Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Incas Drank Beer and Ate Guinea Pigs

Here are a few things I learned from "our" 7th grade board-display project on food and drink of the Incas:

- A better way to cut and paste using Word. As proficient as I am in Microsoft products, seems that my 12 year old is far better.

- There's a website called IowaFarmer. com, and its main claim to fame is its CornCam, a webcam that continuously watches some farmer's corn grow. The image is updated every 15 minutes.

- There's a website called Wheatmania. com. No, it doesn't feature a WheatCam, but it does have weekly photos of a Kansas farmer's wheat crop, complete with distance and close-up shots of the wheat.

- Incas mainly ate potatoes, maize, alpacas and guinea pigs.

- Incas rarely drank water. Instead, they constantly drank chicha, which was a fermented drink made from corn. In other words, they drank beer all the time.

- Incas invented popcorn. Seems that if they warmed dried corn to the point where it split open, it didn't spoil.

- Incas invented freeze-drying of food. They left small potatoes out to freeze at night at high elevations. Once frozen, they would stomp on the potatoes to squirt out all the water. When they wanted to use the dehydrated potatoes, they would just add water. Sort of like the food astronauts carry into space, and backpackers tuck into their packs.

We're all hoping for an A on our project.

Now that I've found the CornCam and the Wheat Mania crop update, I may next look for the PaintDryingCam. I bet it exists.

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Friday, February 27, 2004

Starbucks Scores Again

A local Starbucks, the one near Borders bookstore, serves sandwiches now. I had one for lunch today, and it was just right...delicious, light and fresh. The one I tried was turkey pesto, made with roasted turkey, a sprinkling of dried cranberries, romaine lettuce and traditional pesto sauce on a French baguette. The perfect lunch with a cup of French Roast.

Not a bargain, though, at $5.25, but Starbucks is not about bargains. These are the marketing and merchandising geniuses who invented the $3 cup of coffee, and sold a zillion of them.

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Monster Migraines and Parents

Had a monster migraine last night, my first in a few years. I used to be a chronic migraine sufferer, but relaxation techniques and Excedrin saved the day. It was brought on by stress and self-pressure over a new writing project. When I realize the attitudes and impulses my parents planted in me (and how they still surface after all these years), I shudder to think how I've affected my own grown children.

But I suppose we all feel that way....

My parents gave me so much. I am grateful. You can only truly forgive your parents their imperfections once you have parented for a while.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Passionate Public Dialogue

Jesus headlines almost every news program today, as He has for much of this past week. He has dominated newsprint, as well. Who was Jesus? Who really killed Jesus? What does Jesus really mean? Christians and Jews appearing on talk shows, debating Jesus and the scriptures. News anchors doing background biblical research to better understand Jesus.

All because of one film. The film's content almost doesn't matter. The public dialogue it has restarted is incredibly exciting and encouraging.

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Something to Ponder

A couple days ago at school, my busy 7th grader selected her social studies special project for next week's open house based on my interests. This morning, she asked me how research was coming along.

Hmmmm......whose project is this?

Another Chambers Gem

I don't plan to fill this online journal with brilliant gems from my 2004 devotional, the classic "My Utmost for His Highest" by Oswald Chambers, but a passage from today's thought is so special.

"The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing the disciples' feet, that is, doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men but count everything in the estimate of God."


Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Gavin Newsom Buys Into Burger King Thinking

Gavin Newsom's name should go down in the annals of American history as one destructive guy. He's the newly elected mayor of San Francisco, the one who chose to ignore state law by allowing the issuance of marriage licenses to same-gender couples. (My rant here is not about gay marriage, although I don't support, it, of course. But that is another blog.) We are a nation of laws, and a law-abiding nation. Laws are the linchpin of the intricate mechanics of our way of life.

We pay our taxes and bills, raise our children to be respectful of authorities and leaders, obey traffic laws, live our lives in obedience for the sake of harmony and the greater societal good. We are a democracy where everyone has one vote and the majority stance is law, albeit interpreted by the judicial branch of government. In a democracy, we are not subjected to the tyranny of one individual opinion....our opinions matter in the collective, as expressed through our orderly system of laws. We elect government officials to enforce our laws, and to legislate new laws as a democratic body. We depend on our elected officials to be law-abiding citizens, just like all the rest of us.

Mr. Newsom doesn't agree with state law that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, so he just ignores it. He knowingly breaks the law because HE doesn't like it. The tyranny of the individual. As a result, 3,000 marriage licenses have been issued over the last few weeks to same-gender couples. Thusfar, Mr. Newsom hasn't been penalized one whit for his civil disobedience. He acts, regardless of legislated state laws....regardless of majority opinion...regardless of any democratic system of governance.

Like the Burger King slogan says, Mr Newsom is having it his way. And why not? After all, there are apparently no repercussions for breaking this law. He makes a mockery of our system of government.

What has Mr. Newsom taught us? Taught our children?

That it's acceptable to ignore laws we don't like. That democratic rules of governance only apply to less powerful citizens. That narcissistic will trumps collective wisdom, if one has enough political clout.

There's a word to describe a society where one need not follow the laws or rules......anarchy.

I say arrest Mayor Newsom for repeatedly and knowingly breaking the law. He should be treated just like the rest of us citizens.

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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Bushes Mourn Death of their Dog?

The Associated Press and New York Times, among others today, carried the headline "Bushes Mourn Death of Their Dog Spot." Spot was a friendly 15-year old English springer spaniel who had suffered a recent series of strokes. Said the White House press secretary, "The President and Mrs. Bush, and the entire Bush family, are deeply saddened by the passing of Spot. A loyal and loving companion, Spot was a beloved member of the Bush family for nearly 15 years. She will be missed."

No mention yet of deep mourning for the more than 500 American soldiers who have died in Iraq in a discretionary war. No mention of sadness for the wives and husbands who have lost their companion, or for the children who have lost a parent in a war started for unclear reasons....bad intelligence info, political agendas, a personal vendetta, perhaps greed and oil.

Just mourning for one of the family dogs.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Courage Unseen and Unlionized

Courage fascinates me. My heroes are usually courageous. I admire courage as a character trait. I know it's wrong to judge others, but I find myself uninterested in those who should act with courage but don't....who stand by and let wrong happen, afraid of the inconvenience or political consequences.

Courage involves action, not just words and feelings. It takes inner strength, and requires the courageous to go against conventional wisdom, popular thought, or great odds. It takes determination, often persistence, and it takes vision. Courage is rarely currency for popularity, great riches or even happiness. Courage is not the easy way out, but it's often the right way.

Courage, like kindness, most often is unseen by other people. It can be courage of convictions...courage to face a demon or disease....courage to take the right but unpopular course....courage to speak out against wrong....courage to take risks for the greater good.....courage to be merciful.

Courage came to mind when I read that 42 years ago today, 40 year old John Glenn Jr. became the first American to fly into space. His tiny Friendship 7 space capsule flew 4 hours, 56 minutes in 3 Earth orbits before splashing down in the Bahamas. Imagine the steely courage it took for any person to take that risky ride in those pre-computer, space pioneering days.

Film actor-director Mel Gibson is courageous in making "The Passion of the Christ," an unvarnished look at the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's earthly life. The Hollywood filmmaking community is notoriously dominated by Judaism, and many are outraged at Mr. Gibson's searing and honest film. Because of the courage of his convictions, Mr. Gibson will have a difficult time finding employment again his profession.

Martin Luther King Jr. had courage, as did Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and Lech Walesa. We honor our soliders for their courage in battle. Christ's disciples and followers were certainly courageous.

I often wonder if those who are publicly lionized for their courageous actions have already received their reward here on earth. It's nice to imagine that God has a special place in His heart for all those whose acts of courage go unseen by men.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


I still astonishes me when the Lord delivers exactly the right message at exactly the right time. My daily devotional yesterday and especially my Bible study lesson (unrelated materials) today "hit the nail on the head," as the saying goes. It's eery and a little scary, sometimes, to be reminded so directly and strongly that He is right here and speaking to me. Yikes...I better listen. :)

Monday, February 16, 2004

No Joy in Angeltown

There's no joy in Angeltown today. Alex Rodriguez, perhap baseball's most talented player, got himself traded to the 800-lb gorilla of a team, none other than the New York Yankees. The Yankees need another superstar like the beach needs another grain of the ocean needs another bucket of water.... like Kobe or Martha need more high-priced lawyers.

This may be the right time to test a novel application of business law's anti-monopoly statutes to professional sports, namely Major League Baseball. An infield with Jeter and A-Rod is clearly an unfair competitive practice.

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Taking the Plunge

Decided to take the plunge this summer to draft my first Christian book. The concept has been floating in my mind for a couple years now, and won't go away. Before summer, I'll write a tight outline, and have time to listen for clever inspiration. It's butterfly-inducing to make this decision....overwhelming almost. I know my fortes are popular culture interpretation and chronicling everyday life, but logic doesn't help with the vastness of self-doubt.

When I was very young...maybe 6 or 7...I vividly remember standing on a diving board terrified to jump into our backyard pool. My brother did it easily, and my parents urged me on for weeks. From the pool decking, the distance between board and pool looked small, no big deal. But it felt overwhelming from board end, looking down into the deep, very deep pool. I can still recall the cold, paralyzing panic that gripped my whole body.

I don't know what finally got me to take the plunge, but after almost a week of pacing back and forth on that board, I closed my eyes, ran and jumped high, hitting the cold water with a cannonball splash.

And it was no big deal. Fun, actually, and refreshing. I belonged there, playing in the pool with my brother and sister.

Time to follow the Spirit and take another plunge. Maybe I belong there.

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Saturday, February 14, 2004

Adventures in Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Yes, there was cake under the strawberry cream cheese frosting, but cake is not the issue. I had to look a long while for any strawberry frosting recipes, and only found a few. Now I know why. Strawberries are a wild card ingredient....they do unexpected things to exacting recipes.

I found the most promising recipe in "the Cake Doctor" by Anne Byrn, a 2003 bestseller. That was my first mistake....everyone knows the best frosting recipes come from mid-20th century cooking icons Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping and the like. Don't get me wrong: Anne Byrn's book is great and deservedly popular. But the frosting world's reliable real deals come from Betty. They're probably the only recipes I actually follow without adding my own intuitive flourishes.

So with a wooden spoon, I blended 8 oz softened cream cheese (please don't use the generic, rubbery stuff) with 8 tbsps softened butter (generic is fine). The recipe then calls for 3.5 cups of powdered sugar, which is a huge amount. Two boxes, almost. I slowly stirred in one 16 oz box of sugar, and things were still looking good. The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, but this is not the season, so I substituted frozen whole berries. Earlier, I set 12 plump strawberries out to defrost for a few hours, and then mashed them to pulp. I stirred part of the berry mash, along with 8 oz more of sugar, mixed thoroughly and cream, sort of. Sherbet may be the better word.

Seems that frozen strawberries are not a great substitute for fresh...all that frozen water. To absorb liquid, one adds dry ingredients, so I blended in 12 oz more of sugar and the rest of the mash, resulting in extremely sweet, pre-frosting. Almost-frosting. Actually, a very good strawberry sauce and topping. And a huge bowl full of it. Huge. So I poured about 40% of the sauce into a separate bowl, which now sits in our refrig, waiting for some Dreyers French vanilla ice cream. To give the remaining now-sauce more frosting texture and to balance the overwhelming powdered sugar taste, I added 4 tbspns more of butter, and mixed (on high setting) to smoothness. Added a touch more sugar to get just the right texture, and decided that this was as good as it gets, for this frosting anyway. My strawberry cream cheese frosting was served on a strawberry cake made from a Duncan Hines mix, enhanced with an extra egg yolk, 2 tspsns of strawberry extract ( fruity cake mixes can taste dull) , and baked for 30 minutes, not the 35 specified by Duncan.

Our Friday Family Fellowship group ate every last crumb, and some raved about the fresh-tasting frosting. Ron told me a few didn't eat all their frosting, though. I didn't eat all mine, either. It was too sweet and slightly gooey, rather like a corny pastel bridesmaid dress. Would have been better with a stronger cream cheese taste and less sugar. And it was just too pink.

Spring will be here soon. It feels like time to move on to lighter, more sophisticated desserts.

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Friday, February 13, 2004

Valentine Wishes

Our 7th grader, Andrea, is not much into the boyfriend-girlfriend idea yet, but she has decided that someday, when a "cool Christian guy" wants to impress her, he would do well to bring a big box of rich chocolates only for her.

I am impressed by an elegant evening at an excellent, quiet restaurant, followed by first-class romance. My ideal is dinner and dancing at the Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, or at The Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles.

Ron's only Valentine wish is that I am happy (which I am), and that he is with me. And a round of golf, if possible.

Have a loving Valentines Day!

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

A Model for Christian Political Leadership

"Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained....Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged....The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourseves and with all nations"

President Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Nopales Cooking Notes

Bought a small bag of freshly-cut nopales at my favorite hispanic market, as my family is open to trying new Mexican dishes. Nopales are the paddles of prickly pear cactuses...chefs skin the paddles, chop and use like other veggies, such as bell peppers or various chiles. They're supposed to be refreshing and slightly sweet.

Raw, the nopales tasted sweeter than exepcted, lemony-limey with pepper tones...more like fruit than veggie. The nopales strips were sauteed in canola oil until tender and light olive green, and seasoned with garlic salt and a touch of cayenne pepper. While simmering, the nopales carmelized far more than I imagined, probably due to the high sugar content. We enjoyed them in warmed corn tortillas, topped with grated cheddar.

Unanimous verdict - We wouldn't have them again as veggie side dish...too sweet and syrupy. They were delicious raw, though, and would be a unique, flavorful veggie dip with carrots, celery, jicama, cauliflower and the like.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Honoring Oprah

Oprah turned 50 this month, and friends gave 2 parties to honor her. Oprah, who gives valuable broadcast time and millions of dollars to help others...50,000 of the poorest South African children, scholarships to the deserving, grants to the charity-minded, homes to the homeless, and a listening ear, warm hug and podium to the unheard disenfranchised. Indeed, Oprah is a woman worthy of being honored.

The first party was luncheon with 50 woman friends at the posh Hotel Bel Air. The women dined at a custom-made "O" (for Oprah)-shaped table, festooned with apple-green linen tablecloths, and topped with dyed-to-match apple-green silk organza imported from India and hand-embroidered with 100,000 glass beads. The sumptuous luncheon was served on porcelain plates handcrafted for the occasion, and rimmed with liquid platinum. The finest wines were served in apple green European handblown crystal. Dessert was an individual cake with delicate floral sculptures for each woman, similar to the 400 lb cake the baker created for Oprah for her private celebration later. Maya Angelou composed a poem for the occasion, California First Lady Maria Shriver read a proclamation from the Governor, and chanteuse Celine Dion warbled a song just for Oprah. It was a delightful afternoon for one of the world's wealthiest women.

The second party was a black tie formal affair at a stunning Santa Barbara estate. The dining room ceiling was draped with 800 yards of fine Italian camel-hued chiffon, and centered with elegant chandeliers imported from Italy for the event. The home was filled with 200,000 orchids, hydrangeas, magnolia leaves and roses from Holland, Ecuador and Hawaii. Each of the hundreds of guests at the 4-course dinner had a personal waiter. The army of waiters practiced for weeks to enable them to perform each dinner task in perfectly synchronized unison. A dance floor was laid over a pool, by divers who spent a week underwater building the foundation right into the pool. The party concluded with Oprah blowing out candles on a 23-karat gold cake. It was a fantasy evening fitting for a queen.

As I watched the 60-minute program devoted to glorifying each tiny party detail, a thought occurred to a televised orgy of opulent excess, servants, gluttony and products made by slave-like labor the proper way to pay homage to Oprah's decades of good humanitarian works?

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Monday, February 09, 2004

Culinary Flattery and Pumpkin Cinnamon Dump Cake

One person at our Friday Family Fellowship group told me he only eats dessert on Friday nights, when he knows I'll bring some marvelous creation. That, my friends, is the sincerest form of culinary flattery. And it will get you everywhere with me, dessert-wise. So will second helpings with a smile.

Last Friday, we all lingered together about an hour over pumpkin cinnamon dump cake. Anyone really can make this delicious dish. Pour directly into a greased 9" X 13" pan the following, in order: 1 can evaporated milk; 3 eggs, beaten, mixing it slightly with the milk, so that it is evenly distributed; 1 cup sugar; a large can fresh pumpkin; and 4 tspsns pumpkin pie spice. Sprinkle a yellow cake mix evenly over the top of the pumpkin layer. Thinly slice a cube of butter over the cake mix layer. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top of it all, and bake for 45 minute at 350 degrees.

Serve with whipped cream and wait a week before you have dessert again. Better to enjoy 1 rich dessert weekly, than to partake of 3 or 4 bland disappointments.

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Saturday, February 07, 2004

Commonplace Things

From Oswald Chambers, "One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized."


Friday, February 06, 2004

Rose Bush Ministry

I pruned my neighbor's last living rose bush. In fact, their second-to-last front yard plant. Yesterday, when driving my daughter to guitar lessons, I rolled the window down and asked Suzanne if I could trim it for her. So I did have permission. They fed our dog when we went on vacation, and we exchange homemade Christmas gifts with them. I made them a couple casseroles when their last child was born.

They are clueless gardners, but gave it try last year. Their planters bloomed with bright pinks, reds and yellows in spring and summer. This 40ish couple had a baby last June though, and now they have 3 small children. Between parenting and working at 1.75 jobs, they have little time or energy for front yard concerns. And, to be honest, it's amazing how little they know about gardening.

I have a neighborhood rep as master rose grower, and admit to a "green thumb" when I set my mind to it. (Now that I think about it, I have grown and nurtured roses for...gulp...25 years. Have hopefully learned a thing or two.) So I walked over there this morning when no one was around, took my trusty rose shears and ridiculously-expensive elbow-length leather rose gloves, and reshaped the overgrown bush to prep it for a new year of beautiful blossoms.

It'll be fun to watch the new spring rosebuds across the street. I pray that these seeds have fallen into good soil....

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Cheating Culture

For deeply thought-provoking essays, blogs and links, take a minute to visit I rarely recommend websites, and know little about the author, but he is onto something. Warning...nothing superficial about this guy.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Not Yet Fallen From Superwoman Status

The rule is that if you get the Christmas ornaments packed and put into the garage before the last straggling Christmas card arrives, you're still in the margin of reasonableness. Your name won't be included on the Officially Fallen from Superwoman Status List.

Boy, was I relieved today when we got a Christmas card in the mail from one of Ron's cousins and her family. Although we de-ornamented and dumped our tree in early January, the bulbs, lights and what-not sat on the fireplace for a month. I finally packed them a few days ago, and Ron put the boxes in the garage on Tuesday night.

But I know the rule...I'm still on the Superwoman List. For now.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Meat Loaf Confession

To show our 7th grader that my alone time with her is special, I'm taking the time to make special dinners for her on Monday and Tuesday nights when Ron is in class this semester. Last night, she requested a quickie-but-tasty meat loaf that she remembered I made once for her and a friend.

The recipe, taken from an obscure 1967 cookbook, is easy and family-pleasing. Mix 2 beaten eggs together with 1 cup sour cream and 1 package onion soup mix, and set aside. Brown 2 lbs lean ground beef in butter until all the redness is gone. Add black pepper to taste to the ground beef, and mix all into the sour cream mixture. Once thoroughly blended, mix in 3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Bake in a glass loaf pan for 30 minutes.

The meat loaf should be firm and easy to slice, after cooling for 15 minutes or so. Mine, however, was not, last night. It was a bit crumbly, and the egg/sour cream/onion soup bubbled around the edges and top, rather than being absorbed into the loaf. The result was more like delicious sauced meat, than a meat loaf. While cleaning the dishes later (no spousal kitchen help on single parent nights...he DOES do a lot around home), I noticed the unopened can of bread crumbs...oops!

She still pronounced it "really really good," as we chatted about middle school life.

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Love and Listening

"The first duty of love is to listen."

Paul Tillich, theologian and philosopher

Monday, February 02, 2004

Super Bowl Surprise? What Surprise?

Come on...get real, folks.

Michael Jackson's sister and Britney Spears' ex did the 3-second breast-baring deed in a Super Bowl program produced by MTV, and broadcast on CBS, TV home of Survivor, where one of the prime participation qualifications is to look great when nearly naked.

The only surprise is that anyone's naive enough to be surprised at the silly, tacky incident. Do you know what they show on MTV these days? Hello? Britney and Madonna, for one. We should be grateful that Christina Aguilera wasn't dancing with Justin, instead of Janet. Maybe on the Grammy awards this weekend, coincidentally on CBS.

Decency and shame are not watchwords for MTV and its stars, CBS or Viacom, which owns both MTV and CBS. We already knew that.

What surprise?

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A Tale of Two Polls

Saw 2 polls today that weren't related to Democratic primaries.

The first poll, on, showed that 16% of respondents believe Janet Jackson's claim that the Super Bowl breast-baring fiasco was an accident....malfunctioning clothing. 84% believe it was a staged and planned event.

The second poll, on Lou Dobbs CNN program this evening, showed that 3% of respondents believe that the commission President Bush plans to establish to investigate faulty Iraq intelligence info will be impartial and objective. 97% believe that the Presidential-appointed panel will not be diligent and forthtright in searching for and reporting the truth.

Does that mean that we believe Janet Jackson more than the President?

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Sunday, February 01, 2004

From a Child's Mouth and Heart

Today in the Sunday School class that Ron and I teach together, I was leading an innocuous discussion about handling anger and insults, when one child raised his hand and asked in a small, quiet voice, "What do I do when someone makes fun of the color of my skin?" His eyes were moist and sharp as he peered into my eyes.

The class could have heard a pin drop.