Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Creative Manifesto

Having just finished Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (thanks to my fellow artist sister in law Danielle for giving it to me), I feel newly motivated to continue the work of making art my work. Why am I sharing it? Well, beside "showing my work" (including thought processes), I find that ordering my thoughts is the first step to making a plan. And a plan is the first step to achieving a goal. As I read Show Your Work, I had the urge to scribble some things that I've been learning about the way I make creative work and why I care about it. Here they are.

(artwork by Alma Haser)

1. My work is worth money. I like to share things and give them away, but that's something that I get to decide. If you ask for my work, I will ask you to pay for it. Creative work is hard work. My work contains part of me, and that's not free.

2. I make new work in response to stimulus. I often feel like I should wait for epiphanies or come up with completely original ideas from thin air in order to make things of interest, but what really inspires me to play with ideas is having a prompt. Prompts can come from anywhere, but mainly involve putting myself in a situation where I'm going to find information that doesn't originate from something I already know. Read, look, engage, study, argue, travel, listen.

3. I'm motivated by economics. I see a lot of things that I like and plenty of stuff I want, but I usually can't or won't buy it. Many projects I undertake begin with how to solve the problem of getting something I can't afford to buy. Learning how to make it, and make it my own. On the flip side, I've learned to pay for some things that I'll never care to do well on my own (like making or altering clothing).

4. I am my own category. I worry that I need to focus my work more in able to market it. I have seemingly endless and diverse interests. But I also realized that that nebulous, sometimes unwieldy approach is something I value in myself and my work. I like it. I find it very interesting in others as well, so I am trusting that the fact that my work is not easily categorized is of intrinsic worth.

5. I am a quitter. I need momentum to create, and some ideas will die because I couldn't execute them before my interest faded. It is okay to stop working on one thing because something else is now more deserving of that time. I do not want to finish projects I do not care about.

6. I am afraid to fail because... money. A broken heart.
To expound, I am currently afraid to give my biggest ambitions all of my energy because I can not afford not to be hustling for a stable paycheck right now. I hope that that changes in time. I am also afraid to put my whole heart out there because if my project(s) get a poor response, I will feel crushed that others did not see, love, or even care to check out something I put my whole self into. I also think it's important to periodically answer the question, "what am I afraid of" because that helps me tackle how to overcome or push through those fears.

7. What I make is not made for everyone. You can not please everyone. People have different tastes. It's not a failure if not everyone likes or gets my work. (I apply this heavily, at least in theory, to people who have negative things to say about my work. If you didn't like it, it wasn't for you.)

8. I am an artist. My current main job is a restaurant cook. But I'm not a cook that makes art, I'm an artist that cooks. This mindset helps me see my creative endeavors worthy of serious pursuit.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wild, Wild West

I live in the west
Continent and state
I live in the wild, wild west.

The cows still run
The dust still flies
The natives are still fighting to survive. 

The waves still beat
The trees still burn
The sky is still blue as turquoise.

But most of all
In the wild, wild west
The white man still

Scuffs his boots
Paws the dust
Climbs the fence
Swims the creek
Slings his gun

And tries to tame the wild, wild west. 

Written 7/31/19 after the Gilroy, CA shootings. 
Image from National Geographic.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Letter to Catch Up

How long is a season? Traditionally, in terms of weather, perhaps three months. Winter feels longer, like it might never end, but if you've been around the sun a few times, you recognize that feeling and know that it is but a season. The good parts of summer always seem to fade too soon for my taste. We also talk about seasons of life, and it seems to me that "a season" usually refers to a less than pleasant circumstance. It also occurs to me that we don't really know when these seasons will end, or how long they will be, no matter how many sun revolutions we've weathered.

Since I last wrote to you, a small lifetime has elapsed. My grandma passed away after a short illness, I got two new jobs, our nephew died horrifically and we may not recover, we visited New York and I decided I want to be a career artist after all, we're moving within our city and moving into official ministry with that physical move, one of our children is in a particularly difficult phase, several of my soul sisters have been bobbing for apples in buckets of heaven and hell, and I am splashed in joy in pain. Last we talked, I was having an existential crisis (before all of that other stuff), but sometimes big questions get railroaded by careening situations and I don't know if that makes questions go away, or if they'll just visit again on a rainy day.

My heart started out slow burning, became engulfed in flames in a giant crush of sleepless nights and crying on the phone, expanded again with unforseen strength and lightness, grasping oxygen from the air in an unchaperoned effort to stay alight. I felt invincible, but it gave way to feeling fogged in.

I want to write out each event for my own processing, but I have not found the time or felt enough urgency to do them each justice. Some things are too fresh, besides. I have been thinking about how when I can return to writing more regularly, I will have grown a great deal. I think this makes me a better writer, but I also have less to say sometimes because I might be growing out of trying to control my own narrative. I think my spirit is both more resilient and more exhausted. My words evaporate into the atmosphere before they can be solidified, like perspiration into humidity.

It struck me with curiosity - at what point does one's life become a tragedy? Sometimes, after someone has died, we might refer to their life as a tragic one, but I don't usually think of lives as tragedies. In a narrative sense though, what amount of sadness tips a story from being a story with sad elements to being fundamentally tragic? Remember in the movie Stranger than Fiction when Harold Crick is trying to find out what kind of story he's in? Maybe it's foolishness or maybe it's faith or maybe it's story telling, but it seems to me that a tragedy is only a plot twist away from hope. That no story need remain a tragedy.

I recently met a young man who is working in the ER as a trauma surgeon at age seventeen. He washes dishes at the restaurant I work at for extra cash since the ER is too intense for them to allow him to work very many hours. He was telling me that he recently stuck his finger into someone's aortal bullet wound on the sidewalk in our city. With his finger in a heart in shock, the team discussed what they had 30 seconds to do to hopefully save this person. He pulled his finger out, they did their thing, and.... .... .... a heartbeat.

The hardest thing with bullet wounds, literal and otherwise, is whether there's an exit wound. If it's a clean break, you're good to go, but if the bullet gets stuck inside, it can put pressure on your vital organs and kill you. I'm no surgeon, but sometimes I think I'd take the literal bullet and my chances with a clean exit over these conceptual bullets that seem to lodge against the organs.

I mourn the end of summer every year because it's my favorite season. I am at my best in the warm air, the freedom from a fuller schedule, fewer clothes, the abundance of produce. But I don't hate fall as much as I used to, because back-to-school is a new kind of release from what invariably becomes a chaotic lack of routine. I was trying to prepare the boys for the possibility of switching schools away from friends, and I was reminding them that although they might leave some good things in an old place, there would be things in a new place that they will love, just like they've grown to love things in the past. Of course, I was talking to myself too. All I did as a kid was say goodbyes and hellos, and choosing goodbyes, even with the hope of new hellos, is something like open heart surgery to me.

(painting by Gail Potocki)

I am not an easy crier, and when I see people who do process externally, I think the way I handle grief is just so clunky. I am confident in so many ways, many of which are purposefully a departure from the norm, but I've spent a lot of time believing that other people's inner lives are more "right" than mine - others seem to ask fewer questions that result in ripping up the concrete of your own life every few years, others cry through their pain instead of being like a teakettle that heats all the water but then only sputters and scalds when it boils, others seem to have this spiritual life that is more intimate, more personal, more calming. My grief is so stubborn. But after aspiring to what appears to be a clearer path in others for so long and trying to bend myself into that shape (or not trying, but just feeling like it's out of reach for me), I'm starting to believe that the contortions of my heart are by design. Isn't that intense and frustrating? I mean, it's life-giving too, but it means that I was made in a shape that I don't yet understand, and maybe won't ever be comfortable with. Certainly some of the things we struggle with are the result of trauma or decisions, but things that are broken can be mended, if not fully restored. And the things that aren't broken are actually on purpose. Maybe I was meant to knock down the pillars of the temple I'm standing in, even if it crushes me.

God does not fail.
Nothing he does is by mistake.

I think about myself, I think about the ones I love, near and far. I think about the ones I don't know at all, but that I read about and see pictures of and I think this season is so long. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Psalms of Bile and Bilge Water

I wonder if in the times I do not doubt, if I am seeing clearly at all.

(Ouzo Kim)

I could tell you what I've learned when I get to the other side, but I tire of reading other people's lessons once they have already learned them. The middle of the beating is the pith of the experience.

I was made to be whole, and the knowledge that I will never be a finished work leaves me sullen and limp. I wanted to be without blemish, and I can not be. I find no hope in telling myself tales of some wabi sabi beauty, where the cracks are filled in with gold and the final picture has a beauty of its own. Get away with your neat little bows, get away with your platitudes. I do not care to stand before you and swallow your sugar pills, or feel that I must "admit the truth" so that you will not be upset with my doubt.

I am ruled by my emotions, and I am told that this is wrong. Indeed, it is overwhelming. I am wounded by someone and I can not refresh my opinion of them. I hear bad news in the morning, and can not grip "a good day" as it slips away. I have successfully overridden my feelings with my thoughts many times, and this is not a productive alternative. I am supposed to have a bedrock of faith that holds me above my thoughts and feelings, but I must have done it wrong.

I wanted to be buoyant, wise, and soft in my old age, but I will be cold and hard forever by then.

I do not hate myself, I hate this place I am in.
I hate that there is beauty abounding, but terrors unchecked intertwined.
Nothing is sacred, nothing is pure.
I myself am a hopelessly coiled tangle of yarn, the frayed strangling the divine.
And it does not come undone.

I have been like a wild woman,
clawing through rubble and refuse,
looking for THAT THING.
The key. The key. The key...
Where is the key.
I have a ring full of the keys, and none of them unlock Rest.

I am not "healthy". I am not holistic. I am not growing in a straight line.
I grow bent and gnarled, a sapling lashed by the wind.
I impose my standard of perfection on the healing process, and it wants nothing to do with my maniacal control tendencies.
It gives me two black eyes and does not let me cover them up.

My face is tired, unable to smile at you if I am supposed to.
My spirit is weary, bitter that you have not come down in thundering glory.
I am a little rodent, caught in your cage.

Do I believe you are a good God? I don't know.
You can not beat me into a yes.

I look at the people taking hope in Christ and I think, "who are you talking to?"
They have become the crazy ones because they are not crazy like me.

my God, my God! Why have you forsaken us.

Ephesians 1:22-23
God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the Church. And the Church is his body, it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

But I reach out, and the space must be empty. He fills things everywhere, and I do not see him. He takes his hand away. He fills things everywhere, and I see suffering, unending.

A lament, an honest angry psalm that doesn't rhyme.

God, I don't understand you! I think you might be mean!
I think you might be slow or blind.
Have you not heard the wails of your people?
Have you not seen the confusion your loved ones are weighed down by?
Have you not felt the turning of our stomachs at what is happening in the corners of the night?
Crush them, already! Do something!
I think now is the time, but you don't seem to think so.
If the church is your body, why is it so ugly?
Do you even care if I stop believing?
Would you even notice?
Don't you know you have to fight for what you love?
If you see each bird that falls, surely you can spare a care for me.
If my tears burn my cheeks in concentration of anger, do you laugh at me for my pitiful understanding?
But where are your burning arrows, why don't you open up the sky?
Where is your gaze, piercing the fog and smoldering this afflicted rock with your Truth that we can not look away from?
Why is everything unclear? Do you not feel like giving answers?
Why did you even make me? I would have preferred to skip the human phase.
Your promises are pages I might be tearing out because you seem to have forgotten them.
If I pain you, will you open your eyes in my direction?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Not Not An Evangelical Feminist

Have you ever had someone tell you you can't be what you are? You can't be a Mexican Trump supporter? You can't be a Democratic christian? You can't be religious and believe in the Big Bang? That female chauvinists don't exist, or that oppressed people can't be racist? We get confused by people whose face doesn't match their politics or whose ethnicity doesn't match their religion, as if one can only exist when the other is present. We don't have a lot of space for people who apparently belong in one group, but don't adhere to all the core values of their group. 

My personal seemingly diametrically opposed cocktail of labels is that I'm not not an Evangelical Feminist. I recognize that both "Evangelical" and "Feminist" are very charged labels, and the hyphenated term Evangelical-Feminist would probably be rejected by most in both circles. I don't refer to myself by either of those labels or even the hyphenated version, but I also don't fully refute them. I want to talk through each term to offer some nuance, and ultimately make the argument that membership in the Church and the sanctity of women are inextricably linked.  

(Paintings by Fernando Vicente)

I grew up in Christian communities, and when there was a church to go to, it was an Evangelical church. We say that being born to Christian parents doesn't make you a Christian, and in regard to our salvation, that is true. But I am a product of the culture that I grew up in. There are things about me and the way I see the world that are Evangelical, even as that has come to stand for some wicked things.

I'm not Evangelical in the sense that I would call myself Evangelical or align with popular culture's understanding of Evangelicals or what many Evangelicals say and do. I choke every time I start to refer to myself as an Evangelical because that word means only hatred to those loved by the God I follow. But I'm not not-Evangelical in the sense that I'm not exactly anything else (yet). I'm not Anglican (yet). I'm not "spiritual but not religious". I am still in a church setting, I haven't denounced my faith background, and at this point I don't plan to. I've believed lies from my faith community, and I might spend my whole life unlearning those lies. But Christ also met me in the midst of a community that would largely be considered Evangelical.

One of the most talented writers that I know, Cheryl Klein, is an atheist lesbian. This is not allowed in Evangelicalism, real or imagined. As if that makes her not real. Not only is it not accepted by most Evangelicals as permissible, but it is literally sometimes believed to be something that that person has "made up". In light of this, I consider myself very woke and lucky and badass to know Cheryl, and that she doesn't hate me. I don't know very many openly gay people, and that's a byproduct of my cultural background. I was going to add, "for better or worse", but it's definitely for worse. "Not being allowed" to be gay doesn't stop people from being gay, so most of the people I've known for any length of time who are gay are trying to hide it or distancing themselves from anyone who might not "approve" (aka, most of Evangelical culture).

Cheryl wrote in a piece recently about a friend of hers, "she spoke my language: She was sarcastic, she worked in education, she wasn’t an evangelical Christian". Soon after I read that, I was at an interfaith event at which an Episcopal priest was talking about having respectful dialogue and building friendships across faiths and he said [paraphrase], "of course Evangelicals would be skeptical, they only engage with others as an opportunity to convert people." I swallowed hard, but I could not refute that, as far as I know, no other Evangelical-background person had ever given anyone in that room a reason to think that they weren't starting a relationship with conversion in mind. A pastor once asked me in relation to engaging with Muslims, "are you trying to be friends, or are you working toward their salvation?" As if the former was only appropriate if the latter was the aim. 

Another time, Cheryl described me as a "young, white, Christian woman". I panicked. All of those things are true about me, but I have a powerful urge to explain all of those things away in an effort not to be labeled that way by a writer that I admire. I've been careful not to become known as a "parenting writer", and "Christian writer" is definitely a career killer too if you want to be known for good writing, especially if you hope to write on anything beside Christian doctrine that everyone agrees on (maybe an oxymoron). Yet I do write about parenthood and I do write about how my beliefs affect my life. It feels like an almost impossible task to prove that "it's not what you think!" before people turn away from the label "young, white, Christian writer". If I saw someone else's writing credentials as "young, white, and Christian", I wouldn't click through. And part of that is deserved. A lot of damage has been a done. There's a big space available for apologies and repair on the part of the white and Evangelical. 
Yet Cheryl is willing to read what I have to say and she's even appreciated some of it. For that I am grateful. 

So I have one foot not fully out of the Evangelical camp.
And one not firmly planted in the Feminist camp, but definitely searching for footing. 

To Evangelicals, Feminism is almost inseparable from Liberalism, and Liberalism is extremely difficult for many Evangelicals to untangle from Not-Christian, and most Evangelicals treat Non-Christians as evil and dangerous and dirty. To sum things up, Feminism isn't popular in any church I've ever been a part of. Feminists are viewed as embracing the killing of babies and most likely all sleeping with each other. Of course that is strong language, but it can be very difficult to use the f-word among Christians for fear of being treated as if my core desire is to harm small children. Not to mention trying to make the case that Jesus was essentially a feminist in the way that I define feminism. 

I'm a feminist in that I believe women are of equal value in every way to men. Most importantly, I believe that God believes that. I believe women are of equal value to men, including within church structure. I don't think women and men are the same, exactly, but I don't know how to talk about that yet. I do not believe that women are better than men. I'm a feminist in that I believe that the church (my church tradition, at least) has distorted God's view of women, and gives men the key to oppression in the name of God. That is sick, and I denounce it. 

To me, feminism means recognizing and fighting for the sanctity of the downtrodden, and that absolutely gets political sometimes. I've never been vocal about my stance on reproductive rights or marriage rights. I'm for same-sex marriage in the legal sense, partly because I 100% do not buy that the US is "a Christian nation." Therefore, the state is not beholden to religious values (any religion). There are Christians whose values aren't violated by same-sex marriage. I believe there are Christians in same-sex marriages. My personal views on the morality of same-sex marriage are not as clear as I wish they were. I'm not sure that my views, if and when I can articulate them, matter. That's a pretty "liberal" stance for a not not Evangelical. 

I've also avoided giving direct opinions about reproductive rights because again, my feelings and beliefs are much more complicated than my labels would have you think. My dad commented that the modern feminist camp has made abortion their litmus test - you're FOR women if you're pro-choice, your're AGAINST women if you're pro-life. In some ways, that's absurdly simplistic, but in other ways it's not. Do you know any anti-abortion feminists? I can think of two that I know personally, but I don't think either of them would call themselves a feminist, so maybe that means I know zero.

While I am indeed against abortion, I'm much more emphatically "pro-life" because that term encompasses a lot that "anti-abortion" refuses to tackle or even acknowledge. I'll get to that other stuff in a minute, but even in the most-used sense of the idea of being pro-life, I begin to toss and turn with the discomfort of it. I am pro- every life, but I am anti- a lot of circumstance in which those lives begin. I deeply understand the circumstances surrounding not wanting a baby and the circumstances in which birth is less than ideal, put lightly. I have personally been there. I'm not pro- the circumstance of a baby born into a family that can't or won't take care of her. I'm not pro- the circumstance of children being brought into a world where someone was against their killing, but not willing to care for their mother or take an unwanted child. I'm anti-innocents-suffering. Many lives that are not aborted begin in circumstances of misery and heartbreak, and recognizing that makes being pro-life a way, way more difficult stance to take than most people give it credit for. 

I think it was Albert Mohler who explained that in a society that wants the freedom to define our bodies - the choice to identify our sexuality as what feels most right or comfortable to us - it seems only fair that women should have the same right to not be pregnant as a man. That is, to be in control of her body. To be honest with you, I find that very appealing in a logical sense. I did not like being pregnant and it doesn't feel fair that pregnancy - which traditionally requires a man and woman - falls upon a woman's body, every damn time. Yes, I see the awesome raw power of my body and it's ability to foster life. Yes, I see the blessing in my children. But we're kidding ourselves if we think it's always wanted or always the woman's choice to be in that position. It's nuanced and difficult to deal with the fact that as a pregnant woman, you are in a situation - growing a human - that will affect you forever more (even if that life is terminated) and that is simply out of your control. I didn't like that part. Becoming a mother is one of the most helpless things I have ever experienced. I didn't like being helpless in the face of something that was more than me, but also very much within me. It's confusing and painful at times, and that doesn't go away when your child is born, even when the child is loved greatly. 

This article - which doesn't mention any religious reasons behind being pro-life - points out that abortion isn't a fun thing that women want to do because it's somehow empowering. It's a frequent practice because it seems like the best or the only option. It's a mother recognizing that she will have no support in having the baby because then there is a responsibility on everyone's part not to ignore that baby. It's the easier option for everyone else, not always or only the mother. Most women who end pregnancies describe feeling trapped, "like an animal caught in a trap, gnawing off their own leg", as the author puts it. I never hear this acknowledged by Evangelical pro-lifers.

Being pro-life means a lot more than being anti-abortion. Being pro-life means I'm against the death penalty. It means I'm against generations of men rotting in prison over shoddy justice work and petty charges. It means I'm against immigrants and the poor being robbed of aid and legal ability to keep themselves alive. It means I'm pro ALL LIVES, even the ones I don't like. I am for the lives of unborn children, uncared for elderly, the uninvited foreigner, and unforgiven convicts, even as I am deeply aware that an unwelcome life carries with it intense pain. A pain felt by those we begrudgingly let live, and a pain felt by the givers of life who feel unable to bare one more mouth to feed, one more inconvenience

I'm pro-life in that I believe every person deserves a chance and that it's not my right to decide whether that chance is "worth it". But I'm not happy about it. A life saved is treated like a victory by the loudest anti-abortion sign holders, and to their credit, it should be. But you never hear about what comes next; a broken life. Part of a life that is not aborted is a tragedy, and I credit pro-choice advocates for calling it what it is in that sense. 

A feminist is a realist. A feminist is someone who recognizes that the world is not as it should be because women aren't properly loved. Men aren't properly loved. Children aren't cared for. And we can't always fix it. And that really, really sucks. But as a not not an Evangelical Feminist, where I go with that realization might be different than where a secular feminist goes (not to lump all secular feminists into one). My answer has to be, say "yes" to that life - the young, the old, the unloved - and then to stay by their side, serving. Not abandoning them to their freshly-saved but miserable life. 

Rosaria Butterfield wrote, "all around you, people hunger for the covenant of God to include them."
I have believed in God for most of my life, but I have hungered as a woman to be fully included in the covenant, because sometimes the church tells me that I am not. I see the LGBTQ community bristling at being actively uninvited by Evangelicals into the covenant of God. I see refugees weeping when they are not included in this made-up idea of America as God's land. Land they're clearly not welcome in. I see people turning to terrorism to find a sense of purpose because the church did not call to them in their darkest hours. I see mothers crying out and alone because no man, no church, no friend has helped them see the birth of a child as a viable option. How can she know that she and her child are invited into the covenant if no one will tell her? If no one will see her there, and then stay? 

To say that anyone is not included in the invitation to God's covenant of belonging is to spit upon the entire reason for Jesus's coming - he reached out when I, we, were still lost. And he continues reaching out again when I get lost again. I am invited. You are invited. And those who honor God should be angry when anyone is uninvited. Angry enough to fight. I'm saddened that cultural membership in the church and the idea that women are of invaluable worth and power ever came to be viewed as opposing rather than being, in fact, one and the same idea. 

Feminist of God, walk the line. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Best Media of 2018

My previous post was a recap of my year in more personal terms, but here is the soundtrack (of sorts) to 2018. I would love to read any comments you have if you've also heard/read/seen any of the things I enjoyed this past year.

Music (because it's one of the most effective time capsules, don't you think?):
I spent a fair amount of music-listening time this year wanting to feel comforted and not wanting to have to think about exactly what song might be the perfect fit, so I listened to a lot of older Coldplay, actually. They're not necessarily happy songs, but they're familiar and calming to me.

Most of the new music that I listened to (whether newly released or just new-to-me) ended up having political undertones. I found this medium a clearer commentary of life in modern America than any written word I can think of. I think the written word is still the most powerful to me in general, but I'm distrustful of it lately, partly because the volume is at 11 and I have trouble sifting through fact and fiction, or being okay with letting any of it speak to me for whatever its worth, regardless of the the "truth" or lack there of there within. Anyway, I've been adding to a playlist called Resistance Party that's all songs that - to me - directly address the times. In some cases, these songs actually taught me. The playlist is rap-heavy as I think this genre is what folk used to be in terms of commentary.

One of the most striking songs (to me) is an old one by Nina Simone called Missisippi Goddam that I heard for the first time this year. Definitely not a song of hers you might have heard at a dinner party.

Another one that really struck me is Thy Neighbor by Jackie Hill Perry, which starts out, "The church is held together by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, this is why I can't be a true christian and say I love Jesus but I can't stand the church," followed later by the funny but also convicting "the Jesus in me sees the Jesus in you." Damn, sister!

Childish Gambino's song  This is America (and it's video) got a lot of buzz this year, and I'm noting it here, not because I listened to it a ton, but because after hearing the buzz, I sat down to watch the video (with Ira on my lap) and like everyone else, was stunned by the sudden point-blank shooting a few seconds into the video. I was very shaken since Ira saw it and it was very hard to explain that it was real but not real - and I guess that's the whole point. Real but not real enough but so real.

Artist of the year: Cardi B (I love her on many levels, and I am still not tired of her song "I Like It"). Not to mention that she in my top 3 best dressed celebrities in 2018 (Zendaya was another, for anyone curious).
Best love song: Denim by Priscilla Renea
Biggest earworm: I Won't Hurt You by The West Coast Pop Experimental Band (Isle of Dogs)
Best discovery: boygenius (thanks Michelle!)
Live shows: I saw Lily Allen live, an artist I've admired for a long time! 
Best soundtrack: the musical (that I haven't seen) The Band's Visit.
Best album: Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer and it's accompanying "Emotion Picture", a music video montage of about 6 of the songs off the album. I think my mouth was a-gape the entire time I watched it. Daring, Sexy, Powerful, Explosively Creative.

Movies and Shows:
(in rough order of how well known I think they are)

  • Coco
  • Westworld (season 1)
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Blackkklansman. The quality of the movie itself was all over the place, but the premise of the is riveting and it provided a much needed jolt concerning my outlook on race relations.
  • Maniac (Netflix; bizarre, funny Jonah Hill and Emma Stone show about a drug trial)
  • Kim's Convenience (Netflix; absolutely hilarious Canadian sitcom with special interest for Asian-Americans and dads-and-daughters)
  • Legion (the most un-Marvel Marvel show you'll see, in the best way. Quality varies by season, in my opinion).
  • Method (Netflix; a Russian detective show that is very intense but fascinating. Intriguing mental illness component)
  • Babylon Berlin (Netflix; amazing German period drama, for fans of Peaky Blinders)
  • Rise of the Phoenixes (Netflix; 70+ hour-long episodes of Chinese historical drama; beautiful, clever, intricate, tragic, and worth overlooking the cheesy bits)

Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. I felt so lost in this book at first, but the writing style is unlike anything I've ever read, and it is awe inspiring. I was also encouraged by this book that there isn't "one right way" in order for writing to be truly great.

Similarly, I read many sections of Why We Write (edited by Meridith Maran) which inspire me to write whenever I pick it up and helps me ward off impostor syndrome as I identify with all sorts of feelings and thoughts shared by other writers in that book.

I read 11 1/2 books of the Bible, Judges being my favorite and John being my least favorite. I hope to elaborate another time.

Pearl S. Buck's autobiography, My Several Worlds. I find so much comfort and wisdom in her thoughts and experiences as a white woman raised in China and spending adulthood in the United States. I appreciate how cantankerous she was in some ways; it seems only natural for a life both wonderful and tumultuous and gives validation to my own sort of stormy inner self.

The least well-written book I read was The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey. It's historical fiction based on the relationship between the famous painter Gustav Klimt and his muse, Emilie. It was enjoyable and I learned a lot about Austrian history, but I was not overly impressed with its quality in terms of "literature."

We listened to the novel Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynee Jones as an audiobook and it was thoroughly enjoyed by our whole family. It will be very familiar to anyone who has seen the movie adaptation, but it's different enough to warrant a read. It also quotes a John Donne poem, and nothing endears me more than when a book (or sermon, tbh) I'm enjoying quotes something that I love and am familiar with.

I was encouraged by some episodes of Exploring My Strange Bible (the ones on Why Church Matters, thanks to my friend Luke!) and the Liturgists podcast (particularly "Prophet or Ass" and "Church Unity"). I also read several chapters of The Gospel Comes with a Housekey by Rosaria Butterfield that gave me a few gold nuggets to hang on to (I guess that should go under books, but it fits this section better).

Visual media:
There is so much (so much!) visual content that inspires me throughout the year, and I try and share it periodically in my stories on Instagram. I'm always dumping stuff into my Pinterest vortex too. Jonas and I did stop by the Getty Musuem for the first time in many years to see a fashion history exhibit that was amazing, as well as some of the other visiting exhibits. I also started following hashtags on Instagram (I'm not sure if that feature was new to 2018 or not) and it's a great way to discover all sorts of new things. I took part in the #fjnine challenge many times, pulling photos from my feed to match the weekly color scheme. Here are the collages I made, all with my own photos.

I can't wait to discover new things and uncover old things in 2019.

2018 Review & 2019 Goals

This was a difficult and unsettling year inside my head. I don't know how to articulate it, but I know that there are some things holding me back from being free and whole, as if there are some internal error messages that just don't x out when I hit "remind me later" anymore. My biggest goal for 2019 is to work through that to the best of my ability. 

It's harder to write my way through whatever is plaguing me. I spend a lot of time making more drafts than I used to, and it ends up making less sense. 2018 was characterized by losing my sense of security in several ways, with the additional wounds of realizing that I was finding security in those things subconsciously. 
My acceptance of some fundamental characteristics of church that are not Biblical. 
My belief that racial and social reconciliation was just a matter of me caring. 
My assumption that all the members of my family would live in close proximity forever.
I was less certain that finishing 10 years of school would lead to a dream job, but it has still been discouraging and disorienting to realize I am not qualified to do much of anything that I had envisioned. 

I'm not going into 2019 feeling hopeful, I'm going in feeling lost. I think that's okay to be and feel, but I don't particularly care for it.  Never the less, there were some wonderful things that happened this year. I'll start with the highs, then review the lows, then assess last year's goals and set some new ones. Interspersed with photos from the year. 

My most "liked" pictures on Instagram this year, L to R, Row 1: candid(ish) from Genna's wedding, Sonny and Cher halloween costumes, candy sushi. Row 2: Chinese New Year table setting, Scandanavian Ribbon Cake at my vintage Christmas party, thrifted Gucci scarf. Row 3: 2018 tree, patterned family, Ishmael at Easter. 


Three wonderful weddings - I got to be in my dear friend Genna Cragoe (Andersen)'s wedding which featured the best dancing of any wedding I have ever been to and a taco truck which is probably the best wedding food I've had. It was proceeded by a bacholerette party at the family's beach house in Malibu which is officially one of my favorite spots on earth now and fills me with even more undying love for the magic of California. // We were touched to be invited to our brother-in-law's brother's wedding in Santa Cruz with the incredibly generous and friendly Sears' family. Alex and Emily Sear's wedding was the first open-bar wedding I'd been to and there were customized gift bags for our kids and it was at a golf course that happened to feature feral kittens, so it was really one for the books. // My dear cousin Mark married a fantastic woman, Nicole, and with the added bonus of seeing her FBI coworkers go crazy on the dance floor, I can't remember a wedding where I was so filled with contentment that two people found each other. Also I'm just really thrilled to have Nicole as a cousin now.

The summer time in general was wonderful. I'd made note of that right after the summer ended, but many of the details are hibernating now. I can't complain that the memory is bathed in a contented glow. The most bittersweet aspect of it was several days spent helping my sister Annelise and her husband pack up their home in Whittier, CA for their cross-country movie to Andrew's grad school program at Duke in Durham, North Carolina. It was quality time talking, going to the Korean spa, and eating all the best "last meals", but I miss their presence in California every day. At the end of the summer, the beginning of the school year marked the first time that both my boys were in school. 

I went to The Cellar Bar in Fullerton multiple times, where I sipped the best cocktails of my life to date, and made many good memories with my family.

My friend Lena (@vintagechicdk) was a vendor at the Pickwick Vintage Show and I got to help her! I was in clothes heaven and I loved meeting some amazing vintage dealers and gawking at the celebrities, designers, and show biz people that came to shop.

Some favorite outfits from 2018

My friend Michelle and I went on a lovely mini-vacation to Santa Monica to see the chef Yotam Ottolenghi speak. We were calling it our version of the screaming girls at Beatles' concerts. It was a very funny and cult-like experience to be in an auditorium of (mostly) women all holding the same book on their laps with reverence. 

In the fall, I started tutoring Chinese which has been surprisingly lovely as a small source of income and a chance to engage with something I love in a non-stressful setting (I've always been convinced that I don't like teaching, but now I'm less sure).

Thanksgiving was spent in San Diego, smashed into my brothers' beach-front apartment, making the best foods we could think of (the less bound to tradition I am, the more I enjoy holidays). I made a great effort to impose as little stress on myself as possible leading up to Christmas, beside the all-vintage Christmas party I threw on December 1st, something I've been plotting for several years! It was so much work (vintage everything - recipes, decor, clothing, etc.) but I also felt really satisfied seeing something through that had been stuck in my brain for a long time. I felt completely burnt out by December 24th, but blessedly, the following week was wonderfully relaxed and spent reading aloud to family members who were visiting and enjoying a small celebration of my graduation (the degree was conferred in mid-2018, even though I finished the program in 2017).

The Section Between Highs and Lows

In January 2018, I joined my local Interfaith group and attended related meetings and events throughout the year. I appreciated it for an opportunity to be a part of many gatherings and relationships that I'd never otherwise have an introduction to. It was also a reminder that community engagement and "working toward good" is almost always a harder, slower, slog than I imagine it will be. 

I'm always developing new hobbies and trying new things in categories I've always been interested in. I got into some elaborate floral arranging and I put extra time into styling photos as a form of artistic expression. I guess I'm just mentioning it because it's where I pushed myself and saw the most success in terms of creativity this year. 

Some of my floral arrangements in 2018

What I wrote about in 2018: 2017 recap, Amal Clooney, Our Lady of Sorrows (prose), a dark flora and fauna wedding concept, 10 years of life in America, Cultural Appropriate from the perspective of someone with multiple (or zero) cultures, my latest stage of parenthood, a heatwave (prose), Hope, Bundt cakes, relearning Chinese, starting to unpack deep sorrow, the color yellowEmilie Flöge and Wiener Werkstätte movement in Austria, and my disillusionment with political correctness

This may seem like a non-sequitur but of all the noise in the news and even all the beautiful visual noise on Instagram, this photo stuck out to me,  stuck with me, and captured my sense of the zeitgeist (and many others, according to the internet). It's a High and a Low. It's power and grace and bravery, it's also struggle and pain and despair. It's beauty in turmoil, and if that's not what mental stability and a life of walking in tension look like, I don't know what is. My favorite part about the photo (beside all the powerful imagery that I won't go into detail about here) were the words of the man in the photo when being interviewed later, 
"I don't go to protests to get pictures of me taken, but this has encouraged me to continue demonstrating," he said. "The flag I was carrying is the same one I always hold in all the other protests I've attended. My friends make fun of me, saying it is easier to throw rocks without holding a flag in the other hand, but I got used to it. If I get killed, I want to be wrapped in the same flag. We are demanding our right of return, and protesting for our dignity and the dignity of our future generation."


I'm just going to leave Trump and most of America completely out of this, that's basically a given. Internationally: Trump backing out of the Iran Nuclear Deal is something I was enraged and despondent over. He also began ending the US' involvement in Syria, and beside one caller on NPR, I might be the only person who thinks that was a good idea. President Xi of China's decision to extend his term through the end of his life was also distressing. 

The Borderline Bar shooting and the Woolsey fires (I'm confused about all the fire names, but those affecting Ventura, Thousand Oaks, and Malibu in late 2018) were merely more headlines to most people, just like most shootings and fires are merely unfortunately headlines to me. But these ones affected people I know and love, and the sense of fear and loss and pain is great. 

Somehow, the loss of Anthony Bourdain just kept hurting. I didn't know him, but he managed to be just the kind of light we all needed, and it was especially stinging to lose him when we needed his voice more than ever. I've learned and continue to learn so much from him. I grieve losing him, but I also grieve for his loss.  


Every year when I put together these looking back/looking forward posts, I review the previous year's post. In doing that recently, it helped me to notice that while I don't accomplish most of the big things I set out to do in a given year, when I look at my list of goals from 2-3 years ago, most of those things are accomplished now. Everything takes longer than I hope (always), but it does happen. And setting goals is important so that I know what I'm working toward and so that I can look back and be encouraged! The things that seem daunting today will be in the past 3 years from now.

2018 goal recap:
  • Read books. Made a good start on this!! Books that I read on the sister-post to this one, all about my favorite media of 2018. 
  • More communal cooking. I didn't cook in other people's homes as much as I'd envisioned, but I did start giving cooking lessons (sort of) in tandem with Chinese tutoring and I began sharing lots of kitchen escapades via Instagram, so I did a lot of communal cooking, just not in the way I'd imagined. 
  • Cook from cookbooks. Room to grow, but I did manage a few recipes from books. 
  • Dual Immersion. This simply didn't work out, despite my best efforts. My revised plan is to let the boys watch more TV, but only in Spanish, and hopefully do some intensive language courses in Mexico with them in the future. 
  • See a chiropractor. Also didn't happen, but the idea is more and more doable to me, and I'm going to rest, knowing this will be crossed out within the next few years (not only seeing a chiropractor, but hopefully the issues that I'm interested in seeing a chiropractor for). 
  • Roller derby! Too big of a time commitment after looking into it. However, I did get some nice rollerblades for my birthday and I hope that using them to exercise (they're so much harder on the sidewalk than in a rink!!!) can be a goal I grow into over time. I'm also determined to find a way to get the local rink to blast my custom-made rink playlist one of these days. ;) 
  • Mexico City??? Didn't happen, and that's okay. But there is a New York City trip planned for May 2019! 
Some of my favorite projects and photos from 2018. 

2019 goals. This list is full of huge things, with a lot of caveats. See point 1, haha: 
  • See a therapist. I'm exhausted and full of trepidation just thinking of everything behind and in front of that resolution, but I just need to take the first step. 
  • Language learning. Spanish. Arabic. Farsi. Chinese. At least make a plan, even a tiny bit of practice or movement toward speaking Chinese better and/or learning a new language. 
  • Think about home ownership. I go back and forth between excited and terrified. It feels like too much pressure to make the resolution "own a home", but as with the others, the goal is just to make a concrete step or two in that direction. 
  • Paint. Start a painting, or maybe take a class (probably not, but maybe). 
  • Get a job.  Maybe not a dream job, but a stepping-stone job. Something to at least start me in the right direction.  
  • Write out a business plan for my dream job. 
  • Find inspiration in hardcover imagery. I have so many amazing art books, I want to spend time looking at them instead of scrolling a screen, some of the time. 
That's it for the recap on my personal year. Jump to part 2 for recommendations based on my favorite books, shows/movies, podcasts, music of 2018. 

Here's to a rad 2019. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Woker than Thou

Once upon a time, in the comments section of the internet...

That's how all rant-style stories start, right? In fact, my lack of rants over the past year probably has a great deal to do with getting my eyes off the comments section of all sorts of things. But this morning I really put my foot in some comment-section poo and here I am ranting.

I knew the moment I saw the notification that there was a response to my comment. I felt my hackles go up, I felt a sense of dread. I didn't feel ashamed of my comment and therefore fear retribution, no, something much more sinister - I sensed a white lady about to wag her spokesperson-for-the-downtrodden finger at me.

I answered a sad and complicated question (note: original post was asking for opinions) about childhood and race with my opinion (not stated as an absolute truth), followed by a statement of hope (again, not stated as a blanket truth) that any law enforcement that got involved in the scenario described would be understanding of the complexity of the issue at hand.

I wish I was cynical enough to bait the wokest-of-the-woke on purpose, because my stated opinions and hopes, with caveats, was like cheese in a mousetrap. It was really only a matter of time before I was outed as being an idiot who obviously cares nothing for the lives of black men, given my statement. Those weren't her exact words, but it was definitely her inference.

One of the saddest things was that it actually did take effort for me to take that tiny, tiny step out on a limb and give some hypothetical police officer an iota of grace. I'm not very trustful of police as a category because I see that terrible mistakes and choices have been made at crucial moments. But it's not fair of me to only ever pick on them either. Believing that there are good and thoughtful officers does not mean that I don't understand - as much as I am able - that black and brown people are at a social disadvantage to white people and have and will continue to be wronged by the law. It makes me angry and breaks my heart. But to see that there can be both thoughtful and thoughtless officers is apparently too nuanced for the comments section. I really should have known better at the point.

I hate that I have to spend two paragraphs explaining common sense every time I open my mouth. What could be one sentence becomes four in hopes that I can preempt every angle of attack that the next commenter might take aim at. I spent half the day calmly not dignifying the fellow commenter with a response, interspersed with bursts of private frustration where I wanted to rage-type, STAY IN YOUR LANE, KAREN! (Her name wasn't Karen, don't worry. Also, "Karen" was not the one who posed the original question, in case that was unclear in this play by play.)

I'm not thick skinned. I'm also not perfect.

As much as I'm sad to admit it, the emotional and psychological toll that it takes on me to constantly have my moral compass questioned when I try and help someone keeps me from engaging in conversations, relationships, society, or any facet of those realms where the topic matters and could approach anything close to controversial.

In this sense, political correctness has gone too far. It's good and right to be more aware of others, but it's not right to stomp on others who are trying to learn and trying to take steps to thoughtfully engage in difficult topics. "You know what this situation really needs? White women policing other white women about what black people need." SAID NO ONE, EVER. Miss me with that shit.

You in the comments.
You make it so hard to do good, because nothing is ever good enough.
You prevent progress because you can only see the flaws in the attempts to progress and it makes those who wanted to try afraid to do anything for fear of your swift wrath. How can a more lowly being such as myself dare to start trying to do better if you always move the finish line?

(photo credit unknown)

I'm sick of hearing that I'm not allowed to care because I'm white. I don't have a savior complex, I don't think that my whiteness means I can fix the problems of non-white people. But who profits when we turn away people who are trying to learn from their mistakes and humbly ask, "how can I help you?" I don't deny that skin color gets different people different kinds of treatment, but can we stop questioning someone's level of genuine concern based on their color?

You in the comments. You know what? You probably DO know better than me. There are certainly smarter, more thoughtful, more experienced people than me. But what good is that if you only use your wisdom and knowledge to hit people in the face who haven't realized what you've realized?

I'm very aware that I've been the PC-police plenty of times. And I'm sorry for when I've mishandled that, because it blows to be on the receiving end of words that may be correct, but a tone that is meant to crush. The other day, I almost told a white women who was taking it upon herself to school other white women that I only cared to be schooled on race by non-white people. But then I stopped (I'm learning), because I was about to be THAT white women, telling a white women what she could and couldn't tell me about race. So meta...

I recognize my own hypocrisy as a "well-meaning white liberal". I've repeatedly heard (from POC) that nice liberal white women can cause the most damage (more than bigots and hate spewers) because we think that being nice will fix issues of race. And it won't. It requires action. It requires recognizing that you - yes you, holy comments lady. yes, me too - are part of the problem. That our nice talk about "the disadvantaged" is meaningless if we spend all our time attacking one another (ie. attacking other white people who aren't "doing it right"). Action is messy, sometimes, and it's flawed. So more so than ever, please don't discourage people who are trying to learn the right ways to take part and be supportive.

I hope I'm not just adding to the noise by being mad at a white lady who was mad at me for not being a good enough nice white lady.

I think about the fact that if the women who gave me an unnecessary talking to in the comments section simply apologized, would I have written this entire blog post? Probably not. I would have been totally placated and moved on with my day. Sometimes we just want to be heard. Whether its her or me or some third party. I want others to listen to me and acknowledge that life is hard and unfair and that I was treated unjustly. How much more true for people more systemically disadvantaged than I? I want to hear you, and I want to be heard too.

There are plenty of opinions on the internet that I don't like. Plenty of people are straight up wrong or rotten. Sometimes I confront them. But I am trying to stop myself more often and ask, "is it necessary that I be the one to put this person in their place?" If they're wrong, they will be the captain of their own demise, and I don't need to be the one who shouts it from the rooftops to make myself feel more in-the-know.

I'm not here to self-flagellate over the whole situation or whether I understand my role as a white person well enough, or whether I feel guilty enough for missing the mark sometimes. You in the comments. I refuse to become a recluse because I'm afraid of your shaming words. Your attempts to make me a robot who only gives the "right" answer that you've already come up with in your head. You're just waiting for me to put a spin on it or see a different side of the story so you can stomp on my throat. I know, because I've lain in wait for just such a victim in the comments section. It's a shitty thing to do. And it silences people who are trying to find a good voice. The internet needs more good voices.

If you see someone else trying to help, trying to learn, trying to do the right thing, for Christ's sake, give them a hand. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Old Things Made New

Recently, China has become a part of my day-to-day life again. I started tutoring in Chinese (which happens to involve cooking Chinese food once a week), I'm reading a book about China, watched a very long show in Chinese, and I'm considering applying for work teaching Chinese students. Suddenly, I'm thinking in Chinese again.

It feels good in a way I'm not quite able to articulate. It's not exactly happy or exciting (though it's not not those things), nor is it purely nostalgic, because it's not a repetition of the past. New words, new books, new ideas, new insight, new faces. It's not exactly something that's always been there, because it's specific to this point in time. Maybe it's like a piece of clay that I carry with me. It's always there in a formless state, but it's not alive nor does it carry specific meaning unless I put my hand to it and shape it.

I like the way Chinese sounds. Familiar, but also with infinite unexplored corners. I like picking it out in a crowd, like a code that most people can't decipher. When we were out trick-or-treating last week, I heard a man on his cell phone, saying to his older relative on the other end, "how are your eyes?" These moments are like being brushed with the beam of a lighthouse, directed at me. I like being able to speak a second tongue without effort, even if I rarely use it. Like an old locket that's always around my neck, but hasn't been opened in a long time. It's like opening the door of your home after a long trip away, and recognizing its smell that you can't decipher when you've been living in the midst of it. The rooms are the same, but you have changed. You walk through the house and you open the windows. A fresh breeze shifts the scents, not unpleasantly.

(W.T. Benda)

I am wary of ever saying I've healed from something. Healing seems to be a key that unlocks new doors that held previously restricted areas in need of healing. I am wary of saying that reconnecting with part of me that wants to be steeped in a Chinese life is a turning point, rather than a blip.

Sometimes I think TCKs (Third Culture Kids) are afraid to be healed. What are we, without the special concoction of pain and lack-of-belonging and misunderstood-ness and identity crises that we all recognize and embrace as our Third Culture? It's a beloved culture and it's something that gives us a place with one another, so what will be left to feel if we whittle away the sharp edges of that community bond? The sharp edges that poke us into remembrance, even if the memories are painful? What is left to understand if not for being misunderstood? What is to be shared if not for a sense that no one can fully share with us?

The good parts of being a TCK are often specific to the cultures that make us up. The bad parts are universally understood by TCKs. So I'm stuck thinking that:
To heal is to let go.
To let go is to forget.
To forget is to lose my identity.

Therefore I must not heal entirely.

I know there are flaws in that progression, but it's my perception. I've gone through that process to a degree and simply built a new identity. I am rooted in America now. I don't always think of myself as American in the same way that non-TCK Americans are American, but America is my home now, none the less. That's why sudden immersion into Chinese customs and thoughts and entertainment and language has me...unable to define how I feel about it. It might be healing. But it might also be ripping off a scab. Re-breaking a bone that didn't set correctly. I don't want to break, but I do want to heal.

I've wanted my identity to be in the homeless, stateless, wandering community where I understand the terms, bitter as they are. But it's purgatory. It does not sustain full life. If I am a tree, I wanted my roots to suck life from both sides of the ocean, but I simply am not big enough to do both well. And to let one half of the roots thrive means letting the other half wither. And it's a dreadful thing to choose. For a tree to grow, it must allow its roots to run deep.

I don't know if I can do it, or if it's a one time decision at all, but maybe China is a place that can be a part of me going forward, not just always looking back. Maybe I can let go and grab on anew at the same time. I will inevitably forget things, but maybe also remember a few things, and make new memories that are informed by a foundation that is blurry now. Maybe I can identify myself in a realm that encompasses more than loss of things I've loved. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

4 Cakes to Rule Them All

Baking is for detail oriented people, and I'm not that. I've tried bread, I've tried muffins, I've tried focaccia, and I've tried many a cake. My verdict always seems to be that I can buy one that is better or that home-baker's talents far outstrip mine. BUT, I have discovered 4 cakes that never fail me, and they have several things in common.

First of all, 3 of the 4 are Bundt cakes. A quick Google search gives me the impression that Experts aren't totally sure where the term "Bundt" comes from or what it means, but it's generally German and generally difficult to pronounce. I do have a theory as to why most of my favorite cakes are Bundts, though. A Bundt pan looks like a donut, with a hole in the middle of the pan and curved sides. What I love about these four recipes (besides being of the mix-and-dump variety) is that they're ultra moist. I thinkkkk that the Bundt shape has more surface area so there's no fear of the center of the cake not getting enough heat to cook through while the outer part dries out.

The other thing these 4 cakes have in common is a secret ingredient. Rather, a secret category of ingredients. Sour cream, cream cheese, and pudding mix (dry). Again, I think these components ensure moisture. But they're not for dieters. Sorry Not Sorry.

It's not an exaggeration to say this category of cakes - and these recipes in particular - turned me from a hater-of-baking into a proud cake presenter at parties. And dare I say that a friend or two has been known to call me in a cake crisis. As with all cooking, having a few home-runs under your belt really gives one the confidence to branch out with more difficult, potentially risky recipes too, because it's already been confirmed That You Can Bake. Even in my escapades beyond the world of Bundt, I must say that I come back to these recipes as the most successful, most loved, best tasting of all.

Without further ado...

Coconut Sour Cream Cake
This is probably the most beloved cake of the bunch. My favorite memory about this cake is that an elderly friend from a local organization I'm part of said it was "the best thing he'd eaten in years." Maybe he was just being kind, but it was a treasured compliment. He recently passed away at 96, and so I always think of him when I make this cake!
Notes: We do not add the icing to this cake in our family, as it is sweet and flavorful enough on its own. (Image from original recipe, linked in the title)

Cranberry Cream Cheese Cake
(Perfect during the holidays!)
Notes: Last time I made this, I used frozen cranberries and it was not as successful as using fresh. I think the frozen ones held too much extra moisture. I've also never made the glaze that is supposed to accompany this cake, it's plenty sweet as is. Without the glaze you can kind of talk yourself into eating it as breakfast, too.

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cake (aka Mana's Bundt Cake)
This recipe comes from my grandma, who we call Mana. I am not sure where she got it!
It's very important that you stick to the Duncan Heinz brand for the cake mix, as it's truly the best for this cake. I also find that chocolate pudding mix doesn't come in exactly the sizes the recipe calls for sometimes, so I use a scale or eyeball it based on how big the package I'm starting with is.
I've also made this cake into a layer cake before, but typically it's done in a Bundt pan.
I have not done this in a while either, but I've made a Black Forest Cake variation on this recipe where I mix cherry pie filling and chocolate frosting to put as a layer between already-baked layers of chocolate cake. It gets a bit soggy if you're not careful, but it's worth it. If you want a less-sweet version, use Trader Joe's Morrello cherries (in a glass jar) instead of cherry pie filling, and drain off the liquid before mixing. Reserve the liquid for another use (I recommend pouring over vanilla ice cream).

Cinnamon Nut Crumble Coffee Cake, taken from the 1983 ed. of the Junior League Taste of Oregon cookbook.
This is the one recipe not made in a Bundt pan. But it is how I discovered the secret category of ingredients, so it had to make the list. Because of its presentation (and somewhat the crumble top) it is more of a coffee cake, but as you will see from the ingredients, it's cake in disguise.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do. If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them for you. Happy baking! 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hope for the Hopeless

I've been thinking about the idea of Hope over the past several months, never landing on the most structured of realizations or insights about it, but recognizing with a sort of grey discouragement that I do not feel any, nor do I recognize others exhibiting hope.

Gerhard Richter

Instead, the zeitgeist is of defeat, disengagement, and a muted despair.
The realization that no matter how much we care or work toward good, it won't be enough.

The only time I'm an optimist is when someone else is telling me something terrible and I'm trying to reflect something, anything, back that softens the blow. I've noticed this is not generally effective, as if my bullshit is leaking through a little.

Hope is not happiness. I've accepted that we can't be perpetually happy. I think hope is a prize at the end of a race that keeps us focused on the goal. Hope as I've been taught is not simply a wish, but a flame that guides us. I do think that is more substantial than a wish, but then I feel lost when I'm unconvinced of the allure of my goal, or I sense that the guiding flame has been extinguished.

I want to be honest that I don't always have hope. My "meh" understanding of theology is that hope is always there, but I certainly don't always see it. And what's the use of hope if you don't possess it?

I can't point to a moment where I misplaced my hope, exactly. But the precursor to misplaced hope was probably anger that had nowhere to mature. I recognize so many things in my country, my church, and myself that are wrong. That are right to be angry about. And I was angry. I wanted my recognition of failures and laziness and corruption to be met with repentance, healing, and justice. But I think it's quite rare that time moves quickly enough for us to be able to see the full arc of crime, rightful anger, denunciation, justice, repentance, and redemption. For myself, when I can't witness that full arc, I become disillusioned by the recognition that most of the pain I witness and experience will not be resolved the way I want it to, in the time frame that I hope for. I may never witness redemption in situations where hearts and minds and lives are broken.

This pattern repeated sucked me dry of hope. How am I supposed to find my way to a goal, let alone believe in a goal, if justice does not materialize? If I recognize something wicked, call it out, and nothing comes of it? It feels like this happens over and over again, until I'm tired out of calling things out as wicked, because it doesn't make a difference whether I exert the energy or not.

I've been rightly angry at stinging, spitting words of others, on any number of topics.
I've been rightly angry at the lazy, inward-coiled church.
I've been rightly angry at the disgusting, degrading, dishonest speech of my president.
I've been rightly angry that the gospel has been twisted into a burning rod that prods my loved ones away.
I've been rightly angry at the dismissal of the sanctity of women.

I sit and write this list of grievances, and I cry for them. They hurt, and they should, because they are full of nettles to the heart. They should not have happened. And I'm stung that I know they are wrong, but am powerless to right them. I would say I have hope in Christ to right them in his own timing, but I don't always, because the need is now, and I can't see the manifestation of his grace and power right now. If it's happening, I don't recognize it.

And that's where I got some hope back. Recognition that hope was just standing in a different direction than I've been facing. I may never get the satisfaction of knowing that those who've gotten it wrong understand their wrongness and then fix it. If my hope is for that, I am without hope. My hope is not in retribution, but in grace.

My hope is in the fact that as much as I hate the grotesque words and the spiteful actions of my intellectual enemies, I don't have to withhold my heart from them. I know that sounds....funny. Most (maybe all) of the time, I want people who are wrong to know that they are wrong. I don't think that that desire is always wrong. BUT, I have been wrong in thinking that until they admit that they are wrong, I am the better woman. This has crushed my hope, because most people don't think they are wrong. I can never seem to make it past the phase of righteous anger. I can't even right their wrongs for them, and that has tortured me. It's felt so dark, lost, and lonely. Restless and listless.

What IS in my power is to love people who are wrong. To put aside how much I detest their wrong ideas and how much I revile the way they have treated me or others, and say, "I still welcome you." You are still made by a God who is never wrong. To respond to people in a way that diffuses rage instead of feeding the wound they may have just inflicted.

To defend my pride less. Even if they're wrong.
To ignore inflammatory comments and be a better listener.
To serve children, even if its an interruption. Even if they don't deserve it. 
To give freely, for objects can be replaced.
To show up when I'd rather stay home.
To look past inconveniences and see opportunities to offer help.
To complain less, air my grievances less.

I am lighter for these realizations. I found some hope again. Hope - a goal - that is in my power, instead of my powerlessness. I don't have to hang my sense of accomplishment on whether poor decisions are punished adequately. My sense of accomplishment is a poor mini-me of Jesus' accomplishment, which is to say, "I love you anyway."

I didn't directly quote these writers, but in the past two weeks, Rachel Held Evans on the Church Unity episode of the Liturgists podcast and Rosaria Butterfield in her book "The Gospel Comes with a Housekey" have been instrumental in helping me reframe my place in a troubled church and a troubled world. I highly recommend both, for many reasons. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Coffee and 3rd Wave Motherhood

My not-so-little brothers have a friend who works in a coffee shop in Munich. He's not spending a year there to find himself, he's from there, so feel free to believe what I say next. He described the history of coffee in 3 waves. The first wave is like post-partum cave women eating raw beans. Second wave is Starbucks. Third wave is "a movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity." The "rather than a commodity" part is my favorite, it makes me laugh. 

I have been thinking a little bit about motherhood and a little bit about coffee, and it really crystallized for me when I realized that I'm no longer in the mom-phase of loving Starbucks. Not because I'm better than Starbucks, I just don't need it like I used it, and now I recognize love-of-Starbucks as its own phase of motherhood, especially as I see others loving it. Far be it from me to begrudge them this love. The Starbucks phase isn't about how Starbucks tastes, although they really rope me in with that caramel drizzle. It's not about discovering that "artisanal" coffee tastes better, or even that you can just make decent coffee at home and bring it with you in a thermos in the morning and ice the leftovers in the afternoon for the same amount as one single grande caramel macchiato (with coconut milk, if you're nursing a sensitive baby). The Starbucks phase is about sanity. Not in a jokesy mom-meme kind of way, but like actually staying alive as an adult human being. Starbucks is about having something between your paws that children aren't allowed to share. It's about spending $5 on something you shouldn't, and that making you feel like a real American. It's about identifying with a club of women who are suffering under impossible social pressures and who just can't seem to make their children's lives as magical as they should be. 

A grim narrator surveys the line of minivans in the drive-thru and says, after a pregnant pause, "but coffee was very much still a commodity." 
If you're in the Starbucks phase, hang on, Mother. It gets better. 

This week my boys, now 4 and 5, were both in school at the same time for the first time in human history. Incidentally, I was awarded my bachelor's degree yesterday. I've already been turned down for 2.5 jobs, like a real member of society. We are officially in a new phase of life. I guess it melted away slowly, but I realized recently that it's been a minute since I was really drowning in parenthood. I still break up approximately 17 street (er, young children) fights a day, but DARE I SAY we might be hitting our stride here. I am not miserable all the time. I am not depleted beyond my brain's tiny capacity for hope. I like spending time with my kids, and I don't worry about the time I don't spend with them as much. My kindergartner loves riding the school bus by himself and enthusiastically waves goodbye to me. Everything is so bearable in the parenting department that I've moved on to stressing about other family members. Third wave, I'm telling you. 

I'll just be here enjoying my cheap home made coffee until the Lord blasts me back to Starbucks for being so cocky. 
Related Posts with Thumbnails