Holy Week Happenings ( and cute kids pics!)

Even though I think it may be my favorite week of the year, I still don’t think I’ve recovered from all that has happened in the last week and a half!  I am totally exhausted tonight.  Regardless, it was a very special week as usual.  I especially enjoy the Messianic Passover Seder and wanted to make it extra special with real table settings.  Kate, a sweet friend and senior in high school, came early last Wednesday to help prepare the Seder plates.
(Thanks, Lois, for this fun photo of Kate and me!)
 Robert and I even spent time the Monday before hunting down real wine glasses.  I loved how they made the tables look. (No real wine though, in case there are those for whom alcohol is a struggle.)
 There was such a wonderful turnout for the event ~ about 80 folks!  Everyone brought a traditional Passover dish of some sort, and it was quite a feast.

 And if things weren’t delightful enough, there was one ADORABLE baby boy to pass around.  Kory loves getting to hold little Owen, and even I got some baby time under the guise of allowing his parents to eat their meal with both hands.  What a cutie ~ and it appears that he enjoyed a mainly-matzoh meal that night!
 On Good Friday, our church has done what we call The Crosswalk ever since its start 12 years ago.  This is a picture from last year, since I forgot my camera this year, but each year we walk the cross through town, stopping at various locations to read the biblical account of the crucifixion.  It is always quite an experience, and only a very small way of identifying with what Jesus went through on Good Friday.  It takes about an hour, and then we gather back at the church to talk about what it was like.  The observations that each person made during the time of debriefing only extended the time of worship that it had already been, and it was such meaningful preparation for the Tenebrae Service that occurred later that evening.
Easter Sunday morning brought an amazing brunch in lieu of the early service, and then a joint worship service at 11am.  And of course I am biased, but the sermon, the music, the worshipful atmosphere, and the spirit of fellowship were just so amazing.
 Afterward, we headed home to change clothes and head to the McCullah’s house for a very non-traditional Easter dinner of FONDUE!  I have never participated in a full course fondue experience, and this one did not disappoint!  So delicious.
But before the change of clothes…the annual Easter photo shoot…

Aren’t they cute?  (and getting WAY too big!?!)

Beiber, errr….Cooper Turns 14!

This was the fondue version of his birthday on Easter Sunday ~ thanks McCullahs!
 Two weeks ago I had the joy and privilege of speaking at a youth girls retreat.  When I was introduced, Abby, the director, asked the girls if they knew who I was.  Robert has typically been the camp pastor at a summer youth camp that the girls attend, so they would only know me as his wife.  One of the sweet middle school girls immediately spoke up, “I know!  I know!  She’s Justin Beiber’s mom!”  Cooper was followed around and admired for his Beiberish characteristics last summer at youth camp. So, there you have it.  My fame has officially switched from being the pastor’s wife to being Justin Beiber’s mom.  Not a bad deal, I guess.
 We celebrated Justin Cooper’s 14th birthday on Monday.  I can’t remember it ever being that close to Easter, but this year it was the very next day.  All that was requested was lunch at his favorite Chinese restaurant, and a shopping trip for a wardrobe update, as well as the green stuff required for that sort of thing.  Oh ~ and an ice cream cake!
We said good morning with a breakfast of egg sandwiches, and then sent him on a little scavenger hunt around the house.  In every location he discovered another birthday card that included money for his trip to the mall.  This money coupled with birthday money from grandparents plus a bit he already had gave him precisely $211.00.  After lunch at Amherst Chinese, Robert drove him to the “big” mall (as opposed to the “dead” mall nearby) so he could begin his shopping adventure.  There were Chicago Bulls flat brimmed baseball caps, Addidas flip flops, basketball shorts, and hip new t-shirts purchased, as well as button downs and back packs.  He spent every dime and came away feeling like a new man.  Kayla went along with them, and they called from Starbucks where they were resting before heading back home.
“Are you guys finished shopping yet?” I asked.
“We’re sitting at Starbucks looking at all that Cooper purchased, and then we’re headed home,” Robert reported.
“Did Cooper offer to buy your coffee today out of all his wealth?” I inquired.
“Uh….no.” Robert replied.
I was fairly certain of the answer, but hey…acquiring “the look” requires quite a bit of cash.  None left over for non-essentials like Starbucks. (That becomes an essential at  30 or 40, I guess.)
 Cooper also received a very special gift all the way from Oklahoma ~ a handmade electric guitar. It was made by Mark Wendel ~ a friend of ours from back in our Stillwater, Oklahoma days. Cooper was so impressed with this amazing gift and work of art, perfectly timed with his birthday AND his recent return to guitar lessons.  His first guitar teacher stopped taking students last year due to getting a Master’s degree, getting married, and becoming a father.  We’ve FINALLY found another teacher for Coop and he’s very happy about that!
If Cooper could only play guitar and basketball all day, every day, he would be thrilled.  Unfortunately, things like math, literature, and Latin have to be tended to first.  We did give him a break from all of that on Monday, though, and so when he wasn’t shopping or eating out or indulging in drinks-on-dad at Starbucks, he was shooting baskets in the new hoop that Kory gave him.  This was a welcomed upgrade from the Nerf hoop and ball he’s been using for the last year or so!
Happy Birthday, Beiber Boy!  We love you and are so blessed to have you as our very own, unique, awesome kid!

The Crux of the Cross

Isn’t that an interesting phrase ~ the crux of the cross?  It almost seems redundant, crux being the Latin word for cross, stake, or scaffold used in executions. The word is used today to refer to the essence or central issue of something, and it was used similarly in ancient times.  We also use a form of it when we describe pain or painful situations as excruciating, or events and actions as crucial. I wonder if these forms of the word were used before the Cross of Christ.  There were many crucifixions before His, but His was indeed central ~ the gist of… well, everything.
Several weeks ago, I was browsing through the library and bookstore of the church where Kayla takes piano lessons.  Her teacher keeps his own grand piano there on the platform in the sanctuary, and gives lessons in the afternoons.  Mr. Broyles and his gentle expertise is a highlight of Kayla’s week ~ maybe THE highlight.  On this particular week, though, her lesson had to be on a smaller piano in the library and bookstore, because of some maintenance work being done in the sanctuary.  This is why I had the opportunity to browse, as this room is typically locked.
On the spine of one of the books, I was surprised to find the name of her piano teacher ~ Stephen Broyles.  Pulling it down from the top shelf, I gleaned that it was a book he’d written on loss and sorrow following the early death of his wife after a difficult battle with cancer.  I learned that Mr. Broyles has a Bachelor of Music Degree, which is quite a bonus in a piano teacher, but I also discovered that he has a Master’s of Theology, which, in my opinion, could be a good or bad thing in this sometimes spiritually wacky place that I live.  Sensing that, in this case, it might be a very good thing, I told Stephen that I had no idea he had written a book, or lost a wife, or anything else about him really, and then, after Kayla’s lesson was finished, marched off to the church office to purchase the book.
It was a Wednesday, and I was feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and tired by life.  I made the decision to cook food for the mid-week potluck and Bible study at church, but to come home after dropping those things off and get a bit of downtime in the seldom silence that occurs at my house.  After pouring a cup of tea, I climbed into bed and started reading.  Some would say I am a glutton for punishment and melancholy, and maybe that is the case, but I actually prefer to read books about real life, real faith, and real trial. No Your Best Life Now here, but rather a tattered copy of Larry Crabb’s Shattered Dreams.  I’ve learned enough about life in a fallen world by now to know that it is a battle, and I’d rather hear the raw truth, while being exhorted by example to continue the walk of faith.
I read more than half of Stephen’s book, The Wind That Destroys and Heals that night, putting it down only because I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.  The next day life began pressing in again, and the book sat on my nightstand for a week or two, but I was sure to pack it in my bag for our trip to Pennsylvania.  I read the remainder of it along highway 84, the tears silently falling as I experienced Stephen’s loss, yet His deepening understanding of the God of Sorrow and Joy.
I read many of the final pages of the book to Robert, who was driving.  I got choked up several times as I read the sentences aloud ~ each so beautifully profound.  The following excerpt, I could hardly get through at all, and it is now circled boldly on page 72 of my book…

Here is the crux of the cross:  Jesus trusted God even when God was silent and unseen.  He hurled his sorrow and lament up to heaven and ended with the words, “Your will, not mine.”  Then he rose and walked boldly to his execution and descended to the void.  God did not take the cup away, and Jesus submitted to unspeakable terrors and death.


Precisely because God did nothing and Jesus placed his faith in him, the faith of Jesus summons forth our own faith in times of descent.


The question for us is not, Can we follow Christ like that?  It is, Can we follow a Christ like him?  It is unlikely that we will ever trust with the power and intensity of Jesus’ trust.  It is enough that we pattern our faith on the faith of Jesus and in doing so become a part of the Very Story.

The Cross.  It IS the central issue.  It is a sacrifice beyond our comprehension, and yet Jesus asks us to receive and then live the sacrifice ~ to take up our cross and follow, and that this is where abundant and eternal life are found, even when God does not take the cup of sorrow away ~ or the cup of hard work ~ or handicap ~ or responsibility ~ or selfish longings.  Stephen acknowledges that comparing our own sacrifices and sorrows to Christ’s may seem audacious, but that in His humility and grace, Christ allows us to identify and pattern our stories after His. “To follow him is to trace the outline of our obedience against his obedience ~ and that outline descends to a cross.” (p. 72)
“Every act of obedience is an act of worship,” is my favorite quote from my favorite book, Stepping Heavenward.  I think it is a similar perspective.  I set my face like flint to shop for groceries, to cook yet another meal, to tackle the laundry, to minister to another hurting person.  For the joy set before me, I homeschool another year, open my home in hospitality, drive to and cheer at another baseball game, listen patiently to a child’s list of concerns…again.  When the temptation comes to check out of life, to quit, to take the path of least resistance, I say “Get thee behind me,” and then I go and read gloomy books about sorrow in my bed. When I don’t get what a really want I say, “Alright. Okay. Your will be done.” 
Yes, oftentimes begrudgingly, but because of grace, faithfully.
“The God who forsook Jesus on the cross is the very One who raised him from the dead and left for us that Sunday morning an empty tomb speaking hope in the eternal future of God.”  
(p.72)
Audaciously, I compare my suffering to those of Christ’s. Brazenly, I expect to be raised from what I selfishly consider sorrows. But He went to the cross so that I could, and so that He could be with me all throughout.
So thankful for this grace at Eastertime.  So thankful for non-wacky theologians and piano teachers all wrapped into one! So thankful for the Cross.
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  
1Corinthians 1:18

Christi crux est mea lux
The cross of Christ is my light. 
P.S  You REALLY should read the rest of the book yourself.  I can guarantee a blessing in doing so!

Confession: It’s What’s For Breakfast

I wrote about her last year, but I think of her every year at Eastertime.  We also happen to be studying the book of Luke this year at church ~ both in the sermons on Sunday, and in our mid-week small groups.  That’s where you find her story.  The story of the sinful woman.  The one who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, tears, and her hair.  The one whom Jesus said loved much because she had been forgiven much.
There’s a Pharisee in the story, too, and it’s his house where all of this takes place.  He did NOT anoint Jesus’ feet.  He didn’t even give Jesus water for His feet or oil for His head.  And he disdained the woman.  He even disdained Jesus for allowing this sinful woman to be near Him ~ questioned His “prophet” status.
“So, which one do you identify with most?” we asked ourselves in our small group meeting.  “Simon, the Pharisee,” was the unanimous answer, but obviously not the desired identification for a group of Christ followers.
“Then how do we cultivate a heart like the woman’s?” Robert asked.  
Silence.
“Confession,” I said.  
And not because I faithfully engage in that spiritual discipline, but because I’ve learned from years of desiring to be like the woman, that achieving her level of humility and gratitude requires it.  Whenever I do practice confession, this perfectionistic-good-girl-who-requires-less-forgiveness-than-those-big-sinners receives a gentle awakening of her equal need for grace and a deepening of gratitude for the cross. 
We try to do a few special things with our kids during Holy Week.  Usually that involves our Redemption Timeline, a Passover Seder, and a few other things.  Last year we fasted from sweets during Holy Week, and fasted from food for all of Good Friday afternoon ~ 11am to 6pm.  This is not a huge denial of self, I know, but we just wanted the kids to take a baby step toward being mindful of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life. We also watched The Passion of the Christ with them for the first time.  (Kayla and a friend watched the kid’s Jesus Film instead!)
This year we hung the timeline, worked through it a bit, and added a few other remembrances.  We all sat down and read/listened to The History of Redemption ~ a WONDERFUL book and special gift from a special group Amherst College students from church.  
And this morning we had a time of confession.
After breakfast we read 1 John 1:9 and the story of the Pharisee and the woman.  We talked about how no one is really forgiven “much” or “little”, but that it’s those who are aware of their need ~ like the woman ~ who have a great love for Jesus and desire to worship Him.
Then, all children (there were a few extras here today!) and grownups spread all over the house and for 15 minutes engaged in private confession.  Robert encouraged them to not “go digging around” for all of the “bad” things they had ever done, but rather to ask the Lord to reveal the things in their life that need to be confessed.
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!  How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.
 I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD” ; and You forgave the guilt of my sin…
…Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy all you who are upright in heart.

Psalm 32: 1-5
Everyone reported back that it was a good experience, and I prayed for myself, for Robert, and for our kiddos, that over our sin we would continually experience the “sorrow that is according to the will of God” which leads not to death and discouragement like worldly sorrow, but to “repentance without regret….salvation.” (2Cor. 7:10)
And to loving Him much.

Foolishness Free Friday ~ Recipe for Wisdom

A little tweaking of the usual Friday recipe, because today and tomorrow I have the privilege of sharing some truths on biblical wisdom to a bunch of young ladies from Worcester who desire to pursue just that!
The theme for the weekend?
  Girls Gone Wise
 Inspired by Mary Kassian’s recent book ~ which I highly recommend.  
Some things we’ll be talking about…
What is a girl?  Why are they special to God?
When did we become foolish?  
As women, how is foolishness played out in our lives?
What is wisdom?
Why would we want to pursue wisdom?
What are the obstacles to wisdom?
What is the only path to true wisdom?
How can we apply wisdom to issues we face as women?
By grace steering far away from this:
“And behold, a woman comes to meet him, dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart.  She is boisterous and rebellious, her feet do not remain at home…”  
Proverbs 7: 10-11
and by faith walking in this:
“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.  She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue…she does not eat the bread of idleness….she fears the Lord.” 
Proverbs 31: 25-30
 I’d love it if you prayed for our time together this weekend ~ for the girls to experience the presence, love and grace of Christ ~ for teachable and soft hearts ~ for fun and fellowship ~ and for the worship of Jesus, the wisdom of God.

Oh ~ and pray for Robert, too, who finishes up our taxes today, takes one to baseball at 2:45, and another to guitar lessons at 3pm, and then heads back to the high school to watch Kory’s game at 4pm.  Tomorrow has him hosting Young Life Bible study for 10th grade boys at 9am, taking Coop and Kayla to swim lessons at 9:30, Kayla to dance at 11:15, and coaching the boys baseball practice at 12:15pm.  Then I suppose he’ll polish his sermon for Sunday and love me that much more when I arrive home tomorrow evening! (Only kidding ~ he regularly tries to ease the task load at home!)


Superdad to the rescue!

Gluten Free Friday ~ Chicken With White Beans & Tomatoes

When I decided to stay at home with our kids while (well, actually before) I was pregnant with Kory, people asked how we would make it financially.  I used to joke, “Guess we’ll be eating lots of beans! *’Better is a dish of vegetables where love is…’ ”  and all that. Beans and cornbread was one of my favorite meals at my Memo’s house growing up.  They were always pinto beans, cooked all day, sometimes with bacon or ham, and topped with, if you so desired, a mixture of mayonnaise and chopped onions.  I always passed on that unique topping, but I’ve never grown out of my love for a meal of just beans.  Nope ~ now I want to try just about every bean recipe I find.  I especially enjoy white beans.  Our farm makes an “escarole and navy bean” recipe available every year, which I really love; however, I’m never sure my family will settle for “greens and beans” for dinner.  Recently, I came across this recipe for chicken and white beans in Real Simple magazine.  It looked delicious in the picture and seemed easy enough to prepare, so I gave it a try for dinner one night.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and it’s even quite inexpensive since it uses chicken thighs and….well, beans!
Chicken With White Beans & Tomatoes
from Real Simple Magazine
2 15 oz. cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme (dried will work ok, too)
4 sprigs fresh oregano
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 tsp red pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3lbs)
Heat oven to 425 degrees.  In a 9X13 baking dish, toss the beans, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, garlic, read pepper, salt, pepper, and 1 Tbsp of oil.  Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Place chicken in baking dish on top of bean mixture, skin-side up.  Brush remaining oil on top of chicken thighs and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Roast until chicken is golden and cooked through ~ 35-45 minutes.
Served with a tossed salad or veggie on the side = easy almost-one-pot-meal!
* Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than the fattened ox served with hatred.
Proverbs 15:17

Megan & The Other Baby Book

Recently, I have sent several emails out to people for whom the email was not intended.  This could prove to be a dangerous mistake, but not so here. Twice in the last few months I have sent my students’ Challenge II study schedule for the week not to Megan, the 15 year old homeschooler from Connecticut, but to Megan, the senior at Amherst College who was in my Sunday school class last semester.  Then I sent the schedule out another week to Megan, my real TX/OK friend and blogger over at SortaCrunchy.  Both Megans kindly replied and notified me that I might want to re-send the 10th grade study schedule to the correct Megan.  Guess they already had too much on their plates to write up biology labs, or read British literature novels!
The point here is that I have A LOT of Megans in my Gmail contact list.  And believe me when I tell you ~ they are a pretty incredible bunch of ladies.
Let me introduce you to another one of the many inspiring Megans in my life: 
Megan McGrory Massaro.
I met Megan as a student at The University of Massachusetts and member of my church.  Her journey to Christ involves body piercing, but maybe she’d rather me not go into details. (I couldn’t resist, Meg.) Megan and I would occasionally get together for breakfast, and she, on a regular basis, very graciously volunteered to babysit my small (at that time!) children when I would grocery shop.
Well, now she’s all grown up, and has a handsome husband and beautiful baby girl all her own.  (Robert performed their wedding ceremony at Plymouth Plantation here in MA, and it was so lovely!)  And like everything else Megan has ever done ~ from her college education , to her teaching career, to her writing career, to her faith, Megan has approached this new mommy adventure with a wise and thoughtful passion.
Thankfully, she has also had the courage and inspiration to share it with other new mamas in the form of a book entitled The Other Baby Book.
If you’ve already seen her in my side bar as Going Green in a Pink World, you’ll have some clues about what approach to mothering you’ll be encouraged to embrace in The Other Baby Book ~ a very natural and “attached” one filled with healthy foods, wearing your baby, breastfeeding, cloth diapers, co-sleeping, and lots of play time.
Now, I’m all for this natural approach to parenting ~ have employed much of it in my own parenting through the years, but I had to giggle a little bit when I heard what Megan’s book was all about, because of a letter she wrote in my special 40th birthday gift book.  She recalled a time that she was over at my house when my kids were toddlers and pre-schoolers for the most part. (I just enrolled my first-born in Driver’s Education, so it’s been a while!) I had asked them to stop a certain behavior, or have the consequence of a spanking.  They didn’t stop. I don’t really remember any of this, but evidently I proceeded to tell Megan that I would now have to spank my children!  That’s right, I told the future author of the attachment parenting book that I would be giving my defiant children spankings in front of her! (Or possibly in the next room?? Oh, please let it have been in the next room!)
But I’m thinking that it may NOT have been in the next room, because she then recalled that I hugged them and told them that I loved them. (Whew!)
Anyway, “attachment parenting” advocates typically do not encourage spanking of any sort, of course, and that is where I part ways with many of them.  (See Proverbs.)  I also never slept with my infants, and tended to follow parenting books that encouraged sleeping through the night by putting babies on a feeding and sleeping schedule.  (Yes, the much maligned  Ezzos and Pearls, as well as Ted Tripp and Sally Clarkson.) All three of mine were on this type of schedule, and all slept through the night by the time they were 8 weeks old ~ some earlier. And, for the most part, I would follow their advice all over again.
None of my convictions, though, are reasons not to glean from Megan’s wonderful book about your baby’s first year of life.  I would definitely purchase this book if I was a new mama; the irony just tickled me a bit! I hope you will check out the website and blog, and possibly even contribute to the project with your own experiences and questions.  Oh!  And there’s a giveaway going on over at The Other Baby Book blog that you don’t want to miss!
Thank you, Megan!  You never cease to amaze and inspire me, and what an incredibly loving and gentle atmosphere you are providing for little Annabella.  She will be blessed, and so will many others in reading about your journey and being encouraged by your ideas. 
I will reiterate your own words, because now they are true of YOU:
Keep on keepin’ on, Megan!  You are an inspiration to a generation of young women, affecting lives that are affecting other lives.  Thank you and I love YOU dearly,
Mel

Remembering Poppy

 Spring always reminds me of my grandfather.  His birthday was on the first day of spring, and even though he’s been gone nearly 11 years now, I still write his name on March 20 every January when I sit down to write all of the important birthdays for the year on my new calendar.  Poppy would have been 90 years old this year, but we lost him to cancer in July of 2000. It was a difficult time then, and I wasn’t able to attend his funeral in Texas, being nine months pregnant with Kayla here in MA, but it seems even more difficult as the years go by. I miss him so much.
I miss him correcting my grammar.  I miss him being there to rescue me from silly mishaps like running out of gas in the neighborhood when I was 16.  I miss him always encouraging me to order dessert, and then asking for bite after bite until we had shared the dish evenly.  I miss wrapping my arms around his middle and going for rides on his motorcycle.  I miss water skiing on two big wooden skis on Canyon Lake behind his motorboat, and then stopping for Wendy’s hamburgers on the way home. I miss his big band music blaring out of a huge buffet with built in 8-track tape player, turn table, and speakers.  I miss him grilling tenderloin, hamburgers, and sausages out on the grill while we kids swam in the pool. I don’t think I miss rides in his little Cessna airplane, but I sure loved them when I was 10!
I miss his intricately planned vacations and road trips, and I’m positive that is where I get my desire to travel and plan educational vacations for my family.  I don’t know how I ended up with these items from a trip to Washington D.C. he planned for my sister and me back in 1985, but I’m so glad I have them.  I love that he recorded everything, and that even this receipt from the Holiday Inn we stayed at in D.C. for several nights has his notation, “Trip w/ M+M – June 1995.”
It was an amazing trip that he must have spent an entire year getting ready for, detail by detail.  Not only did we have a V.I.P. tour of the F.B.I. Building (no tours are allowed currently), but we also had a special tour of the White House, and the Capitol Building.  The tour of the Capitol was given to us personally by one of our Texas Congressmen at the time ~ Albert Bustamante.  After boarding our plane back to Texas, Poppy noticed Secret Service Agents out his window.  Once the plane was loaded, he decided to take a walk up to first class to see who might be found there.  It turned out to be Lady Bird Johnson, and he could hardly wait to introduce his two granddaughters to her.
 I miss him being a part of every milestone any of us ever celebrated ~ birthdays, graduations, football games.  I miss the dry-ice packed Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes he and Gigi transported to our birthday parties. I miss the “holly” bow tie that he donned every Christmas without fail.  I miss the Ziggy birthday cards he bought and signed himself (no help from Gigi!) and filled with the same number of dollar bills as your age.
I remember him reading Time magazine cover to cover each week, attending and ushering Mass at his church every single Saturday evening, and playing golf at the break of dawn every Sunday morning.  Not too long after Robert and I were married, he and Gigi drove to Austin to see our first apartment, take us to dinner, and give us one more gift ~ a bread machine.  Always caring, endlessly generous, perfectly loving and continually interested in our lives ~ what a gift and example he was.
 I think he may have loved being a great-grandfather even more than he enjoyed being a grandfather, although that time was very short lived.  He was overjoyed when Kory was born, and found such delight in holding him and watching him develop.  We moved to Oklahoma just six short weeks after Kory was born, and after we had settled in a bit, guess who made another road trip to visit his first great-grandson?
 How I wish Poppy was still here to see what a fine young man that first great-grandson has turned out to be ~ not to mention the five other great-grandchildren he has now.  I know he would be so proud.  I know he would be hopping on airplanes for as long as he was able, to see all of us ~ even 2000 miles northeast of his home.  He would be quizzing me about homeschooling and church ministry.  He would be asking to take the kids out for ice cream or on road trips to historical sites.  He would be asking me how I “stay so trim” after having three babies.  He would be delighting in all of us.  Oh, how I miss him.

When Kory turned 13, he inherited one of Poppy’s flight jackets, and some of his medals from his time in the Air Force.  When I talked to Poppy’s brother, Joe, to get more information before giving Kory the special gifts, I discovered a few things about my grandfather I hadn’t known before.  I knew he didn’t like to talk about World War II, but I didn’t know that he had dropped out of college to enlist as a pilot, having already obtained a pilot’s license as a 17 year old boy.  I learned that he was a member of the 417th Night Fighter Squadron.  These squadrons flew only by instrument, since their missions were always at night.  Though they were all very young, they were highly skilled and very brave ~ eager to serve their country and defend freedom.

Recently, I did a little research on this group of men and found that a book had been written about this very squadron in 2007.  It is entitled Beaufighters in the Night : 417 Night Fighters USAAF.  I promptly ordered the book longing to know as many details as I could about what my grandfather had been through in the war.  I received it in the mail on March 21st ~ the day after what would have been his 90th birthday.

I grabbed the package out of our mail box on the way to take Kory to baseball practice, and opened it once I returned home and pulled back into our garage.  Sitting there, alone in my van, I quickly turned to the index and located his name ~ Tony Speier, p. 62.  The tears began as I read a paragraph on that page that described my grandfather and a few other men, who were stationed in northern Africa, as being detached to Naples to help another squadron ~ the 416th. That crew had suffered many deaths and casualties, and needed some reinforcements.  The 417th was said to have “scored two victories while on loan.”
Then I flipped to the middle of the book, which contains a full 24 pages of photos.  More tears when I spotted my handsome grandfather and that genuine and familiar smile of his.
I turned to the Introduction and read these words:
They were seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, maybe twenty or twenty-one years old.  They came mostly from America’s farms and small towns, but back then America was mostly farms and small towns.  They played a unique, unheralded role in aerial warfare.  They may have shortened the war.  They did help save the world.  This is their story.
I usually call or write my grandmother on Poppy’s birthday, so when I thought the tears were dry, I picked up the phone.  I asked her if she had been to the cemetery the day before, and she had ~ of course.  That’s when she told me it would have been his 90th birthday, and that they would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary the weekend before.  “He married me when he was 29, and turned 30 one week later,” she explained.  I began to tell her about our trip to Pennsylvania to attend the memorial service of another World War II vet, and that it reminded me to order a book I had learned about recently.  Then I couldn’t speak anymore, because the tears came again.
“What is it, honey?” she asked
“Joe told me that Poppy enlisted to be a pilot during the war, and was assigned to the 417th Night Fighter Squadron.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“The book I ordered is about the 417th.  I got it in the mail today, and found his name in the index.  Then I turned to the photos……and……..and……,” I couldn’t finish.
“And there he was.” she offered.
“Yes. There he was. His picture is there.”
At this point, we were both crying too much to speak, but after a moment or two, she asked more about the book. She took down the title and author, and said she would tell my uncles about it and ask them to order her a copy.  I asked her why Poppy never talked about the war with any of his kids or grandkids.  I remembered “interviewing” all of our family members for Cooper’s baby book, and telling Poppy that I would like to know more about his experience in World War II.  “Awwww. You don’t want to know about that,” was his usual way to avoid the question.

 

(Poppy was my grandmother’s second husband, so not technically my biological grandfather.  Her first husband was also a pilot in the Air Force, and was killed in a plane crash while performing a drill.  She was pregnant with their second child, my uncle Chuck, at the time.  When she married Poppy, he adopted her first two children, and they went on to have two more.  My grandmother is a pretty amazing lady herself.)

“Your grandfather did not like to talk about the war, because he never understood why he was chosen to survive.  Several times, he was assigned a certain mission, but was then reassigned to another at the last moment.  Many of those times, the entire crew of the original mission was killed.  He always felt that he was living on borrowed time.” she quietly explained.

I praise the Lord for that borrowed time.  It has enriched and blessed my life so abundantly even to this very day, and continues on into the lives of my children ~ and now maybe even yours, dear reader.
Many a man proclaims his own loyalty,
But who can find a trustworthy man?  
A righteous man who walks in his integrity ~
How blessed are his sons after him. 
Proverbs 20:6-8

Gluten Free Friday ~ Spinach & Basil Risotto

New York City was the first place I ever ate risotto ~ at Risotteria, which offers gluten free bread sticks, pizzas, and paninis as well.  My first risotto dish there had feta cheese, and olives in it.  It was really delicious, and inspired me to try some different risotto dishes.  I haven’t made my Butternut Squash, Onion, & Saffron risotto in a while, but this one ~ inspired by Eating Well magazine ~ looked too good not to try.  I think any green might work in this recipe, and my kids don’t mind eating green stuff as much when it’s pureed and mixed with other great tastes.  Actually, they’re getting pretty good at eating just plain old sauteed kale!  (So proud of them!)
This recipe does require you to stand and stir more than usual, but I think any dish that involves spinach, garlic, and pine nuts is completely worth it!

Spinach & Basil Risotto
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 cups broth (chicken or veggie)
2 Tbsp + 2Tbsp olive oil
1 cup water
1 cup shallots, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 cup dry white wine  
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup Parmesan or Parm-Romano blend cheese
10 oz fresh spinach, stems removed
1 cup fresh basil
pine nuts to top, toasted
1. Saute spinach in 2 Tbsp olive oil until wilted.  Blend wilted spinach and fresh basil in a food processor or blender until smooth.
2. Saute shallots and garlic in 2 Tbsp olive oil until tender.  Add rice, salt and pepper and saute to coat and combine.
3.  Add wine and broth in 1/2 cup increments, cooking on medium-low until all liquid is absorbed.  (This is where the patient stirring is required.  With each 1/2 cup addition, stir until absorbed, and then add more liquid until the risotto is tender and creamy.)
4. Stir in the spinach-basil puree, the Parmesan cheese, and finally, top with toasted pine nuts.

“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…”

 “…ask what you can do for your country.”
I was asked to use that line in a short speech I gave at my middle school Honor Society Induction Ceremony ~ oh, nearly 30 years ago now.  I knew it had been spoken by John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address, and that he was the young president who had been assassinated in Dallas, TX, but that was about it.  Now, after living in New England for nearly 12 years, having had Ted Kennedy as a senator, and taking a few trips to Cape Cod, I’ve learned a few more things about the whole Kennedy family.  Well, yesterday topped it all with a trip to the JFK library in Boston.
We had been invited to go by our friends from the history co-op group we used to participate in before we started Classical Conversations, and I felt it was something we should definitely take advantage of. Upon entering the library and museum, we were greeted by the sound of beautiful voices.  As we peered over the railing into the atrium, we could see a high school choir singing.  I really don’t think I can describe the way this sounded due to the acoustics of the 3-story glass atrium, but heaven kept coming to mind.  It was simply amazing. They were a group from a high school in Wisconsin.
 Our tour guide did a fabulous job engaging the kids.  Each one got to be a biographer, and with prepared booklet in hand, explored each exhibit looking for answers to the question “Who was John F. Kennedy?” They had to sketch campaign posters and buttons, record vote tallies, locate Peace Corp workers, and find models of spacecraft.  We got to see a 20 minute movie on the life of JFK, and even his Harvard grade reports were on display.
 Kayla chose the inaugural gown of Jacqueline Kennedy as an artifact to focus on, and I got a kick out of the menu for the inaugural luncheon.
“Cream of Tomato Soup with Crushed Popcorn” ???  That is so funny to me ~ must have been a 1960’s delicacy!  And of course there were “Prime Texas Ribs of Beef,” which was surely included for Vice-President Lyndon Banes Johnson who was from Texas.  I had to remind my kids that they have also been to the LBJ library in Austin, TX.  It is located on the campus of the University of Texas, and we visited there several years ago when the Miniature White House was on display.  Choosing a Texan for the ticket may have been just the thing that won the election for old Jack!
 I loved this photo!  In it, Jackie is leaning over and talking to Robert Frost, and JFK is chatting with Pearl S. Buck.
 From the atrium which sits right on Boston Harbor, you get a great view of the city.  That’s the Prudential Building to the far left, where it seems we’ve taken countless visitors for a wonderful 360 degree view of the city and audio tour.
It was one of my favorite field trips so far, and despite my current political leanings, I have much respect for JFK’s emphasis on personal responsibility and contribution.  That is a message that seems to be lacking in the politics of today.  I also enjoyed hearing about how his father both exhorted him and encouraged him as a growing boy and young man.  The letters he wrote to his son are so touching, and I can’t help believe that affection gave him the confidence to become the “great citizen” he was.