Rachel and I have spent our anniversary probably in a different state every year, and they have been wonderful, and this year is our first international anniversary.

"I'm home anywhere, if you are where I am." (Rich) Unashamedly, I once again abuse this quasi-public forum to thank my wife for being with me these last 4 years, that she has made so lovely.


Pumpkin Tale

One of the nice parts about living at Tenwek is the availability of fresh produce. We may not be able to drive to the grocery store, but there are plenty of little wooden fruit and vegetable stands near the hospital, and even people walking up to our doors on a fairly regular basis, selling stuff. I've been making Maggie's baby food since she started on solids several months ago, and now figuring out what to feed her has gotten a bit more challenging. We decided to see if she liked pumpkin (as she was already a fan of butternut squash, which is not very accessible here). One of the first days after our arrival, our house helper Ruth took us to the market and we mentioned that we wanted to buy a pumpkin. She walked us by a few shops and deemed their pumpkins, priced around 120 shillings (or $1.5), too expensive. She assured us she could find us one for 50 shillings instead. But she had no luck at the market the next week either, and so told us she was going to buy a pumpkin at a shop near her house, around an hour away.

The next day she arrived at our house, pumpkin-less. "I have bought you a very nice pumpkin! Very big!" she announced. However, it was so big that she could not carry it to our house. So she said she would keep it at her house until she could find a car to bring it. What? We were wondering if this was some sort of pumpkin scam. :) But lo and behold, on Christmas Eve, she brought the pumpkin. She wasn't working for us that day, she was working for another family, who didn't need her until 9am (we have her come at 8) so she could "walk slower" and carry the pumpkin. She was right, it was very big. And very tasty. It's now all baked and pureed and waiting to be either eaten by Maggie or turned into bread, muffins, stew... All for the low low price of 75 cents.



Behold, the Kenyan shilling, which is currently running around 75 to the US Dollar. We're starting to get used to thinking in shillings, which definitely wasn't the case during our Nairobi shopping spree, which was followed by a good week of pouring over receipts, doing conversions, and thinking "We spent that much for that?" (or that little...)

The interesting thing about this picture is that all three of the coins are 1 shilling each. So why the variety in color, size, and print? No idea.


Requested Photos (of Maggie)

Thought we'd share some cuteness here from our first days at Tenwek. Here's a new Moby wrap hold: Africa style.
This is Rose, Maggie's new Kenyan nanny. She's a very sweet lady, and Maggie seems to really enjoy her, which is a relief for Mommy.
Mags and Mommy sporting 1/2 pint shirts courtesy of Aunt Jena and Chunkle Brian (Clumpie's Ice Cream, yeah!)
Daddy gets to read to 2 little girls now! Maggie seems more interested in Anna than the book (and vice versa!).
Christmas morning, we skyped Grandma and Maggie got to open some presents while Grandma watched, still on Christmas Eve, in Arizona.
Maggie and Abi, in their Christmas finery. The matching colors were not planned.
Maggie, enjoying her new toys (a block set, a puzzle, and 2 books)


Merry Christmas (from Maggie)

We pour our hearts out on this blog and still, all anyone wants is more pictures of Maggie. Sigh. Well, I understand...she is cute. :) So here's Maggie in all her Christmas festivity-ware (the dress was mine for my first Christmas, and we dressed her in it Thanksgiving weekend for pictures). Merry Christmas to all! Thank you Lord for your amazing gift.


A Chapter Closes

A very long time ago, it seems, we wrote that 2009 would be a banner year for us--having a baby, graduating from residency, selling the house, moving to Africa. Along the way, we've learned some tough but good lessons that God's timing is not our timing. Nothing really happened on our timetable. Maggie was late (OK, only 2 days, but I thought for sure she'd be early!) but a perfect arrival, coming on the day my and Eric's vacation time started. We graduated. At least that happened on time. And the months went by, and no house sale. We prayed. We cried. We made Plan B, and C, and D. We wondered if we had heard God wrong. We wondered why something seemingly so insignificant was delaying our departure to Africa. We moved to the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. We wrote many blogs. (See here, here, and here). And then, stepping out in faith, we bought our tickets to Nairobi without selling the house.

So, in November, we received an offer on our house. We didn't share the news with many people, because the sale was contingent on the bank accepting our short sale, which is basically loan forgiveness to the non-real estate folks. We asked them to ignore the difference between what we owed the bank and what the offer on the home was for. It was exciting to have an offer, but we didn't want to get our hopes up, and were told the process could take up to six months.

Ten days before our departure to Kenya, we received word that the bank had accepted our offer, and all the terms, in record time. We signed the papers the day before we left. Our house closed today. We are speechless with gratitude for God's most perfect provision.

"Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits." --Psalm 103:2
"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy." --Psalm 126:3


Home Tour Part 3

Part The Third and Final

Home Tour Part 2

Part The Second

Home Tour Part 1

This was initially a single 3-minute video tour of our new home but we couldn't get it loaded, so now it's in three parts. We'll get the other 2 up as soon as internet here allows.


Shopping Escapades

We wanted to share a unique experience we've had recently which is sort of African and yet has nothing to do with Africa, really. It's being a Westerner, shopping for food in Nairobi. Some of you may have seen my facebook comment about spending $700 on groceries and thought, those extravagant missionaries! They must have been buying peanut butter and ice cream and kobe beef steak! But believe me, for someone whose food budget over the last several years ran between $150 and $200 per month, the realization of the cost of our groceries nearly gave me heart failure. Especially because I don't think it's that extravagant of a collection.

Let me go through the grocery shopping process with you. We arrived in Nairobi on a Thursday night and on Friday morning another missionary family picked us up and took us to what looked like a very fancy shopping mall. Inside was what I could basically describe as a Super WalMart. Remember now that Eric and I had been in country for about 12 hours, and had just completed a 24 hour journey, and we had been up most of the night with our jet-lagged daughter. We're shown the microwaves (you need one of these), the toasters, the hot pots. Maggie needs to eat. Eric goes to the cellphone counter, where he is still standing 30 minutes later when I come looking for him. The missionary wife grabs me to start food shopping. We start with the spices, the nuts, the “granola ingredients.” She's throwing stuff in her cart with abandon. I'm standing there wondering which black pepper is the cheapest and which spices I need to get by. She turns to me. “You should be putting stuff in your cart—you need this!” Right. Never bought dried papaya before, but I've never made granola. Do I need peanuts? Well, I never buy them in the States, but...into the cart they go. Up and down the aisles we go, a constant commentary about availability and good brands and eating carbs for weeks at Tenwek if I'm not careful to plan ahead with my shopping. Cans of peaches (was that really $3.50? oh well), boxes of milk (you can buy it straight from the cow if you want at Tenwek but I'd recommend getting some of these), molasses (for cookies?), canned cream of mushroom soup (get a lot of those, we never see these!), enchilada sauce (if you see something you might want, get it now because it might not be here next time), ketchup (the Kenyan brands are disgusting), a can of Ragu spaghetti sauce for $5 (for emergencies)....whew. Three hours later we were done. Sort of. We had still not bought and perishables—no dairy, no meat, no produce. Those were at different stores.

The next day we headed to the ABC Center, home of Gilani's Butchery, Chandarama Supermarket, and Zucchini's Greengrocer. The meat was the kicker--$5/lb for chicken breast and $10/lb for cheese (although, it was New Zealand cheddar, which was the cheapest, and a terrific find for us). We saw a jar of monkey gland on the shelves amongst the other spice jars. What? Eric almost bought it out of curiosity but we had already spent more than I felt comfortable with. We had been given a list of things we should buy at the butcher, but really. I've never made a pork roast in my life and we don't eat bacon. The list got modified somewhat. Then to Chandarama. The problem with Kenyan grocery shopping is that stores aren't guaranteed to have certain items. For example, the Nakumatt store didn't have baking soda or powdered sugar, so we had to go elsewhere. Finally, at Zucchini's, we got some good deals, like fresh green beans for about 30 cents a pound, and snow peas for the same.

Now to Tenwek. We arrived at our apartment to find a bill for another $120 and 50 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of sugar, a gallon of sunflower oil, a giant tub of Crisco-like stuff, and multiple insect-killing products, among other things. So I'm settling into my house, hoping the food I bought makes enough meals to feed us for six to eight weeks until we go back to Nairobi. Fortunately, produce can be bought here (during the rainy season) at very cheap prices. Maybe next time will be cheaper, as we figure out what we do and don't need, what items are better deals than others, etc. I think we had imagined that yes, certain foods would be expensive, but there would be some budget options as well. Why not eat like Kenyans? Well, apparently Kenyans eat a cornmeal mush or porridge for every meal, with very little else. More to come on the adventures of eating in Africa. Maybe for our next trip to Nairobi, we'll splurge on the monkey gland.


Maggie Says Hello to Simba

For months now, we've been trying to teach Maggie that "Simba" is "lion" in Swahili, not just a Disney character. Then, at the guest house in Nairobi where we stayed, she met her first simba, which was a Disney character. Hmm...


The State Race Revisited

It remains to be seen, now that we live in a foreign country, how our longstanding state race will proceed, but we must revisit it once more, before moving on to international life, since there has recently been a significant advance (and also we can't post any pictures of Kenya, given a current internet snafu).

In our sundry travels these last five months, Maggie has clocked a total of 20 states in her young life, and her parents have made some slow advance, but on our way back to Tennessee, Rachel surged forward at a rate unthinkable for this late in the race, namely getting 2 new states in one day, bringing her to a grand total of 49, including all of the contiguous states.

We drove through the state of Louisiana, and actually found it really fun. The best part was the bridge through the wetlands that went on for about 20 miles, exactly like the picture in our minds. Then we cruised across Mississippi (less impressive, but oh well) and stayed there for the night, before proceeding on to Alabama.

Will Eric ever catch up? It looks unlikely at this point, but who knows how long Alaska might take? Below is Rachel's map. Here is our updated maps.


Kenya Arrival

Posted here.


No Keys

There is much to say. We leave for Kenya in the morning. We have said goodbye to almost all our family and friends. Sometimes the big picture is a little too hard to grasp, but maybe an instructive small picture would work instead.

I have no keys. For the first time since I was about 14 years old. Our house keys and garage door opener have been mailed to Michigan. Our last car is sold. Our work keys were turned back in. The only thing left on the ring is a Kroger tag, and a bike lock key to a lock that we can't remember.

There will be new keys, but for now, nothing. What is it that's said? We empty ourselves so that we can be filled. We die so that we can be born again. "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies..." It is the undressing before the redressing. All of the locked places of the world are now barred to us.

Maybe this is over dramatic, but the moment feels very dramatic. I've heard it said that early Christians were baptized in rivers, and that as they went under the water, they shed their old garments, and a new clean garment was placed on the surface of the water. As they rose from their baptism, they were clothed again.

And so I return to the newness that is all in all. The life and light of men that draws us to do strange things, but strange things that lead to life and light. Amen.


Day #2: Still in Texas

Yesterday was a day of epic driving. Maggie did amazingly well, and was much happier than mom and dad at the end of it.

We awoke, and on checking out from the hotel, we found that I-10 was closed for snow maintenance. The whole thing, and the sheriff's people said it would be 3 hours at least before it was opened. Now, in west Texas, there are not exactly lots of secondary streets. So we took a 2-hr detour through some awful snowy roads, but it paid off when we got in front of the storm front, back on I-10, before the road had even opened back where we started.

We had a few good hours, and then the combination of heavy rain and rush hour in San Antonio and Austin made the conditions slow once again. We finally arrived at Temple, TX, home of Peter and Sarah Bast, where we were welcomed to a cozy home, good friends, cute kiddos (pictures later), and a yummy dinner.

It's been a great time, and we're thankful that today we're only driving 3 hours to Houston...


Day 1: Phoenix to West Texas

What in the world? Who would expect to run into a winter storm in El Paso and even south of there? Not us, and yet it has happened.

This morning, we said our goodbyes in Scottsdale, and got out to a very early start. Some rain starting around Tucson, but no problem. We had been trying to arrange a meet-up with Eric's old college friend, Melissa (Betts) Gonzalez, and her husband Alfredo and their son Matias. But with the holiday busyness, no definite plans had been made, until Eric got a call just as they were passing through downtown El Paso. After a wee 10 minutes of back-tracking, they arrived at the Gonzalez home, where we had a great time catching up, learning about hip-hop music production, and drinking some really awesome Mexican cocoa. Maggie and Matias hit it off really well.

However, from the time that we left El Paso to where we are now, a Motel 6 in the small town of Van Horn, it was all snow and sleet. A difficult end, but Maggie held out. We'll see how the next full day of driving goes, as we make our way out to Temple, TX, to visit the Bast clan.


Goodbye Gallup

We have officially finished our sojourn in Gallup, NM. We are currently in Phoenix for a couple days, then will start off across the great nation of Texas, back to Tennessee. 1 1/2 weeks until African departure.

Ye faithful blog readers are likely aware that some aspects of our time in Gallup were difficult (including the departure delay that the entire time represented). We continue to think about the reason for this time. Yet, as we leave, there are some things we will miss:

-The Gallup Flea Market
-Yummy Fry Bread
-The Red Rock
-The Payson Mountains on the way down to Phoenix
-The Patience of Navajo Patients
-The Excellent Staff that Eric got to Work With and Enjoy

Thanks to those who helped us on our way. We are, indeed, now on our way...

Book Review Brings The Bacon

Now that we're moving to Kenya, our periodic blog book reviews for Multnomah publishing will likely come to an end, so we're now free agents, and boy are we in demand!

Andrew Peterson, whose books were the first and decidedly best books we reviewed, is the proprietor of a website known as the Rabbit Room, which has, among other things, discussions of some fine books, and they have invited their readers to post their own reviews.

The good news is that now we can review awesome books, and I posted my thoughts on the Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and was fortunate enough to capture their first weekly prize for most beloved review (though I'm not quite sure many other reviews were posted). Anyway, we scored a special edition of Andrew's Christmas album, which is certainly one of the best we have ever enjoyed, and plus I got props on one of my favorite websites. Behold, the props and the review!


Miniature Disasters

Sometimes people ask us if Maggie ever cries. Of course, the answer is yes. She just has her "public face" and her "private face," and tends to be happier in social situations. When nap time is approaching (or has already come and gone), the crying tends to emerge. I'd like to share one such example that happened yesterday, and centers around the discount stroller we purchased at WalMart during our first few days here (only $12!).

Yesterday Maggie and I drove up to the hospital to visit Eric during his lunch break. It was getting close to nap time, but not yet there. She charmed the staff, we visited, all was well. The plan was to take the stroller and walk back home, just over a mile, so we wouldn't have to pick Eric up at the end of his workday, and we could get some fresh air and exercise. By the time we left the hospital, it was 20 minutes past Maggie's nap time. Foreshadowing.

There is, I'm sure, a reason our stroller was so cheap. About 2-3 weeks ago, one of the back wheels fell off. There's a pin that attaches it to the frame of the stroller, and it looks like the endcap keeping the pin in place fell off and was never seen again. I was able to slide the pin back in, and usually it would stay in place for a week before the wheel would fall off again. Well, it fell off on the way home from church Sunday, so I figured we were good for another week or so once I fixed it. Just laying out the pieces of the puzzle for the background here. You know, the perfect storm.

Approximately 0.2 miles into our walk home, the back wheel fell off. Dang it. Couldn't fix it without taking Maggie out of her stroller and sitting her on the ground, so...just kept wheeling her by lifting up the handle of the stroller so the frame didn't drag on the ground. Carried wheel in right hand. Approximately 0.4 miles into our walk home, Maggie started crying. Was somewhat consolable as long as I kept singing her favorite song, "Do, a Deer." Hard to do while walking uphill at 6500 feet. Approximately 0.6 miles into our walk home, the song was no longer cutting it and Maggie was full out wailing. Got her out of the stroller, which helped. Found I could not push a 3 wheeled strolled while carrying an 18 pound infant. Collapsed the stroller. Held it in right hand while carrying Maggie in left arm. Kept walking. Maggie began intermittently wailing and arching her back, making her difficult to hold with one arm. Approximately 0.8 miles into our walk, decided to ditch the stroller in lieu of dropping screaming infant. Hung it up over a railing in the parking lot of the church we've been attending. Readjusted screaming infant, which calmed her down. Walked remaining 0.2 miles home. Calmed her down over 10-15 minutes by rocking her and singing "I Am Jesus' Little Lamb" (her favorite naptime song) approximately 20 times. She went to sleep. I had to laugh at the absurdness of it all.

Eric went to pick up the stroller on his way home and it was gone. Also checked the dumpster. Gone. At least I had removed the toys from it. We were only going to use it through Friday and then ditch in anyways. Hopefully someone puts it to good use. Or throws it away.



This last weekend, we had plans to drive up to Moab, UT and meet up with one of Rachel's good friends from med school who lives in Salt Lake. We were looking forward to the visit and the national parks. Of course, plans changed when Rachel and Maggie flew out to Michigan for the funeral. We came back on a Saturday afternoon, though, and Eric already had the weekend off, so we decided to improvise a mini-vacation in Albuquerque. Eric got us a smokin' deal on a really nice hotel called Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town off of priceline. I love that website. Old Town is a fun area built around the 1700s and 1800s. We spent Sunday morning touring around the area, attending a 300 year old mission church named San Felipe, and trying to stay warm in the 45 degree (and windy) weather.

Here's Maggie, all bundled up and enjoying the ride.
On our way out of town Sunday afternoon, we stopped at the Laguna Indian pueblo, about 30 miles west of Albuquerque, to see another old mission church, pictured below. We couldn't take pictures inside, but there was some neat Native American artwork adorning the whitewashed adobe walls. All in all, a nice weekend trip. Our last until we leave New Mexico...


Return of the Ethnic Bread!

We were down in Phoenix a couple weeks ago, and had a wonderful time hanging with the fam. While there, we decided to re-engage the baking experiments of yore, with a southwestern standard, that it, some kind of fried dough, in this case sopapilla.

Caveat: We did use a mix. In fact, we didn't think of making sopapillas until saw the mix, but later learned it was just flour, baking powder, and salt.

Anyways, it was a good time to use lots of oil, and we leaned that oils have a "smoke point", which is
the equivalent of a boiling point, since they don't boil until temperatures high enough to cause the people around to perish. They didn't turn out particularly fluffy, but they were nice and crispy and were a great excuse for eating lots of honey. We weren't hungry for a very long time afterward.

Viva la fried doughs of the Southwest!


Missing A2: #1

Some of the most faithful devotees can likely recall our list of Top 10 things We Will (Do) Miss About Ann Arbor. You also may remember the singular fact that we never never finished the last post. You may think that this is because we wanted to build suspense for a stupendous ending. You may. But you would be very wrong.

Nonetheless, Rachel and Maggie are back from our last trip to Michigan (and an unexpected one, as that), and we thought we should use this occasion to finish our list. The #1 thing on the list is...
"Specialty Grocery Stores". You probably think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

Two caveats: First, the list is not really in any important order. Second, of course what we miss the most is our many friends and our church, and believe me, several months out now, we are acutely aware of that. However, you all already knew that, so it didn't seem necessary to add it to the list.

So, on to the anticlimactic groceries. First there was Kroger and Meijer. And of course, Ann Arbor has many high-end stores like Whole Foods and Plum Market, but we're not qualified to speak on those. But we did discover Trader Joe's, the happiest food store ever. And a slew of international groceries, including Dos Hermanos, Bombay Grocers, Hua Xing Asia Market, and Aladdin's Middle Eastern Market/Sunshine Fruit Market. Each of these made our food discoveries an experience in and of themselves, and we miss them, especially in Gallup. And though, we never had the guts to purchase a durian from Hua Xing, it was still nice to know we had the option.

However, our food adventures will certainly not come to a standstill in Kenya, and we are planning some kind of food-related new year's resolution for 2010, in the style of the past Ethnic Bread experience.


Helm's Deep

For the sake of nostalgia, I'll repost this picture, which Justin Steidinger shared with me a few weeks ago. This is circa 1998, around the time when I graduated from high school, playing with my old band "Helm's Deep", which was back in the pre-LOTR movie days, when no one knew that reference. So it was cool, right?

Isaac and Arwen Meek (now Jones), Matt Sigmon, Justin Steidinger, and I played together for a couple years, at various random local venues, mostly for very small audiences, but we had a great time doing it, and I look back fondly on it all.

We knew we would make it famous as a rock band, and that we would be together forever, and we were right.

Thanks, Justin, for the picture.


Tribute to Grandpa

My grandpa, Walter Selle, died this morning at the age of 90. He died peacefully in his sleep, which is a blessing. The phone call I got from my mom this morning is one that a small part of me has been waiting to get for the last 8 years...but even things that are expected can be unexpected when they finally arrive. He has been in failing health for a number of years, but has outlived many expectations.
Maggie and I are flying out to Michigan tomorrow morning for the funeral, which is on Thursday. Another small blessing in all of this is that we leave for Kenya one month from today. It would have been much harder to have gotten this phone call in a few months, knowing we'd be unable to come home for the funeral. Why has God brought us to Gallup and delayed our departure to Kenya? We still don't know. But if this is one of the reasons, then I'm grateful for it.

Grandpa served in World War II in the Pacific, and I occasionally got to hear some of his stories. He never got to see the WW2 memorial in Washington DC, but he talked about it a lot, and I was able to show him pictures from a trip of mine several years ago. He was a long time employee of Michigan Bell. I remember times of visiting him when we'd go mini-golfing, or to church, or to the video rental store. I'm glad he got to come to my wedding. I'm glad we got to celebrate his 90th birthday and 60th anniversary of marriage to my grandma. I'm glad he got to meet his great-granddaughter, three times no less! I will always remember Grandpa as quiet but gentle, with a sweet laugh. And I'm glad that the angels are rejoicing at his arrival in heaven today.


Serendipitous Meetings

In our sundry wandering these past months, we have had a number of wonderful and sometimes amazingly spontaneous meetings, and two days ago, when we arrived in Phoenix for a brief break from work and Gallup, we had another.

A week or two ago, we heard from our cousin Alex (of Tuba Museum fame), that he had gotten a new job sequencing the DNA of Clumber Spaniel dogs, who are apparently incredibly inbred, but that's another story. His new company was flying him out to Phoenix for a few days for training, and wasn't it too bad that we weren't still there?

Well, as it turned out, we were coming back into town at approximately the same time. So we got into Phoenix and picked him up from his hotel, with enough time to grab some lunch and drop him off at the airport.

The restaurant selection process was highly scientific, befitting the behavior of our spaniel geneticist cousin, namely wandering aimlessly around the vicinity of the airport, until we found Carolina's mexican food, which turned out to be an amazing hole-in-the-wall place were latinos, white business men, and homeless guys hang out together to eat award-winning tortillas and tamales in a room of concrete floors and broken ceiling fans. At least, Alex can't find that in Grand Rapids. We were and are super thankful for the chance to meet up another time with Alex, whose company we always enjoy so much.


Home Update

Just an update on the home situation.

Secret Weakness for the Exotic

...or maybe not so secret.

Consider this a special interest story. I (Eric) have been fairly silent on the blog front while I've been working, but we're enjoying a brief break right now visiting Rachel's mom, and so I thought I'd chip in with something to say. That is, anything to say.

A couple weeks ago in Chinle, I came to an important self-revelation, a weakness for the exotic, to the point of nonsense. Case in point: We head to the grocery and need to choose a coffee creamer. "Parisian Almond Creme" one reads. Ooh, let's get that one. Never mind that it's really just almond flavored. No, no, I say. What about the Parisian? What about the exotic spelling of "creme"?

In truth, I am publicly letting you all in on an easy way to impress me. Have us over for dinner. Serve us spaghetti. Tell me it's a Maltese pasta. I mean, odds are that they have some kind of marinara pasta in Malta somewhere, right? Yet I'm enthralled. Serve me rice and beans, but make sure that you let me know that it's in the style of the Nepalese peasantry. Ooh, really? They eat it plain and without spices? How exotic! Mix together whatever random ingredients that are leftover in your kitchen, and call it Tajik potpurri. Wow, fascinating taste! Give it a name, and I am quite sure that I'll be able to taste the cultural nuances.

Even if they're not there.


Halloween Cuteness

We really weren't thinking much about Halloween this year (since we were planning on being in Kenya by now), but when Maggie and I were out in Nashville several weeks ago, Aunt Mariah came through and picked out a really cute pink leopard costume. We decided to trick or treat at the hospital since Eric was working, and skype the grandmas, but not walk around the neighborhood. It seemed a bit embarrassing to me since a six month old obviously doesn't eat candy, and thus it would all be for me, benefiting from her cuteness....but anyways, here are just a couple of pics. Couldn't help myself! There's also a little detachable tail on the backside, not featured in the photos, but just adds to ensemble.


Cheaper than Food

There is a burger place in Ann Arbor that advertises as being "cheaper than food." I never really understood this, and in fact, it didn't really inspire me to eat there (so I never tried their food). One of the first places Eric and I saw after we moved to Gallup was a Chinese restaurant that advertised as "Everything's $1.50". We postulated that this could not, in fact, be the case for a place that would be able to stay in business, and maybe they charged $1.50 for the soy sauce packets, and the napkins, and....etc. But their advertising worked, because we were curious enough to pay them a visit yesterday on Eric's day off.
We walked in, and while the menu posted on the wall behind the counter featured many items that were not $1.50, everything in the steam table (think Panda Express or something) was actually just $1.50. How much food could we really get for that price? Answer: a lot. We ordered 4 entrees (including the lo mein noodles instead of the fried rice) and 2 egg rolls (which were $1.50 for 2) and walked out with a giant bag of food for less than $8. Note the amounts in the photo below. It was so much food, in fact, that we are figuring 6 servings from this. So basically, $1.50 per person per meal. I can't make dinner with generic WalMart ingredients for that, unless we're maybe making lentils without any other side dishes to go along, and we drink water. I'm sure you're wondering what kind of quality ensues from such cheapness, and I answer, the same quality you get from any other fast food Chinese place. Not spectacular, but not bad. The healthiness level is of course a different question, which we will avoid answering. We could start eating here every week...



We didn't plan on being in New Mexico. We didn't plan on snow and ice. Therefore, though we are Michigan snow veterans, we gave our scrapers away and left our coats in storage. What do then, when the unexpected happens? A spatula, mayhaps? It may not be quite tough enough.


Eat Your Heart Out, MN

Or, it snows in New Mexico? Eric and I were not anticipating the sight that met our eyes when we looked out the front door this morning. When people said yesterday that it was going to snow, I thought flurries. I really did think that when the snow melted in Michigan last April, it would be the last I saw of it for quite some time. No scraper, no boots, no winter coat...and three inches of snow on the windshield.To add to the irony, Eric turned on Christmas music this morning because he decided that it's the most Christmassy weather we'll likely see for the next 2+ years. I'm confused as to where all this precipitation came from when the air is so dry here in Gallup that I wake up with a bloody nose every morning and the backs of my hands are literally cracking.
But on an upside, Maggie was excited to wear her very first sweater this morning. Snow on Columbus Day, Minnesota? Check out our three inches on October 28! Brings back childhood memories of trick or treating in snowsuits....

Maggie says, "I like snow!"


Visit to Chinle

We're taking the opportunity while in Gallup to spend some concentrated time exploring the Great American Southwest. We've already checked out El Morro and Red Rock State Park, as well as Sedona and Walnut Canyon (from our time in Phoenix). There are plans in store for a visit to Moab and Four Corners as well. It's been awhile since we've explored an area so thoroughly (but what else have we to do?)!
This last weekend we had a chance to visit Chinle, on the Navajo Reservation. One of Eric's fellow residents is working at the Chinle Hospital (also part of the Indian Health Service) and we were able to stay with her and her husband. Chinle is right next to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced deh-shay), which is an absolutely gorgeous site to see. Above, Eric and Maggie are standing on the canyon rim. The canyon is sacred Navajo property, so most of it can only be explored through rim overlooks (which are still pretty cool) unless you have a Navajo guide with you. The one exception is a hike down to the canyon floor to see some ruins, which we did. Maggie held up remarkably well on the 2 hr roundtrip hike.
One of the highlights of the canyon, in our opinion, is a site called Spider Rock. You can see the top of it above, to the left of the picture, but a better view is below. The canyon walls must be about 500 feet high, and Spider Rock is an almost impossibly thin, freestanding rock that extends almost to the top of the canyon. Very cool. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend, with a stop at Window Rock and several servings of frybread, as well as a Halloween party Saturday night thrown by one of Jen's coworkers. Thanks for your hospitality, Jen and Jerry!


Solid Food!

We are often asked, from a professional medical standpoint, "How does one know that their infant is ready to start solid food?" Experience has taught us thus:

1. Usually 4-6 months old
2. Mealtimes have become more unmanageable for the rest of the family, since the infant is so interested in food that they grab at anything they can find.
3. The infant is willing to eat anything in their hands, including pieces of a red envelope. (No worries, we are quite confident it all made it's way, recognizably, through the alimentary canal.)
4. The booster seat/high chair thing arrives in the mail from Babies R' Us.
5. Basically, when one's infant has all the characteristics of the infant seen above, one Maggie McLaughlin.

This morning, Maggie ventured formally into the world of solid food, with a meal of rice cereal. She did really well with it, and she mainly loved chewing on the spoon, with the effect that some food got into her mouth and into her stomach. She was, as usual, quite active, and wanted to use her hands to grab at the cup of rice cereal or to manipulate the spoon on her own, thus necessitating the two-handed method of baby feeding seen below. We picked up a sweet potato and a squash from the grocery store today, and we look forward to a new type of food adventure over the next couple weeks!


Book Recommendations

We are heading to the library today, because we have read most of the books we brought along. So, though we interminably give the recommendations, this is your opportunity to tell us what we should read. Feel free to give multiple suggestions.


Conincidence? I Think Not.

Allow me, if you will, one more story of God's great provision and faithfulness. As Eric mentioned, Maggie and I are currently in Nashville visiting his family members. We are becoming more acutely aware every day of the dwindling time we have to spend with family before departing (especially since we got our tickets!! Departure date for Nairobi is Dec 9!), and so this has been a great chance for the McLaughlins to see a bit more of Maggie. Some people we know that we have already said goodbye to for the last time for the next 2-3 years. Some people we know we may not see again this side of heaven. And some people we hope to see one more time before we go, but don't know how in the world it will work out. My brother Eric is one of those people--we last saw him in early July, and I was starting to think it was going to be a long time before Maggie saw her godfather again.

Those of you who know Eric (brother Eric, not husband Eric), know that he's been working at an organic farm community for developmentally disabled adults. He loves it, since he gets to help the disabled community and "be with the earth" at the same time. Because it's in north central Minnesota, we haven't gotten up to visit at all. He's currently taking some vacation time to go on a three week choir tour with a special audition-only group...they started in St. Louis, travelled up to NYC and down to Georgia, and are now headed back via Chicago. Because I was planning to be in New Mexico the whole time, I paid no attention to his itinerary.

Yesterday, Sharon (aka Grammy) took Maggie and me up to Belmont church for a young moms Bible study that she helps lead/mentor. As the study was ending, her phone rang. When she called the number back a few minutes later, it was my brother! His choir had finished a concert in Georgia the night before and were heading to spend the night in Louisville, KY. They happened to be in the Nashville area around lunch and decided to stop (with no previous plans to do so). Eric figured, I have an hour, maybe I can connect with Sharon. He had NO IDEA that Maggie and I were in town. Also, Tim and Sharon live 30 minutes south of Nashville, but their church is in downtown Nashville, where Eric's bus stopped. If we had skipped the Bible study and had stayed home istead, we would not have made it to downtown in time to see Eric. And in fact, my original plan was not to fly in to Nashville until today, the 16th, but the frequent flier ticket wasn't available to be used except on the 13th.

So many factors coming together to allow me to see my brother, and Maggie to see her godfather and uncle, maybe for the last time in 2 years. We were all in shock the entire half hour, but it was a wonderful reunion. God looks down and smiles at His handiwork, bringing families together. What a blessing.


Pyramid Rock

Rachel and Maggie are currently in Tennessee, visiting family, and today is my only day off from the urgent care clinic during the 8 days that they're gone, which is just as well, since I'm sure I couldn't entertain myself very well all by myself.

But I was glad for a day off today, and I spent the morning hiking Pyramid Rock, which is in Red Rock State Park, just a few miles outside of Gallup. I didn't see that balloon, but it was otherwise a great hike. It took just a couple hours, and had about a 1000 ft climb (up to 7500 ft), with a great view of the red rock. And I only saw one other person on the trail, which is the way I wanted it.

2 random musings from the workings of my tired legs:

-The centrality of the psalmist's claim that he knows only two things, that God is loving and that God is strong. These attributes are evident at the top of a beautiful mountain. But they are also central, for if this is true (and I absolutely believe that it is), then all else falls into place. Then, we can "be still and know" that God is God, that he will be exalted in the heavens and the earth. And we can rejoice about it. I wouldn't get excited about assurance that any old attribute would be exalted, but a God full of Loving Strength and Strong Love... this brings peace.

-Jesus told his disciples that his food was to do God's will. By this, I assume he means that he gets his nourishment, fulfillment, and ability to keep going from doing God's work. I do believe that God has called me to medicine. But often it can feel so draining. Not like food, at least. Why? Well, part of his will is to rest (see commandment 4), so maybe we need the "sabbaticals". But maybe I don't see or remember that this is God's work, that he rejoices to see the sick shown compassion and (often so clumsily) find their way to health and wholeness.


Navajo Flea Market

Our first visitor to Gallup (of many, I'm sure) has arrived. Rachel's mom Jean came in around lunchtime, and members of the McLaughlin home were recovered at least enough for a brief cultural foray. On the north edge of Gallup, off the previously named Hwy 666, there is a Navajo Flea Market every Saturday, which is apparently of such a magnitude that there is nothing else like it in the Navajo Nation (which is probably the size of Michigan or so).

So we wanted to check it out and grab some Navajo lunch. We had thought that Wal-Mart was the most extensive retail outlet around here (and the Wal-Mart is huge), but the flea market wins when it comes to selection of used tires, prepared food, dried chilies, puppies, or concert tickets to Grand Funk Railroad.
It was fun to browse, but we were there for food, specifically Navajo tacos, which Jason Fader says are his favorite food ever. We found them at a totally classic stand. Needless to say, we were the only white people there. The kitchen was in a trailer (pictured below), and the chef had a t-shirt that read "All my heroes have killed Cowboys". We sat on old folding tables, and there was a Coleman camp stove nearby for a reason we never discovered. Rachel noted that the next table had a scene which much resembled the Don on the day of his daughter's wedding. We didn't pry.

The Navajo taco was wonderful, and huge. The entire tray above is one taco split into two. It's beans, cheese, lettuce, on Navajo fry bread, which is sort of like sopapillas (for fans of Mexican food) or elephant ears (for fans of midwestern state fairs).

But this was far from the only unique culinary experience available for the trying. We had to save the tamales, pinons, and mutton stews for future visits. However, we couldn't pass up Blue Corn Mush. That's the actual name, and if you click on the topmost picture, you can see the neon green sign advertising it.

I asked the really nice lady at the stand what it was. She said it was blue corn that's been mushed. Aha... You also have to add cedar ashes, and the sugar or salt as you prefer, served up hot. It was quite good with sugar. It tasted like Cream of Wheat, but more mushy, and I think I can imagine the taste of cedar ashes (?).

All in all, a brilliant cultural outing to combat the stir-craziness that comes from caring for a sick family and working a lot.


Gallupian Fun Facts

Now that we have been living in our new "home" for over a week, we thought it would be fun to share all the wonderful unique features of this place. It took some searching, but we did finally come up with the following list.

1. Route 66, aka "America's Main Street," is the heart of town. It definitely has a "has been" look to it. I'm sure that there used to be a hey day, and this section of town was hopping, but now it's just a long long street of run down hotels and fast food restaurants.

2. There are a lot of trains. A Lot. You don't want to get stuck on the wrong side of the tracks or you might never get home. I'm not sure of the exact number, but I hear a train whistle at least every 15 minutes during the day. Rachel and Maggie will get to ride the Amtrak's Southwest Chief route when they come back from an upcoming trip to Nashville (no, they're not taking the train the whole way, just to the airport in Albuquerque).

3. El Rancho, a fun old hotel in town, used to host a lot of movie stars and other famous people. For reasons that escape us.

4. Gallup has been called the "Indian Capitol of the World," even though it's not technically on the reservations.

5. Around 1/3 of the town's population is Native American (mostly Navajo and some Zuni), bt it feels like 90% because the entire Navajo nation comes to shop at the closest WalMart for a 2-3 hour radius.

6. Man, is it windy here. Like, really really windy. Rachel and Maggie tried to take a walk one day and got blown sideways as soon as they stepped through the door. Winds of 25-35 mph are standard fare on an almost daily basis.

7. The town has nothing to do with the Gallup poll, which was named after a statistician.

8. Linguistically, this area is happening. The Navajo language is still widely spoken--Eric has had several patients at the Urgent Care who have communicated only in Navajo (Dine). What's especially interesting is that given the unique nature of the language, the US Military used it as its code language in WW2, a code that was never broken. One of the other main languages here is the Zuni language, which is a language isolate. Basically, that means it is not related to any other language on Earth, and is only spoken by about 9500 people in NM and AZ.

First Days in Gallup

Well, I've been about a week in the urgent care now, and I have the syndrome to prove it. Shockingly, after seeing about 10 flu patients a day, I myself have come down with the bug. A pretty bad bug, actually. One that makes me eat popsicles in the middle of the night when I can't sleep. I worked today in spite of it, but I feel pretty awful, and I'm debating whether or not I can work tomorrow. I drink a lot of green tea, even with a bit of Wild Turkey honey in it (which was randomly left in our apartment, and we didn't have regular honey). So I'm trying to work, because that's why we're here, but it's tough. So please pray for me.

And then Maggie had a slight temp today. She's a bit sleepier than normal, but still pretty playful. Man, I hope she doesn't get anything like what I have. So please please pray for Maggie.

And Rachel is like some kind of Superhero. It's enough to be stuck in a small distant town with an infant, but now she's got two whining babies to care for (OK, Maggie's not that whiny). She's rising to the task like a champ, since I can't be around Maggie, and find myself only minimally able to care for myself. So pray with thanksgiving for Rachel.


c/o Best Western

This summer, we've experienced the joys of living out of suitcases, with a few exceptions. We stopped in Nashville and Phoenix long enough to unpack (3-4 wks is a good length of time for a few drawers). Since moving out of Ann Arbor on July 3, we've stayed in very few hotels thanks to the generosity of friends and family. Now that we've arrived in Gallup, NM, where we plan to stay for a full two months, the temp agency that placed Eric has found us a 2 BR apartment about a mile from the hospital. Unfortunately, it's not ready until the 6th, so we have been staying at a Best Western at the western edge of town, along historic Route 66. Now, we stayed at a hotel in Boone, NC, for almost a week during our SP orientation, but this is different. Then, we hardly spent any time in our room except for sleeping, and maybe an hour or two in the evenings. Now, Eric goes to work every day and I try to figure out how to entertain a five month old in a 400 ft (maybe?) hotel room. Granted, we have a suite (which means a living room separated from the bedroom by 1/2 a wall, and 2 TVs, and a microwave and mini-fridge). But still. I feel like every inch is covered with her stuff--exersaucer and stroller and pack n play in the living area, toys and a blanket strung up under the desk, etc.

Mags and I have been trying to get into a routine. We have our free buffet breakfast downstairs. She naps. We take a long (maybe an hour) through the only residential area nearby...it consists of 3 streets, 2 of which are cul-de-sacs. We walk slow, and sometimes go down the same street twice. She naps again. The next part is problematic, because in my master plan it involved swimming in the pool. But it's been closed for repairs since we arrived. I didn't know this the first day, and got her into a swim diaper and bathing suit, only to see the closed sign too late. Not wanting to waste a swim diaper (not cheap, I say!), we spent some time swimming in the bath tub instead.

We've also managed to not have to eat out since arriving. This is due in large part to my mom's crockpot, on loan. We made a mean pot of lentil soup, out of red lentils, which gave it the Middle Eastern flavor and color that Eric and I have been searching for for quite awhile. And thanks to Trader Joe's, which we stocked up at before leaving Phoenix, the soup went well with a nice 3-buck-Chuck Shiraz.

What will the future hold? An apartment! And who knows what that means, really. Hopefully we will start getting out a bit more. The plan is to find a church tomorrow. Eric and I are still waiting to see if we find out why God has brought us here. I'm sure there are many reasons, some of which we'll know and some not, but we strive for contentment at any rate. We hope to post a blog soon on the similarities between Tenwek and Gallup. There are more than first meet the eye!


Maggie Does Northern Arizona

Yeah, I know I'm a bit belated. It's a little bit embarassing after giving my parents a hard time about belated blogging. But we've been busy. We've been up to Michigan, back to Phoenix, and then out to New Mexico. But that's no excuse for skipping a good post. About 3 weeks ago, my grandma, my parents and I all had a Saturday off! (My schedule is very tough to clear.) So we decided to take a day trip. After reviewing the options from Phoenix, we decided to head north to the Flagstaff area. There are several reasons for this, the most notable being that it is about 30 degrees cooler 2 hours north, because you ascend a full 5000 feet in altitude. That's a vertical mile! Did you know that? I did.

Our first stop was to Walnut Canyon, site of a bunch of 12th century native american cliff dwellings. It was great, and as you can see above, I had a great time in my sling. Well... most of the time. It got rather hot later, after this picture was taken, and well.... it's just hard to stay in a good mood when you're hot and sweaty, right?

I know my parents just posted about the weird cow sign (which I don't really get), but we would be amiss not to mention another bizarre sign. I mean, "No Pets", with a "No coyote" symbol? Does this mean "No Pet Coyotes"? "There are no more pets, because the coyotes ate them all, and then died for lack of pets to eat"? Nonsensical, if you ask me.

And lastly, we drove back to Phoenix via Sedona, and got to see some awesome Red Rock, despite all of the touristy stuff, and I loved the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Man, what fun! We should travel more often. Oh wait, my life has been incessant travel since I was born. Right...