Friday, December 20, 2013

This Tastes Like Soup

Last week, I posted Scott's speech  from Dad's 60th birthday party and this week, I have posted my own speech from the evening.  It's not your typical speech/roast but rather the speech is in the form of a "book" that Dad wrote on the subject of soup.  I picked my way through the book and picked a few 'selections' and read them to the birthday crowd.  Here is the speech:

“This Tastes Like Soup – A Guide to the Perfect Bowl of Soup”
By Ralph Slingerland

Dedication – To my wife Elsie Slingerland – whose soup is no longer bland.

 Chapter 1 - Proper Soup Eating Attire

It is a scientific fact that soup tastes the best on Sunday.  I won’t explain the science behind this fact because you probably wouldn’t understand it anyway.  Chances are, you’ve made the critical and novice mistake of eating soup with your good Sunday dress shirt on.  Worse yet is eating soup with the top button done up and your tie on.  It pains me to see a good tie getting accidentally dipped into a good bowl of soup.  This ruins the tie and distracts the diner from fully experiencing the taste of soup due to the dagger-like glances coming from the wife.

Soup will raise your body temperature considerably, and if your neck is caught in the vice-like embrace of the top button, you are going to overheat and get the soup-sweats.  It’s not pretty.  Ventilation is important and should not be overlooked.  

Once the soup eating begins, splattering can happen.  A dropped meatball from you spoon can devastate your dress shirt.  Tomato soup does not easily come out of a white oxford.  Again, we want to avoid the dagger-like glances from our better halves while we are eating soup.

I always take off my dress shirt and put on something much more sensible – a well-worn waffle shirt.  A waffle shirt is like a bottle of wine – it only gets better with age.  You want to get you waffle shirts worn to the point that your chest hairs poke through.  This will indicate that the proper level of ventilation is achievable.  I would suggest getting a brown waffle shirt as well.  They fade to a nice dark beige colour – soup splatters will never be evident on a waffle shirt of this nature.  I emphasize the waffle shirt because not every pullover has been created equal.  My eldest son Derek mistakenly wore a thick felt hoodie to a Christmas dinner.  The result was not pretty – there was a lot of sweating, tugging at the neck and frequent outdoor excursions into the sub-zero temperatures.  Getting your waffle shirt to the proper worn stage will require you to wear the waffle shirt every day for months on end.  Your wife may not appreciate you wearing your waffle shirt every day (fact: most women don’t know what true fashion is) but she will appreciate not having to get soup splatters out of your dress shirt.

Chapter 3 – Proper Soup Eating Techniques

How we eat our soup is almost as important as the soup itself.  I prefer to sit at the head of the table.  Elsie sits to my left so that I can make various critical observations to her while eating.  She has come to enjoy and value my comments and suggestions.

A good slurp technique will allow you to eat piping hot soup without vaporizing your taste buds.  Your wife will probably not enjoy the slurping noises you are making but she will be pleased at your enthusiasm.

Keep your head low, ignore everyone around you and keep your mind focussed on the soup.  Don’t be distracted by the inane conversations that float around the table.  Don’t waste time dabbing your mouth with a napkin – you can clean up later.  Your wife will probably say something like “Wipe your mouth – you’ve got soup dripping down your chin.”  This is a good time to pass judgement on the soup.  Your comments will keep her mind occupied on how to improve the soup for next week and will leave you to enjoy your soup.

Chapter 10 – Proper Soup Eating Critiques

We must now tread lightly.  Critiquing soup can be a dangerous endeavour.  Many years ago, my wife remarked that I don’t compliment her enough.  The next Sunday, she had put together a great batch of soup and I decided I would compliment her soup.  “Good batch, Honey.  A lot better than the crap you made last week.”  Looking back, I can now see that this was probably not the best choice of words.   

You may from time to time experience a wave of nostalgia for your mom’s Sunday – especially if your wife’s soup happens to be particularly bland.  I can tell you from firsthand experience that your wife will not appreciate your suggestion to get the soup recipe from your mom.  Nor will she appreciate the suggestion that your mom can show her how to make soup properly.  

My critiques have become a lot more nuanced and subtle.  Sometimes I frame things as innocent questions.  One Sunday, I noticed that the soup had a plethora, or an overabundance of carrots in it.  How do you tell your wife that the carrots have tarnished a good batch of soup without hurting her feelings?  Try hinting at the problem in the form an innocent question.  I used this question in this particular situation: “Were carrots on sale this week?”  Notice how clever and subtle that critique was – mission accomplished.

Subtle questions are important.  Questions like – “Did you forget to add salt to the soup?” may be too direct and may not be appreciated.  If your wife asks you what you think of the soup and you are not at all impressed, I would also strongly advise that you refrain from making a grunting sound.


My wife has been making soup for over thirty years now.  She has generally mastered the art of making soup, but every now and again, I am needed to encourage, critique and suggest.  I have Elsie to thank for this book.  If it hadn’t been for the odd batch of poorly executed soup, this book would never have been written and I wouldn’t have been able to help countless families with their Sunday soup tradition.  If you’ve enjoyed this book, look for these other great titles by Ralph Slingerland:

101 Things to Know about Pork and Beans

The Perfect Boiled Potato

And coming out in 2014 – The Hot Dog Digest

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Guest Post - Dad's 60th Birthday!

Dad recently celebrated his 60th birthday and we gathered with friends and family to celebrate.  My two older brothers Scott and Derek and myself gave speeches as part of the festivities.  Here is Scott's speech in its entirety.  I'll try to track down Derek's speech as well.  Enjoy.
It all started approximately 11 years ago.  The big bash.  It was my Mom and Dad’s 25 year wedding anniversary.  It was a big celebration – and something well worth celebrating.  We had a great time – friends, family, food, singing, speeches, poems.  Accolades of praise for the wonderful couple, that all who attended, knew and loved.  A beautiful evening. 
A short while later the family got together for a time of reflection.  We watched the video tape of that evening.  Spirits were high.  People were excited for the evening that was, by all accounts, a rousing success.  Immediately plans for the next big celebration were under way.  What are we going to do for the 30th wedding anniversary?  Ideas were spit-balled.  Would we be able to pull off another evening like the one we just had?  Probably.  But was it practical?  No.  People can only hear so much good about one couple, before they begin to feel nauseated.  Then my mother had the most brilliant idea of all.  Some might even say the most brilliant idea she has ever had.  We would do a trip.  We would need to hammer out the details, but it would either be a cruise, or a house-boat, or a trip down south, but something real nice.  Dad remained rather quiet about the whole thing, while the children leaped about in apparent jubilation. 
In the years that followed the dynamics of our family changed some.  Derek got married.  I got married.  We began to be fruitful; and we multiplied as we were instructed to do so in Genesis 1:28.  Next Becky got married, then Ally, then Greg.  More children were had.  But all the while, we kept that trip that we had discussed, in the front of our minds.  It was going to be awesome.  We reminded Mother of it often, but the closer we drew to the date, the more Mom was seemed to be skirting around the idea.  We would be together for Sunday lunch and someone would say, “Hey Mom, I’ve been giving our trip that you promised us a lot of thought and I think we should go down south and rent a house in Florida!”  And my Mom would say, “yeahhhhh.  That sounds like it would be a nice time…”  Oh, we were so excited. 
And then, the 30th wedding anniversary came and went and then so did the 35th.  Both with very little hoopla or fanfare.  Neither was ever properly celebrated as far as the immediate family was concerned.  Where was our trip?  Where was our quality time?  What happened to the promise that was made to us on that fateful day?  When confronted on this, we heard number of different excuses, such as, “well the families have gotten too big” or “we didn’t know at the time what kind of people Becky and Ally would be bringing along with them and the thought of being trapped on a boat or in the same cottage with Shawn and Jake for an extended period of time…”.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are valid excuses.  But I am still disappointed that this trip, which had been planned in my head and heart for ten years, that was going to be awesome, never happened.  And now we are here once more; celebrating a milestone in style, but in a very local setting.  It was during this setting, that all along I was planning on doing a beautiful narrated slide show all about our family outing.  Now obviously I can’t do that anymore, but I have to contribute something to celebrate the milestone that we are gathered here together to commemorate.
So I did what any other sane person in my position would have done.  I pictured in my mind, a parallel universe that exists in which the Slingerland family all went together on the vacation of a lifetime.  Now I am going to use this platform that I have available to me, to tell you all about that vacation, through the magic of Journal Entries that were completed on a daily basis during our fictional trip.  I think this coping mechanism would probably make Arlene Veenstra very proud and more importantly it would make Boot proud too. 

Day One.  We arrived in Greece right on schedule.  The flight was wonderful.  The stewardess said she had never before seen such a beautiful family and decided to bump us all up into first class.  Thank goodness Derek hadn’t boarded the plane yet or she probably would never have offered it.  Next the pilot introduced himself to our family and asked what the occasion was.  I explained to him that this was the celebration of my parents’ 30th and 35th Wedding Anniversary and my father’s 60th birthday!  “Wow” he said.  “What a wonderful family.  The Vontraps got nothing on you guys!”  He then proceeded to the cockpit and over the intercom informed everybody about the milestones we were celebrating; after which the whole plane broke into singing “For he’s a jolly good fellow!”
Day Two.  Well Greece is beautiful.  Our trip to the Parthenon was magical.  Our dinner at the famed Milos Estiatorio Costal Restaurant was extremely pleasing to the pallet for most of the family.  Dad on the other hand was unable to locate hot dogs or chicken fingers anywhere on the menu and settled for a Greek Salad minus the Feta Cheese and Greek dressing.  Thankful Mom had packed a bottle of French dressing and Dad still enjoyed the view.  After such a beautiful day I hardly want to leave this beautiful country.  This is a good time for me to reflect on how nice it was that Jake and Shawn were willing to stay home and watch all of the grandkids.  I’m sure they are having a nice time too.  I am almost beginning to think that the flight ticket miscount by Mom was intentional.  You know what they say, “Oh well”.
Day Three.  I can’t believe we are actually in Rome.  Highlights included seeing the coliseum and having a personal visit from the Pope Francis - during which Greg had an opportunity to debate Luther’s 95 theses.  Pope Francis bid us farewell after he told us he certainly had a lot to think about.  Dad said that Italy had among the best cheese-less pizza he had ever tried.  After skyping Shawn and Jake back home we learned that they are dealing with a bit of a diarrhea outbreak and they are running low on diapers.  They are hoping that the blizzard that is keeping them housebound, eases up soon.  Jake is busy researching ways to make your own cloth diapers with household items.  Spirits still seem pretty high.   
Day Four.  We arrived in Spain right on schedule in my imaginary itinerary.  I found our museum trip a little boring.  The curator was droning on and on about boring and insignificant Spanish history.  Greg noted that they really had nothing when compared to our own rich Canadian history.  Things were just started to get interesting, but we got kicked out when Derek knocked over a Conquistador armour display.  It was probably for the best anyways.  Courtney said she was feeling a little nauseous and needed to see a doctor.  They are running some tests.  We skyped back in with Shawn and Jake back home, or as they refer to it, rash central.  Apparently the satellite went down during the snow storm.  They said that is OK because they are a little preoccupied dealing with the chicken pox outbreak anyways. 
Day Five.  Courtney got her test results back today.  I don’t know if you would refer to them as negative or positive, but she is expecting quadruplets.  We are off to Holland now.  The whole family seems to be pretty excited about it except Greg and Courtney.  They just seem to be walking around in a bit of a haze.  Greg walked into a pole earlier and apologized.  The Pole told Greg his name was Bart Kawolski and he wasn’t too upset.  Needless to say, the whole family was riding pretty high from the news.  Dad seemed the most excited, but I think that may have been more due to the fact that he was finally going to a country where he would actually be able to eat.  I had never been to Holland, but Dad says there is a place in Amsterdam that makes the best brownies he has ever had.  I can’t wait to try them.  After arriving in Holland, we settled in and checked with Jake and Shawn before bed.  They seemed somewhat dishevelled.  I’m assuming this is due to the power outage.  Thankfully, they were able to locate 4 scented candles.  Jake say that if everyone is huddled together in one room, it is actually quite warm.  Shawn didn’t have much to say, unless you count those whimpering sounds he was making while huddled in the corner.  Seems like they are having quite an adventure!
Day Six.  We spent most of today riding our bicycles and visiting family.  Dutch bingo reaches a whole new level of insanity when your are standing the very country for which it is named.  Dad vetoed the Gouda cheese tour we all wanted to go on (citing immediate onset nausea). Instead, we took a trip to Holland’s national zoo.  We were asking for directions to get to the zoo, but the person we found didn’t speak too much English.  After describing and gesturing a typical zoo with all the animals and such as best we could, he seemed to understand what we were looking for.  Then he gave us directions to Friesland.  Still, very interesting.  Needless to say, Derek fit right in.  After this we wandered around visiting the typical Netherlands sights.  We saw where Chapmans makes there Dutch chocolate ice cream.  We saw Double Dutch skipping ropes being manufactured.  We finished by going to a Dutch Oven convention.  Not recommended. 
Day Seven.  We decided to check in with Shawn and Jake before we leave for the last two weeks of our trip to be spent in Australia.  The good news is power has been restored.  The bad news is Shawn and Jake seem to have lost theirs.  Shawn was only able to whisper to us while hiding out under the bed.  The kids have Jake tied up in the basement.  Shawn says the kids keep referring to Jake as “Piggie”.  We decided as a family to cut our vacation short.  We still had a great time and I for one can’t wait until our next imaginary vacation.
Now I know what you are thinking.  What did any of this have to do with Dad’s 60th birthday?  I would have to say, that some of my best memories of growing up were of our time spent with Dad on vacations.  There were the trips to the cottage, the fishing trips, our trips to Myrtle Beach, our trip to Prince Edward Island.  All beloved memories and all non-fiction.  In fact I probably should have done my whole speech on what it was really like vacationing with Dad.  Well maybe I’ll write about our next family trip at your 70th birthday, Dad.  Happy Birthday Pops.                

Monday, November 11, 2013

Paul Schneider: The Pastor of Buchenwald

On a January morning in 1939 in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, two beleaguered prisoners who had attempted to escape were brought into the parade grounds of the camp.  There they were mercilessly executed.  As the bodies of the two prisoners went limp, a voice rang out across the camp from the window of the punishment cell.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners!”

The person who condemned these executions was the German Pastor, Paul Schneider.  No other prisoner had ever dared to speak out against the Nazi atrocities like Pastor Schneider.

Paul Schneider served Germany for three years during World War I, went to seminary, married, had six children, and became the Pastor of a German Reformed church in Dickenschied.  He was disturbed by the political movements of the 1930’s and was sickened especially by the Hitler Youth movement.  Sunday School classes were turned into nationalistic meetings where prayers were made not to God but to the Fatherland.  He refused to get swept along in this tide of nationalism.  He recognized National Socialism and Nazism for what they really were – Satan’s attempt for domination.  Pastor Schneider refused to salute the Swastika, he re-introduced church discipline to his little church to those who preached the Nazi gospel, and he spoke out against the Nazi regime.  It should be no surprise then that Pastor Schneider was arrested on May 31, 1937, and eventually sent to the infamous Buchenwald.

Inset in the front gate of Buchenwald were the words “Jedem das Seine” which idiomatically mean “everyone gets what he deserves”.  Though not technically an extermination camp, Buchenwald was a brutal camp comprising of starvation, medical experimentation, hard labour and cruel punishments.  The camp commandant and guards were brutal sadists who became completely desensitized and devoid of any notion of mercy.  In essence, Buchenwald was human depravity brazenly unmasked and on display.

Though Pastor Schneider’s heavily censored letters assured his wife, family and congregation that he was in good health and doing fine, in reality, Pastor Schneider was in a lot of trouble early on in his imprisonment at Buchenwald.  His trouble began when he refused to take off his hat and salute the Swastika.  He told the German guards that to salute to the Swastika would be akin to idolatry.  It was from that point that he was taken to the punishment cells and kept in solitary confinement.  

His cell did have a window, from where he proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone in earshot.  He also used the window as a platform of protest and condemnation.  He denounced his captors and torturers as followers and captives of Satan.  He preached Christ and proclaimed scripture even when his guards came in to make him stop.

Every form of torture was thrown against Pastor Schneider.  The Nazi guards tried to break him down physically, and conversely tried to show kindness with hope that he would follow Buchenwald rules.  They said he could go free – go back to his family and church – if he signed a paper that said he would never speak out against the government again.  He refused, and held fast.  By 1939, his body was permanently bent from the torture, which caused constant pain.   On Easter morning, thousands of prisoners were assembled on the parade ground for roll call.  He managed to stand up by the window, despite his crippling pain.  He called out the window in a strong voice "Comrades, hear me. Here speaks Pastor Schneider. Here is tortured and murdered. So speaks the Lord: I am the resurrection and the life!"  The guards rushed in his cell to silence Pastor Schneider.  The prisoner’s heard the message, and knew that it was spoken from the Pastor of Buchenwald.
Though the punishment cells were only meant for short periods, Pastor Schneider never left his cell.  The guards were afraid of Pastor Schneider – afraid of the influence he wielded, afraid of his moral courage, and afraid of his leader, the Lion of Judah.  Just as Mary Queen of Scots feared John Knox above all the armies of England, so too was the fear towards Pastor Schneider.  They knew that there was something different about this prisoner.  They could see that he was not afraid of them and their means of torture.  The Nazis’ were infuriated with his boldness and condemnation, but were powerless to stop it.  Pastor Schneider would simply not bend his knee before them.

Shortly after the Easter of 1939, Pastor Paul Schneider was put to death by lethal injection.  His faith and courage emboldened many fellow believers to stand against the Nazi tyranny.  His suffering and death pointed their eyes heavenward.

“If we lose our life here from him, he will keep it unto everlasting life.  He will let us see his glory here and there.  Then through suffering we shall find our way to glory, through the cross to the throne.  We shall believe that, according to his word, we shall trust his promise and, therefore, we shall give thanks to him with joy.”  Paul Schneider

 “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Psalm 20:7