Friday, October 29, 2010


Freewriting today . . . same old exercise makes me work.

Rick Bragg, The Prince of Frogtown, p. 199

“We rode a bus halfway across the country, on faith.”

Carol and me, we were friends for as long as I can remember, even though Carol was a Seventh-Day Adventist. I was supposed to be some sort of Pentecostal but I almost never went to church, not even on Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. Grandma hated it that Mama and Daddy stopped going to church because Grandma was such a holy roller. Grandma said there was only one thing worse than those poinsettia and lily Christians—that’s those Christians who only go to church on Christmas and Easter—and that was those that never went at all. “You can’t even call yourself Christian,” she would say to me with a harumpf. Guess I could have gone to church with Grandma but I didn’t bother. Besides, Carol couldn’t play on Saturday and we needed all day Sunday to catch up. We cut out paper dolls and collected bugs in jars and made daisy-chain necklaces. When we got older we spent the whole day looking at teen idol magazines. Once I spent a whole week with Carol at vacation bible school. They showed me pictures of Jesus with the lambs and Jesus smiling at little children. We sang a song—yes, Jesus Loves Me, the bible tells me so. But the food was awful at the vacation bible school—some sort of mushy beans and carrot sticks and green Kool-Aid in a little Dixie Cup. And the church basement smelled bad like Grandma’s basement if a whole bunch of cats had peed there. The smell gave me a headache, I couldn’t eat the food, and I was beginning to think that no, Jesus didn’t really love me. When Miss Hooper, the bible school teacher asked me if I might want to join them in the church, I just looked at the floor and said, “No, ma’am, my Mama and Daddy wouldn’t allow that.” I had no idea if Mama and Daddy even cared, but I couldn’t see myself being Seventh-Day Adventist. Carol and I stayed friends even though I didn’t join her church. By the time we were starting high school even Carol was getting sick of the church thing. She was giving her mama lip about going to church school and she kept getting punished for it. But Carol said she was feeling rebellious and she admitted to me that she wasn’t even sure she believed in Jesus any more. My mama and daddy were bugging me too, but not over the Jesus question, that’s for sure. Mama and Daddy didn’t understand me at all. They didn’t understand that I wanted to see the world, that I was tired of the small town ways and the people who lived there. Carol wanted to go to Chicago because her cousin Minnie moved to Chicago. Minnie had been sending Carol letters telling her that in Chicago people were free to think and feel what they wanted, that kids our age were so much more grown up, so sophisticated in Chicago. We believed that we could become the people we wanted to be in Chicago. But Carol and I both knew that our parents would never let two 15-year-old girls go to Chicago on our own. So one morning in May we pretended we were leaving for school. We took a few things and money we had been saving and we hitched a ride to the bus station. We bought two one-way tickets to Chicago. We didn’t believe in Jesus, we believed in Chicago. We rode a bus halfway across the country, on faith.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Some therapeutic cooking today, another adventure in Indian cooking--I made red lentil dal. Dal is a thick vegetable stew that is especially common in Southern India. It is often a vegetarian dish, a good source of protein. I have added and subtracted from several dal recipes to come up with this version. The coconut milk works well, adding a slightly sweet body to the cooking liquid. Serve as a main course over Basmati rice or as a side dish with grilled meat. This is very curry-esque but not overly spicy so you can add more curry or jalapeno to taste.

Red Lentil Dal

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 ½ teaspoons curry powder (I used Penzey’s Maharajah curry powder)
1 teaspoon dried jalapeno pepper (I used Penzey’s)
2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 ½ cups dried red lentils (10 oz)
1 13 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup diced unpeeled potatoes
1 cut diced carrots
½ cup frozen chopped spinach
Fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
Cooked Basmati rice (optional)

Cook onion in oil in a heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until edges are golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, one minute more. Add curry powder and jalapeno and cook 1 minute.

Stir in broth, lentils, coconut milk, potatoes, and carrots and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes. Add additional broth (or water) if mixture is too thick. (It should be the consistency of cooked oatmeal.) Add frozen spinach and simmer 5 minutes more or until spinach, potatoes, and carrots are tender. Serve over cooked rice and garnish with cilantro if desired.

Makes 6-8 main course servings.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I can barely find words to describe what I did today. I feel like I’m hanging onto the earth as it spins wildly. I feel both horrified by humanity’s cruelty and uplifted by its kindness. I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll just jump in.

At 2 o’clock this afternoon in Fairfax County District Court there was a sentencing for the young man who murdered my friend Lynne’s daughter Siobhan. Months earlier he had been found guilty of 2nd degree murder. Siobhan was murdered a year and a half ago, on Easter Sunday. She was 19 years old and the murderer was her former boyfriend.

Both Lynne and her husband Andy spoke at the court proceedings today, spilling out the pain of parents whose daughter was savagely murdered. Yes, it was savage—he didn’t just shoot her in a moment of rage. The prosecutor made a case for a long prison sentence. A psychologist spoke for the defense, explaining his rationale for multiple mental illness diagnoses for the murderer. The murderer himself spoke briefly, accepting responsibility for his action. No amount of remorse would have been sufficient.

What lingers in my mind is the sense of the quiet and decorum in the courtroom that belied the intense underlying emotion. For two hours the murderer in his green prison clothes sat at the defense table with his attorneys, staring at the table in front of him. He looked like an ordinary young man with glasses and short dark hair. His mother, his grandparents, and a few family friends sat behind him on one side of the courtroom. It was almost as if there was a vapor around the murderer, the foul aura of evil, a demonic presence. Siobhan’s family sat in the front row on the other side of the courtroom, sometimes quietly crying, sometimes sitting and listening intently to the proceedings. And around them were their friends, silently supporting them, comforting them, trying to provide a buffer from the evil that had invaded their lives. I cried for Lynne and Andy and for the horrible fate that befell their oldest child. Yet I also felt the presence of God in the love and support of all the people who cared about them.

The murderer was sentenced to 40 years in prison without parole. It was the maximum sentence.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't move!

For the past few weeks I’ve been giving serious thought to moving. Perhaps I should be proactive and plan for the next phase of my life, a phase in which I can’t do what I’ve been doing on my own for the past ten-plus years. I’m beginning to feel old and beginning to feel that maintaining my little old townhouse is just too much for me. Something always needs maintenance or repair. There are always shrubs to prune, or leaves to rakes, or mulch to be hauled. And the worst—snow, snow, and more snow to be shoveled.

What if I moved to a nice condo with no stairs and a garage? I’d never have to shovel out my car again and someone else would clean the sidewalks and haul mulch. I’d find a place where I could walk to a coffee shop and a book store, and ideally be able to walk to a really good grocery store. And I could just lock the door and travel without all the complications of having someone watch my house.

So I’ve spent the past couple of weeks cleaning out the excess in my house with thoughts of putting it on the market. I’ve done online searches for condominiums in the area, talked to a couple of people about my ideas, and looked at few condos in Annapolis. And I’ve been thinking about getting an agent and getting serious about this move.

This morning I went for a walk. It was slightly cool, misty, and humid. The colors of the leaves were beautiful, softened by the fog that creeps in from the river. I walked a few blocks from my house to Pine Hill Road, a quaint dirt and gravel road with split-rail fences, horse pastures, and dilapidated barns. It’s such a surprise to find this slice of another time and place in the heart of busy, upscale McLean. I realized that I can’t leave this. I can’t live in a busy urban area with too many cars and too many people and too much concrete. I need green and quiet and lovely places to walk. Maybe eventually I’ll have to move, I’ll have to surrender to the effects of aging. But I’m not ready yet. Not yet.

Monday, October 18, 2010


When I first saw this recipe I printed it and put it in the pile of recipes that I need to try. It kept moving to the top of the pile. Thankfully, today I made the cookies, slightly adapted from the recipe I found which was an adaptation of yet another recipe. They are fabulous. They passed the test--I brought them to my Gospel class tonight and they were gobbled up. If there's anything more perfect than an oreo, it's a homemade oreo, crisp and made with real butter and great chocolate. Trust me--you will love them.

So, by request, here's the recipe.

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from Retro Desserts, Wayne Brachman, via Smitten Kitchen.

For the chocolate wafers:
1 ¼ cups flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (I used Scharffen-Berger cocoa)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ¼ sticks) at room temperature
1 egg

For the cream filling:
¼ cup unsalted butter (½ stick) at room temperature
¼ cup butter-flavored vegetable shortening
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a food processor thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, add the butter, then add the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.

Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.

To make the cream filling, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.

To assemble the cookies, place teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outside of the cookies.

Makes 25 to 30 cookies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Craig's List

Craig’s List can change your life in so many ways. For the past two days I’ve been purging. Not like the vomity binge and purge—the very thought of that kills me. How can people do that? I’m going through my worldly possessions and editing out all kinds of unnecessary things. A few of the things I’m selling on Craig’s List—things like extra subway tiles, a set of white china, a banjo, my daughter’s old flute, and an electric guitar amplifier. But most of the possessions I’m shedding by listing them in the “free” section on Craig’s List.

Whoa! People like free stuff. The ads hit the website and almost instantly the responses begin, like rats coming out of a woodpile. Some responders are nearly illiterate: “yes i get yur stuff wher u liv”—to them I politely answer and say the items have been claimed already. Others are tricky—they seem very sincere and eager to get the free items and then make plans to come, then they ask to reschedule, then they reschedule again, and eventually say their dog got sick and it’s dark and I live too far away. One woman rang my bell, took the electronic air cleaner, and left immediately with no conversation. A man wanted me to bring my old Subaru car mats to him in DC. I don’t deliver free stuff. One woman cancelled (after keeping me home all day waiting for her) because her son’s football game was rescheduled for Monday night. But she was coming Thursday so why was Monday a problem? Never mind, don’t ask.

But truthfully, I’ve been having such fun. Maybe I should heed the warnings of friends not to let strangers come into my house. I gave a bunch of yard tools to a woman who runs the local community center. I gave her rakes and hoes, an ax and a hatchet. So if she’s an ax murder, she’ll have lots of tools to use to come back and kill me.

This morning a lovely woman named Sandra came to pick up some area rugs. She said she wanted to do something for me in return. What could she possibly do? She wanted to pray for me and she did—she held both of my hands and did a lovely prayer of intercession, asking God to protect me and to wrap me in His love. She didn’t even know I was a Christian. But she said she knew it instinctively and felt that it was no coincidence that she came to my house today for some rugs, that it was truly the work of the Holy Spirit. I believe her and I thank the Holy Spirit for leading all these people into my life. Anyone who will pray over me is welcome.

And then there was Vince. Vince was picking up some dumbbells. He’s in the Army, posted at the Pentagon, and just moved here after tours Iraq and Afghanistan. He did bomb disposal. He’s brand new to the area and got horribly messed up in traffic trying to find my house. Let’s just say he took an interesting circuitous route that showed him what Northern Virginia rush hour traffic is like in the rain. And he never gave up, never bailed on me, just kept calling in to tell me where he was and apologizing for the delay. I guess after doing bomb disposal in a war zone the traffic here is no big deal.

So, my advice? Find something in your house that you don’t need any longer and give it to someone who can use it. It will clear your house of clutter and enrich your life in ways you can’t begin to imagine.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I pick up my pen

My book is nearly done. I need to add some recipes, edit, edit some more. I need to call it finished. Soon. Big step toward the final version today--I wrote the Foreword. Here it is.

At the end of the road there ain't nothing but fear
Just a big old room with a big old mirror
The man in the mirror his hair is turning gray
And his hand begins to shake in a funny sort of way

He knows everything you bring forth will save your soul
While everything denied will condemn you to the hole
With his hand on his heart he picks up his pen
To go searching for the place where the dream begins
Searching for the place where the dream begins.

Songwriter Tom Russell from a song entitled Where the Dream Begins

With my hand on my heart, I pick up my pen.

If I tell you my faith is unwavering, don’t believe me. This faith of mine wavers all the time. Usually I’ve found faith just one more time than I’ve lost it. And I’ve lost it more times than I can count. But I come back again and again. Sometimes I just don’t know why I come back, why God doesn’t give up on me, why I don’t give up on God. I suppose it is God’s grace, His limitless forgiveness that brings me to His door. Sometimes I pound on His door. Sometimes I don’t even knock. I just sit on the doorstep with my head in my hands until He opens the door for me one more time.

Prayer has evolved in my life. It has gone from that loud pounding on God’s door, asking for favors or miracles, to quietly sitting in His presence. And it has gone from being something that I do in desperation to being infused into everything I do.

Prayer is so much more than saying words to God. We are always in God’s presence when we are celebrating life, weeping, cooking, dancing, talking to a friend. Author Kristen Johnson Ingram was photographing Native American dancers at an Oregon pow-wow when one of the group leaders asked her to stop taking pictures, saying, “This is the prayer the dancer is doing.” We too can find holiness in ordinary things. For me playing music is a form of prayer. Cooking is my way of thanking God for life and the people I love.

This book is a prayer, a prayer of family, friendship, faith, heartache, laughter, and food. These are the things that have given substance to my life. It is a prayer of supplication, asking God to keep safe the people I love, to mend my broken heart, to bring peace to this troubled world. It is a prayer of gratitude. Lord, thank you. Thank you for the people I love. Thank you for the earth that sustains all of us. Thank you for giving me this body—I pray that it will hold together long enough, until my work is done. Thank you for giving me my mind—I pray that it will be open to learn what I need to know. Thank you for my heart—though it has been broken, with your grace it heals. Thank you for my soul, my soul that belongs to God. Thank you for everything, even the things for which I sometimes curse you. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ugly dress/ugly husband

It’s a wickedly mean thing to do to my dearest friend Toni. I need to consider the consequences.

Yesterday Toni and I buzzed through Nordstrom Rack before getting lunch. We have a long-standing tradition that involves my picking out horribly ugly dresses in stores and holding them up as she groans in response. And we laugh our fool heads off. There is a never-ending assortment of ugly dresses. Our underlying understanding is that she will be my maid of honor if ever I get married but I get to pick what she will wear for my wedding. Toni is stylish and pretty, size 4 tiny, and petite. I pick huge sequined things with feathers and enormous molded bosoms. If she says it’s too big, I say I’ll tuck it in with safety pins. I pick zebra-striped shocking pink hooker dresses with leather studs. If she says it’s too sexy to wear in church, I find a multi-colored vinyl raincoat for her to wear over it. I pick colors like glow-in-the dark yellow because Toni looks like an alien in yellow. If ever I get married I’ll probably wear jeans and Chucks so that Toni can be featured in any photos. I want her to steal the limelight. I hate limelight.

It’s not likely that I’ll ever get to pick an ugly dress for Toni because the likelihood of my getting married is slim to none. My children are aware of the understanding Toni and I have about my wedding and her maid of honor dress. And my traitorous children have entered a pact with Toni that if I can choose her dress then Toni can choose my husband. Now she has much more power than I have. An ugly dress is just for a day. An ugly husband is for a lifetime.


Monday, October 4, 2010

The carpenter

Consider how we all sometimes do things that we know are going to end badly. Like I know I’m going to get a stomach ache if I eat popcorn, but I do it anyway. Like you know if you see that guy you once loved that he’s going to pull at your heart strings and bring you down emotionally, but you do nothing to avoid him, walk toward him with your eyes wide open. Maybe you want to feel the hurt. Maybe heartache is the closest thing you have to love.

What if you knew every detail of your life that has yet to unfold? What if you knew that you were headed for tragedy or a painful outcome? Would you continue to move forward, knowing that you were walking off a cliff?

Jesus knew. He knew every detail of his life that was about to unfold. He learned carpentry from Joseph, his earthly father. I read somewhere that it was quite possible that Jesus and Joseph did carpentry work for the Romans who ruled Jerusalem at the time, that Jesus and Joseph built crosses for the Romans to use for executions. So it’s possible that Jesus built the cross upon which he was crucified.

I am stunned by this thought—that with his own hands Jesus built the cross where He would give his life. Perhaps others were killed on the cross as well, thieves and murderers whose blood was mingled with his blood. And Jesus built the cross with full knowledge of the will of God. This is more than passive acceptance of the will of God. This is active participation in God’s will, fully embracing it. It makes me cry to think about it. To think of a young man building a cross, aware of the will of God, knowing his fate, yet moving forward with courage and conviction. Simply amazing.