Monday, January 24, 2011

The Ogre Mediocre

The dreaded Mediocre came to visit and is trying to stay. I will not allow this. We all know him, that pesky little attitude that drains the color from life, simply because he is so very status-quo. Life is not bad right now, just mediocre. The funniest part is, my circumstances have not changed, they've just become more ordinary and my live-life-to-the-fullest spirit prefers extraordinary and unusual.

What to do?

Dust settling is part of life. I'm in a season that has an unpredictable lifespan. There isn't a summer break to anticipate, no sparkling new job, home, or manly man. And I've decided on the things that are important to me, just a few significant things. The reality is, if those things are going to be as meaningful as I hope, dedication is required. This is where the nose meets the grindstone, where the decisions are made, where the stuff you're made of bubbles to the surface. This is not always pretty. In fact, it looks rather...mediocre.

I refuse to believe that life as it is has to be mediocre. Ordinary things can be rich and beautiful. It's a matter of perspective. Ordinary is life; life is ordinary. Could it be that how we see it makes it extraordinary? "But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever (Psalm 52:8)." A green olive tree thrives. It's alive. It uses every drop of sunlight and so spreads its branches wide, its roots deep and gives olives that are delicious to look at and to taste. We can be like a green olive tree only because we trust in the lovingkindness of God...forever and ever. I like to flip the sentence so it says, "Because I trust in the lovingkindness of God, I am like a green olive tree in His house." That is the only constant in life: God and His lovingkindness. There's the Extraordinary.

And it sends Mediocre packing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


There is a room in the house that is unmatched in its ability to produce pleasure and satisfaction. This same room is capable of producing intimidation and dread. Now get your mind out of the gutter; I'm talking about the kitchen.

Julia Child's "My Life in France" kept me company last week while I was home sick, and I quickly saw how inept my kitchen skills if there was any doubt. Unlike me, Julia was passionate about food. The very science of it fascinated her. She would try a recipe for sole normande dozens of times until she got it just right. I don't see that being realistic for most American non-chefs. But why should we try dozens of times when the trying has already been done? (She happened to write a classic cookbook including only the perfected recipes. Badda-bing, badda-boom.)

I had a blowout. 
It takes some of the pressure off when I remember that I'm cooking for one, and I tell myself that when I have people to cook for one day, I will pay lots of attention to cooking. It's hardly satisfying to sit down and savor a good meal by myself. And unless I want to go the market four times a week (which I don't), my fresh food options are limited. For example, I'm thrilled to pieces that I'll be able to eat all my fruits and veggies before they go bad this week. This is an accomplishment.

On the other hand, when lots of love and effort go into preparing something, and it TURNS OUT!!, there's hardly a more satisfying feeling. Watching someone eat it and go weak in the knees makes me smile like a fool. It's like watching someone's face when they open the perfect gift -- no words are needed.

Something funny has happened. I've noticed that I'm attached to my two stainless pots. These two cooking companions were there when I was eating crumbs in California and I still use them almost every day... twice. They are slowly but surely getting that used kitchen pot look. You know the one. It's delightful, and I don't like the thought of parting with them.

If I didn't have reason enough to learn to cook before, I certainly do now. My doctor recently told me that I can't eat wheat or corn for at least six months, but ideally not for a year. And thus I became high-maintenance overnight. Every processed food in America is no longer an option. What do you do when wheat and corn are out? You eat like an Asian. Rice, rice, rice. There are other grains too, like quinoa, kamut, spelt, and some other ones that I forgot. So in six months, the idea is to be a lean, mean, healthy cooking machine. At this point I'm just intimidated.

A soup recipe I read began with making chicken stock, so I turned to the chicken stock page. Once I saw the nonsense about buying a whole chicken (head and feet still attached) and using them to make the stock and letting the whole thing simmer for 6 or 12 hours, I stopped breathing and vowed never, ever again. I went out and bought chicken stock and the soup was just dandy.

Wherever you are on your cooking journey, take heart. Julia Child finished her book by saying that a person learns to cook, no one is born with the ability. Whew! There's hope for all of us. I'm starting small, and if that's all you can do, embrace it and celebrate the just-less-than-burnt until it comes easy.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Career Question

Do you ever wonder if every human being in the work force is supposed to be doing exactly what they're best suited for and what they love doing the most? Is that even possible? It can't be.

I ask because I started wondering before graduating college what I wanted to with my life. Duuhhhh.... I dunno. I took all kinds of career tests, strength assessments, and personality profiles to try to peg that perfect job that would line up best with my abilities and interests...oh, and provide a decent paycheck. The result? I'm one of those people that landed smack in the middle in every category. Not a bad place to be I suppose, but not a great one for finding career direction either. Consequently, I've played it safe in the admin world ever since, thinking about what I wish I would've done in college.

Here's my question today: what's wrong with starting now??? I'm only 25. Hardly too old to start in a new direction. But then the obvious next question is the same as above: what do I want to do? Phooey. I love interior and fashion design. I could be a stylist! But then I think I'd run out of ideas in four days. The list goes on. My other dream jobs include Art Curator, Ambassador, Editor, blah, blah, blah. And last, but not least, drumroll please...Writer.

Writing is the one I always come back to in the end. The reality is, as a writer, I think you get to be the best explorer of all! Look at it this way: By the end of an acting career, I think the actor has been just about everything in the book, from an expert horseman to a merman to an undercover agent. I think writers enjoy a similar life. Perhaps not as up-close and personal as an actor, but pretty darn close. And maybe I'm wrong -- maybe an established writer would read this and laugh. But the best writers I know are adventurous, observant, curious, determined and creative, all qualities I possess to some degree. So let's call this my 2011 New Year's Resolution: to become a writer. Even if it's part-time freelance for now, at least it'll be a start. Because who wants to spend their entire lives wishing they'd done something else?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Great Cause

New Year's Resolution chatter is everywhere. It's what we do on and around the start of a new year. We reflect, we project, we resolve to make changes and "do better." And then in February, only the chosen few can remember their resolutions. Most of us slump out of them and hope, in the back of our minds, that we'll have enough fortitude to follow through with it next year.

I recently finished Three Cups of Tea, a book about Greg Mortenson, the man who took a wrong turn on his descent from K2 and found himself in the small village of Korphe, Pakistan. He quickly realized the village had no school and the children, especially the girls, had little opportunity to be educated. Determined to help, he flew back to America to begin raising funds and making plans. One little school eventually turned into dozens as Mortenson was exposed to the magnitude of this problem. He turned indifferent bystanders into passionate advocates for this cause. Because of all these efforts, the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan now enjoy greater opportunity than ever to receive a balanced education and grow up to make a real difference in their country.

K2. Photo credit:

I doubt Greg Mortenson included "Korphe School" on his Resolutions list at the beginning of that year. He didn't know Korphe existed. The point is, he stumbled upon an opportunity. His eyes were open and his heart was willing, and he responded in action.

You and I stumble upon discoveries every day, every week, every year. Even if it's one person who needs something that you can provide for one moment. Acting on those things is seizing the day. And who knows what will happen when we have the courage to follow through and do something for someone?! Greg Mortenson certainly didn't realize how life-defining the act of building one simple schoolhouse would be.

So as we stand here, looking out into the great unknown of 2011, all we have are our beliefs and the choices we will make. Let's make a resolution to open our eyes and act.