Friday, October 26, 2007

It's a Pumpkin/Apple Friday Five

From the RevGalBlogPals --
All Hallows Eve (Halloween) is near. As a child, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. We didn’t yet worry about razor blades in apples or popcorn balls or some of the other concerns people have with Halloween these days. Halloween was a chance to be mildly scared, and better yet, to dress up and pretend to be something we really weren’t.
Let’s talk about that a bit, but then let’s add in some food ideas for this year. Where I live the leaves are falling, the temperature is chilly and pumpkins are for sale everywhere, along with many kids of apples. What's more, the "Holiday Season" will soon be upon us. ACK! I could use a new idea for dessert. So, here we go…

1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?
We went from house to house in our little neighborhood where we got huge amounts of treats from the neighbors. My mom was not very creative, so we always had costumes with masks. Horrible -- my hair always got tangled in the rubber band that held the mask on; my warm breath collected in a damp cloud under the mask and made it wet and clammy; and I tripped because I couldn't really see. I so wished my mother made elaborate costumes like some of the other mothers, but now that I am the mom, I am totally in her corner.

2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?
We live in the country, so we go to a cousin's house for trick or treating with Nature Boy, who is eight. Nashy, Shiny and Witter are now old enough to be involved in more grown-up activities involving DJs, dancing, and costumes designed to impress.

2. Candy apples: Do you prefer red cinnamon or caramel covered? Or something else?
I never had either until a couple of months ago (they must be a northern thing) when I discovered these in Seattle. Heavenly. They even have a store in the Little Blue State!

3. Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them?
Have you never heard of the Punkin Chunkin??? Hundreds of people make crazy machines to hurl pumpkins as far as possible. Here at Old Stone House, we grow a few pumpkins, carve a few pumpkins, and make our pumpkin pie from a can. And although we've visited the Punkin Chunkin, we have no plans to participate.

4. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures.
Garden Girl and Nature Boy cut corn stalks from the garden to festoon the back door and we have lots of pumpkins, gourds, and dried ears of corn both inside and outside the house.

5. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring our an alternate personality?
I make a living speaking to people, sometimes about very difficult subjects, and I'm pretty comfortable with public speaking, but I'm not a success as an actress. In my current "try anything once, even if you're scared" mode, I am scheduled to audition for the Vagina Monologues, though if the truth be told, I'd rather discuss my own vagina than be onstage as someone else.

Bonus: Share your favorite recipe for an autumn food, particularly apple or pumpkin ones.
You can find a recipe for the best apple pie ever at my partner's blog -- and no, you don't have to grow your own apples! P.S. The real secret is heavy cream, very cold, poured over warm apple pie. Mmmmm . . . maybe we need apple pie for dinner.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friday Five: Thankfulness List

From Mary Beth at RevGalBlogPals:

Welcome to the Friday Five!

This one is going to be veeeery simple: List at least five things (people, places, graces, miracles...) for which you are thankful. You may elaborate as you wish, or keep it simple.

I'm an extrovert, so the first hundred or so entries on my list are people: My partner, Garden Girl; my children, Nashy, Witter, Shiny and Nature Boy; my sisters, Supermom and Annie-boo and their husbands and my sweet nieces and nephews; Garden Girl's brothers and their wives and all the other sweet nieces and nephews; Garden Girl's mom and her dad, whom I miss so much; my own mother and father who both died before their time; my ex-husband; my friend Songbird and the online community she introduced me to; my book club; my church community; my colleagues; my neighbors here on Crunchy Gravel Lane; and the many friends who support me every day with their smarts and humor and courage.

I'm also thankful for my heroes, some of whom I know and some I've never met: Viktor Frankl; Mr. Rogers; Bill & Marcie, who run our local homeless ministry; my oncologist; Maria Montessori; Clara Barton; Job; Jonah; Julia Child; David Schelat; Louis Armstrong; and whoever invented refrigeration.

I'm thankful for life's pleasures: stained glass windows; any beverage that bubbles -- champagne, beer, ginger ale, Diet Coke, or San Pellegrino; sailboats; birdbaths; kissing; iPods; hymns (but not hymns on iPods -- hymns do not survive the recording process); arugula; any place where beauty is collected in one space for everyone to enjoy -- museums, cathedrals, opera houses, theatres, bookstores, fine restaurants, botanical gardens, and Paris.

I'm thankful for life's guilty pleasures: People magazine; Oprah; TiVO; Jon Stewart (not really a guilty pleasure except that I can only watch him on TiVO); peanut butter; lipstick; Retin-A; the entire self-help genre; bubbly beverages (see above); and text-messaging.

I'm thankful for food, which gets its own category (and probably explains why I need to lose weight): bagels; cheese -- the older and stinkier the better; blueberry cobbler; perfectly set scrambled eggs; chocolate chess pie; anything with sweet potatoes; curried vegetables; roasted carrots; Zweiback toast; anything wrapped in puff pastry; strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries; whipped cream; steamed crabs with Old Bay seasoning; Weetabix; lentil salad; clementines; tapenade; and the almond macaroons from the grand hotel in our town.

On my best days, I'm thankful for all of it-- good, bad or indifferent. We're all so fragile and so precious that it seems insane not to be thankful for whatever is in the world with us, but on my worst days, my own problems, large and small, are like a stone in my shoe that keeps me from feeling any pleasure life offers, and I gripe and feel sorry for myself. Fortunately, those moods can usually be cured by one thing or another on the list above.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Blessing of the Animals

Today was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, so we attended a blessing of the animals at Church in the City. Our contribution? Our puppy, Blue, recently acquired from the Little Blue State Humane Association* and a young bearded dragon, still small enough to be carried in a large jar, but destined to grow to a couple of feet in length. We left one dog, two geckos, a cat, a hamster, and numerous fish and guinea hens at home.

Our interim rector has a way with children and animals. She didn’t flinch when our eight-year-old son and his friend ran up to the old high altar to inspect the timpani. Nor did she flinch when she blessed our nameless bearded dragon and stroked his knobby head. She blessed our puppy with such dignity that he temporarily gave up chasing the miniature pinscher seated next to us. But best of all, she blessed the animals one by one, calling them by name, except for the lizard of course. This pleased Garden Girl no end.

A number of years ago, I persuaded Garden Girl to come with me to a blessing of the animals, thinking that this would be a good way to get my unchurched animal loving spouse into the swing of things with us Episcopalians. It was not our finest hour as a church. The service was long. The dogs and cats growled and scuffled in the recently restored colonial church, scratching at the pristine doors of the box pews. And the rector blessed the people, not the animals, praying that the owners would be blessed by caring for their beloved pets. This did not sit well with Garden Girl, who worried that the priest considered blessing the actual animals heretical, until I reminded her that Episcopal priests have been blessing the hounds from time immemorial.

Fortunately, tonight’s service was nearly perfect, and included a reading from Job: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind."

*The Little Blue State Humane Association is holding a black tie benefit gala in November. Blue has been invited to be on the host committee, along with Garden Girl and me. Tee-hee.

UPDATE Here is a photo of Nature Boy and his friend Best Kid Ever, taken by Best Kid's mom.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Eulogy

On August 19, Garden Girl's father died suddenly. I miss him more that I can say. Garden Girl gave the eulogy at his memorial service, and she captured what we were all feeling as we said goodbye to him. Here is what she said:

I will miss lots of things about my father: his advice, his love for the farm, his really bad driving, the funny way he walked because of all his horse accidents, and the fact that he always had a penknife when you needed one.

But what I will miss most about my dad is his having dinner with him. Our family had dinner together every night when I was a child, and it was at the dinner table that I saw the best of my father, and learned the most from him.

My three brothers and I would always try to get him talking about certain favorite episodes in his life. We loved to hear about how he grew up living above the little corner grocery store that his parents ran here in our town. He always joked that they were so poor that his parents couldn’t afford to give him a middle name. We never tired of hearing how he and his equally poor friends would crash weddings in dental school so they could eat, which worked fine as long as they didn’t say they were on the bride’s side and then discover they were at a Bar Mitzvah.

We loved to hear him talk about his stint as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, and how he could sell anyone a vacuum, whether they needed one or not.

We always begged to hear about how he got his started in the horse business, which is a story that my brothers and I often tell at our own dinner tables.

During dental school, Dad answered an ad for a Riding Master at a camp in upstate New York. Now, Dad was a city kid. He didn't know which end of a horse to feed or how to ride.

He took a train in a middle of a snowstorm to New York City, where the owner of the camp lived. The gods of chutzpah must have loved him, because the snowstorm was so bad that they couldn’t get to the riding academy for a riding test. By the end of the interview, Dad had the job.

He got to camp a week before it opened, taught himself to ride, and pretty soon had more kids in the riding program than in any time in the camp history.

At the end of the summer, Dad told the camp owner that the horses weren’t really up to his standard, and that the owner should pay him to bring horses from his own "farm" the next summer. The owner agreed.

Just to review, Dad lived in a shared bedroom in his dental school fraternity house. His parents lived above the store. There was no farm.

A week before camp started, he went to an auction and bought the horses. He paid a shipper to take them up to the camp. He was in business. At the end of camp, the horses were shipped back to the auction, and Dad went back to school.

Dad named the business “Wonderland Farms” because it started out as a farm in a closet, and he wondered where the land was.

Some of my favorite stories started with my father saying, “I had a really interesting thing happen today in the office.” Now, you might not think that much interesting happens in an orthodontist’s office, but, if it was my Dad’s office, you’d be wrong. He had a gift for waiting to bring a story home until he knew the ending. He would talk about interesting cases, wonderful patients he had, the bravery of children he treated at the Children’s Hospital, and tell funny stories about his colleagues.

He would talk about his staff, “his girls,” as he always called them despite my telling him on many occasions how politically incorrect that term was. He loved them like family, as he did Jack and his staff in the office next door. We always wanted to hear about Barbara, who started with him when she was a high school intern, and 40 years later, was still with him.

This may sound old-fashioned, but my dad truly loved his patients. Their problems and triumphs became his. The bulletin boards in his office were always covered with newspaper clippings highlighting the exploits of “his” kids and adults. He was so pleased that in his pending retirement they would be so well cared for by Connie and John.

My brothers especially liked to hear tales of the many adventures my dad had on his hunts. “Tell the one about how you were lost overnight on the mountain.” “Tell the one about how Mom found a tarantula in her boot.” “Tell again about the time the grizzly bear charged Mom.” Dad was Indiana Jones and Mom was Annie Oakley, and we would sit at the table long after the meal was over and beg to hear the stories again.

We loved to hear of his adventures with his friends. Whether it was crazy gift-giving traditions – a certain candy bar comes to mind – sports events, or laughs shared at his favorite lunch spot, the old Howard Johnson’s, he and his co-conspirators were always having fun in each other’s company.

I learned a lot from my father at the dinner table. He valued friendship, honesty and loyalty, and taught us to do the same. When he gave his word, he kept it, and we learned from his example. He loved my mother, and they were in it together. He supported his children no matter what.

Eventually, we did our share of the storytelling. He always wanted to hear about the latest exploits of his grandchildren. The “big kids” told him their own tales, and we proud parents spoke for the little ones, who were always right there, often sitting on his lap pulling his beard. I loved telling him how I couldn’t go anywhere in the Little Blue State without someone telling me that “your Dad fixed my teeth.” Even my interview for a clerkship with the most feared Little Blue State Supreme Court Justice of his day began with “Your dad was my orthodontist.”

Dad wasn’t famous. His obituary won’t be in the New York Times. No biographer will write his story. He was a man who lived an honest and happy life. He raised four children who adored him, and was married for almost 47 years to his one true love. He had lifelong friends, work he loved and many adventures. He died too soon.

I didn’t get to ask him what he thought his legacy was, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have used such a grand term. He would have rolled his eyes, and said, “Oh, come on.”

I know I hope my seven year old son, named after his grandfather, will remember him. I’m going to be re-telling my Dad’s stories to be sure that he does.