Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sushi again!

“This is the most embarrassing moment of my life!” lamented Alexandra yesterady when we got the call that our pastor friend from Ukraine was arriving in 15 minutes – just in time for dinner. He comes from a culture of potatoes and bread and sausage, but we were about to serve him raw fish! Alexandra was mortified – especially since she was the cook!

We had known since early summer that Brother V. was coming to stay with us for several days during his tour of the States, but we didn’t know when. August? September? For a week? A month? When we finally got the call that he was arriving the next evening to stay with us for 10 days, we were delighted – and frantic. We had to clean the house, wash the sheets, switch around bedrooms, and prepare for his stay.

Just why it didn’t occur to us that he might arrive in time for dinner is now a moot point. We knew that Brother V. likes plain foods. He’s told me so during a phone call a couple of weeks back. “I’m happiest with a hunk of bread, a piece of sausage, and a pickle,” he’d explained after telling me the exotic foods other hosts were feeding him.

But Alexandra wanted to make sushi again last night. She had just learned how to make it a few days back and, I guess, she wanted to practice again. Besides, this expensive treat that we rarely indulged in when we bought the prepared sushi had suddenly become affordable.

“Delighted” doesn’t quite convey the intensity of my joy that Alexandra not only wanted to learn how to make this treat, but that she spearheaded the entire effort. Alexandra had looked up the recipe for making sushi in one of my Japanese cookbooks, then began pestering me to buy her the supplies. I finally succumbed last Friday and took the girls to an oriental grocer for the rice, wasabi, and nori (seaweed), then to a Greek-owned fish market that sells sushi-quality fish.

Sushi became my favorite food when I lived in Japan in the early 1980s, and has remained so. Slowly my husband and children developed a taste for it, and now it’s a treat for all of us. Although I loved sushi from the first bite, it seems that most people develop a taste for it over time. So to serve sushi to someone from a culture where eating raw fresh fish seems barbaric – well, it’s embarrassing for a teenager, especially when she’s the cook!

Brother V. politely tasted the sushi (though we never did tell him it was raw fish), sipped the miso soup (avoiding the tofu and seaweed), and asked for some bread.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Object writing assignment

I was a bit disappointed that both girls wrote essays about notes that they found in their room. I wanted them to find an object – a souvenir from their travels, a craft they made in second grade – not to copy me and write about a note and the friend who wrote the note. However, Jacob didn’t disappoint me, at least not in choice of subject. He chose an original object that I wouldn’t have thought of. The one thing he didn’t do is introduce the object, except in his title.

Piano / keyboard
When I was still a little kid, Dad always played. He recorded songs on the keyboard, and played all sorts of songs on the piano.

I remember we used to run around and try to dance to Dad’s music. Then he would start playing a song we considered sad and we would stop and ask him to play something fast and happy.

I sometimes listen to the songs recorded on the keyboard and remember my childhood.

These days my dad plays hymns and all of us sing in four-part harmony. When my dad has time these days, which he usually doesn’t, he’ll go downstairs and practice, or learn to play different hymns. Even though I sleep downstairs now, he still comes down and plays.

I know that when he passes away the thing I’ll remember best is his love for music and praising God through it.


Now I just have to get them to write longer essays!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another writing assignment

Practice, practice, and more practice – that’s the only way to learn to write well. Thus I gave my homeschoolers another writing assignment this week. Although I won’t always write a sample essay for them, I feel that if they read an example of what I expect of them, they’ll be able to write a more meaningful essay. So I sat down last night and wrote.

ASSIGNMENT: Find an object around the house and describe the memories it triggers.

The card
I found Yuri's Christmas card buried in the pile of papers and books and old letters that are heaped on my nightstand in a precarious disarray. A pang of sadness came over me. I not only hadn’t written back, I hadn’t even found this card until summertime! I’d been off to Honduras on a mission trip when it arrived, wrapped up in my life, my dreams, my kids, my family. I’d only given Cousin Yuri a fleeting thought since I’d seen him last summer.

“I’m grateful to you for everything,” he wrote at the end of his note written on the card dated 19 December 2007. Those were his last words to me.

Oh, how I wish I’d written back.

I stared at the letter, the glittery, festive Christmas card wishing my family good health and good things for 2008. They now seemed like such empty words. If he’d known it would be his last card to me, what would he have written? Would he have bared his soul? Revealed his disappointments? Lamented his lot in life? Extolled his life and wife?

I can’t even remember when I began corresponding with Cousin Yuri, twelve years my senior. Writing letters to family in Ukraine was something my parents made me do. So from the time I was 10 or 12, I wrote to uncles and aunts whom I never met, and never will. They died long before I ever got the chance to visit Ukraine. Cousin Yuri took over correspondence from his mother, my aunt. I never met her, but on my first visit to Ukraine in 1999, he made sure I met him. I will always be grateful for the effort he made to get to know me, to welcome me into his home, his family, and his village.

Cousin Yuri was a letter-writer like no other. He didn’t write about the weather or the latest family event; he shared his thoughts, his dreams, things that could have been but never would be. Cousin Yuri was a thinker and a dreamer who revealed his inner self on the papers that flew across the Atlantic between our homes.

“I’m grateful to you for everything,” he wrote. Everything? What could he possibly be grateful for other than the monetary gifts I gave his family? Could my letters and the time I spent with him be that valuable?

I’m grateful to Yuri for over 30 years of sharing through letters.

I’m grateful that he came to meet me in Kopychyntsi in 1999 the first time I was in Ukraine, a bit overwhelmed by the extended family and the foreignness of the country that I grew up thinking of as my fatherland, but really it was a foreign land.

I’m grateful that he invited me and my children into his city home in Ivano-Frankivsk, that he invited his entire family over for a feast so they could meet me, and then he showed us around his city. And most of all, I’m grateful that he took us all to the village of Petryliv, his wife’s hometown, nestled in the hills by the Dnister River in an area so peaceful that even the dogs don’t bark at night. So far it’s my favorite place in all of Ukraine.

I’m grateful for the times we went fishing together and riding in the horse-drawn wagon during a downpour. I’m grateful that Cousin Yuri was so well-liked that villagers he knew let me jump in their wagon and collect barley with them in their fields.

I’m grateful that Cousin Yuri was so kind and so loved that the entire village of Petryliv welcomed me, accepted me, let me photograph them, let me be part of their lives.

I’m grateful that Cousin Yuri took the time to write and to let me be part of his life. Oh, I will miss him so much. That note in his familiar handwriting brought it all home when I sorted through my much-too-large pile of papers. Cousin Yuri, did I ever tell you I love you?


Cousin Yuri died suddenly of a stroke last spring while fishing, which was his favorite pastime.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More Sound

Reading my daughters’ essays on a sound and the emotions that the sound evokes really tore at my heart.

Here’s 14-year-old Alexandra’s essay:


The train whistle is such a sad sound. It makes me think of saying good-bye and how life passes and changes. I’m done with school*, I won’t see all my friends, and some I’ll never see again in my life, most likely, because they are seniors and have graduated.

Sometimes, late at night, when I hear the whistle, it makes me want to cry, thinking of everything I’ve lost and some of the things I have to let go of.

When a train passes and blows its horn, I often think of Camp Cherith. That’s where I often hear the trains passing at night while I lie in bed.

Mostly, though, a train whistle evokes feelings of sadness or longing and thoughts about life, how it’s like a train traveling along its tracks.

* Note: We’ve pulled both Alexandra and Larissa out of school this year to homeschool them. They’re in 10th and 8th grades; Jacob is in 11th grade.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


“I don’t want to read what you wrote,” said Larissa. “I know exactly what I’m going to write about. Alexandra, don’t steal my idea!”

“Then don’t tell me what it is. I know what I’m going to write about, too,” said Alexandra.

“You can both write about the same sound,” I assured them. “What sound are you going to write about?” I asked Larissa.

“A train whistle.”

“That’s what I was going to write about!” Alexandra cried.

“Did you guys read my essay?” I asked in amazement. How could all three of us immediate think of a train whistle?

“No,” answered both girls.

I had considered writing about the songs of crickets or the summertime buzzing of cicadas or even the choruses of spring peepers who greet spring. But I’d settled on that haunting train whistle

12-year-old Larissa’s essay:

As I lay in bed drifting off to sleep, I hear the sad, echoing whistle of a train. The sound is like a trigger, making me think of camp. I think of lying in my bunk there, staring at the ceiling and suddenly the whistle from the edge of camp, loud and echoing. And the clack, clack, clack, of the train running over the rails. Several times it whistles as it chugs around the camp. Then slowly the clack, clacking fades away…

So every time I hear a train whistle, I think of days at camp, the fun games, swimming, riding horses, singing songs, roasting marshmallows for s’mores and everything else that we do. To me, the train whistle is almost like someone calling me to come to camp.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Creative writing

I've decided to do a lot more writing this coming year than I did with Jacob last year. I'll be giving creative writing assignments as part of English. I started last week with an assignment I called "Sound."

To give the kids an idea of what I wanted them to write, I lay down with laptop in bed one night and typed out the following essay:


Describe a sound and the emotions it evokes.

The train whistle is such a melancholy sound when I hear it hooting in the night, its haunting sound echoing in the distance. A train’s far-away hoot tears at my heart, evoking memories of my distant childhood, days of innocence and happiness that I experienced at my grandparents’ cottage every summer, days that I can never bring back with people who have long departed this earth.

I grew up in cities “on asphalt,” as my husband would say. Toronto. Chicago. Sidewalks. Cars. Subways. Traffic. But when summer came, my parents packed up the kids and we drove north of Toronto into the green countryside and spent blissful summer days surrounded by nature at my grandparents’ cottage. After a full day of swimming with my family, hiking in woods with my dad, playing with friends, catching frogs, eating the evening meal with extended family, and perhaps even a campfire, I would turn in with my sister in the front bedroom – the bedroom closest to the distant woods that had a train track. I had seen the tracks during a long hike. And there in the bedroom with the ceiling tiles that had rows of black holes that I often stared at, as I relived the day’s events in my mind or drifted off to sleep, I would hear it – the train whistle blowing from faraway in the night, beckoning me. Where was it going? And even then, when I was just six or seven, I wanted to be on that train. I wanted to go to distant lands, to experience the adventure of travel, to be someone I wasn’t and somewhere I wasn’t. The train’s call struck a chord of longing in me even then.

I can never hear a train whistle in the night without feeling that I’m just a small child laying in a quaint cottage with my parents nearby and my sister in the bed near me, content after a long summer day.

With every whistle of the train comes a flood of poignant memories…

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back to school

We're back to school - yes, in August. The girls started their schooling at home last week while George and Jacob were at a teacher training conference. It was a way to keep the girls busy and to get their feet wet with homeschooling, which they are just starting. I started with only two subjects for each of them, and a list of chores. Instead of jumping in, as with Jacob mid-year, we're getting our toes wet. They still had time to smell the roses, so to speak.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)