Thursday, October 20, 2016

CHRYSANTHEMUM, CHRYSANTHEMUM, MACARONI & CHEESE


Kevin Henkes is not a saint. But . . . hold that thought.

I want to announce that my two-year spiritual journey launched and sustained by a series of rejections is over. Simultaneously a period of grief and transformation, I've come out of it strong and grateful for everything I learned about addiction, psychology, spirituality . . . and I could go on but I don't want to.

Two situations helped me realize I was finished with that particular journey and ready to being new ones. The first was my latest Beach Meandering Treasure. (See Bonus Material below.)  The second were feelings that began to bubble up related to my son who's in his third year of college. I experienced visceral memories of all those delicious hours spent reading picture books while he sat on my lap with his sippy cup and blankee. I remembered kissing his left temple with every page turn. Yummy!

These memories and glints of sadness appeared here and there over several days. Then one afternoon, alone in the house, I experienced a flashback of sitting in the rocking chair with him all cozy and snug, thinking to myself how happy I was and how the moment was even more special because someday I was going to deeply miss reading to my little boy.

And 17 years later, as the ache welled up in my heart, I realized "someday" was now. 

Ouch.

But as I wept, a part of me was gleeful with relief because I understood my spiritual journey was over and no longer distracting me from the empty nest journey I should have taken during his first year of college. Two epiphanies occurred as I focused in on my feelings. 

The first is the occupation I pretended to have as a child was Mom. So when my son was was born, I felt as if I had been waiting for him most of my life, because, in fact, I had been. Fa-reeky.

The day he left for college, I entered semi-retirement because my daughter was still in high school. And then the day my daughter earned her driver's license, I entered mostly-retirement. As a stay-at-home mom, this transition comes with grief because I don't have a career that I can finally pay full attention to now that my kids have mostly grown up. They were my job, and I loved my job.

I mean, I've been working on it. I'm a youth ministry and blessed baker at my church, and I'm spending more time writing. Oh, and full disclosure, I take care of four cats. (I know. I know. *sigh*) I also have a hard-working husband who still needs clean clothes and food in the fridge. So, I'm good and gearing myself up for when my daughter heads off to college.

The second epiphany is I really love books. I  especially enjoy biographies, saintly and otherwise. But my favorite genre is children's books, particularly middle grade and picture books. A good picture book is a treasury of words, illustrations, repeated readability, and metaphors -- lessons that even adults can apply to real life.

Take, for example, CHRYSANTHEMUM, by Kevin Henkes. Now, Kevin Henkes is not a saint. But he is an author/illustrator and looked upon with envy by many picture book writers who desperately want to illustrate their own book but simply don't have the necessary talent. In other words, it's well known in the children's writing world that it's doable for illustrators to learn how to write, but nigh impossible for writers to learn how to illustrate.

Anyway, Kevin Henkes's books are wonderful. CHRYSANTHEMUM is my favorite with it's artistic phrases and narrative illustrations.

Chrysanthemum is the main character. She is loved exceedingly by her diligent parents. She loves herself and her name. She thinks her name is the coolest. But then she went to the first day of school where the other children teased her, "You're named after a flower!"

"Chrysanthemum wilted."

Best line in all of story-telling.

So this teasing goes on for a couple of days. Her parents tried everything to boost Chrysanthemum back up, they prepared her favorite dinner, "macaroni and cheese with ketchup," and the next night "chocolate cake with buttercream frosting" for dessert. They played her favorite board game with her, secretly read parenting books, and filled her up with hugs, kisses, and encouraging words. Chrysanthemum shored herself up with a pocket full of "her most prized possessions and her good-luck charms." But the teasing continued to hurt her feelings. 

On the third morning, the class met the indescribably wonderful music teacher, Mrs. Twinkle. Everyone wanted to impress her! But when she heard some of children tease Chrysanthemum for being named after a flower, she said, "I'm named after a flower, too. My name is Delphinium Twinkle! And if my baby is a girl, I'm considering Chrysanthemum as a name. I think it's absolutely perfect."  

Guess what Chrysanthemum did when she heard that?

"She blushed. She beamed. She bloomed."

Mrs. Twinkle is a metaphor for adults who work with youth or anyone who leads a group of people. Her message is, be your authentic self. When you share your authentic self, you might discover that your most unique aspect is the one thing that will connect you to a particular person in your group who desperately needs a connection. It takes real courage from the heart to do this. It might even take a spiritual journey to stumble upon your authentic self, but it's worth every step.

Here's the thing about my son, I loved reading to him so much because I love reading. So when he asked to read the last Lord of the Rings on his own because it was faster, I didn't argue because I understood his desire.

And then, we grew apart because I didn't like to play video games, and he didn't like to do anything else.

I believed this for a long time, but it's not true. We both enjoy the koi pond he and his dad built in the backyard. He enjoys playing with our cats and helping me with gardening tasks. Lately, his practical take on people and situations has been spot on and surprisingly helpful to me. Oh, and he likes to play board games. Especially, when cousins and unlimited quantities of food are involved. I, on the other hand, would rather read than play a board game, even if cousins and unlimited quantities of food are involved. It would help if these games started earlier than 10 p.m., just saying, but I digress.

My point is my son didn't abandon me by growing up. He simply outgrew picture books, and I still love them. Aha! 

Know what else? My son shares my love of cooking and EATING! So here's a grown-up version of  
Macaroni and Cheese Casserole


For those with the palate of a five-year-old, swap out the pepper jack for mild cheddar and leave out the hot sauce and mustard. But don't forget the ketchup!

Ingredients

1 14.5-ounce box elbow macaroni
1 8-ounce block sharp cheddar cheese
1 8-ounce block pepper jack cheese
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon mustard
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked broccoli or peas
About one cup of crushed potato chips

Instructions

 1. Cook macaroni according to box instructions, drain, and set aside.
 2. Grate cheese and set aside.
 3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
 4. Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add flour. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
 5. Turn heat to medium, add milk, and stir with a slotted spoon or whisk until thick, about three minutes.
 6. Stir in mustard, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.
 7. Stir in cooked macaroni.
 8. Stir in half of each type of cheese.
 9. Stir in broccoli or peas.
10. Spread mixture into lightly-greased 13 x 9 casserole dish.
11. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. 
11. Top with crushed potato chips. 
12. Bake, uncovered at 350 degree F for about 30 minutes until bubbly and golden.

Serve with a heart-healthy salad and a good book!



Bonus Material

Facebook Post, September 23



There are times, especially right after posting deeply revealing insights about myself to my blog, when my confidence falters and I focus a little too much on the possibility that I'm simply imagining most of what I believe to be true about how God works. I say to myself, that's called faith, and you are just filling in the blanks.

And then I'm compelled to go to the beach so I can find a treasure that I can interpret into an angelic message and everything will be all right again. This morning, as I put my rosary into my pocket, I prayed a petition to Mother Mary that she and all the saints and angels whom guide me would come with me to the beach.
When I got out of my car in the Johnnie Mercer Pier parking lot, I dropped my phone. The "miracle" that I didn't crack the screen was because I had paid the money for the protective cover. But when I picked up the phone and looked at the screen, I saw a recipe about chops that looked familiar. When I scrolled to the top, I recognized my post "Preparing to Celebrate St. Mary the Virgin," from the Grow Christians archives which includes a section on how to pray the Rosary!
What the?! Who the?! What are the odds that my dropped phone would randomly open up to the archive of a website, to a post with my own words promoting the act of praying the Marian Rosary which I happened to have in my pocket?!
And so, message received -- I am NOT making this stuff up. 
I could have gone home at that point. But I walked in the drizzly morning air and, following my instructions, I prayed a casual version of the Rosary, (because I didn't have a guidebook handy).
Sometimes when I walk along the shore, I dip my hand in the surf like it's holy water and then make the Sign of the Cross. I usually don't do that when anyone's around, because, you know, it's weird. But I did it right as a jogger ran by. He said nothing.
But I said out loud, "Oh my God!" Because as I looked up I saw a pod of dolphins! I haven't seen dolphins out there in a really long time. So I'm all like yay, dolphins! What a treat from Above, because I'm being open about my faith. But I bet I won't see them jumping out of the water, though, because I'm only interpreting this as a sign, it's not really a sign.
And then two dolphins jumped. And then they did it twice more. 
The pod swam (and probably ate) with me as I walked and ran a little to the Oceanic Pier.
I turned and walked back calmed by the notion that even if there are folks out there who don't like it, I'm doing EXACTLY what I'm supposed to be doing right now. There's a peace in knowing that, even though I'm not sure what's coming next.
I  looked to my left along the row of beach houses and saw a flock of pterodactyls gliding serenely along in the rain, just like me.
I mean, pelicans. I saw pelicans. Okay? #authenticity #beachmeanderingtreasure

Second Bonus Material:

Contributed by Anne Kirchgraber-Mckee
YS Director Owen City Public Library

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