1 Birthday, 1 Bedridden & 5 Beach Bound

Her complimentary Birthday Chocolate Dome at her favorite place to eat: PF Chang’s.

 This pretty girl turned 14 yesterday!  She started the day with a trip to the gym at 7am.  This was not her preferred wake up time, of course, but turning 14 means that you are now old enough to go to Planet Fitness, and she’s been wanting to “work out” at a gym with mom and dad for a long time.

Only her Daddy could take her and show her the ropes at the gym, because I needed to stay home and take Kory to walk-in hours at the pediatrician.  It is a very long story, but it (sort of) began with him passing out on Saturday evening after our family talked through Ephesians 6, the armor of God, and stood to pray, holding hands.  After we finished praying, Kory’s eyes rolled back into his head, he fell backward, breaking the door of our TV cabinet, and slumped onto the floor. He was out long enough for Kayla to call 911 and give the proper information.  I thought he was having a seizure, and it seemed like forever before he finally came to, but it was probably more like 10-15 seconds.  Paramedics came. Vitals checked out okay. A ride to the hospital was refused, but after they left, he spiked a 102 fever which stayed consistent until this morning around 3am ~ over 48 hours.
Yes, it really happened, as have many other scary and disappointing things in the last two weeks, and I’d love it if you prayed for us. 
(And yes, the paramedics asked what we were doing when it happened. They didn’t skip a beat when we said we were praying ~ that it was even Kory’s idea to stand and hold hands.  They did explain that prayer is not the typical reason for “passed out 19 year olds in Amherst.”  Comic relief was nice at that point.)
Anyway, Kayla returned home from the gym to her requested breakfast ~ chocolate chip waffles, eggs, and bacon.
And gift opening…
Arizona Tea and iTunes (from Cooper), Unicorns, and Taylor Swift Quotes ~ some of her favorite things

And the much desired iPod touch!  She was really surprised!

The weather was really weird yesterday ~ storms off and on all day ~ and so Kayla, Cooper, and I headed to West Hartford and the “fancy” mall to do some shopping with her birthday money and eat at her favorite restaurant ~ PF Chang’s ~ which is also inside the mall.
Robert stayed home to keep and eye on Kory and his fever, get some work done, and begin packing (in faith)  for our vacation to Maine ~ our usual trip to the cabin on Perkins Cove in Ogunquit.

We even had a unicorn sighting at Urban Outfitters.  It wasn’t a very pretty or cute one, though, and no sparkly glitter or rainbows accompanied it, hence Kayla’s disturbed face, but we enjoyed the time away.

Things were not looking good for Kory last night, who said he has never felt so terrible.  Cooper was beginning to feel feverish, too. We prayed for them, for protection, for mercy, and healing last night before bed.  I checked on them in the middle of the night, and they both felt feverish.  Thankfully, Kory’s fever finally broke early this morning and he ate breakfast. When Cooper got up, he said, “I really can’t believe I woke up well.”

So we are headed out with much gratitude, and looking forward to some time away in one of our favorite places.  Thankful, too, for the Smith family who have so generously allowed those in ministry to stay in their wonderful studio cabin for decades.

See ya soon ~ and hopefully with sunny beach photos to share!

The Saints on Strawberry Cove: Part 3

It happened while I was sitting in a Sunday morning worship service about 6 weeks ago. I don’t really know if it was the Holy Spirit, but it certainly seemed like it. The thought, or rather, the strong compelling notion just kept coming to me:

Go and see Elisabeth.  You need to go and see Elisabeth and Lars.

I didn’t do anything about it at first, and wondered whether the Lord might only be compelling me to pray for them, so I did.  But the thought, the notion, the urge would not leave.  I would forget about it for a couple of days and then it would return. Since youth camp (at Gordon College, near their home) was just around the corner, I decided to wait and not do anything until it was a little closer.  The closer youth camp got, the more emotional the urge became.  I would tear up every time I thought of a visit.

 This made me wonder if something had happened to them, so I visited the Elisabeth Elliot website, where Lars tries to maintain a monthly update on her, on them.  I knew that Elisabeth had struggled with a few physical issues especially after weathering a bad fall a few years ago.  I also knew that it was becoming more and more difficult for her mentally after our lunch with them in 2006. I reached out to Lars after that lunch and let him know that I was not prepared for Elisabeth’s “distance” and inability to really answer any questions or carry on conversation by herself.  He wrote back to share that she seemed to be struggling with a similar issue to her own mother in her later years, but said he did not really have a name for it.  When I checked in a month ago, I learned that Elisabeth had recently experienced a TIA (transient ischemic attack or “mini-stroke”), and a CT scan at the hospital revealed that she also had a touch of pneumonia.

 I also learned that she and Lars have two live-in caretakers now named Kea and Carrie, and that Elisabeth eats two eggs and half of an avocado for breakfast every morning.

Eggs and avocado.  We MUST be kindred spirits.

I waited until Robert and I arrived at Gordon College for the staff weekend before all of the campers arrived on Monday, and gave Lars a call on Saturday morning. He didn’t answer, so I left a message.  Then he called back and left me a message. We finally talked on Sunday afternoon and set the time for a visit for Tuesday afternoon at 3:30.  This time, thankfully, I had a several skirts to choose from!
 Tuesday midday, Sarah, our girls’ chaperone at camp, and I made a quick trip to Target to get the last piece of a gift basket I wanted to make and take with me. (She and Robert are the only ones I told about my upcoming afternoon visit. Oh, and my friend Abby, too, who saw me walking with my basket through campus and offered me a ride to my car.) I had already acquired a pineapple, a bag of Godiva chocolates, some bananas, and…..four avocados, of course, so now I needed a basket of some sort in which to put all the goodies I planned to take. Back in my dorm room, I worked on the basket arrangement, changed into my skirt, grabbed my camera, and headed to Strawberry Cove. I prayed that there would be a farm stand selling fresh eggs along the drive to their house, but none appeared.

 A call to Lars had to be made eventually, because I got lost.  The GPS was a bit confused about the actual location of Strawberry Cove.  Lars was not surprised at all by this and talked me through how to turn around, get my bearings, and make it to their house.

“Go back to town, and when the Dunkin Donuts is on your right, drive down and then up a hill.  Just after the crest, you will see Strawberry Cove.  Turn right, and we’ll be the second drive on the left.  I’ll stand on the front step and wait,” he instructed.

When I arrived, there he was standing on the doorstep as promised.  A hug and then exclamations about the gift basket greeted me.  The chocolate was the immediate joke.

“60%?” he said. “That’s ‘Private Reserve.'”

This joke continued into the house in order to make the two young Christian caretakers worry that I had brought in some high-quality liquor.

“He’s talking about the chocolate I put in the basket,” I finally had to explain.

They are used to his antics, so we all had a good laugh.

Lars served me hot tea, which was wonderful, and cookies, which I really hated to refuse, but he understood.  We sat in the living room catching up while the girls helped Elisabeth to the bathroom and then back to the living room in her wheelchair.

One reason for the 3:30pm visit time was due to this being Elisabeth’s most alert time of the day, and alert she was. Though I took my camera, I wondered if taking pictures might be an intrusion, so I simply left it in my purse.  But after a few moments of talking, Lars urged me to take some pictures, since she was wide awake and even a bit chatty.  (The first two photos in this post are the ones I took just then.) What she says can’t always be understood, but still she chattered away, off and on throughout my visit.  In fact, Lars said she had not been that alert since her TIA.

There is no question that though she seems “distant” she has a level of awareness ~ probably more than anyone of us would conceive. She knows who her husband is, that’s for sure. She hardly ever let go of his hand, rubbing it, caressing it, and turning it over and over in her own.  If he ever pulled his hand away in order to use it for storytelling emphasis, she reached out for it again and again.

She seemed to be taking so much comfort and refuge in this man who has loved her and cared for her and stewarded her life so, so well. She appeared to be expressing a restricted, yet abounding gratitude for his presence, probably especially because of this semi-stranger in the house.

And she was very clear about expressing her desires when Carrie, her full time RN, tried to get her to look at the camera for our pictures together.  After some prodding from Carrie, Elisabeth voiced a slow but decisive “No,” while continuing to look only at Lars. Ha!  I tried not to have my feelings hurt, but couldn’t help but worry that my visit, and certainly this photo session, was not as enjoyable for her as it seemed for the rest of us. Elisabeth has never been known for her gushing affections, convivial personality, or sense of humor, but neither have I, so it’s okay. She’s serious, discerning, devout, faithful, no nonsense, and earnest.  I totally understand.

If you’ve read much of Elisabeth’s writings, you know that this is her daily view of the Atlantic from Cape Ann
 in the home that she designed herself.
I’ve imagined it many times in my mind, and was blessed to see it in person.

My plan was to get back to Gordon College and spend some time writing down every detail of my afternoon in their home, but it just wasn’t possible. (Camp life is non-stop, and camp drama ensued shortly thereafter.) I can tell you that Lars and I share some similar political opinions, so there were jokes about global warming and Al Gore’s own carbon footprint, concern for traditional marriage and gender roles including a story about Elisabeth speaking in his hometown in Norway once.  Seems she caused quite a stir with her teaching on biblical gender roles for some there. (I feel her pain) So much that the bishop or pastor asked her to change topics for her next speaking engagement. She even made the front page of the local newspaper which gave them a hearty laugh.

I also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Carrie and Kea just a bit.  Both young, single, Christian woman personally and recently recruited by Lars to come and help care for Elisabeth full time.  Both shared their story of being contacted by Lars through his various contacts in the broader national Christian community, of praying before giving him an answer, though it seemed like a no-brainer, and finally deciding to come.  They were both really delightful.  When I first asked them how they had managed to be given this great honor, Lars laughed and said, “Careful with that word ‘honor.’  I’m not sure that’s exactly what this is.”

I think all of the women in the room agreed that it was indeed an honor to care for this well-known saint in what may be her last days, though Lars would caution that no one really knows when those are or will be.

I like that.

Driving back to campus, I fully expected an immediate onslaught of uncontrollable tears of joy and emotion, but that didn’t happen right away. I just kept being overcome with awe at the faithfulness of Lars Gren.  Much of his life has been only about Elisabeth. He moved into her house as a seminary boarder and to be part-time caretaker for Elisabeth’s second husband, Addison, who was dying of cancer. Addison passed away before Lars moved in, so she took in a second male boarder and seminary student.  If you know the entertaining story then you know that Lars ended up marrying Elisabeth, and the younger boarder married Valerie, Elisabeth and Jim Elliot’s only daughter.

I asked Lars what he went to seminary for.  He had pursued an Mdiv in order to become a chaplain, and did spend some time working in that capacity in the nearby Beverly hospital. Elisabeth continued her writing and speaking, often accompanied by Lars.  Prior to one of those speaking engagements, Lars felt prompted to take along a few of Elisabeth’s books, set them out on a small table, and offer them for sale after she spoke. He took no cash box, and obviously had no idea how eagerly her audience would respond to the opportunity to purchase books on the spot. He ended up using small paper cups to hold his different increments of coins and change and sold every book he brought.

So, a ministry was born, and Lars has been handling Elisabeth’s book and CD sales ever since.  For many years, he has also handled every bit of correspondence brought about by their ministry. It may take him a couple of weeks or months, but he will get back to you, guaranteed, and with a personal note, you can be certain.

I couldn’t help but think of how specifically he has fulfilled Christ’s commands to husbands in Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought to also love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes is, just as Christ also does the church. v. 25-29

Lars has loved, served, and cherished Elisabeth in her health and at the height of her career, and he has only continued that selfless service in her sickness and weakness. In countless ways, he has given himself up for her and the powerful missionary story of tragedy and forgiveness she embodies.

His story is every bit as heroic as hers.

Before leaving, I asked him how I could pray, and he said, “We need prayer for the daily tasks, strength for each day.”  The girls echoed this and shared that they truly appreciate prayers on their behalf, as some days are good and others are very difficult.

I was serious when I offered myself as a help in any way, though I live a couple of hours from them.  It would truly be an honor. (And Lars, if you’re reading, I really do mean honor.)

In the meantime, I pray.

(P.S. The very next morning while I was leading a Bible study for the adult female chaperones at camp, my phone started buzzing, and I could see that Lars was calling. Panic struck, as I feared he had tragic news.  I listened to his message and was relieved and then quite tickled to hear that he only wanted to thank me for the visit.  He also said he wished I had taken my basket with me, but that since I had insisted that they keep it, they had decided to use it to hold all of their World Magazines and display on the coffee table in the living room.  He went on and on with thanks and gratitude, and I don’t plan on ever erasing that kind voice message from my phone!)

The Saint on Strawberry Cove: Part 2

Summer 2006 ~ Introducing my kids to heroes of the faith

This picture.  I have been searching high and low for it so that I could include it in this part of the story.  I’ve had my kids searching high and low, too. I spent time in my 100 degree, newly insulated attic yesterday going through boxes of homeschool books and old toys looking for the scrapbook in which it is located to no avail.  I even prayed several times that God would reveal its location ~ and He did. We pulled into our garage late last night after driving through severe thunderstorms in order to pick Cooper up from where he had been camping with family friends and I saw the Rubbermaid container. I opened the lid with much hopefulness and there it was.

It’s a scrapbook dedicated to a long summer road trip our family took in the summer of 2006.  We visited Gettysburg, Washington D.C., Charleston, SC, and Lancaster, PA’s Amish Country, and Philadelphia. It was sort of a Civil War/American History tour.  Our trip began at Gordon College, though, where we’ve spent a week at CrossWalk youth camp nearly every summer we’ve been in Massachusetts.

It had been about 5 years since that lunch with Elisabeth and Lars in Hamilton, MA, but we’d been keeping in touch all of that time through the exchange of Christmas letters. I’m sure hundreds of people receive these letters summing up the year of ministry and travels for Lars and Elisabeth, but what astounds me is the personal note at the bottom of each one ~ in earlier years from Elisabeth herself, but in recent years from Lars.  As I’ve looked back over these letters in the last couple of days, I’ve been in tears due to the personal nature of each one.  Lars mentions Cooper and his diagnosis of Celiac Disease in 2003, our Golden Retriever, Buddy, our ministry at church here in Amherst, my reading of Ann Voskamp’s book and counting 1000 gifts, Kory heading off to Baylor, etc. Almost every letter includes an invitation to visit them at #10 Strawberry Cove and a hope of also visiting us in Amherst sometime.

This intimate nature of their correspondence is explained by only one thing in my opinion: the sweetness of fellowship in Christ. During that first meeting in Hamilton, I asked them if they were constantly being bombarded with requests for meetings.  I was surprised by their answer.  They said no, not at all.  They explained that not many people in this part of the country know their story, know Elisabeth and Jim’s story, and so whenever they get a chance to be with folks who know their history, they take it, because it is such an encouragement to them.  They blessed us greatly by saying that they never tire of meeting with other believers, that it is as much a privilege for them as it is for us.

Reminds me of something Paul says in Romans 1:

For I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. v. 11-12

With all of this in mind, I reached out to them again for a lunch date in 2006.  We would be at Gordon College for camp again, and their home is only about 15 minutes from the campus.  I told them I would really love for my children to meet them, as we had recently read a children’s biography of Jim Elliot and watched the documentary “Beyond the Gates of Splendor.”

Lars called and said they would love to meet us, and would come to us at Gordon College.  I was not comfortable with this, because there would be 400 teenagers cycling through the cafeteria for lunch that day, and it just didn’t feel like the best accommodations for them.  He insisted it would be fine, but I talked him into meeting at Gordon-Conwell Seminary just down the road instead.  Turned out he needed to return some books to their library anyway. We ate lunch in the cafeteria, which caused a bit of a stir among the handful of students also eating there. Nothing bad, just a few poses for photos with admiring seminarians before we had them all to ourselves.

We had our questions all planned out ~ the biggest of which was from six year old Kayla who was thinking about being baptized.  She asked Elisabeth how old she was when she got baptized. Lars answered for her and said she had been baptized as an infant, but then again at age 12 or 13, much to her parent’s concern.  Seems they didn’t feel it was necessary, but Elisabeth did, since she had, at that age, truly understood her need for forgiveness and tasted of God’s grace for the first time.

We also asked them if they had seen the movie End of the Spear, a feature length drama re-telling the events that led to the murder of Elisabeth’s first husband, missionary Jim Elliot.  They had not seen it, and did not have plans to.  This way they could avoid media attention and efforts to get a quote from them about the actor, a gay man, who played Nate Saint. The movie also dramatized the revelation to Steve Saint, the son of the missionary pilot also killed, regarding the identity of the Auca man responsible for his father’s death.  It was a very powerful portrayal of the forgiveness that was extended to the tribe, but not true to life.  Lars and Elisabeth cleared this up for us, telling us that Steve had known his whole life who had killed his father, which makes his ministry among the same people group so powerful.

(The documentary version, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, is a MUST SEE above the feature film in my opinion! Watch it yourself!  Show your kids! Really!)

It was a wonderful visit over lunch, and they were gracious enough to pose for a picture with the kids in the rain.  Here is the note I received from Lars after our meeting and upon returning home from our long summer journey.

Again, I was overwhelmed not only by the hand-written thank you note, but the compliments and the efforts made at getting back in touch with us that week with an invitation to their home.

And the “limited edition” card Lars refers to was of an original drawing by Cooper.  I had made notecards out of it and had given a stack to Lars and Elisabeth as a little gift during our lunch.  That he used those cards in his ministry correspondence was such a sweet gesture and an encouragement to Cooper at the time.

So, as I hope you can see, there are really two saints living on Strawberry Cove, one a saint AND a humble steward. My visit there just last week confirmed this beautiful truth.

Isn’t she lovely in blue? I could hardly take my eyes off of her, of them. What a joy.

To be continued…

The Saint on Strawberry Cove: Part 1

It was not surprising to me that this was her address when I saw the return label on her envelope about 14 years ago.

#10 Strawberry Cove, Magnolia, Massachusetts.

Of course that’s where she lives.  It’s perfect.

I couldn’t believe she had written me back.  I reached out to Elisabeth Elliot, widow of Jim Elliot, shortly after moving to Massachusetts.  (You can read a bit more about her here.) A woman I had recently met at a homeschool conference in Connecticut told me that Elisabeth lived in my new home state, and that she herself, along with her daughter had met Elisabeth and taken her to lunch one day.  I was mesmerized by her story.  This hero of mine since college days (Passion and Purity, anyone?) was living within 100 miles of me ~ just north of Boston. I knew I had to let her know what an influence she had been in my walk with Christ.

Elisabeth holding her beloved Lars’s hand at their home on Strawberry Cove just last week.

I don’t remember exactly what I wrote in my letter, but I know it included gratitude for her mission work and her ministry of writing and speaking.  In fact, I had gone to hear her speak at a conference in Connecticut not long before that and got her to sign my The Shaping of a Christian Family book, so technically I met her then as well as her third husband, Lars, who was referring to himself as “Jim Elliot, the Third.” He’s a funny one. (Elisabeth lost her second husband to cancer.)

My letter also included the fact that I was leading a Bible study for women at Smith College called The Five Aspects of Woman, and that the Lord was working in the lives of women for salvation and also for the embracing of biblical womanhood, a topic on which Elisabeth has written and spoken much.  Her return letter included praise for those things (at Smith College of all places!?) and gratitude that I had taken the time to write.  I wish I’d have framed it immediately, because now, for the life of me, I can not find her handwritten note. I had used it as a bookmark in her book Discipline: The Glad Surrender, but I’ve looked there a million times, and it never appears.

I also gave Elisabeth the times and location of a woman’s retreat I would be organizing for the women of my church out near Boston.  I said if they were available, I’d love to meet them for lunch.  When the retreat weekend began, I still hadn’t heard from them, but during free time on the Saturday afternoon of the retreat while walking around Walden Pond (yes, Thoreau’s) and after touring the Alcott home (yes, Louisa May’s), Lars called and said they would love to have lunch after church on Sunday afternoon at a restaurant in Hamilton, MA.  I could hardly contain my excitement and disbelief, while at the same time lamenting that I had not brought a skirt or dress to wear!

Lars took this picture of our giddy group after lunch circa 2001?
(Elisabeth is very tall!)

I invited a few others to go along to that lunch, partly because I knew they would never forgive me if I went alone, partly because we had to work out car rides back to Amherst, and partly because I really did want others to share in this great privilege.  I sat directly across the table from Elisabeth that Sunday afternoon, and felt so honored to look into her steel blue eyes and trace the deep, deep lines on her face ~ every one of them telling a story of heartache and sanctification and joy in Christ, I remember thinking.

My favorite memory from that lunch is the discussion I had with Elisabeth about the book Stepping Heavenward.  I told her I have a little joke about not being able to be friends with anyone who does not also love the book.  She looked at me, smiled, and said, “Well then, you and I can be friends.”

Elisabeth Elliot, the courageous missionary and forgiving servant to the Ecuadorian tribe who speared and killed the love of her life was now my friend.

To be continued…

Postcards From Camp

Hi Mom and Dad ~ we’re having a great time at camp this week, and it would be even better if the camp pastor would stop photo-bombing us. He’s kind of weird.

But even when he’s not photo-bombing, we sort photo-bomb ourselves with as many silly shots as possible.  In fact, we may have forgotten how to simply smile and pose normally for the camera.

See what I mean?
Morning Celebrations are really fun.  Today we played “Suitcase Jenga”…
…and a huge blow-up bowling game.  There were also crazy skits and funny videos.

 Our chaperones are totally awesome even if they do take away our electronics, tell us to stop pranking each other, and make us go to bed at curfew every night.  They love to play games with us, eat meals with us, and get us talking about the things God is teaching us.

 We are having tons of fun on the Rec field every morning after Bible study, playing old games and new ones, too. And even though it’s called “recreation” we take these games very seriously and do whatever it takes to win. Hopefully our intensity as well as our humility and kindness toward other teams will win us the day’s Spirit Stick ~ which happens to be a huge airplane propeller that goes well with our theme for the week “Flight Plan.” Both competition AND Christ-likeness are valued here at camp.

Don’t mess with the fierceness of Noah on the Rec field!

The cafeteria food is okay. Some of us are especially thankful for the soda dispenser that allows us to drink an endless supply of colored, carbonated sugar-water, not to mention the perpetual array of desserts ~ though not as many in years past! The grown-ups seem to think this is a good thing.

 In the evenings we go to a worship service with great music and teaching from the book of Ephesians.  We’re learning about the “flight plan” that involves traveling from “outside of Christ” and the “domain of darkness” to “inside of Christ” and the “kingdom of light.”  Turns out it’s a free ticket to get there and it’s called grace. That is so cool!

The camp pastor is doing a pretty good job, I guess.  I think he’s the dad of some of the kids in our group which is a little weird (along with that whole photo-bombing thing), but you’ll probably be glad to know I’m learning some new things about God, the Bible, the apostle Paul, and even myself.

We end every evening with a “Church Group Debrief.” It’s so cool, because the Snack Fairy gets to our room before us and leaves food out, which is great, because we are tweens and teens and we are constantly hungry.  Plus, we eat dinner at around 5:30pm, and four hours without food is almost unbearable.  After we eat and joke around a bit, we talk with our chaperones about what we learned during Bible study and that evening’s sermon. Last night we split the boys and the girls into two groups, which the chaperones seemed to think worked out much better.  Something about some of the boys showing off in front of the girls and goofing around too much for serious discussion?

Camp is halfway over now and we can’t wait for the things that happen during the next few days. Theme night is tonight, pizza night happens tomorrow, and Mega Relay and Midnight Madness are on Friday. Oh!  And some of us are going to the beach tomorrow during free time, which will be really awesome, since it’s been raining off and on for the last few days. Seems like there will be only sunshine from here on out!

As far as I know, everyone is happy and healthy here ~ even those of us who were skeptical about this whole camp thing.

See you on Saturday!

Girls’ Day Out in NYC

I’m writing from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (that’s really what it’s called!) where Robert and I arrived yesterday for a wedding.  We are staying on a gorgeous lake and everywhere I look the only colors I see are green and blue ~ trees, mountains, water, sky.  Truly beautiful.
We returned home from our trip to New York City at 3am on Tuesday morning, mostly due to traffic merging to one lane repeatedly along I-95 which was a fairly frustrating end to a really fantastic day.  I am also learning something about myself through several similar late night bedtimes over the last year or so, and that is…
I. Need. Sleep.
Oh my goodness.  We’re now three days out from the NYC trip and I am only just now feeling somewhat recovered from the exhaustion.  Sadly, the problem can’t be remedied through sleeping in the next morning either, because evidently when you are old you lose your ability to sleep past the hour of 6am.  And three hours of sleep is simply not enough to function the next day with any amount of patience or kindness or perspective.  Pretty sure I was in tears over many important and monumental things on Tuesday ~ like why Trader Joe’s has to be out of coconut oil for the 4th or 5th week in a row and why everyone in my house keeps walking past the lone sock at the bottom of the stairs instead of picking it up and putting it with the dirty clothes. 
Clearly I was tired, and yet Tuesday was not a day for resting, but a day in which many, many things needed to be accomplished in order to leave for a wedding on Wednesday at noon and leave my children behind at home for five days. I did it to myself, which is usually the case.
But we’re not just going to a wedding this week.  On Friday morning, after the Thursday evening wedding, we’ll go straight to Gordon College for a week of youth camp where Robert will serve as camp pastor.  This meant packing for 11 days away from home and including things like a coffee maker, muffin tins, sheets, towels, hangers, and an ironing board. Robert’s truck is parked in our host’s driveway and the bed is packed tight with Rubbermaid containers with nearly everything we normally use to function for a week. (think The Beverly Hillbillies.)
In spite of the fatigue and the pressure of gearing up for yet another big week, we did have a wonderful day in New York City, so here’s a bit of a recap:

 We arrived at Grand Central Station around 10am and began to trek up 5th Avenue, stopping to shop along the way ~ Gap, Sephora, Build-a-Bear, Strabucks, and more.

We didn’t go into Cafe Grumpy, just stopped for an appropriate pose. 
Snuggling with Unicorns at Build-a-Bear. They are REAL, ya know. Kayla is adamant about this.
We packed a lunch and ate in Central Park near Columbus Circle.
After eating and giving our feet a bit of a rest, we walked to an Argo Tea Cafe at Columbus Circle and each tried a different iced variety.  Sadly, they were out of sparkling water, which is the main reason for going there, in my opinion.  Good thing it was Monday and not Tuesday, or there may have been tears shed over the shortage of water bubbles.  Somehow, I survived the crisis even though a Moji Mint Tea is NOT the same without bubbles. Neither is a Green Ginger Twist.  So sad.
Times Square!  People Everywhere!

 After spending (a disproportionate amount of) time in the M&M store in Times Square, we were met on the sidewalk by a man carrying this python who offered to let us hold it for $5 ~ or $10 (which he said would make him happier), but no one wanted to hold it.  When we asked if we could just pose with him holding the snake, he agreed, and then somehow managed to wrap the snake around Izckra while they stood posing and then remove himself totally from the picture. Though she is smiling in this picture, the other four or five deleted photos reveal her horror.  She mustered up some bravery and smiled for this one with the girls.

So crazy.  We wondered if this was even legal.  Shouldn’t you need special training and a permit for carrying large dangerous snakes around in large crowds of people?  Oh, New York…

 We got to see many of the latest fashions…

Ride the Times Square Toys R Us ferris wheel…

 Snuggle with minions…

 …and visit a very tiny, but fairly famous bakery called Babycakes.  Everything in the bakery is soy free, vegan, gluten free and made with ingredients like agave and coconut oil.  It was the end of the day, and fortunately for us they needed to get rid of some “cupcake toppers.”  We were happy to help them with this problem and each indulged in the top of a cupcake dolloped with nearly an inch of their delicious icing.  Mine was carrot cake.  So good.  We also bought an eclair, a Madeline, and a doughnut.

We asked the girls working there if they had served any celebrities, and they had, but more than that they had filled orders for some big names ~ like Russel Brand ~ ha!

 After hanging out at Babycakes for a little while, we taxied over to Risotteria ~ an Italian restaurant featuring gluten free everything ~ pizza, paninis, bread sticks, and desserts.  My friend from elementary/middle/and high school, Mike, and his wife, Wende, and one of their three girls joined us.  They are so sweet, and this is always a fun reunion.  We missed the older two girls who were away at summer camp, but thoroughly enjoyed getting caught up on life and sharing pictures and talking about how time flies. Mike and Wende live in Tribeca, where Taylor Swift recently bought an apartment just around the corner from them.  They hadn’t met her yet, but lots of their friends had pictures of their Taylor sightings and meetings.  Mike offered to let us stay with them for the night so we could stake her out, but we decided to save that for another visit.

 The last thing we did was something that one of the girls in my small group at church recommended ~ thank you, Chelsea!!!  I didn’t know if we really had time, but mentioned it to Mike and Wende at dinner, and they also heartily recommended it and showed us where to have the taxi take us. It is called the High Line and is a walkway along what used to be an elevated train track in the meatpacking district. It is a wide walkway, with landscaping on either side, and including cute benches, lounge chairs, and wooden bleacher-type seating all along the way.  It was a beautiful evening, and so there were tons of people sitting out eating take-out food and enjoying the summer night.  We walked the whole thing from 14th to 30th street and were able to see at all times the Hudson River as well as parts of the NYC skyline.

Along the High Line
From 30th street, Grand Central Station is a quick cab ride away, and we arrived just in time to hop on the 9:39pm train back to Greenwich.

 Pretty sure they were just playing possum here, as they were still giggling and acting crazy for the first hour of our van ride in one-lane traffic back to Massachusetts.  But eventually they fell sound asleep until we arrived back in Springfield at 2am.

Exhausting, but so worth it!  Kayla kept saying all day, “I just love this, Mom.  I love it here.”

Now…off to lunch in this quaint little Vermont town, and then a 3pm wedding.  Onward to Gordon College tomorrow morning where we’ll hang out with 500 teens come Monday.  Whew. See ya soon!

Cabbie Conversations

Me: How long have you been driving a cab?

NYC Cabbie: Haven’t been driving a yellow cab for very long. I drove a stretch limo for many years before this.

Me: Oooooooh! Driving the celebrities around, huh?

NYC Cabbie: Yes, ma’am.  I took Brooke Shields to her first prom, and I haven’t washed the cheek she kissed since.

We had a great day! More pics soon…

(Brooke Shields is 49 years old, by the way. If she was 16 when she went to prom, that’s 33+ years of driving. Wow.)

Start Spreading the News…

We’re leaving today. We want to be a part of it.  New York, New York.
These little town blues are melting away…
That’s right.  By the time this blog post shows up in your news feed or Google Reader, Kayla and I will be well on our way to New York City along with my friend, Izckra, and her daughter.  This has been a long anticipated trip and a promised birthday gift (since December!) to one of Kayla’s best friends.
And you can bet we’ll be cranking Frank Sinatra AND Taylor Swift all the way there.
(Frank Sinatra always makes me think of my high school boyfriend’s father who was (in)famous for lip-synching this song at wedding receptions and parties, etc. ~ complete with dollar bills being tucked into his suit by admiring women. Ha!) 
(And hello, Traci, if you’re reading! 😉  You are a good daughter.)
AS much as I dread the literal six months of winter that New England promises every year, one thing I love about living in this part of the country is that Boston and New York are just a stone’s throw away.  So is the beach.  So are the mountains. In fact, if you drive 2 hours in any direction, you are in a whole new culture and landscape.  I love that.
People who live here, though, don’t necessarily ever drive 2 hours from where they live.  Boston?  That’s 80 miles east!  Why would you want to drive all that way and find yourself in a busy city?  New York City?  That’s 3 hours.  You must be crazy.
Yes, I must be, because I love it.  In fact, as I write this I’m lamenting all the places I haven’t yet been after living in New England for 15 years now. (July 15 is our 15 year anniversary of moving here!)
But I’m from Texas, and you could drive for six or eight hours in some places there and never see another car or house or human.  I’m exaggerating a bit, but I’m used to at least a two hour trip to get to the next town or major city.  Growing up, going to the beach was about a five hour trip.  In fact, occasionally, we made that trip in my grandpa’s little Cessna airplane. (I was much braver then) Anyway, the reality of living this close to Boston and New York is very exciting to this perpetual tourist.
And Boston is my favorite of the two, but I think I’ve mentioned that before.

 Our NYC itinerary is all typed up and printed out and includes the following:

Getting up EARLY!
Riding the train from Greenwich, CT to Grand Central Station
Shopping on 5th Avenue (Ummmm… window shopping mostly.)
Picnic lunch in Central Park
Argo Tea Cafe at Columbus Circle
Times Square and Rockefeller Center wandering
Subway to Union Station
Lush (gotta get more of our favorite dessert….I mean, face mask!)
Soho Shopping (more windows…)
Pearl River Market
Babycakes (gluten free, vegan bakery!  wonder if there’s anything paleo?)
Dinner at Risotteria (huge gluten free breadsticks, pizza, sandwiches, desserts) ~ and hopefully with old friends from elementary school!
Back to Grand Central and Greenwich and HOME!

All in one day!  I love it.

See ya soon with a pictorial update.

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday ~ Pineapples Grilled, Wrapped, Diced

We’ve been having a little debate here at our house about the way in which pineapples grow.  One person believed they grew on trees and the other was adamant that they grow UNDER the ground, like a potato.  Evidently, the argument got fairly heated while I was away in Texas last week and went unresolved, though I’m not sure why, since we have this cool thing called the internet nowadays, and a picture of growing pineapples is just one Google search away. 
 The funny thing is that while I was in Texas, I spent time in Dallas at a very swanky mall called NorthPark Center, and was truly fascinated by the large planters with interesting and various vegetation growing in them all throughout. (The other funny thing is that my uncle, whose memorial service I was there for, spent most of his career in mall landscape design!) One of those planters caused a double take, because it was perfectly covered with rows of growing pineapples ~ above the ground and not on a tree, which I happily reported once I got home and heard about the great pineapple debate. (And then Googled to prove it for those who remained skeptical.) They actually grow on a plant close to the ground as pictured above, and so for some reason the person who said they grown UNDER the ground is claiming victory in the debate. (That person happens to be under the age of 14, so they are, of course, the correct and clear winner in every debate.)
The radicchio was not as well-received as the pineapple!
Anyway, we’ve been eating lots of pineapple this summer, and it helps that they’ve been on sale at my local grocery store for $2.50 a piece with a “silver coin” ~ the little reward and prize program the store offers. So, please don’t tell me if you’ve been buying them at H.E.B for $1.50.  Let me bask in the glory of acquiring pineapples for less than $3.99 while I can. The same goes for avocados which I can get for under $2 a piece… occasionally.
And we love eating them fresh cut, but we’ve tried a few other things with them in the past couple of weeks, too. Slicing them and grilling them for a few minutes is a fun and delicious way to enjoy them, especially alongside grilled chicken or fish.
We also tried bacon-wrapped pineapple for Kory’s 19th birthday cookout with friends.  This is another easy way to serve pineapple.  I used one package of bacon and cut all the strips in half at one time.  One regular package of bacon was the near-perfect amount to be wrapped around one whole, chopped pineapple. Aim for medium sized chunks and simply wrap a half slice of bacon around, placing the bacon edges on the underneath side as you arrange them on a baking sheet. One thing I would suggest, though, if you have it, is to use a large metal cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Place the pineapple chunks wrapped in bacon on the cooling rack and this will allow the bacon grease to collect on the baking sheet and not be soaked up by the pineapple pieces.

Bake them at 400 degrees until bacon is brown and somewhat crispy ~ about 20-30 minutes.  Add toothpicks to the individual pieces for easy serving.

So, pineapples grilled and wrapped and now for the diced version.  Trader Joe’s sells a jar of pineapple salsa that is pretty good, but my brother, Stu’s, version is just as good, if not better.  He made it to go with fish tacos one night while Kayla and I visited last fall, and it was really delicious. He texted me his list of ingredients today, which I’ll share with you, and then also give you a few other options for additions.

Pineapple Salsa

2 cups pineapple, diced
1/2 cup cilantro
1 small jalepeno pepper, diced
1/4 cup green onion

That’s it! (and the measurements are mine, but it’s a forgiving recipe!)

You could also add a bit of these things or make substitutions with them if you like:

diced red pepper
diced garlic clove
diced red onion instead of green
diced mango
diced radish
lime juice

Pineapples are really good for you, too.  Lots of Vitamin C and an enzyme called bromelain, which aids in digestion and is a natural anti-inflammatory.

Happy 4th of July!

Dear Taylor Swift…

Oddly enough, it was several several years ago in Vermont that I first paid any attention to you.  My husband and I decided to take an afternoon off and drive an hour north on a beautiful summer afternoon.  We ended up in a little cafe for iced coffee and cookies. They happened to be playing some sort of a documentary or extended news story featuring you there on the TV which hung in the corner near the ceiling. You must have still been a teenager then.

I remember thinking that I was supposed to disdain you, to think you were some silly, girly, flash-in-the-pan pop star.  Those were the murmurings I had heard. But I was drawn in by what I saw, impressed by what I learned.  You were intelligent, creative, tenacious, hard-working, kind, funny, and strong. You still are.

A few years later, my then small daughter grew into a tween and got interested in you and your music.  Now she’s a full-fledged teenager and still a devoted fan. She gets made fun of for this by some of her friends and others, but the more I learn about you and your music, I’m not sure why. Actually, that’s not quite true.  I think I do know why.

Kayla was pretty excited about her new RED hoodie last Christmas.
Listening to your music while wearing your hoodie (sort of) while drawing in her new sketch book.

And because my daughter adores you, I’ve done some research and learned a few things about you for myself. For example, you love your parents and appreciate all they did to nurture you. You are kind and gracious in the face of unwarranted criticism.  (That Kanye West thing….and your song about the Ellen Show on the Ellen Show are just two of many examples) You are more interested in your art than your fame. You dress modestly, and aren’t afraid to embrace and highlight your femininity. (And there’s the reason I think people love to hate you.  They don’t know what to do with a strong, yet beautifully feminine woman.) You are generous with your wealth. You are authentic and honest.  You know your own strengths and gifts and aren’t afraid to pursue them.  You consider others, but you are not a people-pleaser in the negative sense. You don’t take yourself too seriously. Your style doesn’t change to reflect what the culture demands. You are genuinely surprised at your fame and accolades, humble and human.
You are yourself, no apologies.

Thank you for these things that you are, that somehow you choose to be. They are things I want for my daughter ~ a confidence in herself because she is created uniquely ~ in the image of God Himself, we believe.

Funny how being a fan of yours gives her an opportunity to live out that confidence. Funny how it is, for my daughter, similar to being a Christian, something that is also misunderstood and mocked quite a lot around here.  She learns to take a gentle, firm stand on her respect and love for you (and other things unique to her), and at the same time, as strange as it may sound, she learns to do the same for her Lord.

Due to my extensive research, I have now also come to adore you (I really don’t know who wouldn’t after an honest evaluation) as well as your music. (Not everyone has to love your music, of course, but in my book, they should at least respect you.)  I was hopelessly devoted to Olivia Newton John all throughout my childhood, so it seems like the natural course of things to also love you in my forties. I may have even taken several solo road trips in the last few years to various New England cities, airports, friends’ houses in which I secretly made sure my daughter’s iPod was still connected to my minivan stereo, so that I could crank “Red” and sing “All Too Well” over and over at the top of my lungs. That’s my current favorite song of yours (with “Begin Again” and “Everything Has Changed” as close seconds), and you performed it ALL TOO WELL at the Grammy’s this year.

Speaking of your music, thank you for your lyrics.  They are not often sexual, but when they are, they reflect honestly the powerful and addictive nature of sex, like in “Treacherous.”

“And I’d be smart to walk away, but you’re quicksand.
This slope is treacherous, this path is reckless
This slope is treacherous, and I, I, I like it
I can’t decide if it’s a choice, getting swept away…”

Yes, we all get pulled by the gravity of that treacherous slope at some point in our lives.  Thank you for being honest and telling my daughter that it’s just that ~ treacherous ~ and you’d “be smart to walk away.” It helps me to talk with her about how difficult it is to walk away once there, and that she can make a decision regarding “getting swept away” particularly if she doesn’t place herself in tempting situations.

And thank you for lyrics that reflect how a man ought to properly treat a woman. “Trouble” illustrates that in a negative way, but gets a pertinent point across:

“Once upon a time a few mistakes ago, I was in your sights, you got me alone
You found me, you found me, you found me
I guess you didn’t care, and I guess I liked that, and when I fell hard, you took a step back
Without me, without me, without me…
And he’s long gone when he’s next to me, and I realize the blame/joke is on me 

‘Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in”  

It’s so true, Taylor.  So many women fall for unavailable, insensitive, selfish guys, because they don’t know their own worth, and so I’m glad you also sing about the good guys, like in “Begin Again”:

“Walked in expecting you’d be late, but you got here early and you stand and wave, I walk to you
You pull my chair out and help me in, and you don’t know how nice that is, but I do
And you throw your head back laughing like a little kid
I think it’s strange that you think I’m funny ’cause he never did
and I’ve been spending the last eight months thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end
But on a Wednesday in a cafe, I watched it begin again”

A cafe date? On a Wednesday?  He pulled out your chair? Thanks for showing girls everywhere what they deserve, what they should expect.

And I love it that you mention family so often, Taylor.  When I first heard the song, “The Best Day,” I said skeptically to my daughter in the passenger seat, “I certainly hope Taylor is talking about her mom here.”

 “She is, Mom,” she happily replied.

“I’m thirteen now and don’t know how my friends could be so mean
I came home crying and you hold me tight and grab the keys
And we drive and drive till we found a town far enough away
And we talk and window shop until I forgot all their names”

And it was confirmed that you were talking about your love for your family when you say this:

“I have an excellent father, his strength is making me stronger
God smiles on my little brother, inside and out, he’s better than I am
I grew up in a pretty house and I had space to run
And I had the best days with you”

Thank you for showing my daughter how cool it is to love and appreciate your family.

And thank you for showing her that other families also like to pull out embarrassing childhood photos:

“Photo album on the counter, your cheeks were turning red
You used to be a little kid with glasses in a twin-sized bed
And your mother’s telling stories about you on the tee ball team
You tell me ’bout your past thinking your future is me”
~ All Too Well

Hanging out with your boyfriend’s family at his house and talking about normal life ~ how refreshing!

And I even love your unapologetic portrayal of a woman’s desire to be a beautiful bride, to be married, sacrificed for, and settled into a future with one man.

“Romeo, save me, I’ve been feeling so alone
I keep waiting for you but you never come
Is this in my head? I don’t know what to think
He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said
‘Marry me, Juliet. You’ll never have to be alone
I love you and that’s all I really know.
I talked to your dad ~ go pick out a white dress
It’s a love story, baby,  just say, “Yes”‘”
~ Love Story

While I will have to emphasize that getting married will never complete my daughter, nor should it be her ultimate goal, I’m thankful that the desire is validated somewhere in a culture that thinks it either an unnecessary, irrelevant institution or advocates for its aberration ~ which is sort of ironic when you think about it.

And I know they make fun of you for your supposed “serial dating,” but as you responded to Tina Fey in a Vogue interview, it’s only been two guys since 2010.

So… “don’t you worry your pretty little mind.  People throw rocks at things that shine.”
~ Ours

It’s so true, Taylor, people are so ready to throw stones, and you handle it with lots of grace and humility.  And speaking of those who mock you, it’s also true that women are the worst misogynists. The WORST. Let me apologize for that.  It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own jealousy. The thing is, you understand that, and it’s part of what enables you to rise above those petty, catty situations.  One of those totally uncalled for criticisms occurred recently when you wore this outfit.

Seems other women didn’t like that you chose a vintage, modest, DRESS.  I mean, what are you trying to do ~ repress our sexual freedom by covering your body and wearing something too “feminine.”  I think the confusing rule goes something like ~ one or the other, but please, not both. Thank you for not listening to the mixed messages, Taylor.  Thank you for being a lady, dressing like one, and sending the message that it’s okay.

The song that sort of “sealed the deal” for me regarding your worthiness of my daughter’s affection was “Fifteen.”  I want to thank you for being honest and bold enough to write this song.  There is so much truth in it.

“Cause when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you
You’re gonna believe them
And when you’re fifteen and your first kiss makes your head spin around
But in your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team
But I didn’t know it at fifteen
When all you wanted was to be wanted
Wish you could go back and tell yourself what you know now
Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday
But I realized some bigger dreams of mine
And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind
And we both cried…”

I spend quite a bit of time with women who “gave everything she had to a boy” and they regret it, are completely broken over it. Somehow, though, when the secular, pop culture world reinforces the biblical truth from the screen and stage, it helps those who might not be fully convinced of what God Himself has been gently teaching for eternity: casual sex is an oxymoron. When the message comes from you, even subtly, it encourages girls to hold on to something they probably already know deep down, since the law of God is written on their hearts.  I think you might even be aware of this, coming from a Presbyterian church-going family.

I’m just so thankful that you tell the truth.  So many in your business lie about the consequences of promiscuous, outside-of-marriage sex, glorifying the thing that so often brings shame and destruction.

So, my sincerest thanks to you.  That my daughter has chosen you as her favorite celebrity and pop culture role model is, so far, fine by me, because of your choices and message.  I say “so far,” though, because time has a way of testing things, and you are still young.  But you also started young, very young in fact, and you’ve maintained a rare consistency in that amount of time. I pray it will only continue and grow. More than that, I pray, as does my daughter, that you will come to know, in a deeply personal, saving way, the God who has granted you these gifts, this grace.

Hi Taylor!  Warmest greetings from chilly-in-December-Massachusetts!

Yes, we adore you, Taylor, and wish, as all your fans do, that we could be among your BFFs. Keep doing what you do best, and know there’s a mama and a daughter pulling for you, enjoying you, and praying God’s best for you.