Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Recipe Quest

My maternal grandmother was an awesome, inspiring, wise woman in so many ways. She did a lot of little things in her life even though she wasn’t Hollywood or a jet-setter or a community pillar. She seemed to have this innate knack for building and maintaining rapport. You knew you were going to get truth (and Truth), and if you asked the wrong way, you got every morsel that had simmered in her brain as she watched your choices and outcomes  (it was delicious and nauseating at times).

She had a lot of tools. Early in her life, it was cigarettes and coffee. While I was always denied the cigarettes and smoking was highly discouraged, the smell of coffee told you she was up and ready for the day, and she was just waiting to help you wrangle any challenge you faced, not by telling you what to do but by teaching you how to think and pray. And the coffee helped to lubricate the warm, fuzzy kinship feelings that made you wax so eloquent about feelings and situations that you didn’t normally tell a soul (even a confessional priest).

But her most loved tool was her cooking. Eating at her house was always an experience. I never heard terms like cumin and curry there; onions, vinegar, parsley were frequent. It was the kind of food that filled you up and left your soul tank ready for the cold, cruel world.

Sadly, it wasn’t until she was almost too sick to cook that I started to get interested in cooking. For some reason, cooking always made me feel stupid. I couldn’t get my hands to work. I would get lost in watching the bubbles in a pot getting ready to boil while the milk scalded in another pot. I was the kind who could burn boiling water. I have so many bad stories–the gravy that was thicker than the stuffing, demon chicken baked at 350 for 8 hours that were still rare or tartar, the tapioca that never got big and thick.

She was funny. She was patient and kind. She always answered my questions and helped me try to convert her cooking tricks on a gas stove to my electric stove. However, I never could get a straight recipe out of her. It was always four cans of this, a pinch of that, a pile of those until it looks right.

Looks right? LOOKS RIGHT?!? I can’t peel potatoes right, and you want me to determine whether a mixture looks like it has the right consistency?

I gave up. I think she gave up, not because she was truly frustrated but because she had a natural skill that she couldn’t figure out how to communicate to someone who had to learn by rote doing and trying.

Eventually, she weakened and died without ever really having me try once to give her the gift of a dinner like she had given me so many times before. However, her death changed something in me. I survived the most awful thing in the world to me…seeing her lifeless body on a hospital bed in the same place where her couch had been, the couch where my daughters and I had shared so many joy-filled evenings with her watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, laughing and joking, and just doing life.

And when I survived this, I realized I had the strength to draw on that joy and follow down a path similar to hers. Mine would never be exactly her path–my body is just too hokey, so I can’t do all the fun stuff she used to. But I can do things differently.

And so, I introduce my latest hobby–taking recipes and trying to make them kosher. I’m not Jewish. I’ve just done a lot of research and seen the care with which Jewish people who eat kosher select ingredients to use in their cooking. Their ingredients tend to be healthier and have fewer artificial chemicals for flavor, color, or preservation.

I already found a recipe for the potato cakes my paternal grandmother used to make. I never knew to look for the latke that Jewish people eat at Hanukkah. My daughters and I laugh with glee. I laugh because I go back to the way her house used to smell–onions, garlic, spices; they laugh because she was not healthy enough to cook these delightful treats for them and they at least get to try my pale imitations. I also laugh because her companion used to be so anti-semitic, and yet he ate more latke than I did! But I digress…

With latke from my paternal grandmother under my belt, I started to get hungry for my maternal grandmother’s baked beans. So I started first just looking for kosher baked beans.

The first recipe was an absolute disaster. I never saw my grandmother start the process. So, when I didn’t know that beans expand overnight, and the beans didn’t look right, I added more beans. Let’s just say we doubled the recipe the next day. At the end of the eight hours in the two crock pots, the beans were ready. We were supposed to share a fun evening dinner, but my older two children launched a revolt. They took a few bites and refused to continue.

  1. They’re not grammy’s beans.
  2. They’re way too spicy.
  3. We refuse to eat.

So, I called the neighbors and shared my wealth. Then, when I next got hungry for baked beans, I tried again. Instead of going immediately kosher, I went for Boston baked beans. The recipe had more common ingredients (I remembered my grandmother using the ketchup, molasses, and brown sugar that this recipe called for; I didn’t remember garlic and ginger like the first one used.)

So this time, I used the exact amount of dry beans the recipe called for and just one crock pot. After six hours, the results were pleasantly better. My girls and I are still going to tweak it. We think just one onion, and a small one at that, will suffice. We also will increase the molasses just a hair. (At least the older two will let me give this recipe houseroom and a second chance.)

So the journey continues with a quest for the right recipe. And I can just hear my grandmothers now:

What is she doing? Why can’t she just drop the measuring cups? No, I don’t want her to drop them, on second thought…

She always did need very detailed instructions. Wish I’d thought of that sooner and just mailed her a cookbook. But why won’t she just add the bacon? I’m sure that’s what’s missing.

She never did listen quite closely to me. And this talk that I made latkes?

Just giver her time, lady. If nothing else, we have our own reality show for the next 20 or 30 years of eternity. I’m sure we’ll laugh a lot.

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Angels on the Head of a Pin

First, I apologize for not posting in forever (or days in non-writer speak). I’ve had hours to work, kids to take to specialists, and a child who never gets sick trying to get over the worst stomach bug in years.

In the down times, when I have no energy to write (or do the laundry stacked by the baskets), but I’m not tired enough to sleep, I find that I travel down wild roads that most people don’t even think to travel. These are along the lines of the deep theological question: How many angels can dance (or sit) on the head of the pin?

Path 1: I work with many computer programs as part of my job. I also have to understand the programming logic. Sometimes, to get past a validation (error message for non-computer people), I have to “trick” the program by giving the field a specific value. So, have I broken “thou shalt not lie?” Or have I done the software equivalent of hot-wiring a car and the moral value is thereby determined by why I hot-wired the car (stealing versus getting an elderly lady to the hospital)?

Path 2: Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23 that everyone who believed in Him would be one as He and the Father are One. Paul, in Titus 3:9-11, warns against having anything to do with people who would argue about foolish things that are without profit and that are useless. So, why do we have 41,000 denominations worldwide? Why can’t we seek the unity our Lord requested without watering down the message and yet ignoring minor differences in understanding?

Path 3: Jesus told us that to look lustfully is to commit adultery in the heart. At what point does a longing look become envy? At what point does tired creep into lazy? When does self-esteem and intellectual challenge become arrogance and rebellion? Where does frustration transform into anger? Where is the line between earning a few extra dollars to have a nice home and sheer avarice for one-upping the Jones’? If you’re biochemically unstable, how do you know when you’ve reached spiritual dejection and despair?

………………………………………

And this could go on all night. These are the kinds of questions that matter little and yet in a moment could change the outlook of a person.

Path n: If I am supposed to lie down and sleep because the Lord has my back, why can I not just get my Martha mind to shut up for 8 hours to be a Mary?

Like the true number of licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll lollipop, only God knows the answer to all these questions. The rest of the world probably doesn’t care, and neither should I.

Rest well, my friends!

My Sibling Spock

I have to apologize to my parents and siblings, but I’ve been “adopting” extra family members for years. Usually, it’s because I share an intellectual or personality kinship with the person, and at the time, I would be proud to have that individual, that unique being, that “collective refuser” as a family member.

However, secretly, unbeknownst to anyone (including the franchise owners and legal heirs of Trek), I have decided that I would adopt Spock as an older brother.

I can hear that question screaming silently even now: Why?

Spock symbolized the epitome of successful hybridization. His father was a Vulcan ambassador, and his mother was a human linguist from Sol (normal people just call it the Sun, but that’s so geocentric). He was equally comfortable in his father’s world as his mother’s world. Although he understood his father’s world better, he seemed to need the challenge of his mother’s world to shape him and help him transform into a better human being.

He often tried being solely in just one world. It never seemed to work.

He was assigned to a ship from his mother’s world with humans. However, he often went back to Vulcan to visit, usually not for personal reasons. Whether it was the TV series, the movies, or the books, it was usually to clean up some mess caused by individuals who tried to make him choose a single world. He so tried to do the right thing that he followed Kolinahr. The nearest Sol concept is asceticism to the max. Vulcans eschew all emotion, and Kolinahr takes this emotional “hatred” to the next level; technically, though, it’s not hatred, it’s a supreme control and mastery.

But, his mother’s world called him to solve a problem, and he never finished the final phase, as far as I can tell from everything I’ve read or seen. And his mother’s world could be quite the challenge. I’d bet that even if you really knew a person, including personality and beliefs, you could only guess the next move 80% of the time. And yet, unless under the influence of biological issues, all you ever see is a raised eyebrow.

And there are times he is so rule-bound you’d think he had Aspergers. He can quote chapter and verse of all Starfleet codes from memory (and as I recall other worlds and cultures as well). The logic with which he argues is impeccable (actually, almost drool-worthy for a sapiosexual, but I digress). Somehow, though, the imperfect humans around him, embodied by Kirk and McCoy, get him to think outside the box about the spirit of the rules as well as the letter.

I guess the reason I really would want Spock as a sibling is he is a straight-shooter. There is limited deceit. He clearly states when he doesn’t know things and when he doesn’t understand things. Although he himself cannot tolerate (or maybe display) emotion, he lets the people around him be themselves and speak and act as they need to in order to accomplish whatever task is facing the team.

Maybe, in this case, art provides an example for life to imitate. If we could all be as Spock, not the unemotional, logical, mechanistic individual, but the stalwart, faithful friend who is himself and lets others be themselves, maybe we could work toward a world that works together and denominations that begin to unite in service to a common Spirit working all things unto good for those who love God by loving their fellow man well.

A Challenging Evening…

I’m having one of those nights. It’s not easy to describe exactly what’s in my heart and mind. I do try to keep this G or PG, but I might go PG-13 tonight.

There is a new ministry coming into town. I love it, and I hate it. No, hate is too strong. It’s more that I struggle with accepting that even in our little rural haven we need it. That the beauty of our surroundings hides a darkness of heart and conscience. And I don’t like the me I see in the mirror looking out behind my eyes as I think even more deeply about the issues.

As a community, we are working to drop denominational titles and put aside stereotypes and prejudices to develop a safety net for sex industry workers who want to escape. And I’m okay with that. Women who go into the sex industry don’t usually make it a life goal to use their bodies instead of their brains. Some are even unwilling participants, running from lives so painful that I questioned my decision to bring my special angels to the meeting.

However, I struggled with the idea of reaching out to the entrapped men…the men wrestling with pornography, the men making their livings off the sweat of these women by running the strip joints and gentlemen’s clubs. The feminazi rebel screams that men are the enemy, especially these cadaverous cads making money from this or sending money into the system that lets men make money from this.

And yet, because we have a culture that covers over the faults, we condone what these men choose by our silence and refusal to admit we have a problem.

And it’s not true covering…true covering involves loving the person beneath the grimy actions and unkind words and contradicting choices.

It’s the false covering that is more hiding from shame and guilt and sticking our heads in the sand to pretend nothing is wrong and we’re all fine. (By the way, have I told you what FINE really means? Fouled Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional. But I digress… maybe it will get explored in the future.)

Anyone who chooses to go public generally isn’t given support. Men are demonized for having the issues, and women are demeaned for “not being enough” to “keep their man out of trouble.”

At this point, like me, you’d probably be thinking, “Thank God that’s not me!” But in my heart of hearts, I have to acknowledge I do it in subtle, hidden ways; without pointing fingers, I suspect if you look closely in your heart, you do it differently but hide it just the same.

There were weeks I didn’t want to go to my husband’s church after I found out there were recovering abusive men there and men dealing with sexual addiction. All the issues from my first marriage would come tumbling back, and I didn’t want to deal with it or with people who had made similar choices then had taken a different path. The pain and fear were so severe I could hear silent screams billowing up from my belly. I locked down everything I was feeling, pretended I was fine, and eventually brushed everything under my mental carpet. (God did rope that wild hare-brained thought process into submission in His time.)

In reality, these men are struggling to survive in every church and major establishment across the country. They cannot hide, and we cannot hide from them. If I don’t learn to see their humanity, I will never be fully comfortable or feel completely safe anywhere I go.

I still go to that popular lingerie shop for women to have my daughters get properly measured periodically. I never thought about the message I was sending them: Be physically beautiful. Use your bodies to snag men. Without the right smell and clothes you’ll be alone. Worse, it never crossed my mind that the models displaying the literal goods were displaying the figurative goods, singing a siren song that would ensnare men with issues (and, maybe in our inclusive culture, women as well). (Yeah, that’s probably my Master’s next battlefield.)

I never think in advance about the gossip and backbiting, the stories that get passed to and fro about people who are different and exotic in our community or worse the ones who are struggling, drowning in a sea of aloneness and loneliness. I tend to stand there and say nothing. I don’t pass it on, but somehow, I never manage to find a witty, quick retort that stops everyone in their tracks. Especially hard are the juicy tales disguised as prayer requests. (Yeah, that’s probably my Master’s next, next battlefield.)

I still belt out the lyrics to the songs of my childhood and adolescence at the top of my lungs, the ones that I would probably cringe to admit I knew if Jesus were here in the flesh (yeah, add it to the list):

  • Gimme, gimme wild west. Gimme, gimme safe sex. Gimme love, gimme love.
  • I don’t know what I’m saying as my trembling fingers touch forbidden places…I don’t know and I don’t care what made you tell him you don’t love him anymore, and as I taste your tender kisses, I can tell you’ve never been this far before.
  • Ain’t no doubt about it we were doubly blessed. ‘Cause we were barely seventeen and we were barely dressed

So as much as the feminazi rebel in me wants to change the world, I need to examine my heart and submit to the Potter for His changes. I cannot change unless I bend my knee and my heart. If I want to set the world on fire, I have to fire within me a love for God that allows me to truly love people when they’re at their worst, that burns away pride, arrogance, and prejudice.

The alternative is too alarming. Edmund Burke said it best: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Conformation versus Transformation

I have had 12-hours as a parent that made me feel giddy and weepy and hopeful and scary. I came to the realization that my 13-year-old was growing and changing and maturing. But like any good writer, I will tell you that this is both the end of a story and the beginning of another.

The story that is ending started when another little girl was 13. She too was tall and couldn’t get her body to cooperate. Facts were everything because facts unlike feelings didn’t change. Books were far more interesting than people, and books unlike people didn’t change. Fashion didn’t make sense; clothes were just a covering for the body, and if they were clean and had no holes and (sort of) matched, that was fine.

On the outside, she acted like she didn’t care if she didn’t fit in because she acted funny and her clothes were different. But on the inside, she kept trying to tweak things. She worked at being perfect and trying to be at peace with everyone by just making everyone happy. What she didn’t know was that at 40-something, she would come to realize the futility of all of this.

I am she.

I tried so hard to fit in and be what everyone needed that I lost me. I stopped seeking the future God had promised me and traded it for a now that was unfulfilling and left me always hungry and thirsty, never satisfied and nearly sated. I had to learn Romans 12:2 followed by Romans 12:1.

I had to learn that I couldn’t go with the flow of the world. I had to change my inner ear to hear the pattern of the drum I was destined to dance to. It meant changing the way I looked at the world and relationships and things. Then I would be able to give everything I was to follow God, and sometimes it would be sacrificially hard.

As a mother, I’ve worked hard to make it okay for my kids to be whatever it is they’re called to do as long as they make wise choices.

So let’s move into the point where the first story is beginning it’s end and the second is just beginning.

My youngest daughter’s middle school does a yearly Morp. It’s like the prom, only for the tweener and early teen set. She begged to go last year, and this year was no exception. As a mom, I delight and struggle with saying yes. The delight: She wants to be social! The struggle: She’s wired differently; she’s on the spectrum; the kids haven’t matured yet to see that different is okay.

So we bought the dress a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful, two-piece, purple dress. It was elegant. The skirt is plain, and the top was imported because of all the glittery and feminine sequins and rhinestones and beads and seed pearls. I picked out four dresses, and this was the one she liked. (Yes, it was a consignment thrill find, but I wouldn’t even have bought it for myself new because I knew it was way out of my league.)

Last night was the big night. We worked together. She did initial passes with legs and some of the girly things; I helped finish the legs (epilators on kids with sensory issues make for interesting times and comments that I won’t repost and cause her to die of embarrassment 😉 ).

Next we did her hair. I took those little wisps on the sides of her face that never do anything and tamed them into spiral ringlet curls. I did her make up. When she was finally dressed, she wasn’t my baby anymore. She looked so mature I almost lost my breath. And amazingly, she had a night where nothing caused any sensory issues. (She does have to learn to walk in heels; poor child has large feet that they don’t make cute flats for. You either go clodhopper ugly or sleek, sophisticate, three-inches.)

I did all the mom things with pictures and dropping by my ex’s so she could show her dad. I dropped her off and started to pull away. And it hit me…

I couldn’t breath, I wanted to puke. I had the pounding whirlwind thoughts, “You’ve done it again. You’ve turned your daughter into a freak. She’ll never fit in. She looks just as out of place as you were. And you know the spectrum wiring makes it harder on her. None of the other girls are covered in sackcloth so why should she be?”

I made it home and threw myself into work for the two hours she was gone. All the while, the voice of the 13-year-old I was is rebelliously shouting out and yelling at me about making her fit in and not having her stand out.

In those moments, it’s hard for me to listen for the still, small Voice of Truth. He was whispering, “You helped her be My princess tonight. You made her beauty shine. No, she’s not wearing what the other girls are wearing. That’s okay. She doesn’t have to share her treasures with the world and be the next pin up. Let it go. She is where I want her to be.

It finally hit me in the still, small hours of a cold, dark morning that my inner 13-year-old ugly duckling still lives. As much as I’ve worked in the world to fake it until I became confident, self-assured, and eloquent, that inner child who was alone and didn’t connect well still lived inside my heart and mind. The life truth behind the end of the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling” gets lost in the midst of all the struggles in the beginning and middle.

Even though I’ve become a swan and I look to find the other swans, the ugly duckling still whispers in my head: “Don’t change your heart. Don’t go against the flow of culture. Keep trying to not be different and stick out. Don’t make your daughter into the same freak you always were and are returning to.

The swan gently sings back: “I will not be assimilated. I will resist. I will see the world both with the Heart of my Master and the wonder of my children. I will speak truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, loveliness, respect, excellence, and grace and favor.

So, in the later parts of my story, I will tweak what I was taught as a child so that I can teach my daughter at the beginning of her story that it’s okay to not assimilate. It’s okay to be yourself and not transform into what society tells you to be. It’s far better to listen for the still, small Voice of Truth and change with His help into whatever he has called you to be as His princess, even if you have to go against the flow and stand alone (at least to the naked eye unassisted by a heart of faith).

Because, inside the heart of every woman, there is inner princess just waiting to debut and have a voice…

Community… the double-edged sword?

I’ve been doing a Bible study at my husband’s church. We’re studying the concept of community–what it is and isn’t, how to achieve it, how to fix it when it’s broken. We’re not very far along.

Already, I am having the inward waves of physical reaction to some bizarre form of reverse, quasi cognitive dissonance. I would say 80% of the members think community is a good thing. I with a handful of others are in the minority who aren’t quite there yet.

I don’t know why the others in the group are in the minority. I believe I’m there because I see it as a tool, a morally neutral tool. It depends on how that tool is used and the motive behind the tool usage.

For example, an ax is a morally neutral tool. In the hand of a firefighter, the ax is a good because the human is using it to save lives and prevent destruction of property. The ax would be an evil in the hands of Lizzie Borden… you can see where I’m headed.

I have seen how community can be immoral.

Look at the southerners who looked the other way as the KKK terrorized African Americans, Jews, Catholics, and anyone else who didn’t fit their (distorted) view of what an ideal reality would look like.

Look at the German people in WWII who turned away as the Jews were rounded up into ghettos and as Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, the mentally ill, and the disabled were sent to the gas chambers that caused an impure human ash snowfall.

Look at the Americans who turned a blind eye to the way the government treated Native Americans during Manifest Destiny or Japanese Americans at the beginning of WWII.

But I have seen how community can be a great benefit.

I have seen suburban communities do benefits to support wounded veterans. People make homemade baked goods that get sold to the crowd that doesn’t cook. Others share their talents in a public forum while a bucket gets passed; attendees empty their wallets of bills large and small. Sometimes, people may even give new or gently used goods to be distributed.

I have seen rural communities unite in ways they never thought possible. A while back, a local family had lost a huge number of children in a fire. They needed money to rebuild, clothes to replace what had burned, and comfort for empty arms and quiet ears. Churches and community groups took collections.

It was even rumored that westboro baptist “church” was going to picket. I don’t know if the rumor was true. I couldn’t see how anyone could be that cruel in the death of children to claim it was the “judgment of god.” (Yes, I am not capitalizing certain words and I am using punctuation–writer’s privilege and the only way I can cognitively survive getting through that story.)

But I digress… The entire county even made provision for the possibility of truth in rumor (or God used the people to provide for the family). We couldn’t legally keep them out, so we just threw up a love wall. Bikers lined the path to the country church. Other people showed up to pay respects and show support. Yet others just prayed from home.

Sorry, I avoid cities like the plague (I am truly a child of my earthly father 😉 ), so I can’t give you urban examples. However, I would assume soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and women’s shelters would be some good examples of community as a moral good in an urban setting.

So, like an ax, community and participation in community is a tool. We can wield it for encouragement or destruction.

Choose wisely, young grasshopper.

 

Spring and Fall

At first glance, you wouldn’t exactly be able to tell my hubby and I are “one flesh,” especially if we’re cleaning the house or doing grocery shopping. We’re both a little reserved, so the usual “tells” aren’t there unless you really watch. To those who don’t know me well, he may even seem an odd selection (but much better than my ex).

So why did I end up with someone so much older than I and so vastly different?

I loved the story his life told.

He lived in a simple townhouse. Although he had the latest gadgets, they were always bargains…carefully researched based on features and price. He was frugal, but in a good way…he would choose to live within his means and tried to only get into debt for medical issues. That debt was managed carefully according to long-term payment plans that netted a discount when a lump-sum payoff was made a few hundred dollars within the goal.

He was generous with his time and treasure. I could listen to his friends, not him, talk about the afternoons he spent with the men’s group at his church giving oil changes and doing detailing for single moms in the area. He also tried to work with the handyman’s group that would do simple odd jobs for those on a fixed income. When he talked, it was always about his sponsor child half a world away and maybe some day getting to visit that island.

His actions spoke volumes. We would juggle date night so he could help his grandmother with her electronic gadget issues. When I got a chip fracture because of the dog (a story for another day) and could only hobble, he’d spend the weekend in the spare room and help feed the kids, play taxi, and get things straightened up to try to get us through another week.

His movie choices were, for the most part, wholesome, positive, and uplifting. For the first time ever, I dated a guy who liked the simple fun of children’s movies or the honest message of a faith-based movie. It was awesome. (Yes, every once in a while, we tried more adult films, but neither of us was real happy.)

The greatest gift in his personality was that he was comfortable in his own skin. He didn’t feel the need to impress anybody. He wasn’t afraid to go head-to-head against me debating ideas. He could laugh at his learning issues and physical problems, turning something that would have taken him off the market for most women into a real strength.

So I let him talk to me about marriage only three months into our relationship. I agreed to let him meet the kids, and when that went well, I stopped arguing against marriage. Finally, he asked me at Christmas 2010 to marry him. Yes, I did let him chase me til I caught him 🙂

We do have differences and we’re working on them. A bachelor moving into an established house with four females is difficult. The kids aren’t used to having a male around, and they aren’t used to firm rules and boundaries, so we have a few rebellion mushroom clouds. I’m not used to having to share executive decision-making (preccciousss, my preccioussss).

But it’s all worth it. His viewpoint is challenging and different. He makes me a better person. I am becoming the best me I can be. And that, my friends, woos my heart over and over.