Category Archives: Writing

Rain

We are here in North Central Texas and it is raining                                                                       A long rain with lots of water pouring down                                                                           Texans may be tired of the rain                                                                                                     but this Californian is happy                                                                                                            to hear pelting on the tin roof                                                                                                    smell the sweetness in the air                                                                                                       feel the coolness of the wind                                                                                                               I can’t remember                                                                                                                               the last time it rained in LA                                                                                                             It’s been too long

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Flash Fiction: A Realization

Mary pulled the blanket tight around her shoulders, its softness brushing her cheek as she leaned down to check on the baby sleeping peacefully in her cradle.  How could she ever divorce George now that this child had been born?  She would have to give him partial custody and that would mean being separated from this adorable child, this miracle, this gift straight from heaven after so many years of trying to have another baby after Jacob.

Poor boy.  That son who was never meant to be: the child who never walked or talked or ate like normal people do, but rather lived those eight grueling years with a feeding tube and in diapers and who wailed all night long, as if he was begging God to take him to a world where he could run down hills on his own two feet and eat mounds of food – fried chicken and potato salad and apple pie and ice cream, and sing with a voice so pure and clear that the angels flew over to join him.  And then he got his wish after a long and torturous last few months, as his lungs filled with fluid and eventually sent him back to where he’d come – to the God who somehow had seen fit so many years later to grace Mary and George with this perfect little one now asleep in her cradle – her mouth lazily pursed and sucking as she dreamed of her mother’s breast in her sleep.

Mary sighed.  Why after all they’d been through was George now so angry, as if this child had triggered all of his pent-up feelings over Jacob – his birth, his life, and his death – and made him a brooding man with eyes that burned with pain?  A man, almost impossible to live with.

Almost was the word that sent Mary back to bed, slipping under the covers to feel her husband’s warmth.  Almost meant another day was possible, and then another and another.  They would make it through this.  There was no other option.  She would not be separated for even a day from this beloved child.  And despite his rage – his grief – because of it, she knew full well, neither would George.

A premature baby sleeps in an incubator in the natal intensive care unit in a public maternity hospital in Gatire

A Little Self-Exploration Today

Today, I took one of those mini-personality quizzes based on The Four Tendencies.  My kids had told me about this quiz and the book that is of the same name.  My tendency is apparently an obliger, which means that I tend to put other people’s needs before my own.  This can be fine, but it also suggests that my own needs become secondary and therefore might go unattended.  This sounds fairly close to reality for me. I will work very hard to help others reach their goals, but often put my goals on the back burner. I have a tendency “to struggle with my own expectations,” according to author Gretchen Rubin.  The good news is that I tend to be “a pillar of society,” and “excel at meeting external demands and deadlines.”  Apparently, people of this personality type are “terrific colleagues, leaders, family members, and friends.”

The big problem is Obligers can procrastinate on their own projects since they are so externally focused on other people’s and then feel dissatisfied with their lack of progress regarding their personal goals. I hate to jump right on the bandwagon, but I must admit this does describe an area in my life where I clearly need some help.

The recommended remedy?  Enlist the aid of others to create real deadlines so an Obliger’s personal work gets accomplished.  This is probably one reason why I have consistently blogged over the past several years (except for a recent brief hiatus). My thought was that if even one person was expecting to read my blog, then it was my job to produce it. I wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone who might have an expectation that it was going to appear daily.  After all, my job is to oblige, right? This has helped me stay on track since 2011.

I see that I need to expand that expectation to my other writing.  Recently, I made a pact with a fellow writer that we would submit at least one piece of writing a week to a major literary journal.  So far, I’ve made good on that promise and so has she.  I will do this because I made a promise I want to keep and, besides, she is checking in every week to make sure I do what I said.  I am doing the same for her.

I clearly need some help with my novel in this regard.  I said to one of my writing group members that I was going to submit my novel to a few literary agents and just see what happens.  Now that I have said I will do that, I feel obliged to make it happen.  I just need to make a few tweaks to the first chapter and then I’ll submit, for better or worse.  After all, I said I would and I take my word pretty seriously.

I have not read beyond what I have recounted to you on The Four Tendencies, but I can see at least some value in that thought process.  The other tendencies, by the way, are questioners, upholders and rebels. If you want to take the free quiz online, you can find it at:

https://quiz.gretchenrubin.com/?utm_source=website&utm_medium=4Ttakequizpage

Whether this is Pop Psychology or not, there is some basis of truth in it. I have learned one thing that is true for me today, at least. If I enlist the aid of others to help me reach my goals, I have a higher probability of reaching them. That jibes with my life experience, which is good enough for me.

Hope you’re having a good evening.  I’ll be checking back in with you tomorrow.  I will because I said I would.

4T-obliger-FB

 

Poem for My Sister

I found this poem I wrote to my sister back in 2012.  It seems fitting tonight so I decided I would share. 

Sweet Leslie, I loved her so.

Len

GOOD-BYE TO MY SISTER

I see her lying in her hospital bed
Dark brown eyes half closed
Square jaw tight
Can she hear me?

I lean close
“Hello, Sister.”
Her pale lips shift
Into a half-smile

Her skin is smooth
Her body warm
Her legs toned
From constant walking

But I know this body
Is hiding the truth
That a brain once quick
Now has locked doors with no keys

I want her to open her eyes
To sit up and glide off that bed
Ready for a quick walk
Ready for a quick talk

And yet I know
She is going nowhere
Except away in the most real sense
Whether it’s today or tomorrow

I lean close
And say softly,
“What a good sister you’ve been,
And will always be.”

She stares off
Her eyes focused on her path
That takes her away from here
To a place that’s free

I kiss her cheek
Bid her farewell
Watch as she closes her eyes
And hope we’ll meet again

Leslie's Picture

Surrounded by Love

Today I participated in a confirmation mass at St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood, where Bishop Samuel Azariah, the former bishop of Pakistan, presided. This was a happy day for the entire church and Bishop Azariah was open, loving and inspiring.  Here is a photo of me with a few of my fellow acolytes in the sacristy before we got started.  I love these fellows. Our acolyte corps is a wonderful family within our larger parish family.

Richard, Stephen, Clint and Len

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After church, Father Davies, Ray and I went to visit Stacy Title, Jonathan Penner and their kids Cooper and Ava at Barlow Respiratory Hospital.  We have a sweet afternoon with this beautiful family even though Stacy is suffering with ALS and has had a rough year of it.  I didn’t get a photo of Stacy today, but Father Davies took this shot for me to share and I “borrowed” the Stacy and Jonathan’s photo from Jonathan’s Facebook page.  Again, I felt love and sweetness all around. I am humbled by the joy in my life even among those who are facing great challenges.  Love abounds.

Stacy and Jonathan a Couple of Years Back

Stacy and Jonathan

Ava, Cooper, Ray, Jonathan and Len TodayPenner Family + Len and Ray

 

Getting Through Life’s Tough Times

This is a post that I wrote back in July of 2012. Somehow it speaks to me today. I hope it will speak to you as well.

Len

One of the toughest moments I have ever witnessed in my life is when many years ago a beloved priest of mine unexpectedly lost his daughter, Ruthie, in a tragic event. She had gone to a party and had drunk too much, then came home and passed out in the back seat of the car. Her sister, who had been the designated driver, left her there thinking that she’d sleep it off and either wake up in the middle of the night and stumble into the house, or else come inside in the morning. Ruthie did neither. Instead, she aspirated while lying in the car and died. She was nineteen and had never been a big drinker. This was one of those horrible moments when a combination of one bad choice and an unexpected bodily response resulted in the unimaginable.

This all happened on a Saturday night, and on Sunday morning, we all gathered for church, unaware of what had happened. There was Father Forrest, the young girl’s father, there in his vestments, ready to celebrate mass.

He, of course, told everyone before the service what had happened and we all sat there aghast, not just at the injustice of such an untimely death, but also because here he was – this girl’s father – at church rather than at home grieving privately. He looked at all of us and said, “The mass brings me comfort. I need to be here this morning.”

I remember hearing him begin the service with “The Lord be with you,” and in that moment I realized that all of us needed the Holy Spirit more than usual that morning just to help us put that sad and senseless death into some kind of perspective. Father Forrest celebrated the whole Eucharist with a strong voice that day and I sat in awe of this man who could be dealt such a major blow and still find his way to church a few hours later.

I asked him in the ensuing days how he had coped that day when he’d discovered Ruthie in the car. He told me, “I just kept saying the Jesus prayer over and over.”

I said, “The Jesus prayer? What is that?”

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“And what made you say that?” I asked.

“Because that’s the prayer I say over and over as part of my daily devotional. It is considered by many to be the perfect Christian prayer because it declares the faith in a spirit of humility. It saved me that morning when I found Ruthie.”

I went home and immediately put the Jesus prayer into practice, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. If this had served Father Forrest so well, then I felt certain it could only help me.

That was almost twenty-five years ago and I have repeated the Jesus prayer over and over for most of that time. I now know how this seemingly simple phrase “saved” Father Forrest that fateful day. Saying those words over and over becomes a mantra, sweeping the mind clear of all disquieting thoughts and images and leaving space for hope and healing.

My beloved friend, who is now a retired priest, by this point has outlived two daughters and his wife, and I suspect that he still makes use of the Jesus prayer in his daily spiritual practice. I imagine he might be uttering it in the last moments of his life.

As for me, I hope to follow in his good example and continue to make this one of my devotionals. His steadfast strength is a gift that he has given to me and to all those who have known him, and the comfort he received from the mass and from prayer serves as a guide to us all.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen

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My Instant Pot and One of My Favorite Instant Pot Recipes

As many of you know, I have become a devotee of the Instant Pot.  When my niece Nicki told me what a positive impact this new gadget had on her cooking, I decided I had to try it. I tested it out at my brother Sam’s house and there’s been no turning back since that time. My family rolls their eyes when I get started on all the benefits of Instant Pot cooking.  Still, they seem to enjoy the food that I make with it.  Except for lentils. My lentil soup, which is usually a family favorite, just didn’t turn out well in the Instant Pot. Alas, nothing is perfect.

I made the recipe below again today and I have to say this is one of my all-time favorite meals produced in my Instant Pot. I know tried and true chili fans might turn their noses up at the idea of quinoa in chili, but I hope you’ll just trust me and try it. The quinoa is a delicate grain which takes on the flavor the cumin and the chili powder. However, there is something about how light it is in the chili that makes this dish so delectable. I literally ate three bowls of this today and could easily eat a fourth.  There’s just something about the mixture of turkey, quinoa and beans that feels solid and flavorful and just so damn good.

So, here is my favorite recipe yet again offered with the fervent hope that you will push away cynicism and just give it a try.  You will not be sorry, I promise.

On that note, I’ll say good-night.  I have some television watching to catch up on.

I’ll be checking back in tomorrow.

Instant Pot Turkey Quinoa Chili

https://www.seasonalcravings.com/instant-pot-turkey-quinoa-chili/

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 whole onion, diced
  • 3 whole carrots, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 14 oz cans beans, I used pintos and black beans
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Instructions

  1. Set Instant Pot to saute and add 1 tbsp olive oil.  Brown turkey until cooked.  Remove from pot.

  2. Add 1 more tbsp of olive oil and add onions, carrots, and garlic.  Saute for about 6-8 minutes.

  3. Add turkey back to pot along with all other ingredients.  Stir.  Set Instant Pot for 20 minutes on high pressure.

  4. When the timer goes off, use a dishtowel to release pressure valve.  After heat has released remove lid and taste.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

  5. Serve with shredded cheese and avocado.  If you like your chili thinner you can add more broth or less broth to taste.

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