Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Missing Grandma

As the years pass, I still miss Grandma Goodding. She died 35 years ago yesterday, and I wasn't even able to go to her funeral. But I think of her every time I look in the mirror because as I grow older, I look more like her. She had a profound influence on me in many ways, for which I am ever grateful. She said many times, "Always pray for an understanding heart." I do, and it makes a difference.

One of her legacies is that she was an extraordinary homemaker. Grandma made fabulous jams and jellies there in Oregon, the land of abundant fruit. I've become something of an expert at it myself over the years. She practiced inspired resourcefulness that I try to emulate. I documented a few years ago the family's food experiences during the Depression and World War II in a family cookbook that showcased her special talents. This is the woman who, in 1932, found herself at harvest time with so many ripe cantaloup she bottled them. I only know that she did it, but I don't know how it tasted because my uncle, the only remaining one of her children, couldn't remember how it tasted.

This is the woman who wrote notes on all of her recipes, and thus we know that in 1902, their cake frosting du jour was Ma's Old Fashioned Icing--egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar, water, and vanilla extract. Back in the day when sacks of flour contained a fold-out recipe brochure, Grandma's noted "Hugh's favorite" [that's Grandpa] on a recipe for Butterscotch Chewy Cake, and "made for Navienne's BD [my mother] 1965." Mother was in her 40s then.

Grandma was a remarkably creative cook. On the butterscotch cake recipe she also noted that by using more flour, the same recipe could be baked as cookies. My mother developed the same habit of making notes on her successes and failures, and writing additional recipes on the inside covers of cookbooks. Thus I have her recipe for never-fail fudge, made with marshmallow fluff and evaporated milk, which I taught my fudge-loving grandson how to make.

Now, in the Christmas season, I'm reminded of Grandma's fruitcake recipe. It starts with a box of Cinch spice cake mix and includes raisins, maraschino cherries, orange peel, dates, figs, white flour, graham flour, fruit cake mix, walnuts, and a pint of her homemade watermelon rind pickles. We have the recipe for that, too, but no one makes it anymore.

Most favorite of all, however, were Grandma's Peanut Butter Cookies. These are unique because instead of rolling the dough into balls for baking, according to recipe directions, she found it faster to squeeze the dough in her hand, and when the cookie baked, it looked an awful lot like a peanut. When I taught my granddaughters how to make this, their little tiny hands made some awfully small "peanuts."

Heat oven 375. Cream 1 C shortening, 1 C peanut butter (chunky if you like), 1 C brown sugar, 1 C white sugar. Mix in 3 eggs. Combine 1/2 t salt, 1 t baking powder, 1 t soda, 3 C flour. Mix well, with your hands if you have to. For 1" balls, place on cookie sheet, flatten slightly to make a "criss-cross" with a fork dipped in sugar. Bake 8 minutes. Makes about 6 dozen. Or you can try Grandma's method of squeezing the dough into a "peanut" shape. It's impressive--looks almost like a Nutter Butter.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Weight Control Tips

Let's say--theoretically, of course--that it's just after the holidays and you've got a doctor's appointment at which you'll have to face the music and step on the scales. Here are the top ten things you can do  to make the best of it:

10. Remember to step out of your shoes (no socks, of course), empty your pockets and take off your glasses.

9. Go without breakfast, or lunch.

8. Take diuretics the night before, eat plenty of cucumbers, celery and tomato juice, and insist on a potty break just before you step on the scales.

7. Clip your fingernails right down to the nubs, but not far enough to bleed because then you'll have to wear a bandage and that can tip the scales the wrong way.

6. Trim your hair; consider a buzz cut. (Come on, girls. Hair grows back.)

5. Total body depilatory.

4. Pedicure to rid you of that unwanted dead skin from the calluses on feet and ankles.

3. Wear summer-weight clothes, as few as possible, and no jewelry.

2. Bikini underwear.

1. One word: laxatives. Consider a colonoscopy prep.

I'm not promising complete success, but at least you will know when you follow these steps that have done your best.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sons and Daughters

Not long after we were married--nearly 43 years ago now--I noticed a phenomenon I hadn't anticipated to come along with in-laws. I discovered that my husband will always be his mother's son. When went to visit his parents, he changed for a time and suddenly wasn't my husband anymore. Being in their house again, he resumed the role of their child. But being the dense, linear thinker that I am (read "well, duh") I didn't realize that I did the same thing when we went home to my parents. We saw his parents more often than mine, being in the same town for the first year we were married, so it took me longer to recognize this subtle alteration in myself. If we stayed at either parents' houses for very long, falling back into those child patterns, we didn't really communicate very much as husband and wife and often had misunderstandings. I pointed out what I had noticed and we talked about how to avoid those conflicts.

Then Life happened. We had two daughters and a son. Dau 2 married first, three months before Dau 1, and Only Son fell madly in love shortly after he returned from his mission. They wanted to get married over the Christmas holidays, but this being the first wedding for DIL's mother, I urged them to wait until one or both had finished their Associate's degree and not spring a Christmas wedding on a mother who had five other kids. I was proud of their decision to wait six months.

Remembering back to the "falling into old patterns" experience of my early married life, I have always tried to make my children's spouses feel like they are my children, too, so they can revert to being mine when they visit us. I love them as if they were my own and it isn't hard to treat them that way.

We had affectionate nicknames for our children, and Only Son was always "my boy." I fell into my own patterns when my daughters brought their husbands into the family, and Only Son was somewhat dismayed when he heard me refer to his brothers-in-law by the same nickname. "Hey," he said once, "I thought I was your boy." He didn't see the deep affection I have for these young men who love and cherish and honor my daughters. As time passed, he grew to love them, too, and began to understand. Now I often refer to my grandsons as "my boy."

We are all going to be together this week, all six of our children and five of our grandchildren. (We hope our little Elijah, who came but couldn't stay very long, will have a chance to look in on our shenanigans and do what he can to bring us where he is so we can go on to have these great family occasions with him in the future.) With each personality and the unique gifts each one brings to the family, we plan family times to make lots of good memories that these five can take when they leave home. My wish for them is that they can find someone who will love and cherish them, as their parents exemplify, and that their in-laws will accept them as their own.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Gratitude and Christmas Wishes

Sometimes I have wondered why two big family-oriented holidays should be so close on the calendar, but as I get older, I'm better able to see the wisdom of it. As a child I enjoyed the Thanksgiving traditions of food and family, but I wanted to hurry past it to get to the gift-giving season. Me-me-me. Gimme-gimme-gimme. (See my essay "Thanks But Gimme" in the archive.) Maturity has wiped out a lot of that bad attitude, and now I think that Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude, should extend all the way through Christmas. We are, after all, grateful for the Savior. We have Christmas so we can have Easter, which is the most important holiday of all. Gratitude should be the underpinning of all our celebrations.

This year our family is going to have a chance to make Christmas a gratitude occasion, too. Our New York kids are coming out to Utah at Thanksgiving and our whole family will be together for almost a week. Since they can't come back for Christmas, we decided to have ThanksMas. Thanksgiving and Christmas in one week should blend the two holidays together the way they ought to be. My goal, of course, as the Grandma/hostess is to make it memorable. With input from the others, menus and activities have been planned, and the plans continue to be tweaked. Some of the events during the week will be held at our house, and some at Daughter 2's house two streets away. Between the two houses we can sleep all 13 of us.

Thanksgiving includes a pie baking lesson from Grandma (the day before), and other cooperative feast preparation--everybody will have an assignment, from mashing potatoes to setting the table. Now that our five grandchildren are two teenagers, two preteens and one eight-year-old, they're all fairly independent and self-directed, and they like helping out, so getting dinner ready won't be that hard. And I have a few surprises I hope the kids will enjoy, including all the materials needed for them to put together a winter bird feeding station in my back yard.

For our Christmas celebration, we are blending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traditions. I had hoped for a theme of "The 12 Days of Christmas," which quickly became "12 Hours," until Daughter 1 had a better idea yet--"Why not make it the 12 Gifts of Christmas?" she asked. Perfect! With a different activity every hour, a different "gift" we can enjoy together, gifts of tradition, food, family, service and remembering the Savior, we'll continue the gratitude theme. From decorating Grandma's Christmas tree to making cookies and fudge, to a service project, and the "gift" of lunch at their favorite fast food place, we will laugh and have fun together. We'll end the day with hot chocolate and a Christmas program arranged by Only Son. And at the end we'll love each other even more.

And the more I think and refine the plans, the more I realize that this is how Thanksgiving and Christmas ought to be--one seamless celebration of family and the Savior who binds us together--and I am sure this will be the best ThanksMas ever.

Monday, August 6, 2012

You Can't Hide Anything

Last Friday night we saw the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of Les Miserables, an audience favorite around the world for thirty years or more. Other than seeing a concert performance on PBS and hearing some of the solos independently, I have not seen a full stage production before. This one was simply produced, putting the emphasis on the music, the story, and the themes of forgiveness and redemption, and not on the razzle dazzle of fancy production values.

And the play-going experience was all the better for that choice. Not one voice disappointed. All the versatile actors in the company took multiple minor parts, and the orchestra provided the necessary solid underpinnings.

However, the most moving moment among many in the play was the performance of "Bring Him Home," a simple prayer with an unforgettable melody. Other performances I've heard of this song were technically correct and spectacularly executed. This one was different, however, because the singer of this prayer sang it in a way that made it clear to me that he was personally acquainted with prayer and its consequences. These are moments an audience member can cherish because they go deep into the soul and linger.

We love the Shakespeare Festival and try to see two or three plays every season. Moments like this one from Les Miserables keep us coming back.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

My Land, My Flag, My Blessing

Singing the national anthem last Sunday in church brought me to tears, especially when I recalled a recent news item that quoted a radio talk show host who declared the anthem is gory, glorifies war, and should be replaced by something easier to sing. Well, the version in our hymnbook is in a fairly universal key, so I can check that complaint off the list.

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thru the night that our flag was still there.
Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It's clear to me, as I read the text of the poem, that the depictions of war in it are not there to glorify the destruction that was taking place. Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the battle of Fort McHenry, simply asked if the flag, the symbol of this intrepid experiment in self-government, still flew. And does it still fly over people willing to sacrifice for freedom?

When a citizen asked Benjamin Franklin what the Constitutional Convention had given the people, Franklin replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." We are naive if we think keeping it will never involve  having to protect and defend it. As we sat and watched artificial bombs bursting in air at a family fireworks display on Wednesday night, I felt like singing the national anthem again. I realized that though we strive for peace, we have to recognize that sometimes it takes a war to achieve peace, and war is messy and cruel, a gritty, hellish nightmare. But it is the non-negotiable price of freedom.

More Franklin: "…the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: That God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We've been assured in the sacred writings that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel."

No, not all wars are justified, and not all political leaders have been the selfless statesmen we thought we were electing. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater has always been foolish. Yes, there are other political systems out there, but history proves they've never worked better than a constitutional republic. As Margaret Thatcher said, "The trouble with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money."

What do we need in this country? We need better Americans--those who put honor above everything else, those who pay their taxes even when they disagree with how the taxes are spent, those who are willing to become more committed citizens, those who are willing to fight even in quiet ways for a cause larger than themselves.

More than a decade ago, a president was re-elected partly by his flippant slogan, "It's the economy, stupid." I said then, as I've said many times since when public figures have tried to define a situation the same way--"No, it's the morality, stupid." Thus will if ever be. If America fails, it will be because Americans failed to live up to the morality required by the principles of freedom.

And I will proudly sing the national anthem and be thrilled that the flag still waves because it will mean that we have survived the battle. Again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reflections of Spring--the Shortest Season

Before we go from snowy to sultry, as is often the case in Utah at this time of year, I decided to comment on the short season with short poetry--the nature-based 17-syllable challenge of haiku. Some purists say people who aren't Japanese shouldn't write this delicate form of verse, but being a cheeky American, I tend not to listen to those cultural directives.

This is my "spring" collection, although in my notes and files of Stuff, I'm sure I have a few more on other topics. Most of these were written way back when I was in I recall we'd just unloaded all the animals off the ark the previous week...and these little snatches of impressions reflect who I was then, remembering that sometimes in those days it was more about meeting a challenge than making sense. I still think they're kind of charming. Hope you do, too.

I tripped and fell in
the pond last night because the
stars beguiled me so.

This warm night and that
full moon remind me that spring
is for stargazing.

Shall I wrap this warm
breeze, or would you prefer to
wear it home in style?

Shadows float as trees
yawn and nod with the wind. It’s
tired out tonight.

The sad newness of
spring brings wistful smiles of hope,
the soul’s camouflage.