Road trip- a father’s day tribute

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Since I’m sitting around a lot these days, and since tomorrow is father’s day, I thought I would post another tale from my youth- a slightly lengthy one that encapsulates best many of the things I love about my father. It really should be written down, even though it’s hard to imagine any of us who were part of the story could ever forget it. It’s the story of our last family road trip, before the six of us left the nest.
My oldest sister had already graduated from high school and spent some time abroad. I had just graduated as well, and was preparing for my own sojourn overseas. Dad realized that home life with his all of his daughters was fast coming to a close. So, being a lover of road trips, and always looking for an excuse to head south to his homeland in sunny southern California, he began planning the grand finale of family road trips. This one would not only head south, but also east through the dessert towards Colorado and back home again to Washington state.
We had often borrowed cars for trips to California, since we rarely had a family vehicle we could depend on. But this time, dad splurged. We bought a new van. One that wouldn’t die on the side of the road, as had happened in some of our other memorable family outings. It was a shiny, deep burgundy color, with lots of space inside- a very dependable looking vehicle.

We left for our three week trek in July. Dad’s motto when vacationing has always been “No time for sleep!” So naturally he planned to leave in the evening and drive through the night, so as not to waste a single moment of daylight in driving. We girls were supposed to sleep through the night, but seeing as I never am able to sleep in cars, I spent the night gazing out the back window at the incredible stars high in the mountains as we crossed from Oregon into California. Even though there were now four other licensed drivers in the van, dad insisted on doing all the driving. But despite the loss of a night’s sleep, he made very good time, so that we were well past the border by the time the sun rose and we blearily looked around.

Our goal was to get to our destination in record time. I had made breakfast ahead of time so that we wouldn’t need to stop to eat- a couple of pans of homemade cinnamon rolls that we all munched happily as the sun rose higher. We were making such good time that we anticipated surprising our beloved cousins several hours ahead of schedule. Dad was in his most exuberant mood- full of nervous energy, jokes and old stories, and trying not to exceed the speed limit too much. The sunshine of CA always had this effect on him. It was infectious, and we in the backseats were soon hyperactive as well, laughing uproariously at the slightest joke and full of anticipation.
And then the funny smell began. It started out as an occasional whiff that we ignored for a while. As it grew stronger, one of my sisters piped up with a “Hey daddy, what’s that smell?”
It smelled a little like oil, or maybe like hot tires. We were driving through farmland, and dad thought that maybe it was some kind of new fertilizer they were using on the fields. This reassured us for awhile. But soon the hot tire smell began smelling like a burning tire. I looked out the back window and noticed a thin trail of smoke streaming behind us.

“Ummm, dad?” I began.

Then BANG!

The next few seconds are some that are etched on my memory as if in slow motion. The van launched itself a few feet off the ground, and came back down again with a thud. I watched, horrified, as flames spurted out behind us. I saw a semi bearing down on us, honking it’s horn loudly, as if to notify us that something might be wrong. And then thick black oil covered the entire back windshield. I whirled around to face the front, and there was dad, frantically trying to control our vehicle that was veering from side to side. I remember it being totally silent. Either we didn’t have time for screaming or I was just to shocked to hear it. It seemed an eternity before dad managed to pull the van to the side of the road, but as soon as he hit the brake, the volume seemed to come back up. I will never forget the look on his face or the tone of his voice as he shouted at us to get out of the car. It didn’t take us long.

Expecting the whole van to explode behind us in a fiery ball any second, we all pelted up the grass-covered hill that ran along the side of the freeway. When we had reached a safer distance, we turned to survey the scene. There were still flames burning away underneath the van, but this was still the dark ages, before we had a cell phone. There was no way to notify the fire department. Then I noticed, as I looked down the straight stretch of freeway behind us, a black patch of burnt grass in the distance, perhaps burned by a carelessly thrown cigarette. I saw us sitting in that long, tall, dry grass, while the flames from the van were being blown towards the hill. But before I really started to panic at the thought of the imminent grass fire, a cop pulled up. Dad ran down to talk to him, and he immediately called the fire department. There wasn’t much the cop could do for us, but I do remember his kind and helpful words to the seven females trembling on the side of the road.

“Hey. You ladies should watch out for rattle snakes up there.”

Just what we needed to hear.

Within moments, the first firetruck wailed up, then another. But by that time, the danger had passed. The last of the flames had gone out, the van was still standing and the excitement was over. Then came the tedium of waiting. We weren’t sure what to do next, other than keep an eye out for rattlesnakes. The firemen were bored too. To pass the time, I fetched the other pan of cinnamon rolls. We divvied them up with the firemen, who we noticed were casting hopeful looks in our direction. We couldn’t help some slightly hysterical giggling at the ludicrous situation we now found ourselves in, but seeing dad, pacing up and down the side of the freeway, wringing his hands and looking stressed, we kept quiet.

Eventually a tow truck arrived, and the firemen left. The problem now was how to transport all of us back to civilization since eight was too many to fit in the cab of the tow truck, and it was illegal to ride in a car that was being towed. In the end, the driver decided to flout the law, and told us all to get back in our poor burnt van. In we got, and burst into laughter again as the tow truck hauled us up and we drove to the nearest town at a slightly reclined level.

We spent the afternoon waiting in a small patch of grass outside a car rental place as dad haggled with the the car company to try and get us a replacement vehicle. At long last, he managed to find a big enough van for us, and arranged for our broken van to be towed back home. We transferred all of our things, and dad insisted on taking the wheel again. We all took a look at his haggard, sleep deprived face- the face of a man who had nearly lost his entire family that day. His hair was standing on end, his shoulders were in tight knots, his eyes had a slightly wild look. Mom put her foot down. We gently guided his protesting self to the passenger side of the van. One of us started massaging his neck, another reclined his seat for him, and he was asleep almost as soon as mom pulled back onto the highway.

We eventually made it to our destination, and by that time, dad had revived enough to tell our story with a laugh. For once in his life, there was no need to add any dramatic flourishes. He retold it again and again as we reunited at the beach with his family, met up with friends for a few luxurious days in Santa Cruz, passed through Las Vegas, and made our way to Lake Powell, Utah, where we spent a glorious weekend on a house boat with more relatives.
By the time we reached Colorado, and made our way up to visit our pastor and his family at their vacation home in the mountains, I could tell it was going to become the stuff of family legend. He had even given our ill-fated van a name- “the eight- slice toaster.”

It may not have ended up being the perfect trip he had planned, and the financial and legal hassle over the car that awaited us when we got home would take several months to sort out, but it was still one of the best times we ever had with dad. His love of life, of family, of adventure, his ability to see the humorous side of things, even his vacation motto “no time for sleep” which sometimes left us exhausted, are all things that endear him to us.
And, of course, his love of a good story. This one’s for you, dad.

Planting Time

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We planted corn in our garden this afternoon.  Since we moved to the south, I don’t usually plant corn in the garden because bugs seem to enjoy it more than we do. But the boys begged to plant some this year and I was feeling sentimental, so I went ahead.  

“Why would you feel sentimental about planting corn?” you might ask.  

Well, for the same reason that listening to Paul Simon,  making fresh salsa, eating huge bowls of ice cream and laying out in the sun for way too long makes me feel sentimental.  Because of my dad.

My dad taught all of his daughters how to plant corn.  The majority of our childhood gardens were devoted to corn, since it seemed to grow so well in my home state. I have so many fond memories of preparing the ground with a rented rototiller, and racing my sisters down the long rows with hands full of seed to see who could plant the most.  Dad taught us about fertilizing with ‘chicken shit’- the only time it was permissible to use that word. He taught us about, weeding, watering, thinning the rows and pulling the ‘suckers’  off when they started to get bigger.  If we wanted to go to summer camp, we had to weed so many rows per week. And if the corn wasn’t “knee high by the fourth of July” we would begin to worry. But we always seemed to have a good harvest either way.

I always seem to think a lot about dad at this time of year, and I realize more and more that it is because he always seems to come alive when the weather grows warm.  Summer and dad go together hand in hand. He is a California boy, transplanted to the gray and rainy Pacific northwest and I know the winters there are always hard on him.  I think of him even more now as his memory fails him, and he begins to fade from this life.  I shed tears when a song comes on that I know he loves, or even when I see that tiny little golden kernel of corn in my hand.  I get panicky that I will start to forget all the good memories of my dad, and so I rush to the computer to write things down.  So don’t mind me if I get a little rambly as I wander down memory lane.

When I was sixteen, there was a bit of a crisis in my family.  My dad was experiencing incredible strain and stress at work- so much so that we were praying for a new job for him.  Things got worse and worse as we progressed through one of the rainiest winters of my childhood, (which is saying something,) and it felt like we hadn’t seen the sun in weeks. (which we probably hadn’t.)   My mom was working full time as well, trying to help keep all six of us in private school. We as a family, also worked as the janitors for our high school to try and keep tuition down.  If dad lost his job, we weren’t sure what we would do.  The days of that winter seemed particularly long, cold, rainy and dark- off to school before sunrise, so mom could get to work on time. And since the sun set around 4 PM, it was usually dark when we got home and threw some dinner together. Then it was studying ’til bed time and do the whole thing again the next day.

The aura of stress around dad that winter was so palpable that when he finally quit his job, we were relieved for his sake.  But then came the hunt for a knew job- the indeterminate amount of time where dad was without a pay check and things were very uncertain.  My mother never worried out loud, but we all new things were tough.  And then we got in a car wreck on the way home from school one night. (it was dark and rainy, if you can believe it)  None of us were hurt, but our damaged car and an injury to the other party added to the strain.   I distinctly remember that it was the first time I really began to feel how heavy a thing life can be.

But it was a good time too.  There seemed to be an understanding between us girls that we should all be on our best behavior and make as light of things as we could.  One afternoon, we got home from school and since we knew mom and dad would be home late, we decided to try and come up with something good for dinner.  To our dismay- there was next to nothing to eat in the house.  It had been a long time since dad had been paid.  But instead of despairing, we all got the giggles and started reaching into the dustiest corners of the cupboards and hunting in the long forgotten recesses of the freezer.  When mom and dad got home, the table was covered by many small sauce pans and skillets, all containing the oddest variety of warmed up canned goods and freezer burned vegetables. It was such a pathetic, and somewhat disgusting dinner that we all just laughed and laughed and carried on.

Dad had had several interviews, but nothing that seemed like a good fit, except for one job- and he was sure he would never get it.  It was a position as a manager of a private business club very close to home.  It was such a good position, and paid so much more than he had ever been paid, that he wouldn’t let himself hope.

“There were several other men applying who had much better credentials”, he would say, as if he didn’t really care.  
But we all knew he really wanted that job, and we prayed hard for it. He went in for a second interview, and a third, and in the end, he got the job. Perhaps he didn’t have the best resume, but I am convinced to this day that he got the job based mostly on his vibrantly wonderful personality.  No one can help loving dad.

The good thing about hard times is that they make even the little things of life so much better.  I’ll never forget the joy of seeing my smiling mother stumbling through the kitchen door, arms overloaded with groceries, after dad got his first paycheck. Had there ever been such joy over a full fridge?  And that year, the new job and the new prosperity combined beautifully with the Spring.  The rain stopped, the sun shone and for Easter that year, we got to do something we had never done before.  Instead of homemade or hand me down dresses, we all went to the mall to buy a new Easter dress.   All of us, not just dad, seemed to come alive again that spring.

And soon it was time to plant corn again.  But dad was busy settling into a new job.  He didn’t think he would be able to plant a garden that year.  We sisters were disappointed at first, but I think we had all learned a little something about stepping up to the plate through that long winter.  We talked about doing it ourselves. Hadn’t dad shown us how? But when I pointed out that we couldn’t rent a rototiller, my oldest sister (whom I have always admired for her strength) simply grabbed a shovel and started tilling the garden by hand.  Inspired by her determination, we all jumped in and did what we could.  We dug the rows, we spread the ‘chicken shit’, we dropped the little golden kernels, covered them up and watered them.

And when dad got home that night with a smile on his face (when had he last come home from work smiling?) we got to show him what we had done.
It is a sweet memory, and it was a time of life lessons only beginning to be learned. Not only the lesson of learning how to plant a garden, but seeing for myself that-
“Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
And
“Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth and the time of singing has come.”

We have had many nights of weeping since then, and many long winters. But every spring since then, if possible, I have tried to plant a garden.  Not just for the sake of memories, but for the lesson I need to learn new every year. And even now in this season, when I am too pregnant to wield a shovel, my heart swells to see my own children learning- digging the soil for me and handing me the seeds.

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too

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I know, that may seem like an odd title for a recipe post, but for some reason, a lot of my cooking memories go back to my dad. (which is really unfair since my mom did the bulk of all the cooking for us growing up.)  Maybe because every time he did cook, it was such an event and he turned up the music really loud and he used every dish in the house. (which my mom always had to clean up after).  And then he would come up with funny little sayings that soon became household quotes like,

“Mmm, butter. The other white meat.”

My dad also read a lot of Shel Silverstein to us when we were little.  (bear with me, this story is going to come together eventually – I think) One of my favorites was-

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too
Went for a ride in a flying shoe.
“Hooray!”
“What fun!”
“It’s time we flew!”
Said Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

Ickle was captain, and Pickle was crew
And Tickle served coffee and mulligan stew
As higher
And higher
And higher they flew,
Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

That’s part of it, anyways.  The important thing to note is the fact that ‘Tickle served coffee and mulligan stew’.  I always wondered what mulligan stew was, and then one day, my dad announced that he was going to make it.  At least that’s what I thought he said he was making, and for many years I thought one of our family’s favorite soups was the famed mulligan stew of the flying shoe.  Turns out, traditionally, mulligan stew is a hobo dish comprised of whatever ingredients can be found on hand and cooked over a fire in an old coffee can.  What my dad really made that day was Mulligatawny, an Anglo-Indian curry flavored soup,  but I still can’t separate the soup from the poem.  So there you are.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s make some soup! It’s cold out there!

Here’s what you need-

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You have your basics like Onion, Celery, and Carrots. That iffy looking pile in the front is shredded chicken, and the pitcher is homemade chicken broth (store bought works fine).  We also have cream, rice, curry powder and a little surprise ingredient- an apple.  Oh and of course butter- the other white meat.

Start melting the butter in a big pot. I only used half the stick here. Pay no attention to the state of my dutch oven.  It is not dirty- it is simply well loved. DSCF1042

While that is melting, roughly chop up your veggies, and toss them in.

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BTW, did you know the French call this combo of veggies a mirepoix? I have also heard it called the holy trinity of French cooking.  I don’t know what you call it when you add an apple. Anyways…

Let your veggies soften at medium heat while you peel and dice your apple.

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Once your veggies are soft, toss in the diced apple and about a tablespoon of curry powder.

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Stir all that up and then pour in enough broth to generously cover the veggies and apple.

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Look, the apples float!  Turn up your heat and get things boiling.  Then to thicken it all up, you need to add either two cups of precooked rice (a great way to use up leftover rice) or one cup of raw.

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Then we add our seasonings.  A good tablespoon of salt, lots of pepper and a bit of dried thyme if you have it.

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I usually let the rice cook all the way before I add the chicken, so it doesn’t get overcooked.  Once the rice is cooked, you may need to add more broth, depending on how thick you like your soup.  Then just add your chicken and a hefty splash of cream.  Coconut milk is also very nice in this dish, but I didn’t have any on hand.DSCF1056

Then just stir it up, adjusting your seasonings as you go!

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Hope you enjoy, whether flying in a shoe or sitting at home.  And stay warm!

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

One of the things that saddens me about living so far from where I grew up is the fact that I can’t share experiences with my children that made my own childhood special. They don’t know what it is like to always live near grandma and grandpa, to have access to a wealth of playmate cousins, to be surrounded by the astounding beauties of this part of the country. I am reasonable enough to know that even if I could recreate my own childhood for my children, it wouldn’t be the same. (They are all boys, for one. They are bound to see things differently.) Nor can I deny that there are things about where we live now that I prefer to my homeland. Nonetheless, when offered the chance this vacation for a short getaway to a favorite childhood haunt, I jumped at it. I couldn’t wait for my kids to experience Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Go ahead and snicker. That’s really what we call it.)

Uncle Tom married into our very large family when I was about 8. He brought to the family things that we had never known- a speed boat and jet skis, a beautiful waterfront home where we celebrated 4th of July, and best of all, a quiet cabin on a nearby island. We spent a lot of time there as children, exploring the Puget Sound, discovering the wonders of phosphorescence on midnight boat trips, collecting shells and learning to ignore the slimy rocks and the biting cold of the water in our determination to swim.
And when we were older, it became a tradition to spend a few days there to de-stress after a big wedding. Thankfully the tradition still holds.

I was so excited for my boys to have their first ferry ride.

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I was also excited that the forecast was for a sunny weekend. To my dismay, it was cool and cloudy when we got on the boat. But as we drove off the ferry, shafts of sunlight were making their way through. When we turned down the last hill towards the coast, the last of the clouds had disappeared.
Anyone who has ever lived in the PNW knows how exciting a thing sunshine can be. For the kids, it meant jumping out of the vans and heading straight to the beach for shells and wading and boat rides, no matter that it was January.

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For dad, it meant finding a chair and promptly falling asleep.DSCF0517

And for the rest of us, it meant long hours of sitting and pondering the light on the waves,

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seeking adventure in the ubiquitous tangles of driftwood,

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and hiking nearby hills for the view.

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But best of all, it meant someone decided to show off.

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Despite a late night of sitting around the fire roasting s’mores and stargazing, I set my alarm early the first morning, determined not to miss the sunrise, and to catch some quiet moments before eleven children came tumbling down from the upstairs loft.

As I came through the living room, I was astonished by how beautiful the scene was. I couldn’t believe that a place could be more beautiful than my sometimes exaggerated childhood memories.

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But what really brought the tears to my eyes was the sight of my first born, in his pajamas, standing on the steps leading down to the water, completely entranced.

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I gave him a moment, then quietly went out to join him, and we shared the experience.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake Cake

I’ve always loved the concept of brunch. It speaks of having the freedom to get up late, fix a leisurely meal, and take so long eating it that you run into lunch time. It speaks of holidays, vacations and quiet Sundays. And for me, it also speaks of my dad. My dad worked in the restaurant industry for most of his adult life, and sometimes, particularly during the busy holidays of mother’s day or Easter, he would have to work on a Sunday.
There was one restaurant in particular that had him working more often on Sundays. But when he did, that meant we got to join him at his restaurant after church for Sunday brunch. It was a very fancy restaurant called the Rose Room, and it was located on the top floor of one of the nicest hotels downtown. As a little girl, I remember the enormous feeling of importance I would get as we entered the elevator and fought over who got to punch the button for the top floor. And then we would step out into the lobby of the restaurant, which was all decorated in soft rosy pinks and sparkling crystal.
We were always made much of when we came. Six little girls in their sunday best trooping behind their mother was always a sight to see, and heads would turn as we found our way across the room to our table. Dad would come out, beaming with pride, and introduce us to some of his regular diners. He would pick up his baby and show her off as he visited different tables, and then, we were allowed to order our drinks. This was always an exciting thing, even though we invariably ordered the same drink every time- a Shirley Temple with a maraschino cherry on top.
On one memorable Sunday, before we even had a chance to order, six waiters, dressed in their crisp black tuxedos, came gracefully out of the kitchen doors, each bearing a tray held conspicuously high, with a single Shirley Temple in the center of each tray. They took a long time to reach us, winding their way through all the tables in a dignified parade, dipping and tilting their trays without spilling a single drop and drawing every eye in the room. They finally delivering our drinks individually with a bow and a flourish. We were delighted.
Then we would take our plates and move through the buffet line, skipping the cold salmon and caviar and moving on to the fruit and pastries. What can I say, my eight year old palate was not so well developed as it is now. But those were good memories, and I try to find an excuse for brunch whenever I can.
Thanksgiving works fairly well, since we don’t usually sit down until 2 or 3, but it is such a busy cooking day, that a simpler brunch is sometimes called for. I used to make the french toast casserole that can be made the night before and thrown in the oven in the morning. But then I found a recipe for blueberry pancakes that you bake in a casserole and I was intrigued. I tweaked it here and there and it quickly became a family favorite, and so, without further ado- Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake Cake.

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Let’s start with our blueberries. You will need two or three cups of fresh or frozen blueberries. Toss them with 1/4 cup of sugar.

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Then mash them slightly, just until they get a little juicy. Set them aside

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This next step is not necessary, but it makes the dish oh so special. Get a lemon and a grater or zester.

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Zest the whole rind and mix it with another 1/4 cup of sugar.

20131127-230234.jpgThe oils in the rind mix with the sugar and will make a crunchy, lemony topping. Set this aside.

While you make the pancake, get your butter melting. Turn your oven to 350 and throw about six Tablespoons of butter into a 9×13 pan. Put this in the oven. You want your pan hot and your butter sizzling by the time the batter is ready.

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The cake itself is incredibly easy. Just
2 cups of flour (I used one cup of all purpose and I cup of whole wheat here)
1 Tablespoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt.

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To the dry ingredients, add
2 cups of buttermilk

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And 10 Tablespoons of melted butter.

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Thats it. Just mix until smooth.
Your pan should be ready by now, so pull it out.

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Pour your “pancake” batter into the hot pan. The melted butter will pool up around the edges, which makes the edges of this dish something we all fight over.

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Now grab your reserved blueberries and spread them over the top of the batter.

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And then, if you didn’t skip this step, sprinkle the lemon sugar on top.

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Bake this for 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges are a deep brown, and it is no longer jiggly in the middle. Oh, and it should smell pretty fabulous too.

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See the crispy, buttery edges. Man, that stuff is good.

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Serve yourself a generous plateful, and enjoy your leisure time. Or rush to pop your turkey in the oven as the case may be.

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Happy brunching, and Happy Thanksgiving!

To sing or not to sing

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I’ve been told that a blog needs a focus- a mission statement, a raison d’etre if you will. As I look through the thirty or so posts I have put up here, I am laughing at how totally random this blog is becoming. Clothes and dolls and cooking and childhood memoirs- it’s all a hodge-podge without much aim. But it’s a pretty good picture of my life. I’ve always been a multi-tasker, so my blog should be too, right? Can I add one more thing to the mix?

It’s just that it seems strange to try and share the ways that God has worked in my life without mentioning music. I am a musician- a singer to be more precise. Yep, really. I have a piece of paper and the student loans I am still paying off too prove it.  But it’s not just a piece of paper. I was born into a rich heritage of singing. My mother and all of her sisters and most of my female cousins were and are strong alto singers. You should hear one of our family reunion hymn sings- so much harmony, very little melody. My father grew up with three sisters who used to travel and sing together and they could raise the roof off a church when they got going. .

I learned piano from my grandma, had music class at school, and I sang alto, and even tenor in school and church choir. I loved piano and worked hard to excel, but my fingers just wouldn’t do what I told them to do. When it came time for college, I thought about studying piano, but was afraid it would simply be too frustrating. Then a friend suggested I study singing. I thought it was a funny idea- to study singing.  I already knew how to do that- there would be nothing to learn, right? So I signed up for singing lessons as an easy option.

When I auditioned for college choral, I proudly wrote down my singing range as alto 2/ tenor 1. I sang a nice alto solo and showed off my impressive part reading on a few hymns. My teacher then asked me to sing the tenor part an octave higher, which I did, straining for the higher notes as I went.  When I finished, he simply said,  “Ah, that’s what I thought,”  and put me down on the roster. There was just one problem. He put me down as soprano 1.

Through the next four years I fought that designation as I struggled to stretch my range. I thought it was absurd. I was an alto. My teacher had clearly never been to one of my family hymn sings! But he persevered in asserting that there was a soprano buried deep in there.

I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a soprano. Soprano’s were warbly and shrieky, and, well, prima donna-y.  They sang opera and wore helmets with horns on them and they were showoffs.  I didn’t want to be classed with that type of person.  I was raised to play a supporting role- to be a strong and unseen foundation, not a diva.  But there was no denying my love of singing, and I slowly grew more comfortable with the high notes.  There were discouragements along the way, like the day I was practicing and a guy knocked on the door of my practice room.  He asked me why I made my voice all wavy like that. Embarrassed,  I asked him if he meant my vibrato. He said, “Yeah, that.  I don’t like it. Can you do something about it?”  and walked away.  I mean, sheesh!

Then I had a terrible misunderstanding with another teacher when I got lost on the way to a concert in which I had a big solo to sing. I never made it to the concert, and in the aftermath of that mistake he intimated that I was the most stuck up prima donna he had ever met and threatened to fail me.  I was crushed and I almost left the music department.  No matter how much I tried to the contrary, I was going to be branded as the self-absorbed diva.  I didn’t know how to reconcile the humility God demands of his children with my love of standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people and singing.

After college, I really struggled with decisions.  I was already married at that point, and I couldn’t figure out if I should continue on for my masters and teach,  pursue a career in opera, or give it all up and start a family.   Or maybe I should just be content to play a humble role in a struggling church choir somewhere.  But I had my diploma in hand and I figured I couldn’t just give up like that, so I started hunting around for auditions.

The first one I found looked really fun.  It was a local production of the Sound of Music.  I had been mimicking Julie Andrews since I was yay high, and maybe here was my chance!  I got to the auditions, but much to my chagrin, I realized that all the lead roles had already been cast.  I was told by a very snooty Mother Superior that I could play nun # 972 if they could find enough habits.  I wasn’t willing to spend all that time in a production if I wouldn’t even get to sing “How do you solve a problem like Maria” so I tried for option 2.

A small local opera house was putting on Madame Butterfly.  The main lead was already cast, but I thought I might have a shot at one of the minor roles.  Ah naive child that I was!  I dressed nicely in slacks and a blouse, grabbed my folder of music and headed to the audition.  I got there early, so I was able to realize my folly to its fullest extent as I watched each subsequent soprano come through the doors in satin and sequins and fake jewels, followed by a harassed looking agent in a black suit, carrying her portfolio full of glamour shots and talking rapidly on a cell phone.  I wanted to sink through the floor.  When they called my name, I could feel all of those false-eyelashed and scornful eyes burning into the back of my Target clearance-rack blouse as I walked past.  I was nervous as all get out, but once I started singing, things went a little better.   Even so, as the song ended, and before the judges started talking, I knew the answer would be no.   More importantly, I wanted the answer to be no.  I thanked them for their time, sneaked out the back door and laughed at myself all the way home.

I decided for the time being to find a struggling little church choir, or maybe teaching wouldn’t so bad.  And hey, at the very least I could now sing the melody at family reunion!

Rewrite

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I can’t think of a story to write for tonight, so this is a random hodgepodge of stories about stories I wrote when I was younger.  I know, writing about things I have already written is kind of lame, but perhaps it will help budge a stubborn writers block.

I was once given a writing assignment. I was in third grade.  We were supposed to pick a well known fairy tale and rewrite it in a new and original way.  The other girls chose Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and such tales right away and I was left with Rumplestiltskin.  It was not a favorite story of mine, but an assignment was an assignment.

I was really stumped.  I racked my brain for a way to change the story, but the original was stuck in my head.  So I thought, maybe if I changed the name it would help.  I thought and thought about the name Rumplestiltskin- Rumple- stilt- skin.   Rumple only brought to mind the word pimple, and the word skin was at the end, so I went from there.  The basic story was exactly the same, but instead of having three tries to guess his name, the princess had three chances to guess what bumps covered the little man’s body.  After guessing boils and chicken pox and warts, she finally figured it out by the simple expediency of taking a closer look at him. Instead of dying by getting his foot stuck in the floor in a rage and tearing his body in half  (which I always thought rather gruesome) I had him fly away and get hit by an airplane.

I remember this story, not because of it’s brilliant writing, but because of the reaction my teacher had when I turned it in.  She read each story aloud to the class, but when she came to mine and read the title, Pimplestiltskin she totally lost it.  She started laughing, and laughing and then really laughing.  I am talking gasping and wheezing and holding on to the back of her chair for support, while wiping her eyes, laughing.  I don’t know if she even made it to the end.  The class was staring at her and at me in total confusion.  I was confused too because I was dead serious when I wrote that story.   It took me a while to figure out what the joke was.

I took the same idea a few years later and wrote a fairy tale for everyone in my family, putting them in the place of the hero or heroine.  One sister was The Little Mermaid, another the Princess and the Pea, but I think my favorite was the one I wrote for my mom. It was called “Snow White and the Six Dwarfettes (plus one big dwarf)”  I mean, is that a great title or what? You don’t even need to hear the rest.

I even occasionally did some editing work.  My younger sister and her friends once decided to write a story.  I can’t remember the name of it, but it was an ironical look at cheap, overly dramatic, soap opera-ish plots and everyone seemed to die a horrible, jealousy induced death in the end.  It was great reading and I undertook to edit a bit and type it up while they worked on the rather morbid drawings.  I wonder whatever happened to that book.  And I wonder why we were so weird as children.

In high school I actually wrote a small novel.  Well, it was sixty pages anyway. Does that count as a novel? It was the thrilling tale of the best week I ever spent at summer camp.   The climax of the story was the last night of camp. Skit night.  My friend and I had written the plot for a “Spontaneous Melodrama.” Did you ever participate in one of those?  Where the narrator picks the actors from the audience and then reads the story and they have to act it out?  Well anyway, our cabin won the prize for the best skit that night, beating out the rival boys cabin who had won the previous three years.

As we walked back to our cabin in triumph after the evening’s festivities, rubbing it hard in the faces of those rival boys (whom we never flirted with, by the way) we heard a scream.  The door of our cabin was open, and one of my friends was standing there pointing.  I walked into the dark room and stepped on something.  It crunched and squished simultaneously.  As my eyes adjusted, I noticed that the floor was moving- crawling- slithering.  Someone turned on the light and we all screamed.  It must have taken many someones the entire week to collect so many frogs and snakes.  Enough frogs and snakes to cover the entire floor.  And we knew just who had done it.

But before we could point any fingers, the story took a turn just like out of one of my sister’s overly dramatic tales.  One of the girls started freaking out, started hyperventilating, and then collapsed on the ground.  Her best friend was yelling about her weak heart condition and needing to find her meds.  Panic ensued.  There were snakes and frogs and fainting girls.  The head counselor was called for.  They carried the girl away, but we were in the middle of the Montana wilderness, and a hospital was no where near.

There was a rumor that a helicopter had been called for.  We were told to stay in our cabins, but our counselors were all at the scene of the drama, so we couldn’t stay put.  People started sneaking out by twos and threes through the woods.  Before long we could follow the sound of the chopper to the baseball field.  The entire perimeter of the field was soon filled with campers hiding in the bushes, watching the excitement as the helicopter landed and the loaded the girl inside.

Once she was safely away, we made our way back.  But there was still the problem of the critter infestation.  The boys freely admitted to the collecting and depositing of over three hundred little lake frogs and fifteen snakes into our cabin.  (They said it was fifteen, I only ever saw four) They weren’t about to let anyone else take credit for the best prank in camp history.  The boys were given brooms and told to start sweeping.  We were told to collect our bedding and take the boys cabin for the night, which we did with many promises of retribution to come.

It took a long time to settle down that night, and we were awake with the dawn, still chattering away about the events of the night before when out of the depths of one of the bunks we heard a low pitched and groggy,

Shut Up and go back to sleep.

We did shut up, but we didn’t go back to sleep.  The voice sounded strangely masculine.  The rising sun came in through the window, revealing a boy’s face peeping confusedly out of his sleeping bag at a gaggle of giggling girls, crowding around to get a better look.  He sat up quickly, and we all started firing questions, laughing fit to kill at the poor guy who had apparently been out a little too late the night before and had missed the memo about switching cabins.  He was doubly mortified because he didn’t have much on in the way of pajamas and had to do a humiliating bunny hop in his sleeping bag down the length of the cabin, out the door and up the hill.  We may or may not have taken pictures of him.   Ahh, revenge is sweet.

Well folks, there’s some stories about stories.  Maybe I’ll have something a little fresher tomorrow.  Or maybe I’ll just post a recipe.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

It’s been a frustrating morning. Technology is against me, children are hanging on my neck and high spirits are flagging. I’m searching for the inspiration I have had lately, and worry that it’s gone- that all the work I have put into the last few months will be swallowed up in the endless round of dishes and laundry. And it’s storming outside. Again. It’s one of those days where memory is a spiritual duty- where I have to force myself to recall those other times where God has provided the patience, the endurance, and the daily bread. That He cares about the big and the little, like when the milk is spilled for the eighth time this week, or the uncertainty about our financial future. I have forgotten to remember too many times.
I was seven or eight when my parents bought their first house. It was cute and cozy and just big enough for eight people. But the kitchen was totally insufficient. There was a tiny alcove where the stove, sink and fridge were crowded, and in between the kitchen door and the back door was space for one very small round table. My dad worked nights so we rarely ate dinner with him, but when he was home for Sunday lunch, he and mom would have to eat in the living room while the six girls crammed around the kitchen table.
It wasn’t long before they were talking about an addition to the back of the house. I was too little to remember how all the decisions were arrived at, but I remember when they started tearing up the back yard and laying a foundation for a new kitchen.
It was an exciting time, with lots of workers coming and going (mostly my uncles, if I recall) and visible progress being made every day when we got home from school. I remember the excitement, but I also remember the background conversations between my parents about the cost of materials, the unexpected expenses, the wondering if we could finish it. I remember mom praying that God would provide the funds. I began to worry that we would have that big gaping hole in the back of the house forever, and wouldn’t it be cold in the winter? How were we ever going to find the hundred dollars or so we would need to finish it? (that was about as large a sum of money as I could comprehend at the time).
My dad worked as a restaurant manager, and every year the local restaurant supply company held a big golf tournament. I was proud of dad, because I knew he was a good golfer. Every year he came home with a prize. One year it was a blender, the next a set of enormous beer glasses that we had no room to store. But they were prizes, and dad had won them! I wondered what he was going to bring home that particular year. Maybe a waffle iron?
As the story goes, Mom answered a phone call that afternoon, and could hardly hear Dad because of the noise in the background. It sounded like a raucous party, and mom couldn’t figure out what he was saying. Finally she heard him say, “Hey honey, I just won 5,000 dollars at the golf tournament.” The room behind him exploded into laughter. It sounded like a bar. He was at a bar. Then he said, “Sorry honey, just kidding, I just won 10,000 dollars.” More laughter in the background caused mom to say in disgust, ‘Oh John, you’re drunk!” But he wasn’t. Well, maybe just a little.
When mom picked us up from school that day, there was a crowd of excited people around our beat up old van. Someone was laughing and pinning a homemade badge onto my mom’s sweater that said “Rich man’s wife.” We soon found out that there had been one particular green at the golf course that day that had a prize attached to it. And it wasn’t a waffle iron. If anyone hit a hole-in-one at that green, they would get 10 grand. And my daddy had done it. Such fame and wealth was too much for me to comprehend! We could finish the addition, and we were rich for life! It was years before I found out that the 10,000 had quickly disappeared into the new kitchen, and that we weren’t in fact, rich for life. But the kitchen was a grand thing- spacious and full of light- where we spent many happy meals with all of us fitting around one table with room to spare. God hasn’t always answered our prayers in such a dramatic fashion, but I began then to learn that not a sparrow falls from it’s nest, nor a golf ball into a hole, without the will of our Father in heaven.

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