Sunday, November 30, 2003

From the Cardinal's Chair

The Cardinal's chair in the glorious new $200 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is set apart from all other chairs and pews, juxtapositioned between the choir loft and the Native American Memorial section, facing most of the 2,800 sanctuary seats, and per tradition, to the left of the altar. The chair, called a cathedra in Latin, is the formal seat of the Catholic archdiocese leader of 5 million Los Angeles-area Catholics, from which he exercises his "responsibiities of teaching, governing and sanctifying."

This cathedra is not oversized and throne-like, as are most older cathedras. It is a simple design, stands 74 inches tall, weighs 800 lbs, and is set at the top of two short steps on its own platform. The back of the chair is composed of interlinked crosses, each made from different woods from around the world: olive wood from Israel, carob wood from Lebanon, coca bola from Central America, ebony from Africa, holly from the US, lacewood from Australia and buena burro from Thailand. The woods symbolize the various communities and ethnicities that compose the Los Angeles community.

One would think that it must feel powerful for Cardinal Roger Mahoney, 18-year head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, to sit in this majestic symbol of church authority. I had the privilege yesterday to sit in the Cardinal's chair and to view the sanctuary from the cathedra's lofty location. To my awe, it didn't feel powerful or lofty at all. Like all pastors I've ever seen, his chair is positioned so that he can still study the face of every person in the complex and large, yet intimate sanctuary. Despite all the trappings, Roger Mahoney remains connected to the people, and they to him.

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Thursday, November 27, 2003

'Twas the Night of Thanksgiving

'Twas the night of Thanksgiving, I just couldn't sleep.
I tried counting backwards, I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned...the dark meat and white.
But I fought the temptation with all of my might.

Tossing and turning with anticipation
The thought of a snack became infatuation.
So I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door
And gazed at the fridge, full of goodies galore.

I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
Pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.
I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
"Til all of a sudden, I rose off the ground.

I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky
With a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie.
But I managed to yell as I soared past the trees
Happy eating to all...pass the cranberries please.

May your stuffing be tasty, may your turkey be plump.
May your potatoes and gravy have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious, may your pies take the prize.
May your Thanksgiving dinner stay off of your thighs.

Courtesy of Art Guyer,, an internet recipe newsletter.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Thanksgiving Thought from Billy Graham

"This year as we observe our season of Thanksgiving, let us be grateful not only in word but also in deed. Let our gratitude find expression in a resolve to live a life more unselfish and more consecrated to Jesus Christ. When we sit around our tables laden with sumptuous delicacies, let us not forget that half the world will go to bed hungry. As we enjoy the comforts of our cozy homes, let us not forget that great numbers in other parts of the world have no homes to go to. When we step into our sleek automobiles, let us not forget that most of the people in the world cannot even afford a bicycle.

In the Lord's Prayer as recorded in Matthew 6, we read, "Give us this day our daily bread." Scripture teaches that the good things of this life are the gifts of God., and that He is the donor of all our blessings. Thanksgiving? Yes. Let us get down on our knees and humbly thank God for the blessings He has given us, both material and spiritual. They have come from His hands."

Billy Graham in his Decision email devotional, November 25, 2003

55 Years of Marriage

When I was 12, my grandmother pulled me aside and told me that my parents would always be together...that they were best friends. She said that every night after they go to bed, they talk long into the night...that they have always done that. "I'm not worried about their marriage," Grandma said, looking at me. I guess she knew I was worrying, because there had been fights lately, and what I now know was one of several rough patches in their marriage.

My parents celebrated 55 years of marriage yesterday by shopping together at a local store in their Colorado small town, and then sharing a quiet dinner at home, like they always do. They have never been ones for expensive restaurants or big parties. They did consent to dinner out on their 50th anniversary with their children and grandchildren. My brother and I, our spouses, and 4 of the grandchildren took them to a pricey but small restaurant. Mom ordered foods she had never tried before, which was unusual. Dad wore a smart bolo tie that none of us knew he owned. They both smiled with a serenity that we had never seen before.

Truth is I never understood their marriage...times were not always easy. My brother, sister and I know very little about their private relationship, or events of their marriage. They seemed to have their own universe, and still do. At their 50th anniversary, I asked Mom about the secret to a long marriage. She shrugged and said, "I don't really know. We just take it one day at a time. And don't get too upset over anything. " Then she added, "Divorce wasn't an option in our generation. You just didn't give up. You worked it out."

When we visit them now, Ron and I still hear them talking late into the night. Grandma was right.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003

In Search of a Caring Solution

Before dawn today, the California State Senate voted 33 to 0 to repeal a law that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses. The State Assembly is expected to also repeal SB 60, thus returning illegal immigrants back to status quo. This is a difficult and complex issue for caring citizens.

From one viewpoint, illegal immigrants are...well, illegal. By definition, they don't have rights in a country they're not supposed to be in. Already-overburdened citizen-taxpayers should not be required to foot the living expenses bill for non-citizens who violate US immigration laws. Taxpayers have their proverbial hands full just taking care of their own, which includes millions of legal immigrants from every country in the world. Schools and hospitals, in particular, are stretched beyond imagination to meet the needs of illegals.

Speaking from the heart, Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union, asks "When you sit down to eat those vegetables and that turkey, remember that many undocumented people are working on those farms and those poultry places." As anyone who has worked in Southern California manufacturing or agriculture industries knows, illegal immigrants do contribute greatly to our economy. Yes, they are routinely, and often calllously, exploited by greedy employers seeking to pay less to hard workers grateful for any job. Sadly, California has rich history of shamelessly exploiting immigrants, legal or illegal...the Indians by Father Serra, the Chinese to build the state's first railroads, Mexicans to pick San Joaquin valley crops, all origins to perform the majority of current blue collar manufacturing jobs.

Then there is the pragmatic viewpoint. LA Police Chief William Bratton told a State Senate committee that "driver's licenses will spur more motorists to take the state driving test and become insured." Translated: they're here...let's make the best of it. There's no time to deal with the bigger picture. This approach is understandably espoused by those who provide public services directly to citizens: police officers, teachers, judges, social workers, emergency room doctors. They are overwhelmed by demand, and they care. I recently renewed my drivers license in person at the DMV. I hadn't visited a DMV office in perhaps a decade. The wait was nightmarish, despite helpful and courteous DMV employees. I can't fathom the overloading that will occur if illegals are added to the DMV wait lines.

There are no easy answers or quick solutions. It should be noted, though, that this situation would not exist if the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service had been remotely effective at border enforcement. The INS has been a dismal failure and an admitted bureaucratic nightmare. Also, this situation was created by unfettered capitalism at its greediest. Illegals come here for work, and employers looking to illegally pay below minimum wage standards and to circumvent employment law eagerly hire and then hide them. Punishment is minimal for employers caught with illegals on staff, and frankly, it's worth the economic risk.

State Senator Gil Cedillo speculated in the Sacramento Bee that Gov. Schwarzenegger might consider a bill that would allow illegal immigrants in the process of obtaining legal status to qualify for a driver's license once they have completed a criminal background check and submitted proof of employment. At first glance, this sounds like a reasonable, practical and caring solution.

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Monday, November 24, 2003

Sensational Easy-To-Make Pumpkin Cheesecake

My autumn potluck dessert this year is an extra-easy-to-make pumpkin cheesecake. Our Friday night family group raved about it, and my family jockeys for the last piece. Mix together 16 oz. of cream cheese (softened to room temperature), a half cup of canned pure pumpkin, a half cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of real vanilla, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and ground cloves and nutmeg to taste. When mixed well, add 2 eggs, and mix again until blended to a smooth consistency. Pour into a crust, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. The cheesecake is done when a small sharp knife comes cleanly out of center.

Crusts made from gingersnaps, Oreo cookies or graham crackers all have an amazing taste synergy with pumpkin cheesecake. Store-bought crusts actually taste fine, but homemade is a bit richer. Crush plenty of cookies (remove the Oreo filling and crush only the chocolate wafers), combine with a half to 1 cup of sugar, and moisten with melted butter. Press into a pie plate.

Cheesecakes must be refrigerated overnight to have the proper texture. After it has set overnight, top with crumbled gingersnaps, Oreo coookies or a graham cracker streusel, to match the crust. For a richer touch, top with pecan pralines or hand-dipped chocolate walnuts. For an even richer flavor, stir a half cup of miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips into the batter, and sprinkle the top with even more chips.

Guaranteed to be the most popular dessert at your family Thanksgiving or church potluck.

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Saturday, November 22, 2003

Another November 22, 1963 Death

Let's take time to remember the life and great works of a person who died 40 years ago today, on November 22, 1963. No, it isn't the news media darling of this date, the late President Kennedy. It is the passing of C.S. Lewis, regarded as probably the 20th century's most influential Christian writer. Lewis' earthly death was largely unheralded, of course, overshadowed as it was by the same-date assassination of JFK.

To commemorate his great body of work, I thought I would tell you a few little known, interesting facts about Clive Staples Lewis, or Jack, as he preferred to be called:

- He was born in Ireland in 1898.
- His mother died when he was 10 years old.
- He first read the Bible when his mother died, but abandoned Christianity when he was a teen.
- He was accepted into both Oxford and Cambridge Universities at the age of 18, but instead chose to fight in World War I. He served for two years in the British Army, fighting in the muddy trenches of France.
- He returned to Oxford, and graduated in 1925 with top honors in Greek and Latin Literature, Philosophy and Ancient History, and English Literature.
- He remained at Oxford for another 29 years as Professor of English, then became Professor of Literature at Cambridge University until his death.
- He was neither a theologian nor preacher. He never attended seminary.
- He considered himself an atheist until his early 30s, although his parents were Protestants.
- In 1929, while riding on a London double-decker bus, he had an overwhelming feeling that he needed to acknowledge God. He returned to his room at Oxford, and alone, knelt and prayed to God.
- He later explained in a letter to his brother that he became a Christian because for him, "there was nothing else to do."
- Despite great derision by his academic colleagues, he gave talks about theology on BBC that were a national sensation.
- Among his closest friends was J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the The Hobbit classic book series.
- Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia book series has sold more than 100 million books.

One of his best known book quotes, " If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this." From Mere Christianity.

This and every November 22, let's say our praises for a man whose faith and works made God, sin and redemption real for so many in the past, present and future.

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Friday, November 21, 2003

Curious Omission

Former President Bill Clinton just released his list of his 21 favorite books. Funny....I don't see the Bible listed there.

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"Cat in the Hat" and "Bad Santa" Panned

The newly released "Cat in the Hat" movie starring brilliant comedian Mike Myers was panned today as "a vulgar, uninspired lump of poisoned eye candy" by no less than the New York Times. Per Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, parts of the film are "creepy and offensive..making fun of old people in general, in a cruel way." The film was produced by Universal Pictures, now owned by NBC.

"Bad Santa," a film starring Billy Bob Thornton, is about two criminals disguised as Santa Claus and his helper so they can steal from people who bring children to visit Santa at major malls. In this film still slated to be released in early December, Santa drinks, smokes, behaves boorishly and, of course, steals. Lou Dobbs, the mannered CNN anchor, set aside time on his news and financial program to decry this film as "mean-spirited and uncalled for, unnecessary." ("Still slated" because pre-release protests have been so vociferous, that the studio may hold it back or re-edit it....that is, unless it can make lots of money as is.) This film was produced by Dimension Films, a division of Miramax Pictures, which is wholly owned by Disney, which is now trying to distance itself from the film. ("We had no idea. They make their own decisions," said a spokesman for perhaps the most micro-managing studio in the industry.)

Why the corporate animosity toward children? Why the need to trash beloved imaginary childhood icons? Or does "mean-spirited" and "poisoned eye candy" appeal to children now? Both scenarios are chilling.

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Thursday, November 20, 2003


Read this today:

"If you've got a good attitude, you can feel fine about a thousand unfair things. If you've got a bad one, you can miss a million magical moments."

In IKEA I Trust?

The world press was surprised when Swedes recently ranked trust in IKEA, the purveyor of affordable stylish furnishings, as higher than their trust in the Swedish government, politicians, media and trade unions. Even higher than that ubiquitous Swedish institution, Volvo, maker of safe family cars.

Have you shopped lately at IKEA? Their products are accurately described, reasonably priced, simple and durable, and you can view all inventory at their cheery showrooms or in colorful catalogs. Product prices and info are clearly marked and explained. Customer service is responsive, friendly and fast. Store hours are customer-convenient. Delivery service is reliable. Young kids can be left for 30 minutes, free of charge, at the supervised Chucky Cheese-style ball pit. The food is good at their brightly lit cafeteria restaurants. IKEA stores are what retailers call destination shopping....people look forward to a visit as an experience and a fun family activity.

When was the last time you got that kind of service, reliability, convenience or respect from a government institution, politicians, media or trade unions? Such organizations could learn solid lessons from smart retailers like IKEA.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Thanksgiving Rebels, Part II

And I thought the story (Nov 17) about my brother-in-law, Thanksgiving rebel who served ham instead of turkey, was original....

Taken from today's New York Times Food Section:

"Almost everybody has a story about the year the family rebel tried to overthrow the tradition of turkey on Thanksgiving. The story never ends well for the transgressor. His revolt is crushed, he is mocked, and now he spends most of the holiday muttering to himself.

Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, is guided by conformity. This may frustrate cooks with creative hearts and eaters with adventurous palates, but a culinary battle is like any other. The battlefield must be chosen carefully. Forget the turkey and pumpkin pie: side dishes are the platform for change. You can introduce new flavors, try different techniques and slowly phase out your aunt's insipid green beans."

Can't wait to make and serve my new recipe for cranberry onion relish instead of over-sugared, over-preserved, food-colored canned cranberry sauce.

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Monday, November 17, 2003

The Dirty Secret of Thanksgiving

Gourmet cooks should savor Thanksgiving: a chance to show off culinary skills to a captive, appreciative audience....a time to spoil loved ones with the fruits of their gifts and passions. Our ancestors originated the occasion solely to prepare a lavish annual feast to give thanks for God's goodness to their harvests. No American holiday is more associated with delicious, aromatic food shared with family and friends.

And Thanksgiving is big business: it's the top shopping period for grocers. Newspapers, gourmet magazines and culinary websites publish thousands of trendy twists on the traditional recipes. FoodTV has been celebrating Thanksgiving since...well, since Halloween was over....with homey programs festooned with autumn leaves, golden turkeys and every conceivable take on stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce.

The dirty secret of Thanksgiving is that hosts and hostesses everywhere quietly dread cooking for their guests. Read a few comments from my Tuesday morning womens' group:

"Thanksgiving is so, uh....complex" she sighed, shaking her head. "There are only 8 of us, but everyone wants things a little differently....their own way."

"Fun?? My sister and I cook for 50 people. What's fun about that?" one exclaimed with a good-humored laugh of resignation.

"My in-laws quibble over gravy every year," I elaborated. "There is a giblet gravy group, and a non-giblet gravy group. And they make sniping comments about the other group every Thanksgiving."

"It's a big mess afterwards," several women nodded. "And who really helps us clean up? It's a lot of work."

"To my family, it's not cranberry sauce unless it has the wavy lines from the can" I added.

My brother-in-law Bob, my family's colorful rebel, used to insist on serving ham at Thanksgiving. A top-quality ham...honey-roasted with all the side dishes, generously prepared and served. My mother, always one to stand her ground, would make a turkey, bring it with her on a platter and serve it at Bob and Teri's house. Made them both angry with the other, but they both got their ways. Ham for the rebel, turkey for the traditionalist. We all had to be sure not to take too much ham lest we offend Mom. Truth is that they never liked each other much, and the Thanksgiving dinner became their annual battleground.

Our ideas of the perfect Thanksgiving feast are taken from our mothers and grandmothers. They never had to make tofu pesto turkey for vegetarian relatives. They didn't make accommodatons for others...Thanksgiving was roast turkey with their family stuffing recipe, mashed potatoes with brown turkey gravy, dinner rolls, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, yams with butter and assorted candy-like toppings, perhaps a jello mold salad, pumpkin and mince pies, followed by coffee for the adults.

Now I admit that many of the recipes in the November 2003 issue of Bon Appetit magazine sound a tad exotic (and even silly) for most family Thanksgivings....haricot verts (translation: green beans) with goat cheese and warm bacon dressing; succotash soup wih black pepper croutons; autumn trifle with roasted apples, pears and pumpkin-caramel sauce; cranberry-port gelatin with crystallized ginger and celery; country-style bread dressing with dried apricots, pistachios and mint; roast turkey with parsley pomegranate glaze; balsamic-roasted acorn squash with hot chiles and honey.

I once heard a pastor preach that "Life is change, so get used to it. Life changes." Wise words, indeed, although too radical for most families at Thanksgiving. However, wouldn't some compromise in our Thanksgiving dinner expectations be a wonderful way to express thankfulness and gratitude to our families, our hosts and to God this holiday? And how about helping clean up after the festivities, too?

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Saturday, November 15, 2003

Canned, Non-fat, Low Sodium and Non-selling

Can something described as canned, non-fat low sodium chicken broth actually have taste at all?

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Smiles for You on My Birthday

A few smile-inducing quotes from a sweet little book I found at a rummage sale today:

"If you add a word a day to your vocabulary, at the end of the year your friends will wonder who you think you are."
--- Anonymous

"I can live for two months on a good compliment."
--- Mark Twain

"A friend should bear his friend's infirmities."
--- William Shakespeare

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
--- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Nostalgia is remembering the pleasures of our old kitchen when we were kids, without remembering how long it took to wash the dishes."
--- Caroline Brownlow

"Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens."
--- Psalm 68:19

The smiles are my gift to you on my birthday. Thanks for reading my "column."

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Friday, November 14, 2003

The Great Equalizer and Humbler

The California DMV is the great equalizer of people. It treats all of us exactly the same, regardless of race, origin, gender, religion, orientation, disabliility, size, intelligence, wealth or manner of dress or appearance. It doesn't matter what you say or will be treated with the same cold indifference and bureaucratic red tape as everyone else.

The DMV is also the great humbler of egos and all such self-importance. Where else do you feel grateful for having waited only 3 hours for service?

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Thursday, November 13, 2003

Mayberry, California?

Our city, population 45,000, has been considering contracting with the county for police services and no longer operating/funding its own police force. Revenues are tight for California cities these days, and all avenues are being explored to save costs.

We received the latest city Neighborhood Watch Newsletter, reporting 15 burglaries citywide for May, June and July 2003. Ten occurred through unlocked doors and windows; 4 involved the use of force, although none resulted in injuries; 3 entailed minimal or unknown losses; 7 were in morning, 3 in afternoon and just 5 were at night.

The most serious burglary losses were described as follows:
- US currency, carton of cigarettes, 15 CDs and a tree saw

- backpack, Game Boy, Harry Potter books and hearing aids (That kid thought the hearing aids were ear phones for the Game Boy.)

- air conditioner (Stolen at night. Must have been quite hot that night.)

- digital pictures (Would be interesting to know what was in those pics. Was that really a random burglary?)

- Sony digital receivers, 2 Play Stations, DVD player, telephone

- cell phone, bottled water, Top Ramen cup-o-noodles (It really says that.)

It's hard to imagine that this low level need for law enforcement justifies the cost of an entire police force. If citizens had locked their doors and windows, only 5 of these burglaries would have occurred in the 3-month time span.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Stick, Stones and Nuclear Weapons

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

--- Albert Einstein

The Pleasures of Homemade Cake

Cakes taste better when they're homemade. They're fresher and moister, and they're made exactly the way we like them...our favorite flavors and spices, that special frosting, the personal touches. And the aroma of a cake baking satisfies like few other scents.

I've made a few cakes lately for family and friends: a rich pumpkin chocolate-chip bundt cake glazed with cinnamon and a pinch of ginger (twice) and a simple old-fashioned coffee cake topped with brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon crumbles. Their hunger for a homemade cake extends beyond mere's also about the loving hands that made it for them; about tiring of store bought baked goods laden with preservatives and food colorings; about desire for simplicity.

I have a few recommendations for cake cookbooks to create unusually delicious, quick-to-make, crowd pleasing cakes for your loved ones:

- "Bundt Cakes" by Karen Plageman and Susan Herbert. Published in 1973 by Owlswood Productions. You mght be able to find a copy on eBay or Amazon.

- Betty Crocker's "Cake and Frosting Mix Cookbook" first published in 1963. It's never been out of print, but you might find a treasured early edition at eBay or Amazon. (No, you may not borrow my First Edition, First Printing of this classic. One of the few books I don't loan to anyone.)

- "The Cake Mix Doctor" by Anne Byrn. This woman is a genius. Buy the Deluxe Edition with extra recipes and photos of every single cake. Published in 2003 by Rodale Press and Workman Publishing, you can find it everywhere.

Make a cake this week for your family, friends or that new neighbor down the street. And remember to save a piece of yourself.

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Monday, November 10, 2003

Poppies and Poverty

Beautiful fire-orange poppies are blooming again in Afghanistan. That is, opium poppies.

Two years ago, Afghanistan was virtually poppy-free. The strict Islamic militia group, the Taliban, banned its growth under the most dire consequences for non-compliance. The UN-backed Afghan democracy has attempted to curb poppy production and trade, but with little success. Some claim that deterrence efforts have been weak and sporadic because...well, poppies bring a steady, strong flow of cash into the country, something that Afghanistan sorely needs. The government doesn't have funds to aid poor Afghanis, or to establish effective law enforcement.

The crop is being grown mainly by the poorest farmers so that they can feed their families. They work long and hard with their oxen and rudimentary tools, load up their donkeys and drive them to the border where they sell their harvests to the highest bidder. Growing wheat on a half-acre of land may yield a farmer $70 a year, which barely pays for next year's fertilizer. Growing poppies on that same half-acre will earn about $1,230, which is enough to feed their families, buy fertilizer and "maybe even buy a refrigerator."

Said one farmer to the Washington Post, "We know that poppy is harmful and it is against Islam. We are not enemies of humanity, but we have no factories or roads....Everything we have comes from poppy. Before, people were eating spinach, and now they are eating meat." Some families have been able to buy concrete blocks to build houses after decades of living in mud-walled huts.

Small farmers become indebted to opium traders to buy fertilizer and equipment, though. Officials at road checkpoints commonly extort cash from travelers to the border. And sadly, Afghanis themselves often become users of their opium harvest. The violence, corrupton and sophisticated dealing associated with drug production is not yet present in Afghanistan, but can be expected to grow in this fertile climate.

Until the United Nations more strongly supports Afghanistan's and other country's fledging attempts at democracy, people will continue to do what they can to support their families. Half-measures rarely ensure success.

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Sunday, November 09, 2003


So many recipes, and so little time. So many books to read and write, and so little time. So many roses to admire, and so little time. So much art and music to savor, and so little time. So much to do for, and so little time. So many people to encourage and comfort, and so little time. So much love from and for Ron, Andrea and family, and never ever enough time. So much to learn about Jesus, and so little time...but maybe I CAN save a few of those questions for later. :)

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Friday, November 07, 2003

A Holiday to Truly Celebrate

Today is National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day. It's certainly as deserving a holiday as most others. So let's all toast with candy bars held high....Cheers to a day with chocolate! :)

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Thursday, November 06, 2003

The Cupcake Corp., a NASDAQ Listing

It's all about cupcakes right now. Cupcakes are the new candy bar, but Starbuckized. Cupcakes are the new Ben & Jerry's ice cream cone. Cupcakes are even the new wedding cakes, replacing multi-tiered creations with individual concoctions for each wedding goer. "In New York, cupcakes are not lopsided schoolbake-sale affairs. They are art, they are fashion, they are a tourist attraction and they can be big business," gushes the New York Times.

These supersized, candy-laden, intensely flavored indulgences sell for $2.95 and up. They are purchased mainly by adults in the largest cities who, some theorize, don't realize how easy they are to make. One bakery, The Magnolia in New York City, sells 3,000 per day, and brings in about $40,000 per week from sales of these creations. At the busiest times of a weekday, a line of customers can snake out the door and up the street.

New cupcakes, as I call them, fall into two categories: retro "back to basics" and nouveau cuisine. The "back to basics" cupcake is essentially an extravagant version of mom's homebaked variety, but the yellow cake is more intensely buttery, the chocolate is richer, and the frosting is piled higher and deeper. It is mom's cupcakes on steriods. Nouveau cuisine cupcakes follow the culinary path trod by Ben & Jerry's and TGIFriday's drinks menu...Cuban mojito cupcakes with rum flavoring and lime, Callebaut chocolate ganache cupcakes filled with bits of Godiva chocolate or fine peppermint chips. One baker says she keeps a customer suggestion box that quickly fills with cupcake concept proposals.

New cupcakes are also blank canvases for elaborate decorations, such as sculpted butter cream flowers and any holiday theme. (One baker topped cupcakes with tiny Israeli flags for Jewish High Holy Days.) As every midwestern homekeeper can tell you, fancy cake decorating is nothing new. The Wilton Corp. has taught every conceivable cake decorating scheme for the last 40+ years with its esteemed Wilton Method of Cake Decorating Course. The generation now inhabiting our large cities and haunting its bakeries, though, apparently have never heard of the Wilton family. Uniquely and fashionably decorated cupcakes command premium prices. They are status symbols, albeit temporary, and are often ordered to match one's outfit.

You may laugh at me when I say that cupcakes could soon spawn the hottest new stock on NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange. But remember....that's exactly how Krispy Kreme started. In 2002, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts rang up worldwide sales of $779 million and are expected to surpass $1 billion in 2003.

Cupcake futures, anyone?

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World Events, Imelda Marcos-Style

"Every so often, an enormous event renders the world silent for one brief moment before all hell breaks loose. This is one such moment."

"....hold a place of honor on the long list of cult objects he's created. How high do they rank? Women have been treating their remaining pairs like classic cars, taking them out only for low-stress occasions, weather permitting. Now, in a thrilling development, the style has returned. For how long? The company is keeping mum--- all the more reason to get your hunting done now."

This bit of hyperbole, taken from spam for, is for a pair of shoes. Honest, it really is.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

My Day at Traffic & Minor Offenses Court

Went to Traffic & Minor Offenses Court today for a non-moving violation ticket for incorrect home address for....$450....that the DMV says I received in 2001. The subject came up because I had not heard from the DMV about my mid-November license renewal, and had called to inquire about its status. Seems that my "failure to appear" to pay for this ticket caused my license to be suspended more than two years ago, unbeknownst to me. The Court Clerk urged me to go over to the Court, pay the $450 plus an additional fee, and my record and license would be free of this blemish. Nothing else would be required. Of course, I could always go see the Judge if I had anything to say about this situation....:)

Anyone who knows me knows I went to see the Judge. He is clearly a man exhausted by his 55 or so years of life and work. His opening remarks showed him to be direct, plain-spoken and a man of quite strong views. He wanted to only hear one of three phrases from each person's mouth: guilty, not guilty or traffic school, and he wanted each case completed in one minute. Period.

Please understand that I AM guilty of having an incorrect address on my drivers license, and I intend to remedy that when I get my license renewed next week. (I emphatically do not remember, and would not have signed, a $450 ticket for said offense. I believe that a young police officer did not fully explain a "fix your equipment and this ticket will cost you nothing" citation she issued to me about that time. )

Judge: "Mrs. White, have you fixed the address on your license to drive your Maserati?" (He also used the Maserati reference for several before me who looked middle class affluent in relation to the other offenders.)

"Sir, it was a Jeep, not a Maserati."

"They look about the same."

", no. I am nervous, sir."

"We are all nervous, Mrs. White.

"Sir, I have my license here. I have not changed the address yet."

"So you didn't tell me the truth the first time I asked?" the judge glared at me.

The judge looks down and then comments, " I see your license is suspended."

"That was a surprise to me, Sir."

Uncomfortable pause.....and more uncomfortable pause.

"Here is what I'll do. Your fine will be $153, Mrs. White. I will make this an infraction and not a misdemeanor, so it will not go on your record."

(On my record as what? Failure to stand in line for 6 hours at the DMV when I move less than one mile and retain the same phone number? I don't know anyone who changes their address with the DMV between license renewal dates. And $153? For only $19 more, one twentysomething man was cited for carrying marijuana. A probable illegal was fined just $325 for driving without license, insurance or car registration. $153 for an incorrect address? What? That guy over there ran a red light and had no insurance and his fine was.... )

"Thank you, sir," I gratefully said, using my intelligence and not my emotions.

Ron and I headed out of the courtroom to the 10-window cashier and ATM area for Traffic & Minor Offenses Court to immediately pay $153 to satisfy the demands of our justice system and to lift the suspension from my license.

"Hi" I smile at the clerk. "I just want to pay this." I handed her the info summary from the court balif.

"Today?" she paused. "But you have 30 days to pay this."

"I want to take care of this today. I don't want to come back here, and I want to have a receipt for my payment. I need to get the suspension lifted from my license."

"You can mail it in, you know."

"I want to pay this today. I want to take care of it now. I want to know this is all taken care of." Not good when I get hyper like this.

"Ok" she sighed. "Go to window 9 and wait for your name to be called." She warns, "You'll have to wait a few minutes."

We walk down to window 9, and we wait. And we wait. And we wait even more. Everyone waiting is called but me. Finally, the clerk, Mr. Chan, leans out his window.

"I have no more paperwork to do, but come on over, and maybe I can help you."

God bless Mr. Chan.

He researches and locates my case. "That will be $136."

"$136? But the Judge said $153. The paper slip from the balif says $153. I want to pay all I owe. Could you check that again? " Still hyper. Leaking hyper.

Mr. Chan is confused, "The computer says $136. It must be $136. It IS $136. "

"Here is $136," I said, now thoroughly defeated in my search for truth and equity at Traffic & Minor Offenses Court.

I add, "Could you please make sure that the suspension is lifed from my license, too?"

"Yes" he smiles. "Please take a seat."

Mr. Chan closes his window, calls over a colleague, and they labor over his computer for 10 minutes. He motions me back.

"All taken care of, Mrs. White. It's good you asked. We had to look at many screens. Your license is now cleared. You can go to the DMV at anytime."

"Thank you again, Mr. Chan. Have a good day Thank you."

Ahhh...I learn again the value of persistence, patience and humility. And how very very hard they are to do. Next stop: the DMV!

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Breaking Bread Together

Friends, laughter, delicious food, people meeting people, lingering over a good glass of wine, shared passions, confided dreams....there is nothing quite like the warmth and quiet delight of an intimate dinner party at home. That is what entertaining and good cooking is all about: setting the stage for enjoying times and making memories with family and friends. Opening your home to break bread together and enjoy the fellowship of each other's company.

We all need more of that in our lives today.

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