Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grandparenting: The Word Book

First birthdays come but once and like every other grandparent you want that inaugural gift to be an extra special one. I have an idea for you. The Word Book.  (Try to hold your applause in response to the incredibly original moniker.)
Shirley Cate is already full of words. It's genetic. It's hereditary. She comes from a long line of talkers. Like all of us, she needs to learn to listen, think, discern and then speak. It's a life-long quest. As Christians, our family also believes that above all, God's Word is of ultimate importance for it is the way He has chosen to speak to us about salvation through His Son and is a guide for all of life. For faith and practice as we say.

From their earliest days our babies are the recipients of the blessing of God's Word, the Bible. Their mamas and daddies read them the story book Bible, sing to them from the hymnal in the long hours of the night, and pray the words of the bible with them. Don't be reluctant to sing to your babies.
 At this point in their life your voice is the sweetest sound they know.
Fill your voice with words of life.

Deuteronomy 6 tells us "The commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you get up." In other words, talking the Bible is a way of life. It is a life-changing way of life.
"Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path." Psalm 119:105
"Your Word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you." Psalm 119:11
"All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that every man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
2 Timothy 3:16, 17

You need to plan ahead. Once baby and parents are situated at home, be on the look-out for a smallish sized scrapbook or baby-themed journal. I found this one at Dollar Tree some time ago and have had it stashed away.
Now you'll need a cute stick-on alphabet that you'll apply to the upper corners of the pages. Think about how some letters of the alphabet start more words than others. Make two pages of b's, c's, d's, p's, s's and t's. One page for k and q and if it were possible I'd skip x all together.

At the top of each page write either a bible verse or a line of a hymn that begins with that letter. Yes, this is an exercise for you, too, and gets you into the Bible or the hymnal.

Their books are either all bible verses or all lines from hymns. My unsolicited advice would be to write all of this down on paper before you transfer it to the book with an archival ink pen.

You also need to collect photos of the baby and parents.

 If this is your first grandchild you have millions from which to choose. A photo of their home, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and pets.

Once you've done that, and it takes a while, (I work on these little books off and on for several months I hate to tell you-----but it's so worth it!!!) then the fun begins! You thought only children enjoyed stickers. Well, think again. Everything begins with C: castle, Charlie, car, compass, Charlotte. Yes, indeed. Jesus is the source of every one of these blessings.

One suggestion I'd add is that you look for stickers on sale and tuck them away for a good work day. That is, unless you've got an unlimited supply of dollars for your unlimited supply of stickers. It takes a bunch. Of stickers and dollars.

Try to think of subjects that are especially important in babykin's family. This baby's daddy is a volunteer fireman so we need lots of hydrants, firefighters, firetrucks, fire hoses, fireplaces, etc.

And don't forget the birthday baby herself. Front and center on the S page.

As the years go by your grandpeeps will love bringing their books back out to look at.

Especially since when they're tiny they have to have total supervision while looking at the books. Otherwise they'll pull off whatever they can get their little fingers on since everything you picked out is so cute, colorful, and captivating!

After leafing through page after page there's just one thought that comes through.
"Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand has provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

La Fin du Tour de France: The Paris Lunch

The only touring de France I'll be doing this year will be from the comfort of my home in my cache of photos, on the pages of books, flaneuring via street view on google maps. Quel dommage. But we make up for it watching the Tour amazed by the incredible athletes, trying to figure out the rules and colored jerseys, keeping up with the Peloton and taking in the sights of Carcassonne, Montpelier, Alpe-D'Huez and Grenoble. Then comes the ceremonial entry into Paris around the Obelisk of Luxor on the Place de la Concorde, down the Rue de Rivoli past the luxurious Hotels Crillon and Meurice, and up the cobbled Camps-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and the yellow jersey. It's a fun day in Paris. Like Sabrina Fair once said, "Paris is always a good idea." So we celebrate the Fin du Tour and all things Paris with our Paris Lunch. It takes several days' preparation.
After all, there are chocolate macarons to be "macronaged."

And Eiffel Tower cookies to be baked and iced.

Chocolate Eiffel Towers never go out of style. Tres chic.

And decorations. Oh! The decorations!

Parisian candles and pint sized Paris journals.

Paris place mats and little cafe plates that my sweet friends find and know exactly where they will enjoy a happy home. Chez moi.

French flash cards, trivia cards and yes, Marie Antoinette action figures.

What? You don't have one? Meg asked me what the button on the back was for. I anticipated this. "When you press the button her head flies off." I knew that response was insufficient in its detail. "Marie Antoinette was a queen in France that a lot of people didn't like, so they chopped her head off." Meg's eyes that are normally as large as saucers morphed into the size of dinner plates.
 "Did this happen recently?"
 I love that girl. Here she is in her official Paris Lunch outfit several years ago. She and I are partners in Paris crime. She's so adorable it's down right criminal. I want to spread her on a cracker.

But then this face is pretty hard to resist, too. Our own King Charles.

And Shirley Cate was present to celebrate her very first Paris lunch. Smart girl she is. Born the last week of the Tour. And wearing her French poodle bubble. She knows how to capture her Grammy's heart.

And extra tres bien was that Grandmuver could be with us for the weekend. We never like to have too much fun without her. Meg and Erin are trying to keep it down on that side of the table. Meg is seven. Erin is seven and then some.

One of my dreams is that one day all of us girls will go to Paris together. Bunny, Emily and Charlotte, too. Jack asked what the guys would do when the girls go to Paris. "You can go to a ball game," suggested Emily. Atta' way, Em. But just getting to have such fun in my dining room is pretty much a dream come true.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Felt Needs: Lost in Translation

 In a world with no laundry, dusting, or grocery shopping the days would be filled with the construction of little people like these:
Or like these. Notice the baby in the half of a walnut shell. It's a good thing to have a son in law who readily agrees to saw walnut shells in half for his mother-in-law. He obviously didn't know what he was getting into when he asked to marry my daughter. "Young man, do you saw walnut shells in two? If not, sorry, it's a no go."
Their little hats are acorn caps that the grandpeeps find in their yard. Her rolling pin is a button and their little faces are painted wooden beads. Their bodies are made by wrapping pipe cleaners with embroidery thread.  I know what you're thinking. "That woman has way too much time on her hands." Actually not.
Here's a close-up of baby on the half-shell. Charlotte helped me be faithful to the creation mandate when we made these back last fall. She insisted that he is the baby Jesus.
Which, of course, is an idea that gets me into trouble. Why not make a wool felt nativity scene? That would be so fun and the grandpeeps would enjoy playing with it. They could use it to tell us all the Christmas story come December. Certainly, I thought, if I Google "wool felt nativity" there will be something online for either inspiration or purchase. The only thing I came up with that was in keeping with my style was a pattern for some animals. Excellent.
I ordered pronto and the nice lady in the foreign country quickly responded that she'd ship it right off as soon as the postal strike in her country ended. Notice foreign country and postal strike. "No hurry," I replied. "After all, it's only July." Remember I'm the lady with time on my hands. After a day or two she contacted me again with a new offer to immediately send me the PDF pattern at no charge instead of waiting for her tax dollars to show up at work. The only hitch. If I took the PDF pattern I needed to be aware that she hadn't entirely, completely, fully, totally finished translating the pattern and instructions. Uh oh.
I'm just a little rusty on my Dutch.
But this nice lady in the foreign country with the postal service on strike who sells patterns written and illustrated in Dutch did send the English translation, to my relief, with the promise that if one carefully follows the instructions this collection of materials
can be simply stitched into this pleasant herd of os, ezel and kameel.
Let me just say that the cattle are not yet lowing. I'm having a bit of trouble with the pattern piece "tussenstuk." I'm stuk all right. "Leave here on the bottom and the back piece of the hoof about 2mm. The bottom remains a little apart, through which the donkey can stand better. Place o on o and stitch to underneath the front......" It's a good thing I have some time on my hands. At this rate it's going to take every bit of the four and one-half months until Christmas. If you'll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do...."the pipe cleaner can have some room to sit in the body, more room is better than too tight..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's All Coming Back to Me Now: 97 Orchard

Bunny recommended that I add 97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman to my reading list. This book is going to wind up on my short list of most favorite books. Ever. 97 Orchard Street is the New York City address of an apartment building, a tenement, that was home to countless immigrant families. Ziegelman recounts the stories of five of these families between 1863 and 1935, the Age of Migration. But she tells their stories from a unique perspective, the foods they ate. These immigrant families, the Glockers, Moores, Gumpertzes, the Rogarshevskys, and the Baldizzis may have adopted an Americanized appearance, dress, language, and schooling, but their food was traditional Old World. And fascinating.

Why, you ask, would that be so fascinating? Several years ago Bunny and I were in Salzburg (another story). Bunny, Math Girl with a German minor, translated the menu for me at our lunch spot but I had a hard time concentrating on her words because I was mesmerized by the contents of the plates passing by wafting their delicious goodness behind them. "I know this food!" I remember saying. "This is the food of my grandparents. This is the food of my childhood." Pork roast with gravy, boiled potatoes, noodles, sauerkraut, sausage, sausage and more sausage.

My forebears on both sides of my family came from Germany to the United States during the Age of Migration. This is my paternal grandfather John Henry Spehr with his sister Emma. Their daddy was a copper smith in New Jersey working for what would eventually become Fisher Carriage Company. Is that ringing a bell at all? General Motors used to have a logo of a horse drawn carriage and advertised "Body by Fisher." But he worked for them while they still made carriages. Their mama was a young Jewish teenager when she came to this country. 97 Orchard tells stories similar to that of my great grandmother's. She like many other girls her age, was sent out from home while young to cook for a family of higher income and social status. While yet a teenager she crossed the Atlantic by boat bringing with her a beautiful glass compote, a gift from her employers. Eventually with the invention of the "horseless carriage" my grandfather's family moved to Detroit where my great grandfather worked in the automotive industry.
From the above photo it seems likely or at least possible that when the Spehrs emigrated to New Jersey they may have lived in a building similar to that at 97 Orchard Street in New York. 97 Orchard is now the Tenement Museum. Who would have ever thought there would be such a thing as a tenement museum. You can look at it at and see lots of photos of what the apartments looked like at the time, how they've been refurbished, and how the occupants lived. No plumbing (though it was available in other locations), no running water, one minute bedroom, and perhaps one window if you were one of the more fortunate tenants.
Up until I was ten years old I had grandmothers galore. At one point I had two grandmothers, two great grandmothers, and a great-great grandmother. Is my great grandmother, Edith Mary Crandall Cole's hat not the greatest? She would have fit right in at this year's royal wedding. This photo is from about 1910 and she is the lone Brit in the bunch. I just had to include this photo.
It is her daughter Florence who married my half-Jewish grandfather, the little boy on the steps. This is how I remember them. They lived just north of Milwaukee in White Fish Bay. It's their food that I so distinctly remember that influenced how my father cooked as well. And it comes straight out of 97 Orchard. Kosher dill pickles and all things hot and sour. Pickled herring and herring in sour cream. Ever heard of kipper snacks? That's herring in a sardine-like can packed in oil and yes, it smells terrible but my dad to this day downs a can easily. I still give him cans of kipper snacks for Christmas. How's that for syncretism? Home made chicken noodle soup. By the gallon. With matzo balls. And now get ready for this one. You can thank me ahead of time that I have not included a photo of the delicacy known as liver paste. It was a staple, especially when we had guests. Saute chicken livers and then mash them into a paste, form a ball with the paste (it would be about the size of a baseball) and then garnish with hard boiled egg yolks that Daddy pressed through a sieve. Sort of like Jewish sprinkles. Sort of. It was served with crackers and there was never any left over.
Evidently the German Jews were very particular about the fat in their recipes. When I read about this in 97 Orchard I just laughed out loud. For obvious reasons pork fat and butter were not used for frying meat. Chicken fat removed from the soup pot or goose fat from force fed geese that were living in the tenement was used in cooking. My father has always referred to anything greasy as chicken fat. Now I know why. My grandpa also loved comedians like Henny Youngman, Jackie Mason, and the Marx brothers. When he was acting silly he'd talk like they did with their Yiddish words and phrases. Ah, yes, it's all coming back to me now. He also had an affinity for schnapps. Not the flavored liqueurs, but the 80 proof grain alcohol that he called his "eye medicine." He'd go into his study for some eye medicine and give my sister and me a yummy chocolate we came to know as "nam-nam." I can see clearly now. One more thing. When my first grandson Jack was born I called him Bubby. It just came out. Now I find out that's Yiddish for grandmother. I don't remember hearing that, but where in the world did Bubby come from if it wasn't locked away in my mind somewhere?
The Glockner family saga from 97 Orchard is more like my mother's German side of the family. Protestant, farmers, office workers, clerks, and seamstresses. This is my great-great grandmother Mary Weickmann DeWall who was born in 1837 and lived to be 95 years old. Her family belonged to the Dutch Reformed church and migrated to Illinois as the Mid-west was a home away from home for those who had lived in small towns or on farms as opposed to the big city Germans. My great grandfather was the pharmacist, post master and general store owner in Forreston, IL. It was this side of the family that gave us noodle casseroles, stuffed cabbage, lots of pork roast and sauerkraut, apple sauce, apple pie, baked apples, dried apricots, apricot bread, apricot salad, but no fish. There is not a day in my memory that Gramma didn't have a fruit pie baked. Or multiple pies, cookies, fruit breads and muffins. That was just the way of the rural German American according to 97 Orchard and my experience.
I've finished the chapter on the Moores from Ireland, the great potato famine and how the Irish made a "kitchen" of water and pepper in which to boil their potatoes. Once the potatoes were cooked they drank the kitchen. Yum. We have the Irish to thank for the establishment of the American boarding house where Irish women learned to work their magic with potatoes, milk, oatmeal and butter. Oyster patties, fish hash, and a soup based on salt pork, onion, and macaroni for six cents a pot. Sorry, sweet tea is not a southern invention. When table sugar became available it was the Irish who added it to tea as a way to simultaneously stave off hunger and give this boarding house lady a little pep in her step.
Next up, the  Russian Jewish Rogarshevskys and the Baldizzi family. What stories wait to be told from 97 Orchard? I'll find out as soon as I finish off a little container of herring with sour cream. Just kidding. I'm going for the hearty blueberry muffin courtesy of the other branch of the family tree.

Friday, July 1, 2011

White Water Rafting It Was Not

It was the best of times, that century between 1815 and 1914. They are the years of Hugo, Zola, and Flaubert in literature, Berlioz, Saint-Saens, Bizet, Offenbach, and Debussy in music,  and Delacroix, Rodin, Degas and the Impressionists in painting.  It was the worst of times. 1812 France has again been embroiled in revolution and Napoleon abandoned some 5000 of his troops in Moscow. He returned to Paris to continued national discontent followed by the 1813 invasion of Prussia, the defeat of the French in Spain, and the declaration of war against France by Austria and Britain. By May of 1814 Napoleon was off to exile at Elba.

Enter Louis XVIII who attempted to strike a balance between political factions and all seemed well or at least headed in that direction. Until you know who came back. Napoleon was back in town, Louis XVIII was not, and here we go again. Battles were waged against the Prussians, Napoleon's soldiers were divided between battle fields with 113,000 Anglo-Dutch and Prussian forces on the war path. Waterloo. It's over for Napoleon but it wasn't over for the revolutionaries and the royalists who couldn't seem to agree on borders, colonial expansion,  industry, agriculture, the church. You name it, they fought over it.

In June 1816 the frigate Medusa launched from France headed to Senegal not terribly far south of the Sahara Desert. Jonathan Miles in his book "The Wreck of the Medusa" details all of the background information of the voyage but all you need to know is that the Medusa set sail in the midst of enormous political turmoil to undertake a controversial task with its bow set for a pirate-populated distant land. It never made it.

On July 5, 1816, 195 years ago next week, the Medusa over 100 miles off course, ran aground adjacent to the Sahara, its life boats not numerous enough to carry the 400 passengers to safety. At least 146 men and one woman along with two casks of water, a few of wine and a day's worth of ship's biscuit  boarded a hastily constructed raft which immediately became partially submerged. The raft carried its prisoners to the very edge of human experience. For thirteen days the starving parched passengers experienced total mental collapse, death, murder at the hands of fellow crewmen and evidently that was just for starters. Only 15 survived the nightmare which was then blamed on the officers of the ship, King Louis XVIII,  and various other government officials.

Romantic artist Theodore Gericault produced the uncommissioned visual editorial of "The Raft of the Medusa" just two short years later with the occupants of the raft crowded together in a sea of humanity with the rescue ship the Argus off in the distance. Measuring a gargantuan 16' X 23', the first glimpse of Gericault's painting literally takes your breath away. I wasn't prepared for the larger than life sized figures being catapulted by the seas and one another into such misery. I wasn't prepared to have my breath drawn out as I was drawn into their agony. Such agony so incredibly captured on canvas by a 27 year old artist. It's a painting that seems to shout, "Look at me!" And look you must. And then you turn away from the grief and pain only to find that you have to look again. And again. And again. It's one of those unexpected experiences I wouldn't  trade for much if anything. The Raft. 195 years ago and still telling its story of the human condition.