Monday, November 30, 2009

When That Daily Bread Gets Old: A Recipe

What to do with the leftover bread from Thanksgiving dinner? It was all so delicious and I wanted to eat it all, but a few days later, it’s going stale. I don’t want to throw it out… I know, make a bread pudding!
I cut
4 slices challah with raisins
2 sweet potato/ cheddar cheese rolls
2 slices of cranberry bread
1 large pumpkin muffin
2 slices plain challah
into cubes

and put the cubes in my big mixing bowl.
Over this I poured a mixture o
2 ½ cups milk
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
and let it sit for 15 minutes.

I greased a 9" square baking dish and a small round ramekin and turned the oven t o 350 degrees.
I mixed:
6 eggs
 ½ cup of milk
½ cup of cinnamon sugar left over from making a coffee cake
1 teaspoon vanilla.
I spooned the soaked bread crumbs into the baking dishes and slowly poured the custard over it. I moved the mixture around a little so that the custard would soak in evenly.

Next I took a half used jar of lemon curd and a half used jar of pear butter. I mixed these and dropped the mixture in teaspoons over the top of the bread pudding.

After baking it at 350 for 45 minutes, I took it out of the oven to find it golden brown, and fragrant. I tasted the small one and it is just a bit spicy, soft, delicious and warming.  The large one is going into the freezer for the next time I need a warm dessert.

1. Serve with cream, soy whipped cream, ice cream or whipped cream
2. Non-dairy: Use only non dairy bread. Substitute a mixture of rice milk and coconut milk for the milk so that you will have the richness that rice milk alone doesn’t give. Make sure your jam or fruit butter is dairy free (as most are). Enjoy!
3. Add dried fruit or chocolate chips to the soaked bread crumbs.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Acorn Hunt

Last month when I was forced to sit around while recovering from a cough and sore throat, I found myself growing irritable, so I made something for Thanksgiving. Andrea liked it so much that she asked me to write about it. I’m so glad she liked it! I hope you do, too.

I wanted to have some activities for before and after dinner. We had decided to have a race, but I wanted something else that would be wonderful for the little ones. I came across a website with a picture of a charming little acorn.

So I decided to make some while I was sitting and coughing. The one I found online was made with balloons and paper mache. I don’t like paper mache, so I started thinking. Lo and behold, I an idea came to me. Those plastic Easter eggs, if turned upside down, could be made to look like acorns! And then they could be used as boxes for clues to a treasure hunt or notes expressing thanksgiving, or candy or all three!

I knew where the plastic eggs were because my children had organized my basement this summer. I blessed them as I quickly found what I needed.

Here’s what I did:

Gather supplies:

paper, paper cutter, yarn in autumn colors, twine and string also can be used, hot glue gun, other glue sources such as tacky glue, spray adhesive or double sided tape.

a few pipe cleaners, one button for each acorn, scraps of felt for the inside hinges and the leaves, needle and thread, colored yarn for sewing the leaves.
1. The bottom, rounded part of the egg becomes the acorn top. Cut a strip of paper ½ inch by the circumference of the egg. Use the hot glue gun to glue the strip of paper around the edge of the egg. This will help the acorn top to look bigger than the bottom and not so egg-shaped!

2. Begin by gluing the yarn onto the paper edge, covering carefully. For the acorn top, I used thicker yarn as I wanted it to be sure to look bigger than the bottom. Once the bottom row of yarn is secure, you don’t have to continue to use hot glue as it can burn very easily. Use spray adhesive, or thin the tackly glue and paint it on with a paint brush. I think double sided tape will work, but I didn’t try it.

3. Wind the yarn row by row around the egg bottom/acorn top. When you come to the pinnacle, make a slip knot. This will be the loop that is used to hang the acorn. Making sure that the loop sticks up, glue down the ends of the yarn and the knot at the top with hot glue.

4. The bottom of the acorn is a little trickier. Begin by choosing a yarn that is a different color than the top and is thinner. Using the hot glue gun, create the first row around the opening of the egg. Be careful not to glue yarn to the inner edge as you want to be able to close the acorn/egg. Once the first row is fastened, go to the top of the egg. Tie a little knot and clip off the extra thread. Using hot glue, attach the knot and add more glue around it. Create a circular start for the yard by winding the yarn around the knot. You can either continue with hot glue winding around to the bottom, or you can spray the egg with spray adhesive or paint it with thinned tacky glue.

Winding the bottom part of the acorn may take several sessions. Wind it and squish the rows together (it will look rustic, but that’s okay, it’s an acorn!). Let that dry or cool. Wind some more rows, taking breaks if the yarn is slipping, until the entire egg is covered.

5. Fit the top to the bottom. Decide where you wish to put the button on the bottom part of the acorn. Sew or glue it on.

6.  If it doesn't stay together, make a latch for the button by cutting an inch of pipe cleaner. Bend this into a V. Apply glue the cut ends and stick these up under the yarn of the top of the acorn to create a loop or latch.

7.  If it still doesn't stay together, open the acorn and cut a strip of felt about ½ inch by 1 inch. Glue this to the top and bottom of the acorn directly opposite the button to create a hinge. This will hold the acorn together and still allow it to open.

Using templates you have or that you can find online trace leaves onto felt. Cut these out. Take the embroidery floss or yarn and take big running stitches down the middle of each leaf. This creates definition and curls the leaf a little so it looks dried. Sew or glue leaves onto the acorn at the top near the loop.

Now they are finished and you can use them for fun! Enjoy.
Questions? Post them in comments at  If you make one, please post a picture.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Dreams May Come

Three years ago I was reading a book about the imaginative illustrator, Tasha Tudor that my friend Jo-Ann loaned to me. It showed an illustrations of children putting on a marionette show of the nativity story. If you know Tasha Tudor, you’ll know that her depictions of children capture their earnest capacity for wonder. In the drawing, the children had turned an old dresser and mirror set into a stage by removing the mirror and replacing it with curtains. They stood on chairs behind it to dangle puppets as beautiful and wide-eyed as they were.
I had to try to make the same thing happen. In my heart, I could see the entire thing, knew just what to do and moreso that it must be done.  I also knew that this seemed pretty silly I knew from the beginning that it was a ridiculous, over-the-top idea, but for some reason, it was compelling to me.  I loved the idea of adults and children collaborating to tell this wonder-filled story.  When I had to return the book, I copied the drawing and pinned it to the wall in my work room where it haunted me. Unable to forget the idea, I mentioned it to Andrea.  To my surprise she thought it was a great idea and we got to work.

The first year we made Jesus, Mary and Joseph. When I make dolls, I get an idea in my head of what they should look like. In this case, I recalled paintings I’d seen by Fra Angelico and patterned the colors and look of the marionettes after his genius. This means that Mary has bright reddish gold hair, her clothes a blazing glory to her role. Joseph turned out to be tall, not as old as often pictured and with a trustworthy expression. Baby Jesus looks like my brother did as a baby (just as cute and adorable anyway).

Next we made a shepherd, his two children and an angel. Keeping with the Fra Angelico color scheme, I did something that my dear reader might find a bit scandalous. I used one of my son’s discarded pair of boxers. I had been washing these boxers for about eight years and now they were threadbare, but the blue and orange stripes were the perfect cheerful color scheme and the worn condition of the fabric seemed appropriate for a character who lives outside.

from left; shepherd children, Joseph, Baby Jesus, Mary, sheep, donkey and the shepherd with his striped coat
Andrea figured out the simplest hand motions for the puppets. She rigged the string so that with a tug, the shepherds’ hands would cover their faces and they’d look “sore afraid.” She fixed Mary so that her hands expressed that she was “treasuring things in her heart.”

Valerie painted two gorgeous backdrop scenes. One shows the starry night where the angel appeared to the shepherds. The midnight blue sky, full of stars looks cold and clear and full of hope. The view of the stable is glowing with warmth.

the angel knocked the faithful donkey over
Karl made us a simple stage that can be taken apart. We made curtains, Val decorated the outside. We got everything done just in time to perform for Andrea’s MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers) in early December. And the crowning touch was a gorgeous, stirring song Valerie wrote called “On the Way.” This song’s beauty and strength surprised me. It calls to the world in its troubles and promises that Jesus is “on the way.” I know I’m her mother, but this song sung by Val defines wonder and hope. Wait ‘til you hear it, you’ll be so happy.

We're rehearsing.  Last year Jack crawled inside the "theatre."  Now he's part of the production
So we performed our little script as Valerie sang her wonderful song before a room full of dear, attentive toddlers and their moms. That year, we also performed it for friends.

Since then, we’ve made an innkeeper who definitely looks nouveau riche from all his census business and Val painted the backdrop for the new scene. The father of a friend made a tiny crèche. We gave up trying to work the strings and switched to dowels painted black.  We’ve performed it for the children at church and again for friends. Joey crawled under the table to find his mommy and showed only slight interest.

Not this year. He wanted to “play” Joseph. 

I got the stage and the puppets out and when he came over I showed them to him. He loved them. We started acting out the story. Joey knew the entire script. When the shepherds had come to see the baby and had gone back to their sheep, Joey said, “Where are those kings?”

I was just making them. I hurried to finish. Two of them turned out well. For the frankinsense King, I repurposed a favorite scarf of my mother’s which had a large faded spot on it. It was not wearable, but now it will be treasured. I made the myrrh king look like the Bishop of Myra by using a lone, red Christmas sock. The third wise man turned out to be especially tall, so we’re calling him André.

We “performed” the play three or four times today, Thanksgiving Day. Joey did so well as “Joseph.” Jack’s role was to put baby Jesus (he insisted on calling the doll “Baby Clare.”) in the crib at the proper time. After the wise men came, Joey wanted to keep going, so we ad-libbed the “flight to Egypt.”

Jack performing his most important task.
Karlene, my friend from church who works in our Sunday School with Andrea and other dedicated teachers, is going to help our young people perform the nativity story using the marionettes on Christmas Eve for our congregation.  As my grandson would say, "You've got to see it!"

I want to thank my family for helping make this dream of mine come true. Who knows why we dream the things we do? But when our hearts and imaginations are captured, beautiful things can happen. Next year on Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll find even more of your dreams— big, small, insignificant or essential—have become reality.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Come Dearie Near Me

I’m going to tell you a secret. I love Scotland. Recently one of my children was teasing me about this. “Remember all the Scottish Christmases we had growing up? Why was that?”

Questions have to be answered, so I began to think. I wandered around my house and saw lots of books that refer to Scotland.  Books and me go together.  You may not know this, but I learned to cook by reading novels first, cookbooks next.  (I'll explain later.)  I've read books about Scotland to try to figure out why they wear kilts and I can't resist a book set in Scotland.  Imagine my delight when I was told my first year at AACS, that "Macbeth" was part of the American Literature/11th Grade year.  Doesn't fit, you're thinking. So what? As my department chair said, "Into every year, a little Shakespeare must fall." Actually, Macbeth was as restorative as a week at the beach after reading The Scarlet Letter, Ethan Frome and other such optimistic American works.  So... did my obsession with Scotland begin with books?  No, not exactly.

I taught "The Scottish Play" for years and LOVED it. More on this later also...

Before I answer the question, I should note that I’m not the only person who refers to Scottish things at Christmas. Notice that come Christmas time and there’s plaid everywhere! It’s true I created a little Scottish Santa wearing a kilt and made tiny pipers to march on the mantle. But I think it began in high school when my sister Stefanie introduced me to Lerner and Loewe’s musical Brigadoon. I fell in love it all—the kilts, the lilting poetry of the brogue, the plaid, the hills, the lochs, the heather, the shortbread cookies. 

Here's a picture of me during high school with the Scottish map because I found this old picture stuck in this book. 
I can guess what my dear reader may be thinking -- Lerner and Loewe are not Scots, probably not even of Scottish descent, and probably the Scottish don’t like the play at all, and those who are Scots and those who live or have lived in Scotland might decry the play as less than authentic.  I don’t care! I found it compelling.

Here’s what happens: two “weary hunters have lost their way” in the hills of Scotland. Hungry, unsuccessful and cold, they stumble on a village just awakening one misty morning. They are swept into the humanity of the town which is full of the desire for life. This is dramatized in a few ways… one early scene shows the villagers at the market eagerly gathering their provisions. Turns out there is to be a wedding that night, and the bridegroom’s passion and joy are palpable. However, the bride has broken another man’s heart and his bitterness is compounded by the town’s odd situation – Brigadoon “comes to life” just one day in each century and those who live there must all stay or the town will forever disappear.

The desperation to live fully and with real intention and feeling is created by the situation, setting and subplots, but this genuine desire for life that defines the village of Brigadoon awakens one of the hunters to the same thirst for real life. He must choose if he will stay in Brigadoon where reality is more than his ambition for fame and possessions or return to modern New York and the busy, hectic life he’s lost in there.

But there’s one song, Come To Me, from the play that sealed my love for Scotland. I know it was written a long time ago and the style is not current, but its poetry captured my heart and imagination.

To set up the scene, Charlie is to marry Jean that evening. Desperate to see his bride, he comes to her home and begs for a kiss. Read it and feel the magic.

Because they told me I can't behold ye till weddin' music starts playin';
To ease my longin' there's nothin' wrong in my standin' out here ans sayin':
Come to me, bend to me, kiss me good day!
Darlin', my darlin', 'tis all I can say,
Jus' come to me, bend to me, kiss me good day!
Gie me your lips an' don't take them away.

Come, dearie, near me so ye can hear me, I've got to whisper this softly.
For though I'm burnin' to shout my yearnin', the words come tiptoein' off me.
Oh, come to me, bend to me, kiss me good day!
Darlin' my darlin', 'tis all I can say.
Jus' come to me, bend to me, kiss me good day!
.Give me your lips an' don't take them away.

  I like the strong, irresistible sense of Charlie’s desire, as clean and hot as fire, shown in his words. He’s trying to steal a forbidden kiss, “Come dearie near me, so ye can hear me, I’ve got to whisper this softly.” She leans in a bit, but convention stays her. Remember, his desire: “For though I’m burnin’ to shout my yearnin; the words come tiptoein off me.” I mean, come on, the paradox, the struggle! That is poetry!

I was recently reminded of this wonderful song becauseValerie has been singing it as she works around her house. To hear it sung as by a great tenor voice is bliss, to hear Valerie sing it is very heaven.

Here’s to Scotland and all things Scottish! This year, I think I’ll somehow devise a Scottish Thanksgiving. I wonder where I can get some yummy haggis to stuff into my turkey?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

5 Reasons Why Martha Stewart Infuriates Me

5 Reasons Why Martha Stewart Infuriates Me

I realize that this is a shallow post.  But I’ve been compared to Martha Stewart by people. I think this is because I’m of Polish descent (Martha is 100%, I’m only 50%). We both dye our hair blond and we both love the home-making arts. I’m never sure if the people who compare me to Martha mean this as a compliment or if they’re telling me they can’t stand me. This is because my own view of the famous homemaker and businesswoman is conflicted at best.
Here’s why:
1. Martha Stewart ruined Halloween. This is true. Halloween used to be a perfectly loveable minor “holiday” where small (under 12) children threatened their neighbors with vandalism if they didn’t give them candy which they brought home and which their parents ate while they were sleeping. Lovely, innocent fun. Now everyone dresses up—even 60 year old women like Martha and they decorate their houses in ghastly ways.
This is Martha’s fault.
Have you seen the pictures of her dressed like a witch for Halloween? It’s terrifying even though air-brushed. The pictures literally scared the craft out of me.
Mind you she uses silk from Milan to make the witch’s costume and the warts on her face are actually sun-dried truffles sprayed with her special Halloween cobweb glitter. She has entire magazines devoted to making fake cobwebs! Why is that a good use of time? Just come over, you can have mine- which are all natural and organic! And how about the instructions about how to make fake blood?. Really, Martha? People need a recipe for that? Do you know she even recommends making candy containers for children in the shape of coffins? I vote for turning October back into a fun month of leaves and pumpkins. Or we could try Octoberfest. Beer is better than ketchup blood.

2. Martha made me buy it. So I was reading the article about how to package cookies in an irresistible and creative way and I was hooked. It all looked so European and neatly tied up. I loved especially the red and white baker’s string. I read the supplies list. Hmmm, Martha recommends “waxed linen twine.” Waxed linen twine?
This is what always happens, I read her articles, I believe I can do it, then I find out the depth of her compulsion and I want to scream. Waxed linen twine! Well, I guess nobody could find waxed linen twine or even linen twine, or even pretty twine at Michael’s so she started offering her own version of the red and white baker’s string. It was way expensive—like $3.00 for an itty bitty little spool. Of course you could buy it also in orange and green. Sigh. At the time I was helping to run a café at school where we were trying to sell baked goods. How nice our cookies and muffins would look packaged and tied with that way too expensive red and white string!
Then a miracle! I found a GIANT spool of it! For nearly the same price as Martha was charging for her mini spool. I bought it. Just to show Martha I could get it cheaper. Shortly after that, our café closed. Anybody want some string? It may not be waxed and it’s definitely not linen, but I have some leftover.  And there might be a few other things as well...which is why I'm mad at Martha, you see.

3. Martha hand mixes her peat moss. You read that right. I was watching her show once and she was talking about the importance of peat moss. If you don’t garden, peat moss is dessicated organic matter (leaves and twigs) that gardeners add to their soil for nutrients and to help the soil retain the right amount of water. When I plant something, I dig the dirt out, mix it with 1/3 as much peat moss and then put that around the new plant. Martha of course does the same as me. But she couldn’t stop there. Oh, no! She confided that she buys her peat moss from 3 different countries in Europe and has the bundles shipped to her where she mixes them. Okay, peat moss is available at Home Depot for under ten dollars a bale. (a bale is a enough to last a couple of years) And dessicated leaves and twigs are supposed to be cheap! They’re crumbled up rotting leaves! I'm so mad from now on I'm going to make my own.

4. On her show, Martha is nicer to animals than she is to kids. Have you seen the shows where Martha fits an entire exotic zoo, plus her dogs into the only room in her several houses that is ten feet by ten feet? She’s ecstatically happy. She coos and purrs. That’s fine.
Have you her with children? I watched one episode where she was teaching some children how to set the table. The kid put the utensils down next to the plate ,which if you ask me, is pretty good. Not good enough. She glanced at him, her back straight as an ruler. “The knife goes in.” The child looked up at her. “In! The knife goes in!” By this time she was growling, not wanting to scream on TV I suppose, though her face looked like she was screaming inside. “In! In!” The boy picked up the knife.  He looked terrified. His eyes were big as donuts, his hand holding the knife trembled. She grabbed his hand, twirled the knife around and slammed his hand down on the table so that the blade was pointing toward the plate. “The blade goes in!” Glad you sorted that out for us, Martha.

5. Martha, you can’t be serious. Here’s a quote from her magazine in an article about trees. I’m not exaggerating, I’m quoting.  I typed it while looking at the actual, printed page. “The new glittery trees look better themed and more monotone. This year, I will be using bronze trees in my dining room with silver tinsel and vintage red ornaments. In the living room, I plan to set up silver trees. The trees will be filled with green and turquoise ornaments and bead swags I’ve collected. In my bird room…”
Her bird room? I have nothing else to say on this.

If truth be told, I suppose part of me envies or admires Martha’s endless creativity and her shameless pursuit of some quality so far beyond excellence it has no name. But that same part of me is usually really mad at her, too.  I just can't keep up.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finding God in the Bottom of the Big Green Bucket

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird      Some of my former students and some of my friends have been asking me how editing my long novel, Solomon’s Puzzle is going. To answer the question.  It's slow going!  It’s hard to know whether I should edit out the character loosely based on Ryan or if I should use J------’s real name as no other really fits… Hmm…the decisions require thought, which I’ve never found particularly easy. And then there is the tedious task of making sure there the right amount of spaces stand in the right places.
Not only that, but I’ve been busy with my growing family.
This busy-ness is an exquisite joy, but it comes with some challenges. Most of these challenges address my soul particularly my attitude toward life and others.
My son Eric and daughter-in-law Care discovered recently that they are expecting a child! The baby’s presence is a miracle and we are all thrilled and grateful, but Care does not feel well. At all. In fact, she feels terrible. She’s been suffering terribly with debilitating nausea and all the wretchedness that accompanies that affliction.
When people are sick they need different things. Some like to sleep, some like to watch TV, some insist on being left alone. My husband is one of these “lone rangers.” When he is sick he wishes only to be left utterly alone – like some great lion – to heal in private dignity. But for some people are helped by a visit.
Visiting the sick is a practice that has recently come to my attention. Though it is one of the church’s seven traditional acts of mercy, it is not easy to fit into our daily routines. In addition to the hectic schedule of the modern American, who barely has time to cook let alone visit, sickness rarely means being housebound. People with infections hardly stay home for 24 hours; they get their antibiotic and return dutifully to work. Surgeries are stitched up and patients sent home the same day. Friends express reluctance about visiting new babies not wanting “to disturb”anyone.  People are nice and caring, but busy beyond busy.

one of my exquisite joys
When I was a young mother, I had an “old lady friend” at church called Emma. Gruff, opinionated, and prone to cussing under her breath, Emma had a soft heart. She never fussed over people or said she felt sorry for them, but she showed her compassion by visiting the sick. I remember one day when I had the stomach flu and she came to see how I was coping with two toddlers while resting my head on the rim of the toilet. Though she was close to 80 years old, she amused the boys, got all the family’s laundry washed, dried and folded, and cheered me up with her efficiency. This sort of practical help is her legacy.

This one finds joy lots of places
I wish I could say that was the only time when my children were little that illness darkened our lives, but it was not so. Allergies and asthma, childhood viruses and stress meant that there were many sick days. When Valerie was a baby, Joe only 3, both Eric and I developed pneumonia. My friend Myrtle came to visit. In no time, she had a tablecloth on the table, flowers from the yard in a vase and things looking as “spit spot” as if Mary Poppins herself had come to call. We don’t realize how much we get done when we feel well, but when coughing or fever takes all our energy, disorder rules! Myrtle’s cheery restoration of order lifted my spirits and as she was leaving, she said, “When all this is over, let’s go out and do something fun.” That promise gave me something tangible to anticipate; the encouragement helped me heal.

enjoying baby Clare's bath tub
My mother had a different approach to family members being ill. If I called to tell her Eric had pneumonia, for instance, her response was, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” It was difficult to hear this unsympathetic response. She may have said this may be because she feared the consequences of illness or because wanted to instill a sense of responsibility in me, or maybe she felt too busy and overwhelmed with her own life to offer help. Her challenge and the fact that when she was sick, she craved (I mean by this demanded) attention, care and devotion, created in me the impetus to take action when loved ones are ill.

equisitely enjoying sleep
Two summers ago my daughter succumbed to mono. Other children of mine have suffered from this awful virus. Over the years, I’ve listened with cringing sympathy to students’ descriptions of their suffering. But Valerie had the worst case I’ve ever witnessed. One morning near dawn I heard her breathing change and knew that her tonsils had swelled nearly to close her throat. A rushed visit to the doctor confirmed this. In fact, the nurse peered into Val’s mouth, gasped and left the room to get the doctor. Valerie was ill for weeks. She was weak and discouraged, scared and frustrated. Faithfully every day after work Andrew came to sit with her. Andrea came to see her, and her colleague Rob Levit brought flowers and stayed for tea. Caring for her daily, I know how much a visit– even a 15 minute visit- meant to her health and well being.

So I came to this time of my life with disparate examples of how to respond to illness. As well, I’ve seen that people need different sorts of care when feeling ill. Care’s illness while pregnant evoked feelings of concern for her and also the question of what to do about it.

My instincts told me that Care would enjoy company; Eric and Care confirmed that this is true. I’ve been spending time with Care and though I am grieved and worried that she is sick, I have to admit that being with her is a beautiful blessing. We’ve had time to talk and get to know each other better. I’ve been privileged to hear her dreams and goals. And we love to talk about how much we love Eric! I’ve treasured every moment with her. She is a clear-headed, loyal, loving, just and talented person. She has great compassion and she’s brave. Every time I left her house, I felt enriched, happy for our family, happy for Eric, grateful to God, determined to keep praying, cooking, visiting etc. With each visit, wonderful things happened … to me. Wasn’t this the opposite of what was supposed to be happening?

Even before her illness, Care had been teaching me how to organize my storage. She put the garage in order before Val and Andrew’s wedding, designed my closet space and was the brains behind the renewal of my basement this summer. We had begun work on my sewing room by creating a general plan of order. Care has a magical ability to order things. As I’ve been spending time with her, I found myself suddenly and brilliantly full of this same understanding as if time in Care’s presence had turned me into a neat person. When driving home last week, I understood that by adding one small shelf to my sewing room, I could complete the attempt at order she’d begun and make the room functional. Instead of putting it off by dreaming about Hopkins’ poetry or what to do with the band bus scene in my novel., I drove straight to Home Depot, bought what I needed. I described the revised plan to Karl and together we Care-ified the room.

my Care-ified sewing room
I admit to you, dear reader, that deep in my heart I imagined that as I was gaining wisdom from Care, she might be strengthened by me. I wrote out my “Recipe for a Happy Pregnancy” by hand for her, thinking that might help. I reminded her of what Corrie Ten Boom said in The Hiding Place, “there is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.”
Care teased, “You mean I can find God in the bottom of my big green puke bucket?”
I was sure this was true but I was also sure that finding Him would mean she would feel as I did when pregnant. I hoped that my visits, my cooking, my love and cheer would heal her.
But it hasn’t.
We’ve tried everything. She still feels awful. Whereas I am wiser, full of love, blessed beyond measure by getting to know her better, she’s still got that big green bucket by the side of the bed in case she doesn’t make it to the toilet in time.
This was not my experience with pregnancy.
My husband counseled me that frustration would lead to judgment. To his kindly meant admonition, I felt insulted, got angry. But he’s right. Frustration at Care’s situation means that I’m deciding that she should be well today, that she could be well today. I’m judging Care and God. Uh, oh.
This is not true, nor is it for me to decide. Recognizing this means I have to humble myself; I have to look at that big green bucket- which I despise for all the suffering it represents- and realize that I am called to love and give, but the healing is up to God.
How startling to realize that God healing Care does not mean that God will make Care like me!

Have you ever seen your reflection in a convex surface? Your face looks ridiculous, the nose too big, the forehead stretched. That’s how I’m “seeing” myself now in light of the “big green bucket.” My view of my role in the world is distorted. How embarrassing to think that my attention could have turned from concern for Care, who is the one feeling ill and suffering, to concern for me, my time and my pride! It’s humiliating to think that all I’ve done (you know how I value my own works!) might not solve the problem—might even make it worse. I should note here that the special protein-filled cookies and marvelous challah bread I brought her upset her stomach. Sigh. It’s humbling to think that I’ve traded precious editing time and not gotten what I assumed would be my payment from God- that is- relief for Care.

Care and Eric are seeking the Lord. Because of this, I know they will find Him. That bucket might stay beside Care’s bed for another day or week but that doesn’t change the truth that they will find Him because of who He is, not because they are squinting really hard in their seeking or because I managed to devise the right recipe. Here’s to each of us finding God in the bottom of our big, green buckets!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Autumn in Poems

Every season inspires great poems.
I’d like to share a few of my favorite poems
 in hopes
that you'll give your thoughts on them
 or post favorites of your own. 

Hurrahing In Harvest
Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! What lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! Has wilder, willful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Savior;
And éyes, héart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic-as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!-
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart réars wíngs bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet
 - Gerard Manley Hopkins.

It’s a complicated poem in structure and word choice, but I love it. I love the image of the person walking and feasting on nature. Sometimes on beautiful fall days, don’t you feel as if there was never a day as beautiful? I love the hyperbolic adjectives such as “barbarous, Rapturous, azurous” and love that they rhyme one in each stanza like a bright crimson thread.

I also love the use of the word stalwart. In fact, it is because of this poem that stalwart became my favorite word. I love the way Christ is described as having the majesty of a stalwart stallion… and that majest is “very-violet-sweet.”

What could that mean? This problem served as a topic of discussion in my classes each autumn. To me, violets represent of course royalty (the color of kings’ robes) and sacrifice (the liturgical color used during advent preparing us for the holy event of Christ’s birth, and during lent and during “confession”. All three events preceed the great gift of Christ to us so that we might be reconciled to him. I can recall my students’ protest now. “Surely the poet didn’t mean all that! He just wrote it.” We can’t prove what he meant, but the meaning is there in the color. The use of imagery invites all the rich associations of that image into the meaning of the poem. So His majesty involves royalty, the grand and incomparable gesture of becoming human so that we might be reconciled to Him, the resulting tragic sacrifice so precious. Stalwart …truly Sweet… poignantly so.

And I, being a gardener also associate violet with the stubborn little plants that refuse to die in the lawn. My husband mows over them and in their tenacity, they grow back the next week. I made the mistake of transplanting some beneath my apple trees. No! With the better soil and the bit of food, they developed roots as big and tangled as a mass of seaweed. Violets are irrepressible, they come back and I think… they suggest the resurrection in this poem.

And of course, I love the illustration of the devoted heart’s passion in the last line.
Another favorite autumn poem, Shakespeare's
Sonnet 73 --
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

What’s not to like? Shakespeare makes us see truth in his metaphor. But my favorite part is the paradox found in lines 9 – 12. I love the idea that living life creates a robust fire that burns life up to leave only the ashes – the rememberance of the warmth, the glow, the beauty. We give our days, our youth and our strength as the stuff or nourishment of life. It’s what we have to give, but doing so uses up our time, our strength our youth.

What are your favorite autumn poems?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


my garden's autumn exuberance

When I was three, I would answer only to “Roy Rogers.” I’m told this went on for many months. I watched the black and white television show with my grandfather and his enthusiasm was contagious. My sense of adventure piqued, my imagination captured, I wanted to ride fast and right injustices.

My son Joe liked to pretend to be The Lone Ranger. He had a red hat and I made him mask after mask (they tended to rip when he flung them off). He loved everything to do with The Lone Ranger, loved the silver guns, loved the little figurines we found for him.

When Joe’s obsession began, I made him a play horse (these were formerly known as hobby horses) by taking an inch thick dowel and attaching a hand drawn, sewn and stuffed horse’s head to it. I made the horse head out of some leftover brown wool
plaid fabric. Plaid? Yes, you see it was the only fabric I had on hand that even approached horse color and I had to get it finished during nap time. When people questioned my choice of fabric, I said he was a “horse of a different color.” I attached button eyes and a felt tongue a yarn mane and made reins out of cording. The idea was that the child would stand astride the dowel, hold the reins and run, pretending to gallop.

the original Joseph Nebbia as The Lone Ranger
Joe had a lot of fun with this, but we eventually got him a full-bodied horse. He loved this, too.
This week, Joe’s sons Joey and Jack came to visit. I heard them on the porch and opened the door. Both boys wore black cowboy hats. Jack took his off immediately and wanted to “play cars.” But Joey informed me that he was “The Lone Ranger.” My heart skipped a beat!
Joey sat on the step leading to the family room and told me all about The Lone Ranger. “He has golden guns, (he meant silver).”
“What’s his horse’s name?”

This generation's Lone Ranger... eating flour-- just plain flour (which he confides he LOVES) while we mixed up dinner's bread dough.
“Silver and he goes really fast on his horse and gets the bad guy.
To this comment, Jack piped up to say, “Mommy at barn.” (I babysit while their mother teaches a class, then rides and takes care of a few horses at a barn near her school). Jack’s eyes were shining with love for his mommy.
Joey thought about this. “Mommy rides horses just like The Lone Ranger. Hey Grannie, want to look for bad guys with me?” Jack laughing at the answering machine.
Joey likes to sneak around the downstairs looking under the table and behind the curtains, but it bores Jack. (I wonder why?) I asked Jack if he wanted to come with us. “No,” says Jack, “have phone?” he asked. “Sure,” I said. What he does is push the answering machine button. When it says, “Not answering calls.” He laughs – a big, free, amused giggle. His laughing makes Joey and I laugh. Jack entertaining The Lone Ranger.

Jack loves to make people laugh and Joey loves to laugh. I predict a lifelong friendship.
Then Val and Clare dropped by. Jack is tender and careful with the baby, and Joey was trembling with excitement. He made a snorting noise and she smiled (yes she’s already smiling and cooing) and so he kept on snorting for a good while. “She likes me!” Joey declared that Clare was “his favorite girl in the whole wide world.” Clare Vienne
After a little bit Karl dropped by! I had prepared Joey for this possibility because seeing his Uncle Karl usually sends Joey into a frenzy of joy. “If Uncle Karl comes over, I want you to try to stay calm,” I advised. Joey started bouncing up and down, “When I see him, I’m going to SCREAM!” That wasn’t what I had in mind, so I said, “No, try saying, “Hi Uncle Karl, I’m the Lone Ranger.” Do you know, Joey tried this approach and then roped Karl into looking for the Lone Ranger’s enemies which he was kind enough to do despite the pile of homework he had pending. After his nap, little Jack took this picture of Uncle Karl. True, I helped him, but still...
I think it is their exuberance, their delight in things little and important that is so completely charming.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good, Good Cookie!

Cookies are my favorite food. Better than pies, better than cake, I like cookies better than anything! I like baking them and munching on them. They are cheerful and homey and come in so many varieties. They're just the perfect size dessert and they are always perfect with my afternoon mug of sweet, milky tea.

a giant cookie mold found in Brussels, Belgium
I love the picture below of a baker's cart we saw this summeron vacation. Obviously handcrafted, it stood on a sidewalk, surrounded by patrons, because it held the most beautiful baked goods! We tried some and they were yummy and fresh.

A baker's cart we saw in Ghent, Brussels this summer.
If I had a baker's cart, I'd fill it with the ginger cookies in the recipe below. It's a family favorite. You've got to try it!

Giant Ginger Cookies
2 ¼ cups flour
2 tablespoons ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
2 tablespoons coarse sugar for rolling the cookies. (I mix granulated sugar with coarse sparkly sugar).
Mix dry ingredients and set aside.
Beat shortening and sugar then add eggs and molasses.
Add dry ingredients and mix until well blended, no more.
Make 2 inch balls; roll these in coarse sugar and place 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with a glass. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes or until crinkly and slightly brown.
Beurre... butter mold from Brussels
Do not substitute butter for these. I know you think they’ll be better, but they won’t. The butter makes them too soft and they don’t “crinkle.” Also note baking soda not baking powder.
My friend Jo-Ann said her mother put fresh grated ginger (about 1 tablespoon)into her Giant Ginger Cookies. You can try that if this way isn’t ginger-y enough for you.

These cookies are simply the best. Not only is the texture homey, but the way they make your house smell is a surpassing joy. They are so good and they go so fast that you’ll want to make a double batch, but I suggest mixing one first, then mixing the second. When I try to double the recipe, it doesn’t mix as well.
Above the gorgeous loaves of bread is an oval pan of brownies! Don't they look rich and wonderful?
Whole Wheat Ginger Cookies
4 ½ cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ginger
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 ½ cup shortening (Crisco)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
½ cup molasses
¾ cup coarse sugar for rolling
Beat shortening, sugar; add eggs one at a time. Add molasses.
Mix all dry ingredients. Add to the egg/sugar mixture and mix well.
Roll into one inch balls and roll each ball in coarse sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
This look suspiciously like a doubled recipe of the non-whole wheat recipe. My daughter in law made this recently and I loved them. They are smaller and don’t taste as sweet- they’d be good for breakfast.

The cookies made from the recipe below were a big hit at Valerie and Andrew’s wedding last year. Those who have tried these know what I'm talking about.
St. Aubert... the patron saint of bakers...! Did you know we bakers have our very own saint? !
Cindy Bauchspies' Ginger Molasses Cookies
¾ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Sugar for rolling the cookies
Cream shortening, gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and molasses. Beat well.
Combine flour, soda, salt ginger and cinnamon in a medium mixing bowl. Add to egg mixture, mixing well.
Shape dough into 1 inch balls and roll in additional sugar. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 7 minutes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Had We World Enough And Time

"We would sit down and think which way/To walk, and pass our long love's day" Andrew Marvell
What should we do with Time? Is Time a giant sleeping underground somewhere? It’s said that God is outside of time which is why to Him “a day is as a thousand years” and vice versa. But I think like the poet Andrew Marvell who said, “at my back I always hear /Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” I like to work and create; I love to make things, bake things, sew things, write impossibly long novels and short stories, make assorted Christmas crafts, grow flowers etc. etc., I fear not finishing. But recently I had a startling thought… What if life is not about getting things done, what if life is about something else?
What if life is about watching?
Or listening?
Or hanging out?
To these kinds of thoughts, I usually respond by snorting, "I'd rather work than sit around doing nothing." Some of you are thinking, "If only! I'd love to just be!"

Clare watching her beautiful Mommy for clues about how to be.
But what I should do with my time is a continual dilemma.
For instance, sometimes I call my elderly aunt. She’s my father’s older sister.
It’s not fun to call her. She’s mean about my mother, with whom she enjoyed a mutually accurate and unkind criticism fest. She’s unkind about my grandparents whose memories I cherish. It bothers me because the people she’s criticizing are all dead, and I think two things… 1. why keep talking about it when you could look at your own faults and humbly forgive people. Then you’d be free of the bitterness and torture…. 2. They’re dead and can’t defend themselves. I usually protest by saying something like “Aunt Pat-”
That’s all I ever get to say. That’s it.
When I talk to my aunt, the phone call lasts about an hour. And typically I say one sentence. One sentence and sometimes, I don’t even get to finish it.
My dear reader must wonder, why call her? I call for a few reasons. First, I didn’t really know her when I was younger, and I thought I’d try to get to know her. She has many good qualities – she collects wisdom the way her husband collected stamps (or was it coins?) – she has the perspective of history, a life-time of hard work and frugality which I find interesting. She loves children and has great compassion for anyone who is poor, a stranger or displaced. So I’m glad I got to know this.
Clare is probably thinking,'You mean there's more to life than mommy, daddy, milk and really cute clothes?'
Then, I thought maybe she would be able to tell me more about my father. My father died when I was fourteen. I remember him, but did I know him? Don't know. I always I long to know more. I quit actually asking her about him because such questions result in a diatribe about my mother or grandmother, but once in a while, when she’s talking about something else, she drops a nugget of gold about him.
She never speaks negatively about my father. From my Aunt Pat, I learned that my father was smart with an IQ measuring 143 (this is probably an exaggeration considering the source). But he was a terrible student. He only studied what interested him and gave the Jesuit priests who were charged with his education a fit.
And when I call her, I feel I am honoring my father. I even wonder (remember I am no theologian) if he could be pleased with this effort. I know that I failed my family, my mother in many ways. This is something I can do. And yet, it’s not really doing anything. I accomplish nothing. I just listen and try like heck not to get real mad. So in the end the only thing I’ve done is listen because I usually slam the phone down and stomp around the house for an hour muttering stuff you don’t want to hear.

I know that we all have to work and that each of us is meant to accomplish things big and little. I have goals that tug at my heart night and day. But the other side of life might be what lasts in the end.
Valerie held Clare's hands and pulled her up to sit. She loved it. They did this for about a half hour.
Today, I hung out with Valerie and Clare. We visited two dear friends. I accomplished nothing, but I loved hearing what my friends had to say. They think about so many interesting things and both of them are not prone to judging people. Such nice lovely thoughts and conversations! I loved watching Val care for her little baby girl. Clare is content to gaze at her mommy and listen when she sings. Maybe those priceless things in life --like listening and loving and getting to know each other-- inspire us to dream and to do.
Clare is already 'vocalizing' as Valerie calls her coos. Glad I didn't miss this.