Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Alien Invasion

Today I threw away what is hopefully the last of the silly bands that began invading our house about 5 years ago.  It was right about this most wonderful time of year too, and I have to say that I was an accomplice in the crime.  I stood in line debating which pack of silly bands would be just right for each one of my children.  I was teaching in the classroom at the time and "the word" on the streets was that this was the hot toy for the year.  Every kid had to have at least one pack.  And so began the breaking and entering of the silly bands, for which I gladly held the door open.  It has been a long battle.  We moved once and were hoping to have completely rid ourselves of the invaders at that time, but apparently a few escaped us and quietly crept right into the new house.  I think I can finally put my feet up and say that I have won the battle and all silly bands are now where they rightly belong - in the trash. 

The funny thing is, when the kids found them in their stockings all those years ago, they looked at me and said, "But what ARE they?" hoping they would do some little trick or make some kind of noise.  They didn't perform.  "They are just like rubber bands, see?"  Yes, they were just rubber bands.  That's all.  Nothing more.  You can use them to do... well, I'm not really sure.  Hold papers?  Tie things together?  What kid needs silly bands - I don't know. 

But that's the thing about shopping for presents.  We think we've found the perfect gift - the hot item and we forget to ask, "What is it?"  Last night I stopped at a store to pick up something little for my daughter's birthday.  All the holiday presents and 'gifts' are displayed oh-so-prettily and yet I had to do a double take on a few things to try to figure out what they were.  "Oh, that's to display your  holiday cards in the reindeer's antlers!" said a voice behind me, obviously so proud that she had figured out what it was before I had.  Look, I'm pretty sure I know how to figure stuff out and I am pretty sure that this is one thing I definitely do not need nor do I need to waste the time trying to figure out what it is! 

There are other things that have invaded our house over the years, McDonald toys, cereal box toys, legos that will be here after the apocalypse, and thousands of other stocking stuffers that I feverishly gathered in an effort to have stuffed stockings filled to the brim with the hot toys for my kids.  But my kids are not the only ones who suffered as victims of this crime.  Me too.  I have more junk (like balls wrapped in twine  and 'decorative' bowls) than I care to mention.  What was I thinking?  I looked through a very fancy trendy store on my shopping spree the other night, and this is what I saw:  a Decorative Horse Head for over $100, or how about an oversized painted clock face, with no clock, for almost $200.  Please, "What is it?"  What does it do?  How does it help me?  The simple answer:  it doesn't.  In about five years, when the trend dies down, I'll be throwing it in the trash, or worse, 50 years from now, my kids will be burying me and saying "What is this thing and why did mom have a clock that never worked hanging on the wall?  THAT was the root of her problem! No wonder she was never on time!"   

So this year, for Christmas , I'm not going to open myself up to an alien invasion.  Anything that comes in has to be recognizable, familiar, and useful.  Something to wear, something to read, something to play.  I found this really cute sample list on Pinterest:
Printable Christmas list

I doubt that silly bands would make it to the "I'd really love" line. 

Today is giving Tuesday.  It's to make us aware of others this holiday who are truly in need.  It's not Christmas when we go on consumer binges.  Instead of stuffing stockings with FTH, future trash heap items, I can find a better use of my time and my money - like sending it to Hurricane Sandy victims.   Maybe then I can call it Christmas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Where is the Green Jeep?

Mem Fox has this incredible book called Where is the Green Sheep?  It is one of my favorite read alouds for little kids and I still laugh every time I read it.   The phrase has to be said with a lot of emphasis too, "BUT Whhheeerree is the GGRREEENnnn sheep?" It is so fun to say.  I heard Lester Leminack talk about the book once, and with his slow Southern drawl and dramatic flair, he added another whole dimension to the reading.  I highly recommend it.

The phrase has been echoing in my head lately.  You see, my brother drove a green jeep.  Not for long.  He had a white jeep that got wrecked and he quickly was able to find an old green jeep to replace it.  It was the perfect vehicle for him.  Big enough to carry his junk.  Cool enough to still be cool.  Old enough to look responsible.  Fun enough to go on ski  snowboard trips and camping trips.  He drove it to the shore.  He drove it to my house.  When I visited my mom, I would know he was around if I saw his Green Jeep.  I identified him that way.

After his death a weird thing happened.  I saw Green Jeeps everywhere.  It was weird.  One morning I was driving to work through Camden and I turned a corner and saw a Green Jeep parked in front of a little house. Now this is not exactly the kind of place you think you'll run into someone, but I thought, "Oh, my God, here he is.  He is in Camden, and we just couldn't find him!  I'll just go in this house and get him and it will all be ok."  Of course you might think I am crazy and I thought I was too.  It was just an instantaneous reaction to seeing that car, that Green Jeep.  Where is the Green Jeep?  Here it is.  It was just hiding all along.  For some reason I was still looking for him.

And my brother - he was just playing a game with us the way he used to when we were little.  You know, one time when I was babysitting, he told me he was running away.  I was frantic trying to figure out how to tell my mother that he had run away.  Really, how do you explain that when you are in charge and babysitting and the oldest?  I was a wreck about it.  I begged him not to go.  I begged and begged but he left and we couldn't find him.  But as soon as my mother pulled into the driveway, here comes Austin walking down the street as if nothing had happened.  He was hiding behind the mailbox at the corner THE WHOLE TIME.  He drove me crazy!

So when I saw the Green Jeep - well.  I did quickly snap out of it, but honestly, it happened a few times more before I was able to process it better.   "Oh, look I found him.  He's in Mt. Laurel, driving on 295."  I know it sounds crazy, and it is.  But it is also pretty funny.  I know logically that my emotional brain is blocking my cognitive brain from properly processing and all that but for that split of an instant I actually Believed.  Now I still see Green Jeeps everywhere.  Everywhere.  I see them going to the store, driving in California, I see the same Green Jeep in Camden each time I'm in that neighborhood.  Every time I see one I'm reminded that my brother is around.  He is just hiding from view but his spirit is there.  He is with me when I need him, and especially in Camden.  I just have to keep Believing.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Eat, Pray, Suffer, Love

When the book, Eat, Pray, Love came out a few years ago, there was much controversy on the authenticity of the author's experience.  Some people loved it, some people hated it.  Some found it phony.  I read it and I saw the movie.  I don't think I loved it or hated it.  It was just one person's experience and it had something to teach.  It resonated with me for reasons I can't remember now.   But I think it may have been because I could identify with her suffering, her searching.

Why is it that with love comes suffering?  We love someone, we paint a picture of a future together where every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every summer that person is part of the picture.  We build hopes and dreams of a future.  We invest in a life together, a relationship that is strong and steady, supportive and nurturing, or at least can sustain the winds of turmoil that creep into all our lives.  Then something happens and that picture is no longer complete. We try and try to color in the space where they once were.  We look for things that will take their place but it is impossible.  And so, without, we suffer. 

I am trying to let go.  Trying to find a new picture that will include just what it needs and still be a good picture.  But letting go is a suffering in itself.  Grace is the only thing that can fill that space.
So, we pray.  We are praying for grace to face a future that seems hazy.  We pray for peace in our hearts and our lives.

And then we Eat.  In the times when we can do nothing else, we eat.  I am so torn about Thanksgiving this year - a holiday I remember spending always with my brother.  But I also remember how he frequently left the table, not able to eat, unable to indulge like the rest of us in the feast.  But this year I need that indulgent feast - that homey, loving table surrounded by those I love, filled with platters of mounds of delicious food.  I have pulled out all my cookbooks and collected recipes.  Apparently I've been planning Thanksgiving meals since 1995, never sure where we were going or who was coming, but knowing that we would have our own Thanksgiving feast at least on Friday if not Thursday.  I have lists and scribblings and scraps of recipes from Williams-Sonoma, Yankee Magazine, a teacher named Dori who I worked with back in Kenilworth, Martha Stewart, Cooking Light, Country Living, Southern Living, and The Bergen Record, which suggested cocktails called the Gobble-tini and Autumn Toast, and a website called pumkinnook.com.   I could make about 4 different versions of turkey and about ten different versions of stuffing if I followed all the recipes I clipped. 

This year though I'm keeping it simple.  I was tempted last night at BJ's to buy the smoked turkey, but when I saw the sodium was 27% of RDA, I went for the traditional one that I will roast on Thursday morning.   I will use herbs and oranges to stuff it and baste it.  I will make a winter salad with grapefuit, sweet potato pie, and butternut squash ravioli.  I guess I need another green vegetable in there.  I will make applesauce from Eldress Bertha Lindsay, one of the last surviving residents at Canterbury Shaker Village.   I will make caramel pears and oyster corn bread stuffing, both of which I found on pinterest.   I will make homemade whipped cream to top the store-bought pumpkin pie that I couldn't resist buying - it was just too good a deal.  We will drink hot maple apple cider and we will sit by the candle light and talk and enjoy. 
I don't know why I do this really.  My mother cooked frozen vegetables from a bag, about four different kinds.  She made Stove Top stuffing.  She made Pillsbury crescent rolls, which my brothers fought over, and served jarred olives and jarred gravy.   She tried to candy the sweet potatoes, but they never quite got to that point.  It didn't matter.  There was always so much love in her baking efforts and I guess she planned to sit with us and talk instead of being tied to the oven cooking.  The point was that we prayed, ate, and loved.   And she did always make her own pies.  I think she was more the baker and I'm a little more cook.

On Friday we'll drive to Maryland to see my brother's family. I'm making Sausage-cheese balls, Ham biscuits, and mini pumpkin cheesecakes. A little southern savory luncheon.  Anyway, we will find our way through the holiday where the food becomes nourishment and feeds our deepest needs for love and comfort.  We will talk and listen and cry and we will celebrate and find joy in the simplest things.  We will love.

On the back of all the old notes I have from old Thanksgivings, I wrote out lists for Christmas.  I don't remember doing this but maybe while the Turkey was roasting and the pie was baking I had a glass of wine and started thinking about the next thing, Christmas gifts.  It all comes back to love.  So we suffer, we pray for grace, we pray in thanksgiving, we eat, and we love.  Maybe Elizabeth Gilbert had it right all along.

Autumn Toast

1 1/2 ounce vodka
1 ounce Nocello walnut liquer
1/4 ounce dark creme de cacao
Chill in shaker and strain.  Serve with a cinnamon stick garnish.

Sweet Potato Pie

1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked, and mashed
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
3 eggs
1 3/4 c. milk
1 T. butter, melted
1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell

Measure out 1 1/2 c. potatoes.  Combine with sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Beat eggs lightly and stir into potato mixture along with milk and butter.  Spoon into pastry shell.  Bake at 400 for 45-50 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean.   *variation this year:  sprinkle chopped walnuts mixed with brown sugar and cinnamon on top!

Winter Salad
2 blood oranges
1 small head chicory
2 heads Belgian endive
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c. oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
2 t. olive oil
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. fresh pepper

Using a sharp knife, cut away peel and pith from oranges.  Remove sections by sliding knife down one side of a section, cutting it away from the membrane.  Set aside any juice.
Add chicory, endive, onion, and olives to oranges.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pour reserved orange juice over salad, toss well, and serve.

Eldress Bertha's Applesauce

5 1/2 c. chopped peeled Pink Lady apples
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
dash of almond extract
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce, heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until soft.  Discard cinnamon stick.  Mask with a potato masher to desired consistency.  Stir in salt and extract. 

*Maybe I'll try to make persimmon-cranberry pudding!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Blowing Leaves

Raking leaves today, I felt my brother looking over my shoulder.  I was using the leaf blower and blowing the leaves west.  At the same time, the wind was blowing from the west and ruining my perfect curbside leaf piles.  I started laughing.  I could just feel my brother shaking his head and laughing, "You're so STOOpid!"  he would say, in his serious-frustrated-light-hearted way, that left you thinking you are kind of stupid to keep going at it, against the wind, but then I remember that I taught him everything he knows and I can't be that stoo-pid.  But I would continue doing just what I'd been doing, egging him on, but smiling.  "What, what's the matter?  I'm blowing the leaves!"  He would shake his head and walk away.  Or he would go into some long life-lesson-speech about how to use a leaf blower, and how power tools are to be in the hands of professionals, not weekend warriors.  (My son calls them WEAKened warriors, or are we weekend WORRiers?)  He probably read this article on About.com, no he probably helped write it.  He was like that.  If he worked for a landscaper for like two weeks, he'd be like, "No, no, this is the way you landscape.  You're so stoopid." 

So it started me thinking, how often do I keep doing the same old thing, the same old way, without results.  This week our manager talked a lot about business as usual and how we have to break away from that in order to effect any change, and when we do, it will not just transform our work, it will transform lives, not just ours but the people we work with too.  She was kind in that she didn't use the words Austin would have used, "You're so STOOpid!" but let me just say, sometimes it would be easier to say it the way Austin did.  Really, it's so fun.  That was the thing about him, he said it in a fun way.  You took no offense, because he said, "You're so STOOpid!" in the same way that he said, "STELLar,  DOOde!"  He was laid back, like he knew you knew and he didn't need to make drama about it. 

So I keep thinking about things that need to change in my life.  I'm allergic to wool, but I have about ten wool sweaters in my closet.  I just gave them all away.  I have wool pants too.  But those I need to replace before I start walking around pantless.  The funny thing is, I've known this for years, but every fall I bring down the same old wardrobe and try them on and love the way they look, and they are so WARM and I'm like, "No, I'll be fine.  That was last year's problem."  I'll just wear stockings underneath.  Then about three hours into wearing my work clothes, my hands are itching like crazy and I can't wait to get home and change.  Why do we put our hands out to touch the fire that is burning us?  Why is it so hard to effect change that is so necessary it will transform lives?  Why do we keep doing things that are so STOOpid?  It's like blowing leaves.