Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Good Old Summertime

Picnic in the Park

Flying in the Backyard

Sidewalk Chalk


More Girlfriends
Close your eyes and think back to summer when you were a child. What images, smells, and feelings come to mind? Growing up in Arizona, I think first of all--HOT. The heat, the stifling heat that silenced the world. Even the birds were quiet. But we kids did not mind the heat. I think of the scorching sidewalk that burned our feet, and the shade of the trees in the front yard that provided a refuge from the burning sun. We corraled grasshoppers by making a fence with our legs and pretended they were pets. I don't know what kind of docile critters those were because our grasshoppers here would jump away from such childish nonsense. I remember flip-flops (we called them thongs) that were studded with huge thorns after we came in from the yard. I think of icy red kool-aid and the sound of our cooler pumping damp, cold air into our house and the smooth, cool linoleum floors where my sister and I played. I loved summer. I wish I could slow down and love it again. I am trying to fill the girls' days with activities and friends, but somehow it just makes life crazy. Maybe I need to just do what my mom did--nothing, except give us freedom to explore and time to daydream. We amused ourselves and had loads of fun.

Monday, July 20, 2009

North vs. South

Where do your sentiments lie? Are you a Northerner or a Southerner? Are you citified or countrified? Maybe the test is in how you like your green beans. Actually, maybe the deciding factor is whether you call them green beans or string beans.

Our garden is bountiful this year! Lots of rain has made the vegetation lush and our little piece of the earth is producing way more than we can eat. Come on over! We're happy to share!
So anyway, we have lots of green beans. That's what we call them in Pennsylvania. I'm always looking for recipes to use them to tempt Fred to eat more than he does. The girls and I need no coaxing. Here is my favorite recipe:

Take stems off beans. Rinse off the dirt. (No pesticides to worry about.) Steam in water about 9 minutes. Add a little butter. Fantastic! Sometimes we sprinkle on a little Parmesan cheese and maybe serve it with hot rice.

Last year I came across a southern, country-style recipe and we all liked it. My friend also said she prepares them in a similar way: Fry up a pound of bacon til crisp. When cool, crumble the bacon. Take 1/4 cup of the bacon fat and put in a pot. Stir in a mess of beans, cleaned and prepared. Add 2 cups of chicken broth and some garlic salt and pepper. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes. Then add some quartered red potatoes and a chopped onion. Cook another 30 minutes. Then stir in the bacon. Now the original recipe calls for adding in a stick of butter at this point. What?! There is plenty of grease already in this dish. So I leave that out. This is mighty good anyway. So I'm a northern girl with southern roots, but I lean toward less cooking of my vegetables and using less fat.

My two daughters have their own favorite way with beans. They walk through the rows of bean plants, barefoot preferably, snapping off a slender pod and popping it into their mouths. The only cooking done is by the warmth of the summer sun.
How do you like your beans?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wedding weekend, Part 4

Here are the final reflections on our family wedding. We arrived at the empty reception hall and set about preparing it to receive the guests. We set out the cake, cleared the banquet table, lit the candles, spread fresh pink rose petals on the other tables, and dimmed the lights. The place looked festive! People started arriving and then Helen came with the food. What a worker she is! In no time at all, thanks to her expertise, the food was ready to serve. I enjoyed serving the delicious food to the guests. I got to see the people close up and interact with each one a little.

The rest of the evening flew by. Helen and I had a quick meal together, but otherwise I didn't seem to have a chance to talk with anyone, even my husband. Fred and Helen loaded the car and returned all the equipment.

The one highlight of the rest of the evening was dancing with my son. He chose a Marc Cohn song, "The Things We've Handed Down".

Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man
Will some things skip a generation
Like I've heard they often can...

It's hard to let go of the baby of the family. Jon was the youngest of the boys. He always resented that we babied him and had trouble accepting the fact that he was a grown-up. But he surely is. He is mature and responsible and works hard to take care of his family. As we dance I remember other songs and other occasions when I danced with Jon. When he was a newborn baby, right before Christmas, I think of swaying with him in my arms, singing John Denver's "A Baby Just Like You". But I changed the words to sing, "Merry Christmas, little Jonathan, Merry Christmas everyone..." Then years later, influenced by our country-western days on the plains of Oklahoma, I would gather my little boy in my arms and dance through the house singing along with Alabama's "Mountain Music." Jon would squeal with laughter and I would be out-of-breath with our lively dance moves. By the time our dance tonight ends, I am in tears.

It's a Marc Cohn night. Jon and Chrissy dance to "True Companion." They look so tender together, so in love, as the music plays.

"I've got my heart set on our wedding day
I've got this vision of a girl in white
Made my decision that it's you all right..."

Then later, the only time the dance floor is filled is when "Silver Thunderbird" is played. All eight of our kids together. I snap pictures of them all.

Finally, it's over. My feet hurt. We're all exhausted. It's a long drive home on dark and windy roads because we get lost. Rain had threatened all day and now we see lightening bolts pierce the black sky. At the moment we walk through the door of our house, the rain comes down hard.

Wedding weekend, Part 3

Lana Bella

Nick and Kelsey

Mattie, Liana, and Lana

Arielle and Mattie

Damien, Gretchen, and Liana

Stacia and Dominic

Marissa and Paul

Anthony and Kim

Lana and Jonathan

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wedding weekend, Part 2

What is it about a wedding that draws out our emotions? Our family wedding was probably nothing special in the eyes of an outsider. Just another family going through the motions that our culture has adopted. But for us, it was a tender time of reflection. We had tears, we had laughter, we had reflection on the past along with regrets, we had gratitude for the present and great hope for the future.

The night before there was no rehearsal dinner and all that business. This was a simple wedding. Jon and Chrissy had their own tasks to take care of and they had to meet with the pastor one last time to finalize the ceremony. Then the hall had to be decorated. By the time we got there to do it, it was 9:00! How hard could it be, I thought. Chrissy had several boxes of things to hang and put out on the tables. Arielle, Stacia and I started to work on the tables. Jon got a ladder and began hanging streamers. It proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Then there were paper lanterns to attach to the ceiling and Jon had to move the big ladder to a new spot for each one. We finished up about midnight, all of us exhausted.

On Saturday morning, a few hours before the ceremony, our house was a happenin' place! My son Dominic and his fiancee were house guests, coming from out-of-state for the wedding. They always bring a special joy on their arrival anyway. No special occasion is necessary for that. But this day our house became the hair and nail salon and preparation place for the bride to get ready to meet her groom.

Nail polish remover and nail polish fumes filled the air. Our kitchen counter was loaded with bobby pins, combs, brushes, artificial flowers and hair spray. Snacks and meals were hastily microwaved. We all cleaned ourselves up and made up and waited...for the bride. She was supposed to be getting her make-up done at a store in the mall. Where was she? We were all busy getting ready, but I was starting to worry. Finally I called the store and asked if she was still there. No one ever heard of her! What??? I was still on the phone when Chrissy arrived.

Marissa hastily got her seated and began work on her hair. We only had about an hour until the ceremony! The rest of us made our final preparations and we got Lana, the flower girl, ready. I was nervously watching the clock. Chrissy still had to get dressed! We rushed her into Arielle's bedroom so she could get into her dress. Marissa attached the veil to her beautiful hair. We ran out the door, the bride climbing into our minivan. I see the comedy in it now, but did not at the moment. The rings! The shoes! Did we have everything?

We dropped Chrissy and Lana off at a side door and went inside the church. All eyes turned around to us. We were late. Damien in his blue shirt greeted us. My handsome son was perfect in his role. Gretchen looked so elegant and professional, ready to take pictures. Dominic looked like a real videographer. We were going to pull this off!

Little Lana came in wearing a lovely wreath of red roses in her blonde hair. Usually so shy, she tossed her petals and smiled at all the people. Then Chrissy came down the aisle with her dad. Her big moment! All of us married women immediately think back on our own weddings, when we took this trip down the aisle. Chrissy was stunning in her strapless gown. Jon waited for her, his blue eyes glowing, his face serious and determined. My son who has been through so much. I was touched hearing his vows. He is such an honest, sincere man. He means every word.

The ceremony is over and we all go outside. All eyes are on the new married couple. Lana has already removed her rose wreath and she is dancing around. Bubbles fill the air, cameras flash from the crowd. Now to more practical matters. The food. Helen leaves to pick it up. I request our family photo be taken first so we can leave to set up. Off to the reception.

More later...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wedding weekend, Part 1

My son Jonathan got married! My youngest son, my baby boy. It's hard to believe, but I was there and saw it with my own eyes.

It was a family wedding, a low-budget affair, but I'm convinced this kind can be just as meaningful as a lavish event. Since money was an issue, family members volunteered their special talents and time. I am amazed by our gifted family! Dominic videotapes interviews for his job, so he offered his services as the videographer for the wedding. Gretchen, my son Damien's girlfriend, is an amateur photographer, but she is very talented, and she has professional equipment. So she took the official pictures. Arielle took over my camera and also took pictures all night. Marissa is a hair stylist and she offered to do our hair. She worked for hours on us, after working at her real job all morning. A friend from work, his brother a DJ with all the needed tools, offered to play the music and make all the announcements. His payment--a game system that Jon promised him.

I had originally offered to prepare food for the reception. I was thinking of how Fred and I cook at church every Tuesday night for Alpha. We know how to cook for a crowd. But we also have access to a professional kitchen and large size bowls and pans. And a refrigerator and warmer. What was I thinking? Maybe I could pull it off if I didn't also need to attend the wedding! So I was thinking it through and realized it was nearly impossible to do. Panicking, I thought of my friend Helen. She is a professional in the food service business. Maybe she could tell me how to logistically pull this off.

When I explained my dilemma, Helen immediately said, "I'll do it." No hesitation, she just offered her expertise and experience and equipment. Then I told her our ability to pay. It wasn't much. Fred and I didn't have much to contribute. My son Dominic had matched our donation, so we had double it, but still, it wasn't much. Helen acted like money was not an issue.

A scripture comes to mind here: "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Proverbs 18:24. I think I can paraphrase without compromising God's word. "There is a friend who sticks closer than a sister." I am certainly not judging my own sister who lives out-of-state. But God has given us good friends who become family. What a blessing that is! Helen has always been like family. She is at every family event of ours, as we are with her and her children. Our girls have grown up together. She is one I know I can call upon for anything. What a feeling of security that is. But I never intended for Helen to actually prepare and serve all the food! At the time I asked her, I just needed advice.

So Helen arranged preparation of the food, picked it up, set it up, served it, cleaned it up, and took all the supplies back to her kitchen. It was a monumental task. Her response to all this, "It's what families do." Helen, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for being part of our family.

Other people contributed greatly in making this a wonderful event. Kim, Fred's son Anthony's wife, and Gretchen helped Chrissy with her dress buying and Kim even returned with her when she had to be fitted for the alteration. Kim and Kristina, my son Nick's girlfriend, provided food for the wedding shower we gave so we could meet Chrissy's extended family. Stacia, my son Dominic's fiancee, went over to the hall with Arielle and me the night before to help decorate. It was a tedious long affair, but she provided advice and worked tirelessly. Dominic stayed after the reception to clean-up. Fred provided limo service for the bride and flower girl. He also let Jon borrow his GPS so Jon and Chrissy could find their way to their two-day honeymoon at the beach.

Damien was an usher. He dressed the part too. Very stylish in his beautiful blue shirt. He lent an air of sophistication to the ceremony at the tiny country church. My oldest son, Nick, was the life of the party. Always the dancer, he taught the kids the typical wedding dances. Lana, Liana, and Mattie, Kristina's daughter, provided the "cute" factor. They danced the night away. I kept looking at Liana on the dance floor thinking, who is this child? I never knew she would enjoy herself so much. As my mother says, "She was a dancin' fool."

Chrissy's dad provided the reception hall and we are all grateful to him. He came up to me at the end of the evening and thanked me for the food. Helen had already gone, so I wish he could have told her directly. I thanked him for his contribution. He said, "We all do what we can do." And everyone did. It was a beautiful, simple wedding. That's all it needed to be.

More details on the wedding to come.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Francesca the firefly

Lana is staying with us for two days. She loves coming here, not because she has a wonderful grandmother, but because of Arielle and Liana. Arielle watches over her and nurtures and comforts her, and Liana is her playmate.

I had the best grandmother in the world. She had no children to entertain me, but her home was a safe haven of peace in my turbulent childhood. And she loved me. It's a simple as that. That was all I really needed from her. In the big picture of a lifetime, my moments with her were brief, but my memories are precious. I've many times tried to conjure up all the images and feelings I remember before the years blur and fade them away.

I want Lana to remember me, Fred, Arielle and Liana this way. We see Lana way more often than I saw my grandmother, so Lana's life will be full of events and activities with us. What special moments will she collect to think back on when she's an old woman? I hope she will know she was loved.

When Lana first arrived yesterday, she and Liana played Polly Pockets for hours. The two of them are inseparable and it's hard to get them involved in anything besides their imaginative play. But late in the afternoon Fred suggested a walk in a park not far from here and everyone was agreeable. The girls were all very tired from the wedding the night before (more on that later) but they enjoyed deer watching. I'm sure Lana will always remember her Aunt Arielle carrying her piggyback when she was so weary she couldn't take another step.

After dinner and ice cream on the deck, the girls got jars for collecting fireflies. Even though it wasn't very dark, the girls easily caught several. Liana named her firefly Francesca and she searched the yard for a tidbit of flower and leaf that Francesca might enjoy. Lana was sidetracked by a robin eggshell she found in the yard and wanted me to preserve it for her to take home. When it was time to come inside for baths, the girls opened their jars and the fireflies gracefully ascended into the sky. These childhood moments are captured for such a short time. We can't hold on to them. Night inevitably falls and we release them, gone forever except in our memories. Good-bye, Francesa and all your friends.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A blessing

I wrote before about a teacher I had at church years ago. (Search blog: A living example). I greatly admired this woman because, simply, she lives her faith. Eventually she moved to a mission field in an Arab country where she has been for several years. She is home this summer teaching a 4-week class on spiritual warfare. I really didn't want to add something else to my schedule but I knew I would learn a lot from this wise woman.

Last week we spent two hours in the scriptures with L. supplementing our study with stories from her own experience. She teaches women in her country on the other side of the world, an intriguing and kind of frightening place (to me).

During a break, L. came over to my table and asked me if I remembered some character studies we had used in a previous class. Years ago I had written a series of studies on people from the Bible. They were in-depth analysis of the character's lives and how their life lessons apply to ours. I had forgotten all about them. These studies were used in the context of a curriculum called the Wise Women series that another woman at church was writing. L. told me she uses the character studies with the women she is teaching now. She said the women love them. What a blessing this was to me! To think that work I did so long ago was ministering to other women so far away. I think back on that time of serious Bible research and hours and hours of writing every week. It combined two of my loves, Bible study and writing. During that time this blog came about and my early posts reflects some of the lessons I learned then.

I am glad I went to the class. I knew I would get good teaching, but I also unexpectantly got a blessing. The week after L. had the class look at the book of Nehemiah as another lesson on spiritual warfare. On a personal level, I see it as a caution and an encouragement in homeschooling as we gear up for a new year. I decided to do a deeper study of this book and will probably write about it on my homeschooling blog. www.livingstoneshomeschool.blogspot.com

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

List for today

My son Jonathan is getting married Saturday. It has been a busy week preparing for the big event. One of my other sons, along with his fiancee, are coming Friday night to stay with us, so there is house cleaning and meals to think about. Liana is taking several science classes at the library, so we need to go there every day, plus there is the usual: prescriptions to pick up, family birthdays, laundry, cooking, the garden, the endless daily chores. So this morning during my quiet time, I was making a list of tasks to accomplish over the next few days. Then I read Ephesians 4. Here I found God's list. And it's not just a list for today, but for everyday:

Speak the truth
Don't let the sun go down on your anger
Do honest work with your hands
Share with others in need
Build up others and give grace with your words
Don't grieve the Holy Spirit
Get rid of all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice
Be kind to one another
Be tenderhearted
Forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you

It's a tall order. Maybe I can check off one today?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Glorious 4th, Part 2

"The earth has yielded its produce. God our God blesses us." Psalm 67:6.

Knee-high by the 4th of July? Our corn is doing a little better than that! Over the weekend we had quite a harvest of vegetables. Green beans and beets, cucumbers and romaine lettuce. The corn is just beginning to tassle. The rainy month of June was good for this garden. In the middle of all this lush greenery, my little cactus, quite the outsider in the Northeast, makes a bright showing this year.

The girls are relaxing in front of the TV after their 10-mile bike ride and I write this by hand on the deck so I can be outside with Fred while he's grilling. He pours us both a glass of blackberry wine and we are at peace at the close of this beautiful weekend. The birds are making a racket behind our hedges at the edge of the woods. A female jay watches me pour some sunflower seeds in the feeder and she waits for us to leave so she can enjoy them. The baby groundhog quadruplets are foraging in the grass. The sun drops early behind the trees making it seems later than it is. We love our little secluded refuge just beyond the bustle of the town.

Glorious 4th

Once more we celebrate the 4th of July.

The day was sunny, breezy, and cool! So unusual for this time of year. We decided to ride bikes on one of the many trails that follow the creeks and rivers in our area. We've waited for this day for a long time, a day when the girls became competent bike riders and won't endanger themselves or others while they are riding. The first part of the trail took us through a park filled with memories. In my mind I see my little boys and me making crafts on that table there and shooting arrows at targets near that grove of trees. We attended a Cub Scout day camp here many years ago. Who would have guessed then that my daughter would celebrate her Happy Adoption Day party here so far into the future. Arielle has an excellent memory and said to me as we rode by, "I was here with Jon!" That was what she remembered of that day, being here with her big brother who carried her in his arms to see some African dancers who were performing.

We cross the park, the path slicing through fields of tall orange and yellow wildflowers. Lots of people are here today but they are quiet and we hear little conversation. The only sounds are the birds and the whirring of bicycles as they zip by us. Occasionally small animals make crackly noises as they rustle in the brush. The waterway comes in and out of view. I'm having trouble keeping on the path because I am overwhelmed with the beauty of the scenery and I want to see it all. I almost fall off my bike when a tiny bright goldfinch flies right in front of me. We ride through a goose crossing and stop for a picture.

It's a strange feeling to be following a river instead of a road. We know approximately where we are but we try to reconcile these sights with the maps in our heads. We see glimpses of the river between the trees of the thick woods and I was amazed to see the confluence of our small creek with the much larger river.
My hot pink boardwalk cruiser serves me well. I've written before about this bike so perfect it's like it was built just for me. No handbreaks, no speeds, it's big and wide and sturdy and its flashy pink color certainly stands out in a crowd. Some wise guy on the trail smirked, "Nice bike" as he rode by. But I don't care. I feel like I could ride forever on my bike and never get tired.

This was so much fun we decide to do it all again the next day! This time we ride about ten miles into a national park. We had to travel through hot sun parallel to the highway for a short piece but it was well worth it when we entered the shady forest, cool and dark, where the trees interlace their branches across the path making a canopy for us to pass under. The girls ride well and I am delighted we've found the perfect family outing.

In the evening of the 4th, a good friend and her daughters come over for dinner and later we go the the local park to see the fireworks. It seems the whole town is there, blankets spread out across the grassy fields. My friend bought the girls glow sticks that they make into necklaces and halos while we wait for darkness to descend. Before it comes, God provides a spectacular sunset, orange and blue stripes that melt to fiery red. No man-made sky show can top that. I forgot to bring my camera!

A band plays music from the 70's, the musicians in pastel suits with their synchronized moves bring back memories. My friend and I are tempted to get up and do a little disco but the girls were horrified enough that we would even sing along with the music, much less dance. The band concludes with the Star-Spangled Banner and we all rise and sing out into the night.

The fireworks are the same as always, colorful bursts of fire that built to a finale that lights up the heavens. But the sameness is what makes this night special. Once more, we are together with friends. Once more my neck hurts from looking up and once more a small daughter is nestled in my lap. Once more we walk back down the dark path to find our cars with hundreds of our neighbors right alongside of us, parents holding tight to little hands. I'm thankful for all the "once mores." I'm thankful for this glorious weekend.