Tag Archives: Newport Beach

barbies crossing borders

Often, when you grow up with a particular custom or habit, it seems normal because that is, of course, normal for you, in your life, in your world. So, it didn’t really cross my mind that there might be something unique about a particular game I used to play as a young girl growing up in Newport Beach, California. I have come to call it ‘Barbies Crossing Borders.’

I was reminded of it yesterday when I, for the last time, crossed south from the US into Mexico, across the same border that has been there my entire life – with it’s off-white pillars, and a large sign above, MEXICO, in red letters – for me a sort of ‘comfort food’ from my earliest memories. It was the last time I would cross that particular boundary because as of November 1, 2012, the border between the US and Mexico, in San Ysidro, will be changing to accommodate the expanding lanes heading north into the US, and the new crossing into Mexico approximately half a mile west of the longstanding crossing.

In a world that is changing so rapidly we have difficulty keeping up – even twitter, which is still baffling many (was it a tweet? Did you tweeter?), is beginning to become passe – it may seem silly to mourn the dissolution of a particular structure such as a set of border gates. But it was, I realized, as I crossed through that last time, with a sense of sadness I did so. This image, this crossing, has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Enter, Barbies Crossing Borders, which could, of course, have been a reference to my tan but still white skin and blond hair (both of which, in addition to my having been born on the ‘right’ side of that boundary line defining what that crossing, and the ease with which I could do it, meant for me) – though Barbies younger sister Skipper would have been more appropriate. But, as a young girl growing up down the street from Newport Harbor High School, Horace Ensign Middle School, and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, this was the game I played with my barbies, who would regularly travel back and forth across the US/Mexico border as I did most weekends growing up.

An only child, I traveled with my parents as we ventured south most weekends to care for the house that had been my paternal grandmother’s. When she passed away the care of her house was left to her only child, my dad. So, on any given weekend when other children in the Newport Mesa area were off to AYSO soccer games, I was in the back of our 1970 Ford van heading south along I-5.

I do remember being disappointed about not being able to play soccer (something I finally remedied as a student at Newport Harbor – though clearly showing the lack of all those AYSO weekends) but going to Mexico on weekends also seemed like, well, seemed just normal. It was a part of my life. The navigating of these two very different worlds was planted within me from my very first trip south as a six-month old baby. At my grandmother’s house there was no phone and no t.v. and so  most of the weekend was spent reading, playing cards, sitting on the patio, or walking to the beach.

The highlight of the return trip was navigating the border crossing north – something that my dad, an engineer, always tried to predict (“The line will be shortest during dinner time,” was one of his favorite assumptions) and something that taught me the word ‘bifurcate’ (when one lane becomes two, which, of course, we were always hoping for to speed up the line) much earlier than would be normal for a young child. To this day, even with my SENTRI pass for expedited crossing, I still take note of the exact time I arrive in line at the border and the minute I am across – my last trip it was a 7 minute border (unheard of in the early days, unless one was crossing in the middle of the night like we did when my dad broke his leg walking home from a party – a story for another time) all thanks to that SENTRI pass.

My memories of these years crossing back and forth over this international boundary, but also somewhat arbitrary delineation, are not marked with particularities – except the one time we got into a fender bender because my dad refused to let someone cut in line in front of us  (or was he the one doing the cutting? I can’t recall) – but more of an overall sense that was sown in me from a very young age. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized, in traveling the world, that the places where I feel most ‘at home’ in the world are actually the places that remind me not of my birthplace in Newport Beach, but of my adopted home, Baja.

On October 31 I crossed the border for the last time as I drove south from Newport Beach, where my mom, now widowed, still lives, and headed toward what was my grandmother’s house, but has now become mine, about an hour south of the border, in Baja. As I looked up and saw the sign announcing my entry into MEXICO, with big red letters, I thought of that game I used to play with my barbies – as they traveled back and forth to Mexico – and how this place has, over these years, permeated my very being.

What a gift it has been, and how thankful I am, as we enter into this month of giving thanks, and these few days of remembering and celebrating those who have come before us, for the gracious hospitality of this country that for so long has felt like home, and now finally is.

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photo: the island

undies on the line

(Adam Walker Cleaveland’s recent tweet about line-drying clothes prompted me to resurrect this piece that I wrote a few years ago for Relevant Magazine.)
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I have to admit, I just like the sound of it. Undies on the line. I mean, it’s true; they are there, on the clothesline, hanging in the breeze. But somehow the idea of them sounds much more glamorous, more adventurous, even exciting, than it actually is. Because they are just hanging there. That’s about it. They aren’t doing anything. Just hanging.

The reality of the situation is that I don’t really like air-dried clothing. I much prefer putting my clothes, along with a Bounce sheet in the dryer, cooking them for a mere 45 minutes and leaving them infused with that natural spring freshness. None of this air-drying stuff—where’s the spring freshness in that? But I am also in this phase, hopefully one that will stick with me to some degree, of trying to be a good steward of creation’s resources—not using time-saving-but- energy-wasting methods when there is an alternative that is more environmentally friendly. I know this might sound just a bit over the top, so lest you think I am about to move to a commune and weave my own clothes out of recycled coffee filters, let me do a bit of explaining.

I grew up in Newport Beach, Calif. It is not exactly the bastion of liberal tree-hugging politics. I also grew up loving what I referred to as “logger hoggers.” A logger hogger, for those unfortunate souls who did not have the opportunity to love them as children, is simply a semi-truck carrying a load of recently felled large trees. My experience of them happened during vacations, which coincidentally took place in wooded, mountainous areas. Seeing a logger hogger pass by our luggage rack-laden 1970s Hornet (yellow with fake wood paneling, of course), I would get really excited.

It was not until a weekend church retreat in the mountains as a UC Berkeley freshman that I realized these magical icons from my youth had a somewhat darker side. With a look of horror at my excitement upon seeing a logger hogger, an older, wiser and more environmentally aware member of the group explained the ramifications of clear-cutting and their connection to my beloved logger hoggers. So much for that warm, fuzzy childhood memory.

So, all that to say, when I talk about my newfound environmentalism, that is the context in which it exists.

Back to the undies on the line. The point is, why put clothes in a dryer that uses energy to run, when, especially in Newport Beach in May, there is plentiful, natural, already provided sunlight that will accomplish the same task while expending nothing? Financially it makes sense—you get something for free instead of paying for it. Not a bad deal. Environmentally it makes sense—you use an existing resource that is not depleted in the process, and you neglect to use a manufactured resource that is depleted in the process. When put that way, it seems so obvious, so simple really.

Are we as Christians, not called to be good stewards of creation? What does that fancy-sounding phrase mean anyway? Wouldn’t choosing to conserve energy be a way to care for the earth? Didn’t God command, in Genesis, that we are put on the earth to till it and keep it? I have been trying to think about what this might look like. My gut reaction is to think that it means care for, conserve, preserve. But I do know that there are those who see God’s command more in the light of having dominion over the earth as using whatever you want and not necessarily being concerned about the consequences.

But then I think, what if a friend loaned me something, say his car, and said, “Here, it is yours, use it, keep it, have dominion over it (OK, he probably wouldn’t say that, but you get the point).” If I were give it back to him later with the windshield bashed in, chocolate milkshake soaked into the passenger’s seat, a dented rear bumper and the stereo stripped out, what do you think his response would be? I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think it would be one of delighted contentment. I said you could use my car, not destroy it. Obviously, we would never consider (at least I hope not) doing something so brash, rude and just flat-out wrong to our friend’s car. So why do we think it is OK with God’s earth?

Which brings me back to the undies again. The thing is, I like my undies to be soft, and line-dried undies are, well, a bit crusty. Sure, using a clothes dryer is not in the same category perhaps as many other worse-for the-environment actions such as a tanker’s oil spill in a wildlife refuge in Alaska, but it is the principle of the matter.

So, I am in a quandary. How can I justify basking in my soft cushion of comfort, knowing that I am personally responsible for contributing to our environmental woes? Sure, it is one thing to cheer on the truck representation of clear-cutting forests as an uninformed youngster, but it is another thing to have experienced firsthand the successful drying of one’s undies on the clothesline and willfully return to the energy-consuming Bounce sheets.

There is an obvious solution; it is just that the one that makes so much logical sense leaves me feeling, well, a bit stiff.

‘undies on the line’ was initially published by Relevant Magazine

Let There Be Peace on Earth…or else

Greetings from Newport Beach, home of John Wayne and the Christmas Boat Parade,

Ever since I sent the email about the plight of Bethlehem, I have been trying to come up with some sort of a follow-up. But what I found, on the remainder of my two weeks in Israel/Palestine, was that I was becoming more and more angry about what I was witnessing (due to the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank) and could not figure out a way to write about it without simply inflicting the anger onto all of you.

Now, though I am no stickler for logic, somehow it just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to have the message be one of peace, but the method be one of not peace.  Sure, there are definitely times in life to be angry especially when dealing with injustice.  But what has been percolating in my mind is this idea that if you want to promote peace, then somehow the way you go about it should match up, no?  Thus the old, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  Somehow it always seems easier, though, to say “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you.”  Hmmm, not a bad sermon topic.

Speaking of sermon topics, I recently had to report to my ordination committee why in the world it has been so long and I still have no ‘call.’  (Explaining that I have been busy outrunning mad cows in Austria or planting Shasta Daisies didn’t seem like the answer they were looking for.)  I was at risk of being categorized as ‘languishing in the process.’  I kind of like the title, personally, so was a bit disappointed (but please don’t change your mind, committee members that might be reading this) that I passed inspection.  I can just see it printed on a business card, “Erin Dunigan, Languishing in the Process.”  It’s definitely got conversation potential.

But on a more serious note, (though not too serious, since we have already dealt with peace in the Middle East, which seems serious enough for one email) I am still in the ‘call process’ but let’s just say I am trying to, at the same time, listen for alternate ring tones.  Don’t press me on that one, because I have no idea what it means, but somehow it has a nice, shall we say, ring to it.

In the meantime (which I think might be a good title for this period of my life, though I guess it would assume that there is actually something that will come after the meantime…) I have been involved in a variety of endeavors such as working freelance as a writer, photographer, computer geek, house-sitter and church stewardship campaigner. If it all sounds a bit like a random combination, it’s probably because it is.

So, there you have it.

In weather news, it is cloudy today, definitely dropping into those colder winter temperatures they have been talking about. The thermostat reads 62 degrees, so it looks like I will be able to wear my favorite winter accessories after all. I mean, nothing says down coat, scarf, beanie and gloves like 62 degrees…

By the way, I have new photos (Middle East, Mississippi trip, Huntington Lake) posted for your viewing pleasure.

If it ain’t fried, it ain’t food!

At the risk of only reporting on the food (and the weather!) I have to tell you that I had a genuine (gen-U-aihn…) southern meal yesterday at the Country Fisherman in Mendenhall, Mississippi—that’s right, fried catfish, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, collard greens (not fried) and sweet tea—topped off with banana nilla wafer pudding for dessert! As if that wasn’t enough to shoot the cholesterol through the roof, this morning we started the day off with eggs, biscuits, bacon and sausage gravy. No salads for these Californians!

Yesterday a couple of us drove up to Mendenhall, Mississippi for the day to visit the Mendenhall Bible Church.  I have known of Mendenhall because St. Andrew’s Church has been working with them for years. About ten years ago, when my parents were traveling around the country in their motor home, they were in the area and decided to stop and visit Mendenhall to see the work they were doing there. As part of that visit they got a tour by Dolphus Weary, a black man who grew up in Mendenhall, and who, when he had a chance to leave for a better life said “I ain’t never comin’ back!”  Except that he did. He could have left, but he came back to try to help others who were still stuck in a life of poverty and some pretty intense racial prejudice—the rail road tracks literally split the town between the ‘wrong’ and the ‘right’ side of the tracks, depending on if you are black or white. It was hearing how much this encounter with Dolphus had impacted my dad, not someone to be easily moved, that made such an impression on me.

Back in Gulfport the work continues… I have some pictures up on http://www.edunny.com.  We are now a group of almost 50—our group from Newport Beach, Irvine and Westminster along with a group from Vienna, Virginia and a group that has just arrived from Greensboro, North Carolina. The North Carolina group have been trying to teach me how to sound like a southerner– “It’s y’all, not you all” and definitely not ‘you guys!’

One of the things I have been amazed by here on the gulf in Mississippi is how much work is left to be done—and how, much of the time, the system seems to be working against that. For instance, a group from our team was working outside of Biloxi, on the house of Mini. She just moved into her house (from her FEMA trailer) in September, but still does not have gas to the house for cooking and hot water. Our group had the ability and expertise to hook up her gas line for her, but found out that you cannot do that without a licensed plumber (I didn’t realize a plumber was in charge of the gas line?) from Biloxi to pull the permit. Problem is, the licensed plumbers in Biloxi are already booked up solid with work, and most of them would rather not work on houses like Mini’s when they have the option of working for larger industrial projects. Even if you were to find a licensed plumber from Gulfport who was willing to do it, he (or she) would not be able to because they are not licensed in Biloxi! Word is that this is an attempt to keep jobs for locals, but it seems to lack some basic common sense.  So, the bottom line is that people like Mini are left without the ability to cook, even though we could have her up and running—and all up to code, because of the politics. If anyone has a connection with the Mississippi state legislature, this might be a good topic for discussion!

At the same time as there is so much work to be done, it is also really amazing to drive through these neighborhoods and see how much work is being done, much of it by the churches. Person after person that I have talked to that we have been working with has said, if it weren’t for the churches, we don’t know what we’d do. It is an encouraging reminder, in the midst of how much bad press the church gets these days (and much of it deserved!), to see the churches, “walking the walk and not just talking the talk,” as one non-churchy, non-religious person from our group commented to me the other night.

Speaking of our group, it is an interesting mix. We have a few attorneys, a guy recently release from jail, architects, retirees, high school students, a grandmother and her grandson, a man who fought in the Korean War and a young Korean man, Pentecostals and Presbyterians and some who’ve never stepped foot in a church…all working together, getting to know each other, and helping the people of Mississippi. It really is an amazing experience. I asked George Bates, who runs the relief center here for the Presbyterian Church, if anyone could come down and help, or if they had to be part of a group. George, who has the most fantastic southern accent I think I have ever heard, said “well, if they wanted to come as a group of one that would be fine by me.” So, if you’re interested, there’s your invitation!