Friday, November 30, 2007

The Most Wonderful Night of the Year

If someone were to ask me, "What is your favorite day of the year?", I would have to say it's the day that we decorate the Christmas tree. Now, no one has ever asked me my favorite day of the year, but I'm telling you, none the less.

We weren't sure if we would be able to get a tree this year-- money has been tight, and we're really only in town for 3 weeks-- but on Wednesday night, Chris caved, and we drove off to Home Depot to get the smallest tree they had.

As luck would have it, every tree in the lot was at least 6 feet tall, except for two little 2-footers-- one being a sad excuse for the Charlie Brown tree, and the other being a fat, happy looking dwarf of a tree. $15 later, we were setting up our squatty new friend on a chest (to make it look a little more stately) in front of the window.

Now, usually decorating the tree is a festive occasion, complete with Christmas carols, eggnog (or hot chocolate), and the happiest Christine you've ever seen. But it was 10pm by the time we made it home, Chris was sick & cranky, and I was getting sleepy. What is usually the highlight of my year turned into a frazzled, moody Christine, throwing the last decorations on at 6:45 Thursday evening before our Small Group came over at 7. Needless to say, it wasn't the highlight of my year.

But, despite all the funk in getting it set up, we have a lovely, fat, dwarf tree sitting in our living room now, giving off it's wonderful pine smell, and looking just as a Christmas tree should look: white lights, coordinating silver ornaments, and a pretty silver garland wrapping around it. And if you make fun of the giant star sitting on top-- which is at least 1/3 the size of the entire tree-- I'll throw a candy cane at you.

The bottom line: it's crisp and cold outside, I'm making up Christmas wish-lists & listening to The Rat Pack Christmas Carols, and despite the fact that we're both sick, sniffly & worn out, I am one happy girl.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

God Save the Queen

Today was a sleepy day. Have you ever had one of those days where you don't leave the house until the afternoon, and when you finally make it outside, the world feels big & scary compared to your warm cozy house? Oftentimes on days like today, it takes me a while to warm up to people & conversations & human interaction.

As I was driving across the Bay Bridge to Laney Community College in Oakland, I knew I needed a shot of adrenaline to get me going, and I found the perfect remedy to the sleepy day blues: Queen.

Upon my request, my brother made me a CD of "happy classic rock", and on that CD was a fantastic array of Queen. Now, I wouldn't necessarily say that I am a Queen fan, but I do have to say that some of their songs are absolutely life giving.

So, my sleepy, unsocial self turned on the stereo and blasted Bohemian Rhapsody, singing along (in full opera voice) at the top of my lungs. I'm telling you, it was down right therapeutic. I was doing air guitar solos, head banging, screeching out all the Galileo parts-- the whole works. And by the time I rolled up to Laney College to tutor my shy, quiet Cantonese speaking students, I was ready to take on the world. You should try it, too...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

Things have felt stressful lately. We worked at a conference last weekend, and for some reason my capacity for social interaction was at an all-time low. And it's tough being surrounded by energetic college students and wonderful co-workers when your extroverted self simply won't kick in. Several times while I was helping with registration, welcoming people in and giving them info, I had to open my mouth wide and stretch out my face, which ached from smiling so much. You know you're tired when it hurts to smile =)

But then... after the conference was over, Chris & I made the drive over to a magical place called My Parents' Cabin. Now, honestly, it's tough compete with the beauty of the redwoods in NorCal, but there is something absolutely therapeutic about that cabin in the woods. As soon as you walk through the door (and get the water running & turn on the heater), all the responsibilities, all the stress and anxiety that you once had simply melt right off of you. It must me something in the air-- or that mountain spring water that comes right out of the tap.

The cabin is huge-- it can sleep at least 12 comfortably. It is cozy & comfortable, and just feels like Home-- but without computers & phone calls or any kind of responsibilities other than figuring out what to make for breakfast at 11am. The newest addition to the cabin was a giant flat screen TV, which made movie watching by the fire even better. Lovely.

But the best part was that we had old friends join us at the cabin. Two of my closest friends from college (plus one great husband) joined us, and we spent hours lounging, chatting, going on walks, eating junk food, assembling puzzles & watching movies. There is something absolutely wonderful about a friendship where you can sit in your PJ's and talk for hours, or read in silence without feeling awkward. I've missed that since moving away. But I soaked it in till my fingers got pruny in front of that great fireplace, on those big comfy couches.
I feel super thankful.

Great Expectations

There are moments in our lives that we look forward to and anticipate for a long time, and then when they are over, it feels strange that they should leave us so quickly. Walking down the aisle, Christmas morning, a wonderful vacation-- when those moments are over, there is a certain bitter sweetness that comes and a realization of the hopes & expectations you had (that may or may not have been met).

Yesterday was one of those days. I had been looking forward to The Day Before Thanksgiving for weeks now, and without realizing it, putting some big expectations on that poor little

My Dad has cancer, and his long anticipated surgery is tomorrow. There have been a lot of stresses, issues & burdens on my family for the last several months (on top of the cancer), and I have been away for all of it. It's hard to feel so far removed from those important family moments-- even the difficult ones-- and to get all the updates through phone calls, rather than hearing them face-to-face, or living them out alongside everyone.

I had this vision for Wednesday. I was going to take my Dad & Step Mom out for the day-- pamper them, help them relax and feel free from the daily grind. I wanted to bless them, to pray for them, and to help carry their burdens for a little while. I think that, secretly, I hoped that I could somehow make up for months of being away, and squeeze in all the emotions and intimacy and help that could have been given in those several months. That's a tall order.

What ended up happening was that they pampered us. Chris & I drove with them down to Balboa Park in San Diego, where they bought us all tickets to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then they bought us an enormous lunch at our favorite restaurant down there, and the evening ended with Dad slipping a hundred dollar bill in my pocket for "gas money".

Now, don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful day-- really special. But when I got into bed, I just felt flat. I realized that one great day in San Diego doesn't take away the fact that I live an entire day's drive away. It doesn't take away the fact that my Dad as cancer and is going through major surgery tomorrow. It doesn't somehow lift the burdens of an entire family, or make up for months of being away.

It's interesting to see the hopes & expectations I put on myself unknowingly. The truth is that I do live far away, and that life will keep going on without me. So what do I do with all that? There must be a balance somewhere between savoring in those beautiful moments (of which yesterday was one) and not putting too much pressure on them to be everything.

Yesterday was a sweet and golden day-- the kind that make good, lazy-day memories. And I think that I can let go of those herculean hopes I had of saving the day, accept my free lunch & hundred dollar bill graciously, and be thankful that sometime I can be taken care of too.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I got a phone call this morning from The Powers That Be down at our regional offices, and it looks like we just might be going to Africa this summer!!

I can hardly wrap my mind around it. We will (again, probably-- not quite for sure, yet!) be spending about 5 weeks in Uganda this summer, leading a team of college students to help rehabilitate child soldiers.

This has been a dream brewing for over a year now, and it seems like it's actually coming together. But now that it is materializing, my mind stops skimming over the big, romantic picture and rests on details. Details like:
  • mosquito nets
  • bugs, snakes, germs, bugs, and bugs
  • third-world toilets (enough said)
  • crazy, weird food (and the fact that I am hypoglycemic, and have a sensitive stomach)
  • our housing/sleeping arrangements (unknown, but possibly pretty, um, simple)
  • jet lag
  • leading a team of students who will whine about the things on this list even more than me
On top of all of that is the reality of how incredibly difficult it's going to be to hear these children's stories, to see their pain, and to try (somehow) to help them through it.

It is beautiful to think about coming alongside Jesus like that-- but it is also very sobering. I feel very small-- excited, but very small.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Pill That's Hard to Swallow

Okay, here's me being very real.
Yesterday afternoon was yucky. I mentioned in my last post that I have been taking medication that has made me gain weight, given me mood swings, and acne. Well, yesterday, I set out to Union Square with the last $50 of my Birthday money (yes, my birthday was in June-- I realize I'm strange) to buy some clothes that would fit a little better.

After hours of hunting, countless dressing rooms, and a lump in my throat, I came back empty-handed. But let me give you a little back story, first:

The Freshman 15 is a pretty common occurrence. I'm not exactly sure how much weight I gained in college, but it was more than 15lbs, and it was for more than just my freshman year. I really struggled with "the new me", and was plagued with awful thoughts about the way I looked, my self-image, and my worth. Everything I wore was chosen to cover up a body I was ashamed of, and to hide myself as much as possible.

After college, I slowly lost the weight, and began to actually feel comfortable in my own skin. I felt healthier-- mentally & physically, and finally re-learned what it was like not to hate my own body. I even discovered that I had a "style" that I actually liked, and didn't have to buy things
for the way they covered & hid me. It was very freeing.

Well, fast forward to yesterday, in the dressing room at Banana Republic, trying to squeeeze into a pair of jeans, and realizing that I don't wear that size anymore. I must have tried on 50
different items yesterday, and all those old messages about my worth, my value & my body started screaming in my head again. I realized that I would have to start buying things for the way they covered me, and not because I liked them. It felt like a door closing on my identity, somehow-- like I had lost all that healthy freedom I had gained these past 7 years.

To make matters worse, I went straight from my unsuccessful ventures downtown to meet some friends for pizza. The lump I felt in my throat made it difficult to thing of swallowing pizza,
so I ordered a salad instead. When the waitress brought the salad, she set it in the middle of the table for us all to share. I explained that it was for me, and she exclaimed "WOW! This is all for you?! You must be hungry!" I swear, the whole restaurant heard. Somehow, I didn't feel quite so hungry after that.

I realize that my dress size does not define me. I realize that my worth is not based on my weight, and that my identity and style does not come from the clothes that I wear. At least, I'm trying to believe those things...

I kept telling myself, each time I stood in front of one of those awful full-length mirrors in the dressing rooms, that every woman in America feels insecure about her looks-- that our culture (and the Devil) has set an impossible and ridiculous standard for us to live by, and that I don't have to buy it. I kept reminding myself that I had a hot husband at home, who loves me and thinks I'm beautiful.

I'm trying. All those voices in my head tell me that I am worthless, fat, and ugly. They are wrong. They are wrong, and I don't have to believe them. I know what truth is, and I know that's not it. I am going to fight very hard to live in truth...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Price You Pay for Beauty

Recently, I think I actually have been taking crazy pills. And ugly pills. Okay, slight exaggeration, but it feels like it.

I started taking a new medication that has had some pretty gnarly (yes, I said gnarly) side affects. My favorites have been weight gain, acne, and some seriously crazy emotions.

I had a different prescription before that cost twice as much, but without the side affects. The big problem was that our overpriced insurance didn't cover it, and shelling out $55 a month was starting to hurt too much on our very tight budget. So, I switched to a cheaper version, and felt my clothes get tighter, instead of our budget. Then my face started exploding.

I began to ask myself, "What is the price for beauty? How much am I willing to pay, and can I justify it? Can I really pay twice as much to not feel ugly?" It's an interesting question, really.

But now, as my emotions have started spinning, I'm beginning to realize I have to do something! I can't be crazy, on top of everything else! I've tried calling my doctor, but the answering service in the ginormous corporation they call a medical center keeps disconnecting me before I can leave a message.

However, I found a breakthrough! I turned to my friend, Google, today, looking for a generic brand of my previous non-crazy-making medication. I discovered that after a long legal battle over the patent, a generic brand of my medication was released to the public October, 2007! Hallelujah!!!

I imagine it will take some time to get the old medication (and it's effects) out of my system (and off my hips), but at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Weekend Parties (in my mouth)

We ate so good last weekend! Okay, I know that's improper English, but I don't know if there's another way to say it. There are a few of those simple pleasures in life that bring me so much joy (hot showers, warm beds), but few give me as much joy as really good food. And I was a happy girl this weekend!

Here is a joyful list of some of the loveliness I was able to
experience this weekend:

Nan King Road: This is one of our favorite restaurants in the City. It's cute (great decor!), the food is amazing, and it's crazy cheap (for SF!). I tried something new this time (Dan Dan Cold Thin Noodles with spicy peanut sauce, chicken, carrots & cucumbers. Amaza-zing!), and Chris had the most flavorful garlicky chicken stir fry with green beans & bell peppers. I was supremely happy when we left the restaurant. It didn't hurt that we split a mini mocha gelato next door afterwards ;)

Monte Cristo Sandwiches: I have decided that there is no more perfect combination of breakfast and lunch than the Monte Cristo. We made them for breakfast Saturday morning in Chris' favorite cast iron skillet (which requires only a tiny spray of Pam-- much healthier!) and it was glorious.

Napa Valley Vineyards Chardonnay: We finally cracked open this bottle of wine we've had forever when we went to dinner at a friends house (whose tomatillo enchiladas were also a party in our mouths!). It was so yummy! It's always fun to find wine we like that's under $10 (not that that really keeps us from buying primarily Two Buck Chuck!)

Cream Sherry: Okay, I'm starting to sound like a lush (I swear, I hardly ever drink!), but we also had, for the first time, Cream Sherry with a lime wedge. Wow! So tasty!

Arepas: This is something we thought we invented, and then discovered it had a name. It is so yummy, very easy, and fairly healthy. Here's our recipe...

1) Thinly slice onions, carrots & bell peppers. Mince a few garlic cloves & cut broccoli into small pieces. Sauté over high heat with a little vegetable oil, chili powder & seasoned salt-- starting with the onions & carrots, then adding bell peppers, then garlic & broccoli-- until crisp tender (5-ish minutes)
2) Meanwhile, mix Masarepa according to package instructions, and lightly fry in another skillet
3) Warm Ducal Black Beans
4) Top one arepa with black beans, shredded cheese (or sour cream), vegetables, and Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic Salsa. Squeeze a lime wedge over everything, and enjoy!

Carving Punkins

I know, I know: Halloween was almost a week ago. I've been meaning to post pictures of the amazing pumpkins we carved, but haven't gotten a chance until now.

We had a quiet night at home on Halloween (not a single Trick or Treater, or even a kid wandering by
in a costume-- there's something about San Francisco that's just not normal!). And it wasn't quiet just because of the lack of children-- we (and especially Chris) were pretty intense & focused on the pumpkins we were carving.

Now, I have to admit, I'm usually quite the master of those little templates with the intricate designs you poke through onto the pumpkin & then carve out. I've made some masterpieces in my days-- but they always
felt a little like cheating. So this year, I branched out and designed my own (with a little inspiration from the internet). I usually go for the cute, harvesty Halloween themes, but this year, I went with a creepy old pumpkin eating a frightened little pumpkin.

Chris, however, doesn't believe in templates, molds, or traditions for anything in life (he turns our family's Christmas sugar cookies into pipes, football players & demons. Yikes!). So, after about a half an hour of brooding in intense silence
and furiously sketching ideas on paper, he came up with this pumpkin. It's hard to see in the picture (click on it for a better view), but it shows a man & a woman being startled by a knife-wielding psycho coming at them in the light of their flashlight.

We bought our pumpkins out of the back of a run-down van late Halloween afternoon (along with some cocaine & stolen computers! Sheesh!) for $5! What a rip off! I'm thinking of going back now & buying more for a buck each, and carving some Thanksgiving themed pumpkins. I just can't get enough =)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Moving to the Equator

Last night, Chris & I stayed up way too late carving pumpkins (more on that later!). This morning when the alarm went off, it was pitch black outside, and I hit snooze several times, waiting for a few rays of light to help me crawl out of bed. When I finally made it out, it was 7:20, and still pitch black outside!

I'm sorry, but waking up at the crack of dawn and rolling out of bed at 7:30 should not be the same thing! I know that daylight savings is coming up, but that will only mean that it gets dark at like 3pm! Okay, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but it will be a bummer taking the dog out for his post-work playtime at the park and having it already be dark outside.

I'm going to need some serious help if I'm going to be able to get up before 7am and get my day going before noon! I think living in Brazil would would be a great solution.