and Romano? Sure--we'll take them over Parmesan. We've even ventured into the realm of limburger, much to our children's dismay.

Of course, we've tried various cheeses here. When Kraig and I visited in June we tried a local cheddar, and while I had to break down and get some last week because Costco was completely out, we've given up really calling it "cheddar." It just isn't. After that we tried out Manchego which turned out to be a good substitute for Monterey Jack. But Monterey Jack isn't known for its pizazz in the first place. On one of our first outings we stumbled upon a sampler cheese plate and so discovered Panela and Adoberra. Adoberra, from what I can gather, is good for quesadillas and has a little bite. Unfortunately, more often then not I've managed to get it when it's on the edge. While we like sharp cheese, we don't like edgy cheese.... I need to find better places to buy it, I suppose.

Panela is very white and bland. I picked up a block of it because I'd mixed it up with one of the other cheeses that melts well, only to discover that panela does not melt. At. All. It grates well, and one often sees it on top of dishes like chilaquiles. It has its advantages, I guess. But I haven't quite seen the purpose of a cheese that doesn't melt, and I can't help but wonder why it doesn't....

Oaxaca (pronounced wah-há-kah) does melt. It is very like mozzarella in flavor, but could also work beautifully as a base for a cheese fondue, and is often served completely melted and hot as a dip for grilled meats. I do like this one. Stretchy, melted, bubbly cheese has a sweet spot in my soul. One of the ways they serve it here is in a molcajete which is a basalt mortar that the food is cooked in and then served in. I've had it with some rich meaty stew, but we also had it once full of melted oaxaca with sausage and mushrooms.... Okay, that one is drool-worthy.

I still need to sample more. I probably should have waited on this post till I was more informed. I still need to check out queso fresco and Chihuahua (like the dog...and the place). I am sure there are other ones I haven't discovered yet as well. I will try them, and find out where they taste best, and you can believe that we'll eat them.

But Costco had better have cheddar back in stock this week. And this time, I'm going to pay for the sharp.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lazy Saturday

There's something delightful about Saturdays where you don't have anywhere you have to go, or anything in particular you have to do. I love Saturdays like this. I admit, our family probably has more of these than a lot of people. We're homebodies, and after a busy week there is nothing we like better than hanging out at home.

We let the girls put their beds together on Friday nights, so their morning starts there. All three kids wake up early--makes sense since they're up by 6:30 for school all week. Thankfully they're old enough now that they keep themselves fairly well entertained for an extra hour so Kraig and I can "sleep in." We try, anyway.

Breakfast is leisurely. This morning it was pancakes. The girls have gotten old enough that sometimes they'll take these on, but this morning I was in charge. I love making pancakes because it takes a while for the golden disks to pile up, and I can read a book while I monitor them. The kids got to wash dishes after breakfast and with a little persuasion even did them willingly.

The kids have an assortment of things they like to do throughout the day. There are Barbies and LEGO, play dough and coloring. Early mornings we let them take over the iPad and they've discovered old Mickey Mouse cartoons...and the newer Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Today I introduced them to a contest for my author friend S. D. Smith's new book, The Green Ember. They spent a couple hours drawing various renditions of rabbits with swords (or just swords in Jon's case).

Some Saturdays we get to Skype with friends back in Michigan, and today the kids spent a long time catching up with best buds Kent, Sally and Alice. Once they were done, their mom Laura and I got to chat for a bit. I promised I wouldn't post the picture I took of us :) .

Kraig's been going full-throttle this week and needed a break, so he vegged with a computer game and later we all watched some TV--in Spanish! So learning was involved. A-hem! Yes. Right. I hung out on my computer, too. I wasted a good bit of time, but I did start on the intro material for an online writing course I'm taking that starts Monday, Writing Close to the Earth. Clare dug into her book for a while, and later all three kids were playing that they were at "work" which involved a good bit of drawing. They don't always play idyllically, but I will say the squabbles don't last long. Today was a great day.

We just got the kids down and I had figured I'd type this up, then relax for the rest of the evening. After all, why spoil a good thing?

Too bad I remembered at 7:30 that I'm supposed to lead our Sunday school class tomorrow....

Friday, October 17, 2014

Waiting In Hope

We are still waiting on our shipment. This week, Kraig's department head and Kraig tried to contact those overseeing the processing and got nowhere. No response to emails, no answers to phone calls. Last night Kraig told me they had strategized a plan of attack, which would start with him tracking down the office of the woman we needed to speak with and trying to talk with her in person the following day (today). Unfortunately, he'd have no time to do it until mid afternoon. This is the thing: these professors are swamped. They don't have time to wander around trying to track down errant staff. But here's the other thing: I do have time. And at last Kraig agreed to let me explore after our Spanish class this morning and see what I could find out. I think he has finally moved past the concern that I will completely lose my temper and explode. He has good reason to worry, as I haven't withheld my ire when the two of us are talking about it, but the truth is, I panic when I have to confront someone and am more often then not overly apologetic.

But anyway. I had my chance at last, and last night and this morning my brain whirled with possible conversations. How would I ask about things? How would I express my concern? I wasn't sure if I'd be able to speak in English or Spanish, so I practiced different Spanish phrases in my head. I knew I wanted to say something along the lines of, "We're waiting for our shipment," but I couldn't remember the word for "wait". This morning I looked it up and found esperar. I looked at it in confusion. Wasn't that the word for "hope"? So I typed "hope" into my handy-dandy translator and up popped esperar again. I tried out different phrases using both "wait" and "hope" and each time the translation used esperar. 

"Maybe there's another word we don't know about," Kraig suggested when I showed it to him. So we posed it to our Spanish teacher. It turns out that no, there is no other word--"wait" and "hope" are both esperar. "But how do you differentiate?" we asked. Apparently the only way is through context. Usually "wait" includes a time reference, but "hope" implies a wish or desire to be fulfilled. 

I can't stop thinking about this. Though the two words are related in my mind, they stand quite separately. It's a completely different thing for me to say, "I am hoping for our shipment," and "I am waiting for our shipment." When I hope for something, I'm looking forward to it and longing for it. I can do this for a long time. Hope takes on spiritual significance, whether in something as simple as hoping we'll have lovely weather tomorrow, or as complex as hoping my children will grow up to be gracious, godly people. On the other hand, when I wait for something it usually involves biting my fingernails and tapping my toes. I want it now, but I'll grit my teeth and wait since I have to. Of course, looking at the title of my blog begs the question that maybe there is more hope in my wait than I think there is.

It makes me wonder how this affects the culture here in Guadalajara. If "wait" and "hope" are synonymous barring context, how does that influence thinking and behavior? Maybe I'm trying to make too much of this, but I'm going to start paying attention to see if there is something to this. In the meantime, this morning I was able to find a couple people to speak to in English and we clarified some things about the shipment. This afternoon I trekked back over, kids in tow, to double-check that a promised phone call had been made to the customs agent. It had, more papers had been sent, and I was told they would call me again on Monday with an update. 

So this weekend I wait in hope that we will actually see our boxes sooner than later.