Monday, April 9, 2018

Seed to table. Dirt to mouth. The fabulous Authentic Corn Tortilla Project.

My babies. What stories we'll tell together.

I'm calling my farmtastical journey this summer the "Authentic Corn Tortilla Project." I bet you've heard nothing quite like it. There's a reason for that.

I have this crazy idea -- a notion, a fever, or maybe it's just a plain ol' halluciation -- that I can make something different, something good, something unique that starts in the dirt out by my shed just the other side of my drain field. Well, plenty the other side of my drain field.

I'm not sure if it's brilliant, or foolish. The line separating the two seems pretty darn thin.

My idea to make real corn tortillas from really old school corn with genes that go back hundreds, if not thousands, of years was birthed out of my own observations. It started with the corn I let dry on the stalk last summer and thinking, "What the heck? Couldn't I make corn flour out of this stuff?"

You know, for like cornbread? And, well, grits?

The answer proved to be yes. Or near as I could tell it was yes. Thanks to some fortuitous discoveries on the world wide web of the history of corn and masa -- the kinda gooey, corn flour-based substance from which legit tortillas are made -- some video of some hardcore food truck guys in LA who are really, really passionate about their tortillas, and assorted other articles and videos about ancient Mexican corn strains, I thought, "Why not?"

Why not try it here in my back yard? Why can't I go all foodie-grow-your-own with a big splash of experimentation that could, it really could, end up being amazing?

So here I am. On a chilly spring night listening to raindrops clattering against my office window, a day after I planted those first 50 seeds of Hopi Purple Corn. I'm plotting to plant a couple more squares of corn and wondering how -- if? -- it will all play out.

I scored my corn seeds from a catalog that was produced in podunk Missouri. For reals. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You can find them at They produce this gloriously extravagant 146-page catalog and sell more than 1,800 varieties of seeds from more than 100 countries.

Seriously. These guys don't play when it comes to seeds.

Tomatoes from Iraq? Done. Cassabanana melons from Guatemala? Just a click away. And don't forget your wild apple seeds from Tajikstan. I don't kid! This stuff will literally blow your mind!

I mean, dude, it's a gardening nerd's paradise. I know because I'm one of those gardening nerds.

So yes, I really did just drop some purple corn seeds into a plot of dirt that I carved out of my back yard and fertilized with a pickup load of bona fide horse poop I got for free from a horse farm off Hickory Fork Road.

I'll water those seeds, let the rain fall on my corn, take photos and videos of it all. I'm not embarrassed to say I'll be out there speaking kind words to those babies of mine. I believe in positive reinforcement after all.

My lovelies. My early inspiration from last summer. 

I'll watch my corn grow in the oppressive, sultry Virginia heat. Then I'll watch my corn dry in the oppressive, sultry Virginia heat. Then I'll harvest my corn in the oppressive, sultry Virginia heat.

I'm worried about the bugs. So nasty, those bugs. The weeds are going to be a straight nuisance. I foresee lots of sweaty labor in my near future.

It'll all be worth it. Right?

Of course, because sometime late this summer, in the oppressive, sultry Virginia heat, after the stalks have shriveled and crunch like potato chips and the ears of corn have dried to like they're little tiny rocks, it'll be time.

Come to purple tortilla time.

I'll grind up the corn, tap my buddy Frank Villa's family masa-manufacturing expertise, and make those blessed purple tortillas. We'll have purple tortilla chips and dip them in salsa I make with onions, tomatoes and poblano peppers that I harvest right out of my garden, just a row or two from my corn. They'll all be best buds this summer.

Seed to table.

Dirt to mouth.

That's the plan.

I mean, that's my dream.

You start something and you never quite know how it will all turn out.

That's what's so great about it, though. It's what's so great about dreams. The finding out. The chasing. The determination to see things through. The seeing if you have it. That grit. That passion and drive.

The worst thing you can ever do is not try.

So here goes. Come along for the ride.

The great, the fabulous, the crazy Authentic Corn Tortilla Project.

For the YouTube version of all this tomfoolery, go here: Getting corny

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Sabo family Christmas story: Time stands still

There's so many of us now it's hard to get everyone in the photo...

Maybe it's true what they say about time.
That it goes faster the older you get. That one day, like today on Christmas Eve 2017, you wonder how you got here so fast.
A hundred yesterdays, a thousand actually, have passed .
What happened to summer? Let alone fall.
In a few days the calendar turns again. And in a year from now I imagine that once again I'll wonder what happened to the time.
I imagine I'll ask Julie where the days went and how the kids got so big and wasn't it just yesterday we wondered what it would be like to have kids who are in college and married.
And wasn't it just yesterday we'd wonder how crazy it must be to think about holding a sweet little grandchild.
Those yesterdays are here. What seemed to be so distant, so crazy to think about, wasn't so crazy after all.
Those little kids are in college and married and working and buying houses and having babies and doing all those things that I think makes time speed up.
When the older ones come home and all 14 kids are here together with two daughters-in-law and one grandson and we're trying to fit around the dinner table it's big kid, little kid, grown kid, little kid, big kid, grown kid and so on to try and fit everyone in.
It's kind of impossible.
But as we're all laughing to the point of tears and passing food the wrong way and spilling seafood chowder. We laugh some more at what the little kids have been saying lately and laugh about the legendary stories about the crazy things the older kids used to do ... and then we laugh some more ...
It's these moments right here that for a brief moment time stops.
And I think to myself that these are the best days of my life. Not yesterday or maybe tomorrow, but right here.
I look around and all our kids are together again.
No one's off at work or away at college or living somewhere so far away.
They're all right here, sitting with us at the dinner table.
Love is the sound of raucous laughter.
Love is the amazing family stories that everyone's heard but still make us all howl.
Love is baby James' big, toothless grins that make everyone else coo.
It's selflessness and caring and compassion and forgiveness and easy apologies, all the things that can be so rare in this world.
It's joy and laughter-induced hiccups and big hello and goodbye hugs.
It's a collective faith in Christ and knowing that hard days and good days may be His equal portions, but His love for us transcends the darkest nights.
I think to myself how amazingly blessed I am. God pours out His grace and mercy and love on me in abundance.
A man for whom, however briefly, time does stop.
And I make this memory: We're crammed around the dinner table, all my kids, my beautiful wife next to me, and we're all roaring, some of us wiping our eyes we're laughing so hard.
It's a moment I'll carry in my memory forever. That picture is ingrained in my mind, never to fade.
So yes, actually, time does stand still.
Every once in a while it stands still for me.
I'm thankful.
Merry Christmas. God bless you all.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ezra, the gentleman soccer star

Ezra, looking to pass.
Olivia, hoping for a goal.

Over the past two seasons of Gloucester Parks & Recreation soccer, Ezra has had an extraordinary run. His teams went undefeated, 19-0, and won two straight championships in the 9-11 age group. It's all the more remarkable considering that from the spring season to the recently concluded fall season, the coaches changed and most of the players changed, with the only thing unchanged being the results.

Last Saturday, the Green Lightning, expertly coached by my good friend Omar Torres and his excellent assistant coach Brian Hudgins, won a grueling tournament in heart attack fashion -- the opposing side hit the crossbar or post of the Green Lightning three times in the match -- beating the vaunted Orange Crush 2-1. It was the third 48-minute match within the span of about 5 hours for the Green Lightning, of which Ezra, now 11 years old, was co-captain.

Ezra played his heart out. There are several things about Ezra I truly admire about his play on the soccer pitch. His heart, so big. His effort, unparalleled. His speed, among the tops in the league. His skill, again among the tops in the league. He plays hard but cleanly, doesn't talk trash to opponents, but lets his game do his talking.

He scored around six goals or so this season, half of them with his left foot even though he's naturally stronger with his right foot. Yet his play on the defensive end of the field is perhaps the strongest part of his game. He's relentless and time and again he ran down offensive players and stopped attacks seeming headed for sure goals; during the first game of the tournament following one furious sequence near halftime that left him hobbled, Ezra had to be carried off the field by a coach after taking a cleat to his achilles tendon. He returned to action after halftime.

While championships are a thrill -- in the spring season I coached Ezra's team the Gray Wolves that won the championship in sudden death penalty kicks over Coach Omar's side -- my enduring memory of this season had nothing to do with trophies, or goals, or hustling plays.

It has to do with Ezra's little sister, Olivia, and what it would have meant to him for her to score a goal. Ezra and Olivia have a special bond. It's always been so sweet to see how close they are and how much they enjoy being together. When I talked to my kids this summer to see who wanted to play soccer this fall, Olivia said she wanted to play so she could be on Ezra's team. She's taken to ballet, but even though she's only played one season of soccer, she wanted to spend her late summer and fall with her brother.

On the field at the start of the season Olivia was quite timid. Imagine a ballerina flitting down a soccer field and you've seen Olivia play soccer. But over the course of the season, she became emboldened. She started going after the ball, backed down less from the action on the field and started kicking it more during the games. By the end of the season, she really wanted to score a goal. It seemed an improbable thought ... but not to Ezra.

Coach Omar wanted her to score a goal as well. He would put her and Ezra together on the front line and tell her to just go get in the box in front of the goal. Ezra will find her. Many times Ezra passed up chances to work the ball in for his own shot at a goal to try to get a pass in to Olivia so she could score. He would run down the flank with the ball, his head up, looking for his little sister in her pink soccer shorts. He would dodge defenders, circle back, probe the defense, holding onto the ball waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect pass, always hoping it would happen.

It never did happen. Olivia had a shot or two, but it never quite panned out. Yet Ezra never stopped trying. And Olivia was so excited and tickled her older brother was trying so hard to help her score a goal.

I can't recall if it was Coach Omar or another parent who saw what Ezra was trying to do and described Ezra as a "gentleman." I like that. Ezra, the gentleman soccer star.

And that's how I see him.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

As Parents, Let's Choose the Things that Matter for Our Kids

We can get caught up in "doing" a lot of things for our kids. In our culture we're all about "things."

More things.

Better things.

Lots of things.

We're consumers and takers. We want status and prestige and the best things. We have resulting high expectations for achievement.

We want getting ahead. Pushing. Demanding. Meeting the world's standards.

Let's breathe as parents. I'm reminded as I find myself in that place again. Comparing. Compromising. And I ask myself, `What matters for my kids?'








To serve and not be served.

To go and make disciples.

To love the Lord with all their heart, soul, strength and mind.

What matters are the things that last.

The things that build family.

The things that transcend culture.

What matters is the love and faith and hope and trust and joy and peace that keep us together when the world around us crumbles.

You don't find it's what the world offers.

You find it reflecting and radiating from the Son sent to live and die and live again for each one of us. All of us.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Waking up on my 48th birthday and realizing one big thing

I spent part of my birthday teaching this crew how to skip rocks.

I was scrolling back through my memories of birthdays past, thinking about some of the particular January 29ths that really stand out. I thought I’d share some. 

1976 — On my 7th birthday in the wintry cold of Bend, Oregon, I broke the two middle fingers on my right hand shortly before my friends arrived for my birthday party. I snapped the tips of those fingers in an unfortunate incident involving a wheelbarrow full of firewood, a rickety ramp consisting of a single flimsy board and a big drop down some steps on our back patio. Oh, and my older brother was in the mix. I soon adapted by learning to write left-handed. So I guess you could say that on my 7th birthday I learned about overcoming adversity. And not to use your writing hand to try and hold up a ramp beneath the weight of a wheelbarrow full of firewood being driven by your brother, even when he tells you to hold the ramp up with your hand.

1985 — I would turn 16 this year and mark it later that summer by competing on an “All-Star” track and field team from Oregon and Washington that traveled to Hong Kong, South Korea and China. I discovered firsthand the meaning of “abject poverty” on our train ride through the rice paddies and villages of rural China and recall how hordes of Chinese people would crowd around in awe and touch the hair of a girl on our team who had blond hair that was nearly white. I competed in a 5,000-meter race in a rustic, dirt-track stadium in Guangzhou, China, finishing third in sweltering heat. I remember distinctly three things about that race: 1) I was sure I was going to either burn up or melt to death, perhaps both; 2) You couldn’t drink the water in China so after the race I “quenched” my agonizing thirst with the only liquid available, a warm, fizzy orange soda pop; 3) I was overjoyed that our second meet got canceled because I was sure I wouldn’t survive another race. After the race we traded trinkets and jerseys with our fellow Chinese competitors and I remember one tiny, rail thin guy wanted my beloved Nike Spiridon racing shoes. I turned him down. To this day I think about that poor kid who had literally nothing and rue my selfishness: Why didn’t I just give him the shoes?

1993 — I turned 24 in the frozen tundra of Ontario, Oregon, which at the time was gripped in a brutally long, cold, snowy winter. I was married to Julie and we had two boys with a third on the way — Imagine that! Julie was pregnant! — and I was working for $1,200 a month as a sportswriter at the daily Argus Observer covering high school sports. Often I would leave my 1986 diesel Volkswagen Jetta with Julie and run the mile or so to work through the campus of Treasure Valley Community College. I remember distinctly on one frigid night running home for dinner through the crusty snow and underestimating how bitterly cold it was, thinking someone might come across me frozen solid in mid-stride sometime the next day. It took me a month to thaw out from that jaunt and to this day I hate to be cold, perhaps partly because of that moment of idiocy. But I get the warm fuzzies thinking about Ontario as well. The farming outpost on the Snake River next to Idaho is where we discovered the Calvary Chapel movement at a church on the outskirts of town and where we learned about expository Bible teaching. It changed our church lives forever. We also made lifelong friends who taught us so much about raising children, homeschooling and a family where Jesus Christ is at the center. 

2001 — I turned 32 in a couple of finished rooms of an old dairy barn on a 3-acre patch of land at the edge of Corvallis, Oregon, where we were holed up while we built a big dream house. We had seven kids, an eighth on the way — yes, Julie was pregnant! — and it was a hard time. Very hard time. All I can say is that God carried us through it. I learned plenty in that season of life, like DIY and how to use power tools such as a compound mitre saw, how to kill skunks nesting under your barn (it’s ugly and smelly and I don’t wish it on anyone) and what true friends look like (thank you Jim Bass and many others). I remember the strength of Julie in those hard times. A gritty perseverance and a deep, abiding faith and belief that God in His power will get us through anything. I’ve never met another woman like her. Don’t think I ever will. I’m so thankful for her.

2009 — After living in Virginia for four years, we returned to Corvallis in fall of 2008 so I could attend Cornerstone School of Ministry. On my 40th birthday at school I remember how one of my classmates ornately and rather gaudily decorated my car in embarrassing fashion, writing passages drawn from Song of Solomon referencing my “abs of carved ivory” on it … except it wasn’t my car. It was someone else’s. Now THAT was funny and made for a memorable birthday. But from 2009 I learned many things, above all that God is in control. And that He is a very good and loving God.

2017 — I awoke on my 48th birthday next to my wife of 26 years, who’s not pregnant I might add, in a little house a few blocks from the York River where around Christmas time all 14 kids were home. It’s 15 kids when you add in Taylor’s wife, Bethany, then 16 kids when you count the wee little lad she’s carrying in her womb. (We’re so stoked to be grandparents this year!) Then you add another to make it 17 for when Ethan’s fiancee Mandi, was here, plus throw in another “kid” to make it 18 when Brenton’s — and ours too! — good friend from Oregon, Parker Smith, stopped in for several days to visit. Julie glowed because all her babies were home and the house was just so full of life. And a ton of food. Literally a ton of food. I remember thinking that, yes our house is small and there’s kids everywhere, but there’s so much laughing and joy and love and I’m so thankful for all the Lord has done in our lives. And then a few days ago I got this text from Evie, who’s out in Oregon studying at Cornerstone School of Ministry for the year: “Okay. We were in prayer yesterday and I remembered in It’s a Wonderful Life at the end when Harry toasts George and says, `To George Bailey, the richest man in town.’ I know this is really mushy but I always thought of you when we watched that movie.” So yes, Evie is right. On my 48th birthday I woke up as the richest man in town.

Friday, January 13, 2017

I called in the `Redneck Cavalry' to negotiate the `Prius graveyard' and rescue my daughter

This is Portland in a snowstorm. Not pretty.
This was an eventful week in the Sabo house. A lot happened, including Gabe suffering a spiral fracture of his left leg when he tried snowboarding down a snow ramp off our back deck following the dumping of a foot of snow here in Gloucester.

Evie had an exhausting trip out to Oregon by air that began at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday when she left for Richmond. She flew out of Richmond, made it to Newark, N.J., had a brutally long layover and then departed for Portland. Only to have her flight rerouted to Seattle due to heavy snow that socked in PDX. She eventually made it to Portland in the middle of the night but was stranded at the airport.

It's a helpless feeling knowing my daughter is stranded 3,000 miles away after a long night. The roads were nasty, we checked the MAX light rail and it looked like it was running to Clackamas Town Center and we were hoping maybe she could catch a bus to Canby, where Julie's folks live. But the buses weren't running -- everything in Portland was basically shut down amid a snowstorm dropping a foot of white stuff -- and the Tri-Met webpage recommended that after Evie got to Clackamas Town Center she walk the 7.8 remaining miles to Canby. In a blizzard. With her luggage.

Um, no.

I was desperate. I called my good friend in Corvallis, Matt Fields. Back in 2008, in similar conditions in December, Matt had taken me from Corvallis to the airport in Portland with no problem so I could fly back to Gloucester. I wanted to get the lowdown from Matt on how bad it really was in Oregon for this go around. It wasn't good.

Matt described Interstate 5 around Portland quite ominously as a "Prius graveyard." Gulp.

Then he offered to go fetch Evie.

"I've got the Excursion, it's got studs on the tires, I'll throw some chains in the back and head up there," he said. Like it's that easy. Well, it was. For him. Truth be told, it was time to send in the `Redneck Cavalry.'

That would be Matt. He's an Oregonian through and through. Hickory shirts, chainsaws, operates heavy equipment, woodsman, marksman (just ask the deer in western Oregon), farmer, mechanic, you name it. He put the rugged in rugged individual.

He's a solid Christian brother, as solid as they come, a family man and a follower of Christ. He's willing to help out a friend in need and go rescue his daughter in an Oregon blizzard that shut down 2/3 of the state.

Within hours I had a text from Evie saying she was passing through Woodburn on her way to Corvallis. They were southbound on I-5, well clear of the Prius graveyard by then.

I am so thankful for friends like Matt Fields. A true redneck brother. They don't make them any better.

Monday, January 2, 2017

We're Planning for a 2017 Wedding in the Sabo House

New Year's Eve was especially spectacular in the Sabo house this year thanks to a major family event/announcement: Ethan is getting married to the lovely Mandi Smith! Yes, she said yes! We were able to document not only the actual event, but some of the work that went into the "surprise" for Mandi. Ethan popped the question on a York River dock of a nearby residence after securing permission from the generous Sal Leone of Sal's Sicilian Pizza & Restaurant fame. Thank you Leone family!

Ethan lined a section of the dock with Christmas lights and he and Taylor built an "arch" fashioned out of a repurposed door frame fished out of the recesses of the Sabo garage ... an old closet door jamb has never looked so good and never been so useful! Ethan had a ton of help from siblings and yours truly on pulling off his big event. Taylor, especially, was helpful in creating the magical arch and Evie documented it all on camera. Without further ado, here's the pictorial!

Um, at least Ethan and Taylor had plenty of room in the garage to work!
Ethan and Taylor have always been real close brothers. Even when it comes to operating the compound mitre saw.
Professional craftsmen at work!
We know exactly what we're doing! Look at that cut!
Ethan with his wood building game face.
Hey Taylor, it looks like you've got things under control there so I'm just going to check the score of the Alabama-UDub game. 
Yep, go ahead and nail it right there bro. 
Carrying it across the threshold ... just about ready for painting! 
I'll let go and then you let go and we'll see if it stays up!
Whoa Nelli! She's staying upright!
Ethan: "Hey Taylor, you missed a spot."
Taylor: "Bro, the sun is in my eyes!"
The lads got the arch perfected and then Taylor and our friend who's visiting from Oregon, Parker Smith, helped him set it up on the Leone dock and get the lights strung up. MerriGrace got some music playing on the dock, where it was a wee bit breezy and chilly ... but things soon warmed up with the arrival of Ethan and Mandi.

Now that is some happy going on !
The young couple is something to behold but it's hard to take my eyes off that expertly crafted arch!
Well done son!
We're all so excited to welcome Mandi into our family sometime in 2017. She's a beautiful young woman inside and out who loves the Lord with all her heart and we're so thrilled for Ethan. The Lord is going to do great things through Ethan and Mandi! We love you!