“Hands are the windows to a man’s soul.”*

December 31, 2011

Last night at our CHS’71 high school classmates’ New Year’s Eve Eve party, most had left, and Bob was in rare storytelling form. He was entertaining a few of us royally with tale after tale, and the clock was ticking away. I knew I should probably go home – I was fading a bit – but because his stories were interesting and because I didn’t want to miss anything, I stayed put in my chair on Chris’s enclosed back porch. I was seated directly across from him. It was getting close to 11 when, almost without a breath between his last story and this, he looked directly at me and said abruptly, “So Cherye, what have YOU done in your life? Tell us some of YOUR stories!” The question shocked me – came out of nowhere – so I blurted out the first thing that came into my head, “I don’t know! Nothing! I don’t have any stories!” (Story is practically my middle name but there I was, 40 years after high school graduation without a credit to my name). I did laugh at the thought of it; we all did, and we moved quickly onto the next thing.

Earlier in the evening, at the party, I guess I was talking about a recent dish I had fixed for our B&B guests because the subject of whipped cream had come up. When I lamented the fact that whipped cream loses its oomph after just a little while, Barbara told me a tip about putting just a bit of unflavored gelatin into it so that it retains its shape. “Cool,” I thought, and I determined that I would never do it the old way again. Well, since I’m like a little kid about trying new things (well, some new things), this morning I whipped some that I had in the fridge to go on the top of a small homemade pastry tart w/ caramelized apples that I would be serving at breakfast time. Since I was sort of creating the “sweet thing” to be served for today as I went along, I decided that the whipped cream needed a little spiffing up in addition to the gelatanized body that it would have. So I grabbed the pure orange extract, as well as the pure vanilla, then also decided a bit of orange zest would give it just what it needed. Ummm. I tasted it and was glad I had done the little bit extra. It hadn’t really been necessary, but it was nice. And I do want that little something, that blessing of the small bit of nice-ness to come out in whatever my hands find to do. I think it’s what makes the difference.

So I did serve this to one guest, the husband, who in addition to the series of hellish problems encountered on their marathon, hours-long, car ride from BWI across the bridge yesterday, had to turn around to make the TWO-way trip AGAIN this morning. ….But I didn’t serve it to his wife, who needed the “zest” of a chat and coffee much more than she needed it in her tart topping. Because that, is, I think, what makes the rest of the difference.

Hands are the windows to a man’s soul.
Watch in-car videos of race drivers enough, and you’ll see the truth of this statement…A driver’s hands should be relaxed, sensitive, aware. Much information is communicated through the steering wheel of a car; too tight or too nervous a grip wil not allow the information to be communicated to the brain.
They say that senses do not operate alone, but rather are combined together in a special part of the brain that creates a picture of the body as a whole…To voluntarily restrict one channel of information is foolish for a racer; to allow information to flow unfettered is divine.

* The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein, pp.201-202.

If I had had my wits about me last night, maybe I could’ve answered Bob’s question. What have I done? Hopefully, my hands have done a life-long series of small, sensitive things – here a little, there a little. And it’s all added up. So. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Christmas Cookies

December 21, 2011

Santa’s Whiskers, Sugar cookies, Shortbreads, Chocolate-dipped Nut cookies, Gingerbread cookies, Toffee, Orange Cream Cheese-Pistachio Cookies….

I love cookies. All kinds of cookies are my favorites, and tomorrow, Debbie and I will begin playing with the new Cuisenart ice cream maker that came in the mail today. Homemade ice cream is another one of my family’s traditions from when I was growing up. Cookies and ice cream – it was all good. But not everyone grew up like I did. Sometimes cookies and ice cream memories seem incongruous with real life stuff.

I found out today that a dear friend has lesions on her liver, which meant a 4:00 appointment at the oncologist’s. A recent guest here told us that “the doctor found something.” More child abuse allegations surfaced on today’s yahoo news…..

“What’s happening?”
Henry burst into his parents’ room. …
“He doesn’t have long, Henry,” the doctor explained…”He’s been holding on for you.”
…His father opened his eyes and found Henry. …The words rattled out between haggard breaths. I did it for you.
That was when Henry knew….His father was confessing.
“You fixed it, didn’t you?” Henry spoke with quiet resignation, unable to feel anger toward his dying father. He wanted to feel it, but unlike his father, he wouldn’t allow himself to be defined by hatred. “You used your position…and fixed it so that my letters never made it….That was your doing somehow, wasn’t it?”
…he… left his father’s side and looked out the window…The excitement of the Japanese surrender was still palpable in the air, and people wandered about the streets looking for a place to continue their celebrations.
Henry didn’t feel like cheering, he felt like screaming. He did neither…
(pp. 262-3, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford, 2009.

Like I said, not everyone grew up with “sugar and spice and everything nice” at Christmas, or at any other time. And so there are some days when I just don’t know what to do with all of this… Some things make no sense.

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel – God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). Many would say that this makes no sense either. But you know what? When it comes right down to it, I think it’s the only thing that does.

Christmas Idea: Heart of a Samurai, Margi Preus, 2010

December 5, 2011

My husband has told me that little boys dream of being heroes–of imagining themselves as the basketball player who charges his way breathlessly down the court to dunk the winning swish, or of being the runner who flies through the tape at the finish line just ahead of his challenger, or of hearing the perfect crack as the ball hits the bat, then soars out of reach of the out-fielders at the most critical part of the game, or of being the kid who makes an amazing discovery before anyone else has thought of it. As a little girl growing up, I never had those dreams; mine were different, but the dreams, goals and questions of Manjiro in this lovely little 2011 Newberry honor book will resonate with kids of all ages.

Heart of a Samurai has all the good stuff: suspense, action, underdog overcoming odds, swords, enough blood and guts to catch even a 5th grade skateboarder offguard, prejudice, fairness and unfairness, and it includes all the best character ideals: patience, honor with morality, perseverance, courage, kindness, skill and suffering. Plus it’s based on a true story. It’s about a real guy.

I loved it. I read it in a couple of hours and couldn’t put it down. And after I’d finished it, I just wanted to hold it in my hands just a little longer to let its beauty soak in just a little more. The next day I told everyone who would listen all about it. I didn’t want it to end. If you need a gift for a late elementary or middle school age boy, this one is it. Or just check it out of the library for a holiday read in the living room next to the Christmas tree, then invite your nephews over, put some hot chocolate in their hands and settle in. I think they’ll want to hear it through to the end.


‘Twas the beginning of December, and all through the towns….

December 4, 2011

Rachel and I were driving around….And we had the PERFECT pre-Christmas day!

Rachel had her 90th birthday earlier this year and she’s been in great health – loves to do her 2 mile walk around her neighborhood each morning, and is a bundle of energy from 4:30 AM till she turns in at night. (Her 6 cups of coffee each morning could contribute to that). At least, that’s what Rachel did until 7 weeks ago when she woke up with an excruciating pain in her leg. It was finally diagnosed as lumbar stenosis (I think that’s correct), but the bottom line is that something is pressing against a nerve and the pain is constant and severe. Rachel isn’t a complainer and she keeps on going, but this pain has taken the stuffings out of her. She can’t walk easily (so the daily exercise had to stop suddenly–doctor’s orders), and she feels like a prisoner in her house. She’s been bored out of her brains and she told me that she cries at night as she prays and doesn’t know how she will stand it if her promised 3-shot regimen of pain med’s don’t do the trick. And this has been going on for 7 weeks.

Now she’s always ready to roll if I’m going to go to Dover, and I’ve been eager to go so that we could have an outing together and she could get out of that house. So today was the day. I called her, she was ready in minutes, and off we went. She sat in the car while I did my quick errands at 3 or 4 stops, but when we got to Byler’s, she got out, too. She loves Byler’s – (they have everything) – she loves to look (rarely buys anything), but today she wanted to replace a burner cover that she’d burned by accident on her range top. (They didn’t have it). No problem. After we left Byler’s, we ate at our usual place – Bob Evans – and then we were headed home…..Until we saw the billboard advertising Ronnie’s in Smyrna. I said, “Rachel, let’s go there, too!” So we motored on up the road until we saw about a million Christmas lights out front and inside of the store. Rachel said, “I haven’t been here for probably 15 years. They’ve really changed this place.” That was an understatement: today it is a wonderland…. theme trees one after the other in rows and rows, each with unusual lights (shaped in snowflakes and M&M’s and candy canes and on and on) and a plethora of ornaments unique to each theme. (We admired the owls with the real feathers more than any other, but we had to touch and stare and check out the prices, especially of the biggest ones, marveling at how much they were!) We were the two kids in a candy shop ooh’ing and ah’ing with our mouths hanging open at practically every tree. I don’t know how long we were there, but it was a while. We didn’t go until we had examined each one! And THEN we went to Willeys and looked at the trees there! We had the glow of those trees filling us both up, and were smiling from the inside out.

We laughed and talked and shared stories like school girls….I asked Rachel how she had met her husband. (He died during a freak accident 33 years ago when he was at work for the State Roads). Rachel had gone to Betterton with her brother and his wife. And Jim had gone there, too. Betterton Beach was in it’s heyday then, so it was the popular place to go to see and to be seen. And Rachel was seen all right. Jim eyed her and expressed his interest right away. Rachel’s brother said, “I brought you here and you’re going to go home with me.” But Jim got her number, called her and they were married a year later. When I asked Rachel if she knew right away that she wanted to marry him, she said yes and that it was the same for Jim. They were both 19. She laughed and said, “He didn’t have a penny.”

She told me that when Jim would go to work on days when he knew he’d have to work late, he’d tell her to lock the door – he’d take his key – and then after work when he got back home, so as not to scare her to death by just appearing in their bedroom when she was asleep and startling her, he would just knock 2 times on the window outside to give her notice. She could then go to sleep in safety, and wake, comforted by his knocks. She’d said to me, “Do you know about the knocks?…I’ll tell you about them.” And she said next that in these past 7 weeks, when she’d been crying in her bed and praying and thinking that maybe God hadn’t answered her prayers, she said that something had happened – twice – and she said, “And you’ll think I’m crazy, but it’s the gospel truth. When I was crying and wondering what I was going to do, all of a sudden, there were 2 knocks. I stopped stone cold and didn’t sleep a wink the rest of the night. It happened one more time in the same way: 2 knocks. That was all, just those 2 times, but Jim knew that I needed him and so God did that.” And that was the end of her story. It’s also the end of mine. Sometimes there’s just nothing else to say. But I think you can see why it was a perfect pre-Christmas day.

Location, Location, Location.

You might notice the WAC Administration Building cupola out of the corner of your eye as you walk onto Simply Bed & Bread's brick path, since our house is just a stone's throw away from the college. Or it might be the ...
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