Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Turkey Girls

My other video project has been putting together some short video tours of the Haehn Museum exhibit, "By the Work of Our Hands," that closed on December 23rd. The exhibit explored sustainability at the monastery over the past 152 years, including land management and their various businesses. I walked through the exhibit with Sister Moira Wild, the museum director, and she simply told some of the stories on video. I do believe her favorite is the turkey story, which we have all enjoyed hearing in different forms throughout the year. Sister Dolores Super wrote about this for the Sisters' blog last week. Her account drew on the records kept by the novices who cared for the turkeys.

I love this piece of video-- the story is great, and S. Moira tells it really well. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I'll be posting more videos from this museum show over the next week or so. To visit them, go to or click here.


The choir at Saint Benedict's Monastery is a "schola." "Schola" is short for Schola Cantorum, the Latin term for a school or group of people who join together to learn and sing ecclesial chant, the song of the church. It is a choir, but one dedicated to the ancient chant tradition-- although that's not the only music they sing. On Christmas Eve before Mass, there is a half hour of music, some traditional carols sung with the congregation, and several amazing numbers by the schola. Saint Benedict's Monastery has a long tradition of wonderful music, and several Sisters who are well known for writing hymns and arranging liturgical music.

I brought in my flip video camera to film, primarily, two liturgical dances that were going to be part of the caroling service. I was so taken by the music, however, that I tried to capture that as well. I was sure the sound would be awful, given how far away I was from the choir, but it turned out quite nicely. The church has amazing accoustics, and though there is definitely an echo, and it's not good at all for the spoken word, music is extremely lovely in that space. In fact, I don't think proper microphones would have helped all that much, as the sound might have been out of balance. I do wish I'd been closer to get better video quality. If you could see how tiny this camera is, though, and how far away I was, you'd be amazed at what I captured!

So here it is, the schola, singing "Of the Father's Love"
text by Aurelius Prudentius (4th century)
arranged by Christine Manderfeld, OSB

And here is a traditional Spanish carol, "A La Nanita Nana" with Christine Manderfeld, OSB, on flute, Katherine Howard, OSB, on cello, and Elisa Ugarte on guitar.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Best Dip of All Times

This Christmas we tried a little experiment. Faced with another year of 35 people for a sit-down holiday meal at the farm, the three families here, only one of whom was willing to actually host, decided we would make the switch to finger food. There would be spiral-cut ham sandwiches, peel-and-eat shrimp, and a variety of dips and other dishes, all purchased at Sam's Club. It was pretty pedestrian fare, but I didn't mind at all. It was a lot less work, and we'd had a good dinner, though not exactly fancy, on Christmas Eve when we were a smaller number. We had lots of homemade cookies, and it was fine.

The "kids," however, meaning the middle generation of 20-somethings, were not happy. They used some very derogatory language about the meal; I believe "depressing" and "pathetic" were at the top of the list. It was Christmas. Where were the mashed potatoes? Who knew they were so sentimental? I mean, they don't want to watch It's a Wonderful Life, or my annual Christmas fave, Remember the Night. We watched Taking of Pelham 123 on Christmas night (albeit, after a late afternoon matinee of Up with 14 kids squeezed onto a sectional in Tim and Annie's wonderful big-screen basement projection room).

On the 26th I was feeling a little guilty. Not a lot guilty, but it did strike me to the heart when someone said, "I mean, no one even made an interesting dip. It was all from Sam's Club." I'd already had plans to make an interesting dip, but given the post-Christmas blues (and the fact I wasn't going to make even one more Christmas cookie), I made an extra trip to the grocery store for the ingredients.

And what I made was something that Catherine's boyfriend Homer had featured on his blog a few years ago. I'd held onto the recipe and now was the time to make it. As I was putting the cottage cheese and feta cheese into the food processor, he said: "Wait a minute. Are you making The Best Dip of All Times??"

"Why yes," I answered. "Yes I am."

It is truly the best dip of all times, and he got the recipe from a guy named Mario who is a fan of his band, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Mario came to a show in Germany and brought the dip as part of the spread for the band before the show. They liked it so much, he brought it again, and the recipe for Homer to post on his blog, to another show. The ingredients were in grams, but I did some rough calulcations, and here's what I came up with:

Best Dip of All Times

1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup feta cheese
2-3 cloves garlic (note: this is very garlicky. You can cut back if you want)
1/2 cup sour cream

I blended the cottage cheese and feta cheese first. Then I added the tomatoes, walnuts and garlic and blended them. Finally, I added the sour cream, mostly because this was the ingredient I was least sure about. You see, the recipe we got from Mario said: "cream, small package." Hmmm. I'm sure it's not actual cream. And how much is in a small package? It could be sour cream or it could be cream cheese. Either would be delicious. The dip is very creamy with the sour cream, and you can still dip a cracker or, much better, a hunk of bread, into it. If you used cream cheese, you'd probably want to add that first to really whip it up, and even so you'd probably need a knife to spread it onto the bread or cracker.

I'm not sure even The Best Dip of All Times made up for the lack of mashed potatoes. It did go pretty far, however. I'm also pretty sure we're not going back to the full Christmas dinner with the family in its present form...

Tonight I made my black bean soup, with its secret ingredient, sundried tomatoes. It was easy and a big hit, as big a hit as last night's real meatballs and spaghetti with tomato sauce from the garden tomatoes. The fridge is looking pretty empty, and I do not know how people cook for six every night of the week. But I'm so happy to be here "on the other side of Christmas." Today was another of those near-perfect days. It began with cross-country skiing at Quarry Park, on fresh snow with at least an inch clinging to all the branches of the trees. Then waffles at home, and a great movie, Up in the Air. Finally, the black bean soup, and continued great discussion and laughter. The only thing that would have made it better would be the Vikings playing, and winning, tonight. But that will have to wait until tomorrow... :-)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Cookie Recipe (2)

This year, I've been more workmanlike about my Christmas cookies. I'm bringing cookies to the family Christmas dinner for 30 people (down seven from last year), so that's about 100 cookies right off the top. I've set up a few batches in the freezer and will make more on Christmas Eve. I've also had a supply for around the holiday, and will give a plate to my sister-in-law Amy to take to her in-laws on Christmas Eve.

I've made three kinds, which I like for various reasons. First, the butter cookie recipe I have from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts is amazing. But it's also really not good for you: sugar, flour, three sticks of butter and egg yolks. I made one batch and have been sort of doling them out particularly, because I don't want to make more.

Then there are  the 110th Street Walnut Crescents, from the same cookbook. I shared this recipe on the blog last year. These are not much better for you: powdered sugar, flour, two sticks of butter, vanilla and ground walnuts, but a batch makes a lot more cookies, and they're amazingly delicious as well. They feel a little more grown up than the basic butter cookie.

What I've really gotten into, however, are the Gingerbread Trees. The recipe is from an old bon appetit magazine, at least three years old. It calls for the addition of a juniper berry glaze, which I'm sure would be amazing, but I like them just fine without frosting, just a few decorative sprinkles and some red hots pressed into them before baking. And I don't know why, but I always make them as just tree cut-outs. The dough is amazing to work with, really supple and can get warmer than the heavily butter-based ones above and still be manageable. I've already made three batches, but they've gone quickly, so I'll be making at least one more. Here's the recipe:

Gingerbread Trees

2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup mild-flavored molasses

Mix the first six ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in molasses. Beat in dry ingredients (keep beating until it's a really nice, moist dough). Gather dough; divide into 2-4 pieces. Wrap and chill at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Roll out dough between two sheets of wax paper. Cut out with cookie cutter. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool on racks.

If you want to go the extra mile and make the glaze, here's how that works:

Bring 3/4 cup half and half and 1/3 cup of lightly crushed juniper berries to simmer. Cover and chill 5 hours (this is definitely where you lose me). Strain. Place 1 pound powdered sugar in bowl. Whisk in half and half by spoonfuls until glaze is spreadable. Frost cookies and decorate with assorted decorations.

I've found myself as I baked this year being grateful about two things: that my father liked Ramsey Lewis' Christmas album when I was a kid, and that my mother taught us the joy of smearing the butter on the cookie sheets with our fingers...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Saint John's Abbey Christmas Tree

I just had to post this wonderful video of the Christmas tree being pulled through the doors of the Great Hall at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, five miles up the road. The monks cut down a giant tree from their arboretum (they have plenty) each year for this space, and it's always spectacular.

We kind of marvel at the scale of what the monks do. They have a very well-run Arboretum, and bring school children through on field trips and tours each year, as well as host an immensely popular maple syrup festival out at their sugar shack, where they make 80-150 gallons of syrup each year. This year, after long considering building a wind turbine to generate some of their energy, they instead have begun a gigantic solar field on one of their outlying properties. It will mean less noise for the neighbors!

The monks are also responsible for The Saint John's Bible, a commission of the first hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible since the 16th century and the invention of the printing press. (I wrote the web site and also two books on the art of the Bible, which can be found here.) They have a woodworking shop that makes high quality furniture, and a pottery with the largest woodburning kiln in the United States. (This last kind of bugs me-- no one needs a kiln the size of a warehouse, and I don't really see the point. It seems inefficient. Why not have more firings in a smaller kiln? I am not convinced.) 

The Abbey Church, with its distinctive bell banner, was also groundbreaking and monumental. I love it for its audacity and although I'm not a fan of that much concrete, I do love the choir stalls and altar, the wood and tiles and stone. Praying there, you do feel part of a community.

I'm an Oblate of this abbey, though with my move just five miles down the road to St. Joseph and changing jobs from that campus to the women's community, Saint Benedict's Monastery, I feel less connected there. And now, living and working in such a female environment, I do experience the abbey differently. It is quite a male space and place. Yesterday, I was reminded by a friend of an important experience I had there. It was during the abbey's Sesquicentennial in 2006. I was invited by the liturgy director to write three poems, or monologues, or whatever I thought appropriate, to be read during a special evening prayer liturgy for the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the abbey church. The event was on June 24, and there were several hundred invited guests.

At the end of May, I moved from Southern California permanently to Minnesota. I'd spent the previous year at the Collegeville Institute at St. John's, which is how I got connected to the community. I wrote the three pieces, very much inspired by the Holy Spirit, I believe, while on a two-week residency at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota. Then I flew to Southern California to get my things out of storage and onto a moving truck. I flew back and took a summer school class before starting a new job, living in a dorm until I closed on my house in Cold Spring, then living in my house in my new small town. I hardly knew a soul, though my neighbors were friendly and I did have one friend who helped me out a lot. But that weekend, I didn't have anyone to attend the liturgy with me, and was facing the prospect of a birthday alone, spent scraping linoleum off the dining room floor (yes, the dining room).  That evening I read my poems at the big liturgy, though they didn't make clear anywhere that I was the author of them, not just the reader. Then there was a big dinner-- I hadn't been invited but I went anyway, and there people started to understand that I'd written the pieces, and come up to me. Several Sisters came up to say how much they liked the piece on Elizabeth.

Even that day, only 2 1/2 years ago, seems so far away. When I see this video, it's like a land I used to know. I had lunch with my friend from Cold Spring today at the Saint John's dining hall in this same old monastery quad. It was fun to be there, and I was able to greet quite a few people. I was happy to be less lonely than I was that day (although I wasn't particularly lonely during that time). I was happy for the connection.

Here is the poem, based on the account of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, in the Gospel of Luke.

   (a villanelle by Susan Sink)

Like Sarah, mother of promise, I was barren.
Perhaps God would do for me what he did for her.
This was my hope, my prayer.

What could I do but be faithful, a daughter of Aaron?
Servants of Abraham and Moses, we have our parts.
Like Sarah, mother of promise, I was barren.

The Spirit of God prepared me to receive,
and the herald grew in my womb.
This was my hope, my prayer, speaking

for the baby who leapt in greeting: Blessed are you
among women, and blessed the fruit of your womb.
Like Sarah, I was a mother of promise.

How could we know what was to come?
We had life inside us, and that was all
the rejoicing, hope, and prayer we could contain.

They came to bring life to the world,
to turn children to parents, parents to God.
Like Sarah, we were bearing promised sond.
This was my hope, my prayer.  

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Frozen Pond

Here on the farm, we haven't done any real snow removal yet. We're laying down a "base" of packed snow so when the Kabota gets out there with its big shovel attachment, it isn't clearing gravel along with the snow. The snow has fallen only at a rate of an inch or two at a time, and no more than four inches total, so it's easy to drive over it and pack it down.

But yesterday, Tim got serious about snow removal on the pond. It's impossible to skate when there's snow on the ice, and this year we didn't get out there before the snow fell. What I like about this photo, taken early in the process, is the view of Steve's tree nursery in back, with its rows of arbor vitae. It looks impressive, whereas for me, in other seasons, it just looks like an enormous amount of work.

Tim and Annie are hosting Christmas, which means 30-37 people, and of course he's thinking, "What will we do outside?" When Paul lived here, some years he would string Christmas lights around the pond for night skating. We're not really up to that task. But Tim got out there with a little snowblower and cleared off a large figure eight pattern on the ice. It's really beautiful. It's been at or below zero for probably six of the last 12 days, and it's not supposed to go above 20 this weekend. As long as it's near 20, I'll skate.

The thing about skating is that it's so painful, you really can't do it for long. I don't really understand why skates can't be made that have structure but don't kill your feet, but it seems to be true. The pair I bought were even specially designed to mold to your feet. The salesman put them in a special oven and then in the store I sat with them on my feet until they cooled, supposedly custom-molded. I don't think it did much, really. After about 15 minutes, I can't bear the pain through my arch, even with my orthotics in the skates. It's time for hot chocolate.

Steve cleared a winding path through the prairie below our bedroom window and out through the wetlands at the end of the season, and it's filled with snow. I love it, and think it will add a lot to the view next summer. But just seeing everything transformed like this, I realize that I really do love winter.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gaudete Sunday

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages.”

Now the people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways,
he preached good news to the people.
                  Luke 3:10-18
This was today's Gospel reading, for Gaudete Sunday. "Gaudete" means "Rejoice," and as Father J.P. Earls pointed out at Mass at the Monastery, the reading can make one uneasy. The prophecy by John that the Christ will arrive with "fire" and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire is not exactly something to rejoice about. What I know is that this reading felt fresh and new to me, and is what I love most about Scripture. Look at the three-part structure of those who come to ask John's advice: the crowds, the tax collectors and the soldiers. And the advice they're given seems so basica nd common-sensical, it's hard to imagine that the crowd would respond so enthusiastically. Was it such a change to hear someone saying: "Hey, give to the poor, don't be corrupt, and don't be greedy" that the crowd thought he must be the messiah?

I also like the more difficult part of the passage, the prophecy. One is coming who will baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire. Who wouldn't want a promise of a messiah like that? The one for whom baptism will not be a ritual, not representative, but transforming. And I know that baptism can be transforming-- how much American literature and film has shown this, and haven't I seen it in actual churches? But for most of us, most of the time, the experience of God with us is not as visceral as this promise.

This weekend I feel like I moved into Advent. I am happy there are two weeks more until Christmas. I'm not sure what it was, but probably partly the cold, and certainly going to a store and finishing the shopping on Saturday morning with a very well-behaved crowd and Christmas music playing, and also making cookies, and two nights of dinner guests. Today the Vikings won, and we put up the Christmas tree, and I made more cookies. And there was more music. And the Sisters were dressed in pink and purple and there was wonderful music and lots of people in church. And the Scripture readings were so rich and spoke of essential things: God is coming; God is with us; Rejoice! And this, from the first reading, the prophet Zepheniah:

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,

a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.
That is right: The Lord, our God, will sing joyfully, because of us. There is a promise there of a time when we humans are such, that God is moved to sing, instead of the other way around.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Away We Go

The film Away We Go is not, I don't think, your average hip, Sundance-y independent film. There's nothing particularly great about it. The main characters, played by Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski, aren't very unusual or compelling. If anything, the actors underplay the roles, presumably so you won't think of them as "that woman from SNL and that guy from The Office." They can do "straight." They're educated and in their early thirties, and she's pregnant. The plan is to raise the child where they've recently moved, an unidentified, kind of rural place that seems like it's in the Northeast, like upstate New York, Massachusetts or Western Pennsylvania. The main thing this area has going for it is the presence of his parents, who are wacky as only Catherine O'Hara can be, and who announce at dinner that they're moving to Belgium for two years and have already rented out their house. Our couple, Burt and Verona (yeah, I know), seem to have nothing else holding them to this place, and go off to find a place that will feel like home, a place of their own choosing, where they can start their new family.

Marriage is out-- seemingly because Verona's parents are dead and she just can't see herself having a wedding without them present. Plus, she just doesn't believe or care about it. "I'll never leave you; I promise." The entire marriage commitment comes down to this, and as they move around the country (and briefly into Canada), it seems true enough of the couples they meet. What is holding them together? A shared (and often demented) world view? Fear of being alone? The burden or blessing of children? If it weren't for the children, would any of these couples stay together? Finally, in the case of Burt's brother, even the presence of a child isn't enough. His wife has left him, occasioning a quick trip by Burt and Verona to Miami. The real problem of the film, the real problem of society and perhaps of several generations, now, (certainly mine and the ones after mine, but also maybe of a few before), is this lack of connection, this lack of a philosophy of connection. If the myth of romance fails, and your parents die or move away, what is holding anyone together?

The tenuousness of the whole project-- coupling, marrying, having children, putting down roots-- has never seemed so palpable.  They get increasingly desperate as their visits implode, deciding to move to Montreal on the basis of one/half a nice night out. That, however, also fades-- into the one exploration of the real depth of what marriage is about, bad times as well as good. Still, there must be something! I want to believe the romantic promises right along with Burt and Verona as they affirm them, but they sound so meager or even downright unbelievable ("But no one has been in love like us before, right?").  Eventually, the couple finds a place, and it's a place of indescribable beauty and also rooted to their own story. It's an American landscape, and hip, and solid, and presumably paid for. And, after the journey, it is clear they will have trouble and sadness, along with the joy. That's what life is. It's more frightening to think they might have a really hard time, given the track record in this film, finding people to be friends with! They seem intensely isolated, and the final location does nothing to assuage that isolation-- it comes completely without community.

I might be making too much of this film. It was written by Dave Eggers, who started McSweeney's and wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. That book, too, is much, much better than its surface would lead you to believe. He wrote this movie with his wife, Vendela Vida, a writer in her own right. The two of them spend most of their time now, it seems, writing about extreme subjects-- people in poverty and suffering from human rights abuses around the world. Eggers has also given a large amount of money and time and energy to connecting people to local communities and promoting writing groups in public schools. Which adds another layer to it for me. 

And if you don't go see it based on all these things, at least go see it for the absolutely hilarious scenes with Maggie Gyllenhall as a woman named "LN" (Yes, Ellen), and her academic uber-mom performance. That alone is worth the price of the rental.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Huck Finn

I've restarted my subscription to the Library of America after about a 10-year lapse. I get a beautiful, hard-cover, slip-cased volume every six weeks, and only the ones I've checked that I want from their complete inventory. It's part of my dream that someday I'll have time to read all of American literature. Or at least much more than I have so far. I was also motivated by wanting a good edition of Main Street, which was the first volume I bought.

Maybe it was the Norman Rockwell, but I got a hankering to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I've never read, and which so many people I know enjoy teaching. For me, given my snobbish disposition, Mark Twain is a lot like Norman Rockwell. I know he's a master, but maybe a master stylist and a humorist. I admire him and love the quotes by him that are sprinkled everywhere in pop culture. But I associate Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer with children's stories, not entirely serious, and have not been sure where he fits into "literature."

My reading this weekend was impaired by some kind of terrible bug I'd contracted. I didn't have a fever, but I had terrible body aches, sharp pains when I breathed, and a headache. I slept mostly, but between naps I read, and the book was good for this because the chapters are short and the book is episodic-- I could get through an adventure or two before putting it aside to sleep again. But it also suffered from this. The river is kind of delerium-making, despite Huck's detailed accounts of how orderly their lives were.

What I love so far the most, though, is that same river. It is very easy to imagine it, the broad river with banks on one side and forest on the other, the smell of it and the easy current. It is easy to imagine what it would be like to be on a raft at night, with myriads of stars overhead, drifting south.

Now that my head has cleared, I can appreciate more the beauty of it as literature. It's very much like an 18th century novel: picaresque, with satire (the duke and king are prime examples) and a bit of foiled allegory (the river journey is no Pilgrim's Progress, though we have Jim's freedom to worry about always, and in that way it is a journey-- though more literal than spiritual-- to redemption). And in its way, it is the best of what America has to offer: imaginative and rooted in the character(s) and landscape of this unique place.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mom and Dad Dancing

My mom and dad will take any opportunity to dance. They call it "jitterbugging," which is a region-specific term from what I can tell. They both grew up in South Jersey, and my mother lived in Philadelphia from 1944-1958 and as an adolescent hung out at the studios for American Bandstand. She tells stories of dance parties with her friends in the basement of the row house where they lived. 

My parents met at a dance, when my father was 22 and a senior at Rutgers in Camden, and my mother was 18 and working in an office. They were married a year later, in 1963. And they've been dancing ever since. I shot this video the day after Thanksgiving at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois. We were in the lodge after a day of hiking and a good dinner. A wedding was taking place in the other half of the lodge, and the music was quite loud. And the playlist was pretty good! It was only a matter of time before my parents danced. When "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison, they got up to dance. I had to replace the audio, but this music was one of the no-copyright clips available to merge on YouTube.

This is a time when it's nice not to be fifteen and mortified by one's parents. They've been dancing together for 48 years, and I wish them many more.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Park Forest Girls' Softball

In 1973, when I was nine, the youngest you could be and still play, girls' softball came to Park Forest, Illinois. We'd had boys' baseball, well, forever, and my father was an umpire. When I was five or six, my father was an umpire at the state championship, and my mother woke us up at 6 a.m. (my sister was four) and sat us in front of the little black-and-white television and said, "Your father's on t.v.!" I didn't see my father. I did see a baseball game. "That's him, the umpire, in the mask and chest protector." It didn't look anything like my father. And when he called out the balls and strikes and dramatically, "You're OUT!" he really didn't sound or look anything like my father.

When girls' softball arrived, it arrived as an entire league, with three tiers and at least 24 teams. My father took me downtown and signed us up: I would play and he would be the manager. His friend from work who also lived in Park Forest and had a daughter named Suzy, Jack Sizemore, would coach. So we were Suzy Sizemore and Suzy Sink (I had not been Suzy before, but softball meant extraordinary efforts for me to fit in) and our dads were in charge of our team, the Kittens. (At age 11 we would become Cougars, and then at 14, Lions). Our color was navy. We played teams like the Ponies (Yellow), Papooses (Green) and Cubbies (light blue). We were issued hats and jerseys and randomly assigned to teams. We showed up for the opening day parade dressed in our uniforms, some girls with jerseys down below their knees, more than 300 girls in colorful ranks.

The Kittens' first practice was rained out. But my father still held a team meeting in our basement, and an intimidating group of girls showed up. He set up a blackboard and instructed us in the basics: names of positions, rules of the game, etc. I was more interested in the social aspects of the situation. I remember Cindy Cissell chewing a wad of gum and blowing very large bubbles. Maggie Egofske paid attention. Suzy Sizemore played with her hair. Neither of them looked interested in being my friend.

Eventually, the team meeting ended. Girls had to wait for their parents to pick them up, and the sky had cleared. They all seemed to have gloves already. Someone had a softball, and Cindy and Maggie started playing catch. Others joined in. My father stepped back and said, "Wow." He was already assigning positions. Cindy Cissell had an amazing arm-- 3rd base. Maggie knew how to pitch already, and Jill could field-- 1st base. One by one, parents came, and players left.

The promise of that first day was more than fulfilled in the first season. We soundly won every game, by as much as 33-3. After batting around, the inning was over, so there were checks on our rallies. It turned out there were other girls in Park Forest who didn't know how to play as well as the girls that landed on our team.

I played center and right field. I was told right field was important for backing up the first baseman, but at that level, nothing ever really left the infield. Girls couldn't hit that far, nor could they "overthrow" that far. I sat in the field with my glove on my head and watched butterflies. One miserable day I poured lemonade over my head between innings, thinking it was water.

I continued to play until I was 13, when I moved on to summer theater at Governor's State College, a much better fit for me. But I did like many things about girls' softball in Park Forest. I liked practices, especially those breezy evenings in midsummer and evenings when rain blew through. I liked the girls on our team, and the hats. I liked especially the scoreboard my father made out of wood, with painted number blocks my brother would hang from pegs to track the innings, outs and score. I liked the annual parade. I liked playing on different fields all over town, driving into neighborhoods I hadn't known before, where there were named fields with dugouts and backstops and bleachers.

The entry on Norman Rockwell has brought some other Kittens out to the blog. More and more people I grew up with are finding these happy memories, and asking that I write more about that special place and the privilege we had of growing up there.