2012

Christmas in our mini

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It seems impossible to believe that Christmas is nearly here.  Our space is small and we’ve done what little we could to decorate our tiny 2′ tall Norfolk Island Pine that sits on our dinette table.  (Our only table!)  No huge light strands or outside decorations because we’ve nowhere to store them once the season is over.  The tree is live:  good for Mother Earth and good for our space as it will make a beautiful present to a friend once we are ready to leave on New Year’s Day.  Austin has a stocking hanging from one of the overhead cabinet knobs and our Christmas cards are taped to the refrigerator.

Our mini tree
Our mini tree

What’s really difficult is gift giving when living in a small space.  Every item purchased must be very carefully thought out.  Where will it be stored when moving so that it doesn’t learn how to fly?  Is there space for it to be used?  Does it require electricity or to plug in to the TV?  Will it actually get used enough to consider a place for it in our tiny, 168 square foot home?

It’s a true test of necessity and desire.  The fine balance between what you have to make space for and what you, for no true reason, can’t live without.  Items like laptops and Legos, what is our top priority?  What do we move or eliminate to make room for the new?

Luckily the grandparents sent gift cards this year.  Always difficult when you receive something that has to be returned, re-gifted or left in a storage room.  Of course, our ‘house’ is in a storage room, a POD full of furniture, treasured items, and things we can live without but truly want back one day when we once again move into a sticks-and-bricks home.

But for now we’re enjoying the freedom of not being attached to so many things.  There’s a box full of presents in the camper ‘basement’ storage, and tomorrow night I’ll clear the dinette to make room for their delivery.  Once unwrapped, unboxed, and the games are removed from their sleeves, they will take very little from our space, but despite their size, they are guaranteed to make a little boy a very happy one come Christmas morning!

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Hey you, over there, even you are welcome here!

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“Whatever the faiths you have known or the flags of your heritage, you are welcome here.  Whoever you are and whomever you love, you are welcome here.  Whether you ran in here today on little feet, or walked briskly, or ambled in, or rolled in, you are welcome here.” 

(UUCEP Worship Associate Script)

Above are some of the first words you will hear when attending a Sunday Service at the UU Community of El Paso.  They are truly heartfelt by those among us.

Ours is a faith of acceptance and each one of these words can be taken in the most literal sense.  Whomever you are, no matter your background,  you are welcome without regard to race, class, national origin, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity/expression.

UUCEP
Unitarian Universalist Community of El Paso

Unfortunately, many are in search of our faith without realizing it even exists!  If you would like a more liberal, educational, and accepting faith environment, visit a UU community this Sunday.  If you’re unsure where your beliefs lie, a great way to get help is to take the “Belief-O-Matic” quiz at Belief Net: http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Quizzes/BeliefOMatic.aspx  It is a truly fun and enlightening quiz that can both affirm your chosen faith, or show you a new path to spiritual exploration.

As a creedless faith, UU’s rely on the support and acceptance by our members of our 7 Principles:

Our 7 Principles

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person

2. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations

4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning

5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large

6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part of

As I go on my 2013 pilgrimage, I hope to bring the meanings of these words to heart and to share.  It’s simple to list words as they come–simple to list the principles.  But what I hope to convey is the emotion behind the words and more importantly, the belonging to the words that come with our faith.

To learn more about Unitarian Universalism, or to find a community near you, please visit: www.uua.org or click on the chalice in the right-hand column of my blog.  If you are unable or unwilling to attend a physical location, you can explore UU’ism through the Church of the Larger Fellowship: http://www.questformeaning.org/

For more information on the UU Community of El Paso, visit: www.uuelpaso.org

Homeland cuisine

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Although Texas is known for its steaks and chili, here in the borderland we have the ultimate in border Mexican cuisine.  Anything from the simple to the gourmet, the chiles and the tortillas never tasted better than those from the heart of El Paso.

Chicos TacosWhile some El Pasoans will argue the worth of some of the foods I love, it’s like a calling when coming back home.  Australians have their vegemite, Scots have their haggis, and El Pasoans have our own Chico’s Tacos made infamous by “Fluffy” (comedian Gabriel Iglesias), and all of us who grew up with late night visits after Friday high school football and crashing quinceaneras.  Chico’s Tacos are the tacos that are really flautas drowned in tomato water, drenched in a hot green chile salsa, and covered in an un-meltable shredded cheese.  And did I say nearly impossible to eat?  While some use the fork-tong method to temporarily hold them above the paper tray and attempt neatness while eating, many of us just grab the thing and damn with the mess.  Honestly, aren’t some of the best tasting foods the messiest to eat?  (Ever had a Whopper that didn’t drip?  What a disappointment!)

My other favorite El Paso landmark restaurant is Kiki’s, made famous by locals and multiple Kikisawards and appearances on the Food Network channel.  Every Sunday afternoon following church you will find my son Austin and me enjoying a perfect specimen of borderland food there.  Known for it’s machacas, which are amazing, this restaurant doesn’t fail on any of it’s menu.  When not splurging, I enjoy just a simple green cheese enchilada, my favorite of all foods.  Enchiladas are also my test food anytime I try a new restaurant.  Hell, if they can’t get the basics in tortillas with chiles, sauces, and cheeses, then you won’t find me returning for a second go.

I love my border Mexican so much that I took it with me on my last trip.  Loaded up on frozen tacos and enchiladas, I pulled them out and shared them with friends and family unfortunate enough to live back East, far away from our desert paradise.

And now I face their dilemma, a full-year without my favorites.  Dry ice and FedEx anyone?

If you ever have the fortune of visiting El Paso, use the links below to find my favorites:

Kiki’s Restaurant http://www.kikisrestaurant.com/

Chico’s Tacos locations http://www.yellowpages.com/el-paso-tx/chicos-tacos (Bring cash, Chico’s does not accept credit cards)

Border Poet has me Tongue-tied

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Yesterday while at the UUCEP Holiday Bazaar, I picked up a copy of an acquaintance’s newest book, Tongue-tied to the Border.  The author, Gene Keller, is a wonderful, likeable and fluffy bearded man with an ever present twinkle in his eye.  Yes, it’s getting very close to Christmas and, no, I’m sorry to say he is not Santa!  Though reading his work made me feel as though my Christmas had come early.

Tongue Tied to the Border
Tongue-tied to the Border

Gene’s book reminds me of how I love the smell of the desert with a summer’s rain freshly upon it, the splash of the dust and the crack of the electric permeating the sky with a monsoon just arrived.  This is what Tongue-tied brings to thoughts and senses.

If you have never lived in the desert, this book is a must.  And if you have, this book is an ethereal fantasy of childhood memories as well as a social commentary on the shared lives of our sister cities, Juarez and El Paso.

Now I must begin from page one again.  I have to relish in the poems, reading them slowly and examining the contextual meanings as I feel, contemplate and digest the words of this borderlander.

Gene Keller is a full-spectrum poet: a maker of word artifacts, a singer, a storyteller.”  (From back book jacket.)

A performance by Gene at our sanctuary in April 2012:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHXHheDHdok

Copies of Tongue-tied to the Border are available for purchase on Amazon.com, or at the Hal Marcus Gallery in El Paso.

http://www.amazon.com/

http://www.halmarcus.com/

Tongue-tied to the Border, by Gene Keller, Copyright 2012 by Gene Keller, Street of Trees Projects (SOTP 1112), 225 Arboles, El Paso TX 79932.

My desert home

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It’s been wonderful being back in El Paso for the last year and more.  I’ve been so used to traveling and moving that our little six-week trip in September and October back East just wasn’t enough to cure my bug, but at the same time, I’m home.

I graduated from Socorro High School here in El Paso back in the 80’s and then went straight el-paso-tx desertinto the Marine Corps as a 17-year-old.  My friends and I were so hurried to get out on our own.  Of my two best friends, one graduated mid-term and married the day after our last class.  I graduated mid-term also and left for boot camp in January.   While my friends were enjoying the prom I was on bivouac in Parris Island and by the time they were graduating, I was at my first duty station in North Carolina.  At age 21, when many young adults are moving out of their parents’ homes, I was completing a four-year tour of duty.

Although I have a lot of pride associated with my service (even my youngest daughter became a Marine) I recently have had reminders of the unique experiences that I lost in all my ambition.  I followed the military for 25 years and it was only my position with the American Red Cross that brought me back home to Texas, serving as the Station Manager  at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.

Within a year of leaving El Paso so long ago I lost touch with my first love.  The last I heard from my best friends was about ten years ago.  We’re now in our 40s, married, divorced, children.  Although we’ve all gone in different directions, we will never lose our common denominator.  And maybe I’m a sentimental fool now, but I’d love to see them all, hear their voices, cry with them, laugh with them, and heal their wounds.

In January I leave El Paso, but in December I’ll be back, back to my favorite place, my desert home.

Anticipation

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Remember that old song by Carly Simon?  It’s been ringing in my ears these days.  Just the thought of being back on the road, staying in a new city most every night and a new state every week.  It brings me butterflies and wracks my organizational Type A brain all at one time.wpid-2012-07-07-12.27.34.jpg

Unfortunately, I’ve found myself turning into a procrastinator.  I keep asking myself, “Where is this coming from?”  I’ve done all the tests that prove just how anal I am, I have ALWAYS been the one early, ready, and obnoxiously on point and on schedule.  But now?  I’m lost in a sea of, *eh* … really!

Is it age that makes me realize that some things are more important?  When did sitting outside under the awning become more important than planning my trip, emailing contacts at my upcoming locations, looking up campgrounds, …

Okay, so the list could go on forever.  I just want to be out there.  I want to be on the road with, “Yeah, we’ll be there by Sunday but until then, we have six days to travel all of 250 miles and nothing else on the schedule.”   I want to hit the parks, the zoos, the museums, and take time to just sit by the side of the road and enjoy the view of the skyline or the mountains, or whatever happens to be in my back yard that night.  Think about it, in just a few weeks, the entire country will be my personal backyard!

Why did he want two?

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Last year at UUCEP we had a big box in the back for people to bring in gifts to donate and we had a good response but the varieties of gifts were pretty wide-ranged.  This year we decided on a Giving Tree for foster children through CASA El Paso.  As many know, this is when you set up a Christmas tree in a hall, or in our case in the sanctuary, with tags hung on it describing various children and their gift wishes for Christmas.

Before the tree was even set up Austin and I spied the envelope with tags in it in the office while we were putting together our travel poster.  We looked through the many cards and Austin clued in on some boys close to his age and wanting gifts that he would love himself.  I told him that we had to choose just one and put the others back for the giving tree but Austin didn’t like this.  He asked why he couldn’t choose two and I explained that there were other people in the church that would want to donate also.

I decided to ask him why, why did he want two?  It’s not like he’s getting the gifts himself (as many young children would feel) and he wouldn’t even get to meet the children.  But Austin said decisively, “Because I feel so bad for them.  They don’t have as much as I have.”  And there it was, the growth, the maturity, and my parental pride all balled up inside of him and me.

So I promised him that we would check the tree in a couple weeks and see if any tags were missed.  If so, we would take them and go straight to the store for more gifts for the children.

You see, my son Austin is adopted.  A beautiful soul that was a gift to me and is now a gift to the world.

CASA of El Paso trains and supports volunteers from the community to advocate for abused and neglected children who need representation in the family court system, striving to provide them a safe and permanent home.

For more information, visit www.casaofelpaso.com.

Karma didn’t smile on me yesterday!

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What a way to start my day!  I got up and started the usual routine, taking the dog out, making my morning tea, and getting Austin up for breakfast.  The day was warming fast (in a vehicle that happens even at 50 degrees outside) so I decided to open the front door and dinette window to allow some cool air in.  And this is where it hit, as I started to open the dinette window, it shattered!  Really!  I got it open maybe three inches and then that horrible, disconcerting quiet little ‘clink‘ that brought the window to pieces and me standing there holding the metal frame that was supposed to be attached to the glass.

Now if my rig was a bit older I might expect the occasional mishap, but this had to have been karma because it bit me again later in the day in a few ways.  After taking two hours to clean up the glass from on, under and inside my dinette, I realized that the time I had spent was supposed to have been used typing my already late submission to the UUCEP newsletter, sorry Sonia!  It was also Wednesday, and Wednesdays are laundry days so that means schlepping everything to the laundry facility and giving up a couple hours of my life that I’ll never get back.  After all of this I had 60 sweet minutes to sit back and enjoy the quiet (or type like I should) before heading to the USO for my weekly volunteer shift.

So, I sat back, plugged in and turned on my laptop and put the boob tube to something meaningless while I heated some water for tea.  But no, not to be.  Within ten minutes the lights went out, not just in my camper but in the entire park.  And they stayed out.

I finally gave up and gave in, leaned back, closed my eyes and rested for about ten minutes, thinking of how wonderful tomorrow just had to be as Austin ran outside and hopped on his bike along with all of the other kids in the park.  Then I mustered my energy, got the lantern from it’s hiding hole, got ready for my USO shift and spent a wonderful evening with some of America’s finest.

And today?  Today is a great day.  In fact, every day is a great day!

To find out more about the USO, visit www.USO.org.

Cooking a Thanksgiving feast for two in an RV

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Cooking a multi-course meal in a 2′ x 4′ kitchen can be a bit daunting, but this year our meal was a success.  With only two of us and a tiny oven, I wanted to make just the right serving sizes to have for our dinner and few leftovers.

My first plan was for the turkey.  I decided on crockpot cooking and a 3# Butterball turkey breast.  The breast comes in a plastic bag with the turkey wrapped in a string net along with a bag of gravy starter.

I started by taking the turkey out of the string net.  There were two large pieces and a few small chunks.  After cleaning the pieces, I set them aside and cut a red onion into 8 chunks and readied two garlic gloves.  I layered the ingredients in the crock pot as such: 1/3 stick butter, 1/2 of the onion chunks, 1 diced garlic clove,  1/2 the turkey, spices, 1/3 stick butter, 1/2 bag baby carrots, the second 1/2 of the onion, second clove of garlic, all topped with the second 1/2 of turkey, skin side up.  At the very top I added the last 1/3 stick butter and spices and 1/2 cup water.  I cooked this overnight (about 8 hours) on low, then changed the crockpot to the “warm” setting from morning until time to serve.

Next I went about making the side dishes.  With only two saucepans, I had to cook, clean, and cook and clean again.  I first made the cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries (the only way to have it!)  Easy to make for two in a small pan with 1/2 bag fresh cranberries and 1 cup sugar boiled with 1/2 cup water until the berries open and the sauce thickens just a bit.  I then put the sauce in a bowl in the refrigerator to cool and thicken, washed the pan and started on the gravy.

At first I tried the gravy that came with the turkey but my son and I both agreed that the gravy just did not meet up to our standards.  I then tasted the au jus and it was perfect as-is so we decided on using it.  The last two dishes to be made were the stuffing and mashed potatoes just before ready to serve.

And although in a tiny space, we had a delicious homestyle Thanksgiving dinner made just for two!

Our full schedule, let us know when we’ll be near you!

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*** PLEASE NOTE: This schedule has been updated as a living document.

Click on “Schedule” above for our most current listing!

traveling tUUsome 2013 schedule

January 1: Leave from UUCEP

January 6: Albuquerque, New Mexico

January 13: Dallas, Texas

January 20: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

January 27: Oxford, Mississippi

February 3: Birmingham, Alabama

February 10: Lawrenceville, Georgia

February 17: Sarasota, Florida

February 24: Greenville, South Carolina

March 3: Fayetteville, North Carolina

March 10: Williamsburg, Virginia

March 17: Washington, D.C.

March 24: Frederick, Maryland

March 31: Wilmington, Delaware

April 7: Devon, Pennsylvania

April 14: Cherry Hill, New Jersey

April 21: New York, New York

April 28: West Hartford, Connecticut

May 5: Providence, Rhode Island

May 12: Concord, Massachusetts

*Insert visit to CLF and UUA this week!

May 19: Portsmouth, New Hampshire

May 26: Portland, Maine

June 2: Burlington, Vermont

June 9: Ottawa, Canada

June 16: Ann Arbor, Michigan

June 23: Columbus, Ohio

June 30: Charleston, West Virginia

July 7: Lexington, Kentucky

July 14: Knoxville, Tennessee

July 21: Little Rock, Arkansas

July 28: Tulsa, Oklahoma

August 4: Overland Park, Kansas

August 11: Kirkwood, Missouri

August 18: Bloomington, Indiana

August 25: Oak Park, Illinois

September 1: Madison, Wisconsin

September 8: Minneapolis, Minnesota

September 15: Des Moines, Iowa

September 22: Lincoln, Nebraska

September 29: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

October 6: Bismarck, North Dakota

October 13: Laramie, Wyoming

October 20: Golden, Colorado

October 27: Salt Lake City, Utah

November 3: Bozeman, Montana

November 10: Moscow, Idaho

November 17: Seattle, Washington

November 24: Anchorage, Alaska (by air!)

December 1: Portland, Oregon

December 8: Reno, Nevada

December 15: Berkley, California

December 22: Honolulu, Hawaii (flying again!)

December 29: Paradise Valley, Arizona

December 31: Back home to El Paso!