Sunday, June 13, 2010

Life Lessons: The "Starbucks" Edition

It's been nearly eighteen months since my split with "The Buck".  My emotions have ranged from anxiety to apathy to resentment, but they always return to deep gratitude.  Gratitude for what I learned from amazing people, less than amazing people, and gratitude that I was released from a situation that was not, ultimately what God wanted for my life.

These are the gems I want to share with you:

1. I don't care what kind of day you are having.  The server, or cashier, or barista is a human being who, in most cases, is not responsible for your bad day.  Treat this individual with respect or at least civility.  Make eye contact.  Do not throw your credit card or cash at her.  Do answer any questions he has with courtesy.  Learn how to say "please" and "thank you".  I truly believe that you can tell a lot about a person by how he or she treats a waitress.  It speaks volumes.

2. I don't care what kind of day you are having.  The customer at your window, table, or in line is a human being who, in most cases, is not responsible for your bad day.  You are being paid to perform a service.  Do it to the best of your ability.  These people do not dictate who you are, nor can they dictate your reactions to what they do or say.  You are wholly responsible for how you act.  Be mature. 

3. Be very, very careful about cultivating deep friendships with married members of the opposite sex outside of work.  Even if nothing happens, you can be certain that someone will think it has, and, as my Starbucks mentor/BFF Shawn B. Speir always told me, "perception is reality".  Reputations are extremely difficult to repair - especially at work.

4. If you are going to make a dramatic change within your company, do not do so with a sloppy, disrespectful, hastily-typed note that leaves hundreds - possibly thousands - of your brightest, hardest workers jobless.  It's bad for publicity, and you cut off your own nose to spite your face.

5. Quality is important to customers, but value is more important.  The masses suffering from cutbacks and unemployment are not going to spend ten dollars for three packets of instant coffee.  That's stupid.

6. Next to stealing from the company, gossip is the worst possible thing you can do - to yourself, your co-workers, and your corporation.  Stop it right now.  If you do not, you will deeply regret it.  Besides, it's really just mean.

7. Friendships are, thank God, thicker than two-day-old mocha sauce.  The co-workers who truly care about you won't care why you left the company.  They just want to see you again.  (I am fortunate that there is a whole mess of those awesome people who love me at the Greentree Drive-Thru.)

8. Complaining does not bring about positive results.  Insubordination does not bring about positive results.  Laziness does not bring about positive results.  Positive results come from teamwork, sharing one goal, open lines of communication, and mutual respect.  It's not easy, but there you have it.

9. The way the head goes, the body will follow.  If you are a leader, act like one.  No double-talk, no false promises and no pretending you are infallible.  If you make a mistake, own up to it.  If you don't know an answer, don't make one up.  Excuse yourself to find the correct answer.  And, most importantly, don't promise unless you can deliver.  Countries have gone into civil war for lesser evils!  Be the kind of leader you'd want to follow!

10.  Forgive.  Move on.  Grow up.  I have made my peace and still go to Starbucks, although my salary doesn't allow me to be a two-cup-a-day-guest.  More like twice a month.  But, in spite of the disappointments I've faced through Starbucks, I am still a sucker for a cup of Breakfast Blend and a Reduced-Fat Berry Muffin.

(They aren't getting rid of those muffins, too, are they?!) 

Life Lessons: The "Foodie" Edition

Here, I lovingly share with you some stuff I've learned from an entire 28.5 years of liking to eat food:
1. Even if you wash your hands thoroughly five or six times, you will still burn your eye if you touch it after chopping jalapeno peppers.

2. Milk tastes better when it comes straight from the carton or jug.  Don’t judge me.  You’ve probably done it too.

3.  If you cannot pronounce it, you probably should not eat it.  This was a hard lesson for the former Queen of Chef Boyardee, but I have journeyed the long, difficult road to more natural, healthier  foods and it’s been worth it.  You’d be shocked at how much sodium is in almost all prepared foods, and how bad it is for your heart!

4. Never put noodles in the crock pot.  You will end up with a huge, soggy dumpling instead of fluffy golden pasta.  It’s gross.

5. Speaking of crock pots, spices are dramatically intensified when used in slow cooker recipes.  Only put about half the amount you’d use if you were making a similar dish on the oven.  No one wants rosemary chicken that tastes more like rosemary than chicken.

6. Try new things.  Often.  When I was a kid, I had a great many allergies and that, coupled with my “American” sense of taste, kept me from eating anything other than mac ‘n’ cheese, burgers and Betty Crocker fruit snacks.  Starting when I worked in Oakland, I became daring enough to try Tandoori chicken and naan bread, yellow curry, lamb kebabs, sushi and sashimi, gumbo, crawfish po’boys, and plenty of other treats - like avocados -  I never would have looked at as a child.  Best part: not allergic to any of them!

7. The best part of cooking is the creativity.  Figure out which flavors work best together, and create meals around them:  Lemon, rosemary and thyme over chicken!  Rice flavored with cilantro, dill, and lime!  Heavy oregano, garlic and basil for turkey burgers!  Sesame, lemon and olive oil over fresh green beans!  Once you have a “line-up” of flavor combinations, it’s easier to try new things.  Below, I have offered a few recipe ideas, too.

8. Unless you’re crazy picky about your exotic produce, try a local farmer’s market or Aldi’s for great prices.  As Ross and I are trying to increase the fresh fruits and veggies in our diet (far easier said than done!), we’re realizing that it costs a lot, plus in a lot of cases we end up throwing things away because they go bad before we can eat them.  We get our staples (carrots, potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, bananas and peppers) at Aldi’s and go to Market District for our other faves: asparagus, avocado and big, beautiful Granny Smith apples because the quality and selection is better there.

9. Despite attempting to eat healthier, Ross and I still enjoy fast food maybe twice a month (trust me, we both regret it any more often than that!).  We’re fans of Chick-fil-A.  Although, like every other fast-food joint, the offerings are high in fat, calories and sodium, we love  the company’s values.  And: the Spicy Chicken Sandwich is fantastic!  Our other weakness is Little Caesar’s because their five dollar “Hot ‘n’ Ready” pizzas are literally around the corner and when I work late on Fridays, Ross “makes” dinner for us.  It’s okay to indulge sometimes.

10.  Generic brands are not only acceptable, but recent studies have shown that, in most cases, they are the exact same quality as brand-name versions.  A lot of what Ross and I purchase is generic, if it’s cheaper.  Sometimes it’s not, especially during big sales so buy carefully.  The only products I draw the line for are peanut butter, cream cheese and feminine care items.  I do not ever buy generic there!

As promised, some recipe suggestions...

Sesame Veggies

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  When the oil is warm, add about a tablespoon or so of sesame seeds.  Saute until they begin to brown - about five minutes.   Stir frequently.  To the skillet, add any of the following: half a pound of fresh (cleaned) green beans, two cups of sliced (rinsed)  mushrooms, or half a pound of (washed) asparagus spears.  Add a splash of lemon juice.  Stir frequently and serve once vegetables are slightly softened.  Great side dish for salmon or chicken!

Salsa Chicken

Place up to six small frozen chicken breasts into a slow cooker.  In a separate, large bowl, mix together one can of reduced sodium or fat-free tomato soup (I prefer Campbell's Healthy Request soup because it's got less sodium than even the fat-free versions), one can, drained, of no-salt-added diced tomatoes, half a cup of chopped red or green peppers, half an onion, diced, and spices to taste: black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic, cilantro, cumin, chili powder.  You can skip the tomato-pepper-onion mix and just use about a cup of pre-made salsa if you like.   Pour the mixture over the chicken and cook on low for about 6-7 hours.  Shred the chicken when finished.  Serve in tortillas, with black beans, or over rice.  Smother with oodles of (reduced-fat, of course) cheddar cheese.

"Stuffed" Avocados

Halve and peel one ripe avocado.  Discard seed and set halves aside.  Prepare one cup's worth of your favorite rice OR couscous, adding to the boiling water a very generous sprinkle of dill, black pepper and cilantro and a dash of lemon juice.   Once the rice or couscous is finished cooking, add a handful of either mozzarella, Parmesan or feta cheese.  Stir well, then spoon into the avocado "bowls".  Alternatively, you can cube the avocado and serve it mixed into the rice or couscous.   A very rich meal, you probably won't need anything else to go with it!

What recipes have you invented for yourselves?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Put Down Your Sign

Today would have been my five-year anniversary with Starbucks, and I was going to blog about that.  Instead, I'm going to blog about abortion.


Because the protesters are out with their signs again: gruesome images of aborted fetuses, threats that God will destroy you and that abortion doctors are evil.  They're at major intersections and in front of Planned Parenthood, silent sentinels with bloody banners high.  They're causing major commotion, angrily flung middle fingers and religious slurs.

And it breaks my heart.

I read Twitter updates and facebook notes from both liberals and moderates slamming these people as intolerant and stupid.  The thing is, though, I think these protesters are right.  I agree with their beliefs.  I do believe abortion is wrong.

But this is not the way to communicate it. 

I wonder how many women have approached an abortion clinic, truly undecided as to what to do - and then made the choice to have an abortion purely because the signs stirred up rebellion in their frantic hearts.  "You tell me not to?  You're self-righteous.  I'll do what I want."  And I am sure that many, many women left childless, bearing instead the unexpected fear, guilt, shame and physical pain associated with abortions.

I do not write this message to convince you that abortion is wrong.  I write it to appeal to those who already believe that it's wrong, and who want to know how best to convey that belief. 

In lieu of favors for our wedding, Ross and I donated a sum of money to the Women's Choice Network - a pro-life, Christian organization offering help to women of all walks of life who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.  They provide ultrasounds, counseling, financial and medical aid, and educational services.  The most important part is that they get to know each woman on an individual basis.  They do not condemn these women with signs calling down sulfur and brimstone from the skies.  No one at the center is prepared to pin a scarlet "A" on all the women who enter.  Instead, they find out who she is, what her fears are, how she feels about being pregnant, why she wants an abortion, or if she is being forced into one.  They do tell the medical truth about abortion; their website even details what happens during an abortion and what the clinically proven results may potentially be.  They offer loving counsel to women who have chosen abortions.  They share the exact same message as the bloody-baby protesters, but there are major differences in both the message and, more importantly, the results.

Because they feel respected and cared for, many, many of these women who visit centers like this one do decide to carry their babies to term.  Some parent, and some put the infants up for adoption.  But the choice for LIFE was made.  I would be guessing, but I'd say that those who made the choice for life because of angry sign-wavers are few and far between.

The New Testament book of Ephesians reminds us that "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (verse 4:15).  If we are telling the truth but veiling it with hatred and judgment, who will listen to us?  It is hard to see or even imagine the presence of a pure, loving truth when it is covered by layers of accusation and self-righteousness.  Now, are the protesters I mentioned -or those who protest military funerals or the support of Israel or any number of things - hateful and self-righteous?  I do not know; only God sees the hearts of men.  But do they appear that way?  Yes, often.  And to many people, appearance is fact.  If the motivation of the heart cannot be seen in the actions, then why even perform the actions?

(If anyone who happens to read this has found herself unexpectedly pregnant, please visit this website:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Love Letters and X-Ray Vision

I admit that, from am abnormally early point in our relationship (um, like six days after we met), I knew that Ross was the one for me. I sent him love letters on facebook, left silly little cards on his pillow before I left for my apartment each evening, and tucked notes into his lunchbox.  I couldn't write enough about how he made me feel, about our hopes and dreams and how irresistible I found him.

Then I stopped writing.

Sort of ironic, since that was one of the things Ross really liked about me, and one of the things he's been encouraging me to do again.  He bought me a netbook for my birthday last year just so I could have my own computer to work on my short stories and plays (of course, he found the netbook on sale and ended up getting reward points for it, too, so I'm assuming it wasn't entirely altruistic of him).

Recently, however, some "writing doors" have been opening up for me.  Out of the blue, Ross's artsy, eclectic and talented sister Lindsey contacted me and suggested that we collaborate on a tongue-in-cheek superhero story.  I had to laugh; I'd been working on my own version of one for over a year, and it had come to a dramatic, crashing halt, but I still had a special place for it in my heart.  Now, we're toying with new characters and I'm dissecting my old story to find places for her great ideas.  Real life helps to play a role, of course, too, because Ross and his best friend Ryan are feeding the giant with Superman T-shirts, video game discussion and other delicious nerdy habits that I find adorable (hey, I am a huge sci-fi geek, too).
In addition, an acquaintance from Starbucks has found my blog, and begun to forward me freelance jobs.  Which is freaking awesome, since I'd never used my talents that way before (thanks, Courtney).  She's a pretty great writer, too, but she has a totally different style than I do, which makes me appreciate other genres more.  

If that's not enough, more interest has been drummed up online and in my family regarding my zombie play, which, after the first draft was completed, has been on hiatus.  So it looks like that's coming back from the dead, too.

Heh, heh.

But, in honor of the man I married, the sweet gentleman who sold his beloved car and motorcycle so that we wouldn't get into debt over our wedding, I share this with the eyes of all who care to read:

A Love Letter for my Husband

Each night, I forget 
How brilliantly blue and full of life
Your eyes are,
And every morning, when you
Wake and open those
perfect eyes,
I fall in love with you again.
You strike me mute, sometimes.
And during those moments when 
My soul is too quiet or wildly raging,
You pick apart my favorite
Songs and sing the words you know
Or make up lyrics
Or hum them
But the message is always the same
"I'm a fool for you and I don't care,
I've waited my whole life to play this part
And it's become my joy and my hope."
Most days I feel
Like I don't deserve your love;
It's so simple, so earnest and so
Unaffected by my moods,
By the rain that drips in the spare bedroom,
By dwindling paychecks,
Or my pale, dry attempts
At chicken-fried rice.
I want to honor
The choice you made
To marry me, to love and keep me
And to overlook my many faults.
Each day I want to grow closer to
Exactly who you need me to be:
The smiling, brown-eyed girl
Whose hopes blend with your own,
And who lingers not on past regrets,
But who takes your hand every day
And walks by your side always, 
A step closer to forever.