Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Love at First Bite

In his best-selling book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman outlines five ways people communicate and understand love. They are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Quality Time, and Gifts. My daughter Amy, however, has identified a sixth love language (or perhaps a new dialect combining several of the above) and it is called simply, "Food."

Those of us fluent in the Food Love Language (FLL), know that food is never really just about food. Food represents so much more--the giving of your creativity and energy, the actual presentation and fulfillment of your most basic physical needs, and then quality time as we eat together. What we want to hear back are Words of Affirmation--not necessarily about how great the food is, though certainly welcomed--but more how much you are enjoying the food and how loved you feel that we are feeding you.

I have blogged endlessly about eating as a child and my rocky beginnings, about feeding animals and the pleasure it brought me. But I really began to notice food when I got married and began making it myself. Early attempts at cooking were disastrous. I remember a whole chicken I roasted upside down that was dry in spots and raw in others. It bled when I tried to carve it and I cried. I had no understanding of how to get multiple dishes done and on the table at the same time. That night we ate potatoes and veggies while we waited for the meat. I also didn't understand portions. I made two gallons of scalloped potatoes for my young husband and myself and was distraught when, after two solid hours in the oven, the potatoes were still crunchy. I threw out more food than we ate in those days--blatantly refusing to consume my mistakes. The one dish I succeeded at was spaghetti, and I made it for every single person who came to my house for two years.

Dating back to earlier times, I have stunning recall of meals I was fed. I remember eating bagels for the first time that friends from New York fed us in Florida in 1983, homemade deep dish pizza at Stan and Cheri Balgaard's in 1985, and roast beef on homemade buns that Charlotte Lueders brought over after the birth of our son in 1987. We were introduced to home canning and brussels sprouts at the Lowe's in Missouri (1986), chicken parmigiana at the Savocas and creamed spinach and hot German potato salad at the Sybesmas in Philly (1995), grilled swordfish at the Sheets' (1988) and homemade egg rolls and jiodza by the Waldrons--missionaries to China--in 1997. My cousin Bill King bought me my first Whopper in Washington in 1979. It was the first time I ever ate tomatoes on a hamburger. And liked it. The first Sunday we visited a brand-new church in Pennsylvania in 1994, the Hackenbergers invited us to their home for sandwiches and they were the best we'd ever eaten because we weren't eating alone. Right here in town our friends, the Moneys, introduced us to wild game and the Abrahams to Indian cuisine. My sister, Kathleen--aka the Soup Fairy, and our pastor, Ned, opened my eyes to the splendor of fresh herbs...and baklava. I could list dozens of friends and relatives who have fed us over the past 30 years and even tell you what was on the menu, in most cases.

Before you scoff--think! Doesn't a sandwich that someone else makes and cuts on the diaganol just taste better? Or coffee that someone else pours? Or even canned soup that someone else heats on the stove? Why is food such an expression of love? I think eating appeals to us all on a very basic level. We eat, at first to survive. But once our lips taste ice cream, it is all over. We continue to eat because we love food. And we love to enjoy the experience with others. It is a social event, a hobby, a way of life. When we feed people, we are tapping into a selfless, nurturing side of ourselves. When we are fed, we feel loved and cared for.

I wish I had been in the wilderness the day that Jesus was confronted with 5000 hungry people. The disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowds away because it was late and the mob was hungry. And Jesus said, "YOU feed them." Feed them! Feed them what? Five loaves and two fish fed 5000 that day with 12 baskets of leftovers. Who was the most amazed when it was over? The crowds who didn't know where the food came from? Or the disciples who knew full well? Five thousand bellies were filled. Five thousand grateful hearts were satisfied. And 12 stunned men who got to witness firsthand the love of God expressed.

My friend, Christie, also fluent in FLL, has told people, "If you want to be in my inner circle, you must let me feed you." I like nothing better than people I love, sitting at my counter or table or on my porch, eating. If I offer you food or drink and you refuse, you offend me. Just know that going in. I will watch you eat. I will listen to what you say and even what you don't say. If you praise the food, I make mental note to prepare it again, only better. If you say nothing, or don't take seconds, I record that as well, and will serve you something different next time. I take notes as you discuss other foods you have eaten--what you liked, what you didn't--and it all goes into a file in my head. If you really want to respond to me in a way that will communicate love, you will say something like this to me:

Me: Stephie, how do you like the egg/ham/cheese croissant sandwich that I made for you on this, your last day home for the summer [before you head off to the godless college cafeteria]?

Stephie: Oh, Mom, this is the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my whole life. You must love me a whole lot.

You see? Wisdom out of the mouth of my own babe.

I made blueberry muffins this morning...now, who can I feed them to?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Frogs, Flowers, and the Frampoline

We just enjoyed a lazy summer afternoon with our three year-old grandson, Cohen. First thing, he and his eleven year-old auntie catch a frog and bring it to show me. I am duly impressed. We get the frog all situated in a habitat in the wading pool before I wander out front to weed my flowers.

"What kind of flower is this?" Cohen asks, leaning over to smell a white blossom.

"It's a daisy," I tell him.

"Oh. It 'mells like cookie dough."

"What kind of flower is this?" he moves down the row planting his little nose in a burst of purple petals.

"That's a petunia," I smile checking to see if the daisy does, in fact, smell like cookie dough. Perhaps...if you use a lot of imagination.

"Oh. This kind 'mells like mustard," he informs me, wrinkling up his nose.

We proceed around the house through the driveway where he discovers some ragged geraniums I had dead-headed earlier from my hanging pots.

"Wow, look at these flowers somebody left on the FLOOR!" he exclaims, gathering the battered bits of red into a bouquet in his chubby hand. "We can use these for the wedding!"

"Who's getting married?" I wonder aloud.

"Victoria." (His young auntie.)

"Who is she marrying?"

"Me," he answers matter-of-factly.

His betrothed is waiting for him on the back porch where she attempts to teach him to play Chutes and Ladders. He is disappointed there are no weapons involved. How can you Shoot Some Ladders without a gun? He doesn't understand taking turns. He just wants to spin the spinner and glide his cardboard guy up and down the ladders and slides. Victoria finally gives up.

"How about we jump," his other aunt, Stephie, suggests.

"Yes!" he shouts. "Let's bounce on the frampoline!"

For lunch Cohen eats half a hamburger patty with no bun, a whole dish of watermelon, two chocolate Snack Pack puddings, a glass of chocolate milk, and two brownies. His Bumpa tries to get him to nap but the only one who falls asleep is Bumpa. Apparently Bumpa failed to ingest a sleep-defying dose of chocolate.

Several hours later, Cohen and his mommy and baby brother leave. Our house is strewn with toys, and an abandoned fort encompasses the entire music room. Both porches and the patio are covered with balls, toy cars and animals, puzzle pieces, books, and games. Something sticky coats the coffee table, along with empty sippy cups and a lone shoe.
Sundays might be more restful if you don't have a three year old in your life. But we wouldn't trade this kind of entertainment for anything!