Wednesday, January 6, 2016


     “Even so, it was the latent fear in her life that paralyzed initiative; she could respond but she could not act.” When I first read this sentence, I immediately felt it could be a sentence written about me. It comes from Charles Williams’, Descent into Hell, a book I was assigned in college but largely evaded reading at the time. Two years later, my curiosity about what my teacher had actually been talking about led me towards reading it. The book is interesting, but I value it more for this one sentence. I know what it’s like to let latent fear paralyze initiative. I know what it’s like to feel like you can respond, but you can’t act. 
     If you’re like me, the latent fear within you seeps into everything. It’s hidden enough that you don’t always notice it, but it makes everything seem worse than it is. At some point, you grew weary of dealing with things. You became deeply afraid of unwanted surprises. Fear often causes you to freeze up and quit before you’ve even begun. Everything seems overwhelming. You give up. Life is something that happens to you. You are more passive than you should be. You lack the courage to change. Oh yes, you can respond. When life happens to you, when push comes to shove, when you have to act in order to survive, when a situation is too ridiculous to ignore anymore, you can respond quite well. You’re actually quite capable. But being able to take that capability and get a leg up on life is beyond you. 
     Maybe there were legitimate reasons to fear before, but now it’s gotten out of hand. You’ve made mountains out of every molehill. You’ve put off things you should have dealt with a long time ago because you were filled with dread. It has to end. Yet going from victim to victor in your own life is hard. It’s staring down one molehill masquerading as a mountain at a time. Even more, it’s finally taking initiative. It’s taking action. It’s climbing out of your cocoon of false safety and laziness and making yourself do the things you’d rather not. The thing is, you thought that hiding would protect you, but all it did was make life harder. All it did was make it smaller. You can’t protect yourself from discomfort. You can’t protect yourself from pain. You were meant for more than just surviving. How much more could you do if you weren’t so afraid? 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Higher Regard for Things

     While it’s not necessarily a problem for everyone, many, myself included, complicate our lives with too much stuff. And even if you are a person who has pretty good control over the clutter, many of us can agree that this society is driven by consumerism and materialism. 
     In response to a culture of materialism, countercultures take shape that seek to correct this saturation with stuff. From my observations, it’s either the environmental or the religious/spiritual camps that are most vocal about this issue. How many times has someone thought they were clever by asking, “Do you have stuff….or does your stuff have you?” Or how about, “you only have two feet. How many pairs of shoes do you actually need?” Both camps have their reasons why they think having too much stuff is an unwise and even an immoral practice, and these reasons can overlap. Among them: having too much stuff keeps you bound, from living a life of freedom; it’s a waste of precious resources; why do you keep that for yourself when you can give it away and help someone else? 
     We instinctively know we would like a simpler life, so these messages ring true for us, but they can also weigh us down with guilt. Rather than freeing us, we feel their accusation. Every thing we own is looked at with suspicious eyes. They tell us to think about what we really need. Do you need that many books? Do you need that many coats? Do you need this? Do you need that? Simplify! Simplify! But what about what I want? What about the way those things we own can make us happy? Not, “there’s a hole in my soul that I’m trying to fill by shopping” kind of happy, but the way that your favorite picture on the wall makes you happy when you look at it, or the way your favorite sweater makes you feel good when you wear it. This is why I really liked the response given by Marie Kondo in her little book, New York Times bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo, a cleaning consultant from Japan, agrees that we need to start with getting rid of things, or as she puts it, “discarding”. The difference is in how she believes one should decide what to keep and her respect for the things themselves. 
     Her obsession with organizing started at a young age, and it was then that she was inspired by a book called, The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi and realized how much we keep that we neither want nor need. Her aim was to get rid of as much stuff as was possible, but it took a negative turn. She says,  “At home, I was always uptight, constantly on the lookout for superfluous things that could be discarded. When I found something not in use, I would pounce on it vengefully and throw it in the garbage.” After some frustration and a moment of enlightenment, she realizes that “we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.” She further explains her evolution in thought and sums up, in my opinion, the main point of this book in this passage: 
I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep. Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item by the hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.
     While asking “does this spark joy?” might sound hokey, she’s actually pretty tough in her advice about what to actually keep. She keeps that standard high, telling you to let go of books, for example, that only give you moderate pleasure, and books that you’ve never read, letting go of sentimental items that you know you’ll never look at that are just kept in a box. She gives permission to let go of things that you don’t actually want but you keep out of guilt because of their usefulness. “When it comes to selecting what to discard,” she says, “it is actually our rational judgement that causes trouble. Although intuitively we know that an object has no attraction for us, our reason raises all kinds of arguments for not discarding it, such as ‘I might need it later’ or ‘It’s a waste to get rid of it.’ There thoughts spin round and round in our mind, making it impossible to let go.” When talking about items of clothing that you never wore, an example of those kinds of things that our rationale tells us to hang on to, she says, “… if you no longer buy clothes of that same style or color, it has fulfilled another important function—it has taught you what doesn’t suit you. In fact that particular article of clothing has already completed its role in your life, and you are free to say, ‘Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,’ or ‘Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me,’ and let it go.”
     Her outlook is a welcome relief from the negative ones I first described. Others sneer at the problem of having so many possessions, and while she agrees that we most definitely do, her measurement of keeping only what brings us joy brings us back to an attitude of gratitude towards our things. Some environmentalist and religious/spiritual people become judgmental when they ask us if we really need something. There are so many wonderful things that people put effort in making and that we have bought that don’t fit into this category. Overly practical attitudes towards life have a way of cutting out art and beauty. But Marie Kondo’s outlook sets up a standard for not only what we need, which is easy to identify, but what we really want. She makes you be honest with yourself about whether you really cared for something, and whether you will actually use it or look at it in the future. She also shows a high regard for her things, even the ones she lets go, as seen in the quote above. Instead of dismissing everything as superfluous trash, or feeling high and mighty because we live a simple lifestyle, let’s see the things as gifts to enjoy, not as chains. Kondo’s high standard when deciding what to keep will ultimately free you of the burden of having too much stuff while not asking you to demonize every material possession as something to be suspicious of. It also, as she points out in the book, will make you more grateful for the things that you do end up keeping. 
    I don’t think I can come up to the high standard she sets for keeping things when deciding what to keep in my own life, nor will I be following her methods exactly, but her book has given me a goal. As she says, “Keep only the things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” I hope what she says about her successful clients can be said about me someday: “They are surrounded only by the things they love.”

Friday, October 23, 2015

It IS a Beautiful Day

     I woke up extremely early one morning for work feeling dissatisfied with every major area of my life. I stood in front of the mirror getting ready, complaining to my mom who stood nearby. When I get into this sort of mindset, my mood quickly darkens. I already knew in some ways that that sort of thinking doesn’t lead anywhere good, but it’s hard not to feel entitled to it when I deeply wanted things to be different from what they are. Being dissatisfied seems to be a way that I try to show that I don’t want to settle with how I am in my present state and how the things and persons outside of me are in their present state. I have a way I’d like things to be and this isn't it. But God unexpectedly seemed to remind me that that wasn’t the way I should be. 
     To back up, the night before, while I mainly pray in my own room, I went outside in my backyard at night under the stars to pray. Sounds a little dramatic, but I felt like it was a way to be closer to God. I know he’s everywhere, but the privacy of night combined with the feeling that he’s looking down from the stars helps, and I was deeply craving an encounter with God. That night, I was feeling the fear, as I temporarily do sometimes, that I was wrong about everything. I’ll feel the fear that he’s not there the way I thought he was. Everything I want to do and some major decisions I’ve made have been based on my faith, so when I feel shaky, if only for a few hours, I’ll feel like the ground I walk on day to day is falling out from beneath me. In faith, I cry out to God in those times, because ultimately I believe he’s there and that Christianity is true, and since he already knows what’s on my mind, I bring those doubts and fears before him in hope that he’ll help me get through them. I wanted him to find me somehow, to feel more real to me to allay my fears. I think I also sincerely wanted closeness with God. 
     Let’s back up some more before the praying, before the complaining in the early morning, earlier that night. I promise it will all connect at the end. I was reading the blog of this pastor and writer named Jonathan Martin whose writings I had found through another blog. I had been binge reading the whole thing since I had found it, and that night I was reading one of the ones I had skipped. The honesty he had about the turmoil in his own life and the ideas presented in that blog were fascinating to me. In more than one blog he had mentioned the importance of U2’s song “Beautiful Day” to him, how he had even felt God speak to him through that song. He wrote about his experience at U2’s concert at Madison Square Garden. He wrote about the lines, “What you don’t have you don’t need it now/ what you don’t know you can feel it somehow.” I was generally aware of the song, mainly for it’s use in commercials, but I’m not a U2 fan, so I specifically googled the song lyrics so I could have a better idea of what he was writing about. The main line of the song is “it’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away.” 
     Then came the praying, then came the complaining, then came me in the car driving down my street to work in the dark because it was a little after 5 in the morning. I turned on the radio to this station that I had recently found, and what came on? Beautiful Day! It was right at the part I had read about the night before in Jonathan Martin’s blog. I was shocked. I would have normally turned it off right away but now I was listening. It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away. I felt like the thing was to not begrudge the day that I have for what it is not. What you don’t have you don’t need it now. For me, it didn’t mean that all of those longings were not valid or that I stop wanting what I want, but that I should trust God in the station that I’m at in life. Whatever I don’t have, whether through my own shortcomings, or circumstances that I can’t control, I didn’t need them the way that I was acting like I did getting ready that morning. I didn’t need them to enjoy that day. I can appreciate the goodness in front of me even as I want good things in the future. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Open-ended Waiting

     I was feeling antsy. I was questioning things in my life, wondering if I have become complacent. I thought of making changes. I started making plans. I thought, if A doesn’t happen, then B. And then if I go with B, then C and D has to happen too. I started to get way more open minded about my future and what I was going to do with it. That isn’t altogether a bad thing, but for different reasons, some very practical, some spiritual, I know that this isn’t the time for big changes. This is a time to stay put. This is a time to wait. 
     But plans make us feel safe don’t they? Plans give us a sense of control. I know of my natural tendency to try to predict and control the future. If I think through all possibilities, I will be safe. And yet I am making plans and decisions before their time.
     Scripture has some interesting things to say about making plans for the future. For one, there’s this from Proverbs: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day will bring” (Prov 27:1 NIV). Then there’s this in James 4:13-16:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil (NIV).
While, “all such boasting is evil” sounds pretty rough, I think I better understand what these mean. It’s not really about making plans per se. It’s about the attitude behind the plans. I find it interesting how the greek and hebrew is translated to the word “boast.” And then there’s the phrase, “arrogant schemes.” There is an arrogance to presuming about the future. There’s an arrogance to thinking that we can control the future in our plans. And more than that, it means that instead of leaning on God, and trusting in him, we lean on ourselves. 
     We lean on our own understanding when we are instead supposed to trust in the Lord. This is one of my biggest weaknesses. I like to plan. I like to predict. I like to try to guess at things I don’t know and can’t know. I freak out and forget to stop and ask God to be involved, or I put too much pressure on myself to figure something out when God is more than willing to be there and let me lean on him. I know from experience that it is exhausting to lean on your own understanding with your plans, when you encounter problems that make you go step by step through situations that scare you, and even in interpreting scripture. I want to control things because it makes me feel safe. Ultimately, when I do that, I am saying that I am more reliable than God. That’s probably why “all such boasting is evil.” There is a idolatry that happens when we trust in anything more than God. 
     We make a decision to trust someone based on two things: is that person capable of what I trust them to do, and is that person of good character. Who is more powerful or good than God? But that is what is said when we choose to trust in something else. The money is more powerful. This person won’t let me down, but God might. I don’t know what God is up to, but I know what I am up to. I can fulfill my hopes and wishes better than God can because I don’t want to submit them to him, and what if he decides to take some of them away? We hold tighter to our control when we think like this. We become suspicious of God. And with that, we are deprived of the kind of intimacy that he wishes to have with us and the peace that comes with allowing him to work in our lives. 
     In my case, I feel that this is a time to let go of trying to control things and wait on God. An excerpt from one of Henri Nouwen’s books has been a major source of comfort as I learn how to do this. One of many wonderful parts of this piece of writing is this in which he talks about open-ended waiting (the italics are mine) : 
To wait open-mindedly is an enormously radical attitude towards life. So is to trust that something that will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction.That indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control. 
     Even when we wait for something specific, we wrongly try to know how God will fulfill it. And whether we wait for something specific or not, relegating the future to our own plans and imagination puts limits on our lives. What might God be able to do if we would unclench our fists and truly surrender to him? 

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Question of Value

"[Love] does not dishonor others. It is not self seeking..."

    Why do you have value? What is your worth made of? Is it because you're beautiful? Is it because you're smart? Are you very successful at what you do? How much have you contributed to society? Do you have value because of something you did, some quality you possess? Do you have anything to offer me? Do I see you as inherently valuable or do I see you as a sum of parts I want for myself?
    I think a lot of the evil in this world comes from one person looking at another and determining his or her value by asking, "what can you do for me?" There are common groups that may come up short in answers to this question: those deemed too young, too old, those who are physically disabled, those who are mentally disabled, and those who are seen as being the wrong race or the wrong gender. In this case, the powerful preys upon the powerless. The powerful looks at those who don't have much to offer and either decides to tolerate them, eliminate them, or exploit them.
    I don't think one has to be Pro Life to find the recently released undercover videos of Planned Parenthood disturbing. In these videos, executives and doctors are filmed discussing the value of organs obtained from the cadavers of aborted fetuses if sold to organizations for medical research. They also discuss how one can perform an abortion in such a way that organs are left more intact and are therefore more valuable. One video shows a fetus being dissected for parts.
    It is debated whether these videos were heavily edited and illegally filmed. It is debated whether Planned Parenthood is actually trying to profit from the sale of these organs or whether they are just covering the cost of shipment to researchers. It is also said that since the abortion would have happened anyway, it's ok to use these parts for research. While these questions are important, even if it were found that these videos were done illegally and Planned Parenthood was not making a profit from these practices, these videos expose something far worse: a human life being completely objectified.
    In the question of value, the event of a pregnancy can produce two astonishingly different views. Is it a fetus? Is it an unborn child? Does the woman see herself as an expectant mother, or as a woman with a problem? I believe whatever view one takes, it is an unborn child, and that "fetus" is a word that it used to turn the unborn child into an object. On one hand, I can understand the difficulty in the early stages of pregnancy to see it as more than a fetus, and perhaps that is a legitimate debate. I can't understand, however, how an unborn child can be seen as only a fetus when his or her organs are so developed that they are valuable for research.
    With abortion, the sad thing is, the woman is essentially saying about the unborn child, "you are an inconvenience to me," "you have come at a time when I don't want you," "you have come between me and the rest of my plans," "you make my life hard." I feel bad for some of the situation that woman find themselves in when they discover they are pregnant when they didn't want to be, but because they don't see the unborn child as having inherent value, they determine his or her worth based on how that child affects themselves, and distant themselves by calling the child a fetus. I can't see how this isn't a selfish act. The powerful can look at the powerless and say they aren't worth the trouble. Once a woman objectifies an unborn child into a problem, other people can exploit that child to get what they can from him or her. Babies are seen as a sum of valuable parts rather than whole human beings with inherent value.
    Other people are not a means to our ends. Throughout history, people have been exploited because they were seen as subhuman and turned into objects. Saying that an unborn child is only a fetus so that we can feel free to say whether that child should exist and what we can get from him or her doesn't make it true.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


    For a while now, when I think about what my Christian faith offers, I think of it as offering true fulfillment, and a quench for the thirst that nothing else can satisfy. I have thought about how basing your identity and finding your meaning in anything else doesn't work. But I am realizing how much I don't grapple with Gospel 101, as in Jesus died for my sins and took my place. I've been thinking more about it. Obviously, it's a basic Christian doctrine and because I've been a Christian for a long time, I have long been aware of it and I have claimed it within my set of beliefs. When I really think of it though, it bothers me some. I find that if I were having to explain it to someone who didn't already accept it, I wouldn't know what I was doing, and even more, I find that it stirs up questions that I haven't really considered. I'm not just having questions in the sense that I seek information. I am questioning. I find things in my questions that question God's goodness. I think, why is it without Jesus, I deserved hell? I know that one of the classic issues that people have is the question of why Jesus had to die. It was a question that wasn't very relevant to me. Now it is. Why? Why does the acquittal of sin require death? If I am by nature sinful, why would I have been punished? Is there a choice to any of this? There are more thought processes and lines of questions I touch at when considering these things, but I don't even want to write them out. They are, even for me, too accusatory towards God. What I took as simple Christian doctrine doesn't make as much sense to me. If I take a step back, I hope that this questioning makes my relationship with God stronger because it has uncovered some shaky foundations. I actually want to do some more studying of the Bible, not my strong suit, and that would be good because I find I have too often let other authors do the thinking about the Bible for me. When I come out of the other side of my questions, I hope I can better say why Jesus is the only way anything makes sense in this world, for myself and for others.

    When I back off from the effect Jesus's death and resurrection has on the individual, and look at the world, I find it easier to understand. Christianity answers the question of why nothing seems to be right in this world. It says that things weren't meant to be this way. That people ought to act better. That the world would work better if we didn't put ourselves first all the time. It means that all the injustice is something God wouldn't stand. When I am disgusted at the actions of others and feel they should be punished, God agrees. The justice of God agrees.

    Maybe it's making more sense.

    If I think about the feeling I get at someone else's selfishness, pride, lust, lack of integrity, dishonesty, the way they feel entitled to things that they shouldn't, rudeness, maybe I can see it. Something rises up inside and says, "that's wrong" and not only that, I want to tell them exactly how they are wrong and make them see it. I want to say to a customer,  you know sir, you're being an a**hole. He deserves it. He absolutely deserves it. I'm offended by injustice. I'm offended by immorality. I'm offended by sin. I guess God is offended too. I guess punishment is what a sinner deserves. A big "you suck. And you should be aware that you suck. You should feel small and pay for what you have done." So I guess because God knows we are sinful and don't really want to be, he sent us Jesus. Jesus says, "through my perfection, you can be perfect." "Through the power of my Spirit, you can live the way you ought to live. You can be what I always meant you to be." I think what confuses me is this feeling that we couldn't help it, yet we could help it. On one hand, I know better, and I choose the wrong thing. On the other, God flat out knew that we could not keep the Law. In fact, Paul says in Romans that the Law was only there to highlight our sinfulness. Somehow this makes sense. I don't necessarily see entirely how it does. I think I know deep down that it does.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Food Heaven

If you want to make yourself sad, just sit and think about all the food that you loved that for some reason or another you can't get anymore. The restaurant closed. The relative who made that special something died and you don't have the recipe. They took it off the menu. They don't sell it anymore. If only you could taste it one more time. If only you could go back. I was talking about Mickey shaped frozen pizza and Chips Ahoy sandwich cookies with my mom and how they taunted us with them and took them away, and she said off-hand that they would be waiting for me in food heaven. So then I sat and thought about all the foods throughout my life that have passed on. In nearly every case, I didn't know our last meeting was to be our last. But I hope they're all happy in food heaven, sitting on a table all together, just waiting for me. Here's who I hope is there:


The fried chicken, macaroni salad, and prawns at Luau Gardens

Ah...Luau Gardens. So strange...So sentimental for me. It was a Chinese buffet in Sacramento with Hawaiian theming. For me and my parents, it was a place where we really liked the food and we could sit by ourselves and do our thing; make weird jokes, have weird conversations, eat as much food as we wanted. I never understood the Hawaiian aspect to it all. Perhaps there is a logical explanation. The owner was from Hawaii? There's a large Chinese population in Hawaii? There were fake birds reminiscent of the Tiki Room at Disneyland hanging in the middle of the ceiling, a fish tank (both of which were very appealing to me when I was in grade school), and later after they remodeled and repainted a bit, these giant paintings of whales and island scenes. And they would always play Hawaiian music. But then one day, we were eating there, and we were told that they were about to close. When I looked into it, it wasn't because business was bad, but because the younger members of the family wanted to focus more on their restaurant downtown, which I'm sure is much more hip then our beloved, strange, Luau Gardens. And so my favorite foods there have passed on to food heaven. I miss their brandy fried chicken, this macaroni salad that was in their little American section that for some reason tasted particularly good, and their fried prawns. So I hope food heaven includes a plate from Luau Gardens with the chicken, and the macaroni salad and the prawns.

(The picture above is me circa 2005 at Luau Gardens in an intentionally cheesy pose. There's the brandy fried chicken and behind me is the bottom part of one of those giant island pictures.) 


Stuffed vegetable rigatoni at Johnny Carino's

I adore the bread at Johnny Carino's and I looked forward to getting a house salad with my entrée even though house salads aren't a special item because theirs was prepared and put together so nicely. Their entrées, however, were not so special to me, all accept for this one called stuffed vegetable rigatoni. It had the rare distinction of being vegetarian and being so satisfying that I wasn't thinking, "if only there were a little chicken in this...". The irritating thing was that it was the one thing I really liked there, and then one day I went and it was no longer on the menu. It's not that their other entrées were terrible, but they didn't come close to my stuffed vegetable rigatoni. Out of all the things to take, they took that one. Now that location is closed, so if I want my bread, I've gotta go to Fairfield. But while my bread and salad may be far away, my stuffed vegetable rigatoni died a long time ago, so I hope it's waiting for me in food heaven too.


Mickey Mouse shaped frozen pizza

The Mickey Mouse shaped frozen pizza stands out more in my memory because our time together was so fleeting. The thing about being at home and wanting something to snack on is that sometimes you just can't eat another sandwich. Sometimes you want something warm, cheap, and fast. Mickey Mouse pizza could have been a freezer staple for those times. It was small and it lacked that funky frozen pizza flavor. And what a nice pick-me-up to have it be shaped as it was. But no. It was bought, enjoyed, and never to be found again. My mom and I would look around in the grocery store and it was gone. A novelty item I suppose, or maybe it wasn't selling well, but on any account, it's made it's way to food heaven. Was it better to have loved Mickey Mouse shaped frozen pizza and lost it then to never have loved it at all? No. In this case, ignorance would have been bliss.


Chips Ahoy sandwich cookies

My time with Chips Ahoy sandwich cookies was longer than my time with the Mickey Mouse pizza, but still fleeting. It was two little Chips Ahoy cookies with white cream in the middle, and my mom and I liked them quite a bit and got used to buying them. I even remember there being commercials for them. You think with grocery store items that they will be there forever. The expectation of longevity makes it that much more disappointing when you go to buy something you liked and it isn't there. I had them for somewhere around a year, and that was all. Sometimes I still look in the cookie aisle for them in vain. Alas and alack, they must have gone on to food heaven.


Lyon's hamburgers

I have had plenty of good burgers and of varying kinds. Different toppings. Different sauces. Thick bacon dripping with maple syrup. Onion strings. Sweet Jack Daniels BBQ sauce. Mango infused BBQ sauce. Cheese skirts. However, when I was little, I remember before any of these other things, how good these hamburgers were at Lyons, just a basic family restaurant in Yuba City. If I had one today would I still think it was as good? I'd like to think so. It was just the basics; onion, tomato, lettuce, American cheese. The meat had good flavor. The bread was really good. I highly doubt that bread was made there, but the bread they were buying for those hamburgers was what made it stand out. So if me and mom were running errands and wanted to eat out, getting a hamburger at Lyons was a staple for a long while. You knew they'd be good and you knew they'd be satisfying, because what could be better than a good hamburger? Eventually, we noticed the hamburgers changed in quality. The bread was not the same. The meat was bland. Whether it was new owners, new cooks, or an endeavor to cut costs, those hamburgers we had loved were gone, and eventually Lyons was gone too. But then maybe that's what they get for taking away those hamburgers.


"Trio" at Bel-Air

"Trio" is a name me and my mom made up for these three different salads from the deli at Bel-Air that we would get that somehow tasted good eaten together. They were something called Mediterranean orzo salad, which had tomatoes and capers and had good seasoning, California chicken salad, which was chicken salad with red grapes and almonds, and creole potato salad, which had a deep yellow color because of the creole seasoning and was a little spicy. I don't know how we first started getting all three, but it became something we would repeat several times after. And because there was three, we'd just refer to it as "Trio". (and if that makes us sound weird, I guess it's too late to turn back now). We would sit them open on the coffee table, fork in hand and just alternate between them, taking bites. I even had a certain order I liked to sit them in. I don't know why it worked so well but it did. But then Bel-Air decides to update their recipes and their deli selections. The Mediterranean orzo salad survived intact, but the California chicken salad got a new name, "Golden State chicken salad", and a new recipe. And the creole potato salad is nowhere to be found. And Trio is just not Trio without the combination of favors that we had before. So our little ritual has been ruined. So in food heaven, I hope Trio is there, and in their proper order.


Deli sandwiches at Food for Less

I remember getting these deli sandwiches when I was four, five, six years old. I can't even remember when Food for Less stopped making them they way they had. Was I eight? Ten? I do remember these sandwiches though. Sometimes you're in the grocery store, and you buy something for yourself to eat when you get home so you don't have to cook. And some of those times, you grab a deli sandwich. Just to highlight the goodness of those deli sandwiches of long ago, now when me and my mom are grocery shopping and we grab a sandwich to eat when we get home, it takes some work to make it good. I get a footlong, because it's cheaper to get one of those and cut it in half, I take it home and rearrange the meat and cheese to make it more even, slather it with mayonnaise and mustard, cut up a tomato. But those old deli sandwiches from Food for Less needed no extra attention. I think what made them good is that they came already slathered with mayonnaise and mustard. They weren't all that different, but somehow they were so much better, and the fact that they are buried in my childhood makes the why they were better a bit mysterious. A funny anecdotal memory to go along with it is this time, when I was like five years old, when I laid one of these sandwiches down in the house and we couldn't find it anywhere. We determined that if it had fallen in a strange place, we would have smelled it eventually and that the only plausible explanation for the lost sandwich was that our dog had eaten it. It would be nice to have one of those sandwiches in food heaven.


Hot Dogs at Hal's Grub Steaks

Hal's Grub Steak (what an odd name for a place) was a western themed walk-up and sit-in casual restaurant with a limited menu. Steak, chicken, hot-dogs and hamburgers,  chili, fries, cole-slaw, maybe potato salad. It had been there a long time. My mom was a teenager when she first started going there, and it lasted until I was in grade school. Maybe the owners just got too old to keep it going if one were to guess by the aged waitresses. Since I was little, I took unusual delight in the chairs there. I didn't know they were called captain's chairs. I just liked how they curved around in the back, which was low, and made a half-circle. More than that, I loved this little yellow pin-ball, arcade game, for lack of a better description, that was there. It wasn't electronic at all. It was just a sort of bb gun mounted towards a western town scene, all under glass. You aimed at the little outlaws that were in the doors and windows. You hit one, a new one would pop up in a window, then between the swinging  doors, then in the other window, then in the door. You missed, you didn't get to move on to the next one. My goal was to get all of them. Every visit was an opportunity to see if there was yet another little outlaw that I'd never seen before to shoot. But about the food, if Hal's Grub Steak still existed today, I would probably have enjoyed their chili, or have gotten a hamburger more often. But because we went when I was little, I enjoyed getting these footlong hot dogs and had no appreciation for chili. The hot dogs were good, but I remember the BBQ sauce being especially good. The BBQ sauce and the ketchup sat on the table in these little squeeze bottles, so I had a routine of mixing them together to make a sauce for my fries, and if memory serves me right, I put them both on the hotdog. Maybe more than the hot dogs, what I really miss is that BBQ sauce. But in food heaven, I don't just want a bottle of sauce sitting there, I want something to put it on, and those hotdogs were very good. That little western pinball machine can sit next to the table of all the long gone foods waiting for me in food heaven. And maybe a whale picture from Luau Gardens.