Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

As days went, Wednesday, December 19 looked to be a good one. It's part of my favorite time of year - the week before Christmas. I woke up looking forward to a day off work and a nice lunch with a good friend. Then I noticed my head was starting to hurt. Just a little. Not enough to really do anything about, but enough that I noticed it was there.

I was meeting my friend at 2, so I figured I'd post December's bills. This is usually a fun thing for me. I don't approach this event with the sort of dread most people do - I actually look forward to it. But things weren't adding up, and I couldn't remember the finer points of some financial juggling I'd done. And the headache started getting worse.

Before lunch, I figured I'd have time for a couple errands that would normally take about 20 minutes. So I left a little after 1:00 to make my first stop: my place of employment where the business office had a check for me. I got there at 1:15 and was greeted by a locked door and a sign that read "The business office is closed from 11:30 to 1:00 for lunch." Now, I don't begrudge my wonderful co-workers their annual Christmas lunch, but when someone says they'll be back at 1:00, shouldn't they be back by 1:15? Maybe I was doing the math wrong. By 1:20 I was starting to think that maybe they just kept time differently than I did. By 1:30 I was wondering if they were in a different time zone altogether. Finally at 1:35, they came in. A wasted 20 minutes for me. And my mind was still whirling with numbers and the headache was getting even worse.

My second errand was to a local candy store for stocking stuffers. They were out of the stuff I wanted (figures!) with the exception of nine little peanut-butter-filled Christmas trees. I snapped those up and thought I'd ask hubby to get the rest from the store near his work one day. More wasted time, my mind was still whirling with numbers, and the headache was getting even worse.

Then the traffic conspired to turn a five-minute drive to the restaurant into about fifteen. Sitting behind the second cycle of a left-turn light, I glanced at my watch. Great. It was a little after 2:00. What the heck, wasn't anybody at work?

So I waltzed into the restaurant where my friend, who is usually 10 minutes late to everything, was patiently waiting for me. Of all the days for her to be on time. Numbers whirled and the headache worsened.

By this time I was ready to drop my head onto my arms and start groaning. Instead, I took some pain pills and kept plugging away. Lunch was very nice. But it was spiced with a lot of interruptions. I'd found out at the business office that my timesheet hadn't been approved yet, so phone calls and texts flew between me and hubby and boss. Both of whom, of course, were away from their computers at the time. Of course. Still, numbers whirled and the headache hung on.

Then I realized that this was the last day hubby was going to actually be at work before Christmas. So I called him yet again to ask him to stop by the candy place near his work on the way home. By this time, I had about 1200 milligrams of ibuprofen in me and my head was still pounding. As if by a tack hammer now instead of a sledge hammer, but still . . .

Then at 4:45, my phone alarm went off, telling me I had to take my pills. Which reminded me that I needed to pick up said pills at Kroger. So I said goodbye to my friend (yes, we have long lunches) and headed to the store. Some lady near the pharmacy counter decided that the place she was standing was the line rather than the marked lane, so she wiggled in ahead of me. It would have been only a minor annoyance on any other day, but today . . . And the headache went on.

And of course, the second it was finally my turn, the phone rang. It was hubby at the candy store. So I stood in front of the sign that said "Please finish all cell phone conversations before approaching the counter" and told hubby I'd have to call him back when I was finished at the pharmacy counter.

So I headed to the car with my hands full of drugs, a gallon of milk, and a couple other odds and ends. Naturally, that's when the phone rang again. When I didn't have a hand to reach into my pocket with. Hardly anybody calls me, but when they do, it always seems to be at exactly the wrong times. The tack hammer hitting my head seemed to swell.

I finally made it home and thought I could relax a little. I just had to wait for hubby to get home with the goodies. When he did, he announced that he'd gotten a ticket on the way home. Of course he did. I should have expected nothing else. What a way to wrap up to my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Now, I realize that these are all minor things. There are a lot of people in the world who have much worse problems than these, and my heart goes out to them. But all on the same day? Come on!

And that's not counting the guy who practically side-swiped me in the roundabout, and the cat who hopped up on the kitchen counter to closely inspect some dirty dishes for food possibilities, and the . . . and the . . . Excuse me while I go drown my sorrows in chocolate.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Support a Great Project!

I am proud to be part of a project that is the brainchild of writer and podcaster Scott Roche. He has gathered some of the podcasting world's best writers and asked them all to write a short story for his book "The Way of the Gun: A Bushido Western Anthology."

And I am this book's editor.

The book is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of short stories that are Westerns with a Bushido flavor to them. Scott describes it as "A Sunday matinee shoot’em up with a dash of philosophy and tension as an ancient code deals with an increasingly modern world."

Scott needs a little bit of startup cash to enable him to pay his writers (his editor), his graphic designer (his editor), and other miscellaneous costs (and his editor). He has initiated a Kickstarter to help him do this. His goal is to have $5,000 by November 1. As of this writing, 74 backers have donated just over $2,000. So there's not much time left. The link to the Kickstarter is www.tinyurl.com/ScottRoche

It would be wonderful if you would consider contributing even a small amount to support this project. Every little bit helps!

To help Scott promote his Kickstarter (and therefore his book project), the Hughes family (Keith, me, and our daughter Laura) has created a video for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy, and don't forget to donate!



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Running Scared

On Sunday, August 12, I preached my very first sermon. Here is what I said. Or pretty close.

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          What are you afraid of? What makes you shake in your shoes? Think for a minute of what scares you. Or maybe what used to scare you. When you were a kid, were you afraid of the dark? Maybe it was the boogie man in the closet, or the monster under the bed. Or the monster at the end of the book!
          What are you afraid of now? Perhaps you have a scary health problem. Maybe you're afraid that you or a family member will lose a job. Are there financial worries? If you're a parent, are you afraid something could happen to your kids?
          I know! We're all afraid of the coming zombie apocalypse! If the Mayans were right, as of December 21, we're doomed!
          I'll tell you a couple things that make me rattle in my Reeboks. That way, you'll know that I'm preaching as much to myself as I am to all of you.
          I keep having a recurring dream that we somehow lose our house. I never know how that has happened, but we have to live somewhere else. Dream me is devastated. When I wake up, it takes me some time to calm down from the panic. Now, when I'm awake the rest of the time, I'm not aware of being afraid of losing our house, but I do know some people who are afraid of just that.
          Another thing I used to be afraid of (and still kind of am) was not having an answer when somebody asked a question. I always felt it was somehow my responsibility to have an answer ready for anyone who asked. Even the Bible said I was supposed to! I Peter 3:15 - "Always be ready with an answer." And who was I to argue with God? If I couldn't provide the information the other person wanted, I felt I was somehow letting that person down. I have since learned (and am still learning) that I don't have to be everything to everybody. Yes, I do what I can within the abilities that God has given me. But I have discovered the freedom of those three little words: "I don't know," and their cousins "I'm not sure" and "Look it up."
          Now, if you want to make our choir quiver, just walk up to one of them and say "a cappella." I can hear the groans now. "Oh, yuccapella!" Or, "Acapulco? Yeah, I wish I were in Acapulco. Then I wouldn't have to do this." There is something about singing without piano accompaniment that scares some of them positively stiff. Never mind that they do it every week and they do it just fine. But it's still a scary thing for them.
          But no matter what has us running scared, we have a choice. We can either listen to those inner voices telling us we should be afraid of everything, or we can approach these things more reasonably. We can be running scared or we can be walking with God.

          Granted, there are some things we should be afraid of. We should be afraid of putting a hand on a hot stove. We should lock our houses and our car doors. We should be aware of what's going on around us.
          I discovered that ever since I started washing my hands like a germophobe, I hardly ever get sick now. For somebody who works at a college full of students who are always either getting sick, are sick, or recovering from being sick, that's doing pretty well. Now where's the hand sanitizer?
          Those are all examples of reasonable fear. A better name for this might be "caution." It is what keeps us safe in what can be a dangerous world. But, unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of people who are so fearful, they are scared stupid. They're running scared.
          If I had a dime for every e-mail I got telling me all about the next thing I should be afraid of (Thanks Bob! Thanks Lee!), I would be a millionaire several times over. Here's an example of one of those, and if you've seen it, please don't say anything:
          There is a chemical called "dihydrogen monoxide." I have received several e-mails saying it should be banned. And for plenty of good reasons, since:

          1. it can cause excessive sweating and vomiting
          2. it is a major component in acid rain
          3. it can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
          4. accidental inhalation can kill you
          5. it contributes to erosion
          6. it decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes
          7. it has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients

          How many of you would you support a ban of this chemical? You don't have to raise your hand. One student asked 50 people if they supported a ban of this chemical, dihydrogen monoxide.

          Forty-three (43) said yes it should be banned.
          six (6) were undecided.
          and only one (1) knew that the chemical was water. 

          It's stuff like this that just adds to the culture of stupidity in our country. We're all running scared. Alarmists who practice junk science spread fear about everything from water to food (which is the biggest choking hazard we will ever face. Did you know?!)
          And global warming! Climate change! Don't even get me started on that one. When all is said and done (and it never seems to be all said and done!), all the screaming I hear strikes me as being no more than fleas arguing over the temperature of the dog.
          Do you know that we take a bigger chance just going to bed at night than we will doing almost anything else during the day? It's true! I looked it up. According to the Centers for Disease Control, falling out of bed accounts for 1.8 million emergency room visits per year and over 400,000 hospital admissions. It actually kills 450 people every year. That's about 38 people per month. And that's just in the United States. I don't know what the statistics are worldwide. But come on. Who isn't going to bed tonight because of that?
          Here's another one. More people die of suicide than by homicide. So you have a better chance of killing yourself than you do of being killed by someone. That's just great. Now I have to be afraid even of myself.
          Even so, we had the terrible case of the killings in that movie theater in Colorado a few weeks ago. My heart goes out to those people. But how do we react to something like that? I had some friends who actually told me they were afraid to go into a theater after that. Really? Now, I looked it up. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, there are almost 40,000 movie screens in the United States. So if you happened to be in a theatre on that particular day a few weeks ago (which is already a small chance), you had a 1 in 40,000 chance of being in the "wrong movie theater." More people die falling out of bed every month than died in that theatre. And on top of that, you had to be there at a very specific time, which lowers the odds even more.
          You have a better chance of being struck by lightning! I looked it up. The National Weather Service says that there's a 1 in 10,000 chance of being struck by lightning sometime in your lifetime. Compare that to the 1 in 40,000 chance we were just talking about. If that's not enough to convince you that going to the movies is absolutely safe, consider car accidents. Thousands of people die every day in car wrecks. Does this mean that you will stop driving your car? Of course not!
          So now we're not only running scared, it had better be away from the theatre. But no matter what has us running scared, we have a choice. We can either listen to the alarmists, or we can approach these things more reasonably. We can be running scared or we can be walking with God.

          What about things that fall between the two extremes of "reasonable fears" and "running scared"? I'll buy that a helmet is probably a good thing for a bike rider to have. But padding everything else? What's up with that? Children simply cannot go around in bubble wrap all their lives. We do them a disservice by protecting them from all risk, from all failure, from all problems. When they're protected from risk, they cannot learn how to handle risk. When they're protected from failure, they cannot learn how to handle failure. When they're protected from problems, they cannot learn how to solve problems.
          Some of us are even proud of our fears. It somehow makes us "good people" if we take so many precautions that it paralyzes us or our loved ones. We become martyrs to our own failure.

          So let's bring it back home a little bit. We've talked a little about what we're afraid of personally and a little about what fears we may share with our society. What about us as a congregation? What has AHPC members wobbling in their worship service? We might have good reason to be afraid. We're in a financially precarious situation, and we're in time of transition between pastors. That six-letter word "change" can be a scary thing. Some people hate it so much they think of "change" as a four-letter word. And maybe it is. Ch-a-n-ge. But we have a choice. We can be running scared or we can be walking with God.
          I see several reasons for hope. 
          Sure, we have our fair share of alarmists too. They have said for years, "We're within two months of closing our doors!" But one reason for hope is that we're not within months of closing our doors. Even with the spending freeze we've had to implement this summer, we still have some decent savings and assets like the manse that stand between us and financial collapse.
          Another reason for hope is our people. I admit that as little as five months ago, I was among those who were concerned about the viability of our church. What was once a vibrant, 500-member church is now down to something like 53 members. How discouraging! But then I attended a meeting of the finance committee and session with the Committee on Ministries from Presbytery, and I discovered that the people sitting around that table were all faithful people who were not going to let this church go down without a fight. How encouraging!
          Another reason for hope is our connection to Presbytery. We have access to a great bunch of resources in the Presbytery that other denominations simply don't have to the degree that we do. They won't let us go down without a fight either. I've seen other churches dwindle to as few as three members before Presbytery goes ahead and allows them to close.
          The last and best reason for hope is God. If it is the will of God that we close our doors, then it will happen, no matter what we do. But from the evidence I've seen, I believe that if God were going to shut us down, he'd have done it by now. With God on our side, who can stand against us?
          The thing is, fear is a feeling. Feelings can fool us. Noah surely felt fear in the ark. That didn't change the fact that he was never in any danger, and therefore really had nothing to fear. Feelings don't equal facts. We can't let our feelings - our emotions - make our decisions for us. It's a little like the tail wagging the dog. If we let our feelings rule over us, they will affect our actions, which will affect our thoughts, which will stand in the way of God. I challenge every one of you to make a point to do it the other way around. Let God rule your thoughts, which will affect your actions, which will affect your feelings. Then you will have no reason to feel fear.

          Let's see what the Bible has to say about fear.

1) So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

2) The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? (Psalm 118:6)

3) If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

4) I have not given you a spirit of fear. Fear prevents forward progress. (Isaiah 41:13)

5) For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)

6) Another translation of that same verse reads: "Fear always tells you what you’re not, what you don’t have, what you can’t do, and what you never will be." (Romans 8:15)

7) For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (II Timothy 1:7)

          Our hymns today say the same things. "Leaning on the everlasting arms, safe and secure from all alarms." All alarms! Safe and secure! "When sorrows like sea billows roll, it is well with my soul." Amid sorrows, it is well! "Oh, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer." Needless pain! Carry to God in prayer!

          Let's say we're successful in doing this. Let's say we have put fear in its proper place and put God in there instead. Let's take a look at what can happen when we do this:
          We can found a country like America. How many immigrants strapped on their courage and made the long journey in a time before airplanes? Do you think they may have been afraid that their ship would capsize or they'd get sick and die? Probably, and some of them did die. But if they had not taken the chance; if they'd let their fear keep them home, they would have never founded what is now the greatest country in the world.
          We stand to lose that because we're becoming a nation of scaredy-cats and Chicken Littles who all think the sky is falling, and then act surprised when it doesn't.
          Let's see, what else? We can invent the light bulb. When Thomas Edison was asked if he was discouraged by all his failures, he said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Unfortunately, we now have too many people who stop trying after only one failed attempt.
          Another thing you can do if you put fear in its proper place is walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. Nik Wallenda did just that back in June over the objections of many fearful folks. He was the calmest person there, and he was the one on the tightrope! I don't know if you saw any of it, but they had him wired for sound so he could talk to the TV commentators and people in his control booth while he was up there. There was one place near the middle where there was more water and more winds than at either of the ends. When he approached that area, the TV commentators started talking about how dangerous that area was, and how scary a time it would be. "Will he make it through?" was the nail-biting question. But he made it through, and successfully crossed to the other side without incident. When the TV commentators asked him how he did it, especially in that dangerous middle section, he said, "Well, when you guys started talking about how dangerous it was going to be, I understand you have to create drama for your audience, but I just had to block that out. If I listened to that and gave in to those negative thoughts, it would have gotten into my head and prevented me from being able to do it. So I ignored it and did what I knew I could do."
          Now, I'm not suggesting we all run out and trot across the nearest tightrope. Heck, if I tried to do something like that, I would be dead before I took four steps. But Nik Wallenda didn't let the fear of others affect him. He trained long and hard to do what he did without fear. His next tightrope walk is going to be across the Grand Canyon.
          But the main thing Nik Wallenda counted on was God. He is a dedicated Christian, and he prayed all the way across. You could hear him as he went: "Thank you God, thank you Jesus, thank you Lord . . ."
          Let's look at II Timothy 1:7 again: "For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of 1) power, and of 2) love, and of 3) a sound mind." When we give in to the spirit of fear, we deprive ourselves of 1) the power of God; we deprive ourselves of the 2) love of God; we deprive ourselves of 3) a sound mind that is the gift of God.

          So what do we do? How can we conquer the all-pervasive fears, those devil's tools, that keep us captive? Fortunately, there are ways we can treat it exactly the same as we would any other of the devil's tools.
          First, avoid all sources of negative, fearful thoughts. Just like Nik Wallenda had to block out those negative statements by the TV commentators, so we have to block out the negativity being sold to us by society. At our house, we stopped taking the newspaper years ago, and we don't watch the daily TV news on a regular basis any more. Yet we are still well informed. We choose to get our information from other sources so we can avoid the "if-it-bleeds-it-leads" mentality of today's media. That may be a solution that can work for you as well.
          But there may be others. Maybe there are particularly negative people you can see a little less of, or maybe avoid altogether. Maybe you change what you read or what kind of entertainment you engage in. However you do it, just stay away from the sources of fear-mongering negativity. It may seem difficult to do, but it is well worth the peace of mind.
          Second, you need to replace those negative, fear-laden thoughts that you're no longer filling your mind with. Replace those old thoughts with bold, courageous thoughts. If we must avoid the fear that society sells us, we must also avoid another culprit, which is us. Whatever you keep telling yourself all day is what you will believe - what you will become. Instead of filling your mind with things of fear, things of the devil, fill your mind with things of God. When you fill your mind with the things of God, you'll find your life is filled with the things of God. Like Nik Wallenda, we can block out the negativity we tell ourselves and concentrate instead on what we know we can do.
          Paul tells us exactly this in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
          Third, change your assumptions. Assume you can do something instead of assuming you can't. Don't put a "t" at the end of "can." T (tea) is something you drink. Instead of dwelling on what you are afraid of, dwell instead on the goal you want to reach, the thing you want to do. I asked at the beginning what you were afraid of. Now I'll ask what that fear is preventing you from doing. What is it you want to do?
          Paul (again!) tells us exactly this in Philippians 3:10-14. "My aim is to know him . . . and to be like him." It also says, "I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind [read "the things I am afraid of"] and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." One person said it like this: You can't hit what you don't aim for.
          It all comes down to God and his love. "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear" (I John 4:17).

          In the children's sermon, you heard that the monster at the end of the book was just Grover. "I, Grover, am the monster at the end of the book."
          When we turn the pages of our lives, we find that the monster at the end is us. Our worst enemy is us. When we listen to Satan's words of fear, and give in to their power, we deny the power of God to change things. So 1) eliminate the sources of fear in your life. 2) Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. 3) Change your assumptions from "can't" to "can." Trust in the God through whom we can do all things. I again challenge you to let God rule your thoughts, which will affect your actions, which will affect your feelings. Then you will have nothing to fear.
          It is our choice. We can be running scared or we can be walking with God. I pray that you will walk with God - without fear.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Flying from Chicago

It's all my fault. We got home from Chicago a day late and several dollars short and it's because of me.

It started Sunday evening when Gizmo and I flew to Chicago. He went for a business conference and I tagged along for the fun of it. It figures that I would be trouble from the very start. Gizmo, having flown countless times over the years, sailed through security. I, on the other hand, having been on a total of six flights in my life before Sunday, somehow got especially chosen by a TSA lady to have my palms swiped by some strips of paper while Gizmo patiently waited. I don't know why she picked me. Maybe there's something suspicious about short, fat, middle-aged ladies who resemble caramel apples. Heck, with this kind of luck, maybe I should start buying lottery tickets.

Gizmo had also picked this time to try out a new rental car company: Avis. We'll never do that again. We waited at least half an hour for the Avis shuttle to get us. Considering this is a system that works so that you're supposed to be able to step right onto the shuttle as soon as you get there, a five-minute wait is unheard of, let alone half an hour. All the while, we stood helplessly as three, four, five shuttles for each of the other car rental companies passed us by. When the Avis shuttle finally did come, Gizmo had to stand in a very long line to get the car.

Anyway, the rest of our trip went fine. The hotel was gorgeous, I got to visit a college friend, I bought some of my very favorite scents of Yankee Candles, and we enjoyed an end-of-seminar banquet at Maggiano's Little Italy. It came with a twist; they'd turned the banquet into a Murder Mystery dinner. We had a great time. Then Wednesday came and it was time to go home. Time for my airport curse to reassert itself.

The same luck I'd had with the TSA agents stood me in good stead again. But this time, instead of simply swabbing my palms and sending me on my way, they unpacked my suitcase so they could get to the ever-dangerous Yankee Candles. The now-familiar strips of paper were swiped over every square inch of the outsides of the candles and those parts of the insides that were reachable. Whatever they found made them want to take my candles and my suitcase away. So I waited. And Gizmo waited, just like he'd been doing ever since he sailed effortlessly through security about a year before. The TSA agent finally brought my contraband back to me and we went on our way.

We'd only been sitting in our seats at the gate for about an hour when we saw that our 4:00 flight was delayed until 4:45, then again until 6:40. Apparently they felt some musical chairs was in order as well, because somewhere in there, our gate got changed, and we had to move down the hall. It wasn't too long after we were ensconced in our new seats that we found out the flight was entirely canceled.

This was the curse at its worst. In all his years of flying, Gizmo had never had a flight canceled on him. Delayed, yes, sometimes for hours. But in the end, he always eventually made it home on the flight he was supposed to. The only difference was that now I was with him, and this was the time the flight was completely canceled. Coincidence?

There were some silver linings. We had a great cab ride from O'Hare to a hotel near Midway, whence our newly scheduled flight would depart early the next morning. On our way out of O'Hare, we passed a guy who had climbed a small tree just outside the airport fence and wouldn't come down. Cops, ambulances, and fire trucks were everywhere. Our cab driver, who was from Nigeria, categorically stated, "In Africa, we would not put up with that. We would bring the tree down and him with it and that would be the end of it. He might hit his head, but he would not die. It would be all right. He would not die, and is that not what matters?" Indeed.

The front desk guy at the Extended Stay America where we stayed was awesome. William printed out our boarding passes, handed us menus for some local restaurants that would deliver to our room, and made arrangements for a cab to take us to the airport the next morning. He even called our room later to make sure everything was all right. We've stayed at expensive hotels that hire fancy concierges to do the same kinds of things, but no concierge was ever so helpful to us as William, the front desk guy.

We also had some fabulous pizza. Giordano's delivered to our room some of the best pizza I've ever had. They have what they call a stuffed pizza, and it was indeed stuffed - with cheese and more cheese! It was one of the rare times when the pizza we had actually matched the picture in the advertisement. Yum! I was sorry we couldn't eat it all and had to leave the leftovers behind.

When our alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, I awoke wondering what new troubles my airport curse would bring down upon us. As I munched my vending machine Pop Tarts for breakfast, I considered that I really did not want to become the new Monster of the Midway. Fortunately, I sailed through security like a pro (even with my suspicious candles) and our flight was not even delayed. In fact, we got back to Detroit so early that our gate was still occupied and we had to wait for the plane that was still there to leave before we could taxi up to it.

What could have been a major inconvenience turned out to be a rather fun adventure. I suppose I wouldn't blame Gizmo if he were reluctant to take me along on the next business trip, but he should take me. We might hit our heads, but we would not die. And is that not what matters?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Helping Haiti

Americans are some of the most generous people on earth. After any given disaster, we can be counted on to be on the crest of the wave of aid. We physically go to help, we donate tons of food and supplies, and we contribute billions of dollars in financial aid.

But when we hear stories of the corruption that is going on in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, it's difficult to know the best place to send money. Why contribute to a cause when your dollars will simply line some fatcat's pocket? How can we know the money we give will go to people in need?

That's one of many reasons any money I contribute toward the relief effort in Haiti will go directly to the people I know at Good Shepherd Orphanage. For many years, I was the treasurer for this orphanage. It was my job to collect money from all over the world and send it to Rev. Ernst Cassy, who then used it for the orphanage and schools he runs in Haiti. True men of God are called to be holy, and Rev. Cassy is certainly that. When he walks into a room, the peace that emanates from him is almost palpable. His heart for children is authentic and his stewardship of his meager resources is faithful.

Rev. Cassy and others at the orphanage in Haiti are people I know personally. I can vouch for their integrity and can rest assured that any money I contribute directly to them will be used for the children under their care who have suffered so much as a result of the recent disaster.

I am no longer treasurer, but a foundation has been created to manage the orphanage's financial affairs. Any donations to them are completely tax deductible. If you would like to find out more about the orphanage and how they are handling the disaster recovery, check out their website at http://www.gsohaiti.org/.

I hope that you will consider making your Haiti contribution to the Good Shepherd Orphanage. If you do, you can know for sure that your money is going directly to the people who need it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Having Your Cake

Cake? Cake?! Did someone say, "Cake"??!!

I love cake. My Twitter friend MuchAdo1 has even written about my special affection for cake in her blog.

Of course, anybody who knows me knows I love sweets in general, but I reserve a special place in my heart and in my stomach for cake. There is something about its velvety goodness that not only tempts the taste buds, but settles the stomach. Let's face it: the best part of a wedding is the cake. Even the word "wedding" looks and sounds like "cake" to me. Similarly, birthday presents are great, but the best part of a birthday is - you guessed it - cake. Like "wedding," "birthday" equals "cake" in my world.

The texture of a cake has to be just right. Not too dry, and not too moist. There must be a certain weight to the structure of the cake so it has some substance. Yet there must be a lightness that allows me to forget about chewing and simply let the spongy, fluffy goodness melt in my mouth. This is one reason I detest having foreign matter in my cake. It makes it very difficult for cake to melt smoothly in my mouth when obstacles like nuts, fruit, or coconut stand in the way. They are intrusive interlopers that have no place in a perfect cake.

The requirements that I have of my cake are exacting because they are what make cake the perfect delivery vehicle for frosting. The cake and the frosting combine to create a sugary bliss of taste and texture that can be achieved by no other dessert. The more frosting, the better, as far as I'm concerned. Layer it on thick! As delicious as cake is by itself, it attains its highest calling as a method of transporting frosting from the fork to the mouth.

And, of course, the frosting has to be the right kind. None of that wimpy stuff that resembles Cool Whip for me. And fondant? Bleah! Don't even come near me with it! Yet while a good, heavy ganache or torte frosting is nice once in a while, give me an old-fashioned buttercream frosting or the lovely sweetness Duncan Hines puts in a can. And for the love of all that's edible, don't put any of the aforementioned foreign matter in my frosting, either! A nice, smooth frosting piled thickly on a great cake is melt-in-your-mouth heaven. What else could I possibly need?

Naturally, the frosting between layers of cake should be at least as thick as the frosting on top. Thin, skimpy crumb coats are for wusses! I also find it an unfortunate trend that many commercial bakeries are going to a fruit filling between layers instead of the substance God intended – MORE FROSTING! Fruit filling between layers qualifies as more of that foreign matter I mentioned previously. It stabs a sharp dagger of intense fruitiness between the ribs of the otherwise-smoothly flavored cake that delivers a fatal blow to the whole cake-consuming experience. If I am unfortunate enough to be served such a piece of cake, I will scrape out the offending fruit filling before dining on the deserving part of the cake.

But let us rid our minds of such horrors. I prefer to think instead upon a smooth, velvety cake with piles of sweet buttercream frosting. A great cake built to my high standards is heaven on a plate and ecstasy in your mouth. I am sure to have lots of it at the next wedding or birthday party I attend. If you see me there, be sure to cut me a corner piece with lots of frosting on it. Meanwhile, I have some baking to do.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Celebrating National Punctuation Day

Thursday, September 24 is National Punctuation Day. In honor of that revered holiday, I submit the following:

It seems no one does punctuation properly. Whole industries have grown up around the appropriate use of punctuation, yet despite all the helpful hints and quick and dirty tips we never seem to get it right. Even the experts argue among themselves about the correct application of punctuation. So why not ditch the whole system?

Let’s say we eliminate only those symbols that end sentences. We could save a whole lot of aggravation, not to mention ink. America and Britain could finally stop fighting about whether periods go inside or outside the quotation marks.

On the other hand, we would not know whether a writer is shouting, speaking in a normal tone of voice, or asking a question. Of course, shouting could be easily conveyed by the relatively recent and unfortunate trend of using all capital letters. Perhaps for questions we could make use of another annoying development: that of alternating uppercase and lowercase letters. Leaving a sentence with the standard mix of capital and lowercase letters could indicate a normal tone of voice.

Having solved that problem, how would we then know when to shut up? Without terminal punctuation, sentences would run into each other and soon pile up in a big lexicographical chain-reaction crash. The never-ending babble of words would devolve into nonsense. “I went running. Down the drainpipe . . .” would become “I went running down the drainpipe . . .”

Next, we should consider what would happen if we got rid of those pesky in-sentence indicators of pauses, compound modifiers, and possessives. On the positive side, we would no longer have to agonize over whether to use an em-dash or an en-dash. Disagreements about the serial comma would lose their venom and arguments over apostrophe placement would be a thing of the past.

But without that kind of punctuation, we would no longer know what belonged to whom. Anarchy would reign! We wouldn’t know where to pause, landing ourselves in a suffocating world where breathing is relegated to the status of a rarely-practiced luxury. Worse, we wouldn’t know if a green-legged aardvark had green legs and perhaps a purple body, or if said green legged aardvark were green all over and we were simply commenting on the state of its physical support system. It would be utter chaos.

Of course, there’s the nuclear option: We all stop writing and rely solely on spoken communication. There would be no more misunderstandings over misread tones of voice. Faulty interpretation due to syntactical errors and misplaced modifiers would no longer occur. A golden age of communication would be born and we could all bask in the glow of being perfectly understood at all times.

Then the real world would intrude. Green legged aardvarks everywhere might demand a more exact method of describing themselves, not to mention the poor people who don’t particularly care to run down drainpipes. Maybe our current system of punctuation, even with all its faults and imperfections, is not so bad after all. Whole industries can breathe sighs of relief and purveyors of helpful hints and quick and dirty tips can go right on hinting and tipping.

Perhaps the true utopia lies not in a new age of verbal communication, but in that ideal state where the unlettered masses realize that punctuation enthusiasts are not being annoying twerps after all. Instead, they are holding the fabric of our society together. Let us hope that National Punctuation Day brings us one step closer to that goal.