Friday, February 27, 2009

school lunches

Did you buy lunch at school? My siblings and I weren't permitted to buy every day: it was cheaper to pack a ham sandwich, a bag of chips, an apple and buy milk in a little glass bottle for a nickel. But on the days I did buy, school lunches (now don't laugh) broadened my culinary horizons. Enter tomato soup and grilled cheese.

My mother must not have liked tomato soup ... I don't ever remember her serving it. Mothers are like that. We don't usually prepare things that we ourselves dislike. This is why my husband never gets liver and onions.

At school, tomato soup was always served with a grilled cheese sandwich. Tomato soup solo isn't too exciting, but when accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich cut in triangles: that's some decent eatin'. I didn't say gourmet, just good.

So, the other day I heated up a can of tomato soup and assembled a cheese sandwich for grilling. I went exotic and tucked some turkey bacon in the sandwich. Delicious.

While my quiet kitchen table provides a peaceful lunchtime spot, I think that marching into the lunchroom, eating with my friends and not having to cook would be a fun thing now and then. At least on tomato soup and grilled cheese day.

I could even put up with the boys blowing their straw papers in my face.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

a scent of spring

I pondered a day of house cleaning that I promised myself would happen today. Bleary-eyed and sipping my coffee this morning, I heard them. Little twitterings out back. And there, at the bird house on the oak tree by the patio was a pair of sparrows flitting about. A tiny beaked face peered back at me from the hole.

Now, as I type, the welcome sun streams in and and bathes my back. I've cracked open the window for the first delicious, fresh-from-the-outside, could-it-be-coming, spring-sweet air.

Last year we endured 23" of snow the first weekend in March. So while I have no delusions that spring is near, when sparrows are checking out real estate and sunny skies usher in 50 whole degrees, I have hope. Hope in the fact that the salt, grit, snow-matted grass and naked trees are only good for a few more weeks.

Come on, spring!

Monday, February 23, 2009

the lost is found

Well, this was the shortest game of hide-and-seek ever. Or the longest. I'd wondered about Mr. Stanko for years, but as soon as I blogged about him, presto! His comment appeared! (Thanks in large part to my friend, Dove.)

Yesterday, the day of the post, I had an idea to e-mail a coach at the high school where I knew Mr. Stanko had coached. This morning the coach answered, saying he thought he could help ... he did know Mr. Stanko and perhaps could get me a phone number.

But within minutes, John Stanko's comment appeared and we enjoyed an exchange of e-mails. He still lives in Connecticut, is semi-retired and has a life-long passion for education. I'm not sure John really remembers me, a mediocre student from his earliest teaching days, but he affirmed my memories of his love of e.e. cummings and his tortuous writing expectations. He's also glad that I remember his influence.

Hey, find and thank a teacher. I'm pretty sure it'll make his or her day.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

thank you, Mr. Stanko

Some people fade in our memory while others stick in our mind for a very long time. There's someone in my past who keeps coming to mind, and I'd like to find him and thank him.

He was Mr. John Stanko, my 8th grade English teacher. He seemed like an older guy then, but he was probably only in his mid-twenties. Mr. Stanko was portly, loud, and unpredictable: a sort of dark-haired, literary Einstein who tinkered with the potential in his students. He loved coffee: the air around his head smelled of it. He sometimes brought his coffee cup with him to class, a man ahead of his time.

Mr. Stanko was passionate about his subject, and writing in particular. So passionate that he required us 13-year-old dweebs to write something EVERY SINGLE DAY of eighth grade. At the time, I thought this to be cruel and unusual punishment. "Come on, Mr. Stanko, just one day off?" we'd whine. My girlfriends and I had more pressing concerns, like passing notes during class.

"NO!" he'd bellow, pacing and waving his beloved e.e. cummings collection over his head. "You will learn to write this year, so you will write! Now write!" And we'd put pencil to paper.

Over the months, a curious thing happened. I began to like writing more and more. And I began to look forward to Mr. Stanko's critiques of my work. One day he handed back my essay on winter. His brief, generous comment: "worthy of Frost." That essay is tucked in a box of my childhood treasures.

Mr. Stanko, you taught me well. You made me remember you and what you were about. Your purpose was not to make a student happy or her learning easy. From you I learned to catch a love of words and uncover a passion that might have remained buried.

Thank you, Mr. Stanko, wherever you are.

Friday, February 20, 2009

happy birthday, Katie!

My one and only and favorite daughter, Katie, is turning 19 today. At 4:24 p.m., to be exact. I remember the time because we'd only arrived at the hospital here in Delaware an hour before her birth. The doctor didn't make it in time, so Bill and two nurses delivered her. I think Bill had attended more births than one of the nurses.

Let's go for an acrostic for Katie's birthday:

K - kind-hearted. I can't imagine a more compassionate, humble heart than Katie's.
A - Adventurous. I think if we gave her a suitcase and unlimited airline tickets, we'd never see her again!
T - Temperate. Katie's so even-keeled. Or as my mom used to say, "she's very good-humored." (Mom said the opposite of me.)
I - Inquisitive...about things that interest her, like photography. Amazing what Katie has learned on her own. Another 'I' word to describe her is introspective. Katie does a lot of quiet thinking about what's important to her life. This is a solid attribute for anyone.
E - Empathetic. Katie is attuned to the struggles and needs of others, especially the "little guy."

I wish you a very happy birthday, my dear Katie. We're excited that we'll spend part of the day with you!

With Katie's 19th birthday comes the realization that we'll have a teenager for just one more year. I'm not really sure how this happened, but our teens sure flew out of here in a hurry.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

happy birthday, bro'!

My brother Pat has a birthday today. I can't believe how old he is, and how old all of us are. I remember back to when we were kids ... it doesn't seem like 45 years ago! Pat was - and is - my much-smarter big brother. He always earned better grades in school, probably because he cared and worked harder and I didn't care and didn't work hard. He was focused and planned his future; I just went with the flow.

There was one incident where I wondered about his intelligence. On a snowy day in Connecticut, he went sledding down a hill in the woods behind our house. I'm talking LOTS of trees. Pat slammed head-first into a tree on his sled. I don't know what it did to his brain, but he still seems smart.

Happy birthday, Pat. Watch out for the trees.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Our family, well most of us, is seriously into the Amazing Race ... and season 14 is now underway.

If, unbelievably, you're unaware of this show, here it is. Eleven pairs of people embark on a round-the-world race, hopping country to country and scary challenge to scary challenge. Each week, the pair to arrive last at the pit stop is eliminated ... until there are only three pairs left. First ones to the finish win a million dollars.

OK, ok, it's reality TV. And your point?

My kids have been talking about The Amazing Race for years now. Katie, especially, dreams of pairing up with one of her brothers and being selected as a participant team. We've discussed who would make the best pair: Katie has some travel smarts and Dan's a fast runner. David's got an analytical mind and Mark's Mr. Cool. Then there's the question of throwing Bill or me into the mix. After all, every season there are at least a couple of middle-agers to make it interesting.

On Sunday's episode, the team who arrived first at the pit stop is a mother-son pair, Margie and Luke. That's them in the photo above, getting 50-pound cheese wheels down a slippery slope in Switzerland, the first country of the race. What will make this team interesting is that Luke is deaf. He and his mom communicate by signing.

Once you catch it, it's hard to get the travel bug out of your system. Given the chance, I'd join the Amazing Race with no second thoughts. I probably can't imagine the grueling nature of it, but I'd still go. My backpack is ready!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

a little romance

It's Valentine's Day: for some a day of high hopes, of flowers and chocolates and dinner out.

All that is fine, but after many years of marriage and living, I've come to appreciate the day-to-day expressions of love and affection that have come my way. I don't think I'm the easiest person to live with. Sometimes I'm moody, cranky and just want to be left alone. But my husband looks past all that and loves me. Let me count the ways:

- loading - and emptying - the dishwasher.
- he doesn't hog the remote.
- makes grocery store runs.
- waits until I'm up to make the coffee. He knows I hate stale coffee.
- suggests we go out to eat just because, not because it's Valentine's Day.
- remembers that Tuesday is trash day and takes care of it.
- squeegies the shower.
- vacuums dog hair off the stairs.
- lets the dog out and in, over and over again. Wipes her feet, too.
- makes a fire in the fireplace even though it's a pain.
- lets me be me.

No, he isn't much into flowers and jewelry, but that's ok. It means more to me that he looks for little ways to show love throughout the year. A lot of women should be so fortunate.

Of course, Paul probably said it best to the Corinthians, the poor souls who needed to get it right. He said of love:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

1 Cor. 13:4-7 The Message

Way to go, Paul.

Friday, February 13, 2009

He creates the wind

High winds arrived the other night. And as I settled into bed, the wind beat against our house: the massive, creak-the-house, heaving sort of wind that to me is just a little scary. I would guess that Wednesday night's winds were nearly as fierce as those of last September.

As day broke, we peeked out to check for damage. Those winds packed a wallop, all right, taking down a 50-foot pine tree out back.

I find the realness of God in such a storm. He breathes his power through the wind and I am awed by it.

He who forms the mountains,
creates the wind,
and reveals his thoughts to man,
he who turns dawn to darkness,
and treads the high places of the earth --
the Lord God Almighty is his name.

Amos 4:13

Thursday, February 12, 2009


update: Katie Haller was the first reader to post herself! You don't win a single thing.

Although I don't really know what I'm doing, I'm goofing around with different blog features such as a counter and "readers."

Feel free to add yourself as a reader. Be the FIRST to do so, and I'll mention your name. I promise not to solicit you for anything.

Based on the counter, it appears that up to 50 people are checking this blog. (You get counted once per post. If you read a post 55 times, you're still counted only once. You also need more of a life.) Frankly, 50 astounds me. You are aware, right, that there are a bajillion more interesting blogs out there?

But thanks for reading. I am honored.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

feeding the birds

It's 63 degrees at 1 p.m. and I just grilled some boneless chicken that had been languishing in marinade for two days in the fridge. Bill was getting really concerned about that chicken and when it might get grilled. He kept updating me on imminent rain today.

The reason the chicken sat so long goes back to Monday's M-TV-E (major TV event.) We're still getting used to our freedom to go shopping and out to dinner on a moment's notice. In fact, we waste many opportunities to do so simply because we're still shedding 25 years of responsible behavior: diapers, feedings, naps, scout meetings, orthodontist appointments, baseball and soccer games. Somewhere in our psyches lingers the nagging thought that there's something to hold us back from impetuous outings.

So. After the M-TV-E, we used a gift card at The Cheesecake Factory for a scrumptious meal. Those folks really put out the food. So much, in fact, that we had a second dinner out of it. Thus, the poor chicken was still waiting.

So I grilled today, at lunchtime so as to miss the imminent rain. The chicken will make a fabulous salad tonight, along with the potato salad I made two days ago. Amazing how little food it takes to sustain us.

The empty nest. It's turned our eating habits bird-like.

Monday, February 9, 2009

unh huh, unh hmm

We went to shop for a new TV this evening. I had a sneaking suspicion that all would not go quickly and simply. How right I was.

First of all, the sales associates at Best Buy are very young and knowledgeable with nicely gelled hair. But they are way too serious about their TVs. So I use my age and charm to get them laughing a bit.

Fortunately our boy, I mean sales associate, Dustin, had a sense of humor. We told him we didn't want the edges of our HDTV to be shiny. He paused a second, probably thinking we were old wackos. "Shiny? You mean the screen?"

"No," we said, "the edges."

"They cause a reflection," Bill said. I was thinking more about fingerprints, forgetting that I no longer have toddlers. So we chose a "dull" Sony.

On the way to the register, Dustin mentioned we'd need some blah-dee-blah cable. "Oh, like fifty bucks?" I joked. "Sixty for the shorter one," he answered.

Upon reaching the register, he inquired about our DVD player. "How old is it, more than a year?" Oh boy, here it comes. "You'll get it for half price if you buy one tonight, and the image will be WAY better on your new TV."

Oh sure, why not? We chose one. That is, Dustin chose one for us. Cha-ching.

The embarrassing fact is, I have absolutely no understanding of modern TV technology, cables, cable providers or the like. Worse, I don't care to learn. Reading Consumer Reports puts me to sleep.

So it's very disheartening to enter into this techno-world where I'm lost beyond the sales boy's first three sentences. I'm also very worried that it will take me at least a year to figure out the new remote.

Lurking at the sidelines was a sales boy for Direct TV. In Best Buy! Oh, yeah - he got us. Scott was very personable and savvy on cost comparisons between his company and the one we happen to be using to get cable into our house.

By the time it was all over we'd been stung for, I mean selected, not only a TV, but two cables, a new DVD player and new cable provider to boot. After two hours, as Scott reviewed our agreement, I was hungry and tired. I found a nearby stool and pulled it over. Blah, blah, blah-dee-dah he continued.

"Unh huh, unh huh, unh hmmm," I mumbled, trying to look alert and interested. I was ready for my jammies and to curl up in front of the new TV. But of course, that won't happen until the NEW cable guy comes to the house to hook it all up.

One other thing. Why are these young salesmen so cool and in command? Maybe it's because they haven't been beat up by kids, mortgages, grumpy spouses and college tuition. Just wait. Someday they'll be the old wackos.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

happy birthday, Mark!

The world doesn't embrace shy children. Nor does it celebrate the quiet and sensitive ... rather, the extroverts are noticed. "Class participation" is even given a grade in school. It's the job of families to love these children for who they are and who they'll become. No, it doesn't take a village. It takes the love of family and home to nurture, encourage and wait on a quiet one to emerge.

My son Mark was such a little boy. He hid behind my legs and rarely uttered a word to strangers. But he came alive at home: a racing, tumbling jumble of a boy who loved wrestling with his dad and brothers. And a worker. At age six he helped a neighbor install a rock wall, asking the neighbor after a 15-minute lunch break, "ready to get back to work?"

It took a few years for Mark to shed his reticence with the world. I believe there was a sort of brewing going on inside him: a quiet building of a maturity far beyond his years. He is, still, a young man of few words.

Today, my youngest son turns 21 years old. He is a junior in college, engaged to be married to a beautiful young woman. His mind is immersed in his business classes, calculating his future. If Mark's assigned a task, it's as good as done. He hates to be late, as his usually-tardy mother and sister well know. A tad impatient. Through jobs at college, he's learning the nuances of building relationships and managing people. Imagine. My quiet little boy.

Which just goes to show. God fashions our children for unique purposes and gives them to us for a time. For protection, nurturing and finally, release.

Happy birthday, Mark! The world will welcome you.

Friday, February 6, 2009


The fact that I'd written a 100th blog post escaped me. I'm into words, not numbers, but here's a stat. The 100th post means I've written and posted almost once every two days for six months.

For a lazy writer, this is pretty good. For a serious writer, it's mediocre. Good and growing writers write every day. But writers also must write. Look around your local library. The thousands of books weren't written by people who sort of liked to write. I suspect they were produced by writers who had to write.

From a little book on my shelf, Writers in the Spirit, by Carol Rottman, Ph.D., comes this:

If I were writing a novel, like a "real" writer, maybe we'd all understand. But writing short pieces such as [blog posts] just doesn't measure up somehow. Or if I had published widely or were intent on the same, these solitary writing sessions would at least have an understandable goal.

Famous writers have often warned beginners not to write unless they have to - it is all consuming. I'll try to remember William Safire's words: 'There are those who will call you a recluse - but it is better to listen to your own different drummer than to go through life with ringing in your ears.'

Yeah, that's it. I've always heard a different drummer. And I'm marching past the 100 mark on an unknown road. Whenever I stop or doubt the journey, there's a ringing in my ears.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Go, Dog, go!

Mothers of sons: you know what puts us over the edge: hearing incessant BLEEPS on a show our son is watching in the family room.

"What IS that??!" we holler, horrified at what we imagine must be a program of little redeeming value. In my many years of raising boys, their attraction to "shoot 'em up" shows and movies really rankled me. Until now. Call me a spineless wimp. Call me whatever you want. But there is something intriguing about Dog the Bounty Hunter, a show on A & E that only months ago I was hollering for my son Mark to TURN OFF.

Here's the premise. Dog is the nickname of Duane Chapman, a middle-aged, wild-haired modern-day bounty hunter. He and his posse (Dog's wife and grown children) chase down bad guys who are wanted by the law for various bad stuff. Drugs. Dealing drugs. Stealing of all sorts. And usually involving their friends and family in their bad stuff.

I realized as I watched last night that while Dog and his posse look very mean and cop-like, their "weapons" are actually mace and ... paintball guns?? Still, this doesn't impede their effectiveness in pulling tips from witnesses and nabbing thugs from apartments and houses. (closets, under beds and even showers are favorite hiding places)

I can't believe I watch this show. But here's the thing. Dog's had a hard life - he spent time in prison himself. But he's now a professed Christian and prays with his family before heading out on a hunt. He and his buxom wife Beth (with a matching mane of blonde hair) are mannerly in their dealings with everyone. At the close of a show, they are usually talking with the culprit about how he or she could become a changed person. They find something to praise. They are compassionate and kind. Dog knows the mind of a criminal and what rehabilitation takes. Then they turn 'em over to the cops.

Dog does what many of us wish we had the guts to do: make a difference in the world. That usually means getting out of our homes, churches and cushy lifestyles to touch the hard, bad stuff of life.

I like Dog. Which goes to show. I should stop doing the dishes and join my son in watching a show before judging its merit on a few bleeps.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

from India, with love

My daughter Katie has always wanted a connection with the past, particularly grandparents who lived and died long before Katie was born. Last summer, as Katie helped her Grandma (Elizabeth Haller) clean out a drawer, she found a treasured link to her great-grandmother who died when Elizabeth was just an infant.

It is a letter dated November 18, 1916, written from India to Katie's great-grandmother Muriel Thayer who was ill. The illness is mentioned in the letter and we are guessing that the letter might not have reached Muriel before her untimely death in December 1916. The writer was Muriel's friend, Mayme Scott, a young mother and missionary wife. After a long paragraph on her baby's growth (the baby was speaking Hindi) Mayme went on to describe her struggles with keeping a good cook:

You are not the only person with servant problems. I have them, too. Just now I've been having trouble with a cook. These things worry me and make me nervous. It isn't any fun doing the cooking myself with the equipment we have. I nearly smoke my eyes out every time I have to do it. And each time I say I'm going home to America if I don't get a cook soon.

She then goes on to describe their mission campaign, an effort to bring the gospel to local non-believers. Mayme was excited about a new Indian preacher who dresses very simply in Indian fashion and lives simply too. He was of the Brahman caste - the highest caste there is. He preached twice a day for four days and his sermons were an hour and a half long. The church was full each time and people listened attentively.

Aside from this interesting look into a missionary's life 92 years ago is the letter itself. Three hand-written pages were surely not unusual at the time. Letter-writing was a typical - or only - means of communication between friends, family and lovers.

I've always had a sense that a letter is a piece of its writer and shouldn't be discarded. So in my closet are letters from my parents, grandparents, husband-to-be and children. When I occasionally pull them out to read on a rainy afternoon, they magically transport me to a place, time or relationship that is no more. They remind me of how precious people are to me, and of the brevity of life.

Those letters tell me to love those in my life and to leave written words, for perhaps someday my great-granddaughter will read not my blog, but my letters in her search to connect her life to mine.