Monday, December 29, 2008

Blessed Abundance

Puppy SnuggleI could not be happier or more relaxed than I am right now; not even if I were a 6-week old puppy with a belly full of milk all snuggled up with my brothers' and sisters' puppy breath in my face, lolling under a heat lamp.

My baby sister and I met up with our spouses and our dad and some good friends out at Lake O' The Pines to celebrate Christmas together. We sorely missed our Mom, middle sister and her beautiful family and were sending them our thoughts and prayers moment by moment. It turns out they muddled through and had their own special celebration, for which I'm so thankful!

Those of us who could gathered up at the Lake and celebrated in true East Texas fashion: by cooking and eating anything that would stand still long enough for us to stuff it in a pot. And while I call this "true East Texas" fashion, I've noticed that most groups think this is a unique quality of their culture. I've heard it especially from groups with a strong religious affiliation, like Irish Catholics, or Midwestern Methodists, or German Lutherans, or Chinese Buddhists, or Persian Muslims, or American Jews. Maybe it's because religion always seems to center around holidays and the community that shares them. When you find yourself in the midst of a gaggle of celebrants, someone will inevitably pull you aside and let you in on the secret, "Nobody eats quite like we eat at [insert holiday name] time!" I love it! I've heard it just often enough to know that I am far from having experienced all the holiday feasts I would like to experience. I really hope I get to hear that exact phrase with every imaginable accent before I die. So even though we celebrated in "true East Texas fashion" you can assume that aside from some characteristic spices, this is exactly like the big holiday gatherings that you know.

If, as they say, you are what you eat, right now I'm a glorious mish-mash of:

  • boiled shrimp
  • shrimp and oyster gumbo made with spicy chorizo para asar
  • rice
  • grilled steak
  • sautéed brussels sprouts
  • steamed asparagus
  • sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts, made from scratch!)
  • pumpkin pie
  • key lime pie
  • fried crappie (aka: white perch) that our neighbors caught in the lake on Christmas Day
  • chips and chili con queso
  • more boiled shrimp
  • bacon and eggs
  • creamy mashed potatoes with cheese
  • beef jerky
  • homemade deer sausage!!!
  • venison tamales
  • homemade chili
  • fried eggs
  • more sufganiyot! they were so popular we demanded a second batch from the baker...
  • Mom's King Ranch Chicken, from when she visited right before Christmas
  • fried cheddar cheese (you might have to be from East Texas to "get" this one)
  • chocolate covered pecans imported all the way from West Texas
  • buñuelos
  • meringue cookies which we improvised poorly but ate anyway
  • beef jerky, did i say that already?
  • oranges
  • big red tomatoes sliced raw and covered in salt and pepper
  • pears
  • and one more key lime pie!
ContentedThis represents ridiculous abundance in my life, and I take it as symbolic of all the goodness that overflows in my everyday existence. Everybody who was there contributed, cooked a little, cleaned a little, ate a lot, laughed a lot more than they ate and had the freedom to have their own best time. You could walk when you wanted to walk, sleep when you needed to sleep, eat when you were hungry, and read as much or as little as you liked. There was always a pot of coffee on, or something bubbling on the stove, and there was a board game in progress more often than the TV was on. I did my job as the gumbo fairy to spread roux through the countryside: we swapped bowls of gumbo to the neighbors for the crappie and everybody came away happy. My dogs are pleasantly exhausted from swimming in the lake every morning and barking out the window at the browsing deer every night. I hope I can take a little bit of this feeling and carry it with me into the coming year, and share this satiety and happiness with everyone I meet. It is this exact feeling that I wish upon every person I meet when I say to them "Merry Christmas!" "Happy Holidays!" or even simply "God bless you!"Contented Deer

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

you win some, you lose some.

Tonight, I had a SUPERB dinner at Fleming's in Mt. Laurel, NJ. There was old scotch, and there was perfectly seared filet mignon and there was a great red wine. The weird little appetizer of Champagne-infused Brie was surprising, rich, and quite probably is the new love of my life. Except that I'm married. However, if you could marry food, Rose would totally have to armwrestle the Brie for my affections. It's just that good. So that is a win.

Also in the "win" column, and a significantly more important win, is the fact that my niece is out of the hospital. [here is where you must imagine me doing a giant, happy, rejoicing dance. there will be no live demo.] Seriously, this is better than any cheese ever. We still don't know anything, but she's feeling better, moving better, and is cross with her mama over all the poking, prodding, and testing she's had to go through. Mama was there to hold her, and in the 17-month-old-mind, is the agent at fault for all the discomfort. No fair, really. Keep her in your prayers. We all hope for her continued good health and a diagnosis that is easy for us to swallow. Selfish as it may be to ask that, it's what I want.

On to the losses. Monday, the TSA assaulted my dignity again. This time, it was over my freaking Tide pen. Tide-to-Go PenYes, you know, those little gizmos you use when you spill something on your clothes and then have to go look like a reasonably well-put-together person in order to keep your job? Those things WHICH DO NOT CONTAIN BLEACH AT ALL or else you couldn't use them on colored fabrics? Yeah, the TSA lady pulled it out of my 1 quart zip-top bag and concluded that because it said "Tide" on it it must contain bleach and was therefore a threat to national security. Almost every word of labeling had been rubbed off the damn thing by its ongoing contact with said zip-top bag in my thousands of miles of air travel. It wasn't worth arguing over the single item. I wonder, though, if the PRINCIPLE isn't worth arguing over. Whatever I conclude on that score, I'm pretty sure that arguing with one liquids inspector at the DFW airport is not going to significantly impact the policy. And that's what I really want to argue with... not the policy IMPLEMENTERS, but the policy MAKERS.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

keep 'em coming...

No news is good news, it seems. My niece is getting worse and the doctors want her admitted to the hospital for further observation and testing. My sister listed their situation pretty succinctly. So if you've got some prayers, kind thoughts, good energy, or healing vibes to spare, please send them her way. Thanks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right

I really, really, really wish I could've coined that phrase. I further wish that I were writing this as a review of the book You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right. Alas, I'm just writing it because I heard the author on NPR and now I have an opinion. But I've added the book to my "list". (What? Don't you have a list of all the books you want to read but will forget about if you don't jot them down somewhere?) This whole post was prompted by a misdirected e-mail. I have a pretty common name. It's not as common as, say Sue Smith, but it's one of those names that gets over 2,000,000 hits on Google if you search it. So, periodically, I get e-mail intended for one of the other women out there who has my name.

Today, the one I got was a snarky conservative appeal to Christians to militantly take back the Christmas holiday that is being twisted by retailers and "the PC Police" and muddied with Ramadan and Kwanzaa. I noticed the anonymous author went out of the way not to mention or denigrate Hanukkah but had no trouble mocking Kwanzaa and Ramadan. So even though political correctness is decried as part of the problem, the piece was PC enough not be overtly anti-Semitic, but not PC enough to avoid being racist. The whole thing was a parody of "The Night Before Christmas," although I daresay the author of this piece would've called it a tribute. I'm not reprinting it because I don't want to give it the airtime.

I was all set to come in here and wail away about how wrong that call for militant retrieval of the holiday is, and how I don't have to be wrong for them to be right and I don't appreciate the implication that I am, when it hit me that militancy on both sides is the problem. Ranting would not contribute at all to the sort of world I want to live in.

I'm too moved by this to sit silent, however, so in light of the topic (take a second to go back and read it again) here is what I have to say. I know some Christians feel like they are persecuted, and feel like the proper response to all the latte-sipping liberals who insist on "Happy Holidays" is to make their "Merry Christmas" louder and harder to ignore. I also understand that they feel frustrated when public figures or large companies choose a generic holiday greeting in lieu of "Merry Christmas." Mostly, I hear this deplored for the reason that we're "so afraid of offending someone" that we censor ourselves and hide our faith.

Now, as for the commercial bit of the e-mail, it seemed the author couldn't decide whether to be offended that Lowe's doesn't celebrate Christmas on their website or that Wal-Mart had such enticing Christmas offerings that shoppers there trampled an employee to death on Black Friday to get to them. Ultimately, does it matter whether public figures and retailers shout Christmas from their virtual storefronts and actual rooftops? Either way, you're going to continue observing your religion and your holiday. You know why you're giving to charity or buying gifts for kids and loved ones this time of year. You talk about it with your friends and family and at church and bear witness by making that a part of your daily life. Why do you need mass marketers to reinforce that?

Can't you be pleased that you live in a country progressive enough to allow freedom of religion? I know that what the Founding Fathers probably meant when they wrote "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" is that nobody could be run off for failing to join the Church of England. The price for living in a place where the President can't tell you what flavor of Protestant to be is that your neighbors don't even have to be Christian. As a result, their employers, rightfully wishing to preserve good relationships with their employees (i.e.: by not hurting their feelings) might opt for a simple "Happy Holidays" statement. It's an uncomplicated acknowledgment of a festive time of year which is deeply religious for some people and simply fun for others.

And on the personal greeting front: what's so great about offending people? If the point is to evangelize the world, and you're supposed to be a living example of Christ-likeness to everyone you meet, then a little humility and politeness would go a long way toward the goal. Even if the people you meet have brown skin and "funny" names.

So, how about this: rather than shouting "MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAMMIT!" at every man, woman and child you see, say a warm and sincere "Merry Christmas" to everyone you know who is Christian. And if you know someone is observing the holidays of their religion, offer an appropriate greeting for that, like "Happy Hanukkah" or "Joyous Eid" or "Blessed Festivus" or "Happy Kwanzaa". And if you don't know the person well enough to know their faith (or absence thereof) but you absolutely have to offer some greeting other than "Hi" then what's wrong with "Happy Holidays"? It's not because you don't love Christ or because you don't have pride in your faith or because you're being "politically correct". It's because you're being POLITE. It's another way of showing the people around you that you, y'know, love your neighbor.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

please pray...

everybody who reads this, please just say a prayer today for my niece. her name is Rebecca, if that helps you to know it. she is having a scary episode with her health right now, and it is overwhelmingly sad for me to think of this sweet baby going through such a difficult thing. while you're at it, her parents (Joy and Tom) could use a big pile of uplift, too. if you're not the praying sort, but you meditate or send positive vibes or good energy or any analogous thing, i would appreciate you shining your light her way today.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

snails, anyone?

Clown LoachI was poking around in the tags of my blog the other day and realized I have quite a few mentions of snails. But none lately. And that's not because I'm snail-free. Oh, no! I seem to have more snails now than I did before, but they're in a smaller tank, so it might just be that they're crowded together now. Last time, I went out and bought myself a pair of clown loaches. They eat snails, you see. I didn't do a whole lot of research before I bought them, though. That's unusual for me. Rose is the impulse buyer, the one who will walk into a Jeep dealership to buy shiny bits and drive out in a new (to her) V-10 pickup truck because it rumbles so nicely. I'm the one who obsessively researches the consumer reports, digital photography communities, and asks everyone I know about their camera before spending $200 on a point-and-shoot.

So for me to just walk into a fish store and walk out with two fish in a bag was a pretty unusual deal. It turned out to be a rotten investment, too. Because after I named them (Giuseppe and Antonio, because they were mafioso clowns who sent snails to sleep with the fishes) and figured out their habits and decided they probably were eating a few of the smaller snails and I was okay with it even if they ate one of my smaller fish, too... they died. The ingrates. It turned out they were pretty terribly unsuited to the tank I had them in, and they got into a turf war with my Siamese Algae Eater. He turned out to be quite the murderous jerk before he finally got rubbed out, but after he got rid of the Clowns he had control of the entire tank like those mustachioed, silk-shirt wearing Chinatown bosses in bad kung fu movies. I have a feeling the "friendly" and "community" tropical fish I keep in that tank had a meeting under the log one night and conspired to strangle him with a plastic plant.

Anyway, since the death of all the mob personalities in my tank, the snails have been getting out of control. I needed another one to fill the gap, but one that would not grow to be 12" long since the tank is only about 16" across.

Angelicus BotiaThis time, I did obsessive research. I probably spent a little less time on it than I did buying my new car last month, but only by an hour or two. I ended up with an Angelicus Botia. And I haven't named him. I'm a little superstitious about it now. But I did rearrange the tank to give him some good hidey-holes, because, having done the research, I knew he'd like that. And he's made it well past the date when a Jewish family would've named a new baby, and is also past the traditional naming-date for a newborn Roman. So, I've decided to give the Botia a name. I'm calling him Botzilla! Because he's a vicious monster who destroys Tokyo by night! Except that instead of Tokyo it's a small colony of snails. I'll keep you posted on his progress.

Monday, December 01, 2008

This is what an Abortion Gift Certificate looks like...

Twenty Dollars least according to the more rabid elements of the conservative side of our country. "WTF!?!?," you might be thinking. I certainly was. I'm a pretty big news hawk and I'd never heard of this until it turned up on some conservative blogs. I like the bloggers, I don't always agree with them, but that's why I have this place. I'll let you look up the blogs yourselves, but if you Google search "Abortion Gift Certificate" you'll have no trouble finding them. Here's the thing: they're all protesting the introduction of gift certificates available from Planned Parenthood Indiana. Precious few of the blogs bother to link to the original news story or the facts of the issue, preferring to claim that you can go to and click on their convenient online store link and buy Abortion Gift Certificates just in time to mock the Christmas celebration like the sexually irresponsible heathen you are. (You can't.) See, I've summarized it for you, so now you don't even have to do the Google search.

You wanna know what really happened? The Indiana branch of Planned Parenthood noticed that they're getting lots of calls lately from women who can't afford exams and birth control costs. They're either recently unemployed or recently uninsured, but the bottom line is that they need health care and they can't afford it. Not surprising, considering many health insurance plans won't cover birth control. So, PP Indiana decided to offer gift certificates in $25 increments that could be given to such women. After all, they see some 92,000 people a year, and 87,000 or so of them are there for health information, health care, prenatal care, birth control, and safe sex supplies. So if you follow the right links to get to the website for Planned Parenthood of Indiana you actually can purchase the certificates there, in $25 increments up to $100. (Note that abortions cost $350-900 in the first trimester.)

But there are two things that got the conservatives up in arms over this: first - it was done by Planned Parenthood, which they have decreed to be an abortion clinic regardless of the amount of non-abortion health care it provides (87k people annually in Indiana alone!); second - it wasn't restricted to use on ONLY preventive health care.

Some Hoosiers 24-Hour News 8 talked to asked if the gift certificates could be used towards abortions. The answer is yes. But, Planned Parenthood said that's not the purpose of the gift certificates. Struben-Hall [Vice President of Planned Parenthood of Indiana] said, "They really are intended for preventative healthcare. We decided not to put restrictions on the gift certificates so it's for whatever people feel they need the services for most." --WISH TV
So, if you give someone a gift certificate that is intended for preventative health care products or services, that's an "Abortion Gift Certificate." If you give cash for Christmas and don't stamp those dollars "Not Legal Tender For Abortion," you've just given an Abortion Gift Certificate. In fact, if you give someone a gas card, you've just freed up money in their budget for an abortion. So your gas card is an Abortion Gift Certificate. You can see how this would get out of hand fast, no? If I give my godsons a Wal-Mart gift card for Christmas, intending they spend it on toys or books or games, they COULD go spend it on a gun. Wal-Mart, after all, sells guns and the gift card doesn't have any restrictions placed on it for what it's spent on. Does that mean I gave my godsons Gun Gift Certificates for Christmas?

Here's my favorite part of the WISH TV article, a quote from Indiana Family Institute President Curt Smith:
"I think the way to help family planning is to give the money where there's no agenda. So if somebody wants to help a woman at a time of crisis, they can support the life centers throughout Indiana," said Smith.
Right, because if you search up the Life Centers of Indiana, it's QUITE CLEAR that they have 'no agenda', unless you count the following Principles (1, 7, and 8) from their website:
  • Life Centers is an outreach ministry of Jesus Christ through His church. Therefore, Life Centers, embodied in its staff and volunteers, is committed to presenting the Gospel of our Lord both in word and in deed to women with crisis pregnancies. Commensurate with this purpose, those who labor as Life Centers board members, directors and volunteers are expected to know Christ as their Savior and Lord.

  • Life Centers is committed to creating awareness within the local community of the needs of pregnant women and the fact that abortion only compounds human need rather than resolving it.

  • Life Centers does not recommend, provide, or refer single women for contraceptives. (Married women seeking contraceptive information should be urged to seek counsel, along with their husbands, from their pastors and physicians.)
I'm not opposed to the mission, because I can see the benefit of it to part of the population, but I won't be supporting it because it leaves out a lot of people. I think it's absolutely reprehensible to claim that they have 'no agenda'. They have a very clear agenda, which is to get people to behave according to their moral principles and to deny information and services to people who do not. It probably sounds like I'm offended by that, but I'm not. It is their prerogative to conduct their business in the way they see fit, but the fact that we're even discussing it means that they certainly have an agenda. This is my favorite part of the Principles (it's number 3), because of the delicious irony:
Life Centers is committed to integrity in dealing with clients, earning their trust and providing promised information and services. Life Centers denounces any form of deception in its corporate advertising or individual conversations with its clients.
So calling a $25 gift certificate that's just enough to almost cover half of an annual Pap Smear an Abortion Gift Certificate fits into the principle of denouncing "any form of deception" exactly how?