Monday, January 28, 2008


I'm not much of an "inventor", so to speak, but I just invented something pretty amazing-- and I'm going to share it with you (along with another wonderful invention that came to me a few months ago). They are both recipes, and they will make you happy...

Masochistic Popcorn
(you're intrigued already, I can tell)

  • Pop about 1/2 cup of popcorn in an air popper.
  • Add 1 Tbs butter
  • Squeeze 1/2 a lime
  • Sprinkle about 1 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • Sprinkle 1tsp or more salt (to taste)
  • Mix everything around & gorge
As I said, I just invented this, and although I was coughing, sneezing & had a runny nose (from the cayenne pepper), I could not stop eating it. My lips are burning, but in a good way. Yuuummm...

The Elle
(This is pink, girly, fizzy & fun. I named it after Reese Witherspoon's character in Legally Blonde. I would accept other name suggestions, though)
  • Pour 1 shot Gin into a highball glass with ice
  • Add a few dashes of Bitters
  • Squeeze in 1 lime (or more)
  • Fill glass with Blood Orange Soda (Trader Joes sells it)
  • Stir, and drink with a chick flick or while gossiping about boys. Don't worry, men can enjoy it, too, without losing any testosterone
Note: Even people who don't like gin love this drink. It helps me to make friends when people come over to our place-- and friends are hard to come by 'round here.

It just so happens that I enjoyed both of these lovely inventions together. The Elle helped to squlech the fire of the Masochistic Popcorn. Enjoy!


Just a little update on my autobiography assignment: After blogging, journaling, thinking, musing, and even (I confess) a little crying, I came up with my "story". I have to say, it was really hard work, and I had to dig really deep. I was surprised to find how difficult it was to write a story about myself from someone else's point of view that was good, affirming & positive.

Without really realizing it, I borrowed from John Steinbeck's style of writing. Every now & then, he will interrupt his story with a 1-2 page chapter that kind of pans back from his characters and speaks about life or truth or courage. Although those chapters may not directly mention his characters, they are about the story they are telling, and are the voice of the narrator telling his audience of some deeper meaning of life. The story that I wrote was not about the details of my life, but about the inner story that was being told along the way.

I read it on Wednesday (with a slightly shaky voice-- it was so personal!), and got some really encouraging feedback. It was wonderful hearing everyone else's stories, too. What a beautiful assignment, and how healthy & even therapeutic it is to write about your own life. I think you should give it a try. Go ahead-- right now, think about what you would write...

ps. If you would like to read it, let me know & I will email it to you-- it's a little long for a blog!

pps. My next task (which was self-appointed) is to write the story of my life-- or what my life would have been-- if I had never known God. I have always been a little envious of those people who had amazing stories of life changing conversion. I realized, though, that I still have a story like that-- God just rescued me from it before it happened. I think it will cause a lot of gratitude to grow inside.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dangerous Minds

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. Dangerous thinking. The kind of thinking that I just know, five years down the road, will find me in prison. I know, you're scared-- I'll explain. The thoughts that keep running through my mind almost seem like they are planted there by some outside force: whispered to me as I sleep, or injected into my mind as I read or walk around our neighborhood. The thing is, I'm pretty sure these thoughts, these ideas, emotions & tugging on my heart strings aren't coming from me, they're coming from God. And if you've ever had crazy thoughts that you're pretty sure are coming from God, you know they are the most dangerous kind.

When I say this kind of thinking will land me in prison, I don't mean doing hard time for drug dealing (all though we sure could use the cash), I'm thinking more along the lines of prison visits. I mean getting to know the thugs in our neighborhoods, hanging out with the teenagers on parole staying at the ministry house nearby, and working with glue sticks & pipe cleaners at after-school tutoring centers.

Back in the day-- a hundred years ago, when I was a bright eyed, idealistic college student-- I
had this very strong passion to save the inner city. Okay, I knew I wasn't actually going to save it, but I was really very serious about moving into the hood, loving some inner city kids, and bringing hope & restoration to their lives. I saw myself growing old, sitting on my front porch in Compton, with homemade cookies for all the neighborhood kids, and knowing them all by name.

So I graduated, moved to Compton (technically Lynwood, nestled between Compton & Watts), and stuck it out for 4 fairly miserable years of feeling like a failure, but not willing to admit defeat. When Chris rescued me & whisked me away to San Francisco, my dreams of the inner city were a little fuzzier, and it took me a little over 2 years before I realized that my little candle of passion had burned out somewhere along the way.

But then, sometime around Christmastime, those crazy, dangerous thoughts started coming into my mind. Honestly, they sprouted their little heads when Chris & I were thinking about quitting and leaving this whole Campus Crusade thing. Everything is changing, and it turns out that Chris & I will be the only ones left in San Francisco from our little Band of Brothers. Realizing that significant change in our lives (and our jobs) was a huge loss... but somehow, alongside it, came this little bud of hope & courage & vision that I haven't felt for a while.

It looks like in the Fall, we will be our own bosses, and will have the freedom to dream & experiment & do whatever we want. The big question, of course is "What do we want?" The more I dream & think & explore, the more I return to those desires from back in college-- but with less idealistic passion and a little more cautiousness and healthy respect, knowing just what a move like that could cost.

The beautiful think is that we don't have to move. We can stay here in the neighborhood we love-- we would just start living differently, spending our time differently, and giving of ourselves more freely.

I actually spent two days this week-- one of them being a Saturday!!-- out in Oakland listening to talks & seminars on inner city ministry. It's been a long time since I have surrounded myself with people like the ones at these seminars. These are the kind of people who are risking and giving more than I have even thought of risking or giving for a long time. It was inspiring & challenging, and made my heart beat a little faster in fear, anticipation and the excitement of what could be. And it just felt right. Although I felt out of place, it was strangely like coming home, too.

I don't know where these crazy thoughts will lead me, or what life will look like a year from now, but somehow it seems like my feet are on a path they are supposed to be on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Writer's Block

I dragged Chris into this Creativity Workshop every Wednesday with this very post-modern emergent church group nearby. They do really great stuff, and (despite the fact that I was exhausted when I went last week) I enjoyed our first meeting.

Last week, we were given a bunch of random objects and were told to make something creative with them. Chris came up with a little man with a parachute. Keoke made a gas mask. Another girl made a crown. Mine was a little hard to describe, but it was rich with very personal meaning and I was bummed when I had to share with the entire group about it.

It's not that I am a private person, or that I hate talking in front of groups. Part of the discomfort was that this little group of Christians is really cool, in a way that I can never hope to be cool.
They're Beat Poet cool. They are actual artists & musicians. They shop at thrift stores and have dreadlocks and don't bathe regularly because-- well because they don't have to. They're that cool.

I hate to paint them in the wrong light. The
y are very sincere, loving people. They love God in ways that challenge me, and they love each other generously. They just intimidate me ever so slightly. I think it's because I have always wanted to be artistic and edgy, but despite my nose ring & tattoo & red funky hair, I still shop at the Gap, and the extent of my artistic creativity lies in a blog and a few mediocre necklaces I've made.

Anyways, I digress. Our assignment for this week is to write a 1-2 page vignette about our lives in the third person. I think the idea is that when we take a step back and look at ourselves as an outsider or a narrator, we take off those harsh, self-critical lenses, and we can see our lives as a story that is good & full of meaning.

At first, I thought this would be great. I am much better at writing stories than at making creations out of cloth & plastic. But now I'm stuck.

I know tha
t I have great stories to tell-- and I love telling them. The story of God bringing Chris & me together is amazing. I loved telling the story a few weeks ago about our old house and the meaning it had in my childhood. There's the story of me moving to the inner city, and getting chewed up & spit out, and learning to believe in myself again. There are so many things to tell.

I'm realizing that the hardest part for me is that (in my mind) all good stories are circular. They are the kind of story with a good ending that brings you right back to where you started, and tell you something about life, or show you how the character has arrived at some conclusion or reached a destination.

But I am not that character. I am still working on the ending-- so how can I write one? I am torn between wanting to write a story about the fairy princess who overcomes great obstacles and finds happiness at the end, or writing about myself like Nicholas Cage in Adaptation ("He sits down to write again: fat, pathetic, balding...").

I know that most characters are complex-- both a hero and a coward-- and that the good stories explore those complexities. But for some reason, it is so, so hard to do when writing about oneself. Especially when one is sharing it in front of thirty cool, hip, artistic types-- who probably wrote their stories in iambic pentameter.

I need your help, friends. What should I write about??

Monday, January 21, 2008

Back in The City of Love

Well, we're home, and I love home. This weekend was pretty close to perfect-- with the small exception of a disturbing movie we watched Friday night that I haven't been able to get out of my head (called Mr. Brooks. Yuck). But, besides said movie, our weekend was delightful.

After finally making it to bed Friday night (and clearing my head of graphic scenes of a man getting stabbed in the neck
by a pair of scissors. Again, no need to ever watch that movie. Yuck), I drifted off to sleep at midnight, and didn't get out of bed until 11:30 the next morning. It was like I was 15 yrs old again-- delicious! Chris & I took Gavin to our favorite hiking spot in Pacifica, and for some reason the San Francisco winter lifted for an afternoon, leaving behind a perfect warm spring day.

On our way home, we spent way too long and too
much money at Target, and decided we were just too hungry to make dinner. The only reasonable solution was to order the tastiest burgers in all of San Francisco (Big Mouth Burgers), bring them home, and gorge ourselves while watching our newly purchased DVD (Mean Girls. I love that movie). I had forgotten just how truly wonderful Big Mouth Burgers can be. If you live in SF, you should go there immediately. If not, you should visit and we'll take you there. =)

After church on Sunday (which was great), Chris & I rode our bikes to Union Square and wandered around, people watching. We sat at a window table at Citizen Cupcake, on the top floor of the Virgin Records store on Market St, drinking Illy espresso and eating chocolate cupcakes. The people watching from up there is incredible-- as are the cupcakes & espresso. It was perfect.

I felt great after the invigorating ride in the cold (isn't it funny how you can be hot & cold at the same time?) with my new bike helmet (okay, the helmet felt dorky, but for once, I wasn't afraid riding around the City). We took Gavin for a walk to the park just as it was starting to get dark, when the sky is not quite black, and not quite blue, and we watched the stars come out and wispy clouds sail by in the strong wind while Gavin sniffed around and acted angelic.

Chris made a super yummy cheese pizza and I made a super yummy salad, and after cleaning up a little, we made tea, plopped on the couch, turned on the portable heater, and read Eas
t of Eden together.

We decided to take today off, since we worked through the weekend last weekend, and finally get our lives in order. We woke up early this morning so Chris could get out for a bike ride, but the
storm beat us to it, and we drifted back to sleep with the wonderful sound of rain against the window. I woke up again to the sound of construction in the vacant apartment above us, and I swear, someone is going to fall through the ceiling soon & land in my lap (which would be uncomfortable on many levels).

So now, the plan is to sort through a month's worth of mail & email,
organize our "office" (cleverly disguised as a tiny closet in the living room), finish cleaning up & plan for the rest of our busy week. It's a perfect rainy day to stay at home in my Pj's get ready to live my life again.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Home Stretch

Only 3 more hours to go...
We have been traveling for one month now. We just got home late Tuesday night, and started three days of staff meetings. Yikes.

Last week we were in Texas for a conference (working through the weekend), and before that, we were touring Southern California-- doing laps around Orange County, zooming down to San Diego for a conference, trekking out to LA, San Bernardino, etc, etc.

The first morning we were back, my alarm went off, and I couldn't figure out where I was or why I was waking up. That first day was exhausting, but I am slowly getting acclimated. Last night, I cooked dinner for the first time in a month. It was wonderful.

But what I am really looking forward to is 4pm today, when our meetings are officially over, and I can unpack the suitcases that are strewn around the living room, do laundry, go to the grocery store, pick up a month's worth of mail, and put our apartment back in order. I know that may not sound wonderful or relaxing, but all of those tasks mean that we are getting our lives back. Ahhhhh...

Tonight, the plan is to watch a movie, eat Chris' famous homemade pizza and just veg on our couch. The rest of the weekend will consist of hiking, biking, eating Pho at our favorite Vietnamese dive, sleeping in, and going to our church that we've missed so much. Oh, to eat what & when we want, to have a regular schedule, work out, have our own space, and be in the city that we love again. It all sounds so wonderful-- I just have to make it through a few more hours of meetings. Don't worry, we're on a lunch break right now-- I'm not pretending to take notes while blogging. =)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Deadly Marula Fruit

[I wrote this a few days ago and forgot to post it!]
For Christmas every year, Chris receives some form of fancy liquor from my family. I'm not sure what that says about my family, or about what my family thinks of my husband, but he's happy about the tradition, none the less. This year, Chris got his usual (and much appreciated) overly-generous bottle of Patron from my brother, as well as a new type of liquor than none of us had ever heard of, but looked interesting: Amarula.

It turns out that Amarula comes from the fruit of a marula tree-- a very special kind of African fruit that falls to the ground every summer, ferments, and gets all those noble safari animals drunk out of their minds. Before trying Amarula for the first time last night (it was really good-- kind of like Bailey's Irish Cream, but with a slight citrus taste), we found this video of drunken African animals. My favorites are the ostrich that looks like a drunken sorority girl in heels and the monkey hangover the next morning. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

Earlier this week, Chris & I found ourselves in a sweet, nostalgic, and almost magical place: a little city called Altadena, where we grew up only a few blocks from each other.

My family moved to Mission Viejo when I was seven,
but prior to that, there was a Golden Age in Altadena-- before I knew about the existence of things like responsibility, public school, track homes, or divorce.
In Altadena, there was sunlight and long walks and crickets singing you to sleep on warm summer nights, big back yards, and castles made of wooden building blocks. I can't think of a memory in Altadena that doesn't involve sunlight... except during Christmas when we visited the Balian Mansion and Christmas Tree Lane.

Now, the Bailian Mansion is like a cross between something out of Elf, and Christmas Vacation, but is every little kid's childhood Christmas dream. It is a big gaudy mansion, absolutely frosted in Christmas lights, with nativity scenes galore, cardboard cut outs of Santa flying with his
reindeer, and church music blaring from a loud speaker. I don't really know how it started, but I know that for at least 30 years now, this wacky family had been building a beacon of light for every Altadenan (literally-- you can feel it's glow for blocks).

Christmas Tree Lane sounds a lot more fantastic than it is-- but it still holds a very special place in my heart. It is simply a street lined with gigantic pine trees that gets clumsily draped with those big, old fashioned Christmas lights every year. But I can remember driving up Christmas Tree Lane, holding my breath and looking above in silence at the hypnotic lights as far as the eye could see. The street is almost completely dark except for the Christmas lights, and even now, it has a mystical, trippy sort of effect as you drive through it.

Not only did Chris & I get to drive up Christmas Tree Lane and stroll around the Bailian Mansion (places he visited as a child, as well), but we also saw my old house.

From the front, it was a small, yellow, one story house with a white picket fence and a huge tree out front. That tree would change colors in the Fall, and I would run and jump in the piles of leaves as my parents raked them up.

If you followed the drive way down the side of the house, you passed 4 huge avocado trees that always had fruit (something very special for a Guatemalan before black beans & avocados were trendy). The driveway continued down behind the house, revealing a wide back yard, with lemon, orange, apple, and plum trees, and well as a sunken vegetable garden where we once grew a sunflower that was taller than me, sitting on my Dad's shoulders. There was also a half-court with a basketball hoop, impossibly tall for my little arms, where many a piƱata lost it's life during Birthday parties.

The best part of the house, though, was the Breakfast Nook, and I capitalize it because... well, it should be capitalized. The Breakfast Nook was an octagonal room, made almost completely of windows that jutted out from the back of the house, looking out into the yard, and (as I remember) a view of the whole world. That room was sunshine, with a glass table and white chairs where we would eat, and window sills that we coaxed blue jays onto with peanuts and watched them hop around, unafraid.

To me, that house holds all the Good things that childhood should be about. And I am glad that we moved before awkwardness, adolescence, divorce, and brokenness set in to my little mind. It is a beautiful and powerful thing for Innocence and Freedom from Worry to have an address. Even if I can't go inside anymore, I am glad that every now and then, I can drive past it and say hello.

Ringing In The New Year

Today has been glorious. In fact, yesterday was pretty wonderful, as well. I think between the 2 days, I have gotten almost 20 hours of sleep, and have burned about 50 calories. I slept in, read a Martha Stewart magazine cover to cover, ate waffles, watched every movie trailer I could find online, polished off a veggie platter left over from a family reunion, watched The Devil Wears Prada, and drank champagne (not necessarily in that order).

It's not that we didn't have fun & exciting New Year's Eve options-- it's just that after all the Christmas revelries, we simply couldn't handle any more.

Chris & I came down to SoCal about 2 1/2 weeks ago, and realized yesterday that we hadn't once slept in. We have been scurrying around, doing laps around Orange County (sometimes branching out to San Bernardino, LA, and San Diego as well) visiting relatives, Christmas shopping, attending family reunions, and doing a little work here & there as well. Not the best way to spend your vacation time.

We finally landed yesterday, after a trip down to San Diego, where I spoke at a conference, and were so wiped out that I could feel my insides screaming "No More People!"

I cannot express in words how wonderful it feels to simply do nothing. It will be getting dark in about an hour, and I am still in my PJ's, and haven't left the house once. And it feels so, so right. I am soaking in laziness until my fingers get pruny.

Here are some discoveries I have made in the last 2 days:
  • There's nothing in the theater worth watching... except maybe, if I had a 10 year old daughter, I would take her to see Enchanted. Have you seen the trailer? It looks adorable.
  • I miss cooking. Yes, there has been a lot of Christmas baking, but I miss everyday dinners at home. It's not the same living with your in-laws. Martha inspired me to make spaghetti squash and homemade bread.
  • Alone Time is therapeutic and sometimes needs to come in large doses.
  • New Year's Eve parties are over rated. 2008 came in just fine with us on the couch watching a movie.
  • I love being around my family. Yesterday was the first lazy-day I have spent at home (we have been staying with the Kernaghan's because of the mangy mutt). It was nice to just sit in a quiet house, chat about unimportant things, and not have to fit in a million activities.
  • I have lost all ability to type (I think I have hit the "backspace" key more than any other as I write this), as well as any creative spark that I once had. My brain must be melting, or something.
  • It is possible to make it through New Year's Day without seeing a single Rose Parade float, or even glimpsing at a football player. This is a first for me, and I don't feel that I am missing anything.
  • That weird song that you sing on New Year's Eve is called "Auld Lang Syne" and it translates (from an old dialect in Scotland) to "Times Gone By". It is a promise to remember people of the past with fondness. I feel better about singing it now.
  • I have just about everything in the world that I could want. Except a car that works-- but besides that, I feel completely content and at peace.
It's been a good New Year's.