Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tribute and Aspiration

My ninety-six year old grandfather is ailing. He is the patriarch of our family, my only surviving grandparent and one of the most magnificent men I have ever met. He is a Jesus follower, poet, nature lover, gardener, carpenter, brother, father, grandfather, great-grandfather. Reams could be written and not scratch the surface in describing this deep man. Mr. Rogers carried the following quote in his wallet as a reminder of what kind of man he wanted to be. My grandfather embodies this. Without any further comment:

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much, who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children, who has filled his niche and accomplished his task, who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem or a rescued soul, who has never lacked appreciation of Earth's beauty or failed to express it, who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had, whose life was an inspiration, whose memory a benediction. ~ Bessie Anderson Stanley

True Greatness

Remember Mr. Rogers? That friendly, soft-spoken, cardigan-buttoning, Keds-wearing guy on PBS? Sadly, they don't air Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on our local PBS station anymore. He is probably too tame for the tastes of today's kids (and even I was never a big fan of the puppet portion in the Land of Make-Believe). Whatever you think of the show, you must appreciate the man. In a day when we see the moral failings of public figures every night on the news, vulgarity everywhere (everywhere!) and even commercials that make you cringe if you're watching them with your six year old, you have to admire someone who states their values and then lives them out with integrity. Since his death, his widow has compiled and published some of his quotes and sayings. Whenever I see these little gems come across the circulation desk, I check them out and often find myself faithfully copying them in the Flotsam Jetsam Journal. (You'll see lots of them!)

While I was thinking about the heroic sacrifices and courageous deeds of our military yesterday, (even though Memorial Day is not actually until Friday -- so I am not late, I am early!) I remembered a Mr. Rogers quote about American history. In answer to the question, "What is the greatest event in American history?" he replied:

"I can't say. However, I suspect that like so many "great" events, it was something very simple and very quiet with little or no fanfare (such as someone forgiving someone else for a deep hurt that eventually changed the course of history). The really important "great" things are never center stage of life's dramas; they're always "in the wings." That's why it's so essential for us to be mindful of the humble and the deep, rather than the flashy and the superficial."

The humble and the deep. In a culture steeped in and obsessed with the flashy and the superficial, we need to be on the lookout for something different and it seems increasingly hard to find. Well, maybe not. For the sacrifices made, for answering when duty called, for standing on the wall so that I could lie safely in my bed, for staring death in the face and sometimes meeting him, for being afraid but saddling up anyway, thank you men and women of the armed forces. Thank you. The "little" things you do each day, add up to greatness.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Let's Dance!

Quiz Time : What do these titles have in common?

Chant by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos
Exactly what it sounds like except instead of being as cool as you think it will be, it's more creepy. Like the soundtrack to a haunted castle.

Big Band Music of the War Years
The soundtrack for my life if I would have been born a few decades earlier.

Deep Forest by Deep Forest
C'mon you've got to remember this techno classic where somebody got the brilliant idea to combine traditional African Bushman chants with classic early 90's techno beats.

Diana Princess of Wales: The BBC recording of the funeral service
Yup. There is a CD of Princess Diana's funeral. And I have listened to it. More than once. And sung along.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Awesome for a kick butt workout routine!

Ray of Light by Madonna
Actually a good album despite the fact that I am not a big fan of people with fake British accents.

Legend by Bob Marley & The Wailers
Totally reminds me of living in the Caribbean and is great for chillin' in the backyard while the grill is going.

Big Calm by Morcheeba
Also reminds me of Cayman because I first heard these guys at a little beachfront restaurant called the Blue Parrot with my friend G. Totally mellow.

S&M by Metallica
Metallica teams up with the San Francisco Symphony. No, seriously . . .

77 by The Seventy-sevens
An alternative Christian band that we thought was all crazy and rebellious because they had a song called "Naked" about being bare before God. When Jesus freaks go bad. . . .

These are all CDs in my schizophrenic collection. (I also have more "normal" titles.) With the advent of MP3 players, or in my case, the hot new technology of AM talk radio, I bet there are a lot of folks out there who haven't tucked into that old CD stash for a long time. I would also venture to guess, knowing who many of you are, there are some pretty crazy titles in those dusty collections of yours. (ARF, you probably have a cassette of One Bad Pig or remember The Violet Burning? And KMC, do you have any Stryper left hanging around? Yellow & Black Attack!) Well, dig them out, pop them in and crank up the volume! I want my own kids to think of me every time they hear U2 or Casting Crowns since to this day, I can't hear Peter, Paul & Mary or the Beatles without thinking of my dad or Jim Croce, James Taylor or Cat Stevens without thinking of my mom.

So in the spirit of some good old fashioned nostalgia (which is probably a really redundant phrase!) and in the interest of just getting the blood pumping a little more than usual, we popped in The Beatles One album (27 #1 songs) on Monday night and boogied! In a universal phenomenon among people three feet tall who are not self-conscious, we were grooving to the music and throwing our hands in the air like we just didn't care. Bug especially went totally nuts and would slam into the back of our couch so hard that the rebound would send him flying off the couch and onto the floor. We were just dying of laughter. It was the ZamFam Tumbling Troupe, Beatles mosh pit all in one.

Now I'm trying to decide which old CD to try next. U2 is always a safe bet with me. Though I probably won't be slipping in the Princess Diana funeral CD. . . .

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Faith

I'll be honest. Even though I am generally in the midst of reading several books at any given time, I rarely read Christian non-fiction and only occasionally read Christian fiction. In the non-fiction department, I enjoy getting teaching through the radio or directly from my own study of the Bible. With fiction, I am often disappointed with the quality of the writing or the level of preachiness that I find cloying, annoying or fake. (There are some exceptions, that I will write about sometime, because there are a couple of current Christian fiction writers who rank up there with some of the greatest authors from any genre.) So it is unusual, but not unheard of, that I am finding one of my current reads so life-altering. I would go so far as to say that wherever you may be on your own spiritual journey whether skeptic, seeker, new believer or longtime Christ follower, you should read The Faith by Charles Colson.

The subtitle of the book pretty much sums it up: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It and Why it Matters. For those unfamiliar with Christianity, Colson presents a succinct overview starting with the basic premise that God Is. He then presents the centuries of thought and evidences through the ages of the existence of God. Each chapter is in a similar format, a tenant of the faith followed by evidence in an engaging and highly readable style.

Unfamiliar with Christianity? How can anyone be unfamiliar with Christianity in America? Well, I would humbly posit that not only are most Americans woefully ignorant of what true biblical Christianity is and is not, but so are many Christians. We see the words “Christian” and worse, “evangelical,” bandied about in the realms of media, politics and academia where their meanings are misappropriated, misused, mischaracterized and ultimately misunderstood by believers and unbelievers alike.

The Faith presents a very clear picture of what Jesus taught and what true belief looks like. I can't think of any better way of describing this book and what its mission is than to quote a story directly from the book jacket (Hey, these people are professionals who write this stuff—how can I hope to improve upon it!?)

“Moments before a tormented man took the lives of five young Amish schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, PA on the morning of October 5, 2006, two of the girls, Marian and Barbie Fisher, asked to be sacrificed so that the others could be saved. The killer did not spare the sisters; instead he attempted to murder Marian, Barbie and all eight of their female classmates. Five survived. And in the days after the tragedy, as the world watched in numbed silence, the parents of those girls and the entire Amish community did something seemingly incomprehensible. They forgave the killer and supported his family with their prayers and their financial resources. While their response shocked many, those parents and that community were actually practicing the love that every Christian ought to practice. They were living what they believe.”

And that's why Christians should also read this book. We need to be living what we believe in such a manner that we are so radically different from the natural order of things that people are shocked. We should be “seemingly incomprehensible” because what our Savior did was so incomprehensible and sacrificial and radical. Let that be said of me.

Five Down, a Lifetime More to Go

Happy Anniversary to us! Saturday was our anniversary -- whew, we've made it another year! Five years already and it only feels like five minutes . . . . . underwater. (Just kidding! And credit where credit is due -- I stole that from my sister-in-law's dad!) Actually, we both feel like this is going to be our best year yet. We have plans and dreams and most importantly, each other. And that's enough of that -- I don't do mushy too well.

I'll just sign off with this little observation I wrote on 17 May 2003 after our outdoor ceremony was everything I hoped it would be. The day seemed like God's stamp of approval after a long road that wasn't very straight or smooth. “ . . . an azure dome spread out above us with trees as columns holding it up, their branches stretching like arms to the heavens; the sighing winds and rustling leaves praising God more sweetly than any chorus.”

I am no poet, but I am thankful.

Oh, and Big Brown won the Preakness! Woo-hoo.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stupid Parent Tricks

The two most useless words in the English language: “Stop crying” -- rendered even more useless when coupled with “right now.”

My other favorite is “Why did you do that?” Ummmm, I think the answer is “Because I am 18 months old.” Of course, this is also the answer to the question, “ Why aren't you answering me?”

Did you feel that? The earth just shifted a little on its axis. Dear, sweet Bug (I call him “dear” and “sweet” to remind myself that these are adjectives that perhaps one day will again describe my son) went on a learning binge today. Thomas the Tank Engine Activity Table makes a great stool – especially when you want to use it to climb up to door knob height, enter your sleeping sister's room and hit her in the head with a singing Barney toy. (Thanks, Aunt G!) Bug also finally figured out how to escape from his crib. This is bad enough in a normal household where small children do not sleep in laundry/storage/pet supply rooms. It is disastrous in our situation where an escape can mean naughty, I mean adventure-minded, little boys can find all kinds of trouble, I mean adventures, to get into.

Well, I must skedaddle so that I can denude the room of anything remotely resembling fun, interest or danger to my little man. When I am done, I am hoping the room looks like one of those rubber-padded rooms in psych wards, although I doubt anything in my house could ever resemble anything so . . . sterile.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


To thee I'll return, overburdened with care;
The heart's dearest solace will smile on me there;
No more from that cottage again will I roam;
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

-- John Howard Payne from "Home Sweet Home"

Somedays we get discouraged about our little house, but it is HOME. Mustard Seed House has its own name, but if we ever move, this poem inspires me to name our next house Traveler's Rest, with the hope that there will be some traveling that requires some resting from! . . . And if I ever have a sailboat, she will be christened Wanderer. . . . And if I ever buy my dream car, it will be a Mini -- British Union Jacked to the max! I can dream, can't I?

Actually, I will settle for having all of my shoes be the slip-on (or OFF!) variety. Shoes are right up there with the French . . . .

Riders Up!

"And God took a handful of southerly wind, blew his breath over it and created the horse." -- Bedouin legend

This Saturday is the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racetrack (it's also our anniversary, but I'll write more on that later) and the ZamFam5 is rooting for Big Brown (named for the big brown UPS trucks!). I was born the year Secretariat won the Triple Crown, and there have only been two other TC winners since then (Affirmed in 1978 was the last), so we are hoping that this gorgeous guy will go all the way! I have been meaning to post on the Kentucky Derby since May 3, but have suffered from end-of-semester time crunch and severe writer's block, so here it finally is:

Anyone who knows me, knows what I will be doing the first Saturday in May. I've watched almost every Triple Crown race and especially every Kentucky Derby since 1984. I just love it. Which is kind of goofy – watching three hours of television coverage for a two minute race – but what a thrill when the race is on and fingers are crossed for a safe ride. . . .Which is why I haven't written on the derby until today, because as most will know, it had a terrible ending with the filly Eight Belles going down and being euthanized on the track. Now I still don't know what to write, but I couldn't let the moment pass and not comment at all.

I had planned to post on Saturday before the start of the race and list the ZamFam5 picks – we were of course rooting for Z Fortune (we love Zs!), and we liked the favorite Big Brown and were excited about a girl running against 19 boys especially on the the 20th anniversary of the last filly derby winner Winning Colors. But I just couldn't come up with anything witty or even that interesting to write. And then the tragedy. I'm not ashamed to say, several of us here were watching with tears streaming down our faces.

What is it about horses, dogs or ships going down that I find so unbearably sad? Well, that Saturday was absolutely horrific, and it's taken me this long to formulate some sort of coherent thoughts about it. Some might think, why care that much about some horse, and to be honest, I myself could not answer that question right away either. But here's my best try . . .

I think the tragedies of horses like Ruffian, Barbaro and Eight Belles are bringing to light the sad side of this sport. As with sports in general, where athletes are pushing for more speed and power even to the point of drugging, horse racing is suffering from a lack of vision. In the past (and even today in Europe), horse racing was a tactical event, where endurance and strength were prized over sprinting speeds. Now we see full-tilt suicide runs at breakneck speeds run by youngsters whose bodies aren't even fully developed. NPR's Frank Deford puts it best when he says, “Thoroughbreds are such incredibly fragile creatures, half-ton beasts born with a burning desire to run but on candlestick legs.”

Today's barns are pumping out horses that are expected to only run a few races and then be put out to stud; whereas in the past, horses had long careers, developed loyal followings and made the bulk of their money through purses, not stud fees. Tragedies like Eight Belles are also a symptom of the terrible inbreeding that has permeated American Thoroughbreds. All twenty derby horses had Native Dancer as an ancestor, a horse that only died fifty years ago – this is dangerous and foolhardy by any genetic standard. So there's my two cents. We are letting our greed and obsession with speed permeate and contaminate the “Sport of Kings.” These majestic animals deserve so much better, and so does the cadre of fans who for those two minutes hold their breath, cross their fingers, cheer their champion and revel in the visceral delight of seeing these creatures in such awesome motion.

So here's fingers crossed for a safe race this Saturday. Go Big Brown!

(And thanks for your indulgence. I know not everyone is that into horse racing. OK, I don't actually know anyone personally who is as into it as I am, but when you get your own blog you can write boring things about whatever you want!)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Whisper Sweet Nothings

So I forgot to mention in my family update last week that I have been sick. Some nasty bug that has been going around hit me pretty hard with fever, chills, body ache. (Hey, haven't I seen a commercial about that?) Anyway, the tail end of it hit me in the ears – with an ear infection in one ear that migrated to the other and then finally ruptured my eardrum. I'll spare you the details – pretty gross. Let's just say, you won't rupture an infected eardrum and not know it! Until it heals, I can't hear as well as normal, so now one of my favorite things to say is “What?” which El Guapo just loves. That is a frequent exchange between us anyway because he is soft-spoken (read: doesn't E-NUN-SEE-ATE!), so I am always asking “What?” and he rolls his eyes and says “Forget it.” On top of it, now certain frequencies of sound really bother me – like most of the sounds the two little ones make! Their screeches, squawks and shouting are like ice picks in my ears, but then my Bear said the sweetest thing I think anybody has ever said (get the Kleenex ready . . .) and made the whole world right again.

“Mommy, I don't want to watch Barney. I HATE Barney.”

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Simple Pleasure

Last night we gave into the pleas of the kids and sat down by the creek that runs along two sides of our yard. I am so glad we did! What simple joy we had as a family while Bean scrambled up and around on the bridge, picked up garbage (she's becoming the greenie in the family!), poked sticks into the water and discovered tracks down in the mud. Bear and Bug started wading in deeper and deeper until Bug inevitably plopped down in the mud where he discovered rocks that could be thrown with a satisfying ga-lub into the water. This was a wondrous discovery to him, and it reminded me that even after three kids, one of the best parts of being a parent is getting to see the world through the fresh eyes of a child.

My favorite part, though, was splashing El Guapo from my side of the creek by heaving large rocks across to his side sending sprays of cold, dirty water all over him while he squealed like a girl. OK, not really like a girl, but he doesn't have the same affinity for water that I do, so he was kindred to Queen Vicky and was thoroughly not amused.

If you haven't just sat by the water and chucked stones lately, give it a try. I really recommend it as a stress reliever, even if you don't have someone to splash (but that helps!). There was extra laundry to do, and I found rocks in the washing machine afterwards, but it was totally worth it. Here's to long summer evenings and lots of rock tossing.


I just watched Narnia again. I love that movie! Little Lucy reminds me of my Bear and is so cute, it hurts to look at her. And I just wish I could get away with wearing that green dress that Susan wears. I love it, but I don't think fantastical medieval wear is really a trendy look right now, so I'm probably not going to be picking one up.

By far, though, my favorite character is Aslan (which is Turkish for lion -- I'm sorry, I can't stop being in librarian mode!). Aslan is spectacular. The line "Aslan is on the move," gives me chills every time. But the best parts are how he is described. Mr. Beaver warns the children that when they meet him, their knees might knock so badly they won't be able to stand. Lucy asks, "Then he isn't safe?" Mr. Beaver replies, "Safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he is good." And that message has clearly sunk in for Lucy who becomes the closest to Aslan of the children. As Lucy cries at the end, Mr. Tumnus says, "You musn't miss him. He isn't a tame lion." Lucy is the one who replies, "No, but he is good."

Entire books have been written on the allegorical references in The Chronicles of Narnia, so I won't even begin to delve into the richness of meaning that Lewis wove into his stories, but I love the picture of Jesus that Aslan portrays -- the dual nature that is missing too often in Sunday school. Jesus did say, "Let the little children come unto me," and Aslan demonstrates this gentle, loving side especially in his relationship with Lucy. But Jesus is also called the Lion of Judah and the King of Kings. He is no milk-toast wimp, and I love that the dangerous Aslan shows this powerful, but good side.

For the first time, these favorite lines reminded me of another favorite line from a song we sing at church. In Chris Tomlin's "Indescribable," the lyrics attempt to hint at the unfathomable greatness of God and say

Indescribable, uncontainable
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

I love that word untameable. God is no gentle lapdog who does our bidding, nor is He a safe, domesticated creature who we keep on a leash. He is a force greater than anything we can imagine. And I don't know about you, but I am moved by a God that mighty and powerful.

Friday, May 2, 2008

News from the Homefront

Sorry for being so lackadaisical on posting lately! I promise I will get better. So today will just be a quick update on the ZamFam5 since I have neglected all of my friends and family this semester (especially lately).

Mr. Wonderful wants to be called Zorro on this blog, to which I have firmly put my foot down. No way! I might go with El Guapo or El Gordo, but that is the extent of my Spanish. The second one, didn't go over too well . . .

Ladies who have had babies, do you remember when you're in your ninth month and people who see you infrequently say things like, "Oh, you're still around," or "When IS that baby going to be born," like you somehow needed to be reminded that you were as big as a cow who just swallowed a whale. I always wanted to shout, "Do you think I am not counting the SECONDS until my due date, and if I am not at least a week early, I might kill someone, anyone and you look just as good as anyone?!" OK, so maybe that was just me . . .I HATED being pregnant. Well, in the same vein, I am finishing up my first year of grad school and tons of people say, "So is this your last semester?" NO! I am not graduating until 2010 which sounds like a thousand years from now. Are you happy?! Actually, though, if I had to choose between ever being pregnant again or staying in grad school for the rest of my life, I would so pick grad school.

So, yes, I am finishing up my first full year of grad school. The end of this semester has been a bit stressful because I have this little disorder called procrastination. I was doomed from birth, though, so it's not my fault. I was born a week late which just happens to be during National Procrastination Week. Here's a glimpse into this terrible, terrible disease: We had eight assignments for one class that were doled out throughout the semester, but not due until April 28. Yah, just guess when I started working on them? Wow, that was one crazy weekend! I did get a 100% on all of them, just so you know. I work best under a deadline, yah, that's it.

Another "for instance," I had to shadow a reference librarian and then write up a report. I did the job shadow during the last week of March. The report is due May 5. Well, I guess I've got about three days to get that done. . . And don't you know what an exciting report it will be -- the life of a librarian -- does it get any more riveting than that? You should have read the other paper I wrote this semester (the day before it was due!). It was called From Mexico to M-----y - Organizational Structures in Limited Spaces: A Brief Study of La Rosita Carneceria and M-----y Public Library. I really do try to amuse at least myself in these assignments. I described the boulevard of soda and the dryer lint and twigs in a baggie (horehound spice?!) that was for sale at the local Mexican grocery store. I haven't gotten a grade on that one yet. Maybe the prof was not as amused as I was. (I can send out copies if anyone suffers from insomnia.) For my final project, I am cataloging my GI Joe collection. Back when I was spending my 75 cents per week allowance on them, who knew to what heights they would take me!

So onto Bean. Last night we went to the off-Broadway production of Bugz, starring Bean as a Firefly! OK, so maybe it was just the local first grade production of Bugz, and Bean was one of the firefly dancers, but she was the cutest little firefly there. I was just glad she wasn't a ladybug -- eek. It was kind of creepy. The ladybugs did this hip sashaying "I'm a lady" dance that made me suck my teeth. If I were in her first grade class, I would have wanted to be an army ant because they got to wear camo. But the firefly dance was perfect for Bean since she is the light of my life.

Bear is her crazy little self. Two days ago she colored herself blue with marker -- literally solid blue on one hand almost to the elbow. Then, when she cried because I made her throw the marker away (it was chewed beyond repair), her tears and blue arm combined to color her face a corpse-like shade. She also cannot pronounce the sounds that are made toward the back of her mouth, so "c" and "g" are usually "t" or "d". She was trying to say "glue" yesterday and kept saying "da-loo." This was inordinately funny to me. Her current favorite toy is a beanie baby beaver that my dad brought her from Germany. She doesn't go anywhere without her "beav-a."

Bug is obsessed with escaping from the asylum. He has tried to push the screen out of the front window and if the storm door does not close quickly enough, he's faster than the cat, skedaddling out that door, shimmying down the front steps and on down the driveway. That's as far as he's ever gotten, but the busy road or the mucky, murky creek are likely destinations. He has even skooched the large Lincoln Log tin (did you know they were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright's son?) all the way to the front door and climbed up on it to try to engineer some sort of escape. If he could just figure out how that handle works, we'd really be in trouble. His vast vocabulary consists mostly of "Lerda, Lerda," which is what he calls our dog Luna. Poor, long-suffering soul that she is, she has been Yu-Ya with Bean and Woo-Da with Bear and a few unmentionable words from Mr. Wonderful -- especially after Tuesday night when she dragged her 10 year old bones on an overnight tour of the neighborhood and came home the next morning reeking of roadkill and creek muck. Yum!

So that's the news from the homefront. Hope you and yours are well. If I haven't heard from you in while, drop me a line. I might even respond after May 5!