Monday, August 30, 2004

Coming Out of the Closet, Election-Year Style

I came out of the closet last night to a friend. She was shocked and not quite sure how to react. She asked me though, and I answered honestly. I thought I should take the occasion to also come clean with you.

So here it is.....I am so disgusted by the destructive policies of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld; so shocked by Bush hypocrisies, outright lies and bully tactics in so many areas; so deeply afraid of his ultra-extreme fiscal irresponsibility; so repelled by his total lack of heart for any but the wealthiest; and especially saddened by his successful use of Christianity to foster fearmongering, that I, a lifelong moderate Republican, who has always voted Republican for President, re-registered as a Democrat in 2004.

I will write in detail of my, and others, metamorphosis at my other blog, Heart Soul & Humor. It's fascinating, though, how many Republicans have switched party allegiances, albeit in stealth. In today's New York Times, there is a full-page ad featuring 9 citizens who voted Republican in 2000, but who won't vote for Bush in 2004.... a grade school teacher, an attorney, 2 Marine Corp Iraq War veterans, a former Ambassador to Israel under George Bush, a stay-at-home mother of 8, a business man, a retired USMC colonel from Vietnam.I am one of them.

The surprising part of coming out is the reactions. (This was not my first political coming out.) Disbelief. (Are you really???) Shock. Disillusionment, like I've lost my mind and can no longer be trusted. Sadness, like I've dropped out of the local exclusive country club and won't be in the all-white clubhouse anymore.

I have to confess....this is the most fun, most creatively energizing, thing I've done in a while.

Seeing the world from a new perspective. Thinking new thoughts. Feeling passion again for our great country. Rereading Jefferson, Madison, Paine and Lincoln, and understanding their ideas anew. Appreciating the freedoms and liberties of democracy. (Our forefathers were geniuses, guided by God.)

And possibly reopening the eyes and hearts of good least by example and written word.

Friday, August 27, 2004

1985 Redeux

Andrea and I are doing intense end-of-the-summer cleaning. Her room is anything but school-ready, and I thought I'd set a good example and also clean.

We sorted (and giggled) through a box of old family photos...pumpkin-carving and silly Halloween costumes, a thousand pics of virtually the same 6 newborn baby shots, Christmas mornings, school pageants, birthday parties, family pets. Long-misplaced pictures of our wedding. The stuff of our lives.

After she went back to her bedroom, I found another photo. A group photo from a professional class I taught in Chicago in 1985, 2 years before I met Ron, 2 years after my divorce. As I perused the faces...trying to remember the occasion.....I saw him. Him. Him.

My passionate brief summer romance. My foolish between-marriages fling. My reawakening to feelings after an awful, hurtful divorce. I was 33....he was 21. Yup. 21. A tall (6' 2") blonde Texan with the sweetest smile a girl ever saw. And oozing modest charm with his deep Texas drawl and his cowboy style. (He even wore boots.) I was ripe for his come-on. And oh my.... the chemistry.

It didn't last long...we both had to return home. He tried to keep the flame going, but I had the maturity to know that ours was a finite romance. He gave up trying to contact me. He looked me up once at home about a year later, but it was awkward. Of course, we were strangers.

I had forgotten him until I saw the photo, him in the 4th row, me in the 2nd row, everyone dressed in business suits. I know I'm supposed to regret a spontaneous, momentary rendezvous. It defied everything parents and church taught me. I shudder now at the risks. But I don't regret it.

It was a formative event on my journey to wholeness...on my journey to Ron and our life together. And I can't help but smile at the wonderful, warm romantic memory.....

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Wide Awake in Albuquerque

In case you're hankering for a quick cup of gourmet joe....

Albuquerque has more gourmet-style coffee shops per capita (the ratio of coffee shops to population) than any other US city, including second-place Seattle, home of Starbucks, according to the Speciality Coffee Assn. The top ten cities for coffee shops per capita are Albuquerque, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Anchorage, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Cleveland, St. Paul, Sacramento and Pittsburgh.

I knew I liked Albuquerque.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Amateur Gourmet 2004 Survivor Challenge

Have thrown my hat into the competitive ring for the Amateur Gourmet 2004 Survivor Challenge, created by gourmet blogger Adam, the Amateur Gourmet. It's a Survivor-esque weekly cooking challenge with possible occasional Fear Factor-like eating challenges, all documented digitally and uploaded to his blog. Participants will vote someone out of the contest weekly by trashing competitors in private emails to Adam.

The sole gourmet survivor left standing at the end will receive a gift from a corporate sponsor....when he finds a corporate sponsor. Or maybe a fruit-of-the month club membership.

This wacky, clever idea sounds like lots of fun for foodies. And Adam must be one smart guy.....he knows how to create cyber-buzz, and at almost no cost to him. I'd tip my hat to Adam, but it's in his contest ring.

Monday, August 23, 2004

A Refreshing Role Model for Young Girls

One of Andrea's role models is a pretty 30 year old woman, a wife and mother, who lives in Chino Hills, maybe 15 miles from our home. Her favorite book is the Bible, and if she could have dinner with any 3 people, they would be Jesus, Billy Graham and the President of the United States. Her favorite colors are red, white and blue. Her dream job is to be a Christian motivational speaker.

Andrea admires her so much, she keeps a picture on her bedroom wall of Leah Amico. An autographed picture. You see, Leah Amico plays softball. She plays it very well. So well, that a few minutes ago, she won her third Olympic gold medal.

Mrs. Amico and her husband promote the sport of girls' softball by attending local opening ceremonies and special events, meeting and chatting with the girls, signing autographs and posing for photos with the young players, gold medals around her neck. She lets them touch, hold, even wear her Olympic medals. (And parents, too!)

She exhorts the girls to work hard, be persistent, and to be an unselfish team player. This star college pitcher recounts how, if she hadn't set aside prideful feelings when offered an outfield position on the 1996 USA team, she'd never have been an Olympic player. She's now team USA's top first basewoman.

This three-time Olympian, three-time college softball All-American, and three-time academic All-American says it's all about balance, "Keeping God first, family second and softball/career third."

In this era of over-drugged, self-worshipping athletes, Leah Amico is a refreshing and inspiring role model for all girls and for all of us.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Real Elements of a Successful Marriage

A successful marriage .... one that lasts and is content, one with frequent moments of joy and laughter, one that produces good fruit, one based in good will .... takes a lot. Ron and I both feel we have a successful marriage.

I watched him as he trudged out to the car a few minutes ago to run family errands. He's tired as it's Saturday morning and he had a tension-filled week at work. I had my usual over-busy week too, never quite finishing my "to do" list, perpetually haunted by the vague ghost of undone necessities.

To have a successful marriage, it takes a lot .... faith in each other and God, trust (in capital letters), affection for each other's quirks and idiosyncrasies, sex (enough said .... I should dare to write on sex someday), shared life goals, same taste in tolerable pets, genuine friendship, separate bathrooms if possible, persistence beyond all reason, and non-negotiable bedtimes for children.

And a common sports team to cheer for together. Go Angels!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Our Electronic, Thrill-Seeking Existence

Life feels so ordinary sometimes. We this all there is? We look for the large moment...the defining event....sweet victory set to metaphorical applause. Like in the movies. Our hours of triumph seem oddly fleeting. Our hours of defeat feel too frequent.

Sports events give us the vicarious pleasure of dramatic winning and losing. Our emotions ricochet in a pleasing cycle of despair and exuberance, all while munching snacks, until the big game culminates in a clear, neatly summarized ending. Winners and losers. And we look at our calendar for the next event....the next chance to feel, the next chance to win.

TV sitcoms help us laugh at ourselves and our predicaments. Crime dramas incorporate us into daily newpaper headlines. We're there...we partcipate in the gruesome excitement. Soaps operas bring romance and gorgeous people into our homes. Reality TV gives us the thrill of risk-taking without taking real risk. Game shows cause us to glimpse sudden, effortless riches. Foodies experience gourmet cooking on FoodTV, and then go out to dinner. Armchair travellers visit Europe and Africa in a night, and go to bed sated by electronic wanderlust. My mother watches dog shows, and then feels better about no longer having pets. She's filled her quality dog-time quota. I watch Martha Stewart daily, and dream of being perfect.

Our electronic existence has supplanted authentic experience and person-to-person interaction. And thrill-seeking entertainment is sought out so that we can feel again. I knew a man who gambled heavily and frequently in Las Vegas, because he was exhilirated by the risk. I know a couple who tried to save their marriage by talking via email, instead of in person. I know kids who spend their summer skipping from Xcelerator coaster (82 mph in 2.3 seconds) to Superman: The Escape (climbs 415 feet, reaches 100 mph) to Supreme Scream (drop 254 feet straight down) and more, because reading and being home are too boring.

There has been a recent spate of "reality" shows in which families live back in time, to 1900 rural America or Colonial American times, to experience the novelty of life before the internet and video games, before malls and WalMart, before televison, cell phones and even radio. Before Las Vegas and Disneyland and hourly flights to Honolulu. Before MLB, the NBA and the NFL.

They get to know each other. They work hard. (They lose weight!) They eat meals together. They laugh together and they cry together. They seem to hug a lot.

I'm not advocating that we take a giant step back in time. Our modern conveniences and devices are true miracles. It's our use of them that causes the problems. They're just stuff. Over-reliance on them causes us to lose intimacy with others. Addiction to thrills numbs us to the pleasures of everyday life. Life feels flat and incomplete without them.

I know a family that has no televisions at all, but their teenage son has green hair and took a recent, exquisitely inappropriate moment to come out of the closet. He manufactures his own excitement. So much for preserving innocence by eliminating the small screen.

We need to get our priorities straight, though. We need to turn off the TV, walk away from the keyboard, put down the Gameboy, and spend time with our loved ones. Not ballpark or movie theater time. Real time, where we can talk and be heard, laugh and look each other in the eye. Much of our time, not a budgeted hour here and there. Every week. Every day.

Life again can then be joyful, intimate and satisfying, as God intended it.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Tough Times and the Spirit of Mercy

Forced myself to take care of difficult business today. It wouldn't... couldn't ...wait another day. Husband & wife investors in our defunct dot-com claim that their investment was actually a personal loan, and they sued us to recoup their loss. They made many false statements in their legal filing. It was ugly. Truly ugly. And wrong.

We will survive the financial fallout, of course, no matter what the result. It's just money. Stuff.

The real problem is this couple used to be good friends with Ron and me. I procrastinated responding as long as possible, probably to avoid my deep, very deep feelings of pain at their anger at the unfairness and shock at their grotesque greed at any cost.

As an eBay bookseller, I have the privilege of discovering old, forgotten literary gems. One such book is indispensible to me now. The Holy Spirit speaks to me through her brilliant, serene wisdom and insights. I will treasure this small book for the rest of my earthly days, and pass it on to Andrea.

Words from that book (A Way to Peace, Health and Power - Studies for the Inner Life, published by Scribners in 1925, by Bertha Conde, a founder of the YWCA and an evangelical missionary ) helped me gain enough perspective to deal with the pain of this situation.

"It is of the utmost importance to our peace of mind and health of body that we open our hearts to the spirit of mercy. Most of the influences that break down our health are the depressing and bitter experiences that we have with other people.... If there rises within us a spirit of malice or anger, we feel the effects of it at once in our minds and bodies. Sometimes, sensitive souls are inhibitied for years by some past experience with someone they cannot forgive.

There is no remedy for soul or body until we begin to cultivate the inner spirit of mercy. It is used constantly by our Lord in reference to the undeserving and to enemies. Mercy loves its enemies, prays for them and pities then because of what they have to overcome before they can find peace. The spirit of mercy is the spirit of sympathy.

Jesus Christ pointed out a way in which we can rise to the height of assuring mercy for those who are undeserving. We are to turn away from the thought of their sins and to enter into our inner room, and there see ourselves in the light of God's presence. Then, we shall see how far short we have come in our own inner life, and when we remember that 'his tender mercies are over all his works,' while we struggle to have mercy toward a few, we realize our own shortcomings.

From such a contemplation of fact, we return with new tenderness and find it easier to let mercy have sway in our hearts."

Amen. I'm working on it. It's not easy.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Julia Child - Patron Saint & American Misfit

Julia Child, patron saint of American cooking, died last night in her sleep.

She was a free-spirit who never quite fit anywhere. She was too tall and exuberant for the genteel Pasadena society of her 1912 birth. She was an extroverted, athletic tomboy when girls were expected to be ladylike. Through family connections and wealth, she attended Smith College, where she was best-known for her love of all things social and her vigorous senior-year campaign to repeal prohibition.

After graduation, she took a series of jobs, one most notably with the US diplomatic service. While on assignment to India , she met Paul Cushing Child, a worldly diplomat with gourmet tastes. When he asked if she could cook, she replied that she, too, was a gourmet connoisseur. Truth was that she couldn't boil water, and she had barely set foot into a kitchen.

So as a new bride at the ripe age of 34, she set out with trademark energy to learn to cook. The rest is culinary history. When her new husband was transferred to the US Embassy in Paris, she enrolled in the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school, the only woman in her class of fledgling chefs. She found her calling.

She elevated dining and culinary tastes for Americans, by combining classic French cooking with American casualness and a sense of fun. She published her first cookbook at age 49, and at age 51, she started TV's first live cooking show. Ratings for her PBS cooking shows were enormous, in large part due to her contagious spirit and cheerful lack of perfection.

Along her professional journey, she sold millions of cookbooks. She invented the cooking show. She broke the gender barrier for women in the culinary world. She garnered prestigious awards, medals and honorary degrees. She was a tireless creative genius with an instinct for promotion and a genuine love of people. She was unfailingly generous in her support of new chefs, new ideas, new ventures.

Life wasn't always easy. Her aristocratic family never understood her ambitions and wanderlust. She was a 35-year breast cancer survivor. She and Paul never had the children they longed for. There were rumors of over-fondness of fine wines and English gin. Her beloved husband passed on 7 years ago, and she has been lonely without him.

Her honest humor and quick wit were legendary. She labeled health experts who advised cutting out rich dishes as "food Nazis." She was an avid proponent of the French approach to food....only the best, but in moderation. In reference to food trends, she once commented, "I think fake foods aren't worth eating. Have the real thing...have a little of it. I like real hamburgers and real meat, real butter. Eat everything. Have fun."

Wise words from an American original.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Of Wrapping Paper and Recycled Gift Bags

Today is Andrea's 13th birthday, and she's already received most of her gifts from us....a watch she had her eye on; a new leather-bound Bible to replace her children's version; especially 2 new parakeets, their cage and related paraphernalia. (More pets. Will we never learn?)

This morning, I reached for a handy gift bag for 2 books that are just from me. Save the good paper and expensive ribbons for big occasions. Weddings, showers, gifts for friends. Besides, she'll barely notice the wrapping. A gift bag will be fast, too. We're in a hurry. Lacrosse practice starts at 1 PM in Tustin...plenty to accomplish before then.

Then it hit me. Save the prettiest wrappings for a special occasion? Short-cut the present process? What could be bigger than my precious daughter's 13th birthday? She delights in every nuance of opening gifts....anticipation, unwrapping, surprise, pleasure, gratitude. Short-cut that?

I carefully wrapped the books with the very best I could find.....pretty lavendar paper festooned with colorful blue and purple ribbons. The joy on her face at the effort I made for best for what life is all about. She loved it. She felt special.

Why do we so often give our best to others and not our loved ones? Why do we give our family the leftovers? Next time, honor your family with your very best wrapping papers and ribbons...the best you have....and give the recycled gift bags to others.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Frustrating Friendship, Groucho Marx Style

Ron and I care very much about a couple who live by a variation of the famed Groucho Marx coda....I wouldn't want to be friends with anyone who would want to be friends with us. They pursue time with people who don't have time for them, and they don't make time for people who do have time for them.

Trying to have a long-term, active friendship with them is rather like dating someone with a huge fear of commitment. (Remember those awful days?) When we show no interest, they call frequently, invite us over to break bread, offer unexpected kindnesses and can't wait to catch up on our lives. When we reciprocate, as considerate friends do, they back off and disappear. Avoid the phone. Ignore us for weeks. Even forget dates.

We have a lot in common with them, and have a real heart for their family. But their unreliabiity and oddness, even rudeness at times, has been hurtful far far too often to be healthy for us. They're not family..... we don't have to do this.

I know they wonder at their loneliness and isolation from others. I'm not one to give up easily on people, but we're not the answer to their challenges. It's too bad. We care.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Writing for Love, Not Money

People ask why I write blogs.....looking for a book deal, a print column, a following, a high-traffic website?

Sure, those would be nice and quite helpful to my family, but not necessary. I write because I want to. I love it. It's opens my heart, mind and soul, like music, poetry or painting do for others. If I never make a dime from it, no problem. (Maybe better, actually. When someone pays you, they expect something. Pressure and deadlines and all that stuff. Turns into a nerve-nibbling business before you know it.)

I'm reading a book by Dr. James Hillman, "The Soul's Code - In Search of Character and Calling" in which he states that each of us is born with a unique, formed soul, and that part of our soul is our calling.....our gifts that, when we fully use them, cause us to feel satisfied and at peace with the world. For me, that is, and always has been, the act of writing.

Hillman, a psychologist and Yale University lecturer, must not be a Christian. The Bible has been clear for thousands of years on this point.

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but
the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all
men. Now to each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."
----- I Corinthians 12 : 4 - 7

When we use our God-given gift according to His plan, we feel at peace with Him. It's an amazing blessing to know what that means.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Bruschetta al Pomodoro with Mozzarella

Summer is complete only when you've feasted on garlicky Italian bruschetta freshly made from the bumper seasonal crop of tomatoes. I made a big bowl last Sunday afternoon, and the three of us savored every morsel. Here's my recipe....finely chop 8 to 10 Roma tomatoes, and combine with 5 chopped leaves of fresh basil, 1 tbsp olive or canola oil, 2 oz minced garlic, 1 tbsp of dried oregano, a liberal sprinkle of lemon pepper, and a touch of garlic salt to taste. Let the bruschetta sit for 15 minutes before serving on toast rounds.

We're having it again this evening for a light dinner, served on Musso's Oven-Baked Cheese & Garlic Toast ("made today in an old-fashioned Italian way") with slices of mozzarella and small omelettes. Imagine how good this recipe is.....Andrea is skipping her weekly church pool party to share in it while watching the Anaheim Angels game.

Now that's what I call a cooking compliment!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Twin Blogs are Born at The Crazy Woman

Yup, the times, they are a'changing here at The Crazy Woman blog. This blog was once a baby, born almost a year ago now. It's grown and blossomed beyond my imagination, as babies always do.

This child has grown a bit schizophrenic of late, though, with one part focused on recipes and cooking, family and neighborhood news, human nature and the amiable musings of a happy homebody. But another, more fiery side returns again and again to politics and democracy, the state of modern Christianity, current culture wars and similar edgy subjects.

So twins have been born...two blogs instead of one. This blog will continue to reflect my private life and thoughts, and lots of delicious dishes. My public soapbox is now at Heart, Soul & Humor.

The sum of these two blogs is the real me. Please pick and choose what you care to read.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blogs. I am truly blessed by you.