Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Fresh Season, Done the Usual Way

Green, blithe Spring has arrived on our street.

Yes, you can tell from the precious new buds, blossoming trees, and shaggy lawns sprinkled with yellow-flowered weeds. And yes, the birds are back, cheerfully singing all day.

But the true telltale sign of Spring in our neighborhood is much in evidence....people are sprucing up their homes. It's as if the gentle air and clear, turquoise sky grants new energy to people to break their rain-inhibited hibernation. And they want uplifting, small change.

Ron has been repainting our garage. It was always shabby, and the record rain made it worse. Don next door is having the 60s-style popcorn ceiling in four rooms smoothed out. And Marty across the street is doing something that entails one of his adult sons, paint and carpentry. The 75ish man up the street who endlessly obsesses over his grass is...well, obsessing anew over his front lawn.

It has the peaceful lilt of a fresh season, done the usual, comforting way. All's right with the world on Heritage Avenue.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Profound Change Is in the Air

Can you feel it? Change is in the air. Profound change.

Famed OJ attorney Johnnie Cochran died today. The Pope is dying. Jerry Falwell is critically ill with pneumonia, and Billy Graham is feeble with Parkinson's disease.

Terry Schiavo is on the verge of moving into her new life with her Father in heaven. Ashley Smith miraculously talked a killer into peace armed only with a Christian book. Two everyday woman.....a martyr and an earth-bound angel.....showing us the way.

And Operation Rescue's Randall Terry and the Rev. Jesse Jackson are today on the same side of the sad Schiavo story, and literally on the same street in front of Terri's hospice.

I'm not sure what it all means, but something has changed in the last two weeks. People are talking about the real issues. Eyes of the heart are being opened anew. An old era is rapidly being swept away, and we're moving forward on an unstoppable tidal wave of change.

Something real and exciting is happening. I can feel it today. It feels as sure and decisive as the Christmas 2004 tsunami. And just as life-changing.

It's a miracle?

Praise God.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday Thought on Christianity and Pro-Lifers

On this Good Friday, a thought occurs to me.....

Christianity is a mindset....a view of life, of humanity, of our world. Having Christianity in your heart means to filter all comings and goings, all experiences, through the prism of Jesus' words.

Being a Christian is not limited to specific dates or actions, like attending services on Easter and Christmas Eve. My parents reliably took us to church every Sunday. "Church" was then done for the week until the following Sunday. It was a decent start on the road to becoming Christian...but the commitment and submission to reach the destination fell short. Christianity was something we did on Sunday morning, not something we lived.

Likewise, being "pro-life" is a fully-internalized view of our relationship to God-created life. It's about honoring and respecting the value of every person, and acting on that value. It's about seeing worth in every person. It's certainly about not taking the life of another. It's also about supporting systems that save lives and preserve the dignity and sanctity of human life.

Like "Easter-&-Christmas-only" Christians, many self-professed pro-lifers preach that their gospel consists of just a couple issues. That may be a decent start, but it falls far short of the destination. It's a half-measure, at best.

Being "pro-life" is a condition of the heart, not a bullet-point political agenda. And just like being a Christian, being "pro-life" is about every person we meet, every activity we attend, and every cause we support.

Being pro-life is about loving, seeing with eyes of love and acting with love. It's about loving your neighbor as you do yourself.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Profound Gifts of Terri Schiavo

From Associated Press today....

"More than two-thirds of people who describe themselves as evangelicals and conservatives disapprove of the intervention by Congress and President Bush in the case of the Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman at the center of a national debate....

A CBS News poll found that four of five people polled opposed federal intervention, with levels of disapproval among key groups supporting the GOP almost that high.

Most Americans say they feel sympathy for family members on both sides of the dispute over the 41-year-old Schiavo, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll.

More than eight in 10 in that poll said they feel sympathy for Bob and Mary Schindler, parents of Schiavo, who want to keep her alive. And seven in 10 said they're sympathetic for Michael Schiavo, the husband of Schiavo who says she should be allowed to die."

James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Karl Rove were incorrect, insulting and arrogant to claim that all and only conservative evangelical voters were "pro-life." People of all faiths and beliefs treasure life. And each person experiences, values and celebrates life differently. God made us in His image, but he made each of us a unique creation in Him.

The sad Terri Schiavo plight has caused the US to unavoidably see our diversity of views. Views that, once again, don't fit neat political categories.

Were I granted the ability to make this awful decision, I would send Terri home with her parents. I find that the kind and right solution to honor God-given life. Politically, I consider myself a moderate liberal....usually. Often. Not always. If I have one consistent belief, it is that of honoring the holiness of human life.

Last night, I spoke with my late-20s daughter, a common sense conservative and a Catholic. She voted for President in spite of the George Bush-as-evangelical-deity, not because of it. She said she's tired of Terri Schiavo overkill.....sick of the grotesque political exploitation.

She believes that Michael Schiavo is doing the right and kind thing in allowing his wife die in dignity. She continued to say that last year, she drew up papers for herself, making clear her wish to never be kept alive via life support systems.

Liberal, keep Terri alive. Conservative, let Terri die with dignity. Neither of us fit the stereotypes that politicans, media and churches want to place on us. Neither of us is wrong.

The simple fact is that Mr. Schiavo has the right to determine his wife's fate. She married him and she gave him that authority. The courts would be wrong to overturn this spousal responsibility, barring nefarious reasons.

CNN, CBS and AP polls all reflect that the group they tag "evangelical" disapproves and disagrees with the ghoulish political grandstanding of George Bush and Tom DeLay in ignoring a husband's rights, states' rights, our judicial system and even Florida custody laws.

The fact is that our most personal values and faiths can't be sliced and diced and stuffed neatly into one politically-expedient classification. Mr. Bush and Mr. DeLay are rapidly, and finally, discovering that the American people are smarter, deeper and more independent than that. Hopefully, Dobson, Falwell and Rove can likewise open their hearts to also see that.

Terri Schiavo's gift to us may be a re-awakening to the meaning of being "pro-life," and how it touches each of our families. About how honoring life has many forms and views, and how it's about far more than saving cute, unborn babies. Being "pro-life" is an ethical system dedicated to preserving life with dignity and love, and is not conveniently tied to just one or two comfortable issues.

Terri's other gift may be to break divisive stereotyped thinking that was purposely injected into the 2004 election for personal political advantage. My daughter and I quietly listened to each other, with surprise and without interruption. Terri's other gift may be to freshly see each other with new eyes and ears. And to listen quietly without pre-judging.

Terri Schiavo's impact has been profound. And her gifts could mean a much-needed new start for our noble country.

God bless Terri Schiavo, her husband and her family.

Monday, March 21, 2005

We're All Just People Trying to Help Other People

Here's hoping that this touching article foreshadows a larger movement toward fullfilling Jesus' teachings to us. From the San Francisco Chronicle today.... Helping the homeless: City's unique volunteer program is growing into a genuine civic movement
Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer , Monday, March 21, 2005

Amme Hill had never talked to a homeless person before, never helped out at a soup kitchen. She's a busy yoga instructor in San Francisco. Even though her heart went out to desperate people she saw on the street, she never found an opportunity to turn her compassion into action.

So when she responded to a mass mailing and showed up at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in February for a city-sponsored gathering of hundreds of people to help the homeless, she didn't know if she'd feel repulsed, inspired, scared or sad.

That didn't last long. By the end of the day, the mystery was gone -- replaced by a new understanding for those unfortunates she used to stroll past, and by a fiery optimism that their plight can be eased.

"They're just people, like the rest of us," Hill, 31, said several days later, a tone of marvel still in her voice. "What really hit me the most is how such a lot of people were so sad, so alone. And what surprised me the most was how obvious the whole problem was, and how to fix it. Give them a place to live and counseling to get over the drug problem or whatever, and you've got it."

Meet the face of Mayor Gavin Newsom's new citizen army of volunteers -- the only one of its kind in the nation devoted to tackling homelessness.

What began in October as a 200-person corps of virtually all city employees who answered the mayor's request to pitch in on their own time has evolved over six months into the makings of a genuine civic movement, drawing not just on government staff but also nonprofit social services agencies as well as real estate agents, teachers, lawyers, carpenters and other ordinary folk.

The monthly gathering is called Project Homeless Connect, and the idea is to have citizen volunteers gather for a day to help city counselors, welfare and housing specialists sign up homeless people for services that can get them off the street.

The third Connect gathering, held Feb. 17, drew 575 volunteers -- and what excited organizers as much as anything was that one-quarter of them were not city workers, as in the past, but ordinary people who vowed to bring friends with them to the next gathering.

Many say this is the first time they've ever seen the city create a means for them to help in a significant hands-on way. And, like Hill, they say they have long felt a pent-up longing to do something after watching homelessness in San Francisco metastasize into the nation's most visible crisis with street people.

"As I look around the country, I have seen nothing like this anywhere," said Philip Mangano, President Bush's point man on homelessness. Some cities, such as Boston, muster citizens once a year to work on homeless issues, he said -- but enlisting them once every month or so hasn't happened before.

Word of the periodic gatherings is spreading around the country through social worker networks. Dozens of organizations from cities including New York, Denver, Indianapolis, Nashville and Los Angeles have called Newsom's office to see if they can copy the technique.

"Everybody in the country is looking around for what works, and what's going on in San Francisco is very unique and exciting," said Becky Kanis, director of innovations for Common Ground of New York, one of the nation's premier providers of supportive housing for the homeless. "I am going to bring city commissioners and people from other nonprofits with me to come look at the Connect project, see how we can do that here."

The Connect project has been an awakening experience for both the people helping out and for homeless people themselves.

"I'd always just bitched and moaned about walking over the homeless every day when I went out for lunch, but then I heard about this Connect thing," said real estate agent and lifelong San Francisco resident Ali Tejada. "I told myself, 'OK, why not?' "

What she found when she showed up last month at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium -- which had been turned into a giant MASH-like service center for Project Homeless Connect -- was a roomful of eager volunteers and 200 homeless people lined up outside waiting for the doors to open.

"Some (of the homeless) smelled so bad, were in wheelchairs, were really messed up, but I actually got to talk to them for the first time, and I realized, 'Hey, these are real people with real problems,' " said Tejada, 50. "It was a little daunting at first. But they felt so respected by us shaking their hands, calling them by their names, actually remembering their names, that I began to really respect them, too."

She spent six hours escorting homeless men and women to food lines and booths of social workers who signed them up for drug rehab, shelter, housing or counseling for welfare or jobs. By the end, her opinion of the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, out-of-work carpenters and other hard-luck cases she talked to went from disgust to compassion, she said.

"The minute I got home, I took a shower because I didn't want the homeless smell all over me -- but the next thing I did was go to our closet and clean out absolutely everything we didn't need. The next day I dropped it all off at St. Anthony's, a big Hefty bag full."

That's just the sort of thing Newsom and his organizers hoped would happen.

"There is such a hungry appetite to contribute, but people didn't know how to help," Newsom said at the February gathering. "They wrote checks, or they helped out on a holiday at a church -- which are good things -- but this is face-to-face, totally real and intensified."

Michael Simpson, 41, came to the auditorium that day after shivering all night on Market Street under a thin blanket. He'd heard on the street that something special was going on, and tears rolled down his grubby face as he sat with hands around a coffee cup.

"My wife died in 1998, and I went off the deep end," he said quietly. "I need housing, food, counseling, everything." He looked up as a passing volunteer patted his shoulder.

"I can't believe these people don't treat me like crap," he said. "Maybe those people who walk by me every day aren't such jerks after all."

The sheer size of San Francisco's homeless population -- at least 6,248 in this winter's city-run count -- combined with budget cutbacks make it imperative that the city get as creative as it can, said Newsom's Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Tourk, who runs the Connect program.
So it was only natural to begin enlisting ordinary people to help, he said.

"I think what's really gotten people engaged is that we're not just dictating to them what to do," said Tourk. "We're listening to feedback, strengthening what works and throwing out what doesn't work."

The three Connect operations since October have housed or sheltered 140 people, more than half of them in permanent housing, enrolled 116 in intensive drug rehabilitation or mental health programs, and signed up 282 up for welfare. A total 2,352 homeless people were interviewed by the volunteers, and those who didn't get housing or rehab got sessions with psychiatric counselors, medical doctors or job advisers. Most also got food or clothing.

The next Connect, on March 28, will be a planning session only for volunteers, and the one after that on April 21 will be another rollout of services for the homeless. Tourk intends to continue that formula of alternating planning sessions one month with hands-on help the next, and his goal is to add new services each time.

For instance, organizers plan to have 100 hotel rooms to hand out in the April Connect. They also want to have 100 doctors on hand, about four times the number in February.

The statistics mean less to the volunteers than the thrill of putting their hearts into action.
"It was an incredibly powerful experience," said Brian Hughes, general manager of the stylish Argent Hotel, who went for his first Connect last month. "It confirmed some of my preconceptions about why people were on the streets -- mental illness, drugs, poverty -- but I was amazed at how there was never a moment that I felt hostility or fear."

In his crisp, blue suit and silver cuff links, Hughes looks like the last sort of man who would want to shake hands with junkies who slept in the street so long the grime won't wash off in a day. But he says he liked it so much he's taking his friends with him this month.

"I've heard some people calling this thing a populist movement, and that sure fits for me," he said. "We're all just people trying to help other people."

Even Phil Smith, who runs the Salvation Army's Harbor Light drug rehab center in San Francisco, came away with a new sense of purpose. Like many Connect volunteers who work at nonprofit social agencies, he is well familiar with the problems of poverty but said he'd never felt invited to pitch in by the city before. At least not in a way that wasn't contractual.

"I wanted to get a feel for it first, to see if it was worthwhile," he said. "I found it amazing. I'm going back, and this time I'll take some of my staff -- and some residents (in the Salvation Army's program) too, if they want. Think of what an incredible thing that would be for their self-esteem, helping people with the same kinds of problems they had."

Kendra Stewardson knows about that. An Army door gunner in the Vietnam War, Stewardson became a transgender woman in the early 1970s and eked out a living as a carpenter until quitting to care for her ailing mother for the past decade. Her mother died last year -- and suddenly, with no income, the 54-year-old found herself on the street.

Volunteers found Stewardson sleeping on the sidewalk during December's Connect, and by February she was living in a hotel -- and working as a volunteer on that month's muster.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," she said during the Feb. 17 session at the auditorium as she steered a line of homeless people to the welfare intake table. "For a transgender person like me to get help so fast, instead of just another dead end, really says something."
Some longtime advocates for the homeless remain skeptical, though.

"The question I always hear after one of these Connect things is, 'What is the follow-through for these people who get contacted?' " said Sister Bernie Galvin, head of Religious Witness With Homeless People. "I wonder, because clearly there is not enough housing or services in this city. So how many are really getting helped?"

She also is concerned that shelter beds set aside for Connect mean that other homeless people are left outside at night.

Newsom responds by saying the critics should appreciate that 140 homeless people have been moved inside through the initiative, and give it more time to work. As for the shelter beds, he pointed out that there are about 100 vacancies every night in the city's shelters.

"If anyone has any criticism about what we're doing, I just tell them, 'Come on down to the next Project Homeless Connect,' " Newsom said. "See what we're doing. Give us your advice, right on the spot. Be part of the solution."

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Cantonese Shrimp & Vegetables - 2005 New Recipe # 5

My lunch of leftovers today was so scrumptious that I felt guilty not sharing the recipe with you. I made this dish last Sunday, with both health and taste in mind. And I had a yen to try something creative and new. It exceeded our expectations and imaginations for distinctive yet subtle taste and heartiness. You would pay a pretty penny for this meal in a fancy restaurant, as my Grandmother would say.

Cantonese Shrimp and Vegetables
1 lb medium cooked shrimp (45 - 55 shrimp)
1 lb, broccoli florets
6 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 can, sliced water chestnuts
1 tbspn, crushed garlic
2 tspns, minced fresh ginger
1 tspn, garlic salt
1 tbspn each of soy sauce, water, cornstarch
1 cup, chicken broth
2 tbspns, canola oil
In a small bowl, combine water, soy sauce, cornstarch and broth. Set aside.
Assemble all ingredients.
Place the wok over high heat, and add oil
Whe oil is hot, stir in garlic, ginger and garlic salt.
Add broccoli, shrimp and water chestnuts. Stir-fry for 3 minutes.
Add liquid. Stir until sauce thickens.
Serve over steamed white rice.
(I wrapped leftovers in a flour tortilla with a splash of spicy ranch dressing.)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Foolishness and Regret, My Way

It's said that each person lives predominantly in the past, present or future. Until maybe four years ago, I lived mainly in the future. Setting goals, finding satisfaction in the striving, savoring the when-this-or-that-happens.

In the last four years, I've come to live more and more in the present. More enjoying the moments, small and big, and less dreaming of vague future plateaus. As a child, I learned well to hope for better times and better places. It's been a hard habit to break.

I now identify, appreciate and feel/express gratitude for my rich blessings, and they are many. God has been good and faithful.

But just lately, a new realization has disquietly dawned on me. I've made some foolish mistakes, and some regretful decisions. Now I're thinking Of Course! We all do. You're hardly an exception. (Plus I know's obvious. :)

When one lives in the future, one doesn't look back. I've never taken lots of photos. Memory albums and scrapbooks have never been a priority. And neither has second-guessing myself.

Coveting what family, friends and neighbors are/have is not my nature, but as I look at others these days....I sometimes see better decisions they made, and how they're better for them. It shows me where I made a foolish choice or two.

Why does this hurt? Why does this epiphany hurt? I don't's not pain of imperfection. No problems being in touch with my imperfection. I think I'm angry at myself for opportunities missed. For occasionally taking the wrong road. Maybe for not listening to conventional wisdom or loving advice often enough. I always had it do it my way. That's way. My way.

The Good News is that I can do better. Now. With God, with family and friends, with way. It still hurts, though.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Playing Our Cards Right & Empty Nest Syndrome

I've always heard about the "empty nest syndrome." We still have one child at home, a 13 year old, and the full teenage parenting-experience in our future one last time, so we don't yet have an empty nest. But still, with three adult children and two spouses, we find ourselves with less, not more, time for ourselves and our friends.

We're not complaining, mind you. Just observing. We choose to care about our kids and their lives. Both of us have/had detached parents...ones who mildly cared from afar, with occasional gifts and rare visits. They chose to not be involved in our everyday lives. We want more and we want to show our love more than that.

Trisha and Nino have been married 18 months, and live in an elegant San Francisco Bay area condo. They want a single-family home and don't have zillions to spend, so they're selling soon and moving to Portland, Oregon. They're successful free-lancers, so they can move where they choose.

I hear its beautful there. We can't wait to visit them. I talk or email with Trisha at least twice a week. Sometimes more.

Ryan and Giovanna, both in their mid-20s, were married last fall, and they're expecting their first child, our only grandchild, in May. They have little of anything but love. Ryan works fulltime, and goes to school in Costa Mesa to finish his degree. He'll soon pick-up a second job so Giovanna can quit. We're helping them move to a one-bedroom apartment...they adorably liken it to an immense mansion.

Next week, I'm taking Giovanna and her non-English speaking mother to a Babies R' Us to educate them on baby things she'll need, and to register for a baby shower I'm throwing for her in April.

Kevin works fulltime as webmaster and chief internet designer for a large surf retailer, all while attending Cal State Long Beach Business School fulltime. He plays soccer on weekends and hangs with his buddies, just like any 21 year old. He loves my weekend cooking. Apparently little dining, much less cooking, is done at his five-guy apartment.

And, of course, there's the hyper-schedule of an active young teenage girl

I hope we never feel "empty nest syndrome." My hunch is...we're not in danger of that.

If we play our cards right.

And soon...not soon enough.....a golden grandchild!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Welcome Home, Martha

I don't know why so many despise Martha Stewart.

The woman is a positive-thinker. She appreciates beauty in all forms and surroundings. She looks to beautify life. She makes the best of every experience. She truly makes lemonade out of life's lemons, and she always has.

She's retaught (or newly taught) women to appreciate home arts as noble. She creates lovely home environments, delicious meals, thoughtful parties for loved ones, engaging hobbies, interesting vacations, fertile gardens.

What did she do when she first got home? Throw a splashy party? Trot in a stream of celeb friends? Play the victim card? She picked lemons, fed the horses, walked her beloved dog and savored homemade soup with family.

She's one of us, but with more money. She lives transparently, and she shows us her life. She effusively thanks her fans every chance she gets.

Martha Stewart has been kicked down in the dusty road of life many times. What I admire most about Martha is that she invariably picks herself up, shakes the dust from her sandals and moves on with a smile and perfect blonde-streaked hair.

And freshly baked cookies.

Welcome home, Martha. You've been missed.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Maybe He's Ready to Hear.....

Sometimes we're called to drop everything and just be there....

I was here at my computer by 8 AM today, reading and responding to emails, scanning news, administrative know. It took longer than normal, so at 10 AM, I was still unshowered and undressed. My hair was a disregarded mess.

I have much to do today. Possible articles on Amtrak funding and a profile of the Governor of Arizona. Research, planning, writing. Deadlines, quotas and missed news events.

Our neighbor, Don, knocked on our front door just as I sat down to a 10-minute dish of yogurt and freshly brewed Seattle's Best. Something was wrong. He was stressed...shaken and pale.

He'd been in a car accident in Long Beach...couldn't find the key to his house. No one was home. Don, a sixtyish grandfather, was trembling. He'd refused to go to the hospital, and caught a ride with the towing driver. He seemed confused.

He and I sat in our living room for an hour this morning. I listened as he talked and worried and called, and talked and worried more. Said his heart was beating hard, and he wanted his wife to take him to their doctor. He refused breakfast, but relaxed a bit when sharing family stories. He rushed gratefully out when Barb got home.

It's so easy to focus on our stuff, and not on our neighbors. I was a mess....spotted workshirt pulled over crummy t-shirt and blue jeans. No make-up. No morning exercise. No breakfast. Running behind in work. Concerned about my son and his wife, concerned about bills. Normal life.

The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us to stop and help someone in need, and not walk past, preoccupied with our agendas. So I did.

They went to church with us on Christmas Eve. Maybe sometime soon, we'll invite them again. Maybe he's more ready to hear next time.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

It Takes a Faith-Based Village

Here in my "to do for Andrea" pile are.....

- A permission slip for a three-day spring-break neighborhood missions project; it seems to involve giving a t-shirt away and some fasting.

- Two mothers pleading for volunteers for the 8th grade promotion party, and for cans of refried beans for a Open House fundraiser;

- A 5-page student/parent information packet about Orange County History Day which is on....I see it....March 19. T-shirt and pizza lunch order forms, a map to the Orange County Dep't of Education. I better read this one. Looks like an all-day event. She's representing her school with her essay on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I printed the latest edited version this morning for her.

- 3-on-3 basketball after-school practice and tournament schedule.

- Bible Quiz schedule. All -day tournament on March 12, and three practices between now and then.

Seriously. There might be more here on my desk, too. We have one child left at home, and I work for myself mainly at home. And she's a good student who requires little homework guidance. How in the world do families hold down two jobs and keep up with two or three(or more) kids?

A stay-at-home, work-at-home, or at least flexibly-scheduled parent is not a luxury. It's a necessity for a healthy, balanced family life.

And it does take a village to raise a child. A faith-based village.