Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pineapple Adrenalin!

 Some people get thrills from cliff-jumping or parachuting or crossing swaying rope bridges over a gorge of death-churning water. Me? I got those little bolts of excitement jumping down my spine the other day as I sat clicking through

Hehehe. One recipe after another had me laughing maniacally as I read through the ingredients. One can crushed pineapple…

Me? I didn’t need a can of crushed pineapple. Sitting on my kitchen counter, their spiky yellow skins bursting with fragrance, was not one…not two, but THREE gigantic pineapples, all fatter and taller than I could grasp with a single hand.

A can indeed! Take that, oh so-called “tropical” recipes!

Despite how commonplace they are in this country, I still am in awe that they exist…and even more, that they are sitting on my counter.

After all, the place that I call home resides in the northernmost US state of the Lower 48. We’re the place that can get snow flurries in May and ice storms in September; where a native Minnesotan can read the temperature by how fast her eyelashes freeze or how long it takes for her hair-icicles to melt rivulets down her back while sitting in church. We have dairy cows and pine trees, prairies and apples…but every pineapple we taste is tossed and bruised in plastic bins, shipped across the country, slapped with a price tag that makes fruit aficionados cringe, and arriving on our doorstep in a pale sort of yellow that reminds me of babies with jaundice.

But here, I scour libraries and databases for recipes that feature the pineapple more prominently than just a cute little ring in a fruit platter.

Why? Because I have my very own pineapple patch in my backyard.

And, what’s more, they are now coming ripe. Soon we will have a bumper crop of fresh, golden, juicy, sweet, glorious pineapples! (And not only pineapples—it won’t be long before our trees bearing grapefruit, lemons, and guavas, along with the blackberry patch, yield up their goodness.)

Oh yes, be jealous. Be very jealous.

It’s enough to give anyone an adrenalin rush!

What about you?
Before coming to PNG, I never dreamed of pineapples in my backyard. What are some favorite things that you have encountered in your back lawn?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Father's Love and a Vet's Visit

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matt 7:11

The padlock had fallen into pieces again. I rammed it against the fence, forcing it back together before deftly slinging the rest of the chain around the gate and fastening it tight. I turned to walk down the hill toward my house, then stopped and looked back. My Abba is so good. So good.

I shook my head. In a strange mixture of Tok Pisin and English, I had just discussed the potential for skin melanomas to occur in gray horses and how that was related to the benign lesions currently afflicting Misty, a sweet gray mare. Once every couple of months, the “local” vet makes the grueling multi-hour journey from Lae to treat, fix, and otherwise consult on behalf of the menagerie of Ukarumpa animal enthusiasts—and today, one of his patients came from our herd of eleven horses. My flexible schedule and equestrian background had elected me the representative to discuss the problem, and now that the consultation was finished, it was time for me to lock the barn up.

I shifted my bilum (string bag) to my head and straightened my laplap (wraparound skirt). This was a far cry from where I had imagined myself ten years previously.

MN winters didn't stop me!
As a child growing up on a farm, horses were my life. Rain, snow, mud—it didn’t matter. Between the time I was ten years old and leaving for college, the only time I went longer than two weeks without sitting on a horse was when I broke my ankle and the cast got in the way.

I was, to put it plainly, horse-crazy. I threw hundreds (thousands?) of hay bales, built fences when my snot froze in the cold, and stayed up late to watch an ornery mare give birth. I analyzed films of top riders, clung to crazy green Wild Things, and discussed feed percentages in relation to performance. I researched training methods, scrubbed through horse shows, and agonized over saddle fit. Every summer of high school was spent working at a horse camp, teaching kids how to ride and honing my barn management skills under a paper thin budget. I fell off. I got back on. I shoveled manure for lessons, memorized vet books, and could recite breed characteristics faster than an auctioneer. I wrote long emails analyzing my leg yield challenges, scoured online bulletin boards, pondered genetics, and even changed the way I walked and stood—to be a top rider meant fitness off the horse too.

My dressage horse, Santadeo
Slowly, I improved, and my mare and I began to sand off our rough edges. I wasn’t overly vocal about it—but why should I be? It settled in my lungs every time I inhaled. How could life be any different than this? I dreamed of the day I would be able to ride my mare in Grand Prix dressage, and I promised myself vehemently that I would never be like one of them.

Them. One of those people who chose to walk away from barns and sweat stains and the breath of your best friend on your shoulder. I could never do that. Never.

And then, my freshman year of college arrived. October. And I realized that something else also breathed inside of me. Bible translation.

But I had never heard of a Bible translator riding half passes and one-tempis at Grand Prix.

Giving up family would be hard. I knew that—expected that. And it was. But letting this go? This was not written in the “prepare-to-be-a-missionary” books—to open up my hands to my Father, offering him my bay mare with the trusting eyes and the part of me that pulsed in rhythm to hoofbeats and swinging manes. Please…

But, obedience flows deeper than longing. And love lets us make sacrifices. So, with a military-straight back and Sunday School words throbbing in my head: all things work together for the good of those who love Him… I walked away. Don’t look back. Don’t. Look. Back.

I knew I would need to sever any and all ties to the equine world—leaving even a shred behind would be enough, I knew, to scream stay! And, I was afraid I would—afraid in the manner that a chain smoker, desperate to quit, fears even the Marlboro billboard. My mare sold while I attended linguistic summer school in a different state. I gave my horse books to my sister, packed my breeches into the uppermost reaches of my closet. And I pretended.

My heart fought, of course. And so I slapped down further restrictions—if I couldn’t look at pastures without tears, then I certainly wouldn’t visit mine (and didn’t for over a year). My sister continued down the path of riding, training and burying her hands in horses’ mane. I listened politely, detached myself even from jealousy… but I never visited the barn. I gave lessons occasionally, but each time I battered my heart against future hope, fencing it around with fear, inadequacy, and failure until even the most kindly-meant offer for me to ride caused me to shake uncontrollably and I could feel vomit rising in my stomach.

And then, I found I was going to PNG. “You know, they have horses there,” someone whispered to me once. My back stiffened. Don’t you dare do this to me, God! Don’t you DARE put me through that again! I walked away once for you. I can’t do it again.

So I kept pretending. I poured myself into partnership development, into linguistic school, and finally a ticket, an airplane ride and suddenly I was touching down in a tropical country where there certainly wouldn’t be piaffes or Myler bits.

“And that’s the Pony Club.” My tour guide pointed out the window, where bays, chestnuts, and grays were meandering through the kunai grass. “They’ll all be there on Thursday.” Tomorrow.

“How silly!” I scolded myself. “You don’t know anyone there. You have no reason to be there. You haven’t been around horses for years. You’ve lost your touch. You don’t know anything. You can’t ride anymore. You’re no good.”
Aski, the horse I ride and care for

I’m just going to look, I told myself. Just look.

And touch. And breathe.

Somehow, every time afterwards that the barn was open, despite the protests that would race through my head, my feet were walking through its door and within several days, I was asked to deworm one of the flightier horses. I did it, and got dewormer all down my shirt. Afterwards, I went home… and cried for the joy of it. Within several weeks, I had not only ridden for the first time, but I was now a caretaker of a horse whose owner was headed on furlough. Whether I liked it or not, the floodgates had lifted and I was drinking deeply of all things horse—saddle fitting, hoof-trimming, nutrition percentages, lameness consultations, lessons…

I absently rubbed some of the green horse slobber off my tank top, and watched as the evening glinted off the backs of the grazing chestnuts. I don’t know where this next episode of my life might lead. After all, helicopter allocations are not accessible by horseback. Whether I ever get to don a shadbelly and tails or if I will merely soak a few liters of copra for a friend is beyond my understanding—and part of me no longer needs to. But I choose to hold my hands outstretched, cupped, open, and waiting.

Because our Father likes to give good gifts to his children that are beyond all imagining. And that’s why last Thursday, I got to talk to the vet about skin pigmentation and photosensitivity in gray horses.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Waiting for Dawn

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

It was dark yet; cold. I dug my hands deeper into my sweatshirt, glad for the layers. Voices murmured inside the house, then the door opened, and two other women stepped into the darkness beside me. I shifted my billum, checked the offering tucked inside, and gravel crunched underfoot.

We trudged in silence up the hill, last night’s rain clinging to the grass and soaking our skirts. Was it like that for them, I wondered. Did they walk uphill to the tomb, drenched with the earth’s tears?

And behold! A severe earthquake had occurred... They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn't find the body of the Lord Jesus.  (Mat 28:2; Luke 24:2-3)

We were among the first to arrive. Colors lay muted in the pre-dawn gray, and I whispered greetings to fellow shadows; the service would start soon. The breakfast tables waited patiently to one side and accepted my gift of fruit without comment. We found an empty blanket near the front and sat down; it would soon be damp from the grass. Fog dripped off the tree branches above me and trickled through my hair.

Was there an earthquake last night? I didn’t know; I am a heavy sleeper. Could they have slept through this earthquake?

As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn't here! He is risen from the dead!         (Luke 24:4-6)

Voices joined together, joy piercing the clouds that had fallen heavy into the valley before me. Dark patches merged together, took shape, and I could now see the houses and trees on the far side of Aiyura Valley. The sun was rising.

Up from the grave He arose
With a might triumph o’er His foes!
He arose a victor from the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign,
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

“Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”     
(Luke 24:6-7)

A cross stood on the edge of the hill, barren and ugly, wrapped in chicken wire—for what? I wondered, until the first child tucked a lily in between the wires. One by one trickled forward until a flood of flowers wrapped themselves around this symbol of torture. This symbol of life.

The fog still hung draped across the trees, but overhead, the clouds began to crack and shear.

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened.     (Luke 24:8-9)

Her hand was cold, tucked into mine, as we formed a circle, our backs to the cross and facing outwards toward the valley. Let us pray for our homes, our community, our countries… this country. I sneaked a glance over my shoulder at the dozens of people, families, bowing their head; their presence on this tropical hill a testament to their own understanding  of the heart-cry of the once-oppressed Mary—Rabboni!

2000 years ago, they remembered… and rushed to tell what had happened.

Let us still be rushing, I prayed.

Christ is risen!
He has risen, indeed!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Of Star Wars, Toads, and Hospital Tag

“Miss Catherine! Miss Catherine! Is this toad poisonous?” The eight-year-old boy raced up the creek and thrust his discovery into my face, the placid amphibian sprawled limply in his hands.

“Umm… I guess not?”

It was Wednesday afternoon, and the POC school kids and I had wandered down to the creek for an afternoon of mud fights and tadpole collecting. Although my job at the Pacific Orientation Course (POC) this past January-through-March was focused on educating the adults in Tok Pisin and PNG culture, when my housemate and friend who happened to be the schoolteacher needed to make an unexpected trip back to the States, I volunteered to step in for the last few days.

After all, I told myself, it was only one week. How difficult could corralling ten 1st-4th grade children (nine of which were boys) be?


A few of the kids... and their saint of a teacher who spent POC with16 kids in the one-room schoolhouse
I think this must be what it is like to live in an insane asylum, I mused as I listened to the shrieking ruckus of children bellowing out PNG’s national anthem in every tune imaginable (and in decibels that rivaled a jet engine). And, as I considered the day ahead, I’m not sure who the inmates are...

The children built mazes out of dominos for their pet geckos and tried to teach them how to fly in their paper airplane wars; I doled out the morning snack (and answered complaints with, life isn’t fair). We had earthquake drills (a 6.7 magnitude hit Ukarumpa, and we felt it in Madang!), wrestling matches (take it outside!) and every running game and tag variation I could think of (always less successful than I hoped in wearing them out…). We read aloud about giants (thanks, The BFG), solved mysteries with Encyclopedia Brown and discussed the important difference between area and perimeter. There were the spelling tests, the tears, the phonics worksheets, the band-aids, and the craft sessions in which glue bottles erupted like Mt Vesuvius until they pooled in the construction paper, defying all my attempts to dry their paper pukpuks (crocodiles) in the humidity. And who could forget the morning when one boy looped meters and meters of paper leis around neck and arms, and went dancing and hollering around the schoolroom in his best tribal shout? Insanity is too mild of a word, I decided.

One afternoon, for their final craft project, the kids were to make signs to thank their wasfemilis (host families). After they copied down the phrase I had written on the blackboard, I told them they could now decorate the signs with pictures or drawings or further messages.

What I neglected to remember was their current all-encompassing obsession: Star Wars.

Faster than a gecko could have skittered across the ceiling, their posters were sporting lightsabers, ewoks, droids, and X-Wing fighters. “Stop!” I shouted, “No more Star Wars! Draw something else, but not Star Wars.” They looked at me blankly. What else was there in the world except Star Wars? Nevertheless, they soon bent back over their papers, crayons in hand.

I began to make my rounds again… “Wait! Now what are you drawing??”

“But Miss Cathy—that was how they merged my name with the previous teacher’s—you said we couldn’t draw Star Wars. This isn’t Star Wars. This is Clone Wars!”

Well, excuse me. These kids could put George Lucas to shame.

“Enough! No more Star Wars, Clone Wars, or anything from outer space period! Your wasfemilis don’t know these movies.” With heavy sighs, the boys resigned themselves to this final directive from their dictator, grumbling at the injustice of it all.

But, it didn’t take them long to recover. And as I made my last lap around the room, I heard rather suspicious sound effects coming from one corner—and sure enough, I watched as the six-year-old and his friends busied themselves with putting the finishing touches on their final thank-you sign additions: tanks, attack helicopters, missile launchers, and machine guns.

I darted back to my desk in time to choke back the tsunami of laughter that threatened to overwhelm any sense of decorum I had left. I streaked the tears from my eyes and looked at the snowman mascot Jack sitting next to the pencil sharpener. One-room schoolhouse, anyone?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

42 Steps to a Perfect Dinner Party

Getting settled can take a while, but on Monday, I finally felt like I had the energy and creativity such that I could entertain some friends. “Why not come over for dinner?” I suggested, and the date was set. Little did I realize that my innocent suggestion was going to lead to an all-day affair in the kitchen! You don’t believe me? Here are 42 steps to a perfect dinner party!

1)    Day before: Figure out what ingredients you already have (bread dough, strawberries, browned mince (ground beef), salad dressing, some vegetables) and which recipes make the most sense in light of your pantry (lasagna, salad, garlic bread, and strawberry shortcakes).
2)    6:30 am: Remember to turn on the water pump to fill the tank (otherwise there is no water for dishes or showers or laundry)
3)    6:45 am: Confirm list of needed ingredients for the day, count market money, gather bilums
4)    7 am: Walk to market and purchase your vegetables
5)    7:30 am: Come back home carrying vegetables on your head; bleach and rinse your vegetables
6)    8:00 am: Attempt to start the morning’s work… Work? What’s that?
7)    12 pm: Walk to the store to find ingredients you don’t have
8)    Be thrilled you found lasagna noodles (not common here)
9)    Wonder what you will do for lasagna since there is no cottage or ricotta cheese in the store
10)    12:45 pm: Go home; look up cottage cheese substitutions
11)    Discover you can make ricotta cheese substitute. Hope that it works with powdered milk. Be really glad for yogurt
12)    1 pm: Sit down and attempt to address the pile of emails in the inbox.
The place where the magic happens!
13)    2:30 pm: Start the garlic bread rising
14)    Start lasagna sauce (no tomato sauce in store…start from scratch with tomatoes purchased at market)
15)    Begin making ricotta cheese
16)    Wonder why the oven is not pre-heating. Discover the gas went out.
17)    Try to change the gas can. Have much difficulty. Get a pliers. Continue to have lots of difficulty. Argue with God. Eventually get the gas to turn on. Praise God.
18)    In the meantime, start getting dough ready for the shortcakes
19)    Realize you don’t have sour cream for the shortcake dough. Discover that yogurt + baking soda is a substitute. Be really glad for yogurt.
20)    4:15 pm: Put bread in the oven.
21)    Wonder why it is only reaching 250 degrees.
22)    Pray that it will continue to work and eventually bake the bread
23)    Strain cheese and make filling for lasagna
24)    Remember that in the States you can buy pre-shredded cheese. Not here. Proceed to shred.
25)    Compile lasagna.
26)    Check bread. It’s baking slowly. Temperature is too low.
27)    Run outside and try to fix gas.
28)    Wash dishes.
29)    Start chopping vegetables for salad.
30)    5 pm: Remove bread from oven, insert shortbread
31)    Run outside and try to fix gas
32)    Wash more dishes.
33)    5:15 pm: Remove shortbread from oven and insert lasagna
34)    Get garlic bread spread ready and insert garlic bread into oven
35)    Try to get strawberry sauce ready
36)    Realize that you don’t have vanilla for the whipped cream
37)    Run next door and get vanilla from kind neighbors
38)    Run back and make whipped cream. Beat and beat and beat until soft peaks form. Long time.
39)    5:45 pm: Frantically wash more dishes.
40)    5:55 pm: Try to set the table and straighten the visible parts of the house.
41)    5:57 pm: Hope that the lasagna is cooking…gas is dropping lower
42)    6:00 pm: Discover the napkins that you couldn’t find… and answer the door. Come in! Come in! I’m so glad to see you!

Whew! Despite the oven’s best attempts to thwart my baking, all food turned out delicious and thoroughly cooked. Hooray! A perfect dinner party to conclude the day :-) And only 42 steps to get there!

*I’d like to note that making a dinner doesn’t always turn into an all-day escapade. This one just happened to. Really. :-)