Friday, September 25, 2009

Chocolate for the Soul

There is a woman in a small church who attended a chocolate festival sponsored by a Methodist church in Norman, Okla.

That was two years ago.

She dreamed of doing the same in her church, and she convinced people. Now, I believe most humans seek a spritual part of their life. Some by hunting. Some by camping in nature. Some by praying in temples. Some by joining a church. She joined a church.

And she admits, the first thing that occurred to her was, this is a great way to earn some money to do some good. But then, the church supported a young woman who went to Africa to do good works. She worked with an orphanage. These kids felt lucky even to be alive, and the church came through with beds, mosquito netting, etc. They came to know the kids. It made it personal. So doing something for missions became a spiritual thing. Because doing something for others without any reward is exactly that. Oh, it can be just be a good thing, and feel good. But she saw more, and that's allowed. We can do good works and feel a God component. And so she did.

The festival is Saturday.

It is a church I belong to. The proceeds will go to missions around the world. We ignore the benefit churches contribute but I suspect they are greater than foreign aid. Church stuff goes directly to the people. And I think that is good.

So. This woman set up the festival for our church. She got T-shirts. She talked to us. She begged for volunteers to get vendors and sell tickets. She worked and worked. We didn't join in. I'm not a salesperson. I know that. I got her some newspaper publicity. Sure enough, that doesn't help much these days. This is a really nice church. But it doesn't have salespeople or promoters in the congregation. Really doesn't. No wonder it feels spiritual and not corporate.

But still.

She talked to us last Sunday. Her voice was ragged, her timber low. She talked about the journey of faith this has been. And it has been a tough journey. It has become not about money but about service. Took her awhile to get there. But she is there. She talked about the good this could do. And how far we were from success. She called an emergency meeting.

After church, I went over to my son's and played a game for an hour with my granddaughter and a friend. We had fun. Saw my other granddaughter brought in with a cut foot. She's doing well, but she won't be so quick to go barefoot again. Then I went to the meeting.

All women.

So, we set up things to do. There are old women making old recipes for bonbons--you young folk may not know what those are. They are trouble, and time consuming and oh man, they are good. Others making fudge. white-chocolate raspberry cheesecake. Regular fudge. Nutella gelato. Chocolate baklava....really? Chili-chocolate snacks. Fantasy fudge with real butter and walnuts. Brownies. chocolate mints. chocolate cream cheese mints. chocolate bread with tiger butter.Cherry fudge. more, more, more. And yeah, the guys are making some of it.

And we've tried to set up some publicity. That's what we need, and what we apparently are not good at.

In all, this little church has close to 5,000 samples of chocolate, all homemade. Tickets are 6 samples for $10, 12 samples for $20. Recipes for a dollar apiece. Soft drinks, water and milk available. Recipes, too, a dollar each.

All this work. I haven't baked. Instead, I've tried to be the gofer between folks facilitating communication and completed tasks.

Will people come? All that work. So many hours of work. Will people come?
They will be happy if they do. Delicious.

Will they come? We'll find out tomorrow. So many folk working. So many hours. So much yet to do. So much. This is a volunteer project. People have led with their hearts, their pride and their industry. It happens with every volunteer activity in the community. The folks putting them on always have a bigger vision than giving you some fun. Always.

Will people come?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Virtual and Real Exposure to New Things

My first effort with a digital camera went very well. In 11 days, I shot 370 photos, including at least 3 rather nice ones from 30,000 feet on the plane. (The one shooting down at Mt. Hood was particularly good.) They are downloaded on my computer. But I haven't learned the simple process of scanning into my blog, and talking about Oregon without pics is kinda like, well, like salt-free potato chips.

One reflection. When I lived in New Mexico, my dad, an avid garderer, had a velvety lawn of close-cropped blue grass and clover, a delight to bare feet. We had rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, potent desert scorpions and vinegaroons (if you scare them, they let out a smell like someone spilled maybe a gallon of strong vinegar), so we were careful where we stepped. But we didn't have chiggers. I learned about those in the 60s, when I moved to Dallas. And every now and then, I would forget and end up with a number of unbearably itchy bumps.

Then, in the 70s, fire ants reached the Metroplex and life changed forever. No more gardening without heavy socks over my jeans and long sleeves and gloves even in mid-summer because another queen might have landed in the tilled soil, undetected. The thing about fire ants, they run toward the disturbance, not away, and they all sting at the same time. And they leave painful bites that develop pus before subsiding. Not life threatening, but very unpleasant. So we all automatically became extremely conscious of where we stepped. Or sat. Lying down? Outdoors? Ha!

I hadn't realized how accostomed I am to this until I saw people Sleeping On The Grass in Oregon. My kneejerk reaction was concern, even alarm for them. Unsafe! Unsafe! but of course it is perfectly safe there. They don't even have poisonous snakes. That added a lot, I think, to my relaxation in the environment. Here, one stays a little bit vigilent outdoors, always. But it was a noticeable shift for me. Where we live is our norm. We interact without even thinking about it. When it changes, we notice.


I want to recommend two books I've read lately.

The first is "Julie and Julia" by Julie Powell, the story of a blogger who won the lottery, i.e., wrote a book based on one of the first blogs in existence, and sold the movie rights.It is tremendously funny--her writing reminds me in some ways of Crystal's style--and I found myself laughing out loud.

As most folks already know, this non-cooking picky eater set out to cook--and also eat--every recipe in Julia Childs' first cookbook. Crazy. I shudder at some of the things she ate--pounds and pounds and pounds of butter, kidneys(I think I could eat them but I don't think I could cook them), and brains (no, thank you. ick.) Oh, and turnips. This woman didn't even like carrots and raisins when she started. I am bemused. You have to say she was anal-compulsive or she wouldn't have finished the project, but she is so full of life. Hugely full of life. It's a good read.

The seond book is "Banana" by Dan Koeppel. The bananas in the stores today are Cavendish, which may be doomed in the next 10 to 30 to find out why. Still, many varieties of bananas exist throughout the world, some with seeds, most cultivated ones without (plants are grown from cuttings, so are clones of each other) He goes into ancient history, segueing into the rise of the tremendously profitable U.S. fruit companies with holdings throughout the world. (O.Henry coined the phrase, "banana republics" in 1905.) He also covers the genetic manipulation of this fruit and general produce in easy to follow prose about a complicated and tedious process.

He's an excellent writer and obviously an exhaustive researcher.

In the last year, I have made it a practice to pick out a couple of non-fiction books each time I go to the library. My only requirement is that it has to be something totally different. It has added a lot of enjoyment to my life.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Seminal Oregon

Huh. When I wrote for a newspaper, I had 150,000 readers. Now I am concerned by the expectations of 15 or so per day.

And that is good. Maybe I need to focus more on the fewer rather than the more.

I haven't written about Oregon. I wrote about my expectations. I suppose one would suppose that since I haven't written about it, the experience failed my expectations. Far from it.

It was seminal, and yes, I just looked up the word to make sure I was using it accurately. It changed my world view in a major way.

As beautiful as the west part of Oregon is, that was only a part. As wonderful as the friends I stayed with are, they are only a part. But maybe a bigger part. They gave me so much. So much. And I think, before in my life, I couldn't have accepted it. But now I could. And it was so wonderful.

It was so wonderful spending 10 hours with the childhood friend I hadn't seen in 49 years. We just picked up where we left off, because we were always in tune. We have been through a lot we still haven't shared fully--but the music still plays. And I love the tune.

I couldn't do some of the things I wanted to do because of my RA. And for about two minutes, I wept. Then I focused on the positive, and what I had and was experiencing and doing. And it was OK. Better than that. Blake made biscuits from scratch and omelets with wild mushrooms, and then we set out. It was great, whatever I was able to get to. Oregon has so much, even us impaired, hobbling folks can partake.

In 11 days, I can truthfully say I had NO negative experiences. No one person rude. No one person it wasn't pleasant to talk to. No view that wasn't beautiful, and worth going 2,000 miles to see.

See why it's so hard to write about?

But I will, for me if not for the readers. I need to see the words and in some ways, grow from it. It was the vacation of a lifetime.

And I hope there will be more.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What makes a survivor instead of a victim?

I was assigned a sexual abuse case where the girl was doing well in a foster home in a small Texas town. She and her dad both agreed he had only touched her breast once. She had an older sister, better endowed. Reported untouched. She had younger brothers.

She was a young teenager when the abuse occurred. Laws were different then. She was removed from the home. She seldom saw her mother, who stuck with her husband. He was placed on deferred adjudication and forced to attend an abusers' group each week. He hated it.

This was back in the '90s.This girl''s father was not bright, nor capable of enlightenment. Periodically, he would show up at the police station with a few pair of tighty whiteys and a toothbrush and toothpaste in a paper sack, and say "I can't stand it anymore! Send me to jail!"

And the police and I would chuckle. Comic relief, right?

The girl wasn't comic She was tragic. It took her years just to be alone in the same room with any man, years to start wearing clothes even approximately her size. In a town as small as she was in, boys and girls got engaged, even married, before graduation. Not her. And her grades were exceptional.

We had her all set up with a scholarship, a career that would pay well, that she said she wanted. And months before graduation, she threw it all over to go with a married man with abuse flags all over the place, but no accusations, and she was 18. We could do nothing.

Now we come to last week's story of the woman missing so many years, who has lived a horrible life for 18 years and has two children by her abuser. Apparently, she was so submissive she has stayed voluntarily, even as an adult. Stockholm syndrome? People tend to think that when something like this happens, the victim is inevitably broken beyond repair.

But there are exceptions.

Several years ago, I went to a foster home to interview another girl with good potential ( how I came to dread that phrase) who was a teenager. And her foster mother, young, with two small children and a loving husband, told me she had been kidnapped at age 9. Because I thought the information was private at the time, I did not keep notes.

The young woman's family had just moved here from out of state when she was snatched. She didn't know anything about Texas, and she was kidnapped from her bed and taken to a shack in the wilderness where she had no landmarks she recognized. She was miles from her family. At first she didn't try to escape because she had no idea which way to run if she did get away. So she was isolated and abused for three years. Finally she saw her chance. She ran. She waved down a man in a car on the road and asked to go to the police. Needless to say, they were pretty disbelieving at first. But she persisted, and she came back to her loving but astonished family who thought her dead. They had taught her independence and decision making from birth. They were strong people, and apparently did a great job of teaching her to be, also. They loved her deeply.

She not only survived, she flourished.

Then she decided to try to help kids who had been abused but didn't have the family resources she had. She was a strong advocate. Most of her foster girls finished high school, and a number went on to college. Because when "her girls" said recovery was "too hard," she could look them in the eye and say, "I did it. And you can too." And she put her whole being into helping them do it.

What makes the difference? I don't know. I do think individual character is a part. I think a stable, loving home is a part. I think teaching your kids how to think and believe in themselves is a part--and there's not enough of it out there. But there's a good bit.

And that's good to know.