Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Food Armistice Day

Ok, you foodie grinches, where were you hiding when we stopped by the St. Joseph HyVee tonight? You should have come down from your narrow insulated rarefied studios and pushed a cart. It was a zoo, a mob, a cacophony, a mishmash, a potpourri, a gumbo, a goulash, a shepherd's pie, an Irish stew. A bouillabaise? Nah, probably, being St. Joe, a buffet, a smorgasbord, would better fit the bill. There were folks loading up on pop, milk, still buying their fowl, still buying their whole dinner, judging by the number of (paper or plastic?) bags. There were folks stocking the produce aisle with carrots, apples, broccoli, any variety of greens. There was a helpful young man attempting to discern what cheese exactly the man-sent-to-the-store-with-a-list was supposed to bring home. A lady with just one pumpkin pie. Another lady with but two bags of frozen hash browns. A young man with a package of deli cheese and a pound of Greek olives from the bar. A man with a three year old in one arm and a red plastic basket in the other. A case of bumper carts at the canned goods end cap. No one, but no one in the frozen foods aisle. People buying nuts, grapes, bacon, egg nog, muffins, mushrooms, pickles, baguettes.....not exactly the bare necessities, but the stuff of which holidays are made. Everyone was busy, motivated, courteous if preoccupied, but primarily intent on the business of celebration.

What an amazing place this supermarket is! A typical store in a typical city with more choice than anyone needs to live well and eat better. Can anyone possibly need that many apples? All colors, organic and not, names unfamiliar, bagged or shined. Carrots with tops, carrots in bags, carrots baby, carrots pencil thin. A deli of cheeses at one end of the store; a dairy of cheeses on the opposite wall. Generic milk; boutique milk in cunning glass flasks.

I was there to pick up the grace notes of our holiday meal. I had my heart set on a table with two pottery bowls of green and black olives (one blue cheese stuffed, please) and some soft mild herbed cheese. How about some sesame crackers for that cheese? Oh, and wait, look at the size of the Holiday Seedless Grapes! My inviting table of tasty morsels has a good start. I needed the fixings for a broccoli salad, but splurged on two expensive dressings (olive oil based with blue cheese morsels suspended, an oriental ginger vinaigrette). Wouldn't impress a true gourmand, but will give me the private satisfaction of adding a fillip of extra care to my contribution to the table.

The operative mood overall was of bustling excitement and anticipation. No tussling over the last item on the shelf, ala the hottest gadget at Christmas, because this was a supermarket in the breadbasket of the U.S. at Thanksgiving, the very definition of beauty, bounty, and variety. The baguette was sliced and toasted for a peppered dip (a dab of chili to pep it up); apples became partners with ginger snaps for a pumpkin dip; the olives and cheeses did indeed find their way to a pottery bowls and platters. All these were warm ups for a kitchen steaming with pyrex dishes of yams and beans, glazed carrots and green rice. Snicker salad and deviled eggs. Biscuits, yeasty rolls, apple loaf. The crowning glories of cranberry stuffed pork loin, goose, and the impossibly named turduken, carved by their respective creators. Food for family, for company, for fun. Replicated in kitchens across our nation.

And just for this day, food for love. No food police, no food wars, no politics.

And, Lord knows, no calorie counters!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vote For this Man

I thought I needed to wait a decent interval after the mid term elections to pen this post; after all, the echoes of the word 'vote' have barely faded from the news channels and the last campaign signs are blowing into the fence rows to disintegrate with the winter winds and snows. On the other hand, the potential candidates may not have begun jockeying for position with appearances on above mentioned news shows, but several have thrown down the gauntlet in the form of assorted books and appearances. Thus it begins again....

Nope, I won't get a chance to speak out front of a crowd for this candidate; no one will ever consider me an impartial voice. On the other hand, I stand front and center as the authority on the candidate's actions, viewpoints and abilities. I've been there and done that. After all, we've worked as partners in love and war, work and play, politics and religion, richer, poorer, sickness, health....well, you get my drift.

So, I'm making my campaign pitch for my husband in his bid to be the next president of an organization we've devoted a lot of energy to during our adult lives, Missouri Farm Bureau. I've pictured myself making a nominating speech for Blake, figuring I can best describe the efforts I know he makes to be an advocate for the industry he believes in and loves. It is more than self serving, this belief in farming as a vocation; he sees the health of the food production system as a humanitarian effort, a moral imperative for consumers present and future. The work we do now cannot fail to have an increasing ripple effect on the people who will eat in the future. We have a family farm and we sincerely and earnestly hope our children and some of our children's children will grow crops on the land we work now, but that is a personal hope, the kind any parent or small business owner might have for their life's work. No, being leader of our farm organization has a bigger obligation and opportunity: making it possible to sustain the system that has, almost miraculously, provided the growth in agricultural production unpredicted and unprecedented in human history. Whew! What a load! But one need not be a particularly acute observer to recognize that the means to our end of abundant food are under siege by folks with the idea that "technology", "scale", "genetic modification" are terms that lead directly to cruelty to animals, degradation of the environment and the destruction of human health. This is a battle Blake is eager, willing, and well prepared to join. I know, because it has possessed many of the working hours behind the wheel of a combine, or pickup, or at the desk of the computer evening after evening.

Life on the farm has never been simple,or easy. As farmers, we accept as part of the job the risks of weather and income. But we have never once doubted that way we perform our job and its outcome is not only good, but inherently Moral. I may have my doubts at times about the long term necessity to the world of another flat of Super Elfin Paradise Impatiens, or even cherry tomatoes, but I KNOW the world needs our glorious glacial soil, our temperamental but temperate climate, our Grant Wood repetition of corn and beans, beans and corn. We never needed to convince our consumer friends in the past; they were appreciative, or at worst, blissfully ignorant of the nuts and bolts and nitty gritty of the food in their local grocery. But times change, I guess, and abundance is no longer sufficient. At each and every level, our methods are under intense scrutiny and sometimes found not up to snuff. We find ourselves fighting an evasive battle, knocking down one straw man after another.

So, vote for this guy. Vote for Blake. Give him a chance to take the bully pulpit of our farm organization and defend our vocation, our living, our countryside, our philosophy. This is a man who has been faithful in the little things, who takes care of family, farm, philosophy, future. Before we were married, I could see him jostling grandkids on his knee, and, bless all, that vision has come to life. Yep, he can't make it through Burn Notice without falling asleep on the couch; yes, he might tell bad jokes, or be flippant when you might not find it called for. But, take it from a person who knows well and honestly: if you want a friend and earnest eloquent voice for those who feed the world, this is your guy....and this is my chance to say so.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Now We Can Give Thanks

The cycle of seasons progresses apace with pickups, hunter orange, deer unlucky enough to be flushed and squished along roads from the interstate to gravel. I saw the first flush of ducks high above today. I told Blake I wished I could paint during this season, but all I can do is describe the light, the textures, the grass, the barn boards, as reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth. The fading sun leaves deep shadows and well defined planes on every farm stead. This year, a few trees still sport glowing crimson leaves and the crab apples are resplendent with jeweled fruit, even as some folks jump the gun on Thanksgiving and hang their Christmas lights in celebration of the milder weather.

I suffer no such temptation. The Thanksgiving feast and festivities are coming to our house so pumpkins still line the steps and the mantle above the fireplace is warm with autumn colors. E-vites have been sent and menu possibilities fill the ether. The kitchen and dining room will groan with tempting dishes as each family contributes a special favorite and most bring along something new and experimental as well. Without closing my eyes, I can smell the aromas and feel the warmth of a dozen steaming oven-to-table dishes. For once, the entry hall, the stairs, the dining room, the kitchen will ALL be warm without the aid of the gas log. The sound level will be dangerous. We are too numerous to add the clink of china to the conversation in my imagination, but wine and water glasses, sippies and coffee mugs will overflow the sink even as turkey tableware fills the trash.

Glen gave a thoughtful sermon on prayer last week, reminding us of the example set by our Lord regarding prayer. He showed us a particularly useful mnemonic device utilizing the word ACTS. ACTS stands in for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The obvious lesson of the sermon is how frequently we turn our prayers on their heads, beginning and maybe even ending with what we want or need: Supplication. I was reminded of the show we just finished, in which Cinderella begins and ends the musical with the fairy tale words, 'I wish'. The entire story revolves around the consequences of those self centered words, both happy and tragic. The wishes of the characters range from trivial (I wish to go to the festival) to the heart felt (I wish we had a child!). But in each case, the wishes set into motion events that prove that the "ends" don't necessarily "justify the means".

This is why Jesus gives us direction. Start at the beginning, recognizing the greatness of our Father, the Creator and Sustainer of all. As we praise Him, we are acutely aware of our shortcomings. And if we aren't, then the prompt 'Confession' shows us our error! Don't come before the altar without asking forgiveness; get right with your Father, children.

Only then is it time for Thanksgiving. Think about that! But after reflection, we will be even more thankful, not just for temporal blessings, but for the existence of such a powerful God and His overwhelming grace in forgiving our wrongs against Him and each other. Every Sunday, we sit in a circle and let the little kids pray. Every week, we attempt to speed the process by telling them to tell us just ONE thing they are thankful for. But they can't do it! Instead, prayer time stretches way past the ability of the three year olds of the group to sit still as each little child tells God thanks for every person they know. The little children lead us by example, I laugh to myself, even as I attempt to keep the kids around me on their carpet squares.

I am the first to admit I always get to Supplication in my prayer. So many to pray for! So many people, loved ones, tests, travel, illnesses, for which to ask aid! So many answered prayers as well. Its pretty hard for me to keep things in proper order as I drive down the road, or, for that matter, lay my head on my pillow! One more thing to confess, I guess.

We may sing the Grace song on Thanksgiving...or perhaps Charlie will offer his usual thoughtful and inclusive thanks before our meal. At any rate, with lots of kids in the house, I doubt we stand for a lengthy prayer. But as I cook, set the table, confer over appetizers, wait for buzzers to go off, and welcome our loving family to the meal, I will, this year, try to spend some time in Adoration and Confession, even on this Thanksgiving day.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Baby Steps

Annie can't find the bath tub; its blue, it should be easy enough to find among all the baby things that are re emerging from the basement and assorted plastic tubs, but it hasn't turned up yet....
When I've stopped lately to pick up Aaron or Lizzie, or just to visit, the signs of a new arrival have been unmistakable. Here, a new car seat in the corner; there, the pack 'n play. Matt spent at least a month re arranging and remodeling the entire kid's portion of the second floor. Aaron got the double guest bed; Lizzie traded her dresser/changing table for a garage sale find painted a neat clean white. The baby gets new shelves, a closet, courtesy of Daddy's carpentry: something new for the third child, the second boy, who is going to see a lot of hand me downs for quite a while. But everyone gets an upgrade...Aaron has a grown up camo bedspread; Lizzie a new girly violet paint job to cover the nursery fish theme.
Is that new baby in any sense of the world old hat? Not ever. Aaron was number one and I couldn't stop feeling a sense of amazement that I was standing there holding a grandson, of all things, that our daughter and her husband were now parents, just like us. We were on the same side of the ledger from here on out. From his first days, Aaron played with another little boy's Brio trains, and the blocks his grandma, mommy, auntie and uncle broke in many times over. But he learned his baby steps in a new house for his grandparents, even though this big old home will always be grandma and grandpa's to our grandkids. Aaron's books in the tv cabinet are now read by Lizzie, Gabe and Abbie, too. The plastic spoons and measuring cups that have always been his bath toys are now requested at bath time by his sister and cousins. The rocker that was mine as a small child and the caned chair that was mine at my grandma's has been joined in the living room by my granny's rocking chair. All three are the perfect size for three year olds to move around and rock over each other's toes.

Aaron was the first to sit at the kitchen island in my mother's old high chair; when the other three came along, I invested in booster chairs so we could record Father's Day pies, roasting ears, pizzas, icing Christmas cookies three at a time. What an unforetold blessing! How I never tire of the antics of these three cousins at every age to the present and constantly breathe my prayers of thanks for the chance to see them grow up together right here under our noses.

I remember the day our third was born vividly. It was a typical August day, it was my forecast due date, and labor commenced as I was washing the breakfast dishes. We'd added onto the house, but the baby's room was still our bedroom and the two bedroom addition was only roughly finished. The guys were building the grain bin. We didn't know who Ben was until the moment he was born; Blake was there, the first of his children he watched delivered.

The night before Lizzie was born, Matt helped Blake install a new fridge. That morning, I sent Kenzie a text telling her Lizzie was a beautiful girl. Then it rained, and rained and rained and Lee and Ryan came to our house to spend the night, just for caution's sake. And that early, dark morning, Lee called to me that they were headed for the hospital. We went to work at our muddy greenhouse and waited for that welcome call that Gabe and Abbie were here, blessedly big and healthy for being two. We wended our way through the country to find roads clear of water. Every one has a story.

And now, we're waiting for baby Josh, due to join us on his great Grandpa Charlie's birthday. The kids are asleep upstairs...Papa Blake is asleep on the couch. Its late, but I figure I won't sleep that well tonight any way. Godspeed, Mommy and Daddy on your trip tomorrow morning and God's blessing on you, new baby boy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lost among the Stars

Actually, this post isn't about celestial beings at all; rather its a quick and dirty reiteration of one of my recurring themes: stepping out of one's normal role, gritty reality, and routine. Its OK to pretend, within limits. As a matter of fact, to stretch one's imagination may be what lifts us above the level of brute and drudge and gives life its spice, flavor, and zippity-do-dah.

I did not love the hand of music dealt me this fall musical season at first. Or at second, when Blake and I listened to the CD of songs on one of our many road trips. The music itself was off balanced, full of strange meters and frequent changes. The story was not happy, not funny, and full of the dark fantasies that define the original fairy tales as set to print by the brothers Grimm. I remember going to a movie about those brothers when I was quite young; it terrified and disturbed me without going into the stories at all. Life to the brothers Grimm was indeed nasty, brutish and short, even when one followed the rules and behaved as expected. Lord help those who deviated from correct behaviors! No time out for these characters! Immediate terrifying consequences commenced.

But while this musical was modern in some sense (feeling bad for a wolf's mother?), it hewed close to the original spirit of the most old fashioned of fairy tales. Instead of characters black of heart or white as snow, the characters shift in and out of nobility and avarice, selflessness and sacrifice, and we, in turn, grieve or sympathize or care less as the tales proceed. Is there a 'happily ever after'? Sure, briefly, at the end of the first act, at a stage when we, in the audience, know without a doubt that that the next shoe is about to fall.

But, enough about the show. You should go see it, but I don't expect you'll enjoy it much the first time out. What a shame to create a work that your listeners will only truly appreciate after a month or so of practice! Clearly, Mr. Sondheim is not hurting for fans, and I know for a fact that some of the folks working on this production have seen the show multiple times and are somewhat obsessed with the piece. I understand and sympathize with such obsessions; I clearly remember the months it took me to get back into the real world after reading (or consuming!) The Lord of the Rings years ago. This type of overwhelming immersion happens to me nearly every time I play in a show; its not necessarily a good thing, but part of my make up.

It is disconcerting to wake up in the middle of the night with someone else's music so wrapped around your brain that you can't escape. To be like Sisyphus, pushing the same phrases up the hill, watching them roll down, then repeating them endlessly if you don't wake up enough to consciously change the tune. It may be foolishness, but there are days I can't shake the lingering melancholy of sad songs and stories, even as I go about my normal and quite mundane routine. How does one combat his own imagination?

This tendency toward total immersion is not necessarily a bad thing: I like to think it serves the purpose of speed bumps, slowing us down, giving us a different view of our surroundings, making us look up and around, instead of having our noses stuck in our own circumstances or wearing the blinders that limit our wider vision. We all need a sabbatical of some type, a chance to be that other side of ourselves, the someone we aren't because we work, we serve, we need to sleep, we're too young, we're over the hill.

How marvelous to be the kids on the stage, acting the same parts, saying the same lines, singing the same songs, that the pros do on and off Broadway. What an experience to BE the same character created by Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim. Forever and ever, you know that music in a way that someone listening to a soundtrack or a performance never can. You may never be great, but you touched something great, and it was more than a vicarious joy.

And if you're in the pit, you enjoy at a distance once more removed. But you're still part of the art, the melody, the obsession, the music, even as you orbit the stars like an asteroid in the dark.