Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tweens and teens

I just wrote my first "tweens and teens" blog. I really would like to do more, and should do one a week so I can accumulate enough to send off somewhere. I wrote it in Word for two reasons: 1) it doesn't quite fit here; 2) my son told me I need to save these blogs for someplace where they will be read by larger numbers of adoring fans (or just plain ole anyone), and where I will be paid! I think it's way cool to have a 15-year-old fan, even if he doesn't actually read my writing.

Now it's too bad that I am not raising any girls, because I feel lke I have a major blind spot about what it's like to raise them. It doesn't count that I come from a family of two girls, me and my sister ... things were different then, and I can't imagine what my parents thought of raising us! I do remember when my sister and I would get the giggles at the dinner table. We'd giggle, and Dad would glare. The more we giggled, the madder he got! I never did understand what he was so upset about. Maybe, just maybe, part of the fun was knowing how easy it was to get him agitated.

Well, now it's payback time. Andrew is the one who insists on acting silly, and it makes me so mad sometimes! Why? I don't know. I still don't get it! In fact, one of the kids' favorite expressions to me (especially from Andrew) is "Calm down, Mom," which oddly enough, usually has the opposite effect.

Here is a coincidence where God has chosen to remain anonymous: a friend of mine is starting a Buddhist group in Floresville! Why, she might as well be starting a society to promote gay rights and abortion -- that's how startling and out-of-place this is in our small very-conservative oh-so-red-state town. I think it's amazing that I have the possibility to study Buddhism in a group, right here, when so many other things about living here seem so binding and constricted.

Don't get me wrong; there are many things I love about Floresville, the people most of all. I much prefer living somewhere where I know so many people. It's a comforting feeling to go someplace and run into people I know, especially for an introvert like me. But it's hard to have certain open-ended conversations on topics where people are likely to have strong opinions: politics, religion, what's that third one again? Oh, I guess that's a problem everywhere.
Like I wrote to a friend when I was doing Christmas cards -- one of the chief disappointments I've felt about my Bible study class so far is that there should be more questions, and fewer answers. Especially pat little answers given by people who are afraid of the deep mystery of faith.I do thank God that there hasn't been a lot of overt judgment against other people, except when someone in the group gets talking about those strange worship habits practiced by those Asian people (and a certain person sitting at the table with him).

I am learning that truth does not always reign supreme over all other considerations. There is a real need to temper truthfulness with love, and tact, which I often lack. I am finding that when someone is not ready for my version of truth, it may be better not to say it at all. But then there's Karen, who reminds me that we should not hide our lights from others -- that her spiritual growth has been through the nurturing, sometimes pushing, of her loved ones. Growth can be quite painful and uncomfortable, and I often don't want to go there in talking to other people. If someone is not ready to grow, or if I am merely trying to convert someone to my world view, pushing will make things worse and set them more firmly in rigid beliefs.

Another hopelessly rambling entry. I don't feel like deleting half of it, though, so you'll just have to forgive me.

Here's a link that explains some about Buddhism, which (I think) is best understood as a philosophy of life rather than a religion.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The great cookie-baking adventure

It was a chill Monday night, a week and a half before Christmas. All the children were snug in their beds, except mine. (Actually, it wasn't that late.) We had returned from an evening outing of Austin's, which I spent in the car reading while waiting for him.

It was about 8:30, and I was determined to attempt something that had been a beloved ritual of my Mom's ... baking sugar cookies. This night was the night, as every other night was stacking up to be at least as busy. Plus, I naively thought that we would make enough cookies to be able to treat every one of the kids' teachers, plus have oodles left. Plus, I felt the magic of the moment, a moment that would be lost forever if I didn't grab it now.

I had prepared the dough the evening before ("refrigerate at least three hours"), and I had heard of other potential sugar-cookie cooks storing their dough for much longer than that. Weeks, even. I was ahead of them already. I felt so prepared! I started gathering the supplies ... the cookie sheets, the cutting board, the flour, the rolling pin.

Hmmmm ... when was the last time I had used the rolling pin? I couldn't recall. It had definitely been more than a few months; more than a few years, even? I felt strongly that I owned a rolling pin. I seemed to remember seeing one somewhere in the depths of the cabinets, at some time in the past. I had faith that one would surface. A rolling pin, and a cookie cutter. (The round glass ends looked too big to cut out cookies.)

So I started the quest. Like other great seekers -- Ulysses, Jason, Monty Python searching for the Holy Grail -- I had complete and utter faith in my mission.That was the only possible explanation for why I had not bought a rolling pin and cookie cutters when I was buying the cookie ingredients. I knew that Mom was cheering me on, too, from somewhere.

So I started digging in the depths of the kitchen cupboards, pulling out the ancient relics from dusty corners of Christmases long ago. I discovered that we owned an unused sifter. I found a small collection of bundt pans, not that I ever cook in one. Had they been reproducing down there? There were other oddities that I might require in the future, and some odd contraption that might have been a chopper/dicer. But a rolling pin? For such a seemingly large item, it was hiding itself well.

In desperation, I asked Dwaine. I asked the kids. I was met with quizzical stares. I'm not sure if Andrew even knew what a rolling pin was. Poor child ... he'd been deprived much too long of a foodie mom.

But finally, after about 30 minutes of exhaustive and exhausting searching, my persistence paid off. I discovered a rolling pin! A light shone around it like a halo, the light of the large flashlight I was using to plumb the depths. As I pulled it out, the angels sang of the glory (on the CD). It was deep in the rear of a long, narrow cabinet. One of the kids had drawn on it with permanent marker. Other than that, it looked unused.

So now, undaunted, I mustered all my remaining strength to make cookies. And I did! They came out exactly the way Mom's always did. I was so proud! Some were skinny, some fat; some light, some dark; a few had corners missing. Sort of like all of God's children. They all had the general shape of a crescent moon, the one and only cookie cutter I was able to find. No, I'm not Russian. Why a crescent moon has anything to do with Christmas still eludes me ... is it supposed to be the backdrop for Santa's sleigh and reindeer? An oblique reference, to be sure.

My kids had fun making the frosting in creative colors and adding sprinkles. I discovered why the dough should be kept cool; if not, it oozed to gargantuan proportions, the crescent moon becoming grotesque as the warming dough spread out. This came of re-using hot cookie sheets. Again, I was so proud! I was making cookies just like my mom had. I had inherited her cooking skills. She, like me, had as many disasters in the kitchen as successes.

The end results were clearly homemade, just as homemade sugar cookies should look. The cookies were a hit with everyone. I think that for every one produced, another was eaten, because the volume was considerably less than the dozens and dozens I had anticipated.

I remember one year that someone brought to a cookie exchange perfectly identical reindeer sugar cookies that were "homemade," of uniform color, with tiny little antlers coming to perfect points, marked with teensie little silver balls on the end. This person had somehow, mysteriously and magically, solved the problem of the dough sticking to everything: the pin, the cutting board, the cookie cutter, my hand. But her cookies just didn't have that creative flair. They looked storebought. Sneer. And I bet my cookies, lovingly smeared in frosting by my kids, taste better.

In keeping with mom's tradition, the remainder of the cookies are in a large Ziploc baggie in the freezer, where everyone but me has forgotten about them. This is not a good situation.

Sorry, no pictures. Great artists do not deign to have pictures taken -- it would interrupt the flow of psychic energy while they and their children are creating. (That, and I forgot.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Giving, the gift that keeps giving

I am trying to make my entries more mono-topic and less rambling, which is one reason why the last entry was so stultifying.

I am giving myself a gift this holiday season, by helping out in the school social worker's office tomorrow morning. I technically should not "have time" to do this, but indeed I do. The time is right -- many things must be accomplished by Thursday. I got to deliver about 60 angel gifts there on Monday for distribution Thursday, and did I ever feel like Santa's elf! It was really a thrill to think of those gifts going to children for whom it may be the only gift they receive.

I also want to help with food baskets on Christmas Eve, for the first time. This is what the season is all about! Sending cards, buying gifts, are not important compared to being of service to someone in a real way. Cooking the meal and sharing it with family ... that's still important.

The kids in my Sunday school class are writing Christmas cards to those stationed overseas, and to those in nursing homes. We can do little things with great love! Hallelujah!

I have to post about how I have inherited Mom's cooking abilities ... and about the sugar cookie adventure last night. We should have taken pictures. But I really and truly don't have time, if I want to get in my beauty rest.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A brief defense of my church

How ironic, as I come here, that everything is beeping at me ... the laundry, the eggs, not to mention *Christmas is coming!!* Beep, beep, beep, indeed!

Since I have been the first to criticize the church's failings in addressing social ills and standing for peace and justice in the world, I will also offer some things that I think local churches excel at.

Churches are outstanding at creating a community in places where other communities have crumbled. My husband and I and my children have a social circle at church. Most of my FaceBook friends are from church. My husband has grown close to the people he is in Sunday school with. I feel a real connection with the people in my Disciple Bible class. My children love to go to youth night, and my older son participates with the praise band and a new youth praise band. If anyone in our church group has a need, that person is greeted with many offers of help ... not just prayers, but transportation, food, fellowship, and more. Of course, this help is not offered broadly throughout the community but is kept largely within the walls of the church group.

The one action that led to us becoming very attached to Floresville was switching our church membership from a San Antonio church down here. That was the single largest way that we met many people in the Floresville and Poth area.

Our local church is not as diverse as I would like, in keeping with church traditions everywhere. There is a Hispanic church that meets separately, and the lines of separation go very deep. Ironically, the Hispanic church is seeing a generation of children of its members who largely do not know Spanish, which is a great loss.

I am torn about who is the most judgmental as a group, people who attend church or people who do not. I know that church-goers are often viewed as being extremely intolerant, thanks to the evangelical movement that has pounded so hard on so-called "family values" that are a disguised way of attempting to legislate intolerance for certain groups of people. I have not personally observed this extreme of intolerance from most of the people I know at church.

We have a nice blend of liberals and conservatives. Like many churches, the United Methodist Church struggles to hang on to people of differing political views. In an attempt to alienate no one, the church no longer stands for much in the way of social action and belief. Yet it does have churches and schools, like Africa University, that represent a meaningful global outreach.

On the local level, our church does meaningful work to help the less fortunate. Our church members founded the Wilson Area Housing Authority, which helps make home improvements for the needy and distributes Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. Some members are active in the Poth food pantry and other local charitable organizations. We buy gifts for 85 local children through the Angel Tree every year, to my knowledge the largest single sponsor in the community. We routinely take up special offerings as the need arises. Recently, we have sponsored two mission trips.

Other churches have done similarly important work in the community. Another church in town offered a weekly large-scale food distribution service that required a lot of dedication and sacrifice from its members, though it stopped doing so this year, and I don't know if it will restart or not. The need is even greater right now because of the poor economy, so it was a blow for this food distribution to end when it did.

Local churches offer a place where families can find a loving community of people, and a relatively safe place for children and youth to meet. I think that on balance, churches contribute to positive spiritual growth in the world, despite the numerous human failings, corruption, and opulance that plague this human institution.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My life, the novel

When I post here about my life, I really feel more like a novelist telling a story. I think a novelist would feel the same way about his/her characters and how their lives unfold. It's dramatic and interesting, but it's not always an accurate description of what is real. It's just one person's point of view. Even then, my own point of view shifts and changes with time, so it's a snapshot of something that may be quite unreal in the larger sense.

The last post was from a place and time far, far away and not often brought to light. When I try to remember it, it is so shifting and hazy, and I remember through a thick veil, not distinctly. I have always had this really indistinct memory. Maybe I am constantly not paying attention to the external so much as the internal life. I relate to a fictional character in one of Scott Peck's novels. (He writes mostly nonfiction, but this was a work of fiction.) It was a man who was paralyzed and was asked how he could bear to live with so many limits. He answered, "I have a rich inner life." And I fear I am remembering that passage incorrectly.

So, when I post something that seems overly dramatic, or sad, or passionate -- it is a story that I tell, for reasons not always clear to me. Don't take it too seriously, and I won't either.

So, I asked (God) to help me remember my dreams last night, and I did remember some fragments. I have to be intentional about remembering dreams. It's an effort, just like everything else!

Here's what I recall. I answered my cell phone and some guy started talking. The voice sounded very familiar (like Marty, who by the way never would normally call me), but I said, jokingly, who is this? I need to know your name. And it turned out it was not who I thought it was but a stranger calling to interview me for a job, so I felt I had been overly flippant and familiar. But I still maintained that relaxed tone, talking with this person about my beliefs and values, having an interesting conversation which I now forget. I was feeling insecure, thinking I might have blown this job opportunity, but it was more important to be myself. Marty, to me, is a very serious and intense person, but I like him. He has a lot of integrity.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Tyger

I'm back from Thanksgiving break!

William Blake wrote:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Excerpted from Songs of Experience

I've been reading from the Norton Anthology of Poetry and remembering those wonderful days of reading when I was an English major. Some of the poems are so very sad. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a very long, long poem about the death of his friend that is quite painful to read. I skipped to the end, where it was just about bearable. (Many years had passed by then and his grief had mellowed.) As I understand it, he wrote the poem over years from 1833-50.

So, most people have tigers living inside them, as well as lambs, and I am no exception. There is a little girl living inside me who is frightened and anxious, and who does not know the way or the answer to anything. If I start feeling melancholy, often it is because she wants to come out. The best thing I can do is to understand and love this little girl inside me, if at all possible. Not try to ignore her or make her grow up or stop being so fearful. Just love her and let her have some expression, somehow; give her recognition.

If I try to suppress this part of me, it pops out in unexpected ways that are not good. Then my emotions become this tangle that trips me up, because either I don't understand where they come from, or I am deliberately hiding them from myself and others.

My little-girl side comes out strongly during the holidays. There is so much expectation, so much desire this time of year. I guess I can sum up my expectations, from my earliest years, as this: Christmas is about love and family. This year, love and family will prevail in my home. My parents will stop fighting and will show how much they love each other, and me. They will do more than give me a great bounty of gifts: they will give me the love I need, in the way that I need it. I will be able to feel secure when I am home and stop worrying about what will happen next, and when the other shoe will drop.

My parents fought a whole lot when I was young. They weren't good at showing love, though I know they loved me and my sister so very much. As I remember it (and I know memories are faulty), they used most of their energy to attack each other. Mom had this way of constantly dragging Dad down and telling him what a failure he was, about everything. Usually it was really simple things that he couldn't do right. He couldn't do what was needed around the house. He couldn't get the right groceries. He was a terrible provider for the family. And on and on. Dad would reach a simmer, and then a boil, and he would explode finally and yell back at Mom.

I felt like I spent a lot of time cowering in the corner nearby. It is hard, as a child, to watch your parents seemingly hate each other, without feeling rather hated yourself, or feeling like it's your fault. As I grew, I felt like if I could do everything perfectly, the fighting would stop. Once, I ran away -- first loudly announcing, "I'm running away!" hoping that would distract them for a while and get them to focus on something together. So I ran down some streets and alleys for a while. I think my sister was very upset about me running off. I wonder if she remembers? It wasn't long before I let myself be found.

 There was one time I remember vividly, because it was so surreal. My Mom and Dad, sitting on the bed in their bedroom, smiling. My Mom saying warmly, "I love your father so much!" and caressing him. My Dad smiling, in a bemused sort of way. This only happened once, that I remember.

In high school, I spent a lot of time at my best friend's house down the street, and went off to college (for a while), and married young. Gotta get away, gotta get away ...

Oddly enough, my life has not repeated the pattern of my parents' life, though those beginnings certainly influenced me in many ways. Sometimes, I realize that I am lucky to have experienced some suffering, far less than people from truly broken and dysfunctional homes. Let's look at the things that were not true of my parents: they did not physically abuse me or one another, or abuse alcohol or drugs, or live in dire poverty, or fail to provide for our every material need, etc. etc.

My experiences led to the development of empathy for others. I can't always use it effectively with other people, but I sure feel it. I see situations from the point of view of the underdog, and from multiple angles.

The Tyger that destroyed my parents' relationship with one another, and that I saw controlling my parents so often, has persisted in me, from the brokenness of that relationship and all the sorrows that resulted. My inner Tyger sometimes rages at others, but often it starts attacking me from the inside out.

Here's a recent picture with my Dad and his Chinese wife, Han, when she cooked us a delicious meal. Everyone seems to be thinking, can we eat already??

Despite this inner Tyger, I feel that I have been able to demonstrate my love for my kids effectively. I have been able to take better care of myself than my Mom took of herself. I have been able to feel genuine self-love, the first step toward loving others.

This little girl inside, this Tyger, was crying out this holiday season. So give her a little latitude and a lot of love, please. And next week, my inner Lamb will continue posting. Said with a wink and a smile!

Here is my advice to everyone else who is plagued by a Tyger: keep going, and act like the wonderful, loved and loving person you are.

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