Friday, October 26, 2012

Passing Fancy

I must like this post. This is the second time I've reprinted it.

Midwestern leaves, exhausted from dressing up every day for the gala event of Autumn, slip into soft brown dressing gowns and fall any which way into heaps and piles for their winter slumber.

The sun decides it has lavished enough radiance on us to last through next year. It grants a few gracious hours but transfers the bulk of its favors to another hemisphere that has impatiently waited its turn for light-drenched days.

Creatures that abandon the Midwest and follow the sun call anxiously to each other to hurry. Snow is coming! Hurry! Those animals required to stay spend waning days gathering food and fatness to themselves, driven by an uneasy urgency. Male deer, knowing that late fall will shed their enticing, entrancing antlers as ruthlessly as it sheds leaves from trees, parade in front of females, libido-impelled to ignore dangers of shotgun blasts and headlights.

The ground feels the warmth seep away, sparing only a bit for some hardy mums and asters. It steels itself to endure the crushing weight of tractors, rakes, and combines, hugging the knowledge that soon a comforter of snow will shield it from raw winds and ravaging machines and it can rest and recuperate till spring.

Then comes the wind. It bullies from branches the few leaves that were hoping festivities would resume. It shouts down the birds who spent the summer singing in the dawn until, recognizing an adversary with greater endurance and endless reserves, they give up altogether and are silent.

The glorious extravaganza of a Midwest autumn is over. It won’t celebrate again till next year. It retires to dream up the perfect date, theme and invitation list for Autumn 2013, and allows Fall to work out last minute details with Winter on the exact date the White and Ice Festivities will commence.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Myth of the Severed Umbilical Cord

The new mom double-checks with her husband.
Yes, he assures her. The baby is fine, and the doctor did cut the umbilical cord.
You’re sure?
Of course. They even offered me the opportunity to cut it but I figured, hey, it’s their job after all.
And, New Mommy reminds him gently, you were trying not to faint.
There is that, he admits.

New Mom knows better. She’s heard of this condition but half hoped it wasn’t true. The cord only seems cut. In spite of all  empirical evidence to the contrary, including the clamp on her little one’s tummy, it is still there, linking mother to child. The child may be unaware of its presence, but Mom is uncomfortably certain it may be a permanent part of her own essence.

Sometimes the cord is almost unnoticeable. Sometimes it pulses with painful fear for the health and safety of the child on the other end. Or pride wells up when baby proves to the world it is the genius Mom knows it to be. Other times–teething, potty training–Mom can be heard calling the umbilical cord nasty names.

The invisible cord has some remarkable characteristics. It attaches its fully formed link the first time an adoptive mother holds the child of her heart.  A father is astounded to feel, somewhere in his midsection, tugs of fear, sadness, pride and delight for his offspring.

Wouldn’t you think as children get older, move away, get jobs and get married, that the cord would finally snap? If nothing else, it has to be getting brittle with age. Mom is lulled into a false sense of release. I still love my kids, she thinks, but at least I don’t need to worry about them like I used to.

Silly Mother. It only takes one phone call. Mom, I lost my job. Mom, he broke up with me. Mom, I have the flu. Mom, the ultrasound shows there may be something wrong with the baby.

The umbilical cord kicks into high gear. Mom’s insides are twisted and knotted and all she can think about is how to help. Prayers intensify. Somehow the crisis is endured, and Mom has to come to peace with the umbilical cord that will always link her to her children, and then grow little branches that attach her love and concern and pride to her grandchildren. The cord was never really cut. It just moved higher and now is attached firmly to her heart.

Friday, October 19, 2012

God's World

Poets give utterance to the wordless passions of our souls.
Edna St. Vincent Millay must have gone through an autumn similar to the one God graced the Midwest with this year, and her words give voice to our joy in it.

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
   Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!

   Thy mists, that roll and rise!

Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag

And all but cry with colour!   That gaunt crag
To crush!   To lift the lean of that black bluff!

World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
         But never knew I this; 

         Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear

Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall

No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In the Arms of Moloch

Forget boiling the frog slowly to death as the water temperature rises.
We’ve taken a blow torch, held it the leaking gas tank inside Moloch and placed our children on top.

Ancient followers of the god Moloch would lay their children in the arms of the idol in hopes he would ignore what they were doing wrong. They didn’t want to give up whatever it was that made Moloch mad. It was easier to just sacrifice the kiddies and bang the drums loudly to cover the sounds of their screams.

We sacrifice our children in many arms: Abortion, child abuse, pedophilia, gangs-instead-of-parents. But a new, overpowering stench is filling our society. It’s acrid and caustic and burns the eyes. Sex–not the lovely, exciting, blessed gift from God, but smutty, grimy, leering sex–has become the heart and soul of, if nothing else, our entertainment culture. We aren’t the first culture or first millennium that openly flaunts crassness. But it still stinks like burning flesh.

Our consciences, blunted and dull and smothered as they are, still convict us. We’re doing something wrong, right? But we can’t give up our contaminated delights. No. Out of the question. We love our dirty comedians and their grubby jokes and the constant barrage of cheap and easy and no-strings-attached copulation and excusable adultery that fill stage, screen and TV.

What to do, what to do.
Say, let’s corrupt our little ones! Put them in TV shows and movies and commercials that feature implicit and even explicit sexual situations. Have little girls perform dance moves that only a few years ago would have been performed around a pole in a ‘gentleman’s’ club, and wearing costumes that would make a pro blush.

Books for children are only slightly sanitized versions of the filth adults are reading. Singers who were teeny bop idols just a minute ago are now singing soft porn and their little fans sing right along. The ‘True Love Waits’ movement is mocked and children still struggling to figure out what a hormone is are told that condoms are as vital a part of the growing years as acne cream.

Maybe if we can make our children just as filthy as we are, Moloch won’t notice the blackened soot polluting us. We kill their pure joy, substitute sly titillation and then bang our drums loudly so we can’t hear the hissing death gurgle of innocence.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cooking with the Prude: Bratwurst Stew

Brat Fry at the Pig!

Our pastor and his wife lived in California for several years before they moved to the midwest.
When they first heard there was a ‘Brat Fry at the Pig’ they checked their legs to see if someone was pulling them.
No, he was assured, this was not the farming community taking drastic disciplinary measures to deal with naughty children.
They were being invited to partake of a dandy type of sausage known as ‘bratwurst’.
German immigrants brought the recipe and in 1920 the good folks of Sheboygan, Wisconsin shared it with the rest of the world.
We have great affection for our brats here in Wisconsin. We know they taste best grilled but, when lack of charcoal or propane, or a visiting convention of mosquitoes make grilling a challenge, they aren’t too shabby pan-fried. We usually draw the line at boiling them, unless we do it in beer and it precedes the grilling/pan-frying.

However, the recipe for Creamy Bratwurst Stew neither fries nor grills brats and it is still amazing. As a good Wisconsin girl with links to Sheboygan I prefer the Johnsonville brand. Our pastor (you know, the guy who had lived in California) likes anything exotic stuck in his brats–apples, sage, peppers, maple syrup, you-get-the-picture. We try to explain that you start with a good base brat and top it with what-you-will (if the centuries-old tried-and-true hot mustard and sauerkraut aren’t good enough for you) but he remains unconvinced. Maybe if we stuffed one with avocado and pine nuts and sprinkled a nice little vinaigrette on top...

Are you ready for the recipe? I take no credit for this dish other than having the good sense to try it out. Susan Holmes from Germantown Wisconsin (naturally) submitted this to ‘Quick Cooking’ magazine in 2005. I’ve been bringing it to church fellowship meals and bringing home an empty Crock Pot ever since.

4 medium potatoes, cubed
2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped green pepper
2 pounds bratwurst links, (remove casings) cut into 1-inch slices
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups half-and-half cream
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 teaspoons cold water
In a 5-qt. slow cooker, combine the potatoes; carrots, celery, onion and green pepper. Top with bratwurst slices. Combine the broth, salt, basil and pepper; pour over top. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours or until vegetables are tender and sausage is tender.
Stir in cream. Combine cornstarch and water until smooth; stir into stew. Cover and cook on high for 30 minutes or until gravy is thickened. Yield: 8 servings.

You don’t want to know what the calorie content is per serving, do you? You do?
O.K. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 516 calories and and 36 grams of fat.
Best calories and fat you will ever consume.

Now you know what a brat fry is. When you hear it is at the Pig don’t assume it is a sadist's way of making Porky watch his granny being grilled over an open flame and doused in mustard. The Pig is just an affectionate Midwest name for our local
Piggly Wiggly grocery store. And yes, we can say that with a straight face.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Quick! Before it's Gone!

Here in the upper Midwest the leaves are falling like we wish the box elder bugs would. Our technicolor autumn is fading into sepia fall.
On a recent trip to Michigan's upper peninsula we basked in colors and views so glorious and ubiquitous  and overwhelming that we risked becoming blase.
So before the spread of the drab, I'm going to revel in the all-too-soon-gone Autumn of 2012.

Copper Culture State Park

Peeping Tom at the Copper Culture State Park

One of the wayside rest stops that my Dad loved so much about Michigan. It was a perfect picnic spot.

Gulls may be pesky but they are so photogenic

Gulls assisting in the unloading of a fishing boat. In a photogenic manner.

Lighthouse on the north shore of Lake Michigan

Sault Ste Marie

The locks between Superior and Huron are the coolest thing EVER

The sun also rises over Canada

You should eat here. We did.

Lake Superior: well-named!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Homogenized and Pasteurized, or Free Range

Think back to your junior high years.
Remember middle aged women? (Don’t count your mom, your aunts or teachers.)
Could you tell them apart?
I could–just barely.
Some were grayer, some were thinner, a few didn’t wear glasses, fewer were not married.
But they all had short hair, were very very good, and incredibly dull.
One was pretty much like another, and although societally they were middle aged,
I labelled them as old, and, other than loved ones, insignificant.

Middle aged meant boring and stuffy and upright and homogenized and pasteurized.

I am well into, societally speaking, middle age.
But it is so much more vibrant and colorful than decades ago, isn’t it?
My mature sisters and I are so youngish.
We have distinctive hair styles and fabulous senses of humor.
I imagine that we make middle age look delightful–almost enviable.
How could youth of today not want to know women of my age?
We are significant! We were raised by women who were raised by women who lived through the Roaring 20’s!
And (as we repeat to ourselves often) 50 is the new 40. We were cool in school, cool young moms/working women, and that coolness is showing no sign of turning tepid in these, our raspberry filling years.

We are the Free Range Middle Aged. Free to be you and me. Special. Epic!
No limits on us chicks; we scoff at boundaries and flap over fences.
We are individualistic and vibrant and strong and on Facebook. So cool that we can joke about gray hairs and skin damage from baking in the sun with only a slathering of baby oil between us and the UV rays. Even when we wake up stiff as Robot from Lost in Space, aging can’t affect the Real Us. Uncaged, wild-at-heart women who were weaned on the Monkees and Led Zeppelin and miniskirts and hot pants are still truly young. Aging effects are just a little masquerade we play.

I assure myself of the above when I’m out with my friends and we’re giggling and being super cool about our wrinkles and fiber tablets and raspy joints. And then I see a group of teens glance at us, and for a second we are reflected in their eyes: a bunch of cackling, indistinguishable hens.

I shrug, hike up my jowls, and tell another joke. Just-out-of-the-egg youngsters can’t be expected to discern the choicest of Free Range Chicks.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Breakfast with the Prude

One reason I don’t have a cooking blog is because I can’t really cook.
Another is that I am too lazy to type out recipes, and downright indolent when it comes to taking step-by-step photos of my cooking processes.

But yesterday my husband asked me to make Amish Baked Oatmeal for breakfast.
It made him so happy that I wanted to share the joy. (The sloth is rearing its ugly head again: I may have already posted this recipe but it is too much trouble to go back and check.)

Here is the family cookbook. 

Please note my turkey salt and pepper shakers in the background
I love my family cookbooks.

Here is the recipe.

I love this recipe. Can you tell? 
(On a side note, my mother-in-law’s cookbooks never have spots. She is not lazy. She keeps her cookbook separated from her messy work surface by several feet and trots back and forth. Sometimes it is almost too much trouble for me to move the bowl from off the recipe to check it.)

Here is the oatmeal. I put the little cream pitcher in the photo for picturesque effect and then realized you can tell it is empty. Just pretend I already poured the milk into the bowl.

You will like this. Really. Two caveats: It doesn’t really feed 4, unless two of you are oat-phobic. And make sure your milk is hot when you pour it on the oatmeal.
I also made molasses cookies yesterday.
AND Creamy Bratwurst Stew. But before I could get a photo my husband
polished it off.

Maybe I’ll share those recipes another day.
For now it’s best to keep your expectations low.
If I start over-achieving, you’ll start expecting spot-free recipes.
Where will it end?
I’ll tell you where: step-by-step photos.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Missing in Lights, Camera, Action

I was a broke teenager. I mean as far as spending money. Even my friends whose parents were wealthier than mine were usually broke.
Hollywood took note.
Looking at the top movies of the 1970’s, one realizes that the movie industry assumed pocketbooks worth pursuing belonged to:
-organized crime bosses ( ‘The Godfather’, ‘The Sting’, ‘Serpico’)
-those who believed any time period was better than the 1970’s ( ‘The Way We Were’, ‘Star Wars’ ‘Blazing Saddles’)
-those who in a few years would be lining up for Valium (‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘Cries and Whispers’, ‘The Exorcist’)

Teen girls of the 21st century, imagine it. Movies of the 1970’s were not created to cater to an 11-17 demographic.
Teens appeared in ‘Carrie’, albeit usually soaked in blood.
There was a young teen in ‘Taxi Driver’ but she was engaged in a profession-that-shall-not-be-named.
I hear there were teenagers in ‘American Graffiti’ but that was on my parents’ taboo list.
The high school teens in ‘Grease’ not only looked old enough to vote, they looked old enough to run for President.

Thanks for nothing, Hollywood. Now that I actually have a little money I could spend on movies, you are aiming them all at girls who, less than a decade ago, were dressing up their Bratz dolls.

I watch movies and realize that Hollywood still assumes those of us who grew up in the 70’s are not worth pursuing.
We are missing in the movies. The few women my age who do show up onscreen are either forgettable, crazy, or trying desperately to prove they are tough, feisty, lusty broads.

I’m part of the forgotten generation, at least as far as movies are concerned.
TV Land in the 70’s, for whatever reason, liked my generation.
Teens appeared in ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘The Partridge Family’ ‘The Waltons’, ‘Eight is Enough’  ‘Different  Strokes‘  and ‘Happy Days’. Not to mention the Osmonds popping up all over the place.

But these days TV follows the example of movies and I rarely see women my age who look or act like me.
And that is too bad. Women of my generation are pretty fabulous, and these days some of us even have pocketbooks worth pursuing.
It’s time to give us another look. 

I volunteer to star in the movie with David Cassidy.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Surfeit of Beauty

A nearby town is built around several lakes. Last night we were driving the little isthmus of land between two of those lakes.
We saw a young bicyclist standing alongside his upturned bike,madly whirling back and forth with a camera.
The sun was melting into one lake, leaving puddles of glorious pinks and oranges squiggled with gold and lead.
From the other lake a full, brazen moon was rising, leaving a wake of cool, rippling silver.
I empathized with the poor man.
Within seconds the moon would realize that her ample curves were on public display and she’d scurry coyly high up to the heavens as her shining trail evaporated.

The liquified sun would be mopped up
leaving only the dark surface of the water and a few stray rosy streaks.

I empathize because this autumn has been one of heart-stopping, glorious, ephemeral beauty.
The skies, from sunup to sunset and beyond provide a canvas of saturated color. From their first day of creation till now our skies have been practicing the perfection of hue and variety they've achieved this fall.

The heavens themselves would provide enough eclectic beauty to prompt the soul’s deepest song of response. Amateur photographers breathe sincere thanks for digital cameras as we snap our ten millionth sky photo of the season.
But does creation leave us content with the glories of the skies?

No. It is piling on the beauties of the earth with broad strokes of color never to be replicated in a crayon box or a painter’s palette.

Nature grabbed every shade of every pigment from every nook and cranny where they have been lying, forgotten, for many many autumns, and tossed them over the land willy-nilly, in gleeful disregard for all rules governing contrasting and complimentary colors.

And we are left whirling madly from one scandalously flagrant beauty to another, trying to take it all in before
it gathers itself back into hidden corners and the somber grays and browns move in.

But we are almost grateful for the monochrome season to come. Our finite hearts and minds and eyes have their limits. Too much technicolor beauty this side of glory and we might burst.
God knows we can, for now, handle only small doses of wonder. In His grace He assures us that, unbelievably, the best is yet to come.