What started as a food blog has morphed into more or less a personal journal. My marriage, my parenting, my life journey is as likely to appear now as my kitchen work... but there's more than one way to feed a family.
I just learned that my mother-in-law is reading the blog and since part 4 was meant to reveal Christmas secrets, I'm just posting to say.... I'm not posting.
Update later. Like around December 26.
Update 1/16/12: SIL Sarah and I worked together on this. Our Christmas busywork was getting the kids together for photos for my MIL's Christmas. Last year we took some photographs of the kids together and some of each child individually. They've all grown so much over the last year, that we thought updated photos would be appropriate to refill her frames. I'll just share a couple of my kids.
She is growing up!
Had to take Brooks' shot from a group pic. I cropped Sophia out of the print, but couldn't figure it out on the blog. I think Brooks looks handsome here, though.
Ava - my baby. I cannot explain the passage of time.
My children are still in school for another week, right up to Christmas eve. It lulls me into a false sense of complacency, believing that it's actually ages until I need to be ready for the holiday.
I did manage to get some Christmas decorations up last weekend. I'll share with you a couple of highlights. A few years ago I went to an estate sale in my neighborhood and bought a box of odds and ends including this handful of vintage Christmas light bulbs. I don't have those kinds of light strings, but I think they are just beautiful, so I threw them in a candy dish and put them in the piano room.
Similarly, I'm displaying some vintage ornaments in a bowl as a centerpiece on my dining room table. I've been collecting the ornaments over the years, imagining I'll have enough to one day decorate a whole tree. But lately, I've been putting the tree in the foyer, which has a tile floor, not known for being kind to dropped glass objects. I fear for their preservation, so I put them in a bowl this year and sort of dig it.
Sophie's choir has a Secret Santa situation as they build up to their mega-Christmas-Concert-Weekend. It's difficult to think of small gifts to give that aren't candy or junk. Sophia's Secret Santa did a good job of gifting small, fun items that were creative and wholesome. This garland was made from a kit they gave her on night three. We made it together and I think it looks pleasant hanging on the mantle in the piano room.
There is still much to be done before I can say I'm anything close to ready, but what is done pleases me.
One joy of family hardship is the coming together of all the relatives. My husband was never Amish, his parents were never Amish, but beyond that, all bets are off.
After the funeral, the local tradition is for the church to provide a meal for the family and anyone else they wish to have as guests. It's a nice way to allow more time for visiting and a chance to maybe get cheerful again after the goodbye in the church. About 20-30 Amish relatives stayed for this (as well as the 50-75 non-Amish) and my husband made a beeline for them as soon as he did his fatherly duty by eating with this household. He thinks they are fun and sassy and "good people." I agree.
At his grandmother's funeral dinner several years ago, Michael trotted some of these ladies over to me saying I wanted to ask questions about why Amish women did the things they did. Indeed, I had been asking a lot of questions during our years of driving through the Amish countryside in the area where we live. These women seemed reluctant and a bit suspicious, not hankering to answer a bunch of ignorant questions from a worldly English girl. (I don't have ancestors from England... English is just what the Amish call the non-Amish.) But my husband had forced the issue. I furrowed my brow intelligently and leaned in to ask, "Why are your gardens in the front yard?"
They looked at one another and shouted their laughter at me. One howled, "Well I'm not about to put it in the back where the horses poop!"
[Not long ago, an Amish relative passed away who had been close enough to my immediate in-law family that we all went to the funeral. My formerly-Amish friends advised me not to take the kids - Amish funerals are long, uncomfortable and not in English. But I decided that cultural issues were not valid reasons for not paying respects which you would ordinarily offer, so I put my kids in their starched collars and drove them to the farm where the funeral was held.
The service was held in the family's pole barn/shop where an open space was cleared for rows of backless, wooden benches for the bereaved. We sat on those benches and, yes, the service was long and, yes, impossible to follow for a non-Pennsylvania Dutch speaker. But what a rich experience for me and my kids - who were PERFECTLY behaved as I recall - to have. Without being too detached and academic over the sad loss of a close family's beloved, I certainly watched the proceedings with interest as well as compassion, wanting to commit it all to memory.]
Anyway, our interaction at Aunt Bonnie's funeral dinner was lighthearted with those fun Amish relatives, to whom we refer by long, geneology-informed descriptive names (Elmer T.'s Larry Mary) and who know all our relatives, too, even the ones we didn't know we had. When Michael and I were first married and I was a substitute teacher in the school system out in the country, an Amish boy approached me in the hall to say he had read the paper and seen our wedding announcement and that we were now cousins.
This time Michael had called us over because our formerly Amish friend, Dean, had told me that his mother's best dish was was "grimmle boi," (Margo, do you know what I mean?) a phrase which has subsequently become a catch-all in our home because it is fun to say. It's now used as an all-purpose swear word, a replacement for forgotten song lyrics, whatever the situation requires. The Amish wanted to hear us say "grimmle boi" and laugh at our accents and discuss their own recipes for "bois" of all types.
Ooh, how I want to hang out in their kitchens, rummage through their pantries, remove their bonnets and inspect their hairpin configurations!
I'll post the recipe after you've have a chance to wonder and Margo a chance to answer!
Grimmle Boi (or Crumb Pie)
In a saucepan, combine:
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 T flour
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1 c. hot water
1 t. vanilla
I mixed this before turning on the heat so that the lumps were removed from the flour. I brought it to an easy boil, stirring constantly, until I was sure the sugar was dissolved.
Pour mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Cover with crumbs.
1 c. flour
1/2 t. soda
1/2 t. cream of tartar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. butter
This weekend we were sad to lay to rest Mike's kindly Aunt Bonnie, with the apple cheeks and great skin and the most expressive eyebrows I have ever seen. She loved her family and books and all children. We have lots of children's books in our collection which she purchased and inscribed for our kids at every gift-giving occasion. She had wonderful taste.
Throughout the weekend, we gathered with the extended family at the funeral home for the visitation, cried with the family at the funeral and shivered with the family at the burial. My schedule demanded that I go to the visitation at a time when I only had Ava with me. She was reluctant to go. I asked her if she'd ever been to a "viewing" before - I couldn't remember. She said she hadn't. I told her that there would be a line of Aunt Bonnie's children, siblings, mother and husband and that we would speak to them all. And at the end of the line, Bonnie's body would be in a casket, since some people would like to see her one last time before she is buried. ("And you can look, if you want, or not." "I won't!")
Ava watched the recieving line for awhile and asked, "So, all those people? They're saying they're sorry?"
"Yeah," I said. "They are probably saying things like, 'I'm sorry you've lost your mom,' or 'what a terrible shock.' But they are also saying, by being here, 'You are important to me. I'm here for you. You can count on my support in the bad times.'"
"Oh." I was proud that she was noticing and that she focused on the family and their loss instead of the fact that she didn't want to be there. And she was so GOOD at the social interaction with the adults. The only child at the funeral home at the time, all those inclined zeroed in on her to exclaim over her habit of growing, or who she favored in her face and build. Everyone she met, she hugged! Whoa, does she do comfort and grief great!
Everyone's loss experience is their own, but I often see them falling into two categories: Complete Shock by an unexpected death, or - like with my mother - Thank Goodness the Sickness is Over, which often comes with an extended illness. Aunt Bonnie had battled cancer twice, so I'm sure her family had spent time processing her mortality, but she actually died of a sudden, massive heart attack, which caught us all completely off guard.
Today, Uncle Carlyle's children all leave his home, returning to their own homes across the state. Uncle Carlyle, who looked down into the hole in the cemetary and said, "I love you, Sweetheart," before sprinkling his shovelful of dirt, is now going to have to figure out what The New Normal looks like in his life, where nothing is normal at all.
Brooks is thoroughly enjoying the wonderful music department which our high school offers. He is a freshman this year and has successfully infiltrated every corner of it as we add band, choir and orchestra concerts to the calendar this month. I believe the next step is clearly total world domination.
This is a busy weekend for us. Let me give you the run-down, for my organizational benefit as well as your entertainment. (Every time I talk to my devoted mother-in-law this week, she wants to do the run-down, too. "Now what's going on this weekend?" "Have I given you enough money for the tickets?" "Where is that concert located?" We did that conversation today. We did it last week. We'll do it again the next time we speak. She just doesn't want to miss an opportunity to support the kids.) Wed.: Tech rehearsal for Sophia's choir concert. Thurs.: Dress rehearsal for choir concert, middle school orchestra concert. Friday: First of three days of choir concerts. Sat.: All day chess tournament and second of the choir concerts. Sun.: Final choir concert, which conflicts with the high school orchestra concert. Immediately afterwards, we'll go to the church Christmas open house, hosted by the pastors.
These three days of choir concerts have become a meaningful part of my Decembers. Our local college puts on a Festival of Carols which involves all the music groups on campus and the children's choir which my children have been involved in. We first went when Brooks was a part of the choir and now, he's moved on and Sophia has joined the ensemble.
It takes place in the college's state-of-the-art performance facility, which offers gorgeous ambience and acoustics. The choirs and orchestras offer special pieces interspersed with traditional carols in which the audience is invited to participate. A large percentage of the audience is culturally Mennonite, and rich in choral ability, so the carols sound straight from the Herald Angels. I am in my element.
Here's what the Mennonites are not rich in: Sentimental Weepiness. From the third verse of the opening hymn, I am pressing my hankie to my mouth, trying to stifle the sobs and the Mennonites to my right and left look at me out of the corners of their eyes. Sobbing - It's just not a very German thing to do.
This wrecks me every, EVERY time, sung by the children's choir:
"And through all His wondrous childhood, He would honour and obey.
Love and watch the lowly maiden, in whose gentle arms He lay.
Christian children, all must be:
Mild obedient, good as He."
And then, children's and college choirs together (to me symbolizing the in-the-blink-of-an-eye "day by day" growth - whether or not the symbolism was intended):
"For He is our childhood's pattern
Day by day, like us He grew.
He was little, weak and helpless
Tears and smiles, like us He knew.
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness."
I mean, shut up.
I have tried to explain how obviously touching those words are to others, but my sobs always interrupt. And when I manage to convey the message of the text, the listener always just blinks at me. I don't know if they are touching to anyone else.