27 December 2006

tonight i went to the beach. after dark. in december. it rained last night and this morning when i drove down the canyon and looked out over the ocean, there were white caps dotting the ocean as far out as i could see. and the crescent beach just north of laguna was being pounded with big waves sending white spray up the face of the cliff. i wonder if the water would have reached the mobile homes that were just torn down two or three months ago. when i drove back into town this evening, i could see the white of the waves as they hit the shore at main beach. so i stopped. on a whim. and walked out and watched for a bit.

i've lived near the ocean most of my life. i rarely go to the beach. but i know when i'm not near it. and i miss it. there's something indescribably magical about the ocean with all of its variable moods and colors. the thing i love the most about it is the way it soaks up all of the light of day and then, when the sun is setting and the darkness of night is coming, it gives that light back--glowing long after the sun has gone. at those moments, it seems possible that this world can find peace.

16 December 2006

tonight i uttered the words: "i like spam better." and then, when i realized what i had said, i laughed. but i was serious. to contextualize, perhaps i should mention that i was comparing spam to vienna sausages. surely you, too, like spam better than vienna sausages?

14 December 2006

i've done a lot of stateside visiting--more than half of the fifty states.

as you can see, i'm a bit of an east/west girl. my trips to the middle were all for business and were relatively short and full of long hours. but i did manage to witness a co-worker eat a 52 oz. steak in texas (which seems a particularly texas kind of thing to do), visit the campus of the university of indianna (which is beautiful), and take an architecture tour along the river in chicago in spite of my manic 12 to 15 hour work days while in those places. and in michigan, we ate at the same restaurant on nights one and three cause the steak there was so good. there was something about that restaurant that jinxed my sister, though; both nights she managed to spill a full glass across the table. the coworker she took aim for managed to move quickly enough to escape the flood the second time.

someday i'll venture out into the middle of the nation and take in a few sites. and maybe i'll make it to georgia someday.

{make your own map at route 66}

13 December 2006

jana tagged me with this meme and i love christmas too much to resist. and i'll just go ahead and pass it on to anyone who wants to share.

1. eggnog or hot chocolate?
i only do eggnog if it’s southern comfort’s vanilla spice eggnog, which is superyum. but usually i’d go for hot chocolate. with cinnamon. and sometimes with chile pepper, too.

2. does santa wrap presents or just put them under the tree?
santa lays presents out unwrapped; each child gets a different chair in the room and their presents are marked by their stockings (which have been duly stuffed with scrumptious things and little gadgets). presents from the parents are wrapped and go under the piano.

3. colored lights on the tree, or white?
beautiful, bright colors.

4. do you hang mistletoe?
when we hang something like this, it’s a kissing ball not mistletoe. but it doesn’t happen every year.

5. when do you put your decorations up?
first week of december.

6. what is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
my mama’s rolls, which are so delicious. no lousy breadmaker roll can even begin to compare, not even in your wildest imagination.

7. what's a favorite holiday memory from your childhood?
my parents often provided christmas for other families. one year they had all of us kids (there’s seven of us) help them do the shopping and delivery. i’ll never forget that woman’s face when we showed up at her door. reading the Christmas story with my family on Christmas eve is a favorite, too.

8. when and how did you learn the truth about santa?
i think i knew by the time i was nine or so--maybe even earlier, but i repressed the knowledge and continued pretending that he was real for a couple more years.

9. do you open a gift on christmas eve?
nope. that’s sacrilege.

10. how do you decorate your christmas tree?
with any ornament that strikes my fancy. i have everything from blown glass to handmade. i like them if they sparkle. i like them a bit funky. and i have a penchant for ornaments with things inside them (like my snowmen with snow inside or my snowglobe ornament). and i put disco balls on my tree—ornaments and strings of beads that look like disco balls. they do lovely things with the lights, which is, after all, what makes a tree so magical.

11. snow! love it or dread it?
love love love. visiting in, living in, frolicking in, walking in. love it.

12. can you ice skate?
sorta. but not as well as i roller skate. which takes me to. . .

13. do you remember your favorite gift?
the gift i remember the most is my white roller derby skates with bright pink wheels and stoppers. i got them when i was about ten or eleven and my mama bought them too big for me so i can still wear them twenty years later. i love my roller skates. a close second was my dream princess bed, doll and horse. man did i love that doll with her horse (which had flowers in its hair) and her bed (which had a wind up dream sequence which rolled under a screen underneath her pillow; when you laid the doll on it the dream sequence was supposed to scroll beneath the pillow; yeah, that’s right—under the pillow where it couldn’t be seen; i suppose the point was to know that the doll was having the dream; it was all pink, of course).

14. what's the most important thing about the holidays for you?
family and the savior. but really, i love it all. every last little bit of it.

15. what is your favorite holiday dessert?
in general, it’s pie—mostly pumpkin pie, but also coconut cream pie (my mama makes the best; i have never tasted cream pie that good anywhere else; and my pastry chef best friend says that the fancy-pants pastry chef she works for, who is famous for his coconut cream pie, doesn’t make cream pie as well as my mama does). but every other year or so my mama makes butter tarts which melt in my mouth and which taste like decadence incarnate. they’re pretty damn tasty, too.

16. what is your favorite holiday tradition?
reading the christmas story with my family on christmas eve. and going to the park with my nieces and nephews on christmas day to throw a frisbee or a ball or ride scooters. the last few years, we've started tracking santa's progress through norad, which my nieces and nephews just eat up. it's become a fun tradition.

17. what tops your tree?
i just got my tree topper this year, after spending four or five years looking for one i liked. it’s a silver, glittery angel made in a bit of an abstract style. i’m pleased.

18. which do you prefer - giving or receiving?
is there a difference? i love it all.

19. what is your favorite christmas song?
you want me to pick one favorite christmas song? are you crazy? away in a manger; joy to the world; o come, o come emmanuel; white christmas; mary did you know; bach’s christmas oratorio; the messiah; o come all ye faithful; i heard the bells on christmas day. really, i’ll stop now. there aren’t many christmas songs i don’t like. and there are a good many i love.

20. candy canes! yuck or yum?
they’re okay. i like them best when they melt into my hot chocolate.

12 December 2006

tonight i was craving something. i didn't really know what. i'd eaten dinner and it was satisfying. but i kept wandering into the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards and the fridge, eating single m&m's, hoping that i'd strike upon the perfect fix. but nothing did it. then i opened the fridge and made a marvelous discovery. frosting. perfectly buttery, creamy homemade frosting. the very best kind. and my mama had graham crackers. ten minutes and a few graham-cracker-and-frosting cookies later my craving was gone and i was happy. i can't eat graham cracker cookies without remembering those delightful days in elementary school when i would open my lunch bag and discover that my mama was out of store-bought treats and had resorted to whipping up a batch of frosting and building cookies of her own. she may have thought they were a last resort, a poor substitue for the real thing, but in my child's mind they were pure confectionary heaven. they still are.

09 December 2006

i'm sitting in my office working, listening to devotchka. and it's raining outside. and it's lovely. i think i'll make a cup of hot chocolate. perfection.

07 December 2006

i love to eat. and i love to cook. so i thought i'd share an occasional recipe. this is one i pulled out of some random book of my mom's a couple years ago when i unexpectedly came into a hambone. i modified it. i'll give the recipe first and then my modifications.

ham & bean soup.

1 lb. white beans, prepared
8 c. water
1 hambone
2 c. ham, diced
1 c. celery
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 bay leaf

combine all ingredients in crockpot and cook on low for 12 to 14 hours.

modifications: i used white beans and 15 bean mix. there are a couple of ways to prepare beans; the bag should say how. i usually soak them overnight. because i had more beans than it called for, i ended up using only about half the water it called for, which resulted in more of a chili consistency soup than a soupy soup. it was tasty. i also season to taste rather than measuring out my salt and pepper. and knowing me, i probably threw in other seasonings--whatever looked good at the moment. i had a very meaty hambone, meaning there was a lot of meat left on it, so i didn't bother with the 2 cups of diced ham. when i came home from work that day and tried to pull the hambone out, it fell apart. and i've never tasted ham that tender. delicious.


{i first made this soup as part of a series of experimental soups i made for the missionaries. it became a trend that year. and i post it in honor of brooke, who helped me eat the first batch and who has a hambone begging to be used.}

04 December 2006

this morning i started my day as i always do—with npr. after showering, i listened to "day to day" while moisturizing, styling, and toothbrushing. ambassador john bolton’s imminent departure from the u.n. robert gates upcoming senate confirmation hearings. the supreme court weighing anti-segregation measures in public school districts in st. louis and seattle. and lionel richie. that’s right. lionel richie. “lionel of arabia,” to be exact.

and then it struck. a bolt of insight so brilliant that i’m surprised i (and the bathroom i was in) withstood its incendiary power. clearly lionel richie is the answer—the best possible person bush could appoint as the next ambassador to the u.n. his lack of experience cannot be held against him. after all we don’t often require experience and knowledge of our national leaders—just check out such illustrious figures as jesse “the body” ventura and arnie, not to mention some of bush’s shining moments in the lead-up to his own first national election.

so much for dismissing his lack of qualifications. but if all it took to become ambassador to the u.n. was to lack all necessary qualifications, we’d have an entire nation of candidates. clearly there must be something that sets lionel apart from the masses of humanity who are similarly unqualified to act as ambassador to the u.n. and trust me, there is.

for starters, lionel is popular in the middle east, which is more than can be said for most americans who would only be identified as “american” (an open invitation to be kidnapped, shot, or mocked). according to lionel, when he goes to visit other nations he is not American, nor a man, nor even a black man. he is that nation. and how could the nations of the world not love a man who is their nation? not only does his aura allow him to identify as the nation he’s visiting, it’s got a magnetic pull powerful enough to bring together long-time enemies. as was the case when he visited some fancy-pants spa in sardinia and a high-level israeli government official and a high-level lebanese government official overcame their history of years of vacationing in the same place without once speaking to each other in order to bask in the glow of lionel’s presence, recounting stories of how their respective wives had come down the aisle to “truly” and sharing photos of their children. then there was the 20th anniversary of the american bombing of libya, on which lionel performed. at 2:00 in the morning—the anniversary not only of the bombing but also the moment at which gadafi’s infant daughter was killed.

clearly lionel has the necessary ability to bring together warring enemies. plus, if things were to get rough, he could just start singing in that silky smooth voice of his. and then his acolytes would parrot back his music (which according to him translates deep-seated anger into the mellifluous songs we all know and love [or not]; thus his universal appeal), as did “hundreds” of Libyan children when they followed him on a walking tour of the old city of Tripoli. he said hello, and they sang back to him “hello, is it me you’re looking for.” when he attempted to talk to them, he rapidly discovered the only English they knew was what they had picked up phonetically from his songs. just imagine the potential for captivating such world figures as hugo chavez, muqtada al-sadr, or jacques chiraq, and the subsequent parrotry. anytime the u.s. faced a difficult challenge in the u.n., lionel would simply have to write a song and sing it and before you know it, our perspective will be sung back to us by the masses. and isn’t that what we want of the u.n. after all? affirmation that everything and anything goes so long as it’s what we want?

i can’t believe the bush administration hasn’t struck upon this stroke of genius yet. clearly they should start paying attention to the world around them. had they been doing so, they may have noticed that baghdadis blared lionel’s “all night long” as American planes bombed the city in 2003 and they would have made this appointment years ago (but then, i've never accused the bushites of paying attention to realities on the ground in baghdad as they prepared their invasion).

and did i mention that lionel speaks of himself in the third person? if nothing else convinces you that he’s perfect for the job, that should do the trick.

02 December 2006

i finally watched it. the film. well, i missed the first twenty minutes or so, but i think i got a pretty good idea of what happened in them. i'd heard good things about it. and i can see why. the actors did a great job. the script was intelligent and funny. it very effectively skewered the hypocrisy of those who use christianity (christianity specifically, but any religion in general) as a weapon rather than as a way to enlightenment, as a means for self-affirmation and aggrandizement rather than as an avenue to self-knowledge.

that said, i have some reservations about it. when i started at uci, i was shocked by how many of my colleagues (mostly other grad students, but one or two faculty members also) were willing to dismiss christians and christianity out of hand as a narrow-minded, bigoted petrie dish for right wing fanaticism at best and more often for brutal hatred. i'll never forget the day when i was walking from university center back to campus with my grad student "mentor" and we were approached by a representative of one of the many on-campus christian student associations. the woman who approached us very nicely invited us to a fellowship dinner. being a part of an actively evangelizing church myself, i know the potential cost of approaching perfect strangers in order to discuss religion with them. as a rule, i try to respond to any missionary-type effort with kindness. so i very nicely told her that i had other plans that night and my "mentor" and i moved on. as we walked away, she (the "mentor") asked me, in a scandal-tinged sotto voce, if i could believe the nerve of such people. and then she looked at me askance and asked, "you're not religious, are you?" with that balance of incredulity and horror in her voice that implies that clearly the answer will be a resounding "no, of course not! why would you think such an impossibly preposterous thing as that?! how could i be a smart, open-minded, thoughtful intellectual if i had a religion?!?" i quietly told her i was mormon and left her to squirm her way out of it.

that was simply one incident of many that told me that many of the generally liberal secular scholarly types around me thought christianity was the spawn of satan. now, i should also say that many of my colleagues have not demonstrated this kind of narrowness of mind where christianity is. i know many, many people in the academic community who have nothing but respect for me and my religious beliefs and do not subscribe to the notion that christianity automatically means everything thoughtless, ultra-conservative, hateful, and bigoted.

okay. with that backstory. i liked saved. it was funny. the characters were fairly well-developed. it's a great satire of christian hypocrisy. but i am bothered by a too easy dismissal of strong belief as necessarily resulting in the kind of hypocrisy and inability to reason portrayed not only in the obviously satiric hillary faye, but also in the somewhat bumbling pastor skip. now, the pastor's son displayed a christian belief that was charitable and accepting of human frailty. and the mother of the main character clearly was genuine and ultimately privileged family and love over blind, foolish belief. but the film clearly implies that those who really understand compassion and acceptance are the rebellious, unreligious jewish girl and hillary faye's unbelieving brother. in other words, the victims of christianity's hatefulness are those who are truly compassionate.

okay. so that's a simplification. i think the film is more complex than that. but i also think that in our current climate, the message that christianity=bigotry comes across loud and clear while the nuances depicted in characters like patrick and in mary's crisis of faith get buried. worse, because such representations appear to support the notion that christianity=bigotry, they not only reinforce thoughtless prejudice against christianity, they simultaneously reinforce the stereotypical notion that the secular left unjustifiably dismisses christian belief as backwards. nothing like fostering prejudice on all sides.

but what's the answer? obviously the answer is not to avoid depictions of the problems of christianity just because such depictions might reinforce the prejudice that has become unfortunately prevalent against christianity. nor should they be avoided because some christians allow such representations to add to their martyr complexes. so what will save us?

i've been housesitting the last two weeks. and dog-, bird-, and turtle-sitting. i've started working in rowland's office. because it has a comfortable chair in it. and a nice desk. and the dogs seem to like being in here. this picture is on his desk. and i fell in love with it the first time i saw it. i don't really know why. maybe the exaggeration of the motion--it's almost a caricature of typical human motion. and there's something beautifully symetric in the arrangement of the man's limbs. and then there's the austerity of the setting. am i strange? probably. but i just find this image lovely.

{he's depicting author James Joyce "striding" along Sandymount Strand for a video that helped mark the centenary of bloomsday--june 16, 1904, the day on which Ulysses took place.}