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.