Archive for January 2009

Purpose Driven Life

January 26, 2009

My Dad always quips that this book is rather pointless since he learned his purpose in life in his first grade Catholic catechism–to know, serve, and love God.  After I learned that Rick Warren would be giving the invocation for Obama’s inauguration, I thought I would read the book for myself to see what Warren concludes is the purpose of life.

The book is set up to be a 40-day meditation with one chapter being read a day.  Each chapter ends with a Point to Ponder, Verse to Remember, and Question to Consider.  Warren suggests reading and discussing the book with one or more people.  Since I was reading the book for more academic and less spiritual reasons, I just plowed on through at my own pace.

He caught my attention early on when he wrote:  “When you understand that life is a test, you realize that nothing is insignificant in your life.  Even the smallest incident has significance for your character development (p. 43).”  This made me think about all of the mindless and mundane tasks that make being a housewife so unpleasant.   This thought came back to me when Warren later wrote:   “Actually, God enjoys watching every detail of your life, whether you are working, playing, resting, or eating….You can wash dishes, repair a machine, sell a product, write a computer program, grow a crop, and raise a family for the glory of God (p 74).”

On page 72, Warren caught my attention again when he wrote:  “Understanding can wait, but obedience can’t.  Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of Bible discussions.  In fact, you will never understand some commands until you obey them first.  Obedience unlocks understanding.”  This made me think about those teachings of the Church that I haven’t always obeyed but how much more sense they have made once I did.  Now I often ponder if I don’t like what the Church teaches about certain things because I think they are wrong or because I don’t like that the Church is right.

I really enjoyed the discussion of worship in Chapter 8 and how most people misunderstand the concept and focus to much on the peripherals.  He does note that God does not like “half-hearted” and “hypocritical” worship comprised of “stale prayers, insincere praise, empty words, and man-made rituals without even thinking about the meaning” and that “God’s heart is not touched by tradition in worship, but by passion and commitment” (p. 66).  Some could see this as a critique of the Catholic Mass.  Although, Catholics would contend that there is nothing wrong with ritual or tradition as long as it is not performed half-heartedly and without meaning.  I think both Catholics and non-Catholic Christians need to read his discussion about sacred music.

I must admit that I was initially skeptical going into the book.  Within the first few chapters, I felt like Warren was really making some good points and most of it was compatible with my understanding as a Catholic Christian.  At times, though, it felt incomplete because it was not Catholic.  Sometimes I would think about how different Catholic dogmas, like the Sacraments, would flesh out certain points that he was making.

I would definitely recommend this book as a devotional for most Protestant Christians.  And I would even recommend it for Catholic Christians, if they feel grounded enough in their understanding of Catholic/Protestant differences to see where the book is lacking.  I really wish a Catholic could take this book as a base and then fill it in, because I feel like it gave me a lot of spiritual food for thought.

I am curious to read Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church for comparison to the structure of the Catholic Church.  I am intrigued by Rick Warren and his church in general.  I don’t have any interest in converting, but let’s just say that the book was not quite what I expected.   After reading the book and watching Warren at the inaugaration, I have greater respect for this man who was fairly unknown to me until recently.  I think Obama was very wise to choose this man who urges Christians to look more at what they have in common rather than the differences.

Tiffany’s Zucchini Bread

January 22, 2009

A long time ago I worked with Tiffany, who introduced me to zucchini bread.  I loved her bread so much that she gave me the recipe to me when I moved away.  This has become one of my favorite recipes, especially because it is open to different variations.

This is the original recipe Tiffany game me.  I usually omit the raisins and nuts.  This usually fills up two round cake pans or makes 18 muffins.  I could probably stretch the batter to make 24 muffins if I had another six-muffin pan.

3 large eggs

2 c. sugar

1 c. oil

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

½ c. raisins (optional)

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 c. shredded zucchini

1 tsp. vanilla

½ c. chopped nuts (optional)

3 cups plain flour

  1. Combine all ingredients, stirring in flour 1 cup at a time.
  2. Pour into greased and floured pan.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

The first variation I tried was Pumpkin Bread.  Basically, I substitute one can of pumpkin for the zucchini.  And instead of 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, I add:

  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp cloves

I’ve also substituted grated apple or carrot for the zucchini.  The bread is so good that I suspect that you could get away without adding any fruit or vegetable to it.  This has made me aware of just how much sugar goes into this recipe, so I’m starting to experiment with reducing the amount of sugar.  I just made it with 1 3/4 cup of sugar instead of 2 cups and couldn’t tell a difference, so next time I might try only using 1 1/2 cups of sugar.

I tried a few other healthy changes as well.  For the past few batches I’ve used a mix of white flour, wheat flour, and wheat germ as my flour (ratio of 5/2/1).  With this latest batch I also substituted a 4 oz. cup of natural applesauce for half of the cup of oil.  (The natural sugar of the applesauce may have offset the reduction of white sugar.)

So, while one muffin may have only slightly fewer grams of sugar than a pack of Swiss cake rolls, it should have a little more nutrition.  And did I mention that it is delicious??

Inauguration Day Conversation

January 20, 2009

After watching the momentous swearing in of Obama, I had to return to my regularly scheduled life.  So as I was nuking a hot dog for DD#2 and frying bologna for me and DD#1 (Aren’t we eating so healthy today?  At least it’s protein.), DD#1 started complaining that people should get the day off for the inauguration of the president.  I explained that most people were off yesterday for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and couldn’t have both days off.  She concluded that the inauguration was more important than MLK’s birthday.  While agreed that the inauguration is important, I noted that Obama probably would not be president right now with out the dedication of MLK.

From time to time we have discussed racism, slavery, segregation, etc, spurred by overheard conversations and Beatles songs, but since she is only six this is a complex topic that will have to continually be examined for her to fully understand.  So I started talking about segregation, and when I mentioned that some things were designated for “whites” only and that people of our ethnicity would be considered “whites” this was her response:

DD#1:  We’re not white!!!  I’m not white!!!  I’m an American.

Me:  American is your nationality, not your race.  Any person who is a citizen of this country is an American no matter what color their skin is.  I know that you have always said that we have “pink” skin, but most people would consider us to be “white”.

DD#1:  But if we were white, we would have voted for Hillary Clinton.

Me:  That’s not true.  In our country, any one can vote for any one they choose no matter what color any one’s skin is.

DD#1:  And Barack Obama is an American.

Me:  Yes, Barack Obama is an an American.

DD#1:  My skin is not white.  See; my skin is pink.  Not bright pink like a doll’s dress, but a lighter pink.

These were probably some of the funniest and most profound observations that she has made about race since she was about four.  At that time she had asked what the term “black people” meant.  After explaining the terminology we discussed how we all have unique physical characteristics like skin color and hair color.  She said, “Or some of us have orange ear wax and some of us have orangey-yellow ear wax.”  Even a child can see that such differences shouldn’t count for very much.  And I’m proud that this country could see it, too.

Pet Peeve #9: Sexist Mechanics

January 19, 2009

Why is it that a large number of men who repair cars believe that every man knows more about cars than any woman?  The condescension and ignorance drive me absolutely crazy.  It’s 2009 for heaven’s sakes!!  Haven’t these guys ever heard of Women’s Lib.?

My first blatant experience of this was when I was in college.  I went to start my car in the parking garage one day, and the engine just started revving out of control even without my foot on the gas pedal.  When I called for a tow, though, I was informed that tow trucks were unable to maneuver in the parking structure and I would have to get my 1983 Chevy Citation down the spiral exit ramp on my own.  I quickly enlisted a group of friends to help me push the car out, and my friend’s boyfriend offered to steer the thing in neutral down the spiral.  Thankfully we were able to stop the car before it rolled into the street.  Even though I had been the one talking with the tow truck operator during the whole thing and it was my car, as soon as the car was out he started addressing all questions and comments to my friend’s boyfriend.

A few years later when my husband and I had to take his car into the same shop (the only one in town that took AAA), I would ask the mechanic a question and he would look at my husband and give him the answer.  My husband knows even less about cars than I do (which isn’t saying much about either of us).  It was rude as well as annoying.

And just to prove that this is not some small town Kentucky issue, there was a shop down the road from where we now live in Illinois that I would take the car to for repairs and maintenance for time to time.  Inevitably, at the end of every visit the manager would say, “Now tell your husband that such and such will need to be fixed soon.”  Never mind, that they had probably only seen my husband in there one in every five or six visits.

Lately, I got a dose of the less blatant condescension when I tried to take our mini-van in to the Honda dealership where we bought it.  I learned the hard way that they have a first come, first serve policy for any type of maintenance or repair.  And I get the impression that they put more emphasis on getting oil changes done rather than major repairs.

The service manager that I drew by bad luck was a man probably in his mid to late 50’s.  The whole time I dealt with him he was impatient and talked  down to me like I was an annoying child because I wouldn’t agree to drop my van off at 8:00 in the morning and leave it all day long.  Never mind that we are a one-vehicle family.  Never mind that we could not borrow another car for a whole day or afford a rental.  Never mind that we have three children in car seats that are safer if the seats are not removed unnecessarily once installed properly.  I’m not even sure that I could re-install the baby’s seat correctly on my own.

After tangling with him, in desperation I went to a different Honda dealership and dealt with a much nicer guy who gave me better advice.  And after talking to the company that manages our extended service plan, I realized that the first guy had been lying to me.  Because I wouldn’t be a good little girl like he wanted, he had misconstrued the details of what needed to be done on the car to try to force me.  Needless to say I will not be returning there for any more automobile work.

I dread whenever car repairs are needed, because besides the money I never know when a mechanic may try to play on my perceived (or real) ignorance just because I am a woman.  I had one place try to get me to replace something really expensive that didn’t need replacing at all.  Now I always try to find places that have at least one woman on staff.  For while that woman may not be a certified mechanic, they tend to know more about cars than I do and they also tend to set a tone of respect for female customers that is sometimes lacking in boys only clubs.

Looking in the Mirror

January 13, 2009

Recently I got in a little scuffle with someone on Facebook. Without getting into too many details, she was an acquaintance from college. She posted something I found to be insulting that was based on exaggerations and misrepresentations. This was the third or fourth time she had posted something similar, so without regret I corrected her. However, I also changed my status to reflect my annoyance with her. Turns out she was already annoyed with me because she mistook a joke I made in private correspondence with her. I sent her a private message of apology for the previous misunderstanding, and at her suggestion removed her from my “friend” list.

This whole incident has given me much food for thought in recent days. I’ve been thinking about how all of these social networks, blogs, and forums on the internet can really give someone a sense of false intimacy with other people. They call it your “friend” list, but we all really know that most of the people we add are really just acquaintances. It is easy to forget that just as we don’t really know them they don’t really know us either. Due to the limitations of the media and the relationship, they might not understand when we are teasing them, when we are insulting them, or when we are pretending to tease them when we are really insulting them. And vice versa.

When this person first suggested that I remove her from my list, my first instinct was not to do this. Even though I knew that I owed her an apology and explanation for the earlier misunderstanding, I began to realize that there was no real reason to keep her on my friend list. I haven’t seen her in almost ten years. Even then we really didn’t hang out regularly. There is little chance that I will ever see her again. Obviously, we do not have very much in common. So why should I bother with a relationship with someone that I know will continue to irritate me by posting things I find insulting?

Then I wondered why I felt the need to give her the internet equivalent of the middle finger by changing my Facebook status to something guaranteed to provoke her. Was I just transferring my anger at a certain Honda assistant service manager onto her? Was it just a temporary lapse of judgment or rise of temper? Or was it the result of my own personal demons?

This will not surprise anyone with whom I went to grade school but Hermione Granger and I have a major character trait in common. We both have the temptation to be insufferable know-it-alls. I really try to keep my arrogance and my need to share everything I know in check, but I do think the internet culture makes it easier to succumb to this lesser and very annoying desire. (Why else do you think I’ve kept my blog going this long?) Among my other faults, I am sometimes bluntly honest to the point of being tactless. I have a very hard time admitting when I am wrong. I am also prone to self-pity and complaining. (See blogging is like therapy for me.) I am sure my dearest friends and family could add to the list, but please don’t. I think these are more than I can handle as it is.

Perhaps it is very apropos that I have been given this chance to look in the mirror a few weeks into the new year. Perhaps like many others I can pick one or two particular faults to work on improving over the next twelve months. (I know my husband would like me to admit when I am wrong more often.) And already I am being a little more circumspect about my on-line interactions. Am I commenting because I really have something of interest to add or just to prove that I am as smart as everyone else? Am I writing something that serves a positive purpose or just to hear the sound of my fingers hitting the keys? Hopefully, this incident will continue to stick with me and be an agent of positive change in the coming months.

Joys and Woes of 3-Year-Olds

January 10, 2009

These are some things I love about having a three-year-old:

  1. The developmental leaps they make in such short time periods.
  2. The way they are always making up stories. (“I have a chocolate syrup shop that is open for business. Doesn’t that sound nice?”)
  3. How their sense of humor gets more sophisticated.

These are some things I have come to accept about having a three-year-old:

  1. They have favorite foods that they demand to eat on a daily basis (even though in my house they might get to eat them more often but not daily).
  2. They want to do as much as possible themselves.
  3. They like to make decisions for themselves about everything including the shape their sandwich is cut into and what color straw they use with their chocolate milk.

These are things I am still trying to accept about having a three-year-old:

  1. They incessantly repeat things over and over even after you have acknowledged their question or observation.
  2. When they are tired they hone in on one thing and will not let it go.
  3. Sometimes they don’t know what they want, and nothing you do will please them.

Cloth Diaper Wagon

January 5, 2009

After writing a few posts about the virtues of using cloth diapers, I must admit in all honesty that I fell off the wagon. Around September things got really hectic around here, and using cloth diapers was just one more stress I needed to cut out. It’s just easier to be lazier with disposables. They hold more longer, and I was able to get away without changing the baby’s diaper for four hours or longer. I feel I should clarify that I don’t think using cloth diapers is stressful in and of themselves. But when you’re exhausted and fighting off migraines, that one little difference goes a long way.

Things have settled down a bit lately. I’ve gotten back in the habit of taking a daily vitamin, and I keep a stock of Boost for hectic days to avoid hypoglycemia. Now I just have a “tired” headache a few nights a week. The baby has become a little more self-entertaining now that she can sit up and crawl, so I don’t feel as stretched between her desire to be held all the time and the house falling apart around me as I do so.

Our finances have also become really tight between the usual Christmas Break salary dip and lots of unexpected car repairs. We’re trying to live off of what we already have in the house as much as possible. So, for the past week, I’ve been going back to the cloth diapers. A 30-pack of Aldi diapers is only $6, but I would rather spend that money on food items or not all. Plus, since DD#2 decided on Christmas night that she was ready to start using the potty (woohoo!!) I am reveling in the fact that I hopefully won’t buying anymore diapers for her at all.

So, I’m working with cloth again. And it’s all good. I forgot how much better cloth diapers hold the big blow-outs. We’re going through fewer baby outfits. I still use disposable for outings and night-time, but my 30- pack is lasting a lot longer than usual. I know there are a few of you considering using cloth with your next baby, so I thought I would fess up in the interest of full disclosure.