Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why I'm Still Thinking about Trayvon Martin

"Oh, I know why she gets so upset about that," you might think. "It's because her son died." And you would be partly right. My son died only five weeks before Trayvon died (but at least my son died in his sleep of natural causes). Or you could remember that my boys get around Baltimore on public transportation and on foot; so maybe I could relate with Trayvon's family because he was on foot. And you would be partly right.  A young man walking home from a convenience store with candy and tea, wearing a hoodie, could so easily have been one of my sons!

But those aren't the only reasons it upsets me.  I was a kid during the Civil Rights Movement. Because I lived in Washington State, I was pretty insulated; I knew we were all equal, and somehow I assumed everyone else must think so too. So I totally didn't "get it", at first. I thought if there were still a few people who were a little prejudiced, then we didn't need major changes; we simply needed to change those few people's hearts. But I wanted to understand. So I began to read. One of the books I read was Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin, the white writer who took pigmentation medicine to make himself look black, so he could find out what life was really like in the Deep South for black people. And what he found wasn't pretty!  I read more and learned more, and the picture didn't get any better.

Thankfully, all that has changed a lot. We have made great strides in being real, in recognizing that we are all just the same. But some moments, in some places, we might wonder. A man in a car, a man with a gun, follows a lone teenager who is on foot, and then gets out and follows him on foot, and then apparently asks him what he is doing there.  Do you know how demeaning that question is?  Do you know how threatening that whole picture is?  Even if we don't know exactly what happened after that...we do know that an unarmed teen was shot. Oh, but you have a right to carry a gun and stand your ground, right?  Only in self-defense. But besides, did anyone think of the unarmed teen's right to stand his ground?  It seems to me, for a moment (or a month or two), when that man was not arrested and tried, we went backwards - at least in that little corner of the world - some 50 years. Thankfully, the man was finally arrested, so this can be handled in a trial. Hopefully, we are back on track.

In the meantime, when you see me in a hoodie, now you know why. Yes, it does fit my relaxed clothing style. But I didn't buy my hoodies just because I like a casual style of clothing. I bought my hoodies after the Trayvon Martin incident, and they remain my continuing statement of solidarity.

Now, I'm not going to ask you to buy a hoodie, but I would like to ask you to join me in two things.

First of all, even if we - you, my readers, and I - are not racially prejudiced, I'm afraid we all sometimes make assumptions about people, perhaps based on the economic "class" we associate them with, or perhaps the clothing they wear, maybe a disability that they have, or maybe the way they talk. Do we ever hear ourselves saying or thinking "those people" it a culture, or an economic class or the way people dress?  If we do, let's stop ourselves and think: We are all the same. We all have hopes and discouragements, joys and sorrows. We all have people we love and people who love us. At the same time, we are each immensely different. Each one of us is a totally unique individual with complex thoughts and precious gifts.

Secondly, for those of us who are praying people, let us pray that our country will be a place where people are held accountable for their actions, regardless of the victim's race, culture, or who they know. We simply cannot permit vigilante law. Let's pray that our law enforcement and our courts act with honor and fairness. Most of all, let's pray that we may all grow in respect for one another.

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's Not this Simple, But...

Yet another mass shooting has occurred (although this time "only" two victims are dead, well, three, if you count the shooter).  This one at an Oregon mall strikes closer to home for me, closer to the home of my childhood. As I read about this story, one paragraph caught my eye. The story quoted "Former FBI agent and ABC news contributor Bob Garrett", according to this news article, as saying:  "The biggest thing for a mass shooter is the control and empowerment for the shooting," he said. "It isn't uncommon for shooter to wear a costume, or sometimes simply to dress in black. In this case, apparently, he wore a hockey mask. He went there being someone other than who he is in reality because it gives him power."

" gives him power". As I read those last words, something clicked in my brain. I know this is very oversimplified. I know that each person who goes berserk and shoots up a bunch of strangers is a different individual. But I have watched our society go from putting kids down: "Children should be seen and not heard; No, Uncle So-and-So couldn't have done anything to you; Get me this, get me that, or Do all these chores"; etc. to building kids up: "You can do anything you set your mind to; My kid is the best darn kid in the school; and My kid can beat your kid up".

And I would like to maintain that both of those attitudes are at opposite ends of a spectrum, not quite what our children need. I think we need to nurture the kids and teach them what maybe we ourselves are just beginning to learn: to nurture themselves. Oh, with guys, you might not want to use the word "nurture". But I think the Buddhists have something valuable here - that we can learn - when they teach "self-compassion".

The problem with the "self-esteem" teaching of the mid-to-late twentieth century lies in its misconstruction to  'I can do anything' and 'I am better' (or 'I am the best'). I'm not saying, by any means, that we shouldn't strive for better things and encourage our children to do so. But it's the emphasis, I think.

If little Johnny thinks he is loved and respected because he's a great Little League catcher, what happens if his arm goes out?  What happens if he finds himself in a league where he's smaller and younger? If Suzy is the most popular girl in her grade school and thinks that's her crowning glory, then what happens if she goes to middle school and all that changes?  Or if her family is forced to relocate?  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with sports or with being popular (and many of the people I have known who are popular are good at bringing people out and listening to them, so they are making a great contribution to society).  What I'm thinking of is how our children define themselves. And how we define ourselves (because they are watching us).

Am I "good" because I'm a writer? Is a mother good because she's a mother? But wait, what if her kids didn't turn out the way she thought they would? Is she no longer a good mother, then? Is she no longer "good", now?

Whether you want to look at it in a religious way or in a secular way, we are good because we "are". We were created by God. We are each unique, each special in our own way, yet each similar to the rest of mankind in some ways, too.  We each develop core values which usually don't change, even when we change our views. What if we were to teach our children that they are good at playing baseball and that's wonderful but they themselves are good because they "are"; because they are unique; because they are kind or thoughtful or helpful, or whatever virtues and core values they possess; because they are loved and they love.

If that's where we get our value, then it doesn't matter if we are no longer good at something, if we lose our ability to do something we used to do, or if we fall short of our expectations. We can dust ourselves off, comfort ourselves, and go on living in harmony with others because we live in harmony with ourselves.

What do you think? Would it hurt to take a little of the emphasis off of "self-esteem" and put a little more emphasis on "self-kindness"? 

We might not solve the shootings of the world but maybe we can help a few people, maybe our children, maybe even ourselves. 


Monday, December 10, 2012

Who Am I?

Let’s start with music, an unlikely place to start, considering I can’t sing or sit still through a song.

I like some classical music but I usually can’t identify either the musician or the symphony, or as I said, just sit and listen for very long, as my husband can, who loves it so much. But I especially like Handel’s Messiah. And I love flash mobs singing Christmas music.

I like country music, both the twang and the fact that it often tells a story; but not the kind where “if you play it backwards, you get your dog back and your house back and your wife back”. Not that I don’t like to get things back (but of course that’s only a joke), but that I don’t enjoy watching people lose them in the first place. I especially like Johnnie Cash and Carrie Underwood.

I like Black Gospel music (did I say that correctly?). And as a child going to church camp, I liked what were then called “Negro spirituals”. (I hope there’s nothing disrespectful in my saying that).  I enjoyed folk songs of any kind and later “pop” on the radio…whatever told a story or spoke to the human condition. One of my favorite songs at camp was Dem Bones Gonna’ Rise Again, which introduced me to Adam and Eve and original sin, which I later learned more about when I became a Catholic. To me, it explains a whole lot of things about the world and the human condition.

I like American musicals.  A few years ago, the day my friend went to the hospital, one of my children was watching Showboat and I cried my heart out over Old Man River, although as far as I could tell, my friend was neither ‘tired of living’ nor ‘scared of dying’. But I thought there was still too much truth to that song in our world, and of course music itself can pull you in to an emotional place you may need to be at a particular time.

I like to listen to my husband sing in the choir, and I liked hearing my brother-in-law, John, sing, “It’s a Wonderful World” just like Louis Armstrong.  

Music speaks to my soul but I’m not a musician and it’s not my hobby. My hobbies have been whittled down over the years to pretty much just reading and writing, but I have made feeble attempts in my life at whittling, crafts, and making patchwork. I have played the flute, where I didn’t learn to get into the rhythm of the band very well (my teacher’s concern) but I learned finger memory, which I later put to good use typing.

I enjoy adding little decorative touches to our home, however humble they may be. My tastes are not sophisticated but people have told me they feel comfortable – or peaceful - and I always figure that if this “hyper” person can make you feel comfortable, then I’ve accomplished some little beautiful thing.  
I like to take walks. I used to like to hike and that’s what my husband and I did on many of our first dates. As a child, I always liked to ride: bicycles, mini-motorcycles, ponies. I had a privileged youth in that regard, though not in some other ways. 

I love beautiful cars…not to own them – I usually drive cars that are plain and just plain old (not vintage kind of old) – but I like to admire beautiful cars. Sometimes they take my breath away!

I homeschooled my six children because I wanted to be sure they would keep the faith I had adopted. Not all of them did. And not all of them think homeschooling was a good thing, either. But they all appreciate the effort that went into it, they are all caring, responsible adults, and our family is full of love and mutual respect.

I have often had a view of myself as being timid, and I have trouble getting it out of my head, but it’s rarely true.  I got that perspective partly because I was abused as a child by an older child, and it has taken most of my life to understand that it wasn’t my fault. But I spent my last year of high school putting out a school paper that publicly questioned what the school administration was doing.  And more recently, I once stood up to a policeman in my home in a bullet-proof vest (who wanted to barge into the room of a sleeping son because of what turned out to be what I had guessed: mistaken identity).  The picture he showed me when I questioned him was of a boy who was not white, and I think that’s why I was able to convince him to stop and let me go wake my son instead of him going in, probably ready to cuff him first and question after, or perhaps ready to draw his gun. What upset me most was not the violation of our home by a swat-like team, but that it might have gone worse for someone else.

I am vehement about racial equality and get shaking angry about injustices that I perceive may be related to race or culture. Also, I’m well aware that, to this day, there are probably people of all races who might not agree with me on what I’m about to say, but I’ve always been very much in favor of  racially mixed marriages.  Love is universal. And my sister married a man from China, those many years ago. Also, racially mixed marriage was the only thing I ever argued with my grandfather about, when I was probably 16, back in the 60's. Since that time, I’ve changed my mind about a whole lot of things but never about that.  Although I respect differences in culture, I also believe what my son Paul used to say, “There is only one race, the human race.” 

I write books to promote justice and faith and family, and so many things, but most of them are inside my head and may never come out. I have more ideas and plans than I could accomplish in a lifetime, yet sometimes I whittle away my time on the internet. Sometimes I feel like my dad, who was always building and repairing, and collecting and organizing, and always making new plans. Or like my mom, who had cooking and sewing and cake decorating and crafting projects, as well as the knitting that I would grow out of while it sat in the cupboard waiting for her to come back to it. You might say I have a focus problem and that I came by it honestly. In some ways, though, I am too focused on writing, and need to take time out to eat right and exercise more. 

I’ve always had trouble trying to balance serving my family with doing other things I wanted to accomplish. It’s taken me a lifetime, faith, and good counseling to learn that it’s not really about how much we accomplish! It’s about being who we are. It’s about loving God, loving ourselves, loving our families and friends. And in the process of all that love, in the cocoon of all that love, we will probably accomplish more than we ever dreamed. 

God bless you. 

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Ranger Cookies

Ranger Cookies were a family favorite when I was growing up, and my sister Chris - who died a year ago today - continued to make them for herself and her husband through the years. She especially enjoyed making them for her daughters and granddaughters.  So, today I decided to make some. But I had not continued to make them as she had, so I didn't know where to find the family recipe. I could probably have gotten it from my niece, but that would have been too easy. Besides, I didn't think of that until I was "ready to go"...and of course, California is three hours behind me.

After perusing dozens of recipes online, I found one I liked...and then I "messed with it".  I wanted the cookies to have a little less fat. So I cut the fat almost in half (but I adapted in order to do that). But that doesn't mean we can eat them by the handful, because I didn't cut the sugar down at all. If you wanted to do that, you probably could...or you could use a sugar substitute, if that's what you do.

One more thing. There is no one basic ingredient list for Ranger Cookies. The ingredients vary widely, kind of like a minestrone soup. (Did I just compare cookies to soup?) If you have your own favorite recipe or favorite ingredients, go for it. And maybe you'd like to share yours, or a link, in the comments.

Without further comment, here's my recipe. Wait, I gotta' get another cookie first.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream together the following ingredients:

3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten with a fork
1 teaspoon vanilla

Measure the dry ingredients onto the above, and then mix:
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Now add these ingredients and mix again:
1 cup rolled oats (quick-cooking but not instant)
1 cup corn flakes, slightly crushed
¼ cup coconut

Spray a cookie sheet lightly with vegetable oil spray. (This is not absolutely necessary and you usually bake these kind of cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet. But I sprayed the cookie sheet because I had cut down on the fat.)  Use a teaspoon to drop about two teaspoonsful (a heaping teaspoonful) of cookie dough, 12 to a pan. 

Bake for 10 minutes until golden. I always bake a test cookie first to make sure the dough, oven temperature, and time are going to sync. (For those using screen-readers, I meant synchronize, not like the kitchen sink, which, incidentally, is what some people call ranger cookies.).  

Use a spatula to move baked cookies to a wire rack to cool. 

Makes about 2 dozen.  Big family or company coming?  Should be simple to double the recipe.

Friday, December 07, 2012

My Daddy, My Daddy, Where did you go?

I know it’s you inside, but I’m not sure you really know it’s me sometimes.  

You used to get frustrated with me for forgetting things: my purse, my keys, or stupid little things.  I tried so hard to find ways to keep track of my stuff, and ways to keep from being confused and forgetful. I wanted you to be proud of me. I was doing pretty well, Dad, but there’s just so much to think about these days that it’s hard again, almost as hard as when I was a little girl.  I’ve lost my car keys and had to spend hours in the cold and rain trying without success to find them. I’ve found myself on the freeway, wondering momentarily which freeway I was on. And then I worry that maybe I’m getting what you have. But my kids - your grandkids - remind me that I’ve always been this way. It’s not progressive with me, only sporadic.

I wish I could talk to Mom and maybe she’d tell me…well, I don’t know what she’d tell me. Would she hold me in her arms? Would she do that, now? And Chris! How hard it was for her when you had your stroke!  You were her bastion of support, and suddenly the roles were reversed, and worse than reversed because you would get mad at her for making your life decisions. 

When I visited you last summer, you saw me getting scared while watching a silly old Western. You weren’t watching the movie but you were watching me, and you said, chuckling, “You’re really into it, aren’t you?” It was fun to see, because it was the real you, peeking through, laughing at me because I was emotional about a t.v. show. It also kind of reminded me of mom’s dad, too…Charlie, to you.

Remember when you fixed t.v.’s, Dad, in your sideline business? I would join you in your basement shop and talk your ear off, and you never seemed to mind. You took me with you to lumber stores and hardware stores. You were always busy fixing something or building something, or going to Amvets or church events, or picking up a couple of young men from the Washington School for the Blind to take them with you to Toastmasters. And yes, Dad, I’m going to tell you again that they “watch t.v.”.  Did I ever win that friendly argument that we had after Paul lost his vision? 

You always knew you were “right”, Dad.  I remember you and Chris arguing about how to pronounce German, when she took it in high school. You were always “right”, but you never yelled. It seemed to me that you were always kind. 

You didn’t have “mood swings” back then. I know how much you have always loved April and her family. And I have seen what a wonderful, caring environment you have with them. But you’re trapped inside a mind that doesn’t understand the way it once did, a brilliant mind that probably still tries to understand and feels the frustration of coming up short. I have known that frustration of coming up short all my life, Dad, but only occasionally and only in little ways, not to the degree, never to the depth of it that you must experience.

When I was a child, there were times when I thought I could never be good enough. I sometimes thought that if you really knew me, you wouldn’t approve of me and love me. But when I went off to a cult and moved out of town, you loved me still, and you loved me always, no matter who I seemed to be at different times. Deep inside, I was always the same person, and I know you are the same person you always were, deep inside, Dad. I love you, Dad. I will always love you.