Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ritual

I really should be grading right now. I decided to spend the day grading hours ago. But instead of grading, I've skyped with my mom, cleaned my kitchen, brewed a cup of tea, and watched several Jay Leno clips. And now I'm writing a blog.

I've learned this little trick over the years: when I need to be productive, I resolve to grade. And then I am wildly, record-breakingly productive.

The key to achievement is this, kids: know thyself.

I had a lovely weekend up at a cabin in Julian that I could write about, but uploading pictures takes me forever and a day. So I'll post the weekend pictures the next time I sit down to grade.

Instead, I will tell you that yesterday one of my colleagues told me a brown recluse spider flew out of her hair dryer when turned it on. She will never blow dry her hair again.

Her story strengthened my resolve to maintain a nightly tradition I began when I moved to my new place.

There are lots of trees on the property surrounding my new place, which means there are lots of spiders. And, as I learned in my old, close-to-a-garden-full-of-spiders apartment, spiders have a way of finding secret passageways that lead them from outside into the warmth of a house.

So I pull back my bed covers and shake them just before bedtime each night, checking for any spiders that may be settling down to lodge there for the night. Twice in my life I have unwittingly gotten into bed with a spider. I will never let it happen again.

Last night I was particularly diligent in checking my sheets, in lieu of my colleague's close, nightmarish call with a brown recluse.

And what do you know, in the exact spot I was preparing to nestle my cold little feet I saw a giant, hairy brown thing scurrying toward me.

I yelped, jumped, threw the covers over the fast little rascal, and paced frantically trying to figure out what to do. Then, armed with a giant ball of paper towels, I tentatively pulled back the sheets, aiming to kill.

And there she lay: a spider-sized hairball.

Oh the hazards of having long hair.

Which reminds me, at the rate I shed, I'm due for another vacuuming of my place.

In fact, I should probably do that right now.

And then I'll grade.

I promise.

Happy almost-Friday, friends!

-SJ


© by scj

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday

It's been another one of those weeks — the kind I just can't seem to keep up with. It's been fast-paced and full of curveballs.

Take, for instance, the fact that every time the sewage company unexpectedly stops by to empty the septic tank I am expecting company. This law of the universe has never been broken.

Thank you, universe.

Hopefully you will never have to smell the phenomenon that is "moving the septic tank's 'nasty' through a hose to a large truck." It is enough to send me (and my guest) running out the house and flying down the hill to pastures with cleaner air.

The plus side of today's little septic tank surprise was watching the burly worker man get all his equipment set up. Well, the actual setting up of equipment was nothing to write home about, but the point when he stopped, set the hose down, pulled out his phone, and snapped a picture of one of my rose buds was. I basked in the poetic power of the moment.

In other news, my neighbor has done laundry every day for almost a week. This is a pattern. I know this because we live on the same property and share the washer and dryer in the garage.

My neighbor is a lovely woman married to a nice man. They have no kids. I'm trying to figure out the cause of these laundry marathons. Maybe they're dirt bikers? Or host weddings with loads of linens? Or have a persistent leak in their house that dirties piles and piles of towels? It's a mystery, and I'm determined to get to the bottom of it.

In other other news, I've discovered that seeing a picture of a cup of tea satisfies some deep part of my soul — the same part of my soul that actually drinking a cup of tea satisfies.

I think that's about all the wonderfully edifying and educationally stimulating thoughts I have for today. Boy, aren't you glad you stopped by? I am. :)

Happy Tuesday, friends.

-SJ


© by scj

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My hungers keep me fed

Posted simultaneously at Sturdy Answers.
Last month my landlord told me I needed to move so she could have my apartment available for family. The news was overwhelming.
It is the busiest time of the year for me, and the hardest time of the semester to find housing in my college town. Most significantly, I’ve spent the last 2 ½ years in my previous apartment recovering from illness. It was a quiet cocoon that kept me warm and safe from the heartbreaking world. And I know that somewhere deep down I’ve been afraid that moving from my peaceful place of healing will catapult me back into the illness from which I’m still recovering.
I’ve felt stripped of control. This makes my life feel unpredictable and unsafe. It sends me spinning into a storm of health-threatening “what ifs.”
What if my new place has mold? What if the walls have lead paint? What if my new landlord is untrustworthy?
After a few weeks of pushing through anxiety over potential “what ifs,” I decide to watch the sunset from my new backyard nestled high in the hills over Los Angeles.
barren tree at sunsetA barren tree to my left stretches its spindly fingers wide, reaching for more of the fading sky. A squirrel chases away a nut-stealing nemesis. As the hungry horizon begins to swallow the sun, I’m aware of dozens of unsatisfied hungers — for home, health, marriage, and vocational opportunity — rumbling in my chest. Suddenly I realize that the fear of losing control is rooted in a fear of living with hungers that remain unsatisfied.
There are days when my heart’s hungers shoot through me with painful force. Desperate to make the pain stop, I grasp for control. If I can’t dam the flow of desires, then I’ll do what I can to satisfy them. But when control, or the illusion of it, is wrested from my clenched fists, I’m left to endure and make sense of the gnawing ache.
But my new apartment is no place to consider the role of unsatisfied desire. It’s still cluttered with piles of belongings that don’t have a place, and makes me hunger for rest and order. I’ve got to get out, to go find something that brings me peace. That’s when I walk toward the front door, determined to catch the sunset.
My stomach rumbles, so I stop in the kitchen. There’s a steaming pot of bean and sausage soup on the stovetop. I ladle up a bowl and head to the backyard.
Slowly, I savor my soup while drinking in the evening view. The soup is rich and comforting. It revitalizes my tired body and renews my verve. And it was my hunger that drove me toward this life-giving soup.
I watch the sinking autumn sun finger-paint the sky with amber light. After awhile it feels like her fiery fingers are reaching inside of me, stirring up gratitude and hope. And I realize it was my hunger for peace that drove me toward this life-giving sunset.
My phone buzzes. An out-of-town friend has texted me about a phone-date we’ll have later in the evening. I skim through other texts. There are dozens from friends who wanted to touch base with me this week.
When I moved to this town three years ago I didn’t know a soul, and was hungry for community and belonging. This hunger drove me to meet new people and experience new things. They have given me fresh, uncontained, unexpected life.
I remember with dawning understanding something a colleague recently said: “Life uses hunger to ensure more life.” Our hungers drive us toward goodness, truth, and beauty we’d otherwise not seek.
My bowl is empty now, and the sun is almost out of sight. In the distance I can see downtown Los Angeles, its skyscrapers a gray silhouette against the honeyed horizon.
It looks like Oz, beckoning me to come with my “If only’s” to have my deepest desires granted.
I remember the scarecrow’s refrain, “If only I had a brain,” the Cowardly Lion’s hope for courage, the tin man’s desire for a heart, and Dorothy’s longing for home.
Those hungers impelled them on a journey that helped them discover their truest selves and experience belonging. Had they not experienced deep hunger, their lives would have had no movement. Their growth would have been stagnant.
In the Christian classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, Paul Bunyan writes about the Christian journey:
This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
The same hungers that lead me toward friends and satisfying work ultimately lead me toward the Bread of Life. They daily push me out of the disorienting thickets of distraction back onto the winding way of Jesus. Without fierce, unsatisfied hungers, I’d hardly dare to ascend the high, difficult hill that leads to the life-giving cross of Christ.
The sun has sunk into the sea now and the crickets have cued their evening song, so I head inside. My hungers, for peace and sustenance, have been satisfied, for now. Tomorrow they will growl again, joined by a chorus of others. With each aching rumble, I hope I can surrender to the goodness of hungers that daily teach me to live.
© by scj

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thursday things, on a Sunday: Happy and sad

It's been one of those weeks.

It's ten A.M. one minute, and the next minute it's 9 P.M. and I have a to-do list that's, well, as long as it was at ten A.M.

I settle in to enjoy a day off, and then get an email reminding me of the faculty meeting that's in one hour.

I wish one of my tutoring clients a happy weekend, only to discover it's still Tuesday.

It's Monday, but I'm writing "Thursday Things."

Update: It's Sunday, not Monday.

The good news is a friend's birthday party last night turned into a living room dance-athon. There is nothing — nothing, I tell ya — that chases away brain fog, stress, and general disorientation like a group interpretive dance to Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball."

(Side note: go do your best dance move imitating a wrecking ball right now. Use your whole body. Close the shades if you need to. It will make your day better, I promise.)

There's other good news, too. And some sad news. Because that's life, I guess.

1. Yesterday was the full moon. The third full moon since my last relapse, to be exact. Which made it the full moon that would probably trigger another relapse. I've been dreading the day for weeks, praying that I'd break free from the "every third full moon" relapse cycle.

And instead of lying in bed on October 19th, barely able to make it to the bathroom without buckling at the knees from fatigue, I danced for three hours.

This is an enormous victory for which I am very, very thankful.

2. When I was at my parents' house last weekend I saw this video of a 3-year old boy being filmed without his knowledge whilst going to the bathroom. I laughed till I cried. Then my dad and I watched it together and we both laughed till we cried. I hope it makes your day happier.


3. I've been back in California since Tuesday, and I'm feeling homesick.

3a. I miss going on autumnal outings with my favorite girls (Elizabeth and Mrs. D: we missed you).

From left to right: me, mom, honorary sister Annie (in the back), and sister Rebecca

3b. I miss amber leaves and pine-fresh breezes.




3c. I miss wearing sweat pants and fuzzy socks.



3d. I miss wearing sweat pants and crooked hats.


3e. I miss wearing sweat pants and riding boots.


I like to keep it classy when I vacation.

3f. I miss soaking up the sun with my sister from another mister.


3g. I miss petting baby goats with my favorite girls.



3h. I just had to sing the alphabet to figure out which letter comes after "g."

3i. I miss picking apples in my parents' backyard.



3j. I miss going on long, rambling walks through the PNW countryside.

4. But I'm glad to be back in California, too. It means I can do this year round with my wonderfullest friends:





4a. It means I get to bike to the beach wearing a sundress for a picnic lunch with my dearest cousin.


5. And it means I get to spend all day tomorrow hanging out with really fun, smart college students.

6. It's nice to have two homes that make me feel so full.

Happy almost-Monday, y'all!

-SJ

© by scj

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A morning of grading

Saturday morning I had a huge pile of grading to plow through before my sister came to my folks' house to spend the weekend with me. We'd made grand plans that involved lots of tea, Duck Dynasty, naps, and baked goods. There would be absolutely no spare time for grading. I had. to get it done Saturday morning.

So I sat down to grade away after breakfast, and one graded essay later decided to take a short blogging break. Two blogs, half an article, and two hours later I found myself driving through the countryside trying to find fun things to capture on camera. Naturally.

These horses were too beautiful to drive past, so I pulled over and got out of the car to snap some photos.



Seconds after I stepped out of the car, the horse in the field closest to me started trotting toward me.



Closer and closer he ran,



until he was up at the fence, staring at me with his mild, inky eyes.



Hello pookie wookie snookie darling face!

We stood silently and looked at each other for a few minutes before I asked if I could pet him. He promptly wiped his mouth on my jacket, which I took to mean "Do you have any sugar cubes hidden in this sleeve?"

I didn't, but I petted him anyway, and he nuzzled me, and then we stared at each other some more. It was the beginning of a good friendship.


A few minutes later I moved down the fence to try to capture a picture of him with the barn in the background, but he moved with me. So I moved to the right, and he moved to the right. So I stopped trying to capture the perfect picture, and instead just stood and returned my friend's quiet gaze. Friends who force your phone into your pocket, with whom you can be still and silent, are the best friends.

After awhile, I told my new friend I had to leave — I had an untouched pile of grading, after all.

He was not happy about it.



"Neeeeeeighhhoooooooo" [translation: "Nooooooooooo!"]. But he blinked goodbye anyway, and watched me get in the car



and drive off.



And that is how I spent the morning grading.


© by scj

Monday, October 14, 2013

Evidence-for-God's-existence waffles, the recipe (gluten, dairy and refined sugar-free)

One fateful day three years ago, after already having discovered dairy and shellfish allergies, I discovered I was also allergic to wheat, most nuts, soy, and various fruits. To make matters worse, my health problems simultaneously forced me to cut all refined sugar out of my diet.

Goodbye joy, happiness, and goodwill toward men.


Thankfully, I found that cooking savory foods according to my dietary needs wasn't too difficult. My attempts to make sweet, Sarah-friendly treats, on the other hand, yielded a number of disastrous results.


So a number of friends and family members rallied around me, sending disaster-proof, Sarah-friendly recipes my way. I worked to master them, and then began to branch out by tackling more complicated recipes and adjusting normal recipes to suit my dietary needs. Along the way, I've found some real culinary dandies that I'd like to start sharing with all you gluten, dairy, and sugar-free types.


My evidence-for-God's-existence waffles are one of my favorite, simple, Sarah-friendly breakfast treats. My mom originally got the recipe from a good family friend back when I first discovered my allergies, and they're a favorite with my family — even the non-allergy-restricted members!


Hope they're a hit with you and yours!







OATMEAL WAFFLES (OR PANCAKES)

Process in your food processor or blender (to a course or fine four):
·      1 ½ c. oats

Then add and pulse into the oats:
·      1 tsp baking powder
·      1 T maple syrup, honey, or coconut sugar

Then add:
·      1 egg*
·      ¾ c. coconut milk
·      4 T. melted coconut oil 

*If you can't eat eggs, then let 1 tablespoon of chia seeds soak in 3 tablespoons of water for 10 minutes or so. The mixture will become thick and gooey, and will work to bind the waffles in place of the egg.  

If you'd like, you can add chopped nuts (I use pecans) into the batter. If your batter seems too thin, then let it sit for 5-10 minutes and it will thicken up nicely.

Pour the batter into a greased, hot waffle iron and cook until the waffles are golden brown. If you decide to make pancakes, then you'll need to cook them slowly on a lower heat. They fall apart easily, and need to cook through before being turned. 

Top 'em with fresh berries and coconut cream, or chopped pecans and maple syrup, or fresh nut butter and honey, and bon appetit!







© by scj

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Flavors of Fall

Last month, as I packed up my old apartment, the 105-degree sun beat through my windows sending sweat spilling out of my every pore.

"Oh Fall," I groaned, "Where are you?!"

She didn't answer. I think she was too busy waving her magical color wand across the treetops of Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.

So I promptly bought a plane ticket to my folks' house in Washington state, with the hopes of enjoying a brief October weekend of crisp air, vibrant fall colors, cloudy skies, and rainy puddles.

When I left Orange County on Wednesday evening it was rainy and blustery. Go figure.  Fall arrives just as soon as I leave. But you know, after arriving in Washington, I'm reminded that Fall doesn't ever visit southern California. Sure, the leaves showcase a brownish tint right about now, the heat is dryer, and there's the occasional downpour that scours our smoggy air. But it's not Fall that visits; it's her third cousin twice removed. Fall and her cousin have similar characteristics, but Fall is a much more vibrant, I'm-here-to-steal-the-show kind of character than her mild, I-prefer-not-to-be-noticed cousin.

So I'm here in Washington, and Fall and I are getting along famously. And since some of you must make do with Fall's mild cousin the way I must every October, I've included some snapshots — flavors of Fall, if you will —to satisfy your deprived, season-loving soul.

1. The color, oh the color. Rust, crimson, amber, honey, tangerine, and Winnie the Pooh hues dapple every horizon.



2. Heavens to Betsy, tell me you've eaten a Washington apple straight off the tree. There's nothin' like it. I think it must be as close to pre-Eden, pre-curse fruit that you can get.


3. The fire's been a-blazin' non-stop. I love curling up next to it with a pile of grading. Minus the grading part.





4. I tagged along with my parents to enjoy some Friday night lights. The son of some friends from church is the starting quarterback for his team, so we came to cheer him on at the opposing team's homecoming game. It was clear and cold — a perfect night for football.




The last time I went to a high school football game was in high school, over ten years ago. I wasn't a huge football game fan. I much preferred to stay home with my family. But I reasoned that I was only in high school for a short time, and high schoolers always looked back on their Friday night football games with fondness, so doggonit, I would force myself to those games. I've always had this thing about sucking life of its marrow.

All these years later, I still prefer to stay home with my family on a Friday night, but when they leave, I leave. It was actually a pretty fun game. I got surprisingly into it. "SOMEBODY GET THAT GUY!!!" I found myself yelling at my team, as a player on the opposing team ran off with the ball toward the touchdown line.

Then I was approached about taking a position as a team coach. They said something about wanting a coach who understood the subtle nuances of the game and could help their players to do the same.

Ha. Haha. Ha.

5. There are red barns with fields of horses and cattle everywhere around here. If you Washington folks find yourself behind a gold Acura that's swerving dangerously, rest assured, a maniac is not driving. It's just me, trying to capture the perfect countryside snapshot.


If you are my siblings, you may be groaning right now because you know think a maniac is driving. And, come to think of it, I may be beginning to side with you on this one, Sibs. Because I have made myself carsick every day this week. Los Angeles traffic, what have you done to me?!

6. I've had tea and a pile of waffles every morning since I've been here. Joy to the world.



The next time a friend asks me to give him evidence for God's existence I shall set a pile of pecan maple waffles and a steaming cup of tea in front of him. And then I will ask him to notice all the flavors and textures his taste buds allow him to enjoy. I'll point out how comforting the hot cuppa tea feels to his cold hands, and how the smell of maple wafting from his waffles brings back memories of his childhood.

And then I'll state our two options for explaining the pleasurable morning he and I are having: 1) the universe just happened to wire us with deep longing for goodness and beauty, and then just happened to wire our bodies with the capacity to satisfy our deep longing for goodness and beauty, and then just happened to cover the earth's surface with things and people to satisfy our longings. Or, 2) A good and beautiful God who loves goodness and beauty created us to also love and long for goodness and beauty. And, because he is good, built into our bodies and souls the capacity to recognize, enjoy, and create goodness and beauty.

And then we could talk about the mind-blowing mathematical improbability of scenario 1, and the sensibility of scenario 2. We might even talk about "goodness" and "beauty," and what we mean by those words. I'd ask my friend if he thinks other people ought to have the same idea (and abide by the same standard) of goodness that he does, and when he says yes (because a reasonable person must. Moral relativism is self-refuting, evil-enabling, racist-befriending, moral stagnating, and mind-closing.) I'd ask why he feels justified in telling me that my neighbor, the President, Tonya Harding, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Kony, the al-Qaeda, and I should all abide by the same moral law — that I should not steal my neighbor's wallet, Tonya Harding should not have physically assaulted her skating competition, and Hitler should not have tried to eliminate an entire race of people. To what standard of goodness is my friend appealing, exactly?! And then we'd discuss how the biblical narrative helps us to understand our hunger for and intuitive sense of goodness quite nicely. At which point we would be hungry again, and would want another plate of waffles. At which point I would ask,

"What do you think your huger for food says about the way your body is wired?"

And he would probably say something like,

"It means I am wired to eat food."

And this would allow us to transition into discussion about our soul hungers for utopia, and then explore C.S. Lewis' quote:

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

So you see, waffles and tea on a crisp fall day are a wonderful thing.

7. My mom decorates my parents' house for every holiday. She has lovely taste and a great eye, and I love looking at all of her seasonal vignettes. But my favorites by far are the few decorations she has kept from my childhood.


Oh how they give me a great bit goofy smile.


Happy Fall weekend, friends!

-SJ


© by scj

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dance


Several years ago, some Lithuanian friends taught my family and me how to do the Lithuania polka around a bonfire situated next to a meadow adjacent to a castle nestled in the Austrian Alps. (“And the green grass grew all around all around, and the green grass grew all around!”)

Ever since that evening of polka-ing, I’d determined that, should I get married, I would teach everyone at my wedding reception to do the Austrian polka. I couldn't imagine it getting any more fun than that.

Until last weekend, that is, when I attended a Kenyan wedding. The Kenyans, my friends, know how to party. 

It was actually a Kenyan/Jamaican wedding, as my Jamaican college track training partner married a Kenyan. Which made the wedding twice as dance-tastic. Because if there are two things I know about Jamaicans, it’s that they’re fast and they can dance.

I learned this from my college training partner, Lorraine.


Over the years, Lorraine and I have moved, switched jobs, and gone to graduate school, so we don’t get to see each other often. But it doesn’t matter.

When you spend four years running till you cramp, puke, collapse, black out, and stop breathing, you forge a bond that won’t disintegrate when the winds of time blow fast and hard.


And when you travel across the nation competing and spending hours together in planes, buses, and hotel rooms, you begin to feel like family. That doesn't change, even when you move away and start families of your own.

My 4 x 400 relay team at Nationals my junior year.


So watching Lorraine merge lives with the man she loves was special. And celebrating with a few of my former college teammates made it even more special:

At the wedding. From left to right: A pole vaulter, a 400-meter hurdler, an Olympic shot putter, and a 400-meter hurdler


It was a lovely ceremony in an alpine-style chapel:



The reception took place in a hotel ballroom. It was beautiful:



I got to sit with my former teammates. This is KJ, one of the members of my 4 x 4 relay team.



She's sitting with her husband Anthony, and a random little girl who ran up and sat in KJ's lap. KJ is likable like that. 

I just love wedding place settings.

It's not chocolate. Or a candle. Or rice.

It's a Kenyan keychain and a Jamaican bracelet!


Isn't that fresh and fun?

After a cocktail hour, all the guests poured into the ballroom and sat at assigned tables, at which point the bridal party was announced to pulsing African and Jamaican music. How the guests managed to stay seated quietly while those rhythms pounded is beyond me. What they thought of the gangly white girl in the corner bouncing around and waving her arms to the music is also beyond me. Thank goodness.

And then, minutes later, all my wedding reception dance dreams came true. 

"Will all the women please go out to the hotel entrance where the bride and groom are waiting?" asked our Kenyan emcee.

So all 100 of us went out and gathered around the bride and groom. Then one of the older Kenyan ladies began to sing a lyric in the Kikuyu tribe's dialect meaning, "Let them glow." The rest of the Kenyan women echoed her, clapping, and occasionally letting out shrill, celebratory ululations:  "Ayayayayayayaayayay!"

As they sang, we danced forward, and then back, and then forward again, slowly escorting the bride and groom into the banquet hall.



Once we'd arrived at the dance floor the emcee had everyone else get out of their seats and form a giant conga line that wrapped around the entire room. Seconds later, African and Jamaican dance songs filled the air as we danced and danced and danced around the room.



I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. 

Dancing to wild, foreign music, surrounded by people from different tribes and nations is the pinnacle of partying, in my mind. It's also the very best way to work up an appetite. 

But wait. We couldn't eat when we were done. First, each table had to sing for its meal. 

"No problem!" our table said when we found out. 

"How about we do that round I tried to teach our relay team several years back?" I suggested. "You know, 'Jesus' Love is Bubbling Over.'"

Minutes later my table of good sports was practicing their parts. Half the table would sing the base part, and half would sing the soprano part. I would sing the solo since I was the only one who knew it. We'd earn our dinner, no doubt about it.

It was an airtight plan. Except that I don't sing. And we were surrounded by Africans and Jamaicans who grew up singing and could sing the roof off the place. And I don't sing. And we didn't have a single good vocalist in our group. And I don't sing. And the emcee decided to have the tables sing into a microphone when they performed. And I don't sing.

Eight tables and eight spectacular concerts later, I was handed a microphone while my back up singers took their positions. And I wish I could tell you that I filled the room with sonorous, spine-chilling music, but I can't. Except for the spine-chilling part. Instead it was filled with the audience's laughter, and even their singing along, as we bobbed and babbled about Jesus and bubbles. Minutes later, our plates were filled with steaming salmon and steak — a worthy prize for our singing debut.

Once dinner was devoured, music began to pulse, bodies began to sway, and we were up out of our seats dancing. All 200 of us.

You and Anthony sure know how to throw a party, Lorraine!



Here's to hoping the joy of your wedding celebration is just a taste of the joy that's to come for you and your hubby, Lorraine!


© by scj