Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Miracles in Our Frontyard Rose Garden

My office window looks out over our front lawn and rose garden, into the neighborhood. I can see neighbors coming and going... Peg making her daily mail delivery rounds....assorted strangers leaving cards and fliers on our front porch. Ours is a quiet weekday street, though, owned by the business of birds more than people.

Loved ones know that I have a 25-year passion for growing and admiring roses. I confess that I admire my own roses, more often and more deeply, than other roses....the luscious colors and scents, vibrant sturdy health, shape and even the stubborn lower branches. Maybe it's because I know the history of each rose bush...the failures and successes, the times when my patience was rewarded. I hate to tear out a rose bush...prefer to give it ample seasons and watering strategies to blossom. To be honest, I can't recall giving up on a rose bush. They've always eventually blossomed, each in their own way.

Our garden has two new rose bushes this year, both germinated from seeds dropped by other bushes into the fertile bed. Rather than pull up the tiny messy shooters last year, I watered and fed them, hoping for long-shot survival. In January, I pruned them back to just a few inches, and both have responded with healthy growth. Neither has yet sprouted a bud, but it'll be fun, in time, to know the colors of their blossoms.

Outside my window right now, the roses are an exuberant riot of Spring color....fresh butter yellow, whisper-pink white, erotic deep velvet red with a heavy hypnotic fragrance. Andrea's favorite is rose is Joseph's Coat, with a brilliant orange blossom that crescendoes into brightest gold at its center. Annually, Ron and neighbors praise an unusual light brandy peach rose as the most beautiful ever. Sometimes, I think it might also be my favorite , but's hard to choose between such beauty.

When I see our frontyard rose garden, I see living miracles born of both my work and faith. God's miracles, not mine.

Monday, March 29, 2004

SAT Analogy Question Example

A few words of praise are to a fledgling writer what gasoline is to a car.

A little pathetic, isn't it? :)

But oh-so-true.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Shut off....

"God, help us to shut off the television and radio and computer and phone so that we can communicate with each other. Help us to be silent like Elijah so we can hear your still, small voice within."

Marian Wright Edelman, in "Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children"

Friday, March 26, 2004

Unimaginable or Unimaginably Tasteless

A President of the United States joking about war? Joking about a war in which almost 600 American soliders were killed...another 3,500 seriously injured...the American soldier suicide rate is at unprecedented levels? Joking about using false or erroneous pretenses to start that war? Joking about a war that caused utter havoc, destruction and chaos for the people of another country, and major instability for the entire region? Joking and laughing and grinning?


Or unimaginably tasteless.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Genius Mothers Day Marketing Strategy

We're tired and driving home after Andrea's softball game last night. Ron has Wed night classes again this semester, so I have supportive softball mom responsibiities.

Andrea: Oh Mom...I forgot to tell you....remember that contest that I told you about?

Me: No. What contest? (Oh no...another activity. Another tournament.)

Andrea: a diamond for your mom contest? My Language Arts teacher told us about it.

Me: Uh, sort of. (Ears perking up....attention rising.)

Andrea: A jewelry company had a contest. We could write an essay of 30 words or less about why my mom should win a diamond. I came in second. I won a garnet for you.

Me: (Not sure I'm understanding....) Uh...OK. When did you find out?

Andrea: Today. My teacher told me. About 10 kids at our school got second place.

Me: You wrote an essay about me?

Andrea: Yeah.

Me: (Maternal tears welling up....) What did you say?

Andrea: That you work really hard for us and that you are really really loving and that you are a positive role model for me.

Me: (Tears are flowing now...) Oh...thank you. I don't know what to say.......that's so sweet. Andrea....(long pause)...thank you. (Mothers live for these words....they treasure them in their hearts forever. All that laundry....all those softball games....all those meals....all that patience....she noticed. More quiet tears.)

Andrea: (Kind of embarrassed...) Mom, it's no big deal. It's just true.

Me: (Pause...regain control of my runaway maternal pride.) So a garnet? Wow. I love garnets.

Andrea: It's some special kind of garnet. It's just the garnet, not anything else. Third place winners got amethysts.

Me: Great! I'll keep it forever.....I'll wear it always. (Ok... a loose stone. Hmmmm....that means I'll have spend money to make it wearable.)

Andrea: To go get it, we have to be at the jewelry store on May 7th between 4 and 5 PM. All the mothers and kids will be there then.

Me: I can't wait. Thank you, Andrea. I am sooooo proud.

I get ops and publicity for honoring mothers with sweet essays by their beloved sons and daughters. Moms with unset stones won by their children to honor them. Mothers who now know the location of that thoughtful jewelry store. Mothers who now have a place to buy that ring, pendant or pin setting for their new unset stone....maybe even matching earrings. Mothers who HAVE to wear their new stones. Mothers who will probably be required to be buried with those stones.

And all on the Friday afternoon before Mothers' Day.

Pure marketing genius.

And I'm weeping with joy.

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Monday, March 22, 2004

My Plan for My Daughters

Unbeknownst to her, I had a plan if...God oldest daughter came home pregnant when she was a teenager. She was a nice girl, focused on school, and never really even rebelled much. (She's 27 now and married, and my fervent prayer for her IS pregnancy. But I'm not supposed to nag about that. That's another story....)

Our former neighbors went through this years ago, and my plan is their plan. It worked well, making joyous lemonade out of lemons. I met their beloved granddaughter once. She's an adult now, and a blessing to her family. They all would've been the poorer had she been put up for adoption.

We were going to express our disappointment, of course. Our disappointment that she was having sex before she was ready to be wife and mother. Our disappointment that she was foolish enough to waste one of God's greatest gifts to man, sexuality within marriage, on something less than that. Throwing her pearls to swine. Not disappointment at the loss of a fairy tale, white wedding. Not loss of bridal showers and bouquets and wedding cakes, and our little girl all dressed up in an expensive frock. Those would be our dreams, not hers, apparently, and they're superficial wishes. This is not about us. It's now about a new child of God.

Life is not perfect, and none of us are, either. Confess, repent, and then we forgive. Time to move forward. Wallowing in anger and recriminations would be counter-productive and wholly self-indulgent.

She would live at our home, attend school and have her baby. She would raise her child under our roof, all while attending school and perhaps working parttime. We would only caretake our new grandchild when our daughter was at school or work. The rest of the time, she would be a mother, and we would provide the parenting education and mentoring. And we would love them both, as God loves His children.

What would the neighbors think? Would we be unmasked to family and friends, to our church community, as imperfect? Do mature-in-their-faith Christians really worry about this? Life is messy. Life is imperfect. Life disappoints. God doesn't promise that we won't experience losses and challenges. He promises that He'll be with us when we experience life's inevitable downers. We can lean on Him for our strength. Those aren't just pretty words for church and Sunday School. They're words for day-to-day living.

Separate a new baby from her natural mother when we have a comfortable home and a loving, intact family? Never. Would it be easy? No. Is it the right thing to keep mother and child together, if possible? Absolutely.

God has His plan. Such would be the time for faith in God's perfect timing. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28.

As I said before, my older daughter is an adult now, and long past these concerns. But I'll still have this secret plan for my 12 year old, should she be imperfect. It seems like the only forgiving, loving response.

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French Onion Soup and Zucchini-Oregano Frittata

Made French onion soup (quick style) and a zucchini-oregano frittata last night...a delicious dinner that was actually healthy, heavy on protein with a no-carb count. Sautee 5 or 6 cut-up (not chopped) onions in 3 tbsps butter for 30 minutes until soft and almost transparent. Add 3 cans of good-quality beef broth and bring it to a boil. Turn down to simmer, and add 1/2 cup of cooking sherry to deepen the taste. Simmer for 30 minutes, and add salt and white pepper to taste. Rather than adding croutons and heavy baked cheese, I served it steaming in bowls with grated Swiss cheese lightly sprinkled over the top. For the frittata, sautee 5 sliced zucchini in canola oil for 15 minutes in a medium-sized frying pan. Season with with garlic salt, garlic pepper and oregano to taste (2 tbspns in our home). In a separate bowl, beat 8 eggs with a 1/2 cup milk, and pour over the zucchini. The trick of a frittata is to cook it at a medium heat so that the bottom is not overdone and the top is not soupy. Never mix it a la scrambled eggs, and don't fold over, or it becomes an omelette. When you think it is done...about 12 minutes, place a platter upside-down over the pan. Flip the pan and platter over so that the fritatta falls neatly onto the platter, ready to cut into pie wedges for your hungry family.

Our 12 year old raved about how good dinner was, and Ron's blood sugar count was low this morning. And it was fun, creative fare to concoct on a quiet Sunday evening.

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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Of Fear and Tentmasters

Sometimes the tent is deliberately kept small because the tentmaster is afraid that people who might enter the tent won't be just like him. Sort of like this enchanting poem....

Barnabus Browning
Was scared of drowning,
So he never would swim
Or get into a boat
Or take a bath
Or cross a moat.
He just sat day and night
With his door locked tight
And the windows nailed down,
Shaking with fear
That a wave might appear,
And cried so many tears
That they filled up the room
And he drowned.

"Fear" by Shel Silverstein

Friday, March 19, 2004

12 Year Old Wisdom

Conversation with my 12 year old last night while we were watching some slightly silly History Channel program on UFOs, for lack of anything better on TV:

Me: It's only logical that there's life elsewhere in the universe. Did you see that Hubble picture? All those planets and galaxies and stars?

Andrea: Nope. I don't believe it.

Me: Is your mind closed already? You can't even consider the possibility?

Andrea: Mom...God only made us. We're special to Him.

Me: He could have made other worlds....other beings.

Andrea: Mom...He sent His son HERE.

Me: (smiling and lightly teasing) He could have sent other sons elsewhere.

Andrea: (shaking her head) Mom...His ONLY son.

Me: Oh yeah.

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Greater Than Home, Deeper Than Home

Had a dream early this morning. I saw with my feeling and being, not my eyes. There are no visual sights to report. The feeling of it was peaceful and deeply satisfying. Home is not the right felt greater than home, deeper than home, more permanent than home. It felt like a home that I have never known. It was not like being was like being on a different level of consciousness. There was no anger, no fear, no tension, no worry.....only peace. It just hit me...there was no temptation.

I woke up refreshed and smiling. (And raced to my computer to write this before it slipped from my mind.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Pen Tells All.....Well, A lot, Anyway

Some of the nicest and kindest people I've never met, and will never meet, are my book buying customers on eBay. Writing conveys so much more than people realize, especially about the heart.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Sweet & Savory Egg Strata for Brunch

Made a centerpiece dish today for my Tuesday women's brunch and Bible group. Butter a 13" X 9" Pyrex glass baking dish. Cut the crust off 12 slices of cinnamon raisin bread, and lightly butter the slices on both sides. Lay 6 slices in the dish, and sprinkle evenly over the bread with 8 oz grated Monterey jack cheese. Lay the other 6 slices over the cheese, and sprinkle again with another 8 oz grated Monterey jack cheese.

In a separate bowl, combine 4 cups whole milk with 8 large eggs, beaten. I then added 1 1/2 tspns dry mustard, 1 tspn nutmeg, 1 tspn salt and 2 generous shakes of white pepper. Pour the egg and milk mixture into the baking dish. Cover with foil, and refrigerate overnight. Bake in the morning at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. The result is a custard-like texture with subtle tastes of nutmeg, sweet raisins and delicious savory egg.

You can add more zest to this recipe by tucking sausage patties, crumbled bacon or frozen broccoli spears between the bread and cheese layers, or add Ortega chiles to the egg mixture for a Southwest touch.

The perfect brunch dish with fresh fruit and French Roast coffee.

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Monday, March 15, 2004

Thin Mints on the eBay Auction Block

It's official...eBay is part of the everyday American middle class life experience. To the chagrin of the Girls Scouts organization, ever-popular Girl Scout cookies are selling on eBay...and they are selling like proverbial hotcakes, err...cookies. At this moment, there are 265 active auctions for thin mints, samoas and the like, and all are going at prices well above what the girls collect from family and friends.

Seems that some auctions are offered by scout parents who aren't able to help their girls sell the requisite cookie quota....disabled moms and dads, those with no deep-pocketed friends or neighbors, those with little time for all the school, sports and scouts fundraisers. But many are offered by fast-reacting entrepreneurs who have found a market....small towns and urban jungles with no scout troops, seniors and shut-ins with no kids in their lives, and people who just can't get enough thin mints.

Scads of Girl Scout cookies, Tupperware and Creative Memories paraphernalia are now all sold on eBay. What's next...groceries?

Like I've said before, eBay is not just a place to do business. It's now a way of doing business. There's a big difference.

Now back to eBay to stash away a few spare boxes of the ones with the toasted coconut....:)

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Imagining the Unimaginable

My husband, Ron, gives me peace of mind every day, as the saying goes. He brings a joy and peace that I never knew before I met him. There are no words to describe my gratitude to God for him. As he struggles with diabetes, I try to imagine the without him someday. It's simply not conceivable.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Life as Fiction

I am generally a non-fiction reader and only write non-fiction, and now I realize why. Life is incredibly vibrant and rich with human triumphs and frailties, kindnesses and cruelties, if one has eyes to see. Fiction seems like a bother...a dissipation of energies better spent observing the human condition. Sudden shocking death, an unplanned pregnancy and the related family complexities, greed and unkindness, absorbing addictions, long-lost family members.....and that's just in the last week!

It's sort of like a big, cosmic board game of Clue. True character reveals itself under the stress of life's spell. Until then, you can only guess based on the outter clues.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Porky Pig for President?

Heard a respected political analyst comment, in a candid interview, that 80% of both Republicans and Democrats would vote for Porky Pig if their respective political party nominated him for President. He said that federal elections these day are decided by the other 20% of both parties that discipline themselves to be open-minded enough to truly listen to (and be able to hear and ponder) all viewpoints before making their decision.

I pray that God grants me enough discernment and wisdom to not vote for a Porky Pig.

How about you?

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

A Prayer for Children

"O God, we pray for children from whom we expect too little and for those from whom we expect too much; for those who have too little to live on and for those with so much they appreciate little; for children afflicted by want and for children afflicted by affluence in a society that defines them by what they have rather than by who they are---Your loving precious gift."

Marian Wright Edelman in "Guide My Feet - Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children"

French Vanilla Cake with Coconut Vanilla Frosting

Made a delicious and medium-light cake last night, mainly because I've been promising one for while to Andrea. Add 3 large eggs, 1/3 cup canola oil and 1 cup water to a Betty Crocker French Vanilla Super Moist cake mix. Beat thoroughly for several minutes until the batter is smooth. Take a 1/4 measuring cup, and fill about 25% with vanilla extract, and then fill to the top with water. Blend into the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

For the frosting, I improvised on the white butter cream icing recipe from the original 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. Mix together 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/3 cup softened butter, 2 tbspns milk and 1 tspn vanilla extract. Add more milk or sugar to achieve the right texture. Once smooth and ready to spread, add 1 cup flaked coconut.

She and I enjoyed warm cake fresh out of the oven last night, while she shared tales of her day at school.

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Monday, March 08, 2004

Campaign Bother and Blather

In an online poll today on the venerable Lou Dobbs' CNN news & business program, a whopping 95% of respondents said they've already made up their minds about which candidate they'll vote for in November for US President.

Doesn't it make you wish we could just hold the election soon, and nuke all the campaign bother, blather and expense?

Friday, March 05, 2004

Friday Figments of My Mind

You know your day is not starting well when you sit down to your desk, and notice a huge puddle of black ink under and all around your desktop printer.

The father of one of Andrea's best girlfriends is prominent in Christian circles. He is so busy, in fact, that in the 3 years we've known his daughter, he has never once attended her Back-to-School nights or Open Houses. Ours is not to judge and there are probably reasons, but it still seems sad for her.

What a joy this week to see my oldest daughter make hard but healthy decisions, regardless of pressures from other's expectations. I'm in awe of the additional maturity and clarity that marriage has given to her perspective.

I'm confused when politicians say that gay marriage should be a state issue. How can that logically be so when a myriad of federal programs hinge on marital status? For instance, marital status determines many elements of your federal tax return. Marital status is a factor in calculating your social security benefits. Doesn't marital status affect various regulatory aspects of life for our armed forces? Of course this is a federal issue. It would be illegal discrimination to inconsistently apply any of those federal statutes.

We're having a Tupperware cooking demo an hour before our normal Friday Family Fellowship get-together tonight. The salesperson is a church member who is supporting her musical instrument habit. Sexist women that we are, she and I assumed that just the women would arrive early to attend her presentation. Seems that ALL our husbands are attending, too. :) Her comment to that was "Uh I'll have to explain how it all WORKS."

In my forays buying and selling books online, I have the privilege of discovering some amazing books. Two vintage Christian books that I strongly recommend:

- "The Power of Positive Praying" by John Bisagno, then the President of the National Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. Published in 1965 by Zondervan. By far the most accessible and practical book on prayer I have even seen. This book could make prayer alive and vital for everyone.

- "World Aflame" by Billy Graham, published in 1965 before he polished his fiery, rough edges to become more politically correct. This book is obscure...hard to find because it was rarely (if ever) reprinted. This is hard-hitting, boundary-setting, tough stuff about sin, judgment, pornography, perversion, dishonesty, anxiety, leisure, idolatry, prideful intellectualism, worship of science, our dying culture, signs of the end and much more. A must-read for every Christian.

OJ Simpson walks the streets (and golf courses) a free man and thousands of known pedophile priests remain uncharged with crimes, while Martha Stewart goes to jail for a couple years for a tiny fraction (less than 1%) of the financial misdeeds of the scot-free executives of Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Tyco and similar. Sin is always sin, I understand that, but there are still 2 lessons to be learned from this: 1 Even arrogant women are at a significant disadvantage compared to arrogant men; and 2. Stealing and cheating for financial gain are greater legal sins in our country than murder and sexual abuse of children.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Early Spring Fever

By calendar, spring is 17 days away. By weather, spring arrived today. The sky is azure blue and dotted with fleecy white clouds....the air is cool and the sun feels subtly, quietly warm. Wish I had time to dream away the afternoon outside with a good book, or enjoy a picnic at the park with Ron and Andrea. It's a day to feel joy in God's earthly gifts to us.

Happy early spring fever. :)

Good News and Sad News from Narnia

Disney announced yesterday that it signed and sealed a deal to film a live-action version of C.S. Lewis' wildly popular and beloved classic, "The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe." This book is first in a series of 7 tomes that depict epic struggles between good and evil set in the magical land of Narnia, a land populated by giants, dwarves and talking beasts. The Chronicles of Narnia book series has sold over 85 milion copies worldwide since its 1950s publication.

Some say that the major difference between the Tolkien and Lewis fantasy books is that Lewis' characters are drawn with emotional richness and depth lacking in the Lord of the Rings world. That anythng by Lewis, Oxford and Cambridge classics professor and famed Christian writer, is being filmed is the good news.

Here's the irony....for these books that are rich with human qualities and heart, Disney has decided to forego using human beings for 5 of the lead acting roles. Bottom line is that it's cheaper to dispense with the bother of humans, with their needs to be paid, fed, sleep, and have time off. Disney will instead use breathtakingly realistic digital technology to create 5 lead roles. And, of course, use computers, not manpower, as much as possible to create those digital characters.

Disney's move contains a feast's worth of food for thought. Here's one morsel.....think how the grocery stores, that just ended a bitter 4-month strike, would dearly love to replace all its employees with undemanding technology. And does anyone doubt for a moment that WalMart and similar would like to dump human employees for a less expensive option ?

These are examples of unfettered capitalism at its purest.

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Monday, March 01, 2004

Films and Our National Soul

The top box-office films of this past year were The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King, Finding Nemo, The Matrix Revolutions and Elf. All are fantasies, and 3 heavily employ special effects and other film tricks and techniques. One, of course, is animated. Not one of them resulted in even an Academy Award nomination for acting. The acting was quite secondary to atmosphere and appearance.

When did we stop caring about people in films? When did people in film become background and accessories to things? In fact, there are no real people depicted in these films...all are animated fish, futuristic humanoid-types, hobbits and the like, and silly caricatures of people.

The last film my family truly savored was The Rookie (released in 2002), which featured everyday people and their sadnesses and losses, dreams and triumphs, forgiveness and kindness, set against a baseball background.

They say that film is a reflection of society (about 1 to 2 years in lag, due to the production process), and not vice versa.

Why don't we want to see these films anymore? The answer would provide a fascinating glimpse into our national soul these past couple years.

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