Spicy & Eldest, in a pose that reminds me of Medieval Madonnas. They’re a lot bigger now.
This picture still melts my heart, and I bet it always will.
Spicy & Eldest, in a pose that reminds me of Medieval Madonnas. They’re a lot bigger now.
This picture still melts my heart, and I bet it always will.
This morning, my Spicy child asked for Fwhales and cream cheese as a snack. Fwhales are cheddar whales; she’s been adding the F at the front since she could speak. They’re cheaper than Goldfish, and don’t taste like celery from the extra additives, so that’s nice.
Being only somewhat alert, I said yes. The Minions rejoiced.
Sitting here zooming through email, I have a corner-eye view of the kitchen, where Spicy likes to perch on a chair next to the counter. She was happily munching, when The Boy approached. He had formed the cream cheese nodule and foil into a small UFO. His Cheese-FO hovered above Spicy’s pile of cheddar fwhales. With sound effects and everything, The Boy let the Cheese-FO descend, and neatly abducted a host of Spicy’s cheddar fwhales, retreating to his side of the kitchen galaxy to devour them in peace.
She sat, staring, for a full minute.
They say alien abductions leave you speechless like that.
I think we may watch a bit too much sci-fi around here.
Because I am married to a Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow with a very low barrier of understanding the difference between “pets” and “critters,” our family ends up with a wide variety of domesticated and semi-domesticated fauna sharing space. (Some days I do chalk up my children in the “semi-domesticated” category.) Over the last 14 years, we’ve provided short- and long-term homes for the following:
And that’s just the stuff that’s lived inside the house at some point. There’ve also been flocks of migrating grosbeaks, and about a half-dozen wild hummingbirds who adopted us years ago.
The stark reality of the thing is that with so many animals over the years, we’ve also lost more than our fair share, to animal predation, illness, wanderlust, and old age. With those losses come grief, and a chance for our children to understand death and grieving from a young age… younger than we might like in most cases.
There’s something lovely in a child’s faith, however. They can readily accept that a beloved pet (or person) has gone home to live with God, and we can see them again, someday. Since I do believe in a God who has His eye upon the sparrow, I have no qualms in reassuring my children that all beloved things find a home in Heaven.
Heaven is, however, a fairly abstract concept. Couple this with our habit of discussing loved ones who have gone home to God in a fairly present-tense sort of way (because we do still feel them with us), and the whole geography of mortality versus eternity can get a little murky.
My Spicy child, having visited my Beloved’s Mother at her hotel when said Mother was visiting us, was determined for the next year that Grandma lived there, and we just needed to drop in to see her (and, lucky me, Lefty has taken up the refrain after this year’s visit…) At some level, they can understand that Grandma lives far, far away, near the ocean (which they’ve only seen once, and it was the wrong ocean).
In that same way, I believe they see Heaven as just a far-off place, peopled with those we don’t see anymore… great-grandparents who died before they were born, and pets, for instance. Knowing that Great Grandma Fern grew up on farms, and might love the company of a small black duck (who was too badly injured to survive here), gives them some comfort, makes the separation a bit easier to bear. It’s only just awhile before we visit and see them all again, isn’t it?
And really, don’t I do the same thing? I love to think of my favorite grandmother, sitting in an overstuffed chair with her favorite book, in the sun-speckled light of a fall afternoon in Heaven. I see her in a small green cottage, surrounded by wildflowers and roses. I see her blue eyes crinkle against the sun as she pauses at the gate, the breeze blowing the folds of her print apron just a bit. She would indeed enjoy the company of a small black duck, or a faithful old dog, or a well-behaved rabbit to hop about in her front gardens.
The whole scene doesn’t feel so very far away, after all. Perhaps my own geography, trying to push a wide gulf between mortality and eternity, is the problem. Perhaps my Spicy five-year-old has the knack of it: that Heaven is quite close, just a half-step sideways into forever, and Heaven, and God.
I was twelve when I first knew I would grow up to be a Church Lady.
Church Ladies wear heels and a nice apron, and politely putter around the kitchen and church social hall during funeral suppers and wedding receptions. They murmur soft greetings, and do magic tricks, invisibly restocking the butter dish when the pat-to-roll ratio is unbalanced. They know how to get that first piece of cake out of the pan without mushing it.
Church Ladies know where the punch bowls are kept, how to wash the forks faster than any machine, and why using the cloth table coverings is Important and Civilized.
Church Ladies have a small stack of buffet recipes that can be called into action at a moment’s notice. They know how to whip together a tasty meal to bring in to a family with a new baby, or a new loss, or just the need of a gastronomic hug that day.
I knew I wanted to be one.
I’ve had good Church Lady mentors:
Sister Drinkwater, who was about a million years old when I was little, and then spent the first three decades of my life growing smaller and smaller and smaller. She was everything delicate and fine in the world, silver hair and a feeling of lavender all around her. She was the Church Lady with the best homemade chicken and noodles, and a chocolate-frosted chocolate cake that could probably resurrect a few people, provided they’d only passed a day or two before. It was so good, Dad once said he didn’t know if we had so many kids because he and Mom really liked each other, or if he was just trying to qualify for more of Sister Drinkwater’s cake.
Sister Drinkwater’s Church Lady Mojo moved beyond food. When I left home, headed to the Big City and university life, she helped keep me firmly planted in my nourishing native soils. Now and then, whenever I most needed it, but least expected it, an envelope would arrive, addressed in her delicate, spiky handwriting. Inside, I’d find a short encouraging note, perhaps telling me what the mountain looked like that day, or that the apple tree had blossomed out, or that she’d been reading a favorite book, and thought I’d like this particular bit of poetry. She’d end by telling me to study hard, and be good, and to come visit when I got home.
Sister Carpenter was another Church Lady mentor. She introduced me to the joys of serving a meal: setting even the most humble table with care, making sure the salt and pepper were handy, passing along a smile with the bowl of green beans. Over the years, she’s been in charge of several hundred teenage girls, bringing us in to serve lunches at the Senior Center in town. She taught us to be invisible, but approachable, to be brave if asked to sing a bit of a song, or ask a blessing, to speak up clearly when leading the Pledge of Allegiance, because the Veterans who couldn’t hear so well now had pride, and didn’t want to come in late on something so important. It was rare that we’d clear out quickly at the end of a service meal. We had too much fun visiting with those we served, and weren’t ready for that time to end.
Sister Carpenter marshaled the gangly, the awkward, the rebellious, and the flawed, wrapped us in aprons, and taught us to be the Immovable Force in the church kitchen. She also taught us to walk properly in high heels, a skill for which I can never fully repay her.
My own Auntie is a Church Lady, and she’s raised my favorite cousin to be a Church Lady, too. We recognized one another as Junior Church Ladies at the family reunion, when we found ourselves puttering in the kitchen, setting out buffet dishes, washing up the prep dishes, sweeping. She looked at me. I looked at her. “I think we’ve grown up to be Church Ladies,” quoth she, with a smile.
In my own church congregation, I have a good dozen Church Lady mentors. These are the women who show up on your doorstep with a loaf of bread, just because. They declare some random Tuesday to be Cookie Day, and take a half-dozen to every child in the entire congregation. They feel free to tell funny stories in the kitchen, quietly, and set aside a particular piece of cake, as it’s one of the shut-in widows’ favorites.
They can activate the phone tree and put together music for a funeral with an hour’s notice, and they encouraged me to quit sluffing my God-given gifts, get over myself, and Go Sing for the Family, For Goodness’ Sake. And do you know? The patent-pending Church Lady Getting Over Myself method has done more to alleviate a crippling level of stage fright than anything else I’ve tried, up to and including sedatives?
I love these Church Ladies. To be asked into their circle, three and four and five decades their junior, is a privilege I do not take lightly.
My formal induction as a Church Lady started gently: the call to sing at a funeral in a group, then to borrow my oven to heat extra pans (living directly across from the church, it only makes sense to say yes). Then, perhaps I wouldn’t mind helping serve at the supper? (Thank you, Sister Carpenter! I already know how!) Could I bring a pan of rolls, or funeral potatoes, or a cake? One afternoon a call came from one of the Church Ladies I admire the most–she was unable to attend an old family friend’s funeral that weekend, but the family had asked about a particular song. She knew I *could* sing it… but would I? Solo? Out doors? For strangers?
Well, yes. I could.
You see, I’m Getting Over Myself.
I’m a Church Lady.
It’s what we do.
My family attended a Welsh Heritage Festival a while back, as the Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow, our Eldest, and our Boy were to demonstrate Scottish Country dancing.
You see, the disparate peoples of the former Gaeltachts have learned to support one another in this new and distant place. So, we Scots show up to the Welsh stuff, the Welsh visit the Highland games, the Irish turn up everywhere, even the grand-cousins of the Celtic dance traditions (American Clogging) take part, and we all eat Cornish pasties while we admire Manx cats and Breton fiddlers.
The Boy, Kilts Awhirl
My job was to feed and wrangle the little girls, and take pictures. Pictures like this one, which has nothing at all to do with the topic at hand, but which still makes me giggle:
The location for the festival was picturesque (in one of my favorite Rocky Mountain valleys), the company lovely, the dancing splendid. Heritage is a beautiful thing!
And then, there was this:
I said to my children: “Do you think they mean minke, or blue, or humpback?” and we all giggled.
Emboldened by my success and cleverness, I popped ’round to the other side of the sign, to the tasting booth, and asked:
“So, is it minke, or blue, or humpback on the tasting menu today?”
“Ummm… the sign? A taste of whales?”
Blank stares and a lengthy, painful pause.
“Well, you see, Ma’am,” said the nice lady behind the table filled with microwave pasties and production shortbread cookies, “This is a WELSH festival. So we’re offering tastes of food from that COUNTRY.”
My Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal husband kindly removed me from the area before I could do anything untoward.
Drat the homophones. Drat them, I say.
Gelatin desserts, in many forms and flavors, are practically a tenet of my chosen faith. Go to a church potluck, women’s luncheon, family reunion, or funeral supper, and you can expect to see a multitude (and possibly even a plethora) of gelatin molds, fluffs, whips, layers, and slices. We serve it in cups, in parfait glasses, even on a leaf of green lettuce (’cause that makes it “salad”, you know.) We’ll mix different flavors to get balanced “food groups.” We’ll combine Jello with dried, fresh, or canned fruits, walnuts, pecan, pistachios, or ground hazelnuts, celery, carrot shavings, jicama bits, water chestnuts, whipped cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, shredded coconut, grated chocolate… usually not all at the same time, but Tragic Mistakes have been known to happen.
However, I am married to a Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow who was not raised in a Jello-believing church. He does not understand the bliss of jewel-toned wobbly stuff. He did not experience the joy of sucking it through his teeth, back and forth, to make a fruity, liquid, burst of happy at lunchtime. He didn’t go to church suppers until I dragged him, and he still doesn’t really get the cheerful horror of the whole thing.
So, being a mixed-faith household (Jello versus non-Jello), I compromise by not making Jello much. It’s easier to abstain than to work up a good-humored smile when he gently mocks me and my food traditions.
Now and then, though… now and then, I need some fruity goodness. I’ll even make do with the simplest form of dressed gelatin: “parfait,” in which cubes of sturdy gelatin are mixed with whipped topping.
However, as most everyone knows, gelatin is not an instant gratification food. It takes time. And patience. And I’m not particularly good at the P-word, particularly when my taste buds are really, really, really set for a bit of childhood bliss.
I could do an ultimate cheat, and just buy a container of Production Parfait, but it doesn’t work so well, as it’s made with chemical whipped topping substitute that leaves your mouth coated with a plasticky, rubbery film that lingers for hours, and tends to give me headaches. Production Parfait is the food equivalent of questionable morals, or wearing a mini-skirt and halter top to Sunday services. And I’m just not that girl. So, Production Parfait is out.
But, I still wanted parfait today, and I wanted it as immediately as possible.
So, I cheated a little bit. It’s the food equivalent of “forgetting” to wear pantyhose in July, or skipping church if you have a really prominent zit or stayed up too late the night before watching mid-19th century British costume dramas.
Not that I would do that.
But I did buy a pint of heavy whipping cream, and cheerfully supervised my Eldest in whipping it with a tiny bit of confectioner’s sugar and a dash of real vanilla… and then we gently folded that heavenly, creamy fluff into the chopped-up contents of twelve pre-made Jello gelatin cups, bought in four-packs for a dollar each at the nearest grocery store. I figured the numbers made it a little more sanctified (twelve gelatin cups, three bucks), maybe. Okay, so it’s a reach.
But, five minutes to bliss, my friends. Bliss with Real Whipped Cream. And since I’m the Mom, I get first dibs on the beaters.
So, I proudly proclaim very small rebellion in matters of faith-food:
I cheat at Jello.
I have never been a fan of loose teeth.
As a child, I began losing baby teeth at the fine young age of about 4. This, quite frankly, horrified me. I’d only just GOT the teeth, and now they were going to fall out? I’d been chewing with lousy practice teeth?? And they had to go to make room for the real ones? And it was going to hurt? And it was going to bleed?
No thanks. Sign me up for jumping rope on the patio (the uncovered part), take away my library card, whatever! But please, nothing wobbly in my mouth, and definitely no blood.
I was thoroughly traumatized.
I’d let my teeth loosen all on their own. I did not play wiggles with my fingers or tongue. I did not chew with the loose ones. I did not do anything at all with them, save press them back down firmly into the sockets, and pray with all my might that they would just re-root, and not be loose anymore. The wiggling turned my stomach each and every time, and I dreaded the whole process. Those puppies got so loose, they hung by the merest shred of tissue, but I never once yanked, tugged, or even gave an experimental pokey with the tip of my pencil. Nothing. If my teeth were planning to jump ship and desert me, I was not going to help them, in league as they were with the greatest thief of all time.
The Tooth Fairy was a vicious thug who went around stealing what was rightfully mine. And she thought a lousy quarter would make up for the pain and suffering I endured?
(Now, not all my siblings had this same attitude. Once the brother just younger than I cottoned to the idea of a Fairy tossing around cash for spare enamel, he and the neighbor boy spent a clandestine hour with a pair of purloined pliers, hatching a plot to rake in the big bucks. Fortunately, my brother is more of a mastermind than a test subject, and by the time he was ungrounded, the neighbor kid’s front teeth had started to grow in again.)
So, Me + Loose Teeth = Nausea, Vomiting, Trauma, Anxiety, Unhappy.
I was a walking “May Cause Side Effects” pamphlet from age 4 to age 10.
In our household, my kids are quite staunch in their belief that there’s no way on earth Mom could be subbing for a Tooth Fairy, because the older two have experienced the dire consequences of wiggling loosened dentition at their female parent, and have warned the Spicy child against it. This belief is so firm that even discovering a small envelope of labeled, expired baby teeth in my “hidey spot” didn’t clue them in. The Mom who quite literally turns greenish, and has to stop eating dinner if a child says, “Look, it’th looth!” would never be a Mom who welcomed The Fairy into our home, right?
I try. I try to be The Fairy at least once for each child. Fantasy is important, and it’s not like she’s some quasi-substitute for important religious symbology or anything.
But my own childhood horror is aroused every single time, and I’ll have weeks of dental nightmares… you know, the ones where you bite into Jello and your teeth snap off, or you suddenly realize that all your teeth have fallen out, and no one seems to have noticed, or you’re suddenly sporting the world’s most prominent overbite, and have Perma-Spinach stuck all in them? Or that you’re an adult, but keep losing teeth on a daily basis, only to have them re-grow and fall out over and over again?
I’m telling you, that Fairy has a lot to answer for. I have tooth issues.
(My son is working on his last loose baby tooth. I’m finding it a great curb to the appetite, as I’ve been nauseated just thinking about it for days.)