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...


Route 66: Our New Home

We have officially arrived in Gallup, New Mexico, our home for the next two months. We'll give more details later, but it was a good drive up from Phoenix, and we're staying in a hotel right on Route 66, so I guess there are some kicks for us to get here. Although, the Route has a serious "ghost road" feel to it.

We're living in a hotel for a week, and so every meal must be either Crock Pot or microwave. Surely there will be adventures there as well. And tomorrow, suddenly, the high is 57 degrees with a low of 18. A bit of a shift from the 104 in Phoenix yesterday.

One short anecdote: We decided on a whim to take a road through the mountains northeast out of Phoenix, through a town called Payson. It was really beautiful, with some awesome scenery. The little town of Payson had this sign out front. Now, there's nothing funny about a cabaret, but if there was something funny, it would be a sign with a big cow on top of it. I googled it when we arrived in order to share it with you, and found it next to a comment that it's hilarious, and yet you're a bit afraid of meeting the individuals who think that a cow is the appropriate mascot for a cabaret.