28 February, 2012

Let Me Count the Ways...

You've got to love a country that:

1.  Sells "congratulations on passing your drivers test!" greeting cards.
2.  Prints Braille onto medicine containers so that those with impaired vision can shop with a little more  independence and confidence.
3.  Sells tomato paste in a tube.  This sounds silly, but in the States I only ever see it in cans, which is annoying if you just need a tablespoon of it for a recipe.
4.  Writes "LOOK RIGHT"on the road at crosswalks.  This has saved my life so many times...
5.  Produced this and this and this.
6.  "Beer ticks."
7.  Loves veggies SO.DARN.MUCH!

27 February, 2012

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

I thought I'd share the recipe I cooked for dinner tonight, because it was really delicious, comforting, and healthy!  I originally spotted the recipe over here but made a few adjustments reflected in the version pasted below. 

I omitted the celery and added a red bell pepper and some chickpeas.  I also definitely added greater amounts of the spices than called for but didn't really measure...I just tasted as I went and adjusted until I was happy with the results.  The original recipe called for 2 quarts of stock but I reduced this simply because I didn't have a big enough pot -- but 5 cups still made quite a lot of soup for the two of us.  We'll be eating the leftovers for a couple of days, which is fine by me but just be forewarned that if you're only cooking for one or two and don't relish the prospect of soup for a week, you may want to adjust the amounts accordingly!

This soup was delicious on its own, but I bet it would be even better served with crusty bread and topped with some sour cream or Greek yogurt and cilantro!


Egyptian Red Lentil Soup
adapted from Food & Wine magazine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups red lentils (if you can't find red lentils, you can use a different color, you just won't have this beautiful color and it might change the cooking times)
2 14 ounce cans chickpeas, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot or dutch oven melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, bell pepper, and garlic and saute until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, and curry powder and stir to coat the veggies with the spices. Cook for a few minutes to toast the spices. Add the tomatoes and the stock and bring to a simmer. Season generously with salt and pepper and add the lentils. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until lentils and vegetables are very soft.

In a few batches, puree the soup in a food processor until completely smooth. Transfer back to pot, stir in the chickpeas and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you like it a bit more spicy, you can add a little cayenne pepper and more black pepper.


26 February, 2012

Anyone for Tennis?

Today Wimbledon Village presented itself as Greenwich's rival for my affections (It didn't win, of course, but should Greenwich ever do something to disappoint me I'll know where to transfer my loyalty).  Not being an avid tennis fan it wouldn't have occurred to me to make a special trip to Wimbledon, but my friend Jess was going out to the tennis club shop to buy some logo-bedecked gifts for family members.  I went along for the ride just because it was a part of London I'd never seen, and I'm so glad that I went.

An inviting detour
After poking around the shop and making our little contributions to the British economy, we decided to walk back through Wimbledon Village to the Tube rather than wait for a bus.  Despite some quickly-scribbled walking directions and a mildly consistent Maps app, we did get lost, but the best sort of lost; the intentional detours taken because the surroundings are so wonder-full that you want to delay reaching your destination just a little bit longer.  Stone churches surrounded by brick cottages with round hobbit-hole windows and wiry vines climbing up the side; artisan bakeries and local restaurants; rambling lanes and steep hills untouched and untamed by modernity's imposition.  I believe the beauty of it was amplified a hundred-fold by the simple fact that we were there at dusk, when, as my friend Vicky put it, earth seems close to touching heaven. 

Photo courtesy Jessica Arnold
Our walk reminded me of one of the things I love most about London:  It feels like a collection of villages, each with its own flavor and history and architecture but still somehow part of this one city.  This was captured in one panorama today when we suddenly rounded a bend in the road and found ourselves overlooking Battersea Power Station, the London Eye, the Gherkin, the Shard, and Canary Wharf all at once.  We were so far away, our perspective so flattened, that all the major figures in London's west, central, and eastern skylines were condensed into one view.  We were so far away...but still in London.

On a completely unrelated note, when we were about a minute away from home this evening a man on a bicycle stopped us to ask if we knew where he could find "the boat pub."  He was referring to the Wibbly Wobbly, which is anchored in nearby Greenland Dock and proudly proclaims its status as "London's Only Floating Pub!"  I gave him directions and then he said that, judging from my accent, he thought I must be from New Zealand.

Er, no...but I suppose it's nice to know I give off an exotic sort of vibe?

Starry Night

Christ Church staircase: Not just for wizards.
Last night I got to live a little bit more of the dream.  My friend Vicky invited me to be her guest at a black tie dinner given by the rowing club of Christ Church, Oxford.  The occasion was the conclusion of Torpids, four days of races held every Hilary term.  The races had just concluded yesterday afternoon, and there were victories to celebrate.  But the dinner was also a reunion for past club captains and members, as it marked 30 years since women were first admitted to the college and its rowing club.

We took the train out from Paddington and arrived at dusk, when Oxford is very much a city of dreaming spires, indeed.  We came to the gate of Christ Church and were met by a very protective porter.  We told him we were there for the dinner, and he let us in but explained that he was guarding the door closely because some Pembroke College hooligans would likely try to sneak onto Tom Quad that night to burn a boat in celebration of their victory over Christ Church.  (I can report that no such bonfire had occurred by the time we left, so well done, Mister Porter.)

"To the Queen!"
Crossing Tom Quad was the first surreal "living the dream" moment.  I was dressed in an elegant cocktail dress (indulging my inner Kate Middleton wanna-be with blue lace), the stars were coming out, and from across the quad we could hear laughing voices ringing in the great 16th-century staircase.  I imagined the years between the World Wars, I imagined the Charles Ryders and Sebastian Flytes, I imagined what it would've been like to have had black tie evenings as a normal part of my college experience. 

We began with drinks in the foyer just outside the dining hall (yes, that dining hall).  Introductions, reunions, friendly chatter, photos.  Then the call to dinner.  The great doors opened, and we found our places at the long banquet tables.  For three hours we wined and dined under the watchful eyes of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth II, and countless great men of state whose portraits line the walls  (What up, William Penn!).  Four courses, two wines, sherry, port.  Toasts to the Queen, to the college, to the rowing club.  Now and again I stopped to look around the room and absorb the fact that I was a little part of its history for a night.  When we left, Tom Quad lay quiet under a clear sapphire sky pinned with a slender moon and brilliant stars.  I think time just might have stopped for a moment.

I don't quite understand why I've been given some of the experiences I've been given.  This is another instance in which grace is befuddling, and I suppose the only right response is to receive it with thanks and enjoy it to the utmost.   Thank you, Vicky, for a night I will remember for a very, very long time!
 
The menu

24 February, 2012

Looting & Lunching in Lewisham

A and I find ourselves in Dulwich at least once every week.  A has regular 2-hour meetings there during which I normally read a book or sketch.  It finally occurred to me recently, though, to actually go explore the nearby main road.  There are a few shops that we exclaim over as we drive by every week - "Oh, that looks interesting."  "Ooo, we should try lunch there sometime!" - but never stay to explore. 

Dulwich is in the Borough of Lewisham, which is, shall we say, not a tourist attraction.  It's where real people live.  You know, people like you and me who buy cheap shoes and take our lunch to work.  There is crime, poverty, a lot of subsidized housing.  But it's also clearly experiencing the birth pangs of gentrification; next to the thrift stores and greasy cafes there are sparkling new clothing boutiques and quirky wine bars.  Waiting at the bus stop there are elderly men leaning on NHS walkers, and young hipster girls with topknots and art portfolios.  I wonder what this neighborhood will look like in five years.  Will everyone who calls it "home" right now still be able to afford to live there?  Whose interests and needs will be reflected in the types of shops and restaurants that line the high street?

Today on my ramble I discovered this wonderful vintage/antiques shop tucked into a little courtyard behind a wall.  It's a trove of treasures from the last century of British life!  An irrepressible grin spread across my face the moment I stepped inside; there were birdcages and airplanes suspended from the ceiling, there were worn leather suitcases empty of luggage but full of stories, there was cheery accordion music playing.  The only thing that stopped me from buying out half the place was the appalling finiteness of my funds and luggage space.  I did, however, leave with 2 red letter "G"s, from old cinema marquees, to add to my collection back at home.  Then I popped over to the lovely Blue Brick Cafe for lunch (goat cheese, butternut squash, and spinach tart with salad and beetroot), and it was so warm and sunny that I was able to sit outside!  Dulwich, you're alright.

Shoes and ships and sealing wax...and larger British moths...
A slightly macabre but totally beautiful tea tray.
A wonder emporium.
It won't fit in my suitcase, but maybe it could fly home?
Lunch - Yum!

21 February, 2012

Slangtastic

You wouldn't expect to run into so many confused or awkward moments when you share a language with someone else...but having had one too many red-faced, deer-in-the-headlights moments of uncertainty (the foreigner can all too suddenly find themselves unintentionally swimming in another society's innuendo or political incorrectness) I figured I should try to capture a list of some of the words and expressions I've become acquainted with here.  I would like to apologize to the people of Britain for the many times that you've just been your normal selves and I just stared back at you like this:
HUH?
Carry on, I'm just an American.   

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Craic/Crack - Situation, news, fun times.  "What's the craic this weekend?"  No, the speaker is probably not referring to illegal substances.

Saffer - South African.

Nesh - Describes cold weather or someone who is over-sensitive to the cold. 

"Y'alright?" - This isn't really a question, and they're not really expecting an answer.  Just fling a "Y'alright?" back at them and keep walking.  The best is when, before you've even opened your mouth to "ask," the other person just goes, "Yeah, good, yeah, thanks!"

Chuffed - Pleased, extremely delighted.

"Cor!" - Exclamation of surprise.

Yummy mummy - A young, attractive mother.  Probably has a stroller (pram) like a spaceship and wears four-inch heels to the grocery store.

Knackered - Exhausted, worn out.

Bits and bobs - Miscellaneous items, this and that.  

Daft - Silly, foolish.

"Ta!" - "Thanks!"  This one annoys me.  That's all.

20 February, 2012

Sirens

Tonight I arrived back at the flat after getting together with a couple of friends in Canary Wharf, but I wasn't ready to go inside yet.  It was chilly in the best way, the chill of river winds and almost-spring.  I walked to the side of the building that faces the Thames and sat down on the bench of sorts - it's basically a rectangular slab of marble that alternately serves as a bench, picnic table, sunbathing spot, skateboarding obstacle, neutral location for break-ups and romantic spot for make-ups.  For me, it's a good spot to take deep breaths and talk to God.

Tonight I did some of that, but then I just listened and watched.  At night if you stop to pay attention, in every direction all you can hear are sirens.  Police sirens, ambulances, fire engines.  Sirens all over London.  Sirens representing people in physical or emotional trouble all over London.  I don't know why I am the one who gets to live by the river, to have friends who love me and do not harm me, while someone else must be the reason for the sirens.  This is when grace is a little hard to receive.

19 February, 2012

Right here.

"Wherever you are, be all there."  I read this recently and have been trying to live it, but it's hard.

"The most important person in your life is the one right in front of you right now."  A former co-worker said this to me one day during a long conversation about life, work, relationships, God.  This was one of the things I appreciated about him so much; he was the most father-like figure I encountered during my work day, and often a stop by his office to ask a work-related question would turn into an hour-long conversation about anything but work.  He modeled the very advice he gave:  The most important person in his life at a given moment was the one right in front of him.  Everything else, everyone else could wait.

But this, too, is really hard to do well.  We have so many people in our lives and so many ways of staying connected with them (how deep that connection actually is is a topic for another time).  For some people, some seasons of life require distance from those who know and love them best.  Naturally, then, their minds and hearts are usually a little preoccupied with things several times zones away.  Important things.  It is hard to turn off that instinct.  But sometimes the gifts, the epiphanies, even, only come by closing the laptop, pushing "pause" on the homeward-bound thoughts, and looking at what is right here.  Sometimes I manage it.  Sometimes I don't.  But sometimes I also remember eternity...and briefly the burden of time lifts.  If you think about it, we've got all the time in the world.  So we can afford to pay attention to right here, right now, one person, one conversation.

18 February, 2012

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

Once I was talking with my very wise brother-in-law about boys and girls and how differently we think.  I joked that if I only had the mind of a man, things would be so much simpler!  He laughed and said, "Oh no, no, no -- Better to be the mystery than to have to face the mystery!"

Here's to being the mystery (which in itself takes some patience -- we women confuse ourselves a lot of the time) and to the brave souls who make the effort to face it.

16 February, 2012

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Good things today:
  • The British Museum, a warehouse of reminders that people we consider "primitive" were generating artistic excellence long before Christ was born.
  • The beautiful old art supply shop, est. 1855 and still going strong; wooden floors creaking with age under every footstep, hundreds of mahogany drawers full of fine pencils and whispering possibilities.
  • The little girl who skipped along to the busker's music while everyone else blitzed past in a hurry for nothing.
  • The Big Issue seller who hit the crosswalk button for an approaching couple burdened with luggage.  I don't think they noticed.  
  • The scent of someone's Ralph Lauren Polo aftershave on the Tube. 
  • Well-made boots that have served me well over six months of walking all over London, and seem likely to hold out for a few more weeks.
  • Good music to hear
  • Good food to eat
  • Having dear people in my life to send postcards to.
  • Having friends to meet at the pub.
  • Having friends to just relax at home with a crochet project and another episode of "Friends."
  • The London Underground.  It has its faults, but it really is pretty darn marvelous when you think about it. 
  • Birthday flowers, still radiant three days later.
  • A Turner sunset over Canary Wharf.
The good things, they're just everywhere for the counting. 

15 February, 2012

Come on with the Rain, I've a Smile on My Face

My name is Ginny, and I have a problem.

I am addicted to this:


My addiction began sixteen years ago, just before my ninth birthday.  Gene Kelly had just died, and suddenly the television was flooded with tributes and quickly-assembled retrospectives on the life of a truly legendary artist.  One of the networks scheduled a special broadcast of "Singin' in the Rain".  I hadn't heard of it, but Mom said it was a good one and that we should all watch it.  Since she used to be a dancer we figured she knew what she was talking about.  So we gathered around the television that night and my heart was stolen away to the jazz age. In the months to come, rainstorms would bring me out onto the back deck to sing as loud as I could and stomp in the puddles in imitation of Gene Kelly's legendary dance number (Thank heaven no video footage survives of my performance.  It was not Oscar-worthy.).  I idolized Donald O'Connor and laughed 'til I cried at his "Make 'Em Laugh" routine.  Lines like "Heeeere we aaaaare, Sunset and Camden!" or "I make more money than Calvin Coolidge!  PUT TOGITHER!" made their way into our family vocabulary.  And, can we just note the clothes?  I have not admitted this to very many people, but to this day there are only a very few things that fill me to the brim with pure, unadulterated, exploding fireworks of bliss, and this movie is one of them. 

Last night Athena, Jess and I went to see the stage production of "Singin' in the Rain" which recently opened in the West End.  I was grinning before the lights went down...before we got to our seats...before we got to the theater...Okay, I've been giddy with excitement since September when I saw the first poster announcing the coming of this show.  And it was 2 1/2 hours of pure joy.  While no one will ever, ever be able to match the magic and finesse of the original film's choreography, the cast did a really admirable job and worked wonders with limited space, tight costume changes, and American accents. :-)  There were audible gasps and chills all 'round the moment that rain began to fall on stage.  I hope seeing this production inspires a lot of people to discover the film for the first time.

If you've never seen the movie (or even if you have), you should probably watch this and this.  Your heart might explode -- Don't say I didn't warn you!

13 February, 2012

Oh, Hey 25

Yet again, I'm too late with a post...It is 23 minutes into Tuesday where I am.  So this is a quick picture post to say "thank you" to Athena and Jess, my London family, for making my 25th birthday so sweet, joyful, and special.  I turned 20 in London, and now 25...So we can all safely expect to celebrate my 30th here, too, right?

Happy Birthday banners greeted me when I came downstairs

Festive Krispy Kreme for breakfast
Flowers, food, jewelry, and journalling...They know me well :)

12 February, 2012

I'msorryIwaswrongWillyoupleaseforgiveme

It is a fact universally acknowledged that where there are many children there are many fights, sometimes accompanied by injuries and actual spilled milk.  And children can pack an infinite amount of pride into deceptively small bodies (Eat your heart out, Mary Poppins).  They have a wild individualistic streak that works to ensure that they are the victim in a conflict situation.  Ask any kid who has ever done something wrong (so, like, every kid) and they will confirm that, yes, "sorry" IS the hardest word.

After refereeing one too many fights over whose turn it was to pick a movie (May I just pause to once again affirm the excellence of "Dumbo"?), my parents prescribed the following statement, to be uttered in humility by the offender and accepted with complete forgiveness by the offended:

"I'm sorry.  [Pause for emphasis] I was wrong.  [Pause for emphasis]  Will you please forgive me?"

These words usually spilled out in one ugly landslide from our proud, obstinate young lips.  This apology was a box to check, not a sentiment springing from the heart. When faced with dented pride or "I'M GONNA GO TELL ON YOU!", dented pride was the lesser of two evils.

Apologies are still hard.  They always will be, I guess.  But I'm glad my parents tried, early on in our lives, to instill it in us as a habit, an essential ingredient in true reconciliation.  They refused to let us think that anything was really solved by stomping off with a brisk, "Whatever," as my generation is so prone to do.  Relationships are ultimately stronger when we have learned to admit guilt and hope for forgiveness; or, conversely, to forgive and remember guilt no more. 
 


11 February, 2012

Dad

Writing about my family this month is, I discover, turning into a way of listing the gifts (Coincidence that I read Voskamp right before Nablopomo?  Don't think so -- Nice timing, God.).  If I were to name just one gift that my dad has given me (and there are many), it would be the gift of words and story. 

Dad is infuriatingly good at Scrabble, puns, and using six long words when two short ones would suffice.  He also tells stories really well (political correctness optional).  Some of my favorite childhood memories are of the evenings when Dad would read aloud to us.  We'd sprawl out on the living room floor with an arsenal of scratch paper and markers, and settle in for an evening of adventures.  Dad's voice, rumbling wise and low -- our very own Garrison Keillor -- took us to the American prairies, the Big Thicket, mid-century Canada, the hills of Scotland, Narnian woods.  He read, we drew the stories we were hearing.  I really don't know how he found many of the books he read to us, but they were always wonderful (Well, I may or may not have tuned out during any and all battle scenes.).  They taught us about different places and eras, but there were also some stories about kids an awful lot like us...Kids who were small or not quite good at anything yet, but were cherished by someone who gave them a part to play in something wonderful...whether that was bringing in the cattle or fighting evil out of Narnia.  So maybe our little lives were grand stories, too, in their own way?  Without realizing it at first, we were learning big things like redemption and friendship and perseverance.  We were learning that big families can survive a lean season.  We were learning that the lion is by no means tame, but he is good.  Learn these things when you are young -- even before you quite understand them -- and they will be embedded into your very soul for the day you really need to know them. 

Our own Garrison Keillor
My dad didn't have to spend his evenings reading books to his teeming throng of children.  He was probably tired and had bills to pay and wanted to watch Monday Night Football.  But he chose to read to us -- an active, rather than passive, form of spending time together -- and now I realize what a gift it was.  It demonstrated that he prioritized us, time with us, and wanted to share with us the wordcraft that delighted him so much.  I am thankful, dad, that you read to us and infused our lives with good story, crafted well, and read well.  That is a priceless combination. 


Through both the epic tales and the epic Scrabble battles, dad had given me the foundation of a vocabulary which has proven a key to survival.  At the risk of sounding like a public service announcement, a rich vocabulary is such a powerful thing.  A vocabulary got me through the SATs and into college.  A vocabulary has helped me write my way through the twists and turns of the last several years.  Loss, joy, effort, uncertainty...Words are my way to try to make sense of it all, and if possible, to try to build some beauty into the way of things.  I have these words because dad read to me.

It's not so easy for my dad to hold Scrabble tiles anymore, but he can still write and he can still captivate a room with a story told in that great radio voice.  Until he finally gets that book deal,  his wonderful prose is over on this corner of the web: http://cfheidel.blogspot.com/

09 February, 2012

Mom

Yesterday I went out in search of buttons for a project Athena's working on.  We haven't been able to find anything like a Michael's or Hobby Lobby over here, so I took to Google and learned there's a shop in Marylebone called The Button Queen.  Sounded promising, so off I went.

To be honest, I probably could've found a shop that wasn't all the way across London, but I wanted to go to this one because the very name made me think of my mom.  My mom loves interesting buttons and the simple charm they add to things.  When I was little one of her creative outlets was sewing buttons onto sweatshirts in beautiful decorative patterns and gorgeous color combinations.  I was always so proud to wear the one she made for me, because no one else in the world had one like it.

This is one of the countless things I cherish about my mom.  She has an innate gift for bringing one-of-a-kind flourishes to ordinary things.  Even grocery lists are works of art when written in her handwriting, a script that dances like ocean waves on the page.  Little mundane chores are brightened by being done with a little song or dance step or a silly voice (or all three, 'cause why not?).  When my siblings and I were little, birthdays were days of delight before they'd even begun; we'd go to sleep the night before knowing that in the morning there would be on our nightstand a stack of hand-written, rhyming clues leading us on a treasure hunt all over the house to find each of our presents.  (A genius move on mom's part, really, because it bought my parents an extra half hour in bed while the kids tiptoed around the house on a treasure hunt.) 

Maybe all these little flourishes aren't necessary...Actually, yes, they are.  I need them now.  I need to know the joy that lies in the beautifully written word, in this age of typed everything.  I need to know that things are still crafted by hand with a specific recipient in mind and despite the million other tasks weighing on the maker.  We need the sweet expressions of love in ordinary things just as much as we need those occasional grand gestures.  We need this persistent knock of beauty on the door of the everyday.  Here's to my beautiful mom, the Button Queen, the source of such radiance.

07 February, 2012

Calvin


Don't let those eyes fool you.


.........

Calvin brings a LOT of hilarity and laughter to life -- often without meaning to.  One thing I love about Calvin is that he doesn't mind being the joke; he'll milk a mistake or a dilemma just for the humor in it.  For instance, every single year -- every.single.year. -- while we're on vacation he somehow gets a bug bite on his right ear, and the ear balloons up and turns bright red.  Rather than sequester himself and his deformed ear away in shame and disgrace until the swelling goes down, he uses it to his comedic advantage.  See photo at right.

When Calvin was little it took him a while to be able to articulate entire words and tricky vowel combinations, so his sentences were often made up of fragments, exaggerated vowels, and words missing the first syllable.  We actually had to interpret Calvinese to the rest of the world ("I 'unt eitss--eem" = "I want ice cream.").  Now entire words spill from him effortlessly...Maybe too effortlessly...as in, there is little to no punctuation, inflection, or break between words.  It's as if the ideas are just too many, too fast, to pay heed to the pesky speed bumps of punctuation.  Maybe a career as an auctioneer awaits him?

This is the exciting thing about Calvin:  he's still growing, learning, and collecting the hobbies and experiences that will mature into talents and passions...so the world is his oyster.  Whether he's swimming or drawing or studying the stars, I love seeing the enthusiasm and humor with which Calvin throws himself into everything.  He reminds me that there is an inexhaustible number of interesting things in the world, and that there's a lot to laugh about, too.

06 February, 2012

Gracie

2004
Once upon a time, Gracie was this little.  Once upon an even-longer-ago-time, that is exactly what I looked like.  We started calling her "Mini Ginny," and the name stuck even though she is not so mini anymore (sniffle).


Each of us Heidel kids have had a "thing" that we were obsessed with as toddlers; mine was elephants, Allie's was Barney, Caleb's was Thomas the Tank Engine...and Gracie's was the Teletubbies.  A slightly creepy show?  Well, yes...but in one way it seemed appropriate that Gracie would love a show about cute, cuddly, friendly little beings because that's exactly what she was.  She was always sweetly rambling around the house, rosy-cheeked and wide-eyed.  She loved to cuddle.  When his body was world-weary and his memory was fading, our grandpa loved to sit quietly on the couch with baby Gracie's little body snuggled up on his chest.

2011
Now she's a young woman, and she is every facet of her name: Unmerited favor, generosity, beauty, elegance, mercy.  She is tender, selfless, hilarious, talented.  She is artistic and literary, always crafting a new story (complete with illustrations), or drawing detailed cartoons of life at home, or hand-making a card to bring a bit of celebration to everyday events.  She has a boldness I did not have at her age; she spent half of her Christmas break in Peru, pouring out her time and energy to serve people she had never met -- but also opened her heart up to be served by their example, as well.  I am so proud of you, gracious, graceful Gracie...and don't worry, I'll be back soon to rescue you from all those brothers!


05 February, 2012

Gifford

It's my brother Gifford's 17th birthday today!  Here are 10 cool things about Gifford:

1.  He is named after John Gifford, the pastor of John Bunyan, who wrote my dad's favorite book, "The Pilgrim's Progress."

2.  He never exercises, but is still ripped (So maybe I should class this under "unfair" rather than "cool").

3.  He has a stunning, pitch-perfect singing voice when he doesn't think anyone is listening.

4.  He loves the Beatles, and I love that he loves the Beatles because I love the Beatles, too, and I love knowing that we love something in common!  


5.  When Gifford was about that size ^ he loved taking baths.  We "big" kids would "help" mom by giving Gifford his bath...but he always refused to get out.  Finally it occurred to us that if kid #1 distracted him for a moment, kid #2 could snatch him out of the tub and hand him over to kid #3, who would be ready with a towel.  In retrospect, we took "distract" a little to far; we completely stunned him into immobility by throwing a bucket of ice water over him.  While his little body sat frozen in shock, we plucked him out of the tub.  For some reason, Gifford doesn't hold this against us...Thanks, buddy -- I hope we didn't do permanent damage to your neurological system!

The Duck Face
6.  He can do Grandpa's legendary "Duck Face."  Only 2 other descendants of Grandpa John G. Marvin have inherited this ability.


7.  He has a classic sense of style.  


8.  He also has a very not-classic sense of style, but somehow pulls that off, too.

9.  Gifford is most definitely a creator; he imagines a million and one extraordinary things every day, and we are lucky enough to see some of them manifested on paper or in the form of a wood carving.  He's already used these skills to serve our family through various carpentry projects that made my parents' house more accessible for dad's wheelchair.  I can't wait to see where his keen hand at shape, color, and craft take him. 

10.  Beneath all the silly voices, jokes, video games, and other shenanigans that are Gifford's trademarks, there is a mind busy with deep thought and a heart that brims with moments of surprising tenderness.  I see it when he looks after the little kids at church with care and patience; I see it when he helps fasten my dad's wheelchair into the van; I see it when he makes cards and gifts by hand for his friends and family.  I think he's going to turn out just fine.  Happy birthday, Gifford!

04 February, 2012

Caleb

Caleb was the fifth kid to be born into my family.  He is lovingly dubbed "The Forgotten Heidel."  I suppose that in a big family it's just inevitable; at one point or another, someone gets overlooked.  Unfortunately, that someone is always Caleb.  He's the one people forget to set a place for when they have our family over.  We actually almost left him in the mountains of West Virginia one summer after family vacation.  We checked out of the hotel, packed ten people's luggage into two cars, and began the three-hour drive home.  We were a couple of miles down the road when one of the kids remembered they'd left a pair of shoes behind.  We turned around, and as we pulled back onto the grounds of the hotel we were greeted by the sight of a weeping, sweaty, terrified Caleb running across the lawn crying, "DON'T LEAVE ME!  DON'T LEAVE ME!"  The really terrible part of this story is that we only went back to the hotel to get a pair of forgotten shoes, not because anyone had noticed there was a child missing...

(I predict that he'll one day get his vengeance on us all by becoming rich and famous.  And he'll probably become President, too.)

When Caleb was a toddler he learned his colors from "Thomas the Tank Engine" characters.  For instance, green was "Henry," black was "Diesel," and red was "James."  Tomato soup even came to be known in our house as "James soup."  He eventually learned to identify colors the way the rest of the world does, and is now a really remarkable artist. 

Toddler Caleb also provided constant background noise in the form of a long, high wail on a pitch only dogs could hear.  "Iiiiiii Waaaaaant aaaaaa Driiiiiiiiiiiink!"  "Iiiiiiiii Waaaaaaaaant Moooooooore Ceeeeeeereaaaaallll!" This lung power has matured and been channeled toward more artistic ends; he now tours with an excellent choir and has started introducing more music into family gatherings.  If we're not touring a la the Von Traps in a few years, it won't be Caleb's fault.

The Forgotten Heidel is really surprisingly unlike the rest of us, in good ways.  He has traits that seem to have skipped the rest of us, or that were developed in us a lot later in life.  He is extremely hard-working, self-disciplined, and invests a great deal of care and prayer into his friendships.  I marvel at the mutual love and discipleship present in his friendships with other young men; he walks alongside them through the challenges of being a young adult, challenging them and himself to live with integrity.  He starts every day steeped in Scripture and prayer so that he has a "full cup" from which to pour into others.  I can see that his friends sense the special wisdom and grace in Caleb; he is a mediator in conflict, a prayer warrior in trouble, and a key contributor of joy in celebrations.  I can't imagine there being another 20-year-old boy with such a golden heart, and it is an honor to have him as a brother. 

03 February, 2012

Allie

This is Allie.  Should you have need of any of the following services, feel free to call her:


Interpretive dance.


Graceful photo-bombing.


Feats of great daring atop perilous peaks.

Wearing awesome tights (and finding awesome Swedish friends, and being willing to share them!).

Each of these photos is a piece of the glittering mosaic that is Allie.  Artistic, buoyant, fearless, loving.  I close my eyes and remember the sparkly-eyed, rambunctious toddler with an appropriately tousled shock of "Muppet" hair that refused to be tamed, tumbling around the backyard or pedaling her bike down the hill as fast as she could.  I open them and see the same zest for life expressed in outlets more mature but no less bold (and her hair has learned to behave).  Years of gymnastics and dance have taught her how to work with the possibilities and limitations of the human body to tell a powerful story.  Those skills have carried over to her theater studies, where she has been able to bring astounding depth to roles like Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" or Ariel in "The Tempest" despite the limitation of few or no words to speak.  She has taken leaps far from home, eager to learn about this big world, willing to be the stranger within the gates and come back a little bit changed by each place.  Camera in hand, she has brought Peru, Sweden, England, and Germany back with her.  Often as I walk around London I find myself trying to see it with Allie's eyes, wondering what little details and visual stories she would spot.  Thankfully when she visits in March I'll get to find out!

Photo credit: Matthew Hyson
You will never meet anyone like Allie.  She relentlessly hunts down all the beauty in the world, capturing the ripples of glory that are hidden in the ordinary. 

02 February, 2012

Chip

Chip & Ellen
I have at times felt sorry for Chip because he was sandwiched between a bunch of bossy sisters - two older, one younger.  And he has to deal with a lifetime of "Yes, my real name is Dwight."  But then I remember that he won the Perfect Eyebrow Lottery, and I don't feel so bad.

But honestly, bless his heart.  Somehow he survived the tyranny of three maniacal girls obsessed with paper dolls, putting on princess plays in the basement, and watching "The Nutcracker" over and over and over again.  He defended himself with a posse of plastic dinosaurs, a Swiss Army knife, and -- in teen years -- loud rock music and Mountain Dew (ew!).  To be fair, he was a great sport and learned to sneak some masculinity into our adventures; "The Nutcracker" received a running "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-esque commentary, and basement plays were a lot more thrilling when you threw an inflatable giant Godzilla into the mix.  I'm glad he didn't follow through on his threat to run away at age four, because a few years later he and I worked out a pretty terrific comedy act on roller skates.

Charlie Brown got his Little Red-Haired Girl
Now we are grown, and we can have real conversations over a quality beer.  I come away from each conversation swelling with pride and admiration for the man my little brother has become.  One thing I love and respect about him is the way he carefully approaches big decisions, new ideas, or personal beliefs.  He has a heart that is willing to be taught, but that stands firm once it's come to a conviction.  Chip does the work of research, honest conversations, prayer, and seeking counsel -- efforts that sometimes last for months -- in a relentless pursuit of the right and true.  I don't think this kind of patience and integrity are at all common.  He and his wife Ellen have a wisdom beyond their years, perhaps largely because they have invested so much energy and care into making decisions that will strengthen their relationship and honor the Lord.  (Sidenote: Chip and Ellen are also, like, an impossibly gorgeous couple.  See above photo.)  You're a good man, Charlie Brown!

01 February, 2012

Emily


This is my older sister.  Also my best friend.  Also the more interesting half of my wardrobe for the first 24 years of my life.  I like to think that we belong among the immortal starry hosts of "sister acts":


Elinor and Marianne...


Betty and Judy...


Or basically any of the March sisters.


See?  Exuding class and charm.

My friend Carrie inspired me to participate in Nablopomo this month.  The theme is "Relative,"  so I've been thinking about my relatives -- both the blood relations and the "kindred spirits" -- and all they've taught me.  "Outdo one another in showing honor," says Romans 12:10.  I can't hope to honor my relatives highly enough, but I want to use the month of February -- which is all about love, right? -- to try. 

When I had just learned to walk, a common sight and sound in our house consisted of Emily walking through a room and me stumbling after her, calling, "Em! Em!"  While maybe more figuratively than literally, I have continue to try to follow her lead of creativity, inquiry, and steadfastness in relationships.

I've heard it said that "siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring."  A family of eight kids definitely has its share of unfair, uncooperative, unkind, uncaring moments -- but we certainly learned to SHARE everything.  Bedrooms, clothes, parents' attention, etc.  We shared because we had to.  Em and I have shared hairbrushes, school textbooks, even a car.  But at some point between childhood and adulthood, sharing became a pleasure instead of a duty.  Emily now shares because she loves.  She shares food she enjoys, stories she finds interesting, clothes that she thinks will flatter someone, space that will minister to a wandering soul.  

Oddly enough, our sophomore year of college was the first time that Emily and I did NOT have to share a room.  We lived across campus from each other and rarely saw each other.  That year was one of the darkest times of my life emotionally and spiritually.  One particular night when I was near the proverbial "rock bottom," Emily happened to call me.  I don't know what she heard in my voice, but she simply asked me if I would like to go sleep over in her room.  This simple gesture of sharing space that was hers was life-giving.  It sounds dramatic, but it kept me going.  Emily is acutely aware of the creature comforts that are called for in a given situation, and will do whatever is in her power to provide them.

Emily has also been an example to me of persisting in love.  Every family has its cracks, but I guess ours have just become more apparent in recent years.  It would be easy to distance herself and stay away until it's all over, but Emily isn't afraid to look the cracks in the face, acknowledge them, and earnestly do the work of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration.  Because these people who have known you from birth?  They're too important to lose without a fight.