Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tour of My Cubicle

This is the eight square feet of real estate I occupy in the hallway at work.
Mr. Yellow Ninja Birthday Balloon has stayed inflated since August 9. He guards the cubicle at night.

This is the back wall, slowly getting populated with stuff. At the left is my "POGONOPHOBIA FREE ZONE". Then "Mr. R's Brain Gym", and "Semper Gumby Always Flexible".

This is "Parade of Neon Frogs" the top of the left wall. No cubicle wall is complete without "Chattering Teeth" to remind everyone it is a "BLAHBLAHBLAH Zone".

This is my reading glasses holder. I had to get a separate pair of glasses for my computer screen. I made Alfredo Carbunza in 1967 in ceramics to hold my glasses on my nightstand. He's been dropped a few times over the years and needs a nose job. Of course, a real cubicle desk always has a Big Gulp (or coffee) and snack food on it.

This is the right wall of my cubicle. My "Greeting Gumby", "Hello Hand" and "Friendly Frog" say "HI!" to visitors.

This is the right wall's posters and pictures. Monkabee Moo, The Moo King, Groucho Bunny, drawings by my students, etc.

This is my "dual screen monitor" set up I finally figured out how to do last semester. How did I live without it??? I found a Thomas Kinkade Godzilla picture that makes a dandy screen saver. Of course NO ONE can live without post-it notes and neon frogs even with two monitors.

It's still a work in progress. I might need a shelf for stuff. I thought about bringing my stuffed armadillo but it might make people think I'm weird.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Juggling Masters

Those who have been following the blog for a long time know I have a soft spot for juggling.
I learned to juggle three things in high school but never got good at it so I can appreciate a good juggler.

THIS is an old post that showcases two amazing jugglers.

I didn't know there was such a competition, but an online friend, Mary, posted this on Facebook. THIS is amazing!  Contact juggling at a new level.

And if you liked the "contact juggling" video, THIS guy is amazing.

Take a break from juggling your life and just enjoy!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Does God Have a Wonderful Plan for Your Life?

Last month I posted an Old Man's rumination about "the will of God for my life" (HERE)

John (late twenties) asked in the comment box: " question then is, how does the Orthodox Christian then decide what to do when a decision regarding a life path does come up? Simply pray for God's blessing and then make the choice as best as I can, without having to see the "hand of God" in it?"

There are so many aspects to this question that need fleshing out, but let me see if I can hit some high points, tell some stories and then distill some principles that make sense to me here and now.

1. "Life path". Although I don't think John meant it exactly in the way I'm going to talk about it,  I will address it in several ways.

Our "life path" is rarely divinely revealed.  Even St. Paul revised his "divinely ordained life's purpose" after his encounter on the road on his way to kill Christians. My "life path" from age 6 was to be a priest. I interpreted twists and turns and opportunities and conversations and coincidences through that lens for almost 50 years. I finally was able to admit to myself I was self-deluded.  

A "life path" often carries the baggage of defining my life by what I do, or constraining it in some significant way that means I fore go something that could have been"better" in some significant way. The issue is the self-definition of "significance".  I often think of the Prophets who spend decades of their lives herding sheep, picking figs or loving whores before any thought of "significance" entered their radar, and then only because of incontrovertible proof of Divine intervention in their lives.  We get it backwards... we ASSUME divine intervention and significance then look for something to fill in the blank.

I spent 30+ years of my life doing construction, not by my choice, though I still believe it was the providence of God that put me in the place to go there, but ultimately I "chose it" because I, at the time, was constrained by circumstances and need. Over the years I managed to turn it into and frame it for myself as a "street ministry" of sorts and thereby spiritualize it so it wasn't a complete affront to my self-discerned "will of God for my life". Sure, there was some ego involved. Sure, there was some true virtue involved. Sure, I did some good. Sure, it led me down some dark alleyways.

I look back on it now and wonder if I would have done better by making it a "real business" and making money to donate to legitimate charities and organizations who actually did better at helping people than I did.  But I didn't... I did what I did in my mix of ego, idealism and desire to be a Christian.

I recently got a "real job" and work in a "real office environment" with real people.  I found that I can be a Christian there too. 

Here's how I see "Life path" and decisions now:

A. Don't "spiritualize" your life path unless you are contemplating becoming a pimp or paid assassin.  The old AA/Country Music line "No matter where you go, there you are..." is true. You won't be a better or worse Christian in any environment.  If your work environment dictates your spiritual life, you don't have a stable spiritual life and you need to work on that, not your resume.

B.  Provide for your family. Take a good paying job.  There is no virtue in poverty.  But, neither is there virtue in riches.  No matter how much I've made (below poverty level and "rich" by many definitions) I was always "just getting by".  Virtue is in learning to live simply, guilt-free and generously.  Give away more than is comfortable no matter how much you make.

C. Don't confuse "career" with "spiritual life" (see #1).  If you love computer programming and are good at it and can make 185.00/hr., don't be fooled into thinking you're a better person by becoming a cashier at a Goodwill Thrift Store for minimum wage because you are "sacrificing".

2. "The Hand of God".  Honestly, I still vacillate about this one.  As I mentioned in the GPS post, I firmly believe the providence of God has been a part of my life from day one. It is MY INTERPRETATION of when, how and the results of that providence that is the problem.  We can see "success" as blessings and "failure" as sin or delusion, but they could very well be the opposite.

It is easy to see good times as "blessings".  And they just might be... or they could just be market forces and good financial planning that even Judas could pull off blindfolded without an abacus. There's whole heresies and denominations built around that notion.  There is another side of that coin that is equally potentially delusional:  I had a friend who used to say, "How come every time God works in a mysterious way, I get kicked in the ass?"  Sometimes God's servants get crucified, and it is His will. The trick is to not develop a "martyr complex" and see the hand of God in bad times when it is really a consequence of you being a total idiot.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen "the hand of God" in something in the short run and now 20, 30, 40, 50 years removed from it have re-interpreted the providence and outcomes.  The fact of the matter is, providence is cumulative and consequences flow down for decades not just weeks or months.  We have no clue what is being "set up" or how things will work out in the long run.  I am VERY wary of interpreting recent events as "the hand of God" or seeing blessings or outcomes in them.  I really don't know what is really a blessing or merely an event within the fallen order that God will have to re-define, work within, do some magic or merely let it play out to its logical end and hopefully I will learn a lesson from it.

That said, I think we just need to make the best decisions we can with what we have and where we are spiritually (whether it is delusional or truly spiritual because in some ways in the end they are both pointed toward God in a round about way).  

3. "Simply pray."  Yes. If you can.  Usually when I prayed about something I was looking for an outcome and saw circumstances and events as "the hand of God at work" that supported that outcome.  To truly pray "Thy will be done" without an ego agenda behind it is harder than it looks.

In the end, no matter where you end up it can be for the glory of God and your spiritual growth.  I don't know how to say "don't obsess about things" when it is our tendency to do so because we've upped the ante of consequentiality because we've spiritualized everything in our lives.  If we could just see the present moment as the "spiritual event" we've been given and not concern ourselves with big pictures and end games and outcomes that are prognostications, illusions and hopes and dreams I think we would find a lot more peace even in the "big decisions" of life.

Anyway, that's my two cents for today.  I don't know if it would have made any difference to me at 30 if someone had told me this stuff then, but, here it is.  Caveat emptor.  :)

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Bacon Brown Sugar Squash

I'm not turning the blog into a full fledged "Food Blog", but I loved to cook long before the "Food Channel". My Mom is Chinese and my Dad is Arkansan so it made for an interesting cuisine in our house. My Mom is an intuitive cook, I don't recall anything bad she ever made, including Arkansan food. I learned to cook intuitively from her and rarely measure anything so I usually have to guess at portions when giving a recipe.

My Mom and I lived with my paternal grandparents for a summer while my Dad did sea duty. She learned to cook Arkansan and showed my Grandmother some tricks herself. I recall my Grandmother getting up at 4:30 to start breakfast. Home made biscuits, pork chops, bacon, eggs, pan fried potatoes, white toast made from Rainbow Bread and home made plum and pear preserves. There was always a quart mason jar of bacon grease on the back of the stove that got used to prepare various dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner and was replenished each morning. The other staple was a can of Crisco in the cupboard. I don't recall ever seeing a bottle of "oil". My Grandparents both lived well past 80 and probably never touched an ounce of olive or canola oil in their life.

One of my favorite childhood dishes was, and still is, bacon brown sugar yellow squash.

This has converted vegans to bacon drippings and "EWWWWW SQUASH!" kids to vegetables.
It is the perfect blend of vegetable and animal.

So here you go:

4-6 medium yellow crook-neck squash sliced into half-inch discs.
Boil the squash for about 3-4 minutes or until just barely getting tender.
Drain in a collander and let as much water drain out as possible.

Prepare a skillet (I ALWAYS use cast iron to cook). Get it hot (high heat) so a drop of water dances in it. Throw about a tablespoon of bacon grease into the pan (if liquid, if you keep in the refrigerator a slightly mounded teaspoon will do).

Pour the squash into the frying pan and spread it out. Let it fry for a while then flip it over with a spatula. Keep the heat high.

Add some sea salt (a couple sprinkles), about 2 good tablespoons of brown sugar, a teaspoon of coarse ground black pepper and a heaping tablespoon of butter. Stir it up. Keep cooking on high heat.

There will usually be a lot of liquid from the squash. A lot of it will evaporate while cooking. Once the squash is done (soft but not total mush, even though it is still good as squash mush), you can remove the squash and reduce the liquid on high heat (boiling and stirring) until it is syrupy then add the squash back in. You can leave the squash in the pan and just let the liquid boil off but the squash gets cooked more and mushier. Either way, you don't want to pour off the liquid, it has all your flavor in it.

If I leave one "food legacy" to the world, I think this would be the one I'd opt for.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Pork Tenderloin and Sweet Potatoes

I've always been into "one pan meals", short prep time, and tasty (OK, two pans if the dish requires mashed potatoes, rice or a side veggie). If I can do the veggie and meat in one dish, so much the better.

I found small pork tenderloins on sale, perfect size for dinner for two and maybe one "leftover" lunch or snack... (now that we're empty nest, I have to learn to cook smaller). I usually do a barbeque kind of thing with pork so I wanted to try something different.

So, here is the concoction:

Split the pork tenderloin down the middle (not all the way through), lay it open. Fill it with scallions, olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and sage and then lay a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary down the center. (We have rosemary growing in our front yard).

Peel and slice a couple of small sweet potatoes and arrange it along the tenderloin in a baking dish.

Drizzle the entire arrangement with balsamic vinegar. Then sprinkle some brown sugar on the sweet potatoes. Then drizzle some maple syrup over everything (including the pork).

Cover with foil and bake for about an hour at 325. (Check the meat, depending on the size it may cook quick). The potatoes will come out firm but cooked. I didn't want mushy "baked sweet potatoes" so if you want the potatoes softer I'd say you might have to boil them for a few minutes before putting them in the baking pan.

The other option (that I prefer, but it takes another pan that you'll have to wash)...
Remove the roast and set it aside to let it rest before you cut it up. Pour off the liquid into a frying pan and reduce the liquid (boil it over high heat, stirring regularly, until it becomes like syrup). While you are reducing the liquid, re-cover and return the potatoes to the oven to bake a little longer.

Drizzle the reduction over the roast and potatoes. Reduced meat liquids are like nectar.

I paired it up with a $2.99 Walmart Argentinian Malbec called "Lucky Duck". Not bad.

Two tongues up. Tasty!