A to Z Challenge: Z is for He’s My Zing

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My Zing, Tracy Atteberry (AKA The Hubby)

See that guy over there? He’s my Zing. (If you don’t get that the reference then we can’t be friends.) In March I turned 47 and wrote about 7 Thing I’ve Learned in My 47 Years of Living. This was #4:

Marry your best friend. This is the only reason I married at all because I sucked at dating. I was just fine hanging out with friends and had no problem making conversation and relating, but put me on date, and I was the most tongue-tied person you’d ever met and everything I knew fell out of my ears. Fortunately I fell in love with the man who had been my best friend for eight years, and he fell in love with me. Our friendship also gave us a very solid foundation for our marriage (Eleven years in May! Whoo-hoo!). You don’t have to marry your best friend, but I strongly recommend you be more concerned with making friendship the foundation of your marriage instead of romance. Friendship overlooks a lot of sins and pecadillos romance won’t.

You’ve heard it was said, “When you’ve found someone who puts up with your kind of crazy, don’t let them go.” But I say unto: “When you’ve found someone who gets your kind of crazy and he thinks that makes you that much more sexy than he already thought you were, drag that man to the nearest altar.” (I drug mine to Vegas baby!) When you meet someone and both of your crazies just work together, you just have to go for it.

The Hubby has also given me the best damn compliment I have ever received in my 47 years of living. When we were dating he told me I was intellectually sexy. When you find a man who thinks your brains are sexy (and not just to eat them), yeah that’s when I decided I didn’t care what I had to do, I was marrying that man. For the record, I resigned from my job and moved to Chicago to seal the deal. He’s still worth it.

So yeah, Dracula, Mavis and Johnny were right: When your find your zing, never let him go. I don’t plan to.

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A to Z Challenge: Y is for Yeast

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Making bread in the Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer.

I love to bake. I love to bake even more since I bought my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer last year. I’ve never been able to bake yeast bread totally by hand, first because of carpal tunnel syndrome and now arthritis. Until last year I had a breadmaker, but I have to say I like making bread in my Kitchen-Aid mixer more. It’s nice to be more active in having to mind the bread while it’s coming together while the dough hook does it’s thing. It was nice to throw all the ingredients into the breadmaker and walk away, but I’m really enjoying the process of standing over the bowl and making sure my liquid to flour ratios are right. I never let my breadmaker bake the bread. I always ran in it on the dough setting then formed the dough myself and baked it in the oven on a stone sheet pan. I don’t care what they say the crumb and crust of bread do NOT come out the same in a breadmaker.

It always amazes me how simple a basic French bread recipe is. My recipe calls for five ingredients: flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water. But when those five things are combined in the right order and left to do their alchemical thing in rising and baking, the most delicious bread is the result. Add some cheese and wine, and I am one very happy camper. In fact I am convinced that there are only four things I need to live: bread, cheese, wine and a really good dark chocolate.

Now I have some overripe bananas calling to me. I think it’s time for a loaf of banana bread.

A to Z Challenge: X is for Xenos

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Xenos means stranger
But does phobia have
To follow?
Why not philia?
What if xenophilia
Replaced xenophobia
In our arrogant vocabularies?
What if we realized that
All of us are strangers
In some fashion or form?
“I was a stranger:
You fed me.
You clothed me.
You gave me a drink.”
Xenophilia in action
Will make the world
Better.
Safer.
Saner.
And just maybe
Bring a little heaven
To earth.

A to Z Challenge: W is for Writing the World Right

wrinkle in timeI’ve always lived in other worlds. As soon as I learned to read, I began devouring books. If I could understand most of the words, I read it. I was always asking Mom what this word and that word meant, and as a result, Mom soon taught me how to use a dictionary. I was in glasses by the time I was ten. There is no proof, but I think because I read so much, my eyes didn’t think there was anything beyond the length of my arm (or the tip of my nose for that matter). By the time I finished sixth grade, I had read the “Little House on the Prairie” books, “A Wrinkle in Time” trilogy (back then it was a trilogy), “The Chronicles of Narnia,” every Judy Blume book and too many Nancy Drew books to count. In fact, I would sit down after breakfast on Saturdays with a Nancy Drew mystery and have it finished by supper. Of course, writing stories did not lag far behind learning how to read them.

The first time I saw the power and potential of a girl, and later a woman, was in Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” books. Meg was strong and held her own ground. She did not have special powers, and she was not a super-hero, but she did what was right. Her love for her family always compelled her to do the right thing, no matter what it cost her personally. Meg showed me that regardless of your age, you could change the world for the better.

I lived in books filled with girls and women with whom I could relate. I grew up with a conservative, traditional view of of what a woman was supposed to be: submissive, quiet and obedient. But I never fit in that mold. I was neither quiet nor submissive, and I was not very proper. I was competitive, opinionated, aggressive and willing to defend my beliefs. In books I found woman like me, women I wanted to be like.

LOTRI will never forget meeting Eowyn in J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Two Towers” and journeying with her through “The Return of the King.” She was the first woman I met who was also a warrior. She defied the customs of her time, went into battle and fought for what she believed in. She was the one who destroyed the King of the Nazguls. In Eowyn, I found a sister.

But fiction has done more than just show me what women can do. The genres of science fiction and fantasy also help me to understand what it means to be human. There is great potential for truth-telling in these genres. I think that is because the worlds in science fiction and fantasy are not “our” world. Because it’s not “us,” “our” culture, “our” world, we can say things that are not readily received in other forums. Over the years, these genres have confronted the prejudices of our world, battling discrimination based on sex, religion and ethnicity, and going even further to ask, “What does it mean to be human?”

In “Children of God,” Mary Doria Russell weaves the stories of human and alien through religion. On the world of Rakhat, there are two species: the Jana’ata and the Runa. The Jana’ata will eat the Runa for survival and to maintain the population. Two of the human characters in the book are a Jewish woman, Sofia Mendes, and her autistic son, Isaac. Joining them is Ha’anala, a member of the Jana’ata. Sofia teaches them the Jewish faith. The biblical views begin to change the way Ha’anala looks at her world, and the way she sees the Runa. She realizes all of them are created by God. When she is older, she forms a group where the Runa are treated as equals, which becomes a catalyst for starting change in her world. Meanwhile, Isaac has limited speech and dislikes noise. He wants silence and clarity. He works continually on a hand-held computer, looking for what he calls clarity. At the end of the book we find out what he was working on: a symphony. John Clute noted that Isaac “understands the world solely through song, memorizes the genetic codes of the three races into three intercalating tone-rows, and harmonizes them” (“Excessive Candour,” issue 63). He calls his composition “The Children of God.” The humans, the Runa, and the Jana’ata are all God’s children. The book ends with a question: Where will these three races—all children of God—go from here? “Children of God” makes us think: what does it mean to be made in the image of God? To be God’s children? Do we really consider those who are “other” (different races, cultures, religions or ethnicities) as God’s children? Would we use and exploit other people if we saw them as children of God, or would we radically change the way live as Jana’ata did?

neverwhereNeil Gaiman creates London Below in “Neverwhere: A Novel.” A whole world lives beneath the streets of London in old tunnels long forgotten. London Below is populated by those who are considered misfits by the inhabitants of London Above. The residents of London Below are seen as homeless, dirty and destitute. The people of London Above do not even see them; they look right past them. The dwellers of London Below have to talk to them to be seen, but once the conversation is over, the London Abovers forget the encounters. Those who reside in London Below are unseen and forgotten people. This challenges the reader to examine how we see people. How do we view those who are considered “misfits”? Do we look past them? Do we see them at all?

Both of these books remind me of a core teaching of my Christian faith: that every single human being on the face of this planet is made in God’s image. What do we do with this doctrine, once it is truly realized? Are we able to handle the responsibility this places upon us? What about those we take advantage of, simply because we can? Are there certain people who are invisible to us, who we look through on the street? Fiction has challenged me, throughout my life, to encounter these hard questions, and ask what it means to be human. God not only created every human being, but God created them in God’s own image. I must constantly remind myself to remember this, to live out what I believe.

This is why I’m compelled to write fiction. Although I also write non-fiction, fiction is my home. I believe fiction is a better vehicle for sharing my beliefs about who God is, who humans are, and how we have relationships with both each other and with God than non-fiction forms of writing. Madeline L’Engle believed the same thing. She wrote that “Faith is best expressed in story.” Fiction—narrative—gives us that safe distance so we can ask these hard questions and grapple with them. I believe that I am being faithful to my training as a theologian and as a Christian in sharing my beliefs about God, life, death and other people in fiction.

Neil Gaiman reminds writers that we “have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.” Or as Emily Dickinson wrote: “Tell the truth but tell it slant.” It’s easier to hear and think about hard truths if they come to us from the side, out of the corners of our eyes; if they’re told slant.

There is something about a good story that can make us think about life and all of its big questions without freaking us out as much as a news story or a sermon would. It gives us the needed distance and breathing room to look at these big questions, and fiction encourages us to think creatively about new answers to these questions, instead of falling back on the rote answers that non-fiction tends to encourage. I like the ability of using my words to create new worlds where we can look at old problems in new ways and with new eyes, and hopefully in that creative act, I will help others to see new ways of living their own lives in this world.

(Part of this essay was originally written for E-Quality, Winter 2008.)

A to Z Challenge: V is for Volunteering

new Thursday class 10-2011Last fall I began volunteering for two incredible organizations here in Chicago: RefugeeOne and Literacy Chicago.

RefugeeOne is one of the organizations the State Department contracts with to settle refugees in Chicago. We do it all: welcome them at the airport, find them housing and all the stuff that goes in those houses. We help them learn how to speak English, navigate the city and find jobs. We also help them connect to social and health services. I love their mission statement: “We create opportunity for refugees fleeing war, terror, and persecution to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance.”

I volunteer in three areas. Last fall I helped Syrian refugees find jobs. RefugeeOne had quite the challenge last fall when several highly skilled Syrians started looking for jobs as contractors, electricians, plumbers and woodworkers. This is easier said than done in Chicago which is owned by the labor unions, and the path of journeymanship to to get into those unions takes two years and is expensive. Fortunately we were able to find some businesses which didn’t require union membership, and one business that even had employees who spoke Arabic! This spring I am an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor. I’m helping a new group of Syrian refugees learn the language of their new home. I’ve also volunteered in the office helping to file and organize thank you letters for our extremely generous donors. If you want a great cause to get behind and support, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better organization than RefugeeOne.

Literacy Chicago is Chicago’s oldest literacy organization, and the woman who runs the whole she-bang is one of my favorite people: June Porter (AKA Miss June). Miss June KNOWS her stuff when it comes to Adult Literacy and ESL. She is one of those rare people who have mastered the art of tough love. She has a wonderful attitude of encouragement, but she doesn’t let any of her students sell themselves short and urges them on to greater heights in their literacy journeys.

Literacy Chicago offers classes for Adult Literacy Learners, people pursuing their GED and ESL students. To date I have been an ESL tutor, but I hope to work with GED students as well. One of my favorite things to do is read. (I’m one of those people who gets mad when you interrupt my reading, and think there is NOTHING more important to do than read a book and learn something new.) I also know how important reading and literacy are to make a living. When I decided I needed to start volunteering, literacy organizations were the first thing I researched because I knew I wanted to help people read.

I’ve also lived in another country and had to learn the language on the ground. I lived in Barcelona for nine months back in the late 1990s and learned Spanish while trying to navigate my way through public transit, grocery stores and outdoor markets. I know how hard that is, which is why I also wanted to be an ESL tutor. Again if you’re looking for a great organization to support, put Literacy Chicago on your list.

What about you? What causes are near and dear to your heart? Where do you volunteer?

A to Z Challenge: R is for Really Busy

keep-calm-and-busy-busy-busyI’ve missed blogging a couple of days in the last week. I’m also lagging on getting comments moderated and responding to them. There’s a reason for that: Life has just gotten busy. I plan on finishing the challenge, but I may not get all of the letters of the alphabet blogged about. Last week in the Christian tradition was Holy Week and Easter. I’m Episcopalian, and we Episcopalians do what I call the Holy Week Marathon. The Marathon includes services on Maundy Thursday (when the Christian Church remembers the institution of Communion during the Last Supper), Good Friday (observing the day Christ was crucified), and Easter Vigils on Holy Saturday (Vigils start in darkness and candlelight as we hear stories from the Christian Old Testament. Baptisms and receiving people into the church also occur during this service.). All of these services climaxed on Easter Sunday with our service celebrating the Resurrection of Christ and the Easter Feast that followed. Being a Good Church Lady (we call ourselves the Marthas*), I was also doing a lot of behind the scenes things to get ready for all the services.

The last few days have been spent catching up on all the things that were ignored during Holy Week and Easter (like sleep and sending out resumes) and preparing for the conference I start attending this afternoon. The conference goes though Saturday, and I’m fairly certain I will be missing tomorrow’s challenge. The conference I’m attending is called Unholy Trinity: the Intersection of Racism, Poverty and Gun Violence. I live in Chicago. For those of you who don’t live in the USA, gun violence and deaths are at an all time high for a second year in row in our city, which makes both local and national news on regular basis (POTUS loves to tweet how he wants to send the National Guard in to save us from ourselves). As a person of faith I want to learn on-the-ground practical contributions I can make to help reverse this alarming trend.

So that’s why I have fallen behind on posting as well as responding to comments. Please be patient with me. I promise to get comments moderated within 24 hours and some responses up in a couple of days. But right now life is really busy. I’m really enjoying the challenge and getting back to having a daily writing habit. That’s the reason I started this challenge to begin with: to get back to writing. And it’s working. I’ve really enjoyed meeting all of you and reading your blogs and getting to know you. And I hope we will continue to see each other around blogosphere after the A to Z Challenge is over.

*You can go here to learn more about St. Martha and why the Church Ladies of Chicago Grace Episcopal Church claim her as our Patron Saint.

A to Z Challenge: P is for Poetry

Emily DickinsonApril is National Poetry Month. Emily Dickinson is my favorite poet, and these two of my favorite poems of hers.

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She died,—this was the way she died;
And when her breath was done,
Took up her simple wardrobe
And started for the sun.

Her little figure at the gate
The angels must have spied,
Since I could never find her

Upon the mortal side.

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Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind–