Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Yesterday, on a walk in a different street from my usual route, I noticed how a simple ranch style 1950's house looked like some kind of confection with its light cream colored siding, white trim surrounded by pristine white snow and dusted with snow on its roof. Although it could have been bland, it sort of glowed. I don't know if the owners intended it to look so sweet like that in the winter time, or maybe it was just me or the way the light happened to hit it at that moment. The clean simplicity was refreshing to see.

Next month, I'm going to be studying Cynthia Heald's bible study "Becoming a Woman of Simplicity". I'm not sure what to expect, but right now I'm desiring a change in my life towards scaling down on things that are becoming clutter, emotionally and physically.

I'm at the point right now in my life that there is just too much accummulation. I don't know how it all got here (not by me, surely?) but I want so badly to get rid of it. If my pack rat hubby would allow it! This will be an interesting process.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Time to Take a Break

I finished a stretch of work days, including Sunday, in a row. I woke up this morning with a head cold. I needed a day of rest. And today was that day. Right now, the Christmas tree lights are on as the winter's day darkens early. I don't regret my decision at all, except that I have a lot of stuff to do and people to see. It's Erin's birthday and two young women from India want to learn how to bake Christmas cookies (and I want to learn their delectible cuisine as well). Oh yeah, and all those Christmas things that are currently not marked off my list yet.

Charlie Brown's Christmas CD just finished and Yo-yo Ma and his friends are currently on the player with mellow holiday music. Dennis is making chicken stir-fry for dinner (he learned how a few months ago) and I'm looking pretty chic with my hair still sticking straight up from a bad case of bed head. It goes well with my comfy attire--grey cotton pants, black tank top with a black v-neck sweater over it and fluffy baby blue slippers. They didn't have pink in my size at Meijers. But blue will do.

Dennis had a second interview today for a job that we both are pretty excited about. And it sounds like they are excited about him. I guess we can officially say that Dennis will be working at the YMCA (and getting free membership at the gym!! ). In February at the latest, we may be hearing back about another opportunity that might involve us with international students on a deeper level. This would be a step of faith for both of us, as it would mean raising support for awhile.

As for me, I'm feeling better already.
"...for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content..." Philipppians 4:11

Beauty with Brains

CBS ran a story on its "Early Show" about the 10 most stupid and the 10 smartest dog breeds. Ginger (our golden retriever) got beat by the German Shepherds, Poodles (!) and those dang Border Collies as fourth most intelligent dog. Check it out here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Little Drummer Boy

"The Little Drummer Boy" was the first Christmas song that I remember affecting me when I was a little girl. I didn't totally understand it, but the idea of someone longing to give something of worth to an infant touched my heart. The story's resolution of the baby acknowledging and accepting the poor child's gift of himself mirrored my own longing to be seen and appreciated.

The artist Jeff Scher's rendition in the video's animation is focused on friends and family making connections with each other and re-establishing bonds, what makes us feel loved. It also reminds me of Christina Rosetti's poem "In The Bleak Midwinter" another soul who also had nothing to give the baby Jesus and found his answer in giving Him his heart. And I really don't know any better way to celebrate Christmas other than opening the door of my heart to the Lord and to others.

Jesus often spoke of having faith like little children in order to enter into God's kingdom, and the style of Jeff Scher's animation in this music video evokes that point of view for me. Such a simple song, simply sung and simply illustrated with many layers of spiritual meaning, at least to me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Reality Check

What is going on with the LeBlanc's right now? We are struggling and getting blessed at the same time, as well as prayerfully and hopefully blessing others.

Dennis lost his job. And it turned out to be not the end of the world. He's studying for selling insurance again, for Aflac, and after the test will be trained in January. There are many more possibilities as well. More about those later. It's been comforting to see God work these things out for good.

Before he was fired, Dennis knew for a long time that it was coming. He was thinking that it would happen in January, but was shocked that it happened a lot sooner. But he saved a lot of money to prepare for a long haul, at least a year. That shocked me. He spent many months telling me we can't afford this or that. Honestly, he didn't mean to be secretive. He just did what he always does--he tells me every once in awhile and I forgot about it.

Initially, I was upset, though, even when he told me we had a financial cushion. We had a nice routine going, and it was a challenge to my sense of security that his paychecks were coming to an end. He was saving money even by walking or biking to work. A few weeks ago, on my way home from work, I was panicing in my car while waiting for a light to turn green. Dennis had no job, bills would be coming soon and how long could our savings hold out if something went terribly wrong? I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

And really, that is the truth, we are all vulnerable. This was not a bad thing to realize. I calmed down with the thought that we would do our best, and that Dennis needed my encouragement. After the light turned, it hit me that I needed to depend on God more than I knew. My focus had to be on God's faithfulness to His children, even if things are really difficult. In the meantime, Dennis and I had to proceed wisely and work hard.

A couple of days ago, we crunched our numbers on our budget status. We made some hard decisions. We are going to do our best to remedy the situation, and trust God for strength to keep going. But all around, we are fine. I am so thankful.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Dylan in Detroit...

last night and I didn't go.

Dennis was out of town and I had to be at work relatively early this morning. No reviews on Boblinks yet, but the set list is posted. There is one that I would have loved to hear live "The Man in Me" which he doesn't play often--and it was from his "New Morning" album that could be best described as a bit uneven and probably experimental. I have the CD and it isn't one I choose to listen to very often. But I like "The Man in Me" which was a song that the Coen brothers used in their quirkily weird film "The Big Lebowski", picked by T-Bone Burnett who was in charge of the music.

I'm listening to it now on, and I am now really wishing that I had gone. But it wouldn't have been the same without Dennis, who's starting to appreciate Dylan's music (he downloads it onto his ipod shuffle that I gave him a few Christmases ago).


The man in me will do nearly any task,
And as for compensation, there's little he would ask.
Take a woman like you
To get through to the man in me.

Storm clouds are raging all around my door,
I think to myself I might not take it any more.
Take a woman like your kind
To find the man in me.

But, oh, what a wonderful feeling
Just to know that you are near,
Sets my a heart a-reeling
From my toes up to my ears.

The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from bein' seen,
But that's just because he doesn't want to turn into some machine.
Took a woman like you
To get through to the man in me.

And I have a feeling that it would've sounded like this:

Yes, it doesn't sound like "New Morning", but I like fact that Dylan is creative. Nothing is set in stone, not even the lyrics. And so it sounds fresh, making us all wonder who is the lady he's singing about.
Although Dennis wasn't able to go and I had to work the next day, I still could have gone. However, I had already decided not to go anyway. I nearly went, and had choice seats picked out on Ticketmaster but gave them up--temptation was pretty strong. I was concerned about turning Bob Dylan into an idol in my heart, where he would become larger in my heart than God. He's a person, imperfect and weak. Not worthy of devotion and worship. But I would like to think that his music points my heart and soul in the right direction, towards Him who lived and died for me, and Whom I need desparately.

Save the Date

Empty Bowls
A fundraiser for hunger relief
6:00 – 8:00 pm, November 13, 2009
At University Reformed Church
4930 South Hagadorn, East Lansing
Suggested donations:$5 for meal only
Free meal for children 10 and under, or those experiencing financial hardship
$15 for each bowl
Individuals and families are encouraged to attend.
Come anytime between 6:00 – 8:00 for as long or as short as your schedule allows!
Brief presentation at 7:00.
Bowls created and donated by artists and friends of Reach Studio Art Center

I will be bringing Moosewood's Gentle Lentil Soup to share, made with petite french green lentils, and aromatic vegtables in a savory red wine and herb broth. Other soups will be available as well to choose from.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


One of the many things that have assured me that the Bible is true is the story of Hannah in First Samuel. Hannah is an infertile woman living in an ancient society that places feminine worth in those who produce children. The description of her inconsolable depression is pretty accurate, I get Hannah. She is my kindred spirit.

I've changed a lot over the years, and infertility has a lot to do with it. When I asked God to get me married, I was ready for it and the whole raising a family package. I spent most of my late 20's and early 30's bracing myself for an onslaught of offspring that never came. My late 30's consisted of fertility treatments and working towards a plan for adoption.

My body and our financial situation weren't co-operating with our goals and desires. As we got older, I got more inward with my disillusionment and pretty much packed away my hopes for a family. How does one cope when things don't go the way she wants them to?

Hannah laid her heart at the feet of God with a remarkable prayer. She became peaceful and joyful before she became pregnant, which pretty much means she was liberated from her own desires to be validated as a woman--God validated her by listening to her, and her response was a trusting calmness. If she did not have a baby, fine. If she did, the baby was not hers, but God's. The ball was in God's court.

She came to a point where children were not the objective, but God's glory was. She could not fill her empty life or empty womb, but God filled her empty heart. She was not like Rachel who screamed "Give me children or else I'll die!" with a hunger that was not placated with her sons nor with family power plays against Leah's children.

No. Hannah was fulfilled and a fulfilled woman loves in a way that doesn't attempt to wring self worth out of others, things, sacrifices and everything that has to go her way. She didn't care about Penninah's cruelty or her society's obsession with family. But she knew that she was cared for by One who controlled all things, whether her desire was realized or not.

I'm glad that God not only gave her one child--whom she dedicated to be raised in His temple--but many afterward. She gave God what she desired most, because her desires were not about herself anymore but about honoring Him. And He honored her in return. It didn't have to be more children, it could have been anything that spoke to her of His love for her. She had Him, and He was worth more to her than a hundred children.

Infertility is frustrating, because despite all the medical technology out there, the results of treatments are unpredictable. No woman is the same. Reproduction is a delicate and complicated process that we take for granted because there's a ton of people on this planet and pregnant ladies everywhere. When everything goes right, it actually is quite a miracle. And most doctors seem pretty much like they are guessing when it comes to treating infertility which works out for a blessed few who stick it out through a lot of ups and downs.

Right now, Dennis and I are experiencing a lot of the instability that is in today's economy. We are wondering what the next step for us will be. There is a lot we can do, though, that others our age cannot. So, if you are thinking that I have sunk into passive resignation, think again. I'm on the brink of a very exhilerating high dive of faith.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Walk in Beck Park

Fall is my favorite time of year. And I don't take advantage of it enough. Ginger was ready, though, to take hold of some walkable weather before the snow hits. She blended in with the woods really well. Camouflage for rabbit hunting.

We ran into Rayleen and her two dogs, a gentle bull mastiff aptly named "Bruno" and another lively Golden Retriever, "Lily" who played with Ginger as though they knew her all their lives.

Beauty below my feet.

Ginger is well camouflaged.

Beauty all around me.

Ginger looking out for rabbit.

A walk, a walk, a walk, a walk.....!!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Holiday Juxtaposition

I'm listening to "Must Be Santa" a sample of Bob Dylan's "Christmas in the Heart" charity album. All proceeds go to Feeding America.

The record has been getting mixed reviews, mostly bad.

But I am listening to the cut, and trying to forget who's singing. I can't, because that voice is so distinctively raw. The music is a fast paced polka, and excuse me, jolly. The kind of song that would put me in a festive holiday mood. Or give me a push down nostalgia lane of good Christmases past. Not what Dylan is known for, and it is the weirdest juxtaposition. He sounds as though he is really having a good time in the studio.

And why not? Why can't I enjoy this aspect of the holiday as well? There is something kind of radical in this endeavor, and I can't put my finger on it. It's as if Dylan is saying Christmas is for everyone to enjoy and celebrate. He's invited himself to the party, thank you very much. And he wants us to stop hovering around the door and come in, too.

Dylan once said that all his songs are protest songs. And here, he isn't protesting against Santa, but against all us Scrooges. And against the feeling that since we are in economic bad times that we can't all have fun. This is what holidays like this are for. A little relief from the struggle, a break to relax and enjoy and to give to others a chance for a nice turkey dinner and bond over a full dinner table.

Wake up, America. We need music like this right now. And I love the fact that Dylan is doing it to help out, when food pantries and charities are finding the need overwhelming. I have a feeling he is meeting several issues head on at once. And these are just a few.

I'm buying my copy after Halloween. Here's a link to listen to "Must Be Santa".

Grateful Dead

When I was in junior high school, one of my classmates told me she heard a song with my name in it on the radio. She didn't know who it was, but she thought it was a cool song. I had never even met anyone with my name, so it was amazing that there was someone out there singing a song about an Althea.

Years later, I heard from one of my co-workers at Starbucks that the song "Althea" was by the Grateful Dead. He even brought in sheet music that he downloaded from his computer, printed it up, and sang it for me, acapella, at work.

If I'm being a little self indulgent, please excuse me. I like the song, and not because of the name. Well, maybe a little.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Gift from God

Yesterday, I was engulfed in a panic attack in my sleep. I woke up feeling terrified of I didn't know what, but it felt real. I asked my husband to rub my back while I prayed that whatever was causing my intense emotion would dispel because of the reality of Christ's grace and strength. And I fell back to sleep. I don't have nightmares, if I have bad dreams, my brain does a lot of amazing gymnastics to resolve the scarey scenarios. Whatever it was, it disappeared and I woke up in the morning feeling apprehensive. It wasn't a good start to what I knew was going to be a long day.

I got to work early and sat for a few minutes in my car praying for grace and strength to do my job. My work has shown me how weak and prideful I can be, that I need to be still and know that God is God, so that I know who I am and who I am not. So, if I do anything right, I know to Whom I should give credit.

At one point, a customer expressed his impatience at having to wait 10 minutes for his drink. I had been on a lunch during what normally is a slower time of the day for customers, but when I got back, the drive through and the front counter were backed up with a lot of drinks at the espresso bar waiting to be made, so I jumped in to make them.

When in a rush, or business surge, I have to make some decisions to prioritize. I get the drinks that go in the drive through out of the way and then I start working on the drinks for customers waiting inside the store. I was moving pretty quickly and I was organized in my approach. Drink orders continued to pour in, but getting filled in a reasonable amount of time.

One cup was written with quick scrawl as a "venti nonfat no-foam no-water yadda-yadda something seven-pump chai". Since I wasn't there when the order was taken and everyone was really busy, I decided to wait to ask for a translation of the chai modifier I couldn't read and moved on to the next drink. In a few seconds, I realized no one had a moment to help me so I had to help myself.

I finally decided that the chai was supposed to be 195 degrees, which is almost boiling and has to be carefully made or the milk would boil over or get too foamy. It's a pain in the ass sort of drink that you have to drop everything to focus on and when I got to the point that I was ready to focus on it, the customer came up to me and asked me why he had to wait so long and then rambled on and on about how incompetent we were and accused me of sitting in the backroom while only two people were serving customers.

When he was hurling his insults at me in a tone of voice that was more lecturing than angry but angry nonetheless, I quietly apologized and told him I was working on his drink at that minute and it would be finished very soon. My supervisor explained that we were understaffed. Then my store manager who was nearby soberly explained that there were some emergencies and someone had to go see a doctor, then the customer apologized for his rude behavior. Yes, thank you, I replied, it's been very tough. I didn't say that before I walked out to help out on the floor, a dear co-worker was in deep pain and anguish. it wasn't necessary, since I saw tears well up in the customer's eyes.

The Bible says that a gentle answer turns away wrath. I think that it works, if you can manage it. The trick is, it can't be done in our own strength. In my own strength, I would have given that selfish, impatient jerk what he deserved. But instead, he was shamed into admitting he was in the wrong, which is a lot more satisfying. I have a feeling that man isn't used to saying stuff even remotely expressing humility. That was a gift from God.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fear Not

I am learning that there are times that nothing makes sense to me, and when I need something to be logical the most, it might not be there. I have to trust that it's okay to let it go for the moment, even if it seems important right then.

I had that kind of day today. I don't know what is in other people's minds or why they think the way that they do, and I may never know. But I'm not responsible for them or what they are thinking. It's not my job to know. Even if it someone who is in authority over me, and whose decisions make or break my day or my life. Sometimes, I don't have the control in that department, but then neither is it my responsibility then either.

However, I did find out something really spectacular in the meantime. That God does work on behalf of the powerless. He does hear the cry of the oppressed, even if it is for a moment of oppression. It was a pretty neat way that He revealed that to me, bringing the reality of His just character to my awareness. And I can trust in Him to ultimately right the wrongs if not in this life, but in the next, where we all give an account for what we were responsible for. His word is true.

"Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand..." Isaiah 41:10

And what specifically happened is my own private story, but I tell you, it is one I will treasure forever. I invited the Lord into a particular area of my life that I often leave Him out of. And it made a difference in a mighty way not in my circumstances or the cards that have been dealt to me, but in the most significant way possible: my heart.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Over and Whelmed

An old friend asks in his blog post "Overwhelmed" if anyone else out there is feeling like he is after sharing honestly about how busy he is and how it is affecting him. And to answer him, I've decided to respond in blog form.

Yes, I know how it is. I've had to work too hard, get little sleep and have to clean and maintain my house as well as fulfill some well thought out and carefully chosen responsibilities at church, as well as invest in personal relationships. I've described it as juggling myself to death--either I drop a few balls or they drive me into an emotional or physical breakdown. It's been a long time, though, since I let that happen.

I would operate in a "go, go, go and stop, stop, stop" pattern which would involve constant activity until I got too exhausted or sick to function. When I began to see this after a few years of living this way, it was the real wake up call that I was significantly depressed.

I remember that moment really well--I was making a lasagne roll up dish for a church missions potluck, fighting a crushing feeling welling up in me. I got through halfway through the recipe and quit. I was trying to make the noodles stay rolled, and they kept unrolling themselves. They wouldn't look like the picture in my Betty Crocker Cookbook. I was ready to chuck those babies across my perfectly clean kitchen.

Instead, I called my friend, Tricia. We were both newlyweds at the time and loved our church's zeal for missions. Tricia and her husband were on the missions committee as well. She listened to my story and just said that she would pray for me and that I should take a break and stay home. And she asked if my problem wasn't about a stupid recipe, that maybe I was over-reacting.

I sat in my kitchen and looked at the factors that lead up to the feeling of being overwhelmed. It wasn't just I packed one more item into my schedule, plus a casserole. I wanted the casserole to be perfect, or I'd let everyone down. And ultimately, I was afraid to say "no" to my husband, because a perfect Christian wife would not do that. And I didn't want to fight with him. I was not in the habit of taking responsibility for my own welfare. I was not accostumed to giving myself a break.

So I prayed. When Dennis came home from work, I was still sitting in the kitchen with my unrolled roll ups talking to Jesus. He asked me when we were going to be ready to go to the potluck, and I calmly said not tonight, that we were staying home and I needed to rest. I was "peopled out". He told me he didn't mind staying home, either. I got some toothpicks, finished my recipe and we had roll ups for dinner.

A few years later, I found a good counselor. She asked what I wanted out of therapy. I told her I wanted a steady life, no crash and burns all the time. And for a few years, I worked on what was driving me. I learned that the inward pressure I sometimes felt was a warning sign that I was pushing myself too hard. I learned to ask for and get help. I learned to let go of perfectionism. I learned how to take care of myself. I took personal responsibility over what I could control, and gave up control over what wasn't my responsibility. And that Betty Crocker lied to me with that recipe.

Right now, as I am writing this, I have a laundry basket next to me full of laundry that has needed to be folded for a week. It's okay. Dennis and Youngbae are cooking steak for dinner right now. It's fine with me. I see an inch of dust in our living room, even though we've had dozens of people there since the last time I dusted. I can live with that. I need to call a carpet cleaner, but I'm waiting for the money to be saved to get the whole house done so it's taking a while longer. I'll wait, even though we have people in and out seeing the rug's condition. I haven't read all my mail, either. And I really don't care.

But I'm slowly dealing with my fridge that needs to be cleaned--chucking out the expired items and leftovers. I think about how to organize the linen closet (again) when I have a few moments. I am planning to do a thorough cleaning of our bathroom on Tuesday. I have a few phone calls to make to check on some friends and family. I find time to read "The Economist" while I'm on the can. It works for me.

But ultimately, I've chosen to draw near to the One who gave me this life. And only He can empower me to live it in a way that brings Him the glory.

Thursday, October 08, 2009



"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And not only that but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perserverence; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation."

Romans 5:1-11

In Chapter 4, Paul speaks of Abraham and how he had faith in God and in God's promise--the unwavering kind of faith that resulted in imputed righteousness, and how that is a picture of how our faith in Christ also results in an imputed righteousness--nothing we have done to deserve it but by faith in what He accomplished on our behalf.

Here in Chapter 5, Paul describes more in depth what real faith brings to the believer's life--peace, joy, hope, perserverance, character, love and reconciliation as well as righteousness--all treasures, all joy that we experience in Christ. The Christian life is meant to be a rich one indeed, in spite of any suffering and deep trials we go through. Life is full of losses here in our earthly life, but in Christ we have a hope that doesn't disappoint. Somehow, all these treasures amount to God's glory. It something He does in us. I'm still thinking about it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I remember one Saturday morning twenty years ago, I was sitting in a park with my Bible and a cup of coffee reading in Luke about Mary's pregnancy with Jesus. As I read the story, it sank in that nothing was left to chance, it was all under God's control. Nothing escaped His will then and I realized that nothing escapes His will now. It was comforting and awesome at the same time, and I remember feeling a sense of reverence that went deep into my heart.

But as this memory comes back to me, I am also reflecting about the situation of a family two houses down from us. The mom died suddenly earlier this summer, due to a mix up of medication as she was being treated in a local hospital for a chronic condition that often left her dishabilitated but she still had many more years ahead with her husband and three children. The neighborhood pitched in and helped out at the house making repairs and cleaning and landscaping as the dad and kids spent the summer with extended family after the funeral. But it was still a painful return home to start the school year without their mom there.

The family are Christians and believe in God's love and soveriegnty, as well as in Jesus dying on a cross for sins and being resurrected the ultimate triumph over death. They believe that their mom is with Jesus and that they will see her in heaven someday. And I pray that their faith will get them through these growing up years without her.

This weekend, I'll be walking our Golden Retriever by their house and ask if the kids would want to join me for a few turns around the block. Ginger knows them and they know Ginger ever since she was a puppy. Maybe they would like to play fetch with her or frisbee. I feel helpless in the face of seeing others greive--especially children, but I got a dog with a lot of energy and love and even though that's all I can give for a few hours, I hope that it's something.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

I haven't felt like writing for awhile and that's unusual for me. Sometimes I just have a dry spell--plain old I don't have anything. Nope, got nothing. And then there's I've got too much on my mind and I'm having trouble processing it all. Or I'm having a rare moment where I want to keep it all close to me instead of floating around in cyberspace. It's scary when people come up to me and say that they are following my blog--and I love it at the same time. But I think I wrote more when I thought that no one actually reads this thing.

So yeah, right now I've got lots of deep thoughts just rolling around in my head. We've taken two trips this month and there's a lot to share about that, too. And I've been reading and that is blogworthy as well. So we'll see. It's one thing to have an idea and another to actually put some words to it. Most of my ideas have no words until I either start typing, writing or speaking. And it usually surprises me what comes out.

Most of my thoughts are in forms of images and feelings associated with them. Really abstract stuff. I've often wondered about that--it's like a series of movie clips, and if I'm really intrigued I run them on repeat over and over. Is this normal? It's like when I read, I have mental pictures associated with the words I'm reading. The mental pictures have given me an incredible memory. When I'm reading something that I cannot picture in my head, it gets really hard to connect with it or remember it. My heart has its limits. If it is a number or even a cold hard fact, it bounces right off of me and I have to fight to retain it.

So, when I have conversations with people, it usually means that the words that are coming out of my mouth are flowing from feelings and an image of an idea in my brain. I'm translating myself on the spot with words and it's usually spontaneous. So, that's a short tour of Althea's brain. I don't use words to think with and I don't know how I do it.

So on that note, I will tell you about my favorite CD by Fernando Ortega "The Shadow of Your Wings, Hymns and Sacred Songs". The imagery is lush and poetic, and the tunes are calming and peaceful. Ortega has this quality of worship with quiet tranquil humility--he really is bowing down in the presence of the Almighty. My most favorite track of all is the third one "Let the Words of My Mouth"

Let the words
of my mouth
be pleasing to You, pleasing to You
The meditation of my heart
be pleasing to You, pleasing to You
O Lord, my strength and
my Redeemer.

Whatever is true,
Whatever is pure,
Whatever is lovely,
Whatever is worthy,
Think on these things
Think on these things.

Let the words
of my mouth
be pleasing to you, pleasing to you.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Raising Arizona

This is so different--the Coen brothers know how to make movies. I love the music, the acting and the unpredictability. Holly Hunter plays a "non-compliant" but supportive wife, she pretty much is my hero.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Health is Wealth

My health care requires visits to an internist every three months for checking up and some blood work. This year I had no visits until yesterday. In February, Dennis and I finally paid off all my medical bills from 2008. And then I got a letter that my primary care doctor's office was closing in two weeks. Dennis started a new job, and wasn't eligible for benefits for awhile. And I lost mine because my weekly hours did not average 20 and I didn't make the quota for the quarter to stay eligible for benefits (too many people on the payroll at our store). So, as a diabetic, I was extremely stuck. And then my prescription for glucophage was running out.

I finally found a doctor, but it was three months before she could be available. I chose her because she specializes in diabetic care and she had been in practice for a long time. And then the appointment that I made fell through because she was sick and I had to wait another two weeks. So yesterday, was my long anticipated meeting with Dr. Eileen. And I was out of glucophage for only two weeks. I did the best I could with controlling carbs (limited flour, bread or white rice or potato) and walking to keep the numbers low on the glucose monitor. This last week was really hard, as though my system finally had it.

So, today, I checked my blood glucose and it was an odd relief to not see a high number in the mid-200's (needs to stay under 180) even though I didn't each much all day and a 20 minute walk would do the job of bringing it down, but that was getting harder to do as well. Today, I had a reading of 126 which was completely appropriate since I had not eaten for six hours at that point. And I took a walk with a friend an hour later because I wanted to, not because I had to.

I see why healthcare run by the government would be valuable, especially during an uncertain time such as this. If we can do it, great. But it has to be done well. I feel very blessed to have any coverage at all, but I've gotten a glimpse of what it feels like to be in need of care and not have it accessible. It is a desperate feeling.

The good news was that Dr. Eileen did a test for neuropathy on my feet and she told me that I don't have any loss of feeling. She had me close my eyes as she poked different places with a thin filament and told me to say if I felt something. I felt them all. For the last three years, this was one of my deepest concerns, and I changed what kind of shoes I wore completely. She said that I needed to keep my blood sugar lowered and I shouldn't be seeing any problems.

I walked out feeling like a free woman. On Tuesday, we discussed idioms in our beginning English as a Second Language class, and Sandra from Chile shared a favorite idiom from her country "Health is gold". It is indeed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Family Pictures

I have several nieces and nephews--all adorable and amazing. My nieces in Oregon are Nicole, Amanda and Kelly. While Kelly is still in high school in Astoria, her older sisters are studying forestry at University of Oregon in Eugene and fight fires in their spare time. I have a nephew and niece who grew up in Southern California--Brett and Keela. Brett is a freshly minted Marine and Keela is going to college in San Diego. I have two nieces and a nephew who grew up in Colorado. Phoebe attends college in Florida, while her younger siblings, Logan and Daisy are in High School in Boulder. My youngest nieces and nephew, Kalea, Noah and Jonna, are in Central California near Fresno, south of Sacramento.

My nephew, Brett.

Brett with his mom and my sister; with his Grandpa; with his sister.

Brett and his lovely girlfriend, Jenna.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blog Shorts

I've fallen off blogging this month and I am going to try to catch up with a long newsy post. This is not that post.

Reading: I'm reading a ton of books, but one of the most enjoyable is "My Life in France" by Julia Child. I've been meaning to get it once it came out in paperback, but forgot until I saw the movie "Julie and Julia", which I loved. I wished that it was mostly about Child's adventures in cooking instead of sharing the film time about an obsessive young blogger. But the film reminded me of the book I once wanted to read and even inspired me to visit the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute during our anniversary trip to D.C.

Home Life: We have roommates from Uganda and South Korea! And over the weekend we became "party central" for Eid and a Korean style birthday.

Spiritual: God is amazing, loving, good and soveriegn. And a lot more. I feel my need to trust Him with my whole heart.

Marriage: My husband told me that I'm "non-compliant" but a submissive wife at the same time. I don't know what to make of this, especially when he seemed proud of me when he said it. I decided this morning that he was giving me a compliment that I was an independent thinker (much like when we were dating 22 years ago and told me he liked "strong women"), but that I voluntarily supported him even when I thought differently sometimes (calm down, I let him know it) to save us both unnecessary headaches and prolonged arguements over really small issues. Usually with bigger issues, we generally agree. Hmmmm...I married a "servant leader" who sacrifices for me more than I dream of, and I appreciate him so our relationship is a mutually giving one. More about all this, later.

Travel: We went to Washington D.C. by way of Pennsylvania and are going to Montreal this week. We have pictures and will upload them as soon as we've got time.

Health: Some good. Some bad. Some in-between. I see a doctor on Wednesday. I'll keep you posted.

Coffee: Have you tried Via? Ask your local Starbucks barista about it today.
Hair: Blondes have more fun. Thanks Jessica!!

Friday, September 11, 2009


This was posted today on my pastor's blog. And I think that everything that needs to be said was said by Billy Graham about this day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Every Step I Take

About a month ago, I found out that a 20 minute leisurely walk brought my blood glucose level down faster than an hour of vigorous swimming. It is counterintuitive but I began to walk more and swam a little less, which kept the glucose meter happy. The best walks of the summer were the evening ones right after dinner or the morning ones to the grocery store.

Until I experienced a condition in my foot of plantar fasciitis, or a heel spur, which made even my short shifts at work almost unbearable. When shoe inserts failed to remedy my problem, I took extra time off at work to rest the foot. Nothing seemed to work, so I decided that pain was just going to be a part of my life and that I was going to keep walking no matter what and keep working, too.

I had this before, 20 years ago after Dennis and I were married. I don't remember how it went away, because even though I quit the job that kept me on my feet all day, I still went on long walks by the ocean every day for my daily quiet times and Scripture memory review.

So I went back to a daily swim, until the pool closed for repairs. I will be back at the pool on Saturday when it re-opens. The heel pain is almost gone even though I still walk every day too. I found a really sturdy arch support made of hard plastic which makes me feel like I've got a big rock in my shoe, but it does the trick of keeping the pressure off of the heel spur. When I wake up in the morning I no longer feel like I'm going to collapse on the floor in agony when I make my first steps, even though I stretch before getting out of bed.

So, now I am thankful for every pain free step I now take.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Something Global to Think About

From a favorite blog, Radical Womanhood , an excerpt from an article about a book about to be released called "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by the New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristoff and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn:

"If you’re reading this article, the phrase “gender discrimination” might conjure thoughts of unequal pay, underfinanced sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In the developing world, meanwhile, millions of women and girls are actually enslaved. While a precise number is hard to pin down, the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency, estimates that at any one time there are 12.3 million people engaged in forced labor of all kinds, including sexual servitude. In Asia alone about one million children working in the sex trade are held in conditions indistinguishable from slavery, according to a U.N. report. Girls and women are locked in brothels and beaten if they resist, fed just enough to be kept alive and often sedated with drugs — to pacify them and often to cultivate addiction. India probably has more modern slaves than any other country.

Another huge burden for women in poor countries is maternal mortality, with one woman dying in childbirth around the world every minute. In the West African country Niger, a woman stands a one-in-seven chance of dying in childbirth at some point in her life. (These statistics are all somewhat dubious, because maternal mortality isn’t considered significant enough to require good data collection.) For all of India’s shiny new high-rises, a woman there still has a 1-in-70 lifetime chance of dying in childbirth. In contrast, the lifetime risk in the United States is 1 in 4,800; in Ireland, it is 1 in 47,600. The reason for the gap is not that we don’t know how to save lives of women in poor countries. It’s simply that poor, uneducated women in Africa and Asia have never been a priority either in their own countries or to donor nations. ...

Why do microfinance organizations usually focus their assistance on women? And why does everyone benefit when women enter the work force and bring home regular pay checks? One reason involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor — especially by men. Surprisingly frequently, we’ve come across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net; the mother says that the family couldn’t afford a bed net and she means it, but then we find the father at a nearby bar. He goes three evenings a week to the bar, spending $5 each week.

Our interviews and perusal of the data available suggest that the poorest families in the world spend approximately 10 times as much (20 percent of their incomes on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children (2 percent). If poor families spent only as much on educating their children as they do on beer and prostitutes, there would be a breakthrough in the prospects of poor countries. Girls, since they are the ones kept home from school now, would be the biggest beneficiaries. Moreover, one way to reallocate family expenditures in this way is to put more money in the hands of women. A series of studies has found that when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are healthier. "

Friday, August 28, 2009

Home Life

Why do I like turtles? Because God made them to be home wherever they go.

Today is a rainy day, reminding me of my Seattle years. This would be a fantastic time for a cup of coffee. The aroma and the smell of rain together brings back fond memories. I would go to Starbucks for a grande Verona or anything bold, take a walk to the muffin store on the Ave for something large and decadent and head to Greenlake for a morning with my Bible or my memory Bible verse pack. It didn't matter if it was raining or not. I had a hood on my raincoat and wore 2 sweaters on top of each other. It actually felt cozy to be outside, with my breakfast and time with God. Reading His Word about how much I was loved and how wonderful Jesus is probably added to the warm feeling.

Right now, I am in our living room looking at the rain through the still broken window. The replacement is in, but the installation won't happen until next week. I can't wait. Plywood is covering the hole, and clear plastic is covering the whole window. Our current window has a large segment in the middle plus two narrow windows that slide open on each side. The replacement window will be energy efficient with double hung side windows instead of sliders. We were tempted to replace the triad with two larger double hung windows, but it would impede the view. I was thinking that it would bring down the value of our house to go a cheaper way, and it wouldn't fit the rest of the houses in the neighborhood. Dennis was thinking about the cost, mostly because the triad window had to be special ordered.

I finally agreed with my husband that the estimate given to us by Lowes was too high, and I was willing to be patient as Dennis searched out other options. Dennis looked into buying the window from his old employer, Menards, and putting it in himself with the help of friends. He told Lowes why he changed his mind, and they negotiated a lower price. Dennis accepted, because he really didn't want to do the work himelf anyway. Lowes had a stipulation that all windows ordered through them had to be installed by them.

So, by the time the window is installed, it would be a whole month that our house has been an eyesore in the neighborhood. For several weeks, I was upset everytime I rolled up our driveway and saw the wreck from the outside. Nowadays, I don't even notice anymore. Having an imperfection so obvious to all has been good for my humility.

Yesterday, I spent extra time cleaning and vacuuming our home. I rearranged furniture, dusted, organized the laundry room, washed several loads of clothes and cleaned some traffic areas of the carpet. By the time I was done, it was 7pm and time to make dinner. There is still a lot more to do, like organizing the linen closet (again), cleaning the upholstery on the couch in the den, washing the curtains in the living room and dining room, straightening out under the bathroom and kitchen sinks, washing the walls and the woodwork, and mopping the wood floors. I might get to some of that this afternoon. But now, it's time for coffee.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prayer Life

I've been thinking more about prayer than actually praying, lately. But that is actually an improvement from where I was a few weeks ago.

When I was single, it seemed like I was always praying. As a single woman living in Seattle, I was more aware of my needs, desires and hopes. And my weakness and inadequacies. I worked hard and prayed harder. I prayed because it seemed like there was only One whom I could turn to who understood me completely.

As a newlywed, I was also driven to God in prayer--so much going on with marriage that I needed God to help me grow up and be a wife. I was experiencing a deep healing in my life and God brought me through one of the deepest depressions I've ever known.

As a woman in her 30's, longing for a baby and not coming to terms that time was against me in this matter, I dove into my conversations with God with desperation. At the same time, I was cultivating a faithful heart in order to pursue "a long obedience in the same direction". I had to grow up in my faith that I would serve God whether He gave me children or not. My walk as a Christian was no longer about my fulfillment but on obedience. Most of my prayer life was about hanging on when I was dealing with doubt and disillusionment.

So, what's wrong with me now? I'm rounding the corner and heading to 50. I am not going to live forever in this world. And this is what preoccupies me the most. How much time do I have and how I am going to make it count to glorify Him the best? I rely on Him to help me do His will and I trust Him completely in whatever He chooses to do (Proverbs 16:9) but in the meantime, I don't have long and I don't to waste my life. The only thing that matters is God's Kingdom.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


This December marks the seventh year Dennis and I have lived in the same house in Michigan. In our 20 years of marriage (anniversary coming up in a week and a half), this is a kind of milestone. Before this, the longest we lived anywhere was our home in Acworth, Georgia for almost three and a half years. We've been rolling stones. Even when we lived in the same town, we still moved from one residence to another.

Our Michigan move was unique in that we decided to buy our home before moving to Lansing. We drove out, looked at homes for a week while staying with our friends, Bob and Donna Tobey. We put a bid on one home, but it fell through, and I had a backup plan for another, the current one we live in. We left our car with the Tobey's and took a memorable train ride back to Denver.

It's a three bed and two bath multi-level with a basement, garage and a storage shed. I've always liked multi-level homes as opposed to a ranch style or a two-story. They have a more contemporary feel to them, and are adaptable to any decorating scheme you decide on. For the price we paid, I feel we got our money's worth. When we bought it, it was only eight years old. I've just realized that now our home is fifteen years old.

Prior to moving in, we painted the family room and the living room, as well as put in some shelving, an automatic garage door opener and a ceiling fan in the master bedroom after buying our appliances. A year after, we replaced the light fixures with more modern ones, and since then, we've done little besides some landscaping and painting inside the garage walls and the wood trim around the windows and chimney. I'm looking around and seeing that we have a lot to do before the end of the year. The Honey Do list is starting to grow.

Since we have had a lot of animals, including an elderly german shepherd mix and a golden retriever puppy, as well as a destructive mother cat and her six kittens, the carpet needs replacing in some rooms. Our living room is small, so we are thinking of installing a wood floor ourselves. I've tolerated the wallpaper border in the dining room but now I'm sick of it. The kitchen is showing on the walls that I love to cook and that my eyesight is not so good, as well as a lot of wear on the laminate countertops. The cupboards are simple, but they are oak and I like them. When we bought our stove, I didn't insist on buying an overhead microwave/hood that matched it and now I wish that I did.

For all these projects, plus more, I'm planning to post some before and after photos as well as document all the decisionmaking that Dennis and I have to do. The first project is the window project, which will be posted in a few days. Dennis and our friend, Youngbae, went up on the roof a few weeks ago and had an accident with a ladder. Everyone is safe, but the ladder went through the living room window. A replacement had to be special ordered and with the plywood covering the shattered picture window, we ascended to the top of the list of the worst looking houses in the neighborhood. I'm looking forward to the new window installation on Tuesday.

Living here has had its ups and downs. There are other places I wish we could live, like closer to family in California. But I'm celebrating the fact that we actually have a home at all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Love Rescue Me


"Love Rescue Me" written by U2 and Bob Dylan, performed here back in 1988. It's a plea for God's mercy and grace.

"I'm here without a name
In the palace of my shame"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Read Well

I've finished reading "Testimony" by Anita Shreve, a novel about the aftermath of a sex scandal at a private high school in Vermont. Each chapter is told from a viewpoint from a character in the story--the students, a few parents, a dining hall worker, an administrator, a newpaper reporter, a sheriff and a researcher. Shreve accomplishes the difficult task of finding a different voice and angle for each one, as well as letting each have information that others in the story don't have so the reader puts together the puzzle as he reads along.

The story begins with a flashback of a school headmaster going into shock as he watches a pornographic tape of three of his senior basketball star players with promising futures have sex with an underage freshman girl. I didn't want to read it, and Shreve means it to be that way. The consequences are devastating as well, the sins of the students as well as their parents cause a chain of events that haunt you all the way to the end. The video's subjects all have hearts and souls, and you will get to know each one. Some you will like, some you might not.

Through her dissection of a Vermont small town and its prep school, Anita Shreve is making a statement about the society at large and about the lack of character and sexual morals in America's youth these days. She is particularly alarmed that teen drinking is out of control and that little is done about it. "Testimony" is meant to be a wake up call, that there are more important things than success and prestige for American teens to aspire to, things like decency, honor and responsibility. Perhaps these would be good for American adults as well since the compass is set by the older generations.

As for me, I am tired of listening to how small town life is best to raise children in. I grew up in one where everyone knew a little to a lot about everyone else. Shreve gets it right in how gossip and rumors are spread--everyone has an opinion based on very little knowledge. In a way, our media is the same way. We hear a ton about nothing. Small town life can make most people watch their backs carefully and present a facade instead of the true self.

Then again you meet people like Silas and his father Owen who are real, caring and honest--people I remember meeting while growing up and wishing I could be like. Anita Shreve also gets it right that the ones who seem to have the most to lose end up paying the highest price. And that a sin harbored in one's heart doesn't just hurt you but also the ones you love.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The last month has been a flurry of activity for Dennis and me as we got ready to recieve 2 male international students to our household. We have a three bedroom house with two baths, but we occupy every square inch of it. The process of making room for more people to live with us has been a hard one, but it has been good.

For one, Dennis and I now have to share some space. The closet in our bedroom is tiny so I claimed it while Dennis got the closet in a spare room also designated as his office. As we contemplated having to empty that extra closet, I realized that I had to clear half of mine. Dennis also occupied the second bathroom downstairs while I dominated our masterbath. We like this arrangement because of our different standards of what is acceptably clean--Den is a little more relaxed while I'm a lot more obsessive. Sharing a bath together to make room for the students means making a compromise--i.e. Den will step it up and I will stop nagging.

Small, cramped quarters make for possible friction and irritation. Mostly for me, because I like my home a certain way. Organization equals peace to me in my physical surroundings. It kind of goes against that purpose if the way I have to achieve it is to harp, get impatient or mad. Living with me can be hard if all I do is insist that everthing has to be my way, and the only way I know to deal with it is to take responsibility for my feelings and put a higher value on the feelings of others than my own selfish desire for being a neat freak. Even the cat doesn't mess with me.

On the other hand, I need some cooperation from my husband and the students. Living with all guys will be a challenge for me, and I need their sensitivity to what I expect. A home is not a crash pad and consistent maintainence and cleaning is required. I want excellence, not perfection. So, Saturdays are chore days and everyday all members of the household have a task in daily upkeep. I don't think I'm asking for too much.

So far, the last three days have been fun ones with the students. One is from Africa and the other from South Korea and they are both learning English. They don't yet know Christ, but we are hoping that will change somewhere in their futures and that God would use us and this home in the chain of grace. It's worth it.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Real Julia Child

Here is Julia Child's cooking show's introducing "The Chicken Sisters". If you look closely, you can see Julia in the background dancing to the music.

Fred the Cat

Fred is the orange one on the left, giving you the "eye" for disturbing his naptime.

I've written about Fred before. When he was a kitten, his name was Fredo, the spunky fuzzy little orange ball with teeth and attitude. An older couple who came to look at him to see if they would adopt him had him pegged as an "alpha male". He was the one that fought his mom when she was trying to pick him up to move him, while she calmly ignored him and grabbed his scruff, dropping him "accidentally". He was the one who nipped our Golden Retriever, Ginger, on the nose when she came to inspect the litter. I started to handle him more so that he would calm down and stop biting people. Tough little fighter.

Fred is still a scrappy fellow, but he has a soft side too. He is the only cat I've ever known to love his stomach rubbed, like a dog. When he gives himself a bath, he jumps down to give Ginger a few licks on the nose as well. His preferred place for naps is anywhere close to Dennis or on him. He tolerates me picking him up and carrying him like a baby or slung over my shoulder like a sack. And if he goes outside when we don't want him to and try to catch him, he flings himself on the sidewalk onto his side in complete surrender. And he used to nap cuddled up to Ginger, their golden fur blending so well that you don't know where cat started or dog ended. Now he's ten pounds, and Ginger isn't willing to share her space with such a hefty guy.

A few months before we got Carly, Fred's mom, Dennis and I were sitting out on our deck one morning with our coffee looking at a scene where some rabbits were getting chased down by what we thought was an orange fox or a small dog. The scene seemed like it was straight out of "Wild Kingdom". When it came closer, we were amazed to see that the predator was actually a big orange feline. It had guts, because it was chasing down two rabbits in an open large lawn for at least half an hour before it gave up. When Carly got pregnant shortly after I brought her home, we speculated who the fathers of the kittens might have been. I haven't seen an orange tom since the rabbit chase, but I often wonder if he was the father of the three orange male kittens, including Fred, in Carly's litter.

Carly has been spayed since she weaned her kittens last year, and Dennis and I have learned the hard way that cats are older than they look. Carly is still small for an adult cat, and weighs nearly five pounds. We let her out, because she tears up the carpet if we don't. She has lost her kittenish ways, she behaves like an adult cat who is emotionally detached from me, except on rare occasions when she wants me to pet her and re-establish our bonds. She doesn't belong to me, but I belong to her. Dennis, not so much.

I worry about her outdoors, even though she is "street-wise". A month ago, she got into a scrap with a tom twice her size near the backdoor of our house. She had to fight him off, because she was trying to get in the house for safety and got cornered instead. By the time I got to the door, she ran in another direction in a panic to hide and the grey tom skulked off into the woods trying to spit out some of Carly's fur that got stuck in his teeth. I saw her later in the evening, with no scars or scratches anywhere on her, when I let her in for her dinner. She hunts, and leaves her prizes of large bluejays, moles, mice, robins and bats on our doorsteps.

Fred gets out, despite our best attempts to keep him in. He surveys the backyard from the top of our shed or the next door kids' playset like a sultan on his divan. He hunts, a little, not as prolifically as his mom but I think only when he gets bored from sitting in the shade all day. Fred is not a high energy feline. He will chase a squirrel, climbing up the trunk of the pine tree to make a point rather than actually catch the offending critter. One evening I heard a maddening ruckus of a pair robins in a panic, and Dennis found Fred with a baby robin in his mouth, still alive. He grabbed Fred and made him spit out the infant bird, much like Sylvester the cat with Tweety. A few hours later, the little robin was gone. Our theory is that he was learning how to fly, and after seeing a "putty tat" up close, was in shock and flew off when it wore off.

We can't find our camera, but I will post pics of our adult Fred as soon as I can. Meanwhile, enjoy the photos of Fred the Kitten.

Fred napping with Gina (the tortiouseshell on the right) and Sonny (the longhair orange with his back to us--he was the relaxed, laid back clown kitty)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

J.S. Bach, Sarabande, Suite No. 5, As A Modern Dance

If you listened to "Sarabande", the music would evoke many kinds of emotions, but the slow adagio is mostly melancholic. The dancer is expressing through his movement how that music makes him feel.

Bach is known for his music for the church, and I would surmise that his work could be described as Christian art. What about the dance? Enjoy the video.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Syrup and Honey

A lovely song by Duffy. Perfect for a slow dance. Perfect because the tone is vulnerable, not demanding that a loved one's priorities are all wrong.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

End of Sunday

The sun has set, and I'm listening to the birds in our backyard sing their lullaby to the day. We are waiting for the blueberry pies that Dennis made to bake (mine has the special "S" on it for "splenda").

We worshipped God today with a bunch of people we call our church family. Some of them we know well, some of them we don't. We sat in our conversation and coffee class to discuss today's sermon with a bunch of people we are getting to know. And I had a variety of people who I had conversations with, waved at and/or who just passed me by patting my arm and shoulder. Dennis and I had talked about going to the service only and then splitting out the door right after, but it was hard to do. We were actually energized by being with our church, not drained. We were encouraged to love and serve and honor God in a deeper and more thoughtful way than before.

Which brings me to mention an excellent book by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck "Why We Love the Church". Stuff I knew already, but it was nice to see it all laid out in a logical and theological as well as brutally honest fashion.

But the day is ending, and I have miles of stuff to do before I hit the sack, ready to start a brand new week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Think Twice, Because It's Not Alright

"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" is a song about a man wanting freedom from a relationship--his heart wasn't enough, she wanted more. Probably a commitment. And that was enough to make him walk down the road at the break of dawn. She was asking for way too much. So, he is doing the honest thing by leaving.

And I wonder what the song would be like from her point of view? One of the deepest fears most people have is the fear of abandonment. From the woman's perspective, or even the jilted man's, it isn't alright. But the song just brushes it off as though the reciever of this wonderful "I'm leaving you" message shouldn't care about their loss. Besides, they didn't do much talking, anyway. This song isn't bittersweet. It is just plain old bitter.

But this kind of abandonment didn't just happen outside of marriage, it happens within it as well. You don't have to physically leave to leave a spouse. Years ago, I had a conversation with an elderly widow whose only remark about her late husband was that they had moved to opposite ends of their house, hardly ever seeing each other except in passing. They had this routine for decades after the children grew up and left. That they drifted apart is an understatement. In conclusion, she just shrugged her shoulders while I sat there in silent shock. I had expected to offer my condolences, but instead she seemed like she would have preferred my congratulations.

So, what's a couple to do?

Over the last 20 years of our marriage, I've noticed a few things that worked. The first is communication. In order for deep intimate conversation to happen, a lot of less intense exchanges need to happen. Dennis and I talk about facts, ancedotes, ideas and our emotions throughout our day. It isn't bad that most of our conversation seems superficial or even boring sometimes. We talk and we listen, all of it is important to us both. Whatever affects one also involves the other. But it makes it easier to talk about the hard stuff--the confessions, the struggles, the deep honesty and the transparency about our needs and wants. Because we listen to the little things and care about them, the big things that require more vulnerability to reveal aren't as scarey. We don't really work at keeping each other posted, we just do.

The other thing that helps is having a third party involved to talk to and get help from. For Dennis and me, that would be God. For instance, since I've been created by God, nothing that Dennis could ever complain about me to Him would surprise Him. Also, my deepest fear that I would be alone is already addressed by the fact that God has promised to never forsake me. I don't have to control or demand that Dennis be there for me--making him feel like he's chained to me. God is my source of security, I can have peace and trust in Him while at the same time revealing my heart to my husband that I have this issue and need help with it. Because I've shared this in a vulnerable way, my husband wants to be closer to me knowing that he's needed and desired. And appreciated.

God is about the best go-between you could ever want in a love relationship--He's big and powerful and trustworthy. He is faithful to deal with me or Dennis in helping us to change and grow. He shows me the right way to go about my marriage. And for our twenty year anniversary, we want to do a lot of praising Him for all His kindness and graciousness towards us.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mustard Recipe

I took stock of my kitchen this morning and realized that I had an abundance of mustards in my fridge. I don't know how we accumulate mustard--there is Dennis' favorite honey mustard, a spicey mustard, the regular French's, a German mustard I bought because I liked the jar, whole grain dijon and regular dijon. Then there is the rustic mustard in a crock produced in France. You can't find it anymore, I first saw it at Dennis' Uncle Lorenzo's house in Quebec.

Mustard is a condiment that I've savored ever since I was a kid. My brother and sisters adored ketchup, but I was a fan of the bright yellow stuff ubequitious at picnics and campfire roasts. It is the flavor of summer to me. I've often felt alone in a world populated by salsa freaks and other red condiment lovers. Until a few Sundays ago at a church potluck where a youngish father of four cut in line in front of me to squeeze a generous portion of French's on his hotdog. He zipped away with a huge grin on his face, as though life could not get better than this. And I remembered that child-like zeal I for balony on white bread with as much mustard slathered on as it could hold. The sandwich was a vehicle for the mustard, not the usual other way around.

Nowadays, I am more temperate in my affection for mustard. I downplay my preference but it is always there in just about every meal I prepare. These days, it seems I have a garlic-dijon-tarragon flavor combination fixation. I found packages of fresh Tarragon, regularly priced at $2.29 on sale for $.29 each. I grabbed up the last four on the shelf, Dennis thought I was crazy. He hasn't noticed yet the tarragon/mustard/garlic profile showing up in all my salads I've made since then--potato salad, ham and pea salad, marinated four bean salad, and the salad I made up to take to the Fourth of July barbeque at Joanne and John's house.

Today I have a new one--a brown rice salad with lentils. Usually I don't like rice or brown rice for that matter. Salads made of them tend towards blandness and dryness that I find repelling. But this one worked. I used a lot of vegetables I had on hand that needed to be used before they went bad.

Brown Rice Salad

In a rice cooker, cook two cups raw brown rice with enough water to cover by a half inch and a table spoon of Better than Bouillion vegetable bouillion. After it has cooked, transfer to a large bowl, fluff with a fork and let it cool. Add one drained can of Westbrae's organic lentils and fluff together. Add one cup of each: chopped red pepper, chopped yellow pepper, chopped tomato, chopped mushrooms, chopped yellow onion (soaked in water and salt to remove bitterness and drained) and one can of drained artichoke hearts in water, chopped.

Make the vinegerette as follows: In a small bowl whisk together juice of three limes, four pressed garlic cloves, an eighth of a cup of dijon mustard, four tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, two tablespoons Heinz tarragon vinegar, three tablespoons minced fresh tarragon and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour vinegerette over rice mixture in the bowl and mix well.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Emotional Labors

My friend, Shauna, sent me an article about "Emotional Labor" after reading this last week. My pastor, Kevin DeYoung, featured various people from our church every week to highlight their jobs and how they've dealt with economy downturn in Michigan. My turn came up last week and I shared about serving coffee to grumpy customers.

Serving (and making) coffee (and lattes, mochas, cappuccinos and frappuccinos) is the physical part of my job which in itself is challenging, especially when I am making and/or handing out several at the same time. Mentally, there is a lot, too when you factor memorizing customers and their drinks and the qualities of each kind of coffee bean we sell. I'm good at both these things, like all my co-workers are.

But the part of the job that is very difficult is the emotional dimension. There is the feeling you really have versus the feeling you are supposed to have in order to make a customer happy.
Maintaining integrity and honesty while serving hard-to- please people is a delicate balance to acheive. And my particular company attracts picky people who are very specific about what they drink. Everyone struggles with it-- even after ten years, I still do.

These days, when someone is extremely rude, I won't hide my taken aback or offended reaction. I may not say anything other than "excuse me?" in an assertive tone. Rudeness answered by more rudeness is not the way to go but I don't believe that it is my job or anyone else's to take abuse. But it is amazing what kind of treatment my co-workers recieve. My old manager was called stupid, a supervisor had a lid thrown at her and a fellow barista was yelled at for simply helping a customer order his drink easier. And I had been yelled at by someone who didn't understand that it was possible for me to prepare his drink while chatting with another customer and another partner at the same time.

How much dignity am I required to give up? And if I accept it, how much more abuse will the jerk inflict on the next service person unlucky to have to deal with them? So, they are having a bad day (or life) and can't still be decent?

It helps to talk to fellow baristas who know how it is, or swim laps or take walks. But sometimes it isn't enough. I do find peace in having faith in a good and soveriegn God who is a source of all strength. If someone yells at me, it isn't me that is the problem but it says a lot about who they are. Especially over something as minor as coffee.

An excerpt from the article Shauna sent me:

"When you engage in emotional labor, you control your feelings to fulfill the goals and expectations of your organization. From a practical standpoint, this means that you either (a) express only your positive feelings, or (b) hide or manage your negative feelings. To deal with negative emotions, people tend to do one of the following:

Show emotion they don't really feel.

Hide emotion they really do feel.

Create an appropriate emotion for the situation.
You can do this using two emotional labor techniques:

Surface acting - You fake, or pretend to have, an emotion by using unnatural and artificial body language and verbal communication. Smiling and using a soft tone of voice help you show emotion that you don't feel, or hide emotion that you do feel.

Deep acting - You control your internal emotions, directing them to believe that you actually are happy, and enjoying the interaction with the other person. Rather than feel like you're pretending, you convince yourself you're not experiencing a negative reaction.
When you continually need to show only those emotions that are appropriate for the job, despite how you really feel, this can often lead to emotional conflict between your real emotions and those you show to others."

"Deep acting", eh? So, I must be the Meryl Streep of coffeehouse barsitas. It's not possible to keep that acting up and not suffer some kind of emotional exhaustion. You think you can? C'mon, make a hundred thousand lattes and see what I'm talking about. Either you get more negative or you go crazy, it's that simple. What are the other alternatives? Mine is Jesus.

For the rest of the article"