Archive for May, 2006

Today is praying day for the new baby who just had major surgery, and also for his mom and dad and his sweet new sister.

Q: What do you get when you cross jalapeno jelly, strawberries, bleu cheese, and slivered almonds?

A: Something to take to the mandatory work potluck.

I have mixed feelings about mandatory potlucks, so I wanted a food that would both reflect my ambivalence and be easy to make and transport. Sometimes in these situations the universe just speaks to you, and this time the universe spoke to me via the supermarket flyer in my mailbox, which helpfully provided a recipe for cherry-jalepeno-bleu cheese bruschetta. It is my practice to only bring things I have never made before to potlucks; that way it’s an adventure as well as a social gathering. Bonus! Ingredient substitution opportunity right off the bat! The same store that sent the flyer doesn’t actually carry cherries yet, so I had to go with a different red fruit. Double bonus! The finished food item looks sweet and elegant, but is secretly spicy as well!

I pre-assembled one toast plank just to test it out and it was, in my opinion, somewhat tasty. You got your crunchy, your smooth, your sweet, your salty, and your spicy, all in one mouthful. First you get the burst of strawberry. The spice is just a slow hint of a burn, almost an aftertaste, and I only used the tiniest cheese crumbles so I didn’t get stuck with a big overwhelming chunk. The strawberries are sort of meh but it can’t be perfect, now, can it? Coworkers, (actually my coworkers don’t know I have this blog so it’s a rhetorical address), prepare yourselves for the inevitable result of my desire to hang out with you at a potluck because I actually like both you and food experiments, combined with my distaste at being forced to do it by conveniently unidentified members of the managament and simultaneously required to not only attend, but to provide part of the financing and labor for our refreshment. Bring on the bruschetta!

Back in February I posted a little thingy on what it feels like, on a day-to-day basis, to be one, which ended up being quite full of warm fuzzies. So now it’s time for Part II: The Not So Fuzzies.

1. The moral ambiguity.

One of the most attractive aspects of the Way of Jesus is also its biggest, gnarliest root in the trail: everything is imbued with meaning. The trees, the skyline, the conversation, the body. It is hard to remember that “meaning” means “value” and not “answers.” The Bible, as precious as it is, is not EVEN CLOSE to Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, though many days I dream of a how-to manual for living life. How easy it would be. You would just check the index: “annoying coworkers” and there would be three or four bullet points about how to treat them, right on page 615. Instead we have a motley and lovely collection of stories, poems, aphorisms, and letters. I bet, for any of the 10 Commandments, I could find an example somewhere in the Bible where God or Jesus advocates breaking it. Instead of being given a list of rules and consequences we are asked to think bigger, to apply the ideals of human and divine relationships to individual choices and interactions. It’s kind of hard.

2. The existential ambiguity.

Not only are there no rule books, there are no hard-and-fast moral reasons for why things happen. If there are, it is not usually our place to know them, as the book of Job attests. This would be easier to take if Christianity didn’t also offer meaning and a sense of connection; it shore seems like the reasons should be part of the package, don’t it? Jesus once said that a man was born blind so that “the work of God might be displayed in his life,” a reason that could be applied to every life circumstance, and yet the desire to apply moral lessons to life events is so strong that it often creeps into the advice Christians give to those they love. I’m sure I’ve doled out my fair share over the years. “Once you learn to (be content, have more faith, get rid of your pride), I believe that God will give you a (job, child, spouse, healing, calling).” We speak as if the only reason a person is not perfectly fulfilled in the here and now is because he or she somehow resists and denies the creator. I wish I could use experience as evidence of God’s blessing or lack thereof; it would be a simple way to stay on track, and to know exactly where everyone stands in the eyes of God. Instead I’ve got the much stranger and more lovely idea that what happens, happens so that the “work of God might be displayed.”

3. Other Christians

Everybody who wants in is invited in. It’s not like the rest of American society, where if you don’t like something about a certain group, you just leave and start your own group of more like-minded souls (ok maybe sometimes it ends up that way). I read one time that among the first disciples were Simon the Zealot (a radical nationalist/terrorist type) and Matthew the Tax Collector (a get rich off my own oppressed people type). Pre-Jesus, Simon might have killed Matthew, or at least spit on him. Post-Jesus, they ate, travelled and slept together every day. That’s the standard of unity in Christ. I worship cheek by jowl with people with terrible politics, misguided theology, weird personal quirks, and elaborate end times theories; people who constantly ask for help, who condescend to others, who have B.O., who ask for way more than I want to give, who are too touchy-feely; people who hurt my feelings sometimes, or whom I alienate. We are all in this together, and we are family. We don’t get to run away, and that’s where the real stuff happens.

4. Globalization

The thing about Christianity is that it is a very interpersonal religion. The stories and advice you get from the Bible are about fairly small groups of people, whereas what we got in this day and age is powers and principalities. That is, our small individual choices affect the enviroment, the world economy, the balance of power, these huge machineries operating at a scale far beyond the human and uncontrolled by any human or group. At any given time I could list the sufferings of people in ten different countries. How responsible am I for them, if at all? Does knowledge equal responsibility? Jesus kept things personal; when people tried to draw him into questions of economy and government he said, “Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s; give to God what is God’s.” The wealth of knowledge is overwhelming, the resources with which to decide how to act quite small.

5. Being Connected to Everyone

Being a Christian partly means going around as God’s agent. There is a quote on Tara’s blog from Gilead that sums up the experience pretty well. You always have to keep an eye out for what God wants. So if, on my way to the light rail stop, I pass a man shuffling along with twisted feet and knees, clinging to every light post and nearly falling as he wobbles between light posts, I must ask myself: “what is my connection with this person? How is God speaking/acting here? Am I to pray silently for this man and smile as I walk by? Engage in conversation and find out if he needs a walker? Pray for healing aloud right there on the street? Allow him his dignity and keep going?” It’s a risky and tricky business, I tell you. (And if you’re wondering, that time I went with Option 1, my usual choice and in this case a potential cop-out.)

6. Self-Discipline and Self-Denial

This one is hard but usually fruitful. I don’t think I even need to go into it. I’m tired and I don’t feel like it.

Spotted in the 50% off book bin at the grocery store:

Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Teenage Soul

I will open a bookstore devoted only to books with this type of title. Here is some of the edifying material it may contain.
Clam Chowder for the Tender Pirate Soul

Diet Cherry Coke for the Early-Sixties Diabetic Soul

Lemon-Spritzed Spring Water for the Detoxifying Yuppie Soul

Soy Protein Shake for the Vegan Bodybuilder Soul

Straight Bourbon for the Modernist Writer Soul

Liquid Turkish Delight for the Reluctant Traitor Soul

Cow Parts Biogas for the Environmentalist Soul

Ill-Gotten Communion Wine for the Altar Boy Soul

(Baptist edition: Ill-Gotten Communion Grape Juice for the Junior Usher Soul)

“There’s too much spaghetti inside this grape.”

The mister, describing the actual physical state of an ordinary red grape. (He had created a sculpture by poking sticks of uncooked spaghetti through it at various angles.)

These photos are unlikely to be interesting to you if you are not a) in them or b) a member of my family. But if you are a member of group a or b, or if you are not a member of group a or b and yet find other people’s vacations interesting, continue on. Nate gave a good summary of the trip earlier if you want to recall what we did. Sarah and Nate are the photographers of all moments captured below. Thanks, you two.

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Sarah mushes. Can dogs pretend to be tired? Cuz these ones seem like they are pretending.
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The rest of us tromped along behind the mushers or ran ahead to inspire the lacksadasical dogs. If you ran ahead all hardcore overachiever-like, you didn’t get to be in this picture.
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Two out of three cuties at Chena Hot Springs– Nate and Betsy’s crew. They switched their snowsuits for swimsuits when it was time to hit the steamy water.
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The third cutie, at home.
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Me pulling a chariot containing a small child on the skiing trek in the White Mountains. You see we are up high. Soon thereafter we had to go back down low. Me, becoming increasingly aware of our rapid acceleration: “Does that contraption have any brakes?” Small child in contraption: “No it doesn’t!” Me: “Well.” Small child: (Silent).

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A view.

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Dr. G and Nate. I wish you could see Dr. G’s awesome poofy-knee improvised ski pant fashion a little better.

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Near the cabin where we stayed.

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Inside aforementioned cabin. That’s Aaron and Irene on the left, the rest you know.

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Everybody rhumba! Or something!

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Me, troubled by the existence of uphill climbs. Why would a good God make uphills?
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Aaron and cutie #2 engage in some Extreme Baking. For this type of baking your apron must show just how extreme you are, hence the hot peppers. To take it a step further, you involve your whole body in the cooking process. If your sous-chef does not have chocolate on every inch of exposed skin, you’re not doing it right. This episode resulted in in one of a gagillion batches of homemade cookies.
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Easter Sunday.

At the intersection of fashion and function comes a breathtaking new product. I suspect as the trend takes hold, these must-have items will improve in quality of both materials and workmanship. But for those of you who are early adopters of new technology, you’ll want to jump on the bandwagon right quick to outfit every baby in your household. I notice that none are currently for sale on ebay, so entrepeneurs, a freebie business idea for you! Baby Mops!
(I don’t know the provenance of the picture, but thanks for the hot tip, Nate)

Baby Mops

Here’s the text on the page:

“After the birth of a child, there’s always the temptation to say, ‘Yes, it’s cute, but what can it do?’ Until recently the answer was simply ‘lie there and cry’ but now babies can be put on the payroll, so to speak, almost as soon as they’re born.

Just dress your young one in Baby Mops and set him or her down on any hardwood floor that needs cleaning. You may at first need to get things started by calling to the infant from across the room, but pretty soon they’ll be doing it all by themselves.

There’s no child exploitation involved. The kid is doing what he does best anyway: crawling. But with Baby Mops he’s also learning responsibility and a healthy work ethic.”

Looking into my crystal ball, I see that my coworker’s idea for baby walkers that double as upright vacuum cleaners will be the next big thing, once the mop market is saturated.  Another freebie for the entrepeneurs!

It was a Klingon kind of day. Everybody had much larger foreheads than usual and they kept banging them into lintels. The ceiling had partially resolved to stop keeping its distance and thus advanced and retreated as it felt respective waves of confidence and self-doubt. “Am I too aloof?” my ceiling kept asking. “I usually define it as shyness but, I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if it’s just a euphemism for standoffishness. I’d like to make more of an effort to reach out; it just feels so unnatural everytime I try it. Hey, want to hear a joke? What did one wall say to the other? Meet me at the corner. Ha! Ha! See, that’s friendly, right? That’s relatable.”

“You’re in my personal space,” I said. “Could you back up a bit?”

“Ouch,” said this woman with a striking forehead. She had misjudged the height of the doorway.

Schulyer told some of his own anecdotes. Yay for anecdotes!
In a comment, Kate wrote, “But peer pressure, and ridicule, are strong deterrents to stepping out. … I’m awestruck and somewhat envious of folks like you who seem rather impervious at all ages to such pressures.”

To which I would reply that though I didn’t worry much what people thought of me as I was growing up, I did have my own issue– an abstract yet suffocating desire to prove myself someway somehow. Being concerned with whether or not I was worthy of exisiting made other people’s reactions to my knee socks seem a little beside the point. It’s a uselessly melodramatic and occasionally crushing way to live. Insecurity is a bitch whatever mask it wears, I guess. Also, it’s not a big jump in people’s minds from “you don’t care what I think about your socks” to “you don’t care about me,” which sometimes means Social Troubles, not the least because there’s a grain of truth in the leap.

And now here’s another kind of leap. You know how on old-timey movies and TV shows, such as Little House on the Prairie, the girls and women always take their hair down, brush it, and then braid it again before they go to bed? You know how it just seems like a lot of extra work for no good reason? Why would you take the time to put all your hair in braids if you’re just going to lay down and sleep? Well, some experimenting of late has shown that it is a Quite Useful Technique. It keeps your hair from getting tangled, so that way if you are running late as usual, and you are deciding which personal grooming habit to forgo, you can pick Hair Brushing, becuase your hair won’t have tangles!

The Second Annual Failed State Index. Found via the BBC World News Site.

Religious adherents, USA. Found, I don’t remember how. I just noticed it in my bookmarks list today. It looks official.

The Pop Versus Soda Vernacular Controversy.