Monday, August 10, 2009

Bland No More!

I just finished spending the evening with my Aunt Jean. She's my movie pal. And I can always count on her, even if I want to see a movie that no one else cares about. She's always game. I love her movie enthusiasm! This evening we saw a movie that I've been waiting for rather impatiently and it's FINALLY out in the theaters.

The Julie/Julia Project with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams is the most uplifting movie I've seen in quite some time. It's kind of like 2 movies in one: Merly Streep plays Julia Child as she learns to cook, masters the art of it, begins to teach others how to cook, and finally, writes a cookbook with two other women. Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams (with a horrible haircut) is a young government employee who is burned out and bored with her job. Julie needs something to keep her sane, so she begins a project in which she will cook all 500-some-odd recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, and live to blog about it. Both women go through trials, challenges, joys and successes with the support from their loving husbands.

Maybe to some this might have been a dull movie about something as "boring" and commonplace as cooking. But to Julie, this project she undertook gave her something to look forward to at the end of a stressfull work day. When the previews first began for this movie, I was particularly struck by one scene: Julie is in her cubicle at work, and when she answers the phone, the man on the other end asks, "Do you have power?" Julie responds in irritation, "No." The man retorts, "Well I don't like the bill that's just been passed and I need to speak to someone with power to complain about it." This is what I deal with on a day-to-day basis as I answer phone calls from prospective students who are irritated by the massive budget cuts to the California State University system. They call the peons in the Admissions & Records office to "express" (rather, SHRIEK!!!) their disappointment with me, the Governor, their parents, and even God Himself.

There are some days I come home from work after such phone calls just to sit and stare at the wall, attempting in vain to erase some ridiculous accusation hurled at me through the phone lines. I know these people are upset, and some rightly so, but to deal with this kind of outrageousness day in and day out wears on me. I feel like I'm getting high blood pressure from the stress. I need a release. Something like...well, something like coming home to a great project into which I can pour my frustrations, stir my irritation, and have the end result come out--delicious. Heavenly. Decadent. I do so love to cook, but the time constraints put on any given day restrict me from trying anything complicated or exotic on a weeknight. But that doesn't stop me from compiling new recipes with strange and exciting spices, only to sit on my kitchen counter waiting to be tried when I have a more open time schedule.

For the first year of my marriage to Terry, I tried a new recipe every week. I quickly discovered that anything containing potatoes was a highly favored, and that the more meat a dinner contained, the better. But that didn't limit my creativity to those two ingredients. He ate everything I made and expressed his love and appreciation by eating seconds (and sometimes thirds). But I've grown lazy and Terry's schedule has him going in to work at strange hours, so rarely do I ever take the time to challenge myself with something new and exciting. Why cook for just one person? When I cook for Terry, he knows that I love him. He does the food dance. Yes. He has a food dance. And when I cook a new masterpiece, I can see in his eyes that he loves me more after dinner than before it. My man is easy to please. He brags about my culinary abilities to our friends, his co-workers--his parents, even. I am thankful to have such an appreciative audience.

But that's not the only reason I cook--it's not even the MAIN reason I cook (although it's a lovely side effect). I love taking ingredients and experimenting to create a dish so delicious that the aroma tantalizes our neighbors and has them begging for the recipe. Food is a daily necessity, but it's also the cement that holds together much of our social activity. There were certain attendees at our old church who would never show up unless there was word of a potluck. I don't blame them--the ladies in that community were amazing cooks.

This might sound old fashioned, but I believe there's something incredibly attractive about a woman who can cook. It says something about her personality, I think. It says she's creative and fun, and it also says that not only will she provide for her husband and her family, but that she wants them to enjoy themselves! I've known people who eat as if only to fuel a machine. Food is so much more than fuel! There is no joy to food without flavor. Bland is boring and belongs to those who do not enjoy life.

I am newly inspired to approach my kitchen with imagination and zest. I have been nudged to demonstrate my love and solidarity to my husband through my culinary creativity. Time to take inventory of the contents of my cupboards and the bounty of my refridgerator. I have a rather large collection of recipes that have been shouting at me from the inside of my neglected cookbooks. Restaurants be warned--I am challenging your high fat and calorie-laden dishes with sheer ingenuity and fresh ingredients! Ha ha! Take that!

It's time to browse the cookbooks and plan for the remainder of the week. Yes, it's late, but I'm inspired to make a fresh start! My pots and pans are due for some long-needed attention!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Lately I've been thinking a lot about raising children and the overwhelming importance of doing the job well. You can walk into any bookstore in the United States and stumble upon an entire shelving section dedicated to child rearing. You watch as frazzled parents walk up to the shelf in desperation, grasping for the titles that promise to bring relief from their parenting woes. No matter how much time a parents spends reading books about bringing up a healthy, socially adjusted, pleasant, well-behaved child, nothing guarantees that you won't end up with a monster.

I've often heard parents express how absolutely rewarding being a parent can be. I most frequently hear this sentence after one of my girlfriends with children has spent the first half hour of our afternoon together blowing off steam and relating tales of how she accidentally drank her son's urine (true story) or how she was kicked repeatedly in the shins by an toddler throwing a fit, or how she just doesn't sleep anymore. Ever. Once the mom has released her pent-up tension, she tends to throw in the above-mentioned sentence as a way to ease the guilt that has been steadily creeping into her conscience as she related the week's battle stories.

Despite my obvious fear of having horribly behaved, wild children, I am actually considering having my own. This comes as quite a shock to me (and also to my husband) since for the ten years leading up to my 30th birthday, I didn't think I wanted children. No, it was even more firm than that--I did not want to have children of my own. I even announced it to my mother. "Mother, I've decided I'm not going to have kids." without skipping a beat or even asking me why I had so firmly decided against reproducing, she simply stated, "O.K., well, you'll change your mind in a few years." I was irritated that she wasn't taking me seriously. So I responded more emphatically, "NO, I will NOT change my mind. I've been thinking about this for years now and I've decided I don't want kids. I DO NOT WANT KIDS." I think her initial answer might have been a cover so as to spare me from the tidal wave of Grandchild Desire that had been steadily rising within her since Terry and I began dating. But once I repeated myself, the wave came crashing down on me with passion. There were tears. And there were Bible verses--all of which I had heard many times before--that indicated that children were blessings from the Lord. And then she busted out the "Your father and I are entitled to a Godly heritage." And I busted out the "Kate and Brian can give you a Godly heritage." Silence. As a final resort, she wailed, "But it's not the same!" Yeah, I know. My kids would be cuter! Kidding, I'm kidding of course.

I stayed my course, and then my sister-in-law and brother-in-law had their son Landen. Shortly after Terry and I started dating, they became pregnant, so I've known him his entire existence. I simply adore him. And he loves me. When Terry tells people about how Landen loves me, he explains that I am Landen's. I am all his and when we visit, I am his property. This was made abundantly clear when Terry's brother and his wife had their second baby--a little girl. Whenever I hold Corrina or play with her, smile at her, talk to her, coo at her, I am suddently dive bombed by a little 2 and a half year old boy who is so green with envy he can't stand it. He will launch himself into my arms and get right in my face, nose to nose so that I can't help but look at anything, anyone but him. I have to admit that I love the attention. I love being the favorite. It has opened my eyes to the fact that children really are worth the sleepless nights and the 9 horribly uncomfortable months of pregnancy, the complete and total change--no, the upheaval in a parent's life after a child is born, the 18+ years of joys and sorrows and stress and endless reserves of the patience and love it takes to raise up a child and send them off into the world.

My mom was right. I would change my mind in a couple of years. Sometimes I wish she wasn't so ridiculously insightful. But that's part of why she makes such a great mom. If the Lord decides to bless us with children, I can only pray that He also gives me the same wisdom and insight He's given to my mom. I will do just fine as a mother if I'm anything like my mom.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I Smell Red Jelly Beans

Ever since I was young, I have had a keen sense of smell. That sounds like a strange comment to make, but I don't mean simply that I have a sensitive nose. What I mean is that my nose has superhuman smelling ability. While the average person might walk by a house with an open kitchen window and say, "Hmmm, someone is baking--I think it might be a cake," I could walk by the same window and say, "Oooh, that woman is baking a cake, and she added a touch of orange zest to the vanilla batter!"

When I was very young, I woke up from a nap one afternoon and remarked, "I smell red jelly beans." Sure enough, upon putting me down for my nap, my mom had eaten one red jelly bean. Just one. I had been asleep for an hour and a half, but I could still smell it upon waking and could distinguish that not only was it a jelly bean, it had been a red one. My mom still tells the story and I get the sense that she's proud of my olfactory talents. She repeats, "I ate ONE red jelly bean. Just ONE," and holds up one finger rather solemnly, as if to say, "My daughter's sense of smell is so refined that she could be used in place of a trained police dog." Sometimes people are impressed, but other times I get the distinct feeling that after hearing about my "abilities," the newly enlightened become increasingly aware of their own personal bodily aromas and stand just a little bit further away from me and my amazing nose.

For me, memories are strongly linked to smells. Whenever I smell blooming jasmine, memories of my old childhood bedroom wash over me. It's even more intense than just remembering how my old bedroom used to smell, it's as if I'm once again 10 years old, sitting cross-legged on my twin bed, combing a doll's hair. I can smell the jasmine coming through the window on a warm July breeze mixed with the sweet mildew of the swamp cooler. My adult burdens of bills and work and responsibilities are momentarily lifted and I'm offered a sweet respite from being a grown-up.

About a month ago I experienced another one of my all too vivid scent-induced memories. I was in the grocery store, perusing the organic broccoli selection when a middle-aged woman whisked past me with her cart. She was moving so quickly that the hairs that had loosened themselves from my ponytail suddenly blew back where they belonged as a result of this woman's close proximity to me as she raced by. The aroma she left behind her, swirling around me in the produce aisle, jerked me back again to my childhood, to my Grandma's backyard. I was watching her hang clean laundry up to dry and she was in her "uniform," which, if anyone outside of my family saw it, they would say she was wearing a mumu. Grandma made her own "uniforms" for the summer time when it got too hot in the San Fernando Valley to wear clothes. Unfortunately, decency does not allow for the traipsing around of people in their birthday suits, so Grandma donned these beauties to wear around the house during the unbearably hot summer months. Apart from her mumus, she was actually a very fashionable woman and was famous for never leaving the house until she'd "done her face." That phrase used to worry me a little as a small child, but soon I learned that it meant she'd be applying her daily make-up. My sister and cousins and I would sit beside her at her vanity and watch as she drew in her brows, perfectly arched, brushed on black mascara, and applied her bright red-orange lipstick. She was classy. And she always smelled so good. Unlike most people, when she sweat it smelled clean--like soap. The soap smell was so prominent that it was as if she had just stepped out of the shower. It was a strange but beautiful mixture--her clean soapy smell combined with her Listerine mouthwash. That was my Grandma's smell. As far as I know, she didn't wear perfume or lotions--strong smells tended to give her immediate migraine headaches. But she always smelled fresh and clean, even in the sweltering heat. When I was still small enough to get away with it, I would sit on her lap or lean against her and bury my face into her, taking in a deep breath of her smell. I don't know if she ever knew what I was doing, but if she did, she never let on.

And so, when the stranger whisked past me in the grocery store, I stood there stunned, my eyes brimming with tears. She smelled just like my Grandma who has been gone now for nearly 12 years. Sometimes I can't remember what her voice sounds like and it bothers me. But I can always, whenever I think about it, recall what she smelled like, and in that instant, I'm standing with her, face buried in her uniform, arms wrapped round her as she bends down to hug me. And the sun beats down mercilessly upon our heads on that unbearably hot San Fernando Valley afternoon.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

For My Brother

Some of you may have heard that my brother is getting married next week. Yeah, yeah, I know--I haven't really said much about it to most people; heck, I haven't even really talked much about it with him. His fiance's name is Sarah. She's a nice girl and people like her. My brother's crazy about her. You might have guessed that since, you know, they're engaged and stuff.

They've been engaged for about 6 months now and have been dating for 2 years. My, how time slips past me unnoticed--so quickly the days turn into years and, here I am, an adult. And my brother! He'll be 26 in a month--by anyone's standards he's a man. Still, in my heart he is my little brother and I am wildly protective over him.

I remember one instance shortly after our family had moved to Arizona. I was 15, which means that Brian was in all of his prepubescent glory at the age of 11. No one looks back at being 11 and says, "Ahhh yes, 11 was my golden year. That's when life was the sweetest for me. Oh to transport back to that year and live it over and over again for eternity." People just don't look at 11 in that kind of a light, especially when you're a sweet, shy, overly-sheltered boy as my brother was. My sister and I often stayed up late at night, worried about how he'd fare in the big bad world of High School. We worried that he would be bullied and that he wouldn't stand up for himself. We fretted over how he might feel when he was rejected by insensitive high school girls who haven't yet figured out how to tactfully reject a boy without shattering his heart into tiny bits. But on this particular occasion, Brian got into a fist fight with a couple of the local neighborhood boys. I can't even recall what the fight was about, only that he was defending himself. All I can really remember about that day is that for the first time, I felt white-hot rage build up inside me. I didn't know I was capable of that kind of instinctive protective reaction, but knew that at that moment, if it was necessary, I would track down those boys and give them a taste of their own medicine.

Brian and I have always been close. He's not a talkative guy and often people make jokes about his one-word answers. But that's never been an issue for Brian and me. When I was away at college in South Dakota, Brian and I would spend hours on the phone at night sometimes, just talking about anything and everything--whatever happened to cross our minds. And when it came time for me to move back to California, Brian flew out to help me move and we trekked across the country together, from South Dakota to California in a U-Haul. We even lived together for 2 years in an apartment in Glendale while I attended Fuller Seminary. He paid 3/4 of our rent as a favor to me so that I could finish my degree without the added stress of working full-time. Never once did he complain about the long hours he had to work to make ends meet. I knew that if I asked him for help, he would have done whatever it took to make sure I got what I needed; he's so much like our dad in that way: the gentle, quiet, supporter.

Times have changed. Terry and I got married and life is busy. We don't get to spend much time with Brian or anyone else for that matter. We don't get to talk often, but I know that I can still pick up the phone and spend an hour just catching up with him without skipping a beat. Maybe that's what it means to be family, but I think it has more to do with the fact that he and I really "get" each other. All I know is that Brian's wedding is quickly approaching and I have very mixed feelings.

How can I have mixed feelings, you might be asking? Shouldn't I be ecstatic about this event because Brian is elated to be marrying the love of his life? Well, yes and no. As his still-over-protective-fiercely-loyal-older sister I claim my right to feel sad and excited at the same time. On the positive side, I am deeply happy that my brother has found a woman who loves him dearly and who will support him and encourage him in exactly the right ways. No one is perfect and I don't expect Sarah to be the exception. I know they will disappoint each other at times as all mankind falls short of perfection. But they have a good foundation and I trust that the Lord will grant them wisdom and patience and the grace they will need to push through even the toughest of times. I am so very thankful that Brian has found a woman who loves the Lord with all her heart and wishes to serve Him to the best of her ability. I know that she sees in Brian a man who also desires to honor God with his life, and a relationship built on that mutual desire to please their Savior is a relationship that has a marvelous beginning.

Now it's time to bare my dark selfish nature: to put it simply, I am hurt. A few months ago, Sarah confessed to me that she told Brian one night in a fit of tears that she "needed to be his Amanda"--that she, Sarah, is supposed to be his confidante and his "go-to" person. Oh my crushed, trampled, broken heart! I felt like I had been side-swiped. I hadn't seen it coming. I was being pushed from the only role I have known as his sister. I literally had to fight the tears from rolling down my cheeks and revealing my true feelings on the matter. NO. NO!! I am Brian's go-to person. I'm his big sister and I understand him better than anyone! I don't want to participate in his life from the sidelines! He's more than my little brother, he is one of my dearest, oldest friends and I don't want to lose that capacity of relationship with him.

I'm not some crazy, clingy, overbearing sister. I'm really not that way at all. But I am still concerned for Brian's well-being and emotional health as much as I ever was. It is very surreal to watch him take this huge step--this leap into something so all-encompassing and serious that most people don't truly understand what they're getting themselves into. Marriage is a wonderful thing, but in the words of Nathan Clair, "Marriage is a grave, grave, grave, grave, grave, GRAVE endeavor..." and unless both people are truly ready, it can be disastrous.

All relationships evolve over time as those involved in the relationship change. The same goes for sibling relationships. I know that my hesitation comes primarily from the way I view Brian. I think he's eternally frozen in my mind at 20 years old, and because of that, I still feel like I can offer him guidance and support. There is not a doubt in my mind that Sarah will do a fine job of taking care of Brian and that he will be a wonderful husband to her--they are both capable individuals who care for each other. I am simply adapting to the new role I play in my brother's life and it has been a surprisingly difficult change for me to make.

For Brian and Sarah, I pray that the Lord will bless them richly and that He will provide for their every need. For me, I am praying that the Lord will show me how I can be a blessing to them in their married life together and how I can serve them as their big sister. I may not be the confidante anymore, but I can still offer them my fierce protective instincts to keep them safe! I am excited to see what a wonderful husband my brother will be for Sarah. He has so many of the qualities I admire in our dad--he is even keeled and steadfast, he is gentle and generous. All of these traits and more are what I see in Brian and I know they will aid him well in his new role as husband.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesdays at School

Wow, it's been a while. I'm kind of ashamed of myself, to be honest. Well, nothing like a fresh start (at 1:15 am) to get me back into the swing of things.

I would like to share with you my latest stupid student story. Now, I want to take a moment to clarify that I do not think all of the students at CSUN are stupid, but there are quite a few when, after attempting to aid in the solution to their their most current life or death situation (please sense the sarcasm here), I am left only to shake my head in wonder that such students are able to walk across campus without their mommies. Now on with my story.

Today was a fairly uneventful day at work. I was actually able to sit relatively uninterrupted at my desk for several consecutive hours which resulted in the knocking out of a load of paperwork that had been accumulating for quite some time. Tuesdays are nice because I get to shut down my desk computer at 6pm and mosey on up to the "Counter" for the final shift of the day. The counter is an area where students are able to order transcripts, change their majors, apply for graduation, and ask all sorts of questions that may or may not be anything we can answer in Admissions and Records (which doesn't stop us from trying). We generally have two or three shifts at the counter per day, and I honestly enjoy myself up there. It breaks up the day nicely and it gets me out from behind my computer and away from my eternally ringing phone. I like the counter until I have to deal with God's curse to the Universe: spoiled rotten, whiney students with a sense of entitlement that even Paris Hilton can't match. And so enters my last student of the day swaggering to the counter with a form in hand that has been mailed from an auto insurance agency. The student needs us to verify that the GPA is above a 3.0 and that the class load is considered to be full-time.

Just for a bit of history, I'll explain to you that I had to go through the same thing when I was in college: every semester I drove across town to my auto insurance agency with a form from the school stating that I was, indeed, still eligible for the much coveted "Good Student Discount." Never once did I walk into that office and berate the poor employee's intelligence or knowledge, nor would it ever have occurred to me to do such a thing. I was raised to treat people with respect and dignity and was under the impression (until I began working with the general public many years ago, and more specifically in the food service industry) that others were raised with the same ideals and principles.

To make a long story short, and to preserve a greater level of anonymity for privacy's sake, I will not go into details except to say that the student was not eligible for the discount based on the criteria listed on the form. I explained calmly that I was unable to verify this information and listed the reasons. At this point, the student erupts--a veritable Mount Vesuvius of anger and outrage at my unwillingness to help, exclaiming, "I don't understand why you're making this so difficult for me!" Me? I am making it difficult? The last time I checked, I was not the author of what requirements a student must meet in order to receive a good student discount.

The most outrage-inducing portion of the exchange between this student and me was when I was accused of being ignorant and that this student has been attending the school for years and it's never been a problem up until this point to just get this (insert multiple profanities here) form stamped and signed. I was, according to him, screwing up the system with my incompetence. Well, maybe--just a guess--in previous semesters we were able to sign such a document with clear conscience because the student actually met the qualifications. The student would not take my word for it (after 10 minutes of continuing to spell out the limitations the school has in FALSIFYING INFORMATION), and so I got my supervisor so that she could repeat exactly what I had been saying for the past 10 minutes, but with the authority of the title "supervisor" behind her (and a motherly raised eyebrow, which, I know from experience means "Do you really want to push the issue?"). She was able to send the student scuttling away from the counter, tail between legs.

The moral of the story? Be nice. Treat people with common courtesy, and watch out for the raised eyebrow because it has the power to make even the toughest of the tough feel remorse for his actions.