For Grandmother

“What can I bring home to the grandmother?” Heidi asked after a while.

“Something good,” said the aunt; “some lovely, soft white rolls that will please her; for she can hardly eat the hard black bread any longer.”

Don’t you just love bedtime stories? Long tales that take weeks to finish? You say prayers, then open the book and the little one slowly floats into dreamland with sweet stories circulating in his head…

My big kids are too busy–too adult already–for bedtime stories, which is one reason I think God gave us John Ronan. So that we could stay immersed in the world of the little child a while longer. There are so many lessons a little person can teach a grown up.

While reading Heidi, John Ronan and I have been entranced by this little girl who has a heart bursting with goodness and life. I’m inspired on many levels by the story–to be a better mother, to find more and more ways to encounter nature, and to be the optimist and giver that Heidi is.

John Ronan has been especially worried about the blind grandmother who can’t eat hard, brown bread. He is always looking for her in the storyline and hoping that she will have plenty of those expensive, soft white rolls to eat, since she loves them so.

I’m betting that his preoccupation with the grandmother in the story has a lot to do with his very own grandmothers who are both kind and giving. What a gift to a child, to have people in your life who exude love. I’m sure that little boy of mine would do anything to keep his own grandmothers from going blind, or from lacking soft, white rolls if they wanted them.

But Heidi threw herself down by Klara’s chair and began to cry in such despair, louder and louder, and more bitterly, and sobbed again and again in her distress:–

“Now the grandmother won’t have any rolls. They were for the grandmother; now they are all gone and she won’t have any!”

It seemed as if her heart would break. Fraulein Rottenmeier ran out. Klara was alarmed and perplexed by her distress.

“Heidi, Heidi, don’t cry so!” she said imploringly, “only listen to me! Don’t be so troubled; see, I promise you I will give you just as many rolls for the grandmother, or even more, when you go home, and then they will be fresh and soft…”

We only have a few more pages of the book until we’re finished, then we’ll be moving on to a new world, and a new read. I’ll be sad to leave the Alps, though–I used to live there, high in the mountains, just like Heidi. And though I didn’t live in a hut, or go to the pasture with a rowdy band of goats, I did see God in the sky and the wind and the flowers there–and feel Him in the air, just like she did.

And Heidi now took one roll after another out of her basket, until she had piled up all twelve in the grandmother’s lap.

“Oh, child! Oh, child! what a blessing you have brought me!” exclaimed the grandmother, when the rolls did not come to an end, but one kept following another. “But the greatest blessing is you yourself, child!”

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Small Beginnings

Two round loaves of sourdough

Mixed: 9 pm

Molded: 12:30 pm next day

Baked: 4 pm

Left one loaf of sourdough on the front porch of a friend–a friend who is a lot like Caddie Woodlawn…

Recently I’ve been reading through Caddie Woodlawn, a short novel by Carol Ryrie Brink as part of my daughter’s homeschool history studies. The story follows Caddie and her siblings as they learn and grow and stomp through the woods of Wisconsin in the early 1800’s. The story is endearing–Caddie is allowed to run with her brothers, and because of this freedom ends up having a heap of adventures.

Near the end of the book the author inserts just the first few lines of a poem written by Charles Mackay, a Scottish poet. The poem touched me and I wanted to share it here since it is so much about giving. (By the way, I’ve found this poem under three different titles and I can’t seem to find which one is the original. They all fit the meaning of the poem. They are: Song of Life; Small Beginnings; and Little and Great.)

The poem is made up of four short and separate stories. Each one is about giving something small, something that may seem insignificant, but that may amount to very much later… If you have time, read the poem aloud, and enjoy both the rhythm of the language and the meaning. And may we all seek to do some good that may later benefit someone else!

Small Beginnings
by Charles Mackay

A traveller through a dusty road strewed acorns on the lea;
And one took root and sprouted up, and grew into a tree.
Love sought its shade, at evening time, to breathe its early vows;
And age was pleased, in heats of noon, to bask beneath its boughs;
The dormouse loved its dangling twigs, the birds sweet music bore;
It stood a glory in its place, a blessing evermore.

A little spring had lost its way amid the grass and fern,
A passing stranger scooped a well, where weary men might turn;
He walled it in, and hung with care a ladle at the brink;
He thought not of the deed he did, but judged that toil might drink.
He passed again, and lo! the well, by summers never dried,
Had cooled ten thousand parching tongues, and saved a life beside.

A dreamer dropped a random thought; ‘t was old, and yet ‘t was new;
A simple fancy of the brain, but strong in being true.
It shone upon a genial mind, and lo! its light became
A lamp of life, a beacon ray, a monitory flame.
The thought was small; its issue great; a watch-fire on the hill;
It sheds its radiance far adown, and cheers the valley still!

A nameless man, amid a crowd that thronged the daily mart,
Let fall a word of Hope and Love, unstudied, from the heart;
A whisper on the tumult thrown, – a transitory breath, –
It raised a brother from the dust; it saved a soul from death.
O germ! O fount! O word of love! O thought at random cast!
Ye were but little at the first, but mighty at the last.

Baking… Books

Two loaves of French bread

Mixed: 2:45 pm

Molded: 5:15 pm

Baked: 6 pm

Gave extra loaf to Glenn

It’s hard to choose my favorite part of the bread baking process. Like writing, there are parts of the process that are prayerful, parts that require patience, and other parts that get you jumping up and down. I love how bread baking and the writer’s life match up in so many ways…

  • Assemble the ingredients, flour, water, salt and yeast=Research and write your rough draft–let the ingredients–and writing–fly all over the kitchen, and don’t worry about the mess!
  • Knead the dough until its silky smooth=Massage the story, play with the words–this is a prayerful time for me, both while kneading and while editing.
  • Let the dough rise=Walk away from the story and let it sit and ferment. This requires patience and a sense of moving on to another task for some portion of time.
  • Mold the dough into its final shape=Edit. I love editing. This part of writing involves finding  just the right shape for a written piece, and refining the individual words…
  • Bake=Give your work to others to critique. Put it to the fire test, to the heat of the oven and allow the criticism to bake out all the impurities of your writing!
  • Eat it–or better yet, give that bread away!=Send out your work. Let others read it and be blessed, or simply say it’s done and tuck it away. But always move on to the next project. If it ends up being published, then that’s just the icing on the… bread!

Today an interview on my writing life has been posted on the Examiner.com, which is an online news service that has more than 7 million readers. I’m humbled that I was asked to do the interview, and another interview, on the topic of this bread blog, will be featured next week. Here’s the link to the interview.

Sending you blessings and love… as I bake, and write…

Fifth Century–Saved by the Monks

Two loaves of molassas bread

Two loaves of no-knead sour, plus spent barley

Gave one to the Brunners and the other to a grieving family

During this month of January I’ve been reading through this well presented book on Irish history written by Thomas Cahill. The man must be Irish himself–the book is filled with the lively humor and playfulness so typical of the Irish. I’ve enjoyed every page, and though I am familiar with much of the story, it was passages like this one, about the early monks of Ireland, that kept me reading:

…And this lack of martyrdom troubled the Irish, to whom a glorious death by violence presented such an exciting finale. If all Ireland had received Christianity without a fight, the Irish would just have to think up some new form of martyrdom…

Cahill brilliantly distills the important forces of history, focusing on the people who have made an important contribution to their cultures and times, and tells their stories. In this book we travel from Ausonius, to Augustine, to Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. We find Saint Brigid entering the story on page 172 and she stays with us until the end. There are other characters who pop in to visit: Cicero, Medb, Cuchulainn and Noisiu–so many of them impossible to pronounce, which is why I thumbed to the the pronunciation guide at the end more than once. (Thank you, Mr. Cahill!)

There weren’t any explanations of how bread was baked in the fifth century. I’ll have to write the author a personal letter about that, even though I’m not entirely sure that Irish bread baking helped save civilization in any way at all, but perhaps he has some notes he could share with me. He presented so clearly his thesis of the simultaneous breakdown of the Roman world with the intellectual and literary build up of the Irish one, that I didn’t much mind. In short–it was Saint Patrick who paved the way for hundreds of peaceful monasteries to be built around and about that grassy, green land. The monasteries housed eager Irish monks who not only enjoyed their work of creatively copying out texts, but who also savored the ancient classical texts, spending their days, and nights copying and illuminating, learning, discussing, and writing little verses of their own in the margins and on scraps of vellum. While most of the lands under Roman rule were deep into the middle ages, losing their educations by way of poverty and serfdom and the burning of libraries… the Irish were enjoying a time of peace–a time of light and discovery–and they gave these treasures back to the Western world, once the dark ages began to wane.

If you don’t know the basic story of Saint Patrick–please go get yourself a copy of Zachary Lynch’s The Life of Saint Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish. Though it’s just a children’s picture book, the story comes with all the dramatic and important details that highlight his story; it is taken straight from St. Patrick’s own Confessions.

I’ve been gushing about Mr Cahill’s writing all month. No wonder it sat on the bestseller list for almost two years in the mid 1990’s. If you’re at all interested in learning more about Saint Patrick and his influence on Western civilization, or if you’re just looking for a an inspiring read that dips you back in history, have fun with this one.

And now, back to my oven. There’s bread in there, and I need to figure out who to give it to!

Any takers?

(…And, if you’re out there, Mr. Cahill, the bread is hot, and you’ve done your share of inspiring me to deserve a loaf–or three…)


Disclosure of Material Connection: Believe me, I have not received any compensation for writing this post. Wouldn’t that be nice if I had? 🙂 I have no material connection to Mr. Cahill, and though I do know Mr. Lynch, he doesn’t know that I’m mentioning his book here… nor will I get any sous, or Euros, or even a cracker for pointing you to either of the two books above. I know these disclosures are supremely silly, and take away from the sweet nature of this blog post, but I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”