Monday, April 26, 2010

A Mother's Day Recipe

My mother passed away in 1983 from ovarian cancer, just a few weeks shy of her 49th birthday.  In her honor, I now share with you her recipe for pasta sauce.  It was a staple in our house growing up; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays were all days for pasta at our house, and it all started with this sauce, which as kids we called "gravy."  Even after all this time, I can't cook or eat anything Italian without thinking of my mother.  I hope this recipe gives you as much pleasure as it has given me!

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium yellow onion
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped (roasted red pepper from a jar is OK to use)
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 28 oz. can diced or chopped Italian tomatoes
2 28 oz. cans Italian tomato puree
1 large (10.5 oz.) can Italian tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt to taste
optional: 1/2 cup red wine

In a large skillet heat oil and sauté garlic, onion, and peppers.  When onion starts to soften add mushrooms.  Cook until the onions are soft and almost clear.  Transfer to a large pot.  Add diced tomatoes, puree, basil, oregano and parsley.  Mix well and begin cooking over medium heat.  When the mixture starts to simmer, add tomato paste to thicken and wine if desired.  Adjust thickness if necessary with a little bit of water until you get the sauce just the way you like it.  Add salt to taste.  Lower heat to a simmer when the pot begins to bubble again.  Stir well occasionally, at least every twenty minutes, to prevent sticking and burning at the bottom of the pot.  For the best flavor, allow to simmer for as long as possible; two to three hours at least.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Dream of Equal Pay

One of the many, many Monty Python sketches that I love is about archaeologists who measure their ability -- and their manliness -- by how tall they are.  I love when John Cleese challenges a rival archaeologist with the line, “Oh, yeah?  Well, I’m six-foot-five and I eat guys like you for breakfast!”  I, myself, AM six-foot-five and as a tall, white, middle-class male, that line pretty much described my subconscious attitude as a younger man.  I never gave much thought to things like walking alone at night, or where I parked my car, or where I went, with whom, how late I stayed out, and so on.  In college in the early Nineteen Seventies, in that era after penicillin and before AIDS, I was usually in a relationship with a thoroughly liberated, activist woman; I rallied for women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment -- and I realize only now that I still didn’t Get It.

I have been a Unitarian now for over twenty-five years.  My wife introduced me to Unitarian-Universalism.  We were married at the Unitarian church in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1984.  Megan is a self-made family physician whom I admire tremendously for her fierce independence and determination -- among other things.  And I still thought, for the first decade of our marriage, that being cool with Megan keeping her own name after our marriage meant that I Got It.

Actually, it took becoming the father of a daughter to finally open my eyes the slightest, tiniest crack.  To begin to realize that my daughter, as a woman, was always going to have to think about where she went, and with whom, and at what time of day, and where she parked her car -- in short, an element of fear was always going to have to be present in her life that has always been absent from mine.  I finally began to realize that this would be a different life than the one I was privileged to lead  It is only now, as I get older, as my autoimmune disease makes me limp and look more like a victim ripe for plucking, that I begin to feel a glimmer of what it feels like to be, potentially, prey.  And that this is only one of many, many facets of being a woman that I can only dimly understand.  I will never feel a life grow inside me, or feel my body follow a monthly cycle, or share in a sisterhood of kinship and cooperation.

So.  I haven’t even touched on the fact that for years I worked as the lone male in a predominantly female career, as a desk librarian.  Or how advantages that I didn’t want, or work for, or deserve, were still thrown at me because I was male.  I also haven’t touched on the fact that the women in my life still have to contend with a glass ceiling in business, and with making significantly less money than their male counterparts.  All revelations for another time, I guess.  I wish the workplace could be, for everyone, a community of believers and of dreamers, and especially of believers in the dream of a world where all human beings have an equal claim to life, and liberty, and justice.  I dream of, and hope for, and try to work for, a world where my daughter, where every daughter, where every PERSON, can walk down the street with the feeling inside them that, “I’m six-foot-five and I don’t have to be afraid of anything!”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Church School

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the subject of religious education or, as we’ve started calling it lately, “religious growth and learning.”  When I was a kid, we simply called it “church school.”  But then, as comedian George Carlin has said, sometimes we soften our language with euphemism to the point where we can ... overcomplicate things.   As time goes by we sometimes, with the best of intentions, add more syllables and less immediacy.  Less emotional involvement, if you will.

The late, great George Carlin used the example of how “Shell Shock” became “Battle Fatigue”, which then became “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”  By those rules, I guess I’m a pre-elderly, gravity-impaired, follically-challenged male individual -- not a middle-aged, fat, bald guy.  Anyway, a rose is a rose is a rose, and I’ve been thinking about what kids experience on Sunday mornings while the rest of us are upstairs in the sanctuary.

My first church was the Italian Roman Catholic parish of St. Anne’s Church in Raritan, New Jersey.  Being half-Italian and half-Irish, I expected this to be my church home for the Rest Of Forever.  Church school was conducted by the nuns attached to our parish, and was run by one Sister Virginia.  If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Blues Brothers”, you might remember the character of the Mother Superior nun who runs the Blues Brothers’ orphanage.  She was a tough old bird who brooked no nonsense and wielded a wooden yardstick the way a samurai warrior swung a Japanese katana sword.  The Blues Brothers called her “The Penguin.”  Well, Sister Virginia made The Penguin look like Mother Teresa.

When our church caught on fire, it was Sister Virginia who broke into the Sanctuary, cracked open the tabernacle, grabbed the chalice full of consecrated communion wafers and dove out head-first through a stained glass window, in order to save The Body of Christ from the fire.

I swear I am not making this up.

Here’s just one example of what my early religious growth and learning was like:  On the subject of prayer, Sister Virginia would tell us the story of a little crippled boy with a withered arm who every night prayed to God to “please make my one arm like my other arm.”  Finally, one morning he woke up with TWO withered arms.  Nice lesson for eight-year-old kids on the power of prayer!

Needless to say, my own daughter has found a lot less emotional trauma during her Sunday experiences here.  My involvement in the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg's children's program has probably been about average -- more than some, less than others, and not as much as it probably could be.  I’ve done storytelling in the classes; I’ve helped with the odd Children’s Message and Christmas pageant; I’ve been a Mystery Friend on a couple of occasions; I’ve chaperoned a sleepover and worked the spaghetti dinner fundraiser -- in other words, I’ve usually -- not always, but usually -- helped out when I’ve been asked.  So even though I’m not a regular presence in the classrooms downstairs, I feel pretty comfortable saying that I’m very pleased that my daughter is going to her classes at my church.

If I had one thing that I’d want to share with you more than anything, it’s this:  You will never be sorry that you said “Yes” when you are asked to participate, or sign up, or somehow play a part in our children’s Sunday experiences.  Tell a story sometime.  I can tell you that it’s a very cool experience.  Help ferry the kids in a class on a field trip.  And you don’t have to have kids in the program to get something out of it for yourself.  The connections I have made, both with kids as well as with the adults I’ve shared my time with, have added immeasurably more to my church experience than I have words to describe.

And I believe that the example I set by participating will someday pay off in my own daughter being active with the children in HER church home when SHE grows to adulthood.  I feel a great deal of satisfaction, and even pride in that legacy.

I wonder what Sister Virginia would have to say about that.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Driving Tip

No real essay entry, just a simple thought:  IF YOU ARE DRIVING, HANG UP THE DAMNED PHONE BEFORE YOU KILL SOMEBODY!

Thank you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

How I Met Your Mother

Hey, Olivia, my darling daughter -- this one is for you:

There is a scene in the movie The Godfather when Al Pacino, as Michael Corleone, sees a beautiful girl on a hillside in Sicily and falls immediately in love with her.  The Sicilians call it “The Thunderbolt.”  If you think “the Thunderbolt” is something created by Hollywood, I’m here to tell you, “Think again.”

Forty-two years ago, when I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school, I saw a girl walking between classes and I myself was struck by “the Thunderbolt.”  I immediately started sending out emissaries from my small circle of friends to find out everything I could -- her name, her class schedule, who her friends were -- everything.  When word came back to me that she had a boyfriend and that it was serious, I was crushed.  I was not the kind of person who would try to compete for anybody’s affections; I just didn’t have that kind of self-esteem.  Or any kind of self-esteem.  So I moved on.  I occasionally went out on dates with other people, but I never quite got the Thunderbolt out of my system.  Later on I found myself in a couple of classes with this girl, and over time we actually became friends.  She was still in a serious relationship but we were in similar circumstances in our home lives, and that commonality of experience formed the foundation of what became, for me, the most important friendship of my high school days.  Although we were never involved romantically, she was my closest, dearest friend and I think, in looking back, that maybe I was hers.

Graduation came, and we went to different colleges.  We tried to keep in touch, but as so often happens, life took us down separate paths and we lost track of each other.  After college, I hit the road, working as an itinerant actor, with all of the in-between jobs that that career involves.  Eventually I heard through the grapevine that my high school class was planning to have its ten-year reunion.  I decided not to go.  Nobody had heard anything from the one person I really wanted to see again, so I thought, why bother?

When I found out that she HAD shown up at the reunion after all, I wanted to kick myself.

Some weeks later, I got a letter from this person who had once been my best friend.  Someone at the reunion had given her my address in Philadelphia, and we began writing to one another.  At some point we decided to meet.  We found that we were both feeling very wounded after escaping from toxic relationships, and again, a commonality of experience formed the foundation of a renewed, deep, important friendship.  This time our friendship grew into the kind of love that made that “thunderbolt” experience of mine seem very trivial and immature.  So I would respectfully submit to you that there is also a third kind of love that grows from deep friendship into romance and sometimes, if you are very lucky, evolves still further into something that is much greater than either.  I have been blessed, in the truest sense of the word, with all three.  I’m sure that by now it’s obvious that the person I’m talking about is my wife, Megan Borror.  I truly believe that the third kind of love is what we all look for throughout our lives.  While Megan and I have the ups and downs that any couple does, at the base of our relationship is an abiding sense of peace and comfort that comes from the knowledge that we are always, always there for one another.  It’s as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had.  Compared to that feeling, the word “love” seems so small, but it’s all I have. 

I love your mother.  I believe that anyone can find love like that, if we can just leave ourselves open to it.