Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quit Wilting!

Several (as in very several) years ago, I attended a small women's college. It was a great time
for self-reflection, deep friendships and becoming more aware of life in general. Last night, I was reading the Mills Quarterly. In particular, I was reading an article on Congresswoman Barbara Lee. In the article Lee is quoting some advice she had been give by a former teacher in response to her concern over racial attitudes. The quote was simple. "The human race is endowed with a spine, and among it's other duties, it is to keep the head erect. I want you to quit wilting."

I couldn't have asked for better timing!
It is time for me to quit wilting.
In the past few weeks we have all had flu's, asthma, allergies (pretty severe ones), etc. I was
also finding myself in quite a funk. I was letting myself get sucked into politics at the Boys and Girls Club, I was worrying about Brian-Scott's declining vision, unpaid bills, blah, blah, blah
I have been completely frustrated and overwhelmed by the ridiculous amount of red-tape effecting the Darfuri families with which we work. Work visa's that expire before green cards can be finished processing, "fee's" (large ones) for refugee's trying to acquire their drivers license, lack of medical care for adults after their original few months, etc. I was really sick of the hateful chain e-mails I was receiving on refugees milking the system. What a bunch of garbage!
I have been wondering how to counter the spread of hate..anywhere..at any time. I immeresed myself in books.(remember, still in wilting mode..not socializing much) I realize that people have to quit picking sides (on any issue) and be on the side of humanity and compassion everywhere. I am intrigued by Elias Chacour (Palestine) as he talks of
countering hate by bringing dignity for all people in our daily interactions.
Are the refugee families frustrated? Of course..but they are more resilient than me..
In this picture 3 year old Sadhia plays with Cody after "borrowing" his t-shirt.
I am humbled in her presence.
I just received a copy of a letter from Kaltoum, a woman I have come to know and love over this past year. She has sent this letter to a camp in Chad, and encouraged me to post it everywhere I can. So Kaltoum, this is for you:)
Salaam alaikum. I am Kaltoum Jumah. I am from Darfur. I love my country, but I left by force in 2004, and I still love my country. I crossed many countries to Ghana, and I stayed in a refugee camp for three years. Then I came to live in San Antonio, Texas, United States of America in 2008.
I wish my country would have peace, and the people could go back to live a better life. I want to tell all the men, women, and children to keep praying to Allah. I want my people to know that people all over the world are trying to help the Darfur people, but it is important for the refugees to continue to pray even more to Allah.
Right now I live in San Antonio, Texas in the United States, and my life is better, but I miss my family, my country, my friends, and my life in Darfur. Although I feel better because I am safe with my children, here, my heart still hurts for my family and friends in Darfur, and it is still hard for me.
I want to say thank you for all the anti-genocide people who are helping my people. You are very good. I wish that my country would find peace and I could go meet all my people in Darfur.
Shokran jazeelan (شكرا (جزيلا El Hamdul 'Allah.
Salaam, Salaam ya Darfur, Salaam, Salaam,
Kaltoum Jumah
Darfur, Sudan
San Antonio, Texas USA

So..in reality, I am being pathetic.
I now physically have the strength I haven't in a long time. I realize how pathetically whiny I have been. I really enjoyed our weekend at the Odyssey of the Mind State Finals. (it forced me to leave the books and computer behind!)
It is time to embrace life. I can't believe I had to read "quit wilting" to snap out of it!
Meanwhile, the rest of the family is having a blast!
Austen and his co-op resumed yesterday. They gave us a list of what they want for co-op next year. We are now planning for drafting/culinary arts (1/2 the kids will do one, the other 1/2 the other) followed by Chemistry/Physics lab (2 year program) for all, followed by another 1/2 and 1/2 split of jazz ensemble or watercolor painting.
And the most pressing news:
Cody's Boys and Girls Club team made it to World Finals on a Ranatra Fusca for their "creative engineering in the propulsion of their water-wheel turn to crawler design"!

The team's problem was to design and build a small vehicle that visits four different environments and changes appearance during each visit.
For those of you who don't know what the Boys and Girls
Club is. We work primarily with disadvantaged youth. Our Club membership is $10 a year and many of our families cannot afford that...rural poverty at it's best. While many of the teams at these competitions are school districts that limit the program to gt and drama department kids. We try to form each of our teams with a combination of special needs, gt, alternative ed, justice department, and plain ordinary kids.
In many ways, we are the Cinderalla story.
So..if anyone would like to help us in our quest to raise $6000 in the next 3 weeks to fund this World Finals adventure, please feel free to contact me!

In this picture,the boys are making last minute changes, 10 minutes before performing.
Okay. Time to wake up Cody. Austen and Devin are patiently listening to my Sting CD while finishing up some math. I need to get Odio moving.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hot Tub Dreams

It all started at the beach. We had gone on vacation in Port-Aransas, Texas and spent a few nights in a hotel..other wise known as "the pink place." Brian plants himself in the hot-tub..and well, stays. He occasionally ventured out to spend an hour on the beach..or sleep. Mostly..he just sat in the hot-tub. We all come back from the beach renewed..but Brian is determined to keep a peice of our trip with him.
"I want a hot-tub." he announces on the way home.
"no" I tell him. (come on..has he forgotten we have kids in college and braces?)
Brian: Aww..come on..don't you want a hot-tub? That was SO fun.
me: Of course it's fun. It's called a vacation.
Brian: But I want one.
Me: Brian..join the planet. We can't afford a hot-tub!
Brian: I know..Christmas. You guys can buy me a hot-tub for Christmas!
..and so this dialogue continued for months. He would call me during his lunch-break. Hey..I just found a really nice one at xy store..it's only $1500..I think they have lay-away.
Needless to say, Christmas came and went. No Hot-Tub..just lots of Lost episodes.
Fast-forward to March. The phone rings again. Chris's (his brother) neighbor gave him a hot-tub over a year ago and he hasn't picked it up yet. He says I can have it for a hundred dollars. I'm bringing it home.
We clear the deck. We spend a few days and another $100 on hot-tub repairs. And his moment has come.
Clear the way. I have a margarita..and I'm enjoying the hot-tub. He goes to the deck to enjoy.
A few minutes later he is back. Isn't anyone coming with me? He looks so pathetic. I agree to join him. Next comes Austen. No..no starts Brian Don't push off the sides..it will break. Then comes Cody..then Mason..then Calvin...then we are joined by two rubber ducks. The boys throw the ducks at eachother and squirt eachother in the eyes. Brian acts as if he is still on vacation. Cody complains the water smells weird. Mason and Austen pretend we are in a stew. They want to throw in vegetables.
Does Brian notice that this is not the same experience as when we are not on vacation? Never.
The following week it starts to rain. It is Spring Break. We never have less than 7 teenage boys in the house...they are always in the hot-tub. Brian is right there with him. He appears oblivious to the fact that they (the tub of tall, lanky, and loud boys) are there. How can someone do that?
I remind them it is raining..and maybe this isn't too wise. They throw water at me. Brian just grins and waves.
Now we have a house-full of sick kids. Too much hot-tubbing in the rain! Does Brian care? Nope..not at all. He calls this morning to see if the kids have put the chemicals in the hot-tub...you know..the kids that can't breathe! I remind him everyone is sick.
Oh darn he laughs. I guess I'll just have to be in it by myself now!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Our Motley Venturers Crew

Our Venturers glad to be on the ground after a long day of climbing and balleghing (none of us know how to spell that). Pictured below is almost the entire Venturer Crew for Bandera. Crew members from left to right are Justin, Cory, Mason, Cody,Austen and Devin. Missing is crew-member Ricci.
What is Venturers? It's a co-ed Boy-Scout group for teens and young adults 14-20. There are no uniforms, no badges, etc. Crews are adventure based, and much like Odyssey of the Mind, create and plan their own adventures based on their interests..with adult help only in the form of safety-issues.

The crew decided to start with a day at Mc Gimsey Park (San Antonio) copes challenge.

It was a great day for working on team-building and trust. The crew learned the importance of constant communication between team members in order to stay safe and be able to proceed through the various elements.
The morning was spent learning how to spot eachother and
practicing on the lower elements.

Time was also given to review and
discuss what went right and what
went wrong after each challenge.

After lunch the crew ventured (ventured..get it??) to new heights on the Challenge Course and trust falls..where team members intentionally fell backward off of 20 foot beams and trusted their team to catch them and bring them down safely.

Austen debating whether he really wants to continue. 10 minutes later he really does fall..on accident..and his team brings him down safely. Mom (me) is grateful for all the time they spent
earlier in the day learning how to do this...otherwise..we would have had one broken and squished Austen. Instead..he survived to go on with the higher courses later in the day!

Mason on Monkey Bridge..part 1 of the Challenge copes course.

Cody posing for a picture..okay, maybe not. Trying to decide the safest way to proceed on Part 2 of their Challenge course.
That is it. The kids had a fullfilling peanut butter with jelly and apples lunch and spent the day discussing "Silly Willy". One rope burn injury on Justin's neck. Other than that everyone was just worn out and ready for tacos and a hot-tub by evening. The hot-tub was broken, so they played on ATV's instead. You know..because everyone replaces hot-tubs with ATV's...
What's next? Who knows..this motley crew seems to be leaning towards gold mining adventures..they just haven't decided when and where yet...rumor has it Alaska is the place to be. For the more immediate future I believe they are looking at a Copes Challenge weekend, repelling and shallow water scuba diving. All in all, a fun group of kids!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Cleansing of the Temple

Allright. I was asked to put some rough drafts of some sermons up here. If you are uncomfortable with religious topics, please feel free to ignore. I almost never say what
is actually written..but here is a draft for the upcoming Gospel of John:2..the cleansing
of the temple.

My father is a linguist. I spent the first 6 years of my life in Tokyo, Japan, where my dad was a missionary for the Lutheran Church.

Our household consisted of both my parents, our obasan (or nanny) my older foster-brother Kevin, myself, my sister Tania and my foster-sister Yuki-ye. When I was 5, my mom left for a month with my two younger sisters..leaving Kevin and myself in my dad's care.

He was determined to be a great father. He was going to surprise my mother with his child-rearing skills. He would not only keep us safe and happy, but he would educate us beyond her belief. His zeal was overwhelming.

At our first night for dinner my father announced to Kevin and I that we would now speak a different language in every room of the house. Japanese (the only language we were comfortable with) would only be spoken in the kitchen. The dining room and study would be for English, the living room Amharic, and so on.

By the end of that first week Kevin and I were repeatedly saying Nan des ka(Japanese)....algu ba num no entiendo or I don't understand..in 6 different languages.To this day, I can say, I don't understand in a variety of languages. Unfortunately, that is almost all I can say.

It wasn't until Kevin and I decided to sleep in the kitchen so we could actually have a conversation, that our obasan finally put her foot down and insited this nonsense stop. In his zealousy to be a great father, my dad had forgotten that we were children.

To lose our perspective (our intentions) in the midst of our intense desire and devotion to a cause, is an easy thing to do.

In today's Gospel we see Jesus lose his patience at the injustices at the temple. He overturns tables, and drives people out of the temple. Jesus tells the dove sellers, "take those things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a market-place!...and his disciples remembered
that it was written: 'Zeal for your house will consume me.' "(John 2:15-17 )

To illustrate how easy it is to fall into this trap. The trap of justifying unjust actions, I would like to share with you a story titled The Dove Seller. It is the story of the cleansing of the temple, told by the perspective of the dove seller. Written by Sarah M. Foulger from Season's of
Change Mental Health Agency in Maine.

The Dove Seller
I’m trying to understand what happened. I’m trying to make sense of what Jesus of Nazareth did. My next door neighbor says, "It’s about time somebody did something about the corruption in Jerusalem." But as far as I’m concerned what Jesus did is just plain crazy. And honestly, what is the big deal here? It’s Passover. Every faithful Jew in the region is expected by law to come to Jerusalem for the Passover. But Jews from all over the world come too. The place is mobbed!
Everyone who comes to the Temple is required to pay a Temple tax. and it must be paid in sanctuary shekels. Foreign coins are unclean. It may be alright to pay other debts with foreign coins but the debt to God must be paid in coins that are blessed. Only temple shekels are pure enough for a temple tax. Jesus must know this. And how are people supposed to pay their temple tax if they can’t exchange the coins they bring from Rome and Egypt and Greece? This is way it has always been. Doesn’t Jesus know that?
In my opinion he is being unreasonably judgmental and demanding. The money-changers are providing a service. Of course, they charge a lot of money for this service but that’s to be expected, isn’t it? I’ve heard people complain about what a hardship this is. Most Jews are poor. Of course, it’s a hardship. But life is hard and I don’t make the rules. I can’t change the rules. If Jesus thinks he’s going to storm in here and change the rules, he’s got another thing coming!
I’ve heard people complain that the temple is rich. "They have millions of drachmas – why do they need so much money?" people say. They have a point but I’m no priest. I don’t know what they do with all that money. I’m a simple seller of doves. I just do my job and stay out of politics and if Jesus knows what’s good for him, he’ll stay out of politics too!
I’ve heard people complain that the money-changers and the animal sellers are greedy but we’re just trying to make a living. You can see that, can’t you? Every Jew who comes to Jerusalem at Passover wants to offer a sacrifice to God, a thank offering. As a dove-seller in the temple court, I provide an easy way to do that. You may think it’s a racket. I say it’s just making the most of an opportunity.
Here’s how it works. We have special sacrifice inspectors and if an animal brought in from outside the temple is impure in any way it is unacceptable. We all chip in to make sure the inspector will reject any animal from the outside so they’ll have to buy them here at the temple. Of course, any animal we sell will always pass inspection. Sweet, don’t you think? Let’s just say if you want to make it in this business, it’s important to have a good working arrangement with the right people.
I realize that a pair of unblemished doves can be purchased for much less on the outskirts of town. I charge twelve times as much – or more - but every dove seller in the temple does the same. And our mark-up is not as high as the sheep and cattle sellers at the temple! You have to remember how much trouble we spare all the pilgrims who come to the temple. They don’t have to transport any animals. It’s not easy to carry animals around. Not having to bring animals all the way to the temple is worth something isn’t it? Maybe it’s not worth as much as we charge but, like I said, I didn’t invent this arrangement. I’m just working with it. I didn’t create the system. I’m just trying to make the most of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? It’s not as if my big goal in life is to exploit poor people. I’m just here to make a living – like everybody else. The temple is big business. Why shouldn’t I get my cut? Jesus cant rant and rave all he wants about how God’s temple is supposed to be a house of prayer and not a public market but can’t it be both? What’s wrong with that?
I had heard about Jesus but I hadn’t heard he could be so angry. I tell you that fanatic from Nazareth had a whip in his hand and was racing through the outer court of the temple cracking that whip and shouting and turning the tables upside-down. He was trying to clear out the money-changers and all the other merchants. He yelled at us – the dove sellers – insisting that we get all of our things out of the temple! I hope he’s not like these prophets – like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea who think we should do away with sacrifices.1
Let me tell you something. People like sacrifices. It’s much less trouble to sacrifice some poor animal to God than to sacrifice something more personal - like the way you’re living or the grudge you’re holding. In the long run, it’s a lot less expensive to buy a couple of my dear doves than to change your life, for heaven’s sake. Does Jesus think he’s going to revolutionize the way we make amends with God?
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone so angry. My neighbor says it was "passion" but, make no mistake about it, it was anger. His rage was large enough for all Jerusalem and by now all Jerusalem has heard about it. Who does he think he is, God? The man needs to get a grip or he’s going to end up like the doves I sell.
After the episode at the temple, some people confronted him. (Not me – I try to stay out of the fray. I mind my business; you mind your business. That’s what works for me.) But some people took him on. They asked him how he can possibly justify his actions. We’ve all heard the rumors that he can perform miracles. Why, I hear he can turn water into wine. That’s a useful trick! So they asked him for a miracle as a way of proving he was really carrying out God’s wishes in creating such a stir at the temple. Well, he didn’t do anything but he had some big talk, I’ll tell you. He said, "You destroy this temple and I’ll resurrect it in three days?" What’s that supposed to mean? Did he think we were going to knock down the temple just so he could prove he can perform such a miracle?
I want Jesus and his judgments out of here. I want him to leave me alone. If he thinks he’s going to get me to turn my life upside-down just like he did the tables of the money-changers he needs to think again. Could I be a better person? Of course I could. Could the temple be more like a house of prayer. Of course it could. Could the world use a few improvements? Well, you catch my meaning. I’m doing the best I can. Well, maybe I’m not doing the best I can. But I’m not a murderer, I’m not an adulterer. I just cheat a little here and there. What’s the difference?
I guess I don’t want to understand what Jesus was doing or what he meant with all that talk about the temple. I don’t want to change. I don’t have to change. I don’t want to worry about being fair to the poor. I don’t want to worry about corruption. I have enough worries of my own. And if Jesus doesn’t watch out, well, let’s just say, he’s the one who should be worried. Keep your eye on him. He’s a very demanding character. And he’s in for trouble.

So what does this mean for us? How are we like the dove seller? Where are our misplaced allegiances and religious presumptions? Are we overzealous in our national idolatry? Have we forgotten to listen to the wisdom of God? Have we forgotten to live a life of agape love?

Prayer of the Dove Seller
Lord of Life, thank you for the opportunities you give us and for the strength and intelligence to command such opportunities. Forgive our little trespasses and help us to offer every sacrifice you require of us.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Whatever Happened to Customer Courtesy?

Okay...my back deck is now full of herbs. Why? Because I am on strike. I am on strike from
our local grocery store. I am now on strike from our local dollar store...and somehow this led to a porch-full of herbs? I'm still trying to figure out how that happened.

We live in a small town in hill-country Texas with one..yes one..grocery store. Over the past few years, I have watched the prices increase....ridiculously. "I'm investing in my community" I would tell myself..as I paid $5 for a box of cereal...or $3 for 6 dinner rolls.

I knew I was being screwed...but I wanted to believe that I was investing in the people of this small town.

So, two weeks ago, I am in the middle of cooking dinner when I realize I am missing..mushroom soup. That is all. "Can you pick up some Lucky Charms?" asks Austen....oh...and some dinner rolls? "Anything else?" I ask. "Stew meat would be nice" pipes in friend Sandy. We can make stew for dinner tommorow. I have $20 in my pocket. Surely, I think, $20 should buy 4 items.

I get to the store and start the tally in my head. 1 box of cereal, 1 pkg. of dinner rolls...I am already close to $10. This, I think, is insane. Then the voice...you are investing in your community. I pick up a package of stew meat...small package at that..over $7..I am now at $17 for 3 items. Now..if I could just find the mushroom soup. It figures..moved again.

Just then I hear a voice (a real one this time). May I help you ma'am? (remember..living in the South) I see a gentlemen stacking mushroom soup..and a sign that says...well..I can't read it. He's standing in front of it.The man asks again, "would you like a basket ma'am?" No, I tell him..I just want to see the sign.
I ask, "I'm sorry, does that sign really say $1.27 for a small can of mushroom soup?"

Then the huffing and puffing begins. "Well (says nice gentleman gone angry) if you don't like it, I can always raise the price!" "Excuse me?" I ask. (Is this guy for real?) "You heard me..(he responds) I can always raise the price."

Then it happened. My arm (with hand attached) was returning the stew meat. My feet walked to the cereal aisle and returned the cereal. "oh", I think. "It appears, I'm done shopping here."

I return the other items and decide to wait until I am in San Antonio.

Fast forward to last Friday..the day before our OM tournament. I run to our local dollar store (where I shop all the time!) to pick up 3 containers..I don't want to go into all the details..but essentially it ends with me asking the price of what was labeled $9 and rang up $15. I was having a hard time justifying paying almost $50 for plastic crates..so I said..dumbly.."really..are you sure? It was marked $9".


I then listened as the clerk ranted and raved about customers moving all their items. Truth is, the store had only been opened 10 minutes that morning..and I was trying to envision..anyone..moving this huge pile of crates from one shelf to another without being noticed. I thought it was funny. She did not. Led to lots of screaming on her part.

I walked out of that store also. So..in less than two weeks, I have resolved not to buy anything from two of the stores in a town that is only 10 blocks long. Yikes!

Truth is, I am all for supporting my community..even letting them gouge me a little..but not if they are going to be rude about it.

Fast forward to today...I have been informed by Cody's soccer trainer that he needs to eat like a real vegetarian (not a blanca-vore..in the term of my friend Carol)..or acquire carnivorous habits in order to continue training and not, well, pass out. In other words..eat healthier.

I decide to start cooking two entree's an evening..instead of the haphazard approach we have been taking. So over the weekend I bought lots of herb plants. Yes..plants. I figured I needed them to cook with..and it sure beat running to the "big city" to buy herbs. I didn't realize that to chop a cup of parsley we would be chopping two entire plants!

So what happens? Well..we are eating a lot of plants..right off of my back deck! Why? Because the manager of a grocery store felt the need to create a scene over mushroom soup.

Weekly menu:
Monday: taco's...bean and cheese/taco-meat
Tuesday: tabouleh and pierogies/ cheeseburger pie
Wednesday: spicy cabbage and potatoes/baked chicken breasts
Thursday: chile relleno (cheese), rice and beans
Friday: pizza again:)
Saturday: lasagna with green beans and french bread
Sunday: no idea