August 02, 2016

Wouldn't life be perfect without storms?

I think we can agree that most people want to avoid the storms in life.

A year ago, there was a storm so fierce, so intense, so destructive that I wept and mourned and I was paralyzed because I did not go through it.

I wished I had been battered and broken in the storm that so many others suffered through. And from that guilt of avoidance, came a rushing, battering, incapacitating storm of my own.

One year ago, as I flitted through a sunny summer in Washington state, Super Typhoon Soudelor ripped through my island home of Saipan. I was not there to suffer with my family, with my friends. I wasn't there to wring out towels from leaking window sills, I wasn't there to hold shutters in place as screaming 200+ mile an hour gusts battered homes and trees all night long. I wasn't there to comfort my children while wondering whether my house would withstand the storm. I wasn't there to light candles as the entire island went dark when telephone pole after telephone pole came crashing down.

I wasn't there to step into the gray morning light and see that massive trees had snapped like twigs. They'd fallen onto cars, onto homes, across roadways. I wasn't there to see the flooded neighborhoods. I wasn't there to see the tears roll down the cheeks of family and friends whose homes had been partially or fully destroyed.

I wasn't there to haul away the rubble and debris. I wasn't there to pick up the scattered pieces of my neighbor's house. I wasn't there to wait in line for ten hours to buy rationed gas. I wasn't there to wash my family's laundry in the bathtub using water poured from buckets. I wasn't there to live out the following three months without running water and electricity. I wasn't there to sweat in the blazing tropical heat without air-conditioning or a fan.

I wasn't there. I was here. I carried guilt and shame for being able to go about my life knowing my refrigerator was running and my food was not spoiled. I could flip a switch and the lights would turn on so we wouldn't have to eat dinner by lantern or candlelight. I could use the bathroom without having to pour water down the toilet bowl to flush. My washing machine worked. My drinks were cold. My water was abundant.

I carried guilt and shame for not having the financial resources to fly there and suffer the aftermath with my family and help them rebuild. For not being able to wire the money that was needed to place windows and doors back on my sister's house.

Everyday pleasures felt wrong - everyday life felt wrong. My smiles hid a deep anguish because I knew that even if I had a way to send money, food, water, clothes, or any of the many, many other things that were so desperately needed, yet so very hard to come by, it still wouldn't have been enough because I didn't have the chance to suffer alongside them during the storm and I would never get that time back.

The start of Saipan's school year was delayed because of the multitude of needed repairs - new roofs, new doors, new floors - and because there were many people, oh, so many people, who had lost their homes and had taken up residence at the shelters - the schools.

When the typhoon hit, my mother and her brother had been visiting us in Washington. My mother had spent the last nearly ten months out here. Another family member had bought her plane ticket so she could help tend to some family matters; her time had been split between their house and our house. She had finally wrapped up with them and had been staying with us before heading back home to Saipan. My uncle had come out recently and was also staying with us to visit and take care of some other matters.

The day before it hit, we heard that yet another typhoon was approaching Saipan. We hoped it would be like the one a few days earlier that petered out and didn't cause any damage. But when it comes to storms, you just can't tell. So we watched the weather patterns online. We read what reports were available. We waited to hear from our loved ones - a phone call, an email, a text, even a tweet.

It was Sunday morning in Washington, I was at church between services when I started seeing the first Facebook posts about the devastation. It wasn't until I arrived home sometime before noon when I could call my sister. I heard the shock in her voice, "Deece, it's so bad". She couldn't talk long and I could provide no solace.

For the next several months I walked around in a daze. But the first weeks were especially heartbreaking and haze-filled. I felt like a cartoon character walking around with a rain cloud over my head. I held on so tightly to whatever online news I could garner. Photos of the destruction were abundant. And through the destruction came unprecedented camaraderie in residents and businesses helping each other clear and rebuild, share food and water. There was an outpouring of donations of food, water, and supplies from former Saipan residents on Guam and in the states.

And I, I felt helpless. I cried at Home Depot when we looked at potential generators to ship home. I cried in the grocery store as I placed fresh produce in my cart. I cried at my computer as I ordered batteries and battery operated fans for my mother and uncle to bring home in their luggage. I cried.

My mother and my uncle have been through so many storms in life. So very many. Both literal and figurative storms. Only a few nights before Soudelor hit, my uncle had recounted some absolutely amazing stories about living through various storms, including Super Typhoon Jean in the late '60's during which his first child was born.

My mother is now 70, my uncle is a few years older than she is. They both continue to take on physical work that would tire out many people 20 years their junior. They are the type of people who would brave any storm head-on, putting themselves in danger to help others. And on many occasions they have.

I give thanks to almighty God that they were here with us in Washington and not on Saipan. Because I know, I know, they would have placed themselves in danger in an effort to secure their houses and help others during the storm.

Our time in Washington has not been without difficulty and I often wonder what we are still doing here. It has been especially dark and troubling for me as of late. But as I approached the anniversary of this terrible time for Saipan, my mind was opened to the point of convergence. To the choices and the timeline that brought us to that point where it was necessary for us to be here. There is no doubt in my mind that part of my purpose of being in Washington was to keep them away from Saipan when Soudelor hit.

They returned to Saipan a few weeks later, bearing batteries and fans and a chainsaw and other things to help our family get through the sweltering days and nights of rebuilding.

Pictures tell me that the trees are starting to recover; the mangoes are growing back. Though their hearts have been forever changed, daily life has returned to normal for some; for many others, they are still rebuilding.
~~~

This is one of my favorite clips. I hope you'll watch the whole video. I especially like the Middle Eastern folk tale that starts at the 4:50 mark.

If you haven't yet seen what Soudelor did, head to YouTube or Google and search "Soudelor Saipan".
And please check out this documentary, Soudelor Saipan Strong, by Sveta Hunter:


July 12, 2016

Deece's YouTube Channel

I did it. I created a YouTube channel. There are, what seems like, a million DIY channels and a million cooking/baking channels and a million channels with oddly entertaining videos.

This is not any one of those channels. My channel is a little of all of those - it's where I'll post bits of my creative processes. Click here to check it out. Please like and subscribe so you can see all my videos as they're posted.

February 16, 2016

More Amazing Than Fiction

You know how in books and movies, the oddest occurances take place? For example, two people from the same small town end up running into each other in a big city a thousand miles away from home. It seems impossible in real life, but makes sense for the story, otherwise there would be no story.

Has anything ever happened to you that makes you think, this is even crazier than the movies? In January, for a brief moment, my life was stranger than fiction.

My brother-in-law has a nephew, we'll call him LG. LG and his family moved from Saipan to Washington the same year we did. We didn't keep in touch and hadn't seen each other since Saipan.

In January, our county started the process of installing power poles across the street from my house. I was pretty sure that LG worked for our county utility company, so every day for a week, I would glance out across the street and wonder if LG was on the crew. And then I'd tell myself that was just too far fetched to be possible and I'd get on with my day.

In the early afternoon one sunny Friday in January, as the crew worked on a pole directly across the street from my house, I found myself looking out at them again wondering if one guy in particular was LG. Once again, I told myself it couldn't be him. But I just couldn't shake the feeling. I was so close to walking out to check my mail for a second time that day just to put my mind at ease and prove to myself that it wasn't him. Instead of checking the mail I headed into the kitchen.

About five minutes later as I was washing dishes, I heard a knock on my living window. It just so happened, I had my curtains drawn back the whole way to let the sunlight in, it also happened that I was actually looking presentable in jeans and a sweater, rather than my normal home attire of sweats and an oversized hoodie. I dried my hands and walked into the living room to see who knocked on the window. Standing outside my house was LG! I could hardly believe it. We both had a look of disbelief when we made eye contact through the glass.

I opened the door and stepped outside. We both took a moment to make sure we were who we thought we were and then I gave him a big hug. He had come over to let me know they'd be turning off our power for about 15 minutes. I was flabbergasted. Boosh! Mind blown. I think he might have been as shocked as I was, but he played it off much better than I did.

LG had to get back to work, but I did take a couple minutes of his time to exchange numbers. Another amazing aspect of this encounter - that Friday was his last day working out here. He was on the verge of transferring to another office (same company though) that would have him working in a different region. That Friday was the final opportunity for us to run into each other like that.

I had been homesick and longing to see family and even our brief encounter helped raise my spirits. There is no way God's hand wasn't on this.

January 15, 2016

Everyday Words

I sometimes get tongue tied trying to find the correct English word for something. Certain words were simply not in my vernacular when I was growing up on Saipan, like flip-flops; we call them zoris or slippers.

Do people in the states say "even me"? I don't think I've heard anyone here say that. Even me, meaning me too.

How are you enjoying the cold, gray winter, friends?

Yeah, even me.

January 10, 2016

A special collection, indeed.

I grew up reading the book Illustrated Poems for Children. It was my sister's book and I fell in love with it long ago. The title has been out of print for years and is not easy to come by so I was thrilled when I found an affordable used copy in very good condition to give our children for Christmas. There are no marks and no signs of wear, it is just missing the jacket.



This book introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe and many other great authors like Lord Byron, Langston Hughes, and William Blake. It is full of amazing poets.


I grew up loving words, loving the beauty in words and the beauty in what they create. This book nurtured that love.

January 08, 2016

Why you gotta be so rude-abaga?

About a year ago I tried turnips and parsnips for the first time. They're okay. I don't remember how I cooked them, but because I knew nothing about either one, I know I used actual recipes. One of them tasted like daikon radish, but I don't remember which one. And I don't remember what the other one tasted like.

This past Thanksgiving I tried rutabaga for the first time. This is a rutabaga:



For Thanksgiving dinner, I made a small platter of roasted vegetables - rutabaga, carrots, garlic, onion, and Brussels sprouts. I peeled the rutabaga and cut it into bite size pieces. It was easy to peel, but it took some effort to cut up. I coated all of the vegetables in olive oil and sprinkled on salt and black pepper. (The rutabagas are those yellow cubes.)



I roasted the vegetables until fork tender, probably at 350-400 degrees, I don't really remember.



All of the vegetables were very tasty. The rutabaga did not taste like daikon radish and it had a texture similar to what a cross between what a carrot and a pumpkin might be like.

Beef Stew with Rutabaga

Last night I cooked beef stew and used rutabagas instead of potatoes. I don't like potatoes so we hardly ever have any on hand. And while rutabagas aren't a substitute in terms of adding starch or thickness to the stew, it was a nice hearty alternative.

Here's a tip: I initially tried to cut the rutabaga in half, but that was a bad idea. My knife got stuck and it was quite an ordeal to get it out. Instead, place it on the cutting board with the flat (top) side down, if there is no flat side, cut off a slice to make a flat side. Then you can continue to make slices through the rutabaga. 

I don't use recipes when I make beef stew and I don't always make it the same way, so here are the basic instructions for how I made last night's stew:

Ingredients:
  • Beef broth (actually, this time I used beef bullion cubes and water)
  • Beef cut into cubes (fattier beef will taste better, but I used a lean cut)
  • Flour and water
  • Worcester sauce
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • Half a can of diced tomatoes
  • Rutabaga, cubed
  • Carrots, cubed
  • Garlic, chopped
  • Onions, I want to say quartered, but I don't know if that's what it's called, basically I cut them into chunks
  • Whole black pepper corns
  • Italian seasoning

You could probably dump these ingredients into a crock pot, but I cooked this on the stove. First, I poured the broth into a pot and added the beef, bay leaf, and some Worcester sauce. I brought that to a boil and let it simmer for probably over an hour, covered but vented.

Beef will seize up and become tough during the first hour of cooking, then it will begin to relax and become tender. At some point while it was simmering, I took some flour and mixed it with enough water to make a slurry. Then I added the slurry to the pot to help thicken the stew. (Sometimes I will coat the cubed beef in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and brown that up before I add the broth, but I wasn't in the mood for that extra step.) 

At another point while it was simmering, I added half a can of diced tomatoes. I spooned it in so I didn't add too much extra tomato liquid. You can add more if you like, but my family doesn't like it too tomatoey.

After it cooked for more than an hour, I added the carrots and rutabaga. I let those cook a little bit then added the garlic and onions. Then, because I forgot to do it earlier, I added some whole black pepper corns and some Italian seasoning. Cook until everything is as toothsome as you'd like. 




The rest of the family ate it with rice, but I thought it would make a nicer picture like this. I toasted and buttered the bread and it was so good with the stew.

Rutabaga, you aren't so rude. In fact, you're quite nice.

January 07, 2016

In want of good fish.

When I was in the process of moving to Washington state, I often heard comments about how I was lucky because there's all this great seafood in WA.

I guess there's great seafood? I honestly don't know. The seafood I see in stores is generally beyond my grocery budget. James will, on the rare occasion, splurge on crab legs. And we do have shrimp every so often - shrimp is probably our most frequently eaten seafood. But when it comes to fish, the options are limited. I usually stick with tilapia, salmon, or cod. Tilapia more than anything - pan seared with butter and garlic. Yum.

When it comes to salmon, blame it on my cooking skills or blame it on the less-than-ideal quality of fish, but I don't like eating salmon here. I suppose there is good salmon here, but I haven't had any (the good stuff just isn't in my budget and we aren't going to go fishing here, so my only option is the stuff in the stores). The only times I've enjoyed salmon here is when I cook it in the style of my Hawaiian brother-in-law with mayo and onions - but that's for another post.

Cod was on sale yesterday. I don't know why I bought it. I've come to learn that I really, really don't like cod. Like, really. What I want is sushi grade tuna and salmon, mahi mahi, parrot fish, and mackerel. But that's not going to happen, so yesterday it was cod. I just baked it in the oven seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I ate it with a squeeze of lime over hot rice and spinach on the side. I didn't enjoy it at all. At all.

However, late last night James taught me that cod can be palatable when eaten with guacamole and tapatio sauce. By guacamole I mean, mashed avocado with fresh lime juice, salt, and a tiny bit of black pepper. It's not a dish I think I'll ever crave, but at least now I know it is possible to eat cod without regretting every bite.

January 06, 2016

I prefer mandarin. Hi-C, that is.

It may be Wednesday in the states, but it's already Thursday on Saipan, so let's throwback.

Remember when they used to sell Hi-C Lemon or Mandarin Tea in your elementary school vending machine? Hi-C? You know, the sugary sweet caffeinated tea that's packed juice box style?

If you grew up on Saipan around the same time I did, you probably remember buying Hi-C from a vending machine at school for $0.50.

Man, I miss Hi-C.

January 05, 2016

On why I both abhor and embrace bugs on my vegetables.

Bugs on my vegetables give me the heebie jeebies. After finding a huge slug in my kale on two separate occasions, I can no longer handle kale without my fingers tingling.

Truth be told, part of why I'm a terrible gardener is because I don't want to deal with bugs. I don't want to see them on my plants because I can't handle taking them off of my plants. So it's better that I just don't grow many plants.

That being said, as much as I abhor bugs on my vegetables, I also embrace them - to an extent. I dread finding them, but when I do, I know that that vegetable is probably not coated in pesticides.


(Don't even talk to me about pesticide resistant bugs. Just don't. Just let me have this.)

January 04, 2016

Snow Daze

Yesterday was the last day of Christmas vacation for my school age kids. I had a few errands to run so I tried to time it to leave just before the Seahawks game started so I wouldn't have to deal with the crowds. (That is correct, I did not watch the game - but I'm glad they won, Go Hawks!) That was the plan, but then we noticed that snow was in the forecast. We hadn't had any snow yet this season - which was fine by me because driving in the ice, slush, or snow, but mostly ice and slush, really scares me. So I left about an hour and a half before the snow was predicted to fall.

My daughter and I were walking into the grocery store when she spotted a few flurries. I didn't think much of it. They were incredibly sparse and looked like the flurries I'd seen before which gently fluttered down and promptly melted on the ground (if I was smarter, I would have remembered that temps were below freezing). That grocery store didn't have what we needed so we decided to go to another store. But as we were making our way out to the car, James called to ask me to come home because it was snowing. The flurries were sticking! And it wasn't just flurries anymore, it was snow!

We experienced snow during both of our previous two winters here, but this was the first time we were able to be outside while the snow was falling. It was beautiful and quite amazing to experience.


My son spent more time outside than any of the rest of us. It must have been magical for this island boy. His jacket and gloves were thoroughly wet when I had him come inside. I hung them by the heater to dry, and as soon as they had, he was itching to go back into that white wintry wonderland. 


I still needed to go to the grocery store. So when it stopped snowing, Katelyn and I headed back out onto the road. I chose a different store this time, one which I wouldn't have to drive up or down any hills to get to. I was glad I did because it started snowing again on our way home. On the one hand, I was slightly worried about icy roads, but, on the other hand, it was really neat to drive through falling snow. I could see it falling in the distance and right in front of my car, but it hardly ever hit my windshield. It just sort of blew up and over us in the air stream. 

After we got home, the big kids played in the yard until dusk.

Happy snow day, friends. 

These were the small snowflakes that fell early on.
Soon they were huge like the in the first picture above.

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