Monday, October 26, 2009

Free Fries with a Side of Grace

So, I am a guilty participant in a sordid love affair food. I know, I know, it is full of horrible, terrible, life-threatening fats,calories and sodium. Not too mention it lacks the all-important vitamins and minerals! But, I can't help myself. Offer me a greasy burger and fries and all willpower seeps out of me. I think that there are support groups but I am not ready to admit that I have a problem! Anyway, I was going to try to behave tonight. We were going grocery shopping at Costco (I love that store!) and we were going to be frugal and have dinner there. Still not healthy, but cheap. However, a trap had been set for me. We were passing right by...Jack-in-the-Box. I love french fries pretty much anywhere, but theirs just take the cake. Teeny bit of skin, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, fried to perfection and then you add the magic: the ranch. Not from the pump! Icky! No, the perfectly chilled, conveniently portioned sides of "Buttermilk Ranch Sauce". Oooh, I wax poetic just thinking about it! Joel, as usual, read my mind. "Do you want to stop at Jack's?", he says. Does a flower want sun? Does a child want candy? Yes!Yes!

So we turned around. I have realized that as much as I like their burgers (love me a Sourdough Jack)in my quest to be (somewhat) cheap I decided to just have tacos (they would require a whole other blog post) and fries. We ordered and our food was brought promptly. We dug in, me savoring every bite. Except that I had to share with Carson. Neither of us like curly fries, which are Josie's favorite, and Joel didn't order fries. So, I was stuck sharing with the fry monster. No fun and I was trying not to be selfish. It is especially difficult when after every bite he would say, "I wanna fry!". Too hard to resist! So we shared but I have to say, he got the bigger half. Anyway, our meal was drawing to a close when a Jack employee appeared with a tray. He stood there for half a second and then said, "Oh, they made your order twice. Well, here you go, just have this!"

What? He was like a large black-shirted magical fry fairy! Just when I had given Carson the remainder of my precious potatoes he appears with more! What bliss, and I still had ranch to spare! And, that is not to mention that everything else was also on the tray like a magical, grease-fried episode of deja vu! Things like that make me so happy. Just little things.

And of course, being the strange creature that I am, it made me think about God. How He doesn't obey the law that if you give it all away you have nothing left. Just when I thought I was out of fries, giving them away, more appeared out of nowhere. I didn't ask for them, I didn't even need them, but I got them anyway. Isn't that just the definition of grace? (I know, you are thinking, only Clare could turn fried potatoes into a spiritual experience, but you do have to remember that they were from Jack-in-the-Box.) But really, I think sometimes God just does things like that to tickle us. He also does it on a much larger scale. Like the little check that arrived today when I was thinking that payday was forever away. Like when I think I am the worst mom/wife/cook/blogger/fill in the blank_________ in the world and someone reminds me that "God made you special and He loves you very much." Like when Jesus continues to bless me and work in my life even when I am not paying attention. But especially when I feel like I have given until I have nothing left. In God's economy it is always "time a little something", always a widow's jar of oil. There is always an extra order of fries waiting in the back...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Tale of Two Pumpkin Patches

I hope everyone got the chance to see the pumpkin patch photos I posted on my Facebook page about two weeks ago. We had a fantastic time. There was a corn maze, lots of photo opportunities, a private hay ride, a really neat bin full of corn kernels for the kids to play in and hundreds of gorgeous (cheap!) pumpkins. The weather was perfect and everything was just right. I had wanted to go to a really fun patch and I looked and looked for the perfect one. This one wasn't close, but it had everything I knew I wanted. I also decided (based on previous experience) that I wanted to be sure to go early. I wanted the best choice of pumpkins. It was great.

Well, we received an invitation to go to another patch. I knew it wasn't so much my style. It didn't have the things that I wanted. There was no maze, no corn bin, and the tractor ride was just a quick, basic to the patch and back affair-without hay! Worst of all, we had waited too long. We had a horrible ice storm that damaged all the pumpkins and the few this place had were mostly rotten and stunted. But, all my friends were going. So, we had to go too, right?

You can probably guess where this is headed. I am not maligning the second place (actually, I know it can be fun at the right time) but it struck me that all too often I am influenced by what other people think. I know what the Holy Spirit is telling me, and often it is not what everyone else is saying. That second patch almost felt like the emperor's new clothes. Everyone said it was so much better but in reality they had never tried the other one. Or any other one. I am glad that I listened to my own instincts and went (even with only my family) to the first place. I knew what I wanted. I wish I was that gutsy over important things. Often, when my dad knew we were being wrongly influenced or pressured, "When you are standing alone, you are standing with God." That is not 100% true but most of the time it is. Sometimes, going to the good patch by yourself results in much greater blessings- and better pumpkins!:)- than following the crowd. Because listening to the Holy Spirit is always the right thing to do.

By the way, my second patch is mostly part of my analogy. I actually had a great day with friends, and because we got pumpkins earlier was not at all disappointed by the ruined crop! It worked out well for us in the end.:)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Normal Expectations or Nasty Neigbor?

So, I am suffering in one of those self-created conundrums that plague people with a tendency to over-think...well, everything! To cut out the blubbering the gist is this: we live in a tightly packed neighborhood. Every building has at least four families in it and most have six. That means, obviously, a lot of noise. This is compounded by the fact that, to put it bluntly-but honestly, we do not have the highest quality neighbors. So, since we live in the ghetto, noise is to be expected. I understand that. I really do. People have to talk, dogs have to bark, cars have to start. However, I firmly believe that all these activities should be restricted to matters of life-or-death after the hours of oh, say, 1:00 am. I think that is being more than generous. However, my very near (across the street) housing companions do not share my opinion. As a matter of fact, their opinion is that all fun must be had between the hours of midnight and 4:00 am. Yep, every single weekend, without fail, they are outside talking,drinking and generally carousing. Clearly they are not decent people because all of those are in bed!

So, tonight I decide to take matters into my own hands. It is Columbus Day weekend and all the soldiers are off until Tuesday. The "neighbors" decided to start up their ruckus again-for the third night in a row. So I decide to call the Military Police. The operator seemed to believe that four day weekends are an excellent excuse to party it up until all hours of the night. "Well, ma'am (so very condescending!), it IS a four-day." As if that provides a license to do whatever one please whenever he or she pleases!

That leaves me in a quandary. Is it rude that I demand that my neighbors follow the rules of polite society? Am I truly just being a fun-ruiner? I don't know. All I know is that my mom always said that nothing good happens after midnight- so true!:) And that I just want some uninterrupted sleep...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Horrible Vacation Photos (the Photos, not the Vacation!)

So, upon review I realized that our vacation photos are terrible. Several times I found myself without my camera and lacking a tripod all the photos of the two of us are pretty much arms-length photography courtesy of long-armed Joel. Don't mistake the lack of decent photos as an indicator that our vacation was not photo-worthy. We started out by leaving from New Orleans-I found the graveyards there fascinating. I couldn't believe that not only were they all over the city but that they were in such pristine condition. My macabre interest in the resting place of the dead would later be gratified again in Progreso but I will leave that for later. We got a little lost (okay more than a little) getting to the ship but that gave us time for a tour (or detour) through the French Quarter. That would probably have been more fun on foot, especially considering that we kept finding closed streets, but thanks to our trusty Rand McNally atlas-don't leave home without it!-and Joel we arrived at the port in plenty of time.

We boarded the ship to find that our first fun activity would be: a lifeboat drill! Yes, I paid hundreds of dollars and was rewarded by wasting over an hour conducting a lifeboat drill complete with hideous orange life vests. I guess I might have been thankful for the drill if we had started sinking, but as an able-bodied, literate, adult I don't think I really needed it. Afterwards we hunted the ship over to figure out where everything was. Joel found the bow of the ship had a deck and we spent the remainder of the cruise looking for a way to get to it to discover that it was not accessible on the last day! We went to dinner to find that we were seated at a table for ten, but we never had more than four other companions. Being somewhat introverted around strangers, that didn't bother me. We came back to find one of the famous Carnival towel animals in our room. I have to say that I loved our room steward. She didn't just make the bed, she cleaned the bathroom every day and actually picked up our room! It was like a little straightening fairy visited every morning and night.

The next day was a "Fun Day at Sea". We were delighted to play around on the water slides-that was one of my favorite things on the boat! We also started our really bad habit: eating five times a day! It was just too easy. Everywhere you turned there was food! I am glad that we didn't cruise for any longer or I wouldn't be able to fit into any of my clothes. We had our "Cruise Formal" dinner that night. I was happy to be able to re-use my dress from the ball. We also stopped to have our photo taken at several of the different photo-op spots. We got a couple of decent ones but decided that the $22 price tag-per photo!- was a little rich for our blood. So we stuck with our trusty camera, but in retrospect the one decent picture might have been worth it.:) We really loved that you could order as much off the menu at dinner as you wanted. I really liked trying the different cold soup options. During the course of the cruise I tried: strawberry, Bing cherry and orange. The orange tasted like melted Creamsicle and was kind of fun! Joel liked that he could have lobster, crab, escargot (yep, snails) and even squid!

The next day was our first day in Mexico. We anchored in the port of Progreso/Yucatan. Let it suffice to say that it was not what I expected! It is an extremely poor part of the country and in the one village we visited none of the houses had doors. We had chosen to visit the ruins of Xcambo. We found later that the ruins at Chichen Itza are much more highly recommended, but of course, hindsight is 20/20. We did enjoy seeing the flamingos and learning that they turn pink because of the bacteria that are present in the shrimp they eat. A baby flamingo is white and the older it gets the more pink it becomes. A free science lesson for you! We were shocked to find that the ruins were so accessible- you know here in the U.S. everything is roped off. People in the village were still living in some of the ruins-which remember, are from around the time of Jesus. We saw a beautiful cathedral that was built in the 1700's. We were so tired that we skipped dinner that night!

The fourth day on the boat we stopped in Cozumel. It was more the tourist trap I had been expecting. We did a really fun ropes/climbing course and then we went snorkeling. That was so fun! I didn't think I would enjoy it that much. I was terribly frightened that I was going to be touched by the fish. However, we did get to see some really neat schools of fish. We had lunch at a fun, exceptionally loud, resturant. Everyone got their own balloon hat and Joel proceeded to wear his during the entire meal. We stopped at Starbuck's on the way back to the boat and that made me very happy! You know, since I had been away from the States three whole (and a half!) days. We bought some tacky souvenirs and also were amazed by the live "statues", especially the silver pirate.

The fifth day was another "Fun Day at Sea". It was rather uneventful, especially considering that I had been sea sick the night before and had taken a little too much motion sickness medicine. We did have fun people-watching by the pool. We took a last dip in the hot tub and enjoyed a really fun tribute show to the Beatles. I was very glad that I was going to see my kids the next day and I think Joel was happy that I could quit talking about missing them. I am glad that we had the time together. However, I think our next vacation will be somewhere stateside where I can call my kids!:)

If you have read all of this you must be really, really bored!:)


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