Monday, April 27, 2009

Railrunner Trip to Santa Fe

My friend, Pam, and I decided to have a girls' day out today, taking the New Mexico Railrunner to Santa Fe and back. It was a first time for both of us. The Railrunner is the commuter train that runs the central NM corridor, between Belen and Santa Fe. The train began service three years ago, but only extended its service to Santa Fe this past December. Since then it has become very popular for commuters who work in Santa Fe, but live in Albuquerque. It is a peaceful, pleasant hour-and-a-half ride between these two cities. We boarded at the historic Alvarado Transportation Center (picture above), which is the terminal for Amtrak, Railrunner, and long-distance buses. I think it's a beautiful building.

We knew better than to take the early morning train, when all the commuters would be on their way to work, so waited until 10:37 a.m., when another train departed the Albuquerque station, going north.

The cars are double-decker, so they really do hold a lot of people. Going up, the train was not very full at all. We shared the lower level of our car with only four other people. Here's a picture of the interior. That's Pam peeking over the back of her chair at me. On our return trip the train carried many more people, but we were still not crowded. Pam and I sat in facing seats, and neither of us had anyone sit beside us. I got a kick out of the signal that sounds each time the train doors are about to close -- "Beep-beep!" The Roadrunner!

I was a little disappointed because we were asked not to take pictures for a great part of the trip. We were going through Pueblo land, and taking pictures on most pueblos has been prohibited for decades. But here are a couple shots taken from my window, once we were off pueblo land.

The Santa Fe station is a little, old building, and is closed Monday through Wednesday, so we couldn't go inside. There's really no need to, anyway, because tickets are sold on-board the train. There are shuttle vans that take train passengers to the Santa Fe Plaza for no charge, and they are very efficient at getting people back and forth. We were at the plaza within ten minutes or so of arriving at the Santa Fe station. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in Santa Fe, and, as usual, the plaza was festive.

I love the architecture of Santa Fe.

The pictures below are of the Palace of the Governors. This building was built in the early 17th century, and served as Spain's seat of government for what is now the American Southwest. It is an adobe structure located directly across the street from the Plaza, and the state's history museum is now housed inside. Outside, on the covered sidewalk, Native American artists display and sell their wares. I always enjoy working my way down the sidewalk and stopping to talk with some of the artists. Today, I especially enjoyed talking with a Navajo lady, from whom I ended up purchasing a necklace (pictures three and four below).

Our return trip on the Railrunner was as pleasant as the morning's trip. We were both tuckered out when we got back to Albuquerque, but very glad to have gone. I noticed, on the schedule, that it would be possible to take an evening train up to Santa Fe, have dinner, stroll the plaza a little, and be back home, in Albuquerque, by 9:00 or so. I think Dan and I should make plans for that.

By the way, a day pass on the train costs $8.00/person, which, ironically, is also what I paid to park my car in the garage across from the station.

The Daring Bakers' April Challenge - Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. (Recipe HERE.)

Cheesecake is something, believe it or not, that I've never made before, unless you count the no-bake version. So I eagerly ran out, right away, and bought the ingredients. I stayed home with Dan, when he had his eye surgery, and thought that being creative in the kitchen would be a good use of my at-home time.

According to our challenge-hostess, we were permitted to use whatever flavorings we chose, as long as we used the basic recipe that was provided. And that freedom almost got me in trouble! I made a strawberry swirl cheesecake, and here's a picture of it after coming out of the oven.

I baked it in a springform pan, and wrapped the bottom securely with extra-strength aluminum foil, since it was baked in a water bath. After 55 minutes in a 350 degree oven, I turned off the heat and let it sit another hour in the cooling oven, as directed. This was supposed to keep it from cracking on top as it cooled. Here's a picture of it just after it came from the oven. The swirls were made from melted strawberry jelly, and, as you can probably see, the cake did crack a little bit on top, despite my care. Still, it looked pretty good and smelled wonderful.

I should have stopped there, but NO; I had to try to get fancy! I had seen pictures of a cake called a Strawberry Mirror Cake, which was a Daring Bakers' challenge before I joined. I loved the "mirror" top and thought that it would be the perfect topping for my cheesecake. (You can see a picture of Tartelette's Strawberry Mirror Cake HERE. Isn't it gorgeous?)

Dan laughed at my "Rube Goldberg" apparatus for draining the strawberries.

So I cooked up the strawberries, sugar and water; and then let the berry juice drain, through some cheesecloth, into a bowl. To the juice, I added a gelatin "sponge" made from unflavored gelatin and a splash of lemon and apple juice. After letting the concoction cool, over ice, until it was a thick syrup, I poured it on top of the cooled cheesecake. It looked pretty good, so I put it in the refrigerator and, somewhat impatiently, waited for the gelatin "mirror" set.

Later in the evening I eagerly pulled out my cheesecake, uncovered it, expecting to see a perfectly smooth, shiny, brilliant red mirror top. But what I found was a mess! The cheesecake had developed more and deeper cracks, the gelatin mixture had seeped down into the cracks and, some of it, out through the bottom of the springform pan. It was a very sad looking cheesecake. I didn't know whether to cry, to laugh, to throw it out, to take a picture, or to pretend I never even attempted this challenge! What I did was scrub the red gelatin off the refrigerator shelf, put some fresh foil beneath the pan, cover the top of the pan with plastic wrap, and put it away for the night. I'd deal with it the next day.

As usual, things looked better in the light of a new day. Although the strawberry mirror had found its way through the fissures in the center of the cake, it had set up pretty well around the outer edge. A few dollops of whipped cream did a pretty good job of hiding the flaws, once it was plated. And, if I do say so myself, it was the best tasting cheesecake I've ever eaten. Some cheesecake is heavy and dense, but this was creamy and dreamy - much more to my liking. I'll be baking this recipe again and will probably experiment with different flavors. But no more Strawberry Mirror topping on any of my cheesecakes!

Other Completed Daring Bakers' Challenges: Lavash, Pizza Napoletana, Caramel Cake, French Yule Log, Tuiles, Chocolate Valentino, Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Building, Bible Lesson, Blue Sky and Bird

When we arrived at our church building this morning, we were thrilled to see that the construction fence had been taken down, although yellow tape was still across all the new entrances. Everything is done now, except for a few punch-list items. The Certificate of Occupancy should be in our hands this week, and next week we'll be able to use the new space that we've been watching take shape over the past ten months or so. Here's a sneak peek of the entire building, from a distance. Next week, when everything is cleaned up and opened up, I'll take some close-up pictures and post them.

Our building has doubled in size. The original building was the taller square structure, to the right, with the peaked turquoise roof. The drive-through entrance, also with a turquoise roof, is new, as is the lower, flat-roofed rectangular structure to the left. The new structure includes a very large multi-purpose room, with a serving area; new classrooms; a teacher's resource area; and additional restrooms. We all consider this new space a true blessing, and pray that we can use it to God's glory.

Here's a picture of a few people at the groundbreaking, back in July 2008, where you can see the old square building, without the additions. They are standing where the flat-roofed rectangular addition was built.

This morning my two- and three-year-old Bible class was learning about Day Two of God's Creation. On the second day, God created the firmament (sky), and the sky divided the waters above (the clouds) from the waters below (the seas). We had a good lesson with all sorts of songs, finger plays, books and pictures about God creating the sky, clouds and water. We got our fingers wet with water, and tested whether certain things floated or sank in water. We blew bubbles in the water, with a straw. We made a handcraft, with a sky of blue, sponge-painted clouds, and glittery water below. Then we went to the window to look at the blue sky that God had made, and to search for clouds. Whoops! This is New Mexico, after all! Here was the sky we saw. They had to use some imagination when it came to clouds!


When Dan and I returned for our afternoon service, I found what we had searched the sky for in the morning (see below).Welcome to a cloudy day in New Mexico! (Okay, I might be exaggerating just a little.)

When we got home this evening, there was someone waiting to greet us. No, no out of town guests, but Tim's bird, Lady. Those of you who have marvelous memories may remember that the last bird I bird-sat for Tim was Quint. Quint died a few months ago, but before that Tim had adopted Lady as a companion for Quint.

I'm taking care of Lady because Tim will be leaving town tomorrow for a short vacation. He's worked his current position for 19 months now, and has only taken one day of leave. HR told him he needed to use or lose his vacation days, so he's off to explore the Colorado Springs area. Have a safe and fun trip, Tim!

Monday, April 20, 2009

He Can See Clearly Now!

Yesterday Dan was saying how much better he was seeing. And this morning, as he was getting ready for work, he said his vision was even better than yesterday. Then he called me in the afternoon. "I can see even better, now!" This evening he told me that he thinks he is seeing better out of the eye that had surgery than he is out of his other eye with it's contact lens.

Dan has had poor vision since he was a small child. He wore thick glasses until we met, in Abilene, and started dating. I remember when he got his first contact lenses, because I was the one who broke his glasses! It was a winter day, with one of those rare west Texas snowfalls. Nothing turns college students into little kids again like a snow covered campus. I was especially excited because it was my first year in Texas, and I had been missing Alaska's snowy winters.

Part of the fun of a winter snowfall is throwing snowballs. I guess I had pretty good aim, because I rounded up one of those white missiles, hurled it toward Dan, knocked his glasses off his face and broke them. I felt so bad, but it turned out for good, because he had been thinking about getting contact lenses for awhile, and the broken glasses gave him the impetus to go see the optometrist about them. That was over 40 years ago, and he's worn contact lenses ever since.

The doctor who did Dan's artificial lens implant last Wednesday said that his vision would continue to improve for several weeks or, even, months. And, yet, already he is seeing better than he ever has. God has given man the mind, the curiosity, the drive and the tools to do great things here on earth. Some use those gifts in the arts, some in the trades, some in research and others in the medical arts. We are thankful for the amazing research that has gone into developing an artificial lens that can work with a person's own eye muscles to focus at various distances; for the medical staff who skillfully worked on Dan's eye; and for God who gives every good and perfect gift.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Update - Dan

This is just a quick post to let everyone know that Dan is doing much better today. He saw the doctor this morning, and the abrasion is already beginning to heal nicely. He is supposed to continue wearing the contact lens over that eye and return tomorrow afternoon for another exam.

The lens itself "looks beautiful" according to the doctor, today. His eye is still dilated a lot, so Dan can't tell just how improved his vision will be, but it's already better than before the surgery. That's a good sign!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Beware the "Eye'ds" of April (bad pun)

It's April 15. Most people think of it as Tax Day. But for us, it will be remembered as Eye Surgery Day.

Dan had cataract surgery on his left eye this morning. The doctor told him the newly implanted lens looked "perfect," and Dan felt pretty good as we left the clinic and headed home. As the day progressed, however, and the anesthetic wore off, his eye began to feel uncomfortable. At first it was just an irritation. He called and talked to a nurse at the clinic, who said to try some moisturizing drops, which he did. But, as time passed, the irritation became more of a sharp pain, especially each time he blinked. Since pain following this type of surgery is not typical, we called the clinic again, and, even though it was closing time, they said to come in.

We headed back, right about rush hour. Luckily, we were going the opposite direction from most of the traffic, so we got there in good time. A technician named George, who works with Dan's doctor, was waiting there for us. He noticed our address on Dan's patient screen, and told us that we're neighbors; he and his family live a little over a block from our house. Even before looking at Dan's eye, he told us the symptoms were indicative of a corneal abrasion. Looking at the eye confirmed his theory.

George put some numbing drops into Dan's eye, which relieved the pain immediately. Then he put a soft, non-prescription, contact lens on the eye. This, he said, would act as a bandage, keeping his eyelid from irritating the abrasion whenever he blinked and allowing it to heal in, probably, a day or two.

Dan has a post-op appointment early in the morning. All indications are that the lens implant is fine, and that the abrasion on his cornea will heal up quickly. (But, if he has any problems in the middle of the night . . . we know where George lives!)

Many thanks to all who have told me you have been praying for Dan. It's very encouraging and comforting to us.

Monday, April 6, 2009

There is a Time to Travel and a Time to Stay Home

Imagine taking the trip of a lifetime, to a place with emerald green vistas and steep, sheer cliffs rising up out of the ocean . . . and not being able to see.

Imagine taking the trip of a lifetime, to a place with winding country paths and castles with ancient, steep stone stairways . . . and not being able to walk.

Those were the two dilemmas Dan and I faced as the time grew short for committing (by purchasing airline tickets) to our Fall trip to Ireland. We've been planning this trip for about eight months, now, in celebration of our 40th anniversary which will be this summer. But, as wise King Solomon said:
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
Dan needs to have cataract surgery on both of his eyes, one after the other. And I just found out that I need to have a total knee replacement (the second knee can probably wait awhile). As we looked, first, at the calendar, then at our bank account, we came to the realization that this fall is not the time for us to travel overseas. We're both still dedicated to making this fantastic journey together, but only when the time is right. Maybe by Spring of 2010, a year from now, Dan will be seeing through healthy eyes, I will be walking with less pain, and our bank account will have had time to recover from surgery, as well. It's only six months farther out, but we think it will make a world of difference in how much we enjoy the experience.

[Note to Papa John: You're still the contest winner, and we'll still be bringing you back a prize from the Emerald Isle.]