Archive | June, 2008

Warning: Don’t Laugh At This Man!

29 Jun

Part II of my experiences at the Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Institute at San Francisco State University, June 16-21, 2008…

On my day off in San Francisco, I went with my friends Roxanne and Derek down to Fisherman’s Wharf. We rode the subway train (MUNI) down to Pier 1. It happened to be a free day on the MUNI for everyone in the Bay area so the busses along the wharf were jam-packed. We didn’t want to wait around for an empty bus and it was a nice day so we decided to walk from Pier 1 to Pier 43 1/2. As we were walking along, we saw this street performer standing stock still on the sidewalk. I had seen similar performers on You Tube and thought to myself I would take a picture of this guy to show my teenage son when I got home. I didn’t have a camera with me, but I had picture-taking capabilities on my cell phone.

As soon as I whipped it out, Robot Man pointed his finger at me and strode directly toward me with a mean sneer on his face. He stuck a plastic cup in my face and flicked the rim of it with his finger. Out of nervousness, I laughed underneath my breath. He said in a menacing tone, “What are you laughing at ma’am?” I reddened a bit and put my cell phone back in my bag while my friend Roxanne put a dollar in his cup to appease him.

I don’t think this is the same guy, but here’s a video that demonstrates just how unbelievably rude and aggressive these people are.

The incident rattled my nerves a bit and made me upset for several reasons: 1) The guy didn’t even perform–he just wanted money for the privilege of looking at him or photographing him 2) He was a big bully and that made me even less inclined to want to give him anything.

Another homeless man we saw at Fisherman’s Wharf is known as the Bushman. His trick is scaring people by hiding behind two big branches, growling, and jumping out at clueless tourists. At least he makes people laugh instead of intimidating them! After he surprised us, we spent some time watching him, though I admit I didn’t give him any money either. Later in the day when we passed by him, we heard him yelling. We turned around to see what he was so upset about. Apparently someone’s dog had raised its leg on his bushes as it was going by and he was not too happy about being sprayed!

It’s interesting how this experience just happened to correlate with our 2008-2010 Honors Study Topic–The Paradox of Affluence: Choices, Challenges, and Consequences. I was troubled by my discomfort with homelessness and poverty when I was actually confronted with it. I live in a pretty affluent neighborhood and live a pretty cushy life, so I don’t often encounter people in this situation. I’m of the general opinion that a hand up is always preferable to a hand out, but how should our society address this particular challenge?

The best speaker at our Honors Institute, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes, had some interesting ideas. As a Professor of Urban Studies at San Francisco State University, she has created a working model that provides “green collar” jobs, or manual labor jobs that improve the environment, for adults with barriers to employment. Pinderhughes’ presentation was upbeat and hopeful with an emphasis on the transformative power of education and the need for scholars to walk their talk by getting actively engaged in civic issues. I was inspired by her message and although I am mostly naive, uninformed, and baffled by the complexity of local, national, and global politics, I like to think that through my involvement with Phi Theta Kappa as the Vice President of Scholarship in my local chapter, I have the opportunity to contribute to social change even if it’s on a very small scale. Certainly it’s a step in the right direction as I struggle to overcome my own barriers of apathy and ignorance.

Phi Theta Kappa Honors Institute

26 Jun

The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky…

(From “The Mighty Task is Done” by Joseph P. Strauss, Chief Engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge)

I’m back from my fantabulous, 6-day, all-expense paid trip to San Francisco with the Sigma Phi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa and I have so much to blog about that I will probably have to break this up over several posts.

The Golden Gate bridge was lovely shrouded in wispy layers of fog the day we arrived. Here I am with our new chapter president, Roxanne and a former chapter officer, Derek on the coldest June 16th ever in the history of San Francisco. Seriously!!! I wished I had brought my winter coat instead of that thin jacket I’m wearing. Rox and Derek walked part way across the Golden Gate bridge that day, but I was a total wimp and enjoyed views of it from the car instead. With the humidity, I just couldn’t get warm! Thank goodness the sun came out the next day and the rest of the week was probably the warmest weather in San Francisco’s history.

Rox was my roomy at San Francisco State University and we got the “Penthouse suite” in the Towers on the 15th floor. Since I lived at home when I attended the University of Colorado as a young student, the experience of living in a dorm was fun–for a week! I slept surprisingly well considering we had to sleep on what we ended up calling “crib mattresses” (probably because I was so exhausted at the end of each day!) And although the cafeteria food was pretty lame, it was rather nice not to have to plan, prepare, or clean up any meals. For six days, my life was reduced to the simplicity of taking care of “numero uno” instead of me times 7. I did a lot of walking, socializing, learning, eating, and sleeping (and I savored every moment of it!)

In the lecture hall, I got to sit in the middle of a row–a simple pleasure that only mothers of toddlers can truly appreciate. Normally quite reserved, I even learned to voice my opinion, make comments in small group settings and take part in discussions relating to our Honors Study Topic, The Paradox of Affluence: Choices, Challenges, and Consequences. I enjoyed participating in courteous debate with my peers, wrestling with personal agendas and biases and grappling with the complexity of political issues–something I rarely have the opportunity to do in my everyday “mommy” existence.

In six days, I learned that a positive attitude goes a long way, that Ghirardelli chocolate hazelnut ice cream in a chocolate-coated waffle cone is just about the closest thing to heaven on earth, and that it’s not a good idea to laugh at homeless people…(more about that in my next post!)

Mashed Potatoes Can Be Your Friends

9 Jun

I used to think the line “Mashed potatoes can be your friends” from Weird Al’s parody of Devo, “Dare to Be Stupid”, was just a sarcastic, inane saying. But perhaps Weird Al was really onto something. There is something particularly reassuring about a home cooked meal of meat and potatoes–something that can nearly approximate the closeness of a trusted friend, don’t you think? After all, they don’t call it “comfort food” for nothing!

Growing up, one of my favorite Sunday memories was coming home from church to the smell of a roast cooking in the oven.

So over the years, I’ve recreated this tradition in my own home. And even though cooking is not exactly my thing (love to eat–hate to shop, plan, and prepare), this meal from the September/October 2007 Simple & Delicious magazine is super easy, requires few ingredients, tastes great, and makes me feel as natural in the kitchen as Rachel Ray.

Last night, my family actually applauded, “ooh”ing and “ahh”ing when I brought it to the table (probably because I once complained that moms never get any kudos for cooking–only TV chefs like Emeril!) The colorful peppers and onions on top of the roast make for a lovely presentation and the fluffy, chive-topped potato mounds are simply divine beckoning you to dive on in. Mmmmm….

Italian Roast with Alfredo Potatoes

1boneless beef chuck roast (3-4 lbs.)

1 envelope brown gravy mix

1 envelope Italian salad dressing mix

1/2 cup water

1 cup chopped sweet red pepper

1 cup chopped green pepper

2/3 c. chopped onion

8 medium red or 5 russet potatoes, quartered

2 T. cornstarch

1/4 c. cold water

3/4 c. Alfredo sauce

2 T. butter

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/2 c. minced chives

Place roast in a 5-qt. slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine the gravy mix, dressing mix and water; pour over roast. Top with peppers and onion. Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours or until meat is tender.

Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, remove roast and keep warm. Skim fat from cooking juices if necessary and pour into a large saucepan. Combine cornstarch and cold water until smooth; stir into cooking juices. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Drain potatoes; mash with Alfredo sauce, butter and pepper. Sprinkle with chives.

Serve meal with a tossed salad and bread. Enjoy!

A Case of Mistaken Identity

1 Jun

It seems like I’ve had a lot of embarrassing moments lately. Here’s yet another opportunity to laugh at my expense…

So, Friday night, I’m at the grocery store at 10:00 with my 17-year-old son who is in charge of providing breakfast for our annual ward Father/Son Campout (ironically the one he and his dad won’t even be attending). I’m razzing him because the only time Mr. Independence seems to need me anymore is when he’s in a pinch and needs moola. He’s only just let me know 30 minutes earlier that he even has this assignment and we are standing in front of the dairy case trying to figure out how many eggs to buy.

As I’m trying to perform the mathematical calcuations in my head, I glance over at two young men in white shirts and ties who are approaching us. Without even thinking, I say to them, “Hey, Elders!” and then I think to myself, Hey, what are the Elders doing out so late? I look at my son who is looking at me strangely. Suddenly I realize my error. The two men are the store managers NOT Mormon missionaries!

The store managers look at each other quizzically, but then gallantly ask me if I’m finding everything I need. Flushed with embarrassment, I assure them, “Yep, I’m doing okay, just fine thank you…”

“Mom, what were you thinking?” chides my mortified son as they stride away.

Chuckling I respond, “Well, they looked just like the Elders! The missionaries in our ward change nearly every week and they looked vaguely familiar to me. If they were older men, I wouldn’t have made that mistake.”

I guess I could continue to make up excuses for my lapse such as my age or my inability to function well after 8:30 at night. But as I sit here with egg on my face, I think how good it is to be able to laugh at myself, to even get over my self-consciousness long enough to blog about it, and to remember as Anna Fellows Johnston put it, we often “need laughter sometimes more than food.”