Monday, March 31, 2008

Continuing with the tradition.

Its payback time.
When I was a kid, my mom packed all our lunches.
I remember I hated when we had meatloaf for dinner, cause she would make us leftover meatloaf sandwiches. Bread, a slab of meatloaf, some mayo, and more bread. Sometimes ketchup--and it made the bread soggy. Then all day long, I would burp meatloaf burps. My word. I hated meatloaf lunches.

But the worst, the all-time worst was when April Fools Day landed on a school day. My mom would pack our lunches full of weird crap. She thought it was funny, and thought that we would think it was cool. All my sisters can feel RIGHT NOW that itchy embarrassment of the April Fools Day lunch. We are all in our 30's, and I know they can still feel it.

We got it down to a science. Either you "weren't hungry" that day, and brought it all home, or you chose to sit somewhere far, far away from your friends.

Like a leper. Alone with your lunchbox and it's contents.

Sometimes our thermos always full of (warmish) milk would be dyed blue, or green with food coloring. I don't care what you say, blue milk tastes different. It tastes gross.

The we would get a random pile of things from the junk drawer. An odd pink spongy curler, or a plastic spider ring leftover from Halloween.

And one year, she made these chocolate covered marshmallows, except some of the marshmallows were actually cotton balls.
Cotton balls.
Bite into that. Mmmmmmmm.

So I guess the only therapy for that is to pass on the tradition. Here is what my kids are getting tomorrow:

The wormy apple.
The Cheetos gross chip things that really look like cat chow.
And I emptied out the Vegetable Beef Baby Food, and replaced it with Butterscotch pudding.
I stuck a plastic wrapped "Happy April Fools Day" note in the middle of their sandwiches, so when they bite into it, it should pull out and flap down on their chin in a peanut buttery honey glob.

We can't forget the wrapped in toilet paper dessert candy bar "turd." (sorry for the crappy picture, no pun intended.)


I learned from the best.
Thanks Mom!

Cool Beans.

Maybe because I live in a house with a bunch of pre-teen kids who are Transformer obsessed, but this table is way cool. I want one. Except I bet I would pinch my fingers in the middle. And I really don't have anywhere to put it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

On coming home (finally)

Once again avoiding deadline work and laundry.

I guess I will give you the final installment of the Ecuador trip. The tail end. The stuck-forever-in-a-couple-airports-cause-we-fly-standby part.

And let's be honest.

That is why you sick, sick people come here, isn't it? To laugh at my mishaps? Am I right? No one likes to read about cake recipes that TURN OUT.

Let us laugh at your follies! BRING on the awkward adventures!
And bring it I shall...

If you have a passport, you might want to go find it. Sit it next to you where you can see it. Fondle it. Revel in it's very existence. And nearness.

We get to the airport in Ecuador.
It is a bustling place.

That morning I had packed my carry-on bag with the basics. I learned this lesson when we got stranded once overnight in Texas.

Packed each of us some clean undies, and clean tee-shirts. Packed toothbrushes, and deodorant, make-up, and a foil sample of shampoo/conditioner that I got in the mail at some point. <---this I pack so it will go through security. Comes in handy when you stay in a Motel 6, that doesn't even offer those plastic bottles of shampoo. Anyway....moving on with the saga.

Airport. Ecuador. The flight went all night.

We check all the bags to out final destination, which incidentally, isn't that the name of a horror movie? Final destination? (shrugs shoulders) Bags going to Salt Lake City.

We make the flight to Atlanta. It was pretty uneventful at this point.
We get to Atlanta, at 6 a.m. and at once notice the chaos.
We are on stand-by for a flight, find the gate, have a seat and assess the situation.
I guess things are all sorts of crazy.

The airline purposely overbooks every flight by 10%. Did you know this? This is why your tickets will say "this does not guarantee you a seat on this flight" or however it is worded. This is why you get a "seat request" instead of a boarding pass. They overbook because typically, at least 10% will not show up. They will be late, or change their mind, or miss a connection.

Therefore, if the airline has overbooked, those seats that might have been empty get filled, and the airline does not miss revenue.
Not a bad plan, in theory.

But let's supposed that a flight is cancelled.

Let's suppose then, that those people need to be re-booked.

And let's suppose again, that all those folks spill over to the subsequent flights THAT ARE ALREADY OVERBOOKED, and let's suppose that the excess 10% actually show up on this day.

Well, this was what we encountered on this fateful day.
Not to mention that it was Spring Break.
Which is weird, cause I always think of April for that.

We, flying standby, are lower on the totem pole than every one of the people trying to get on a flight out of Atlanta.

So we went, anxiously, gate to gate, flight to flight, waiting...waiting...
Finally, by some miracle, Sam comes rushing over and said they had a few seats on this flight to Salt Lake. We would have to split up, which is fine.

They had four seats.

Sam was especially anxious, because he had to work in the Salt Lake airport that next morning and needed to get home for that.

So we leave Brendan, Shayne and Jayden with my parents; and me, Shianne, Mikayla and Sam go running down the little hallway thingie that leads to the plane. Not sure what it is called? Anyway, we are literally at the door of the plane, the door to the end of the hallway is shut...and two people show up, running down the hallway thing.

The airline girl is livid.

I guess it is a big no-no to open that door once it is shut.
But these folks did.
And there they were with their tickets.
So sadly, there were only two available seats.
Sam took Shianne, and got on the plane.
I walked back up the hallway thingie, with Mikayla.

We look for the location of the next gate, and hope we will have luck. At least we are down two people.

It is right about then, that I realize Sam has all of our passports in his laptop bag as well as all the credit cards and money.

The plane was pulling away from the gate.

I was totally screwed.

I had no ID for me, or any of the kids.
No money.

Don't panic!
We just need to get on another flight, right?

Gate to gate, again.
Paid customers are on stand-by.
They are asking for people to give up their seats for free flight vouchers.
Not good news when you are flying non-rev.

Several hours later, Sam calls.
He too, realized what he had done. Everything was so wasn't his fault.
He is desperately looking for alternate routes for us.
We would not be getting to Salt Lake today, or the next day. Not from Atlanta.
It was all extremely overbooked.

Sam went into work. When he got there, all his work buddies were looking for alternate routes for us too.

Everything was tight. I think because of Spring Break, and also, because everyone else was trying to get out of Atlanta.

Finally, they found for us a plane to Portland. Then, the next morning the flight from Portland to Salt Lake looked hopeful.

So we went to that gate, and waited.
And made it!

That flight arrived in Portland at 3:00 in the morning, and then the flight to Salt Lake was at 6:00. YAY!

However, there were a couple time changes, making our arrival in Portland 10:00 p.m. making it a whole freaking night in the airport until the 6 a.m. flight. And, keep in mind, that since I have no ID whatsoever, we can't leave the airport, because I can't go back through security. So this stupid fifty pound overnight bag that I packed and now have to carry around is completely obsolete.

By this point, we had been on flights/in the airport for a night, a whole day, and this will be our second night.

The Portland airport was pretty nice to be stranded in. Much better than JFK. There were at least some soft benches. But it got really cold. They had a children's play place, with Cartoon Network. That wasted a good three hours, having the kids glued to that TV.

Before I went to bed, I checked the boards with the flights for the next day.
Both flights to Salt Lake City had "pending" next to them. Not to worry, I am sure they just hadn't been assigned to a gate yet.

Night passed. Slowly.

The next morning, I went into the bathroom, and washed up.
I changed undies and tee-shirt, and socks.
I can't believe how much better I felt.
I pulled my hair back into a greasy pony-tail and brushed my teeth.
I got all fired up again, thinking how having SOME FREAKING ID, would have allowed me a hot shower. In a motel. Argh.

I was so grateful my parents were there. For the help with the kids. For buying us food, and for keeping me sane.

I checked the boards:
Las Vegas On Time Gate B52
Los Angeles On Time Gate B45
San Diego On Time Gate B33
Salt Lake City Pending

Oh. Please. NO.

I literally wanted to cry. I wasn't sure what "pending" meant? Was it the precursory to "cancelled?"

I shuffled over to our temporary house. And amid my sleeping kids, I prayed.

"Please, let us get out of here, and get us home."
My mom woke up a few minutes later.
I told her about the "pending."
We both went over to look.
And in that few minutes, it had changed from pending to "on time" and had a gate assigned!

We woke the kids, and we all moved over to the gate the flight was assigned to.
We checked in, to let the gate agents know that we were there, and waiting on stand-by.
A few minutes later they called me up to the desk.
They were giving us seat requests.
She verified the names of all my kids, and then said "Okay, all set--I just need to see your ID."
All hope left me.
I could feel it seep out of my weary soul like a slowly leaking balloon.
"I don't have any." I said.
She kept staring.
I recounted for her my past 48 hours.
I told her to look, to see that my husband made the flight, and took with him everything.
She said she that she was sorry, but for security reasons she could not allow me on the plane without identification.

I lost it.
I lost it good.
It was an ugly cry.
With sucking air, and hiccuping and everything.
I was overly tired.
I was greasy.
I had four kids watching the whole demonstration in thinly veiled horror.

The lady called her lead over.

He took one look at me and started clacking on the computer.
He verified that I had not left security since I was cleared through in Ecuador.
He said that would be good enough for him.

I am still crying.
My mom found me a napkin.

I sit down, and a couple minutes later, that guy brings me not a seat request but an honest to goodness seat ASSIGNMENT. Me and all the kids, all in a row, together.
Going home.
And then he gets on the loud speaker, and starts boarding the plane.
And says "you will NOT need ID to board this flight."
And I start bawling again. Cause I know that was just for me.

So we get on the plane, and it takes off.
I unclenched.
And slept the whole flight.

When we touched down in Salt Lake I vowed I never want to leave and go anywhere again.

Out the window I see a man walking across the tarmac. It was Sam in his airline uniform, coming over to meet the plane and I swear to you, I have never see a prettier sight.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Recipe Rating:

Two thumbs up.
The kids licked their plates.

I had a few bites, and then a few more...

Tasted like a homemade cake, not a mix.

Fun recipe I tried tonight.

From Epicurious:

Any Flavor Melted Ice Cream Cake

Choose your flavor and let the ice cream melt. The only trick is that you must have 2 cups of melted ice cream. For super-premium ice creams with little overrun, that's 1 pint frozen. But for less expensive brands with a lot of air piped in, you'll need to begin with more than a pint.

I (meaning the author at Epicurious) made this cake with several flavors of ice cream and our favorite was a super-premium from Ben & Jerry's — Cherry Garcia. With cherry and chocolate pieces and the cream and the eggs in the ice cream, you need little else. Your liquid, your fat, and your flavorings are all in the melted ice cream. This recipe works well, too, in a 13- by 9-inch pan.

**Shaunte's note: All I had in the freezer was a few spoonfuls of Dreyers Light Vanilla Bean, and about half a crusty carton of Walmart brand Birthday Cake Flavor Ice Cream <---the kids obviously picked that, and a few spoonfuls of Caribou Tracks of something. There was a spoon frozen in the carton of Caribou Tracks. Strange things like that happen ALL THE TIME here. But nobody does it.
Anyway, let it all melt into a molten mass, and gave it a go.

Preparation Time: 5 to 7 minutes
Baking Time: 38 to 42 minutes

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain white cake mix
2 cups melted ice cream, your choice of flavor
3 large eggs

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.

Place the cake mix, melted ice cream, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed. The batter should look thick and well blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula. Place the pan in the oven.

Bake the cake until it springs back when lightly pressed with your finger and just starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, 38 to 42 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a small rack, then invert it again onto a second rack so that the cake is right side up to complete cooling, 30 minutes more.

I am using some toasted coconut mixed into some cream cheese boughten frosting. Hey, I already cooked dinner, and making my own frosting was just too much effort.

I will post a review when we dig in tonight.
Got a little movie night action set up.
Off to change into PJ's!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A few more pretty pictures

Getting dark:

Overlooking Cuenca:

An iguana taking a break:

Grandpa and the kids taking a break:

More walking around town:

The markets. Flower market, fruit, fish, herbs, etc.

"Hoofin'" it back to the meat market (heh, heh):

Cool hillside scene:

Soon I will tell you the saga of us trying to get home. On stand-by. During Spring Break.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ecuador installment three

The highlight of this trip, for me at least, was spending a day helping out in an orphanage.

My cousin has been in Ecuador for three months with a volunteer program OSSO. They service several orphanages in Ecuador. On a rotating basis, they go into the orphanages and wash and feed babies, help with physical therapy, and just love on the kids. It is an amazing program!

The center we went into was a day care center of sorts. Some of these kids had one or more parents that either worked all day, or otherwise couldn't take care of the kids.

These kids live in the Andes mountains. The facility was up in the mountains where it was relatively cold and rainy. It was very green and lush, but overgrown and dense.

I helped the kids wash their hands and faces, and brush their teeth. The kids do not live in homes that have running water, and they would stay at the sink (cold water) for as long as they could...until they got shoved out of their spot by another kid. The only time they got to brush their teeth was once a week, when the OSSO girls came in. They all had various progression of tooth decay.

"Dientes!" (teeth) I would say, and they would smile so big, and show me their freshly brushed teeth.

I was amazed at my Shianne. She dug right in and helped out too. Despite the language barrier, she had quite the fan club. There were a few of the little Ecuadorian girls who took to her, and "pestered" her all afternoon. She was so cute with them.

The OSSO girls came in bringing Fruit Loops and yarn for the kids to make necklaces. Most of the kids ate more than they got strung, and I am sure that these kids are no strangers to hunger. A few of the kids stuffed fruit loops into their pockets, and made extra necklaces to take home.

My mom was amazing. She is always good with kids.

A true grandma, she constantly had a child curled up on her lap, and while she was helping them string their colored fruit loops, she would practice colors with them. In Spanish!
"Azul, verde, amarillo..." and we learned that regionally Ecuadorians do not use the word "naranja" for orange, they use "tomate." (Tomato!) We verified this later with a street vendor who was selling an orange poncho.
"Que color es?" (What color is this?)
"Tomate." (Tomato.)

Mmmm, okay.

One of the boys made a long, long string of Fruit Loops. I was joking around with him and asked him in Spanish if the necklace was for me. He looked so crushed, and said yes, and reluctantly started to give it to me. I gave it quickly back, and told him I was only teasing him. I felt like such a jerk. His eyes lit up again, and he hurried and stuffed it into his green hat.

The OSSO girls also brought some rolls and some fruit for the kids to eat. Most of them scarfed the food down so fast...

But a few of them kept them, and slipped them into a pocket or box, I am sure to save for later. Who knows if they had anything at home to eat? Maybe that roll would be dinner, or would be shared with a hungry parent or older sibling. Sometimes I wondered what they were thinking, and then in the same breath I was glad to *not* know. It was heartbreaking enough to imagine.

When it was time for the kids to go, there was a mad scramble for the extra rolls and fruit. Scraps from the floor were going into pockets.

It was then, my little green hat friend timidly tugged on my leg. He had made me a fruit loop bracelet.
"Para ti!" (For YOU!) he said, and excitedly pointed to his own bracelet.

I held it together until then. I could not help it when the dam burst. I am sure he was pretty confuzzled as to why I broke down bawling when he gave me a bracelet. Strange gringo...

I wish I had something to give. It was such a helpless feeling, to watch those kids leave the safety of that building.

Siblings took care of siblings. This was an eight year old girl, who wrapped her baby sister into a shawl and flung her onto her own back to carry home. The weight of the world on her little shoulders, going "home" no doubt to more worries. A lot of the shacks in the area were wiped out this season due to massive mud slides.

One by one, or little family group, by group they disappeared into the jungle.

And I cried.
I cried for myself.
For what a jerk I am. For how much I take for granted. And for how insignificant and silly my problems are compared to what these kids face every day of their lives.

I cried for them.
For toothaches, for head lice, for fleas.
For not having water.
For being cold.
For knowing hunger.

I cried for the unfairness of life.
For believing that God loves these kids every bit as much as he loves me, and yet, why am I given so much? And these kids have so little.

And then Sam had to remind me, that in spite of it all--they are happy. They don't know any different. Life is simple. And they are happy.

I have to believe that, or I don't sleep at night.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ecuador Trip Highlights Version Dos

A few things in Ecuador got lost in the translation. Like the one night we went to the ice cream shop and the kids ordered "Buble GUN" cones, containing blue goo and chunks of chicle shrapnel.

Or some of the tee shirts (click on image for larger size)(Melissa, this one's for you):

I am not sure what an Ecuadorian Electrical Pageant is, but I am considering coming back on June 9th to see it.

And you need to click on this one to appreciate it.

And the logic of this sign which roughly translates to:
Normal Price: 10 cents
Children, Disabled and third age: 5 cents.
I am not sure why peeing as a normal person costs more than the latter, but this was posted on the entrance of the public bathrooms.

Then there was the Ecuadorian street mall with this store (Peg, this one's for you):

That missing “O” seems to be pretty vital. Changes the whole meaning, doesn’t it?

The bottled water you can purchase in Ecuador boasts this label:

Apparently the bottled water is so good you can just hand it over to the pale skinned, blue-eyed visiting American babies and let them chug it down. While laying down. And where are the native babies, you ask? Oh, yeah...they breast-feed until they are like nine. I saw that here too.

I have a morbid fascination with cemeteries. Ecuador did not disappoint. The cemetery in Guayaquil was humongous! And cool. There were the crypts, family mausoleums and then on the fringes of the cemetery there were random markers going up the hill into the jungle, where it was overgrown.

And here is a cemetery we passed in the bus on the way to Cuenca. You need to click on it, and imagine it late at night. <<<shiver>>> And maybe some vampires, but not hot vampires like the Cullens.<<<(good)shiver>>>

There were a whole lot of really, really cool Cathedrals in Ecuador too. Here are a few favorites:

And of course, the LDS temple in Guayaquil. We finally found a taxi driver who knew where the temple was. Typically Mormon temples are built on hillsides, and are easily visible from the surrounding area. It was so awesome to be driving along the cobblestone streets and see the temple pop up almost out of nowhere.

Whew, another picture heavy post!
I leave you with some more meat market goodness:

More tomorrow!