Sacred Ground

Yesterday contained a mountaintop experience for me. I experienced a high that I hadn’t felt in years, and I am so grateful. It is carrying me through the rest of my week, as mountaintop experiences are wont to do.

Last week, my old church in Portland announced that they were going to be livestreaming from Facebook and Zoom. Because Zoom has a native Linux client, I downloaded it and got it running. At the appointed time, I logged in. Instantaneously, I was connected to faces I’ve looked to for love for almost two decades. I was reminded of the days when I was preaching, the days when I showed up for church so low that everyone couldn’t help but notice, and the days when a hug from them meant more than anything in the world. And, as a Virgo (an earth sign), I am deeply tied to setting.

Looking at the sanctuary made me flood out, and I looked at the ceiling so I could stop crying. Right in front of me was the banner Sash and Lisa made for our performance of John Rutter’s Requiem, s-l640intense colors and “Out of the Deep” written in their own “font.” It was a blessing remembering the day I truly became a singer, instead of a trumpet player who faked it. I was the soprano soloist for the Pie Jesu movement, and I don’t think I would have gotten the chance to spread my wings anywhere else… as was the chance to pinch hit for the pastor.

I was lucky in that my very first sermon ever was well-received, so I got to preach more. I wasn’t always the best at it, but when I was on, I was unstoppable.

The service started and the people connected to Zoom weren’t shy about singing, and I heard voices I hadn’t heard since I moved away in 2013. It was exactly what I’d hoped would happen… that I would find myself wanting to go to church for the first time since my mother died, focusing on what was mine there instead of what had been my mother’s domain. I was not so wrapped up in grief that I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t feel comforted, couldn’t breathe…….. Waiting for the service to begin was one of the great Shatner ellipses of my life, and I was changed by it…………………………

God and I have always had a tight relationship, but church and I have been at odds. When I was little, my mother was everything in the church, from choir member to accompanist to children’s choir director. There was nowhere I could look that didn’t feel like a ghost rising, and I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t feel my own joy at everything I’d accomplished on my own that didn’t have anything to do with her. I think it was because I wasn’t in my element. I hadn’t lived in Silver Spring very long, so I didn’t have a connection that reached two decades down and had the ability to grab my hand.

I cried quietly, tears running down my face when Karen read poetry, Wendy sang, and Stacey’s mic was hot in the chatroom. I also laughed with delight, the kind of laugh that lights up your whole face and you can feel it with your whole body.

I realized afterward that it was also important that I was in my own room, with no one else to witness what was happening to me as I fell apart- and my congregation put me back together. I didn’t have to feel shy about anything, didn’t have to feel embarrassed. I could take it all in, letting the power of the Holy Sprit run unimpeded.

I do not think I am finished with this particular journey, but it was a step down on sacred ground.

Dos Lenguas

I continue to be mystified by Spanish, and I am quite tired. I wish I had a Matrix-like existence that could just load the language instantly, because I would be in much better shape. This has nothing to do with my coworkers, but with me not wanting to be THAT white girl….. the one who insists that everyone speak English. I’m the outlier. I need to learn. Immersion is the only way, but right now, my phrases are limited and my comprehension equally so. I can have short conversations, and I was proud of myself when I said, que necessitas (what do you need)? and they answered seis zanhorrias, I understood that meant six carrots.

I only ask people to speak English if they are trying to explain something to me technically, and yet, there are only three people in the kitchen that can do so. Tonight I worked with two people who knew no English at all, and to say I was lost most of the time is an understatement. I am barely above “Spanglish” at this point.

The good thing is that in a kitchen, people say the same things regardless of what language they speak, and reading their facial expressions tells me most of what I need to know. But speaking so little Spanish is isolating to a tremendous degree, and I am trying to learn as quickly as I can. It would be nice to be able to contribute to a conversation that doesn’t have to do with camping or bears that go shopping (Why High School Spanish is Useless, by Leslie D. Lanagan).

The good thing is that Rachel (my chef’s knife) and I had a breakthrough in our relationship. When I got there, I was immersed in prep for a private party, and my knife callous finally came in… after seis zanhorrias, four shaved red cabbages, and 20 pounds of Brussels sprouts. The pain has stopped, and the fun has begun. I’m faster than I used to be, and people have noticed. Until my knife blister healed and rough skin covered it, I was in pain with every cut. It didn’t show in my technique, just my speed. Tonight I was called an “honorary Mexican,” and I believe I have never been more honored in my life. Keeping up with any Central/South American line cook is often a lesson in futility…. but I did it, and I did it well.

Nothing prepared me for shaving those red cabbages like being tutored by Anh Luu. I worked at Tapalaya for a bit, and was assigned to the salad station. As the then-sous chef, that was her area, and she was going to make me good at it if it killed her. If she has any grey hairs, I’m pretty sure I gave them to her.

Anh is easily the toughest sous chef I’ve ever worked for, so two things about that. The first is that I am not surprised in the least she’s the executive chef and owner of Tapalaya now. The second is that I understood from the beginning that her toughness was to make me better, and it did. In my head tonight, all that ran through while I was chopping were the things she said to me, when I was just a baby at fine dining (and will never make it past that due to my monocular vision, I’m afraid). If I was having trouble, her words would lift me up, and I’d get better and faster almost instantaneously.

I also got the break for which I’ve been wishing, which is it being my job to clean the griddle. I made it look brand new two nights in a row, and I think I am close to being asked to please stop. 😛 In fact, I was so proud of myself last night that I took a picture, just to remember over and over again how proud I was of myself…. that there is something in this kitchen that I can do better than everyone else.

Also, my new Crocs are really working out. The advice to buy a size smaller was crap, because even though they make my feet look like boats, they aren’t uncomfortable after six hours in the heat, when my feet have swollen in the clear message that they are not having it. Not at all.

It feels so good to be back in the kitchen. I feel like I’ve won some kind of award because if I can hang here, I’m truly worth my salt.

And that’s all any line cook really ever wants to know about themselves.

The best moment of my cooking life involves salt, and even though it’s tiny, it makes me choke up. If you’ve ever been a line cook, you’ll understand why. The rest of you will wonder what the big deal is. Trust me when I say this is a very, very big deal indeed.

Let me preface this by saying that people tend to call all cooks chefs. This is not so. Chef literally means “boss.” They are the eyes and ears of the entire kitchen, the voice of God as far as you’re concerned.

My chef asked me to taste something, so I did. I said, “it needs salt.” He put some Kosher salt into his hand and sprinkled it in, and I had a hard time not tearing up.

The chef asked for my opinion, and trusted it. So, you see, something that seems minute, is, in fact, enormous. It is a moment I will never forget, not in any lifetime.

And hopefully, eventually, I will remember it in dos lenguas.

Wandering Through My Mind

We have black and pink tile in our bathroom with pink paint on the walls. Yes, it’s a bit outdated, but also ridiculously expensive to replace. So, we’re in the process of painting the walls white, and going to add pictures that are mostly teal of the water around the Mediterranean Sea. Though I don’t know exactly which pictures are going to be chosen, my guess would be the eastern shore, because Hayat is from Lebanon. It’s better than what I would have chosen, because I would have left the pink and decorated in jewel tones, turning our bathroom into a theme which suggests “Indian restaurant….”

Other than that, it’s a pretty uneventful day. I thought about going to Gay Day at the Zoo, but to be honest, I don’t want to deal with the weather. Walking around outdoors in the rain, while it might be cooler, does not sound like my idea of a good time. I don’t know why. I lived in Portland, Oregon for a decade and rain never stopped me from doing anything, because if you can’t stand the rain, you’ll never leave the house. Ever. Ok, ok, maybe three weeks in the summer. Good luck, God bless.

It’s a different kind of rain on the Mid-Atlantic, though. There are bigger drops of water blowing at you, while Portland is more “gorillas in the mist.” Despite the overabundance of wetness, however, my Oregon sensibilities will rarely let me carry an umbrella. Umbrellas are for tourists. If you live in Oregon, that phrase will be drilled into your head from day one.

I miss Oregon sometimes, but it’s fading further away as the sunshine makes me feel so much better. I didn’t realize how much the weather was making me sick until I sat outside in the heat for three weeks in Houston, ice and Jamaica Kool-Aid in hand (Jamaica is pronounced “ha-my-i-ca” and tastes like hibiscus). In Oregon, my vitamin D level went down to six, and as I learned in Texas direct sunlight, the pills did nothing for me. The weather in DC is much better for me, because even though it gets just as hot in the summer, it’s nice to have all four seasons. In Houston, the weather is like Tex-Mex…. mild, medium, hot, and “dear God help me.” The one thing that’s different about DC summers is that even though it’s hot as blazes, everyone else complains about the humidity and I’m all like, that’s adorable.

The other thing about DC that’s comparable to Houston is having to stuff a jacket in your backpack, because even though it might be over a hundred outside, most buildings crank their air conditioning down to Hoth. For this reason, I don’t often wear shorts in the summer. If I’m going to The Mall or the Zoo, fine. Otherwise, I spend most of my day shivering violently. Even with pants on, I’m generally comfortable because I don’t wear jeans much anymore. I have two pairs that sit in my closet while Dockers are the bees’ knees. I have them in almost every color they make. Besides, DC is a generally preppy place. I fit right in…. with the exception that I don’t dry clean my shirts with extra starch… like I should. There’s not even really room for a full-size ironing board upstairs, and those little ones drive me insane. Sometimes I’ll concede to fluffing my button-downs in the dryer. Generally, I just wear t-shirts… but nice ones. Nautica and Polo in solid colors are my favorite.

On casual days, most of my wardrobe consists of t-shirts from Chuy’s. Now that there’s one in Rockville, I probably have enough to outfit two people for a week. My favorites are a parody of Star Wars with “Juan Solo” on the front, and a parody of Breaking Bad- a Chuy’s fish with Heisenberg hat and sunglasses. Oh, and I would be remiss not to mention that I also love t-shirts with dinosaurs. They crack me up. One has a T-Rex lying face down and says “T-Rex Hates Push-Ups.” The other has a T-Rex with a piece of pizza in his hand, going toward his mouth and says, “The Struggle is Real.”

This is just one of those entries that’s going to be all over the place because I really have nothing to say. I am just babbling into the universe as not to let my writing muscle atrophy. It feels nice not to have any more deep, dark secrets to spill so that I don’t have to carry them. Weight has been lifted that I didn’t even realize I was carrying until I wasn’t moving in the world under the barbells of internalized rage…. and that’s all due to you. Without this space, and readers who jumped in and comforted me, I would not be in such a good place now. I mean, I do have secrets, but they’re just the ordinary kind that all women carry… not things that hurt, just ideas and memories you want to keep for yourself….. like just how many times I had to rewind one scene in Sideways…. but I’m not gonna tell you which one.

Speaking of media, the season finale of Homeland was amazing. CIA is fascinating all on its own, but the cast is just outstanding, as is the writing. I read an interview with one of the producers (forgive me, I can’t remember which one) that gave me pause. They said that some of the criticisms that have come this season have dealt with the fact that they’ve recovered ground, that Carrie’s mental illness has been done to death, etc. The producer’s answer was stone-cold awesome. Mental illness will always be a part of Carrie’s life… she doesn’t get a break from it…. why should you? CHECK AND MATE.

Without spoiling anything, it is amazing how Homeland episodes can be filmed months before something happens and then it’s “automagically” current. This season practically could have been a documentary, terrifying in its accuracy. Also, there are new characters this season that add to the reality, sometimes in funny weird (not funny haha) ways.

Saul has to go and talk to a professor in a CIA history class, and when he walks in, the professor is talking about how the Americans FREAKED OUT when Sputnik was launched because they thought it was a way to point nuclear warheads at the United States…. and then, all of the sudden, “space force” didn’t seem like so insane an idea. I mean, I ultimately decided it was ridiculous, but the show at least made me chew on the facts a little longer. My gut feeling is that CIA probably already has a division which gathers intelligence about trying to weaponize spacecraft, so why duplicate efforts?

This is batshit insane, tho:

Eventually, everyone understands we’re going to need to have fleets of starships as part of the defense, the same way the Federation had fleets of starships in Star Trek.

-Dale Ketcham, Vice President of Space Florida

Everyone? Really? Maybe I’m too old and just don’t get it, but a standing army in space seems like jumping the gun a little bit. It would be much easier and cheaper to launch something unmanned, a more likely possibility since we already do drone strikes now.

Next will probably be “Time Force,” to protect us from armies in the future we can’t know are coming. If Homeland films about it, we should start taking it seriously.

Did I mention this season was scarily accurate?