My grandmother, Frances Olson, was a music teacher for many years. In their home of forty-five years in Atlanta, she and my grandpa had a lovely piano in the family room. They also had a small organ that they magically fit into the not-very-big dining room. Next to the organ, with all of her music books, was a basket that had instruments for children. We were allowed to bang on the drums, beat the rhythm sticks, and shake the maracas. She wanted her grandchildren to delight in music. My grandfather played the trombone poorly, but enthusiastically. Much to the delight of their neighbors, he rang in the new year by playing “Auld Lang Syne” off the back steps. Their house was filled with the sound of music and the Cubs games. When I picture her in that house, I mostly remember her playing hymns, Christmas songs, or folk tunes during our many visits.
Music was one of their love languages.
She is now 92 years old and lives in an assisted living facility in South Carolina. This is the first place she has ever lived without her piano, but my parents live down the street and she plays their piano. Her dementia is worsening every day. She can’t remember that you’ve just left her apartment. She forgets conversations the second they are over. Last year, she forgot that she’d broken her hip and kept re-injuring herself. She hasn’t, however, forgotten how to read music.
On Thanksgiving day, I sat next to my grandmother on the piano bench as she played hymns and Christmas songs. My daughters gathered around her in the living room and sang the songs that they knew from church and school. They didn’t know that this simple act felt like a miracle to me. It is a mystery to me that my grandma, who regularly forgets where she lives, can remember how to play songs she hasn’t seen in years. It baffles my mind that she can sight read an entire book of songs with no preparation. The longer she played, the more confident she became. She was really enjoying herself. I’d flip the page and she’d say, “Oh, I love this one!”, to pretty much every song. She seemed younger and more familiar to me the longer she played. It was like she was delivered back to herself and back to us through song.
Music speaks to us when other languages fail. The hymns of Advent and Christmas re-orient me and remind me of who I was created to be. They remind me that I am more than an errand-running machine. They remind me that I live my life for the Prince of Peace and not for myself. This seems especially important during the busyness and franticness that this season can bring.
As we were singing with my grandma, I was reminded of one of my favorite lines ever from an Advent hymn: “Fling wide the portals of your heart.” I love the image of throwing your heart wide open. I like to imagine the lavish opening of my heart in a joyful way. This will be my Advent practice this year: flinging wide the door to my heart. When I want to ration my love or close my heart in self-protection, I will remember the many times I’ve been blessed by having an open heart.
I am so grateful that you have been willing to listen as I’ve shared my heart with you these past few months. This blog has been such an unexpected gift to me. When I started it in August, I hoped my siblings and cousins would read it. I thought that maybe a few of my mom’s friends would subscribe. Much to my delight, ya’ll have shared my posts with people I have never met. I look forward to writing for you each and every week. You have strengthened and encouraged me and I am deeply grateful for your friendship and love. So, in the spirit of being open-hearted, I want to share with you my chocolate chip pie recipe.
For years, people have asked me for this recipe and I always say that I’ll get it to them. And then I don’t. I did give it to one mom in my neighborhood and made her promise to not bring it to functions where I would be bringing it, including teacher appreciation luncheons and church potlucks. I am not proud of the way I have guarded this not very sacred recipe. I got the recipe years ago from one of my mom’s school friends, so it’s not like I invented it. I am lifting any restrictions on where you can take this pie.
Making a bunch of chocolate chip pies makes my holiday season easier because it streamlines my gift-giving process. Pies for everyone! I also order cases of coffee from our friends at Jittery Joe’s coffee here in Athens. Coffee and pie is a winning combination. If making these easy pies helps you this Christmas, then hooray for wide open hearts.
Chocolate Chip Pie:
1/2 cup butter, melted and then cooled to room temperature (I usually put it in the fridge)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips (coated in flour so they will float)
graham cracker or oreo pie crust
Mix butter, eggs and vanilla in a bowl. Mix sugars, flour and chocolate chips in separate bowl. Combine and stir. Pour into unbaked graham cracker pie crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 40-50 minutes. The top should be golden and the middle shouldn’t slosh around. Cool and slice to serve.
That’s it. The recipe is really easy to double or quadruple, so I never make just one pie at a time. I have a double oven and can cook up to eight pies at once. They freeze beautifully and I like to always have a few in the freezer. Another good thing about these pies is that the batter is runny and not very tasty, so I don’t make myself sick eating cookie dough. (Yes, I’ve heard of salmonella, but I’m convinced my farming ancestors and Scandanavian lineage protects me.)
Each Christmas, the kids help me deliver these pies and cans of coffee to teachers, coaches, dance instructors, and bus drivers. I also like to give one to the front desk of my kids’ schools since those folks have to deal with our family on a regular basis. I make these pies year round because I like to give them to families that are taking my big kids to the lake or on other adventures. Sometimes I hand people a pie just because they haven’t run away from my house with their hair on fire.
I told Bryan that I was sharing my recipe with ya’ll and he seemed worried that I was giving up my secret weapon. I have to believe that more pies in the world can only be a good thing. I trust that wide open hearts and abundant pies will see us through to the new year.
Pie is always a good idea.