Friday, December 30, 2005

An Extra-Amazing Day

Have you ever unexpectedly had one of those extra-amazing days?

Extra love from family, extra sunshine outdoors, extra money in your pocket, extra delicious coffee from Starbucks, extra accolades for your work?

I had all those today, when all I expected was an ordinary day of balancing the budget, getting my work done, an average cup of joe, and taking care of normal, everyday business.

God is good everyday. Extra good.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men

"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. "

--- KJV Bible, Luke Chapter 2 verses 7-14

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Time Magazine Celebrates Compassion, Not Politics

Praise God for Time magazine's public recognition of compassion over politics.

My prayer is that it inspires a new public movement within the United States, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, to reach out to the world's poor, hungry, homeless, uneducated and ill, both at home and abroad.

My pledge, and 2006 resolution, is to actively do my part.

(I promise to tell you more about it in the New Year. After much deliberation, God blessed me this week with an epiphany to make a clear choice of book projects. )

Time Honors Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono by Desmond Butler, Associated Press Writer

Time magazine has named Bill and Melinda Gates and rock star Bono its "Persons of the Year," citing their charitable work and activism aimed at reducing global poverty and improving world health.

The magazine said 2005 was a year of extraordinary charity in which people donated record amounts in response to extreme natural disasters, from the tsunami in South Asia to Hurricane Katrina.

"Natural disasters are terrible things, but there is a different kind of ongoing calamity in poverty and nobody is doing a better job in addressing it in different ways than Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono," said Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor.

The 2005 "Person of the Year" package hits newsstands Monday.

"For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are Time's Persons of the Year," the magazine said.

Time praised the Gateses for building the world's largest charity — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a $29 billion endowment — and for "giving more money away faster than anyone ever has" in 2005.

The foundation has saved at least 700,000 lives in poor countries by investing in vaccination programs, has donated computers and Internet access to 11,000 libraries and has sponsored the biggest scholarship fund in history, the magazine said.

Time said Bono's campaign to make rich countries address the debt of poorer ones has had an equally impressive impact on the world.

In 2005, "Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest," the magazine said. Bono has earned a remarkable number of political allies around the world and in Washington, where he has courted politicians from both major parties, Time said.

"Bono's great gift is to take what has made him famous — charm, clarity of voice, an ability to touch people in their secret heart — combine those traits with a keen grasp of the political game and obsessive attention to detail, and channel it all toward getting everyone, from world leaders to music lovers, to engage with something overwhelming in its complexity," it said.

Even archconservative former Sen. Jesse Helms had praise for the Irish singer.

"I knew as soon as I met Bono that he was genuine," Helms, who has allied with Bono on AIDS awareness, told Time.

Bono, who first met the Gateses in 2002 to discuss their mutual interests, told Time that the Gates foundation is the second enterprise for Microsoft founder Bill Gates that has changed the world. "And the second act for Bill Gates may be the one that history regards more," the rock star said.

In a separate article in the same edition, Time named former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush as "Partners of the Year" for their work on behalf of the victims of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What Is the "Christmas Mood?"

Have you ever wondered what the "Christmas mood" is? People ask, "Are you in the "Christmas mood" yet?" I find myself wondering this year...what exactly is that?

Thanksgiving is well's about expressing gratitude for our blessings. But the pragmatic purpose of Christmas has become confusing over the years.

Of course, it's a religious holiday for Christians. At least, I think it is. Some churches are closing on Christmas Sunday this year because...well, it interferes with opening presents and eating a delicious holiday breakfast. For those pastors and parishoners, the message of their actions is that Christmas is first a holiday of private and personal pleasures, and then a religious occasion.

This is not a facetious question. I find myself genuinely puzzled this year. Our youngest is in high school, and neither wants nor needs much. It's a challenge for her to formulate a decently long "gift list."

Our other three children are adults, two are married, and one has a sweet baby daughter. This year, our home is no longer the center of celebration for the first time. We're traveling to Oregon to join our oldest daughter and her husband in thier new home. And it will be lovely and fun.

But I find myself asking.....

-- Has Christmas faded in the US as a solemn and sacred religious celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace?

-- Is the "Christmas mood" mainly about the look of pure joy on young childrens' faces when they open gifts?

-- Is the "Christmas mood" about the excitement of shopping and wrapping gifts to please our loved ones? (But what if they already have plenty? What if they need nothing?)

-- Is the "Christmas mood" about decorating the prettiest tree ever and listening to dreamy Christmas music?

-- Is the "Christmas mood" about the anticipatory activities....stringing lights on the house, attending festive parties with friends, driving around at night to admire Christmas displays, attending elaborate Christmas programs?

-- Is the "Christmas mood" about faithfully reading an advent calendar?

--Is the "Christmas mood" about attending our community's annual Christmas Tamale Street Festival in "old town" with 10,000 other merrymakers......savoring Mexican tamales and listening to a band belt out Beatles and Rolling Stones oldies while the kids wait for Santa to arrive?

Six years ago, a family we knew from church pooled their Christmas present funds, packed up their two teenagers and flew to London for a week at Christmas time. I admit.....a week in wintry London sounds delightful. But is that what Christmas is about?

Andrea told me that the family of a high school friend spent Christmas last year in Hawaii. They exchanged token gifts, but mainly spent Christmas sunning on the beach and eating at wonderful, exotic restaurants. I truly love Hawaii.....but at Christmas?

I'm decidedly not a strict traditionalist, but I feel vague guilt at the idea of spending Christmas taking in British theater in London or enjoying a balmy brunch on the patio of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

I guess we won't be attending church while visiting family in Oregon.....but that doesn't feel quite right. Something is missing. Judging by our culture these days, I must be the only person feeling loss.

I can hardly wait to see our daughter and son-in-law. Festive family meals will be magic. It will be heartwarming to gift our children with things that bring smiles to their faces.

Please don't misinterpret my words....I am quite happy. This is a warm, fun time of year.

But is that all there is to Christmas? Is it only about being warm, fun and happy? Or is that enough? I must be missing something this year.

It feels like the meaning should be deeper. And more reverent.
UPDATE: I figured out what's missing.......Holiness. Sacred holiness, both in community and personal celebrations of this season.

My soul longs for more sacred holiness, less tinsel and cookies, parties and holiday bling. More Jesus.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Praying for Others

It's been a day of sadness. Not profound tragedy, not death or horrible disease, not hunger or homelessness or inhumane cruelty.

A deep-down sadness, though, for people we love. A helpless sadness that we can't do more for them. A heart-heavy sadness at their pain over bruised and broken relationships with parents, with spouses, with children.

I know they say that prayer is the most powerful gift we can give to others, but sometimes to us mortals, prayer doesn't seem like enough. We want to be God, and fix it all.

But we're not God.....

We can't fix others. We can only dry their tears, wrap our arms around them, and pray for them.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

My Christmas Wish for You

Last night, we nibbled popcorn and revelled in our requisite Christmas season showing of the uplifting It's a Wonderful Life .

The story is exquisite, and affirms so much of what I hold dear. Family, faith, prayer, the power of love, overcoming discouragement and obstacles, corruption via worship of money.

Each year, a different facet of the story touches me. This year, it was gratitude. George Bailey became a new person because he developed a grateful heart. He saw the same world with the same people and same challenges through newly grateful eyes.

And he realized that, indeed, he has a wonderful life.

French writer Colette (1873 - 1954) penned, "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner. "

My Christmas wish for you is a grateful heart and knowledge of what a wonderful life you have now.

And as a Christmas gift for you, here's a link to some fun trivia about the classic 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Winter Visions in the City

New York City's
Central Park today

We in Southern California romanticize such city scenes, because we experience it only by choice, and never at home.

Sitting here in 70 degree weather, it looks beautiful, cozy and festive to me.

Best News I've Read All Week

"American young people between the ages of 13 and 17 report that they are using the internet for religious purposes three times more often than for pornography."

- Christian Century (Jan 13, 2004)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Christmas Music Memories

I'm supposed to be editing right now, but I made the mistake of playing soft Christmas music in the background, and now I'm daydreaming.....

I remember a quiet Christmas season evening about 17 years ago. Ron and I were dating. It was cold outside, and remnants of a fire glowed in his fireplace. All was dark, except for hundreds of twinkling white lights on the tree. Music played softly as we kissed. He wrapped an arm around me, and we gazed in silence at the tree laden with glinting ornaments.

I remember looking at him and knowing, really knowing.....I want to marry this man. I would be privileged to marry this man.

The moment was magical and romantic. I can still hear the music, see the lights, feel his warm kiss.

And I'm teary-eyed again, daydreaming of a treasured Christmas night.....

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Cranberry Confessions

I have a secret that's shameful for a self-described foodie. I confess.....I like Ocean Spray canned whole berry cranberry sauce. And even worse for a epicurean, I serve it every Thanksgiving.

FoodTV recently aired a segment with celeb chefs mocking the awfulness of canned cranberry sauce. Bobby Flay jokingly said that he slices it, every third can-imprinted ridge.

But to me, the taste is just right.....tangy but not tart, mildly but not sickly sweet. The berries are juicy and fresh, and the texture is firm...neither runny and watery, nor gluey jello-hard. It has the delicious consistency of homemade preserves.

The day after Thanksgiving, I mix leftover cranberry sauce with chopped red onions, to make cranberry salsa....a sparkling spread for post-holiday turkey sandwiches.

And as long as I'm confessing, here goes.....I store a half dozen cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce for cakes, muffins, sauces and even gravies during the non-holiday months. When people invariably ask me to identify the secret, tangy ingredient, I just smile and say they'd never believe it.....

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

White Family Thanksgiving Feast Menu

By annual popular demand, the White family Thanksgiving feast menu, which has a Southwestern-citrus flair this year, except for dessert, which is Ron's favorite.

Roast turkey infused with southwestern flavors (lemon, cumin, cilantro and garlic)
Lime cilantro sweet potatoes
Peas in butter sauce
Freshly baked cornbread with chiles and corn
Whole berry cranberry sauce
French apple pie with French vanilla ice cream
We pray that you and your loved ones enjoy the blessings of a
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Learning Lessons from Aging Parents

Each new stage of adult life.... independence, work, marriage, children, our first grandchild .... has brought me new understanding of my parents and later, my in-laws.

I remember my father trudging home from work, bulging briefcase in hand, flopping down in his roomy armchair after dinner to work for several more hours. We knew not to disturb him. He had important things to do, and he needed silence. My brother, sister and I wondered if we could be as important as work. Decades later, I appreciated that he labored long and hard to support his young family....and that it wasn't easy.

I learned that a solid marriage takes effort, and it gave me retroactive insight into my parent's sometime-rocky, emotionally volatile marriage. I don't know the specifics of their long-ago marital struggles, and it's none of my business. They worked through tough times, and kept their marriage intact. On November 25, they celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary, and in April, my in-laws marked 53 years of marriage.

I learned that, even with easy-going children, parenting is challenging, puzzling, rewarding, exhausting, exhilirating and infuriating...sometimes all in the same day. From the vantage point of my 40s, I looked back at my parents and not only forgave them their impatience and seeming indifference, but gained new admiration for their steady wisdom and dogged determination to raise a responsible, God-fearing family.

And grandchildren. As a parent, I secretly felt a twinge of jealousy when my parents lavished time, attention and affection on my children....far in excess of what I thought I received from them. But now I have a granddaughter, and I understand that special, overflowing love. I dote on her, in part, to remember the early years of parenting our children. I savor her precious smiles and sweet, clinging hugs, and once again breathe deeply of new, innocent life.
We returned late last night from a brief but intense visit with my in-laws. They live in another state, and we see them infrequently. Too infrequently, and it's our fault.

They're both close to 80, and not healthy, physically or emotionally. They reside in a private cocoon of comfort, and have difficulty dealing with the outside world. Change is close to impossible. They were happy to see us, but overwhelmed with anticipation. It's hard for them to have us visit, and even harder to not see us regularly.

My father-in-law's mood ricochets daily between anger over dozens of small incidents and tiny unintended slights, to a desire to talk and be closer to us. My mother-in-law is tired and weak from recent lung surgery, but worries about the house, the meals, the dishes. By the end of our visit, both were competitvely preoccupied with how much and how long we visit other family members. They were deeply pained that we have plans to spend Christmas elsewhere, even though we have no Christmas tradition with them.

Ron was saddened last night. He feels powerless to help them feel better. They seem unhappy and discontent, except with each other in a world of their making. Today, we understand more clearly than ever that nothing we do will totally please them. We spent every minute being with them, talking, listening, laughing, caring, and let them plan every moment of our visit. Of course, we did all chores they would permit us to perform (and a few extra). Some household tasks they just wouldn't relinquish.

But our lives remain a thousand miles apart, ours in Southern California, theirs in Northern Nevada. And family is nearby.....their other son, a sister and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews, and oodles of adorable great- nieces and nephews. They have good healthcare, plenty of money and a lovely home. They no longer have a mission, though, or interests. They've stopped traveling; they've stopped visiting old friends; they no longer attend church.

We feel guilty, I suppose, and so we're selfishly making this about our feelings. We tried this weekend, though, and we truly hope they enjoyed our visit. We want to do more, have more, be more for them. But it's beyond our control......they're in God's hands, not ours.

I just wonder....when I'm 80, will I have a new appreciation for my aging in-laws and parents? Will I learn lessons from their experiences? Will it take me walking in their shoes before I feel 100% loving toward them in their struggles with aging?

Lord, please help me to see and love them with Your grace, and not my judgmental eyes.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thanksgiving, the Fast-Food Way

The National Restaurant Association reports....

"One in 10 Americans opts for a Thanksgiving feast without the work by celebrating Thanksgiving Day dining out, according to National Restaurant Association research.

Those seeking an escape from cooking without sacrificing tradition also have the option to complement their at-home meals with restaurant-prepared turkeys and side dishes for takeout. In fact, more than half of all Americans supplement their meals with ready-to-eat takeout items."

My grandmother is rolling over in her grave at this modern turn of events.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday, and I am 54 years old. I will be spending it in the most delightful way....relaxing, drinking coffee and reading alone this morning, spending the afternoon with my six-month-old granddaughter, and enjoying a favorite dinner tonight with family.

My health is good, although I need to lose weight. My work is satisfying, although I'm certainly not compensated enough for it. My family is a treasure, although we don't often see many members who live at a distance. My walk with God is strong and ever-growing, but we're in the midst of a church change.

Like all people, I used to think that birthdays were about receiving.....presents, meals, being feted. And don't get me wrong.....I love those things. Rituals and celebrations are important to the joyful human existence.

But as I get older, I realize that the riches of life are found in small moments and simple joys, and that fulfillment comes in loving and giving, not just in being loved. I recently realized that, except for the physical twinges and pains of growing older, I love being 54. Age brings the blessings of wisdom and peaceful contentment, and the realization that life, by Design, is never perfect.

Happy birthday to me!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Of Seductive Trappings

I had a dream last night that a darkly magnetic, thirtyish man wanted to court me. (I assume I was 20 years younger...age wasn't an issue.) He was quiet and subtly caring, with smoldering chemistry. I liked him, and was attracted to him. He felt trustworthy, although not warm. We courted for months, and I fell a bit more under his spell with each chaste date.

We were sitting in different corners of a room one day. He rose and looking into my eyes. asked if he could kiss me. Yes, I said. He bent down, and kissed me lightly, sensuously, seriously. His soulful kisses were seductive and emotional for me.

My heart fluttered, my mind swooned. I was reeling with attraction to him.

He stood up and pulled out a shrink-wrapped black book. He solemnly handed it to me,and left the room.

I looked down at the book. The front cover said, in rich gold letters, "The Book of Mormon."

I knew I could not be his.
This is not a dream about wanting to date or leave my marriage. and it is not specifically about the Mormon church.

It's a dream about knowing who I am not, religiously, regardless of the seductive trappings.

(And yes, I really had this dream last night, and I have faithfully recounted it.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Musings and a Question on Changing Churches

We've been thinking about changing churches. For the past six months we've been attending an evangelical Lutheran (ELCA) church a few miles from our home. We were attracted to it by its lively worship, welcoming programs for high schoolers, and the many opportunities to serve others.

The people are welcoming and warm, but thankfully, they won't chase you to your car to recruit you or breathlessly ask if you've yet accepted Jesus.

It's a down-to-earth,comfortable bunch. On Sundays at the second service, the church is filled with people dressed in "business casual" as well as t-shirts and shorts. (It's rare at most churches these days to see men in suits and women dressed to the "nines," as was the case in my youth.)

The pews are filled with young and old, middle aged and middle schoolers. There are twentysomething couples with hair I personally don't understand, and a subtle tattoo or two I don't want to understand. There are thirtysomethings in trendy attire, freshly brewed Starbucks in hand. There are families with squirmy young children, and empty-nesters beaming in their childlessness. The pews are filled with the pretty and not-so-pretty.....attractiveness and style of dress are not a prerequisite for belonging. There's one rumpled, elderly man with a frizzy crown of white-gray hair who serves as usher. It gives him purpose, and everyone knows him.

The two middle-aged pastors are likewise warm and friendly, and seem to recognize all faces and names. They preach of service and helping others, of health and moderation in all things, of building a medical clinic in Africa and of a summer mission trip to Brazil, of faithfulness in worship and Bible study. They preach of peacemaking and social justice, and at all times, express their personal imperfections and frailties.

There is no bureaucratic kingdom teeming with assistants and associates, fancy program designers and singles/recreation/recovery/divorce/young married/seniors/small group ministry specialists. Just two experienced, hands-on pastors, a couple administrative employees and an empty high school pastor slot being filled by two local seminary students. And hundreds of "partners in ministry" (not the archaic "members") teaching Sunday School, leading Bible study, serving coffee and donuts, greeting at the Welcome Center and much more.

It's actually not a small church. Sunday attendance at the three services may reach 800 or more, and the membership roster lists 1,500 to 2,000 names.

Akin to dating, we're taking our time to get to know the church. Truthfully, we're pondering joining this congregation as a "partner in ministry," but we're not so sure about joining a big denomination again, and don't know much about committing to be a Lutheran.
You see, until four and a half years ago, I had been a Presbyterian for all my almost-50 years. In the past 15 years, I became an ordained elder and ordained deacon in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). What I learned about denominational politics wasn't pretty. In fact at times and over many subjects, it was ugly, mean-spirited and cruel. Anything but loving and kind. ( Love is patient and kind....") Rolls for this 110-year-old church rapidly dwindled, and the music and style of worship were straight out of the 1950s. (All of the music.)

So the Holy Spirit led us to seek a new church in which to joyfully worship in the 21st century. Our then-elementary age daughter enjoyed a local evangelical semi-mega church, so we jumped in and joined.

But times have changed over the past four-plus years. As that semi-mega church became more politically active in quite conservative realms, it also also morphed in other became uninvolved in and detached from local community affairs, and actually serves no local health or welfare (hunger, homeless, etc.) organizations in any meaningful, substantial or helpful way.

The millions in annual tithes go to three main areas: building maintenance, salaries for a growing multiplicity of staff, and overseas missions to evangelize, but not to provide assistance.

The church atmosphere is decidedly emotional, and church lay leaders emote during praise songs, and shout amen after salient sermon points. And to be deeply respected, you need to know the Bible very, very well. And vote Republican.

Here's the rub....campus facilities are lovely, the people are nice, and the music is divinely touching. And we have friends there. It's a community unto itself, and it takes care of its own. It's a very comfortable place...if you pass judgment. feels like delicious candy-coating around a center of air. There's no spiritual growth. There's no loving every neighbor as we love ourselves; it's about loving only neighbors who might become church members. There's little serving others outside the church "family." Pastors and church leaders will even state that their first goal is to build community within the church.

Our daughter is now a high school freshman, and in need of a creative, challenging church group. But the semi-mega church's high school group emphasizes parties, coolness, emotional logic, sports, fluff and lots of emotion. In the spirit of attracting numbers and "accepting" everyone, young women attendees dress and flirt provocatively, and young men attendees seem perpetually obsessed with horseplay and sports. Intellectual scholarship is shunned, and almost all attend local Christian colleges or junior college. High school leadership is generally limited to the children of staff.
So we made the difficult decision to look around elsewhere. Difficult to leave because we love some people there.....but difficult to stay because the spiritual meal is unsatisfying; difficult to stay because we often have to hide our views and perspectives, which don't always toe the church "family" line of acceptability.

We've remained active in a weekly small group, though, to keep in frequent touch with a handful of semi-mega churchers.

Last night, the small group met at our home. In preparation, we took days to clean and spruce up the house. (I was holiday cleaning, too.) I carefully prepared a lesson, and even distributed helpful read-aheads the week before. I made a yummy lemon dessert, and set a pretty table to serve all.

One family lost the read-aheads and never told us, and another hurriedly skimmed it in the car to our home. I discovered later that considerable tension exists between two couples, a state made palpably clear during the lesson. In consideration for all viewpoints, I attempted to serve as facilitator for discussion, but they just wanted to sit and be taught. Some members of the feuding families rushed out to their cars after the lesson, and never said thank you or good-bye. The evening was not a success, all things considered.

People behaving melodramatically, based on their's a pattern at this semi-mega church. Frankly, it's tiresome and self-absorbed, and it gets in the way of spirituality and worship.

So I feel sad today, and at a loss. Inevitably, I guess we will lose touch with most of our semi-mega church friends. Yes, the semi-mega church environment is myopic and emotionally dysfunctional. And no, we don't fit in with the preferred model of a member.

Our daughter, a bright girl who can go to college wherever she chooses, needs and wants to be in an intellectually supportive and emotionally stable church group environment.

We desire to be in a church where the theology reflects the loving, serving Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. And deep down, we know that God's plan is not about us being comfortable, hearing delightful music, and hanging with our friends.....God also planted in us a hunger to study, grow and serve.

But we're afraid to jump in again and "join" another church. How do we know that all is as it seems? I think we'll keep dating for a while, but perhaps take a more serious look at our date, with an eye to possible commitment. We're just not yet ready for marriage....

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rosa Parks: Never Doubted the Presence of the Lord

"I can't think of any time when I actually doubted the presence of the Lord. There were times, of course, when I felt somewhat discouraged, but I don't dwell on anything negative when it comes to my life. I think negative attitudes are very destructive, so I think positively and have hope in the future and in those people who are willing to live good lives and do the very best that they can to help themselves and other people."

- Rosa Parks, as quoted by Christianity Today in April of 1995

Monday, October 31, 2005

Pagans, Irish Catholics, Puritans & Victorians - History of Halloween

This is an intriguing Halloween read, from The Writers' Almanac by Garrison Keillor.
Today is Halloween, one of the oldest holidays in the Western European tradition.

Today, 70 percent of American households will open their doors and offer candy to strangers, most of them children; 50 percent of Americans will take photographs of family or friends in costume; and the nation as a whole will spend more than six billion dollars. In terms of dollars spent, it is the second most popular holiday of the year in this country, after Christmas.

For the Celtic people of Northeastern Europe, November 1st was New Year's Day, and October 31 was the last night of the year. Celts believed it was the night that spirits, ghosts, fairies and goblins freely walked the earth. Archaeologists aren't entirely sure what all the traditions were, but they believe the holiday involved bonfires, dressing up in costumes to scare away evil spirits, and offering food and drink to the spirits of family members who had come back to visit the home.

It was Pope Gregory III in the eighth century A.D. who tried to turn Halloween into a Christian holiday to divert Northern Europeans from celebrating an old pagan ritual. He made November 1st All Saints Day, and October 31 became All Hallows Eve. Instead of providing food and drink to the spirits, Christians were encouraged to provide food and drink to the poor. And instead of dressing up like animals and ghosts, Christians were encouraged to dress up like their favorite saints.

In the United States, Puritans tried to outlaw Halloween, in part because of its association with Catholicism. So it was the Irish Catholics who brought Halloween to this country, when they immigrated here in great numbers after the potato famine in the 1840's. Since the Irish were largely poor and oppressed, Halloween became a holiday for them to let off steam by pulling pranks, hoisting wagons onto barn roofs, releasing cows from their pastures, and committing all kinds of mischief involving outhouses. Treats evolved as a way to bribe the vandals and protect homes.

But by the late 1800's, Victorian women's magazines began to offer suggestions for celebrating Halloween in wholesome ways, with barn dancing and apple bobbing. And by the early 20th Century, it became a holiday for children more than adults. In 1920, the Ladies' Home Journal made the first known reference to children going door to door for candy, and by the 1950's it was a universal practice in this country. By 1999, 92 percent of America's children were trick-or-treating.

What's interesting about Halloween is that it has no real connection to the majority religion of this country, it does not celebrate an event in our nation's past, it does not involve traveling to visit family, and it doesn't even give us a day off work.

But it gives us the chance to try out other identities. For one day, people can feel free to dress as the opposite gender, as criminals, as superheroes, celebrities, animals, or even inanimate objects. But Halloween retailers report that the most popular costumes remain some variation on witches, ghosts, and devils.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Thoughts on Halloween Costumes

I've never been one of those Christians who made a big, silly fuss over the evils of Halloween. They're overreacting. Pick your battles wisely, I say, and cute kids dressing up imaginatively, having some fun and savoring candy is not a wise battle. It's no battle at all. It's charming, childhood memory-making.

But...we recently got a junk mail ad from Party City, a 20-store Southern Caifornia retail chain that sells colorful party plates and napkins, hundreds of invites and cards, streamers and party decor, wrapping papers and ribbons, baby and wedding shower do-dads and apparently, Halloween costumes.

I opened the ad, expecting to admire cute costumes...bunnies, pumpkins, ballerinas, firemen and football players. Instead, I found something entirely different.

Over 90% of the large-format, full-color six-page ad was devoted to ...well, here's a sampling of the costume names.

For teens (teen need costumes?), Draco dark underlord, zombie cheerleader, dark angel, gothic pirate lady, graveyard fairy, Prince Alarming, phantom, gauze zombie, vampire mistress, teen witch, punk pirate, crypt master, Demonica and gothic ballerina.

And for teens searching for a sex-infused Halloween look, there's sexy rag doll, Venus, French maid deluxe, dragon geisha, runaway princess and....I kid you not....Handy Candy.

The majority of the ad is devoted to costumes for elementary school boys and girls. For boys' costumes, Party City offers bleeding chest skeleton, Lord Lucifer, Commander Blade, ghoul with light-up eyes, crypt master and scorpion shadow ninja. And yes, a limited collection of uniforms for weapon-wielding professions....SWAT team, policeman and Delta Force.

For elementary-age girls, devil flames diva, jazzy witch, vampiretta, sparkle spiderella, goth hoop vamp, red hot, double trouble, glam rock diva and some sort of anti-cheerleader thng dubbed bad spirit.

The small ad section for infants/ toddlers was admittedly adorable to this new grandmother....pea in a pod, butterfly, Raggedy Ann, Thomas the Tank Engine and the cutest pink leopard.
I suppose I'm hopelessly out of tune with the trends. But I'm now having second thoughts about Halloween....

The intense darkness of the costumes in this ad speaks volumes about what appeals to kids and teenagers today. Supressing silly costumes solves almost's our country's current culture of death, darkness and meanness that causes this spiritual blackness.

But do we need a special occasion to celebrate and embrace the dark side?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Once Dreaded Title Is Now My Favorite Word

I can't even remember the day when I dreaded owning the title grandmother. The name once frightened meant aging and time going by too fast, and nonsense about vanity, pride and similar hazy foolishness.

My beautiful five-month-old grandaughter spent two afternoons with me this week, and suddenly grandmother is one of my favorite words.

I've had dozens of titles in my life.....daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, wife, mother and aunt. And then there's student, parishioner, worker, accountant, business owner, writer and, truthfully, many more than I can recall at this instant.

My life has been defined by all these roles. But today, as I held precious young life in my arms, the Holy Spirit filled me with an indescribable love for her. This new role seems to occupy an important place in God's Plan for me. has a magical, deeply renewing ring to it!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Hero of the Month: A Long Island, New York High School Principal

L.I. Principal Cancels 'Bacchanalian' Prom by Frank Eltman, Associated Press Writer

Kenneth M. Hoagland had heard all the stories about prom-night debauchery at his Long Island high school: Students putting down $10,000 to rent a house in the Hamptons for a weekend bash. Pre-prom cocktail parties followed by a trip to the dance in a limo loaded with liquor. Fathers chartering a boat so their kids could go out on a late-night "booze cruise."

Enough was enough, Hoagland said. So the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School fired off a 2,000-word missive to parents at the start of the school year informing them that the Catholic school would no longer put on the spring prom.

"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake — in a word, financial decadence," Brother Hoagland said, fed up with what he calls the "bacchanalian aspects" of the prom.

"Each year it gets worse — becomes more exaggerated, more expensive, more emotionally traumatic," he added. "We are withdrawing from the battle and allowing the parents full responsibility. (Kellenberg) is willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy."

The move has brought a mixed, albeit passionate, reaction from students and parents.
"I don't think it's fair, obviously, that they canceled prom," said senior Alyssa Johnson of Westbury. "There are problems with the prom, but I don't think their reasons or the actions they took solved anything."

In his letter, Hoagland cited a litany of problems that he says have developed over the years. He began a dialogue on the future of the prom last spring after it was discovered that 46 Kellenberg seniors made a $10,000 down payment on a $20,000 rental in the Hamptons for a post-prom party. When school officials found out, they forced the students to cancel the deal; the kids got their money back and the prom went on as planned.

But Hoagland said some parents went ahead and rented a Hamptons house anyway.

Amy Best, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University in Virginia and the author of "Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture," said this is the first time she has heard of a school canceling the prom for such reasons.

"A lot of people have lamented the growing consumption that surrounds the prom," she said, noting it is not uncommon to see students pay $1,000 on the prom and the surrounding folderol: dresses that cost hundreds, tuxedo rentals, flowers, limousines, pre- and post-prom parties.

Best pinned some of the blame for the burgeoning costs on parents, who are often willing to open their wallets for whatever their child demands. "It is a huge misperception that the kids themselves are totally driving this."

Edward Lawson, the father of a Kellenberg senior, said he and other parents are discussing whether to organize a prom for their children without the sponsorship of the 2,500-student school, which features pristine athletic fields, immaculate hallways and the latest in audio-visual technology.

"This is my fourth child to go through Kellenberg and I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom," he said. "They put everybody in the category of drinkers and drug addicts. I don't believe that's the right thing to do."

Some parents lined up in their cars outside the school to pick up their children on a recent afternoon said they are backing Hoagland.

"The school has excellent values," said Margaret Cameron of Plainview. "We send our children here because we support the values and the administration of the school and I totally back everything they do. I trust my child with them and I trust everything, all the decisions they make for them."

Hoagland said in an interview that parents, who pay $6,025 in annual tuition, have expressed appreciation for his stern stand. "For some, it (the letter) was an eye-opener," he said. "Others feel relieved that the pressure is off of them."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Seeking True Inner Silence

"To make possible true inner silence, practice:

Silence of the eyes, by seeking always the beauty and goodness of God everywhere, closing them to the faults of others and to all that is sinful and disturbing to the soul;

Silence of the ears, by listening always to the voice of God and to the cry of the poor and the needy, closing them to all other voices that come from fallen human nature, such as gossip, tale-bearing and uncharitable words;

Silence of the tongue, by praising God and speaking the life-giving Word of God that is the Truth, that enlightens and inspires, brings peace, hope and joy, and by refraining from self-defense and every word that brings darkness, turmoil, pain and death;

Silence of the mind, by opening it to the truth and knowledge of God in prayer and contemplation, like Mary who pondered the marvels of the Lord in her heart, and by closing it to all untruths, distractions, destructive thoughts, rash judgments, false suspicions of others, revengeful thoughts, and desires;

Silence of the heart, by loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and one another as God loves, and avoiding all selifishness, hatred, envy, jealousy and greed.

I shall keep the silence of my heart with greater care, so that in the silence of my heart I hear His words of comfort and from the fullness of my heart I comfort Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.

For in the silence and purity of the heart, God speaks."

-- Mother Teresa from "Life, A User's Manual - Great Minds on the Big Questions"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cheering for the Home Team

Harriet, schmarriet. Who cares about the Supreme Court? Or world peace. Or smarmy politics.

It's the MLB post-season, and our Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are playing for the third time in four years for a World Series championship. In case you missed one of the great sports events of all time, our Angels won the World Series in 2002.

Our team plays the Yankees tonight in Angels Stadium, and it'll be exciting, peanut-munching fun!

Harriet who???

Go Angels!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Eccentricities Revealed on Trip to Trader Joes

I recently dropped by Trader Joes....that veritable Toys-R-Us for pick-up a or two bottle of TJ enchilada sauce. Ron is half-addicted to it, and we ran out.

They were out of enchilada sauce...but did I leave with an empty cart? Obviously...of course not.

My cart, which could have been much fuller, brimmed with gourmet exotica and yummies that revealed my culinary eccentricities and that of my family.

To make your mouth water, too. I thought you might enjoy hearing my spontaneous shopping finds at Trader Joe's.....

-- TJ's spicy, smoky peach salsa (it's way beyond stupendous)
-- TJ's Thai mango coconut spread/dip with onions (part of TJ's Spreads of the World)
-- TJ's hot & sweet mustard
-- TJ's kalamata olive tapenade spread
-- whole wheat cinnamon raisin rolls, unsweetened (from the Zen Bakery)
-- 3 bags, organic banana chips
-- 2 jars, organic unsweetened apple sauce
-- organic white corn tortilla chips

Don't you wish you lived here today when we sample these goodies?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Grey Stone of Repentance and Forgiveness

The pastor passed out a grey stone to each of us this morning.

"A pet rock" I joked, and we laughed. Some sermon about Jesus being the rock of our lives, I presumed.

During the service, Andrea and I held our stones in our hands.....touching, inspecting, holding close.

My stone was smoothly oval and speckled evenly on both sides with dark gray patterns of dots. Andrea's stone was even smoother, but it had flaws, including one deep scar. We eyed each other's stones.

I liked her stone better than mine.....I admired its beauty in spite of, or because of, its white scars. Andrea being a semi-obsessive perfectionist with engineering/mathematician leanings, I could tell she liked my perfect stone better than her flawed one.

So I suggested we trade, and she quickly agreed. I carefully traced my fingertip along the stone's deep gash, as I admired its sensuous curves. Andrea smiled contentedly, and with relief, as she held the perfect stone.

And then the sermon (on having a healthy relationship with the Holy Trinity) ended.

And the pastor asked each of us to come forth, and....................drop our stone into a bowl of baptismal water, dropping our fears, our worries, our sins into the water along with our stone.

Realizing that we were attracted to our stones because of our mutual weaknesses, Andrea and I glanced at each other in a holy moment of panic.....what, God??? Uhhh...what?

But I stood up, as did she, and we ventured forth to the altar, with Ron (who looked at us quizzically) and everyone else.

She dropped her stone into the water, then received a blessing from the pastor.

I followed her, dropping my stone....along with deep decades-long pain....into the sacred water, and received a blessing from the pastor.

I asked our 14-year-old daughter later.....did you drop your perfectionism into the water with your stone?

She smiled sheepishly, "Mom, it's a long journey................ But I heard God, and yes, I tried."

Friday, September 23, 2005

Grooving in the City by the Bay

Without question, San Francisco is my favorite US city to visit. With fascinating museums, world-class symphony and opera, scintillating restaurants, gorgeous parks and public squares, cozy coffee nooks, superb shopping, simply the best bookstores south of Powells in Seattle and east of New York City's publishing circles.... San Francisco can keep a literate & liberal foodie like me busy for days on end.

today's San Francisco Chronicle, here's a sampling of just the upcoming weekend....

"Throngs will converge on the city Saturday for four events: the Love Parade and Celebration, the anti-war demonstration, the 33rd annual San Francisco Blues Festival and a night concert at SBC Park featuring the popular band Green Day.

Sunday has nearly as much going on. Besides the second day of the blues festival, hundreds of thousands are expected to converge at another locale, the Folsom Street Fair. Both events start at 11 a.m.

Also on Sunday morning, 5,000 people are expected to take part in the Komen Race for the Cure at Crissy Field to combat breast cancer. And Sunday afternoon, more than 60,000 people will pack Monster Park to watch the San Francisco 49ers take on the Dallas Cowboys. "

Sounds like a truly delightful time in the vibrant City by the Bay.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Neighborhood Palm Tree

Lightening struck a neighborhood tree last night.

The tree was an sky-scraping palm, healthy, strong and scruffy with age. It must have been decades old.

Ron walked past it this morning on his way to work. He said the tree was still smoldering. When Andrea and I drove past it on her way to school, the street was littered with bark and frond debris, as though the tree had exploded when struck by the blinding electric current.

The palm tree was blackened in mid-truck, where the lightening struck, and it burned from there to the ground. It still stood tall and proud this afternoon, but was greatly weakened.

City engineers chopped the tree down about an hour ago. It's gone now....only a lovely memory and a stump by the curb.
Our lives are like that neighborhood palm tree. We can be decades old, healthy, strong and tall one day....and gone the next.

It's good to remember that God doesn't promise us tomorrow. And to enjoy the blue skies and balmy breezes of today.....

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Waiting for God's Pull, Following His Will, Learning to Rely on Him

Two years ago this month, I started blogging when I started my first (and favorite) blog, this one. I had just learned of this new medium, and instantly felt led by God to particpate and express myself in it.

By August of 2004, my social justice and political views were smothering my private thoughts here at The Crazy Woman, so I started a second blog,
Heart, Soul & Humor, which is devoted to "Blogging Beatitude Policies --- Unexpected Views on Democracy - Christianity - Sexual Politics - Culture Wars - Wall Street - Everything but the Kitchen Sink." Almost overnight, reader traffic at Heart, Soul & Humor doubled my traffic here. (I found it a bit amazing that people were actually interested in what I had to say....but interested they were.)

In October 2004, my beloved son-in-law,'s editor/guide to portable entertainment, casually suggested over family dinner that I apply to be a writer/editor for He thought I would adore writing for one of the cooking sites (which I would!).

Honestly...I was stunned. What did I....a middle-aged wife, mother of three and soon-to-be grandmother, happily retired from the corporate world...have to offer a a top-15 cyberspace destination site? Yes, I had a few years of home-based ecommerce and eBay experience, and yes, I can write, and yes, I have passionate views. But I certainly had no big-deal qualifications.

So I forgot about his idea. For about six weeks. One day, a few weeks after the November 2004 elections, I ventured a peek at I noticed that the Liberals Politics site was open and soliciting applications. Seems that post-election, the understandably discouraged Liberals guide/editor resigned or was terminated.

And again, I felt the unmistakable tug of God, urging me to apply for the position. So right then and there, I did. I poured my soul into it....explained my passions, my limitations, my enthusiasms, my experience, my lack of credentials. I emailed it into oblivion, and again forgot about it.

I decided in December 2004 to shut my two-year-old eBay bookstore (cookbooks and Christian books, mainly), for lack of adequate profits. Too much work, too much competition, too little margin. I prayed to God for a new direction, and I kept blogging at my two blogs.

On January 7, 2005, I was completely surprised by an email from saying they were impressed with my application, and that I would be given an intensive ten-day tryout starting on January 10 to build a site for US Liberals at

They say God's timing is perfect. In retrospect, He clearly answered my prayer, and His timing was , indeed, perfect. Now please understand...when I tackle something with all my heart and soul and mind, it tends to be excellent and usually reflects my sometimes-buried tendency to perfectionism.

I gave it my say the least. God sat right here with me during long days and nights, as I stretched my creativity to capture this gig that I thought was, in reality, beyond my reach. I landed the gig.

Now please know that I majored in journalism and non-fiction writing as an undergraduate at UCLA. My high school journalism teacher pronounced me a talented writer, and even my sixth grade teacher told me that I was good at sentence structure and vocabulary. This was and is my gift....

I've always admired the New York Times above all other newspapers and news mediums. Always. I could never imagine a higher writing privilege that to write for the Grey Lady. It was an unconsidered fantasy.....never a tangible goal.

So when it was announced in April 2005 that the New York Times acquired 100% of, I cried and thanked God. I really did. He answered a prayer that I never dared to ask of Him. Some people climb Mt. Everest because it's a's there to conquer. The New York Times was my distantly admired, unattainable Mt. Everest.

My site went live seven months ago now, and I consciously continue to exceed what the powers-to-be ask of me. I have something to say; I feel strongly...very strongly... led by God to say it; and God has provided a highly credible, well-traveled, public place for me to say it.

So here I am, two years after I first started blogging. When I do a search of the phrase "liberal politics" at Yahoo, Google, Dogpile, MSN or any other number of leading search engines, my US Liberals site is now usually the very first listing. #1. At Google's new blogsearch service, my site is also top-ranked there.

Now...uh, what now? I feel like God is leading on to something else, in addition to this gig and my blogs.

But what? This entire path was unplanned. For the first time in my life, I unquestioningly followed God's lead,and I learned to really, truly rely on him. Turned out He had a marvelous plan for that was marvelous far beyond my imagination.

So once again, I am asking God how He wants to use my writing gifts. I now have the credentials to publish books and the track record to expand my ministry.

But all I am doing is praying. I've learned to wait for God's pull, and to rely on His will for me.

It certainly seems to work.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Sweet Baby and a Lovely Young Woman

Our baby started high school today. The sweet baby we longed for.....the cheerful toddler who wanted nothing more than to be with us....the elementary school student who proudly brought home armfuls of papers each day, beaming as we admired each masterpiece....the gawky middle schooler who fretted to us about dances, the cool people and her hair, her clothes, her everything.

This morning I reached to hug my baby before she left for high school, but she was already gone. Instead, I found a lovely young woman...poised, smart, pretty, and ready to take on the world with values, intelligence and a love of God.

To say we are proud of her is a vast understatement. The better statement is that we are blessed to be her parents. We've given her sturdy roots, and her wings are developing beautifully.

But as loving parents, we already miss our sweet baby...even though college is still four years away.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

She Was Charming and Hardworking.....

Earlier today, we went to a Catholic Mass funeral for a longtime friend. She died last week of cancer, after a two-year sporadic struggle with the insidious disease. I believe she is now in the glorious presence of God.

Born a Filipino Catholic, she went to parochial schools, attending Mass every day and even praying between classes. The eldest of five children, Prosie's father died decades ago, and she worked long and hard as an engineer in the Philippines to support her mother and siblings. She left for America in 1984 to find a better life. Prosie eventually was able to bring her entire family to Southern California, where they, indeed, settled into comfortable, healthy lives.

She met and married Jerry, a New Englander who moved to California to avoid snow, in the 1980s. Jerry is an equally successful engineer, and they built a stable and secure life together. One beloved son was born in 1990, and another four years later.

But she continued working long and hard. Working extensive hours, foregoing vacations for business travels. She missed soccer games and PTA meetings, homework and fun times.....Jerry always covered for both of them. She never cooked or did much housework...her mother, who lived with them, did all that for Prosie's family.

Work never left her mind. After her first cancer surgery in late 2003, when she was too weak to run to the office, she had the office come to her home for meetings. Her cancer first showed its ugly face in a hip. She ignored the pain for many months, according to Jerry. She assumed it to be the aches and pains of middle age, and besides...she had work to do.

Prosie always seemed stressed out. She was the most animated when discussing engineering work. Not when doting on her sons or savoring the company of her devoted husband. Once cancer rendered her unable to work a few months ago, she crumbled and gave up the fight. She died far more quickly than anticipated. With work gone, she had no goals...and tragically, no more time to develop new goals or refocus her life.

She sparkled with joy and laughter when with her sisters. But not when spending time with her husband and sons. Work captured her first attentions. She died surrounded by Jerry and their sons, her mother, siblings and even a few cousins. She died holding her sister's hand...not her husband's hand. Not Victor's and Stevyn's hands.

I believe Prosie ascended to heaven, and is now in the glorious presence of God. But I also believe she made some bad choices in her life. My heart aches for her sons, who, as far as we know, got less of her energies and time her than work.

And my heart aches for Jerry, too. It seems he wanted more of her for himself....he certainly had it during their courtship and before children.....but in later years, they drifted apart. Work seemed to hold her affections.

Jerry spoke during the service. The priest asked him to describe Prosie in two words. He said he had a thousand words of praise for her but the two that most came to his mind were.....charming and hardworking.

As my husband said later over lunch, think of the words Jerry could have selected.....generous, kind, loving, thoughtful. Jerry chose charming.....positive, happy, bubbly, with the ability to light up any room or any person at will. And hardworking.....for her loved ones and especially for work. He talked about what a great engineer she was. He never once mentioned that she was a great wife or mother. He never mentioned shared holidays or vacations. He never alluded to intertwined lives or a passion for each other.

The priest pointed out that God blessed Prosie with a good life: that she had a loving husband and children. I wonder if she ever truly knew that. I wonder if she valued the precious treasures that she had. I wonder if she ever stopped and counted her blessings.

Prosie has gone to be with the Lord, now. She died worn out from 30 years of stressful, hard work. I hope she had no regrets for her choices, and I pray that Jerry, Victor and Stevyn felt loved by her.

And I pray that, despite my own ambitions and talents, that I always first love, and show love to, the family God generously placed in my life.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Coffee, the Healthy Beverage

I post this delightful story from AP as I sip a freshly brewed cup of my home-blend of Starbucks Italian roast and Equal Exchange Fairly Traded toffee caramel coffees.

Java Joy: Study Touts Coffee's Benefits by Randolph E. Schmid, AP Science Writer

When the Ink Spots sang "I love the java jive and it loves me" in 1940, they could not have known how right they were. Coffee not only helps clear the mind and perk up the energy, it also provides more healthful antioxidants than any other food or beverage in the American diet, according to a study released Sunday.

Of course, too much coffee can make people jittery and even raise cholesterol levels, so food experts stress moderation.

The findings by Joe A. Vinson, a chemistry professor at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, give a healthy boost to the warming beverage. "The point is, people are getting the most antioxidants from beverages, as opposed to what you might think," Vinson said in a telephone interview.

Antioxidants, which are thought to help battle cancer and provide other health benefits, are abundant in grains, tomatoes and many other fruits and vegetables.

Vinson said he was researching tea and cocoa and other foods and decided to study coffee, too.
His team analyzed the antioxidant content of more than 100 different food items, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, spices, oils and common beverages....

They concluded that the average adult consumes 1,299 milligrams of antioxidants daily from coffee. The closest competitor was tea at 294 milligrams. Rounding out the top five sources were bananas, 76 milligrams; dry beans, 72 milligrams; and corn, 48 milligrams. According to the Agriculture Department, the typical adult American drinks 1.64 cups of coffee daily.

"Unfortunately, consumers are still not eating enough fruits and vegetables, which are better for you from an overall nutritional point of view due to their higher content of vitamins, minerals and fiber," Vinson said....

In February, a team of Japanese researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that people who drank coffee daily, or nearly every day, had half the liver cancer risk of those who never drank it. The protective effect occurred in people who drank one to two cups a day and increased at three to four cups.

Last year, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking coffee cut the risk of developing the most common form of diabetes.

Men who drank more than six 8-ounce cups of caffeinated coffee per day lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes by about half, and women reduced their risk by nearly 30 percent, compared with people who did not drink coffee, according to the study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said she was not surprised by Vinson's finding, because tea has been known to contain antioxidants...."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Of Cancer, God and Birthday Parties

A friend died of cancer last night. She was 48 years old, and leaves a shattered husband and two loving sons, ages 11 and 14.

She knew for a few months that she was dying, and made the decision to forego chemotherapy that might have given her one more painful year.

God is good.....but it's hard to understand why He brings home people who have so much to live for here. Prosie still had sons to raise, people to love, things to do, vacations to enjoy, plans to complete.

Absolutely no one gave better birthday parties for children. I can still picture 30 or even 40 small children, all dressed in costumes, running freely through their house, laughing, eating, playing games, opening presents. And Prosie was the picture of calm in a sea of noisy, sticky, joyful young party-goers.

God, it's hard to understand, and it's so, so painful.....

Please bless her soul.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Searching for Focus on Sunday Afternoon

At this moment, I sit here in my home office with the self-set, but necessary, goal of writing a profile of Coretta Scott King for my site.

It's a lovely Sunday afternoon. The insightful morning sermon on the Beatitudes still rings in memory. My office window is open, and a fragrant warm breeze ruffles the front yard roses. My computer is tuned to a soothing soft-jazz internet-radio station. And just for a office TV is tuned (sound off) to the Angels-Red Sox baseball game. I'm sipping freshly brewed Starbucks Italian roast.

And I'm having trouble focusing on Coretta Scott King......

Sunday, August 14, 2005

God Answers a Prayer in a Uniquely Unexpected Way

God answers prayers in uniquely unexpected ways.

My daily meditation journal for 2005...Simple Abundance...suggested the delightful relaxation tool of clipping magazine photos that are soothing to me.....enchanting gardens, happy families, pretty scenery, lovely homes, delicious foods, a perfect rose. Whatever. Then paste my clippings into a first-quality sketchbook, and enjoy my private visual paradise.

I've savored this exercise for four or five months, and preference patterns have emerged. Patio meals of fruits, salads and crusty breads.Autumn leaves. Old wooden homes strung with white, twinkling Christimas lights. The smiling faces of children,and the warmth of families fathered around the dinner table. Rose gardens laden with pinks, whites, yellows and reds, and Mediterranean-style gardens ripe with citrus and olive trees. Cozy book-reading nooks with comfortable chairs and blankets.

And especially, simple homes with a plethora of picture-windows, looking out onto greenery, especially trees, and gentle, rolling hills. Lots of uncluttered homes with casual elegance and an unhurried, outdoorsy feel, where one can read, pray and meditate in peace. (And write.). I recently realized that I truly want to spend time in such an environment. That maybe I need to.... And the more I collected those photos, the more intense grew my desire to experience such a place.

We're on vacation right now, visiting our oldest daughter and son-in-law in their lovely home outside Portland, Oregon. They just moved here in in June. They had more-than-enough funds leftover from selling their San Francisco bay area condo to purchase a sizable Oregon home....with bedrooms for hoped-for children, a home office, and a charming guest bedroom with separate bathroom and sliding glass door onto their garden-yard.

We've toured Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge, and seen waterfalls and forests. We discovered an artisan bread baker, and eaten in fun local restaurants. We saw an obscure art film that's never traveled to our Southern California neighborhood. Tonight, we're going to a concert in the park, on the local river bank. We grilled Pacific Northwest salmon and consumed it under the the early evening sky. We strolled the gorgeous Portland rose gardens, and browsed for an afternoon at Powells, the country's largest bookstore.

I read in bed this morning, gazing out windows onto greenery, especially trees, and gentle, rolling hills. A gentle fountain flows continually outside our room. And I felt such peace.

And I realized.....their home, with room for us to visit anytime we desire, and an astonishingly kind, open invitation to do exactly the home in the photos in my meditative sketchbook.

Exactly the same utopian home.....

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Lime-Green and Bubblegum-Pink Striped Zebra

Toby, one of the literacy experts at our local public library, calls it "teacher's high." I call it deeply delightful.

I tutor in writing as part of the literacy program at the city library. My student for the last ten months is a home-schooled Chinese girl, Eunice, who finished fourth grade in June. She's an aspiring Olympic gymnast with world-class skills who diligently practices with a coach six days a week. She keeps a rigorous 48-hour training schedule in the summer.

She was a straight-A student when we met last Fall. Well, straight-A's except for writing. And being a pint-sized perfectionist, she was frustrated. You see....writing takes an entirely different thought process than math, history, grammar, spelling and gymnastic precision. Writing is sparked by creativity.

And creativity comes from imagination, which stems from fun, enjoyment and sensory awareness. I'd never before met someone so young with less of those God-given childhood treasures.

When Eunice faced a blank sheet of paper, she had no ideas or inspiration, and no tools to generate ideas. So we chatted and became friends. We looked at popular magazines, talked about our days, shared vacation memories, perused books of photography. And Eunice started to notice the world around her, to notice her tastes and preferences, to dress with flourish, to smile.

And she wrote. She learned that writing isn't a chore....that it can be a holiday of the mind. And she learned to express opinions, feelings and observations.

This summer, she's writing a story, chapter by chapter. Today, I read chapter two, and her talent leaped off the pages. She wrote an enchanting and clever tale of colorful animals who sing and of a magical rainforest. It was truly excellent in creativity and spirit, as well as in structure, spelling and syntax.

Her story is great fun, and she had great fun writing it! She glowed when I read it. And Toby says I'm glowing with "teacher's high."

As I write this, Eunice is midway through today's eight hours of gymnastics practice. I'm not judging her parents or coaches. I've never witnessed one sign that Eunice doesn't want to invest such effort and time into an Olympic goal.

But it feels incredibly satisfying to help Eunice smile, savor nachos, enjoy the aroma of a fragrant rose, see a glorious tree, hear gentle ocean waves.......and imagine a lime-green and bubblegum-pink striped, singing zebra.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Watching QVC's Christmas in July

QVC ran its annual Christmas in July promotion last week. I've never bought anything from QVC (or any TV shopping channel), and I've rarely watched QVC, but I watched it, fascinated by my odd, detached feelings. It was surreal and a bit melancholy to eye shiny, strange ornaments, realistic fake trees and fiber-optic madonnas with blue & green flashing backlights. But not because it's July or the holidayana was tacky.....(which it was).

Christmas, as a family holiday, marks change when your children are no longer young, and it feels like a loss. Our near-30 daughter and her husband recently moved to another state. They long to enjoy their first home at Christmas. She broke the news last week. Of course. We understand.

But it's sad for us. No gathering round the dinner table, savoring the feast as a family. No eagerly opening gifts with them, paper and ribbons flying. No Christmas afternoon movie while a fragrant turkey simmers in the oven. We treasured every corny minute.

And my son and his wife are devoted parents now to a delightful newborn daughter. Yes, we'll be deeply blessed to share her first Christmas, but we'll be fortunate to enjoy her for a few hours. She'll be leaving to join other grandparents, too. Of course. We understand.

Our college student son will share Christmas Day with us. He just wants money though. Frankly, there's nothing he needs or wants. He works hard, goes to school, saves, does well for himself. We admire him, love him, care for him. But he's self-sufficient. Of course. We understand.

And our youngest is 14. No longer a little girl excited to lay out cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. No longer our sweet young child eagerly anticipating the dawn of Christmas morning. Her gift list will include an iPod, Old Navy clothes, a cool cellphone and a cooler printer......not dolls and legos, not pretend kitchens with adorable little pans and ovens, not story books to share with us. Of course. We understand.

We've been successful parents. Roots and wings. They're educated, self-supporting, faithful, optimistic and happy, clean and sober, are good citizens and know God ( in varying degrees). And we miss them. And we miss being needed by them.

QVC's holiday merchandise was fiber-optic and modern, campy to my eye. But if QVC sells it, it must be popular. It must be the new style of Christmas....instead of pretty decor with a homespun, country air. Like our decades-old, carefully-stored decorations.

Apparently, Christmas styles have passed us by. And our children have grown and gone on with their lives. They have their own Christmas traditions, or soon will.

Watching QVC's Christmas in July, I felt like I didn't even recognize what had always been our favorite family holiday. I felt like a stranger in a strange land.

And it feels like a loss.
But we understand. It's God's plan.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Thoughts of Babies, Price of Plane Tickets & Too Much Reading

Seems fitting that the first pic I ever upload onto a blog should be of two great loves.....Andrea, our youngest, and our first grandchild, Gabriella, born May 28. Aren't they both simply beautiful?

Spent part of yesterday embracing, feeding and playing with Gabriella. She fell asleep in my arms. Is there anything more peaceful than the face of a baby at rest?

She's precious and sweet. God's grace personified. There I go, gushing again like a new grandmother.....
We bought plane tickets to visit our daughter and her husband in Portland, Oregon next month.

Now I know why air travel is down: we paid the awful sum of $940 on no-frills Southwest for three tickets from Southern California to Oregon. Not four tickets. Not traveling cross-country. Just three of us flying on odd days (Tuesday & Thursdays) along the West Coast.

Part of the cost......$175....was for federal, state and local surcharges, levies and taxes, including $10 each for some sort of federal terrorism prevention fee. Translation: additional taxes.

It's ridiculous. Guess we need to get more excited about local tourism.
Two neighbors figured out that I write political commentary during the week while sitting here in my home office, gazing out onto the front yard. They're not internet-savvy, but are intrigued the idea that I am.

And they're also intrigued at having their two-cents heard, which both differ from mine. So if I'm in the front yard pruning roses or fetching groceries from the car, they amble over to give me their viewpoint. They like me, and feel an urgent need to straighten me out. Make sure I've considered all the factors.

Just think......I hid my gig successfully from the neighbors for six months. I suppose I should celebrate that as a glass-half-full victory......

I don't post as often here as I once did. It's not out of lack of interest....I adore posting here. It's my true confessions....the real me.(Family even reads this to learn what's on my mind.)

It's just that, with my gig plus normal reading habits, my reading stack is almost sky-high.

As most of you know, I'm usually reading two or three books at a time...different genres, different topics. Escapist fiction, often set in an exotic location...inspiration or theology....a political or business betseller...biographies, often of political leaders, past and present.

But it's the stack of stories here on my desk that overwhelms me. I never seem to catch up. Right now, at this very moment, here's the list of my to-read articles.....

- What Price Love? Museums Sell Out (New York Times)
- Here's a Social Security Plan that's Really Two Plans (again, NYT)
- Why Are There Four Gospels? (Koinonia House)
- It Takes a Pillage (from a fave political blog)
- Who Is Tom Vilsack? (some political site)
- Ruling on Property Seizure Rallies Christian Groups (NYT from a week ago)
- Recipe for Greek-style orzo and shrimp salad (Splendid Table)
- Recipe for frozen tiramisu squares (Betty Crocker email)
- Recipe for pasta with zucchini, ricotta and basil (NYT)
Seriously! I need a vacation......maybe in Portland. :)