Sunday, December 30, 2012

Resolutions and Fritters

At what point does an apple turn dangerous? We all know an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what about an apple fritter? The cinnamon is fine, even a little flour is okay, but how much oil and sugar does it take to turn the nutritious into a dieter’s nightmare? 

I’m thinking about fritters, because I’m thinking of how easily something that seems like a productive use of my time can turn into frittering. One of my New Year’s resolutions is different from years past. I want to work the same hours as my husband, not because he is such a paragon of virtue, mind you, but because we’re yoked together and quite honestly, often I feel I’m not pulling my weight. I know that in our long marriage there have been  years of diaper changing, vomit cleaning, and peanut butter sandwiches that beat out his power lunches, golf boondoggles, and hotel stays, but now that my children are mostly grown I’m faced with the question—what do I do all day?

I have been given this one life and I want it to be meaningfully spent. My husband often spends twelve (or more) hours a day working—but I can’t spend 12 hours a day writing. It’s physically exhausting (although that should be mitigated by my brand new chair—thank you, Santa) and way too much in my head. I’m excited to start this year with my writer’s widget (see an earlier post) where I track my tries and hours spent with my stories. But my work is more than story telling…

Laundry definitely counts as work, but what about looking on Pinterest for ways to organize my laundry room? How about ironing while watching the news? And reading—is that research? Is Facebook marketing? How about the kindleboards? And what about church service? When does visiting teaching turn into lunch with friends? If I laugh too much at my writers’ group have I tipped the scale from writing to wastefulness?

In our ancestors days if you didn’t work you didn’t eat, if you didn’t scrounge for fuel and strike a spark you might freeze, and if you didn’t build a roof you would get wet. Those days are gone. If I don’t work, no one really cares. In fact, if I don’t eat I’m confident that a large group of angry, noisy people would yell at me and hook me up to tubes to keep me alive--not that I'm willing to try it--remember the people who surround me can be angry and loud. I am loved and incredibly spoiled.

Meaning that if I want be the apple and not the apple fritter, it’s up to me—and no one else—to cut out the fat and sugar…making this year’s resolution not so different, after all.

Apple Fritters
1 quart vegetable oil for deep-frying
 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
 1 tablespoon white sugar
 2 teaspoons baking powder
 1/2 teaspoon salt
 2/3 cup milk
 2 eggs, beaten
 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
 3 cups apples - peeled, cored and chopped
 1 cup cinnamon sugar
Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or electric skillet to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour in the milk, eggs and oil and stir until well blended. Mix in apples until they are evenly distributed.
Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil and fry until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes depending on the size. Fry in smaller batches so they are not crowded. Remove from the hot oil using a slotted spoon and drain briefly on paper towels. Toss with cinnamon sugar while still warm.

The Law of the Harvest: As a Man Sows, So Shall He Reap

…Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty…
Every act rewards itself, or in other words inte­grates itself, in a twofold manner, first in the thing, or in real nature; and secondly in the circumstance, or in apparent nature. Man calls the circumstance, the retribution. The casual retribution is in the thing and is seen by the soul. The retribution in the circumstance is seen by the understanding; it is inseparable from the thing, but is often spread over a long time and so does not become distinct until after many years. The specific stripes may follow late after the offence, but they follow because they accompany it….
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Songs

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

Still, Still, Still

 I was inspired by my friend, Brittany, and her post at My Life Herding Cats. But since I have presents to wrap, goodies to bake, and don’t want to take the time to list my favorites (or not so favorites) I’m posting a few. (You can click on the links)

 Merry Christmas—two of my very favorite words.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Writer's Widget

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it.”  Lloyd Alexander



In an effort to understand why some days I sell books and some days I don’t, I’ve created a widget. I know it can’t answer all of my questions, but my goal is track my tries… so I don’t feel like I’m wasting time. I know I can’t control the who, whys and wheres of my book sales, but I can account for my time, money, and words. Hence the widget. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Following Good--A Christmas Story

I will be reading this tonight at my writer's group holiday party. It's loosely based on a true experience I had with a trio of deer in California, not Argentina.

I found my camera in the bag beneath Hermana Leon’s bed. I thought about shaking her awake…shaking her until her head eyes rolled back in her head and her teeth rattled out of her mouth, but instead I chose a lesser sin. I stripped off my missionary plain skirt and white blouse. I left my garments and bra on the floor and put on my running clothes.

My conscience and my belly rolled as I ran down the near empty street. Over the past six months I had grown used to my empty belly. I knew Hermana Hernandez, the elderly momacita from our ward we hired to prepare our meals used only a fraction of the money we gave her to feed us and kept the rest for her own family. The mission president had warned me of this. He had also warned me of staying with my companion twenty four hours a day; leaving my companion was a clear and flagrant disregard of the mission rules. And stupid.

But I ignored my aching conscience and the niggling warning in my head, tucked my blonde hair under my hat, and headed for the canyon. Christmas morning and the town slept. A dog the color of mud loped beside me for half a block, but abandoned me at the butcher shop. The bright paper and tin holiday decorations flew in the hot Argentine sky.

Briefly, I thought of home and the shining lights reflecting off the snow. I thought of caroling with my family in the neighborhood where I had always lived…until now. Looking at Trujillo’s worn and dusty buildings and cracked sidewalks I compared the school where Hermana Leon and I taught to Lincoln Elementary, where I had gone to school. Lincoln had murals of nursery rhymes painted on the walls and always smelled of ammonia mixed with whatever the cafeteria happened to be serving that day—pizza, spaghetti, or a concoction of corn chips and cheese the staff called strawhats. The Trujillo school where I taught with Sister Leon smelled of urine, hundreds of unwashed bodies and shit.

Church bells tolled over the town square and my pricking conscience led me inside the churchl. I sat on the back row, my long lanky body, pale skin and fair hair as out of place as my sneakers, shorts and tank top. I took off my hat and let the choir’s music carry me away. Closing my eyes I imagined myself at home. I saw my brothers and sisters opening presents. Cameras, iPods, the latest video games. I tried to focus on past holidays because I knew that just as this Christmas was for me unlike any other every, the holidays going forward would also be different.

My sister Ashley had married last May, splintering our family and adding a brother-in-law. I had attended her wedding weeks before entering the Missionary training center. “It’s so exciting that we’re both starting a new adventure,” she had said. I didn’t say it, but I knew that her mission would last for eternity, while mine was only 18 months. Last week Ashley had sent me the pictures of her new home. Five thousand square feet. An English tudor standing in the hot California desert, rafter to rafter with a Taj Mahal fright on one side and a brick colonial on the other.

A young man carrying a backpack slipped onto the pew across the aisle as the choir settled into their seats and the priest took the podium.

 “Let us consider the Lord’s parable of the rich fool taken from Saint Luke 12:16-21,” the priest said.

No. We should be reading the account of the Savior’s birth found in Luke. Why consider the rich fool?

But the priest continued, “‘The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

 Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’

                “A reoccurring theme of our Lord and Savior is not only the admonition against greed and covetousness. His warning is sound, ‘Take heed and beware, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.’  To covet is to desire what belongs to another.”

Covet, the sin immediately following lying. I shifted on the pew.

                “In this parable, the rich fool takes pleasure and pride in hoarding his own property,” the priest explained. “He expands and multiplies, these are his solutions, the answers to his excess.”

I thought of our bishop at home. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to all world’s problems, he had said. And I had believed him. As complex as the nightmares of the world’s ills, the answer is simple as the golden rule. If every single person treated others as they would wish to be treated, the world would live in peace. No wars. No hunger.

 My belly rolled.

 “Who is to say what is enough?” the priest asked. “When are our needs met? Surely each of us struggle with our own expectations and temptations. God will not condemn us for our industry, for improving upon our talents, magnifying our gifts. Although, he will hold us accountable for our generosity, or lack thereof.”

His message seemed incongruent to the holiday. Disappointed, I thought of leaving. Not just the chapel, but Argentina. I wouldn’t be missed. Another sister could take my place at the school. The work would continue. I wasn’t needed. My camera and most of my money had already been taken.

A stained glass window depicted the Lord and a following of His sheep. Beyond the glass I saw the filthy streets. I knew the gangs of unemployed and bored youth that wandered these streets, looking for a fight and something to steal. Before I started wearing hats, they would call, “Rubia! Rubia!” whenever I passed too close. I feared them, but I didn’t blame them for their anger. For an Argentine youth a bright future was as promising as the Santa piƱatas hanging by threads from the electrical poles.

 “The Lord tells us our days are numbered,” the priest droned.  “If we pass through this life in merriment there will surely come a time when sacred matters, once ignored and procrastinated will confront us. The questions how have I spent my life, how have I used my gifts, and is the world a kinder place because of my service will be asked. Our Savior has gone to prepare your mansion, are you deserving of the mansion waiting for you?” 

My sister and her new husband had bought what anyone would call a mansion. Were they more deserving than Argentinians in this chapel? I glanced at the young man across the aisle. Tears streamed down his face. Why? Was he finding this sermon spiritually uplifting, because I wasn’t. Why wasn’t the priest talking about the holy family? What about the shepherds? What about the guiding heavenly star?

I stood and slipped out the wide doors. After shoving my hair back under my hat, I started running. I missed my iPod. I missed my dog. I wanted my mom.

Soon, I was at the edge of town where the roads turned to dirt and streams filled with sewage and litter cut through the field. Houses built of lumber scraps and twisted wire baked in the early sun. The light glinted off the tin roofs. I knew families of five, seven and even ten lived in the hovels smaller than my sister’s new master bedroom.

I ran harder, imagining myself running all the way to Washington. The grass slapped at my legs as I pushed myself. In the distance I saw three deer. They wandered directly parallel to my path. I ran further and they matched my pace, keeping beside me, like guardians.

I’m going home now, I told the deer, not sure of what home meant. My parent’s house? My school dorm? The room I shared with Sister Leon? The deer didn’t look my way, they seemed to take no notice of me at all, but when I turned back to town, they followed. They kept me company for some time before turning and running directly across my path so closely if I had reached out my hand I would have touched them. If I hadn’t stopped, they would have trampled me. I watched them leave, their white tails disappearing into the distant woods.

A scripture came to mind. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

When I got home, l glanced at Sister Leon still sleeping on her bed. Her long dark hair fell over her acne pocked face. I wondered where her life would take her and what lessons she would learn.

I wondered what lesson I had learned. I felt as if the deer had something more to say to me, so I sat down on my bed, picked up my bible and looked for scripture and found it in Psalms 23:6 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Slowly I stripped off my running clothes, picked up my discarded missionary clothes and put them back on, knowing that as long as I walked close to God, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy would follow me where ever I happened to be. Where ever I happened to live. Whatever I chose to do.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Left Behind

I decided I was an adult the day I put my hand down a garbage disposal and rooted through rotting food to find the gunk that was clogging the disposal. This was long before changing poopy diapers was common place. This was before I had a dog, or a lawn with visiting rodents, or dying pets, or tomato plants with visiting tomato worms. Being a grown up, I decided on that long ago day, was doing what needed to be done regardless of the smell or ick-factor.

Many years later I learned that being a grown up is also learning when things need to be left undone. Sometimes some things need to be left on the side of the road and abandoned. Sometimes this is harder than putting your hand down a clogged garbage disposal.

There’s a line in a song by the Barenaked Ladies that goes like this,
“If there's someone you can live
Then do so.
And if there's someone you can
Just shove out,
Then do so.”

And maybe the person you need to leave behind isn’t bad, or evil in anyway, maybe the problem is you (or me.) Maybe when you’re with this person you end up saying or doing things that you later regret. Maybe they make you think thoughts that are “too expensive to ever keep.”  (That’s a U2 line, because I seem to be thinking in lyrics today.)

And maybe you really love and admire this person, because this is a good person, it’s just that when you are with them…you’re not so good. So you set up boundaries. You plan escape clauses. Until you just have to say, something about this relationship isn’t working. Can I fix it? Can I change the something about me? Because heaven knows you can’t change anyone other than yourself. Will changing the venue, the circumstances, or the time of day make a difference? Until finally, you walk away.

Because you just don’t want to be the person you become when you walk into that person’s company.

When you look at the world
What is it that you see
People find all kinds of things
That bring them to their knees

I see an expression
So clear and so true
That it changes the atmosphere
When you walk (in)to the room

So I try to be like you
Try to feel it like you do
But without you it's no use
I can't see what you see
When I look at the world

When the night is someone else's
And you're trying to get some sleep
When your thoughts are too expensive
To ever want to keep

When there's all kinds of chaos
And everyone is walking lame
You don't even blink now do you
Or even look away

So I try to be like you
Try to feel it like you do
But without you it's no use
I can't see what you see
When I look at the world

I can't wait any longer
I can't wait 'til I'm stronger
Can't wait any longer
To see what you see
When I look at the world

I'm in the waiting room
I can't see for the smoke
I think of you and your holy book
When the rest of us choke

Tell me, tell me
What do you see
Tell me, tell me
What's wrong with me

U2--When I Look at the World