Sunday, August 30, 2009

How Much Wood would a Woodstock Stock if a . . .

We offered the best compliment a movie goer can. We stayed in the parking lot for at least 20 minutes after the credits had rolled discussing what we had seen, what we hadn't, and how the film had engaged each of us in a different way.

I hadn't planned on exploring "The Road to Woodstock" but a friend opted for it over finding out more about that Time Traveler's Wife. At one point, I laughed aloud, leaned over and whispered, "If someone asks what kind of movie this is, how will you answer?"

Funny . . . but not a comedy. About music . . . but not a musical. Serious . . . but see previous remark about funny. About history but plays with the truth for dramatic purposes.

All in all, a surprise and a pleasure.

I realized, while watching, how little I knew about this pivotal cultural phenomenon. I did recently learn that one of the volunteers I work with was from Woodstock and had dated the son of the man who provided the farm. I knew Hendrix played (but I didn't know that he was last and only about 45,000 heard the Star Spangled Banner as only he could do it). I knew mud, drugs, and nudity had all played a part. But that was about it.

I mean, really, I was 8 years old and living in Greenfield, TN!

What I didn't know and wanted to find out as soon as the flick concluded and we had dissected it thoroughly in a parking lot review:
- did they make money? (not on the concert but on the movie and everything else)
- did the farm owner suffer from the loss of grass for his cows, etc? (The townspeople sued him, he sued the organizers and finally got money for restoring everything, but he loved the experience. He also sold the farm within two years, moved to Florida and died.)
- did Bob Dylan show up? (no)
- did it really happen the way the movie explains it? (According to who you ask)
- did they clean it up? (yes and no but eventually)
- did the town benefit? (They actually fought the notoriety for decades but have recently embraced it.)

I could find all this info because I now have the Internet at home AND because the History Channel was actually featuring a Woodstock documentary when I arrived back at the house.

The one thing they couldn't tell me . . . did the folks who attended the "three days of peace and love" ever figure out a way to find the harmony without a soundtrack?

Table Talk -- Mmm Good

Four nights in a row I've cooked for/with other people. Each night has included a raid of the fridge to find what's there and get creative with it. All but one night included time around the table and even then we paused and, quite literally, passed the pasta bowl around.

I mention this because I've been focusing lately on the power of the table.

At lunch the other day with three incredible women familiar with various faith traditions -- Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, Pentecostalism (now agnostic) -- I was enjoying our exploration of spirituality and shared the metaphor once given to me by an untraditional Baptist pastor, "I envision a table and around that table are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and more and we share a meal and talk. When we leave the table, each of us has a greater understanding of God than when we first sat down."

I said it was reframing of the blind men each touching a different element of the elephant who have always been said to be in argument over what really defined the creature. In this version of the experience, the debate ceases and me and my take on the leg informs you and your take on the tail.

Perhaps due to the fact that I don't spend that much time in zoos, the table imagery evokes much more in me. I love good table talk . . . so much so that I often wonder why designers seemed bent on creating beautiful yet terribly uncomfortable dining room chairs. I like to push the dishes to the side and linger over a dessert of new thoughts, ideas, stories, and laughter.

I sometimes wondering if stimulating the palate also stimulates the soul. I'm sure there's been many a revelation spilled while downing Happy Meals and sodas, but that's family and our love for our children has us always on the ready to be inspired or challenged. I doubt however that in the speed of downing something from the drive through few people have delved into any great thinking other than bbq or sweet and sour sauce.

Around the table . . . with freshly made raviolis covered in a shrimp and mushroom wine sauce or with a steaming cup of vegetable puree kicked up a notch with a touch of Louisiana or tender chicken breasts sliced and covering feta-infused couscous . . . these are the ingredients that season conversations about hopes, dreams, philosophies. And at my table, your taste is your taste. You can add more salt. You can even ask for catsup. You can say what you think. And you can definitely bring a friend.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One of Her Children

My mother has been watching "All My Children" since I was a child. Today, I think I heard more pride in her voice regarding her youngest daughter (that would be me) than I have heard in a very long time.

She reported, "Erica Kane is in Africa and she had to use a bed net and watch for critters coming into the bed at night and I thought, 'Well, Karen did that with no problem!'"

A Crappy Day . . . But this time not so literally

Yesterday reminded me of a day I spent in Tanzania. On that continent, I walked to work to discover that the technology demons were active and nothing we attempted to do that morning proved successful (at least if it involved working with devices that plugged into the wall). So, somewhat frustrated, I walked back to my abode only to discover that we had no gas with which to cook lunch. Since we also had run out of water that day, I decided eating out was in order and while walking down to the main street, I felt a rock hit the top of my head. Only it wasn't a rock. It was bird crap . . . and a lot of it.

At this point, I declared that day over. I officially restarted at 1 p.m. with clean hair (thanks to the agreement of my roomies that my need for clean hair trumped any thing they needed to do with the gallon of water left to us) and a new attitude.

"I will not continue to rack all that is wrong with this day," I declared. "The cloud will be lifted and I will look for sunrays and not feces to fall from the sky. So saith the Karen."

And it got better.

So yesterday when my plans fell through with one friend, nothing could be worked out with another, my power went off in the middle of getting ready and with wet hair-now-drying-as frizz I traveled to a friend's to use their power and mirror, which meant I was now going to find the two places I needed for errands to be closed, I decided to once again reboot the day.

"I'm starting over," I once again said to no one but my own psyche. "Doom and gloom thinking isn't becoming. So let's start over."

But it didn't get better.

I'll spare you the details but suffice it to say, when your night begins with someone entering your home with the hopes of changing your entire belief system before you get to a preseason game (where the Texans got tragically embarrassed) well . . . that's more than a little positive thinking can handle.

Still, at the end of the evening, lessons were learned. And as I type the above, I relish the fact of how many times I used the word "friend." Frankly, I'm blessed by most and I just need to figure out a way to deal with the rest.

Oh . . . and avoid birds overhead.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

All that and a bowl of ice cream . . .

I usually cringe when I see them coming -- waiters en masse heading toward a table of five or more, usually a family, and usually with balloons tied to a chair or two and gifts tucked somewhere at their feet. I know then that soon there will be a loud announcement and an even louder rendition of some version of Happy Birthday. And I wonder if it's too rude to stick my fingers in my ears or pretend there's a need to find a bathroom.

But on this night . . . surrounded by a family I've embraced because I can . . . I beamed. Our shared love -- a precious two year old who stole my heart the first time she looked into my freckled face, paused and then laughed aloud -- was celebrating the completion of her second year. She watched curiously as the waiters gathered and then squealed with delight when the "music" started.

"Tank you!" she yelled after them as they walked back to their customers and stations.

"Tank you" indeed. To all the powers that be that bring someone close enough to let you see the good, the bad, and the precious, 'tank you."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'd Be Blog-i-licious or Write of Way

98 degrees. 7 o'clock in the p.m. and it's almost 100 degrees. And I'm standing in front of an indoor soccer facility looking into the sun, accessing the line, and realizing that perhaps we should have bought the tickets online.

No, we weren't there to see soccer. We were there for the roller derby.

The line was an indicator on how what, when I was a child, I had considered the female equivalent to pro wrestling was growing in popularity. My sweat was dripping sweat when we finally got in the door. By that time, we'd learned that the reason the man in front of us had a lawn chair was that the place only had bleachers and they were sure to be filled at this hour. They were. In fact, several hundred people were simply sitting on the floor (not in chairs on the floor but really on the floor) four rows deep from the edge of the skating track. And unlike what I remembered from the early 70s, there were no ramps. This was just women in pin up girl uniform/costumes skating around in circles while announcers energized the crowd. Since the match we watched first was a 138 to 12 pouncing, the nailbiting excitement the "color analyst" was trying to ignite just wasn't happening.

Oh yeah . . . and the air conditioning wasn't working.

But we were definitely entertained. One announcer had a mohawk which stood at least 2 ft above his head and was sprayed so stiff that when he walked through the door in front of us and it got aught in the door frame it simply made a scraping sound and rebounded.

The names were fun. We had Baby Face Assassin, Bobituary, Tamityville Horror, Holy Miss Moley, Crash Limb-Brawl, Emma Propriate, Basket Casey, Creeping Beauty, Jekyll and Heidi, Ivana B. Sedated and many, many more.

The crowd surprised me. Not just because of its size but, while I anticipated the bangs, boobs, and tats, I didn't expect to see so many folks in their 40s and 50s looking very maternal/paternal and eagerly supportive. In many ways, they looked as though they could have been there as grandparents at a soccer match and instead got sucked into some parallel universe.

Without the ramps the bout itself was fine but not a thrill a minute. Round . . . and round . . . and then round, and round, and round and then the whistle blew and points were tallied. I quickly caught on to the Jammer, blocker and other roles but when one is preoccupied with stirring up a breeze with the program rather than digging into its explanation of nuances one is stuck with what she can pick up visually. I saw it as up close NASCAR without the motors and with better fashions.

Still, having started the evening with home cooked risotto and salmon and great conversation, this outing proved to be exactly what I wanted -- a chance to do something I hadn't done before. Standing in the chair, fanning, and sweating cut the time we spent there to a minimum and our Blockbuster flick pick was more buster than we had hoped, but at the end of the evening I reveled in the fact that I have friends who can (a) cook, (b) try new things, (c) understand when I'm melting, and (d) make as much fun of a bad Dennis Quaid movie (skip Horsemen) as me.

One More Thing about Omega House

A young man entered the kitchen at the hospice today. He introduced himself . . . unlike the other three who had preceded him and headed to the fridge . . . and then made mention of the array of foodstuffs I had before me.

Knowing he was in an orientation class to become a volunteer, I asked what brought him to us. He said that back in the late 90s he had been working on a Masters in Social Work and had served as an intern there. He said then that when he got his life in gear -- ie out of school, making money, etc -- he planned on coming back as a vol.

He then said that the social work thing hadn't materialized and instead he had gotten a law degree, done some work as a prosecutor in Galveston and was now in private practice. So he was making good on a promise.

I commended him.

How many people do you know who make grandiose statements about what they will do when they get to that next place in life -- wherever that is -- and then conveniently forget they ever made such a commitment?

I'm really glad I went to Omega House today. As usual, being in a place of great loss underscores what all I have and what I gain by simply showing up.

Mas Queso?

Years ago, I realized that one of the cool things about working at Omega House, an AIDS hospice, is that I can cook using all the ingredients I have to leave out when I'm trying to eat healthy. Of course, the not so cool thing ... in fact the tragedy ... is that people are there because they're dying. But in the moment, you don't think about that so I'm not dwelling on it now either.

What I am focused on is that today I made enchiladas for the residents. They weren't my best effort and if the guy who only speaks Spanish had had any family there at the time, I wouldn't have made the attempt because it would have been just too embarrassing. But, the vols and the nurse were limited to pequito amounts of chats with him and I figured that a chile might put a smile on his toothless face.

I was right.

I went to Kroger for some of the ingredients and then scoured the kitchen. Meat, lots of Rotel, a cabinet raid for extra spices, a can of enchilada sauce I found, taking the time to soak the tortillas in sauce before filling them, cheese on top and a side dish of potatoes with Rotel/onion/cheese topping made for a completely non-figure-friendly plate of food.

When I checked in on our Spanish speaker afterwards, I managed an "Esta bien?" and he grinned wickedly as he nodded and declared them "rico" as well. I think that means that I might should have used a little less cheese but he was beaming when I took his plate and he ate it.

The woman who wondered if she'd be able to handle the spice deemed them more than acceptable and for some reason kept saying, "She really put her foot in it." I think she means I jumped in with both feet and succeeded but I try not to dig too deep into comments that make no sense there. Dementia is pretty common.

The guy from Ethiopia couldn't get through them. Even the banana he asked for as a side didn't help. So I cut him a piece of pastry and he was good.

The pianist was not sated on the first helping and so I gave him more. The other vol and the nurse who was going to stick to his brought-from-home sandwich enjoyed them as well.

All in all a good day. And you know why?

Because when I pulled up there were folks sweating in the front lawn making it Garden Club worthy. The front room was packed with supplies going out to pet owners who were part of the system in some way. Two other volunteers were there. A nurse I love was monitoring it all. And more vols were being trained upstairs.

We were all doing what we knew how to do to make a few lives a little better.

Enchiladas aren't going to save the world but they can prompt a smile on a gaunt and toothless face. And today that matters.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I'm Embarrassed

A Facebook friend just posted the Seven Deadly Social Sins by Gandhi -- Politics without Principle; Wealth without Work; Commerce without Morality; Pleasure without Conscience; Education without Character; Science Without Humanity; & Worship without Sacrifice.

I studied extra years in seminary so that I could communicate more effectively as a Christian. And yet, not once in those additional years of schooling or the two decades of my professional life when I was attempting to help other believers communicate about their faith did I encounter this succinct collection of truths.

I may have made As but reading this post today made me feel as though I had failed as a student. So I did what any good knowledge seeker does these days -- I Googled for more.

I was linked to a series of sermons by Dr. Barbara Hulsing, an American Baptist, who I've never met but to whom I owe a thank you. She brought me back to my own roots by graciously quoting a very familiar name from my past:

Phil Strickland, once executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Christian Life Commission died in 2006. Not long before his death, he delivered a speech entitled, “Where Have All the Prophets Gone?”

In this speech, he said, “Prophesy requires the capacity to grieve about injustice, to quit pretending that things are all right, to imagine that things could be different and courageously to say so to the people, risking the consequences. It requires confronting the principalities and the powers. For compassion to move to action requires an alliance of love, power, and justice . . . [T]he prophet must be imaginative. One does not prophesy about what is but what ought to be.”

I know that picking up my blog again wasn't simply a matter of seeking a creative outlet. I had given up my voice in more ways than staying away from a keyboard. I had settled for "whatever" because I had tired of doing whatever it takes.

I'm embarrassed because I stopped seeking new thoughts. I'm embarrassed because I stopped thinking about what ought to be. I'm embarrassed but I'm not dead.

So today I begin. Gandhi is a pretty good guide. Google isn't going anywhere (and if it does Bing tells me it's ready to assist.) I'm not sure where my love, power, and justice will take my compassion just yet. But I, The Fallen, am getting off my ass.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Black and White and Read All Over

Some of my friends see only black and white.
Some see every color of the rainbow.
Tonight, a rainbow friend surprised me.

"I'm a black and white kind of guy," he declared.

"Not you. I know too much about you and there's no way," I countered.

"Really, I think I am."

"Well, if you only think you are, then you're not. You must be charcoal and ecru."

A true decorator at heart, he agreed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

At the tone, please leave your message

For almost two years I have changed the "personal message" on my phone each month to reflect something about either my life or the time of year. For instance, in the two Julys that have passed I've mentioned something along the lines of "Hi, It's July and I'm sending out birthday wishes to my twin, my mom and various friends."

Some times it takes a couple of calls before some my peeps get the implication. "Well, I guess you're having a birthday, too" they will say sheepishly and then wish me well.

When I was traveling I made sure to let folks know where I was at the moment. Unfortunately, a few who chose not to listen to the news and soon discovered the cost of an international call when they woke me up at 2 a.m. to invite me to come "over" (that would be quite the drive) and hang out.

This month I'm featuring interactive voice mail messages. You are invited to not only leave me a message but also to suggest a book title . . . since it's so freaking hot in Houston that no one really wants to go out and play. One poor soul never gets me live and in person so I have an entire library shelf of his tomes to check out.

I'm wondering what I should do for September? October? If you have any suggestions, feel free to send them my way.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Start My Day with the West Wing and Here's One Reason Why

President "Jed" Bartlet of the West Wing speaking to Charlie regarding his desire to go home and watch a 007 flick . . . he dissects "shaken not stirred" with mock disdain and concludes:

"[James Bond] is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Say It with Meaning

Method actors, said the CBS film critic, pull from the inside and bring it out for all the world to see, possibly reliving the pain they are trying to depict. Meryl Streep on the other hand is all about the externals -- the walk, the gestures and the voice.

A woman of a 1,000 voices she has convinced us she had ties to Russia, Denmark, Australia and Yonkers. Now she is doing a better Julia Child than Julia Child. Not an easy task given that caricature is the next door neighbor to character and she could have easily fallen into an impersonation of Dan Akroyd doing Julia Child. But Julia doesn't just have the laugh, the trilling "r" and the high pitched little-old-lady thing happening. No she pulls herself up to her full 5 feet and probably 8 inches and within moments you know she's 6 ft. 2. It's an amazing transformation.

At the moment, I'm watching a not so amazing feat however. The Closer, while fun and sometimes funny and filled with some great character actors has Kyra Sedgewick doing Southern. That's not unlike putting onions, lox and capers on a biscuit. There's nothing really wrong with it but ... it just ain't right.

I'm sure Kyra is an incredible woman and I know she's a great actress and frankly that orange juice commercial that's playing these days with her dancing around the kitchen with a wooden spoon has me in awe of her yoga abilities. The woman has no bones beneath her waist . . . at least not in this commercial.

But Southern isn't just "thaaaaank you" uttered with some store bought drawl. Southern is a few more externals (if we follow the Streep method of acting). We touch each other when we want to make a point or put the conversation on pause. We fidgit and hide our inadequacies (even if they are only figments of our imagination). We are the bees in the honeysuckle moving in and out and enjoying our work with abandon. Yes, we have guilt and fret and are anxious but we ae all that with a smile that looks way more genuine than what this "Chief Brenda" is doling out.

Still I'm thrilled she's on and I'll keep watching. And I'll keep hoping that Holly Hunter will be more than just on the same network and might drop in one night and give Kyra some lessons in y'all. But, all in all, I'm thrilled. We have women -- beautiful, strong women holding their own in relationships, screwing up, and amazing us with grace the closer we get.

Meryl is in the kitchen. Kyra and Holly are on TNT and women over 40 have sounded the alarm. Woohoo!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Day with J and J

"What do you enjoy doing?"


"And you're so good at it!"

Laughter follows. That would be Julia Child, her husband Paul and me as I watched Meryl Streep capture a moment in time with perfect joy.

I love a good guffaw and I had several watching the new flick that features one of my all-time favorite subjects -- food. The pursuit of passion warms my heart and I was aflame tracking the ups and downs of two cook/authors rise to public attention.

I walked away most inspired by the fact that (a) Julia didn't find success in the field in which we know her best until she was well into her 40s if not 50s. And (b) Julie started her first steps toward fame with a lowly blog.

While I believe the time of the obscure writer being plucked for book deals straight off the Internet are waning if not already passed, I do hold onto the hope that I have a decade to realize my potential and could still enjoy several other decades of professional fulfillment.

I just need to figure out what I enjoy doing ... other than eating, because I think Julia mastered the art of that one!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Watch Me

Of late, I’ve done a lot of watching. Tonight, I observed the need to take action.

Robert Redford directed, produced and starred in Lions to Lambs. Definitely a talkie, still we were metaphorically taken to the dance floor with a choreographed interplay of politics, journalism, education, and patriotism. Weaving between the orchestrated themes we were enticed from the safe stance of a wallflower and encouraged to move. The only heroes wore uniforms and died defiantly facing the enemy. Everyone else talked a less than adequate game.

I wanted to catch the next flight to Afghanistan. Not because I believed that there was such a thing as a winner in the war on terror but because I wanted every soldier to know that while I did not believe in war, I did believe in them.

Oddly enough, I then turned to Anthony Bourdain. He made a simple “bowl of something good” seem like the answer to warring factions worldwide. Forget the ideas behind cinematic versions of a peace march, one only needs some broth, noodles, a protein and spices to transform enemies into lovers . . . at least of good food.

I want to go. I want to board the train and ignore the drag queens selling some kind of ware and taste the newspaper wrapped thing my mother would tell me to avoid and tell the child selling dust covered plastic something or others at least three times that no, I don’t want it and smile when my companion buys three.

I’m jonesing for a journey.

Been a While . . .

I've missed this.

My fingertips on the keys. The blue header of the page on which I type. The idea forming and then becoming keystrokes and finally materializing as a story, observation, or just the beginning of a thought but still very real because it was now on a page.

I've written any number of pieces since giving up the blog almost a year ago. But few have been captured. The stark nakedness of a computer screen locked in New File mode is intimidating. I need the sense that what I write could be read and shared with friends. Then and only then is it real.

But I can't blog about work. I didn't have access to the Internet at home. And the fact that I wasn't convinced I had anything left to say meant I've put something I enjoy to the side.

Well, I'm giving it another go. I'll skip the work stuff. I just got off the phone with Comcast (Argh!) and now I'm saying little more than I'm going to give it another try. Still that's a start.

So hello again. I"m back.