Friday, May 30, 2008

Bookstore Blues

This weekend our church is having a picnic for the three high school graduates. As one of the youth leaders, it fell to me to purchase a gift for each of them on behalf of the youth group. Last year we gave each grad a Bible, a contemporary translation designed to catch the increasingly elusive attention of the young. This year's recipients are not the studious type, so it seemed important to pick something that they would not toss aside without a look. I searched and searched a giant bookseller online but couldn't find a Bible or devotional that seemed just right.

This week, upon realizing that an online order would not arrive by Sunday, I finally decided to patronize the local Christian bookstore. After a thorough inspection, I concluded that the selection was disappointing, so I bought three greeting cards and went over to the nearby behemoth chain bookstore.

There I found shelf after shelf of Bibles (not to mention rows of "Christian Living"). It was overwhelming: metal Bibles, leather Bibles, Bibles for students and women and men and children and soldiers and athletes and students. Eventually I found two good options: a devotional and a Bible similar to the version of last year (this time, hard cover and more expensive). Only one copy of the devotional was in stock. Three copies of this particular Bible were available, but one had a torn dust jacket. In the end I accepted a 10% discount on that one and bought the three Bibles for nearly $70 total.

At the Christian bookstore (in which a third of the space was devoted to religious kitsch, and the rest to music and books obviously designed to appeal to folks of a very specific cultural/political stripe) I felt vaguely uncomfortable, as if a slick line of products was being marketed under a thin guise of Christianity. In fact, my experience in "Christian" aisle of the big, secular store was similar. I can't help wondering how Jesus would feel if he were to walk into these bookstores in search of the Holy Bible.

Surfer Chic

Prevention vs. Cure

The other day I heard a news item about the rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. reaching a plateau at 32%. The comparative merits of various screening and identification methods were discussed. Listening to the appalling figures (no pun intended) I kept waiting to hear something about the causes of this epidemic and how the trend can be reversed.

I'm still waiting.

Childhood obesity is one of the most preventable health problems out there. Its prevention involves (among other things) education, common sense, discipline, and cultivation of good habits, and by extension would prevent many more serious and costly diseases (type II diabetes being one of the top candidates).

It seems that the onetime esteemed practice of prevention has been devalued.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Herbal Explosion

What's to be done with a forest of unruly mint (besides foisting it on unsuspecting family members, hardly leaving a dent in the supply)? According to Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, you can dry mint and other herbs by zapping them for a minute in the microwave between paper towels, then zapping them 20-30 additional seconds at a time until they're dry.

I decided to experiment with each of my abundant herbs. The oregano worked like a charm, although I was puzzled by the popping noise it emitted after a few seconds of microwaving. One minute was all it took for a crisp, still-green sprig.

Chocolate mint was next. I turned the dial to 1 minute and heard more popping sounds. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a fiery flash and heard a simultaneous explosion. I leaped to turn off the microwave and gingerly opened the door. The mint was not quite dry, but one part of the stem was smoldering. The odor of burnt mint lingered in the kitchen. The oils must have caught fire.

I'm a little nervous about trying the fuzzy apple mint and oily rosemary.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Faith of Our Fathers

The old hymn, Faith of Our Fathers, has always conjured for me somber images of my spiritual forbears who suffered persecution, torture, and martyrdom at the hands of the state church in 17th century Europe. I grew up hearing these stories in church, peeking at the gruesome illustrations in the hefty volume of Martyrs Mirror, and wondering if I would have the grit to take a radical stand with such dire consequences, should it be required. This disturbing history implied that caring for one's enemies, submitting to ill treatment and even accepting death for one's Christian beliefs was the ultimate expression of faith.

So when I cracked open John McCain's memoir entitled Faith of My Fathers, and found the first stanza and refrain of this familiar hymn introducing the body of the book, I was nonplussed. This book details the military exploits of the author, his father, and his grandfather (in fact, his whole genealogy is chock full of legendary fighters). He appropriates these lyrics as a celebration of the fierce nationalism that has been passed down through generations of his family and which elevates loyalty to one's country (as expressed through a military career) as the highest form of honor and courage. Willingness to kill, destroy, and die violently on behalf of one's government is, apparently, what the author means by "faith".

The second and third verses of the hymn in question directly oppose McCain's interpretation of the first:

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

Aside from McCain's distasteful misinterpretation of a venerable hymn, I found little of interest in the book. I really tried, but simply couldn't bring myself to read more a couple of chapters (including how he survived as a POW). So much for a well-rounded reading of the front-running presidential candidates.

Doorstep Delights

These photos were taken just outside my front door (unfortunately, they are already at least a week old). The middle two depict the mystery plant that almost got classified as a weed before sprouting buds.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Books I've Enjoyed Recently, Part II

Note: Thanks to my friend KR for recommending the first two.

Operating Instructions: A Diary of My Son's First Year,
by Anne Lamott: If you're willing to overlook the crassness and profanity, you (especially if you are or were a new parent) may find a mini-gold mine of true-to-life emotion, spiritual insight, and comic relief from this author, a self-described nut case, recovering addict, and quite unlikely Christian.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini: This dramatic tale based in the chronically war-plagued country of Afghanistan bears a striking resemblance to the author's other novel, The Kite Runner, in terms of setting, plot (in which several characters' stories run parallel and then eventually intersect), and bittersweet endings. In both, the brutality (both personal and societal) is almost more than I can handle reading about. But the story certainly had me strung along.

Note: As referenced in a close associate's blog, the following is the first in a series of autobiographical reading.

Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton: This is a candid self-portrait that gave me a new respect for the author. She spends several chapters on her childhood and college years, and the rest on her eight years as First Lady. The mechanics of politics still befuddles me, but I got a glimpse of how intense life must be for political figures in the hot spotlight of public life. It seems political figures are real people with real flaws and real feelings who, at best, are trying to slog through the democratic quicksand to reach positive, concrete societal change. Yet the demands on a high-profile person like the First Lady or President seem almost super-human (e.g. flying across the globe every week or so for back-to-back meetings with other world leaders, regardless of jetlag, decisions that hold thousands of lives in the balance, constant media exposure, etc.). She's got some impressive shoes, but I surely wouldn't want to wear them.

May Days

I guess there's just something about spring in a temperate climate that I can't get over. As the lyrics to a song by the Urban Hillbilly Quartet puts it, "Same thing, every spring."

Now spring means the neglected triangle flowerbed in front of our house row with a fake, black-painted water pump in the center is festooned with irises. This fills me with secret glee, because the triangle used to be a dry, lifeless nothing. Over the years I kept plying it with perennials to see if anything would survive there. This season, for the first time, the irises have triumphed. They emit a tantalizing sweet-sour scent not unlike that of wine, and their peach and purple/white ruffles resemble royal garments. They must be close cousins of the lily, because, as Jesus famously exclaimed, "Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these!"

I've finally figured out the difference between Johnny-jump-ups and pansies (I think). The latter are unfurling their burgundy, cream, and purple velvet in my backyard. The former, in a large terra cotta pot on my front porch, miraculously sprout enough diminutive yellow and violet-cream blooms to fill a glass bowl as a table centerpiece every week.

A plant whose name I don't know (and which I came dangerously close to uprooting as a weed, multiple times, having forgotten that I planted it) just unveiled its contribution to the pretty world: tall spokes with vertical rows of rosy, boxy blossoms.

Nearby, the flamingo-colored azaleas are already falling in the rain. Delicate columbines bob above the fray like fancy purple bells, back for another round of ringing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mothers Day

To mark my first official Mothers Day as a mother, I put NS in a dress that I wore when I was her age. She patiently humored me throughout the dress-up and photo-shoot process.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Emerging Skills

NS has three new pastimes: sticking out her tongue and buzzing/blowing bubbles, touching her toes, and practicing standing/pushing off with her feet. This last activity requires a lot of help on the grown-up's part. Here's a demonstration. Oh yeah, her other new skill is laughing.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Memorable Moments

NS continues to relish bath times.
Lots of family showed up to help celebrate her church dedication.

After the service and a potluck, everyone stuck around for a while and enjoyed the outdoors. This was NS' first dress-up occasion, but because the day was inhospitably chilly, she soon had to change into warmer clothes. In Auntie H's words, she was "like a celebrity changing costumes between acts."

Auntie G, Cousin AG, and Cousin ND (a.k.a. Hardhat Man) paid us a much-anticipated visit. We went for walks and playground time at the park, and even hit a couple of thrift stores.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

On the Market

This morning we drove five miles south to the nearest farmers market with high hopes of finding the first tender greens of the season, asparagus, and much more. There was a sign in the parking lot next to the small town's renowned historic inn. We pulled in, baffled, as the advertised location was a few blocks farther down.

"Are we obligated to buy something just by coming?" CP whispered as we awkwardly approached the three vendors clustered at one end of the lot. No other customers were in sight.

One woman broke the ice by coming over and admiring the baby. Then she gave us a casual tour of everyone's wares--irises in pots and little bouquets of lily-in-the-valley, frozen lamb, herbs, and all-natural homemade doggie treats. (When asked, I was glad to reply truthfully that we have no dogs.) "There will be a lot more things available next week," she assured us.

We ended up buying a half dozen free range eggs for $1.25 from a nine-year-old boy. (The lady at the first stand had eggs, too. "But you should buy them from him," she said.) I asked him what kind of chickens he has. He hesitated, then, after some prompting from his mom, answered, "Red and yellow chickens."

Two blocks down we found the other market. Four vendors perched by their tables on and around the porch of the potato chip factory warehouse. A big sign on the railing festooned with fake red and green chili peppers declared that it was the Farmers Market. There was just enough room for one of us to sidle past the tables. Two or three other people were standing around chatting with the sellers.

We bought a $2 bag of rainbow Swiss chard (enough for a one-person salad). I couldn't contain my curiosity, and asked the seller why there were two markets so close together. "There were some personality issues. We split up for the sake of the market," was her explanation. She added, "Come back next week. We'll have a lot more."

The owners of the farm we visited last month were there, as promised. Their offerings consisted largely of pork-derived products in a cooler. CP wanted to buy some. "I don't think I've ever bought pork. Let's try it." We forked over $25 for a six-pound-plus package of Boston Butt. The woman introduced us to her husband, a barbecue aficionado who gave us tips on making pulled pork and promised to email us his favorite recipe.