Category Archives: Memoirs

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting on Top

I think sweet teeth are genetically transmitted…or at least our grand daughters seem to have inherited the Armstrong family’s love of all things chocolate.  I used to make chocolate cake from scratch, but I can’t compete with the moist, tender, lightness of commercial cake mixes, and so I have given up trying.  However, my family still likes homemade chocolate frosting better than what you can buy at the store, and it’s simple. Here’s how:

Creamy Chocolate Frosting

6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder (can melt 12 oz chocolate chips, but that costs more and isn’t necessary)
1 stick softened butter (room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 tablespoons of milk (depending on how soft you like it; experiment)

Start on the slowest setting, but whip all the ingredients together in a blender until they form a creamy, smooth frosting with a sheen. Frost immediately, and if you have any little helpers, let them lick the spatula when they’re done!For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:18).

A Lion of a Little Boy

Have you seen Lion? It’s a heart-rending biographical drama adapted from the non-fiction book, A Long Way Home.  Lion premiered last fall at the Toronto Film Festival, is PG-13, and has an 8.1 IMDb rating.  If you’ve been adopted or have adopted…if you’re a foster parent or have grown up in an orphanage, Lion will break your heart, but it might also help heal some of the pain that haunts most people who’ve grown up without knowing their biological parents.  The story begins back in 1986, where little five-year-old “Saroo,” lives in Khandwa, India with his mother, older brother, and younger sister.  Saroo and his brother steal coal from trains to trade for food, but one night Saroo is so tired that he falls asleep at the train station rather than helping his brother.  Through a series of misadventures, Saroo ends up lost on the streets of Calcutta, many hundreds of miles from home.  In fact, he doesn’t know the name of his hometown…or even his full name!  He survives many frightening episodes before a kindly man helps him get to an orphanage, where he learns some English and is later adopted by a couple in Hobart, Tasmania.  The story picks up again nearly 25 years later, when Saroo, as a young adult, sets out in search of his lost family.  Although I wouldn’t recommend the movie for children (at least until you’ve viewed it first), it is a very moving account that brought out a visceral response in me…I felt the horror of lostness, the fear of strange adults, the hunger, the loneliness, the pain…the relief…the deep, lasting grief. I came away feeling like I’d experienced a tiny taste of what it might be like for the millions of children abroad—and at home—who’ve grown up without the loving support of their parents.  I’ll never meet someone who has been orphaned now without feeling more compassionate toward them. It’s one of those movies that has a lasting impact.

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy
(Psalm 82:3).Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,
and to keep himself unspotted from the world
” (James 1:27).

(The photos are a combination of two real pictures of Saroo as shown at the end of the film, plus images from the movie, Lion.)

Hope for All Seasons; Friends for All Time

Is it fair to have a three-point “message” this morning? I probably shouldn’t,
but there are three ideas burning a hole in my brain: 1. Please extend yourself in love to widows and widowers
(who are often more lonely than widows, since men sometimes aren’t quite as connected to their kids and grandchildren). 2. There’s a new book that just came out, Hope for All Seasons,
and I’d like to recommend it. 3. I never cease to marvel at how connected we all really are,
although most of the time we probably have no clue!

              Okay, for any of you who have time to hear the longer version… #1. Since coming to our new church, we’ve made a lot of new friends. One teaches our Sunday school class sometimes, and not only do we appreciate his excellent teaching, he lost his wife to breast cancer a couple of years ago (just after we started going to our Sunday school class), so we’ve had a special heart to pray for him and invite him over a bit. (We have several close friends who live far away and have lost their mate, and we know how deeply lonely they are!) #2. At any rate, over the course of getting to know Jay, we realized that his wife was Julie Ackerman Link, who wrote for Our Daily Bread, a daily devotional ministry that has been a part of my life for 50 years (and where several of our kids worked during summers). Posthumously, Discovery House has just released a book of 150 of her devotionals called, Hope for All Seasons, which is now available online and through Christian bookstores. I’ve ordered a copy and am really looking forward to reading it, because I love her writing and heart. She was also the person who started the writers’ group I attend, although (sadly) I joined after she was gone. #3. Last time Jay was over for dinner, we realized we also had a college connection. Bob Jones University was our alma mater! Jay is enough younger than I am so that we weren’t students at the same time, but he mentioned having an older sister my age, and once he told me her name, I realized we’d actually been very good friends! In fact, we were “society sisters!” (At B.J.U. “societies” were comparable to sororities and fraternities.) Sadly, his sister recently passed away with cancer, so I won’t be able to renew that friendship here on earth, but she was a real “kindred spirit” 45 years ago, and it was such a revelation to realize our interconnectedness. I’m guessing that for all of us—if we only knew—we’d discover multiple connections with friends and family members within a 30-mile radius of our home. We probably pass people on the street or in stores who are actually friends with whom we’ve lost contact, or distant relatives, or related to people we know and love. I suppose in this life, we’ll never fully know “who’s who,”  but won’t it be a delight in heaven to explore all the relationships we have with one another? And, don’t forget: All believers are brothers and sisters in Christ and children of God. What fun…and what a family reunion there will be someday!

“Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus”

“Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
sing His mercy and His grace;
in the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.

“When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
we’ll sing and shout the victory.”  (—E.E. Hewitt, 1898, public domain)

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

*If you’d like to learn more about Our Daily Bread, you can access it here:
http://bible-guide.org/free.php?seed=our%20daily%20bread

Waiting for Baby

I’m waiting for a baby again,
But it’s not nearly as hard as it was when
I was waiting for my own, because even though I don’t know how long it will take,
I know it’s not exactly my body that’s at stake.
Nevertheless, it is the body of my son’s wife,
And for them…I would give my own life,
So it’s still very stressful, particularly since last time was more nightmarish than dreamy,
And they ended up with a 1.5-pound micro-preemie.
Still, their first baby is now a happy, chappy two-year-old,
Who might sass his mom but so far for me has been good as gold.
However, I get P.T.S.D. at the mere thought of babysitting
And every time I even think about it I break out in a sweat and imagine quitting
Before I even arrive at their door
Which will doubtless happen more and more
Because the more babies you have, the more help you need,
And even though it might be easier to lay down my life than do a good deed,
I’m pretty sure what they’re going to need are more good deeds
Rather than a grandmother  in absentia without any leads.
BTW, am I the only grandmother out there who’s paranoid of crying toddlers?
Are the rest of you seasoned babysitters and able toddler jogglers?
Maybe it comes from being the baby in my family and my dad hiring me to grade college exams for more than people paid babysitters,
Or maybe it comes from never having any time off for thirty years when my own seven kids were wild and woolly little kidders.
Whatever the source of my anxiety, you couldn’t pay me to watch kids for a mountain of cash,
But I’ll do it for love’s sake…though I’d feel more at ease spending an afternoon with Ogden Nash.

(You guessed it, I wrote this while my daughter-in-law was in labor on April 18, 2017. On the bright side, I won the family guessing game concerning what day the baby would be born!  🙂  )

Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:4-5).

(P.S.—Actually, Sammy’s being a doll for me, and we’re doing just fine!)

My Twenty-nine Hour Day

napali-coast-kauai           Do you ever wish you could have a few more hours in your day? sailboats-on-napali-coast          I’ve caught myself thinking: “If I just had a few more hours, I could…lazy-river-at-grand-hyatt-kauai-resort-and-spaget all my work done, find time to exercise, be more thoughtful, eat better, have time to relax and play some music,” etc!  view-of-napali-coast-from-kaialau-lookout-kauai  Well, let me tell you what actually happened on the day my wish was granted. rooster-in-kauai-one-of-hundredsIt was January 21, unseasonably warm with a heavy fog draped across our window panes. Joel had Alan and me to the airport on time to catch our flight to Chicago, but our flight was delayed…once, twice…the third time was the charm. aerial-view-of-holland-and-lake-michiganWe left 2.5 hours late after re-booking our flights out of Chicago to Los Angeles. chicago-ohare-airportWe arrived in Chicago’s O’Hare needing a shuttle bus to the C terminal and no time for the lunch we were looking forward to at Manchu Wok. In fact, the shuttle bus required a 15-minute wait, so we arrived at our gate with just enough time to grab a bag lunch from the venue next door to the gate: McDonald’s. aerial-view-of-chicago-and                                                Better than nothing, right?! aerial-view-of-rocky-mountainsThe flight to Los Angeles was breath-taking. I was thrilled to have a window seat even after the last minute flight switch, since my chief delight on flights is sitting with my nose pressed against the window watching the world glide by beneath me. I wasn’t thrilled to be separated from Alan, and I was downright unthrilled when I discovered that the lovely couple sitting next to me wanted me to pull down my window blind so the light wouldn’t bother them while they worked on cross word puzzles and read.sleeping-seat-matesNevertheless, they eventually drifted off to sleep, and I resumed my watch, rationalizing my uncharitable behavior with the thought that my body was blocking enough of the light so they never stirred from their happy slumbers. aerial-view-of-grand-canyonHowever, it was increasingly hard to relax as the hours passed and I realized we were going to arrive at Los Angeles’ LAX at about exactly the time we needed to start boarding for our flight to Hawaii. “DOOMED!” I think they say. aerial-view-of-los-angelesAs soon as we landed, Alan and I caught each other’s eye to make sure we were both registering the same level of panic and joined the snail trail of passengers who seemed to take longer than forever to relocate and unload their overhead luggage. Wide-eyed, we raced up the landing dock and couldn’t believe our fortune! We landed at Gate 74 and our new flight was departing from Gate 76, just next door! We heaved a huge sigh of relief and waltzed from arrival gate to departure gate with ease and only some slight discomfort from not being able to access a restroom before boarding. Not to worry! We’d have six hours and twenty minutes before landing…definitely enough time to catch up with john. aerial-view-of-sunset-over-the-pacific-oceanWe flew directly into the sunset, its pastel glories blocked by the wing, and soon it was pitch black. We read. We slept. I ate another burger and fries (all the Mediterranean wraps are gone? Hmm…not surprising…) and felt rather ill from a double dose of barf burgers for lunch and dinner. I tried to read some more but was too listless to concentrate. I tried to sleep some more but couldn’t. By the time we arrived, it was only 8:30 pm Hawaiian Standard Time, but it was 1:30 am by EST (aka/ Armstrong body clock time). So far, the extra 1.5 hours on our 24-hour day hadn’t garnered us anything but grogginess.  kauai-sunset-with-palm-treesAn exhilarating 45-mph wind whipped up by the time we reached Lihue, Kauai, and the descent and landing were attended with jostling and jolting unlike anything I’ve experienced since riding Hollywood Studio’s Tower of Terror.  We all braced ourselves for a crash landing…which switched to giddy applause after we touched down and catapulted safely to a screeching halt.  grand-hyatt-kauai-resort-and-spaThe rest was a bit of a blur, but we did make it to the right spot to catch the right bus to the right car rental to dig out the right car and find our way to the right resort to check in and find our way through an incredible maze of hallways to the right room (600+ of them sprawling like a six-story serpent along the oceanfront). By the time we unpacked enough to bathe and climb into bed, it was midnight Hawaii time. “Whew!” Alan sighed as he flipped out the light. “What we needed was a day with about five fewer hours.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I finally got more hours in my day, but if anything I’d been more grouchy, exercised less, ate less carefully, had not relaxed, and had been too listless to get everything on my “wish list” accomplished! So, note to self (and friends): Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it!

waimea-canyon-lookout-kauaiMake me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.
” (Psalm 119:35-37)sunset-over-grand-hyatt-kauai-seawater-lagoon(All photos taken last week on a trip to Mayo Clinic’s Medical Update in Kauai.)

Taking a Dip In The Devil’s Pool and Enjoying the Loo with a View

waving-from-the-top-of-victoria-falls-at-the-edge-of-the-devils-poolToday I’m going to tell you about our thrilling adventure hanging out at the edge of the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls, and swimming in the Devil’s Pool, although next Monday I’ll explain why I very strongly do not recommend it…not only for the obvious reasons you’ll notice today, but for one very un-obvious medical reason I only discovered after the fact. Even Alan, as a physician, hadn’t considered this tropical possibility when we made our decision to go! But, it was definitely one of those “adventure of a lifetime” sorts of events that we’ll never forget! hotel-in-livingstone-zimbabweFirst, we were staying in Zimbabwe, so we had to leave our comfy hotel and take a trip across the border into Zambia, which is a bit of an adventure in and of itself (but one that can’t be photographed).

group-waiting-at-royal-livingstone-hotel-for-boat-to-devils-pool      We met other adventurers at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, adventurer-waiting-to-go-to-the-devils-poolwhere we immediately noticed that the rest of the group were young adults
in the prime of life and fitness.
That was our first clue that we might be out of our depth!  🙂  livingstone-islandThe only way to access the Devil’s Pool is via Livingstone Island, and that’s mediated by the tour operator Tongabezi. Trips are expensive and sell out fast, view-of-devils-pool-and-victoria-falls-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-3so if you want to go, you need reservations ahead of time. In all fairness to Tongabezi, they have never lost a customer yet, and they’re very careful.
(Can you see people in the middle right in this picture? This is where we were.) boat-on-zambezi-river-to-take-us-to-livingstone-islandOur group were transported via a small motor craft on the Zambezi River,
which just ran a few people through the treacherous channels each time. boat-ride-to-livingstone-islandI’m told they are very careful to make sure there are no hippos or alligators deck-of-the-royal-livingstone-hotelroaming the water as they travel, although I did see some
just up the river from the deck of the hotel while we waited. david-livingstone-island-on-the-zambezi-riverOnce we all made it safely to Livingstone Island, we were taken on a short tour, changing-room-and-loo-with-a-view-livingstone-islandincluding the opportunity of using their unique “Loo with a View” bath house a-loo-with-a-view-on-livingstone-islandfor changing and to use the Loo (aka toilet). view-from-the-loo-with-a-view-zambezi-riverActually, it was only a three-sided loo, and it did have this pretty good view! welcome-drink-before-swimming-in-the-devils-poolAfter a welcoming (non-alcoholic) drink tent-on-livingstone-island-prepared-for-high-teawe were taken past the tent to let us know that a proper high tea
would be awaiting us after we’d accomplished our aquatic mission. view-of-victoria-falls-from-near-the-devils-poolNext, they walked us to the edge just to let us make sure we were “in” on this gig. approaching-the-edge-of-victoria-falls-zambiaAnyone who chickens out can stay and watch, but after paying good money,
I doubt many people take that option. david-livingstone-plague-angels-in-their-flight-over-victoria-fallsThere was also time to read a bit about David Livingstone and take a few photos.devils-pool-center(Devil’s Pool is behind the second rock to the right upper middle of this photo.)ropes-to-stop-people-who-sliipGetting to the pool was a bit of a challenge. These ropes are not to walk between; we had to walk and swim to the right of them, but the ropes offered two chances white-water-in-zambezi-on-was-to-devils-poolfor people who lost their balance or couldn’t swim against the current to catch a hold and pull themselves out rather than fall over the cliff. Reassuring, huh? waiting-for-our-turn-in-the-devils-pool-zambiaWith a little angst, we all made it to the edge, where we rested and waited. We had to experience the pool a few at a time so the tour guides could supervise us sitting-on-the-angels-armchair-in-the-devils-pooland take photos (since it’s the sort of thing everybody wanted to remember).   This little perch is called the Angel’s Armchair, and it’s a trick to stay on it!we-all-survived-the-devils-pool-victoria-fallsWe survived and felt quite brave (and relieved) once we were back on dry land!tea-party-in-tent-on-livingstone-island-devils-pool-zambiaTo celebrate, our hosts provided a lovely “high tea” (afternoon option).high-tea-party-at-livingstone-island-after-devils-pool-adventure We were extremely hungry and thirsty, so it was a most welcome treat!sunset-over-the-zambezi-river-with-steam-from-victoria-fallsOurs was the last tour of the day, so the sun was setting by the time we left.
I almost felt like God was smiling down on us.sunset-cruise-home-from-devils-pool-on-zambezi-riverIt turned out to be an amazing and most memorable trip! The Lord was gracious.view-of-devils-pool-and-victoria-falls-from-zambezi-national-park-zimbabwe-2Nevertheless, I wouldn’t do it again. Some chances aren’t worth taking. victoria-falls-along-the-zambezi-river-in-zambiaThe prudent sees danger and hides himself,
but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 22:3).

Time Out from Politics…Have You Taken Time for an Autumn Retreat?

blue-water-writers-groupOur Blue Water Writers’ Group had their first ever fall retreat at my house last month, and we had such a grand time that we’ve already planned our next one. memoirsIn fact, I had so much fun personally that now I’m wishing everybody could cook up their own autumn retreat—if not for a group of like-minded friends who might need a concentrated time of productivity in their chosen field—meditationthen a personal retreat to focus on something that’s especially precious to you. brenda-bringing-a-basket-of-goodiesOur group shared breakfast together, had a three-hour “silent time” for writing, took an hour break for a brown-bag lunch together, and then went for another three-hour silent time for writing.

writers-retreatSome of us sat at a table together, writing-in-the-garden-roombut most found cozy corners or private areas where they could spread out quiet-retreatand work without any distractions whatsoever.preparing-to-be-a-spiritual-mentorAll of us felt like our time had been well spent.

deer-on-laneI know a number of you are caregivers and can’t even leave your homes to go anywhere for the day, but what about declaring your own private retreat? writer-at-workFor my son Michael’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, he asked for an “electronics-free day,” and he loved having his family enjoying life together with no computers, telephones, or other interruptions. It’s really okay to turn off your phone for a few hours (unless somebody’s life depends on it). writer-in-progressThink about it! If you can’t take a whole day off, maybe you could take a few hours off one evening. If you love taking a personal retreat as much as I enjoyed our writers’ retreat, I bet it will generate sequels!writing-historical-fiction

And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place,
and rest a while
” (Mark 6:31).

charylene-and-lisa(P.S.—Although we have all types of writing going on within our writers’ group, several of the women write devotionals, and I asked if they’d be willing to share with you. They’ve consented, so the posts on Wednesday through Friday this week will be guest-authored by these lovely ladies!)