Wednesday, October 31, 2007

She was a small town girl...

Last Saturday morning I got up blissfully late (it’s sad when 8 a.m. is sleeping in nearly 3 hours, but such is my great job,) and wandered down to the local coffee house. It’s called J.C. Beans (although for a long time I thought its name was “Coffee House” as that is what’s emblazoned most prominently on the side. It wasn’t until I heard a barista answer the phone with a perky “J.C. Beans, good morning!” that I realized the truth.)

Being a small-town-ish girl, I’m always endeavoring to do small-town things, so J.C. Beans is the perfect scratch for my community itch. The baristas are friendly and remember their regulars, the decor is perfect mix of C.S. Lewis’ earthy leather study and eclectic girlishness, and everything reeks of fresh ground coffee and hot apple strudel.

Leaving the coffee house, I continued walking down PCH, savoring my hot triple 1% vanilla latte and the foggy morning air. I smiled at the jogger with her high-maintenance pooch and was quickly reminded that is still Orange County after all, as she looked at me with a “what do YOU want?” glare.

A couple of blocks later found me in Dana Point Plaza, a little grassy park in between Hennesy’s Tavern and the Chevron station, where the Farmer’s Market appears every Saturday.

There’s one booth there that I love - and it’s mostly because of the lady who runs it. I don’t know her name, but I imagine it’s something romantic, like “Rose”, but I’ve never asked, just in case it happens to be quite the opposite, like “Pat” or “Marge”.

She always has a variety of fruit and hand-written squares of cardboard telling her customers that it’s “Very Sweet”. She is probably in late fifties, with long, wavy gray hair and a soft Latino lilt to her voice. She obviously loves her job and her customers, cutting large wedges of Asian pear for her favorites and smiling gleefully as they bite in, waiting for the happy “mmmm” that inevitably follows.

“It’s so good, yeah?” She says, already offering a bag and another sample. “Try the peaches, kind of small, but so sweet, too, honey. Yes... and you want a plum? Here, I give you one.”

Of course, probably 9 out of 10 people who stop end up buying fruit from her, partly because it is incredibly good and partly because she is so captivating herself. As I wander away, licking peach juice from my fingers and carrying a few pounds of fruit in my hand, I hear her, happily offering her wares to more Saturday looky-lous:

“Here, honey, try this. So delicious... good day for fruit, yeah?”

I wander by the flower stands and the bakers, only stopping because it most certainly is sweet bread season and I can’t resist. (Okay, so I stopped by the flowers, too, but firmly told myself “no” before-hand, so I was safe.)
My latte was almost gone and the fruit was feeling heavier, so I started back for home. On my way up the hill, I saw a sign for a “Giant Plant Sale” and knowing a Certain Someone’s wanna-be green thumb, I had to peek in. A crusty old fella was smoking a cigarette and lovingly trimming a fern when I walked up. A couple of palm trees and a some other tropical-looking plants sat on the curb with him - so maybe “Giant” Plant Sale was an exaggeration.

“Hey there,” he said, smiling at me as though I were a good friend. “Need a plant?”

I chuckled a little - I need a plant like I need a hole in my head - but I still reached out to touch a giant palm leaf.

He turned his mouth down and gave an approving nod. “Yep.” He pulled in a hefty draft from his cigarette. “That’s a good choice.” He squinted at me from under his bushy gray eyebrows, waiting.

We chatted a little about the price - and it became pretty clear that he was just a lonely old guy who loved growing things. He nursed plants back to health or grew them from little shoots in his alley, and every now and then he sold them to clueless people like me in “Giant Plant Sales”.

I told him I had a pick-up and would be back. “You’d better hurry,” he urged. “There might be a run on these babies.” Looking down the sleepy street, I doubted it, but I hustled home anyway.

I came back a few minutes later and he was petting a palm tree as he set in the back of a blue mini-van. “Take good care of him - found that one on the street on trash day a few months ago...”

As the van drove away, he turned to me. “Hope that wasn’t one you wanted,” he said, shrugging.

I assured him that it wasn’t, and as he loaded my chosen beauties into Rocky, he told me that he considers himself an abused plant shelter. “People just don’t take time to care about anything anymore,” he said sadly. “If it ain’t a video game, or computer somethin’, it ain’t worth their time.”

After we chatted for a few minutes, I started to get back in my truck. “Anything else catch your fancy?” he said as I turned to go.

“I only have $30.” I said, thinking he was just loathe to let such a silly girl out of his sight without taking some more cash off her hands.

“No, no.” He said, putting a fern and lacey-leafed plant in the back of the truck. “Here’s a couple more. Take ‘em and love ‘em... and bring ‘em back if ya need any help with ‘em. I’ll nurse ‘em back to health for ya or give ya tips if ya like.”

“Okay, thanks.” I said, looking happily at my truck-load of greenery.

I pondered as I drove away how I find it so much easier to strike up a conversation with these older characters then with my own generation. I think it’s because we’re not in competition. When I see a woman roughly around my age, we automatically size one another up - who’s more beautiful, who’s more successful, who’s got the best jewelry - whatever. It sounds so horrible and shallow when I write it down in black and white - and it is - but it still happens, subconsciously and constantly.

With “Rose” and the Plant Guy - it’s easy to talk and connect because we’re not checking out each other’s bling or body or boyfriend - we’re just understanding one another at the most rudimentary level. We connect because of a common love for good fruit or plants or foggy mornings in Dana Point.

There are so many surprisingly beautiful things in the small slices of Life. The world is cast with a broad spectrum of characters - interesting because of their beauties, quirks and imperfections. I hope that I can learn to look into people rather than past them - to see their soul rather then their stereotype. The fingerprints of God cover all of us - even the guy who cuts me off or the stylish woman who makes me feel inferior for a moment.

I need grace to see and appreciate these divine smudges, and to savor the moments rather than rush through them. So here’s to sweet peaches, “Giant Plant Sales” and Saturdays - and to the Roses, Plant Guys, and small-town folk of the world.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Walkin' in the Woods

We went to a costume party on Saturday, and allow me to clear a few things up. No, we are not Adam and Eve, no, we are not Ents.

It's an inside joke, and we are basically WAY too clever for our own good. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

California in Flames

I'm gonna go ahead and state the obvious: there are about 15 wildfires blazing throughout Southern California - considerably closer to home than I like thinking about.

Last night, Adam and I drove the 5 South a few miles to see the Camp Pendleton fire. Giant flames leaped up into a eerily ruddy night sky, throwing red and orange shadows as they chewed up the hillside. We stared in frightened fascination, watching the instant destruction of countless acres, and imagining our homes in its path.

Funny; how I've been so focused on "nesting" and making a cute little bower that could easily be gobbled up in minutes - thanks to hot winds or an arson's match. It makes me feel so small now, like all of my striving doesn't really mean much in the big scheme of things. When faced with disaster, we start thinking about the keepsakes we would grab and the people we would call. Our legacies and relationships are so much more valuable than the meaningless "stuff" that "moths and rust (or fires) destroy."

It's easy to get distracted with everyday worries, bills and to-do lists until the moment of truth; when I find myself looking at a blazing hillside - feeling in awe of my insignificance and thankful for what I do have.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hell in a Handbasket

I've taken to listening to the news on my way to work in the morning, but I'm thinking about stopping; as I'm either irate, depressed or wanting to move as far away from idiots as possible by the time I get to work. Here are a few lowlights of how far we've fallen:

Drugs are OK - in fact, let's provide a "safe" place for you to de-rail your life

80% of City Workers in Orange are illegal. ILLEGAL. Yet we're supposed to feel bad when they explain to a translator that they'll have to move.

Child abuse, anyone? No one else seems concerned by the fact that in order to need Birth Control, you must be sexually active. These girls are 11-13 years old.

Our troops are fighting and dying for our freedom - and President Bush's personal amusement? What. The. Hell. This is one of the most asinine and unjust statements I've heard in a while.

Speaking of asinine, AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!
Since when do we have a "right" to a "healthy future"? Why do our fellow tax-payers owe us our health care? Since when does making ANYTHING government-run make ANY situations better?

{huff, puff...} This is why I'm done with the news. For today, anyway - God save us all.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Life's Just a Vase of Flowers

There's a bouquet of Sunflowers on my windowsill that grin cheerily at me every morning, brightening my bower with inherent sunshiney-ness and the recollection of the great guy who gave them to me. I love sunflowers and daisies - they're so uncomplicated and friendly. They don't need a large portion of my paycheck or long talks or anything other than a little water and a stem-trimming every few days. Sometimes I wish my life had the same simplicity as my short-lived bouquets.

I'm a worrywart. Anyone who's known me for any length of time knows this. I have a tendency to over-think and take too much responsibility, assuming that my every step out of line indicates a uncontrollable downward spiral.

Lately I've been feeling particularly weepy and last night, I realized just how far I'd gotten. After a good night of Small Group and Monday Night Football, I got home and instead of feeling joy, was overwhelmed with worry for the umpteenth time.

Some of this is normal, I know. New job, new apartment, new expenses. But what is truly at the root of this worry? Why do I isolate myself in my own misery and assume I'm alone in this?

"And who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" This reminder I scrawled on a Post-it and stuck to the side of my monitor in a particularly lucid, desperate moment this week. But I fight every day to remind myself of it. I think what really gets to me is my powerlessness. That I can't add hours or turn things around.

So today I am "seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness," and clinging to the promise that all other things will be added. I am wadding up my Kleenex and accepting my life for what it is - for the beautiful things I have been given and the challenges I don't face alone.

So, please, next time I start whining and worrying about what I will "eat and drink, or what I will wear..." remind me that my Heavenly Father knows what I need. “But if God so clothes the grass (Sunflowers and Daisies) of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown away, will He not much more clothe you?"

Maybe my life could be as sunshine-y and worry-free as my Sunflowers, if only I would let go and trust Him.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Haunted Thoughts

This week I went to Knott's Scary Farm with Adam and some friends from work. I've never been a big haunted house fan (I'm a total wuss about scary movies too) but I was willing to try it. Adam said he'd protect me from any monsters, so I felt adequately brave.

I started to wonder about the wisdom of this plan as we stood in a mob of people for nearly an hour waiting to get in the park. No one said "Excuse me" or stepped to the side, no one had anything pleasant to say. A thousand lost souls awaited impatiently to get tickets, every man for himself as we fought to get in and sufficiently terrified.

When we finally got inside the park, I realized that the cute name of "Knott's Scary Farm" was hiding something very different - but I couldn't put my finger on it.

"The actors can't touch you," Adam assured me as a bloody corpse growled at me menacingly. I laughed nervously and just grabbed his strong hand tighter, telling myself it was all just for fun, so what was I getting so worked up about?

Our friends wanted to go to a Haunted House, and I held on to Adam even tighter as we entered "Axe Murderer's Mansion". Typical Haunted House stuff leered from the darkened corners, and I squealed at every boogey man who jumped out at me.

"It's just a guy in a mask," Adam gently assured me, but he couldn't help laughing at my inability to walk more than a step without a shudder. I started to feel rather foolish for my anxiety, but I couldn't shake the feeling. It just wasn't right - and the little voice in my head was begging me to listen. We snuck past a silent banquet table of mutilated manikins, through a bloody child's room, all the while peeking with morbid curiosity into corners filled with traces of violence.

By the time we came out the other side, my skin was clammy and I was feeling foolish for being so adversely affected; by an event treated trivially by literally thousands of people. It was all fake, right? Just people in masks and make-up having innocent fun at our expense - right?

The little voice in my head was screaming by this point. No, it was not innocent. No, it was not fake. In this imitation blood and plastic gore, there was a sinister reality that I couldn't shake. At the time, I couldn't explain why I felt so strongly. When our friends went toward another Haunted House, I just stood and shook my head, feeling foolish but resolute. Adam gently tried to coax me, but I stood my ground. I think he was vaguely surprised that his normally easy-going girlfriend was suddenly so unyielding, but after a second of indecision he told our friends we were going on a roller-coaster and would meet them after.

We went on the ride, and all the while I was warring with myself. Why was this so disturbing to me? I'd like to think that I'm not a complete wuss, but this was one area where even my typically competitive nature was not overriding the voice in my head. It didn't matter what anyone thought or how I was perceived. My spirit was not letting me rest, and it was battling my ego for every inch of ground.

"Just try to be brave," Adam advised. "It's all just for fun - it's fake."

I couldn't explain then, so I just stayed quiet and thought about it. What was getting to me, was not the lack of spiritual things - the fakeness of it all - rather it was from the presence of something deeply spiritual. For why are we drawn to these things anyway? Why do normal people - grocery store clerks, software engineers and steakhouse waitresses - paint their faces and come out in black for a night in celebration of death and dismemberment?

My argument is that people are drawn by the thousands because it speaks to the deepest, darkest parts of our souls. We are spiritual beings, drawn to either darkness or light. We come out in droves to see carefully engineered depictions of death and torture because there is an evil side to us that craves it.

But, Dani. Seriously? You're taking this a little far. It's Halloween. You're just too chicken to enjoy a good scare and understand that it's strictly for entertainment. What's the matter with Knott's Scary Farm? Sounds innocent and fun and a little frightening - but everybody needs to get their blood pumping now and then. Lighten up.

OK. Granted. And I don't take issue with a decent "boo!" or even pranks pulled on us more timid types. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. Here's what really scared me: there is something inherently wrong with the celebration of evil. The combined efforts to get every actor in makeup to appear like a tortured ghoul, every stagecoach in the park to appear as a hearse, every place we turned to be filled with the fog and cold of an unholy fear, took hours upon hours. Innumerable talents and skills - God-given gifts - used for creating representations of violence and dark forces at work.

In Phillipians 4:8 it says:

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." -NASB

The King James version tells us to "think on these things," and Webster's translation calls it "cherishing the thought".

The Tyndale New Testament puts it: "Furthermore brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things pertain to love, whatsoever things are of honest report, if there be any virtuous thing, if there be any laudable thing, those same have ye in your mind."

These words are powerful descriptors. We are told to dwell on, cherish the thought of, and have on our mind anything "pertaining to love, beautiful, true, honest, just, of good report..."

The only thing at Knott's that even came close to being a part of this list was Adam's arms around me when I jumped and his graceful attitude when I announced I was not stepping foot in another haunted house.

A couple of weeks ago our pastor gave a sermon on calling bad things by cute names. He talked about how we rationalize the dark parts of ourselves - simplistically accepting our vices as "perfectionism", "exaggeration" and "shopping a little more than some, but less than others..." rather than a lack of Grace and Love, lying and greed.

In God's Law, however, I have yet to see any "cute-ifying" of sin and ugliness. It is hard for us to see such awful hatred of evil coupled with such beautiful love. We are not accustomed to a power equally given to two opposing passions - so we ignore His anger in favor of the warm fuzzies granted by a loving Savior. While His grace is beyond what any us of deserve; His hatred of sin is also far past our imaginations.

So we flirt with our dark sides, calling them by cute names (Knott's Scary Farm, anyone?) and under-estimating their grip on our spirits, while He cries from heaven, begging us to see the evil around us for what it is and not wallow in our own complacency.

Hebrews 10:19-24 says:
"Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds..."

It's hard to seem like a wimp at Halloween. It's hard to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." (Romans 12:2) It's hard to live in the "new and living way" when the old, dead one is so titillating and widely accepted.

But we are called to "hold fast". To "cherish" the noble thoughts. These would not be commands if they came easily. It takes courage to call bad things bad, and I am as guilty as any of wanting to fit in - to shut off the voice in my head and just throw myself into the moment. It's hard when these words come up: "perfect," "honorable," "praise-worthy" and those uncomfortable ones: "evil" and "sin".

However, I think it's worth it to abstain. I think it's OK to seem a little wimpy and get a couple of weird looks for the reward of obeying the little voice in my head. Besides, when I get scared, I squeal too loud anyway.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Bullfrogs and Comfort Food

Yesterday I woke up with a bit of sniffle, a slightly hoarse voice and just enough sickness to make me feel adequately sorry for myself on my way to work.

Today I sound like a very unhealthy bullfrog and got sent home after three hours of moaning at my desk. After a stop at the store for the necessary sick day items - (O.J., soup, and graham crackers) I came home and crashed.

Honestly though, I have an incredibly hard time with sick days. It feels like such a waste to get a day off to sleep and eat runny food and wish you could do something more interesting besides think about how sick you feel. I have to say that having a nest made it a great deal better though, and I was able to really enjoy having a place all my own to come in and recuperate.

Why is it that we have "sick food" anyway? For me, my comfort food is graham crackers dipped in milk. Whether I'm sad, sick, lonely or just have the munchies, that always sounds good. I'm not usually a big soup eater, but when I'm sick it always sounds good, which is kind of weird. Wouldn't you think that you would crave things that you normally like when sick, instead of reverting to a nasty menu to make being sick even nastier?

I don't get sick that often, but when I do, I'm a total wuss about it. I don't know how to go on with daily life and a sore throat. Really. It's actually quite pathetic.

So there's my running commentary on sickness and Dani and how the two intertwine. Aren't you glad you tuned in?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Danger of "Nesting"

A lot of things have changed in my life lately. I started a new job, moved into my own apartment after nearly a year living with my grandma, and played flag football all in the space of one week. (OK, so I know that playing football isn't really life-changing news, but every good writer knows the "list of three" concept, and football was all I could think of on the fly. Sorry.)

I'm here to discuss the "nesting" concept. Somewhere in-between the fascination with play houses and her first burnt batch of cookies, every girl realizes her overwhelming need to "nest". We are drawn into the Home section of Target without trying, buy cute homey things that we neither have room for nor can afford, and are constantly attempting new concoctions in the kitchen. And buying soap. ...or maybe that last one is just me.

Anyways, I have my own place now... as in, MY own place. As in, no roommates, just me. As in, paradise/kinda scary at night/very creatively stimulating and nice to come home to after a long work day.

It's a gorgeous little studio in Dana Point, about 20 miles south of where I was living. I have an itty-bitty kitchenette, bathroom and "common area" which will eventually be organized to the point of cuteness. Right now I feel like I'm sleeping in the corner of a storage shed, but I have only lived there for three days. Shelves, sunflowers, and horses will all soon be in their places, never fear.

And after it's "cutified" I will post pictures. Promise. :)

But anyways, now that the details are out of the way... about nesting. My brother Denver says nesting is dangerous, because the next step is "baby fever". I think I'm safe on that front. However, I can definitely agree that nesting is the girlie version of when a guy walks into Home Depot with a project in mind and a list of "but I need this to do that...". Shark-infested waters, baby.

I have wandered dazedly through countless home stores, sighing over adorable hutches to keep all the dishes I don't own, and agonizing over my sad lack of cash. I hold ceramic dishes in my hands in the store, wishing I had an excuse to take them home, idly pet hanging curtains and try out couches that would take up roughly 60% of my apartment if I was stupid enough to give in and buy them.

I get warm fuzzies just by sitting on the couch (thanks, Adam,) and looking over at my kitchen, itty-bitty edition - complete with toaster oven for baking tiny things, (thanks for that, too, Adam, :) a four-cup coffee pot for half my daily consumption, and a microwave to heat up all that my tiny, delicate appetite can handle. (Haha...)

When I'm at work, all I think about is going home, folding clothes and putting up pictures, and when I'm at home, all I do is fantasize about how awesome my bower will eventually be.

So maybe nesting is dangerous, but what's life without a little risk? So what if I spend a little too much on the perfect curtain or buy another mug that I don't need? Give a girl a break... at least I don't want a baby.