Dec 22, 2005

Experiment in Iambic Quadrameter

A Man with a Plan

By Jack, Mommy, and Will

There was a man
From Pakistan.
He had a plan
To go to Dan.

Dan had a dog
Who ate a frog
Who left his bog.
Poor Mateen was all agog. [Mateen is the name of the man from Pakistan.]

And now it's on the blog.

Dec 20, 2005

Nothing, A Poem (as dictated by Jack and Will)

(To be read in a most sombre tone of voice)

Make poopy puppet
Make eyeball puppet
Make nothing puppet
Make nothing ho puppet
Make boo-y puppet

I love nothing.

Dec 15, 2005

More Nigella than Martha

Remember how I said that when I was a child, I thought that Turkish delight must taste like butterscotch brownies, because otherwise why would Edmund want to eat so many of them in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Well, I had to go and make some yesterday. I hadn't made any in years because they never quite seemed right, but now I've tweaked the original Joy of Cooking recipe enough to satisfy me. I doubled their recipe and used a 9 x 13 pan, but used the same amount of salt, and unsalted butter. Also a bunch of toasted pecans.

I'm not into fussy little decorative sweets, so I'll think I'll make a batch of these and a batch of Joy of Cooking's brownies (with either instant espresso powder or almond extract for a little depth) for the obligatory "Christmas cookies" after church. I'll also make gingerbread men with the boys. No one ate them last year at church, so I expect we'll just leave them out for show and then eat them at home. The boys have so much fun hand-molding them. They do look turdlike, so I can understand why they are shunned. We'll do cutouts this year too.

Oh, yeah. Here's the recipe. I brought these to the writer's group last night to accessorize my hunger essay.

Lauren's "Not Turkish Delight" Butterscotch Brownies

Adapted from the original Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 350, or 325 if you use convection. Grease a 9-by-13-in. pan.

Melt in a saucepan:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

Stir into it until well mixed:
2 cups packed brown sugar

Cool these ingredients slightly, transfer to a large bowl, then beat in well:
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Sift together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir sifted ingredients into butter mixture.

Add one to two cups chopped toasted pecans. You can toast them as soon as the oven is hot, for ten minutes on a cookie sheet.

Spoon dough into pan and bake for 25 minutes or maybe a little less. I do 23 minutes because I like them just cooked. Cut in about 20 mins, when they are still a little warm.

Dec 12, 2005

The Secret Habits of Presbyterians

In the car today, driving to school.

Jack (laughing, to Will): Something--something--Presbyterians--something! Ha, ha, ha!!

Me(disbelieving): Did you just say something about Presbyterians?

Jack (tentatively): Presbyterians dress up as devils.

Me: What? They what?

Jack: Dress up as devils.

Me: What makes you think so?

Jack: It's a joke. When we visited the Presbyterian church, people were dressed up. (We wear jeans at our church.)So I thought it would be funny to say they were dressed as devils. I can put that in my joke book. . . . Will didn't think it was funny.

Me: Well . . . it was a subtle joke.

Jack: What does that mean?

Me: It's a joke that needs a lot of explaining.

Jack: Yeah.

Death, Commas

. . . May I say something? It's about my writers group. My writers group happens to be associated with a major university in the city with Ivy League pretensions, except there seems to be no oversight or gatekeeping. Not to sound snooty or anything, but when I pay money for a babysitter, I really don't want to spend twenty minutes of my evening convincing a stubborn lady that her book on how to write a memoir should not have twenty-four chapters. Twelve would be better. And take out all the chapters on grammar. And organize the chapters. One very nice person was tactfully trying to tell this lady that her chapters were in no perceivable order. The lady kept defending herself. Finally I couldn't stand it any more, and I burst out with "You've got a chapter on death. Then a chapter on commas. Death, commas. Death, commas. Won't work!"

Should I start my own writers group? If any Philadelphia area writers are reading this, please tell me where you go for critiques of your writing. (I should probably save my pennies to attend the Creative Nonfiction Conference that is held at Towson U. every year in Baltimore. I went just before I had Jack, and it was incredible.) Or, if I started my own creative nonfiction writers group that meets in Delaware County, would you come?

Dec 8, 2005

Girl Seeks Food

Here's another essay I'm submitting to my writers group.

Girl Seeks Food

“You don’t feed that baby enough,” laughed the refrigerator repairman, commenting on my double-chinned pillowy body. Eight months old, bald and toothless, I was happy on formula and Gerber’s, not quite crawling the fat off yet. The common wisdom of the day, according to my mother and grandmother, was “Fat babies grow up to be fat adults.” For that reason I was denied second helpings for years and given skim milk, while my brothers got whole. Sweets were strictly limited.

I took this reasoning at face value for many years, but the prohibitions goaded me into committing what my mother called “sneaky” acts. When I was about six I developed a ritual of stealing four cookies at a time from the cookie jar. Even if I had just eaten a legitimate cookie, I would accomplish this mission when my mother left the room, almost always successfully. Here was my M.O.:
1. Take lid off cookie jar without clanking.
2. Swiftly and confidently remove four cookies. It always had to be four, I don’t know why.
3. Return lid to jar without clanking.
4. Take cookies to bedroom. Eat immediately.

Step 3 was by far the most challenging, because a cookie jar lid, in the days before anyone lined lids with sealing rings, was loudly condemning, unless I focused completely on the task at hand, and without haste. If it clanked anyway, even the least little bit, my mother could always hear it no matter where she was. “What are you doing?” she would holler. And I would always holler back, “Nothing.” Sometimes if I was just alone in the kitchen she’d ask me what I was doing, because she knew those cookies had a way of decreasing when I was around.

Cakes presented a different kind of challenge. I learned early on to not cut myself a piece, because my mother learned to remember the dessert’s roughly L-shaped configuration. The only thing to do was to cut all around the previously cut edges, hence leaving the same basic shape. I’d pursue this gradually, using a knife and eating slivers off it. That way, if I heard my mother’s footsteps I could nonchalantly shift to a default activity, like looking out the window or reading the comics.

Going out to eat with my grandmother was always a special treat, but not without its chastening moments. More than once she would embarrass me by proclaiming in a stage whisper at Stouffer’s, “This is a good restaurant. You know how I know? Because Jews eat here.” Of course I always wanted dessert, and she would let me get it but then shame me with a huge gasp when it was presented. “Are you going to eat all that?” Only in my teens did I gather the nerve to say “yes” and look her in the eye. On the other hand, whenever my grandmother was offered dessert she would say, “Just a teeny tiny sliver,” gasp when it was delivered, and say “I can’t possibly eat all that.”

Back at home, I carried the sneaky game too far one midsummer morning when I was seven. It was the day when we were to move out of state, and spend the night at my grandparents’s house. I was on the open-air side porch and I was just about to take a bite out of a Hershey bar I had unwrapped in the kitchen, whose wrappings I had no doubt hidden under less recent trash. Suddenly I heard my mother’s heels clicking along the walk. (Women of her age and class wore loud dressy shoes even on moving day.) My sundress had no pockets, so I stuffed the candy bar, improbably, in the side of my underpants.

Even more improbably, I promptly forgot about the candy bar, what with all the excitement of the day. Hours later I discovered it at my grandparents’ house, a gooey sludge in my underwear. I scrunched the underpants and their load in my suitcase, hoping they would go away. My mother found them almost immediately and asked me “Lauren, are you all right? What is this in your underpants?” Mortified, I said, “I’m fine . . . . but I really don’t want to say what it is. Is that okay?” Miraculously, my mother said “okay” and never brought it up again.

I like to remember that moment of grace, because in my memory there weren’t many of them. Even as a grown woman visiting my parents, I knew my mother was listening to the cupboard and refrigerator doors, to ascertain what I was getting. She would proclaim she was going to bed, only to pop up unexpectedly in the kitchen a half hour later because she “forgot something.” But I wasn’t the only person left hungry. My mother’s cooking was delicious, and I owe a large part of my cooking know-how from her, but she cooked scanty amounts. Every time I brought a boyfriend for dinner he had to eat another meal afterwards. My father would fix himself a sandwich right after he got home from work. My husband John and I would go out for a beer and appetizers two hours after a dinner at my parents’ house.

Now my mother and grandmother are dead, but I have six file boxes, three looseleaf notebooks, and one composition book full of their hand-copied recipes. One recipe card at a time, I decipher my grandmother’s loopy handwriting on the yellow-stained papers, and transcribe it. I sift through my mother’s recipes for Indian Pudding, Country Captain, Rhubarb Crisp, and, of course, cookies of one kind and another. Sometimes I encounter my own childish handwriting, in whatever color of ink I liked at the time. The project to record these recipes is daunting, but I will finish. Because I am still hungry.


This morning in the car, after the boys wailed bitterly about someone who didn't let someone have a turn, having to wear mittens, having to wear coats, having to go to school, and being reminded that it's a school day.

Jack: Mommy, do you like being a mother?

Me: (tensely) Yes. (suspiciously) Why?

Jack: Because sometimes it doesn't seem like you do.

Me: (determined not to take this personally like my mother used to be when I said stuff like that) I just don't like when my sons don't cooperate in the morning and act like it's a big surprise that they're going to school every day.

Jack: We don't go to school every day, just Monday to Friday! And not in the summer!

Me: (tensely again, while negotiating tricky turn) You know what I mean.

Jack: You want us to do what you want.

Me: Yes. Exactly.

Jack: (muttering) Like we're your slaves.

Me: (Nothing. I actually say nothing. Ta da. Turns on WXPN)


Conversations with Jack

First, a note about the Inquirer's claim that Disney is sponsoring the Narnia sermon contest: I really don't think it's true, at least in a technical sense. The site has a big ole disclaimer at the bottom of the page. That pretty much takes away the peg I was hanging the "Kingdoms Collide" entry on, oh well. But there will be over 50 movie tie-in products, and then there is some kind of sweepstakes, so my claim about Aslan's response still stands.


Here's a conversation Jack and I had the other day while the boys were changing out of their swimsuits at the Y.

Jack: Mommy, you know something really strange about the American Presidents?

Me: No, what?

Jack: They were all men.

Me: Yeah, what's with that? That is weird. And they're all white.

Jack: Hey, yeah!

Me: Maybe someday we'll have a woman president.

Jack: Or maybe a black woman president!


The other day, at breakfast:

Jack: Mommy, can boys marry boys?

Me: In some states they can.

Jack: Can they in Pennsylvania?

Me: No, but they can go to another state and do it.

Jack: That's what I'm going to do. Can I have more cereal?


Following up later in the day (at the Y, changing out of swimsuits, again)

Me: Remember when you asked about boys marrying boys?

Jack: Yes.

Me: Well, when you're older, you will be attracted to either boys or girls. Probably you will want to marry a girl, but maybe not. It's like being left-handed or right-handed. You're born to like girls or boys. But you probably won't know for many years. I wouldn't worry about it yet. There's room in the world for all kinds of love.

Jack: Yeah. Like I love Alex (best friend). And I love you! And I love Daddy and Will!

Me: But that doesn't mean you want to marry us.

Jack: Yeah!

Will: Yeah! Group hug!

(Group hug, rather wet)

Dec 6, 2005

Kingdoms Collide

For decades I believed that I had read all the Narnia stories. After a rather disconcerting conversation with my husband last year, it turns out that I had merely read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe over and over and over. I must have been very young, because I remember trying to look in my grandparents' spare room closet for snow and a lamppost. The closet was behind the staircase, and so the back of it sloped upwards into . . . into where? It mystified me.

Another burning question raised by the book was, "What exactly is Turkish delight? And where can I find some?" When I did finally taste it at the end of a meal at a London restaurant, its rubbery texture and vaguely rosewater taste reminded me that Edmund's Turkish delight was enchanted by the White Witch, after all. Had it been me in her sled, I'd have asked the White Witch for butterscotch brownies. I knew deep inside that I could so easily have been the Edmund of the early chapters, seeking my own comfort over justice and truth.

Edmund's change of heart, though, is profound. Even as a young child I grasped some of the allegory's power. We can grow beyond our own narrow egos. The world that is we see is not necessarily all there is. Ordinary children may be granted the power to see through the lies of adults and to change the moral landscape. A friend of mine who is reading the movie tie-in version confessed that she "missed the God thing" in her childhood reading. But I said to her, "No, you didn't miss it. You just didn't label the good forces as 'God.'"

That's why it's good literature. The Narnia stories depict an epic struggle for justice and love over corruption and greed, beauty and peace over disharmony and destruction. The struggle takes generations. It is bloody. The struggle is guided and disciplined by Aslan, who isn't always there when you need him but gets cranky when you forget about him. In the end, Aslan and the forces of good triumph in a final hard-won battle.

Now there's Disney, who is sponsoring a contest in which preachers are asked to submit sermons that mention the Narnia movie. Disney will hold a drawing, and the winner gets, not Turkish Delight, but $1,000 and a trip to London.*

Aslan is not pleased.


*According to this article in the Dec. 4 Philadelphia Inquirer, "Walt Disney Pictures is so eager for churches to turn out audiences for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which opens Friday, that it's offering a free trip to London - and $1,000 cash - to the winner of its big promotional sermon contest." However, this site says it's sponsored by

Dec 5, 2005

Coming Up for Air

Gulp. That felt good.

Things That Have Happened, in Chronological Order, Since my Last Post

1. Joint birthday party for Jack and Will

2. Arrival of inlaws from Indiana

3. Jack's actual birthday, with family celebration

4. Broken heating element in oven, the day before Thanksgiving

5. Heroic successful attempt by father-in-law to replace heating element in time for me to bake two pies that day

6. Thanksgiving at our house for nine people, with my grandmother's linens and silver. Everything cooked from scratch. Incredible stuffing and a bottle of mead made by my multitalented brother. And thanks to John the Brining Guy, various helpful family members and sporadically helpful boys.

7. My father's admission to a local hospital, for breathing problems, heart rate irregularity, and fever.

8. Surprise 50th birthday party one month ahead of time for my sister-in-law at a restaurant in Philly.

9. Will's actual birthday and family celebration.

10. My father's discharge from the hospital.

11. My locking my keys in the car at the hospital. (These last three were on the same day)

12. The departure of my inlaws, nine days after arrival.

During this time I didn't blog or write anything other than shopping lists and to-do lists. Didn't go to the gym. Mushy brain, flabby body. Must get to work.

How put together again sentences do you?