I just got back from a heart-whirling weeklong visit to Winthrop Grade School. Telling my mother’s stories of Germany to children from kindergarten to fifth grade was more valuable to me than any graduate course I could have found. As in the completion of such a course, I am left with a feeling of fulfillment mixed with anticipation. Wow! and What?
Wow! I was damn good at that. I now know that when I look toward an invisible jar of raisins on my left, the children’s eyes follow. When I pause and whisper, they lean into my words. When my arms reach wide they “feel” the magnitude of the image my words paint. When I crinkle my nose and screw up my mouth they taste the over-salted French fry I’m guiding them toward.
What? What am I going to do with all this? I left Winthrop physically and emotionally exhausted. I spent every ounce of me on that week of storytelling. At some point, I had to admit to myself that I’m too old to do this very often. Or at all . . . again? At another point, Nathan Hale appeared on my shoulder spouting his words before being hanged, “I regret that I have but one life to give to storytelling.” Then there was Patrick Henry on the other shoulder, “Give me storytelling or give me death.” And Bookaboo, the story-dog-puppet, “A story a day or I just can’t play!”
Seriously, what am I to do? The kids responded and I thrived. But is this anything I can use in writing? I mentioned to my long-suffering husband Jim that I think I’ll rewrite WAR STORIES FOR CHILDREN, moving from the immediacy of first-person written storytelling to third-person, which is the only authentic way to tell Mom’s stories orally. He, of course, thinks I’m nuts. He tried to tell me that when he wrote procedure manuals for starting up power plants he always wanted to go back and try to clarify his work but there was a point where he had to call it good.
I gracefully exploded. “You were writing material that people HAD to read, I’m writing stuff that people have to WANT to read. Your work was mechanical; mine is supposed to be a work of art!” He put on his hat and headed to the barn to shovel horse manure for relief from what he sees as my foolishness.
How does one go about finding a beta reader for a book like this? Memoir. History. Middle Grades. Do I try to hire somebody? The definition of a beta reader is one who is not paid.
So wheels down. Quit flying around in the clouds. Try planting this on the Blog. Maybe . . .
Proof 1 T. dry yeast in ½ cup warm water and 1 T. sugar 1 egg room temp. ½ cup melted butter 2 cups warm water 1 ½ t. salt ½ cup molasses ¾ cup brown sugar (sugars may be altered according to taste, could use honey, white sugar, maple syrup etc.) 7 to 8 cups King Arthur unbleached white flour
Mix, and knead, as for any bread recipe. Allow to rise about 2 hours in warm, draft-free spot covered with damp paper towel or tea towel.
To shape Owls and Monkeys: imagine the dough in about 11 sections. One section is rolled flat. You’ll have about 5 monkeys and 5 owls. With shot class cut 10 ears. With small wine or juice glass cut 5 wing circles slice in half for wings, from scraps make 5 long skinny tails.
Each blob of dough is formed into a kind of elongated dinner roll shape. Pinch small top section (head) and then twist small section around and around again.
Lay this flat in a section of parchment (or greased cookie sheet) and imagine the body and head of either an owl or a monkey. (parchment “cradles” are arranged on cookie sheet – don’t crowd if you can avoid)
For monkey = lift head and lay ears behind – press together. Tuck tail under back and bring forward around tummy. Gently press into place.
For Owl = wet underside of wings and lay across tummy, round side outward as if at rest. Wet raisins (eyes) and dry apples or other fruit or candy for lips or beak.
Place in cold oven. Turn to 400 degrees for 15 minutes/ turn down to 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Have an egg wash ready (beaten egg with a little water) as hot bread comes out of oven. Brush with egg wash and immediately sprinkle with sugar if desired.
OWLS AND MONKEYS
Till Eulenspiegel was a vagabond who lived in the region of Braunschweig Germany around the 1300s. He traveled from village to village telling stories, playing jokes on people, and entertaining children with puppet shows. He looked for odd jobs when his luck ran out and he was hungry. You see, in those days there was no television and few books. Storytellers were welcomed in every village and their pay was food and a warm bed.
One day Till comes upon a baker and asks for a loaf of bread in exchange for a story. “You’ll get no bread from me without first doing a good day’s work.”
Till agrees and discovers he likes the work. When the baker sees he is trustworthy, he decides to take a morning off. The baker normally wakes at three to light the fire in the oven and begin forming loaves from the dough mixed the night before. By five the dough is raised enough for loaves to be slid into the hot brick ovens. When the bakery opens at six o’clock the fragrance of freshly baked bread greets customers.
“Till, you know how to do this work. I need a break. I want you to sleep in the backroom and be ready to build a good fire in the ovens. While they’re heating, you’ll put the dough into the pans. Then the loaves go in when the temperature is right. Handle them carefully and don’t let them burn. Do you have any questions for me before I head home for the night?”
“Thank you for trusting me, sir. But I do have one question. What should I bake?”
At this, the baker erupts into laughter. “That’s a good joke, Till. What do you think you should bake? Bake owls and monkeys of course!” The baker is making a joke.
The next morning when the baker arrives he finds his helper pulling the first loaves out of the ovens. “How did I do, sir? I wasn’t sure how to make the eyes, so I used some of your raisins. I hope that was okay.”
The baker takes one look at the loaves of bread, all shaped like owls and monkeys, and let out a thunderous shout that rattles the windows. “You fool! What have you done?”
“I baked the owls and monkeys just like you said, but you seem angry. If not raisins, then what should I use for the eyes?”
“Oh, you foolish boy! Whoever heard of making loaves of bread into silly shapes? You’re fired! And take all these useless loaves with you. They are no good to me! You’ve ruined my entire batch of bread.”
Till is confused by the reaction of the baker, but he takes the owls and monkeys with him. Not knowing what else to do, the jester starts selling his funny loaves along the road.
Word spreads and one neighbor tells another and another. The owls and monkeys are given as gifts to friends in nearby towns and everyone wants to buy this unusual bread. When that day’s loaves are sold out, people want more.
Soon another baker in town invites the young man to bake owls and monkeys in his ovens and people from far and wide come to buy them.
The tradition holds to this day and you can still purchase loaves of bread in the shape of owls and monkeys in one certain bakery in the city of Braunschweig, Germany.