Thursday, June 19, 2008

My disappointment with poets

Whenever I read poems, I always imagine the poets to be sublime, superhuman and magical. In my mind's eye, they have purple eyes and skin that glows; they live in forests and talk to animals; they can time travel; they don't have belly buttons. So, I am always a bit nonplussed by the actual authors themselves, ordinary men and women who are going bald, have circles under their eyes, wear sweaters, go for jogs in the park, and fill up on gasoline just like anyone else. Billy Collins in one such person: an ordinary man with an extraordinary ability to create poetry that sends electricity through my brain. His writing has such depth and accessibility that it compels me to read more. Here's one of my favorites:

On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

rearranging. furniture.

I'll keep it brief, but I decided to rename my blog and blog address; "Cara's Blogtropolis" was apparently just a fad that was on its way out. So, I thought long and hard on the new title and hope you like the change as much as I do. It's like rearranging the furniture in your home; everything is the same, but it's fresh and you like looking at it again.

Sinning in my Sleep

For those of you who know me, you know that I have a very active dream life. I dream in color, detail, and theme; it's like watching a movie in my sleep every night, and I've found that I have more bizarre dreams if I read before I go to bed, which I usually do. I've dreamed about being a robot, about spiders, about spying, and, most recently, about my high school reunion. I woke up this morning dreaming that my high school reunion was held in a large gym with an industrial kitchen attached--nice. Apparently, in addition to having a reunion, we were making it extra special by bringing our own food and sleeping in cabins nearby...for an entire weekend. We had organized games in the gym and cereal at midnight--a true reversion back to the good 'ole days. When the weekend was over, however, everyone left fairly quickly with legitimate but probably not entirely true excuses like, "I have to catch my plane" (even though it doesn't leave for 8 more hours) or "I need to pick up my kids" (even though my mom said she'd keep them until late tonight) or "I have some work to do before tomorrow morning rolls around" (whatever that may be). Convenient. So, I was left by myself to clean all the dishes we had used all weekend long, and here was the thought I had in my dream: "I hope someone sees me doing this so I can be thanked for all this work." And there it is. My depravity at its worst, finding me even in my sleep. God has such a funny way of reminding us of our sin, doesn't He? So, if anyone has an extra measure of humility and servant hood out there, I need a heavy dose.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I finally sat down to read the latest issue of Cooking Light that arrived at my house several weeks ago and came across a fascinating article about a restaurant in Denver, CO called SAME Cafe. The name stands for So All May Eat, and it's a non-profit restaurant founded by husband (chef) and wife, Brad and Libby Birky. The restaurant is unique in that there are no prices on the menu and no cash registers to be found; patrons pay with donations or manual labor. The restaurant serves mostly organic food and has an average of two soups, two salads, two pizzas or wraps, and one dessert on the menu, which changes daily. The idea is to offer affordable, healthful food to those who otherwise could not afford it. In addition to drawing in college students, blue collar workers, and the homeless, this unique cafe also lures the middle and upper class. Its seven tables provide a quaint, informal atmosphere and the food smells and tastes delicious--who couldn't resist?

How does a place like this cover their overhead costs and actually make a profit? Both Brad and Libby are still working on that; in the meantime, they're both working full time jobs in addition to running the cafe. However, there are some strategies in place that are helping. First, those who are wealthier often donate more than the meal was worth, and in addition those who cannot or do not want to pay can offer an hour of work (bussing tables, washing dishes, etc.) in exchange for their meal, which means that the Birkys don't have to hire outside help. Also, since they are filed as a non-profit organization, they can apply for government grants and also accept donations online.

The cafe is such an effective way to meet one of humankind's basic needs and even goes a step beyond that by making that food healthful and available to all who walk through their doors. If you want to learn more, go to I know that if I'm ever in Denver, I'm definitely looking up the SAME Cafe...and leaving them a large donation...or some significant elbow grease!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remembering Pop-pop

Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of my grandfather's death, and the day was full of sweet memories instead of overwhelming sadness. The cliche that time is a great healer can seem trite at times, but there is great truth to it; passage of time is medicinal when grieving a loss of any kind.

It's like letting go of a helium balloon: the actual letting go is the most difficult part, but with each passing moment, you relinquish it a bit more. As the balloon shrinks, so does your need for it. While your heart is still filled with longing, it's also filled with hope: how far will it go? Who will find it? That tiny speck of oval rubber in the sky is destined for greatness! To borrow from Sandra Cisneros in her short story, "Eleven," the "runaway balloon [is] like a tiny o in the sky, so tiny-tiny that you have to close your eyes to see it." Grieving the death of a loved one is like that.

The actual moment of letting go is the hardest. Over time, we slowly relinquish them and, though our hearts are full of longing and loneliness, they are also full of hope, knowing that God has found them! Eventually, our lives adapt so much that we don't see the one we lost every time we look around, and when we do see them, they are smaller and nostalgically sweet. Like the runaway balloon, they never disappear; they just go home, and we must close our eyes to see them in our memories and in our dreams.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Snail Mail Resolve

With the invention of the cell phone, email, facebook, AIM, and other virtual communication devices, the old-fashioned snail mail method of communicating has gone by the wayside. I have just one friend in the entire world who still writes me hand written letters on a fairly regular basis and I LOVE finding her letters in the mailbox. When I was younger, I often wrote five letters a week on average, and developed an anticipation for that moment when the mail carrier came with that day's treasures (or trash, as the case may have been).

A hand-written letter says: "I have taken time out of my day to think of you. You are worth 43 cents. The 10 or 15 minutes I invested in this letter were by no means wasted. For this little chunk of my day, I have thought about another person longer than a minute." A hand-written letter is one of the most intentional acts of thoughtfulness a person can perform.

With that said, I have unfortunately succumbed to the far easier and more convenient (albeit less personal) ways of communicating with others and regret that I have abandoned the letter-writing of my youth. So it is with much resolve that I am going to attempt to write more letters...starting today. And hopefully it's realistic to aim for writing one letter a week because who doesn't like finding a "real" letter in the stack of credit card offers, bills, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons? I know I do!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

This is your face on Meth

While most people were out eating, watching a movie, or dancing last night (Saturday), Phil and I were home watching a PBS documentary on meth use in the U.S. Phil heard about it in a lecture at the hospital, and our combined nerdiness compelled us to watch it online last night.

Actually, the documentary was fascinating...and quite frightening. It discussed the trends of meth use in the U.S. including where it's being made, the purity of the ingredients, and the effects of meth on children and adults alike. If the picture above is any indication, meth causes irreversible and fast-moving damage to a person's body and brain. In a matter of months, their physical appearance changes, and they actually lose their natural ability to experience pleasure, having to seek it through drug use instead. Additionally, meth use has a heavy influence on physical and sexual child abuse. It's one of the most overlooked and silent epidemics in our nation, and I encourage you to take an hour and watch the online documentary at

Monday, June 2, 2008

Nickel and Dimed

Summer is a time for catching up on reading, and I've been on a non-fiction kick for most of the year. One way that I find good books is to go to the library and look through the section of summer reading books for high school students, which always has a thoughtful variety of books I've read and not read. One of the "not read" books that I had heard about before was Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Ehrenreich is a journalist with a Ph.D. who chooses to see what it would be like to live at the poverty level. Instead of interviewing people from that station in life, she actually takes months off, moves to various cities, and becomes one of the lower class Americans. From Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she takes on jobs as a waitress, hotel maid, house maid, and a salesperson at Walmart. The book chronicles her experiences, exposing the insufficiencies of minimum wage, the ineffectiveness of management, and the near impossibility of having money for something other than rent or groceries.

Because she is a writer, this New York Times bestseller is an easy read, and because it's based on real life experiences, it is absolutely fascinating...and humbling. I highly recommend this book--even if you don't normally like non-fiction. Through experience, wit, and raw data, this book will change how you view the lower class and how you view yourself.