Monday, October 17, 2011

More Stories in your Soup

Relationships can be like good books.

Recently while flipping through a workshop book by Dr. Jean Feldman, I found the following quote. “Good books are like good friends you want to visit again and again.” I have witnessed this close and personal encounter with a good book both as a teacher and a grandmother.

I've whittled my stash of really good books left from my days of teaching to several boxes now. However, there are a few titles I just cannot part with when I think of the beautiful and cozy moments I've spent sharing them with beautiful children in my life. While searching for a seasonal book for my grandchildren recently, I spotted one of their favorites for sleepover nights. Mouse Soup, by Arnold Lobel, copyrighted in 1977, holds more than a few stories for sleepy eyes and the promise of nodding heads at the end of the day.

A little mouse, reading a good book is caught by a weasel and put into a cooking pot to make “mouse soup.” The frightened mouse, realizing he is about to be mouse soup comes up with a plan. “WAIT!” said the mouse. This soup will not taste good. It has no stories in it. Mouse soup must be mixed with stories to make it taste really good.” The mouse then tells four stories to the weasel in hopes of saving himself from his pending fate.

In the first story a nest of bees lands on a mouse's head. Trying to save himself from this unseemly situation, he steps into the mud up to his waist and then his chin. He continues to invite the bees into his front door, his living room and then his bedroom, but alas the bees do not want to follow him to these places and they fly away.

The second story finds the mouse having conversation with two large stones who had been sitting on one side of the hill while learning there were beautiful things to be had on the other side and yet saddened to have never been able to move to the other side.

The third story begins as the mouse speaks to a cricket, insisting the noise cease outside his window so he can get some sleep. A misunderstanding develops as the cricket summons other crickets to play their music and the mouse in frustration tells the now growing group of crickets to “Go Away!” They do.

And finally, we arrive at the fourth and final story of The Thorn Bush. An old lady mouse is crying to a policeman mouse about the thorn bush growing in her living room chair. “One day I sat down and something hurt me. I got up. There was the thorn bush.” The policeman mouse assures the old lady he can remove the thorn bush so she can sit down again. “I do not want to sit down I have been sitting down all my life. I love my thorn bush.”

When the two of them decide to water the thorn bush and it miraculously grows into a bouquet of roses, the final story finds a happy ending, as the policeman leaves with a kiss on the cheek and a portion of the bouquet in hand.

There is an ambivalence with which most of us enter into relationship. Sometimes we have invited people into our lives and they have answered like the bees. “We do not want to be that familiar and we choose to fly away.” Sometimes we push others away and refuse the opportunity for relationship out of our fear of commitment and vulnerability. Like the mouse speaking to the cricket, we send others away, not desiring to deal with the noise in their lives. Others we are introduced to are like the two hardened rocks becoming familiar with their ways and choosing to remain untouched by the beauty God has placed within relationship.

What a life lesson Mr. Lobel has placed within the fourth and final story! When the old woman mouse and the policeman mouse decided to pour water on the thing the woman had grown to love, they were both rewarded with a beautiful bouquet in place of thorns and a newly established relationship, marked by giving and receiving.

The book ends as the captive mouse urges the weasel to put some part of each of the four stories into the Mouse Soup. While the weasel is retrieving the nest of bees, mud, large stones, ten crickets and a thorn bush, the mouse makes his escape. Home safe and sound, the mouse lights a fire and settles back into reading his book. What a picture of the comfort of the familiar, the home we all want to find in others' hearts.

Relationships, like books, are more than a quick look at the cover. Like the stops and starts of a kindergarten student learning to decipher words on a page, we are asked to take the time to carefully turn the pages, looking for clues for how the story is unfolding.

Our lives are like stories. Sometimes the plot thickens, like a good soup, as the necessary ingredients of openness, honesty, forgiveness and sharing invite us to change and adapt to those around us.

I'm reminded of another classic folktale, Stone Soup, in which hungry strangers persuaded local people of a town to give them food to make something that sounded quite undesirable. The hungry travelers came to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. The villagers, who were experiencing scarcity themselves, were unwilling to share any of their food stores with them. So the travelers went to the stream and filled the pot with water and dropped a large stone inside, placing it over a fire. One by one, the villagers become curious and agree to drop their own bit of garnish into the pot to improve the flavor of what sounded to be a very unappetizing dish. As one after the other inquires about the dish and adds his or her own seasoning to the pot, the dish reaches its full potential until a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

In many ways, we are like these villagers, shrinking back as unwilling participants in relationship, perhaps even viewing others as hungry strangers about to remove something rather than seeing the flavor and potential they may add to our lives. Like the mouse in the story, who feared his commitment to “be mouse soup,” relationship requires that we not walk away or send away those who threaten to bring noise into our lives.

When presented the opportunity for relationship, it would serve us best to remember not to judge the book by the cover. As I observed with my students and grandchildren, some books grow more personal with a second and third reading. Fear of relationship can be overcome by sharing our stories. Our own willingness to share can invite others to so the same, creating a potential for something beautiful to be added to our lives.

Like the messages of these completely different stories, our life stories can come together as a perfect blending of just the right ingredients to point us to the gift of relationship.

What could be more comforting than a warm bowl of soup on a cold day? What could bring a child to a place of rest more than a familiar book read in a familiar voice?

What could bring more flavor to your recipe for relationship?


Homemade Cream of Broccoli Soup ….from the kitchen of my sister, Patty Hipp

Before I went away to college in 1970, my family had never really eaten broccoli. My father's garden had never included this vegetable nor any of my mother's recipes. My first time enjoying this vegetable was at Appalachian State University cafeteria. I'm happy to say, my father now grows broccoli. My sister and niece are really big fans!

2 cans of cream of mushroom soup

1 can evaporated milk

1 can of water

1 (10 oz) pkg. Frozen chopped broccoli

Salt and pepper to taste

1 stick of butter

You may change this by adding grated cheddar cheese or opting for a lower fat soup with low fat milk and cheese, skim evaporated milk and choice of fat content.

I would absolutely love to share your stories and soup recipes with others. Email me at

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