Saturday, November 24, 2012

Best Lamp Ever

I really don't have much to write about.  I just wanted to show off this lamp I saw at the Goodwill yesterday.
Yes, that is a parrot perched in the middle of a bed of fake plants.  And yes, the entire lamp is made out of white macrame.  What is macrame?  Woven coarse yarn.  A lost 70's crafty art.  A hobby for those with the patience of Job and the dexterity of a concert pianist. You can literally macrame anything.  My grandma proved it.  We had macrame pot holders, plant holders, Christmas decorations, basket covers, dolls...Every Christmas we could count on a macrame'd gift from Grandma.  I seem to remember an owl theme to a lot of the stuff she gave us.  It would probably fun to macrame in the beady eyes.  Who knows. I guess it should really be called MACRO-me.  I am kind of glad it went the way of MICRO-me because the stuff is well, just, flat out TACKY.  (What do I know?!  Maybe you want to revive this "art"? Find out more about macrame here: )

This lamp just arrived at the Goodwill.  The tag said it had only been there a few days.  It stopped me in my tracks with it's garish intricacy and of course, the flowing tropical fauna.  Wow!  Are you kidding me?!  I laughed out loud in astonishment as I stroked the course white weave of the basket with my fingertips.  I wanted to reach inside and pet the bird, but resisted.  There were others around.  In fact, one of the employees looked at me when I was giggling and smiled.  I bet he had seen this reaction quite often from customers.  This lamp was really something to behold.  A relic of the past.  A tribute to the mildly talented and ridiculously patient.  Where WAS this thing before it came here?  Was it actually in someones living room?  Hanging in the front window of Grandma's 1950's ranch house in Pasadena?  Or was it in her son's garage, stuffed in a box and now he had to move it out to make room for the new Harley?  Is that how this family heirloom got here?  Someone actually had the courage to turn in Grandma's macrame masterpiece?  I mean my Mom latch-hooked a Garfield pillow for me when I was ten and I wouldn't dare give that away to the Goodwill.  I don't use it, but still.  I'm afraid that on her deathbed she'll ask me if I still have it and I would hate to have the last words she ever hears from me be: "No, sorry Mom, I donated Garfield."   

I didn't test the lamp to see if it actually lit up.  At first I thought it might just be a plant holder and then I realized, much to my amazement that you could actually TURN THIS THING ON.  I really wish I would have tried to power it up, but it probably needed a bulb anyway, like most lamps at the Goodwill.  How much light would this thing actually give off?  Sure, some light could stream through the macrame leaves at the top, but I imagine you wouldn't want to use a really bright bulb unless your smoke alarms are working. Or maybe you do?  If you could get away with a 75 watter and not set the whole thing aflame you might be able to read beneath, uh, I mean NEXT to it.  Plus, all lit up - WOW, that would really be a conversation piece now wouldn't it?  The conversation beginning of course with the question, "Uh Grandma?  What the heck is that thing?!"   My parents had a similar lamp, about as tall, made from thin, round shells all strung together. They were those transparent shells and they cascaded all the way down the lamp like a fancy dress.  It was definitely a conversation piece.  It hung in their living room between the fireplace and the recliner and when people would come over they could hardly take their eyes off it.  For many years, the lamp bought my Mom extra time to heat the dinner rolls.
This lamp tops my parent's for sure.  You might not be able to tell from the picture, but it is taller than most people.  You could hang this lamp in a castle stairwell and the macrame tassles would tickle people's heads as they walked under it.  Whoever buys this lamp will need a ladder to hang it.  A sturdy one.  This lamp is heavy.  It might be a glorified pile of tangled yarn, but it is fully loaded with a long dangling power cord (wrapped up near the top of the lamp), a large fake plant in full bloom and of course, that darling tropical bird.  Lucky for you, Polly does not want a cracker.  She just wants to be left alone above the plastic flora and fauna.  She wants you to admire her gold crest and beak as she sits, or in this case leans drunkenly on her macrame perch.  Maybe give her a little overhead light now and then. As I moved in yesterday to take a closer look at her, I swear I heard her call out to me from behind the white macrame bars of her cage...
"Help me!" 

I don't remember the price.  $20?  $30? What is a fair price for this much macarme nastalgia?  Is there an official price guide for macrame?  Do you calculate it by the inch?  The color?  The intricacy of the knots?  If there is blood from the knotters finger-tips on it does that make it worth more?  This might be more Vietnam than Victorian era, but this is a rare find.  I don't know if it still at the Goodwill store where I saw it yesterday.  I had to leave it behind.  I was trying to find an ugly Christmas sweater for a holiday party.  No luck. Maybe I could wear this lamp instead?

-H. Horner
Twitter: HopeNote

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Vivid Fragments

I have memories from my childhood that are so pointless, so mundane, I wonder what glue holds them in my brain.
Of course I remember where I was sitting in my pre-algebra class the morning the space shuttle blew up or the night that I was rushed to the hospital with acute appendicitis unable to stand up straight no matter how hard I tried, or the day my brother roller skated into the back of our parked Volkswagen hatchback, the tailpipe piercing his hand. I remember those days for obvious reasons.  Pain and shock are great memory etching tools.  But I also remember some pretty mundane, unremarkable events with crystal clear vividness, complete with their original sights, sounds and smells.  They are from 25+ years ago and they stick with me.  Here are a few that are memorable, with no right to be that way.

I am drinking grape Shasta soda sitting on a hill with my family in Waverly Park in Thousand Oaks waiting for the 4th of July fireworks to start.  I can feel the thick grass poking my legs and the smooth, sugary lukewarm cool of the soda going down my throat as I sit in the near darkness waiting for the show to begin. We are staring silently at the lights down the hill, the ones coming from the area of the mall, where the fireworks will be set off. I don't remember exactly what the year was, but I know it is one specific year and one specific moment.  It is not a conglomerate of all my 4ths on this hill.  It is this one time. 

I remember the day my foot slipped off the pedal of my ten speed bike as I was peddling furiously and it swung around and caught me in the Achilles tendon.  I remember exactly where I was on Moorpark Road when it happened.  I remember the exact spot. About three feet before the curb.  Weeds on my left. Cars going by on my right.  The pedal slipped many times before and after that moment, but I don't remember those times.  I remember THIS time.  This time didn't hurt more than the other times.  I didn't crash my bike or cry or even pull over.  I just remember saying, "Ack!" and then riding on to Burt's Pharmacy for my 10 cent candy.

I remember showing up for soccer practice at Conejo Creek Park, walking out to the field with my light green plastic water bottle with the yellow top, the water inside frozen.  The grass was barely visible - trampled low, more yellow than green and there were dust pits all over the field.  There was a giant one in front of each goal.  I remember the exact field we were practicing on, the first one, closest to the parking lot and I remember that one of my team-mates was playing a song on a boombox by the 80's pop group "ABC."  No, it wasn't "How to be a Millionaire."  We all remember that one.  It was "Fifteen Story Halo."  It was never a hit.  I don't remember getting there or practice, I just remember this moment of walking up.  Maybe a fragment in time of about one minute?  Vivid.  Why so vivid?  I don't know.  But I have a lot these.  Here are few more.  They're not boring (at least I hope not!  If they are, you've probably stopped reading my now!) but they aren't exactly riveting either.   This is precisely why I find the fact that they are memorable so baffling.

I remember riding in the back seat of my best friend's mom's light blue Cadillac. I had been in it many times, but this one time I remember specifically.  We were headed down Victory Boulevard in Reseda and Amy Grant was in the tape deck (cassette, not 8 track) and "Lead Me On" was playing.  The seats were a soft velvety blue.  Her Mom was driving the speed limit.   Nothing exciting happened.  No accident.  No argument.  No getting stuck in the drive-thru car wash.  I just remember sitting there at that specific moment as we cruised down the road through the heart of the San Fernando Valley.  Listening.  Running my hands on the velvet square near the door handle. Squinting in the bright sun piercing through my window. We had just left a sewing/fabric store...I forget the was on Sherman Way near Lindley Avenue.  When we were inside the store, the song "That's What Friends Are For" was playing.  I don't remember the store, or what my friend's mom bought, but I remember the song.  OK, so two memories and two songs... Maybe music helped solidify them in my head? 

I remember another time in a car.  This time it was my parent's yellow 1972 Pinto.  (You remember the kind that would blow up if you rear ended them?)  We did get rear-ended in that car (it didn't blow up thankfully) and of course I remember that time.  My sister and were in the backseat rating movies on a scale from 1 to 10 inside a notebook.  Everything in the back window --books, paper, pencils--came down on top of us. My brothers head hit the dashboard.  My Dad got a bit of whiplash. That would stand out in any child's mind.  But I remember a time when we were riding home from school.  We were almost home, rolling along on Calle Jazmin, just a few yards before we would turn on to our street, Calle Clavel.  I remember passing the cream colored house on our right and thinking to myself, "I am going to be 10 this weekend. I am finally going to be double digits."  That moment of recognition while sitting on hard vinyl in the backseat of the bomb on wheels is etched.  Permanently.  No music this time.
Even the ones with music, those memories are well...hardly worth remembering.  They are not weddings or birthdays or my first cat dying or a family member's illness.  I have those.  These are just un-remarkable points in time that have flashed and burned into my mind and for no apparent reason that I can discern.  They are like the pictures you accidentally take with your camera when you are grappling with it in your hands and trying to position it on your subject.  Oops! Didn't mean to take that one folks!  OK, everyone, let's try that again!  These days, you just hit delete and move on.  Or even back in the day when you had to WAIT for your pictures, you would get the pictures home and just laugh at the random shot you took of some lady's behind at Sea World.  I can't delete the random memories in my head and just save the ones I want.  They're permanently in my hard drive.  They appear to have no real reason to remain, no real common thread, no lesson, no warm fuzzy, no warning.  But somehow they all fit together to form my past.  They are a menagerie of simpler times.  Ah, yes, the good old days.  Where my greatest worry was forgetting my new O.P. jacket at church.  Or getting a cramp in my side after drinking too much water at halftime. Or stepping on a bee hiding in the clover when playing in the sprinklers.
These vivid fragments remind me I have so much to look back on and be thankful for.  Even the memories that don't seem to mean much, are happy ones.  I don't have memories of angry fists, or looming shadows or loud voices like so many others do.  I had a childhood that was full of memories worth cherishing.   I am eternally grateful to my parents for all they provided.  We grew up "poor as church mice" as my mother used to say, but I would never know it.  We may have worn donated clothes, drank powdered milk and relied on the generosity of church folks and family members for school supplies or summer camp, but our house was rich in faith, opportunity, creativity, music and laughter.  Teachers by trade, my parents taught the students in their classrooms and their children.  I have distinct memories of all they taught me - love of language, reading, music and God and the ways they demonstrated their work ethic, talent, sacrifice, and faithfulness to God and each other.  On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for them and for all the memories worth keeping. Even the ones that just seem to be taking up space.

God's blessings to all and Happy Thanksgiving.

-Hope A. Horner, 2012
Twitter:  HopeNote

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Is Jesus Really Something to "Try"?

The bumper sticker in front of me said:
 Try Jesus.
Red background.  Big black letters.  No cross, no Jesus face, just red and letters.
I stared at it.  Something was wrong.  Not the sticker itself;  it wasn't crooked.  It was perfectly placed on the lower right edge of the bumper of the silver car in front of me. It was the statement that bugged me.

Is Jesus really something to TRY?
Try this drink
Try a slice.
Try this on for size.
Try this just once.
or You've tried everything else, now TRY JESUS!
Maybe the pot or the crystal or the heroin didn't keep you in the happy place long enough?  The vodka didn't drown out all the unhappy moments like you'd hoped?  Or maybe it was sex or drugs or shopping, or work, or pain pills or gambling or pornography or partying or the house-cluttering collection of creepy antique dolls - you tried it all and well, you're no happier, no better off and still looking for that place called peace.  You tried, you really did.  Well, friend maybe it is time now to:
Try Jesus.
Trust me.
Try him.

Yup, as a Christian, that bugs me.  It's not that I don't think people can find hope and healing in Jesus and rise above their addictions, toil, despair and pain and find rest, healing and peace in Him.  Many do.  He's helped me and continues to provide the strength everyday to ignore the monkeys that cackle from the trees along my path, the ones who are always looking to jump down on to my back.  It's just that as a Christian, I don't TRY Jesus.  Actually, if I am trying Jesus in any way, I am probably TRYING HIS PATIENCE because I am usually TRYING TO IGNORE HIM so I can do things my own way.

Look, I know this bumper sticker has a good heart.  It really does.  It is a nice, friendly, fun-loving bumper sticker that always remembers your birthday and puts the toilet seat down.  But still.  I think it's sentiment is a little misplaced.  Jesus is not something I try.  Jesus just is.  Jesus has always been.  He is life.  He is mine, not for the trying, but for the loving.  He doesn't want me to try.  He wants me to surrender, to believe, to love and to live for him.  He is not a cosmic vending machine. 
Want happiness?  Press G8 for Jesus! 
Oh no!  I accidently pushed G9!  I guess I'll have to settle for the Cool Ranch Doritos.  I'll try again tomorrow. Could have been worse -- those Flaming Hot Cheetos were G7.

Jesus is not someone I try.  He is someone I trust and love
Imagine being on your first date.  The person across the pile of spaghetti from you says (with a little bit of red sauce on their chin):  "I know you've tried all the others.  Now try me baby!"  It wouldn't just be the red chin and the garlic on their breath that would turn you off.  See what I mean?  When it comes to a person, you don't TRY them.  And when it comes to the God-incarnate person of Jesus - even less so.
Jesus may be the last one I choose, but he is not a last resort, a final try.  He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  (And all points in between!)  He is King.  Savior.  Holy God.  In fact, maybe Jesus shouldn't even be on a bumper sticker?  But if he must...May I suggest the following instead of Try Jesus?

Acknowledge Jesus.  (Hey, it's a start!)

Love Jesus.  (Easy to say, hard to do!)

Worship Jesus. (Pentecostals love this one.  The Methodists ask "OK, but do I have to lift my hands?")

Praise Jesus.  (This one might cause people to think you're a really holy-rolling pew hopper, so only put this sticker on your car if you live in the South or go to a charismatic church.)

Obey Jesus.  (Not a best seller.)

Try Jesus.  Then stop trying and let grace take over. (A hit with the Lutherans.)

Or how about a bumper sticker that just says:

People will see this one and ask, "What about him? Wait, that's it?! Just JESUS?  What is that all about?"  And the discussion begins...suddenly, hopefully, people are talking about Jesus. (Unless you're driving 50 mph in the fast lane.  Then, they're talking about YOU.)  They're not wondering if they should TRY him.  They're wondering ABOUT him.  I've been told about Jesus for many years and I still wonder about him.  I wonder, I think, I contemplate - who is this God-man who came to earth to save me? And then as I study, as I listen, as I pray, I realize:
I'm really glad Jesus is so much more than a bumper sticker. So much more than just something I "try."
But I still think you should give him a try if you're wondering.

-H. Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Look Around

Ask a young person how far they want to continue with their education and they will tell you they want to go to college.  But when you ask them, "How far do you really think YOU'LL go?"  They will respond:
"I probably will be lucky to graduate from high school."
That is if they are black or Latino.  And/or live in an impoverished neighborhood.
That is what I learned from a Harvard sociologist who had studied the problem between what kids hope for and what they think they will actually achieve.  She and her colleagues have fancy names for this issue.  Their studies contain big academic words I don't understand stuck in between more common words like "poverty" "socioeconomic" and "personal identity."  There is a simple way of describing why there is a gap between what these students HOPE to achieve and what they actually BELIEVE is going to be true for them. The gap happens because they:
When you ask the first question (Do you want to go to college?  What do you want to be when you grow up?) They IMAGINE; they DREAM; they ASPIRE.  They picture themselves with a cap and gown at a college, working as a doctor or a veterinarian or a lawyer or a teacher or in some other career.  Then when you ask them to tell you how well they really think they are going to do, to consider their future REALISTICALLY, what do they do?
And what do they see?  They see their current condition, their present environment, their circumstances -- they see they share a bedroom (or a living room) with a sister and an auntie, the fact that Dad is gone, Mom works two jobs at minimum wage, no-one in their family has ever made it past 10th grade, all their older brothers and uncles are in the local gang, or they look in their wallets and don't see an driver's license or a green card and figure WHO AM I KIDDING WHEN I TALK ABOUT HARVARD OR CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE?! HECK, EVEN COMMUNITY COLLEGE?!  I MEAN REALLY -THAT'S NOT MY DESTINY! YOU WANNA SEE MY DESTINY?? LOOK AROUND!!! 
And this looking around shuts down their imagination.
Dashes their hopes.
Kills their dreams.
Snuffs out their ambition.
Shuts down their drive.
Hey, for these young people, survival is enough.  Just getting through the day takes all their energy and there is nothing left over for pursuing what to them seems like a pipe dream.  
This is not to say that all Latinos and African-Americans live in poverty or in bad neighborhoods or that all kids with economic or personal hardship give up on their dreams.  Of course not.  But studies have shown that kids in tough neighborhoods do have this disparity between what they dream and what they believe. I have worked particularly with many Latino youth over the years and have personally witnessed this disparity, this lack of "seeing beyond the present circumstances to something better" and it breaks my heart.
For many years, I ran a weekly support group for teen girls, most of whom were Latina. I had an brainstorming activity I used with the group called "Dream Killers."  I would ask the girls to tell me their dreams and each girl's aspirations would be written up on a large pad of paper on an easel at the front of the room --dreams of going to college, of living in a big house on the nice side of town, having a loving husband, getting a job as a doctor, teacher, lawyer...Their eyes would light up as they shared their dreams.  I remember Stacie, a 14 year old bubbly girl in my group saying she wanted to be a "VETRINARIUN." She loved animals and was getting good grades.  I told her that I could see her being a great "Vet."  (I used the word "Vet" so she would know she could use it in the future instead of having to say the full word which even on a good day is pronunciation challenge for everyone!)  She beamed as though she had already opened her own practice. My "bet about this vet" is that no one had ever told her that her dream could come true.
Then we talked about DREAM KILLERS.  I asked the girls, "What can kill your dreams?  What can keep these dreams from happening?"  They thought for a moment and then responded:
Making bad choices!
Dropping out of school!
Your friends!
Getting pregnant!
Your family!
Most of the answers were shouted out enthusiastically.
Not a single one of the young ladies, in every group I ever held, ever said that the biggest dream killer in their life was THEIR OWN PERCEPTION---none of them realized that their own perspective/belief about their future had life-altering power over their success.  I am didn't bring it up either because at the time I was unaware of this gap.  But I do remember asking the girls many times, "How many of you can picture yourself graduating from high school?"  A few heads would nod.  Then I would ask, "How many of you can picture yourself pregnant before you graduate?"  A few heads would bow, a few would blush and a few would shout out, "No way!"  When I would ask the shouters why they objected, they would usually say something like, "Because I see what my sister did, having a baby really young and how hard it is..." or something along that line.  In other words, they LOOKED AROUND and this time, their eyes settled on a bad example - an older sister who was struggling, raising a child alone, trying to scrape up money for formula and diapers.  Many of these girls could also look around and see their brothers in gangs, friends dropping out, exhausted moms fighting with alcoholic dads.  This was all they could see.  This was the only life they knew. So they would settle for retail jobs at the 99 Cent Only Store or filling drive-thru orders at Carl's Junior even though they were capable of so much more.  Or they would clean houses alongside Mom even though she risked so much to bring them to a country where they could achieve more than settling for a wad of cash passed under the table for vacuuming rugs and scrubbing floors.  I could see the same almond eyes that glossed over with hopeful imagination of being a "Vet", go dim and dark when they would LOOK AROUND.
My heart broke then and it breaks again now thinking about it.
I want to change the scenery.
When these young men and women LOOK AROUND, I want them to see others just like them who have made it - those who despite the odds, went on to finish high school, then graduated from college or found a rewarding career.  I want to these precious young people to be surrounded by people who believe in them, support them and listen to them.  Role Models. Mentors.  Leaders. All creating a landscape of love.

Look, I'm a white woman who didn't grow up rich, but certainly didn't live in a tough neighborhood by any stretch of the imagination.  My parents are highly educated.  I have a degree and a great career.  When I first started my support group I wasn't sure it would work.  In the beginning, I got looks from the girls like, "Who the heck is this white lady?  Is she here to lecture us?  What the hell does she know about what it's like to be me?"  I saw a lot of hard faces, arms folded across chests and lips closed tight.  It took me quite awhile to build trust with the girls in my groups, but after awhile I did, and they stopped seeing my color. They saw that I cared for them and listened and valued them and the color faded.  Then they poured out their hearts to me and to each other. I often described that first "break-through" session as feeling like I had taken my finger out of the hole in an emotional dam.  Years and years of hurts and wishes and struggles would come pouring out with the simplest question.  They were STARVING for someone to just listen.  They would rarely miss a session and complain when it would end.  They would tell the new girls who wanted to join the group a little bit about me.  Give them the inside scoop on the "Wera."  "Yeah, she's white, but she's more like a burrito.  White on the outside, brown in the middle."  It would make me laugh.  I was blessed just to know them.  Blessed to be given the opportunity to listen and help in whatever way I could. They taught me so much.  In fact, they changed my life. I can't help but LOOK AROUND and see so many just like them who struggle to hang on to their dreams while the scenery around them says, "Give it up sister!" I remember Stacie and Ines and Juana and Edith and their faces propel me to do more to help. I want young people in tough neighborhoods to LOOK AROUND and see people who are willing to lead, love and support them so they can turn what's in their hopeful hearts into reality.  I can do more.  I can't do it alone.  There are so many who need support. Just LOOK AROUND.

-Hope A. Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote
Dr. Ruth N. Lopez Turley

A Rice Professor (and Christian) shares her journey out of poverty and provides more information about this topic:!/v/1264

If you want to help, a good place to start is here: 
Waiting for Superman
Big Brothers-Big Sisters

Monday, November 5, 2012

Makes My Head Holler!

Today I was in a yogurt shop and I heard the lady next to me say:
"I really wish they wouldn't make these yogurt cups so big."
I almost ripped her face off.
Lucky for her, my hands were full because I was holding one of those perfectly over-sized cups filled to the brim with Red Velvet yogurt.  I just shook my head and went to the counter to pay for my 92 ounces of deliciousness.  Look, I am an easy going person, but there are just a few things that people say that make me want to scream.  Usually, they involve some kind of needless complaining.  I am like my Dad in that way.  He has zero tolerance for complaining.  I have never, ever heard him complain or whine in my entire life.  Even if he doesn't particularly like something, he will find a diplomatic way to say he doesn't like it, if he says anything at all.  As a child, when I would say, "I can't!" in that nasal whiny voice that all kids master within 2 weeks of being able to speak, he would reply, "Do it whether you can or not."  If I said "I'm bored!" he would reply, "Than you're boring."  He didn't scream.  He would calmly let me (and my brother and sister) know he had heard enough and we would stop complaining.  I don't scream at people either, but when I hear certain things I do let out a scream inside my head.  Here are a few things that people say that make my head holler:
These mashed potatoes have too much butter. (Not possible!)
This dessert is too chocolate-y. (Definitely not possible!!)
I'm bored. (Well, then YOU must be boring! Thanks Dad.)
I don't like dogs. (Are you human?!?)
I don't read. It's boring/makes me sleepy/not my thing. (It shows!)
I can't go anywhere without my cell phone! (Get a life!)
I didn't have time to vote. (Then please leave now.  Oh, no not the room...the country.)

I'll end there since tomorrow is election day.  Get out and vote.  Pet a dog.  Have some butter loaded mashed potatoes and follow it up with a super rich chocolate brownie at the bottom of a giant sized yogurt cup that fills up both your hands so you have to put your cell phone down.  Then grab a good book. You won't be bored.  If you are, please keep your mouth shut.

-Hope Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote