• absorbing the words

    It’s always astounded me, the sheer quantity of lines that actors shovel into their brains and back out their mouths. Memorization does not come easy to me, so when I first read through the script, yellow highlighter in my cramping hand, I kind of freaked. How was I possibly going to absorb all those words? With no idea how to proceed, I simply started reading the lines, hoping they’d stick.

    Because I’m not allowing my husband to read the script ahead of time (he prefers to be surprised when he sees the play), and because I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone else who might come see it, I didn’t have many options for study partners. With the sometimes-unusual Irish turns of phrase, my younger children had trouble spitting out the lines fast enough to suit me; plus, I was concerned they wouldn’t be detail oriented enough to catch my slip-ups. So that left me with my older son (and my mother and a girlfriend who both chipped in once or twice, bless their hearts). I’d drag him out to the porch or corner him in his room to make him run lines with me, our voices quiet so my husband wouldn’t hear. My son was good at it, making me run the longer phrases over and over and over until I flew through them … and then he’d make me do it once more for good measure, the stinker.

    Over the course of a couple weeks—the amount of time it took me to get off-book—I started to notice a method to my memorization: consonants and alliteration and alphabetizing. I was breaking the sentences into sounds and then linking them back together. For example, in my line, It’s not funny, with the Celtic Tiger belly up and people leaping off castles and cliffs, I hear the three “c’s,” and I keep castles and cliffs straight by remembering they’re alphabetized.

    Here’s one I’m having trouble with right now:

    Anthony: Feelings are useless.
    Rosemary: It’s worse in a man. I can’t stand a man with feelings. 

    I can never get that first sentence started, so connecting the “s” sound in “useless” with the “s” sound in “worse,” which is then followed by the “s” is “stand” and “feelings,” helps me to keep things straight; the “s” is like a ribbon, tying the idea into a bundle. I also have trouble remembering “It’s” and “I.” I haven’t worked that one through just yet, but I’ll probably connect the “it’s” to Anthony’s “feelings”—an object that’s out there, apart from me—and then concentrate on bringing the second sentence closer home—how I feel about feelings. It sounds wildly complicated (and remember, I didn’t set out to create this system; it just happened), but it only takes a moment to puzzle out a connection and then the link is made.

    I have no idea if my tactics are good form or not. Actually, I have a gnawing suspicion that they’re not. The other night at rehearsal when we were working through a scene in which I have to say the same thing, more or less, four different ways, I screwed up and served the tea at the wrong time. Everyone hollered at me and the scene screeched to a halt. “Shoot,” I said, slapping the table. “I serve the tea on the fourth time, not the third.”

    There was a moment of silence and then director said, “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY.”

    From his tone, I immediately knew I had committed a heinous crime. Not wanting to make things worse, I kept my mouth shut and waited for the ax to fall.

    “WHAT are you doing?” the director asked, scrutinizing his script. And then, “Ah-ha. I get it now. You’re counting! You can’t do that, no way! You’ll kill yourself!”

    Everyone started bobbing their heads and tsk-tsking. Clearly, I was a walking disaster, a time bomb, an abject failure.

    “You want to give me a shovel so I can dig a hole and bury myself now and be done with it?” I whined.

    The director then gave me a lecture on memorizing for content and the importance of NEVER COUNTING BECAUSE THAT WILL DESTROY YOU. When he finished, there was a long silence while I contemplated the error of my ways. And then I said, in my most teeny-tiny voice, “Do you mind if I argue with you?”

    “Alright,” he sighed. “Go ahead.”

    “What if counting helps to get the sequence into my head, and then, once I have the patterns and rhythm down, I am better able to focus on the meaning, eventually forgetting the counting technique altogether?”

    “Okay, fine. I see your point. Go ahead and try it then.”

    So yeah. I really have no idea what I’m doing. But I do know that when I opened my script to find examples of how I memorized lines, I had trouble finding them—and I used them for almost every single line! For the most part, all I see when I look at the script now is the meaning, the flow, the feelings. I guess this means that I will (I hope!) eventually forget all my little gimmicks and settle fully into the play.

    Either that, or I’ll crash and burn most spectacularly.

    And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go run lines with my son. I gave him a driving lesson today, so he owes me one.

    This same time, years previous: wuv, tru wuv, on being together, warts and all, the boy and the dishes, cream puffs, and oatmeal crackers.

  • the quotidian (3.28.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    My second flop in a row: can I no longer make a decent chocolate cake???

    My younger daughter’s latest creation: every time we go to Costco, she lurks at the edge of the bakery like a lost puppy, watching the cake decorators (and hoping they’ll toss her a treat).

    Post-rehearsal: late-afternoon “lunch” in the sun.

    Running lines while rocking lambie.

    Fly season: it’s disgusting.
    Curious kisses.


    Enforced lactation.

    Putting in fence for the second pasture: she says she wants a steer.

    Jacob Marley! Come to life! In our field!
    Frolicking till the sun sets.

    This same time, years previous: the Tuesday boost, seven-minute egg, maple pecan scones, our oaf, the visit, the quotidian (3.26.12), a spat, breaking the habitsmokey fried chickpeas, happy birthday, happy pappy!, and brandied bacony roast chicken.

  • more springtime babies

    Two days after Annabelle had her first-day-of-spring lambs, Jessica went into labor. She went off her feed and wandered around the pasture, standing, sitting, tossing her head, and generally looking uncomfortable. The kids set up shop at the edge of the pasture, binoculars in hand. Every now and then I’d holler at them: ANYTHING COMING OUT YET?

    Mid-morning, we invited the neighbors down for the show. The lambs might be born in ten minutes or ten hours, I said, but you’re welcome to just come over and hang out for the day. The kids played outside for the morning. At noon, their mother joined us. After the kids ate, she and I visited at the kitchen table, keeping one eye on the window and the livestock activity in the field. Just after I set a pot of coffee on to brew, my daughter yelled that Jessica’s water had broken, which meant the lambs would most likely arrive within an hour. Thinking we had plenty of time, we moseyed out the door, but as soon as we stepped onto the deck, we were greeted with shouting: Jessica had already had a lamb! We scurried down to the field to find a teeny-tiny, sopping-wet lamb laying in a heap on the ground and Jessica pawing the ground, gearing up to deliver another.

    The second one took a lot longer to come out, and it was a lot bigger, too. For what seemed forever, it just stuck there, its head out and its body in. Every now and then it shook its head, making its ears flop. Just when I was ready to give my daughter the green light to assist, the lamb starting inching its way out, and finally, finally, it plopped to the ground like a casually-tossed handful of Pick-Up Sticks.

    At first, Jessica was extremely attentive to each of the lambs, sucking on their ears and mouths, licking them all over, using her teeth to pull them upright by the scruff of their necks. But then she started butting the little one away, slamming it with her head and kicking at it. My daughter had to hold Jessica’s head so the lamb could nurse.

    Within a few hours, it was clear that Jessica was rejecting the small lamb. My daughter went outside every two hours that first night to hold Jessica’s head so the little one could feed. The next morning we ran to the farm store to get milk replacer and a bottle nipple, just in case. That evening, my husband and daughter tied Jessica to the stable wall and left her there with the lamb for an hour. It sounded like Jessica was dying, but it sort of worked. Now she’s sometimes allowing the little one to nurse (and even one of Annabelle’s lambs occasionally helps herself to some milk). We’re hopeful that things will continue to improve, and the wee one appears to be thriving.

    It’s interesting how different the mothers are: Annabelle, the more skittish of the two, talks constantly to her lambs while Jessica is mostly silent. All four lambs are frisky, alert, and absolutely adorable. The wee one is super bouncy and follows my daughter everywhere…even into the house.

    With their gangly legs, wildly wiggling tails, and perpetually smiling mouths, I’ve decided that lambs are springtime personified (animalfied?). We’re getting such a kick out of them.

    This same time, years previous: the pigpen, the quotidian (3.24.14), applied mathematics, of a moody Sunday, a list, the faces of my nieces, fatira, whoopie pies, and snickerdoodles.      

  • the tables are turning

    Last summer when I interviewed a family for the Fresh Air Fund, one of the family’s grown daughters let slip that she was an EMT. Right away I had a slew of questions. Where did she work? Was it all volunteer? How often did she go out on calls? What types of cases did she see? And then she got our her scrapbook stuffed full with newspaper clippings of the emergencies she had been present for. As I listened to her talk, it dawned on me that EMT work might be right down my older son’s alley.

    That evening I told my son all I had learned. “You only have to be sixteen,” I said. “You can’t drive the ambulance or go on calls involving homicide and suicide until you’re eighteen, but you’d be allowed to work almost all other cases.”

    “Are you serious? I could really do that?”

    “Crazy, right? You’d see a side of our world that many people never see: drugs, poverty, mental health issue. It’d be an education in medicine and sociology.”

    As soon as my son turned sixteen, he took his CPR training and signed up for an EMT class. Since January, every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6:30 until 10:00, he has been trekking over to one of the rescue squads for training. When he was halfway through the four-month program, he needed to do on-the-job observation. In order to get the requisite number of patient contacts in the shortest amount of time, he signed up with the Harrisonburg squad, the busiest squad around. He worked three days last weekone twelve-hour shift and two six-hoursand got more than enough patient contacts.

    One afternoon I took the kids with me when I picked him up from the station. While we waited for my son to finish up his paperwork, one of the station men gave the kids a tour of the equipment. They got to poke around an ambulance, measure their oxygen levels and blood pressure, examine the oxygen tanks, peer into the cabs, etc. While we were in the station, an alarm sounded and we watched as some of the volunteers rushed out.

    Suppertime is a lot more interesting on the nights my son does runs. As soon as he finishes one story, we all clamor for another. His sisters are the pushiest. You said you went on seven runs, but that’s only five stories. Tell us another! We pepper him with so many questions, he hardly gets a chance to eat.

    discussing insulin dependent diabetics

    It’s fascinating the stuff that he’s seeing: warehouse injuries, diabetic crashes, and infant febrile seizures. He’s taken the vitals of a person who had lacerations to the face and throat from an (exploded? failed?) project. He’s put a five lead on unconscious elderly person. He’s seen hysterical wives and mothers. He’s watched as eight adults restrained a full-grown man in the midst of a raging diabetic crash and then seen him transform, just five minutes after they got sugar in him, into another person altogether: stable, calm, and sane. He’s assisting with homeless people, immigrants, and emotionally disturbed people. And he’s loving every minute of it.

    Last Friday morning, my husband dropped our son off at the station and then, two minutes later, had to pull his truck over to let an ambulance pass. A second later his phone pinged with a text from our son: That was me!

    So this is what our children do. Bit by bit, they carve a place for themselves in the world, learning new things, making themselves useful, biting into life with a passion and curiosity that startles and inspires. For years, we demand our children’s respect, and then one day we look up and realize the tables have turned. Now it’s they that command our respect.

    I’m loving every minute of it.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.23.15), and nutty therapy.

  • the quotidian (3.21.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    Frosting for the cake.

    Too bad the cake turned out terrible: good flavor, but dry as a bone.

    My afternoon feast: the ice cream that I won’t let myself eat at bedtime.

    Dog sitting.
    (The small one was one of Charlotte’s pups.)


    Hi-yo, Silver!
    Cool down.

    At least she finished hanging up the clothes before getting distracted.
    Water balloons are fun.

    Watching for developments.

    She stamps when we get too close.

    A brief moment of Zen.

    This same time, years previous: an accidental expert, the walk home, big businesses read little blogs, a fast update, and caramelized onions.

  • last and first

    The last day of winter…

    And the first day of spring!


    Spring is like a perhaps hand
    (which comes carefully
    out of Nowhere) arranging
    a window, into which people look (while
    people stare
    arranging and changing placing
    carefully there a strange
    thing and a known thing here) and

    changing everything carefully.

    spring is like a perhaps
    Hand in a window
    (carefully to
    and fro moving New and
    Old things, while
    people stare carefully
    moving a perhaps
    fraction of flower here placing
    an inch of air there) and

    without breaking anything.

    e.e. cummings


    This same time, years previous: the last weekend, piggies, a morning’s start, the creative norm, no buffer, over the moon, roasted vegetables, our house lately, getaway, shaking things up, and it’s about enough.  

  • all things Irish

    I bought a six-pack of Guinness today.

    Because I want to make a Guinness chocolate cake. And maybe also, just a little, because it’s St. Patrick’s Day and the sun is shinning and the crocuses are up and the forsythia is blooming and the grass is greening. And also maybe because I’m listening to Irish radio, watching Irish movies, talking about white heather, and memorizing Irish phrases like “bad cess to yuh.” When you luxuriate in all things Irish, having a Guinness on hand (do I even like Guinness? I have no idea) becomes a necessity. (I’m not wearing green though. So pinch me.)

    Of course, there’s a reason to all my Irish madness and it has nothing to do with Saint Patrick’s Day, or the fact that my husband’s middle name is Driscoll, or that I’ve always thought our family acted more Irish than Mennonite what with our hot tempers and bull-hornish voices and volatile moods. The reason for this sudden infatuation with all things Irish? I’m in an Irish play, a new one (2014) by John Patrick Shanley. Outside Mullingar is a love story between two 40-something neighbors: Anthony, a painfully shy cattle farmer, and Rosemary (me!), the woman who lives next door and is determined to have him. (To quote some sort of professional blurb:) “Their journey is heartbreaking, funny as hell, and ultimately deeply moving.” 

    There are so many things I’d like to say but can’t. Pushing myself to do something so completely out of my ordinary makes me feel incredibly vulnerable and exposed. When I feel like this, I’ve learned, I need to play it tough, a “fake it till I make it” kind of attitude. So guys, here’s the deal. I’m totally chill. Memorizing miles of lines and hanging out on stage for long periods of time with just one other actor? Piece. of. cake.

    Speaking of cake, I ran out of time to make it! Right now I need to make supper (sweet potato fries and broccoli) and then rush out the door to rehearsal. I guess the cake—and any accompanying beer drinking—will have to wait for another day. Cheerio!

    PS. The show runs April 14-24. I’ll have more details later.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.16.15), a good reminder, smiling for dimples, the quotidian (3.17.14), warmth, bedtime ghost stories, oatmeal pancakes, and butterscotch pudding.  

  • wear a helmet!

    The other morning I was up in my bedroom getting changed (or writing, or watering plants, or straightening the sheets, or putting clothes away, something) when I happened to glance out the window. My older daughter was in the stable/lean-to, draped across Velvet’s back, her arms wrapped around her neck, just hanging out with her horse while Velvet munched her grain or hay or whatever it is horses eat. Then another time, I looked out the window to see Velvet grazing in the yard, my daughter perched on her back, staring off into the middle distance.

    Both times, my daughter was wearing a helmet. When it comes to horseback riding—here, there, anywhere—helmets are a given. Every single time my daughter swing-jumps up on her horse, even if it’s just to sit for a couple minutes, she puts on a helmet first.

    The other day my daughter was out in the field jumping Velvet when my mother came to visit. My mom and I watched her from the kitchen window for a bit before sitting down at the table to talk. A little later, my younger daughter yelled to me from her bedroom. I ignored her, of course, because, Don’t call me; COME to me, duh. But then she called again. “Mom! I think Rebecca fell off the horse!”

    Sure enough, Velvet stood in the middle of the field, and my daughter lay motionless on the ground at her feet. I raced out to the deck and hollered to her.

    “I’m okay!” Her voice was reassuringly strong, so I stayed put, watching.

    Once she started moving, the coughing began. I called her on the cell phone (which she often carries while riding). She could barely talk.

    “Are you laughing or crying?”

    “I (hack-hack) got the (cough-wheeze) air knocked outa me (cough, hack, wheeze-wheeze).”

    I waited, her ragged breathing in my ear, as she gradually made it to her knees, and then, bit by bit, to her feet. “Nothing’s broken,” she rasped. “I’ve gotta get back on now.”

    When she came in later, we got the whole story. She and Velvet had some confusion over cantering and trotting, and then Velvet stepped to the side at the jump and my daughter went tumbling. She landed smack on her back, her head snapping back and smacking the ground. We inspected the helmet for cracks—there were none.

    By the next morning, she didn’t have much neck mobility and ached all over, but she was fine. Within a few days, she was back to normal.

    Recently, I was describing my daughter’s riding—full gallops, thundering hooves, homemade jumps—to a friend, an avid bicyclist.

    “Riding is so cool,” he said.

    “You should come over,” I said. “My daughter would love to teach you.”

    “But it’s so dangerous!” he protested. And then he said, “I don’t know why I said that. I hate it when people say they don’t ride bike because it’s dangerous. Just because it’s dangerous is not a reason to not do it.”

    “A bicycle won’t kick you, though,” I said.

    “Yeah, but drivers might run you over.”

    Twice now, my mother has informed me that, according to some friends of hers, riding horses is more dangerous than riding motorcycles. She’s right to be concerned: riding a horse is dangerous. Yet my son now barrels down the Interstate at 70 mph and I don’t hear anyone making a peep about that. Somehow, our culture considers children driving tons of steel at deadly speeds an acceptable risk while riding horses is considered dangerously risky.

    So what’s what? When is something too dangerous? What is responsible risk? When do I let my natural anxieties and fears have the final say—with one sloppy maneuver, one moment of inattention, one tumble, one kick and an entire life can shatter—and when do I tamp them down, allowing my children to boldly live?

    My daughter is going to fall. With riding horses, that’s a given.

    So she wears a helmet and I try not to think too much. Best I can tell, it’s the only good solution.

    This same time, years previous: cornmeal blueberry scones, cherry pie, and a child’s blessing.

  • the quotidian (3.14.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    Slice, then ice: our beloved cinnamon raisin bread.
    Sunny sourdough.
    After watching Fed Up (again): measuring the ingredient list, literally.

    Leaving us: off to South Carolina for week of Mennonite Disaster Service.

    The assignment: write down your memories from when you were little.

    Taking her science lectures laying down.

    OCD wood stacking, à la 1820: yet another visit to the Frontier Culture Museum.
    The one-room schoolhouse came to life, thanks to a visiting group of plain Mennonite students.

    Buddies. (Ha. Get it?)


    Killing time.

    Writing lesson interrupted. 

    This same time, years previous: no more Luna, opening, raspberry ricotta cake, what will I wish I had done differently?, chocolate babka, a love affair, bolt popcorn, the quotidian (3.12.12), sugar loaf, from my diary, all by himself, for all we know, golden chicken curry, dunging out, breakfast pizza, and let’s talk.      

  • homemade pepperoni

    Back when I was overloaded with pork (still am, but I’ve acclimated), a reader pointed me to a recipe for homemade pepperoni. I haven’t bought commercial pepperoni since.

    The texture of the homemade pepperoni is different from the store bought stuff—it’s not as greasy and it doesn’t slice as smoothly (maybe if the meat was ground into a paste?)—but the flavor is fabulous. In fact, my children floored me by announcing they prefer the homemade pepperoni to the store stuff.

    It’s not complicated to make. Mix a couple pounds of ground beef (or pork, if, like me, you have a pig and a half sitting in your freezer) with a bunch of spices and then pop the meat in the fridge and forget about it for several days. One morning after breakfast, take the bowl of meat from the fridge and shape the meat into two or three logs. Bake the logs at low-low temps for the whole day, rotating the logs every couple hours or so. Cool the pepperoni, tightly double-wrap in plastic, and stick it in the freezer…until you get hit with a pizza craving. That’s it!

    Homemade Pepperoni 
    Adapted from Tammy’s Recipes.

    The original recipe says you can increase both the fennel and the red pepper flakes to 2 teaspoons. It also calls for 2 “heaping” teaspoons curing salt. I’m not sure what that means exactly, so, for simplicity’s sake, I changed it to an even 3 teaspoons.

    The meat is to be baked at 200 degrees, but my first batch of pepperoni cooked too fast and got a little dry. (Maybe my oven runs hot?) So I reduced the heat to about 150 degrees and the next batch turned out much better.

    From now on, I’ll always be doubling (quadrupling?) the recipe. If the oven’s going to run that long, it only makes sense to fill it.

    2 pounds ground beef or pork
    2 teaspoons liquid smoke
    2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
    2 teaspoons mustard seed
    1½ teaspoons crushed fennel seed
    1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    1 teaspoon smoked (or regular) paprika
    ½ teaspoon garlic powder
    ½ teaspoon sugar
    3 teaspoons Morton’s Tender Quick curing salt

    Dump all the ingredients in a bowl and mash together with your hands. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for 48-72 hours.

    Shape the meat into two or three long skinny logs and place on a parchment-lined, sided baking sheet. Bake the pepperoni at 150 degrees for about eight hours, rotating the meat every two hours (as you would hot dogs on a grill). Cool the meat and double-wrap in plastic before transferring to the freezer.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.9.15), family weekending, the quotidian (3.10.14), work, adventuring, now, blondies and breakdowns, and we’re back from seeing the wizard.