Monthly Archives: November 2012

I Just Can’t Get the Poor Turkey Out of My Mind

I am glad my mamma taught me how to carve a turkey.  It isn’t the most important lesson, but does merit a couple of interactive sessions in the kitchen. The crazy looking bird has meat hidden in the most devious place intermingled with bone, cartilage, skin, and other unmentionables.  For many, the turkey sets the third most important mood of the day, only superseded by thanksgiving and family.

My mother was an incredible woman.  I didn’t fully appreciate her exceptional character until she was gone.  I could list many strengths but for this blog I will mention some lessons she taught me.  Let me put the teachings into a top ten list.

  1. She taught me that faith was an important dimension of life.
  2. She insisted I believe in myself, and love others.
  3. She aimed to develop a man rather than raise a boy.
  4. She punished me when necessary, but left me with my dignity and a sense of being loved.
  5. She taught me to do my own laundry and to care enough about my appearance to learn to iron.
  6. She insisted I respect women.
  7. She taught me the importance of relating to people of all ages.
  8. She taught the ends and outs of etiquette.
  9. She gave me a work ethic through example and expectation.
  10. She taught me to cook and carve a turkey.

And this brings me to the blog of the day.

Marji, Wendy and I were invited for Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a new friend in Sun City, Arizona.  Our friend lives in a park model in our retirement community and the kitchens are relatively small, allowing only two people to move comfortably in the kitchen.  Our friend, age 81, had left most of the cooking to us with the exception of the turkey.

Marji and Wendy, my wife and daughter, had brought everything to the serving table except the turkey.  I am a traditionalist and always the happiest when the turkey is carved at the table.  I have failed to mention that another man was invited to the dinner, a quiet middle-aged security worker. So, everyone was seated around the table very similar to a Norman Rockwell painting.


Anticipation was written on everyone’s face.  I had been assigned carrying the golden turkey to the only empty space at the table; obviously it had been cooked to perfection.  While I was tending to uncovering the turkey, the other man had taken the seat where I had planned to sit.  He had literally set himself up for failure.

It just happened that the turkey rested directly in front of the other fellow.  It was the luck of the draw.  So, I handed the carving knife and fork to him.  He didn’t look surprised and stood to begin the carving.  He was excited and had Pelosi smile on his face.  I thought, you lucky man; by default you are getting the job I love. It was immediately apparent that this was a first time experience because he jabbed the fork into one side of the turkey with no sense of respect for the animal whatsoever. I almost uttered my pain.  No mother had ever walked him through this procedure. Then, he began to attempt to cut the turkey right down the middle until he struck the breastbone.  He pushed so hard he turned fevered red. Being a little heavy and out of shape, he began to perspire.  He tried with a couple more grinding swipes with the blade to cut the bird into two equal pieces.  I thought, “Oh, my gosh, he is going either sever this breast bone and drive chards into the meat or strain his wrist.  Finally he said, “Rosa, I think I need a bigger and sharper knife.”  By then, I was about to split my own gut, holding my amusement inside.

Once he got a bigger butcher knife, he tried again and began to get frustrated.  He mumbled and grumbled without calling the turkey tuff.  Finally, he said, “would anyone else like to give this a try?”  We were five minutes into the ritual and he had yet to serve a piece of turkey.

I volunteered without showing too much excitement.

I have always looked at carving a turkey like the selection of which fork to use during formal dining—you start at the outside and work toward the center, just the opposite of his technique.  I also knew that you only cut the joints and not the bone.  All the books say that the turkey can best be carved in the kitchen, but that seems un-American to me.  The figure head of the family should be designated the carver and serves the meat according to whether a person wants dark or white meat.  Only at that point is the rest of the food uncovered and served.  Let’s face it I have paid a lot of a annual dues and deserve this honor. Thanksgiving is not a meal to be rushed.

For those that don’t want to carve the turkey at the table, another  viable plan is cooking two turkeys—the first to be carved in advance and the second to bring to the table after the ceremonial carving of the first eight to ten pieces of the breast.  This meets the needs of Thanksgiving ritual and cold turkey sandwiches for the following few days.  If you want to see the proper way to carve a turkey, you might want to visit the following web site.

Do not miss the following spoof on Rockwell’s classic painting!  I wanted a good deep chuckle and I got it again and again.


Losing a Child in the Airport

Stress leads to confusion.  Deciding on living and serving in another country as a missionary provides a fertile breeding ground for the mind losing control of the simplest of thought processes.  Few can imagine the stress that a missionary experiences in terms leaving one’s family and finding new connections in a different culture.  The impact is disarming and involves a lot of grief, new learning curves, adjustments in food, culture, and language; and the list goes ad infinitum.

No one likes to play the fool unless that person gets off on playing the role of the clown.  But, a missionary becomes the object of a lot jokes and unexpected behaviors.  Imagine, asking someone for a beso when the correct word is vaso, only to find out you have asked for a kiss and not a cup.

While preparing for a year of intensive language study in Costa Rica, the logistics of selling/giving away our property and possessions, the grief of saying goodbye to family and friends, changing addresses on all official correspondence, and packing for life in both Costa Rica and Colombia overwhelmed me.  Just the pressure of doing so many things in an unreasonably short time, will drive you close to the edge of emotional chaos.

The day arrived for us to leave the Nashville airport for San Jose, Costa Rica.  Some Japanese missionaries, several close family members, and a few friends went to bid us farewell.  The airlines allowed people to go as far as the departure gate in those days.  David, our oldest son, was only one at the time.  Emotions ran high.  Everyone knew it would be four years before we would see one another again. We had heard the last call to board the airplane. So, everyone was hugging and kissing.  Suddenly I noticed that David, our one year infant, had disappeared.  I surmised that he had wandered off.  I panicked.  I think I shouted to the group, “Where is David?”

Someone responded, “What’s your problem, Bob, he’s in your arms.”

Improving Your Odds at Fishing

Is there ever a reason to not catch fish?  No, the answer is definitely no!  Not if you know how to fish; and my Dad knew how to catch fish.

Dad sent us for fishing worms.  We knew exactly where to go.  Worms love the environment around a sewer exit. 100 yards north of our slate-sided farmhouse in rural southeast Iowa, the land slopped quickly to a gully leading to a larger creek. Halfway down the slope our sewage spilled out of the pipe and on the hillside and then filtered its way into the ground. This formed a moist slightly stinking area that could easily be stirred with a pitchfork, and with every turn, ten or fifteen fat juicy worms would try to take flight from the sunshine they had never seen in their damp tomb.  We could easily gather a half-gallon tin with fifty worms and cover them with the deep black Iowa soil in a few minutes.  Of course, my sister was never willing to get her hands dirty collecting the worms so she was the designated pitchfork operator.  She was the revealer and I, the gatherer. 

Dad loaded three to five poles and a tackle box into our 1948 rusted pickup; and off we would go to the New London country club’s lake.  If lucky, the fish would be biting and Dad would never get to wet his line because my sister and I would keep him busy baiting our line and removing the catch.  Sometimes, fishing with a pole ended without a bite.  Dad hated an empty stringer.  In such a moment, we learned there was more than one way to catch a fish.

You may remember that on one occasion seven of the disciples of Jesus spent the night fishing with no results.  As these hungry exhausted men recovered their empty nets on the Sea of Galilee; they readied them for another day.  A voice from the shore directed them to fish from the other side of the boat.  Probably with some resistance, they followed this directive from an unknown stranger, and dropped their nets out and immediately their nets became so full, they couldn’t haul in the huge catch.  I guess you could call that a divine plan B since the disciples later discovered that the directions came from the resurrected Jesus.

However, my dad had no divine plan B when we could not catch fish.  He did, however, have a number of “not so” legal options for those difficult days of fishing the “old fashioned way.”

He returned to our garage and opened a padlocked wooden box and removed one or two eight-inch long sticks about the diameter of a garden hose.  This box had always intrigued me!  And, now we learned its content. Dad said, “we will catch some fish now.  I promise.”  A thick layer of paraffin covered the sticks, but I chilled when I read the words dynamite and danger.  He also pulled out a couple of caps from another cardboard box and cut two-two foot lengths of fuse wire.  Off we would go to one of several isolated deep holes along the creeks of our farm.  We didn’t know it, but our escape to deep into the farm was to avoid any chance of a game warden hearing the dynamiting and suspect illegal fishing.

I was edgy and excited.  I knew dynamite was an explosive and worried that we could be blown to kingdom come should it accidentally explode.  But, I put two and two together and realized that we were about to create such an explosion that some fish would be killed.  I wondered how many and what kind?  Would they be edible after such a horrific end?

Dad carved a small hole in the stick of dynamite, pinched a cap tightly around one end of the fuse wire with pliers and shoved the cap as deeply as possible into the hole in the dynamite.  Dad issued a warning, “You kids get behind that big oak tree and stay there until I get back!”  I worried frantically Dad would hold on too long to the stick and it would blow up in his hand.  Yet, I was so hoping we would find some really big fish, the likes of which we had never seen.

He went to the edge of the creek, carefully lite the fuse, and threw it into the deepest point of the creek hole.  The length of the fuse wire allowed about 30 seconds before the burning fuse reached the nitroglycerin.  After the explosion and the sight of the water rising toward the sky, we rushed with long sticks to the edge of the creek and collected the stunned and dead fish.  This was just one of Dad’s alternatives to fishing with a pole, and they all greatly improved the odds of catching fish.   With these systems, there was never a reason to not catch fish.

Photos, Humor and Captions

This category posts a photo. I request a humorous caption from readers for the photo.  An example is posted below.  Please insert your captions in the box— “Leave a comment.”  Then I will post your suggestion/suggestions and eventually choose a winner.

Three of a Kind!

Please don’t talk to me. You’re freakin’ me out!!!

“Hey!  You’re a Dummy Just Like Me”

I’m afraid there might be more than one DUMMY in this picture.

You Never Know When a Naked Woman Will Walk into Your Hotel Lobby!

Strange things happen at strange places at strange times. You just never know when a naked woman is going to burst into your hotel lobby.  If people put themselves in novel circumstances they should expect the unexpected. My wife and I were staying in the small town of Buga, Colombia in 1976. This city of 100,000 in the center of Cauca Valley boasts of two visits by Simon Bolivar and some huge sugar plantations. Its two major landmarks are The Basilica del Señor de los Milagros and the Guadalajara Hotel.

Hotel Guadalaja, Buga, Colombia

Buga is nearly half way between Armenia and Cali. Since we lived in Armenia and often had meetings in Cali, we would stop for a night  at the luxurious California colonial style hotel for its charm, food, and swimming pool. Unfortunately, Buga is very hot in the summer and air conditioning was not a part of luxury in the 1970’s.

One evening at 10:30 I could not get our son David, then three, interested in going to sleep as we waited for the mountain breeze to slowly cool the valley. So, I packed him down to the marble walled lobby where a breeze had already lowered temperatures by at least ten degrees. We had not been there very long when I heard a woman scream, “My Lord, what am I going to do? Someone stole everything I have!” When she finally came into sight, I got a first hand view of her dilemma. She was buck naked except for tennis shoes and a amarillo, azul y rojo Colombian t-shirt much too big for her. Her hair was wet and apparently had not been combed. She continued to the registration desk to recover a key to her room. After a few more minutes of incoherent panic, she disappeared with the bellman. I assumed that someone had gotten into her room while she was in the shower and stolen most or all of her belongings.

The next morning I quietly slid out of bed for some alone time in the hotel lobby. It provided an opportunity for odoriferous experiences I didn’t find in the coffee shops in Armenia. After a cup of coffee and three rings of pan de bono (a cheese bread usually served hot out of the ovens), a reluctant desk clerk inquired if I spoke both Spanish and English. We went to the manager’s office and I got a different look at the woman I had seen the night before. Very quickly she explained the events of the previous evening. Still in a panic, she and the manager wanted me to go to the local police station to file a report and to recover a few of her items that had mysteriously appeared.

As we took a taxi along the crowded city streets, she shared the horror of more of her experiences the previous evening. The whole story began in Tampa, Florida. Vanessa was a successful single real estate agent that had read about the increasing numbers of tourists exploring the plantations, jungles and magnetic cities of Colombia. She traveled widely around the USA and felt it was time to expand her horizon toward the South. Why not Colombia? She had met a lot of Colombians in Florida and most of them spoke some English so surely she could make her way around Colombia without too many difficulties. She mapped out a few cities of interest and began to plan the vacation of her life—including the rather exclusive Guadalajara Hotel in Buga.

Restaurant at the Guadalaja

It soon became obvious that she was naïve and lacked a hint of common sense. Her evening began with a late dinner in the hotel where three dark-haired, handsome Colombian men talked to her from the next table. They turned on the charm. She took the bait and moved over to their table and visited over coffee and flan. Their English was highly accented, but better than her few words of Spanish. They offered to take her around Buga during the evening and show her some of the sights and suggested that they would invite her to one of their farms the following day for a first hand look of a South American hacienda. They seemed so amiable that she saw a cool chance to spend one less day and evening struggling with the language. Who knows what she really had in mind? One thing for certain, she wasn’t thinking about “personal” one to one evangelism.

Their first stop was a small bar along the Buga River. She remembered it was a thatch covered building with a lot of bamboo beams left exposed inside. The place was vibrating with a loud band. The crowded tables had a mix of men and women. The men introduced Vanessa to the famous “aguardiente” of the country. This anise flavored drink comes under many labels but they all have a very high alcohol content. One bottle is given to each two people and the result is not pretty. People get boisterous and lose control over what they say and do. Poor Vanessa didn’t remember a lot about the evening after the first hour.

She did remember the group suggesting the men walk Vanessa back to the hotel. The bar was only a short walk away. This walk was along an avenue that wound beside the river that also passed the Guadalajara Hotel. So, the group headed in the right direction. But Vanessa said when she saw and heard the river, she wanted to “skinny-dip.” The group watched as she stripped. Then, she remembered slipping on a slimy rock; and when she finally got up, no one responded to her giggles. So, she eventually made her way to the bank to recover her clothes; they were all gone. Nothing remained of her purse, more than $500 in cash, traveler’s checks, watch, airplane tickets, clothes, camera, or passport. Inebriated, she struggled up the riverbank to the sidewalk totally bare except for her shoes. She didn’t realize her plight.  It was at this point after being intoxicated by three fine men, left alone in a river to drown, that a man in a car stopped to check out the spectacle and obviously gave the woman his t-shirt to restore some modesty and drove her to the hotel. It was in that condition, I first saw the distraught woman.

The police were somewhat helpful. During the early morning the police had questioned a young capricious romantic because of the complaint issued by the hotel, where the man frequent ate and befriended single women. He claimed he knew nothing about what happened to the woman after she decided to walk herself back to the hotel. However, during the night the police had recovered her traveler’s checks, her hotel key, her passport, and her airplane tickets in a local park where someone threw them. The story was that one of the three men at the bar with Vanessa was actually a seminary student and that when he left the bar, he walked home and by pure accident saw Vanessa’s purse in a local park where the thief left them. The police suggested that due to Vanessa’s travel schedule and the recovery of the stolen items, it would be better she be on her way.

We met the man who gave the woman his shirt. He was still in shock and embarrassed by the incident. It was clear that it was a wild experience for him to see a naked women standing disoriented along the street. At any rate, being a preacher, my mind went to the story of the good Samaritan and felt the taxi driver’s generosity worthy of remembering.

Do I or Don’t I–Fight a Bull?

Bull Ring in Lima, Peru

Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I go to a corrido de toros (bullfight)?  My preconception of a bullfight includes torture for a hopelessness animal.  Yet, for some reason, I want to attend.  Maybe it was  Hemingway’s book, Death in the Afternoon, that passionately defends the art form of bullfights.

If Hemingway found this so compelling, it must have some value.  I justify my attendance under the guise of having a Latin American cultural experience? I argue from the negative side from the perspective a soon to be dead bull.  My curiosity wins the debate and I attend my first bullfight in 1975 while in language school in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Bullfights mean ferias (colorful carnivals, exciting music, and rowdy crowds).  Out of necessity we park miles from the bullring and fall into step with the masses laughing, pushing, and priming their party pumps from a bota (wine skin) or two full of sangria or aguardiente.

They drink as they walk, sometimes slobbering or spilling the alcohol down the front of their shirts.  It was obvious some folks started drinking long before leaving home.  The ticket booths have lines of fifty to seventy people, so we are glad we are early.  Bullfights and bus stops are two of the few places in Latin America where people willingly  stand in line.  Breaking line can result in a fight where the offender will definitely be outnumbered.  There are obviously more people than tickets.

According to Hemingway, the quality of a bullfight depends entirely on the bull and the bull fighter.  A bull that doesn’t charge, and charge, and charge again will not allow the bull fighter demonstrate the beauty of the sport.  We will not see the real thing today. The traditional Spanish bullfight has undergone specific changes in Costa Rica that diminish it from what a tourist would see in Spain or other Latin American countries. The Costa Ricans no longer allow the matador to kill the bull after each fight. So the great bullfighters do not stop in Costa Rica.

To compensate and draw large crowds, the “Ticos” allow anyone older than eighteen and sober to fight the bull–all at the same time. Many times the fight begins with a hundred and fifty young screaming men filling the ring, waiting for the bull to break wildly through the entrance gate.  When the bull enters, immediately one hundred and forty of youngsters scramble wildly over the sides of the ring. From the beginning mob of so-called “toreros” only ten or less are really ready to challenge the bull up close and personal. A few poor slow souls get trampled in the mayhem and others get tossed wildly into the air by the angry bulls, much like bronco riders at a rodeo.  As the bull tires from charging the jeering; it stands confused in the ring catch a breath, some young man sneaks up from the rear and tries to mount the bull only to land in the dust thrown by the spinning bull.  Eventually, the bull loses interest and the attendants drive it from the ring.  And, it all starts again.  At the end of the day, hundreds of adventurers will claim the name of “Bullfighter,” but only a few receive it.

As I sit and see all of this,  I recognize a parable of religious faithfulness.  It is one thing to say, “I am a Christian.”  It is another thing all together to stay the ring when placed in a situation of persecution or opposition.

Photos, Humor and Captions

This category posts a photo. I request a humorous caption from readers for the photo.  An example is posted below.  Please insert your captions in the box— “Leave a comment.”  Then I will post your suggestion/suggestions and eventually choose a winner.

Come and Pig Out!

Are Your Ears Burning?