Born Again

A bit from some writing that I did yesterday, which published here, is completely out of context. However, I think there is a bit of truth in this fragment which came to me as I was walking yesterday…a memory of someone I knew who was born again, and again, and again. And walking along with the muffler drawn up over my nose, I realized where that fit in. So take it for what you will. 

I stepped quickly with bare feet over the hot river rocks which burnt like hell all the way down to the water’s edge. There, I waded in a little ways to soothe my burning feet with the rest of the small crowd at the shallow edges of the river.

She waded in with the pastor, fully dressed. Down, down until they were both in that cold clear water right up to their waists. The hot wind swooshed up the canyon, lofting off the pine branches, rippling her brown hair and his beard, it carried his voice away over the babbling rapids as he bowed his head to pray. I shifted my weight, leaning forward, unable to hear his voice as he called upon Jesus. Two old ladies next to me had not yet wrapped up their conversation about the potato salad needing to be refrigerated. The pastor bent her back into the water, fully submerging her. He brought her up, gasping, in a flash of light, which glinted and danced off the spray of water droplets.

They waded back with her t-shirt hugging her form, showing the lace patterns of her bra against the wet fabric. Standing ankle deep, the pastor let go of her hand and someone handed her a big beach towel in bright tropical stripes. People were congratulating and blessing her, especially the old church ladies who had whispered about her last summer, behind their glasses of ice tea at the community hall barbecue.

“I’ve been born again” she said, her eyes gleaming with a new found semi-maniacal freedom of sin.

And for that day she was, her sins washed away down the river and she stood at the table of community, breaking bread of acceptance with Pillsbury dumpcake…the canned cherries staining the paper plates red.

She had packed up her box of sins and handed it off to Jesus at the National Forest Campground, but Jesus just takes that box and puts it aside for you. He never says he’ll guard it with chains and locks. There is no fence topped with razor wire. He doesn’t keep it in a building with security cameras; he just takes it and puts it with all the other neatly packed boxes of sins. You are free to skulk by any time to pick it back up.

“I am born again” she said. But somewhere in the back of all our minds we knew that it was not the first, or the last time, any of us would be.

The Beatnik’s Daughter Discusses Dinner

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Dinner can be so much, or not much at all. It can be a magical hour where we nourish our families and reconnect around the table, sharing the experiences we had that day. It can be a gathering of friends to laugh and tell stories over food. It can be love, family, history, culture, a sense of place; dinner can connect the past to the future. Or…..it can be rushed and just some sort of energy source to stuff down our gullets while we play candy crush on our phone.

Some research indicates that the dinner hour, that small window of innocuous time, holds tremendous power, upping grades and inoculating its youthful participants against drug use and teen pregnancy. Why? If used mindfully, dinner builds strong community.

Of course, we have all seen the studies on the over use of processed foods leading to health risks, so dinner also, if prepared mindfully, increases health. Physical health lowers long term care costs and increases our sense of wellbeing.

Dinner, that mundane period of each and every day, which so often illicit the response, “oh hell, it’s dinner time already? What AM I cooking?” actually holds the power to building relationships, to good health, to long term cost savings. Crazy, isn’t it? And who says housework is boring and worthless?

Of course, the food can be boring, if not prepared with some inspiration. It can be tedious. It can be monotonous if we have no inspiration to guide and excite. Every freaking day, those people want something on their plates to consume around 6 pm. How much easier to run through the drive thru on the way home from Little League? Yes. Far easier. But, not far more delicious. Certainly not as healthy. Certainly not inspired.

I have a few friends that I count as inspired home cooks. Sure, many of us are good home cooks, some of us are diligent cooks, some of us are unwilling cooks, a handful of us are helpless cooks, some of us are happy cook shamers, but only a very few people are inspired cooks. Those are the tables you come away from, inspired to do better yourself, by the gastronomic EXPERIENCE you just had at their table. Their food delights all the senses. It is smell, it is brilliant color, it unique and living flavor, and is beguiling textures.

My sister, Johanna, is one of these inspired cooks. She truly enjoys the experience; her whole body seems to hum in happiness through the entire process of cooking. The process starts in February in her garden, prepping soil and planting seeds. On a normal Tuesday in July, that dinner process comes through the back door and is washed at the sink, it is chopped and sautéed and danced with to reggae. There is laughter, there is wine, and there is a Golden Retriever to be stepped over. There are fresh flowers on the table….and viola, an hour or so later you are having that dinner experience.  She is the sister who inspired my own salad last night, romaine, diced jicama, navel oranges, and avocado – fresh, happy, living flavor which dances.

My friend, Sally, is another inspired home cook. Her food also starts in her garden. It starts with the soil preparation and it moves through seasons. In the dead of winter that lovely spirit of harvest is opened up and relived, captured in something that was a 6 month labor of love, from seed, to listening to the Mason jar lids pop as they sealed. Sally introduced me to Mooswood Cookbooks and I spent one memorable meal at her home dining on freshly made noodles, with lamb meatballs, and fresh mint sauce. Though it’s been years since I have eaten at her house, the photos of her garden, her food preservation, her lemon curd jars lined up on the counter, all inspire me on facebook.

Our friends, Gordon and Melinda, are inspired cooks. When we all young and poor, our Saturday night entertainment was dinners with friends, where we all cooked a portion of some theme.  They made pad thai, they made flourless chocolate cakes, they made ganaches. They double boiled and they citrus zested. They were unafraid to try things and they were excited by the process. Their excitement for trying new things with food, new flavors, new techniques, is still contagious.

My friend, Sarah, can always be counted on to be roasting a chicken, setting out flowers, creating a salsa.  She uses cooking as meditation, a Zen process to guard against chaos. When the world has gone crazy, at least you can chop, mince, and bake your way to some quiet place, where the flavor and the pleasure of that food has some beautiful predictability. In the midst of crazytown, the table is that safe port in the storm, where everyone comes together and just IS.

My friend, Saundra, is a consistently inspired home cook; I think this is because she loves food, the sensuousness of flavor, more than anyone I know. This is the woman that rolls her eyes in pleasure and can make a recipe sound somehow slightly erotic. Tell me about the coconut cake….slowly. You do WHAT to the egg whites?

My friend, Jennifer, was my partner in a dinner swap when our kids were in elementary school. The concept was simple. We both wanted a healthy hot dinner for our families and we did not want to feed them Chick-Fil-A from a bag on softball night or gymnastic night. So, on the nights my kids had baseball practice and I spent three hours driving and waiting, Jennifer cooked enough for two families. On the night her kids had gymnastics, I was home cooking for both our families. It was the “it takes a village” concept at its best.

I hope we all have those friends in our lives that inspire us to try new things, to stretch and learn. Thank you to my inspired home cook friends, for inspiring me throughout the years. Dinner is a word that means far more than just eating.

Can You Spare an Ear?

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. ~ Dalai Lama
Yesterday, my grown up married daughter in another state, had car issues. Her husband was out of town on business of course; which is precisely when all batteries determine to die, because that is how life works.

I was at a friend’s house visiting when my daughter’s call came in and I decided to answer it. The panic was clear. Her car would not start. She was supposed to be at work. In her panic she could not solve the problem.

“My car won’t start. Listen. Listen……..do you here that CLICKING????????? What IS THAT?????? I am late. WHAT IS THAT????”

“Your battery is dead”

“Oh nooooooo….ooooohhhh gooooood….what am I going to do???”

I made the mistake of taking this question literally, and much like a man, I started systematically coming up with some solutions.

“Well, you don’t have time to wait for USAA to come jump you now.”

“Do you know where his jumper cables are?”

“Is Jill home or is she at work?”

“You could call Mrs. Adams, or Mrs. Adler.”

“Do you have the office number? His boss said to call if you had any problems”

“STOP TALKING,” she yelled into the phone. “Can’t you just listen to me cry?”

And so I did, I listened to her cry into the other end of the phone for a good three minutes and then she took a deep breath and said, “I am going to call Craig and he can come get me on the way to work.”

Sometimes all we need is for someone, God, our mother, our husband, some poor old lady on the bus, to just listen to us cry.

Thoughts from the Top of Maslow’s Precarious Pyramid

I was talking to a friend yesterday about what a tremendous luxury it is to live now, in this period of time, that I have both the time and money to have a tremendous naval gazing, pity party, breakdown. I mean I have been a whiny, self absorbed, mess.  And without the fact that I live NOW, that I live HERE, that I am a woman who can VOTE, that I am a woman who doesn’t have to grow my own wheat or crank my own well water out with a bucket and haul it back to the house, just to feed myself…all these magnificent things converged to make it possible for me to lie on the sofa and sniffle pitifully about my own inner fulfillment.

What a miracle, in the context of human history.

And yet, maybe it’s not so great. Maybe we (the collective American, 2 cars, 2 pets, 2 data plans, 2 master sinks, 2 widescreens, WE) have just reached the top of Maslow’s pyramid and the view isn’t as grand as we expected.

Too much time to focus on what would make you happy, instead of focusing on what you can do for others is a fairly good recipe for being unfulfilled, in and of itself!

A friend sent me a letter a few weeks back. She has felt led to write a women’s devotional and she asked me to share a story of personal suffering that brought about a deeper union with Christ. I have never considered that my own stories of faith were strong enough for anyone else to lean on.

Even though I go to church and I believe in God, I have always felt a little uneasy, like I was an impostor in a room full of true believers. Not really good enough to be sincere. I am sure part of that is rooted in never having belonged to a church or been allowed to go until I was an adult. It still does not feel natural to me and these words and phrases “faith” “ journey with Christ” make sense to me on an emotional level, but I still feel, 25 years later, like I am speaking in a foreign language. They are tentative on my tongue.

However, my friend’s letter of request reminds me that whether we realize it or not, some poor fool may be looking at us as an example. I have been tremendously blessed with a strong loving family, with a wonderful marriage, with friendships made at many different assignments. God, Heavenly Father, The Supreme Being, The Divine Instigator, The Source of all Good, whatever you choose call Him/Her has given me many life blessings…and to whom much is given, much is expected, no matter how off kilter you may feel about life transitions. So onward and upward, step by step, with FAITH, the Divine Instigator will show the way.

God Sends a Boat, a Helicopter, and a Small Airhorn

“But, it isn’t easy,” said Pooh. “Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” ― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 So, having started classes at the university and then getting news that I probably would be unable to complete the program, because of silly military timetables that just go on without ANY regard for what is best for ME, I withdrew, because it did not make economic sense. Next I spent a couple days in the fetal position, crying intermittently on the sofa, feeling immensely sorry for myself and wondering the age old question “What the Hell Am I Doing With My Life.”

I complained aloud to God, for not leaving me a post it note on my fridge detailing Alice’s three step plan to achieve fulfillment. Rude. God and I were on semi tenuous terms as I sulked like an overgrown toddler.

I hiccuped at my enormously patient husband that maybe we should adopt 10 orphaned refugee babies so I once again had PURPOSE.

And my husband said; “Why don’t you write?”

And my grown up daughter said; “uhhhh???? Just write, stupid.”

And my friend Sheldon said, “You should quit school and write and keep us all amused.”

And then I thought about a letter which I had gotten out of the blue from a friend last fall, which had said, “Don’t get a paying job. You are worth so much more to people when you write.”

And I went back and looked at a post a friend had put on my FB wall, after I had posted something semi amusingly bitchy about ABC’s The Bachelor or some such very important pop culture topic. ”I think you could be our generation’s Erma Bombeck.”

Really? Okay. That might be a stretch.

But.

God, is this the post it note on my fridge? Am I the pathetic guy on the house roof during the flood, telling the guys in the boat and the helicopter who offer to rescue him, to just go on and leave because God will rescue him? The one to whom God says after he drowns and arrives in Heaven, “I don’t know what more you wanted. I sent a boat. And then..a helicopter.”

But.

Seriously.

I can’t WRITE. I can’t make myself sit down and write every day. No one is watching me.

“Sure you can” said my husband. “You wrote a 46 page research paper on the influence of public policy on rural economics last semester. And you finished it before the due date.”

“Of course I did. Because someone was grading me and they gave me a deadline and I want “A’s” I WILL kill myself to get an A.  And, besides there is a rubric that the professor gives you which outlines precisely how you can get an A, so it is EASY.”

“So, you know you can write to a deadline.”

“Yes, but you are missing the point,” I argued; “no one has given me an assignment. I have no deadline and no rubric of how to achieve an A. Sometimes I can write to the assignment given to me by some invisible muse, but not often. It’s not like I am on his regular route. He shows up unannounced randomly. Suppose he is busy and my muse doesn’t hand out assignments in this hemisphere this year? Suppose he never shows up EVER again?”

My husband sighed at me.

But.

What if I never finish writing a book? You can’t judge work that isn’t finished. What if I do finish it and it is complete shit? That is simply terrifying. It is far more terrifying and difficult than adopting 10 refugee children. At least to me.

My sister called me. “I’ll be your editor, you send me what you have written and if you don’t meet your page quota I will scream at you. Would that help? Because I can be a real bitch.”

She can be a real bitch. That is tremendously comforting. I will give her that.

The scariest part about writing is that once finished, you have no one to blame but yourself.  I prefer blaming others as a general rule.

I have an idea about what I would like to write, if I could just get over my complete neuroses of abject failure. If I could just show up, day after day, perhaps for a few YEARS and write, without fail until it was FINISHED. If I could continue writing without really knowing if it WAS a miserable failure and if I was wasting my time finishing something that would never see the light of day. Or worse yet, that I would be afraid to have someone read it, because they might think it sucked so horribly that they burnt it in a campfire. Cough.  Not that I know anyone who has done something like that.

I have talked it over with my bitchy editor. She has given me some very good advice, which helped me to lean somewhat more confidently into the anxiety. Today I began to outline my idea.

Then I decided, in the spirit of all self help books and The Secret, to just for a moment, imagine that I had already WRITTEN the book, and I had already done the tedious book proposal. That I had created the perfect pitch, I had already gone through the 300 rejections and finally found someone who wanted it and it was going to be published. And so today, in the spirit of all that is Oprah, instead of writing the first chapter I wrote the credit page:

“This story about my family is a conglomeration of fact and fiction. Some portions have been created with generous poetic license, so as to make them somewhat interesting. Others – the completely unbelievable parts-are all true.  I would like to thank my family for encouraging me to tell our story with my own voice and for reminding me, when I was frustrated by the process that most of our Dad’s stories were complete bullshit anyway.  To my husband, thank you for believing in my abilities, even when I didn’t. Thank you to my eloquent brother, whose note to me when I sent him a photo of my college degree said: “Good. Enough of that shit. Now write.” To my sisters and my grown up kids who are good at yelling and guilting, I could not have done it without you.” 

Pity Party, Table for One!

Not to be too heavy or anything, but do you ever catch yourself washing the dishes and wondering, exactly HOW did I get HERE? And where do I go from HERE? It’s been on my mind lately and I am acutely aware of the fact that God has a weird sense of humor, because if my 16 year old self happened to bump into my 40 something self,  I think 16 year old Alice, might be a little surprised…and perhaps somewhat disapproving. For one thing, 16 year old Alice would have NEVER in a million years have believed her 40 something year old self would own a MOM swim suit.

What a let down.

If we were to time travel back and have a little chat with my 16 year old self, she certainly envisioned something quite different.

So, 16 year old Alice, tell me about yourself and what you have planned for your life?

“Well,  let’s see. About me? Well, my parents are kind of nuts and they don’t believe in money, really, they also don’t believe in the way society has set us up to simply maximize the GDP as my Dad would say. We have a VW micro bus and we eat a lot of brown rice. My Dad is a beatnik that hates the government and big business…and organized religion…and commercialism….and milk.  Yeah, and my Mom hates printed t-shirts, perms, and bad novels. She kept her last name because she’s a Lucy Stoner according to my Dad. What else? Ummmm… my secret boyfriend is Alex P. Keaton? And what am I going to do with my life? Well, I have not totally decided yet, but, I would either like to be a World News TV reporter and live in New York City orrrrrrr I will own a ranch. One of those two things. I would love to have horses and cattle. Or travel around the world, and be on the news every night.”

Yes. Two polar opposite ideas, but 16 year old Alice, was 16, so give her a break. She also bleached her hair out very dangerously with Sun-In, while slathered in baby oil in the noon day sun.

Alice did not know anything about the military, really. Her Dad was old and had a Purple Heart from WWII. But he did not talk much about his experience, other than long diatribes on the dangers of the Military Industrial complex. 16 year old Alice lived in California in a tiny house with one bathroom and 3 little sisters. She surfed in the summer and she lived in a hippy town where everyone wore Birkenstocks and the women wore bandanas around their breasts instead of bikini tops. 16 year old Alice took a political journalism class at the local community college. She wrote studious reports for the County Democratic newsletter on candidates for supervisor and sang into her hairbrush to Wham. She taught her baby sister to moonwalk and really all she knew about the military was what she had seen depicted by the movie Private Benjamin.  That Goldie Hawn sure was cute in her helmet.Image

In fact, I am embarrassed to admit, that at one time 16 year old Alice and her best friend Laura, sat and cried until their eyes were puffy slits and they were surrounded by balls of Kleenex, about how MEAN and STUPID their mothers were. If I recall correctly, their mean and stupid mothers had not allowed them to go to the river with some “popular” boys. 16 year old Alice and 16 year old Laura could not make their mean and stupid mothers understand that they were perfectly responsible and NOTHING would happen. And after trying, unsuccessfully, to plead their case to their mean and stupid mothers, they retired to Laura’s bedroom to weep copiously into her light blue chenille bedspread and plot their earliest possible escape from this hell hole called security. They would run off as soon as they turned 18 and join the Army, like Private Benjamin. There, in the Army, they would be exceedingly adorable in their helmets and fatigues and would eventually marry officers. See?  I told you it was horrifically embarrassing. 16 year old Alice knew nothing about the military except for the badly misleading Hollywood version.

Anyway, some years went by and young Alice became neither the serious and beautiful World News Reporter, nor the rancher with a herd of Herefords.

Alice got married and her husband became an officer in the United States Air Force.  God must have been somewhat moved by the earnest and copious weeping into the Chenille bedspread.

Alice and her husband had 3 children in a 3.5 year time span. The next 20 some years were a blur of moving and getting settled, parenting, making friends, getting ready to move again and doing the whole thing over again.

And just as quickly as those three children came into her life, they grew up, spread their wings and FLEW off to their own very busy and important grown up lives.

Which left, older, more haggard Alice at the kitchen sink wondering, just how she had arrived here and what on earth would she do now with the NEXT 40 years? She has no easily translated to the workplace definable skills. Obviously she was good at organizing, multitasking, and attention to detail, because she had managed to move that many times without LOSING something…her household goods, a kid, the dog, her husband….her mind. But, no one cares about that on a resume.

Older Alice can whip up a meal out of nothing on short notice, but no one is around to eat it anymore. Well, except for that military officer. But she hasn’t figured out how to cook for fewer people, so he is eating a lot of leftovers. He is either smart enough, or kind enough, not to complain. She is not sure which. She has the skills to be a caregiver, but frankly she has wiped enough butts to last a lifetime.

She has some well practiced skills for making snarky comments at the drop of a hat, but she has not seen an ad for someone to do THAT in Craigslist’s Help Wanted. A pity. Because she’s so talented in that arena.  She also knows most of the words from every song circa 1965-1995, and can sing non-stop on a road trip all the way across Texas. But, this is also not a highly marketable skill.

And so here I am older, less tan, and far less blond, at a crossroads, praying for some guidance and annoyed with God for being so silent on the matter at hand. All I am looking for from God, is something simple and direct, like a post it note on the fridge. It should say something like:

“Dear Alice, do THIS to be needed, useful, inherently fulfilled and HAPPY. Much Love, GOD”

You would think, for someone that parted the Red Sea, this would not be a tall order, but, still….nothing.

Are you there God? It’s me, Alice. The one who sings in the car, has rocked babies to sleep, taught kids to read and kissed away booboos for 20 plus years. Is there anything I can do now to be useful, that  I would love, that would also provide a marginal income…and that preferably does not involve butts?

Sarah’s Eyes

Sarah’s eyes are big, brown, and beautiful. The same eyes she had as a little girl so filled with promise. But Sarah never had a chance in life. Sarah’s daddy was a drunk and no one even knew where her mama went. The town looked out for her as best they could. But half the town had no hope themselves.  So, the best they could, was not what a little girl deserved. Now Sarah stands on the porch of the local watering hole, broken from yet another DUI wreck. Arm in a sling, 35 years old and she’s still here. Here in this little town where no one dreams big and no one moves on. Because here, is here, and why go anywhere else to get big dreams broken? Painfully thin and face lined with sadness. She hugs me. I look into those beautiful brown eyes, the same eyes she had as a little girl. How are you Sarah? I’ve been better. They took away my kids. I miss them so much. Poor damn kid with the beautiful eyes. She never had a chance.

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