Friday, April 30, 2004

Mercy for the Phone Company?

For today from the Max Lucado daily calendar here by my monitor:

"What do you do when people mistreat you or those you love? Does the fire of anger boil within you, with leaping flames consuming your emotions? Or do you reach somewhere, to some source of cool water and pull out a bucket of mercy--- to free youself? Is there any emotion that imprisons the soul more than the unwilingness to forgive? Can you each for that cool water of forgivenes today?"

Forgiveness for the phone company? Forgiveness for creators of computer viruses? (Satan, thy name is computer virus.) Forgiveness for self-serving professors who think everyone needs to take THEIR course? (See the next blog if you don't understand my rantings.)

That will take some time.

But I will.

I guess.

Of Fantasies and Abraham Lincoln

Ron and I were fantasizing last night about living in a place where cost of living is low; air is clean; life is slower with far less traffic; high school math teaching jobs are plentiful, challenging and rewarding; people smile because daily life's not a hassle there; and the sun shines every day except for a occasional light winter snow. We think that might be New Mexico.

Our week has been exhausting...full of unexpected challenges and problems. We've been talking....heatedly talking....with the phone company about hundreds of dollars of unauthorized phone charges on our home bill. They cut off the phone line. Tuesday, my computer contracted a brand new, debilitating and destructive virus. So new that Norton Antivirus won't have it in its weekly Virus Definition Update until May 5, 6 days from now. And then Wednesday, Cal State Fullerton told Ron he must take two MORE classes before they admit him to the Credential program. He planned to leave the corporate world this fall for teaching. This news may postpone his plans for another year.

I don't mean to whine. Our health is good. We have a lovely home, clothes to wear and plenty of food in the refrig. We both earn a decent wage. Our daughter is a delight. I need to get into thought management mode. Abraham Lincoln famously said, "People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

I wonder if that includes a bit of escapist fantasy? I'm picturing a leisurely stroll in the charming Plaza at Santa Fe.....

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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Extreme Talent

Extreme talent is quite a sight to behold.

A 7th grader on Andrea's softball has athletic agility the likes that I've never before seen except in a few professional athletes. Her body glides gracefully in movement ...her responses are intuitive and and extraordinarily quick....her natural aggressiveness is a different animal than the other girls. They're nimble dogs, but she's a cat. She taunts the pitcher with her smiling presence. She's always moving. She's a nice, unpretentious girl, not especially pretty or fashionable, with an easy laugh, no make-up and a tangled mass of curly sandy-blonde hair. Injuries are minor nuisances to her.....she's not a dramatic princess.

The mother sitting next me at last night's game, the coach's wife, said that Darion has always been this gifted. She was an extreme talent in 2nd grade. In fact, softball's not even her game. She was recently drafted by a national soccer club. She's in training for a possible spot on the Olympic soccer team. As a goalie.

She's a wonder to watch. I understand the intensity of true gifts from God when I watch her on the athletic field.

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Truth, or At Least Some Version of It

President Bush and Vice President Cheney testify today...together because, well, let's be totally honest: they need to tell the same story.....before the 9/11 Commisson. Their testimony has been long awaited and will be breathlessly covered by the media. They are not under oath. No video or audio recordings of any kind are permitted. These two political leaders are more prone than the average, it appears, to stretch the truth. Some allege they fabricate their own truth. Perhaps they just see and remember what they choose to see and remember. You know, selective memory and truth.

Here's my question.....why care about today's testimony?

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Java Spice Bundt Cake

Made this last week for our Friday Family group, and it was a crowd-pleasing hit. Apparently, my cakes were missed during our Easter sabbatical.

Mix together in one big bowl....1 Betty Crocker French Vanilla Super Moist cake mix, 4 eggs, 1 small package instant butterscotch pudding, 1 cup strong black coffee, 1/2 cup canola oil, and spices to taste. I recommend 2 tspns cinnamon, 1 tspn nutmeg, 1/2 tspn pumpkin pie spice and a heavy sprinkle of ground cloves. Once thoroughy blended together, stir in 1 cup raisins. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. While cake is cooling, mix a glaze of 1 cup powdered cugar, 1 tbsp milk, 1/2 tspn pure vanilla and 1 tbspn light corn syrup. Drizzle glaze over cooled cake.

Superb with a freshly made cup of coffee or a cold glass of milk.

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Friday, April 23, 2004

The God of Sunday Softball

The following is from an article in a recent special issue of "Sports Illustrated," entitled "Let Us Pray/Play" by columnist Rick Reilly,:

"Don't bet on coaches doing the right thing. If they could, they'd have your kids running stairs on Christmas morning. What has to happen is the parents have to start saying no. Not to their kids--to their kids' coaches. "I told my boy's coach he wouldn't be playing on Sundays," says Rich Cizik, "and he looked shocked. I said 'You act like nobody's ever said that to you before.' And he said, 'Honestly? They haven't.' "

We've said "No Thanks" to girls' softball on Sunday, most recently for a tournament last weekend. The first 2 games were scheduled for 8:45 AM and 11 AM last Sunday. We calmly said that we could be there (15 miles from home) after first service, about noon, at best. The team didn't progress to the 3rd game. Next time we saw the coach and parent crowd, we were treated as a cross between eccentrics and pariahs.

But privately, several parents asked more about us, about our faith and church. :)

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Dangerous Military Mentality

"Today, the existence of the military mentality is more dangerous than ever; for the weapons which are available to aggressor nations have become much more powerful than weapons of defense. This fact will inevitably produce the kind of thinking which leads to preventive wars. Because of the general insecurity resulting from these developments, the civil rights of citizens are being sacrificed to the alleged cause of national interest. Political witch-hunting and governmental interference in many forms, such as official control over teaching, research and the press, appear inevitable and, consequently, do not encounter the kind of popular resistance that might otherwise serve to protect the population.

All traditional values are changing, and anything which does not clearly serve the utopian goal of militarism is considered inferior."

Sound familiar? A quote from the John Kerry camp? Carping from another liberal-leaning newspaper?


Albert Einstein, in 1947, in a piece he wrote entitled "The Military Mentality." Taken from my newly found treasure, a 1960 704-page book "Einstein on Peace" that compiles his prolific writings and speeches on peace and the desperate need for peacemaking.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Journey, So Far

When Andrea was 4 years old, we had the privilege of visiting a Buddhist monastary while we were vacationing in Hong Kong. We were fascinated by the richly ornate temples, the exotic and peaceful aura, the lush manicured gardens. Young orange-robed monks silently did chores and worshipped en masse in an open-walled temple. A few older monks seemed engrossed in matters of the day.

We broke away from the small group to admire the Temple to the Sky and take a few tourist photos when we noticed a young monk watching us. We smiled, and he respectfully approached us. I'll never forget the look in his eyes...awestruck might be the best word. He knelt in front of our daughter. He looked into her blue-green eyes, and she looked back with quiet trust. He put his hand on her head, and held it there for what felt like several long minutes. It was an odd and awkward moment for Ron and me, but it felt we said nothing.

He pulled back his hand, stood up and said to me in hushed broken English, "She very special. She touched by the spirit." "We know" I said, and we did know by then. He impulsively removed a string of amber prayer beads from his wrist, knelt again in front of her, and put it into her little hands. He looked again into her eyes, and then rushed away.

Our Chinese tour guide raced up to us and gasped "That was very rare. I've never seen a monk talk to a tourist. Never. What did he want? What did he say?" I remember her shaking her head in silent amazement.

At our former church, she earned her Bible in third grade, as all Presbyterian third graders do. We were out of town, though, when the pastor presented the Bibles during a service, so we thought we'd just pick hers up later. "No" said the pastor. "She's special." So the next week, he presented it to only her during the morning service. To this day, it's still the Bible she reads and carries to church.

When we were shopping for a new church, we plotted out a calendar of Sunday visits to various local congregations. The first church visit was a disaster....we were uncomfortable and frankly a bit horrified. Ron and I were much happier with the second church we visited...the sermon was interesting and on-target, the pastor was likeable and positive, the people were friendly to new faces. It was when we got into the car that we knew. "How was Sunday School?" we asked 9 year old, almost 5th grader Andrea. In a startling voice that I still sounded firmer and deeper, more mature than normal, she announced, "This is where I want to go to church."

So we do.

She got involved in a Bible study program that we knew nothing about, and she came home with a medal from what was apparently her first competition. (We didn't even attend...we had no idea.) She spent two years in that program, and demonstrated an extraordinarily deep, almost intuitive grasp of the Bible. We were shocked. She won accolades at every meet she attended, and grew in her knowledge of the Word in a way that still defies our imaginations.

She's 12 now and a 7th grader. She has many gifts and talents....she's considered a math prodigy and gets perfect report cards. She's won truly surprising awards we can't even tell others about because they get jealous, and I guess no one needs to know, anyway. In high school. she'll be at the top. She'll be recruited by top universities, and have her choice of paths.

I can't even recall all those who've commented to us over the years,"She's so different" and "She's so special." They sense her stillness,her deep faith, her servant's heart, but they can't put their finger on it. Teachers look at us with odd stares, and most have little to say. (This year, one simply asked if she was bored.)

Yesterday before school, like a responsibly curious mom, I noticed something in her front pocket. "Taking your allowance?" I inquired.

"No" she said a tad sheepishly. "It's a Bible. I take it everyday now."

I've never wanted her to be a pastor. It's a hard life, and even harder for women. She's a first class talent, and women pastors are accorded second-class treatment, at best. Her peaceful insightfullness....her sweet soul....her incredible grasp of God's word will be buried beneath a pile of politics, egos and budgets. Her gifts will be wasted. I couldn't stand to see her message lost amid the rubble of others' ambitions and prejudices. I will not stand for it.

But she now takes her Bible everywhere with her, including middle school. She relies on it every hour of her life. I know that her faith and her church are at the core of her being. At 12, she's maturing, and I see where her heart and soul are held captive.

So yesterday, I conceded in an email to a pastor that someday, perhaps later in life, she will inevitably attend seminary. It was a VERY hard note for me to write....but I did. When I told her about the email, she cheered with joy.

The day the monk put his amber prayer beads into her hands, I took them from my 4 year old and tucked them into a hidden, safe compartment in my purse. I've carried them in my purse everyday since then. I took them out today, and they're sitting here in front of me right now. I have tears in my eyes.

Someday soon, I'll give her the beads.

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Saturday, April 17, 2004

Perfect Description of the Cheney War Strategy

"Dick Cheney's nutty utopian dream of bombing the world into freedom...." Maureen Dowd, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, described the Cheney war strategy for Iraq and the Middle East in her column today.

Absolutely dead-on perfect description and characterization.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Another Reason to buy Starbucks Stock....Addicted Customers

Turns out that a cup of Starbucks joe really does have more bang for the cup.

In recent laboratory tests conducted by the Wall St Journal, a 16 oz cup (grande, in Starbucks lingo) of the Seattle-based chain's house blend had 223 milligrams of caffeine, which is 29% more than Dunkin' Donuts coffee, 56% more than 7-Eleven java, and 88% more than a cup of home-brewed Folgers.

I knew I liked Starbucks for a good reason. :)

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Justice, Due Process and all that Bother

Attorney General John Ashcroft said today, before the 9/11 Commission, that he moved quickly once in office to overturn a "failed policy" that he said allowed American agents to capture terrorist leader Osama bin Laden but "not assassinate him. Even if they could have penetrated bin Laden's training camps, they would have needed a battery of lawyers to take action" he complained.

In other words, the United States' top law enforcement officer, the head of our great American justice system, the top attorney in our great national experiment in democracy, is bitter because he can't just shoot and kill people. He is forced to be handicapped with lawyers, courts of law and all that silly, bothersome justice and due process stuff.

Seriously. He really said that.

Two Scary Ideas

On August 6, 2001, President George Bush read a simply-worded 1 1/4 page summary memo clearly entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." One paragraph of the memo stated: "Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country, consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York."

The next sentence continued, "The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related."

The President was then enjoying a month-long summer vacation on his Texas ranch. According to one CNN reporter whose beat then was the vacationing President, Mr. Bush was incredibly relaxed that summer..."more relaxed than we had ever seen him." The President read this memo, and concluded that it was too vague to cause protective action to be taken in New York or elsewhere.

I don't know which idea is scarier to me.....that he's lying about his interpretation of this memo and made an erroneous risk assessment, or that he honestly finds these words too vague to be a credible warning and "actionable" threat. His earnest insistence is starting to convince me that he really didn't comprehend the memo.

I find it more comforting to think he's lying. Lying can be fixed.

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Sunday, April 11, 2004

Ultimate Springtime Lemonade Cake

Our Easter dinner menu today is....

Salad greens with roma tomatoes, diced black olives and honey mustard dressing
Ham, Farmer John smoked
Cinnamon carrots
Garlic smashed potatoes

And the consensus piece de resistance, Ultimate Springtime Lemonade Cake for dessert. The recipe is simple, but the taste is extreme.

Cream together one yellow cake mix, 4 eggs and 1/4 cup canola oil. In a separate bowl, add 3/4 cup boiling water to a 3 oz package lemon jello. Stir until the jello is thoroughly dissolved. Add the jello mixture to the cake batter, and mix. I then added a few drops of lemon extract for extra measure. Bake in a tube pan for 55 minutes at 350 degrees. Just before your cake is done baking, blend together a glaze of one thawed regular-size can of frozen lemonade with 1 cup super-fine sugar. As soon as you remove your cake from the oven, loosen cake edges from the pan sides, and then spoon all the glaze over the cake. Let cool for about 15 minutes, and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

I made the cake yesterday, and can barely keep Andrea from partaking of a piece before dessert. :) Her desire may be the sincerest form of culinary flattery.

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Saturday, April 10, 2004

An Easter Prayer

A little more kindness and a little less greed;
A little more giving and a little less need;
A little more smile and a little less frown;
A little less kicking a man when he's down;
A little more "we" and a little less "I";
A little more laughs and a little less cry;
A little more flowers on the pathway of life,
And fewer on graves at the end of the strife.

---- C. Austin Miles, "The World's Greatest Need"

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Of Obvious and Evil Wrong

I wanted to write here today about some small aspect of everyday life that illuminates a larger idea about our lives, our significance to others, God's significance....maybe about Andrea's 8th softball season, her coach's obsession with The Game and yet his quiet curiosity about why church is a priority for us, about why she seems different to him from the other girls.....perhaps another springtime rose-growing flight of fantasy or a musing about the fragrant cinnamon muffins I baked yesterday.....maybe recount Ron's constant battle with diabetes and how it affects every bite he takes, every plan he makes. I could easily ramble on about all the fascinating and revolutionary aspects of "The eBay Life." (A pastor friend recently grasped its enormity, and remarked "I had no idea....") I could elicit ideas about how to liven up my writing contest essay-in-progress about librarians.

But this morning's news reports that US Marines fired rockets at a Iraqi mosque filled with worshippers. Our rockets killed 40 people praying to their god. Not toting guns or throwing rocks, not threatening our soldiers, not even jeering insults at what they regard as occupiers of their country. They were worshipping and praying. Witnesses report that a helicopter fired missles into the mosque compound as the faithful had gathered for traditional afternoon prayers. Just imagine the hypocrisy of claiming to be a just-minded American or a loving Christian while lining up your aim to kill people in their place of worship. Other reports say that 25 Iraqi women and children died last night from American fire in another assault.

What are we fighting for in Iraq? To destroy dangerous weapons of mass destruction? They don't exist. To dethrone the twisted dictator, Saddam Hussein? We already have him in custody. To disable this once powerful country? We already have. To install our ideal of a government into a markedly different foreign country and culture? They don't seem to want or respect it. To control their rich oil fields? That's greed. To make tons of money rebuilding what we've destroyed? That's evil greed. To save political face for George Bush? Probably too late.

Of course, I mourn for the dead and their families. But more than that, I feel profound sadness and disappointment, even disillusionment, that our country...the great democratic experiment founded on liberty, justice and religious freedom for all, the country we were taught to love and respect, the Great Land of Freedom.....would do such obvious and evil wrong.

It makes everything else seem so small today.

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Monday, April 05, 2004

Quote of the Day

"There are three ways to get something it yourself, employ someone else, or forbid your children to do it."

---Monta Crane

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Now That's Entertainment.....Trump-Style

Been a long time since I've had such fun watching a TV program as I do "The Apprentice" on Thursday evenings. It's an absolute hoot for this MBA to be a spectator of the gamesmanship, personalities and competitive number crunching on that show. Been there, felt just like that. I actually get a bit nervous before the scorecards are read.

Any one of the remaining four....Amy, Nick, Bill or Kwame...deserve final victory. They all have their strong suits. Who will actually emerge as the victor? Bill and Amy are the most all-around clever and competent, and both are excellent strategists. Nick won't win....too much of a salesman to the exclusion of other management skills. But don't overlook Kwame.... so often, the quiet one with all the Ivy League style and little risk-taking is the one left standing.

If I were Donald Trump, I would select Bill to be the winning job applicant. But I'm not The Donald.

Now that's entertainment. Praise God it's only on TV for 60 minutes a week. It could turn into a regular time-devouring vice for me, rather like sports-watching for the masses of athletic competition addicts.

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