Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Have Faith

I belong to a secret Facebook group that discusses Oklahoma politics.  I guess it's not so secret anymore... ah well. They are a good group of people, dedicated to progressiveness, reason and social justice.  I like them very much.  We support each other and give advice on dealing, with clarity, understanding and compassion, with conservative viewpoints all around us in this highly conservative state.

We have taken time lately to discuss the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater.  The shooter, whom I will not name, wore tactical gear and carried numerous weapons, including an assault-style rifle.  He had legally purchased all of these weapons, including 6,000 rounds of ammunition and had booby-trapped his home with 30 home made grenades. He killed twelve people, put another 15 in the hospital and brought the injured count to 58.  That's a lot of pain.

In times of tragedy, I think there are choices of where to look for our cues and guidance.  I can easily fall into a trap of blame- blaming American society for not investing in a healthcare system that might have helped this young man- helped so many others lately who have committed mass murder.  Blaming the perpetrator, who might have been in such pain and distress that this is the inevitable conclusion (We just don't know).  Blaming gun laws that restrict open carry- I have heard it bandied about that if everyone in the theater had had a gun, the shooter might have not had the chance to do so much damage.  Of course, I think that's a terrible idea since in an actual gunfight, it's hard to tell friend from foe.

I have stopped hearing "how did this happen?" and "what can we do to prevent this?" and have started hearing calls for blood and revenge. I think Americans (I know my international readers get confused, so when I say "Americans", I mean North Americans from the United States) are getting tired of all the gun violence but are losing our compassion.  This is not the America that I want to live in.

This is not to say that we are ready to pass stricter gun laws.  I can see no reason for the average citizen to own an assault rifle.  They are made to kill people quickly, with great accuracy and from a distance.  This does not increase home security, not is it good for hunting.  The third argument for non-governmental control of weapons is to keep the people safe from their government.  I believed this was possible for a long time but now I'm pretty sure that since the government has drones, tanks and nuclear weapons, not to mention an Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines (Hello...best military in the world!) we should use the legal means available as recourse and owning a few military-style weapons won't do any good.  If citizens are allowed and AR-15, then shouldn't we also have access to nuclear weapons?  No? Who drew that line then? I say back up to weapons that have other uses, like handguns for home defense and rifles for hunting.  Just a thought.

The other issue I have had on my mind is the victims of this person who called himself the Joker, dyed his hair orange and decided to go shoot up a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises".  I have heard that they were allowed to be killed or shot or wounded because the U.S. is moving towards the legalization of same-sex marriage (also known on this blog page as equal rights for everyone).  Newspapers have printed reports of religious groups attempting to capitalize on this tragedy by reiterating the belief that everyone not "saved" who died in the shooting will be visiting a huge lake of fire in the center of the Earth for a very long time with everyone who does not follow the guidelines of their religion with no SPF 1,000,000,000.  Strong reactions, considering that all these people had in common was going to the same movie at the same time.

I know, I know, that sounds sarcastic and rude.  I don't mean to put down anyone's religion.  I'm tired of hypocrites.  It's easy to look at something like Scientology and it's alien beings and scoff.  It's easy to look at Mormons and their married undergarments and scoff.  It's easy to think of Christianity and its virgin birth and zombie savior and scoff.

I try to not scoff at organized religion.  For all of the damage it does, it also provides a safe refuge in the heart for questions that we don't know the answers to.  It provides a guideline for how to treat each other.  I'm not sure where we go when we die.  I'm not sure we go anywhere.   I also don't have any proof that any of the ideas of heaven, hell, enlightenment or just becoming unconscious forever are wrong.  There are people of all faiths in my Facebook group.  We all have a shade of religious belief, including atheism, which is most common, and agnosticism, Unitarian, Catholicism, Buddhism, and others of questioning natures.  I recently commented on a discussion that I feel a little protective of my friends and family who have faith and who stick to the tenants of a religion.  Those people I know would never use that religion to blackmail, hurt or coerce another person in their lives, but act and speak (usually!) from love and selflessness.

I look to my early recollections of my understanding of religion for my own answers on faith and religion.  And they scared me with talks of sulphur, dismemberment, rape, rending of flesh and something called gnashing of teeth.  It's no wonder that children inculcated to religion cling to it and perpetuate such stories through to the next generation.  It's no wonder that I thought that if "The Devil" just had a friend and some forgiveness, that everything would be ok.  That was my experience until I was about 7 years old.  If I left it at that, I might always have felt such an aversion as to be bitter and angry towards any person of faith that comes my way.

But then, not everyone had the family I have.  My great uncle, Dallas Keck, was a Christian minister.  He was a kind and loving man, with a good heart.  He would pick me up and smile and make me feel safe.  He always laughed and was inured with a light that seemed to shine right through him.  He married my great aunt Dorothy (An English teacher, if you wondered), and they remained happy through the end of his life.  Dallas had a pilots license and a small plane, and he and Dorothy flew from Portland to Montana and all over Washington.  Fun people; kind people.  Those things go together.  After his death, Dorothy married Dallas' identical twin brother, Houston.  Yeah, great names... Anyhoo....Houston was also a widower and they have gotten along quite well ever since.

If you have read my blog, you know about my great Uncle Vernon.  As a young teenager, he would pick me up to go to church and sent me to church camps a couple of times, driving me six hours each way to the camp.  It was fun- we had bible class and crafts and roasted marshmallows and sang lots and lots of songs (off key).  It's where I had my first kiss.  On the way back once, Uncle Vernon and I stopped in Lewiston, Idaho, for chinese food.  He carefully showed me how to use chopsticks, and we laughed our way through the meal.  Uncle Vernon was great with young adults.  Before he got too old and frail to do so, he would have pizza parties at his house for the teenagers and taught Sunday School.

Sometimes I would be his only student in the bible school class.  Small church, you know.  I asked him once about heaven and hell.  About who goes where and why.  I asked him if Jews would go to hell just for being Jewish.  Even as a young person, I could see that this was something my Uncle thought carefully about.  Religion, spirituality, faith- none of them were rote dogma to him.  His eyes turned inwards for a moment and his jaw worked silently.  He had obviously considered the questions and the implications of his answers and would choose his words carefully.  "No," he said finally.  "No. Jews do not have to go to hell.  I don't think Jesus would do that to anyone."  The message for me is that my Uncle Vernon believed.  And I believed in him.  One of the nicest compliments in my life was being asked to speak at his funeral, to find words, however inadequate, to honor someone who did so much so selflessly in his lifetime.  In my life, my sister Patti has assumed that role.  This week she took 10 vivacious pre-teenagers to church camp, having put on fundraisers through her church to pay the way for all ten.  As a member of her church and now as a Deacon, she believes it is her responsibility to help people.  And she does, and she doesn't mention it to anyone.  We look to each other for support and friendship and as confidants.  I keep hoping someday to change my mind about religion.

When I think of the victims and people affected by the shooter in Aurora, I think of compassion for them, for his family and even for him.  I wonder how this tragedy happened; I wonder what we can do as a society to prevent this from happening again.  It's difficult to be a human being and I guess part of me wonders what went so wrong with this one, for him to act out so violently towards others.  I want strict laws dealing with automatic weapons (which has not won me any friends on my personal Facebook page) and greater, easier access to mental health care for all people (which, surprisingly, has won me some points with friends).  None of these things deter me from my own course of action: writing to congressmen, protesting where appropriate, speaking my truth but being willing to change my own mind. Trying not to shut people down but to engage those with whom I disagree.  Trying to have a little faith.
Have Faith (But Keep Your Eyes on the Road)

Monday, July 16, 2012

We Need More Sabrina's

I love walking.  I do it all the time.  As my lungs improve, I'll jog more but I have never been much for running in the June/July/August/September heat anyway.  The mornings are my favorite for reflection and the evenings are my favorite for walking and talking.  As long as the temperature isn't over 95.  It's a rule in the hot and humid environment of Oklahoma.  I'm never happier than when I have a good friend to walk and talk with.  I call people and talk to them while I'm walking, especially people who are far away.

Grey and I were walking last night on Riverside in Tulsa.  It's beautiful and there are clearly marked lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists.  We were overtaken by an attractive blonde woman in her twenties.  She cut in front of us in the pedestrian lane, blissfully unaware or uncaring that she is in the wrong part of the world.  Full make up, beautiful nails, dressed to impress and looking around the world in her oversized sunglasses and pouty glossed lips.  I shrugged; Really a minor annoyance but still.  Most of the time people exercise out in the heat to sweat, get gross and stinky and to improve their cardio-vascular health.  The "look-at-me" set has always vaguely annoyed me but the sense of entitlement, that  somehow possessing girl parts means you get to go first in line, to get one's own way just sends bad signals to the world around you.  As though being a female was your greatest achievement or contribution to society.

We walked several miles and observed this lady stopping to chat with single men.  When we passed her once again, we had to get out of the pedestrian lane as she and her discussion partner were standing with their bicycles, blocking the walking lane.  "You're in the pedestrian lane", I said as we passed.  No effect.  "Did you hear what she was saying?" said Grey as we walked on.  "No." "She said 'how can you put a boundary around love?'".  "Condoms are a good thing," I said, walking on.
Photo Credit: http://yai.li/post/1446667959/ffffound-skinnydipp

I probably sound a little bitter or perhaps jealous.  But the thing is that I have greater hopes for women than using sexuality to manipulate or otherwise negotiate the world around us.  Women are smart and capable- we are just not told to use those gifts by society.  It's easier and accepted to go through life the easy way.  In the end, though, it's more expensive (in my experience) to go through life depending on looks and wiles.  I have found it much more worth my energy to have a job, go to school, and use my energy productively doing the things I want more or less on my own terms.  My life partner- someone I admire greatly- also values this in me.  Now I have turned my attention and energies towards the goals we have mutually agreed upon rather just my own.

Don't get me wrong, I still like wearing cute dresses and painting my toes. But the rest of me is about business.

I have a friend named Sabrina.  Sabrina and I met in graduate school. She was around a size 28, I think.  Pretty, smart - she got her master's degree and she is an English teacher like me- owns her own home and puts 110% into everything.  But she felt miserable and unloveable and her solution was to lose weight.  Did I mention that she is smart? Sabrina gets up every day in front of high school students.  She decided to lose weight through diet and exercise.  No crash diets, no fad diets and no surgery.  Sweat equity. Since last August she is down almost 90 pounds and is in a size 12.  She has found her voice and she is an example to the young women who go to her school.  She has also made herself accountable through social media and keeps a blog that I think everyone should read.  Pretty inspiring for English teachers and for anyone who has struggled with weight issues. She has crossed several finish lines- wearing shorts,  running a mile, losing ten pounds, twenty...ninety pounds and going.  I'd bet by Christmas that Sabrina will be a size 8-10.  I bet she stays at a healthy weight too, since this has been her goal all along.
Hello Beautiful!

I'd put Sabrina up against bicycle girl any day for her ability to turn heads, her courage and her ability to simply kick ass when the rubber meets the road.  She reads books.  She teaches and makes a difference for people.  In her forties and fifties and sixties, she will still be beautiful, healthy and a productive and positive contributor to society.  Please realize that the blonde woman is nothing more than a metaphor for a greater ill in our world.  I hope we come to change our minds and make more Sabrina's and fewer surface beauty sirens who will be discarded by the time they reach middle age.

Me? I'll just be walking and talking.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In Excess

Clearly, I cannot be trusted.

Let me clarify.  I can be trusted with lower-level things, like secrets. I can be trusted with curriculum development, teaching young sprouts to read and inciting activism in college students.

I can be trusted with things like car maintenance and paying my insurance (which, in the interest of full disclosure, is set to automatic bill pay, like my mortgage) paying my mortgage, and in keeping people safe if they ever have need of extra security.  I'm handy with sticks and knives and can shoot passably.

Likewise, I usually feed my dog, and trust me, he ain't starving.  Neither is the little potato-shaped friend of his that belongs to my room mate.  And Eleanor gets her medicine twice daily like clockwork, though admittedly, she has a team of three looking out for her: me, Grey and my friend Cathy who sometimes watches her.

No, I can be trusted with that stuff.

It is other things that quietly suck the willpower from me.  They are the kyptonite to my SuperWoman-ess.  Take ice cream, for example.  I cannot keep ice cream in the house.  Grey doesn't fully realize that yet, that if there is ice cream and it is designated "mine" that it will be eaten within a reasonable amount of time, like fifteen minutes.  He lets his JUST SIT IN THE FREEZER. For weeks!  Then it has to thaw for 30 minutes and then he eats a couple of spoonfuls. Pppthhh!  Amateur.  I take off the top off the carton the minute I get home and eat that tub for dinner.  It's a sight too, I reckon: drippings running down my fingers dripping into the sink because I eat most of my food over the sink, and occasionally snarling at the dogs as they attempt to beg for a bite.  Getting a ring around my face from sticking my whole head in to lick the sides.  That's how it's done, y'all. Not pretty, but real just the same.

Same goes for barbecue potato chips.  Pop a family size bag in the freezer and leave me to find it.  I dare you.  That Gollum-like creature in the middle of the night that smells like a picnic gone wrong? That's me pigging out on my precious.

This also goes for foods with salt and/or sugar in them.  Except for chocolate.  I'm not really a chocolate fan.  I'll eat it, don't get me wrong, but it's not my favorite.  I know.  Don't shoot.  I'm still a woman. And I'll do anything to get out of grading by doing other very important things.  Like writing a blog post. Or reading other people's blogs, like smartasscripple.blogspot.com.  Mike is hilarious and satirical and altogether irreverent.

Really what you cannot trust me with are caffeine and my husband.  The husband part I'll just leave alone as your guess is correct, but the caffeine part is flummoxing.

I have been drinking coffee since I was 11.  It's an aspect of my culture and my quasi-addictive nature.  We aren't talking a nice, polite, 2-cups-a-day habit either.  There have been times in my life when I have drunk 3-4 pots of coffee a day.  Pots.  Of strong coffee, not that cheap-ass 7-11 or Denny's brew.  Hot, black coffee.  Because I like it, that's all. I like coffee. It is freakin' yummy.  I thought for a time that if you cut me, you'd get half-calf.

I have tried to quit before too. Not because of health or anything, but because I don't like to be addicted to stuff.  I obsess over things: bits of music, the smell of coffee, the view from the pier in Seattle, laying my head on Grey's chest.  It's how my brain works. I like routine too. I like getting up and doing the same morning stuff because it reduces the need to think: make coffee, check email and FB, drink coffee, yawn, stretch, more coffee, yogurt, shower, teeth/hair/etc and out the door for adventures.  You know?  It's normal.  And I can occasionally skip any of those behaviors except for the teeth part.  I am ok with my addiction to a new toothbrush every month and awesome tooth paste. What I am not ok with is the need, every morning since I can remember, of having a cup of coffee.  For three quarters of my life.

When I tried to quit, I went cold turkey.  From two pots a day.  Had a headache for a month.  My personality flattened out as the incessant storm in my head raged and screamed and howled.  At work people tried to be supportive and we changed to decaf coffee.  I was cranky and even more sarcastic than normal.  For the sake of everyone, it was gently suggested on the fifth week that I had a cup of coffee already as nobody loved me anymore.

So I decided to wean off this time.  I got down to about a pot a day for a couple of years.  I don't like change.  Then half a pot, where I have hovered for even longer.  I took a deep breath and told Grey I'd like to quit coffee.  We spend a significant portion of our income on coffee and coffee products.  I have enough coffee cups to use one every day for a year and never touch the same one twice.  He is a little skeptical, though he knows I can do it. And he's great at the Pep Talk. Since he drinks stronger brew than I do, I wonder at his own ability to just say "ok" and be done with something.  Me? No soy una persona en la manana sin cafe.

Sunday, I had one cup at breakfast and one in the afternoon.  Monday, I just had one cup all day.  It was awful and I was tired.  Yesterday I had to teach and had one cup in the morning, vowing to make it all day again.  And then next week cut it to half a cup.

I made it until 2:15.  Fifteen minutes of teaching and I needed, not wanted, a shot of caffeine.  I gave in because I wanted to. Because I feared I wouldn't be a good teacher that day. Because I wanted a soda.  I drank half of it and tossed the rest.

I considered lying to Grey and saying that I had made it without coffee.  That was technically true, anyway.  But I just can't.  Lying is a slippery slope. So when we talked last night, I confessed.  At least I can be trusted with the truth- a responsibility I try to hammer in to my students.  At least I am not a hypocrite.

This morning, I took Charlotte in for a medical test that she had to have anesthesia for.  Got up at 6 a.m. with no time for coffee. Wouldn't matter anyway, I reasoned, since I purposely ran out.  I took her in and had time to kill, so I crossed to Braums and had an oatmeal and a weak cup of coffee.  I bargained with myself: don't drink all of it and have a cup of tea later.

And this tea is really damn good.  At least it's not an entire pot. Because you know I have to go grade some stuff and would like to be able to do so in coherent English.

I'll keep trying.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Gazpacho Recipe

If you google "Gazpacho Recipe", you'll find a plethora of gorgeous photos, history and tips for the creation of the perfect gazpacho.  Gazpacho is a Spanish dish served during the hot summer months.  It requires no heat to prepare and the cook doesn't have to get near a fire.  I have been making it a lot lately, and as my husband has a food allergy to avocado, I have been restricting the ingredients.  However, I was alone for two days at our house in Norman and realized that the farmer's market was going on.  
I found these tomatoes.  Grown locally by a family from seed, one might not realize at first what a treasure that is.  Commercially produced tomatoes ripen uniformly in color and the shoulders (the part around the stem) ripen at the same rate as the rest of the tomato.  That's pretty but at the expense of flavor.  For more information on heirloom tomatoes, click here.  The cucumber was also local and organic.  The nice thing about a farmer's market is that you can talk to the person who planted the food.  I used this cucumber without removing the skin- which tasted fresh and had nothing sprayed on it. 
First, I stuck half of the cucumber in the food processor and chopped it up. I love food processors- this took four seconds. 

My poor husband would die if he at this avocado.  As you can see, I dice it right in the jacket. 

Ok, tomatoes are just cute. There is no other reason for this picture other than me playing with my food. 

Tomato, red pepper, avocado and cucumber all diced up in the bowl.  This will be the chunky/crunchy part of the soup. 

Next, I blended up a bunch of cilantro and parsley with the remaining few chunks of tomato and cuke. 
Just for kick, I added half of a fresh lime and some very smoky chipotle powder.  The red bell pepper, chipotle and lime will give the mixture a distinctly southwestern flair. 

I stirred everything together and thinned it out with spicy V8- about a cup.  This is the end product. 

It's highly recommended that you add some extra virgin olive oil to the soup to hang the flavors on.  I can take it or leave it.  The other common practices are to add a bit of vinegar or vinegar-soaked bread crumbs.  I did neither...... this time. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July

I have stuff. Lots of stuff.

I am drinking coffee from my tres chic coffee pot, with coffee from a swanky national chain.  I sip the sibilant liquid from a hand-made cup bought at an art fair a few years ago. There are many such cups in my cupboard, of all shapes and sizes.  Some of them are ugly but I use them anyway.  All of them have stories.  Many were gifts.  They overflow the cupboard and, with some of my china, sit in the extra cabinet by the living room.  I have furniture- two couches!- and a television set which goes unused except for the occasional Tae Bo dvd or an episode of Fringe.  One kitchen table and one dining room table, side chairs...the list goes on.  All of them collect dust lately as I have been staying in Tulsa with my husband while he works during the week.

Three bedrooms (two plus an office). One room mate.  Huge backyard and side yard.  Small front yard, thankfully.  Plants everywhere. They stay outside during the summer and inside in the winter.  Improves air quality as long as I don't let the soil get moldy.  This year is container gardening year. I pay a guy to come mow when I don't have the time, since I certainly do not have the interest.

At the Tulsa apartment, I get up early and have coffee with my husband.  I go for a walk before the temperature gets too high.  Then I get in one of the three swimming pools and have a swim.  If I have gone out too late, I can work out in the fitness room.  Then I read for awhile and take care of errands.  I'm a teacher and it is summer.  I am resting, reading, readying for the fall, steadying my nerves at the outrageous turns in education in the United States.  Some days I do my morning routine and then drive to Oklahoma City to teach my English class.  I love those students at OSU-OKC; I have but 15 attendees and I have the time and leisure to focus attention on just them.  Better than the 200 students I had in the Spring.

At home in Norman, there is a cadre of cleansing, beautifying and moisturizing products.  I'm almost 40 and moisture is (apparently) the name of the game.  Don't want my face to look craggy or wrinkled or my legs to get hairy or my armpits to smell or my hair to get frizzy.  So head to toe, I have stuff in those cabinets to "fix" me up. Usually I don't bother.

If I get sick, or if anyone in my family gets sick, or if anyone I know gets sick, I have a small pharmacy of over-the-counter medicines to cure what ails me or them or us. As a younger person, my sisters and I were sick all the time and sometimes medicine was scarce.  One of the first things I did when I got a steady job was to make sure I didn't get sick by taking vitamins and such, and that if I did get sick, that I wouldn't be uncomfortable.  There is no joy or nobility in suffering from a sore throat or cold.  You just make the people around you miserable.

In my town there will be revelry.  I went to dinner at a wonderful restaurant last night in Oklahoma City.  My cousin and I met, had a sort of yucky beer which I did not finish and at tapas and dulce de leche ice cream, then visited a coffee shop for iced tea. We overheard a couple of Sheriff's discussing the coming holiday with our server. "Is it going to be crazy tonight?", she asked. "Yeah, it's going to be worse tonight than tomorrow night when the fireworks start."  Partying, alcohol, ice cream, fireworks.  Independence.

All of this is possible because I live in the United States. Between Grey and I  we can reasonably stay afloat for awhile with two houses and all of the accumulated shit that goes with them.  We are lucky to be middle class in an era of the shrinking middle class.  I am lucky to live as I do while lots and lots of people do not have reliable water supplies, electricity or plumbing in our same country.  I live comfortably with air conditioning while homelessness skyrockets and people I often converse with live on the streets.

Above all, I sit at my computer and type out my life, argue with conservatives about political issues and postulate and attempt to convince while others quietly serve in our military and offer themselves up as fighters should we need them to remain a "free" country.  Our military men and women have long upheld this selfless tradition of volunteerism, of sacrifice, beginning with the George Washington crew in 1776.  It is not comfortable to serve, either. There is never a convenient location to hold a war or peacekeeping mission.  But I can say that the military has mostly had the unswerving support of the American people.

Well, almost.  Let's not forget the whole Vietnam War thing where we behaved abominably towards our servicemen, who didn't volunteer in the first place.  

Today, I'm going to skip the fireworks. I'm going to the farmer's market here to support local gardeners, then having lunch with my friend Jenni.  Later I will work on thank you notes for the tons of wedding gifts. I will find time to thank people I know and love and don't love who serve in the military and thank them and their families for their service.

Happy Independence Day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Coffee (A Poem)

As Monty Python puts it "and now, for something completely different". 

 It's July 2, and Grey and I have been married for an entire month. He remarked to one of our friends on Sunday that he could almost tell the exact moment that the caffeine from my coffee hits me in the morning. I am not a morning person and this kind soul makes me coffee almost every day. Apparently it is comical to see me go from mostly dead and inarticulate to a whole person with a smile and some conversation. I myself am unaware of this transformation, but I wrote him a poem about it all the same. 

This is for you, Grey.


 Slow dancing with the coffee pot fingers
twined around ceramic figures
lips come close to  touch 
to imbibe to dive in 
the hot bitter dark liquid.
 Consciousness filters in 
     like light through a dirty window 
     a constant and vigilant beacon 
       in a murky world.