During the pandemic, recuerdos of Easter

Today I woke up thinking about Easter dinner. I don’t celebrate Easter in the traditional sense; it is just another reason to cook a nice dinner and share it with friends. It’s a celebration of spring and everything waking up from winter. This morning I was thinking that I’d be by myself and wasn’t planning a special dinner. I did make some candied lemon and orange peel and am making hot cross buns for Good Friday. This isn’t any kind of family tradition, just an excuse to bake something I love.
I spent a couple of hours at my garden this morning, planted some onion sets and peas and as I was leaving, I had a text from my dear friend Julie Keefe. She said she was looking forward to seeing photos of my Easter dinner and she sent me a link to an NPR All Songs Considered special, “John Prine’s Life in 10 Songs.” I have to admit, I have been inordinately affected by John Prine’s death. I have seen him perform many times and have always loved the way he related to the audience and how his songs are stories that you really need to listen to. It also made me think about Maureen; she took care of my children for years after I went back to work. Maureen had seen John Prine and Steve Goodman perform together in the 70’s (what a concert that must have been!). Years later, in the late 90’s, she reconnected with an old friend that she had known in high school, Bud. At a garage sale, Bud found an old poster from that concert and bought it and had it framed and gave it to Maureen as a gift. Then, not sure what year it was (early 2000’s?), John Prine played at the Paramount in Seattle. Maureen bought a big block of tickets and a bunch of us went. There were a couple of generations in that group; the multigenerational appeal of John Prine was well summed up by Seth Meyers in a very heartfelt tribute on Late Night from his attic. I have been listening to John Prine’s music almost nonstop for the last two weeks.

Anyway, thinking about that Easter dinner again, and I thought about what I had that I could make that would be a little bit special since I was not planning to go to the store again for some time. I remembered that I have a whole, bone in, skin on, chicken breast and some bread ends in the freezer and I thought I could make chicken and stuffing. This made me think about Easter dinner at my Gramma’s. I remember celebrating many Easters at my mother’s mother’s house in Buffalo, NY. I used to say that the Italians made a bigger deal out of Christmas and the Poles made a bigger deal out of Easter which made more sense because Christianity is about the resurrection, not the birth…not sure if that is really true, but it always seemed that way to me growing up.
(I don’t have a lot of pictures of my gramma)

We’d have pierogies for dinner on Good Friday at Gramma’s. I remember that whenever we visited her, she’d let us have a cup of tea with a splash of brandy in it. On Holy Saturday we’d go to confession. We’d put all the food for Easter Sunday in a basket and take it to St. John Kanty Church (where my parents got married and my sister was baptized) and after penance, the priest would bless all the Easter baskets. There was a tomb set up in the front of the church and you could see Christ’s body in the tomb. When our whole family visited Gramma there were only enough beds if someone slept with Gramma. Whoever slept with Gramma that weekend went to sunrise service with her on Easter Sunday. I don’t know if no one else wanted to get up so early, or if it just made me feel special, or what, but the way I remember it now, I always wanted to sleep with Gramma so that I could go to sunrise service with her. I remember loving the pageantry of that mass. The special purple robes the priests wore – all the priests participated. Back then each church had several priests, now many parishes are lucky if they have one full time priest. The procession, the flowers, and although I knew it was a statue in the tomb, it still made an impression that Jesus’ body was gone on Easter Sunday!
After mass, we’d go back to Gramma’s and she’d cook kielbasa and potatoes and we’d have borscht with the kielbasa, potatoes, beets, sour cream and, of course, hard boiled eggs for breakfast. My gramma would always make a lamb out of butter. She’d push softened butter through a sieve to make the wool and use peppercorns for eyes and a piece of red thread for the mouth. (All these things had been in that Easter basket that the priest had blessed the day before.)

After that, Gramma would cook Easter dinner, a roasted chicken. Was there stuffing? I don’t really remember the dinner all that well…that breakfast, though…I do know that there were a lot of Sunday dinners at Gramma’s. Mid-afternoon. Uncle Teddy always came. So did Uncle Frank and our cousins Laurie and Tom. Usually there was a rummy game, penny a point, nickel a hand. Sometimes they let us play. I loved hearing them talking in Polish, an occasional English word (or one of our names) thrown in. I loved hearing them calling each other their names in Polish: Tadeusz, Franek, Zuza. I wish my memories were clearer.

Decades later. My children were seven and nine. We were in Antigua, Guatemala three weeks before Easter.
There were daily processions through the streets. These processions involved as many as fifty men all dressed in purple carrying platforms upon which there was Jesus, carrying the cross. There were also women carrying platforms with Mary on them. Nick and Miranda had had a secular upbringing, none of this made any sense to them. We watched, and they had many questions. I was completely unprepared for this. There we were, in a crushing crowd on the street thousands of miles from home and I was trying to explain the crucifixtion to them. They listened, took it in and we watched. Over the next couple of weeks, we saw many such processions.

We were there for Palm Sunday and saw a play of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem enacted at the cathedral. That trip was probably the most exposure that my kids had to religion. Just now looking for a couple of photos to post, so many wonderful memories from that adventure. Sadly, Nick and Miranda’s memories are probably the same sort of snippets that I remember from going to Gramma’s at Easter.

There are lots of other Easter memories, garden parties, pot lucks and turkeys cooked on the BBQ, but these are the most vivid. It is spring and the sun is shining.


So, Julie, thanks for getting me to sit down and spend the afternoon writing and sifting through old photos. And everyone else, Happy Easter, whatever it means to you!

Five months in Los Angeles

I really thought that I had posted since I got here. Apparently not.

I arrived in Los Angeles at the end of March. I had the opportunity to go back to Peru in early May, but chose not to. There were many reasons; each individually was not enough, but taken together, it was best for me to remain in the US.

While I have been here, I have been taking classes to get certified to teach English to speakers of other languages. At the end of August, I will have one class left (which I plan to take early next year). I am going to Puebla, Mexico in September to improve my Spanish. I was very disappointed in the language training that we received in Peace Corps Peru, so I am looking forward to nine weeks of structured classes. Also, I believe that some of the second language acquisition coursework that I have done will be helpful. We’ll see. In November I am returning to Peru to be a tourist for a month. There were a lot of places that I didn’t get to see; I had a couple of trips lined up when we were evacuated and I was able to change the tickets, so I am going to visit.

State of emergency

Due to rain and flooding, much of Peru has been in a state of emergency for the last couple of weeks. The loss of life, the people left homeless and damage to infrastructure is overwhelming.
All Perú Peace Corps are safe, but the volunteers from three northern coastal states are being evacuated. This includes me. Right now, I am in Lima and will be heading to my sister’s in a couple of days. Peace Corps will assess the damage and decide if we are able to come back and whether we will need to go to new sites.
Here is my friend Caron’s account of the last couple weeks have been like: https://perusingblog.com/2017/03/25/state-of-emergency/


By the title you should be able to tell that this post will be all about ME.
In the US, I never spent much money on beauty products or treatments. I did spend a fair amount getting a good haircut every 8 weeks. When I accepted the invitation to Peru, I decided to grow my bangs out and stopped with the regular haircuts. I had my hair cut in LA in September and thought I might wait until the end of April to get it cut in Buffalo before my mother’s service. My hair was looking a little ratty and it was starting to bother me. Then Liz posted this pic and my hair really bothered me.

I was worried about getting it cut here. Wasn’t sure if I could explain what I wanted, etc. Eventually, my frugal (cheap!) side won out. In the US, I would pay at least $50. Here, in my site most of my friends go to Wilmer, everyone said that he is very good. I thought I explained what I wanted, I thought he understood.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not unhappy with it, but if you knew me 20 or 30 years ago, this is how I wore my hair for a very long time. I am not sure if it is just a sign of where Peru is fashion wise, or if this is just the style that seems to fit me best? Cost? S/.5 ($1.52). Can’t beat that!

More rain

Yesterday the rain came back with a vengeance. Today was nice enough, hot and sunny. Stopped by to visit with Maritza and it started raining again. Renzo tried to divert some of the rain out of the courtyard

But it was raining so hard

and the drainage systems were already overwhelmed from yesterday that the courtyard soon filled

And the water came pouring into the house.

Tierra de miel

When I first got to Pátapo, I was confused that it was called “tierra de miel.” To me, “miel” was honey, but here, honey is “miel de abeja” – “honey from bees.” Miel is used more to mean what I would call syrup. Pátapo started out as a sugar cane plantation, and the main crop in the surrounding area is still sugar cane. To make the sugar you extract the juice and boil it down, hence, the miel.

The other thing that confused me were the steam engines. Almost all of the pueblos around here have steam engines in their Parque Principal or as is the case of Pátapo, at the town entrance. The thing is, there are no railroad tracks and I didn’t understand why each town had one of these engines.

Francisco is our resident expert on The Ciudadela (the Chimú ruins on the hill next to our town). He has devoted the last 16 years (when he wasn’t at work cutting cane) to exploring the ruins and collecting historical articles and photos of the town. The other day we were looking at old photographs and I got the answer about the trains. Up until the 1950’s the trains were used to bring the cane from the fields to the factories. Of course, now it is brought by truck.

The entrance to Pátapo

Parque Principal Huaca Blanca

Sugar cane fields

Truck full of cane

A visit to el campo

Last weekend my friend Maritza took me out to another friend’s chacra (little farm). Raimunda was picking mangoes when we got there. We walked around picking mangoes, starfruit, limes, coconuts and mamey (https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/mamey.html). There was also a gigantic honey beehive, but I couldn’t get a good photo.
Raimunda cut the coconuts open and we shared the coconut water while eating a delicious mamey.
So lucky to come home with a big bag of fruit!
Starfruit on the tree

Raimunda and a mamey

the rain came

During my first six months here in sure, people talked about “the rainy season,” but seeing as it never rained that whole time, it seemed like an abstract concept. Over the last couple of weeks there were a few showers and last night the rain came in earnest. Power was out all over Lambayeque for most of the night. The mud is incredible. I am fortunate, my room is on the second floor and the roof seems to be keeping the water out. Another volunteer posted these photos from Chiclayo (Peru’s 4th largest city):

And this was the view from my room this afternoon:

3 of 4

I have been asked about my home. I can’t include all the photos in one email, so here is a series of 4.

This is our kitchen. I am super lucky because our stove has an oven. Up the stairs – my room is on the second floor, but I hang my laundry on the roof to dry. And the view from the roof.