Changed

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My sister-in-law, Sheri, died on this day eleven years ago. It really is incredible to think that much time has passed. So much has changed since she left this world. But a lot changed while she was still alive too. And a lot of that change was because of Sheri.

Shortly after Betsy and I were married we were all gathered together for a mini-family reunion. One of the afternoons it was decided that we would take a field trip to a local used bookstore. Amongst Sheri’s many qualities, she was exceedingly generous so before we entered, Sheri handed everyone a five dollar bill. Sheri was also always on the lookout for a great deal and I think she was excited to see what hidden treasures each of us might unearth in the stacks of used books.

I picked up two or three books that day. But the one that I will always remember was a big, green cookbook. That’s right, a cookbook. It was an odd selection, because at the time I didn’t cook. Gender roles in my family growing up were pretty traditional. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But it did mean that I was used to the women doing the cooking. The only real reason I ever ventured into the kitchen was to try and steal cookie dough while my sisters were baking! In any case, the title caught my eye: The Art of South American Cooking. I picked it up and started paging through it. It contained recipes for some very familiar dishes as well as some I’d never heard of but sounded tasty.

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After all these years you can barely make out the title: “The Art of South American Cooking”.

I found a couple of other books and went to pay for them. All three books and I had change left over – a great deal! Sheri was interested to see what I had picked out. As I recall her exact words were, “I’ll look forward to you cooking something for us!”. I didn’t want to burst her bubble. She’d obviously not understood that I was really buying the book for Betsy.

That reunion weekend was pretty much the last of the summer fun. Upon returning, Betsy started her second year of teaching and I was started work on my master’s degree in Economics. Curiously, I seemed to have a lot of time on my hands. I remember one day feeling oddly guilty when Betsy arrived home, exhausted after working a full day teaching the youth of America and still had to fix dinner. I think my accomplishments that same day had included reading a couple journal articles, going for a run, and watching two UEFA Champions League soccer games.

So the next day I got out my green cookbook and decided I would give cooking a try. I decided to go with something that I’d never tried before – pollo al palillo. Basically chicken with yucca root in a fluorescent yellow colored sauce made of lime juice, tumeric, and cumin. And it even turned out to be edible! I was probably more pleased with myself than I should have been. Betsy was very appreciate of my efforts and made it clear that from now on, I was welcome to share the cooking responsibilities. What had I gotten myself into?

Now, I love to cook! I love to prepare meals for Betsy and Lucas. I love to have people over for dinner. My cooking has been largely influenced by the semester abroad I spent in Spain. Some of my favorite dishes to prepare include: estofado de buey, tortilla de patatas, pollo al chilindrón, empanadillas de carnelentejas. Mmmmm. I never got a chance to cook that meal for Sheri but I think she would be proud of my culinary skills. I think she would be even more proud that I learned something new, something that, over the years, has helped me to take care of her little sister.

I’ve accumulated lots of other cookbooks over the years but that first, big, green cookbook will always have a place on our shelf. It reminds me of Sheri. It reminds me that, through the small gesture of buying me a book, she helped me to become the person I am today. And I think that’s probably true of everyone that came to know Sheri. And while we miss her greatly, we are constantly reminded that we have been changed by her example of love, kindness, faith, perserverance, and joy.

Changed for the better.

We miss you, Sheri.

One for the Books

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Peering through the bookstore window

Lucas is now at the age where he can sit and listen to a longer story.  Since I was a classroom teacher in my former life and a book lover for as long as I can remember, I have books, and lots of them.  (LOTS of them).  Recently, I brought down some of my nice hardcover picture books and Lucas and I have been making our way through them. We snuggle up on the couch and read together.  I love that he adores books so much. He looks forward to trips to the library and especially to the bookstore.

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Snuggling up with a good book. Or two.

I wanted to share some of his favorites in case you love children’s literature too.  These are the books he requests (and recites) most often:

1.  The Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney.  These are charming short rhymes that are right at Lucas’s developmental level.  He can definitely relate to Little Llama’s struggles.  Our three favorites are: Llama Llama Red Pajama, Llama Llama Mad at Mama, and Llama Llama Time to Share.  

Daddy, Lucas, and Llama are all yelling for Mama!

Daddy, Lucas, and Llama are all yelling for Mama!

2.  The Olivia books by Ian Falconer.  This is my favorite children’s book series.  The heroine of the books is a young pig named Olivia (“Falivia” according to Lucas) who is creative and precocious and tries the patience of her family at every turn.  I still laugh every time I read them and having a tenacious toddler of my own only makes them more funny.  Let’s hope Lucas doesn’t get too many ideas from Olivia. We have five of these books: Olivia, Olivia Saves the Circus, Olivia Forms a Band, Olivia and the Missing Toy, and Olivia Helps With Christmas.  It’s hard for me to choose my favorite because I love all of them.  If pressed I’d say it’s a tie between Olivia and the Missing Toy and Olivia Helps With Christmas.

3.  The Curious George books by Margaret and H.A. Rey. We have this entire series and Lucas likes them all.  I do paraphrase because they are a bit wordy for his age, but they are great, classic stories.  Lucas loves to watch George get into trouble and exclaim, “Oh no, George!!”

Olivia and George!

“Oh no, George!”  (and Falivia)

4.  Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees.  Lucas loves all the animals in this book and he loves the rhythm of the words and the bright illustrations. Thanks to this book he considers all giraffes to be named Gerald.

5.  Roger Duvoisin books.  Lucas’s favorites are VeronicaDonkey-donkey, and Petunia’s Christmas. These are books that I had as a child.  They were published in the 1950s and 60s.  Because of that, the language is a bit more, shall we say, blunt, than most children’s books today. For example, from Veronica, “I must hide quickly or I am lost,” she said breathlessly. “These people surely want to beat me up.” Or this gem from Donkey-donkey: “This is the stable door with a scythe hanging on a big nail and Donkey-donkey just about to enter. He enters as usual. But unfortunate donkey! The wicked nail met his ear and pierced it painfully.” Petunia’s Christmas has a section where a farmer comes after Pentunia (who is a goose) and plans to shoot her with his “two-barrel gun” because she scared his wife in order to free the goose that they were going to eat for Christmas.  It makes me a little uncomfortable so I have changed the wording on occasion (“Veronica ran away from the grumpy people…Donkey-donkey got an owie….The farmer was mad that his goose was missing”). Lucas is fascinated with these books so we read them often even though, in my opinion, they benefit from a little editing.

Reading with Lucas is one of my favorite parts of the day.  It’s fun to see his imagination come alive, to see his understanding of the world expand, to see him relate to characters in the stories and feel empathy.  It’s fun to hear his comments and get a glimpse into the way he views and interprets the stories.  It’s fun to see him anticipate a favorite part or page or picture.  And who doesn’t love snuggling on the couch with a cute little three year old?  I’m so glad for these special, quieter moments.

So I’m wondering, what are your favorite children’s books?

“You can find magic wherever you look.  Sit down and relax, all you need is a book.” ~Dr. Seuss