Small Town Chronicles

Grocery Shopping with Mom

It is dead of winter in this small town in the northern part of the Midwest, which is synonymous with saying not much is happening from day to day, except trying to keep warm. Our weekly excitement is going grocery shopping at Walmart on Friday mornings.

We go on Friday so we can plan a pleasant sabbatical rest day on Saturday. Eating good stuff always makes it special. We go early to avoid the Friday rush. The parking lot is not full yet at 8 am – we usually have our pick of the handicapped spots. It is also nice to avoid crowds since we have an immune suppressed person in our family to consider. We just don’t need to be around coughs and sneezes.

This particular Friday I loaded up our trash and recyclables because we take it all to the dumpster on the way. We always take Mom’s SUV because it’s easy for her to get in and out and has lots of room for all the stuff we buy. It’s also a significant blessing to have this SUV in a heated garage. We never have to feel the freeze when it’s below zero outside. We just get in our seats and off we go.

I say that we shop at Walmart, but that’s really the last place we go. We know what’s there most of the time, so we check out the other grocery store in town to see if they have different/better stuff on sale. I pulled into the parking lot at Marketplace Foods and looked for good parking. I was just planning on how I would park so we could wheel our carts right up to the lift gate, when I remembered that we had forgotten to stop at the dumpster. The back of the car was full of garbage.

Another wonderful thing about living in this small town is that everywhere we go is within five minutes drive of home. So we extended our outing a few minutes and drove back home to the community dumpster. Good to get rid of that stuff and have room for groceries, yeah.

The rest of our shopping trip, through the two grocery stores, dealt with the details of finding a boneless turkey roast – not just any turkey roast, but one with both light and dark meat. It involved tech skills on smart phones and researching the store we hadn’t yet shopped. It resulted in a large white meat roast and a package of turkey legs, bone in, at the first store and the kind of turkey roast we wanted at the second store. In short, research was ineffective. Way too much turkey.

That’s it folks. That was the excitement last week in Hayward, for us. But before you label us totally lame, know that this coming weekend 40,000 people are showing up in Hayward for the American Birkiebeiner (ski race) and it will be enough excitement to last us until spring. I get to help feed hot soup to this crowd after they knock themselves out skiing 40k through the woods. This is not something one sees every day, not in this small town.

The soup crew (me on the right)
How we cook soup for a crowd with no kitchen.

P.S. There actually was more shopping excitement last Friday. Mom is redecorating the living room and we also have two furniture stores in town… but that story is for another thrilling post, someday. I don’t want to throw all the adventure in one post when it’s really worth two. Just sayin’…

If I Really Want To…

I was listening as my friends were talking about Christmas. “Have you been able to slow down and enjoy the season?” was the question. Amid various reasons why it had not been possible or only momentarily possible I detected this mixture of wanting to slow down and yet not.  I mean isn’t Christmas always like this – too many things we love to do and we must race to get it all done?  I was almost afraid they would ask me if I was ready, and they did.  I would have been content to listen, but they asked.

“I haven’t done any shopping for gifts.  I’m allergic to stores during this season.”  I then went on to explain that I have had some traditional Christmases but I’ve also not “kept” Christmas for many years.  It can be done, even if you’re a Christian.  If I really want to slow down, I know how to do it.  Unfortunately, I felt like I’d thrown a wet blanket on a lovely fire and the conversation ended feeling uncomfortable (hello Scrooge). I think I can understand that people don’t really want to hear that the season is not about all that busy-ness that they claim to struggle with.

You know how ideas, culture, custom can kind of take on a life of their own? The idea of what Christmas is begins to be pushed on us in October actually.  It’s purely a marketing ploy brought on by the custom of gift giving.  People like to get gifts and give them as well (but especially the getting). By November everyone is talking about programs, their holiday schedules, their travel plans.  By December it’s all in full swing, and the non-stop Christmas music starts, the decorations, the baking, the parties.  If you have been raised in this culture, not doing all these things leaves a very obvious, gaping hole in your December experience.  You have built a large backlog of Christmas memories and a hefty expectation of what future Christmases should be.

And you are ripe for disappointment.

Expectations can be hard to fulfill.  When the finances aren’t adequate, when illness or death interferes, when family can’t or doesn’t want to show up, when everything doesn’t turn out picture perfect, when the stress of it all makes you start to wonder “why do I do this?”…

Back to the conversation with my friends – I did not mean to introduce a spirit of judgment on them for celebrating and I hope that is not what they were feeling.  I see where they are coming from and I have heard them speak their heart.  They know what Christmas is really about.

I won’t accept a spirit of judgment for myself either.  It is fairly common knowledge among Christians that December probably wasn’t when the birth of Christ took place and that most of the customs of modern Christmas have been added for various reasons, not all of them holy.  And I can take comfort in knowing that I am doing everything Christ asked to be done for his birthday.

 I am being thankful for it.

Every day.   

If it’s really about Christ and what his coming means for me, I don’t have to worry about Christmas being disappointing.  If it’s really about his plan to make a way for me to have a relationship with God then I don’t have to worry about being lonely during the holiday.  If I know he’s provided a way to make things new for me, I don’t have to worry about things being perfect now.  If I know he loves me, I don’t have to experience the hollowness or the ache of unmet expectations.

The story of Jesus’s birth is beautiful, amazing, mysterious, something only God would do, and I love it.  I sing the songs about Bethlehem and the angels and Mary and Joseph and Jesus.  I feel loved and I feel loving. I’m just saying that it can be about Jesus, not just on December 25th but every day, and I (or you) can slow down and enjoy that fact – if I really want to.

Continuing in Cambodia

sign in Digby's cafe and a good saying to remember
sign in Digby’s cafe and a good saying to remember

For several days the internet has not been easily available so I have not posted.  Getting back on track now in a beautiful place, with wifi specifically for our room.  Looking forward to posting about the last days of our trip.

Two Days with Children (Tuesday and Wednesday) Days 7 and 8

These two days are very similar on the schedule so I am writing about them together. During our free time in the morning yesterday, Julia and I went to the Russian market to do personal shopping. The girl is a shopper, for sure. She got nearly everything she had in mind as gifts for people back home and found some dishes to complement the ones I brought her last year. She is a good one to barter with the merchants, which is expected practice. They always start high, she always starts low and they meet in the middle. I wanted her to see the Russian market because it is unique in many ways, one of which is the high temperatures inside during the heat of the day. It is like a sauna.

Every year I have come there is a merchant that we visit. She is a lady who has been burned and scarred on her face but in spite of that she is cheerful and an active seller. She supports herself and her son from sales at her booth. She knows Mike and Trish and recognizes most of us who have come with her which surprises me. I met her in one of the aisles and she gave me a big welcome hug. Julie and I shopped at her booth – it is the only one where we don’t barter. She is a Christian and has some amazing books about those who have survived Khmer Rouge and come to faith through some pretty nasty trials. As we left with our bags full she went to a cooler behind her wall and got us bottles of chilled water to take with us.

The street front wall of greenery at Digby's.  Awesome place. Eat there.
The street front wall of greenery at Digby’s. Awesome place. Eat there.

The team ate lunch at Digby’s, a restaurant started by a Cambodian who immigrated to the U.S. where he became a successful businessman. He then returned to Cambodia to pour back into his people the blessings he had experienced. His restaurant rivals upscale organic/fresh market establishments in the U.S.  The sign that starts this post was one I saw in the store.

We went on to the Central Market to meet PE4 children and staff. This outing has become a tradition. Each member of the house is given $10 for an item of their choice. The children have become good at deciding what they want and finding it. They have learned to barter and buy so it is a good experience for them. This year’s purchases included clothing, a purse, a suitcase, and shoes. You can get a lot for $10 at Central Market. We always end the trip with a group photo.

With PE4 after a successful shopping trip
With PE4 after a successful shopping trip

It is always dinner time when we finish so on to Khmer Surin. After years of going for pizza, this restaurant is a new experience for some. It is a sit down, very nice restaurant and guest house where a different set of skills can be practiced. One skill that still needs to be sharpened is the act of passing food to others so that all get enough to eat. We had a bit of trouble with that at one table but will watch today and make sure the boys with big appetites don’t get it all.

Eating at a "fancy" restaurant with full compliment of tableware and napkins!
Eating at a “fancy” restaurant with full compliment of tableware and napkins!

Our final stop this year, instead of going to the riverfront park, is an amusement park called Dreamland. There are lots of carnival rides there, an inline skate park, a maze, and a lot of interesting places to hang out. It was in the budget for each child to have one ride and it turned out to be the bumper cars where everyone had a blast learning to drive poorly.

Bumper car fun at Dreamland
Bumper car fun at Dreamland

On the second day through the Central Market on Thursday it started to rain. This is my first experience with Cambodia in the rainy season and it was a wet one. Much of the market is under tarps and there are many leaks. It seems to be the rule, if we are not wet with sweat, we are wet with rain. The ride from the market to the restaurant was filled with drama as we jumped large puddles to reach our tuk tuk. The driver in his raincoat was busy lowering rain flaps and helping us in. We were thankful for the small degree of shelter we had because most everyone we saw on motos was soaked. The evening at Dreamland was also very wet and by then the puddles were lakes. There was a bit of excitement at the bumper car ride when a surge of electricity was felt by several of the kids holding hands, followed by a power outage in the whole park. The second night we were also entertained by Samnang, one of the PE5 kids who had bought a Batman costume at the market with his $10 (???). He raced around supposedly saving the day, until he lost his “hat” in the bumper car ride. Jim, one of our team members, and recently awarded hero status, went back with him and found it wrapped around the wheel of the bumper car.

20150617_161954
Behind us, one of the lucky moto riders who remembered his rain poncho…

Dreamland is a huge park and it has been nearly empty both nights, except for our group and numerous employees who sit around with little to do. One good thing about going there is that it has a natural ending point, after we have walked past all the features and had bumper car rides it is time to go home, and still early enough that we can get a good rest back at the guest house. Having this much fun is exhausting…

Our very own "Batman" posing with a superhero friend.
Our very own “Batman” posing with a superhero friend.

Christmas Shopping

wpid-20141216_212222.jpgOf all the possible shopping days before Christmas, I’m hoping this was the worst one, because at least it is over now. I have such a conflicting bunch of feelings about the whole subject that I almost feel ill with confusion. I’m not a big shopper at any time of the year so I guess it’s no surprise that I hate it now. In no particular order, my twelve thoughts on Christmas shopping.

1. It makes no sense to me that what was supposedly the birthday of Christ is now an occasion to shower ourselves with presents to the point that most people don’t even care whose birthday it was. When it’s your birthday who do you think should get the presents?

2. It makes no sense to me that I should buy something, anything, whether or not it’s wanted or needed, just to meet the unrealistic expectation of a present for everyone.

3. It makes no sense to me to try to gift everyone I care about all on the same day (or even in the same month), not timewise, not financially.

4. It makes no sense to me that I should shop for everyone on the same day or week that nearly everyone is shopping for everyone. Living for hours in a checkout line is not good for my health/sanity.

5. It makes no sense to me to buy gifts in July so that I can give them in December either. Why wait?

6. I remember childhood Christmases. There were many good things about them but right in the middle was the MAJOR thing – what’s in those packages and what am I gonna get? Not proud of that but, hey, I was a kid.

So about this time I’m deciding that there will be no Christmas shopping for me. I will not let marketers lure me into this insanity. And then I get these thoughts…

7. Someone gives me a gift and pretty much blows me away with their generosity. I have to thank them. I want to reciprocate in appreciation. I have no idea what to get them.

8. No matter how much someone tries not to care about presents, when everyone else is getting them, those who aren’t wonder if anyone cares about them. I want them to know I care. I have no idea what to get them.

9. Time is a worthwhile present and I want to give it to the people closest to me – but all in the same week? Across five different states? How am I going to get any shopping done? What else can I get them? I have no idea.

10. I have to get them something useful, something they will love, something that says I know them and care about them, something that doesn’t make them feel obligated to buy a gift for me, something not from the dollar store, SOMETHING THAT I DIDN’T GET THEM LAST YEAR. I have no idea what that is.

11. There is a beauty in glittering, wrapped packages with ribbon all over them. People need to have pretty stuff like that to look at. They are like flowers – here today and gone tomorrow with the after Christmas trash pick up. But they have their moment.

12. If I could find that perfect gift, it would actually be following the example of what God did when he gave us part of himself, his son. If I could give it in love it wouldn’t matter whether it was on the same day as Jesus’s real birthday. If I could give it sacrificially it would be meaningful and cherished by the recipient. But honestly, I have no idea what that perfect gift would be.

I’m not going to tell you how I handle this dilemma, but I do manage to get through the season. What are your thoughts and feelings about shopping and gifts for Christmas?

A Day in which I Acquire a Boat

For some reason, I have had presents on my mind lately.  No, not because of the not so subtle Christmas marketing EVERYWHERE. It’s more because my parents’ birthdays are both this month, and I was making a gift or two to take to our family Thanksgiving next week.  I love presents.  It’s fun to make them, fun to give them, fun to get them.  I can plan the first two, the making and giving, but it’s hard to plan getting a present unless you are great at buying yourself gifts.  As I pretty much always do when thinking to myself, I ran that thought past God. ( He’s listening to my thoughts anyway so I might as well be conversant.) ” It would sure be nice to get a present God.  I know there’s really nothing I need, but if there is something you wouldn’t mind giving me, I’d just like the excitement of getting a present. ”

For years now I have been taking guests and friends out on the water in kayaks that I borrow from a good friend.  When I know someone wants to go I call my friend several days ahead to make sure he isn’t planning to use his kayaks, then I borrow the husband’s truck, drive 20 minutes and pick up the kayaks which are on a trailer.  I have to have the right size hitch on the truck, which means I’ve lost and bought at least two of them.  I have to hook up the lights on the trailer, which means I’ve lost, borrowed and bought at least two electrical adapters.  I have to lock and unlock the trailer hitch, which means I’ve had to buy and replace a couple of padlocks.  I’ve had to buy and borrow life vests for numerous people of varying sizes.  All this to say that there is a lot of work involved in having fun on the water.  But it is still just so interesting to float around on these beautiful rivers, surrounded by birds and tropical wonders that I’ve considered it well worth the trouble.

Last winter my cousin Mark, who loves to fish, decided we should look for used kayaks.  If we each had one, he and a buddy could go fishing in them, and I could take friends out for a paddle too. They would get more use if we shared them. So we spent most of the season looking on craigslist and at sales but nothing was quite right. I continued borrowing from my friend.

Last week my cousin arrived for the winter and decided to go buy his fishing kayak. There was a sale at a sports store and he wanted to get it done.  Back he came with a kayak in his Suburban.  His wife’s remark was “You know this means that tomorrow you’re going to see a great deal on a used kayak…” I was there, I heard her say that.  Unbelievably, fifteen minutes after I got home I got a text from another cousin in town, Kim, telling me that her neighbor was selling his two kayaks for less than half their value and they were in like new condition, with paddles, seats and life vests.

Something like that almost demands to be considered.  I’ve been a little financially stressed lately, making sure all my medical bills get paid, lots of house repair expenditures, etc… Even though I’ve managed to meet these demands I still feel insecure enough that it’s hard for me to shell out money for fun when so much serious stuff has to be paid for. I mean, I get nervous eating out, much less buying a boat.  I decided to ask the husband if he would be upset with me if this came to pass.  Would he tell me the garage was too full already?  Would he remind me that we’re trying to downsize, not accumulate more?  In what direction might he freak out?  What he said, “No, kayaks are always easy to sell again so if they’re a good deal, get them.”  Ha ha.

I still thought they might be terrible kayaks, ones that wouldn’t be sturdy enough to hold  Mark (who is a big man) or maybe they would smell like dead fish, or be some awful color.  All of those possibilities could keep me from having to make the decision… But they were beautiful, hardly used, top quality, and the friendly man from England who was selling them clearly wasn’t out to get his money back.  Oh my goodness, we bought them, picked them up an hour later and went immediately out to the river to test them out.  They floated very nicely.

Instead of spending the day at home like I had planned, I got to do this.

the water was still and almost black!  My boat is blue!
the water was still and almost black! My boat is blue!

Reflections!  Two of everything along the bank.
Reflections! Two of everything along the bank.

love to look at all this crazy Florida plant life!
love to look at all this crazy Florida plant life!

did you know pelicans roosted in trees?
did you know pelicans roosted in trees?

Cousin Mark in his new fishing kayak.
Cousin Mark in his new fishing kayak.

Our two beauties.
Our two beauties.

Me, enjoying a present.
Me, enjoying a present.

It’s not that my prayers for blessings always get answered in the affirmative or immediately.  But today I got a present and I really had no idea it was coming. I’m going to give God the credit.  It’s the kind of thing he would have fun doing. I’m just sayin’…