Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!


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The Prodigal Crab

It was five A.M. I headed toward my magic chair for quiet time.  Pale first light came through the window, and there was a little shimmer from the aquarium.  Our new carpet felt wonderful on my bare feet.  And then I saw a small dark something on the carpet in the middle of the room. I reached to pick it up, rejoicing in how easy it is to keep this new carpet clean. 

The thing wriggled in my hand – something scaly or crusty! I screamed and threw it back onto the floor with some force!  I ran across the room to get a tissue to pick it up, and as I turned I saw that it was trying to scurry for cover. I had an awful idea what it was. Yesterday we had our regular yard spraying for fleas and assorted bugs, and I was pretty sure one of those horrible black oriental water bugs had sought refuge in our house. 

I shuddered as I headed toward the bathroom with the wadded up tissue. I’d give the creepy creature a one way cruise! Then I glanced down at the tissue and saw a small claw sticking out. A claw? I was dumfounded. I opened the tissue; and there was Arthur Fiedler, our cute little fiddler crab!  Somehow he had gotten out of the aquarium.

I ran into the kitchen and filled a drinking glass with water and dumped the little guy in.  There was no room for him to do his customary sideways shuffle, but he tried.  He ended up going around in circles. He seemed to be rehydrating. I was relieved to see lots of little bubbles coming from his nose or mouth or gills or whatever fiddler crabs breathe with. He was going to be okay.

But his fiddle claw had become detached and lay forlornly in the tissue. 

After a few minutes he seemed as if he’d like to be active if he wasn’t so confined.  I took him over to the aquarium and opened the top and gave him a gentle waterfall ride home.

Home. 

Why in the world had Arthur run away from home?  A fiddler crab the size of a nickel in a 60 gallon aquarium. Such freedom of wide open spaces! He has a lovely little fiberglass castle to live under, and a beautiful Greek Pavilion where he likes to hang out. Every morning abundant food rains down from heaven – so to speak. He has his friend, Nat King Crab, and eleven peaceful tropical fish for company. I hope they will still maintain peaceful relations with  the poor little clawless crab.  (I wonder if Fiddler crabs grow new claws?)

Consequences. 

There are always consequences when we are determined to be willful and go our own way.  We’ll hope Arthur’s claw grows back, and that he remembers the lesson of the dry brown carpet on the other side of the fence.

I’ve seen this parable before.  It’s the story of Gypsy, the dog in Vanuken’s A Severe Mercy.  I saw it with our desert tortoise, Shelly, who went through an escape artist stint. I’ve read about it in the Gospels and, alas, I’ve seen it in my own life. 

I’ve learned that there’s restoration, and there’s grace…but the bottom line is, there’s no place like home!

“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:3-4

Arthur Fiedler, in happier times, standing on the rock.


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The White Buddhist CHP

I was startled when John suddenly began to pull the car to the side of the freeway as we were driving to church this morning.  I had been reading to him and I looked up in surprise, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m being pulled over.”

We sat in stunned silence watching the CHP officer make the long slow trek toward our car. The flashing lights on top of his cruiser circled round and round and round…

Just last night we had barely avoided a serious collision when a speeding car changed lanes abruptly, and forced John to brake very quickly and pull part-way into the next lane.  As we watched the offending car speed blithely out of sight we were shaken and enraged – “Where are the police when someone does something stupid like that?”

Now we knew where the police were.

The CHP officer was ever so slowly approaching my passenger side window.

We had been driving in the fast lane and come upon a pocket of cars following one slowly moving vehicle, traveling along at about 59 mph.  John had pulled into the right lane to get ahead of them, and apparently was so enthralled with what I had been reading that he forgot to decelerate.

I rolled the window down.

“Good morning, sir. The reason I stopped you, is that you were speeding. Were you aware of that, sir?

John made a peaceful, non-argumentative gesture, and admitted that he really had not been aware of his speed.

“And where are you going this morning, in such a hurry?” This time he looked from one of us to the other, so I took the opportunity to answer.

“We’re going to church and he’s a pastor.”

The officer took a step back and smiled with an exaggerated grimace. “Ohhhh.  I really hate to give you a ticket.  But I clocked you back there at 80 mph and the speed limit is 65. I really can’t let you go. May I see you driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance?”

“I understand.” John nodded, as he handed his license to the officer and I fished through the glove compartment for the other papers.

“So…a pastor’s wife.  How’s that?” he asked me conversationally.

“It’s all good.” I smiled.

Having gathered our papers, he started to go back to his car and then he returned to the window.  “I can’t let you go, but I’m going to write it for  less so it won’t be such a big fine.”

“Thank you.” John acknowledged.

The officer went back to his car and John and I glanced at each other.  Ouch. This was not going to be good.  Just yesterday we had decided on a certain amount of money to start a tax-deferred educational savings account for our grandson, Nathan.   Fines are no fun in any amount,  and this speeding ticket sounded like it was going to be expensive.

The officer returned to the window. “I can’t do it,” he said.  “I mean, you’re the man. You’re going to church and you help people…”

We listened in disbelief.

“This is a strange thing to ask you,” the officer continued, “but maybe it’s not.  Have you ever seen a White Buddhist Monk?”

We shook our heads. We had not.

“Well, you’re looking at one.”

He looked like the most normal, stereotypical CHP officer you could imagine.  But he went on to explain that he had gone to Tibet, and shaved his head and studied Buddhism – that he was actually a White Buddhist Monk.

We made some kind of show of interested acknowledgement, still stunned that he wasn’t going to give us a ticket.

“Now, how are you going to talk about this today?” He asked John with a grin.

John laughed and shook his head, a little at loss for what to say. “Thank you,” he said simply and sincerely.

“Be sure to tell people there are consequences to breaking the law,” the officer advised.

“So I guess we won’t talk too much about grace?” I ventured.

“Huh?”  He looked puzzled.

“You know, grace.  We broke the law and we didn’t get a ticket.”

“Oh no!” he laughed. “Tell them about grace. Let them know that we’re not all bad guys. But now, you’re really cutting into my ticket count.”

His eyes were already scanning the passing traffic as he gave us a few instructions about how to safely re-enter the freeway. Then he smiled and stepped back from the car and waved goodbye.


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The Sauce Thickens: Part 3 – Delays and Detours

Our connection in Phoenix must have been one of the fastest in history.  Literally five minutes from being aboard one plane and then being aboard the other. We were the last two people to get on the plane.

I had been hopeful that our “A” numbered boarding passes would score a certain window seat, but now as the airline employee hurried us down the empty ramp I only hoped that John and I would be able to get seats together!

Clutching our belongings in front of us, we carefully edged our way down the aisle of the very full plane. We dodged elbows, and smiled or averted our eyes from the curious, sometimes sympathetic (but sometimes irritated ) faces of seated passengers.  (“For crying out loud, why can’t people get to the airport on time?”)

Every seat seemed to have been claimed.

And then – halfway between the wing and the back of the plane were two seats next to a man seated on the aisle.  (Score!)  He smiled a welcome and quickly picked up several piles of paperwork he was working on, and had spread across the empty seats beside him.

Tom is a man of Italian descent.  He’s a native of the Baltimore area, a frequent business traveler, and was a very congenial seatmate! He treated us to a glass of wine and we spent most of the flight in animated conversation. We chatted about raising kids, the Baltimore area, the work we do, religion, our mutual Catholic roots, and the Lord. It was absolutely delightful!

“We’re just about over Mount Airy  now.” Tom indicated sparse lights below us.  We would soon be landing in Baltimore, only to turn  around and drive back to the area we were now flying over. We joked about “Too bad we can’t just parachute out and be at our destination…”

Detours and delays…it’s human nature to gripe about them.  I don’t know where we would have chosen to sit if we had arrived at the Phoenix Airport on time, and entered the plane as part of the first group of passengers holding the coveted  “A” boarding passes. But I think the Lord put dibs for us on those two seats.  He has a way of orchestrating those so-called delays and detours to bring about surprising blessings.


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Above the Storm

Traveling usually doesn’t go according to schedule and this trip was no exception. We left Modesto in hot morning sunshine but arrived at the San Francisco Airport under a heavy grey canopy of cloud and drizzle.  Our flight was delayed…and delayed again.  We sat on black vinyl seats exchanging grim smiles with fellow passengers, who were looking more or less irritated and nervous as time went by.

John and I didn’t mind the delay too much. We had been assured that our connection in Phoenix was also delayed. But we hated to think of  our friendspicking us up in the wee small hours of the morning. Maryland is three hours later than California.

It wasn’t a storm by any stretch of the imagination, but as we left the dark, overcast ground, and lifted skyward I couldn’t help thinking about a Scott Wesley Brown song,  Above the Storm.

The plane taxis down the runway under a cloud of gray moods and pain,

And the sun is gone, held hostage by the rain,

Then up off the ground I’m carried past the last cloud I break through my fears’

And in the golden light I lose my taste for tears. 

Up above the storm

courage revives me.

Hope comes alive in me,

high above the storm.

Lord I fly to you

and gather your strength

To rise above the storm.

The darkishness outside the plane window lightened just a little as we entered the clouds…it was like driving into wispy fog which rapidly became dense white. It was almost hard to believe, but suddenly we were shooting into pure glowing light.  Below us heaps of clouds looked solid enough to stand on, and above us was endless brilliant dark blue.

I actually caught my breath!

As the plane approached Phoenix, the clouds thinned and we could see that great city spread out below us like an endless topographic map. So many buildings and streets and cars…all the size of toys.

I’ve talked about this before – whenever I fly. I call it my airplane window lesson. The houses are the size of Monopoly houses and the streets and freeways are ribbons with little coloured beads running along them. And to think  that every one of those little beads has at least one life in it.  Each Monopoly house represents at least two or three lives. Thousands of lives spread out as far as I can see from this heavenly vantage point.  I will never know most of those people, but God knows every one of them intimately.  He is working out details in each of those lives as surely as he is working out the details in my life.

It’s something like that humbling feeling I have when I gaze into skyful of blazing stars.  “…what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

It was fun to see the Diamondbacks’ stadium with the roof open to the sky.  And that reminded me of all the traveling baseball players must do. I wondered how often their flights are delayed, and how they manage to cope with changing time zones and jet lag. We had left San Francisco in Pacific Time and – aside from the fact that Arizona doesn’t do daylight saving time – we would be changing planes in Mountain Time. One hour ahead.  That means our two-hour flight took us three hours into the future.

As we circled Sky Harbor Airport I pondered the whole concept of time zones and going backward and forward in time.  And then is struck me that just as God is above the physical world of Monopoly houses and bead-string-highways, He is outside of time – completely unhampered by those zoning restraints.  He invented it and gave it to us.

I wanted to take some time and think a lot more about that idea… But there was no time.  We had to get our luggage out of the overhead compartment and see if we were in time for our connecting flight to Baltimore!


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Pasta Shuta

Alex and my pasta-making adventure last week brought forth a lot of family reminiscing. John says his main memory of his grandma’s pasta was that she put the noodles into broth. His Grandpa Guido, on the other hand, served pasta shuta.

Pasta Shuta. The “u” is pronounced sort of like “oo” …and be sure to use some force with your tongue when you pronounce the “t”. And of course, don’t forget to wave your hands extravagantly for emphasis. Now that’s Italian!

John says he thinks “pasta shuta” means dry pasta – as opposed to noodles floating in broth. In other words, it’s pasta in red sauce, or gravy.

By the way, I was tickled to hear from my friend and paisana, Stephanie, that her very Italian family – the Famiglia Rizzi – also calls the red stuff gravy.

But whatever you call it, today I offer you my recipe for the red sauce that goes over pasta. There are certainly more difficult recipes, and there are those which don’t use canned products, but over the years I have had much applause for this fairly authentic tasting sauce. I hope you try it and like it!

Mangia, mangia!

Paladini Pasta Shuta Recipe

2 pounds hot Italian sausage (or sweet is okay)
1 pound very lean ground beef
A large onion, finely chopped
A bell pepper, chopped
A large bunch of basil, chopped
1 tbsp snipped fresh oregano
At least 10 cloves of garlic
2 or 3 large firm portabella mushrooms, cut in pieces, (Any mushrooms are fine.)
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 can pitted black olives
1 cup red wine
2 6oz. cans tomato paste
2 or 3 15oz. cans of diced tomatoes

Brown the Italian sausage links in heavy skillet, piercing them to let some of the fat out. When they are pretty well browned, transfer them to a large heavy soup pot. Most of the time I use my large crock pot.

Who doesn’t love to get a whole Italian sausage on his plate?!

Begin to sauté the portabella mushrooms and bell peppers in the same pan in which you cooked the sausage.

Brown the ground beef in another heavy skillet with onion and minced garlic. You may need to add a little olive oil if you are using very lean ground beef. (Remember, olive oil is good for us!)

When the meat is browned and the onions are mostly cooked, add both cans of tomato paste. Cook, over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the tomato paste begins to look brownish. This is a very important step. As you stir the mixture make sure you scrape the bottom of the skillet so the sauce doesn’t stick and scorch.

Spoon the ground beef mixture onto the sausages in the crock pot.

Put about half a cup of water into the skillet to loosen all the sauce that is sticking to it, and pour that into the crock pot.

Add the mushroom and peppers.

Now pour in the cans of tomatoes, and the olives (including the brine) Add the basil, oregano, bay leaves and red wine.

Mix everything together. You can add another can of tomatoes if you like, or more olives. Or play with the garlic. Sometimes I put in some of my pesto if I’m short of basil or garlic.

Simmer it for at least 8 hours.

Squisito!

Grandpa Frank approves!


This recipe is featured in Recipes from Paladini Potpie, available now in paperback for $7.95!

 

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The Advent of The Grammar Grouch

Today I’d like to introduce a guest author who may be writing on this blog from time to time. Please make the acquaintance of The Grammar Grouch.

She lives inside my head, keeping up a constant mumbling monologue about the decline of the English language – “lol, thx FB!”

She laughs at the stupidity of misused homophones – “We got a peak at the peek as we thru a glance threw the window.”

(And we’re not even going to talk about how and when, thru threw out through!)

She is most irritated at ignorance of basic punctuation. I usually try to keep her at bay, but sometimes she will not be silenced. Up she jumps, with teeth bared, screaming, “You never, never, never, use an apostrophe to pluralize!”

I’d like to say she is my alter ego, but in reality maybe she’s my ego. I know there can be a good deal of smug pride in believing you know something better than someone else. And I also know that “pride goes before destruction.”

I make typos every day on my Facebook comments, and when I’m texting. And in a recent blog post I noticed several mistakes minutes after I hit the publish button. (Don’t these people know how to proofread their work?)

And I know very well that the rules of grammar don’t allow for a sentence to begin with And.

Or how about ending a sentence with those three ellipsis-ish dots…

By the way, when did ish become a word?

And so The Grammar Grouch will come with tongue in cheek, and fun in her heart, but holding up a tiny little standard of hope for the preservation of our beautiful language.

“She who the pen of heaven will bear / Should be as careful as severe / Pattern in herself to know / when to stand, and what to let go.” (Thanks, Will!)


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Babette’s Pasta

For the last few days I’ve been away from my computer on a Babette Stint.

John calls me “Babette” because I love cookery almost as much as the heroine of that wonderful film! “Babette’s Feast” is one of my favourite movies…because some of my favourite experiences are when I’m in the kitchen preparing a half a dozen dishes at the same time. Totally over my head! A sinkful of dirty measuring cups, mixing bowls and wooden spoons…no square inch of counter space available to set anything down…and a beautiful row of delicious finshed projects set proudly off to the side. Pure delight!

So imagine my excitement when I got a note from my 15 year old niece asking if she could come down and spend a couple of days with us, and if I could teach her how to make pasta! (One of my most special memories is a day about 25 years ago when John’s mom and I made pasta. She told me and showed me exactly how her mom, Caterina, used to do it.)

Alexandra is an adorable young lady, and this empty-nested auntie has had the time of her life! Not only did we make pasta – we made pasta sauce (John’s Italian family calls it gravy), pizza, egg salad, biscotti, and simple garlic bread. We made jewelry and went on a hike, and went shopping and played cards and played Scrabble, but most of our time was in the kitchen. Alex has a true Babette heart, and we had our Feast on Friday evening when we invited David, Amanda and baby Nathan to join us. Between mouthfuls David said, “Mom, I hope you’re planning to do a blog and talk about how you guys made this pasta!”

So here it is!

Pasta Noodles

1 lb 2oz flour
4 eggs
About ¼ cup cold water


Pile the flour in the center of a big clean space, and make a well in the center of the mound of flour.

Gently break the eggs into the well in the flour. (Note:We made a double recipe so you see 8 eggs in the well of flour. I don’t recommend this because it was hard to control so many eggs and it was hard to work with so much noodle dough. Besides, as you can see, they sort of started to leak and it was a bit of a mess.)

Begin to mix the eggs gently with a fork, incorporating the flour, until you have a smooth workable dough. You might have to add some, or all, of the cold water in order to get a smooth dough. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes while you clean up your work area. This rest period is important to make the dough easier to work with.

Clean and dry your work area and sprinkle it with flour. Divide dough into two portions for easier handling. Place dough on flour and sprinkle flour on top. Roll until it is about 1/4 inch thick. For rolling the dough, Alex and I used a long closet pole, which is what Grandma Catherina used 70 years ago when she made this pasta. (A rolling pin works fine too though.)

Fold dough in quarters, dust it with flour, and roll it out again till it’s 1/4 inch thick.

Do this eight times. Fold and roll, fold and roll, fold and roll. On the final rolling, roll it to less that 1/8 inch – the thinner the better.

The sheet of pasta dough will be strong and moist and flexible.

You can cut the pasta into thin strips – linguini – using a pasta cutter or a sharp knife. If you use a knife you can roll the sheet (like an “Aram sandwich) and cut it in thin strips. Make sure the dough is well-floured so it doesn’t stick together.

Alex came up with the great idea of making some of the pasta into bow ties. Just cut squares and pinch them very firmly together in the center.

Hang the noodles to dry. We hung them over the trusty closet pole, laid across two chair backs. The bow ties dried on cake cooling racks. (Allow at least 24 hours for it to dry completely.)

To cook the pasta, bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add some salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil. The oil makes the noodles glossy.

Our pasta was al dente in 15 minutes.

Join me in a future blog and I’ll tell you how to make Babette’s pasta sauce – or I should say, Mama Paladini’s Gravy.


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The Spice Trade

I have some chai here, if you’d like to try a sample…” John and I were strolling through the Modesto Farmers’ Market when the man spoke to us in a quiet,almost diffident voice. We had been kind of caught up in the color and clamor and energy of the Farmers’ Market, and when we turned to see who had spoken it felt like we were looking into an island of peace.

It was a spice booth – Mohini Indian Fusions. The owner, Rex Rabine, was pouring a cup of chai from a steaming urn. “Be careful,” he warned us, “it’s hot.” It was hot, and it was delicious – absolutely the most delicious chai tea we had ever tasted! As we stood sipping the tea, Rex told us how he prepared it, and he showed us which of their many spice blends he used to make it

Cinnamon, ginger, tumeric, paprika, coriander, star anise, cloves, fenugreek…It was fascinating to see the array of spices, attractively laid out for display.

I like my food spicy. And when I say “spicy” I usually mean “throw in lots of habañeros or jalapeños.” I think most people are like that – when we think about spiciness, the first thing that comes to mind is hotness. But as Rex showed us all the different spice combinations, and explained how they work together, I realized it has everything to do with taste – not heat.

We bought a jar of their poultry blend, which we sampled the minute we got home. It contained 12 different spices and no salt. And nothing with heat. As John and I stood in our kitchen tasting tiny fingerfuls of the spice blend, it felt a little bit like wine tasting. (A little bit.) We would concentrate, and try to isolate and identify the different flavor of each spice listed on the label. John commented that it is really an art to know how to blend the various flavors to make the single unique taste.

Mohini has lots of different jars of spice blends and few (if any) include hot peppers or chili. They do sell a jar of “Spicy Pepper Blend” to add heat to whatever spice you’re using. Or you can add your own dried or fresh chili pepper.

As Rex was telling us about the origin of some of the spices, and how they are used, it occurred to me to tell him about my friend Emily. Emily Cotton is a popular speaker at schools and Renaissance workshops. She bills herself as a Renaissance Storyteller and Scribe, and one of her most well-attended classes is Pirate Sails and Caravan Trails. Wearing a period costume, and drawing on enthusiastic audience participation, Emily gives out tons of fascinating information about spice trade during the time of the Renaissance.

Thinking of spice trade, it’s fun to see how different culinary cultures are opening up and becoming linked today. I’m half Irish and half Lithuanian, but my bulvinial blynai (potato pancakes) have acquired a distinctly Italian flavor since I have married into the Paladini family. And since I’ve become an honorary Italian, I’ve pretty much mastered the art of Italian cooking. Garlic, basil and fennel figure prominently into most of the things I cook. And now in recent years, a new spice route has opened up for me as I’ve begun to haunt our local Middle-Eastern Market and make regular stops at the Afghan food booth at the Farmers’ Market.

Back to Mohini: I think Rex is like me – he married ethnicity. There’s nothing Indian about him, but he’s an expert on all those spices of The Far East. His exotically beautiful young daughter looked a lot like the lovely woman, Mohini, whose picture stood on the counter. We commented on it, and he smiled proudly, “My wife will be joining us in about an hour with some food samples,” he told us. (“Hmmm…we just might have to walk back down here in an hour.” I was thinking.)

And we did!


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1776

Richard Henry Lee was the Virginian delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In 1776 he brought forth the motion calling for American independence from Great Britain.

My name is Richard Henry Lee; Virginia is my home
My name is Richard Henry Lee; Virginia is my home
And may my horses be turned to glue if I can’t deliver
Unto you a resolution on independency!

I don’t remember learning about Richard Henry Lee when I was in school, but his song from the musical, “1776” has probably been sung a couple of hundred times in the Paladini home in the last 10 years.

For I am FFV, the first family
In the sovereign colony of Virginia
Yes I am FFV, the oldest family
in the oldest colony in America
And may the British burn my land if I can’t deliver
To your hand a resolution on independency!

The first time we heard of Richard Henry Lee was when David was in the 6th grade and drew Lee’s name in a small home-school co-op drama about the events leading up to the Revolutionary War. David had to write a report, memorize some of his quotes, and put together a costume.

Then we discovered “1776” the musical, and the delightful characterization of Richard Henry Lee.

And then, within the month, we all went to Washington DC for Monica’s eighth grade trip, and it included a stop at Saint John’s Church in Richmond Virginia – and who do you think we met?

You see it’s here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee
And everywhere-a-Lee-a-Lee
Here-a-Lee, there-a-Lee
And everywhere-a-Lee

Social-Lee, political-Lee, financial-Lee, natural-Lee
Internal-Lee, external-Lee, fraternal-Lee, eternal-Lee

Since then, it has become a tradition for us to watch “1776” every 4th of July! If you haven’t ever seen it you’re in for a treat! You’ll learn all kinds of tidbits of American history and you’ll have great, fun songs stuck in your head forever!

*Lyrics from the Musical: 1776 (Song: Lees of Old Virginia)


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Three Baseball Heroes

With the Fourth of July just a few days away, I want to talk a little bit about that wonderful American sport of Baseball! Well, actually, I don’t want to talk about baseball itself – although I really love watching the game and listening to it on the radio! Today I want to talk about three baseball players, who demonstrate the integrity and personality that made America a great nation.

Madison Bumgarner, Cal Ripken and Brandon Phillips – these guys just make me smile.

Of course I’ll start with my favourite team, the San Francisco Giants! Giants’ pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, is only 21 years old and he’s a promising young player. But June 21 wasn’t a good day for him – in fact, it was a record breaking bad day for him, and for Giants’ baseball.

In only 25 pitches, Madison gave up nine hits. He faced ten batters and the Minnesota twins scored eight runs. And that was only the first half inning – the Giants hadn’t even come up to bat! We sat listening, as stunned as the announcers themselves! John Miller and Dave Fleming underscored the terribleness of Bumgarner’s trip to the mound by telling their listeners that this had only happened twice before in the history of Major League Baseball.

How embarrassing.

So of course, manager Bruce Bochy took Madison Bumgarner out of the game. And what do you think the young man did? He watched the rest of the game from the dugout. That just makes me so proud. Only 21 years old, and instead of running off to the locker room to hide, or cry, or beat his fist into the wall, he had the integrity and guts to stay in the dugout throughout the game, and cheer and encourage his fellow Giants.

Courage and responsibility – I love it.

And Cal Ripken. I’m glad I can have a baseball hero among the Baltimore Orioles, since my daughter, Monica, now lives in Maryland, and will soon marry a die-hard Orioles fan. Besides being a good baseball player, steady Cal Ripken just “went to work” every day for sixteen years. He set a baseball record by playing in 2,632 consecutive games. And then he quietly retired.

Integrity and a great work ethic – I love it!

And finally, Brandon Phillips. This really makes me smile because I grew up in Cincinnati and the very first time I ever heard about baseball – the first time I became aware of it as a team sport – was an animated conversation between some little boys on the playground of my elementary school. (“The Reds are gonna win the pennant!”)

I’ll take a small segue here to talk about when my son, David, was about the same age as those little Cincinnati fans. David was a catcher on his little league team, and his biggest baseball hero was a catcher on the San Francisco Giants. We took him to a Giants’ game when this catcher was playing, and of course David took lots of pictures of his hero behind the plate. Later he sent him an enthusiastic fan letter and told him how much he liked him, and and was inspired by him. He enclosed a picture and asked the catcher if he would please autograph it for him. But he never got a response.

Contrast that with Brandon Phillips, second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. This young man has the reputation of being the most fan-friendly player in baseball. I was so delighted when I read a story about a teenager who tweeted a message to Brandon Phillips and invited him to come to his little league game – and Brandon came and watched the game and met the kids and posed for pictures.

Graciousness and humility – I love it!

So as we celebrate the Fourth of July – and baseball and apple pie and motherhood – this mom is proud to celebrate these three baseball heroes who give us a little vignette of some of the attribute that have helped to make America great!