Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I led a deprived childhood-- a tortured existence, if you will. Being cursed with an active mind, a talkative mouth, and a small appetite, I was always the last one at the dinner table... the martyr left alone to stare down the lonely vegetables, like some shoot-out scene in an old Western. Tumble weeds blew through the dining room, silence hung thick in the air, and still that slimy cooked spinach stared back at me with a look that could put a lump in my throat.

I don't know why I didn't just shovel those vegetables down first,
or why I didn't disguise them in my mouth along with a bite of meat. I distinctly remember the gagging sensation that came from chugging down spinach with a glassful of milk. It was always long after everyone had left the table, and the memory of the rest of the meal had long since faded from my palette.

I've always been a hopeless procrastinator-- waiting to write papers until the last minute, saving the unsavory To Do's on my list until last, and cramming everything in at the end with a quick "Please, God, let that work". I know that turning a blind eye to the things I don't want to do does not simply make them disappear, but I admit that my first tendency is to stick my head in the sand and pretend everything's fine.

Not to push the metaphor too far, but I have definitely had a lot on
my plate this year... and now that the school year is over, and things are winding down, all that is left on that big empty plate, staring back at me like a lump of spinach, is a fate worse than vegetables... Fund Raising.

Let me interject here that I LOVE my job. There really is nothing in the world that I would rather be doing than what I am allowed to do right now. However, there is one part of it that feels a little bit like being stuck at the table at the end of the meal, and that is raising my own funds. Ah, the joys of working for a non-profit.

Really, fund raising isn't that bad. For the most part, it is one of those faith
-building, stretching, maturing experiences that I am grateful for, in hindsight. I don't think that I would have the same level of appreciation and gratitude if I simply received a paycheck from a company every month. In a lot of ways, fund raising is similar to the discipline of eating your veggies-- something that seems unattractive at the time, but builds you up over the long haul.

Today, I could feel the siren call of avoidance... and I could tell that Chris felt it too. We would each drift off into our own little distractions, waiting for the other to pull us back into reality and talk about the phone calls that needed to be made, the appointments that needed to be set up, and the money that needed to be raised. It's a humbling, uncomfortable process, and one that's difficult to dive into.

Finally, we took the dog to the park, and huddled together on a bench, hunched against the cold, San Francisco summer wind. After spending some time praying and bolstering each other up, preparing for the task at hand, we came home and gave it a first stab.

Alright, I admit it: we did all the easy things on our Fund Raising To Do list first-- but at least there is a list, and several items were crossed off today. I chose to rejoice in the little accomplishments. And the best part is that the ball is... ever so slowly... in motion.

Ironically, now that I am a "grown-up", and can choose ice cream or veggies for dinner, I [almost always] choose the vegetables. I love them, and I feel so much better when I eat healthy. I don't know if I will ever have those feelings towards fund raising (if I do, please check my temperature), but I'm at least taking steps towards health.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Natural Disaster

I believe, from many life experiences, that God created Woman with a special kind of strength to withstand tragedies, disasters and hardships. From the pain of death to the pain of childbirth, we are resilient little creatures-- Steel Magnolias, if you will.

However, there is one disaster that few women can bear with dignity and grace, and that is the trauma of a bad haircut. And sadly, my friends, that is my cross to bear. One moment, I was engrossed in a fascinating conversation about Thailand (the stylist had lived there for 2yrs), the next thing I knew, I was BALD.

Just before entering into said conversation about Thailand, we had talked about leaving my hair a little longer for summer. "Definitely!" she replied to my desire to be able to pull my hair back during the warm summer months. Then, suddenly, it was all gone. I had become Mary Lou Retton. Forget pulling my hair back-- it was time for solitary confinement.

I was so shocked, I didn't know what to say. What can you say? She was holding scissors-- it's not like she can put it back at that point. The only thing in her power was to take more off... and there wasn't much left to take. "Wow! It's so short!" I said through a tight smile, thanking her and slinking shame-faced out of the salon.

Chris greeted me with the proper husbandly response: You look fine; I love you no matter how you look; it'll grow back; you're always beautiful. I am ashamed to say it, but I couldn't sleep that night. I lie there, feeling my exposed scalp on the pillow, wishing I was pregnant, because I had read somewhere that hair stays in the growth cycle during pregnancy. Growth-- yes, that's what's important here.

Thankfully, the sun also rises, and haircuts are never quite as bad the second day. It's true that my bangs are little more than peach fuzz, and I might be mistaken for Chris in the back... but at least my friends have been able to keep a straight face while talking to me. I even got a compliment from a tattooed, pierced-up punk rock couple who yelled across the crowded waiting area at a pizza parlor that they loved my hair. Funny.

What really surprised me, though (besides the mirror) was the fact that something like a haircut could upset me so much. I would like to think that I am enough of an adult, and secure enough in my identity to keep my cool through a few rough weeks/months of a funky Do.

To be honest, though, insecurities often buzz around my mind-- negative thoughts, like a big, ugly housefly that you can't shoo outside and can't quite ignore. When I am plagued with "The Gollum Voices", I try to ask myself, "Would people really love me more if I weighed 10lbs less, if I didn't look a little old & tired today, if my abs were toned or my hair looked better?"

I know the answer to that question. I know that my Creator, my husband, my friends & family love me as I am. I know that people might notice my imperfections-- they might even judge me for them-- but it doesn't change my worth or value. I know all these things in my mind, but so often, my heart and my head lie miles apart.

In the end, the problem isn't really a bad haircut-- even though I do
look a little like a hasidic Jew (minus the beard)-- I know that it will grow back and that it's really not that bad. The problem is something a little deeper, and will never be fixed by losing weight, looking beautiful, or having the perfect exterior.

It is something I am straining to grow in-- to believe about myself and the world around me: the quiet confidence that comes from a place of love & acceptance and feels at home in my own skin. It is a simple, beautiful thing, but it isn't easy. So I keep moving forward in awkward jerks & starts, wanting to grow, but unsure of my progress.

The first step might be to stop complaining about my haircut. Like I said: simple, but not easy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Peals Before Swine

I admit it: I talk to my dog. I know that he doesn't understand me, beyond the simple Sit, Stay, NO!, come here, and Good Boy-- but I talk to him, none the less. I try to explain to him that I am terribly sorry that he can't go for a walk yet, or that he doesn't have to hide under the table when we come home, or why he doesn't have to be afraid of the fireworks outside.

He looks at me with understanding eyes, as though his thoughts were bursting out in attempt to communicate back-- but no matter how much his expression might reveal understanding, I know that all he hears is "Blah, blah, blah Gavin, blah, blah, blah, park."

I spent much of my weekend feeling a little bit
like our clumsy, dumb oaf of a mutt, as I tried to blend into the background, smile and nod with understanding, and swirl my wine glass without spilling. That's not at all to say that I did not enjoy our jaw-dropping weekend in Napa Valley (and Hidden Valley, and Pope Valley)... it's just that I knew how very undeserving & out of place I really was. The expression "Casting pearls before swine" came into my mind often.

Confession: I am almost completely ig
norant about wine. I know that I like some of it, that I don't like others, and that Two Buck Chuck is something to laugh about with an air of disdain & superiority (and then quietly slip into your Trader Joe's cart and say it's for cooking). I am a bit like a dog trying to understand their owner when I'm around the wine savvy, hearing words that I know but don't quite comprehend, and trying with all my might to grasp meaning.

Since moving to San Francisco, I discovered that it is very uncouth to lack understanding of wine-- and as one who subscribes to Bon Appetite, Cook's M
agazine & Martha Stewart Living, and is fairly passionate about food, I find this embarrassing & unacceptable. Ah, the life I lead.

Since my step-sister married a wine maker and moved to wine country, I have brushed against the upper echelons of the wine world-- and this weekend, sat down to dine with them. The only word I can think to describe my current state is Satiated. My mind is full (swirling with details about wine making & tasting), my heart is full ( from all the beautiful scenery & experiences), and my belly is... stuffed (I don't think I will ever be hungry again).

I have been searching for ways to describe the weekend Chris & I spent wi
th my parents at my step sister's home. I am tempted to tell every interesting story, to paint every beautiful detail, and to draw you into every lovely experience... but I know that it would be a bit like Gavin's attempts to communicate his thoughts to me through his little doggie eyes.

Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves pulling up to the gate at Palmaz Vineyards-- a small, family run winery where we had reservations for a private tour of their $100 million, 15 story-deep wine caves. After parking, and stepping out into to 100 degree heat, we were casually introduced to Florencia Palmaz, a friend of my step sister & her husband from their boccie ball team-- the founder's daughter, and the most interesting, lovely, gracious billionaire I have ever met.

She showed us around the Willy Wonka-esque cave, deep underground, through a maze of wine
barrels, giant shiny rotating vats of wine making equipment, and information that made my head spin. It wasn't until later, after touring other wineries, caves, and vineyards that I understood how truly special and extravagant this winery was.

We sat down to a gorgeous view in her office, as she passed around wine bottles and dropped juicy tidbits of family history (their immigration from Argentina, battles between feisty, spunky parents, etc) and thr
ew out phrases like "Since you're in the industry, I'll tell you that...". Much to my horror, I had accidentally chosen the spot next to her at the elegantly set table, complete with at least six different wine glasses & gourmet hors d'oeuvres, and tried to curb my blank stares, fumbling swirls of wine, and complete ignorance of how spectacularly perfect each sip of wine was.

After our intimate tasting, she pulled out a set of keys, and walked over to what looked like a maintenance door saying, "This is not a part of the winery, but is my father's personal collection". My mouth fell open when we walked into a car museum, complete with the car the entire family had raced (including the little Hot Tamale of a mom who popped her head into Florencia's office earlier to ask if we had seen the two guests she had lost in the wine caves), and the first Porsche to win Le Mans (which Steve McQueen made a movie about).

Despite my ignorance of both wine and race cars, I knew enough to know that what I was experiencing was truly special.

The rest of the weekend was a caloric blur of incredible food, tasting & touring with personal
friends/wine makers, driving through beautiful scenery, and playing with the dogs at Hidden Valley Lake. Our last vineyard stop was up in the mountains, off the beaten path, overlooking a breathtaking view, and talking with the winemaker's wife about the wild boars, bears, porcupines, & coyotes that roamed around the property-- outside the tent that their family was temporarily living in while they finished construction. Quite the opposite picture of our first winery, but equally interesting, delightful and enjoyable.

As I sit here Monday morning, I don't know that I will ever want to eat again-- and definitely have had my fill of wine for a while. There was a moment inside one of the beautiful wine caves when I just couldn't taste another sip or take in another fact. It reminded me of our safari a few years ago: While sitting in front of a pride of lions on a huge rock pile, Chris' mom quietly asked, "Do we have to look at anymore lions?" As amazing as it was, after seeing 30 lions, and sitting in a hot, dusty car for 5 days, she was done with "amazing".

And that is where I am right now, in my messy apartment-- full of good food and contentment, smiling at my two beautiful bottles of Palmaz (graciously purchased by my parents) and happy to be home. Our pup, Gavin, has not yet emerged from the bedroom, and I am sure that his heart & mind are equally full of wonderful memories of the wine country that he got to romp around in. Too bad neither of us can quite communicate our experiences.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I have always had a fairly vivid imagination. Growing up, Anne Shirley (as in the resident of Green Gables) was a close personal friend, Bilbo Baggins was someone I prayed for during bedtime stories, and the classical music played by my parents in the car was the sound track for many adventures of Greek mythology.

Throughout my life, my mind & my imagination has been a wonderful place to live, to retreat to when times are rough, or simply to pad my existence just a bit-- the equivalent of a soft, warm blanket.

And I have a confession: there are many a night when one could find me
lying in bed, concocting elaborate fantasies in my mind. Although I did (regrettably) just see Wolverine the other night, my fantasies are not about Hugh Jackman. They are not about running away with another man, and are not (well, are rarely) about my acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.

During those long weeks in Uganda, as I lie for too many hours to count in my hammock (sick with some sort of exotic ailment), staring at the grass thatched roof above me, I planned out in great detail my 30th birthday party. I thought through about twent
y different menus, dreamed up various floral centerpieces, envisioned my tanned, bony, malnourished self looking like a model in a lovely sun dress, and anticipated the fun all my friends & family would have at the party of my dreams.

I wish I could say that I only indulged myself in such a shallow, unconventional fantasy to pass the time or to help fill my belly with something other than rice & beans (which, ironically, we served at my real-life 30th Birthday party when we got home, after eating it for a month straight). The truth is that most of the time, when my mind wanders off into fantasy land, I am dreaming up the perfect meal, the perfect dinner party, or the perfect BBQ in the park. I supposed that dreaming about comfort food is less caloric than eating it.

Lately, both Chris & myself have been living in a future fantasy called Colorado. Considering the amount of times the word Colorado has escaped our lips over the last few months, one would think that we didn't live in on of the top tourist destinations in the nation, or that there was something truly spectacular awaiting us in Fort Collins this summer.

In all actuality, what awaits us in Fort Collins, CO is the glorious, seductive, bea
utiful opportunity to not be in charge of anything or anyone. We actually get to spend a summer of simply showing up, listening, taking notes, and learning. No contingency plans, no staff meetings to lead, no crisis to fix-- just a lot of BBQ's and dinners to plan. Lovely.

At first, we were heartbroken to learn that our [mandatory] summer assignment
would be taking training classes for new directors, rather than leading another ragtag group of college students back to our favorite refugee camp in Africa. But now-- now I know that God is wiser than I am with my future, that Fort Collins is the place for us... and that I will be throwing a spectacular 31st birthday party (possibly with a Mediterranean menu??) in a darling sun dress, with my favorite friends in Fort Collins Colorado. And I have been dreaming about it for weeks.

It's hard to believe that this school year has already come & gone-- that we survived our first year of directing this messy, experimental ministry without anyone dying or firing us. Honestly, despite the fact that I am slowly running out of steam as we enter our last week on campus, this year has been... a privilege. As we wrap up, I look forward to spending time processing all that I have learned & experienced through this whirlwind. And of course, thinking through the dessert menu at my birthday party.