Category Archives: Birthday Club

The English Inn: Can Imitations Exceed Originals?

My kids sometimes tease about the fact that the Birthday Club started out as a couple of hours in the afternoon for coffee and cake, over the years expanded to include lunch, and now (14 years later) has become a full day affair! In response, Cindi says we should try to make it sound slightly more legitimate by calling it “The Birthday Research Committee,” since we are always trying to find interesting new places to explore and often take our husbands or kids there later. And, of course—it’s fun to share my finds with any of you who live in the area!  🙂So, after our hike along the Grand River, and in keeping with our river theme, we stopped for lunch at The English Inn in Eaton Rapids, also on the Grand River. If you’re ever wishing you could go for a romantic getaway to jolly old England without having to fly across the Atlantic, have I ever got a deal for you! The English Inn is not only a first-class restaurant, it’s also a beautifully updated Bed’n’Breakfast where you can get a  quaint room starting at $115 per night (which is admittedly a lot, but that’s a lot less than flying to England).  This 90-year-old classic Tudor Revival home was first built for Irving Reuter, who was the general manager of the Oldsmobile Corporation and one of the first ten to invest in General Motors.Today, it’s been expanded to include a banquet hall that can facilitate wedding receptions for up to 250 guests, although the original mansion has been completely renovated and filled with elegant period pieces.           Since 1991, it’s been listed in the State Registry of Historic Sites. We were running late and feared we’d miss out on lunch, since they only serve until 1:30 pm, but Cindi called, and they very graciously remained open to serve us, even though we were their only customers at that late hour.            The food was exceptional, and all three of us were very pleased. I had the beef and rarebit and will definitely be trying to figure out how to imitate their great tenderloin tips and creamy rarebit! If possible, even better than the outstanding food was their impeccable hospitality. Our waiter assured us that we could linger as long as we wished over lunch (which we did!), told us all about the history of The English Inn, and then later toured us around, inviting us to meander through their extensive gardens.I read this about them: “As it once was during the Reuter’s tenure, fine dining and hospitality remain the order of the evening at The English Inn.” Absolutely! The English Inn is nestled along the Grand River and reminded me of a time our family stayed at The Talbot Inn along the River Thames near Oxford, England.If anything, I would say The English Inn is even more elegant and gracious, and it made me reflect on the possibility of an imitation becoming even more beautiful than an original. As a Christian, I will never come close to being as perfect and spiritually beautiful as Jesus, because He truly is God incarnate. But, it inspired me to work at becoming a more gracious and lovely imitation!

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Like a River Glorious
(—Frances R. Havergal, 1876)

  1. Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
    Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
    Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
    Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

    • Refrain:
      Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
      Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
  2. Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
    Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
    Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
    Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
  3. Every joy or trial falleth from above,
    Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
    We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;
    They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.

Birthday Pains…and Pleasures!

June is always bustin’ out all over with birthdays. Earlier this month, my daughter-in-law had to miss out completely on our birthday party for her because both her kids were so sick, but today I want to relate an especially happy tale about one of our Birthday Club adventures that succeeded.Susan, Cindi, and I had a perfectly wonderful day celebrating Susan’s birthday, so I want to encourage young parents with the thought that by the time your kids are grown, your birthdays might become remarkably fun…

   and possibly even relaxing! We started with an initial fortification of fruit, coffee, tea, and some amazing donuts from the new Donut Conspiracy shop on E. Beltline that (is overpriced but) has really delicious and decadent donuts with clever names like “Rehab.”We continued our rehab with a fantastically soothing hike on the Ledges Trail, a remote area of the Grand River in Fitzgerald Park (near Grand Ledge, MI). Ledges Trail meanders along the Grand River for about 3/4 mile  down to Island Park (built on “Second Island”).  Island Park is sunny, breezy, non-buggy and handicap accessible. The trail is a little rougher, we’re all still good hikers, so we thoroughly enjoyed  our walk along the beautifully patterned “grand ledges” of sedimentary rock. It’s so lush and green it reminded us of Ireland, and we did use insect repellent, but none of us gotten bitten by mosquitoes. (Note: there was a lot of poison ivy beside the path, so if you hike it,
be careful
and consider wearing shoes and socks…or really watch your step!) The ledges are covered with powdery light green lichens
that make them look almost like they’ve been white-washed! They’re also adorned with delicate mosses, ferns, and liverworts,  some of which aren’t found anywhere else in Michigan’s lower peninsula. In fact, I felt very much like I was hiking along one
of the Upper Peninsula’s verdant wilderness trails! In 1888 a railroad trestle was built across the Grand River near the south boundary of Fitzgerald Park. Something echoed deep in our hearts as we heard the wail of a whistle
and watched a long train rumble past… …a tug that made us feel tied to 130 years of history and a time when
fugitive slaves were harbored in the caves en-route to Canada and freedom. Susan has a penchant for spiritual nurturing and motifs, so Cindi suggested a river theme for our outing. Perfect! Besides sharing all about our lives, we sang songs together. We also considered the significance of various verses and stories about rivers that flow through the scriptureand reflected on God’s goodness to us during this season of our lives.There is so much to be thankful for at every stage of life, and if you’re in the midst of child-rearing, I hope you’re able to enjoy the bustle. But, if you’re older (like we are), I hope you enjoy the peace and quiet too.It Is Well
(—Horatio Gates Spafford, 1873)

1 When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Refrain (may be sung after final stanza only):
It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.

2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. Refrain

3 My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! Refrain

4 O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend;
even so, it is well with my soul. Refrain

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Psalm 1:1-3

(P.S.—Lest I make this sound too idyllic, I have to say that Susan is in the throes of helping plan a daughter’s wedding, so it’s not like she’s sitting poolside painting her toenails. I don’t think life is ever without challenges, but I do think there are times when life isn’t quite so demanding!)

The Birthday Club Strikes Again

Happy Spring to you!! We celebrated spring and Cindi’s birthday yesterday, which was so much fun that I wanted to share right away in case any of you living in the GR area might be interested in going to the Sugarbush Festival at Blandford Nature Center tomorrow (March 24, 2018) where they’ll be making maple syrup, etc! Also, this coming week would be an ideal time to take your kids
to the Critter Barn in Zeeland, MI, during spring break because they have all sorts of babies being birthed,  and if you show up at feeding time,  they may even let you give the baby goats a bottle of warm milk!  (This may depend on how many children come.)  Of course, being our Birthday Club, we stopped at Sandy’s Donut House  for some of their famous donuts,  and we took a lunch break at El Aztecas Mexican Restaurant,  where they spontaneously blessed us with some festive fried ice cream and sang “Happy Birthday” when they found out we were celebrating Cindi’s birthday.  If you go to the Sugarbush Festival tomorrow,  dress warmly, because it’s only supposed to be a high of 39°F,  but there are lots of things to see outside and some lovely nature walks.  Also,  think about stopping at Sandy’s for a donut on your way, or maybe serving pancakes and syrup at home first, because there isn’t a pancake breakfast there. However, they did let us taste the syrup,
and you’ll be able to buy some yummy maple syrup cotton candy or other treats! If you decide to go the Critter House,  I’d recommend going in the next few weeks while the mothers are birthing,  and call ahead to see what time the next feeding will be.  Be sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting a little warm milk on,
because even kids will be kids…but it’s well worth the spilled milk! I’d never in all my years fed a baby goat before, and it was so much fun!One of the things I love best about our Birthday Club (and about life), is that we’re never too old to try new things, experience new joys and find new beauties. Are you trying new adventures? Keep exploring! The world is full of good things!

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5).

He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

Chilly Chili Crab Cakes with Horseradish Sauce

Having a high tea to break up the winter blahs has been a long-standing tradition for our birthday club, so we’re always looking for new recipes to share.On our last cruise, my favorite appetizer was their Salmon Tartare, but when I discovered that “tartare” refers to raw meat, I decided to use cooked crab meat instead and make up my own recipe, inspired by the ingredients from the menu. Some years we go in for lots of complicated dishes, but Cindi and Rex had just returned (at midnight) the night before from a mission trip, where Rex was doing anesthesiology at a hospital in Honduras and Cindi was helping at the school, so we tried to make things super simple this time.The party still managed to be a great hit (as always), and my new crab creation turned out to have excellent flavor (even if the dull green color disappointed me). (…On the bright side, it might be fun for St. Patrick’s Day!)  🙂   Also, you could fry the cakes in butter for a more traditional crab-cake, golden-brown look,  but if you’d like a chilled dish for a summery occasion, try this:

Chilly Chili Crab Cakes
(makes 12 servings)

Mash one avocado in a bowl. Add:
The juice from one fresh-squeezed lemon (helps preserve the color of the avocado as well as making everything taste better)
1 small can (4 oz) of mild green chiles 1 pound crab meat
2 tablespoons capers (could be left out if you don’t like capers)2 tablespoons pesto (could be replaced with sour cream, but I love pesto, and I was trying to make it dairy free)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Lawry seasoning salt (or  your favorite)
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper. Mix everything thoroughly. You could serve the salad on lettuce leaves (like the turkey wraps above), although this particular time I served them on little beds of shredded red cabbage. Scoop the crab mixture into balls with an ice cream scope, and top them with a tablespoon (each) of horseradish sauce made from equal parts of horse radish and mayonnaiseWe had such a wonderful evening, but I think even if we’d just gotten together with bread and tea, it wouldn’t have made much difference! “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).(Rex is sharing highlights of their trip with Alan and Steve. Working in a remote hospital overseas, as you can imagine, had a lot of frustrating challenges and tense moments, but they also saved some lives!)

July: A Patchwork Quilt of Little Thoughts

This morning at 4:30 am I sent my husband off on a grand adventure to Spokane, Washington, where he’s going to be helping our son Jonathan drive all his “worldly goods” in a moving van (with his car on a dolly) back to GR.  Jon has just been appointed as the director for Moody Bible Institute’s new Center for Global Theological Education, so his family is moving from the West Coast to Chicago (but via Grand Rapids and Germany, where they’ll be spending his sabbatical between now and January 1, 2017).  Meanwhile, back at Tanglewood Cottage (our house), all Jon’s “worldly treasures” (i.e. his wife, Gerlinde, and their three darling, preschool-age daughters) are in the air flying eastward to Grand Rapids.  Sooooo, I’m rushing about stocking the fridge and freshening up the house in preparation for Gerlinde’s arrival this afternoon. We will all be together here for the month of July before they head to Germany for the fall semester. I am super excited to see them, but I’m sharing all this to say that—although my head is swimming with things I want to share from the past weeks—        such as how impressive Venice looks sailing through the Grand Canal,  or how much fun we had on our last birthday club outing to the Living History Museum in White Hall, Michigan,                     or how amazing the new Cypress Unit is at Pine Rest,                    where we attended the dedication and reception last night…                               As happy and exciting as life is right now,  I am anticipating being a full-time grandma (“Nana”) and mother for the next weeks, and as such, my blogging time will be reduced to little bits and pieces.  Therefore, if I don’t post often, or if my posts have approximately zero to one photos attached, know that this is “the best” I have to offer at this point…perhaps just a patchwork of little thoughts.  It reminds me of something I learned as a young mother, when my personal quiet times of meditation and prayer were often interrupted by needy infants.  I read somewhere that our prayers to our beloved heavenly father don’t have to be a like a big, ornate blanket.  God knows our hearts and our needs, and He appreciates quilts too…simple moments of time when we lift our hearts to praise while nursing an infant…or when we  send up little (or HUGE) requests for grace while struggling to keep calm and mother on in the midst of messes.  Whatever you’re doing this July, I pray that you’ll be busy practicing the presence of God, as I also hope to be doing. May we find peace and rest in His presence, and may God bless you on your spiritual journey!

Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits,
even the God of our salvation
” (Psalm 68:19).  O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him. So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows” (Psalm 61:7-8).

Birthday Club: In Pursuit of Beauty and Light

“We ought to think of our initial encounter with God in terms of beauty, in which God appears to us…He gives himself to us before we even know the right question to ask” (D.C. Schindler).*    It isn’t often you get to visit your daughter’s senior art exhibition. In fact, it’s never happened to me, but for our Birthday Club outing to honor Cindi this year, we took a trip to Spring Arbor to see her daughter’s capstone project, an art exhibition at the Ganton Art Gallery of Spring Arbor University. When we visited, Ilsa and three other graduating seniors had artwork on display.Our Birthday Club usually has some surprises along the way, though, so our first stop was a visit with Cindi’s parents, who are considering a move to GR. This awesome couple sponsored our CMS (Christian Medical Society) group when Alan was in medical school 40 years ago, so it’s been a special joy to get reacquainted with them via my long-term friendship with their daughter. Spring Arbor is a couple of hours east of GR, so had needed a coffee break on our road trip at the “Coffee Barrel” in Holt, Michigan. If you’re a coffee lover and live near or pass through, it’s definitely worth a visit!We met Cindi’s daughter for lunch at Lazeez, where they have excellent Indian cuisine. It was fun to chat with the owner and discover we have mutual friends!  Josh and Amy Gelatt now live in this area, and Josh is the pastor of Cascades Baptist Church in Jackson, MI, but we all attended the same church years ago. It’s such a small world! (These plaques adorn the wall by the register at Lazeez.)We all love savory Indian cuisine, and the ginger chai tea is especially delicious!     After lunch Ilsa gave us a very gracious tour of the gallery and her artwork. I’ve known Ilsa since she was a little girl. She’s always been gifted and artistic. I was very impressed by the variety of her mediums, her creativity, and her skill.       Some of her ideas were absolutely brilliant and worthy of copyrighting.              Many of her pieces had interesting stories and were provocative. Some made really good points…like this one. That’s not chips on her shoulder, it’s a physical representation (if I understood vaguely correctly) of the softness of human beings but the fact that we all have rough edges too.  As we pondered her artwork, I remembered something from a chapel service that one of my sons said recently, “We’re disadvantaged as a community as we head into this brave new world because  we haven’t reflected theologically and systematically as we perhaps should on symbolic reality. Now is our chance to change that. I  invite you and encourage you to explore symbolic reality, symbolic theology” (Dr. Jonathan J. Armstrong, Moody Bible Institute). Jon is a big fan of modern art, although I’ve not been. Maybe I need to visit more art galleries! (BTW, Ilsa’s exhibit is gone, but there are four new exhibits now.) Admission to the Ganton Art Gallery is free, but no matter where you live, you’re probably not too far from some fascinating artwork via student exhibitions, private and public galleries. If you live in Grand Rapids but are broke, there are “Free Meijer Days” at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Tuesdays 10-5 and on Thursdays from 5-9 pm.                                            I have to say, many of Ilsa’s pieces were rather unsettling
(which was her intention, I’m sure).        I’m much more drawn to the beauty God paints, so full of color and light!However, I was taken with many of Ilsa’s “Fantastic Fiends,” because I noticed the light emanating from within them and remembered this saying:  “Beautiful light is born of darkness, so the faith that springs from conflict is often the strongest and best.”~R. TurnbullAnd so, I wish light and beauty for all of us, but for those who are struggling to find light in the darkness, I pray that you may find some beautiful light born of darkness, and a deep faith that springs from conflict!But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV).

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (Jesus speaking in John 12:46, ESV).

(*D.C. Schindler, author of The Catholicity of Reason; Pontifical John Paul II Institute at the Catholic University of America. Both Dr. Schindler and Dr. Armstrong’s comments are from Jon’s recent chapel address (which is fascinating) and can be found here (although you might need to rewind it to the beginning):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFTTi_7WC_0&feature=youtu.be

High Teas and Birthday Parties: Killing Three Birds with One Party

high-tea               Well, hopefully we didn’t really kill any birds, bees, or bodies, quichebut we really did have fun last week with our annual high tea, and I wanted to share recipes for a couple of high tea staples: cucumber sandwiches and scones. lettuce-wraps      But first, the story, since if there’s anything I love, it’s to repeat a good tale! candle-in-a-tea-cupAfter meeting for several years to spoil each other on our birthdays, Cindi, Susan, and I started feeling a bit guilty for not including our spouses somehow,birthday-cake-flourless-chocolate-torte since they were always working hard to make it possible for us to be “at home” moms who could celebrate birthdays together (now that our kids are grown up).birthday-cakeSo, we started the tradition of a winter high tea (given that the way to a husband’s heart is half through his stomach). birthday-partyRex and Steve’s birthdays are exactly one week apart, so it’s pretty easy to celebrate both their birthdays by scheduling the tea on the weekend in between! korean-beef-kabobsWe each bring two savory and two sweet offerings, drink many cups of tea, savor the sweetness of a leisurely evening together, and go home feeling quite happy. sesame-seedWhen I was a young bride, one of my mentors said her theory on marital contentment was, “Keep him jolly from a little too much eating and groggy from a little too much lovin’.” sharing-a-high-tea-together     In forty-three years, I haven’t found a reason to dispute her wisdom!  🙂

Here’s my recipe for cucumber sandwiches, which I’ve eaten at every high tea from the great Northwest’s Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC, to the Southeast’s Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian in Disney…to London’s Harrod and on many a Princess cruise sailing in the deep blue seas of the world. If you’re going to have an authentic high tea, you really need cucumber sandwiches, and they’re about the easiest thing in the world to make!

cucumber-finger-sandwichesCucumber Finger Sandwiches

1 cucumber sliced very (key word) thin, preferably in a processor. I learned this secret from someone married to an Englishman: Press the cucumber slices gently between paper towels to remove the excess juice.

8  oz. well softened creamed cheese. Stir together gently (not in a food processor).

truffle-saltFlavor with a pinch each of truffle salt (okay, sea salt or table salt works too), pepper, garlic and onion powder (powder, not salt; be careful not to oversalt), basil, dill weed, and chives. Chill.

To serve, slice the crusts off plain white bread and prepare them, but don’t fill the sandwiches until the very last minute, because they’ll get soggy in no time if they sit around. Make up your sandwiches and cut them in half  just when you’re ready to serve them.

gluten-free-blueberry-sconesGluten-free Blueberry Scones

Scones with clotted cream and jams are another classic staple of high teas. Susan needs gluten-free options, so I made these with gluten-free flour, but you can make them exactly the same way using regular flour:

gluten-free-bisquick2 cups Bisquick (gluten-free or regular)
1/2 c. (1 stick) softened butter
3 eggs
1 T. milk

Blend in a mixer only until all the ingredients are mixed. Don’t overblend, or it will make them tough. Add 1 pint blueberries, stirring them in very gently by hand with a spoon. The mix will hardly stick to the blueberries, but it needs to be coarse or the scones will be too wet when they bake. Form into 12 balls (flour your hands if you need to) on a cookie sheet. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 350° for 20 minutes. Turn up the heat to 400° for 5 minutes or until just starting to turn a golden brown.  Serve warm with whipped cream and jams. (The classic term is “clotted” cream, but I make mine “clotted” by whipping it until it’s almost stiff…but not yet butter, and I add 1 T. sugar per cup of cream, but I’m a sugar hawk. You don’t have to do that.)

plate-of-finger-foods-at-high-teaThere is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)salami-and-pepper-roll-ups