Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Binge, Purge & Equilibrium

One of those early childhood memories came back to me this morning-- the kind that is made up of thoughts & feelings, more than colors, words, or details. I remembered being on a swing that felt impossibly high-- the chain reaching the cross bar somewhere in the stratosphere, up there with my proud feeling of accomplishment.

You see, my cousin, who was (and still is) a few months older than me, had already mastered the envious skill of being able to "pump"-- to swing himself on the swing, without the help of his mother. But on that fine day, something clicked inside my little brain, my body suddenly understanding the art of swinging, and I was able to control my own rocking back & forth. It was a glorious moment. I was sure that the other children in the playground were green with envy as they observed my freedom & independence.

I remembered this major accomplishment this morning as I was reflecting on the current state of my life-- and sadly it has much more to do with the feeling of swinging back & forth than reaching some new crowning glory. You see, the last several weeks have been feeling a bit like a pendulum swinging between overwork & gluttony; bone-tired semi-consciousness (from too much activity) and groggy headed muddled thoughts (from a lack of activity).

Our schedule has been full lately-- but not simply full of activities, full (chock full) of people. I used to be a little social butterfly, never able to get enough of conversation & company. Somewhere along the road, though, that butterfly crawled back into her cocoon & just wanted to stay there. It's not that I have lost my love for people-- it's just that I need a lot more time to re-charge in between uses now (like an electric toothbrush, or something).

Picture for me a wagon. Inside that wagon are all kinds of wonderful ways to recharge-- long walks with my hubby (okay, I know you can't take a long walk inside a wagon, but it's a metaphor, so roll with me on this one), creativity, writing, reading a great book, baking, and all sorts of other lovely restorative activities. This wagon is organized, disciplined-- balancing work with rest, knowing when to quit and what it needs to maintain equilibrium.

Well, my friends, I am sorry to say that I have fallen off the wagon. Gone are the days of
Maintaining with 5 minute clean-up's, of date nights with Chris, nice long hikes or bike rides on the weekends, or any sort of creativity what-so-ever. Lately, life has looked more like a series of binging & purging-- packing our schedules until my brain is melting out of my ears, then crawling into a cave until I feel a little like Gollum.

I swing myself one direction until I hit excess, and then I swing myself back in the other direction, finding a whole new extreme. The floor in our tiny apartment becomes hidden under a physical manifestation of my lack of balance, I eat terribly because chocolate just feels so
right when things are crazy, my clothes grow tighter, I start to hate the mirror, I don't have time or energy for long walks, working out, or creativity, and am reduced to falling asleep in front of the TV most weeknights. It's a vicious cycle, I'm telling you.

I recently witnessed a humorous living parable of my jerky attempts at balance. We have this [absolutely insane] friend who ran a 50 mile race last weekend... up a mountain. He trained for his race by entering two marathons every weekend (I always thought overly zealous health nuts trained for marathons-- not with marathons). But I digress...

He completed his titanic race and celebrated with a huge party that night. When we arrived, he was sitting in an arm chair, a celebratory beer in one hand and an IV bag connected to the other. After cringing & wanting to vomit (I hate needles), I discovered that our nursing friends had hooked him up to the IV to make sure he stayed hydrated while he drank. We joked about the one balancing the other out, but inside I was thinking a little of my own nonsensical attempts at finding equilibrium. I do the same thing, really... but I'm working on it.

Tonight, the floor is visible & clean, the dog is bathed, the bath tub scrubbed (I even bleached the shower curtain liners), and we had a healthy, home-cooke
d meal three nights in a row. Not to mention the fact that I made chocolate pecan clusters for the neighbors, and created the most incredible giant 3D snowflake. And although those might be small, surface symptoms, it helps me to feel like I'm banishing the chaos, and help to restore my insides just a little (well, making snowflakes & pecan clusters is restorative... scrubbing the tub is not as much). Things are looking up.

I may not be on the wagon yet, but I'm at least dragging behind, moving in the right direction (like in an Indiana Jones movie, or something). The next several weeks are going to be a challenge: when I look at my schedule, I foresee way too many opportunities to fall into the binge-and-purge routine (isn't that what Christmas & New Year's Resolutions are all about?).
But I'm going to work hard to maintain that healthy balance... wish me luck.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas [Season] Eve

I love Seasons. One of the only things I love more than Seasons are Holidays, because they seem to embody a certain season, concentrated on a particular date, that gives us an excuse to decorate & host parties & associate sights & smells & tastes with that particular day.

Just close your eyes and think about the 4th of July: sand & sunshine, the sm
ell of sunscreen & BBQ, and the taste of watermelon. Or Easter: little girls in pastel dresses, grass under high heeled shoes, the vinegary smell of dyeing Easter Eggs & the taste strawberries with whipped cream.

Even though we live in California, and the passing of the seasons looks more like switching from bikinis to wearing scarves with your tank tops, rather than a shift from raking leaves to shoveling
snow... even still, I love that subtle transition from one season to another. I love going to a Farmer's Market in late Spring, and seeing berries, corn & peaches overflowing from the carts, and I confess that I get a little giddy & my voice goes all squeaky in the Winter when I see that Eggnog Lattes have made it to the menus of my favorite coffee houses. Yes, I suppose that Seasons are just a marketing ploy in California, but I'm a happy consumer, none the less.

Since we've moved to Northern California, I have actually experienced a tangible change in the seasons every year, and there are many
months where one can usually find me curled up in our hallway, fighting our dog for room in front of our one, ill-placed heater.

Despite the fun of sand & watermelon, and despite my complaints about the cold in our drafty apartment, I have to say that this is, without a doubt, The Most Wonderful Time of The Year. When Halloween decorations start popping out & I get the uncontrollable urge to eat candy corn & carve pumpkins, a clock starts counting down in my mind. Yes, I love Halloween, and Thanksgiving is the most delicious meal of the year, but I can't help the feeling of impending Joy as Christmas approaches.

The other night, Chris & I came home from work at around midnight, and as I dragged myself through the door, I dug the mail out of our overstuffed mail box. Suddenly, my fatigue left me, as
Martha Stewart arrived in her full Christmas Glory on the cookie-filled pages of her magazine. Ever since then, the sky has been bluer, Chris has become increasingly charming & wonderful, buying a car sounds like a whole lot of fun, and my heart feels light & happy. Oh, Christmas, how I love you.

In a few days, we will drive down to Southern California for a conference, followed by days & days of zipping around Orange County freew
ays, stuffing ourselves at numerous Thanksgiving feasts, as well as buying a new car. And, I tell you, I couldn't be happier about it. Hooray for seeing friends & family; Hooray for turkey & cranberries & pumpkin pies; Hooray for baking till our fingers fall off. Who cares that it's 90 degrees in LA right now with Santa Ana winds? Thanksgiving is here, Christmas is on it's way, and the Season is Bright.

You might have noticed that I tend to experience Seasons & Holidays particularly through food. I hope there's not an unhealthy fascination there-- although I definitely know that eggnog lattes are unhealthy. My two new favorite late-Autumn/Early-Winter meals are shared below... neither of them are too terrible unhealthy. Enjoy-- and happy Christmas Season Eve.

Roasted Vegetable Salad:

2-4 servings
  • Make a trip to Trader Joes & buy the following: 1 bag of pre-cut Butternut Squash or Sweet Potatoes, 1 Bag of mini-Zucchini, 1 bag of baby Carrots, 1 tub of Grape Tomatoes, 1 Onion, 1 head of Garlic, 1 tub of Goat Cheese & one bag of Mixed Greens.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • In a baking dish, toss the Butternut Squash/Sweet Potatoes, Zucchini, 1/2 the Carrots, a handful of Tomatoes, 1/2 a sliced Onion, 5 whole cloves of Garlic with a few glugs of Olive Oil, a few splashes of Balsamic Vinegar, Salt & Pepper. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the carrots and butternut squash are tender.
  • Divide 1/2 the Salad mix on plates, and spoon roasted veggies on top, using the extra juices as salad dressing. Sprinkle with a little Goat Cheese & enjoy!

Green Onion Risotto
(from Epicurious)
2-4 servings
  • 4 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter (I use less)
  • 1 bunch green onions, white parts finely chopped, green parts thinly sliced
  • 1 cup arborio or medium-grain rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Fat Free Half & Half (from Trader Joe's)
  • Bring broth to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and keep warm.
  • Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped green onions and cook until soft, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Stir in rice. Add wine; cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add 4 cups broth, 1 cup at a time, cooking until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more, stirring frequently, until rice is tender but still firm, about 20 minutes. Stir in sliced green onions, Parmesan, and Half & Half. Add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed if dry. Season with salt and pepper.
**You can also serve 4 people a yummy, filling meal by combining these 2 recipes-- there should be more than enough, 'cause this is a super filling, vegetarian meal =)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shoppers Remorse

Shopping is supposed to be fun. Unless I'm having a yucky Fat Day or I can't seem to find anything interesting in the stores, I tend to be one of those girls who enjoys shopping. I definitely love getting new things. Even a new tube of toothpaste or bottle of shampoo elicits a tiny thrill for me, and I have to confess that I actually enjoy grocery shopping-- all those pretty fruits & vegetables & endless opportunities for creativity in the kitchen. I've heard that a special little Happy Button goes off in most people's brains-- a chemical reaction that produces joy-- when they buy new things.

So why is it that for the last week or so, I have had a pit in my stomach with all the shopping I have been doing? No, I'm not going back on my Christmas resolution or getting caught up in new clothes-- we are in the market for a new car.

Every time I say those words I get understanding nods & sympathetic looks (and, of course,
advice). I thought that shopping for a new car would be fun-- like getting a new tube of toothpaste, only exponentially better. It turns out that I would rather just get the toothpaste.

It seems as though our entire world is revolving around cars-- researching, crunching numbers,
looking into loans, talking about money, test driving, trying to shake off the grime of skeazy car salesmen. Chris & I decided we were going to spend quality time together the other night-- not talking about cars or watching TV, but just being together. We couldn't think of a single thing to do. We sat on the couch, staring off into space, sipping our tea and trying to avoid what was on both of our minds: The Question of Which Car to Buy?

It should be pretty straight forward: look at a few reports
, drive a few cars, talk to some friends & family members who are more knowledgeable than I, and make our choice. But it seems that no one can agree on what the best car for us might be.

Just when we thought we had our choice nailed down (a Toyota Matrix), I suddenly got cold feet. I don't want a car. I just want my Isuzu Trooper-- my 14 year old, 200,000mi, clunky, gas guzzling, ready to fall apart at the seams Trooper. I love that thing. Who wants an expensive, dinky, trendy little car when I can keep Old Faithful? Well, that's just the thing: I can't keep Old Faithful, and all roads seem to lead down the path of new car smells. No more throwing the dog in the back of our SUV after a romp at the beach, or hauling Craigslist couches around, or driving over curbs when parallel parking, or off-roading in Big Bear. I guess maybe that's part of growing up.

It's not just that I'm being whiney and adverse to change. The truth is that I'm scared. It makes me ill to think of spending so much-- and whether its new or used, it feels like a lot of money, when we go out to the movies about 4 times a year & buy our wine at Grocery Outlet.

There are a hundred reasons why we should get a new Toyota Matrix (which I have gone over so many times that I just can't bear to type out in explanation-- but trust me, it makes sense on paper), and especially to buy it within the next 2 weeks (yikes! Those darn Dealer Incentives). But when I just want my big, boxy SUV, it's hard to drop that kind of cash on something I just don't feel excited about.

The thing is, I want to live a life that is simple, generous, open handed & free from distractions. That's hard enough to do, living in San Francisco. I am honestly afraid that adding something so expensive just won't match up to those values. I pray & I research & I talk it over with everyone (until we're all tired of it), and I still feel unsettled.

What's a girl to do? Part of me just wants to make the decision & get it over with, so I can get my
life & especially my marriage back. I can't even remember how many times in the last few days I've fallen asleep on the couch while Chris researches cars online. Nothing says Romance like Consumer Reviews or Morris the car salesman. I'm tempted to do that "say a prayer, close my eyes & spin the globe until my finger stops on my perfect destination" type of thing.

I guess, in the end, it's just a car. It doesn't define me, or my marriage, or my life. I suppose all we can do is make the best decision we know how, working together, and either be content or learn from our mistakes. That doesn't sound so bad... but it still scares me to death ;)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

This week marked the first day of winter for me. Yes, I know, it's barely November-- but on Tuesday, the air was crisp and cold, the sun set at approximately 2pm, our house developed a frigid draft, and I actually had a wear a jacket outside during the day (something this Southern Californian can never get used to).

Not that I'm complaining-- although there will be a time for that. After all, there's nothing more delicious than snuggling under flannel sheets & a down blanket when it's frosty outside... or stocking up your kitchen with butternut squash, risotto, and hot chocolate. I'm
still in that honeymoon phase where sweaters & scarves are fun & exciting and rainy weekends mean reading on the couch, while listening to our Fireplace DVD (don't make fun-- something about having that crackling fire on the TV screen actually does heat up our apartment. I swear).

But, of course, the one thing that really makes the coming of Winter exciting is Christmas. Oh, just writing that sends a little thrill up my spine, and I feel the adrenaline pumping merely thinking about setting up our little Christmas t
ree, listening to the Rat Pack sing Christmas carols, walking by Macy's display window in Union Square (with all the little puppies & kittens from the SPCA), and unwrapping the carved wooden nativity scene we bought in Uganda. Be still my heart. Decency and proper etiquette keep me from doing any of these things before Thanksgiving has had its turn-- but a girl can still dream.

One thing I am working hard not to dream about, though, is my Christmas wish list. Chris & I live on a pretty tight budget, and really only get new things twice a year, at Christmas and on our birthdays. Because of our parents' generosity (some would call it gluttonous spoiling), we do pretty well for ourselves, and I rarely feel want or need.

In fact, most years, as Christmas approaches, I start off by saying "I really don't know what to ask for. I have everything I need." I rack my brain and finally realize that a new sweatshirt would be nice. Oh, and I could use a pair of tights for when it gets cold... and a skirt to go with them, when I wear my tall boots. On second thought, another pair of jeans that fit under my boots would be great, too. And its always nice to take a little trip to the spa for a facial. Oh yeah, I was thinking I wanted new PJ's...

You can see where this is going. Ever since we have gotten married
and my gift receiving has increased by 1/3rd, I look at my closet, post-present opening, and feel a little nauseated. Every year, I tell myself I will return some of it-- that I don't need that much stuff, and that it just breeds greed & materialism in me. To my recollection, though, I never have... and that makes my heart heavy.

Last night, one of our stude
nts showed us this great video called Advent Conspiracy. You should definitely watch it. In fact, watch it right now, before you continue reading....
I just watched it again, and it really is so inspiring.

So, in light of the $450 billion dollars spent on Christmas every year, and the $10 billion it would take to bring clean drinking water to the entire world, I have decided that I want to change the way I do Christmas. I need to think & pray about it a little more, but I know I want at least half of the opulent amounts of money spent on me over Christmas to go to the poor.

Sadly, it hurts a little bit just saying that, and I confess a part of me wonders if I will be able to stick with it. I think about all those things that my mind so easily jumped to-- the things that I want, but don't need. I think about the little thrill I get wearing new clothes, feeling stylish, and just how fun it is to have something *new*. I love it. I relish it. But I hate it at the same time. What if I could really free myself from that, and, instead, find a deeper joy in giving?

Part of me feels ashamed at how difficult it is to make that commitment. But there it is, in black & white, posted for all the world (or the 3 people that actually read this blog) to see. I don't write all of this to sound magnanimous or holy, but to share my internal struggle & to challenge others to do the same.

What do you really need?
What can you do without?
What can you give away?

These are questions I have been asking myself for a while now, and I confess, I haven't been very quick to act. Let that change now, little by little.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Purple... or Black

All right, I admit it: I am probably the worst informed, most ignorant human during this election season. And I confess that I do feel a little bit of shame in my ignorance-- but only a little bit.

There are two reasons why my shame is minimal:

1) I will have nothing better to do this coming election day than my normal Tuesday routine. The reason is that I have been disenfranchised. Although I have lived in San Francisco for over three years, and have registered to vote here, every year when I go to cast my ballot, my voter information mysteriously disappears. Chris-- who is registered as Independent-- has always been able to vote, but I-- although I don't say it loudly here-- am registered Republican, and always get lost in the shuffle.

Chris reminded me of this little conspiracy recently, and-- like a good little citizen-- I printed out my voter registration to make sure that there would be no snags this time around (Haha! Take that, you crazy San Franciscans!). I then proceeded to leave that registration under a pile of mail and missed the registration deadline. Clearly, this is a conspiracy to keep me disenfranchised. However, it also allows me to tune out all political jargon because I am no longer responsible for the fate of our nation. Sorry guys, I can't help you this time.

2) My ignorance breeds only minimal guilt both because of a streak of rebellion and a fear of confrontation.

Now, my idea of rebellion is getting my nose pierced my & having a
small tattoo on my back. I kind of missed out on the whole lying to my parents & sneaking out the bedroom window to party High School days. And I get irritated when my little expressions of individuality become trendy-- like how every girl in the world seems to have their nose pierced or a tattoo on their back ("Tramp Stamp"... awesome. Just the image I was hoping to convey); and even little things, like when knitting became popular in the Christian crowd, and I had to give it up because it just didn't seem fun & different anymore. I know, I'm a rebel.

Well, this rebellious, need-to-be-different streak has really gotten me into trouble with politics. I just can't decide who to rebel against. Do I roll my eyes and scoff at my conservative, right-wing upbringing, breaking the shackles of the Republican regime and gaining independence not only for myself, but for the millions of poor & oppressed around the world? OR, do I rebel against these starry-eyed Neo-Socialist liberals, and stand up for God's Way, voting as Jesus would?

And that's where the other problem comes in: the fear of confrontation. Partly, it is my ignorance that keeps me out of political debates (I confess, I don't want to sound stupid, and I don't have many actual facts to add to the conversation). But also, I just can't stand all the arguing, the polarization and the name-calling that seems to be inevitable with those conversations. Can't we all just get along?? I simply don't want to become one of those ugly, angry people.

This is the part where my satirical irony turns serious. I live in an extremely liberal city, and work for a very conservative Christian organization. I hear every argument, see every bumper sticker, and get every email forward known to man. And the more I hear, see and smell, the less I want to be a part of it.

It seems like every opinion is based, not on issues or
passion, but on anger, dislike, mistrust and an us-verses-them mentality-- from both sides of the fence. I see inside myself a propensity for that same grumbling, complaining attitude, that same subtle sense of superiority over the other side, and that same habit of generalizing, assuming and name-calling. And it scares me. I simply don't want to allow that to breed inside of me because I admit that I see my own weakness to it.

The other night, after coming home from another gathering where angry politics seemed to be the flavor of the day, I felt confused, unsettled & ugly inside. Questions were swimming around in my mind:
  • Shouldn't my relationship with God keep me from generalizations, from judging or labeling groups of people, having an in-crowd and an out-crowd, or an us-verses-them mentality?
  • Shouldn't my love for people allow me to truly listen to others' opinions and help them to feel safe, known and cared for? Why do political conversations always seems to offend, divide, assume & polarize?
  • What was really important to Jesus: Homosexuality? Abortion? Immigration? The Economy? War? How did He respond to the political questions of His time?
  • How can I live a life of love, acceptance & freedom and still interact with politics? Is there a way to do blend my spirituality and my ballot?
  • What issues are truly important to me? Why are so few of those issues ever discussed by either side?
During the angry political discussion I found myself trapped in (the one that led me to all those questions), a [politically passionate] friend exclaimed "I honestly don't know how anybody could still be undecided at this point in the election!" Chris & I looked at each other and smiled. He quietly said, "I am." The silence was deafening as roomful of shocked Democrats stared at him in disbelief (and if it was a different crowd, I'm sure Republicans would have been equally shocked). "There are a lot of issues that are important to me," he said " and I don't think either side fully represents all of them. I'm honestly torn." [Luckily, we escaped with our lives and our friendships in tact]

Let it be known that I have a great love for my country, and-- despite my sarcasm-- I truly believe it is my civic duty to be involved in politics (or at least to vote-- too bad I screwed up on that one!). Let it also be known that I am not blaming, accusing or claiming that everyone else is wrong, while I have found some magnanimous path to enlightenment.

My question is: What do I do when both sides have issues that I believe in and disagree with? What about those issues that no one is talking about? And, most importantly, can I live my life not being Blue or Red, but simply a follower of Jesus? Does that have to be a color?

In the Art World, Red and Blue make Purple. But I don't know if I want to be a blend. I think I would rather be something completely different-- like Black, maybe... the absence of color. Besides, Black is kind of different and rebellious, and sounds so politically correct. ;)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Black Diamond Slopes

If you've ever been skiing, you might relate to this feeling. It's the feeling you get when you know you're doing pretty well: you're turning, you're stopping, you haven't fallen while getting off of the ski lift (causing a traffic jam & forcing everyone to stop & untangle poles & skis & goggles from inside your jacket) in at least three runs. It's that feeling you get towards the end of the day, when you've mastered your slope (more or less) and start to believe that you can hold your head up in the ski lodge (as long as you don't slip down those wet metal stairs in your awkward stiff boots).

And then it happens: some toddler-- some infant who shouldn't even be walking-- comes careening down the slope in a blur of knitted wool, skidding to a stop in front of you with comfortable confidence and a happy-go-lucky smile. You want to hate them, but you can't help admiring them. And, you also want to either 1) turn in your skis, go back down to the lodge and take up Hot Chocolate Drinking as a hobby, or 2) push yourself harder and go higher up the mountain.

Now, I confess, I stopped skiing when I was about 16, and became an expert at drinking hot chocolate. I realized that if I was going to improve on the slopes, it would require long, cold rides on ski lifts to the top of the mountain, along with fear, injury & hard work. I don't like being cold, I'm afraid of fear, and complain about paper cuts. Clearly, my career as a hot chocolate drinker was set before me.

I bring this up, not because we are planning a trip to Tahoe, but because of some new friends that have been keeping me up at nights.

No, I'm not talkin
g about our new upstairs neighbors that like to have parties until 2 & 3am, playing bad disco & country music (with the volume set to 11) and line dancing on the hardwood floors directly over our bed. Apparently I still haven't forgiven them for last night... but that's a different story.

I am referring to a group of people we've met through our Abolition Workshop. Chris & I have been attending a 6-week workshop on human trafficking & modern day slavery. We have also been reading a book on slavery, attended a fancy $100-a-plate benefit dinner for the International Justice Mission (someone else bought our tickets!), watched a great documentary on slavery, and are attending a conference in Berkeley on Global Slavery this weekend.

As you can imagine, I feel a little like my whole world is revolving around one subject, but it's not through some new obsession or a trendy buzz issue. Ironically, each of these o
pportunities (the workshop, the dinner, the conference) have presented themselves to me separately, through different people & sources-- almost as though this was a season in my life where I was meant to really stop and focus on this one issue.

Through this process, I have been introduced to more than human
rights issues. I have met some fascinating, wonderful, passionate & alive people, who have challenged me and made me feel alive in the process. They are the kind of people who hear Jesus' words when he says, "Sell your possessions and give them to the poor", and actually do it; the kind of people who shop at thrift stores (and still manage to be stylish) because they don't want to fund slavery in the textile industry, and who are perfectly content walking, instead of owning a car.

Now, I know they sound radical, and a little weird, and I guess they are-- but not
in a Branch Davidian, "Jesus is coming back tomorrow" kind of way, and not in a preachy, obnoxious "Meat is Murder" kind of way... They are comfortable & accepting and have fun & interesting conversations on topics other than prayer, the Bible, or human rights. And although they are comfortable & accepting, they have really challenged me to push myself a little higher-- to not become complacent where I'm at. Which is where my child ski prodigy metaphor comes into play.

One might think that, because I'm a Professional Christian-- because I have my quintessential photo in a refugee camp with hungry children, because I raise my own salary instead of having a "real job", or because we have the highest Bible-per-square-foot ratio known to man in our tiny apartment-- that I am (metaphorically speaking) one of those child ski prodigies, flying down the slopes, at the top of my game. But these new friends of ours have caused me to look around and see that there's a lot more mountain up there, so to speak.

For a long time
now, I have been thinking that I've been doing pretty well-- not in a self-important kind of way, but simply working hard to live out my values. Like I said, our rent is paid by charity, and we called a mud hut Home this summer, for crying out loud. When it comes to our organization, Chris & I are considered fairly cutting edge-- or at least pretty "out there", with all our talk about the poor & social justice. Until recently, most of our friends in San Francisco have been wealthier than us. When we go to their parties, they talk about spas, vacations, flat screen TV's, and buying new homes & cars. The result was that I had (or thought I had) the subtly sweet flavor of a martyr-- someone who sacrificed for an important cause... and sometimes felt slightly deprived, as well.

But now-- now, I feel challenged & stretched & even a little
uncomfortable. I think of everything I have, and the things I take for granted. I think of the battles out there that are so important to fight, and how little I am truly doing to fight them. When I hear stories about the Thai girl who was sold to a brothel by her aunt, the Indian family who was tricked into slavery in a brick kiln, the Bolivian men trafficked to Russia for hard labor without pay, or the Ghanan child tortured on cocoa plantations, I know I am obligated to do something. I know that the life I am leading now is not an appropriate response to those true and awful stories.

I'm not saying that I now suddenly believe that what I do or have done is unimportant or trivial-- I love my job & deeply believe in what I do. This is not stemming from insecurity or comparison or a sense of failure-- but, as I said, I have simply been noticing that there's a whole lot more mountain up there.

What is interesting is that these new friends have brought along with them both a feeling of discomfort and contentment. I feel deep, deep contentment with what I have. Life is so sweet right now, and I can honestly say that I want for nothing. There are so many times throughout my week when I stop & take a deep breath and simply marvel at how much I have, how lucky I am, and what a great stage of life I am in.

Being challenged to give more, to do more, and to be more has-- ironically-- given me such gratitude for what I have. Life feels full & rich & worth living. It feels like the decisions I make are important and the way that I live can make a difference. It's more than the starry eyed idealism of a college freshman whose professors have suddenly opened up a whole new world to them, birthing naiive passion. This feels deeper & more calculated. Maybe it's because I know how much it will cost, and maybe it's because I know I'm not quite ready to give it. These battles are fought-- and paid for-- at little bit at a time.

There's always someone out there who's further down the line than you, someone who is more experienced or more talented. But I think, in my mind (as silly as it sounds), I had hit some sort of invisible glass ceiling, seeing the people beyond us as exotic Mother Theresa types, on the other side of the world. Now, I am realizing that "Mother Theresa" lives down the street, and is a normal, everyday person who has taken the same issues that I am passionate about and turned them into a lifestyle, rather than a mission trip.

As I write this, I struggle to find the right words to describe the profound impact these friends & these issues are having in my life, my heart, my mind. I could write a book-- maybe one day I will. I just pray that instead of finding the right words to describe it, I can simply show it through my lifestyle-- as they do.

Thank you, Sarah, Mark, Lisa, Adam, Jeff, Melissa, Justin, Ally... you have made me look higher.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Waning Powers

"My powdered toast particles are dissipating!", cried the distraught super hero from the Ren & Stimpy Show.

Man, that line got us every time, as giggly 14 year olds. But its not so funny when it happens to you. It's like that scene in Spiderman--
or was it Spiderman 2? I know it wasn't Spiderman 3... (that was an insult to the intelligence of giggly 14 year olds everywhere, and just plain made me mad for wasting $20 and 2 hours of my life... but I digress). It was just like that scene in Spiderman, where Spidey suddenly falls from the sky as his web runs dry & he loses his super-powers. He's just left to be Peter Parker.

Well, like I said, its great to watch on TV, but when it happens to you, its just not funny anymore.

Yes, my friends, it seems that my Martha Powers are waning.
I don't know how it happened or why, but suddenly my skills as homemaker extraordinaire seem to have left me. I didn't quite notice it at first: it started with a batch of black beans that I ruined by adding too much salt. And everyone knows that once you've added too much salt, there's no going back.

After that, I was positively inspired by a recipe I found on my favorite blog, Orangette (which is brilliant and you should read!). She (the brilliant author) ordered me to go out immediately & buy the ingredients for a recipe-- and like a good little Martha, I did. After much work & anticipation, I sat down to eat dinner that night and was terribly disappointed. It was like something that would have sat in a cafeteria line at summer camp. At that point, I started to wonder: Was it me, or the recipe?

But what truly confirmed the kryponite in my kitchen was the dinner I made last night. For weeks now, I have been itching for an opportunity to feed vegetarians. Strange, I know, but there was this cheese souffle recipe I was in ecstasy over several months ago, and I suddenly had this uncontrollable urge to make it again. And, of course, who better to feed a cheese souffle to than vegetarians? It all makes perfect sense to me.

So, for about a week, an expensive
hunk of Gruyere sat in my refrigerator, staring up at me imploringly, begging me to turn it into a glorious souffle. "Patience, " I told it, "Friday night, our vegetarian friends are coming over, and you will bring them much joy."

But it didn't work out that way. We got home from work too late, and I was a panicked wreck in the kitchen, trying to pull together this beautiful meal I had been dreaming of for weeks. Sadly, nothing was ready when they arrived, and I had to retreat back to the cave of our kitchen, hidden from view & conversation, while Chris entertained our guests, and I threw ingredients around the cramped, messy kitchen.

The souffle was flavorless, the roasted carrots & potatoes were bland... but the herbed garlic bread was buttery & delicious. Despite the fact that dinner was just okay, we had a great time and got to know some wonderful new friends. My conclusion is that, for the time-- until I can channel my Martha Stewart energies back again-- I will be content with just being Christine, and keep it sim

So, here are a few yummy, everyday, non-superhero recipes for the rest of us mortals:

  • Saute 3 or 4 heads of garlic, along with 1 red bell pepper (quartered) in a tablespoon or more of olive oil, until soft & fragrant (3 or 4 minutes)
  • In a blender or food processor, puree 2 cans of garbanzo beans (drained), a good scoop or two of tahini (sesame paste, available at Trader Joe's), a few tablespoons of lemon juice, a splash of soy sauce, salt, cayene pepper, & cumin to taste.
  • Add the garlic & bell pepper & puree. Add a little more olive oil or water if the consistency is too thick, and a little more spices or lemon juice if the flavor doesn't "pop" enough.
Feel free to play around with the recipe-- it's very forgiving & open to interpretation! Serve it with carrots & this next "recipe" (like I did last night!)

Rosemary Crackers:
  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Brush olive oil onto thin rectangles of flat bread (available at Trader Joes-- labeled as "Lavash Bread")
  • Sprinkle fresh chopped rosemary & coarse sea salt on top & throw it in the oven on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes, until it's crispy (but before it's browned too much)
  • Break it into pieces & serve with dip (or hummus!)

Herbed Garlic Bread:
  • Preheat the oven to... oh, about 400
  • Chop several basil leaves & several sprigs of rosemary or thyme, as well as 2 or 3 heads of garlic
  • Blend the herbs & garlic with about a stick of softened butter and a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese
  • Spread the butter mixture generously onto a big, yummy baguette or some other fresh, hearty bread & bake for a few minutes until it's toasty & fragrant
  • If you really want to get crazy, add even more parmesan cheese on top of the butter mixture before baking
Delicious with pasta... or just about anything =)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


From the moment I woke up this morning, I knew that Wednesday & I were going to have a problem. Normally, I get along just fine with Wednesdays-- I've never cut them down by calling them "hump days", and although they don't have the same zing as a Friday, at least they're not a Monday. But there was something about this particular Wednesday that just rubbed me wrong.

I rolled out of bed feeling exhausted-- not really from lack of sleep (although I suppose I sho
uld have gone to bed earlier last night), and not from some illness... just so bone tired I felt like my eyelids were made of lead.

I kept searching around for an excuse to go back to sleep: sore throat? Nope. Headache? Not really. Maybe I had worked too hard yesterday and could justify taking the morning off-- after all, I make my own schedule, right? I couldn't really do that because we lead a little prayer gathering on Wednesday mornings on campus.

On top of feeling exhausted, I felt a little blue-- actually, more like a dark gray (not quite black, but just really not happy). Again, I searched around for reasons, and couldn't come up with anything good.

I decided that I knew just the thing to get me going: riding my bike to campus. Now SFSU is clear on the other side of the City, with some monstrous San Francisco sized hills lying between us. Chris has discovered that if you take BART down a few stops, you can bike the rest of the way there, avoiding the hills, and arrive relatively un-sweaty. So that was the plan: I was going to pep myself up by riding to campus.

Let me tell you at this point that I have the most adorable bike in the world. It's a vintage
Raliegh (just like my Dad had growing up!) with a wicker basket on the front that was meant for Toto to ride in. The one problem is that it's a tank that weighs about 50lbs, and getting it onto a BART train is a beast.

So after finally wres
tling it onto the train (with a lot of help from Chris), we started our 5 minute ride and noticed that it was much louder than normal. We knew we were in trouble when the train came to a dead stop in the middle of the dark tunnel & the lights went out (thank goodness for Tetris on our phones!). About an hour later, we found ourselves trying to finagle our awkward bikes down the train ailes, through a crowd of disgruntled commuters onto our "rescue" train, prying open door after door as we made our way to the very back of the snake of train cars.

After finally making it up to the surface & fresh air, we rode our bikes back home (the hills still stood between us and SFSU), grabbed our car, and drove to campus (we missed the prayer thing, but were able to meet with a few students). Our BART fiasco made the news.

I thought that after our exciting adventure, I would be a little more awake & lively, but it all went downhill from there. I tried opening the car door with a pen (keys are generally a little more useful for that task), forgot to bring our computer to the office, had difficulty finishing sentences, and could not for th
e life of me get any work done. Chris was the same way... it must have been in the water, or something. At about 3:30 I finally said "Alright, you win." I don't often do this, but I knew it was time to admit defeat. I packed up my bags, came home early & took a nap. It was wonderful.

I made a small effort at reclaiming my Wednesday by making Risotto for dinner. It definitely helped to end things on a good note. But I should have given up long before I did. Just one of those days, I guess.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I've always wanted to be the cool, artistic type. Secretly, that's probably why I pierced my nose & dye my hair burgundy. Occasionally, I dabble at creativity: I tried my hand at knitting for a while, until it became trendy in the Christian circles; I embroidered a few funky shirts, but wasn't very good; and I've made a handful of necklaces, which is a fun-but-expensive hobby. Someday I hope to find my "niche", or really make a breakthrough and just become artistic-- I get spurts every now and then, but I need a little nudge.

My eyes are always open for new sources of inspiration, but I confess that few of my ideas are ever original. Usually I just see something cute in an over priced boutique and say "I could totally do that." Sometimes I try... but most of my ideas are usually filed away, never to be brought to fruition.

Today, I just happen to stumble across this website, and was filled with inspiration.

When I saw these brilliant lunch boxes, I gasped & almost fell out of my chair. Look! They hold little sandwiches, and fold out to make a plate! Have you ever seen anything so brilliant in your whole life??!

Or how about this embroidery?

I think I just might spend the afternoon with my needle & thread, experimenting with new ideas. I've been wanting to try my hand at embroidering again.

I might get to actually become an artist soon, in an art exhibit that our Abolition Workshop is putting on. I pitched my idea for an installation in our up-coming show, and hopefully everyone will like it & we'll actually do it! If not, I still get to rub shoulders with other creative types, and maybe some of their juices will come off on me. =)

Monday, September 22, 2008


A while ago, a friend of mine made a goal to be a "maintainer". I didn't really like the way that sounded-- so status quo, just "maintaining" something, rather than shooting for the stars, you know?-- until she explained a little more.

She said that most people either fall into the "maintainer" cat
egory or the "cleaner" category. Maintainers just work steadily at keeping things-- their house, their car, their figure-- in order; while cleaners wait until they've reached the "enough is enough" stage before taking action.

When it comes to house keeping, I definitely fall
into the latter category, usually waiting until the yellow caution tape has sectioned my apartment off, quarantining it from the rest of civilization.

Okay, it's not that bad, but I will admit that I remind myself a little of Sarah Sylvia Cynthia Stout, who simply would not take the garbage out. I confess that we usually have overflowing "recycle" bags lin
ed up across the kitchen before actually taking them out to be recycled, and that I have to clean up the stacks of dishes leftover from the previous meal(s) before I can eat/make most of the food I consume. I will also admit that we love inviting people over to our house because it forces us to clean up... but that if you peeked into our closet during one of those visits, you might not be able to find to floor.

It's not that I'm a total slob or that I love living in squalor. I really believe that part of it is having such a tiny apartment. In most places, you could come home from a bike ride, set down your bag or your groceries, take off your jacket, and not fill the entire living room/dining room/kitchen in one fell swoop. But not here. That one little activity can tarnish our whole apartment... and you know how it is: one little pebble can start an avalanche. As soon as a few things are out of order, the battle is lost.

Well, I share all of this to say "Rejoice with me, my friends-- I have reformed!". I have turned a
new leaf, and I am working hard to... take baby steps towards... becoming a maintainer. I figure that things like that have to come in baby steps, in order to tackle something so against one's own nature.

So here's my plan (and it's working pretty well, if I do say so
myself). Every night, before we go to bed, we set the timer for 5 minutes, and spend that time cleaning up the mess around us. No, all the dishes don't get washed, and the whole apartment doesn't glisten when we're done, but it seems to hold the chaos at bay for a little bit longer. And the nice thing is that 5 minutes is always doable-- it's just 5 minutes.

It's been about a week, and we've done a pretty good job of staying consistent. We actually came home today, looked around, and said with shock "It's not too bad in here!". What a wonderful feeling. I love waking up in the morning and actually seeing the counter top (again, this sounds horrible, but a few dishes completely overwhelm the poor little thing). I love going to bed and not having to fight a pile of clothes to get under the covers.

Its tough, as a woman, to admit these weaknesses-- like it would decrease my dowry, or something-- but I'm being vulnerable here. I thought I would share my victory & breakthrough just in case there are other non-super-human women out there who could use a little help "maintaining". ;)