insecurity and prayer

August 18, 2010

Lately I have had a hard time praying. It’s weird, because I have always been comfortable talking to God. Maybe because I have always had a good relationship with my parents, and that comfort is easily transferred to the Father.

But lately…lately, no. I still feel great with my parents, but now I feel inferior when it comes to God. Like I don’t think I’m doing a good job, so it’s hard to face the boss. Or like it’s been too long since I’ve called an old friend, and now talking to him is all weird.

Whenever I start to pray, I think, “Is this something I should be praying about? Is it too shallow? Am I offending God with my stupid little request?” Even when I know it isn’t shallow, I think, “What if this is God’s will? What if I’m asking God to do something completely at odds with his greater plan?”

Thus my prayers have been unsatisfactory, awkward and far between.

Am I the only one who struggles with this?

Recently my mom called to tell me that my uncle has cancer and would be in the hospital for surgery. She asked me to pray, and I said I would, even though I was already uncomfortable.

(In my mind, praying is one of those things, like attending weddings and baptisms, that you just DO if someone asks you to. I think Jews call these things mitzvahs, or something along those lines.)

Anyway, I wanted to pray for my uncle. But I couldn’t find the words. I didn’t know what to say, what to ask for. Healing? Comfort? Ease of pain? The cancer to totally and miraculously disappear?

I finally prayed and asked God to be present with my uncle and his family, but I didn’t feel happy about what I had said. Fortunately, at the time, my recently-baptized daughter was riding in the car with me. I glimpsed her in the rearview mirror and thought, “Faith like a child.”

I asked the Bean to pray for her uncle, and I explained why. She said okay, then closed her eyes, folded her hands, and prayed. Simple as that. The prayer was finished in less than a minute. I didn’t hear what she said, but she had talked to God, and she was obviously at peace with the conversation.

That started me thinking. Why is talking to God so hard for me, when talking to other people I love isn’t? So I looked at my attitude toward prayer and compared it with my attitude toward talking to everyone else.

  1. Do I worry about saying the right thing with everyone? Well, yes, to some extent. I more or less speak my mind, but I tend to sprinkle my comments with disclaimers like: “I could be wrong.”
  2. Do I have to be in perfect agreement with everyone I talk to? No. I argue politics with my family all the time. I don’t like disagreements, but they happen. I can accept that.
  3. Does everything I say have to be profound? No. I would hardly talk at all if that were the case. (Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.)

So maybe, maybe I just need to loosen up a little. Stop condemning myself for being imperfect. God is my Father, after all, and he loves me. Maybe prayer needs to be less about saying the right thing and more about just spending time with Dad.

Just a thought.

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It’s not homemade…it’s fauxmade!

August 16, 2010

Last week, my daughter and I made brownies. We went to a kids’ cooking class on using lemons. Saturday-into-Sunday, I made her a three-layer Fancy Nancy birthday cake.

We are a family obsessed with food. And not just any food, but the do-it-yourself kind of food. Fantastic, homemade food with less preservatives and additives and chemicals. Locally produced when possible. Organic when practical.

Thinking about food and eating this way is trendy right now, but I don’t think we cook and eat the way we do just because it’s popular (although popularity does help make this food widely available). Cool or not, I would still want to grow and eat from a garden. But we do fit into a certain food-related demographic, one that seems to be growing ever larger under the influence of the Food Network, Barbara Kingsolver, Emeril Lagasse…and so on.

However, it is not the only trendy food demographic these days. There is also the fauxmade crowd (I totally just made up that term). To illustrate this attitude toward food, I offer the following recipe, found on a package of C & H granulated sugar (courtesy of Semi-Homemade maven Sandra Lee).

Snickerdoodles

* 1 package (18-ounce) refrigerated sugar cookie dough, room temperature
* 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
* 1/2 cup powdered sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or other flavoring
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

I’m just going to stop right here.  This is a RECIPE printed on a four-pound bag of SUGAR, for heaven’s sake. And the first ingredient is pre-packaged cookie dough! What the heck?! Why on earth would you buy a four-pound bag of sugar if you weren’t going to bake something with it? And by “bake” I mean mix up from real ingredients, not assemble from prepared items.

Okay, maybe I’m a snob. And I’m probably spoiled–I don’t work 40 hours per week these days, so I have more time to bake the old-fashioned way. I just can’t get behind this trend of semi-homemade food.

Did you know that Sandra Lee has trademarked the phrase “Semi-Homemade”? She also has a show on the Food Network, and she probably has a dozen cookbooks, if you care to call them that.

Crazy.

My feeling is, if you’re going to cook, cook. Don’t futz around making store-bought stuff LOOK homemade; it’s just a waste of time. You may create a warm and fuzzy illusion, but it’s just an that. As soon as anyone tastes your fauxmade food, the game is up. Because it doesn’t taste homemade. It tastes like the preservatives and stabilizers you’re trying to mask.

Mm…

Weekend O’ Food

August 9, 2010

Friday my mum and I made four pints of plum butter, using sand plums that she and my dad picked from my uncle’s farmland in Oklahoma.

Saturday I spent $40 at the farmer’s market. I bought peaches, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, corn on the cob, eggplants, garlic bratwurst, smoked pork loin and four types of lettuce. When I came home, I made lemonade, fried green tomatoes, corn on the cob and garlic brats for lunch. My husband made the base for a vanilla ice cream.

Yesterday we froze the vanilla ice cream. I made plum syrup with liquid leftover from cooking Friday’s sand plums, then made ice cream using the syrup. I blanched the remaining dozen ears of corn, cut the kernels from the cobs and froze it. (I ended up with roughly four pints.) I made two pints of peach conserve by adapting the apricot conserve recipe from Jeffery Steingarten’s It Must Have Been Something I Ate. For supper, I made soy-glazed eggplant (using homegrown garlic) and a stirfry of snowpeas and carrots.

Yesterday I also bought eight more cartons of mushrooms for pickling, port wine for poaching the underripe pears picked from my grandparents’ tree, ginger for stewing some of the same pears…

I did not buy juice, because we have homemade frozen grape juice concentrate that we need to mix up.

I did not buy Coke, because it was almost $5 for a twelve-pack. I did, however, buy two types of fancy cheese, wine and $8 of chocolates.

Writing again

August 5, 2010

I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted anything, but that title really has nothing to do with the blog. It has to do with me, or rather, the rest of my writing.

I don’t know exactly why, but my confidence in my own abilities has been pretty low for awhile. I think it probably has a lot to do with being laid off, then being un- or under-employed ever since. Maybe also the fact that my current “job” is something I’m not terribly good at, so I feel incredibly inept whenever I am working.

This feeling was highlighted by a conversation I overheard earlier this summer. Two under-employed women I know were discussing their job searches and interviews. They were also complaining that their current employers seemed oblivious to the range and extent of their talents. While it is a shame that both extraordinary women are being underused, the main thought I came away with was: how can they both still feel so sure of themselves?

I mean, I’m an extraordinary person, too. I have a lot of talent that has been sitting completely idle. And yet every help-wanted ad that sounds intriguing also feels unattainable. Why bother applying when I know I won’t get it?

Anyway. For no apparent reason, this low-self-esteem season seems to be waning. Suddenly, I am feeling creative again. I’m cooking a lot, experimenting in the kitchen, even if it’s not as much as I’d like to be doing. Several of my stagnating stories have new life. Ideas keep popping into my head. And, quite inexplicably, I’m writing poetry.

Okay, so I still haven’t applied for a new job. But the job I’ve always wanted–writer–has never felt so within reach.

Kids and race

May 19, 2010

So I just read this:

Kids’ test answers on race brings mother to tears

Here’s what I think:

My extended family is multiracial, and I didn’t have a clear conception of “race” until I was at least nine or ten. We didn’t really talk about race, so I thought that those relatives who are not white were just…like that. Their skin color was a part of them, and I didn’t associate it with another, larger group of people. I only associated it with them.

I think the main reason that kids have responses like those in the study is because most people associate with people who look like them. Most white people hang out with white people. Black people gravitate toward black people. (Yes, these are generalizations. Bear with me.) So kids don’t usually KNOW people with skin color different from their own, and people naturally fear that which is unknown and different. It isn’t that kids are necessarily racist (although some do inherit biases), but that they differentiate between what is familiar and unfamiliar.

That being said, there is the contingent of black kids who associated positive values with white people. I think this, too, relates to what they know. Barack Obama notwithstanding, there are not a lot of positive black role models. At two different schools I know, minority kids make up most of the student body, but most of the staff is white. And black people as a group are still dealing with a racial self-esteem issue that goes back to slavery.

What I’m getting at is this: if you’re worried that your five-year-old has a racial bias, don’t try to talk to them about race relations. They won’t understand a word of it. Instead, broaden your circle. Get to know people who are different from you, and let your child do the same. SHOW your child that each person is himself or herself, and differences in hue don’t mean a thing.

Actions speak louder than words, right?

Apathy permission and self-absorption

March 7, 2010

Four and a half years ago, my first daughter was born. Sophia had some complications at birth that resulted in an ~18-day stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. I spent roughly eight hours a day at her side, even when she was in a drug-induced coma and completely unaware of my presence.

For the first week or so, I wasn’t supposed to even stroke her hand, because she was in such constant pain that even that small touch would make things worse. So I sat beside her and talked to her, sang to her, told her stories about me and her family. And I lived for the few minutes a day that she would stir, when her eyes would open and look around before the nurses gave her another dose of whatever kept her unconscious.

As hard as it was to see my baby lying there attached to so many tubes and wires, being away was even worse. The first night after I was released from the hospital, my in-laws took us out to dinner. I could hardly think straight. After nine and a half months of constant contact, my infant was not just out of my womb, but completely out of sight. Out of my control. Apart.

When I wasn’t sitting with Sophia, I was pumping breast milk…every three hours. Or trying to unpack boxes in our new home, 45 minutes out of town. Meals were unsettled affairs, usually in restaurants after Michael had spent some time with the baby. Life was chaotic and exhausting.

In the midst of all this, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

I suppose it can be forgiven that the hurricane barely registered on my radar. I was extremely busy with the unexpected events in my own life. Watching the news was not happening. Plus, I don’t know anyone in New Orleans; I’ve never even been there. And I was extraordinarily preoccupied.

But time passed. My daughter healed, awoke and was discharged to life outside of the NICU. Eventually I became aware of the events transpiring in New Orleans and the surrounding area. I felt I should do something, but I didn’t know what to do.

When I confided this to a friend, he pointed out that we humans can act in two ways: in quantity or in quality. You could go down to New Orleans and help, he said, but that would mostly be an act of quantity. You have no particular expertise; you would be just another pair of hands looking for a job to do. Here with Sophia your actions are full of quality. No one else can be her mom.

Afterward, I felt much better. I felt vindicated in choosing to stay with my baby instead of going to New Orleans.

Today I still think that was the right choice. All babies need their moms, and Sophia needed me more than most. The problem is that, having been given permission NOT to act, I have continued not acting. I have wrapped myself up in my comfortable life, with my husband and kids and stuff, and I have ignored those who truly need my help. And I don’t have an excuse anymore.

My presence and love are still important to Sophia. They always will be. But what kind of example am I, if all I show her is a life of apathy and self-absorption?

In honor of President’s Day

February 16, 2010

I bring you an image from The Scariest Coloring Book In The World:

Monster Presidents

In case you can’t see it, the caption reads: “Spirit of 1776. Unscramble the letters to find out where George Washington’s ghost goes for a Halloween party!” Answer: Grant’s Tomb.

Ha, ha.

BTW, those scary fellows are supposed to be Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and (I think) Ulysses S. Grant. Yikes.

Is this a good time to joke about political demons?

Good news?

January 20, 2010

Have you ever received good news after a period of stressful waiting and then…not…felt…better?

That was my day.

Hope had her bone conduction hearing test today. We didn’t have to endure the worrisome fasting, the ultra-early morning drive across town, the scary general anesthetic or the endless hours of waiting, all of which colored our previous ABR attempt (thank God).

Instead we drove five minutes to the Research Hospital on our side of town. Hope nursed until an hour before her appointment. Granted, she did have to choke down some vile-tasting chloral hydrate (screaming her head off the whole time), but that was the worst of it. We were in the room with her while she had the ABR, and once it was done, we were pretty much okay to leave. Just had to hang around for a half-hour after she woke up for a little safety monitoring.

(BTW, babies waking up from sedation are hilarious. Hope was full of grins, but totally loopy. Like an incredibly cheerful drunk.)

Anyway. The results were good. Her right ear is functional, pretty much at the exact same level as her left. So, good. Yay.

But the test couldn’t answer my next question: does she hear with that ear? The inner ear can hear (is capable of hearing), but do the sound waves reach her inner ear?

We don’t know. I thought we would. And we don’t.

Baby got back

January 14, 2010

Yesterday I baked a loaf of bread. My mom gave me a copy of The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, which is primarily about baking bread using whole-grain flour. The food coop recently began carrying whole-grain flour, so of course, I have some. And of course, I decided to bake a loaf of bread.

Let me back up a second. Michael and I almost never buy bread. We have a loverly chrome bread machine that he feeds weekly, and that is our normal source of bread. Cheaper than store-bought bread, plus we can control the ingredients. Perfect, right?

Not so much, unfortunately. I don’t know if it is because we usually set the bread to bake overnight, or if our kitchen is too cold for decent bread rising, or what…but lately the bread has been less than satisfactory. In fact, I would categorize it as Unmixed Floury Goop. Not economical or tasty.

And even when it does turn out looking good, the crust is HARD. I hate that.

Enter The Bread Book. The first dozen or so pages are one recipe: A Loaf for Learning. It gives a great explanation about how baking with whole-grain flour is different, very detailed instructions on how to tackle each step (no matter how tiny), and excellent descriptions of what to look for at each stage of the process. I read it and thought, I could do that.

Later I read the explanation of why breads get a hard outer crust (low temperature during the final rise). And I saw that the Loaf for Learning is marked by a very thin, crispy crust. I knew I had to try it.

So yesterday, I did. It took me about five hours from start to finish, with my two girls underfoot and a business phone to answer and a Nebraskans for Peace meeting at the very end.

By and large, the whole experience turned out great. The loaf is golden brown and delicious. No tooth-cracking crust. Nice light texture.

We ate most of it for supper last night. In fact, it was only when we were almost finished eating that I noticed the bread’s one and only flaw.

It has a butt.

Too much

January 8, 2010

Because the baby is asleep and I already ate lunch and I am bored and I have not left the house in almost three days and if I do any more laundry I will contemplate suicide…I’m going to write about food now.

I made the best turkey noodle soup last night, and all I put in it was too much.

  • Too much celery (a whole celery heart),
  • too much garlic (two small heads, plus the four cloves I threw in with the chicken spine for stock),
  • too much zucchini (all of the last enormous hunk that had frozen in the back of the refrigerator),
  • too many carrots (four),
  • too many leeks (four),
  • too much turkey (all that was left from Christmas dinner),
  • too  much stock (a gallon, maybe),
  • too much Schimmel seasoning (a couple tablespoons),
  • too much salt (I have no idea),
  • too many noodles (half an enormous bag),
  • and too much coriander (a tablespoon or two).

Altogether, we had roughly a gallon and a half of soup. Too much for two adults and a preschooler to eat, of course. So why is there only one bowl remaining in the fridge?