Thursday, December 29, 2005

December 29, 2005: Stephen and Me: A Slice of Childhood


Stephen and I spent many weekends with our Dad in the greenhouses where he worked at the Geneva branch of Cornell's Agricultural Experiment Station. Our mother must have appreciated those afternoons when we went with Dad, although she was just as often there too, as his faithful assistant. The smells and textures of a greenhouse are so lovely: the rich chocolatey soil, soft as silk; the crunchy white peat; the rotten-egg stench of sulfur blocks. Stephen and I would bring our cars and drive them on the concrete walkways. We'd take frequent trips into different rooms of the long row of greenhouses, which were barren on weekends but never dark, saturated with the flourescent glow of artificial light competing with the sun streaming in the dirty glass.

I dream sometimes still of greenhouses. Of dark brown dirt running between my fingers, of the periodic hiss of the radiator and the chug of the automatic watering system kicking in. Of tables and tables in room after room of living things--brown sticks of apple trees, purple cabbages, and lush green tomato plants.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

December 28, 2005: My Brother's Visit

Stephen left on the 26th. I am not so true to myself when I am around my brother. We weren't always like this, of course. Stephen and I are two years apart, but we may as well have been twins, the way we were paired together. I have few childhood memories that do not include him--next to me, in front of me, behind me. In nearly every photograph in the family albums we are together, sides touching and heads tilted together, almost level. One shows us, around ages four and six, in a silver-colored recliner watching television, a bowl of popcorn on a single TV tray across our laps, four legs sticking straight out beneath it. Our smiles are identical, bottom rows of tiny teeth white and eager.

We were our parents' second family. Seven year separate Stephen from the youngest of our three older brothers; sixteen years stretch between my oldest brother and me. Their childhoods were spent on an orchard in southern Illinois when our parents were young and poor; we share none of their stories of tractors stuck in mud or crops ruined by hailstorms. We grew up in New York, with a scientist-professor for a father and a bridge-playing Welcome Wagon hostess for a mother. Our parents were middle-aged before we entered kindergarten. We know now, of course, that our parents' lives were much different, much more complex than they appeared to be, but back then it seemed that our father went off to work each day in a brown cardigan and our mother baked and cleaned.

Our older brothers drifted here and there, sullen around the dinner table, out with friends at night. Stephen and I stayed together, holed up in our attic playroom or outside in our tree house. We liked quiet. In my memory few words were exchanged between us; I can't even hear the sound of my brother's voice. Instead we communicated by anticipating each other's wants: We will color our pictures first, then play with Tinker Toys later....Give me the purple car....

But of course memory plays tricks--children do chatter. We did have voices, and we must have used them; but our quiet natures found a peaceful rhythm in each other. We rarely fought. My mother swears Stephen hovered over me like a guardian angel from the moment I arrived. Throughout my childhood he presented me with carefully made gifts. A rag doll with black yarn hair and thick red lips. A two-story doll house, complete with shingled roof and wall-to-wall carpet. A wooden diary bound with leather ties, my name etched jaggedly onto its cover with a woodburning tool.

His generosity overwhelmed me. By all right he should have kicked me around some. He should have pinched my arm at the dinner table or thrown my baby doll in the toilet. He should have left me behind to walk home along after school or tormented me with stories of kidnapers and monsters. After all, not only did I usurp his briefly held position as baby-of-the-family, but I caused more than a little commotion as the first girl child born to either side of the family in nearly forty years. Everything I had was new--clothes, dolls, china teacups; he faced a childhood of hand-me-downs and broken cars. Grandparents bought frilly pink things for me, brown itchy things for him. One statement made regularly to my parents characterized my existence: "You finally got your little girl. You must be so happy! You must spoil her rotten!" So I accepted each of my brother's gifts gratefully, but more than likely with a certain amount of nonchalance. My station in life was to be the receiver of all good gifts.....

Monday, December 26, 2005

December 26, 2005: 2005 Reading List

Breath, Eyes, Memory (by E. Danticat)
Sarah (by Mark Halter)
Daughter of Fortune (by Isabella Allende)
The Prodigal (by Bevery Lewis)
Unspoken (by Francine Rivers)
The Priest (by F. Rivers)
The Warrior (by F. Rivers)
The Prince (by F. Rivers)
Follow the River (by James A. Thom)
New Stories from the South, 2004
The Broker (by John Grisham)
A Skeleton in God's Closet (by Paul Maier)
Mutant Message from Down Under
Father Melancholy's Daughter (by Gail Godwin)
Last Girls (by Lee Smith)
In Cold Blood (by Truman Capote)
A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor (by T. Capote)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (JK Rowling)
The Jungle (by Upton Sinclair)

On Writing (by Stephen King)
Bad Girls of the Bible (Liz Curtis Higgs)
Wild at Heart (John Eldredge)
The Great Hedge of India (Ray Moxham)
The Savage My Kinsmen (Elizabeth Elliot)
The Dream Weaver (?) (By B. Wilkinson)
Mere Christianity (CS. Lewis)
Apples (Frank Browning)
Total Money Makeover (Dave Ramsey)
Help for the Harried Homeschooler (Christine Field)
A Girl Named Zippy (Haven Kimmel)
A Very Small Farm (William P. Winchester)

Read-Aloud Novels to Kids
(This does not include dozens of pictures books and short chapter books)
Eric Liddell
Genghis Khan and the Mongel Horde
Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?
Daughter of the Mountains
William Carey
Theresa of Calcutta
Shadow Spinner
Hittite Warrior
Mara, Daughter of the Nile
The Magician's Nephew
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian

And the Winners Are...
Fiction: Not a great year for fiction. I'd have to say the priest series by Francine Rivers was the best, although that doesn't fully qualify as fiction. I hope to make some great fiction discoveries in 2006.
Nonfiction: This is tougher, but Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover definitely wins. Apples and A Girl Named Zippy come in second. I loved Stephen King's On Writing. Sounds scary, I know, but I found it fascinating. Horrible language.
Kids: This is hard, too. I love Sonlight! But, I guess I'd have to choose Narnia, of course, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase after that.

And now I need to head out to the library to replenish my reading supply...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Saturday, December 10, 2005

December 10, 2005: Quick Party Fare

I had the loveliest party last night, which I will blog about separately, and got all kinds of nice compliments about the finger food. This was the easiest party I've ever prepared for! Below are the recipes. This was enough for 10 people, plus leftovers on the chocolates and beans.

Tangy Bean Salad
1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozed whole kernel corn, thawed
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 can diced green chiles
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
Mix together and serve with tortilla chips (Scoops work great with this).

Marbled Peppermint Bark
Crush 6-8 candy canes by unwrapping your candy canes and putting them in a zip lock bag. Wrap a towel around it and smash them with a hammer! Melt 2 16oz bags of your favorite chocolate chips in the microwave. (This is truly better if you use namebrand semi-sweets rather than an off-brand.) Stir often. As soon as this is done, melt 1 16 oz. bag of white chocolate chips separately. While you are waiting for the white chips to melt, add the peppermint to the melted chocolate chips. Mix well and spread evenly on a cookie sheet. When the white chocolate is completely melted, drop by spoonfuls onto the chocolate and swirl with a knife. Put in fridge until hard. Break apart and put on a nice plate.

Easy Cheese Puffs
3/4 loaf unsliced bread (I used French)
3 oz. cream cheese
1/4 c. shredded or cubed sharp cheese
1/2 c. margarine or butter
2 egg whites, beaten stiff
Cut bread into 3/4 inch cubes. Melt cheeses and margarine together. Blend and cool. Fold in stuffly beaten egg whites. Dip bread cubes in mixture. Bake on cookie sheet or stone at 400 for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned.Best if served a little warm.

Friday, December 9, 2005

December 9, 2005: My Christmas Baby

It's one of the most common questions asked in any group as an ice-breaker: "Tell about the best Christmas present you've ever received." No one can ever top my gift, as having a baby on Christmas Day easily surpasses the shiniest bike or even Ralphie's (of "The Christmas Story") long-coveted BB gun.

I didn't really expect to have a baby on Christmas Day, even though the ultrasound clearly gave December 25 as my due date. Who ever has a baby on her due date? I should have known, though. Jesse was due on March 27th and born on the 29th; Laurel was due on August 29th and born on the 27th. It would only make sense that the one due on the 25th would actually be born on the 25th!

The baby was generous enough that morning to wait until after the older two had opened their presents. I didn't head to the hospital until noon of Christmas Day. Duncan James was born a little after 5 p.m., weighing in as plump as a Christmas turkey at 10 lbs. But not all was tidy and sweet. Duncan had aspirated meconium in utero and was whisked off by ambulance to the NICU at a different hospital, his daddy right there with him. I was left alone on Christmas Day, my precious gift struggling for breath.

I was released early the next day (Randy's birthday) and we spent the next six days in a fog of home and hospital, trusting that the Giver of all good and perfect gifts would restore ours to us. On New Year's Eve we brought our treasure home and placed him in the spot that seemed most natural: under the Christmas tree.

Duncan will be five this Christmas Day, and, like Mary, I still "quietly treasure these things" in my heart and ponder them often. This blue-eyed boy is as generous today as he was the morning before his birth, bestowing his smile on all and bringing joy to his family's world throughout the year.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

December 4, 2005: Christmas Tree Day

The rain held off long enough for us to go to Baker's Creek and get our Christmas tree. We have the fattest spruce we've ever seen! And here is one of my favorite e.e. cummings' poems to commemorate the occasion:

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"