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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Old Popcorn Bowl

Something funny happened Saturday night. I was hungry for popcorn, but we could find no microwave popcorn in the house.

Throughout our children’s lifetime, this convenient snack (which takes less then three minutes to make) has been a food staple in our home. In recent years we have grown particularly fond of Pop Secret’s “HomeStyle” because its touch of real butter and salt makes taste most like the kind I used to make on the stove as a kid.

Before I tell you what struck me as funny, I need to back up a bit and give a brief timeline of memories and experiences related to this post:

Thousands of Years ago: Western Hemisphere "Indian" nations discovered popcorn, which led Native Americans to introduce it to explorers hundreds of years ago. I was not there to witness this, but I have no reason to doubt that the story we were all told in elementary school is true.

1966-1980: I was the in-house expert pop corn popper in my childhood family. We typically only made popcorn when the whole family was home and there was a good movie or “special” on TV. The older I got, the more often this culinary honor fell to me, and I became very good at it if I do say myself. I put the burner on "high" until the three "test kernels" popped in the oil; then added the perfect amount of popcorn to the oil; turned the heat down two notches; and when the kettle was half full, I removed the lid to release the steam so the kernels would not become tough in the final seconds of popping. And voilà!. I poured the perfect batch into the popcorn bowl.
Never in my childhood did my mother ever buy Jiffy-Pop, which came in its own aluminum frying pan. It was about ten times more expensive per serving than regular popcorn. (These were the "mixed milk" years, and Dad would never allow such a novelty on Mom's grocery list.)

There was one time, however, when my brothers and I were spending the night at Grandma Spencer’s house, and she bought some Jiffy-Pop as a special treat. I was about twelve, and I remember reciting the jingle as I put it on the red hot burner. "Jiffy-pop, Jiffy-pop, the magic treat; as much fun to make as it is to eat!"
But it did not pop as shown in these pictures. Grandma's stove was too hot and the popcorn began to burn when the aluminum “dome” was only about half full. It was one of the great disappointments of my childhood.

(I have never met an eye-witness who has seen Jiffy-Pop perform as shown on TV.) [Update: as you can see in the comment section, I actually have met at least two people who have successfully made Jiffy Pop as shown on TV. Thanks, Stephen and Marcia! That's one of the great things about blogging...it helps expand our knowledge of human accomplishment.]

1971: My brother Dave and I were at an “afterglow” (youth group get-together after Sunday night church) at Nancy W’s house, and everyone was fascinated with her mother’s new microwave oven. None of us had ever seen one before, and everyone wondered how they worked. I asked her if we could put a kernel of popcorn in the oven to see if it would it pop. We tried it and it DID NOT pop. It got very hot, and Mrs. W. stopped the experiment,afraid it might ruin her new appliance. (What we didn’t know is that if we had put the popcorn in a paper bowl with some vegetable oil, it would have worked (would have made a mess, but it would’ve worked), and had we continued the experiment and developed an expandable paper packet we might have become rich. But alas, that was 40 years ago.)
During the early 1980’s: Julie and I used a “hot air” popper. The popcorn made in these contraptions was very dry—so dry salt would not stick to it. Eating popcorn form an "air popper" was basically like eating packing peanuts. So the manufacturers added a little place to put slabs of butter which was supposed to drip on the kernels as it ricocheted into the bowl. The only problem was the yellow plastic part of the machine eventually melted, and the thing looked like they’d been in a fight with a blow-torch.

1989: Microwave popcorn was invented and by the mid-1990s, it became the most common use of household microwave ovens.

Which brings me back to the purpose of this post.

This past Saturday night, Keith and Emily and Nora were visiting because Kim was home from Chicago. Among other “wedding things,” the girls were sorting through family pictures for the photomontage.

I wanted to make some popcorn but could find not a single “packet” in the house…that was when a dormant idea struck me for the first time in two decades: We do have popcorn. I slipped out of the room and went downstairs. On the shelf of antique toys that encircles the basement, there was a decorative container of popcorn—real popcorn—it was something my mom gave us as a joke about fifteen years ago. As I brought it upstairs, Emily gasped, “Gross! You can’t use that old stuff.” I took out Julie’s largest kettle, poured in some vegetable oil, and added the hard kernels.

Here is the strange part, the “funny” part. Not only were my adult-age children concerned about the age of the popcorn, they also gathered around the stove with amazement. Emily is twenty-six and she had never seen popcorn made in a kettle on the stove. They weren’t sure that it would work, and as the lid began rattling like a tin-roof in a hailstorm, and the steam puffed out the rim, and the wonderful aroma filled the air, they stood there in shock and awe. Just at the peak of popping, I poured the yellow fluffy treat into the perfect destination for this nostalgic trip back in time.

Throughout my childhood whenever we made popcorn, the whole family ate out of one large spun-aluminum tub we dubbed “the popcorn bowl,” which was rarely used for anything else. About six years ago, I was visiting Mom who still lived in the house we built back in the 70’s. We were watching a movie called Mother starring Debbie Reynolds, and we made some microwave popcorn and divided the portions into baskets lined with open napkins. “Whatever happened to the popcorn bowl?” I asked without meaning to begin a treasure hunt, but she scrounged around in the dark corners of her lowest cabinets until she found it. “Your dad and I got this as a wedding present,” she said, handing it to me.

I looked at the bowl in an entirely new light. “This is fifty-five years old,” I mumbled respectfully.

“Isn’t that something! I can’t believe it. Where does time go,” Mom sighed, “Do you want it? You’re the one who always made the popcorn.”

It was a bit dented and out-of-round. Even though it says "Mirro The Finest Aluminum" on the bottom, it would be worth only a couple bucks at Goodwill. But its value to me had nothing to do with it's worth (as is often true of treasured things). This container had been my family’s popcorn bowl for decades. It had passed from lap to lap back in the days when our whole family could nestle on the couch between Mom and Dad. It remained the popcorn bowl in the later years when the couch could no longer hold us all. If our family had a holy grail, this was it... so I gladly brought it home and began using it solely for the purpose it had served so many years ago.

And there it sat on the kitchen counter as one by one our doubtful family tasted the oldest popcorn I had ever popped sitting in a now sixty-year-old bowl. To be honest, the popcorn itself was not as good as a fresh-popped microwave bag, it was also twice the work, but sitting there with the old popcorn bowl on my lap as I watched the girls sorting pictures gave me a very unique sense of home.

This post made possible by a "snow day."

Friday, February 11, 2011

LIfe is Not a One-Page Book (revisited)

Sometimes something I wrote a couple years ago comes back into my life, and to my surprise, I can read the words as if they were not my own and be helped by them in reading as I was in first writing them.... If that makes any sense.

A couple nights ago, I was really missing my parents, missing their counsel, missing their voices, missing the sense that they are praying for me and my family. (Strange that at my age such needs are still inside me. I suppose to some extent they always will be.) Thinking about these things that night, I realized that when I took a year of late-nights to write about the years we cleared the land and built the house, it was a form of useful grief.

So anyway, this chapter from February 2009 came back to me, and  I thought I'd repost it. Maybe it will be of help to someone else.

Life Is Not a One-page Book

There is a word that repeats itself in my writing and in my conversations with people. It’s not deliberate and hopefully not too obvious, though once I mention the word, it may seem blatant, considering the title of my blog since 2004.

The word is PATTERNS. It’s a good word, and the meaning behind how I typically use it is good for tracing and tracking the human condition. We understand the presence of patterns in art and music but sometimes overlook them in life.

Sometimes when I talk with the faculty and staff at school, I remind us that, beyond the books, we are working with the home to help students form good patterns of life (and avoid getting into bad patterns). This simple reminder helps moderate our responses to the routines (and, yes, rules) we are expected to follow. Anyone can be tardy, but is it a pattern? Anyone can not complete an assignment, but is it a pattern? Anyone can say a cross word, but is it a pattern. When we choose to focus more energy on patterns than on single incidents, we become people who RESPOND to incidents rather than REACT to them.

This does not mean that single events don’t matter, they do, but they deserve far more attention when they become patterns. Determining whether or not something is a pattern requires the passing of shared time and space and the passage into relationship, which is the context for the best kind of learning. Shared time and space and the assumption we will meet again tomorrow is the essence of relationships that matter. Life is not a one-page book.

Let me say that again because it hit me as I wrote it: "the assumption we will meet again is the essence of relationships that matter. " When we assume time is shortly shared or that we'll never meet again (even if it's true) we diminish the importance of current interaction and its impact on our future. I'm sure the percentage varies from setting to setting, but relationships dictate much of perspective and productivity. The more we observe patterns of life rather than snapshots in time, the more inclusive the context of our relationships becomes. The more inclusive the context, the more thoughtful the response; the more thoughtful our responses, the more pleasant and productive the patterns of life. [This paragraph added 2-20-09]
Our goal as a school is to maintain not a problem-free setting (no such place exists) but a setting in which the "problems" that are to be expected in a fallen world are responded to appropriately. .

Nobody likes “gotcha” moments. You know what I mean: those times when you get nailed for doing something that is not typical of you, not a pattern of behavior, and yet you did it and the one time you did--GOTCHA!--comes from someone who has the power to make you regret it. Whether it’s a referee on the basketball court, a policeman at a speed trap, a teacher at the door when the tardy bell rings, a boss who watches the staff parking lot ten minutes before quitting time... GOTCHA is an unpleasant world to live in.
We’ve all heard the term “knee-jerk” reaction, which refers to actions that by-pass the brain. A knee-jerk reaction is fine on the doctor's examination table after that little red-triangle hammer taps the knee. It means the patient is alive and well. Dealing with the human body, however, is not the same thing as dealing with human beings. Knee-jerk reactions when dealing with people are never helpful. It’s never good when a “REACTION” to people by-passes the brain (or heart).
We've all knee-jerked before, and we all know people who tend to be in such patterns. Sometimes they've learned to excuse it with statements like "Well, at least people know what I'm thinking," but reactions typically reflect impulse rather than thought. Or "Well, at least people know how I feel," which should never trump how what was said makes others feel. Given the chance, most people would rather learn from thoughtful "responders" than impulsive reactors.

Even in an emergency, a quick-thinking mind and body that RESPONDS appropriately is a better bet than mere REACTING. Well-trained emergency professionals, heroic pilots, or Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks may look like they’re reacting without thought, but they are more likely directing their agility and intuitive responses in patterns they've repeatedly practiced.

Understanding the patterns of life and of people is one of the best ways to avoid knee-jerk reactions in a GOTCHA world. To whatever extent I model these thoughts in my dealings with students, parents, and the teachers I serve it reflects my understanding of God the Father. Oh, how I'm glad He does not run a GOTCHA world. He is long-suffering. He sees the big picture and the road ahead. He is far more concerned with the direction of our path, than a slip along the way. His path for us is not random; there is a plan; there is a pattern to follow.

My parents were far from perfect, but in the shared time and space God granted us as a family, I learned to sense the rhythms of life, the ebb and flow of events, the patterns of meaning, and the meaning of deviations from those patterns. The following chapter is just one example of such a lesson. 

The line "Stuck in reverse" from this Coldplay song subtly foreshadows the second link's events.

If you would like to read the chapters from "Unsettled" that followed these thoughts entitled "Life is not a One-page Book," CLICK HERE, and after that chapter CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011

Well, we watched and we were warned and now we just hunker down and stay warm.

No school on Wednesday. Watch this radar link if you want to see when it has passed.

Offshore Jones Act
Offshore Jones Act Counter