Eggplant is Elegant

I’m home for lunch today and I actually took time to stop writing and eat. Where do the hours in a day go?

I buy an eggplant every so often with full intention of slicing it up and frying it with melted cheese and fresh tomato–Mom’s favorite. It doesn’t happen. By the time I pull the pudgy purple thing out from the bottom drawer of the fridge, it doesn’t look so purple and it’s grown big brown polka dots. With guilt, I toss it.

Today, it made it to the frying pan.

Debbie's eggplant

Voila! Lunch is served.

It was so delicious I had to write it down:

Make 3/4 inch slices with one medium eggplant (about 8)

Whip 1 egg, a little salt and pepper with a fork

Sprinkle crunchy panko crumbs on a plate

Dip then flip each slice in the crumbs (adding more as needed) and place in heated skillet with coconut oil spray or whatever you prefer until they are crispy golden brown. They should turn over easily

Slice fresh mozzarella and top each eggplant round

Put a dollop of pesto in the center of each

Slice some little tomatoes and set them cut side down in the middle of the pan making it look like the center of a flower

Cover and heat over medium until the eggplant is soft with a fork’s prick and the cheese is gooey, then carefully spoon some of the tomatoes onto the center of each slice

Place as many as you want on a plate with a leaf of fresh basil under each. Or, once they have cooled a little, you could serve them as an hors d’oeuvre.  Add a salad, a little pasta, a glass of chilled rose′ and you’ve got dinner!

Then, when you’re done eating lunch, be really decadent and take a little nap.

Naptime

Nap-time….

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Cor 10:31

Food Can Say It All

Like dance, to really enjoy writing, I need time and space. I’ve learned to fit it in around my work, my life, and not to think I need a different one in order to make it happen. In fact, the sense of urgency to get through something is probably exactly what I need in order to do it. If I had time to sit home all day, I might become listless. Wordless. I like to be alone and I like quiet but I’ve learned to shut out distractions when needed. I realized this past Sunday, cooking is a lot the same–I need time and space to think to do it well and to really enjoy it. Unlike my writing, I like to listen to Beethoven when I cook–he must have understood a good meal because I can hear in his music the same passion involved in good cooking.

My garden was a bust because of all the repairs we had done this summer but on Sunday, Todd found one yellow squash buried in the brush. I never even got the little plant out of it's Home Depot pot!

My garden was a bust because of all the repairs we had done this summer but on Sunday, Todd found one yellow squash buried in the brush. I never even got the little plant out of it’s Home Depot pot!

Most often, my meals are prepared in haste. I’m usually tired from the day, the week or the night before. I push through the preparations with a clear goal in sight and the seemingly great reward of feeding those I love and care about. Often when words can’t be spoken, a rich stew with complex flavors can say it all. I’m not big on fancy sauces but I haven’t spent much time on them. I like home cooking prepared with love. My mom taught me that. I included a favorite stew recipe–because it’s easy and good–in the About section of Sundays With Dad. I deleted it several times thinking it was stupid but always put it back in. The truth is, for me, the best times are meal times with my family and friends–and my stories with Dad, my cooking with Mom go together.

It’s the end of summer and I’ve taken some time to refuel, take care of myself, and reflect. What a gift. This past Sunday I had the day to prepare dinner and I decided to make Dad’s favorite meal–meatloaf, potatoes, creamed corn and Aunt Norma’s jello (which I have never made and had to call my sister). “Cool Whip. Stir it in before it sets.” She texted. Todd brought home a can of Redi Whip. Mom used to tell Dad he didn’t listen or read labels when she sent him to the store for ingredients. I married my father.

I dug out my 50 year old Learn How to Cook with Betty Crocker cookbook, a gift from Mom when we started cooking together. I wanted to check on my old meatloaf recipe. I hardly ever follow a recipe. Call it attention deficit or artistry, I make original creations. Something was wrong with my last meatloaf–forgot the salt, added an extra egg, onions and green peppers were too big, I over baked it.  How can you wreck a meatloaf?!

But last Sunday, unlike most days, I could take my time. The music played, the warm summer air blew in through the windows, the wind chime echoed through the trees outside the back door and I read through the recipe from that little book, bringing back so many memories. The first time I made brownies I hadn’t realized Mom would double the recipe. I spread the gooey chocolateness in a very thin layer over the stretch of the pan figuring it would rise to heaven as it baked. I still remember slicing our dessert and passing it out at the dinner table. Dad smiled encouragingly as he crunched, Joanie dunked hers in milk, John called it brownie brittle, Ed laughed and pounded out a rhythm on his plate, Mom gently whispered in my ear, my error, while dunking hers in coffee.

This Sunday dinner though was perfection. Instead of the usual mashed potatoes and gravy, along with the Betty Crocker meatloaf, I sautéed onions and sliced red potatoes, mixing in some slightly charred red peppers at the end. Then simmered summer squash in olive oil with thyme, and sliced up a menagerie of those beautiful colored little tomatoes–orange, yellow, red, purple–adding red wine vinegar, oil and a little fresh basil. Not too much though or Dad will say, “What’s that funny taste.”   As for the jello, I sprayed that entire can in, stirred the curdles and stuck it in the freezer. It was a weird looking wiggly thing. The guys ate it but it had to be balanced carefully on their spoons in order to make it to their mouths. Sam (our dog) liked it too. I passed.

When Mom lay on her bed taking her last breaths on this earth, I noticed she started to move her mouth like she was eating something delicious. She even made the “Mmmmm,” sound, like she would when she enjoyed my cooking. As I watched those last hours of her– halfway on earth, halfway in heaven–I wondered what the food will be like there.

Mom's kitchen. It wasn't big but she always said we could cook together and never get in each others way.

Mom’s kitchen. It wasn’t big but she always said we could cook together and never get in each other’s way.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Psalm 34:8

Whose Time Are You Running On?

“I think about these things now,” Dad said.

What he really said was how he wished he had gone back to Chicago to thank Hy Hammer in person for covering the cost of our family to go along with him on his fellowship to Europe. I’m sure Mom and Dad returned in a whirlwind with three little kids. Zion Church was in progress, Mom thought we had outgrown the duplex and family, friends, church needed catching up. It all moved forward simultaneously, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Everything seemingly so important at the time—like me and daily exercise.

Dad used to say, “Exercise is important but so is your spiritual life.”  The truth is, dance was my spiritual existence for a long time. I made a friend at college named Pat Green who I lost touch with, unfortunately. She had a profound impact on my life and I knew it at the time. It was her spiritual depth which she brought to our friendship that affected me–but I wasn’t ready for it at the time. She had studied at L’abri with Francis Shaeffer and was both a dancer and a woman of deep faith. Pat was 19, this would take me a lifetime to accomplish. She received a scholarship to study with Martha Graham for the summer following our freshman year and invited me to come visit. I stayed with her on the upper east side and met some of her friends. I remember talking on the fire escape one evening and a beautiful young dancer sharing that she planned to take time off from dance after the summer because it had become more important to her than God. I know I knew that I knew what she meant but I didn’t want to go there myself.

Through the years, my parents would ask how my spiritual life was doing because it was clear to them it was on the bookshelf along with my beloved Tolstoy, D.H. Lawrence and M.K. Fisher. I would just respond,

“Oh fine.”

Dance had become my spiritual life and I didn’t want to discuss it with them. Tragedy had hit me at an early age. I spent a long time avoiding those conversations and everything else that got too close to my heart.

I think about these things now. I think about choosing to go for a bike ride instead of sitting down beside Mom on the couch as she was paging through her grandmother’s scrapbook. It was the last time we were together at the cabin. I had found the old dusty, copper colored suede book in the attic packed full of pictures, letters and mementos. I had brought it up to the Island for her–for us–to look through. Mom told me when she was a girl she’d sit for hours looking through it. I opened a letter from my Great Grandma Force and read her country dialect and simple grammar. Farm talk. I thought these little treasures would make their way into my stories. I wanted Mom to tell me about them. But I was too busy that day to sit down beside her. The sun was high and with a kiss on her cheek, I was out the door for an Island bike ride. I never saw the scrapbook again. I don’t know what happened to it. I’ve looked everywhere. I’m left thinking the proverbial “I should have, wish I would have, if only I could have, I would take back that one afternoon with my mom. I think about these things now.

It’s funny how the very things we never had time for are the very things we are left with.

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Mom and me in the old barn
Photo credit: Bill Kissinger

Dad called to tell me he had gotten to the gym late for his morning walk.  “I’m late!” he had said to his friend, another early morning daily treadmill walker.

“Not on God’s time,” was his friend’s response.  “He has you right where he wants you.”

Dad went on to tell me all the special conversations he had the rest of that day, just taking time for what he thought God wanted him to take time for.

Six Shells and a Ship

Try saying that fast six times–six shells and a ship–sick shells and a ship shix shells shin a ship shick shells shi sha shick…maybe you did better than me.  –Debbie

M. S, Berlin

M. S, Berlin, passage to Europe

After I had completed St. Edmund’s, another office a couple doors up the street from my space in the back of the food broker became available. I rented the whole thing which was equal to the space the food broker and I had previously shared. I remember I had two drafting spaces on one half and I put up a little partition of sorts down the center making a space for a conference room. And now I had room for my own secretary who worked part time along with a ditto machine for my specs. From there we went to mimeograph which was a big improvement.

One afternoon, not long after I was settled in, a man stopped by my new office.

“Can I speak to Mr. Wenzler?”

“I’m Mr. Wenzler.”

“Well, can I speak to your father?”

“He’s not here. What do you want?”

He didn’t think I was old enough. He told me he had seen my church in the newspaper and he wanted to meet me to see if we could work on something together. His name was Karl Giehl.

Karl introduced himself as a designer craftsman. He had been working in the kitchen of a monastery. He told me the story about one of the priests who was going to be ordained. They use a special chalice for ordinations. Karl had a tremendous reputation for his jewelry and other work in gold and precious metals and they asked him to make the chalice. That began a whole series of commissions to make priests’ chalices. As a designer craftsman, he now had a broad market for his talent. He came to meet me just because he wanted to offer his services if I could use him. He wasn’t certain what that might exactly be.

At this point, I had been hired to design Zion United Church of Christ on South 76th Street which had originally been located somewhere around 13th and Greenfield. A lot of the church members had moved out to the west side. When I was interviewed, they told me they were interested in a Gothic Church. I gave them the story of Gothic history then submitted a design based on pure Gothic for our period. From my experience with St. Edmund’s, I was now aware of the cost of the scaffolding that was needed for this type of design–I had had to scaffold the whole thing underneath. So now I had in mind that I did not want to design something that needed all that scaffolding.

I approached this design differently. I decided I would make a small form on the ground, then cast a shell, set that shell aside, and make five more to create six identical shells. If you were to pick them up with a crane and set the bases on the foundation and let their tips touch, they would create a perfect Gothic arch, leaving triangular side openings between the shells. Then I designed smaller hyperbolic paraboloids which connected the main shells at the roof.

The chairman of the committee for Zion Church was Horley Priddle. He had the vision that the altar at the church would be a solid block of stone broken out right at the quarry—symbolizing God’s direction to Solomon in building the temple (I King 5:1). It got a little expensive to make and put in place and as I remember, I paid for half of it.

The solid stone altar required heavy equipment to move it. The altar was actually placed on its foundation in the church before the shells were erected.

I proceeded with the working drawings of the shells, leaving the triangular openings between them unresolved.  At this point, I received a notice from the University of Illinois that I was selected for the Francis J. Plym Fellowship with six months travel in Europe to study European architecture. One of the key requirements of the Fellowship was that you could not be over 30 years of age. I remember so vividly opening the letter while we were living in the upper duplex on Humboldt and Dolores saying,

“If you’re going to Europe, don’t think you’re leaving all of us at home. We’re coming too!”

In the yard of the duplex

Just before trip to Europe outside duplex on Humboldt.

The amount of the fellowship was $1700 which was about enough to cover the travel and living cost for one person for six months. Now I was faced with the additional cost of the family. My good friend from High school, Jim Pawlik, worked in the purchasing Department of Schlitz Brewery. Jim had told one of the sign manufacturers from Chicago about St. Edmund’s and took him out to see it. His name was Hy Hammer. Jim told him about the Fellowship and explained that in order for me to go I would need to come up with the cost to cover my wife and three children.

“Bill hasn’t worked out how he’s going to handle that.” Jim told him.

“Well, tell him to come to Chicago with his wife so I can meet them and we can discuss the Fellowship.”

Dolores and I made an appointment and went down to see Mr. Hammer in Chicago. He wanted to know our story, then suggested that we work up a budget and come back and meet with him again. So we worked up the budget, went back and the first thing he said was,

“Your budget includes the expense to fly.  It’s much cheaper to go by ship!”

So we went back and revised our figures changing the cost from airplane to ship then met with him again. He agreed to cover the difference of the cost between my budget and the fellowship which came to $3,000.

I said, “Well let’s make it a loan and I’ll pay it back.”

“No, I don’t want to do that. I can see you have a lot of creative talent and I don’t want to strap you with a debt which could interfere with that talent and your career.”

The Fellowship required that I send  monthly reports to the University. I sent my part-time secretary penciled copies then she would type them up and send off the reports. I also had her send copies to Mr. Hammer.

He was quite a guy and I never went back down to see him after the trip. I really wish I would have gone and thanked him in person for what he did for me. I did thank him in the reports but I should have gone back, personally. I should have brought him something from Europe. These things come back to me now.

A Modern Woman

While Dad was building buttresses, Mom was building a home.  One fish, two fish became three and four then five fish.

He may have been captured by Mom’s outward beauty but it was the gentle breath of her soul and strength of her mind that won his heart.

Love the hand on the hip! (Mom center)

Love the hand on the hip! (Mom center)

Her father had told her not to major in music at college because she would never make any money at it. She studied accounting and got a year of it under her belt before she dropped out to work and save money so she and Dad could get married. What she learned in that year served them well years later in the firm — she kept the books and helped Dad build the business.

Five fish became six and when we were teenagers she went back to college and earned two bachelors and one master’s degree.

Mom believed that it was important for women to be a part of business and industry and delivered a speech on the subject she wrote in Speech 101 at the University of Illinois in 1948. I found her notes and bibliography.  –Debbie

“In the past, and even at the present time, many people thought the woman’s place was in the home. During the war (WWII), however, women found their place in business and established themselves as a major part of our industries. The great adjustments women workers made to the demands of wartime production, their rapid occupational shifting, and the sharp variation from the preceding period of duties in the homes seems comparable to the vast changes in the era when machinery for manufacturing was invented and introduced.

A woman should be trained to earn a living as she may have to help provide for the family. She should be intelligent enough to mix housewifely duties and a career so that neither suffers.

This question of the woman working is definitely prevalent among college students, especially those who are married. In many cases, the woman must support the family while her husband is getting his education. Without the money she is earning, a college family certainly could not survive.

Rapid withdrawal of men into the armed forces during the last war required more women in labor. In general, the war should have widened understanding on the part of the public.  Many men are completing educations offered them through government support to again take over in industry where they left off. Margaret Hickey, Chairman of the Women’s Advisory Committee of the War Manpower Commission estimated at least a half million women were unemployed as a result of cutbacks. These are women who have been employed and want to continue to work.

Women played a great part in winning the war. One in five women made speeches in support of war programs. They became members of state councils and national committees dealing with problems resulting from the war. These women should not be cast aside.Throughout the country there is a growing uneasiness about women’s employment after the war. There are a lot of people who are trying to find ways of denying employment to women. They should start swinging on the subject of full employment now.  Full employment is work sufficient for both men and women desiring employment.

Aiming high

Aiming high

Hickey, who has studied the problem of shifting woman from war production to civilian jobs, says that 85% of the women who work do so to support themselves and one or more dependents. Many of these women are the wives, sisters or mothers of veterans and are willing to sacrifice their jobs to see him back at work. However, if the veteran is asked if he is willing to support all the women at home, he laughs. He should certainly not be given privileges over those of the women then.

According to a recent poll, 88% of 33,000 high school girls advocate planning a career other than marriage. A girl generally doesn’t know when she will marry and should plan for the gap between school and marriage. Working in the business world teaches a girl to get along with others and to handle her husband’s money better than she might otherwise. After the marriage a girl may have to assist with the family finances and being prepared will be half the battle. Preparing for a career develops her mind and gives her a sense of responsibility.

A woman must be sure of her future security. Women must not be turned away now after working long hours during the war to become specialized in a certain field just because some people believe men are more capable for the jobs. Women must have a definite part in business and industry if the progress of our nation is to continue.” Dolores Rahn, December 1948

18 year old Dolores

18 year old Dolores

Go Mom!

You could always take a little and do a lot with it–whether it was with an accounting class, a family camper, or a church ministry. You taught me how to do that and I’m grateful. Who knew I would end up running a nonprofit?  Like Dad, you looked to character–not in relation to the world’s standards but in looking to life–to your loved ones, to those you would meet, to your home, your country, your work and ultimately to God’s standards.

I found this note written in the margin of my Bible: “Read to Dad on Father’s Day, June 17, 2012.” Also your anniversary, his first without you.  It’s you Mom:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31: 25-30

Right in Front of You

a/k/a Growing Roots

Move forward. Be in the present moment. Live in the here and now they tell us. So why look back?

Puerto Vallarta 065I’m reminded of a sermon I heard years ago in which the pastor used this familiar analogy:

“There once were two people riding in a wagon — one sat looking forward and one sat looking back. Which way are you going?”

No one wants to go backwards in life. I don’t want to be hooked to a hitching post in the past but if we don’t take time to look back, aren’t we more susceptible to repeating the things we should not repeat? With consequences potentially worse the second go round?

If we don’t remember, what we have forgotten becomes separate from us. Remembering brings the past into the present where it can serve as a guide post to move us forward. I want to know what happened before me — to understand my roots from a cultural context as well as personal and bring it into the present. As I write and record, I discover mystery unknown, courage underestimated, and the faith it took for both.

I can also see how what was needed to complete a project or get through a situation was provided at the proper time — something often difficult to catch when you’re in the midst of it. It needs space to understand. I’ll use Mom’s neighbor as an example and call her Lillian.

Lillian didn’t have family around and scheduled her days purposefully with visits to friends. She often asked Mom to do things but this was when Mom’s health was waning and her pain bad, so she would have to decline. It bothered her and finally one afternoon, feeling a bit better than most, she said,

“How about I come up for a cup of tea with you Lillian?”

“I don’t cook.”

“We just need to boil some water.”

“I don’t have a kettle.”

“Well, do you have a pan we could boil it in?”

“Yeah.  I don’t have tea cups.”

“I’ll bring the cups, the tea and some lemon bars.”

“Okay.”

When Mom got there, she found a shelf full of tea cups and a kettle in the cupboard. Lillian may have gotten so involved with thinking about what she didn’t have that she lost sight of what she did. Or maybe she just didn’t use her kitchen much. How often is it that we miss what we need when it’s right in front of us? That takes living in the present. But how in looking back, can we see that in our lives, even though it didn’t seem so at the time, all was well — and be guided, encouraged.

The past grounds us as we live in the present and are sensitive to the future.

When Mom called to tell me the story of Lillian she laughed until she cried. I remember, hear it and I feel her laugh in my bones. I bring the past to life in the present and smile.

Baby spider from my mom's original plant. Lesson: see how a plant let's its roots grow

Baby spider from my mom’s original plant

Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Deuteronomy 4:37