Sunday, September 27, 2009

Emotional Cooking

I've been trying to figure out what is going on with me lately because I haven't felt like cooking for such a long time. Then my mother passed away and when things sortof settled down I found myself pulling out some old country cooking recipes. I plan out the menus for the week and then come home from work and sort of mindlessly work my way through these recipes.

A waitress once said to me, "Boy you can really throw down some food!" And that's a little bit of what has been going on in my kitchen lately. Sundays have become super soup Sundays - tomato and beef, vegetable, chicken noodle, minestrone. During the week it has been mostly chicken and ground beef - chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, fried chicken, beef and tomatoes with cornbread. Every now and then a dessert of applie pie or a very sloppy and sad looking caramel cake.

On the one hand the cooking has been very mechanical. Following the precise measurement of ingredients and walking my way through it. This removes the creative instinct and good judgment. There is no "being" in the moment with this approach. Sometimes the food is pretty good, other times it is not.

But this has gotten me back in the kitchen again. And I realized as I was reading The Flavor Bible that this has been my way of dealing with my mother's passing. It is as much about tasting with my heart as with my tongue. Making food that my mother made when I was a child. Oh, I can never compare to her in skill, but it's the emotional memory of those times with her that I am looking for. And I'm taking comfort in cooking the food I know.

Soon the mechanics of it will fade out, and I will be back experimenting again. Once again I will pick up the palate of the chef I am seeking to become and the old standby dishes will have a unique twist to them. But for now, I am letting the healing process take place in the kitchen. Tomorrow night's dinner? Chicken in Red Wine Vinegar!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Remembering Mama

Still feeling the pangs of losing my mother and today the lyrics to this song by Ysaye M. Barnwell keep going through my head. Thought I would share them.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms,
You said you'd hold me till the pains of life were gone.
You said you'd comfort me in times like these and now I need you,
Now I need you, and you are gone.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
Since you've gone and left me, there's been so little beauty,
But I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.
Now the world outside is such a cold and bitter place,
Here inside I have few things that will console.
And when I try to hear your voice above the storms of life,
Then I remember all the things that I was told.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I think on the things that made me feel so wonderful when i was young.
I think on the things that made me laugh, made me dance, made me sing.
I think on the things that made me grow into a being full of pride.
I think on these things, for they are true.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I thought that you were gone, but now I know you're with me,
You are the voice that whispers all I need to hear.
I know a please a thank you and a smile will take me far,
I know that I am you and you are me and we are one,
I know that who I am is numbered in each grain of sand,
I know that I've been blessed again, and over again.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Julie and Julia

I saw the movie Julie & Julia last night. Sweet, funny, poignant. I even cried a little but mostly laughed a lot. I loved it.

One moment in the movie between Julia Child and her husband Paul resonated with me. Paul had been grilled by the government (Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? sort of thing). He was questioning whether his work and devotion had been worth it. Had he done anything truly worthwhile? At the same time, Julia was trying to get her cookbook published and after eight years of editing, testing recipes, etc. she was also wondering whether it would be in vain. At the end of that little scene she says something like "Oh, boo-hoo" and they move on.

This little vignette touched me because I have been experiencing some of those same feelings now for some time. Turning fifty last year really just sort of swooshed by and seemed as though it wouldn't touch me at all. But then my mother passed away recently and now I feel as though someone has unloaded a truck of bricks on my head and I'm questioning everything and every choice I have ever made in my life and wondering if I have done anything worthwhile at all.

I suppose everyone at some time in their life comes to that point where they wonder if their life means anything. Has it made any difference at all that I am here on this spinning rock? Will anyone miss me when I am gone? Will people go through my things after my death and look at me with love and affection, or will they just not care at all?

Somewhere deep inside of us is that burning and questioning that we don't utter in public. We bravely face our jobs or whatever is in front of us for the day. "Never let them see you sweat" my boss once advised me. We put ourselves out as a leader in the field. Look at me, look at me, look at me. Promote me, promote me, promote me. And all the while inside there is the little voice that we try not to listen to that says "I'm not worthy. I'm a fake. If only you knew how scared I am..."

I think whenever these feelings wash over me I will think of Julia for a little bit. Her cookbook finally did get published and yes, she changed the world a little bit with it. The next time I'm scared or full of regret or find that I'm turning into a completely self-absorbed whiner, I'm going to say to my self "Oh boo-hoo" and move on. And maybe, just maybe, that will give the courage to move past it and on to something that might change the world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Who Do You Love?

Today I read a very compelling blog post by Bart Campolo about grace, and it probably made me think and ponder more than I really wanted today. To some degree, it made me wonder if I only love the people who are easy to love, or do I make an effort to open my heart to those who aren't so easy to love.

The staff member who bites my head off because she is confused by what seem to be contradictory directions among her peers, the boss who micromanages, the next door neighbor who dislikes me because I don't have the same religious beliefs and on and on. I don't know anyone as difficult as Bart's neighbor, so maybe that also says that I choose to avoid situations where I would have to know someone like that.

It also brought to mind the story of Peter in the Bible, when he asked Christ"Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Must have seemed like a lot to Peter. Honestly, it seems like a lot to me, too. But then Jesus delivered the shocker for an answer, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." Don't you just want to say, "You gotta be kiddin' me!"

I think the reason Peter asked the question goes deeper than forgiving his brother. I think in our heart of hearts we wonder how many times God will forgive us. How many times can God forgive my sins? I know how hard it is for me to forgive....will God be able to forgive my many failings? And really, God, must I forgive the person who doesn't deserve it?

So I think the next time someone lashes out at me, or is rude to me, or hates me for whatever reason, I will choose to forgive them one more time.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Don't Give up Hope

I must write about Brian McLaren, who came to speak at our church yesterday. I confess I have never read one of his books, nor did I really know very much about him until yesterday. I found the discussion very interesting, but maybe not complete just yet. Of course, he is working on a book about the topic and I know sometimes that means you are still fleshing out the particulars in speeches and appearances.

I don't mean to water down the speech, but basically he presented a list of global crises as presented by various organizations, such as the U.N. He then took these global crises and summarized them into four crises which made up the bulk of his speech. I think the call to action was to begin looking at these crises through the lens of Jesus and give them the proper focus. But sometimes a speech like this can make it difficult to move forward.

I find that people quite often feel overwhelmed by crises of this magnitude and sometimes feel as though their little part doesn't make any difference. This is what leads to things like voter apathy, and lack of charitable donations, and a general inability to face the hard truths outside of one's own existence. People need to feel that their efforts will make a difference and they need to be encouraged to keep up the faith. This is where I felt his speech was lacking somewhat, even though he briefly touched on some of the more positive progress that has been made in the last 30 years or so.

So let's take a look at that a little more. Let's talk about Africa for a moment. At the end of the Cold War, there were just 5 democratic countries and now more than half the countries of Africa are democratic. 15 years ago there were thirteen civil wars raging, and now there are just three. And Africa is building on the growth rates that have been achieved as a result of better macroeconomic management. They are taking these resources and increasing their health and education expenditures, which means the number of people living in poverty has leveled off and sub-Saharan Africa's poverty rate has declined by almost 6% since 2000.

On the HIV/AIDS front, a report from the United Nations Population Division titled "2008 Revision of the U.N.'s World Population Prospects" indicated from census findings that there have been successes in reducing child mortality, which in turn could play a role in increasing projected life expectancy. According to Hania Ziotnik, director of the U.N. population, the good news is that new data indicate that the "HIV/AIDS epidemic is not as bad as had been expected." This was particularly true in Haiti.

What about children? UNICEF reports that in 2006, for the first time, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday fell below 10 million, to 9.7 million – an important milestone in child survival. More than four times as many children received the recommended two doses of vitamin A in 2005 as in 1999. All countries with trend data in sub-Saharan Africa made progress in expanding coverage of insecticide-treated nets, a fundamental tool in halting malaria, with 16 of these 20 countries at least tripling coverage since 2000. In the 47 countries where 95 per cent of measles deaths occur, measles immunization coverage increased from 57 per cent in 1990 to 68 per cent in 2006. Rates of exclusive breastfeeding of infants have significantly improved in 16 countries of sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade, with 7 of these countries making gains of 20 percentage points or more.

The point is we cannot give up hope working towards ending these crises. Progress is being made and our efforts do make a difference. We must keep our eyes on the positives and continue to work for the poor, hungry, disenfranchised populations of the world. Please check out some of the following links to find out how you might help.

Christian Foundation for Children and Aging

Childcare Worldwide

International Medical Corps

Elton John AIDS Foundation

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hug a Teacher Today

It didn't take long for our new President to come around and ask for reform in our schools. From my point of view, it is a long time overdue. I have to tell you, I am in a position to know several teachers personally, and they are a hard working bunch. Quite overlooked in the pay department and way undervalued for the services they render.

When you begin to think about how the school environment has changed and the challenges that teachers face coupled with the expectation that America must rise to the occasion and meet the scientific and economic challenges ahead of us, we have put them between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The best teachers in our institutions deserve the best pay our nation has to offer. There is not a single person of any success whatsoever that does not owe part of that success to a teacher along the way. It just doesn't happen without teachers.

I agree with the President that teachers should be treated like the professionals they are. I don't know any teachers that want their students to fail. Just sitting in a group listening to them discuss the challenges they face, you will instantly recognize that they have this super human ability to want their students to succeed. Most of them will hang in there with the student when others gave up on that child a long time ago, including their parents. Yes, I said it.

So today I encourage you to take the time to thank a teacher. Hug them, write them a note, let them know how much they meant to you along the way. And let's get behind the President and help him figure out how to reform the education system without punishing those great valuable angels sent to earth that we call "teachers".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How High the Moon

Nick has had a project for science recently where he has to either draw or photograph the moon. He is supposed to keep track of the weather that day, temperature, whether it is cloudy or clear, etc. This has been going on for about 3 weeks now.

It has had an interesting effect on our household. We are talking about the moon on almost a daily basis. "Did you see the moon yet?" "Where is it?" "What did the moon look like tonight/this morning?" As I take the dogs on their morning walk I find myself looking for the moon. Will it be full, crescent shaped, almost non-existent? Will it be white or will there be some shade of color? Does it have a haze around it, or a ring? Is it behind clouds? Is it high or low in the sky?

I've come to think of the moon as a watchful friend, steady and true. Silent, and yet beautiful. It's bright glow on the back deck at night beckons us outside to take pictures. This is not an easy thing to do and yet Bonnie seems to have some success with it.

Why don't you step outside tonight and take a look at the moon for yourself? It might reawaken you to the glory of the sky overhead.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Spring Renewal

Yesterday we had a gorgeous day full of sunshine and warm temperatures. It was the kind of day that lets you know Spring is around the corner. Neighbors came out of their long winter hibernation. I watched several guys working together to put in some new garden beds of some sort and they were working a large garden tiller. Their wives and children came out to watch and talk. Everyone was happy and seemed to me to be full of hope for the future.

For myself, we made a trip to Lowe's and purchased several bags of mulch and compost, some bone meal, and some pre-emergent crabgrass treatment. It seems like no matter how much mulch we stuff into the little SUV, there is never enough and so another trip will be in order. This is one of my favorite times of the year. I spent a very pleasant afternoon trimming the dead off of our perennials, raking out the debris from the beds and beginning the process of mulching for Spring.

There are always surprises in the garden bed and I think that is one of the reasons I love it so. I love finding the tender green shoots of perennials that are coming back this year. It fills me with hope and reminds me that everything can have a new beginning. I guess it basically restores my faith each year to see these tiny miracles in my garden. The clematis around the mailbox had new shoots of growth much to my surprise. I didn't know it was coming along that far already and so today I will make a support for it of some string that I rig up around the mailbox. All of the neighbors have clematis growing around their mailboxes of different varieties and we really enjoy seeing them when they are in full bloom.

Last year we had snapdragons that came back and we weren't expecting that at all. I guess they grew from the seed pods I had tossed in the bed the year before. They actually did quite well. I love yellow snapdragons because they remind me of buttered popcorn!!!

Yesterday I trimmed back the yellow twig dogwoods and then began digging out one of the dogwoods that we want to move to the back yard because it is not leafing out very well where it is planted now. This was another surprise when I discovered how far the roots had grown out. We bought this thing from Walmart and it was a scrawny little plant and then in no time it became this very large shrub with these big roots. I'll have to have help from a friend of ours to get it out today because I couldn't finish the job yesterday.

I have several more bushes to pull out around the house. We are in the process of building flower beds around the house because it basically had no landscaping when we bought it. This year we plan to put in a rose garden on the sunny side of the house. I'm really looking forward to that because roses are one of my favorite flowers. A little love and care is always rewarded with those beautiful, fragrant blooms.

Come on Spring!!!! We're happy to see you have decided to visit again!!!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

On Positivity

I turned 50 last year and a lot of interesting things happen to you when you turn 50. First of all, I'm going through that phase of life that can only be described as perimenopausal. I didn't understand this at first. I would wake up in the middle of the night sweating profusely, and the lack of sleep combined with other things would make me extremely irritable.

Then on day I happened to be flipping channels and a PBS station caught my eye. Dr. Christianne Northrup was giving a talk on menopause and she was pretty good. So I went out and bought her book The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing During the Change, 2nd Edition. This was very enlightening for me. One particular section of the book stayed with me when described menopause as a sort of rewiring of the body for a better second half!!!! (I'm using my own words, but this was the idea). Since that time every time a symptom crops up I tell myself that my body is being rewired and an interesting thing has happened. For the most part over time the night sweats have stopped and I am sleeping much better. I'm less irritable and feel great.

This leads me to what I really want to write about, which is positivity. I read several articles on the Internet yesterday that were discussing research conducted by some British psychologists that would suggest there is a gene that some people carry that helps them pay less attention to negative things going on around them and focus instead on the happier aspects of life. By doing so, they end up being more sociable and are generally in better shape psychologically.

I felt like maybe if someone took a look at my genes I might have that one, but then I started wondering about the people who don't have the gene. The article suggested they were more prone to depression. And I started wondering what this might mean in terms of having a positive outlook on life. Should we conclude as one psychotherapist has, that having a positive outlook is overrated and just let everyone be themselves?

I thought back to a composition class I took once with a brilliant professor who played piano like a dream. We were discussing improvisation and he explained that it was something he had to work at sometimes as much as 6-8 hours a day. I was shocked that it didn't come naturally to him because he was such a brilliant pianist and I guess I assumed that all people who were that brilliant had a natural inclination for it. I knew that improvisation didn't come naturally to me and until that moment it really bothered me.

So would he have been better served to find an occupation that did come naturally to him instead of working so hard on improvisation every day? Hard for me to say because he had an extremely successful career and was a great influence on many students passing through his class.

I've concluded that while it might be true that some have a gene that makes them naturally predisposed to have a positive outlook, that doesn't mean the rest of the world wouldn't benefit from working at having a more positive stance on things. I believe that positivity brings about change for the better and is well worth the effort.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Robins

The robins have arrived at our front door. They are making lots of happy noises, hopping around the yard looking for nesting material, and eyeing our front porch as the perfect place to build a nest and start a family. I read once that birds in the wild don't live very long and it is doubtful that these robins are the same ones that came to us last year. I don't like to believe that, though. I like to think that they love our house so much they come back to visit every Spring.

Last year we had an egg wreath on the door for Easter. The robins decided to build a nest on top of the eggs and I laughed about it for a long time. It was very cute. Then their babies started showing up on the front porch and we were quick to try to convince them to fly away because we have three cats!!!

The robins bring Spring with them and I love them for it. I hope the babies visit my porch this year. Here is a picture of one of the babies from 2007 on my front porch.