Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mars trans-fat detector

Could it be a mere coincidence that the world headquarters for the Mars candy company is directly across the street from my doctor’s office? Seems like a conspiracy to me.

Yesterday I was driving back from visiting my friend in Pennsylvania. While I was driving home I got a call and a voice mail message from my doctor. I ignored the call until I pulled up in front of my house. My doctor wanted to talk to me because the results of my cholesterol blood test that I had earlier in the week had come in. The results weren’t catastrophic, just not good. I was recently put on a statin drug yet the numbers had not come down as low as the doctor hoped they would. So she said I should address the issue with dietary vigilance.

She presumed that I ate a healthy diet (because I told her so) and that I just needed to make sure I cut out trans-fats, eat lots of veggies, and exercise regularly. Oh, yes, of course.

I really didn’t absorb much of what she said because I was beginning to panic, thinking that she had some sort of detection device that could tell her what was in my car. In my car at the very moment I was attesting to a healthy diet were the purchases I made in Pennsylvania. This included: (1) 600 pieces of Halloween candy purchased at the Walmart in Gettysburg; (2) doughnuts purchased at the Amish Market on the way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and (3) a large bag of great bargains from the Utz potato chip factory outlet in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Some of these healthy items were consumed en route because there were annoying traffic issues. The worst was a Mack truck on the beltway, backing up to pick up the pieces of scrap metal that had fallen off the truck in the center lane of the beltway. This was only about a mile from my exit so I was tired and frustrated and my ill-perceived remedy was in the front seat of my car, just an arm’s reach from my mouth.

So as I spoke to my doctor, confectioners’ sugar and bbq potato chip shards in my lap and Heath bar wrappers on the floor, I knew that my rationalization would have been weak and she wouldn’t buy it.

I repent! I repent! So now I’m heading for the gym to bike until I collapse in a feeble attempt to atone for my transgressions.

But I still think that I might develop some sort of valid theory that the Mars company has poisoned those of us who live near their headquarters and they have plans to install trans-fat detectors in our cars. I'm doomed as doomed can be.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Brad and Ma

So I’m having a conversation with my mother this evening and the cheery issue of the hereditary aspect of breast cancer comes up. We are especially sensitive to information about heredity and breast cancer because my grandmother (my mother’s mother) died of breast cancer at the age of 49. I mention to my mother that some women with high genetic predisposition to breast cancer are having preventative mastectomies. For example, Angelina Jolie.

Mom: Angelina Jolie? Who is that?

Me: She’s the beautiful actress who is married to Brad Pitt.

Mom: Oh, I love that movie about the river.
Me: “A River Runs Through It”? Yes, I love that movie too. The book is even better. It’s actually a short story in a book. I have it and I’ll bring it to you so you can read it.
Mom: Oh, yes, the book is often better than the movie. Brad Pitt—he’s my boyfriend. I have no idea what he sees in that woman. She has such puffy lips.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

For this I have Jesus

Last week I was reading the story of a Rwandan woman who lost most of her family in her country’s genocide. Now she struggles to support local children who became orphans in the wake of the genocide. As expected, her work is difficult and she has few resources, yet she continues to cling to her faith. When asked how she perseveres, she responded, “For this I have Jesus.”

I love this simple phrase—for this I have Jesus—what an incredible thing to remember, to hang onto, for so many of life’s trials and triumphs. He is there, by my side, and whenever I need Him, I just need to ask for mercy or give thanks.

I am troubled when I learn that a friend has cancer? For this I have Jesus.

My grandson runs to sit on my lap in the cold Montana morning so I can share my blanket with him? For this I have Jesus.

My roof cracks under the weight of heavy ice and rain and I’m at my wits end trying to handle it? For this I have Jesus.

My brother gets murdered? For this I have Jesus.

My daughter tells me she is pregnant with twins? For this I have Jesus.

I’m sleepless with worry about finances and a million other worldly troubles? For this I have Jesus.

Every minute of every day, for every decision, every worry, every blessing in my life, I have one song to sing, one prayer. For this I have Jesus.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Badass and the child of God

A few days ago my friend Jeannie was here visiting and predictably she and I went to the biggest, grubbiest thrift store in the area. This store makes a big deal over Halloween—they have racks and racks of Halloween costumes and most of the employees are wearing masks and wigs or complete costumes. There is a pirate or a witch around every corner.

So I was digging through a rack of sweaters when I saw a mom coming down the aisle pushing a large baby stroller. The mom was a very cute, very hip young woman dressed in a short swingy skirt with tights and combat boots. The little one in the stroller appeared to be wearing some sort of monster mask—my assumption based on the fact that others in the store were wearing Halloween costumes. When they got closer I realized that there was no mask—the child had a grossly malformed face. I looked away, horrified that I could have said something amazingly stupid about the mask that wasn’t a mask.

My friend Jeannie was a couple of aisles away—when she saw the mom pushing the stroller, her initial impression was that it was not a human being in the stroller—an easy misassumption to make.

We both ran into the mom pushing the stroller several other times. The child may have been about 4 years old, just judging from her size—it was impossible to tell because her body was covered with a blanket. She was dressed in girly pink clothes with a bow in her hair. She had an extreme craniofacial abnormality—her skull was misshaped and asymmetrical, her nose was on one side of her face, and she had a huge lump in the center of her upper face. Bits of dark hair were growing around her forehead and down her face.

And the hip young woman we presumed to be her mom was continually talking to her, showing her pieces of clothing, saying, “What do you think? Do you like this?”

My eyes filled with tears. I was struck by the love, the nobility, the amazing courage of the mother. And I was struck by the humanity of the child with what appeared to be an unhuman face. I was horrified by my initial reaction—that I thought it was a grotesque mask—and humbled by the experience. For days it has stayed with me, and the thing that rises to the surface of my thoughts and feelings is that God’s love shines through all of it. God loves the child as much as any other child He has created. And God must have a special place in His heart for the courageous mom.

Today I had my yearly check-up with my orthodontist. He is on a team of medical specialists who works with children affected by craniofacial abnormalities. I told him the story and he said, “That mom is badass!”

I agree—the mom is badass and the little girl is a child of God. Bless both of them for their courage, for not hiding in shame, for carrying the nobility of their humanity for all to see.

There are no coincidences—my Bible study for yesterday was about this verse:

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

Monday, October 19, 2015

The cold

Just feeling the itch to do a writing exercise. I want to drift into the other side of my brain for a while.

So I pull a book from the shelf and see what happens. Combining a little reality with a prompt from fiction. The book—Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. On page 120, the sentence: “I can’t have my wife sleeping in the cold truck, not now. Not with the baby coming so soon.”

On my right foot: big toe pink, second toe white, third toe white, forth toe pink, pinky toe not pink but white. My left foot a different pattern of white and pink toes. Having once experienced frost bite, my feet are not fans of cold weather. But I wonder if this obsession with staying warm lies in something deeper, in another life at another time. I fill the bathtub with the hottest water I can tolerate. Steam fills the room and begins dripping down the walls, beneath the iron cross and the Guadalupe votives. Soaking in the bathtub, the room lit only by candlelight, I lift my arm out of the water and watch steam rise from my fingers and hands as I make steamy designs in the candlelight—figure eights and waves like a witch invoking black magic. When the steam dissipates, I put my arm back into the hot water and try new designs, new rhythms, anything to conjure up protection from the cold. On an exposed northwest corner, my bathroom is the coldest room in the house. The walls are cold to the touch and I imagine there is no insulation between the outside brick and the inside plaster. It was built at a time when energy was cheap. The leaves are only beginning to turn on the trees and hard winter is many weeks away. This is how I will live until spring returns, soaking in hot water until my skin erupts in itchy, rashy patches. I can’t sleep if I’m cold so I cook like a lobster and quickly slip into bed where the heat of my over-cooked body warms the cold sheets. Am I awake or am I drifting off to sleep? Startled, I sit up in bed, thinking I heard the voice of my long-dead father. “Papa?” I whisper. No response. I burrow down deeper under the blankets. And I begin to shiver. I hear his anxious voice as if from another room. “I can’t have my wife sleeping in the cold truck, not now. Not with the baby coming so soon.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chicken pumpkin curry sliders

There was a minor mental work-up to the event. I made sure I gathered all the ingredients, put on my apron, and decided I would test a new recipe. What a joke! It took about 5 minutes to put the thing together and about 5 minutes to cook. I am now eating one of these (super delish) sliders while writing this post. I cooked, worked out the adaptation of a new recipe, and it is a success. Can I milk it a bit and say I slaved over the hot stove, blah, blah, blah? It’s so easy and so good—make it and thank me later. By the way, I have to point out that it’s also a paleo recipe. I think something is wrong with me and I'm entered an alternative universe where the person who seems to be me is cooking paleo. But the fact that my hands smell like curry powder is a blessing.

This is an adaptation of a recipe I found at the gym. The only notation I have for the source is PaleOMG. (The photo is mine.) Thanks for the inspiration, whoever you may be.

Chicken Pumpkin Curry Sliders

1 pound ground organic white meat chicken

¼ cup canned pumpkin puree

¾ cup almond flour

2 tablespoons curry powder (I used Penzey’s Maharaji Curry Powder)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

2 tablespoons olive oil
Mix ground chicken, pumpkin, almond flour, curry, garlic, shallot, salt, and pepper. Mix well and form into balls (about the size of a lacrosse ball).
Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat.
When oil is heated, drop the chicken mixture balls into the pan. When the bottom of the balls begins to brown, flatten with a spatula, cook one minute, and flip. Cook second side for about 3 minutes.
It made 5 decent-sized sliders but I think you could make them either larger or smaller, depending on how you plan to use them. (One thought I had was to make them smaller and serve as an appetizer with some sort of chutney or another sauce.)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Where is the most grace?

Things have been rather tense for the past few days. My mother’s health took a bad turn and she began talking to me about reaching the end of her life. She was put on heavy-duty medication and has since improved some, but it’s a matter of time until she starts failing again. No one knows how much time. I have talked to her every day and spent most of the day with her today. Yes, it’s very sad to know that she is gravely ill, but it is such a gift to be given time to talk to my mother honestly and lovingly about God, mortality, and the meaning of family.

But dealing with the gravity of life’s big things has been placed in stark contrast to a petty incident that smacked my pride last week. I was feeling rather mean and spiteful and I wanted to lash back and get even.

Tonight I had a chance to talk with a friend who gently set me straight. I told her about what had been happening—both my mother’s situation and my hurt pride. I told her I had been praying about it and had not yet made a decision about how to react to my hurt feelings. She asked one simple question: “Where is the most grace?”

As soon as I hung up from talking to my wise friend, I knew the answer. The most grace comes from pushing my ego to the side and doing nothing. It’s so easy. I don’t need to win; I don’t need to prove that I’m right or smarter or better or more clever.

When viewed through the lens of grace, I could see clearly. Not vengeance, not arrogance, but humility. I don’t need to be right with the world; I just need to be right with the Lord. Sometimes prayers are answered directly from God and sometimes the answer is delivered in the words of a friend. Thank you, Lord!

From James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  . . .  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  . . . Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Written in pencil on a torn discarded envelope on my desk, I found the following quote: “Mature spirituality insists that we hold out for meaning instead of settling for mere answers.”

I barely remember copying this quote and couldn’t remember where I found it. But a quick search led me to Richard Rohr (no surprise!) as the source. (The entire passage can be found at Thank you, Richard Rohr.

Whatever it was that made me write this on a torn piece of envelope is a mystery. It took a while to sink in. And gradually I have come to realize how profound, how true this is, how relevant to my life in faith it is.

For so long I struggled for answers. I believed in God, trusted God, wanted so much more of God, but I kept asking Him questions—questions that I now realize can never be answered while I’m here on earth in human form. You know the questions: Exactly what is God? Does God allow everyone into heaven or just those who profess faith in Jesus? Can you explain that Gordian knot that is called the Trinity? If God is so good, then why does He allow suffering? On and on they keep popping up like those plastic gophers in the Whack-A-Mole game.

For me it has been a suspension of disbelief. Embracing as much of God as my feeble brain will allow me to embrace, I have given up trying to understand on a cognitive level. God surpasses all understanding. Instead of experiencing God in my head, I experience God in my heart. It is here that I feel, that I know He exists. It is purely grace, a gift from God. Why He gave it to me, I don’t understand, for I feel that I don’t deserve it. Yet it has transformed my life.

So, like the Richard Rohr quote, I don’t look for answers any longer because I know the questions and the answers are beyond my comprehension. I don’t need to know why. I just need to keep coming back to Him again and again to guide my life. Giving up the search for answers has created space for the meaning of my life to become much deeper and richer. I continue to learn.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


“Gosh, you’re so lucky,” she said. “You seem so creative, such a free spirit. You get to do what you want whenever you want. To be completely honest, I must confess that nearly all the time I wish I lived alone. I hate cooking dinner for him, I hate finding wet towels wherever he decides to leave them, and sometimes I simply can’t stand him in general. It has gotten to the point that I even hate the way he smells. He just . . . stinks.” Her mouth turned down stiffly and her eyes scanned the room. “Why am I confessing this to you? Please never tell anyone I said that. Please. Never.”

"Okay, your secret is safe with me,” I said. “ But I think you’re totally overestimating how blissful my life is. A lot of the time—a lot of the time—it’s very lonely.”

"But I think I’d like a little bit of that lonely.” She then tried to talk me into trying one of those online dating sites, which didn’t make any sense at all. If she was so miserable being married, then she wasn’t doing a very good job convincing me to find a man of my own.

Yes, I am sometimes achingly lonely. I don’t feel lucky. Sometimes I really, really want to have someone to share my life. I haven’t been lucky that way and I don’t understand what I have done wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t be so dismissive and I should take my friend’s suggestion to try one of the dating sites, but … but it scares me. So I played with the idea of writing a profile for one of those sites and telling the brutal, unvarnished truth about myself. Something like this . . .

Lonely old woman who has failed in past relationships, not sure she even wants to try again, in search of someone who won’t be frightened off like the others. If you even bother to read this you should be aware of my many flaws:

I have an undeserved reputation as a great cook; I even write a blog on cooking (among other things) but I rarely cook anymore. It’s too much trouble and I’m sick of cleaning the kitchen. Last night I had a glass of red wine and a half a bag of coconut for dinner. Bon appetit!

It would be a very bad omen if you suggest going to a sushi restaurant. Sushi caused the abrupt termination of another possible relationship. (It could be because he was a totally inflexible jerk, but all I remember about him was that he insisted we go to a sushi restaurant when I said I didn’t like sushi.) In my mind sushi = bait.

I’m a beer snob. I would die of thirst before I drank either Budweiser or Miller Lite. I also won’t drink beer out of a can because it tastes like aluminum. (I once had a very short date with a guy who asked the waiter for two beers then asked what I would like. He had seven beers in less than 40 minutes. Don’t do that.)

Once attached, I don’t detach easily. This was pointed out to me some years ago by my psychiatrist. Yes, of course I saw a psychiatrist. You have a problem with that? I read some of my writing to that same psychiatrist and he just smiled and said, “Someday some wonderful man is really going to love you.” A woman remembers such things. I hope he is right. I’m still waiting. No pressure though.

I have little patience for people. I love my friends but I get really, really annoyed when they post inane things on Facebook including what they just had for dinner. I delete their posts so I don’t have to see them again. But if I post what I had for dinner, I’m hurt if they don’t “like” my post. My standard is double. For serious infractions—for example, if you post anything that hints of support for the NRA—I will unfriend you. No mercy, like the Queen of Hearts, “Off with their heads!” And speaking of social media—Facebook is all I can handle—I don’t tweet or twitter (is that the same thing?) and I don’t Instagram. I’m not even sure what Instagram is. Maybe I do it and I don’t know it.

I’m a horrible insomniac. I get up about 14 times before I settle in to sleep. I’m too hot, I’m too cold, I put socks on, take socks off, get itchy, need a drink of water, have a headache. In one of these fits of insomnia I might decide to start painting something at 2 a.m. It makes sense to me. You would hate sleeping with me almost as much as I would hate sleeping with you. That said, I would love to be proven wrong on this issue. The idea of sleeping all night beside someone I love is . . .  is enough to make me cry.

I don’t have a television so don’t ask me if I’ve been following the plot line on your favorite show. I don’t understand what people do who become celebrities and it makes me really angry that the family of O.J. Simpson’s defense attorney does whatever they do (no one can tell me) and they just pout and strut their fat derrieres in skin-tight clothes and make a lot of money. They seem a bit trashy perhaps. And their father/mother who was a man in the Olympics and is now a woman is so confusing. Please don’t bother trying to explain it to me.

I play banjo. Yes, really—this is not a joke. I play old-time banjo, Appalachian mountain music. No one ever knowingly enters into a relationship with a banjo player. I’m a music freak who will break into song at inappropriate times. Just ignore me.

I’ll do almost anything to avoid cleaning the bathroom. Please don’t pee on the seat.

You won’t be able to figure me out. I’m unabashedly Christian in a non-denominational church but I don’t fit the presumed right-wing evangelical stereotype. I love Jesus and I’m into peace and social justice and human rights. I’m also into contemplative prayer and very often I cry when I’m praying. It just happens that way—I feel the presence of God and I cry. I cry other times too when I’m just plain sad and I’m not feeling the presence of God.

I’m critical of others but I’m even more critical of myself. I’m dumber than everyone else and uglier than everyone else and horribly unaccomplished and without ambition. When my mouth opens, my foot starts moving in the direction of my mouth. That makes me want to stay home and avoid polite company much of the time.

I wear sensible shoes. They are not sexy.

I don’t travel much because I’m too darned comfortable at home. I like my own bed and hot baths and quiet. My house is sacred to me, my sanctuary.

Don’t get sick because I don’t do well with sick people. I once refused to believe my poor daughter and forced her to travel on Thanksgiving. She passed out and started vomiting at the hotel. I lose patience with my elderly mother who needs oxygen and a wheel chair. So I’m a bad mother and a bad daughter. I love my grandchildren and pray they don’t treat me the way I have treated other people.

Please consider the following assets:

I do like some things. I like cats. I like dogs too. And horses. I will sleep with cats and dogs but not horses.

I love the Rocky Mountains, the San Juan Islands, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Chesapeake Bay.

I love pasta and pizza and crab cakes. If ever I stoop low enough to cook, I can produce fabulous versions of any of the above. Don’t ask for sushi—we’ve already discussed that.

And you should know that some of the people who love me think that I’m very lucky. Maybe they’re right.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fair trade

Please pray for me. I am weak and textiles are strong. But then I can work up some major league rationalizations. Here we go . . .

A month ago (it was much more than an month—it was almost 6 weeks ago) I posted my personal “manifesto” promising that I would not buy any clothing for one year. Perhaps it wasn’t really a promise, rather more like a thought, something that would have been nice to do. But, you know, things happen and sometimes we (I’m not alone in this, am I?) change our minds.

I have walked through a number of places that sold clothing in the 6 weeks since the manifesto and my resolve did not weaken. But a few days ago I went to Marshall’s, the mecca of discount shopping. I had to go there for the sake of my health. You might need an explanation. I’ve been reading a book about the beauty product industry, how it is not necessary to buy expensive products, that often the expensive products are no better than perhaps petroleum jelly or baby oil. In this book, the author writes that one should use a washcloth only once before laundering it because—horrors!—a wet washcloth can expose you to harmful bacteria if used repeatedly. I’m lucky I didn’t get a terminal case of bacterial face crud in the years that I’ve used a washcloth more than once. Those wet washcloths could have killed me. So I had to go to Marshall’s to buy all the plain white cotton washcloths I could find. It was the only reason I went into the store. There was a cold rain outside and it was the last place I wanted to be. It was a sacrifice, but I did it for my grandchildren.

Although it was truly a drive-by shopping excursion, after securing the washcloths and heading for check-out, I maneuvered my cart through the sale aisle of the women’s clothing section. I would have gone straight through the center of the store but there was a huge group of handicapped mendicant nuns (I think they had orphans with them) in the center aisle and I didn’t want to disturb them because they were blind and barefoot and I was afraid the cart might hurt them. (Oh, gosh—I’m could spend some extra time in Purgatory for this lie but thankfully I don’t believe in Purgatory.) As I raced past the sale rack, a beautiful white embroidered blouse practically jumped into my cart of its own volition. It had been reduced twice from its low Marshall’s price to a mere $15.

I knew it was no cheap blouse made in China. My innate textilian instinct told me that it was really hand embroidered and the tag confirmed that it was made in Mexico. I sensed that some indigenous woman had labored over the hand stitching in this blouse and it was a horrible injustice, indeed a human rights abuse, for this to be hanging so ignobly under fluorescent lights on the rack of a discount store in Vienna, Virginia. So I took it home with me to protect it from further shame.

Once home, I looked it up online. Indeed, my instincts were right. I found it online for nearly $100. Ha! The company had photos online of the indigenous women who shed their blood to make this blouse. Here’s the description that I found:

"One of our most popular blouses, the light weight, 100% Mexican cotton Rebecca features an oversized fit with fine, slimming pleats in front and back and lovely hand embroidered details on the front and the sleeves. Embroidered by the talented women of Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico! Preshrunk. XS - XL * Embroidery may vary due to the handmade nature of this product.”

So, my manifesto be damned! I did this for my people, for the women of Oaxaca and Chiapas, in solidarity with them to support them trying to make a decent living with the work of their hands. I might not even wear the blouse, but just keep it hanging in my closet as a symbol of my commitment to support indigenous people everywhere.

Then again, I might wear it to a Farm Aid concert or something similar, but only because I’m committed to the cause.

Here’s the photo posted on the website of the company that is committed to fair trade and to supporting the artisans of Oaxaca and Chiapas. I feel like I should send them a check for what the blouse should have cost.

No more shopping for me—I can’t take the emotional roller coaster.