Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mr. Wot and Mrs. Wot

One of my favorite people, is Awot, a sidekick for Brent SouthCombe, our illustrious chef.  Shortened to Wot (because we can remember his name better). Wot is a refugee and now a rising star in
the world-class cookery. When he makes a salad, the vegetables are prepared to precisely that mere food is rendered into beauty.  It's a art Brent mastered years ago, and Wot practices faithfully.

Wot came to us from Africa, to my church over three years ago.  He's thin, to the point of being wirey.  I've watched him literally run from job to job.  He has three.  He has immigrant status, and his English
is somewhat limited.  He's done everything right, has the right documents, works with the right immigration and refugee services, found the right jobs.  I do not believe there is another human being who works harder.  There is great dignity in that.

He has great presence with people, has a breathe-taking smile that comes forth at the end of the day.  During the day he is all responsibility.  He muscles those massive carts around, man-handles those hot-hot-hot pans. Talk about character.  Wot has a sense of rightness about himself, and wouldn't in a million years take an unrighteous short-cut.  He's the real deal.  

Wot is married.  I didn't know that because Wot is not one for talking about himself.  He's gone through hell-on-earth to get where he is now.  But if the two of us sat down on the back porch, he might
not tell me what that was like.  I do not know who his wife is, but I'm willing to bet she is a spectacular soul  as well, and has had equal hardships, mitigated by the necessity for hard work.

So, here is where Mr. and Mrs. Wot are now:  they are about to be new parents, within the month.
So given their histories of the worst hard times, and their capacity for hard, gifted work, what is the gift
of their lives to this wondrous child?  American citizenship.  This child will be so loved by
parents of character and strength, will be educated in America and will live on the safety of my community.

I'm knitting a little blue baby-blanket for this child.  He will be so beautiful against that robin-egg

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


It's late afternoon, and I'm walking home for work, all decked out in my dress for success clothes, although they are somewhat worse for wear.  My job requires man-handling 8-foot tables, crawling on the floor to plug in projectors, and picking up dirty dishes and moving chairs around.  A lot of people think my receptionist job is glamorous; if they only knew.  It's the early 1980s and there's a recession going around.

It's mid-spring and the trees in my older end of town are in bloom.  It's a fairy land.  I love these longer days that stretch until about 9:00 p.m.

At one of the older homes, a little boy, about four, waits on his front stoop, sitting on a trike.  He sees me blocks away and waits until I'm in front of his house.  Then he makes a bee-line for me. a furious peddle.

He wants to have a chat.  "Do you have any surprises?"  he asks. He's got dark hair and eyes.  "No, " I say.  He's parked on my high heeled shoes and is looking straight up at me.  "Why do you ask?"

The little guy is as earnest a soul as you can find, and explains,  "My dad says women are just full of surprises."

Friday, April 20, 2012


 At our church, we share our kitchen with a group of people who are providing training, community, and support for refugees, people who have had the roughest of times.  The thing is this:  the refugees are absolutely the most courageous people I’ve ever met.  Some of them, most of them, get to our community with so very little.  One of the things they have very little of is English, coming from Africa and central and southern Asia. 

They have charmed the socks off our church family.  We have had the most exotic of desserts and have come to love the innocence, the ability to work, their stories, and the huge smiles of the refugees that come to spend a few weeks with us. Safety and stability are not over-rated.

And then there is Pascal, a gorgeous young man, who was born along side of a road in Africa.  The road was long and rough, and his mom just didn’t make it to the hospital.  Pascal has the most stunning smile, and the sunniest of personalities.  Coming from a land of such deprivation and danger, birthday parties were non-existent for him—or anybody else.  Never happened.  

So our Chef Brent created a birthday party for him on the occasion of his 21st birthday.
Pascal got a party hat, a huge chocolate cake, candles, and the whole church sang,
“Happy Birthday, Pascal.”   He cried, we cried.  It was such a tender moment.  This is what he said to us, “You feel like love to me.”  That staggered me.

Pascal wants to be a pastor and to help the people of the world do a little better, that the lonely would be loved, the hungry would be fed, and that the ill would be healed.  He’ll do that.  Some people just have a core of light and love about them; Pascal is one of those. 

Here’s a birthday cake recipe.  Not as yummy as Brent’s chocolate cake.  But it is good enough, and sweet enough, and lovely enough to encompass our new family that now encircles the earth.

First, let the dairy and eggs warm to room temperature.  The butter should be soft.  Heat
the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-inch pans.  Put parchment paper on the bottom of the two pans.

Sift together:  3 cups of cake flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt.  
Set aside.

Begin by beating 2 sticks of unsalted butter until it is soft.  Add 1 ¾ cup of sugar.  Beat those together until they are light and fluffy.   Next beat in 4 large eggs and ½ cup chopped and macerated fresh strawberries, 1 tablespoon pure Mexican vanilla or as close as you can come.

Add about a third of the flour to the butter and sugar mixture, then add ¾ cup buttermilk, and beat those together.  Add another third of the flour, and another ¾ cup buttermilk, and beat those together.  Scrape down the side and bottom of the bowl.  And add the last third of the flour mixture.  By hand, check to make sure everything is incorporated.

Pour the batter into the 2 pans, tap the pans against the counter to get out the air bubbles.
Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pans about half way through.    After baking, let
the cakes cool for at least 30 minutes.  Take them out of the pans, and let them cool a bit
more on racks.  Remove the parchment paper. It’s important to make sure the cakes are completely cooled.  Otherwise, the frosting will fall off the cake.

For the frosting,  whip 2 cups of old-fashioned, thick, heavy cream, adding 4 tablespoons powdered sugar. Or a little more to taste.  When the whipped cream is stiff and holds its shape, add 2 cups of sliced strawberries. 

Put the first layer flat side down on a plate.  Frost just the top, and carefully place the second layer on top of the first, leaving the flattened bottom of the cake as the top layer. Move it around a bit, to settle it.   Frost the flat top of the 2nd layer.  Top the cake with candles, flowers, big fat strawberries, or any other decoration that pleases  you. 

Celebrate the extraordinary young people who were spring babies and who are part of our family now, no matter where they come from or whose family they grew up in.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Walk in the Park

 After church on Sunday, late morning, I visit a downtown park, one that is wild and overgrown, with broad patches of green lawn, today, dotted with Canadian Geese. The surrounding ground is densely-covered with full-blooming, untended Forsythia, not quite blooming Synringa, and  massive, luxurious fir trees. This morning one of those trees is a resting place for thousands of Finches who inhabit every millimeter.  You cannot see them unless one of them takes flight.  But the fir is alive with them. The limbs are wiggling and bird song inhabits the park.  LBBs the biologists call them.  Little Brown Birds.

The whole park has the feel of a big city airport. It’s mating and incubating season.  The park is safe enough, and the geese are coming and going in raucous abandon.  There are hundreds of them, and their honks and wheezes signal in-coming flights.  Big ponds, newly full of water, beckon them and their landings include long splashes.  They are usually not aggressive, but in mating season, they are with each other, competing for nesting space.  They mate for life, an endearing quality.  They have a hiss when they want you to go away, and that happens today.  It’s more of a “Nothing to see here, move along” kind of hiss.  They aren’t going to attack, but they don’t want me there either.  I did see babies, little chartreuse puff balls. No kidding.  Baby ducks are yellow, but baby geese have a nice green hue. 

It’s the middle of April, and about half the trees are green and the lilacs are about to pop.
Every kind of person is here.  A woman who is a master walker; you can tell by her shoes, serious walking shoes and she’s quick on her feet.  Little kids trail through the geese nesting area,  and one  of the male geese follows them, a not particularly welcome event.  The little boy catches on and begins to follow the goose, who turns and walks away. I’m happy that happened for the little boy and the goose.

Most people in the park are carrying cameras, and there are two young girls in bikinis who are modeling.  It’s cold enough that the young women are uncomfortable, and they are uncomfortable being so scantily clad.  I’m wondering where their moms are.  Wouldn’t you be questioning your daughter if she’s trying to sneak out of the house in a bikini, and it’s not 40 degrees out?  The girls change clothes in the park, standing behind somebody’s coat.  Isn’t enough.  Where are their mothers?

And then there’s this: People have been commenting about deer in the park for years.  It’s not a half a mile from the downtown core, backs up against the freeway, isn’t far from a river.  And deer live here, in the undergrowth.  It’s thick enough that if my cat Obi were here that I’d never see him and never catch him, unless he wanted me to.  Let alone a deer, a white tailed deer, who is ever so shy, standing next to the ponds, gently nibbling the tender, green shoots.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

All at Once

When people build families, they think that new people will come into their lives one or two at a time.  A new husband,  maybe a baby, all of it manageable.  It’s not hard, adjusting to a new person.  There’s  some work involved, maybe some new attitudes, a stab at generosity and understanding.  Take it slow and easy.

There’s no slow and no easy, when four babies enter the family all at the same time.  When cousins of my cousin had babies, they had four at a whack.  Natural born quads.  They had a significant stint in the hospital, lots of  prenatal and postnatal care. But once the kids were old enough and developed enough to eat and breath, it was up to the parents, Robert and Sally. No  sleep for years.

Robert came home and went to work, working three to five jobs for over 30 years of his life.  His idea of retirement?  Only working one job, an eight-hour shift.  Sally stayed home  especially when the kids were little.  Who could afford day-care for four kids at once? It was marginally controlled chaos.

The kids turned out great.  They are in their mid-twenties now,  in the life-development phase  of young adulthood.  It’s so fun to watch them together.  If they could find a way to all sit in the same chair, they’d do it without self-consciousness.  They are so used  to being in the same space at the same time that it’s second nature to them.  They have the same stare,  a really, focused, intense looking, a grasping for understanding and direction. It’s fearsome.

There are two boys, and two girls.  Crystal is married to Eric and has earned a Ph.D. in physical therapy.  Jennifer, usually shortened to Jenn, did a stint in the armed services and is a respiratory therapist.   Matthew is married to Charlotte, a nurse.  He’s a musician, given to gypsy music played on an ancient accordion.  It is utterly endearing and he’s fabulous in a svelte black hat.  Then there’s Steven, maybe the last to find his footing.  He’s gorgeous, but he doesn’t know it yet, although the time he spends on the back of a bike will make that more apparent.  He is wickedly funny.  All four kids share a happy trait: they are both frugal and ambitious.

As far as I can tell,  Robert and Sally did a majestic job of parenting.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

My Dears

My last Blog was about Sherry and her journeys through early
cancer diagnosis and how scary that is. Good news today.
An early test, one that took three weeks to come back
indicated she is not a candidate for chemo,in a good way.
She is going to have a six-week radiation regimen. She is healthy
and strong and her attitude is great.

So, this feels increasingly like a resurrection, another
Easter story, of somebody getting her life back, of someone
coming back to life. While her disease didn't change and her diagnosis
didn't change, she went from a person whose life and new marriage was
at risk, to a person who lymph nodes were clean, to a woman whose
breasts and body are safe, to a person, who is doing radiation
to burn out any wandering cancer cells, but whose body does not
have active tumors. We're pretty grateful, actually we're profoundly and
irrevocably grateful.

So what did it for Sherry? I think this: True love, an ardent and supportive
family with two sterling children and doting grandchildren, prayer, a very
sophisticated team of medical people who knew what they were doing, friends
that helped every way they could, prayer, that her disease way caught
way early, true love, and a way-way caring new husband. Did I mention prayer?

Turns out, I am mightily fond of ressurections.

Think Pink!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What Soup Means

On an early spring day, this year, we gathered at the home of our friend, bringing lunch on a blustery day. Our friend, newly married, was past the blushing bride stage; she’s a woman in full, strong, determined, so deeply in love I wondered if the honeymoon stage lasts forever if you marry in your sixties. One can hope. A grandmom to two smallish children, soon there will be another as her children build their families.

Here was the cause for concern: She has been dealing with a new diagnosis of cancer, although she’s had cancer previously, and underwent a lumpectomy the day before. Hence, the staying in for lunch. She doesn’t know yet, her course of treatment, probably radiation, maybe chemo. Her tests show that the cancer was limited to a very small tumor; her lymph nodes were clean. So, my non-medical mind is splurging on hope and an abundance of tulips. I brought clam chowder, a lower fat variety, because these women are nurses, great ones, and they don’t eat much fat.

The mood is serious, there are big questions yet to be answered, but we are not devastated nor reduced to stupor. We are seeing what she needs, what’s next, and we know that most cancers are now much more manageable diseases because of the quality of the meds and the knowledge of the doctors and nurses. We talk.

This is what will probably happen: two major courses of treatment: radiation and chemo. Neither is easy, and a lifetime of three-month check-ups. Hope, but hard-won hope. My soon-to-be contribution: cookies, a source of sweet comfort; great with late afternoon tea, hot or cold. We tease her husband a bit; about their new family holding the world’s speed record for the most medical emergencies. They’ve had some dandies.

So, we gather around the table and eat clam chowder with a few crackers, on a cold day where the wind blows occasionally, and it rains, so the temps hover in the forties. This is what soup means: nourishment at all kinds of levels: companionship in the dark times and a thing that tastes good.

Here’s how you make it.
Take ½ of an onion and four stalks of celery, diced. SautĂ©’ them in a tablespoon of butter. (Sorry about the butter, but it just doesn’t taste right without it.) When the veggies are soft, add four mid-sized diced Yukon Gold potatoes. You don’t have to peel them, the skin is so tender. Add the clam nectar (liquid) from four cans of chopped clams. Clam nectar is so delicious and add a substantial layer of clam flavor and some salt. So don’t salt the soup. Add enough water, to barely cover the veggies.

You can make the soup richer, if you wish, by frying up 4 strips of bacon. When they are done, but not yet crisp, take them off the heat and out of the bacon grease, and let them drain. Cut them into bite sized pieces and hang onto them for a minute.

When the potatoes are done, add ½ cup 2% milk or a little more if you wish to the soup, (you can substitute half-and-half if you want a richer soup) and a slurry made of 2 heaping tablespoons of corn starch, dissolved in ¼ cup of water. Just pour in the slurry and let it thicken the soup as it comes to a simmer. At the last, add 2 big heaping tablespoons of dried parsley and the clam meat and the bacon if you are using it. Add pepper. Serve with saltines if you like, we like the little ones. You barely let the clams heat through, because any kind of cooking or heat turns the clams into leather. You want them soft. Just like your heart, at this point