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.