I held a five-month-old Iraqi child in my lap for almost a half hour last night. Any long-distance grandma knows how we ache to hold our own grandchildren, and leap to any opportunity to snuggle another woman’s child or grandchild.
The Clothes Closet our church runs was busier than ever, the last time we’d be open before Christmas. We had over 50, counting infants and children. We’d planned a special evening: candy canes or Peppermint patties for all, our guitarist quietly strumming Christmas carols on his guitar from the back of the room. Hence we were a little short on help—so the on-duty mission leader, Jim, asked if I would take over seeing that the little kids were occupied. The guitarist, John, was the one who usually got out the crayons and old computer paper for the younger kids to scribble on.
I soon noticed that a young Iraqi girl was in charge of her little brother, a five-month-old in a car seat. He wasn’t having any of it, starting to squirm, whimper, looking quite unhappy to be jostled around as she swung the car seat into a somewhat safer position on the floor. It didn’t take me long to ask her if I could hold the baby, he looked fussy. She nodded and I was in heaven. But would he just keep crying, with me, a stranger trying to comfort him?
I centered him on my knee and wiggled it a bit, and he seemed to get happier. Soon he had forgotten his troubles and was watching all the preschoolers getting their paper and crayons. All he seemed to care was that at least he wasn’t in his car seat anymore.
I soon started asking ages and schools of the children; then I got brave enough to ask what county the big sister was from: yes, Iraq. I’d suspected as much. She was nine. Their mother wore a Muslim headdress; our client base is about a third each Middle Eastern, Hispanic, and U.S.
Finally I stood him up so I could look him in the face and he could see me, too, and get used to the idea it was a stranger holding him. He was now smiling. Score! I looked at his straight black hair, his dark eyes, his olive skin, and it didn’t take much to imagine that this would have been much more what the baby Jesus (although technically Jewish) looked like than the “white” babies in all those Christmas pageants in my mostly lily white church experience.
When I looked at his nine-year-old sister, I also thought immediately of baby Moses’s big sister in the Exodus story of the Old Testament. What a great caretaker she was. How smart and quick she was to seize upon the idea of asking Pharaoh’s daughter, who found the baby hiding from Pharaoh’s harsh decree, if she wanted a Hebrew nurse maid for the baby. How brave that big sister was, to offer the scheme, even knowing the house of Pharaoh was of another religion and ethnic group.
This nameless Iraqi child reached across all the political, ethnic and religious barriers of our world to grab my grandmother’s heart, and I wondered if his own grandmother was half a world away, torn too by the huge distance. Where was this child–any child–safe in a world gone mad? This Iraqi baby reached across centuries and millennia to connect me with those Jewish babies of old who both were protected from insecure madmen. Both Moses and Jesus grew up to leaders–saviors for their people.
And here I was in a little Presbyterian church in Virginia in 2014, wondering about it all.
It was a holy night at the Clothes Closet.
What is your “o holy night” experience: already this year, or another? I’d love to hear your stories.
We join millions around the world praying for the grieving parents and families of those children killed recently in Pakistan, two years ago in Connecticut, and in too many small towns and large cities around the world.
Ten Reasons You May Be Too Old to Adopt a Puppy
The Education of Velvet
- You go to visit a batch of puppies right after you’ve been dismissed from the hospital for a procedure they do to folks after age 50, when they tell you absolutely not to sign any contracts or make any big decisions because of the medication they gave you.
- You hope the dog doesn’t knock your feet out from under you.
- You don’t feel like you can take a shower if he/she is awake for fear they’ll get into something.
- You don’t remember much about the last puppy training you went through with grown daughters living at home, who actually did most of the training and night duty.
- You get mixed up and keep calling her Violet instead of Velvet.
- You wish you could just diaper the dog and be done with it.
- You find yourself breathing a huge sigh of relief when she finally goes to bed for the night.
- You give up your morning exercise class because you don’t want to make your dog’s day by herself alone any longer than it already is.
- You give up your effort at doing real fall house cleaning.
- When you visit the farm with the pups, you fall in love and take home the little thing anyway.
I promised to write and show our new puppy, Velvet, now nearing 4 months old. She doesn’t look like a puppy very much any more, but oh does she act like one.
Well, after I was released from that wonderful procedure in the hospital back in October, we consulted the paper about whether anyone had any free puppies available. We had looked for a dog at a local shelter twice, and nothing was working out for an older dog, who all seemed to carry the warning “may be aggressive towards cats.” We have two.
We found an ad: Free puppies to good home. Australian Shepherd/beagle mix. “Let’s go check them out,” I told my husband. (Read more about that here.) I also wrote about how taking care of a new puppy reminded me of my daughters’ experiences with their newborns this past year.
Never again will I dismiss anyone’s worry that they are not up to managing a new puppy or kitten. Pets and babies take work, are inconvenient, make lots of messes, require body flexibility and muscle, and not a few dollars.
Perhaps this is a good time to remind not only us “seniors,” but young parents too, pondering whether they should indulge the little ones begging for a pet this Christmas. Maybe you should wait ‘till a saner moment. Like when you’re 60.
Of course I’m being a little on the dramatic side for the purposes of this blog. Velvet appears to be at least as smart as her owners, has taken to her crate training well with the use of a Kong, has survived her first visit to the vet (she weigh 22.9 lbs, in case you’re curious) and we are well on the road to what we hope is along and rewarding relationship.
All dogs are different, but as Velvet sits beside me in my study as I work, I remember how our last dog, Fable, was so tuned to my emotions that anytime I’d read a moving manuscript going through articles for the magazine I edit, Valley Living, and it would make me tear up or even cry, Fable would sense something was wrong and come over and put her face up to mine as if to say “I’m here. It’s alright. Are you ok?”
I want that kind of dog again.
What’s your best advice on training a new puppy?
I am happy to share a guest post by a Philadelphia writer, which maybe can offer some ideas of how our images of ourselves and of others begin forming very early, even from the books we read or that are available. — Melodie
A trip to the bookstore can make one believe that children’s books are only for white people and animal lovers. Don’t believe me? Take a trip to your local bookstore and look around.
Exhibits A through Z can be found most obviously in the children’s section. Many covers there feature animals, both imaginary and real. Prehistoric and present day. Mythical or cuddly.
Another image you’ll see is white (cuddly) children. There are some exceptions. Ezra Jack Keats’ popular picture book Whistle for Willie is usually prominently displayed, even though it’s 50 years old.
Venture into the tween section and there are fewer animals but an array of spunky girls and mischievous boys. All attractive, but insufficiently diverse. Move into the teens and the animals have vanished. The cover girls are less sassy, but model slender. The young men appear dreamy. But again, young people of color are missing in action.
I’m not alone in making this observation. Articles have run in the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and the Huffington Post. Most of these articles cite a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin. It stated that from the 5,000 children’s books published in 2013 that they examined, just 93 were about black people (even fewer were written by black author). This rate is down from 172 African American books in 2008 — 83 by African Americans. A low tally is also recorded for Latino, Native American, and Asian American books.
What is to be done? Plenty. To start, we could buy more books by minority writers, thus increasing demand. Of course, it’s not enough to just change the bean-counting mentality about books by minorities. There are also social problems to address, including school dropout rates, literacy issues, and the myth that reading is for nerds — or white people.
But let’s say that all those things could be improved. Still, we book-buying people of color will continue to purchase Llama Llama Red Pajama and Harold and the Purple Crayon for our kids, in part because so much of reading is pretending. For 32 pages of a picture book, the reader can imagine herself as a lovable pet or a cherubic, bald white kid. There are no mental gymnastics needed to see the humanity in these characters.
That kneejerk empathy doesn’t transfer to characters of color, though, even for us. In fact, it would seem that the message out there is that writers of color and their characters aren’t needed. Peek into the library of any book-loving young person of color and you will find it replete with the Madeline series, Pippi Longstocking, and, of course, Harry Potter. Don’t stop there. Look at Amazon’s list of “100 Children’s Books to read in a Lifetime. Aside from Esperanza Rising and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, there aren’t many multicultural offerings. Never mind the Pura Belpre and the Coretta Scott King Awards that showcase the brilliance that’s available to readers.
But forget classics for a moment. We need junk-food books too, like the best-selling The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. Usually, writers of color aren’t producing genre books such. Nor do you see much from them in science or fantasy fiction, or even love stories. Books about identity abound for multicultral authors, but too often those works don’t appeal to people outside of a given culture because they fear that they can’t relate — hence the aversion to the cover of a book that features nonwhite characters.
There are plenty of serviceable, lightweight books that only seek to entertain, not deliver some heavy message, featuring white, middle-class heterosexual teenagers. Just once can’t the handsome, rich insensitive boyfriend in a young-adult novel be black. Can’t the unattainable girl in a tween book be indigenous? And why must the one with the smart mouth be a sister?
With so many of our neighborhoods and schools segregated today, books that share a multicultural experience to a broad range of young readers are more needed than ever. Yes, I cringe at the thought. And, no, such a state of affairs would not make the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proud. We should be able to do more for our children to help them relate to all kinds of people in the real world. But if books can help open those doors, then we should make sure they are widely available. Growing up, I treasured the time I spent reading, even though the bulk of that reading didn’t reflect my race or ethnicity.
I wish I could say that just writing about this topic would make a difference, but the reality of years of poor sales for writers of color tells me otherwise.
Still, we must hope. “Books transmit values,” said the beloved children’s author Walter Dean Myers. “They explore our common humanity.”
So, writers, readers, publishers all, let’s keep exploring.
Allison Whittenberg lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, plays and novels including Life Is Fine, a coming of age novel, Delacorte, 2008.
Issues of race, education, and justice all swirl in these days of deep division and discord here in the U.S. My heart grieves, but I don’t feel like I have much to add to the controversies and conversation. This guest post, related to my interests in books, writing, families and education seemed like one way to respond on this Finding Harmony blog.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, stories and responses to Allison’s post.
Earlier this year in my Another Way newspaper column, I wrote of some of my upbringing around race, reflecting on the life and witness of another prophetic voice, Vincent Harding, when he spoke last January at my alma mater. He was 82 at the time; he passed away in April.
How many one-year-olds today have their first birthday cake baked an old primitive way, over a fire, in a woodstove?
We had planned to celebrate our second grandson James’s first birthday last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.
But the snow started falling early Wednesday and fell steadily throughout the morning. In this part of Virginia, that’s a little unusual for Thanksgiving, in fact most of us around here had a hard time remembering when we’d had a significant snow on or around Thanksgiving.
My daughter Michelle was in the middle of making the birthday cake for her son when the lights blinked and then stayed off. The oven, which had been pre-heating, went off too, of course. It took a minute for everything to soak in. The electricity was really off off. Would it come back on? When? How would she bake the cake? Already she had spent a good hour preparing the batter.
For this wasn’t just any cake. It was a “Tie-Dyed Rainbow Cake,” which Michelle had learned about proofreading the Mennonite Girls Can Cook: Celebrations cookbook for Herald Press two years ago. On pages 60-61 of the cookbook, the deep colors of a beautiful cake topped by white icing caught her imagination, and I think before she even got pregnant, dreamed of one day making that cake for a child of hers.
It takes six different pots of colors—made with the currently popular gel food color that create much brighter colors than the old liquid food coloring many of us grew up using. She had cut the parchment paper liner so carefully too—having learned that the batter would stay in better circles if the edges of the paper laid flat instead of getting crunched up by the sides of the pan.
But now, all that painstakingly colored and spiraled batter would soon be loosing its leavening agents, wouldn’t it? Doesn’t baking soda go flat? The snow was still falling. Would there be a party? How could we bake the cake? The roads were too snowy to consider driving to a neighbor’s house at that time.
Michelle looked to me and her sister, Doreen. “Is there any way we could bake it in the woodstove?”
Doreen and I looked at each other, and instead of dismissing it, said, “Well, let’s see!” People made cakes in wood cook stoves long before there were electric or gas stoves.
I dug out the grilling rack I use to make hot dogs and hamburgers in the woodstove; we found a piece of wood that was flat on one side on which to anchor the rack. We covered the cake pan with foil to keep ashes off and proceeded—carefully and slowly—to cook one layer. Doreen patiently babysat the cake layers and the separate, smaller loaf cake that would be for James (we could only get one onto the grilling rack at a time).
Eventually (long story made short) we ended up with one edible layer along with a little loaf cake for James. Michelle took it all in stride: in the great scheme of things, matters could be a lot worse, and oh well, we’d just have a great story to tell him instead of pictures of a beautiful cake.
The snow stopped, the snow plows came through and my son-in-law shoveled two paths out the driveway (my husband was at work). Our electricity still hadn’t come back on so we changed the party location to my son-in-law’s mother’s house (James’s other grandmother) about 15 miles away. My husband got home, showered at my office, and we were soon all on our way. I so appreciated Grandma Jeannie hosting the party at the last minute!
And the little boy and his birthday cake? After eating his supper, listening to us sing “Happy Birthday dear James” and his mother blowing out his candle, he picked that cake right up and just bit in like he knew exactly what to do with it, even though it was the first cake he’d ever been given in his life.
Tie-Dyed Rainbow Cake Recipe (as adapted by Michelle to make a smaller* 2 layer cake). See original post, and gorgeous photos, at author Judy’s blog, here.
1 white cake mix
3 eggs1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
gel food coloring
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare 2 9-inch round pans, lining bottoms with parchment paper and spraying with cooking spray.
3. Empty cake mix into large mixing bowl. Add eggs, oil and water.
4. Stir until combined, then beat on medium speed for 1 minutes.
5. Divide batter equally into 6 individual bowls or mugs.
6. Add gel coloring to each bowl: purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. In the first pan, pour half the purple batter into the center. Carefully add the blue batter right on top of the purple, followed by green, yellow, orange, and red. Do not stir!
In the second pan, use remaining batter in the reverse order, beginning with red.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool. Frost when cool.
(*Judy’s original recipe uses two cake mixes and 4 eggs, for a large, taller cake. To figure out how much water to use, in a 4-cup measuring cup, combine eggs and oil, and then add enough water to make 3 cups of liquid.)
Use your favorite white frosting, or this from Mennonite Girls:
2 packages vanilla instant pudding (4-serving size)
2 cups milk
1 16 ounce tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
Combine pudding mix with milk and beat for 1 minute. Fold in whipped topping until nicely mixed. Cut a thin slice off the top of 1 cake layer to create a level top. Place layer on cake plate. Spread a generous amount of frosting over layer. Top with second layer, and frost top and sides of cake. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (Original by Judy Wiebe)
If you have a copy of Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations, do check the recipe and photos for more in the way of a tutorial. If you don’t own the book, it is a drop-dead gorgeous book and 40 % off (new jacket on book) until Christmas, over at the MennoMedia store.
The authors generously donate all royalties on their books to projects that benefit children.
There are also a dozen or more illustrated lovely kids’ birthday cake ideas from Judy here on the Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog.
And yes, we already celebrated one first birthday this year: my first-born grandson’s birthday party story was posted here!
We enjoyed an early Thanksgiving on November 1. Hey, if our Canadian friends can have Thanksgiving the 2nd Monday in October, why not celebrate Nov. 1. We’ll have another next Thursday of course (with not quite everyone here), but these days, whenever the kids can come home, or the family can get together, make it work. I’ve heard of some families celebrating Christmas in late January.
So, I had a leftover turkey breast carcass, meat picked off the bone, and broth. I also had saved pork sausage broth in the freezer and sweet red peppers from the garden. Would all of that make a good soup?
I had everything but the noodles. I waited an extra day to avoid making a trip to town, and cooked up a hearty and satisfying soup with the approximate quantities found in the recipe below. That, of course, is the grace of most soups: you can cheat or add and improvise to your tummy’s content. I especially liked the rich flavor the sausage broth added. We love Mild Gunnoes Sausage, a regional (Virginia and West Virginia) brand that is high quality ground sausage, seasoned well but not too spicy.
While leftover turkey soup recipes abound online especially this time of year (here and here are two to compare), this was something my mother never made when I was growing up because she never cooked a turkey that I can recall. She didn’t really like turkey—the old complaints about it being too dry. That was before cooking a turkey in an oven bag made it SO easy, which also helps to keep the bird juicy. I can’t imagine not cooking turkey for our family—to the extent that if we’re invited away and won’t have a leftover turkey sitting around, I often do cook a breast just to have the leftovers and all the turkey broth goodness.
Turkey breast carcass*
2 cups cooked leftover turkey or chicken pieces, shredded or cut up to smallish size
2 cups turkey broth
1 10-oz. can chicken broth
1 cup sausage or pork broth
2 cups medium (or small) dry noodles
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
½ sweet red pepper, chopped
2 carrots, chopped, quartered (approx.)
Salt and pepper to taste (try ½ tsp. each), and other spices as you like (curry, cumin, poultry seasoning, bay leaf)
Boil turkey carcass to create broth by adding enough water to cover carcass in 5 quart (or similar) size pan. Add salt, pepper, and a handful of celery leaves (cut from celery stalks) to mixture as it cooks. Cover and simmer for one hour or so.
Remove carcass from broth. Cool at least ten minutes. Pick off any remaining meat to add to the leftover turkey pieces you have on hand.
Leaving broth in the pan, add chopped turkey, other broths according to how liquidy you like your soup, noodles, celery, onion, red pepper, carrots plus seasonings. Bring to boil. Turn to simmer and cook for about ½ hour.
*Quantities would differ if using a larger size whole turkey carcass. Here’s another cook’s pictorial on how to cook off broth.
Freeze extra quantities in lunch sized containers for quick and hearty lunches in January!
What do you like best for Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, ham, oysters, salmon? I’ve heard of families where all these various traditions are enjoyed. For fun, take my poll:
For a variety of recipes for favorite family holiday foods, ways to use leftovers, and other recipes, see my book Whatever Happened to Dinner available here.