Category Archives: Family News

Nana Time and Time Outs

I know that all grandparents thinks their grandchildren are the sweetest, most clever and most fun children in existence, proving their undying devotion by carrying around photos (mostly on their cell phones these days), and making smart remarks like, “If I’d known how much fun grandchildren were going to be, I’d have skipped being a parent the first time and just gone straight to being a grandparent.”  I assume that means that it’s much easier to “love ’em and leave ’em,” or—when a grandchild pitches a fit or needs a diaper change, you can hand them off to their parents…enjoying all the benefits without any of the responsibilities.  I’d been enjoying the luxury of such easy relationships with my grandchildren until the day after Baby Marius was born. That night, Grace spiked a fever, and the next day Michael took her to the hospital, where she remained for three days. Because the baby wasn’t born at the hospital, Grace didn’t end up in the Ob/Gen unit, so in order for Marius to be with Grace, Michael had to stay at the hospital with them to care for the baby.  This left me actually responsible—HOME ALONE— with the four older grandchildren. I hadn’t been completely responsible for four youngsters since my first four were kids, which was 35 years ago. (Well, even if I think about the youngest four of my seven, that was still 27 years ago.)  Here they are:  Eowyn is an angel. If it hadn’t been for Eowyn, life would have been very trying! She’s only 10, but she’s a tireless helper, knows where everything is and how all the family routines go.  She would read to the smaller kids and has such a gentle, kind spirit. Eowyn used to write me almost every day, but she’s started writing more serious stories, so she passed the baton (cell phone) to Nycteris, who has become my Foreign Correspondent, sends me notes and pictures, and helps me feel like Michael’s family isn’t so far away…even though they are! (For instance, she recently gave me a walking tour of their new home in Belgium!) Nycteris is also an able helper and was especially good with Paladin when I wasn’t sure how to handle him.  Judah is very sensitive and sweet. He’s a builder/engineer type, plays peacefully by himself for hours if left to his own devices (as did his father), and takes a lot of abuse from his little brother with way more patience than I would have, had I ever been an older brother!  Paladin will be wonderful, I am sure, but at age three, he was not at all with the program. Having a new baby, losing both his mother and father to the hospital, inheriting a Nana whom he’s only met a few times, having the house in a bit of an uproar as they were packing to move, trying to survive 98°heat every day and about the same in humidity… It was a big challenge for all of us, but for Paladin, it was almost more than he could handle. So, instead of tucking under my wing and enjoying his doting Nana, he decided to act out by throwing rocks at his sibs or attempting to beat them with sticks…or whatever.  Now, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s having to discipline, but I was afraid he was actually going to hurt the kids, so when he’d fly into a fit, I’d grab him and hold him on my lap until he settled down. I would say (as cheerfully as possible), “You must need a Nana Time Out!”  At first he would struggle and try to bite me to get away, but thankfully, he was small enough that I could hold him on my lap and avoid his teeth. In a few minutes, he’d settle right down, and after a hug and a kiss, we’d be friends, and he’d be calm.  After about the third tantrum, he stopped picking fights with the kids, and we all got along very well the rest of our time until Mike and Grace returned with Baby Marius…all fine and well!  Whew! It was just great to have them back and relax into chief helper and side kick rather than needing to parent the kids. It reminded me again just how exhausting and challenging it is to be a parent. God bless all you parents out there! Thank you for hanging in there 24/7 to love and guide your children!  Also, it made me appreciate what a good parent my heavenly Father is, who also holds me in his mighty arms. When I was young, he often had to hold me tight when I’d pitch a fit, although more often nowadays, I just curl up on his lap for comfort!

“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

No More Sixteen Going on Seventeen: Meet Number Seventeen!

Last Thursday I left off my tale at the point where my over-due daughter-in-law and I had just spent a marvelous day at Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (Padova, Italy) but had no clear memory of how to retrace our steps to find our car, wherever it had been parked on some side street with a name we couldn’t recall.

Truly, I attempt to practice the advice to “pray without ceasing,”  but normally there are many lapses. Not so this late afternoon! “Which way, Lord? Ah, I remember that shop. Now what? Which way did you say? Down there? Oh, yes, that patch of grass looks familiar. Thank you. Oooo… I don’t remember anything here…” About then Grace would remember something, and together the three of us (Grace and I, led by the Holy Spirit) slowly made our way back to the car.  Thank you, Father! Grace was super tired but still not having contractions, so we drove through quite a thunderstorm the forty miles back to Vincenza, where we were greeted by our family and this rain-drenched rose. We stopped briefly on our way home to buy some herbal teas and other homeopathic medicines the midwife suggested to stimulate contractions, and I picked up a tiramisu to thank the home team for letting us be gone all day. The night passed quietly, but just as we were getting ready to leave for church Sunday morning, Grace’s water broke, and eventually (with the help of two midwives and a lot of hard labor), their new baby was born at home. So, welcome to the family, Baby Marius Rive! His first name is in honor of the character, Marius Pontmercy, who is saved by Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and later marries Valjean’s daughter. Grace had just finished reading the book and felt that Marius was going to carry on his father-in-law’s legacy of grace and forgiveness. “Rive” is an ancient french word that means “river bank,” and Michael and Grace put the two names together as a blessing and prayer that Marius Rive will be like a river bank to channel God’s grace and forgiveness to others. Isn’t that beautiful?

Channels Only
(Mary E. Maxwell, 1900, Public Domain;
This song is a great favorite of our family)

  1. How I praise Thee, precious Savior,
    That Thy love laid hold of me;
    Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me
    That I might Thy channel be.

    • Refrain:
      Channels only, blessed Master,
      But with all Thy wondrous pow’r
      Flowing through us, Thou canst use us
      Every day and every hour.
  2. Just a channel full of blessing,
    To the thirsty hearts around,
    To tell out Thy full salvation,
    All Thy loving message sound.
  3. Emptied that Thou shouldest fill me,
    A clean vessel in Thy hand;
    With no pow’r but as Thou givest
    Graciously with each command.
  4. Witnessing Thy pow’r to save me,
    Setting free from self and sin;
    Thou who bought me to possess me,
    In Thy fullness, Lord, come in.
  5. Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit
    Hearts that full surrender know,
    That the streams of living water
    From our inner man may flow.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” (Isaiah 41:17-19)

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
(John 7:37-38).

Castles in the Clouds and A Castle in a Cave

When you were young, did you imagine meandering into castles built amongst billowing cumulus clouds in the sky?  I did.  When our children were very little, one of their favorite books was named
From Castles in the Clouds,  and when I visited Michael and Grace last summer, I couldn’t help but think of  how their home reminded me of a magical castle floating on a cloud,  although it’s really a villa built into a mountainside in Italy.  I’m not exactly sure how they found this enchanted villa,  but I am sure it was in answer to our prayers for “just the perfect” place to live.  It was constructed in 1690, is on the national register of historic places,  and the count who owns it had three requirements if they wanted to rent:  They had to be rich,  they had to be romantic,  and they had to be strong. (There are 51 steps from the kitchen to the garage!)  I’m not sure if an army dentist qualifies as rich,  but they are certainly romantic and strong. . . and the count must have liked them,  because he came down in price so they could afford it. Although it’s really just a villa set near vineyards where Galileo used to star gaze, there’s such a grandeur about it that it really does remind me of a little castle! Every door has bolts and locks to secure it like a fortress. There are aged lamps with cobwebs way high up that remind me
of Disney’s Haunted Mansion! There are trap doors  and secret passageways,  and even one room that conjures up images of serving as a dungeon at one time. The ceiling in the ballroom is painted with ethereal frescoes, and some of the doors and walls are adorned with colorful murals
painted by the count’s wife, who is an artist. There are beautiful woodland gardens and pathways, and lots of little castley touches, like gargoyles under the roof tops.Nevertheless, if it’s a “castle,” it’s not a castle built on the clouds.
It’s a castle carved into a mountain and rooted firmly to the earth. In fact, this villa has its very own secret cave for playing and getting cool.
(Its was 98°F. some days!)Everywhere I could see evidences of just how difficult it must have been to carve this castle out of rock. As children, we dream and imagine, but building a good life takes a lifetime of hard work,and it’s a never-ending process. I don’t think any of us will ever live in a castle built in the clouds, But by God’s grace, if “every man’s home is his castle,” then each of us has the potential to live in a little castle here on earth, built into the side of a mountain. (And, to me that Mountain is God, our heavenly Father)! We may not get everything we imagine,
but we often get so much more than we need! Michael and Grace’s castle in a cave has been “just perfect” for them these past three years, but yesterday they moved out…off on a new assignment! How about you and me? Have you built a little castle in a cave dug into the side of the Mountain? I have. Are you ready for a new assignment?  I’m very content, but just like Michael and Grace, I want to be ready to ship out and move on whenever my Lord calls, to wherever my Lord leads!  Because, thankfully, this world is not our final resting place! Someday, if we are saved by faith in Christ,
we’ll be called from this life to the next,not to live in a castle in the clouds, but to our Father’s home in heaven.

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).When Michael was little, his favorite song was “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” I taught it to his kids, and we sang it every night when I was taking care of them, so  I thought it would make the perfect ending (for a new beginning):

  1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
    And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
    When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

    • Refrain:
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
  2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
    And the glory of His resurrection share;
    When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
  3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
    Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
    Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
    (—James M. Black, 1893, Public Domain)  God bless my kids, and may God bless us all as we adventure forth!

 

Epic Changes

Over the past few months, we’ve experienced some epic changes, not only around our home, but in our family and at Alan’s office. I’ll work backwards, since the first epic change occurred at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where Alan works. After months of intensive planning and preparation, the entire hospital system (which is now one of the largest free-standing psychiatric hospitals in the U.S.) switched over their medical records to Epic Systems Corporation, a software company that holds the records for some 64% of all the patients in America. It was truly an “Epic” change…hugely expensive, hugely difficult, but also hopefully hugely helpful in better caring for their patients.  The second (although tiny) epic change was the addition of a new baby in our family! Little Marius joined Michael and Grace’s family at their villa in Italy in July. I was blessed to be with them during this precious time, made particularly epic for me because I ended up caring for their four older children solo for a few days…a first for me in my 12-year grandma-ing career. Grace ended up back in the hospital for several days (she is fine now), and in Italy they wouldn’t allow the baby to stay unless Michael also stayed to care for him!  The last epic change I’ll report (although there are still more) is happening as I write: the addition of a new sun room onto our home. Talk about digging and grubbing in the dirt! The view out the window is thrilling and intimidating…so much so that we gave up an opportunity to have our son Jon’s family visit for fear of their three little girls getting inadvertently injured by falling into the pit or being run over by some monstrous machine. One day there was such a thunderous impact from workers removing concrete abutments that a music box fell off the mantle inside! Lots of jolts and jars…concrete and mud sprayed all over our music gear in the basement when a plastic drape fell, etc! Beyond these changes for us, we have two close friends who are in epic battles with cancer right now…one friend who was in the hospital for three weeks, and another couple who needed to move from their (his) home of 60 years into a condo. It feels a little the earth is quaking under my feet, not just in my home, but in my heart!     How are you doing? Are you also experiencing epic changes in your life?  If so, may I comfort you with this prayer by Henri J.M. Nouwen? “Dear Lord, Today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: ‘It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.’ You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and down in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, you remain the same. Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of your love I came to life, by your love I am sustained, and to your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by your unwavering love. . . .”  “O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea. Amen.” (—from A Cry for Mercy).Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength” (Isaiah 40:28-29). (I just spent 5 weeks in Europe, partly in Michael and Grace’s “castle in a cave,” and partly on a 3-week cruise of the North Sea, Iceland, and Norway. Hopefully, next week I’ll start recounting tales from these wonderful weeks of adventure! Meanwhile, God bless you! I pray for everyone who reads my blogs, that you will find all your needs met in God, our heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord!)

German Apfelstrudel (aka: Some of the World’s Best Apple Strudel!)

As a child, Alan’s favorite dessert was apple pie, and even now if there’s apple pie or apple strudel available, one of us usually tries some. We’ve had apple strudel so many times we imagine we’re connoisseurs, but in all the world, we’ve never tasted apple strudel anywhere that we think is as good as our daughter-in-law Gerlinde’s (who’s from Germany and very practiced at this specialty).  Today, I’m going to do a show and tell (with two dozen photos), explaining just how to make some the world’s best apple strudel!  🙂

Authentic German Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel)
(I’d say it could serve 12-24, but the 8 of us polished it all off in a day!)

50 g butter
200 g all purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
75 ml lukewarm water

Strudel dough:

Melt butter in a pot. Put flour in a bowl. Mix butter, salt, lukewarm water with a mixer. Boil water in a small pot, pout out the boiling water and dry it out completely. Then put the dough in the hot pot, close the pot with a lid and let stand for 30 minutes.

Filling:
About 1 kilograms apples (any that are good for pies, like MacIntosh or Honeycrisp)
90 grams butter
100 grams sugar
Generous sprinkling of cinnamon (about 1 teaspoon per strudel ±)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350° F
Prepare baking tray by lining it with parchment paper

Filling:(this will make two strudel)

Peel the apples and cut into small pieces. Melt butter.

Divide the dough in two pieces. Prepare to roll out the dough on a thin dish towel that has a pattern. (Gerlinde told me you know it’s done when you can see the pattern through the dish towel…can you see the butterfly?) Sprinkle flour on the dish cloth to prevent the dough from sticking to it. Roll out each peace of dough into a rectangular shape.                                  Spread the liquid butter on the dough.  Then add the apples on top of the butter.
Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top of the apples.        Close up the dough, using water to make the dough stick to the sides.    Use the dish cloth to transfer the strudel to the baking tray with the dough seam facing down on the tray.                                             After you’ve made both of the strudels,                   brush them with a mixture of one egg and a little milk. Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until the strudel is golden brown and you think the apples are soft.  After the strudel is baked, take out of oven and let cool, or serve warm.  You can sprinkle powdered sugar on top of it. (We served it with ice cream and whipping cream, although it’s also superb by itself.)  Enjoy!  🙂

How sweet are thy words unto my taste!
yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
” (Psalm 119:103).

Savory Sides: Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

Red cabbage is low in calories and high in health benefits. When we had our German feast, Gerlinde’s sous chef (Jonathan) actually made the red cabbage, so she didn’t give me the recipe for that. However, I’ve been making red cabbage as a side for the past 40+ years, and it doesn’t really have to be part of an ethnic dinner, so I decided to tell you what I do (which is probably close to what Jonathan did anyway).

Sweet and Sour German(ish) Cabbage
(serves 6-8)

1. Chop 6 0z.bacon into small chunks and saute in a frying pan for 5 minutes, until beginning to brown. (This is purely optional, but I like it.)2. Add and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until starting to caramelize:
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large apple (peeled, cored, and finely shredded or chopped)2. Add 1 red cabbage (with core removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces)
Fry on medium heat another 5 minutes, until cabbage is starting to look done. Make sure to use a spatula to keep scraping the bottom of the pan so nothing  burns.  3. Add:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or wine vinegar; whichever you have on hand)
1/4 cup brown sugar (or can go 1/2 cup if you like it sweeter; taste-test it)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt (test near the end; you may want even a little more)
Pepper to taste (a few sprinkles)

4. Simmer in a covered pan for 10-15 minutes, until cabbage is tender. Turn the heat off and keep covered, but turn the heat back on for just a minute or two right before serving so that it’s hot. Red cabbage actually improves with age and can last a week in the refrigerator if you have leftovers. It also freezes well. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Unstoppable Enthusiasm

This summer we’ve had the privilege of seeing all our kids and grand children at some point. This is our third-born, Jonathan, who was kayaking out on our lake with his oldest daughter in the rain one morning. I just sat and smiled as I watched them from the window. There was no thunder or lightning, so it probably wasn’t very dangerous, but it was cold and windy. It reminded me of watching Jonathan and his brother Michael sitting in the pouring rain once at a Disney “Movie Under the Stars” night. We’d gone as a family to the Fort Wilderness campfire and to watch a Disney film on an outdoor screen—along with a big crowd of happy campers—but when it started to rain, almost everybody left to find cover back at their campsites, and the few stragglers who remained were huddling under the roof of the concession stand. As I watched Mike and Jon, sitting totally exposed, rain streaming off their hats, one of the other huddlers commented, “Look at those crazy kids!” Yep. I was lookin’!

I’m thankful for my crazy kids who do things that most people wouldn’t dream of doing. Jon (Dr. Armstrong) just started a new program at Moody Bible Institute last January called the Center for Global Theological Education, “CGTE” (referred to as “C-GATE”), with the mission of developing quality, college-level, Christian theological education in virtual reality classroom settings for anybody who wants it—worldwide—free of charge. Sound impossible? If I didn’t know Jonathan, I’d say “yes,” but knowing Jon, I just smile. And pray. If God be for it, who can stand against it?

And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

By the way, CGTE is already offering freeing virtual reality classes in a variety of biblical and theological topics. If your church would be interested in hosting one of these seminars, you may write Jonathan at jonathan.armstrong@moody.edu.

(P.S.—If you have extra time and would like to be a part of Jon’s ministry, please contact Jonathan. He’s hoping that CGTE will be one of the world’s most satisfying places for Christians to volunteer, and—of course—much of the work can be done remotely! If you want to check out what’s going on already, here’s the link to his website: https://aqueductproject.org/.)