Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Fiction: Be Ma's Guest

For more great fiction, head to Rick's Pod Tales and Ponderings

Be Ma’s Guest

I watched Ma’s door anxiously as Martha and I sat on the floor listening to the radio. When Ma opened her door with a flourish, I tried hiding behind my sister, but just as I feared, Ma’s eyes lit up like a cat on the hunt when she spied me beyond Martha’s skinny shoulders.

“Priscilla, you may come in my room tonight and be my guest.” Ma’s quaint and precise speaking manner belied the torture I knew I would endure as her “guest.” Martha knew it, too, and let out a sigh of relief at being overlooked this time.

Ma’s eyes bored into me as clean as an ice pick while I shuffled around and tried to think of an excuse to get out of going with her. I finally gave up and meekly followed her back to her room. Just as we got to her door, she stopped and pointed her bony finger at Mother.

“You may send Martha in with the popcorn in exactly one hour, Dixie.” Mother nodded absent-mindedly and went on with her darning.

“Priscilla, you may pull that stool up to the fire, and I’ll tell you a story tonight, or would you rather read from my McGuffy’s?”

“Uh…no ma’am. I’d much rather hear your stories.” I was lying like a rug, but I was not about to read to her from her McGuffy’s. My lazy attitude toward school was never more apparent than when I’d read to Ma. As she’d listen to me stumbling along in the text, her eyes would grow blacker and blacker, until she’d finally halt me with a sharp “Enough! You’ve not been practicing your vocabulary words!” I could do without that and the endless drills that would inevitably follow.

So I listened to the stories she’d told me a thousand times before, pioneer tales of how she and my Grandpa had come in a covered wagon and had cleared nearly a hundred acres with nothing but a plow and a hoe.

I was bored to tears ten minutes into the evening. I let my mind and my eyes wander to the fire. I began to imagine all kinds of lovely scenes in those flames as Ma’s droning voice lulled me into another land.

Whap! My errant attention was brought back to Ma’s room by a sharp slap on my knuckles with her ruler.

“Ouch!” I cried.

“A lady never daydreams when someone else is speaking, Priscilla. Mind your P’s and Q’s and act like somebody.”

I turned my eyes back to hers and reluctantly listened. About the time I thought I would keel over from sheer tedium, the knock that heralded the popcorn’s arrival rescued me.

Ma imperiously dismissed my sister with a wave of her hand and brought the bag of popcorn to the fire. Her eyes danced with delight in anticipation of our simple treat, and with a sudden swift toss, she threw a handful of loose kernels into the fire. She timed the popping process with the watch that hung from a chain around her neck and clapped her hands in delight when the fluffy nuggets began to jump out of the fire and onto the hearth.

We ate the popped corn as it flew at us, and I have to confess that this part of being Ma’s guest was quite fine.

But soon enough, the fun was over. Bedtime loomedcomma and the worst torture of all was imminent. Ma would now “allow” me the privilege of sleeping alongside her in her big down-covered bed. The trouble with this arrangement was that Ma wouldn’t let me move! No wiggling or turning or twisting was allowed when you were a guest in Ma’s bed. All night long, I’d have to lie as stiff as a board. It would drive me crazy and leave me sore and aching in the mornings.

Ma knelt by her bed and motioned me over. As I slowly knelt down beside her, she began to thank the Lord for giving her a granddaughter who could be her guest. She listed all my good traits and downplayed my bad ones so that by the time she was through praying, I felt almost glad to crawl into the high fluffy bed with her.

“Priscilla, may the Good Lord bless your sleep and give you pleasant dreams…” she whispered softly. I smiled in the dark, warmed by her sweet words.

“…And mind you don’t jiggle the bed,” she added.

“Children’s children are a crown to the aged…” Proverbs 17:6, The Holy Bible, NIV

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's Snowing!

We're experiencing our first real snowy weather day here in Ohio. Some parts East of Cleveland (which is about 70 miles north of where I live) are getting hammered by good ol' Lake Erie-effect snow. My town has about 2 inches on the ground now and maybe a couple more are expected by morning, which isn't much by our standards, but it is a reminder that more like this is to come.

The first day of a bad snow "event" reminds all of us Ohio drivers that our free-wheeling summer driving days are over. Now we have to remember to check the weather before we leave...make sure the bridges aren't icing over...keep the tires checked...make sure our windshield wiper reservoir is full and all those other annoying details that come with safe driving on snowy roads.

We can't always hurry to our next destination. We have to slow down sometimes and be patient. I have to confess that I really don't like these kinds of's not fun to have to think before I drive! And I really dislike going somewhere on a dry road, and having to come home on an icy one that got covered while I had fun shopping or eating lunch, or being inside the doctor's office. Yuck. I hate that gripping the steering wheel feeling when you can barely see the edge of the road or the black ice that makes my tires slip when I least expect it.

I need to rethink this white stuff, though. I'd like to take time to go outside in my boots and hat and mittens to build a snowman. Or take a walk where the snow muffles all the sounds I usually hear on a wintry day. And going caroling in the snow? Nothing better! I just wish I could find some brave souls to come along with me on that last one! For years I've been trying to get a good caroling party rolling, but no one wants to go outside and sing to the neighbors anymore. Tsk. (If you're game, drop me a line!)

In other words, snow would be more fun if I could adopt that "kid-in-me" attitude again. I don't know...maybe I'll bundle up and venture out tonight just to watch the soft flakes drift down past the streetlights. Kids get up close and personal with nature; that's why they enjoy it so much. I need to do that, too.

Well...gotta go...need to dig out those boots and mittens and hat!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Making Marshmallows

I love to make homemade marshmallows! The only trouble is, they're time-consuming and messy. But oh boy! The taste is so much nicer than store-bought, it makes them worth the trouble. So tonight I made a batch to use with my recipes for the holidays. If you'd like to give it a try, here are the steps.

You will need:

1- 3/4 Cup granulated sugar
3/4 Cup plus 2 Tbs water
1 Cup light corn syrup
1/2 Cup cold water
3 (1/4 oz) envelopes of unflavored gelatin
1 Tbs vanilla
1 Cup powdered sugar (and more for dusting!)
1/2 Cup cornstarch
Wax paper or parchment paper

Line a 13 X 9 inch pan with wax or parchment paper being sure to leave "tabs" on each end to use as handles lift the marshmallows out of the pan later. Lightly oil the paper and liberally sift powdered sugar over the paper.

In a saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, 3/4 C plus 2 Tbs water, and corn syrup. Stir to moisten the sugar. Cover and bring to a boil without further stirring.

Uncover the pan, and place a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue to heat without stirring to 240 degrees. (Just over soft ball stage) Be patient-on my electric smoothtop stove, reaching the correct temperature takes about 10-15 minutes at a medium setting on my stove dial (which is 5). Once the syrup has started to boil, place the 1/2 C cold water in the mixing bowl. (I highly reccomend a stand mixer because you will be mixing this for 10-15 minutes!) Sprinkle the 3 envelopes of gelatin over the cold water and stir to moisten any lumps of gelatin. Let it soften for at least a minute.

After the syrup has reached 240 degrees, carefully and slowly pour the syrup over the gelatin mixture, beating it at LOW speed until the syrup has all been added. It will splash!

I drape a towel over the bowl and secure it with a clip until the gelatin mixture takes a firmer shape. Once the mixture thickens, you can remove the towel drape, and safely turn up the speed to high without fear of splashing.

Scrape the bowl frequently, stopping occasionally to check the thickness of the mixture.

When the mixture becomes opaque (white) and begins to thicken, add the vanilla.

It takes me about 10-15 total minutes of mixing with a Kitchen Aid mixer to reach the desired consistency.

Once it's thick enough, pour and scrape it into the prepared pan. It will be sticky! Using a spatula dipped in water helps to get it smoothly in the pan. Let it cool for at least 2 hours.

This is the messy part and you will not be able to avoid it, but it is worth the mess! Place wax paper on your counter top and sprinkle it liberally with powdered sugar. Using a knife, loosen the edge of the marshmallows in the pan. Lift out the marshmallows by the wax paper tabs and invert it onto the wax paper on the counter top. It may stick a little, but using generous amounts of powdered sugar will unstick each edge. Combine the 1 C of powdered sugar with the 1/2 C of cornstarch. Place it in a dish (I use a large measuring bowl).

Using a pizza cutter dipped in water, carefully cut the size rows you'd like your marshmallows to be. I cut mine in 10 short-side rows by 8 long-side rows. While you cut, keep dipping the pizza cutter in the water--it will help to stop the marshmallows from sticking.

Once the rows are cut, place each piece in the sugar/cornstarch mixture and toss to coat all sides. Shake off excess with a sieve.

I store mine in a plastic jar container with a screw on lid. This recipe makes about 80 medium-sized marshmallows. (Not as large as store-bought, but much tastier!) To make miniature marshmallows, simply cut thinner long-side rows and snip with kitchen shears dipped often in water. Dredge and shake off excess sugar/cornstarch as above.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The End is Near!

I'm nearing 70% completion of my very first novel, and though I've had ups and downs with getting the words out sometimes from my head to my laptop, I can say that I'm sure I'll finally reach my NaNo goal by the end of November!

This was something that seemed inconceivable just three weeks ago. The story that is coming to life in words is not my own, but rather a grouping of stories that I've heard and learned about from many ex-Amish. Their stories are unique, yet they all share the frustrations and sorrows that they've had to endure to live a life outside of their Amish communities and families. Shunning and banning and ex-communication are common to all of them. Learning to live the Englisher life has also been a common goal of each of them.

They inspire me with their perseverance and their strength. They sometimes baffle me with their mixture of naivety and rebellion. And more than anything, they cause me pray for them every night. More than anything, I'd like God to bless them with peace and grace and a way to live happily in this modern Englisher world.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Friday Fiction: The Whole World and All

Friday Fiction is being hosted at LauraLee's Lifesong.

The Whole World and All

It was the summer of 1952, when Mama took us with her to visit Uncle Buddy in Tennessee. I was seven and excited as all-get-out to be riding the train for the first time.

Pop took us to Union Station in Cincinnati, where sights I’d never seen before and smells I’d never smelled before enveloped me as soon as we stepped into the building. Hot dog vendors pulled their mustard-laden sticks over the tops of juicy footlongs, slathered on a heaping spoonful of chili, and handed the sloppy dogs to the hungry people waiting in line. My mouth watered.

A group of exotic looking girls, dressed in long, colorful robes, wore veils across their faces and pushed past us to whoosh into a shiny black cab, which hunkered close to the sweeping curb of the driveway. Everywhere people were rushing and hurrying, and we were no exception.

Pop gave us a quick goodbye kiss and pointed to the track, where the great sleek train crouched, ready to receive us into its belly and whisk us away from all things familiar.

“Hurry, Children. The train’s about to leave.” Mama tugged us along beside her, causing my pink overnight case to bump painfully against my shins. My brand new Mary Jane’s were slick as spit on the soles; I watoosied across the marble floor of the station, each foot sliding away from me before I could finish the stride. My sister and I exchanged timid glances as the huge beast we hurried toward, sat grumbling on its rails.
The uniformed conductor rushed to us and helped us up the steps and onto the train.

“Whew! We made it, Girls!” Mama exclaimed. She blew her bangs off her face and looked over at us with a wide grin. “This’ll be fun!” We found two empty seats facing each other and flopped onto their padded laps.

We ate our dinner as the train steadily rolled its way over the Kentucky mountains and slid down the steep valleys into Tennessee. When the overhead lights blinked on, the windows instantly became black mirrors, their mysterious panels reflecting our white faces.

“Mama, what’s Uncle Buddy like?” my sister asked.

“Well, now. What’s Uncle Buddy like?…hmm…he’s tall, like Grandpa was, and mighty rich, I can tell you that. And…he has a big house and lots of land…and…well…he’s just Buddy, I guess. You’ll see.” Her cheeks flushed pink and she bit her lip as she stared out at the dark shadows beyond the blank windows.

“Is he nice?” I continued.

“Yes...I think you could say he’s nice. Yes, I surely think you can say he’s nice.” But her face showed doubt, so I persisted.

“You told Papa he was a rat, Mama. Remember? You told Papa that when you got the letter. Remember, Mama?”

“Corinne! Now, you know nice girls don’t eavesdrop. Shame on you!”

“Well…you did say it,” I insisted under my breath.

She glanced at us as she propped her chin on her fists and her elbows on the tabletop. She sighed.

“Uncle Buddy did make me mad. I’ll allow as how I got steamed when I read what he’d done.”

“What, Mama?” Shirley asked. Her brows furrowed over her oval face; I knew she was worried about Uncle Buddy, and so was I.

“Well…” Mama whispered. She watched the blurred scenery we sped past. “He sold the farm,” she explained softly. Tears gathered in her eyes and she quickly swept them away. Still looking out the black mirrors, she sighed again. “I wanted to help pay the back taxes…but…Buddy wouldn’t wait…wouldn’t let me help.” Mama looked at us, her face tight.

“I grew up on that farm, Girls! It meant the whole world and all to me…I never would’ve let him handle all that if I’d known what he was meaning to do,” she emphasized, her dark eyes shining. She sniffed and pulled out her handkerchief, dabbing the tears off her cheeks. “But…well…it’s all said and done, now. Can’t change a thing.” She shook her head, and then put on a bright smile once more.

“So! We are just going to go and see it…one last time! Won’t that be fun? I can show you my old room…and the barn…and all the places that I grew up around. Why, I guess it will be just like old times!”

Her smile had a sad tip to it, and she repeated, as she turned her face to the deep, dark night, “Won’t that be fun?”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Three Things I Like About Me

Josh has asked me to list three things that I like about myself. As others have mentioned when they've listed three things they like about themselves, it's hard to focus on the things I LIKE about me, because I'm usually more focused on the things I DON'T like about myself. But here we go:


1. I have a forgiving nature: if someone is truly sorry, I melt like butter. It isn't in me to hold past wrongs over someones head.


2. Anger comes and goes quickly with me--like little cloud bursts of rain on a hot Florida afternoon. Once the tension is eased, I'm back to feeling sunny and can even forget what a disagreement was all about.

3. Even though I don't always know what I'm doing, I like to study difficult subjects! It's challenging for me to delve into the minuscule and often unseen worlds of science...what awe I feel at God's powerful ability to make things! He gave me a curious and easily wowed mind for His creation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy Annivesary, Arlen!

Twelve years ago we started our journey. I was still a little shell-shocked from losing Jim, and you were perhaps a bit incredulous that you decided to get married after being a bachelor for 30-some years. It's been a journey filled with hopes and dreams, and a few hard times. It's been a wonderful trip, and I love you more now than I did on that day twelve years ago. I pray that we have many, many more miles to go together! Love you, Sweetie!

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self–seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13, The Holy Bible, NIV

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Friday Fiction: The Powerful Odor of Mendacity

I have a confession to make: this is my favorite story of all time! It did well in the The Faithwriters Writing Challenge, and every girl can relate to it, but only two men were brave enough to leave a public comment on it! I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it. For more great fiction, hop on over to Julie's blog, The Surrendered Scribe.

The Powerful Odor of Mendacity

One morning, Peach and Kinsey took me downtown. My sister and her friend never went anywhere with me, so right away I was wondering what was up. We rode the bus to the Square and hopped off at Reed’s Department Store. The sun was shining so brightly, I got an instant headache, and my headband made it worse. It was stabbing into my scalp with its tiny teeth like I had a hungry piranha stuck up there.

At the store, Mr. Rivers swung open the door and held it as Peach sashayed through like she was Princess Grace. I mumbled my thanks and followed them inside.

“Hey, Peach, look at that,” Kinsey pointed at a skinny mannequin. “Pink from head to toe!”

“Law, Kinsey, I saw a girl wearing that same outfit on American Bandstand last week!”

They giggled. I rolled my eyes. Man! I could have been down at the creek with David and Royce Withers catching crawdads and, instead, here I was, burning daylight with these two goofs.

”C’mon, you guys. Why’d I have to come? Let’s go get what we came for!”

“Stop whining, Annie. Heaven knows we wouldn’t have brought you if Mom wasn’t sick.”

“Why’d Mom want me to come with you two turds?”

“Ugh! You’re so disgusting!” Peach flipped her hair and swayed her skinny hips off toward the Lingerie Department.

My sister looked at me like she was staring at an ugly bug. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way she could curl her lip up so far. “Come on,” she finally sighed.
She led the way to Peach, who was fingering a pink, lacy slip.

“Do you see them?” asked Kinsey.

“What?” Peach answered dreamily. She acted like she was in love with that slip.

“You know, them. It.”

Peach met Kinsey’s eyes, and they looked at me and smirked. My headache started beating my brains out. Uh oh.

“There’s a powerful odor of mendacity in this room!” I shouted.

“Shh! You weirdo! Don’t yell like that! What’d you say?”


“Shut UP” Kinsey whispered between clinched teeth. She pulled me over into the aisle with the brassieres. At least, that’s what the sign said: PLATEX BRASSIERES 20% OFF.

Peach strolled over and said, “You just like to use big words because you think it makes you look smart. I bet you don’t even know what that means. Where’d you even hear a word like that?”


“What movie?”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Peach raised her eyebrows to Kinsey and said, “Law, law.”

My sister whipped out her snotty face. “ Mom would never let you watch a movie like that! Where’d you see such a thing?”

“The Withers and me hid in the bushes over at the Twi-Light Drive-In”

“I’m telling Mom!”

“Like I care.” I started back toward the front of the store, but Kinsey pulled me to a stop. She and Peach circled me like two ranch hands trying to rope a mustang. The next thing I knew, they were holding up one of those BRASSIERES and trying to measure the stupid thing against my chest! My head swam, my cheeks turned hot as coals, and I started fighting them off with both fists. I heard a confusing mix of voices as Kinsey and Peach tugged and wrapped those awful bands around me, until finally, they stopped, exhausted.

“We’re getting this one,” said Kinsey with tightly pursed lips.

I watched as the two girls hurried to the counter and paid for that thing. Kinsey motioned for me to follow and we left the store and got back on the bus. Shame melted me to the seat. The bag carrying the monster underwear seemed to me like it was pulsating.

“Mom, we’re home!” Kinsey threw the bag on the chair, and she and Peach took off upstairs. She turned once and gave me a look of near pity. I shuffled into the den, where Mom was lying on the sofa. She opened her arms, and I knelt into them, face hidden.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t go, Honey.”

“It was awful!” I cried. I could feel her stroking my hair.

“Annie, everybody has to grow up. It’s the way God planned it.” She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “The Bible says, ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’* Someday, you’ll know God did a beautiful job making you into a lovely young woman.”

“I’ll never wear it! Never! ” I said fiercely. Mom just smiled and kept stroking.

*Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Novel is Underway!

I had plans that when November first rolled around at midnight last night, I would get my first sentences written for my NaNoWriMo project, but things went awry and all my best laid know what happens.

So then I decided that TODAY I would get my writing started and well...that plan went awry, too. I actually didn't get my novel started until long after 3:00 PM, and I was not feeling that great either, but I did it anyway! Now I can say that I have the first 1974 words down on paper and my novel is truly getting its primary start.

I'm so glad, and one thing that stressed me just a bit earlier today is that I didn't feel very connected to my story the last few days..I worried that I'd lost my oomph for it, but as soon as I started writing, the zeal came back! Tomorrow I won't be silly again and try to plan my writing day, but I trust that the Lord led me to this topic and to the people who would help me know what to write about, so that means, He is the One in charge of tomorrow. Whew! That takes the pressure off! I just have to be pliable and at the ready for the moment to write as He brings me to it.

So to all those who are attempting NaNo--woo hoo--way to go and keep on writing!