Friday, March 16, 2018

the time my place flooded

It was fall of 2005. I started my first after-college real-life job, moved to a new town, received (large-to-me) paychecks. I was so excited to decorate my first apartment - my own space! - and bought two throw pillows from Pier One and the prettiest bedding from IKEA and trinkets from Target and thought it was perfect. At least for a starter apartment, on a beginner's salary, belonging to someone who'd rather save and spend on adventures than accessories.

And then one day, the following spring, I walked to the lobby area at my job to get water from the dispenser, looked outside, and saw the ground spew a geyser of water 20(?) feet in the air. What!? I walked outside to get the mail, and noticed water was starting to flow over the road. A winter of heavy snows, followed by weeks of spring rain, saturated the ground in these mountains' valleys. The land couldn't hold the water pressure, the creeks couldn't divert the water downstream fast enough. The area was flooding.

We were told we need to evacuate our workspace as soon as possible. Get home. Get to higher ground. Two co-workers, heading down the interstate in the same direction as I, offered to "escort" me to my exit. One, with a small car like I had, when first. One, with an SUV, followed me. And we sped home. Oh my goodness, the water up ahead looks too deep to drive through! Well, his car made it. Oh, I hope I don't hydroplane. I made it! So glad I'm not attempting this by myself! ... Water is flowing so fast over the road! I can't even see the lines! ...

I made it to the exit, made it home, relieved to be safe, in my apartment, with no signs of flooding in my new little valley town. I made banana bread and, as it was cooling, I went for a walk outside. Should I bring my camera? No. I'll just walk. (Note: Bad choice. Hours later, I wish I had brought my camera [in those days cameras weren't in cell phones, and I had a flip phone! My how times have suddenly changed], because the town was going to radically change.) I walked by the creek, at least 200 yards away from the apartment complex, and noticed the water was at least four feet below the bank. I walked down Main Street, and past the farmlands, and over the bridge, and saw a man sitting on a park bench, and asked him if he thinks the town will flood. "Hell no! This town ain't gonna flood. We've had plenty of wet springs and the town ain't come close to flooding!"

An hour later, I arrived home, sat on the couch to look through my mail, and noticed it had started POURING. I had never seen it rain so hard. And then I noticed that rain from the parking area was coming through my first-floor, but half-underground apartment windows. I have to get my car out of there! I drove it up a nearby hill, parked it in an abandoned house's driveway, and ran home. It was dark now. And there was now standing water in my place! I grabbed whatever low things I could find and put them on my dining table, the kitchen counters, my dresser. The water was close to the outlets now. I grabbed my backpacking pack, stuffed some clothes and a jar of peanut butter in it, and my toothbrush and wallet and water bottle, grabbed my phone charger and sleeping bag and pillow and blanket, and ran up the stairs to the second floor. So glad I didn't get electrocuted!

I knocked on my upstairs neighbor's door, but no answer. She is elderly and blind; does she know what's happening? Maybe she's sleeping. She's safe, there's no reason to wake her. I went back to the landing and apartment dwellers from the third floor invited me to their place. At least forty people were jammed into a 1-bedroom apartment. It was filled with cigarette smoke and slurred cuss words. "Wanna beer? Here, take a beer! This rain is sh**!" "I'm fine, thanks." I made it to the front window and found two children peering outside, eyes wide. The water in the parking lot had covered the cars' wheels. "When is it going to stop raining?" "I'm not sure." "Are we going to be safe?" "Well, we are now, aren't we?" Heads nod. "We just need to be brave." "But we're scared!" "I'm a little scared, too, but I like to pray when I'm scared; do you want me to pray with you?" Heads nod. And I softly pray to the God Who controls the storms, that He stop the rain soon and keep us safe, please. I finish and receive two smiles. We spend hours afterwards, silent, watching the rain come down, listening to the drunken commotion going on behind us. At midnight I slip out, and then notice a man in the parking lot moving sand bags. I go out to see if I can help.

The rain has slowed to a drizzle. I find the apartment complex owner outside, trying to stop the water from entering the third complex that's on a bit of a hill, higher than the other two. May I help? He'd be grateful. We work in silence, and a couple men join us, passing sand bags down the line. I stand closest to the owner. "I never thought this place would flood!" He nods in agreement; "Water in your place?" "At least to the outlets." He nods. Silence. Sand bags being passed. And then a silent "This place was my retirement." Silence and then an "I'm so sorry." I look his way and don't know if it's rain or tears flowing down his cheeks. Tears start to flow down mine. I never knew water could be so powerful.

We ran out of bags, built a sturdy sand bag wall, seemed to have saved the third complex for the time being, and I waded back to my building, up the steps, to my backpack and sleeping bag. The commotion upstairs was still going on, but I changed into dry clothes very quickly in the hall, slithered into the bag, and was fast asleep on the stairs' landing.

Morning came and, with it, a fresh perspective of the flood and damage. I was told I couldn't enter my apartment until the water receded. No vehicles were allowed on the flooded roads; everyone was told to stay indoors. I spent the day with my blind neighbor. "I'm afraid I don't have much food to give you, just bread I reckon." If only I had grabbed the banana breads, but "I have peanut butter!" And so we ate peanut butter sandwiches. Open-faced for breakfast, toasted for lunch, and sandwiched for supper. We talked about butterflies and flowers and fabric with no mention of floods. I was grateful to have been offered her couch to sleep on that evening.

The next day was sunny. We could see the parking lot, and I walked up the hill to my car. It was safe and unharmed, thank goodness! I walked by the creek which spilled over its banks. People were in kayaks, fly-fishing waders. I walked down Main Street. All of the buildings had a water mark on their exteriors. Hark! Subway was open, and that foot-long tasted divine! I bought another to share with my neighbor that night. I walked past the farmlands. Newly planted rows now washed clean and with a pond that covered acres in their place. I walked over the bridge - the water rose right up to its bottom! - and noticed that the park bench was no longer there. If only I took pictures...

I was able to enter my apartment the following day. The water had risen four feet in the place. Most of my belongings were water-logged or mold-infested. Only those stored in the upper kitchen cabinets, on the top shelf of my closet, and my shirts that were hanging up were spared. I threw everything else away. Some friends from church stopped by to help me move my large - and now extremely heavy - items to the dumpster. I saw my landlord there, shook his hand and wished him the best. He responded with a "The Good Lord gives and takes away." "But He also promised to give us everything we need! You'll be okay!" "Amen to that, thanks for that." My friend and I got into my car, and we followed another who led me to their home with a "You have a room with us for however long you need it."

The flood made me fall even more in love with country towns. And with their simple way of life. The backwards parts. The individuals you meet and really get to know. The hard work and hard workers. The never-giving-up holding-onto-hope outlook on life. This was the town their granddaddy was born and raised in, after all, and they aren't leaving. Come hell or high water.

A month later I was at a Sugarland concert two towns over. From the first couple of notes of "One Blue Sky," the place erupted and yelled-sang along:

Been livin' in Crawford for fifteen years
Nothin' much ever happens 'round here
And no one believed the water would come
'Til the sky grew dark and it swallowed the sun
And it rained for forty two nights and forty two days
And everything that we loved is floatin' away

How long 'til our dreams run dry?
Don't know but we're stayin'
On our knees we raise our eyes
Holdin' on and prayin' to find 
One blue skyyyyyyyyyyyy

(extra y's mine)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

let's give the children a chance

I recently overheard a mom of two children under the age of 6 say, "I will never vacation with my children! I see other moms' vacation photos of everyone smiling and wonder if the tantrums came right before or right after? It would be torturous."

And my heart ached.

It ached for the assumption that the children threw tantrums. It ached that her children won't experience vacations at their young age, due to her preconceived notions.


I see it so often among parents of young children: mothers/fathers setting boundaries as to what their child(ren) are capable of doing. Just let them figure it out for themselves!

Oh, but my child wouldn't enjoy playing in the woods without any toys.
Oh, but my child is too young to use a real knife to cut strawberries!
Oh, but my child is too clumsy to climb a tree.
Oh, but my child can't drink out of a real glass!
Oh, but my child will just throw tantrums every single moment of the vacation.
Is that so? Have you tried it? Or are you limiting your little one?

One of the greatest joys of motherhood has been when I just watch my son, and experience life together, and grow together.

Years ago, just after he turned two and got a strider bike for his birthday, I took him to a skate park in town because I wanted him to test it out in a smooth, sectioned-off, "safe" environment. Ha! He went toward the ramps. And lifted his feet. And flew down. And went back again for more, gaining speed beforehand and flying down faster. My heart was beating wildly, my armpits were sweating, and I wanted to shout "BE CAREFUL!" But I didn't. I never have. (And I am proud of that fact: one thing I did right in this adventure called motherhood.) Because I gave him a chance, I discovered that he knows what he feels safe doing. He is in control of his body. He is paying attention and if his mom started screaming, it would divert that attention. It would introduce the possibility of "Maybe this isn't safe?" to his brain. "Maybe mom knows best?" And then I would have to explain that, no, I do not know best. In 95.75% of situations that motherhood throws at me, I do not know best. 

Son of mine, you keep doing your thing. And I'll stand back (or sit down while every nerve in my body is rocking out) and continue to be amazed at just what you are capable of doing. I am so grateful for you and this lovely, lively life of yours. And I'm honored that I get a front row seat for these first (16? 50? Don't grow up and leave!) years of it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

the perfect pie crust for Pi Day

It's Pi Day! It's my most favorite unofficial holiday! It's time to eat pie! Fruit pie! I love fruit pie!

I've made dozens and dozens and dozens of pies, but unfortunately every single one of those pies had crusts that were pieced together in the pan and not-quite-perfectly-flaky. I could never quite master that crust...until now! My last two pies and three omelettes have had perfect pie crusts and I want to share my secrets of success.

The first: a friend discovered that a food processor blends the ingredients together perfectly (and mess free!).

The second: I discovered the perfect recipe from the 1984 version of The Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

The third: I discovered that rolling the dough out on a Silpat sheet prevents sticking and over-flouring and aids in moving a thinly-rolled-out crust into the pie pan with no ripping, tearing, or tears.

The fourth: I discovered that some substitutions work successfully to make this a gluten-free, dairy-free pie crust, so my son can join in on the Pi Day festivities (and I won't have to eat an entire pie myself!)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

the perfect pie crust 

Needed Ingredients (for a 9-inch, two-crust pie):
+ 2 1/4 cups flour (or sub Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour)
+ 1/2 teaspoon salt
+ 3/4 cup vegetable shortening (or sub Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Spread)
+ 6-7 tablespoons cold water

Needed Ingredients (for a 9-inch, one-crust pie):
+ 1 1/2 cups flour
+ 1/4 teaspoon salt
+ 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
+ 3-4 tablespoons cold water

Plan of Action:
+ Mix the flour and salt in the food processor. Add the shortening and mix until the mixture resembles small crumbs.
+ Sprinkle the water, a tablespoon at a time, until little clumps start to form.
+ Press the dough in a ball. Divide in two if you're making a two-crust pie.
+ Using a rolling pin, roll out one ball of dough on a Silpat baking mat.  It should be 2 inches larger than your inverted pie pan. (No flour is needed on the mat, but I very lightly sprinkled some on the rolling pin.)
+ Transfer the dough to the pan by folding the Silpat in half , then peeling that half of the Silpat off of the dough, keeping the dough folded. With one hand under the Silpat and the other hand on top of the dough, flip it upside down into the pie pan. Remove the Silpat and unfold the dough into the pan.

+ If it's a one-crust pie, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Fold the overhanging dough over, creating a ridge around the pan's top. (Find seven ways to create a beautiful edge here.) Using a fork, prick the bottom and sides of the crust. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a baking rack before adding the filling.

+ If it's a two-crust pie, roll out the second ball of dough. The top crust can be either a traditional solid top (with some vent holes cut), woven into a lattice...and then follow the recipe's directions for baking.

Serving and Storage:
+ An unbaked pie shell (in a pie pan) can be wrapped in plastic and either refrigerated for a couple days or frozen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

the pioneer life is not for me

I grew up just as American Girl was taking off. Felicity! Samantha! Molly! Kirsten!

I enjoyed reading all their books from the library and loved Felicity's spunk, Samantha's third-floor bedroom, Molly's eyeglasses and braids, but it was Kirsten who I envied most. After all, she lived in a log cabin, wore a dress barefoot, twirled in a meadow of wildflowers and grew her own garden. My dreams were of pioneer life.

Fast forward to the present. I am sitting inside my house at night, huddled underneath a blanket, shivering. It's 58 degrees in here. I need to put more logs on the fire in the woodstove, but have to go outside to get them off the porch and replenish our stack inside before I do. Or I could wash dishes by hand, warming my hands in the hot water, but the windows' glass above the sink is so thin and the sashes so old, that I can feel the wind whipping through.

We thought it would be a fun adventure, renting this 600 square-foot cabin on the outskirts of town. After all, there's a mountain in the backyard! There's lots of outdoor decks and porches and yard space! Yes, there's only a few small windows and only woodstove for heat, but how hard could it be keeping this small space warm?

I have never been so ready for winter to be over.

I have moved countless pieces of wood over the last six months, piling them into stacks outside, only to bring them-one piece at a time-to a stack on the porch, and then a stack inside the house, and then to the woodstove. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Wake up in the middle of the night to add more logs to the fire! Only to wake up in the morning and find it 48 degrees inside. Oh. My. Goodness.

And it's so dark in here. I need to see the sun! Or at least its light!

And then there is the dust that is everywhere at all times. Ash covers every surface in this place. I dust, and-poof!-more ash is back.

But on the good side, my cut flowers have lasted three weeks so far, thanks to the cooler indoor temperature. And all the wood hauling and body shivering has prevented me from gaining extra winter pounds. This house introduced us to the local chimney sweep, who has enriched our lives by just being his quirky, so-not-like-us self. And a fellow church-goer has graciously filled the back of my Subaru with wood he cut and stored for himself whenever we "ran low". Even in hard times, there is always good.

Nevertheless, I no longer want to be a pioneer. Give me the modern conveniences (I'll pass on the air conditioner and microwave, though). Give me the big, bright, well-insulated windows! Give me the central heat!  I will, forevermore, be grateful for the luxury that is central heat.

We are actually moving to another house in town soon. We've spent time there recently, painting the walls while thoroughly enjoying the central heat. True, the thermostat was set on 61, but it's an even heat and, wherever we went in the house, it was still 61! With no drafts! 'Twas glorious.

Yet, how fortunate I am in that my only major "problem" in life is a cold house? I'll dwell on that as I soon lay in bed, in the fetal position with two pairs of socks on my feet, trying to tune out the wind's hum through the bedroom windows and the fact that my husband has one more blanket than I do, hoping that I will fall asleep soon soon soon because I. am. so. cold.

*Note to all about my son's well-being with all of this: he has an electric heater in his bedroom. We make sure he is warm and comfortable at all times. And I am often found waking up next to him, as he 1) cuddles while sleeping 2) has the warmest bedding and 3) has heat in his room.

**Also note: I am known to exaggerate at times. So when I say it's currently 58 degrees in here, it's really 60. And when I say it's 48 degrees inside when we wake up, it's really 49. Now carry on.

Monday, March 12, 2018

good memories and amazing grace

Today is my 25th spiritual birthday! It's been 25 years since I decided to follow Jesus Christ. As I recently looked through pictures of my life, and thought back on the events of my life, and I was overwhelmed by how faithful and good God has always been to me. I have never lacked a thing. He has always provided for me. And in the hard times (and there have been plenty of hard times!) He has always made His presence known to me.

Even before I became a follower of His, my toddler pictures showed that I had a joyful, quirky spirit. (And that hasn’t changed at all through the years!) I thought back to the days filled with playing pretend inside the house, reading books outside while sitting in a tree, riding my bike around town, jumping out of swings or the pear tree in our backyard, playing in the autumn leaves or in the snow, spending thousands of hours admiring God’s creation, be it clouds or a bug or the petals on a wildflower…God graciously placed me in a beautiful, small northern town that was safe and perfect for my adventurous, outdoor-loving self.

I thought back to my high school years running track and cross-country. There I was on the first day of track practice – a new-to-the-school ninth-grader with my big bangs, big braces, and big glasses – and I couldn’t even run a lap around the track during warm-up. By the end of that season, though, I was winning ribbons in hurdle races and that fall became one of the top cross-country runners on our team. God was good to provide running as an outlet for me during high school and very gracious to allow me to excel at it.

And I thought back to the many drama-filled nights during my teenage years where I sat huddled on my bed in my basement bedroom, crying out to God, praying to Him, not really knowing what to ask or what to say, but just knowing that He is there and He is my only hope and He is faithful to His promises. And He was. Looking back, His compassionate heart and protective hands were so evident during those years. He was the One who held me up when I was falling.

Then we have the college years, the independent years thereafter, the married years and now the 4 years of motherhood, and the myriad of stories they hold. I am always overwhelmed at how the Lord leads and provides along the way. I do not deserve it at all.

As I looked through the photos, it was as if God did to me what He did to Moses many, many years ago: “And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness’” (Exodus 34:6).

May I always acknowledge this. And never forget it. Or ever, ever, ever take it for granted.

Thank You, Jesus. Thank You for your amazing love to little me.