Archive | February, 2012

Sweet Home, Chicago

29 Feb

(Part of the writing practice I did today)

Buckingham Fountain with my friend, Vanessa, back years ago


I called it home once.

The Metra would, without my parents’ knowledge, whisk me away from stark suburbia to The City where magical adventures awaited.

With my friends, I’d skate on State or press my face against the ornate Marshall Fields Christmas window displays, wondering to my teeange self if they might hold the key to happiness.

Often, I would find my way to North Avenue Beach after lingering at the Hancock’s 95th floor to sneak a peak at life above the Lake Effect.

Through Navy Pier I once walked with white platform sandals on Prom night to the Odyssey, the boat where my senior year boyfriend sweetly but naively promised me forever with a $95 purple amethyst from JC Penny.

The lions guarding the Art Institute would welcome me with their protective scowls to discover George Seurat’s version of Sunday in a Parisian park or “American Gothic” and I’d gaze into a window of Edward Hopper’s soul otherwise known as “Nighthawks.”

Chicago means Buckingham Fountain during a summer sunset right before I had to sprint to the 5PM train to make it back in time for dinner without my mother knowing. It is fireworks at the Taste of Chicago and sweaty humid afternoons spent wandering.

It’s me as a production assistant for a commercial at Charlie Trotter’s posh restaurant where I first learned what was really in fois gras.

It is Shakespeare and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, cultural experiences I discovered for the first time on awkward middle school field trips that left an indelible imprint in my memory.

Chicago was my cousin’s church cathedral wedding at the same venue where Cameron Diaz married Dermot Mulrooney in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

It is Giordano’s pizza and Chicago Pizza and Ovengrinder where I discovered heaven as a food.

The piece of heaven I'm referring to

It is ornate bridges and a green river on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s shopping on Michigan Avenue and driving down Lakeshore Drive by myself the first day I got my driver’s license.

It is smokestacks and breath that freezes in your lungs before you can catch it. Buildings so tall I lay down on the pavement just to see them scrape the sky.

It’s the El train and shiny lights at night. Taxis everywhere. Buses rumored to be homes for rats. The financial district deserted by dusk.

Admittedly I have never been an adult while living in Chicago. I’ve become a California girl and replaced a lake with an ocean, bitter bleak winters that build character and frostbite tolerance with February short sleeved mornings with windows down and sunscreen streaks across my arms.

Yet Chicago whispers to me. When I let myself think of it, it beckons. And slowly I let myself remember driving down 290 under the Post Office building into a real City where people work and bustle and toil and become. And in that moment, I go home.

What I Noticed On A Saturday in Santa Monica in February

25 Feb

Flying, flying

The seagulls call to one another silently and in a swift, fluid motion, they join together one after the other gliding over the Santa Monica horizon.

Where ocean meets sky, where sand meets water, the seagulls fly.

Over the crowd of Road Runner LA marathoners clad in orange shirts, each with their neon green water bottles tucked neatly into the back of their equipment belts.

They fly over the band of surfers in wetsuits, waiting patiently in the easy waves for their next jolt of life.

Over the kids in helmets learning to ride bikes and their exhausted but excited parents in pursuit.

Over the guy on his cell phone half running after his giggling baby playing gleefully in the sand.

Over the shirtless lifeguard removing the locks from his tower’s windows, opening up for his daily shift.

Over the paparazzi yelling out names of celebrities exiting limos as they arrive for the Independent Spirit Awards.

Over fans, also yelling names of their favorite stars, while stuffing the morning’s left over bagel into their mouths and wiping away the crumbs.

They fly over the two women jogging on the beach catching each other up on the happenings of their week.

Over the carnival rides at the Santa Monica Pier where distant screams of glee fill the air.

Over memories. New ones being made, old ones being forgotten.

Over volleyball games just beginning. Sons learning from fathers how to spike a ball.

Over unruly dogs trying to steal the leash from their owners.

Over problems and the people who cause them.  Over fights. Over parking mishaps. Over police directing traffic. Over smiling kids. Over tourists. Over empty beach in this February off season.

Over me, laying here observing it all, watching their flight and wondering if anyone else has taken the time to see how magnificent it all is.

Post-Valentine’s Day Thoughts From A Guest Blogger!

17 Feb

During a conversation about Valentine’s Day, I joked with my neighbor and friend, Michael Gilley, that he had a lot of thoughts on the matter. I told him to write a blog about it. So here it is, Michael’s thoughts on Valentine’s Day:

The V-Day Invasion

A few days ago we celebrated Valentine’s Day and I have just one question: Why do we suffer this holiday year after year?

Who likes Valentine’s Day? Really? Who voted for it? I don’t know one person who really enjoys or looks forward to Valentine’s Day. As I prepared to write this post I thought about all the ways I disliked the holiday and all the ways my friends have been frustrated by it. Then, I began thinking about all the ways that married and dating couples also dislike the holiday. I finally arrived at a new realization: I don’t need to sell my annoyance to anyone.

Cupid got shot! (Melissa's caption)

Everyone already hates the day and everything associated with it. (I heard those little heart candies are actually made from chalk that ossifies in the heart slowly killing you from the inside out.) So why do we allow Valentine’s Day to live? I say we should all rise up as one and slay it!

Valentine’s Day is a day set aside for the remembrance of Saint Valentine. The problem is, nobody knows a thing about the guy! We’re not even sure he ever existed. There’s so little known about ol’ Valentine that the Catholic Church actually removed his feast day from the Christian calendar! On top of this, there wasn’t a romantic twist to his day until the poet Chaucer came along in the fourteenth century, and that’s not that surprising because he spun a romantic twist on everything to win French speakers over to English. It was only two hundred years ago that card producers began commercially selling “mechanical valentines” to men to give to their sweethearts. The rest is, as they say, history.

It cannot be denied that Valentine’s Day, like other holidays, is a commercial juggernaut. There are others who have written off Valentine’s Day simply for this reason. I on the other hand am not as bothered by this. What bothers me about the holiday is the constant, powerful reinforcing of the same story that strangles relationships and wounds individuals all in the name of love.

Valentine’s Day & Faith

 What do we disciples do when it comes to Valentine’s Day, or romantic relationships in general?

I suggest that we begin thinking of our relationships with one another as a story. What kind of story are we embracing? What story are we retelling? Is it the story of the Gospel or is it another kind of story? Does it grow from self-sacrificial love and mutual support or does it feed off of compulsion and expectancy? Does it begin with acceptance of the other as they truly are or does it start off with a messianic version of those we trust to save us?

People get hurt when romantic relationships are co-opted as a salvation from loneliness. (Loneliness, by the way, usually results from complacency more than isolation but that’s for another time and place.) The fact that the pain of divorce directly affects over half of the Western population ought to make this clear.

When we are consistently told the story of how we find our true worthiness and purpose in another person (be it a knight in shining armor or a damsel in distress) we come to rely on our grandiose fantasies of what that person can do for me. Should we be surprised when we wake up disillusioned, hurt, crushed, and with ossified hearts?

It’s usual to hear 1 Corinthians 13 read at a wedding. Unfortunately, that text doesn’t only apply to the love expressed between a husband and a wife. It’s much greater than that. It’s much wider than that. It ought to ask us how our relationships foster love for others.

Does it inspire in others patience, kindness, an end to envy, bragging, and arrogance? Does it seek the good of others and encourage timely forgiveness? Does it live to find out and bring injustices to light? Does it delight in truth telling? Does it tell a story of all things settled in God who sits on the mighty throne?

I must confess, the story I often hear (and too often hear from the church) is one that inspires in me anxiety, a sense of entitlement, victimizing the self. I want to think of myself and my needs. I want to forgive past hurts when I feel ready to release the grudge. I hear the need to think about my own plights before the injustice felt by others. I want to hide for fear that the other might find out who I truly am and end the relationship. I hear in the background the ticking clock of time and death.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be a day of torture. Perhaps it can be a day to redeem, a day when we all — singles and couples — can come together to pray. We should pray for help in modeling the kind of relationships in love that is seen in Christ. We should pray that we will continue to resist the urge to place our hopes and worthiness in anyone other than God. We should pray for healing for those who have been hurt in the past. We should pray for forgiveness and hope to move on. But above all, we should pray for love.

Michael Gilley hails from Missouri but now lives in South Pasadena, CA.  He holds a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He likes coffee, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Anabaptists,  and playing Cluno, a game that we made up with our friends.  There’s a lot more to him than this hastily put together bio mentions, but I wanted to publish his blog so it is what it is.

Why I Decided To Radically Change My Diet And Embrace Kale

12 Feb


Pretend that chicken was tofu and that'd be an example of a salad I've been eating!

The easiest thing to say is that over the past few weeks I have started to resemble a vegan. I can’t fully claim that I am an actual vegan because I still eat honey and wear leather shoes and all of that. And while I feel bad when I hear that animals are mistreated, it’s not the primary reason that I chose to do this.  I’m not making a political statement. It’s not because I’ve finally let the land of fruits and nuts get to me, as some of my Midwest friends and family have begun to think. I’m not exactly “allergic” and I’m not silently judging others who decide to indulge in cheese and meats and the like.  


I have made a radical change in my diet, choosing to eat a whole foods plant-based diet because I want to believe that I am my own best doctor. It’s because I don’t like the idea of having to take a pill every day for the rest of my life if there is another option. It’s because I’m starting to believe that food is actually SPIRITUAL and I’m starting to consider the idea that my body is a temple. What I put into it is important. It’s not just a garbage dump and just because I’ve been blessed with genes where I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight for most of my life, I can’t afford to take my chances anymore.  My body is not cooperating.  I have a kidney condition that has something to do with an abundance of protein. It’s not life threatening today, but it raises my blood pressure as a result and will likely deteriorate my kidneys quicker than most peoples. In 20 years, that could be bad.  So I have to change something. 


It’s hard to believe that I haven’t written about this because it’s been so much a part of my life. But maybe it’s been that I’m so busy trying to figure out what to eat and trying to pay attention to what I’m putting into my body that I haven’t had as much time to write.


Whether it’s watching documentaries like “Forks Over Knives” or “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead,” or reading cookbooks about plant based whole foods or vegan diets (did you know that there’s a difference? Neither did I until recently), or figuring out the whole protein debate and trying to determine who is right, I’ve been busy.

Look at all those vegetables!


Changing your eating habits is HARD. I’m not going to lie. It’s tough. I used to sneak to Wendy’s on a midnight run with my roommate on many occasions. I had a birthday party less than 90 days ago that was solely based on grilled cheese! But here I am. Discovering lentils. The joy of mushrooms. Juicy blood oranges. Pears! Polenta. Sunflower seed butter. Sweet potatoes made into hash browns (kind of gross. Need a new recipe). Vegan cookies from Trader Joe’s (an indulgence). Vegan enchiladas (so good!). Kale on pizza (so fabulous!). And nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute. So much to learn about food. It’s as if I have a new kind of adult education class that I myself am developing for myself.


The good news is, I feel great. I have more energy than I’ve ever had. My stomach doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. According to my blood pressure monitor, my BP has decreased a bit. Whether it’s enough is TBD. I don’t know how my kidneys are doing but this week I’m going into the lab for some follow up tests. I’m praying for less protein. I’m praying that this works. And for now I’m just trying to take it one meal at a time.

Chance or Community Chest? My January Monopoly Game

1 Feb

Do you ever feel like your life is like Monopoly? I’ve felt like that lately, especially with regards to the “Chance” cards and the “Community Chest” cards.  My life is unfolding with unexpected surprises lately. Good and bad. But surprises all the same!

I can see myself drawing these cards after rolling the dice:

“Your car overheated unexpectedly on the way back from a job.  Pay $200 for a tow and a new radiator hose.”

“You just made a final payment on a credit card! Move ahead three spaces.”

“Unexpected sinus infection.   Stay home for a day to recuperate.”

“Your body responded better to the three mile run than you thought! Move ahead one space.”

“You neglected to listen to this verse that kept coming up and then Facebook stalking got the best of you. Lose several days dwelling in the land of Sadville.”

“After calling the Credit Union, you discover you made your last loan payment without knowing it! Collect $150.”

“Your friends decide they will be returning after a long trip away. Move ahead 4 spaces.”

“You read a life changing book that helps you not want to settle for less than an adventurous life. Move ahead five spaces.”

“The doctor tells you that you need to take medicine for the rest of your life.  Move back 10 spaces and lose a turn.”

“A session with a pastor leads to renewing of your connection with God. Move ahead 8 spaces.”

“A new plant-based diet gives you more energy and hope than you thought about a medical condition. Move ahead 5 spaces.”

“You put yourself out there and finally wrote something you made public. Move ahead 3 spaces.”

“A new job possibility doesn’t pan out after all. Stay where you are for one more week.”

“Fear of disappointment gets the better of you. Stay home on a Saturday night.”

“You spent some much needed time in silence and solitude. Move ahead 3 spaces.”

“An amazing new idea comes to you that could be a welcome change. Move ahead  3 spaces (for now).”

“Sacrificial love in community became real to you in a new way. Move ahead, move backward, stay put, hide under the covers, then thank God and for heaven’s sake, stop allowing awkwardness to get the best of you.”

And that was all in January.  A lot happened.  I became more aware.  I made a lot of really good decisions. At some level, life just started happening differently. But maybe it was because I wanted it to.  And in February, I will continue to be aware. I will continue to pay attention. I will not let life just pass me by. I will risk. I will fail and it won’t be that bad. Because in the midst of that, I will also succeed. Things will be different this year.  And here comes February!

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