Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pick-Up-Sticks Time!

As sure as robins returning and ice thawing, playing pick-up-sticks was a sign of spring when growing up in the country! It didn't matter where we played. It could have been on a front porch or a side porch or a back porch. It could have been on a sidewalk rid of snow. Wherever it was, we always had lots of fun and lots of laughs.

I can't remember if we kept score. I do remember taking my time studying the jumbled pile of thin sticks. I'd try to figure out which one would be the easiest one to pick up without moving any of the others. Of course that was my cousin's goal too. It'd be so nerve-racking when gently taking hold of one and trying to pull it out from the bottom. I felt rather talented when I'd press down on one end of a stick and the other end would lift up above the others. Then I'd have to move my fingers just so to turn the stick while it was still up in the air and move it over the others and then down. That was a major accomplishment when playing this simple game void of batteries and micro chips.

Besides planning moves and figuring out a strategy which changed more often than not, a game like pick-up-sticks offered a sharing of time with others. Conversations flowed as sticks were studied and pulled and rescued from the pile. Nerves were raw when nearby sticks were moved in the process and starting all over again was the result. Kids miss out on alot when sitting and playing video games for when we played pick-up-sticks it was about so much more than the game itself.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Beware Those Pies of March!

Besides the flour, another constant when my Grandmother made her pie crusts was a can of Crisco. She never had to reference a recipe or use a measuring cup when making her crusts which always ended up heavenly flaky and the perfect texture. Every time I buy those prepackaged pie crusts in the store I think of how methodically she'd fold her ingredients in to the yellow mixing bowl until she had it all where she wanted it. After gathering the dough into a ball; then kneading it and working it, she'd divide the dough, flatten it out with her wooden rolling pin and then spread it out in her glass pie plates, fluting the edges of the crust in lightning speed. While prepackaged crusts cut down the preparation time to nearly nothing, their flavor and consistency lack what my Grandmother created every time she made one of her pies which included-apple, pumpkin, mince meat, berry. Of all the varieties she made, my favorite was her Lemon Meringue! Those pies were masterpieces of creativity. The lemons used were real. The crusts, as I've explained, pefection. The meringue, peaked and browned, melted in your mouth.

If our Grandmother happened to be pie-making as Spring was waking up the fields and pastures it was a given that my cousins and I would be outside playing in the little streams Nature provided as the snow melted and buds pushed through the thawing soil. That's when we'd be making our own pies-mud pies of all varieties. Some would be decorated with tiny stones; some with sticks and old dead leaves. It didn't matter as long as we were making our pies. Although they were void of those heavenly crusts, the process of creating them was the same as our Grandmother's. Her pies just tasted better!

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Picture Really is Worth A Thousand Words-or More!

Over Thanksgiving and Christmas this past year some of us who'd gathered together spent time going through family photo albums. We had an aunt who devoted hours to organizing the photos chronologically by family. The photos represented a smorgasbord of family members-all ages and all situations at all times of the year.

The attached photo is one I had to have. I figure it was probably taken by my aunt with her Brownie camera if Brownie cameras were even around then. I carefully removed the photo from the album and later scanned it and then returned it for others to enjoy. The photo is an amazing snapshot of an amazing moment, showing my grandparents actually sitting down and relaxing, enjoy a summer picnic on the side lawn of their farmhouse surrounded by daughters and their husbands and Pepper the dog.

What I didn't notice at first was what was in the background, sitting in the field between the barn and the house. Looking closer I was thrilled to find our chicken coop clubhouse-the clubhouse I write about all the time. Even more amazing was the fact that the chicken coop was still a chicken coop in that photo. My cousins and I hadn't taken it over with the remains of an abandoned one-room schoolhouse situated just up the road. We hadn't replaced the chickens with desks and chalkboards and books at that point. This was the first time I'd seen the coop as a chicken coop. Quite exciting!

Behind the chicken coop you'll see my grandfather's barn. It's from memories of playing inside, outside and around that old barn that I drew upon when writing "The Reindeer Keeper." You'll also see the pipe held up high on poles used to carry water from the pumphouse to the barn. Sometimes we'd jump up and hold on to it and try to move along it by crossing our hands over and over as far as we could. I never made it very far because I didn't like the feeling when I'd let go and crash down into the field of picky weeds-plus the pipe was always freezing cold even in the summer heat.

This picture is truly worth a thousand words-or more for it combines the barn I played in and later wrote about in a Christmas story; the chicken coop where we spent endless hours playing and pretending; and our grandparents who worked so hard seven days a week-shown sitting and enjoying a summer day.

Digital cameras have transformed the art of taking pictures but for preserving memories I think an old Brownie camera was better. When finished with a roll of film, you'd roll it up tight careful not to expose it and take it to be developed. Then you'd have to wait-and wait a little longer until you could go back and pick up your glossy photos. The anticipation leading up to that moment was exhilarating! It was such fun opening the envelope and seeing which pictures made it through the process.

But the best part of using the Brownie was the fact that you'd have the photos in your hand-to sift through and pass around and look at whenever you wanted to. They weren't inside a computer. And if you were lucky, at some point, you or a favorite aunt could sit down and fill photo albums with pictures of family members-of all ages in all situations at all times of the year to ramble through for generations to come.

Monday, March 19, 2012

High Praise Review for "The Reindeer Keeper"

The Reindeer Keeper - Believe Again... by Barbara Briggs Ward
Illustrated by Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda

One of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. The embrace of the book, its tale of faith and love, yet mixed with sadness and resentment over past loss, touched a chord deep within me. This is a Christmas story, and yet it is a life story. A story of life that goes on through generations, through faith that doesn't fail and love that lives forever. Barbara Briggs Ward knows how to write magic that touches the soul and releases anger and sorrow.

Abbey has grown up without her mother from a delicate age, but she and her father have a wonderful relationship. They live above a funeral home where her father is the funeral director. Abbey helps her father by cutting out all the obituaries for the funeral home file, copies enough for the families, and through her caring mind begins to think about the stories of the lives of those who have passed. Her father is also a caring man, and has befriended a man that seems lonely and without friends. Imagine their surprise when this man dies and leaves a lovely old home and large property to Abbey's father with the stipulation that if her father passes, the property will go to her, and so it does. But this is the prelude to the magic.

Though a perfect Christmas story aimed at adults, primarily those who have lost the child within, or lost their way on the treacherous road of harsh reality, this is also a story for all seasons. This is not a book strictly of religious faith, in fact it is driven by the faith of a child, pure and unadulterated, whether that faith is in a person, a religious diety, or in Santa Claus. As children we have an innate faith and trust, we have an untouchable belief system. But life can change all that through the years. What we need is a reminder and this book provides exactly that.

There are many changes in quick succession in the life of Abbey, but her love for her husband Steve, and the reciprocation of that love is the catalyst for overcoming all obstacles. Life simply is not always smooth and simple, there are always sudden drops, disappointments, and misunderstandings. These are the trials she must overcome, in particular with her feelings about her mother who died when Abbey was young. It's a common enough human feeling in such cases to resent the parent for leaving, and Abby has carried this for too many years of her life. As her family returns home for the Christmas holiday, a magical event happens in her life that changes her entire feeling for her mother and fills her with understanding. It is with this new understanding and the love of her husband and family that she is able to cope with the news she is about to hear. But with newfound strength of heart and faith she is able to accomplish what she sets out to do.

This story brought me comfort. It cloaks the reader with warmth like a down-filled duvet. An impressive debut work of fiction. I highly recommend this book, I just can't say enough about it. I am so thankful I read it. Barbara, you are the believer, and you shared it beautifully.

Reviewed on 03/19/2012 by Member Betty Gelean

Sunday, March 11, 2012

It Was Bound to Happen!

I've been in my glory for a few months now, relishing in my favorite season where the colder it is, the better it is; the higher the snowbanks, the higher I'd like them to go. But I realize all good things do come to an end-for awhile that it is until Mother Nature brings Winter back around in all its freezing and slendid, breathtaking glory.

Besides the calendar there are hints everywhere that this natural flow of events is about to happen. I've discovered tulips and daffodils peeking out from their winter beds. I've heard the honking announcements from geese high above. I've seen their majestic flocks and watched them land in precision formations in fields and along creek beds. Streams are flowing. Tiny buds on trees are breaking through and suddenly, my winter coat's too warm and my winter boots unnecessary. I feel I'm in dire need of a haircut and I have absolutely nothing to wear!

It'd be so much easier if we could just keep things as they are. But it's too late. The clocks are turned ahead, the robins are back and I've heard my first Blue Jay-which reminds me I'm out of bird seed and suets and the ground needs clearing of all the fallen twigs and branches from snowstorms and icestorms and the wrath of winter's wind. Garden seeds need to be ordered and the windows need washing and blankets that were on overtime need to be aired.

It was bound to happen-this change of season thing that rolls around four times a year where I live. It's never easy. It's way too much work tucking one season back in drawers and getting another ready to go. But we do it. Away goes the hot chocolate. Out comes the lemonade. Away goes warm winter meals cooked in the oven. Out comes the grill. Yes, we do it. But depending on the Season-we sometimes do it with a lot more enthusiasm!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Teapot on the Lace Tablecloth

When I write about growing up in the country alongside three homes all full of relatives I am writing about my mother's side of the family. Her parents owned the barns, sheds,rambling fields and pastures surrounding their farmhouse. They had six daughters. A son died at birth. After their family grew up, my grandparents moved from the farmhouse into a smaller home they'd built on the property. My parents built a home on one side of them; another cousin's family built a home on the other side. In the farmhouse was yet another cousin and her family so needless to say, we were surrounded by family.

We celebrated holidays and birthdays together. We shared suppers outside in the summer under my aunt's pine trees. After we ate, the little kids would sometimes play baseball. We'd alternate homes on Sunday evenings for supper during the fall and winter. For awhile my mother, her sisters, and their mother would get together one night a week to work on little projects. They called it their Busy Fingers Club. We were lucky growing up on that country road. We understood the meaning of family. At least one side of the family.

My father's side was a different story. Their home set back on a curve down yet another country road not far from where we lived. He had 3 brothers. His dad was a cook at the area psychiatric hospital. Two of his brothers also worked there. The third brother worked in Washington. I don't know what he did. I only remember bits and pieces of going to his funeral. I have no clue why we didn't visit my father's parents very often. I do remember his father sitting in a chair in a front parlor. My father looked just like him. The one memory I do have of his mother is a vivid one.

My older brother and I had gone with our father to visit them. I'm certain it was a Sunday morning. It must have been in the summertime because a window was wide open and the curtains were blowing. I could smell flowers as we walked up the front steps and through the front door. My father and brother were ahead of me. As I was walking through the dining room, I was swallowed up in a warm embrace. It was my grandmother. She smelled like a grandmother-all warm and safe and loving. She wore black shoes that tied up the front. An apron that went over her head and tied in the back covered up what she was wearing. I remember hair combs and wrinkled hands and thinking I'd like a cup of tea from the beautiful teapot sitting on the dining room table covered by a beautiful lace tablecloth. But I can't remember her face. I can't remember if I ever did have a cup of tea from that teapot-which now sits in my home in my dining room.

All families have their quirks. Some remain unexplained. I do know I wish I'd gotten to know that grandmother. I bet we would have had tea parties while sitting at the dining room table covered by a beautiful lace tablecloth with a breeze coming through the windows.