Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Only Blogging

I visited some blogs of late that left me wondering "Why didn't I think of that?" or "Wow,she really is organized." or "That was pretty deep. I am not that brave to blog with vulnerability like hers." or "Yikes, need to develop a better vocabulary." To top that off, I have esteem issues with my writing skills. Never good enough.

Which is crazy, since blogs are by no means literature. All the blogs I've read follow only one rule, which is "Do not bore your readers." I confess, I've been breaking that rule more consistently than I care to think about. When I start writing about the antics of my dog and cats, it's pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel. I'm not listening to much Dylan lately because of lots of Christmas music, so no inspired posts about my favorite muse. BTW thank you to "Dylan Devotional", for adding some of my posts about how Dylan's gospel music influenced my walk with Christ, and thank you, Dylan Devotional readers for your visits.

Truth is, I am always deep in thought, but not everything is bloggable. I may be thinking of some things worthwhile to blog, yet may not have the time to blog it. Life for me does not revolve around my computer. Yet, I do desire to write more engaging and thoughtful posts, and yes, develop better grammar and vocabulary. If you have ideas or feedback, please email them at thealater2@comcast.net. Thank you, readers, whoever you are, for following my 2008 blog and hope that 2009 would be even better. I hear from some of you from time to time which is great. Some of you I know, and some of you I don't, but thanks for your encouragement and participation!

Onward...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Potpourri

What I Do
I swam three days straight in a row, each day adding five more laps than the day before. As time allowed. Despite having a free schedule, I managed to be really busy. I long for a day when I can swim as many laps as I want. I won't go with anyone who has to be anywhere or can't handle more than 15 minutes in the pool. I will swim. Take a break. Swim some more. Bring water. A notebook to record the distance. Extra towels, maybe have one warming up in the sauna.

Marathon days.

I have reading marathons, swimming marathons,cleaning marathons, organizing marathons, cooking marathons,writing marathons, prayer marathons...thinking marathons... For me, a few hours at anything and then switching over to something for a few hours else breaks a rhythm and my concentration. I like focus. It's more relaxing to know I have the luxury of time to work on this one thing until I'm satisfied. For a day things might be unbalanced. But I got it done and it got done well. No pesky interruptions, no schedule to keep, just one thing and one thing only. I hate multi-tasking at home.

Val Kilmer and His Pets

I previously posted a couple of clips of Val Kilmer and Dylan from "Masked and Anonymous", a movie that really sucks. I thought they were interesting because of the choice of animals and Dylan's reaction to the rabbit "sacrifice". Kilmer's monologue is edited in such a way that you realize that his character is crazy, not just disillusioned with the human race. Listening to the rant that borders on the truth but doesn't quite get there, it's obvious that something is missing. Man doesn't have a place and being born is a curse. But the rant stops there without indicating the reason why things are not the way they should be. We are "masked and anonymous", our existence is a "mystery", which is true. But we were originally destined for something more and our lives are not supposed to be meaningless. When we are cut off from our purpose, life gets very frustrating indeed. We long for things to make sense. In Kilmer's and Dylan's world, nothing makes sense, everything is decaying and anything goes. That environment is the product of Kilmer's crazy, fuzzy logic. It's almost prophetic.

Thea and Her Pets
Carly and Fred, the two cats, are now buddies. No more hissing threats, territory battles and broken kitty hearts (mainly, Fred's). They play, they conspire in pirate operations in the house, and they are affectionate to each other. Consequently, three is a crowd, and Ginger, the dog, is like the kid on the elementary school playground who lost her best friend. Sometimes, she tries to participate in the pussycat games, but she can't keep up. So, I have been nicer to her than usual, letting her know that even though she's a dog, she's still okay with me. I let her up on the bed while I read. She gets extra treats. She even gets playtime with me. I know what it's like, to be left out. And it's good to enjoy her dogness. Always happy and ready for affection and a good time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I like Val Kilmer's acting. I like Bob Dylan's music. They come together in "Masked and Anonymous", one of the worst films of all time. A bad movie that I enjoy very much.

Val is character who lives on a sort of refugee camp with his animal menagerie, and Bob is passing by on his way to record a benefit concert. Val gives Bob a three point sermon on why animals are superior to man. It's horrible, but I am fascinated by the symbolism of the animals--the sheep and the goat, the pride of the peacock, the snake...not sure what the rabbit means, but the sacrifice is interesting (love the ending of part two). Why is this included in the movie? I'm not sure, but it illustrates that in Dylan's eyes the world is fallen because of mankind.









Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Time

I'm into the "right here, right now" mode, or "living in the present" instead of thinking much further than a few hours ahead at a time. And I'm having a great time. In a way, I'm tuning Christmas out. It's stressful to think of all that I usually do and seem not to be doing. Not much baking, no Christmas cards yet and not much shopping.

But the Christmas music is great. I watched "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown", my favorite Christmas special. Church has been wonderful. We've got a wreath on the door, a tree up and decorated, a pointsetta for the dining room, nativity nearby ready to be set up (more about this later) and stockings ready to be filled. We have guests for Christmas eve, a dinner plan and a breakfast plan. It's going to be fun.

Have a Merry Christmas and thank you for reading my blog!

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Am Weak But He Is Strong



Rock of Ages, Bob Dylan, November 17, 1999.

Desire

Lately, I've been thinking about community. I really desire it, but it is hard for me to see it come about most of the time. My husband is really good at this creating community thing. I don't claim to be. But I think it is time that I examine this and learn how to do it. I live with the perfect role model, so there is no lack of opportunity.

Right now, Dennis is meeting with six men in bible study, all of whom have a different length of relationship with him. One he's known since 1978. Another since 1989. One guy flew in for the holidays, we've known him since 2002. And two young college students that we've known since August of this year. And now, they are all together, spending time in God's Word.

This happened by no accident. We know that God is doing this, not Dennis nor me. But I noticed that Dennis is always on the phone with most of these guys. He doesn't use emails much (like me) nor Facebook. He just uses his voice. And his message to them is pretty much the same. He wants to see them, when can they all get together next? Pretty simple, huh? But the community isn't happening over the phone. It is in that regular time they meet together, whether they are shoveling snow, playing Scrabble, having Bible Study, working out or praying.

The Bible tells me to delight in the Lord, and He will give me the desires of my heart. My desire right now is deeper friendships with women, a spiritual community, more communication, more face to face time and less Facebook. To do things casually and fun. I started having ideas about this after watching "Beyond Belief", a documentary of two widows who lost their husbands when their plane crashed into one of the 9/11 towers and reached out to the widows of Afganistan by raising money for them to start their own businesses and educate their kids. Eventually, they went there, even after their friend, Clementina was kidnapped and released. I coveted the closeness of their relationships, even with women who didn't speak English.

Yup, I'll keep you all posted.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who's The Pet?

Fred (aka Fredo, but Dennis likes plain old Fred) and Ginger are playing. Fred is our orange tabby. Ginger is our golden retriever. Fred is hiding under the ottoman and Ginger is trying to get him. Until she gets distracted by the toy she found under there. Sorry, Fred.

Dennis is the object of attention and affection for both Fred and Ginger. He feeds them scraps. He has them following him all around the house. When he sits down, there they are, either on him or next to him.

But Carly, the tortoise shell beauty, is mine. She is not as playful nor as social. She is slightly neurotic. She can't be bought by food. And she loves me for me. When I get home, she meets me at the door and follows me. She's been fed, her water dish is full and the litter box is clean. She just missed me, that's all. She won't be carried or held. But when I pet her, she acts like she'll die if I stop. She never acts this way with any other. And it occurs to me, that I actually belong to her.

Friday, December 12, 2008

For dinner tonight:

Lamb shanks with Cannelli beans

Spinach Salad

Whole wheat baguette

Gingerbread


I'm using one lamb shank and dividing the meat in the beans, the baguette is from a trip to Whole Foods in Ann Arbor yesterday and the gingerbread is a mix I got from Trader Joe's during the same aforementioned shopping trip. I went with Shauna, who is a grad student and fellow foodie, as well as Dennis, who had an appointment at the VA hospital. We stopped at Common Grill in Chelsea on the way home. Shauna and I had salads while Dennis dug into the lunch special, broiled whitefish on a bed of rice pilaf.

I was inspired by my trip to Quebec and sharing food with family. No matter what, the kitchen was the heart of the home. Gordon and Sylvie were working, so I had the honor of fixing supper in their ultra clean and organized kitchen. Although they are working parents and don't have much time or energy, the simplicity and efficiency of their kitchen made it a pleasure to cook in. David and Daniele, also working parents, had the same efficiency that made preparing meals a breeze. Both French Canadian families demonstrated the priority that food has in their culture-- to eat well, healthfully and economically. Gordon has an old one cup coffee maker that looks brand new. And nothing is ever wasted.

So, one of my first chores since I've been home is cleaning and organizing the kitchen. Even though it is small, it has a lot of potential if I work harder at making it efficient.

It's been a pleasure to cook ever since.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Being Real

Yesterday, I wanted to talk to someone about sin and grace--and how that affects relationships by stripping off the masks that we hide behind. I didn't think that was an issue until a revealing moment with family. The people who know us best can see beyond those facades we put up, and no one knows us like family. We put our guards down just for a second and find ourselves vulnerable to reactions from scorn to teasing to acceptance. And vice versa.

Being real is often an act of being real. Most of the time, we are protecting our true selves from anything that we fear would bring rejection and shame. It is rare that we feel as though we can share what we really think and feel with the people close to us. It is rare to find someone we really trust to know us, who is ready to go to that stage of intimacy and be known as well.

Throughout the Bible, we discover a God who is willing to deal with us on that level--in the sense that He knows us deeply. It is logical that the Creator is familiar and understanding with His creations. But even more than that, He is letting Himself be known as much as possible within the boundaries of His holiness and righteousness, with a promise that we would know Him better in the life after this one. In the Bible that I read, God seems to care about bringing us closer to Him in every way.

Lately, though, this kind of spirituality is often mocked not just by non-believers but also believers as well. In some magazine articles or books about Christianity, there is a backlash against emotional spiritual relationship with Jesus or sharing "too much information" in small groups. As though having God as a friend would bring Him less glory.

After spending most of my life in pursuit of a closer walk with Him, I'm finding myself holding back a lot about that relationship. To describe to what extent Jesus holds me together not just spiritually and emotionally, but often times, physically and mentally would not seem credible to most of my hearers both Christian and non-Christian, but the fact is He is the reason I am still around at all. He is my only source of love, peace and joy. If He is my light and my salvation, who can be against me? Aye, truely no one, not even myself.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saving Grace--song by Bob Dylan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9Uw6EiNVAE


On Sundays when I was a kid, I'd listen to the gospel programs on television not because I was interested but just because they'd be the only thing on in the late afternoon until Buck Owens appeared after dinner. If I had read everything I had to read and the weather was horrible outside, this was the only distraction available from the rumbling in my stomach.

I never understood the preaching, nor saw the appeal in it, but the music was easier to fathom but only to a point. The men and women who sang with glowing faces and bright eyes weren't singing about falling in love but about spiritual things that escaped me. Why were they so happy and what does God have to do with anything?

After awhile, the seemingly bright and cheerful gospel songs performed by perfect looking people in dreamily decorated sound stages from the 1960's annoyed me than drew me in. Anything with that twang, even Buck Owens, was more than I could handle. The sentiment and the staging became fake to me, and the impression turned me off cold towards gospel music. However, some of the '70's contemporary songs I learned in catechism actually began to mean something as I learned the simple lyrics along with the simple melodies. No twang. A few came from musicals like Godspeed and Jesus Christ Superstar. Cool.

And then the 80's came along with Christian rock and pop styles. By then, I became a believer and was listening to Micheal W. Smith and Amy Grant in my Walkman. Things had sure changed. Meanwhile, I was learning old fashioned hymns from church and from fellowships--nothing Grant or Smith did could match up with them. Eventually, I memorized a lot of them, preferring to sing hymns than listen on my Walkman. I used them in my quiet times and internalized the truths within them about God and His character. Honestly, I can't remember much from the contemporary Christian pop or rock music really making that deep of an impression on me. There wasn't much to think about, except for a few exceptions.

I remember friends getting me to listen to Bob Dylan's gospel music. It was new and old at the same time, I was thinking as the borrowed tapes copied from albums played over my headphones. Dylan was different but I couldn't figure out how. He almost reminded me of the old gospel programs on television in the 60's, mixed with the intelligence of the Psalms of the Bible and the depth of the hymns. As quickly as I was introduced to his music, it quickly disappeared. I couldn't find it in the record store nor the Christian bookstore. It seemed as though no one--secular or inspired--liked him at all.

As Christian music sought to merge with mainstream culture, Dylan made a huge departure from pop and rock. The content and the style of his spiritual music is distinctively gospel. He made Christian music that was timeless, and from what I saw, believable. He did not, like some singers of the genre, back away from clear proclaimations about Jesus and salvation. And he got me thinking about who I was serving, how Jesus' return and judgement was like a slow train coming, how all the animals were named, and what I could do for Him.

None of these songs were thrown together, using Jesus as an afterthought. The songs are masterpieces in their own right, crafted so that word and music blended together as one, like mercy kissing truth, with the weight of poetic artistry. A lot of love for this genre made it possible, and I believe, much love for God as well.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving

It is over. It was crazy. It was fun. It was great. But it is over.

I feel sad about that. One day of a full house, food and cross cultural community is not enough. I want to do this again, often.

I also learned a lot. About other cultures. About myself. About hospitality. About God.

I've spent a few hours quietly thinking about these lessons. Some things went well that day. Some did not, but it wasn't a big deal.

We spent three days getting ready, but we had cleaned up, with a student's help, within an hour. And then spent the evening relaxing together watching a DVD. It was hard to tell that thirty adults and four five-year old girls and an almost one-year old boy were here for five hours, sharing stories, reading books, playing games and eating food. That the tiny kitchen didn't just cook a dozen American traditional dishes but also Chinese dumplings.

And how was God glorified in this? I'm full of memories of walking by quiet conversations about Jesus in English and other languages, of believers and non-believers sharing what they are thankful to God for after hearing a message from the Bible that God is the source of those blessings, of coffee table books with beautiful photography about the Art of God, Jesus and Compassion International being opened and talked about, of four year old girls of the same age having fun although they are of different nationalities, watching family movies from China and South Korea...among many others.

Before the party, Dennis and I prayed together. We realized that even though cash is tight right now for us, we are rich people. Rich in Christ.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Weight

It's snowing outside.

I want a roaring fire, a comfy chair, an afghan and my Bible, with hours to read, pray and meditate. But right now, all I can think of is a hundred things I need to do to get ready for Thanksgiving. And then the holiday beyond. It will be all good times. But in a way, I can't wait for it all to be over.

Under the weight, I feel weak. I'm looking for the promise fulfilled that "in quietness you will find strength". So, I will quiet my heart, my mind and my soul. I will not have all the hours I want to read my Bible, but I will have a few. And then begin to chip away at the long to do list.

It isn't the to do list that is bothering me, anyway.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Land of the Free

During the last 10 years, inevitably once in awhile I would be serving a customer who announces that they are from Seattle or Washington state, as though they are a special class of Starbuckian customer. If you are from these places, whatever you do when you are in Starbucks of "lesser" states, like say, Michigan, don't do this. It's embarrassing and unneccessary.

If I get a friendly vibe, though, I might mention that I'm from the Pac NW, too. But only if I'm hungry to touch base with a fellow Washingtonian or Pac NW person and talk Seattle talk with a "homie". You know, like, "hey, is the Ave still crazy like I remember it?" or " Did they finally finish the Burke-Gilman trail?".

Yesterday, a member of my Seattle "tribe" really embarrassed me. A partner was taking orders in the drive-through (DT), and tried to help an older person with an easier way to order a skinny latte. The customer yelled back at him that he was from Seattle and didn't need any lectures in how to talk Starbucks. And spent a good long minute being mean on the subject. All on a young man who was just trying to help, which is part of his job. I took over the DT and met the person at the window, who immediately told me he was from Seattle and was a regular at Pike Place, where Starbucks started.

At this point, it's hard to know what to do. Ten years of doing this job has shown me that angry people are not interested in listening, and are looking for a fight. He would be not receptive to hear any defense or explanation in his frame of mind, which seemed irrational to me. A few blogs ago, I talked about how the downturn in economical news has affected the general public, older retired people in particular. And how they take out their frustration on innocent by-standers, like your local Starbucks barista who gets paid peanuts.

I decided to not give the man the satisfaction of an arguement. His drink was free, which he did not deserve. I then told him that I used to live in Wallingford, and learned about Starbucks 23 years ago in the U-District. I wasn't my characteristic friendly self, but kept calm and neutral. My posture was upright, my arms folded, my smile gone. I did my best to look intimidating, as though I was looking down at a bug. He changed his tone with me from mean to grudging respect. I then told him I "understood", which is my way of saying "yeah, I get you all right". He tipped me a buck, I guess for my "understanding". He looked a little guilty as he handed it to me, it was his way of saying he was sorry. But I wasn't apologizing. No way.

The phenomenon of Washington state expatriots feeling entitled to special attention at a Starbucks really perturbs me. For all the Starbucks I've visited all over the nation, not once did I feel compelled to boast about my origin as though I was personally responsible for Boeing, Starbucks and Microsoft all rolled into one. The success of those companies do not reflect on me. But my manners would. So, if you are a fellow "homie" from the land of Starbucks, please pass this along to the rest of the state, Seattle in particular: The rest of the U.S. of A. is not impressed with you. Be nice, sip your delicious custom-made six descriptor latte and tip well. Thank you for your understanding.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Me and My Stuff

Thanksgiving is almost here...I have less than a week to get ready. We will have a house full of people to join us in giving thanks, mostly international friends from our church's ESL program. The cooking starts in a few days, and then it's time to start preparations for Christmas and New Year's. Hospitality is a non stop endeavor.

Today, I organized my pantry, kitchen cupboards and the storage shelves of canned goods in the laundry room to get ready for holiday baking and cooking. I found a few items way beyond their expiration dates, and a few others that had none but had gone bad when I checked for quality. The only way to see if the crackers were still good was to taste them, and unfortunately, there is very little worse than a rancid cracker taste lingering in your mouth. I found a can of pumpkin without it's label, so I opened it to see if it was okay. I wasn't sure, so out it went. The hardest loss was the jar of minced garlic--it was never opened even though it expired a month ago. I opened it to examine the contents, there was a breach in the seal which meant there could be spoilage.

I followed the example of my mom who made sure that the pantry was always stocked, but often had food sitting there unused for 10 years. The same for Grandma. I've cut back on that, but habits die hard. My larder is getting smaller, and even Dennis noticed and suggested that we do some shopping. I think not. In the effort to try to save money, money is wasted if you never use it.

I made a bean soup today using veggies in the fridge that were getting old but still fresh enough to eat as well as some dried herbs in the same condition. It felt good to look at storage and refrigerator spaces not stuffed to the gills. I have been working towards that through out the whole house. It's not something I am used to. I prune and de-clutter only to see that I have only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Right now, although I have gotten rid of a lot of clothes in my closet, I have way more skirts than I actually wear. I love skirts. I also love books, and it shows since I have more than I know what to do with. But I gotta ask, why hang onto all this abundance? And don't think I haven't been tempted to buy more skirts, although I have held back from the compulsion. Books, well, I got to work on that...library cards help a lot.

I don't wear the skirts because they aren't practical in Michigan where winter lasts most of the year. And in the off winter months, I'm not dressing up that much because I got out of the habit. I got to the point where I pulled them all out of the closet and asked myself what would help them be wearable. It amounted to tights and boots, and coordinating sweaters. I buy sweaters for wearing with jeans, never give the skirts a thought. The boot factor is that my current dress boots are not made to deal with ice and snow. They are made to look pretty and not much else. I bought them when I lived in non snow places.

How important are the right shoes in Michigan? Last night, we went to the movies and when we were walking out to the car in the parking lot, I was slipping all over the place--when we got to the theater, there was no ice, but after a few hours, the temps fell and I had a dilemma because I chose shoes for looks and comfort, not for weather conditions. Funny, since I wore the appropriate coat and hat and gloves for freezing temperatures.

I am re-reading "God and Your Stuff" by Wesley K. Willmer. It is convicting. In Chapter One, Willmer starts with this:

"While few Christians seem to take seriously what they do with their possessions or stuff, Scripture makes it clear in Romans 14:12 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 that we are all to give an account of our lives to God at the end of our earthly existence. We will be asked about how we used our money and possessions such as:
-Where did it all go?
-What did you spend it on?
-What was accomplished for eternity with all the things God entrusted to you here on earth?

Scripture further points out that God has entrusted us with His possessions as a test while on earth to determine the status of our soul in heaven (see Luke 16:1-9). As a result of this test, God is able to determine our spiritual maturity, and the character or condition of our soul for eternity. These are all serious issues of the Christian life."

Some of the reasons I haven't shifted from non snow dress boots to snow ready dress boots are along the lines of not wanting to spend money on vanity. Wearing pants and jeans to nearly all events like a winter uniform of sorts and giving up feeling feminine while the snow falls and the ice freezes is one of the reasons I have a hard time with winter. It took six years to figure it out. And give myself permission to go ahead and buy the items I want. As long as I understand that it isn't my priority, my reason to live or my purpose.

But it is interesting that it takes thinking about my possessions and my management of them to plan and organize in order to be free of them. Once I get the appropriate boots, then every time I open my closet door I won't be thinking about them and resentful that I haven't worn a skirt since I don't know when. Freedom from preoccupation of material things takes actually thinking about them so that I can stop thinking about them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It is what it is...

In high school, I took a creative writing class. We learned about the process of writing different forms of poetry and short fiction. This was about 30 years ago, but it made a big impact on my life. Not just that I had more stories in my imagination than I thought, but that the stories were as good as they were. In one way or another, each of the main protagonists were some manifestation of me. In some way or another, each of the conflicts they dealt with were my own. Their wishes, longings and struggles were the same as mine. I never got published (outside of school publications) but I sure learned a lot about myself. I understand when I hear that a writer writes because he has to.

In my stories, I had a great affection for the kids I wrote about. My favorite was James, the rebellious, spoiled sixteen year old nephew from the city packed off by his desperate and frustrated parents to the mountains where his Aunt Carolina worked as a biologist. Next was the shy middle school aged pack rat geek with a secret crush on the popular new boy in town that she wrote 1104 observations about in her journal. When her over stuffed locker finally explodes, her whole life is strewn all over the hall way and trampled on by indifferent students passing by. Yet, it is a happy accident when the boy stops to help her pick up the mess and they find that they actually have a lot in common ("You have a bug collection? Cool!") Miss Geek finds out that she learned more in five minutes of personal interaction than she did during months of diligent surveillance. And then there were the 12 year old neighbor kids, Billy and Mandy, meeting each other for the first time and hating each other at first, but still curious enough about the other to get past that to become friends.

I wrote poems about my experiences in the woods, in Hawaii, collecting seashells, King's Lake, snow, hearing music, playing music, friends, boxed up feelings and living in arid Eastern Washington. The usual. Nothing particularly fascinating. But when I read them, it brings me back to a place and time in my life. In technicolor. Although it was harder work than writing stories, with less payback for me creatively, I am glad I wrote them for nothing other than my own benefit. I re-live those moments while on a hike, watching a bird of prey fly, feeling the spray of joyful waves hitting the rocks on the beach, being in a canoe in the middle of a lake at night with a full moon, sitting alone in the music room listening to Doug play trumpet on an empty and dark stage after school.Poetry is life concentrate.

I didn't take a lot of pictures of stuff, cameras frustrated me. But I have these words--pages and pages of them--that captured my life, which was what it was.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's On My Mind


Not much lately...too busy to sit around and contemplate very much these days. Too busy to even see Dylan in Kalamazoo a few nights ago! He's happy because Obama is the new president, and so his performances are a little more energized these days, which is something to see. I've been working on discipline in my life, and so there have been some changes.

Discipline and consistency have not been my strengths. It's one of the reasons my weight fluctuates, going up and down (lately, down). Throughout my life, I've resisted routines in anything. But in order to deal with diabetes, routine is essential.

When first diagnosed, I was scared, shocked and hard on myself. Then, I swung from one extreme of over vigilance to the other of denial. I've had some hard chain reaction types of health issues this summer because I lost focus on some small daily checks that could have saved me some trouble. For instance, if you have diabetes, you have to aggressively deal with any problems that come up with your feet and quickly.

Getting through that and all the complications, I realized that I have to believe God wants me to learn something from all this. That it is possible that He loves me and still let me have diabetes. For awhile, I wondered. For awhile, I was angry. And finally, I realized that this was a gift. Without the gift of diabetes, I would not have learned to develop discipline of self care. I would probably have continued with my unhealthy co-dependent tendency of taking care of everyone else but myself.

I am taking a cardio and strength training class three times a week. This is the third week and I wanted to quit because my knees are feeling like they are about to blow out. But I got up this morning and went to class early to talk to Lisa, my class instructor about it. She showed me some things to help me out and checked on me during the class to make sure my form was not hurting my knees. I didn't want to drop the class--I feel as though I've gotten a lot out of it--and it didn't occur until my quiet time prayer yesterday that maybe I need to ask for help. That I need to take care of my knees by asking for advice--something that I wouldn't ordinarily do because speaking up is not something you believe you can do when you are dysfunctional.

A co-worker expressed that she was jealous because I was working out, but I told her it took getting diabetes for me to finally do it. I really don't want to take drugs with crazy side effects. I really don't want my kidneys or heart or any other essential body part to give me a bad time. All I want is to serve and love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength--strong kidneys, strong arms, strong feet, strong eyes, strong circulatory system...as long as He enables me...as long as I do my best to take care of temple He dwells in.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Lonesome River




It's bluegrass from the eigth of the Dylan bootleg series "Tell Tale Signs", a duet with Ralph Stanley. I had heard that Dylan had recorded with him, but could never find this song. It's my favorite from the CD.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Accepting Autumn Part 2

I subscribe to the Simply Recipes blog and the Smitten Kitchen blog. Deb the author of Smitten Kitchen posted the following recipe that I had to share. I also have to make these for ESL tonight. Yes, you can thank me now.



Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 to 3/4 cups sugar (the original recipe calls for the larger amount; I think it could be dialed down a bit)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Cut a length of parchment that will cover the bottom and two sides (makes it much easier to remove), and line the pan with it. Butter the lining as well. (Deb note: I used an 8-inch square, because it was what I had. It works, too, but the brownies are crazy thick and take much longer to bake, just to give you a heads-up.)

2. Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.

3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.

4. Pour half of batter (about two cups) into a separate bowl and stir chocolate mixture into it. If you find that it is a little thick (as mine was) add a little more batter (a few tablespoons or so) until it is more pourable. This is important because mine was quite thick, and the pumpkin half was quite thin, so I had trouble swirling the two together.

5. In other bowl, stir in the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don’t set.

6. With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Be sure to get your knife all the way to the bottom of the pan–I didn’t, and ended up with a chocolate base, not that it is such a bad thing. Sprinkle with nuts, if using.

7. Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Accepting Autumn

One of the pleasures of Michigan (yes, there are some)is autumn. It's colorful, usually, and crisp air invigorates me without freezing me. I say hello to all my favorite sweaters back from storage and pack the summer clothes away. I love the foods of harvest and the ability to bake a batch of cookies just to warm up the house. But it's a transitional time, winter is coming soon. Autumn is the consolation prize for shoveling snow--raking leaves prepares your muscles for the tougher job coming up in a few months.

I'm learning that I have to embrace where I am at by embracing the local climate changes. Since I live mostly in my head, this embracing attitude must include experiencing the weather with all my senses. Winter doesn't seem so long and weary if I appreciate the benefits of fall right now. I don't always take advantage of God's gift of autumn while I have it.

So I will prepare my seasonal pumpkin stew, bake some apples, rake some leaves, take leaf collecting walks, and sip some tea.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Precious in His Sight




Audrey LeBlanc, Dennis' niece, was born with severe birth defects, but her parents cared for her needs at home in every detail, from how to hold her so she could breathe better, to exercising and massaging her limbs several times a day to how to make her smile. Although parenting a special needs child consumed them, they never wanted to see her die young to alleviate their burden. Their love for her was immense. And they miss her enormously.

"Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him." Psalm 103:13.

It encourages me that God cares for us like a parent who cares for his children, sensitive of their vulnerability and dependence on him.

"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." Ps.103:14

I'm feeling really "dusty" these days. I am not made out of brick. I am not a wall nor a machine. And I have a shelf life, physically. We all do. But why do we treat ourselves and others without respect to the precious life we all possess so tenuously?

Back to Heavenly Man, Yun ends up in a Thai prison that has living conditions thousands times worse than the ones in China. Upon entering over a misunderstanding in his passport and suspicion that he was a spy, Yun writes that men who contracted disease were left to languish in dark corners of the overcrowded cells What caught my attention is how Yun sorrowfully describes the suffering ones as "precious souls". As one who had suffered much himself, he amazes me by his empathy for others.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Heavenly Man

I finished reading the biography by Brother Yun "Heavenly Man", a believer who suffered for Christ as he was jailed and tortured for sharing his faith in the impoverished rural parts of China. The title came from the name he called himself when he was captured the first time and was dragged by the authorities towards his home where an unsuspecting house church was secretly meeting. He feigned insanity and started yelling in code in hopes that his fellowship would hear him and have enough time to escape. Actually, to his horror, his brothers and sisters in Christ came out to check out who was making all that noise, and wouldn't leave but instead, followed as he was dragged to jail which made him act even more crazy. The police forgot about them because Yun had become too hard to handle. From that point on, it was a nickname for him, and his home village was known as "Gospel Village", because people from there believed and became evangelists to the rest of the region.

Brother Yun has a convicting point of view about the hardships that persecution brings to Christians in his country. After sharing about the horrible ordeal that he went through as well as his family and friends, he concludes that the house church in China does not pray for persecution to end. They actually pray that it continues. Yun and his family left China and were ex-patriots in Germany for awhile, and has had a good chance to observe the westernized church in the US and Europe, and hopes that his country's church never becomes like us. Not that they are superior but because the hardships they endure actually make them more committed to God. They count it all joy.

But the pitfalls for sin tend to be different. Yun gets out of jail and goes back into secret evangelism, neglecting his farm that supports his family and ignoring his wife. After not respecting her warnings that she got from a dream to spare him another trip to jail, he got caught. This time it wasn't him who suffers except at the beginning, but his family. His livelihood was subsistence farming and in a primitive agricultural community, women could not do the work alone. No one was left to take care of them because when Christians were arrested, hundreds in one community were incarcerated at the same time so there was no support network left for the families left behind. Mercifully, he was released before his children starved to death, only to find himself already scheduled to speak at several house churches--he had memorized whole books of the Bible and in a place where so few men got training as pastors, and bibles were rare, he was in huge demand.

But even under that pressure, he and his wife agreed to pray together in the mountains and Yun was convicted by God that he was making ministry his idol. Yun realized that he often was doing God's work without God, and that he had become prideful. Many of his keepers and fellow inmates in the jails had failed to break him, but the only time he came to that point of breaking was seeing his children during visitation and that they were going cold and hungry. He had a shift of priorities where his walk with God came first, his wife and kids came second and then came ministry.

As for me, Brother Yun made me glad that I am a Christian but aware of all the things that I focus on which are a waste of time and energy. It made me long to be a heavenly woman, the kind for whom there is no price too high to pay for her faith in Jesus and the Gospel. The kind that counts it all joy to have the privilege to sacrifice for God, and who has experienced God's sufficiency.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Brain Work

Lately, I've been doing four suduko puzzles a day and at least two crossword puzzles a week. It's probably an addiction...I don't feel right unless I do them. Like, if I don't work out at the gym, I miss it.

Does it make a difference? I'm not sure yet. Working on puzzles is supposed to keep dementia or senility at bay, and keep our minds sharp. When I work out physically, the scale shows the result. But how do I measure if I am getting smarter?

Teaching English is a sort of puzzle, especially when I am having a conversation with a beginner. Today, I visited a student from my ESL class and we talked for almost three hours. Most of the time, she was having a hard time finding the right word, or if she had the right word, her pronunciation might be off. Or she didn't understand what I meant. We drew pictures, wrote out sentences, pantomimed until we got it right. It took work and required a lot of patience, but we did it. I actually had fun trying to guess what she was saying or finding a way to help her understand me.

Dennis and I lead a Bible study for ESL students, and Dennis' job is to teach and my job is to mainly listen. I listen to Den to make sure that he's saying things correctly and I listen to the students to understand their questions and help Dennis answer them. In many ways, teaching the Bible to students from five or six different countries with various exposure to the Gospel (between none to a lot)and various levels of speaking English is like a puzzle. It takes an extra set of ears and eyes to observe without having the distraction of teaching to assess the situation and discern how to assist. Sometimes, God gives me cross references to help explain or give clarity. The more I observe, it seems, the more I learn.

And learning is work.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thanksgiving

I don't grocery shop a lot anymore. I usually run out for fresh veggies and perishables like milk once in a great while. The reason being is because I stock up once or twice a year on staples, usually buying them on sale. But lately, the pantry is getting low and I made a list and headed out to the store. It was overwhelming. I was aware prices had changed, but I wasn't expecting it to be that much.

I made some adjustments--just how important was it to me that I got my favorite brand of mayo that cost almost five dollars a jar, when a store brand was half as much at the price I'm used to paying? Eggs were 99 cents a dozen at Aldi, the warehouse type grocery,compared to almost two bucks at Meijer, the regular grocery store across the street. How lazy must I be to pay for pre-sliced mushrooms at a dollar more when I could slice my own.

Lately, as Dennis and I bow our heads to give thanks for our meals, I've been feeling more grateful than usual. Everything seems to have risen in price, and I wonder if today's prices will be considered a bargain next fall.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Promise Was Made

It was doctor time today. Dr. A wanted to see me after the lab results got in about my kidneys. I've improved some more, and he was pleased. But that was a brief second. We had to talk about my blood pressure and the meds I've taken and then quit.

I'm diabetic, and even though my bp is under 140/90, he wanted to see it a little lower. Like, under 140/85. We went through the fact I decided to stop the Norvasc after my legs swelled up and I got a rash. He wanted me to tell him before I decide to quit a prescription. Before, I took Metaprolel and it turned out I was allergic and couldn't breathe. And he took me off Lisinoprol because it made my kidneys crazy. And before that, I took another common bp med that made my throat swell. Dr. A reviewed all of this and told me that we went through all the major meds possible and then he gave me an analysis of last resort options that probably won't help much.

He said that there was another option, and that was to loose 20 pounds in three months or else he'll have to prescribe another nasty blood pressure medication. He told me if I was willing to make a promise to him that I would do this. I promised.

It took me a year to lose 20 pounds. And now, I've promised to lose the same amount in a quarter of the time. No more goofing off.

No more goofing off at the pool. Time to get serious. So, today, I pushed myself a little more than usual and swam 14 laps nonstop in half an hour. No flirting with my husband, no chatting with Jo Lee, no sharing my life story with Rosie or trying to get to know Tori the lifeguard better. Half an hour of keeping the heart rate way up. Well, I flirted with Hubby for a few minutes but only after I finished my laps.

No more goofing off with Weight Watchers. Write down everything I eat. Plan my menu and print it up and follow it. Go to every weekly meeting. Maybe go to additional meetings per week.

Is my doc tough on me? Probably. Did I need him to be? Definitely. Can I do this? I think that it would drive me to depend on God more than usual. But I hate the blood pressure medications.

I'm wondering what it would be like to lose 10 pounds by November 8th, and then another by December 8th. Perhaps keep pressing on by January 8th, and lose more than the 20 I promised.

The biggest danger is getting complacent and forgetting.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bach for Everyone



Adapted from Bach's Concerto for Two Violins, a jazz version by Taro Hakase and Iwao Furusawa. For a Bach loving friend who is depressed that he finished listening to 155 CD's on everything Bach wrote.
Fredo, my big boy kitten, is a whirligig right now. I think he has ADD. He plays with the piece of paper I wadded up for him, then jumps at the dog's leash hanging on the hook, runs across the room, stops, looks at me and runs the other way, jumping up on the desk. He's the orange tabby with an attitude, about 8 months old, and probably weighs 12 pounds. He's bigger than his momma and he's not done growing.

He just walked calmly by, as though the previous spurt of frenzied activity never happened. Looking for trouble? Probably.

When he was a baby, his mom, Carly, used to move him and his littermates from the spare room closet to the closet in our bedroom. Since I wanted peace and quiet there and not turn our bedroom into a cat nursery, I would gather them all up and deliver them back to their cardboard box in the other room. She and I would go around and around like this for half an hour until she got confused and quit. And the next day, she and I would begin the process of mobilizing her kittens to and fro across the hallway again.

Sometimes, I would come home from work and find assorted disoriented kittens all alone in odd places like the middle of the hallway or in my closet. Fredo was one of the frequently abandoned kittens ending up in the closet, forgotten while the litter remained in the spare room with their mother feeding them in the cardboard box. He didn't fuss, he'd just lay there, waiting for mom to come get him again. I'd pick him up to take him back, and his mom would look at me in horror, like, how did that happen? Talk about ADD. My guess was that she'd start moving her litter, and then next thing she knew, it was lunch time and forgot that she had Fredo in my bedroom closet.

So, the other day, as I organized that closet, Fredo would jump in there purring, rolling around in the corner where his mom used to leave him eight months ago. I wonder how he remembered that spot. After laying there in kitty rapture, he'd walk up to his mom, and try to cuddle with her, but she growled at him to leave her alone. I woke up this morning to see her lying in her favorite spot in the hallway, with Fredo a few inches away with his paw extended to her, touching her tail. From what I could see, she was entirely indifferent to him. She was done being his mom.

One morning, Fredo was taken to the vet to get neutered and was gone for two days while he was in recovery. Carly was a different cat without him around, she began to be her old affectionate self around us. She slept on Dennis' legs, she rolled around on the bed and wanted me to pet her. I realized that not only did she withdraw from her son, she also withdrew from us in his presence. I don't know what this means in cat logic.

I did read that mother cats would drive their kittens away from them when they were old enough to fend for themselves. I did notice that Carly did not grieve for her litter as they left for other homes, and they stayed with us longer than most kittens stay. We kept Fredo because he was hand raised by us, and I knew that was a very rare opportunity these days as most litters are bred by strays. Carly herself is a stray and her trust in us was hard won. She is a part time outside cat, simply because it is impossible to keep her in without her scratching the floor next to the door into shreds. She has brought us mice and small birds as trophies of her hunting prowess. The mice I'm impressed with, the birds I feel sorry for.

At night, on the way to bed, I stop to pet her in the hallway, and sweep her into my arms to take with me into our room. She purrs loudly and doesn't try to get away like she usually does. It is our routine, and she knows that it means that she is welcome to be with us, that she is loved. What endears me most about this is how she doesn't beg or ask for it, but she receives it wholeheartedly as though it meets the secret longings of her heart. Perhaps, in her cat way, she wanted to be closer to us while taking care of her babies and that was why she was trying so hard to get them in our closet and out of the spare room.

Perhaps, I should have let her for a few nights.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Health Matters

Yesterday, I swam about 10 laps in half an hour. Almost normal for me. I had to rest between laps, especially my freestyle laps. It was great.

Afterward, I went to Weight Watchers and found out I lost 4 pounds. There is a meeting at my YMCA once a week, so I can go after my swim.

My legs are continually compressed with special socks, and I'm beginning to accept that. I had a hard time concentrating on Sunday during our class, I was noticing sockless feet and open toed sandals, remembering way back when.

Today I had to have blood work done. The med techs know me by now even though they forget where the only good vein in my arm is. I should get a tattoo. We commiserated about bad veins (the reason I have bad circulation in my legs) and I found out that this happens to a lot of people without any apparent reason.

So, life goes on.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Autumn is Here!

The rash on my legs has healed, and I have slowed down considerably. However, I made dinner last night, which was great. It was baked salsa chicken with cheesy potatoes. It's good to be on cooking duty again. Dennis helps out a lot still. We are a regular Iron Chef team together.

I spoke with a godly and astute newlywed wife this afternoon. Her questions sounded so familiar, reminding me of my early years with Dennis, trying to figure things out and learning some things the hard ways, but most things I learned with God's help and with the support of godly older women like Donna Tobey who has been married eight years longer than me. I don't know how I would have made it without her and so thankful that God put us together in California and now again in Michigan.

As for organizing, I am almost done. I started several notebooks. I had my addresses and spiritual disciplines notes all in the same binder, but now I've divided them into two different binders. I started a new binder for ministry, for notes for one-to-one times and witnessing. I'm thinking of starting a new notebook for fellowship, including notes from my church and small group. All this organizing is actually a work in progress. It is a non-stop process.

My pre-Christmas planning has hardly started yet, but I let Dennis know what my state of mind is about it. We're having two out of town guests, plus a trip to visit a close friend's family down in Ohio. So, it's starting up pretty quickly. We will have international students over for Thanksgiving dinner, and probably a few over for a small game night/Christmas party. I am wondering if we should host a New Year's party for neighbors, or maybe a Valentine's party for neighbors instead. Last year, Dennis baked banana bread for our neighbors and we delivered them with Christmas cards. I think we could make that an annual tradition, plus an invitation to visit our church for Christmas. I also want to work on a contemplative and meditative process for my time in the Word during this time as well.

I am available for the collegiate ministry with women this year, and this is especially encouraging. Mostly because God uses these times to make me grow and stretch my faith and deepen my prayer life. I'm praying that my relationships with these young women would be deep and lifelong.

Yes, this is amazing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's a Blast

While I have been recovering from the burning rash on my legs, I've been staying off my feet. This is really tough.

For one, I love to cook dinner. I'm really good at it. My husband can cook, but honestly, it is way different. I'm also tired of eating out or getting take out. What to do, what to do. He bought salmon and grilled it, but we had more fish than we could eat at once. Leftover nuked fish was not really appetizing the second day, and we still didn't get it all eaten. The third day, I had to do something about this. I sent Hubby to the store and supervised dinner. He made salmon chowder last night. He wasn't sure why we had to go through all these fancy efforts, and was a little frustrated with all the steps involved. But I walked him through the recipe's beginning and he learned a few skills. And then I left the kitchen with dinner half prepared, telling my man that he will have to assemble the rest of the chowder on his own, and that I knew he could do it. And you know, he was really glad he put the effort into it.

It was wonderful. So much better than canned soup. Just as good as if we went out. We finished the rest of it today during lunch.

I'm finding that there are a lot of things I can do sitting down with my feet up. Folding laundry is one. Organizing my office is another--filing and bill paying. I can write real letters. Oh yeah, I used to be a real letter writer. I wrote letters home, to my grandma, my great Aunt Hilda, close friends and Dennis. And I got as many letters as I sent. It was a regular weekend activity--find a cozy place and curl up, turn on music, light a candle, pick some pretty stationary and start writing. It was relaxing and a way to connect with a friend or family member far away. I used to send recipe cards, pictures, bookmarks or drawings (yep, I used to draw a little).

This summer, we turned a spare room into a guest room that functions as my office and prayer place. After all that, I have trouble getting motivated to go in there. It's pretty. There are comfortable places to sit. I have a window seat. Great lighting. But it still isn't the first place I go for reading and writing or praying. I decided that it had a lot to do with the fact I still have everything spread out all over the house. It isn't quite "Althea Central" in the new office, which is the ultimate goal after all. I have a desk in the family room next to the computer and the tv, and it is never used because it isn't a good place for quiet contemplation. But my files and "stuff" are in it. So I've taken all that up to my office. Which means I had purging and re-organizing to do, which I've done all day while sitting on the floor.

And I discovered a few things in the process. I once prided myself on amazing organization skills, but that is no longer true. I also kept in touch with people via letters and cards, and that is no longer true. My letter writing and card sending is an extension of my spiritual gift of encouragement, which I am no longer using as much any more. And I have cut back on Christmas cards. I love Christmas card exchanging, but I start after Thanksgiving which is the wrong time to start for someone like me in the retail/coffee business. The time to start is around Halloween for me. I can get the envelopes addressed and start a newsletter, and then work on the rest before Thanksgiving.

In fact, all of Christmas is a downer for me. It hasn't been the same for about eight or so years. I find it over rated. I often work Christmas Eve, and I never take time off for the holidays or to even travel to be with family. By the time I even think about it, it is over. I need to start thinking about it now, and make small plans about what is most important to me and Dennis.

People complain that Christmas shows up earlier every year. But, for me, it is an opportunity for me to think things over and prepare for the emotional onslaught that the holidays represent to me instead of Christ's incarnation. I'll need the extra time, because if the recent economic developments are any indication, my business will be fighting for every profit we can muster. It was tough last year, it will be even tougher this Christmas. I remember telling my boss post Christmas last year that it seemed like I worked harder than ever but got fewer results than ever. And six months later, three of the six stores that our company had in our county had to close. I am not expecting anything less than difficult and pressure-filled this Christmas. Sad, but true.

So, I will have to make choices to protect my health, physically and spiritually and even emotionally this Christmas. Thinking about it now might be really early for most of you out there, but it beats the heck out of what I've been numbly doing for the last nine years since Mom died December 3, 1999.

A Fight

On Tuesday, I walked over half a mile on a treadmill and then swam 6 or 7 laps. I was taking it easy, and the usual swollen feet and ankles did not appear like they have for the last three weeks in a row. A small victory.

On Wednesday, I was getting ready for work, marveling over my perfect feet as I got dressed. I knew it was going to be a great day no matter what happened. And a lot happened. At the end of my shift after spending most of it on my feet, I felt a little burning around my calves. I got home and was changing out of my work clothes and saw a red angry burning rash go from my ankles to my knees. So Dennis drove me to Urgent Care for the second emergency health visit I've had in two months.

I didn't wait long to see the physician's assistant, and she showed me how the rash was my body's way of trying to get rid of excess fluid since I have problems with the valves in my legs. They've completely collapsed and I have to elevate my legs at all times. Reality.

So, I had to get two shifts covered while I re-cover from this rash. It looks a little better. The PA told me that if I don't deal with it now, the rash will start to ooze the fluid from the water retention. My body is protesting. It is rebelling.

I wear mild compression stockings, but it is obvious that I need to wear firm compression socks. A lot of this is also related to my kidney issues that are taking time to resolve. I'm almost normal, but obviously not normal enough.

Diabetes is a balancing endeavor. The nurse at Urgent Care told me that it isn't too late for me, that I can reverse all this. She encouraged me, she gave me hope. After all the work, I have some good numbers to reflect that from my labs. I had one problem with an infected foot and it has been a fight ever since. But I will not give up.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gas Mileage Tips (From The Experts)



A few months ago, CBS reporter Maggie Rodriquez had a news flash that UPS only made right turns to save on fuel. I learned a few things.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Iron Chef Impossible

I really like the Food Channel. I enjoy watching people cook. But my all time favorites are not the kind of shows that demonstrate recipes and techniques, but the most intense ones involving professional chefs trying to meet high standards in a short amount of time.

During one episode of Dinner:Impossible, a chef has to cook an international menu of comfort food for 150 homesick circus performers. He takes requests from at least 7 different world cuisines and starts to shop and cook the food in less than five hours in a cooking trailer smaller than most people's bathrooms. I noticed throughout all the episodes that none of the dishes are cooked by reading recipes, and the chef and his sous staff all seem to know what to do no matter where they are or what they are called to make. During this episode, the chef makes the point that he and his sous chefs know this food (particularly borscht, stroganoff, spaetzle, fish and chips, etc...) because they have experienced it all before, and know how to make it even better than normal while keeping it to a classic style. The challenge comes not from knowing how to cook, but from the conditions they are called to cook in. This particular chef doesn't just like to do what is asked from him, but go beyond all expectations.

Then there is Iron Chef. No cookbooks there either. No measuring cups or measuring spoons. I am always impressed by the level of expertise in time management, technique, food knowledge and teamwork. Not to mention calm professionalism, originality and creativity. Right now, I am watching two teams do things with carrots that blow my mind. There is cooking and then, there is cooking. All within one hour. What can I cook in one hour?

It makes me think about many things about how I view challenges and limitations, and the mental attitude that sets some people apart from others. These chefs respond to the hard situations relying on their past discipline and experience. It all just kicks in during the competition but it didn't come from thin air. Each cook represents years of education and training, not to mention tedious hours of making sure that each little detail is done just right. But more than that, they love what they do.

Why am I thinking about these things? Well, on one hand, it applies a lot to what I do all day at work. I make coffee for hundreds of people. Right now at the mall, I make coffee for hundreds of people in a space smaller than my closet. A couple of times, during a rush today, I had to take a look at the frappuccino I made in the blender and decide that it didn't meet my standards so it was necessary to make it over again. In addition, not everything goes smoothly. After years of working bar, you train yourself not to react emotionally to little upsets. You fix the problem and keep going. And laugh, some things are actually really funny. And you know, it helps that I love what I do.

It also applies to a book I'm reading about spiritual disciplines by Dallas Willard. We are amazed at athletes like Michael Phelps who perform perfectly at the Olympics, but we don't see the hours and hours of discipline and repetition, of aching muscles and sacrifices to keep a rigorous training schedule. But somehow, we look at spiritual mature people and think they got mature and respond under pressure magically. We don't see the hours of bible study and prayer that helped them grow and know God deeply, so that they respond to challenges born out of the trust in God's ability to keep His promises that they've seen every day. And the disciplines aren't the point, it's the experience of knowing God and loving Him born from those disciplines.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Danc e Me



Leonard Cohen "Lift me like an olive branch, Be my homeward dove and dance me to the end of love..."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Make Over

A few weeks ago, I dyed my hair reddish brown. I read somewhere that skin with pink tones is compatible with red hair. But when I looked in the mirror, I saw red hair and red skin. So I was wearing make-up to decrease the ruddiness. There is a "corrector" available in shades of green that you can wear under your foundation. But without it, I looked more sunburned than usual. Under the lights behind the bar at work, my hair looked even more red and so did my skin.

I went to Regis at the mall and had blond partial highlights put in. My hair has nice little thin stripes now. It looks fine at home and in daylight, but under the lights at work, it looks orange. However, my face is a little more balanced. Am I satisfied? Probably not. But a few of my regular customers, Lauren in particular, have commented that I change my hair everytime they see me.

Who knew that the upside of growing old and getting grey is the chance to continually re-invent myself?

Dylan Cover



Aired on BBC April 18, 2008, Adele singing a Bob Dylan tune "Make You Feel My Love", accompanied by Jools Holland. The rumor is that this is Dylan's favorite cover of this song (also done by Garth Brooks, Kelly Clarkson, Billy Joel, Trisha Yearwood, Joan Osbourne. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Confession

Yesterday I went swimming and nearly cried in my frustration over my lungs inability to cooperate with my workout goals. It felt humiliating to have to start all over as though it was the first time back three years ago, when I knew I was capable of doing as much or more as everyone else around me. And I nearly got myself into trouble at the deep end of the pool because I was pushing myself too hard and my bronchial tubes were having spasms.

So I hit the showers after only five laps in half an hour. I was angry and I was worried. If I couldn't work out, how would I be able to take care of myself? I had waited a month for my foot to heal, and now this.

As I left the locker room, I wondered if I was putting my self esteem into how many laps I swim. And that perhaps I should vary my work outs with walks and other exercises like more yoga. And that perhaps I should control my eating more and reduce my Weight Watchers points to a lower amount. So, I confessed my sinful way of handling my negative emotions (there was mental cursing involved) by the time I reached the car. I got home and took my blood glucose. It was 88. The lowest I had ever seen it. Which surprised me, since I cut back on my glucophage doses to protect my kidneys. It was still low this morning when I woke up, around 116.

So, I'm off to the pharmacy with a new prescription for a blood pressure med I know I don't need, simply because the doctor said that it would help my lungs function. He said that I had asthma, but I never had symptoms of it in my life. As for the low glucose readings, maybe my pancreas woke up and decided to work today. I'll take a few more readings after meals and see what happens.

I'm not sure what God is teaching me here, exactly. I wish I could say I am as fervent now in my seeking Him as I was 25 years ago. But I did learn then how it is possible to see His love and goodness even through the bad circumstances, and I know He is just as loving and good now as He was back then.

Perhaps today I will get five slow laps in. Perhaps I will be thankful I can still swim at all.

Everybody Hurts (Hold On)



I think this one is about community. By REM

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lord, Protect My Child



Performed by Susan Tedeschi, written by Bob Dylan (bootleg song, never published)

Lord Protect My Child

For his age, he's wise
He's got his mother's eyes
There's gladness in his heart
He's young and he's wild
My only prayer is, if I can't be there,
Lord, protect my child

As his youth now unfolds
He is centuries old
Just to see him at play makes me smile
No matter what happens to me
No matter what my destiny
Lord, protect my child

While the world is asleep
You can look at it and weep
Few things you find are worthwhile
And though I don't ask for much
No material things to touch
Lord, protect my child

He's young and on fire
Full of hope and desire
In a world that's been raped, raped and defiled
If I fall along the way
And can't see another day
Lord, protect my child

There'll be a time I hear tell
When all will be well
When God and man will be reconciled
But until men lose their chains
And righteousness reigns
Lord, protect my child

How Quiet Times Saved My Life

I've been reading my old quiet time journals from 25 years ago. The entries show how deeply absorbed I was in my worship of God and appreciation of all that He had done for me. I kept the journals without thinking about someday reading them when I was a middle aged woman. I kept the journals to somehow capture the "now" of my experience of God, almost like a snapshot. I often wrote about the inadequacy of words to describe my adoration for my Lord and Savior and my gratitude for all He did for me, but I kept writing anyway.

As I think back to those days, I had a lot of problems. But I think those passionate times of prayer and reading the Bible helped me more than any counseling session because I saw God as bigger than my life and the difficulties my life brings me. I longed to see His love and goodness despite whatever confusion and pain I encountered. When I finally began counseling fifteen years later, my experienced therapist asked me how I survived. My only answer was God's love and those deep times in my devotional life. And after five years of meeting with her, she told me I had reached a level of healing she rarely ever sees. She said that my grounded faith in God and His Word made the difference. I thought about it later, and I think that was close to the words of Jesus when he said, "Your faith has healed you..."

I was going through an especially lonely time when I wrote the following in 1985:

"Jesus, I thank you for giving me love. I need that assurance even when I fail to obey with a full heart, to respond more confidently to Your promise, to speak up, to be open hearted. Always fearful. But I turn to You, I feel Your smile, Your welcome. My encourager is my LORD. You've told me to be strong, to be courageous, even when I am criticized, when I'm mocked, or hurt, or accused, or judged. If it wasn't for You, how would have I been able to pick myself up?

No wonder when Joseph said 'How can I sin this great sin against God?' It was unthinkable to betray Potiphar, and twice that to grieve God. Joseph knew You, he knew You well. Jesus, may I know you as well as your mother Mary? As well as Moses who looked forward to Your coming? I want intimacy with You Jesus. To trust You..."


I can't remember the exact circumstances I was going through at the time. It was during the summer and generally during those times with my family and at work, I was trying to share the Gospel and encountering resistance and rejection. Along with that and all the other aspects of my family dysfunction probably was overwhelming and it made sense that I could only stand under the pressure with significant times alone with God. I loved my family and longed for them to taste the goodness of God, and it grieved me that they didn't believe.

I now understand that God didn't send me home to save them, but to bring me closer to Himself. And it is often true that when I do go home to visit, my prayer life does get much deeper. He uses the pain to make a godly woman out of me.

And so now, as I encounter trials of a different kind, I know that God has a plan for me. But it won't happen without some cooperation on my part, which involves a consistent quiet time and discipline of prayer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bodycology

A month ago, I was told I had kidney failure and was given a referral to see a nephrologist. Since it was a year since I had lab tests on my kidneys, which were normal at the time, the doctor wasn't assuming that my sick organs were from the massive antibiotics I was taking to fight an infection.

So, I had a conversation with my pharmacist, who told me that the antibiotics often temporarily decrease the filtration capability of my kidneys, but they should return to normal after a few weeks. I decided to hold off seeing the nephrologist, and made another appointment with a new general practitioner for a second opinion, who ordered another round of lab tests which just came back to tell me that my kidneys had significantly improved. I will take another test in two weeks, and then we'll see about needing a specialist.

I also talked to my pharmacist when I had a bad reaction to a new blood pressure medication, and I got answers from him a lot faster than the physicians I called. In fact, I'm not sure why I have to have blood pressure medication. Neither does my doctor I saw this morning. I haven't had medication for a week, and my readings were really good this morning in the clinic. I'm trying to decide whether or not to take the drug.

A year ago, a cardiologist prescribed a statin which I decided not to take for a few months because I wanted to change my diet and exercise to fix the high cholesterol. And it worked. Later, I read how that particular statin was causing heart attacks and actually killed some people. It was taken off the market by the FDA. So, my gut instincts proved to be correct.

I usually do what the doctors say, but at this point, I'm learning to draw the line. This morning, my doctor and I took a walk to the lab to ask a question. We walked at a fast pace, and at the end of our destination, he was much more winded than I was even though he is about 15 years younger than me. Either he is really out of shape, or I am doing much better than I think I am.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Another side of Mr. Bean



Rowan Atkinson, English comedian famous for Mr. Bean, is actually brilliant in portraying darker kinds of characters, such as this schoolmaster. This particular video is the less offensive on Youtube of Atkinson's earlier work before Bean.

I have more to say about Atkinson, but I'm saving it for later.

Quality Control

In 1979, I was sixteen and working at A&W as a cook in the arid Columbia Basin of Washington state. I had worked there since the day after I turned 14, and my wage went from $1.50 per hour to $2.65. Until my brother,John,worked there that summer, I was the highest paid high school employee.

I had regarded my job as mostly systematic. It was a matter of method and timing, but I hardly thought of what I did in terms of actually cooking. I prided myself mostly over the cleanliness and order of the kitchen, not the skill in preparing the food. But one day that all changed.

It was a cold winter's day, and very few customers were in the cafe. The orders were the usual chili dogs and burgers. Then I got a ticket for two grilled ham and cheese, and a word from my boss to make it good, it was for two out-of-towners from "the coast", east Washingtonian talk for people from Seattle. From his tone, the people sounded like they were rich and had to stop but there was nothing else in our little town open. Okie dokie.

So, I cleaned a spot on the grill and sprayed a little grease to make it non stick. I put on a few slices of ham and used tongs to move them around as they fried. I wanted to see the edges get crispy and curl and a little sizzle before I drained them on paper towels and put them back in a warming area of the cooktop. Meanwhile, I sliced a small red onion as thin as possible and put that on the heat. I liked to see them get soft and get slightly browned. The bread was the thick texas toast kind and I brushed one side of each with melted butter and placed them on the grill with two slices of American cheese. And this was the hard part, being patient, monitoring the heat and checking to make sure the bread and cheese were at the right stage of browning and melting. I loaded the ham and onion and then placed the uncooked bread on top also brushed with butter and flipped the sandwiches over for the final meltdown. I had fried up some fries, and they were going to be ready at the same time as the grilled cheese were. I resisted pressing down on the sandwiches, I wanted them thick as possible. I trusted that the cheese would melt into the onion and ham without my help.

At this point, Elvin, my boss came back to check on me and get a status report. I told him it would be two minutes and started on the final touches. I drained the fried under the heat lamp and dusted them lightly with seasoned salt and mounded them on paper lined plastic baskets. I took the sandwiches off the grill and sliced them diagonally and put a toothpick through the triangles. I added a few sliced pickles on the side and hit the bell. Elvin came back to take the sizzling hot food to the customers himself, he looked kind of nervous. Perhaps it took longer than expected, but I didn't care. I knew this order was perfectly cooked.

Fifteen minutes later, Elvin came back with a big smile on his face, and an expression of awe. He handed me a five dollar bill, and said it was my tip from the out-of-towners. He said that they loved the sandwiches, and had grilled ham and cheese everywhere the United States but mine was the best they ever had. Right then, a middle aged lady in a big fluffy coat and a gentleman in a dress coat passed by and waved to me as they exited out the cafe door. I was too shocked to wave back or say "thanks". Elvin slapped me on the back, and told me "Congratulations, you're now a real cook!". I should have asked for a raise right then and there.

After that, all the food I made got special attention. It was simple stuff, nothing fancy, but I did the best I could. And I kept to the original recipes, but somehow everything came out better. I trained my brother and I would like to think that he was great--he got several raises quickly--because of me. But he never got a five dollar tip.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Starbucks--The Movie

In 2009, Tom Hanks will star in "Starbucks" based on the memoir by Michael Gill "How Starbucks Saved My Life" about the years he worked as a barista after being fired from his firm at 63 years old. He brags "I can still detail a bathroom like a ferrari". He better.

Despite rave reviews from Christine, my partner who now works at Corporate in Seattle, I still haven't read the book. I'm sure it's great. And I hope a lot of people read and enjoy it, as well as the upcoming movie. Gill, from the snippets I read, does well at describing the culture of working at a Starbucks, that it is more than just a job. And unlike most workplaces, there is a sort of home or family feeling that outsiders, even the most regular customers, aren't aware of.

So now all of that will go on the big screen. I've thought of my life at Starbucks as a world unto itself, a separate universe all my own. I'm sure that everything will be accurate and portrayed just like I know it. And it is disappointing.

Everything about the company I love is open to the public. And now, this too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hope

As I'm writing about one health thing after another, I'm longing for "normal". A day without a new problem with my body. My body disappoints me not only in its aesthetic as I get older, but also in its decreasing functionality.

But I complain too much. Or do I?

I was working at the mall today and made drinks for two women. One was wheelchair bound accompanied by a friend who was blind with her seeing eye dog. It made me realize that I have it pretty good right now.

And that my complaining and dissatisfaction could lead me down a road to bitterness and anger. Or depression. And so I am learning how to be grateful although my body is dying, my inner man is being renewed day by day (2Corinthians 4:16).

And God's word reminds me in 2 Corinthians 5 how my "earthly tent" will be torn down to replaced by a heavenly one, and in the meantime, I will groan to be clothed with my "dwelling from heaven". The groaning, or burden, that I experience because of the trouble my flesh causes me, and its continual decay makes me hope for something better and imperishible.

"For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison". 2 Cor. 4:17

So, where do I place my hope? In this world? Or in God?

But despite all this encouragement and perspective from God, the reality of it all is painful. It hurts.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Such A Pain, Part 2

Yesterday morning when I woke up, my back had healed and I had another medical situation that was dragging me down. After I had breakfast, I took my prescription meds including a new one for my blood pressure. I was supposed to meet Susan at the pool at 10am, and as I got ready to go, I started to have trouble breathing. I went down the stairs from the front door to the car and thought I was going to collapse.

A smart woman would have called her doctor and canceled the swim, but not I. I went to the pool, thinking that a good workout would help me. But I struggled to put in eight laps in 45 minutes. That's not me.

The reason I didn't worry was because I had already taken my blood pressure twice that morning and it was 125 over 74. Way under the 140/90 standard for health. And I had swam both Friday and Saturday and met my modest goals without trouble. The rest of my stats, like my pulse and my blood glucose were normal. So, I knew it had to be a side effect of my new blood pressure prescription. I went home, looked at my drug information pamphlet, called my pharmacist and found out that I had bronchial spasms which aren't life threatening although rather annoying. He said that it was a very rare side effect of beta blockers, not many get it, and at the low dosage that I had, it wasn't supposed to affect me that much, it usually starts at 400mg instead of my 25mg. My respiration didn't get any better the rest of the day. I went to work, hardly being able to move without wheezing.

This morning, I took my blood pressure, which was 120/70, and decided to skip the metoprolel that was making my bronchial pipes have spasms. I still feel "wheezy" but it's not as bad as yesterday. I went swimming. And even though I wasn't doing as well as last week, I did better than yesterday. In fact, the life guard dropped some metal connector for the lane divider buoys in the deep end, and I dove 12 feet to get it. I got it, and felt great. It was a challenge, and I really didn't expect that my dive would be successful.

I'm wondering if I need blood pressure medication at all. My doctor (another new one) questioned it as well, but he was concerned about my kidneys.

But my breathlessness reminded me of Mom, when she couldn't climb the stairs in our house without stopping every three steps at the age of 50. I thought that she was out of shape, but now I realize that she was dealing with beta blockers, probably. At higher dosages than mine.

Later, she wasn't breathing heavy anymore, when she was in her early sixties. I wonder if it was because someone took her off the beta blockers and put her on another med that didn't have that side effect. Her life improved a lot, she started to go to the gym and swam a little at the family reunion at the Aquatic Center, and she danced.

Monday, September 08, 2008

It's Such A Pain

Right now I can't sleep because of back pain. I strained a muscle this morning while giving a testimony, it was so bad I couldn't breathe. It was a combination of tension and an extraordinarily heavy purse (I've been trying to not carry so much, but I've been busy and the purse kept accumulating more crap).

I have some kidney problems, so taking painkillers is out of the question. I have to live with this for awhile. I've taken two hot showers and that has helped, but that's temporary. And no matter what I do, I can't get comfortable to sleep. Deep breathing and sitting still also helps, but it makes me drowsy.

Meanwhile, I haven't gotten test results from my last GFR and creatinine lab. It's been over a week. Usually, I get phone calls and letters if there's bad news within a few days. So I'm going to call tomorrow morning.

Worst case scenario, I have lactic acidosis. Its symptoms include muscle pain and fatigue. No happy thoughts here.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Shout to the Lord, in Hawaiian



I could watch this one all day. Lizz, this one is for you!

How Great Thou Art, in Hawaiian



The beginning of the hula is sung in Hawaiian, the second part in English. I like the fact that half of the group are older women in their 40's on up.
I am swimming again. Today was my second work out and yesterday my first since my foot infection a month and a half ago.

During my first work out, I think I did about eight or nine laps. Today, I swam 15. I am not as fast and have to catch my breath a lot at the beginning. But by lap 10, I got my second wind. Pushing myself at the beginning paid off as I improved within a half hour. Lap 10 was the backstroke, my favorite. I like to see the wake that my kick produces as I progress down the lane. And I don't have to work on breathing rhythm because my face is above water. For the first time in weeks, I felt like a strong woman again. Even though, in reality, this is an illusion.

I saw another doctor this morning. He told me that I was going to have kidney failure someday, and that hopefully would be far into the future, as he attempts to preserve its function as much as possible. He was a new doctor, and was amazed at my file, which showed drastic improvements in weight loss, glucose control, blood pressure and HDL. But some of the drugs I've been taking can be bad for my kidneys. And he's worried about lactic acidosis.

So, I went to the gym and swam, wondering how much longer I have before I can't do it anymore. I wonder if my desire to be an old lady in the pool, swimming laps forever, will be fulfilled. I don't know. All I have is now. And if that's all I have, I will enjoy it to the fullest. I've been praying, however, for healing, that I would be able to continue to serve God without distraction. My prayers seem to be answered whenever I take my blood pressure, check my glucose and look at a near perfect right foot, with new skin coming in and old dry skin reduced by 85%. And now, I need some good kidneys.

I went to the barn party for welcoming international students and found myself sitting next to a woman in our church I've long admired for her servanthood and love for people, she's served as deaconess for a long time. We chatted, and I found out that her Alzheimer's has progressed to a point where she is now on disability and had to quit her job. She said the hardest part is knowing that she's losing her memory and being able to function, she has known that this was happening for the last eight years. When she is having a good day, she lives it up as much as possible, being in the moment, appreciating what she has right now. And after our chat, she seemed energized, getting involved with the internationals, playing with the kids (there were a lot of families this year) and helping out. She still is joyful, serving and loving God, because she is confident in God's love for her. Just by being herself, she encouraged me immensely to not sit around feeling sorry for myself. Not to live in fear, but keep on trusting God.

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:26 NASB

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Times Like These

My husband is in his early 50's and I am 46. The financial picture for retirement is not a sweet looking one for us baby boomers in a bear market. Things may pick up in 10 years, but then, they might not. Some of the most careful of planners based their retirement on assumptions that are no longer true. Like, the worth of their home would be profitable. Or that their low risk investments would keep ahead of inflation. Or that they wouldn't have to work after retirement.

So, when I meet grumpy people in the general public, especially older ones, I always keep the state of the American economy on the forefront of my mind as an explanation. Things aren't turning out the way they expected. There are disappointments. Even anger. And people handle this differently. When they can't control their own lives, they might try to control yours, for instance. Or when you are working for a company that is taking a financial hit and having to close stores, making you a target to make themselves feel better about their own lives.

My home store isn't closing, and as far as I know right now, my job is safe. But right now, I'm working in a store that is closing and is understaffed because of it. The contrast in these two stores how customers treat me is noticeable. I deliver the same legendary service at both stores. At the one staying open, things are smooth in relationships between the store employees and their customers. I get responses like "Oh, I'm not surprised you are staying open, you guys all do a great job!". At the closing one, although there is sympathy and even a few protests, there is also a certain meanness from some people who love it that we as a company are experiencing difficulties. Who are relishing in their thought that I am a failure and aren't even human enough to hide it. Every small mistake I might make is met with a certain "Aha! That's why you are an underperforming employee!" After awhile, it could make you not want to even try, because either you get pity or scorn. If I let it.

Under these circumstances, I've figured that what these mean people think is not my problem. Their judgemental attitude reflects more on them than it does on me. I can let go of my natural impulse for revenge or to get even. I can just do my job to the utmost of my ability, because God is who I live for. This can only help me grow into a stronger, more loving and more empathetic person. Everyone wants to be "first" or to be seen as winners. But to be treated as a loser or told that I am a loser nonverbally or verbally, who wants that? But that is what God is allowing in my life. I am resting on His love. He alone knows me and saves me. And whoever hurts me, He will deal with them. I trust in Him in times like these, at all times.