Saturday, October 30, 2004

Teenage Trash Talk from Mervyns

Seen on tee shirts sold at Mervyns for teenage girls......

- Someone's boring me, and I think it's you
- I'm hot
- Cancun
- Boys are great. I think every girl should own one.
- Not listening
- Too young for Ashton
- I'm having a crisis. Take me to the nearest mall.
And my personal favorite......
- He loves me. I love his friend.

Just imagine the fuss if boys wore similar trash-talk fashion denigrating girls, or flaunting sexuality and superficiality. Just imagine parents who would allow their daughters to wear such junk. Just imagine the aspirations and hopes of girls who want to wear these shirts.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Gymnast with Writer's Block

Eunice is tiny...unimaginably tiny....yet she's anything but fragile, mentally or physically. I tutor 9 year old Eunice weekly in writing. Eunice is a top-ranked, gold-medal winning, Olympic hopeful gymnast. As such, she aspires to perfection, and she expects and is expected to obtain it.

Eunice received a B in writing from her 4th-grade school district teacher (She's home-schooled to accommodate practice and tournament schedules.)...her first academic her parents turned to our local library's literacy tutoring program (me) for help. They were shocked by Eunice's imperfection. Mandarin Chinese is the main language spoken at home, but English proficiency is not the problem.

To succeed at gymnastics, Eunice practices 30 hours a week. She's learned to apply her formidable will and stamina to accomplish gymnastic and academic tasks. With laser focus, she masters spelling, grammar, math, science and history as well as parallel bars, floor execises and the horse vault.

Writing requires creativity and relaxation, not focus and control. Writing requires observation, interest in people and surroundings and a sense of humor. Writing takes soul, not muscle or memory.

Eunice's school essays are lacking imagination and detail, but they have perfect punctuation and spelling, perfect sentence construction, perfect spacing. Eunice has classic writer's block. No ideas...nothing to say. Each week I strive to find the other Eunice....the little girl, the child, the person....and to harness her personal passions into writing. I need to teach her a different way to accomplish goals.

She loves to eat pizza, ice cream and mushroom soup. She used to have parakeets, but they flew away one day. She likes the color pink. She attends church and knows the Bible well. Her fave cable channels are Disney, Nickelodeon and FoodTV. She especially watches Jacques Torres, the French chocolatier who constructs intricate gourmet edibles.

So to one tutoring sesson, I brought an illustrated cookbook about elaborate chocolate desserts. We studied the luscious photos, and fantasized about tasting the creations. We had great fun giggling over black forest cakes, chocolate apricot sorbet and raspberry ganache truffles. Eunice wrote a creative, interesting essay about making and eating white chocolate mousse towers.

This week, tiny Eunice looked tired. She explained that on Sunday, she won 3 gold medals, but slipped in one event. She failed to secure her normal overall first place. She came in third, behind two rivals. At our session, she forced herself to obediently focus, but she was distant and distracted. She wrote a few pieces for me, but they were brief and barren. I praised her anyway, of course, and asked her to write essays about pizza and roses for next week.

Her mother approached me later in the library, and anxiously asked, "How is she doing? Is she improving? Maybe if she practices spelling and sentences more. Will she get an A?"

I hope I can help Eunice. I'm not sure.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Honorary Foods of Fall/Winter 2004

As chief cook, I declare an honorary food (or two) each season. I experiment with new dishes and new ideas using that food. I learn both the chemistry and romance of the chosen it feels, smells, tastes and reacts when cooked different ways. Family and friends feast on the results.

The White home's honorary foods of Fall/Winter 2003 were pumpkin and cakes. I made cakes almost every week for our Friday Family group. Some cakes were superb...some were less than smashing successes. (All were eaten, I might add.) I made pumpkin cakes, pumpkin soups, pumpkin-veggie dishes, pumpkin cookies. My speciality last season was a pumpkin cheesecake that I took to potlucks and served at holiday get-togethers.

Our honorary foods of Fall/Winter 2004 are soups and apples. I confess....I've been negligent in whipping up apple dishes, because Ron and Andrea crave my homemade soups. We've had unseasonably early cold rains, and our Southern California air feels more like post-Thanksgiving than pre-Halloween. So soup season has begun.

I've created 4 homemade soups in 2 weeks, and all have been aromatic, hearty, healthy and oh-so-delicious. Both declared my Mexican tomato chile soup to be their fave thusfar, although I'm partial to the French country chicken herb soup with pasta shells.

To start the Mexican tomato chile soup, simmer one chicken carcass in 8 cups water for several hours, until the fragrance fills your home and chicken bits are falling off the bones. (Tip - never throw away chicken carcasses. Freeze for homemade chicken stock. I learned that tip on FoodTV.) Fish the carcass and loose bones out of the stock, remove remaining meat from the bones, and put chicken shreds back into the soup.

Add to the stock and simmer for 30 minutes...a 14.5 oz can diced Mexican-style tomatoes, a 14.5 oz can unseasoned diced tomatoes, 1/2 can mild Ortega chiles, 2 tbspns garlic powder, 2 substantial sprinkles of garlic salt and Tabasco to taste. Garnish with grated cheddar cheese and sour cream, and serve with warmed corn tortillas and your favorite sandwiches. We savored this soup with my in-demand Dijon egg salad on whole wheat.

I wonder if they'll eventually let me meet my apple goals this season?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Days of Adolescence

Adolescence...those years from 11 to exhausting for our children. (The whole parenting thing is exhausting for moms and dads. That's a given and another subject.) Their bodies are growing and changing more quickly and radically than at any other time in life. Peer pressure morphs from child's play into tidal waves of temptation. At times, middle school work feels harder, bigger and wider than the Pacific Ocean. And parent's expectations become more evident than ever. Everyday is choices, new freedoms, new ideas, new pressures,

My 8th grade, 13 year old Andrea had not yet stirred this morning at 7:10 AM. She usually rises at 6:30, reads her Bible, refreshes the bird cage, and organizes for school. She's naturally an early riser, an organized girl, a great student. She hates to be late. I quietly walked into her room.....she's huddled under blankets, sound asleep like when she was my baby.

Me:'s 7, sweetie. Time to get up.

Andrea: Uh......uh.....what?

Me: Karena's Dad will be here soon. Time to get up.

Andrea: Uh...oh no. Oh no. Uh..... (she sits up, panics....finally stands. I leave the room....progress is in motion.)

I walk in to my office, listening to her scurrying. Bathroom noises, drawers opening, papers shuffled into her backpack. Sounds of morning chaos.

Me: Everything OK? Can I make your lunch for you? (She prefers to make her own lunch menu.)

Andrea: (walks into my office and puts her arms around my neck) Mom?

Me: Yes, honey?

Andrea: What day is it?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Boss Marty as God

In his sermon over the weekend, our pastor commented that bosses are not God, although some may think they're God. I'm wondering if he''ll call Ron's boss and straighten him out.

Ron's boss (Marty) pressured him to work intensely and ("24/7 is the goal. This is an emergency." Never mind that so-called emergencies occur monthly ) and late into the night last Thursday and Friday. Ron offered to take work home this weekend, but that wasn't "acceptable." Ron stated that he wasn't working this weekend....he's diabetic, his blood sugar is high, and he felt rundown. Our doctor would disapprove. Marty said no problem. I understand.

Ron trudged home exhausted at 10:45 PM on Friday. He hadn't seen Andrea since Tuesday. We settled in for a quiet, restorative family weekend, to be finished with a Sunday dinner celebrating the start of autumn...turkey with parsleyed red potatoes, buttered sweet peas and freshly baked pumpkin pie. Kevin, my stepson, was driving 20 miles to join us for this family gathering and fun, seasonal feast. An early fall thanksgiving dinner.

At 8 PM Saturday after church, Ron was popping old-fashioned popcorn when the kitchen phone rang. Marty. Said he needed a document, and couldn't find it. Where might it be? A few minutes conversation while Ron continued to pop the corn. Marty....irked that his guilt trip wasn't working, irked that he was at work and Ron was at home.....finally commented...."I can practically smell that popcorn through the phone."
Ron stayed at home, and munched popcorn as we watched baseball playoff highlights and an old movie. But he felt stressed out and guilty. Marty was on his mind.

9 AM Sunday morning, when most of the world is worshiping at church, Marty leaves a phone message. It's really's an emergency. Everyone but you is here. Call me on my cell as soon as you get this. Marty was worshiping at work.

Ron had two or not call. If he ignored the message, he would be fired. That was the implicit threat. We can't afford that. If he made the call, he would be going to work on Sunday. Family dinner would be cancelled. A sacred occasion sacrificed for overtime at work.

With my defeated encouragement, he called. Andrea and I drove him to work in Irvine 30 miles from home, only to find just three cars in the company parking lot. One belonged to Marty, the others to his dep't employees. Ron worked until 8 PM Sunday evening.

Marty won. And Ron is not rested or feeling well, Andrea and Kevin haven't spent time with their dad lately, and I don't have my husband's attention. Ron wants...needs... to be at home and church, not work, on Sunday.

(And get this....once Ron was at work on Sunday, Marty said "Tell your wife I'm sorry." Marty, if that's a apology, I don't accept. You're not sorry, and you've certainly not seen the error of your ways. You've neither repented nor committed to change.)

When pastors tell us that our bosses are not God...that our allegiances are misplaced when we work too long and hard.....I wonder if they realize that it's often not that simple. Ron sets appropriate boundaries as much as possible, and he gets punished for it. Saying no, as he did this past weekend, inflames some bosses that you stood up to their unreasonableness. They just pressure and pester you more.

Ron and I know that Marty is not God. Like I said at the start of this thought....I'm wondering if our pastor would like to call Marty and straighten him out. We're not having any success at it.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

No More Bad Boys for President

Watching a tape later last night of the Presidential debate (Yes, I taped it. I must be bordering on election year junkie status. Time to turn off this stuff.), the thought occurred to me that it would be a great relief to once again have a mature, fully-formed adult in the White House.

The last actualized adult who held the Presidency was George H.W. Bush. You might not have agreed with his politics, but you knew he was a focused, mature leader and a seasoned statesman with good motives. We've elected two consecutive bad boys to the highest office in our land, and they've been exhausting, childish and foolishly wasteful. Major disappointments.

Bill Clinton will eternally exist in a narcissistic teenage boy mode, forever chasing women to disprove his internal "fat high school band boy" self-image. What angers me about Mr. Clinton is the wasted potential. He is a bright, charming, open-minded natural leader who wasted his opportunities and missed Osama bin Laden. He could have achieved much more, but spent his energies on skirt-chasing.

George Bush smirks, winks, postures and struts just like the party-hardy fraternity rush chairman he was in his undergraduate years. In contrast to 4 years ago, he again has the appearance of a man who imbibes now and then. He claims to be a man of remarkable and constant faith, yet never attends church, rarely evidences familiarity with the Bible, and ignores most core Christian teachings.

Bush has trashed our nation's good reputation and name, polarized our precious nation, and frittered a huge surplus to destroy his family's bitter rival, Saddam Hussein, and to give tax breaks to his wealthy friends and supporters.

It's time we stopped voting for bad boys. They may look like fun to hang with at a barbecue. They may provide the airwaves with memorable soundbites and colorful moments. But rebellious bad boys usually make unfaithful husbands, prodigal sons, horrible students and unreliable employees.

And failed leaders. I voted to put an adult back in the White House. Please consider doing the same.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

October Voting, 40 Days & eBay Observations

I voted today in the Nov 2 Presidential election. It's handy and oddly relieving to to vote a few weeks early. Someday, we'll tell our grandkids about the good old times when we lined up for hours in the (pick one) --- pouring rain, driving snow, hot hot sun --- to cast our votes for the next US president.

Now, we shop for groceries, visit the bank and vote all at a neighborhood market. Of course, even that will seem old-fashioned to our grandkids. They will surely vote online, and be astonished to hear that it was ever done another way.

Speaking of voting, I invested 2 hours last night to understand the propositions, so that I could make intelligent, informed choices. I have a graduate degree, am well read, and am a fast researcher and reader.

It's either ridiculous that it takes significant literacy and effort to vote, or it's planned to be difficult for most citizens. Perhaps "they" want us to believe misleading TV ads and biased political pundits, and forget research.

A slightly paranoid thought .... but not unfounded.

Our church is doing the 40 Days of Purpose devotional study as a congregation. We started Monday, and finish on Nov 19.

I've read the book before, and didn't get much from it. But there's something exhilirating about doing it with Ron and Andrea, and as a church body, so I'm giving it my full attention. I set aside morning time after Ron's at work and Andrea's at school....I brew fresh French roast....and I, armed with book, journal and java, sit in a sunny front window to absorb and experience, not just read.

The words have come alive for me. Alive enough that now I'm impatient to see where this journey will lead. Alive enough that it occupies my thoughts. Alive enough that I have questions for God.....questions that fill my journal. "Why" questions. "Why not" questions, too. Now I'm dying to skip to the ending. (Hmmm...maybe patience is one of my challenges.:)

It's surprisingly fun to do it as a congregation. At my womens' Tuesday Bible study group, we chatted about when and where we do it, laughed about family schedules, shared a few thoughts. We had it in common, and informally held each other accountable.

A few church members grumble about this study. They find it boring, unchallenging, beneath their level of biblical knowledge. Like everything else at church, they're approaching it with their minds, but not their hearts. They' reading it with their eyes.....but not hearing it with open hearts.

And in a couple cases, they're married to a denominational viewpoint, not a Christian outlook. I loved it when Rick Warren wrote in Day 3, "God won't ask about your religious background or doctrinal views. The only thing that will matter is, did you accept what Jesus did for you and did you learn to love and trust him?" Exactly!

Will be interesting to see where this 40 day period takes me and mine, and takes our church.


eBay is dead right now. Buy & selling have dropped off radically this last week. It's eery, rather like a deserted ghost town. The last time online commerce and the general business environment felt this dead was exactly 3 years ago, after Sept 11, 2001. Something's amiss.

The stock market is currently a disaster; gas prices are unbelievably high; the long-term unemployed (so long, they no longer qualify for unemployment benefits; thus, they're not included in statistics) and especially underemployed (i.e... the working poor) are at all-time highs. The deficit is obscenely high, and our foreign trade debt is shocking. Another 4 years of Bush economic mismanagement, and we will border on (or be) bankrupt. That's not an exaggeration. We will permanently be a poor nation. We may already be there, truth be known....

I believe that October will prove to have been a horrible month financially for our nation. Most of the business world and all small business owners are terrified that Bush will be reelected.

Lucky for George he can hide the numbers until after the election. And he will.


What kind of person wears hidden wires to secretly obtain the correct answers for a test or debate? A cheater, that's who. What kind of person wears hidden wires that can actually be seen if you look carefully? A stupid cheater.

And if that cheater was a student at any school, he would be expelled in disgrace.

Don't ever vote for a cheater. You'll get what you deserve. Cheated.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

God Bless Election Pollworkers

Attended training this week to be a first-time poll worker for the Nov 2 elections. As in many past elections, I applied to work for the Registrar of Voters (ROV) in this important election, and was pleasantly surprised when notified that I had been selected for the privilege.

Like most voters, I assumed that my chores would consist of smiling, helping a few disabled voters, crossing off addresses, and passing out "I voted" lapel stickers. I had no appreciation for how hard precinct workers work on election day..... or of the barely computerized, labor-intensive state of our democratic voting system.

The 5 or 6 workers assigned to each precinct (location) work from 6 AM until 9 PM, with perhaps a two hour break in mid-morning or mid-afternoon. They are entirely responsible for first taking an oath of office, then setting up voting booths and reporting mechanisms, posting the required signs and hanging the American flag, opening the polling place, procuring paper ballots, checking qualifications of all voters, assisting voters, accommodating disabled voters, explaining electronic voting, communicating regularly with the Orange County ROV, processing spoiled ballots, reconciling the quantity of cast ballots, closing the polls and immediately transporting ballots and equipment to the ROV.

And diligently guarding against voter intimidation and interference, news media intrusion, poll watcher violations and electioneering. There are even laws to regulate who may carry a gun into a polling place and what to do if a ruckus breaks out at our precinct. (Call the local police.)

Every county in each of the 50 states and US voting territories has its own set of voting regulations and largely manual procedures. A national election is a massive, unimaginably intricate undertaking. The potential for error and fraud is enormous, and yet is quite rare in the United States solely because of the integrity and dedication of poll workers.

Poll workers are unpaid or barely paid for their election day labors, but that's hardly their reason for volunteering for this chore. They care deeply about preserving a truly free democracy, where all voters can privately participate to choose the course of their country. And they are willing to give of themselves to serve their neighbors, their communities, their nation.

God bless all who volunteer to make elections possible. Our democratic freedoms and privileges wouldn't be possible without them.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Seductive Self-Pity

I slipped and fell in my bathroom this morning. My bare feet were wet and so was the tile floor, so traction gave way to slippery and my feet flew out from under me. No real harm...just a mildly twisted, sore right leg. Nothing that can't be fixed with ice and a few days' healing.

It shook me up, though, and I've been fighting self-pity all day. You know...the female version. The little girl "poor me" variety. I hate getting older, and not bouncing right back. I hate having little accidents that I never had 20 years ago. I hate not having a different body.

Other than sex, is there anything more seductive than self-pity? The draw is so strong, yet the result is so miserable and self-defeating.

So I am fine, and I will wear slippers next time. And I will smile tonight.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Maya Linn - Model of Encouragement

Feeling discouraged that others don't see the uniqueness of your idea...the wisdom of your work...the beauty of your creation?

Consider Maya Lin. While a young architecture student at Yale University, she enrolled in a class on funerary architecture. The distinguished professor gave a class assignment for his students to enter the national competition for the design of a Vietnam Memorial, which would be constructed on the Mall in Washington DC. Ms. Linn's design proposal was one of 1420 submitted, along with one by her professor, who gave her a barely passing B- in the class.

She imagined a stark, radically different design with two long, low black granite walls, built into the earth and bearing the names of all Americans killed in the war. She specified that the granite be highly polished, so that mourners would see their reflections on the surface of the memorial.

She learned during graduation week at Yale that her design had won the competition. Many Vietnam veterans protested her memorial design, calling it depressing, dark and too plain. A few claimed that Maya Linn, born in Ohio to Chinese-descent parents, wasn't "American enough" to design a memorial to US soliders.

Today, Maya Linn's Vietnam Memorial is considered one of the world's great war monuments. Millions travel from across the US and around the world each year to admire its solemn beauty and homage.

All because she wasn't touched by discouragement....

Monday, October 04, 2004

Of Literary Agents and Formal Cotillions - A Pasadena Weekend

I attended the annual Southern California Writers Conference this past weekend in Pasadena, and came home with a new perspective on my writing. I participated in 6 workshops lead by published writers, editors, writing coaches and agents, and listened to a panel discussion by literary agents based in Los Angeles and New York.

I came home with a head full of advice on adverbs (minimal use, if at all), tense-shifting, 1st person VS 3rd person, speaker voice, voice-shifting, metaphors, dialogue and more. One exceptionally bright writing coach spoke on how to extract our emotional issues out of our least enough so that we can objectively (adverb alert!) judge the quality of our work. Here's one hint...if we think it's brilliant, but no one else (except our mothers or spouses) see the brilliance, perhaps it's our own emotional issues coloring the words as we read them.

This sort of conference is neither a mountain-top motivating experience a la Christian retreats, nor a business-world networking impress-the-heck-out-of-everyone extravanganza. It was instructional and informative, and was centered around hanging out with other writers. Writers work in solitary, and tend to be mediocre verbal communicators, so it's pleasantly reassuring to pal around with 200 others cut from the same cloth.

Ron and Andrea came with me. We made it a getaway weekend, although we were only 35 miles from home. I grew up in San Marino, a small nearby town, so I know the quiet beauty of Pasadena. We enjoyed a good dinner, toured the Rose Bowl and Frank Lloyd Wright's Gamble House, visited the new Old Town area, and cruised Colorado. We also made a point to sightsee Fuller Theological Seminary, the Pasadena Playhouse and the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, home of the Pasadena Philharmonic Symphony.

And Andrea got treated (subjected?) to a nostalgic tour of my growing-up stomping grounds. The 2 houses; my church; my elementary, middle and high schools. She still doesn't believe I was "forced" (her word) to take social etiquette/ballroom dancing cotillion classes at the Civic Auditorium while in middle school. (The girls wore white gloves, fancy dresses and black patten shoes. The boys wore suits and ties. No sports jackets, please. This is Pasadena.)

We had fun. It was great to forget responsibiitlies, chores and politics. Ron grew up in San Francisco, and he remarked how much he misses living in a city with museums, symphony orchestras, theater, important architecture, beautiful gardens, plenty of good restaurants. I do, too.

But I think we missed something.....did the Angels or Dodgers play this weekend? :)