Ode to COVID Confinement

I cannot walk wherever I want, but I can walk.
I cannot talk with whomever I wish, but I can talk.
I cannot see whoever I want, but I can see.
I cannot do whatever I want, but I can be.
I cannot eat whatever I want, but I can eat.
I am confined in many ways, but life’s still sweet.

I cannot hug, but I can love.
I can’t do all I’m dreaming of.
I cannot touch, but I can keep.
I cannot guard, but I can sleep.
I cannot save, but I can pray.
Thank you, Father, for this day!

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

(No, we’re not on vacation with our two youngest sons in Ireland this morning; I’m sheltering in place at home. But, I am very grateful to be alive and more or less well after significantly recovering from the flu or a light case of COVID-19)!

Joel’s Cottage Pie

Our family has been savoring “Shepherd’s Pies” and “Cottage Pies” ever since we first started visiting England years ago, and our son Joel has really perfected his rendition, so I’ve asked if I could share it with you today. It’s the perfect “comfort food” for a cold winter’s night!

Cottage Pie can really be a meal-in-one, although we normally serve it with some sides (such as you see here, from the last time he served it at home). Last Wednesday he made it again as his offering for a fellowship dinner with his church “life group” (prayer meeting; small group . . .) However you cut it, it’s always a hit!

Joel’s Savory Cottage Pie
(8-12 Servings)

Put a pot of salted water on to boil.
Preheat oven to 400F.

1.5 pounds of potatoes, scrubbed and cut into pieces. Boil until tender.
Brown 1 pound of ground beef in skillet.
Chop 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 4 oz mushrooms. Add to browned beef. Cook until vegetables are tender.
Add 1 cup frozen peas.
Lower heat. Add 3 tablespoons of flour to meat/vegetables, stirring until thickened.
3/4 cup beef stock (or 1 bouillon cube + 3/4 cup water)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Pinch of allspice to the meat/vegetables. Stir until combined.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mash potatoes with 2–4 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup half and half.
Put meat/vegetables in the bottom of a casserole pan. Cover completely with mashed potatoes. Use a fork to give the potatoes texture.
Bake for 30 minutes at 400°F. on top rack until the potatoes start to brown on top.

Now, the only difference between “Cottage Pie” and “Shepherds Pie” is that Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground lamb rather than ground beef. We’ve found that ground lamb is a rarer commodity in America, so we usually make cottage pie, but if you can find ground lamb and want to be more authentically English, try it with lamb too sometime for a special occasion. Both ways taste really delicious! 🙂

Individual serving of Shepherd’s Pie on a ship cruising the North Atlantic

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). Have you listened to Handel’s Messiah yet this Christmas? We just attended it last weekend. The Messiah is a majestic, musical retelling of the story of Jesus, the great Shepherd who died for all of us and wants us to become part of his flock. How? Simply by asking. By praying something like this: “Dear Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. I know that I have sinned and need a savior. I am sorry for all the ways in which I have failed in the past—and for the times I still selfishly choose evil over good. Please forgive me, save me, and become my Lord and my Savior. Thank you for being willing to save me and make me your child. Please lead me in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Amen.”

The Armstrong Clan’s 500th Anniversary Gathering

Have you ever noticed there is more to do in life than will ever be done? No amount of prayerful planning and meticulous organization can align all the opportunities in such a way that we can be hither and yon at the proper moment to squeeze every last drop out of our lives’ orangey goodness!

I cannot watch over my grandson’s surgery across the state and still provide for my grand children here in GR while my daughter-in-law cares for her father’s medical needs.

Armstrongs in the Poppy Fields of Belgium

I couldn’t host my son’s family, coming home from Belgium to America, and still fly to Scotland to attend the 500th reunion of the Armstrong Clan, now, could I?

Marius’s First Birthday Party

Indeed, I could not. However, we had a splendid reunion of our “Armstrong Clan” right here in GR while the world-wide Armstrong Clan’s 500th Celebration was occurring!

Brother Terry at Milnholm Cross, Scotland

And, although Alan and I had to miss it, Alan’s brother and his wife were able to attend. So—I wanted to share just a little bit about the event.

Perhaps the world’s most famous Armstrong is Neil, First Man on the moon, so the events of the clan centered around the Armstrongs’ 500th anniversary generally, but also the 50th anniversary of the lunar takeoff, which was July 16, 2019.

The Common Riding in Langholm, Scotland

For over 900 years, there has been a tradition of “common riding” (groups of riders [raiders, really]) on horses riding along the border between Scotland and England during the summer months. Happily, this has turned into a non-raiding riding event for fun and has become one of Europe’s biggest equestrian spectacles!

Gilnockie Tower in Hollows, near Canonbie, Scotland,
built by John Armstrong 500 years ago

What I didn’t really understand when I married Alan was that I’d married into a wild band of “reivers” (“from the old Scottish word “to steal”)! Back in their hay day, it was said that to survive to thirty was an accomplishment and that no one walked along the border . . . they ran for their lives!

Sign explaining the Milnholm Cross

(However, lest I think poorly of our esteemed Armstrong heritage, my grandmother was a Kerr, who is also on the list of wild border clans, along with Nixon, Elliot, Scott, and a host of others!)

John Armstrong Memorial

Terry and Eileen explored the area and shared much of what they learned with us. The last famous reiver of the Armstrong Clan was John Armstrong, who owned Gilnockie Tower and was a fearsome raider, although in July of 1530 he was executed by the forces of King James V in an attempt to bring peace to the borderlands between Scotland and England.

Fifty years ago, Ted and Judy Armstrong revived the Armstrong Clan Association, and since that time, Gilnockie Tower has been restored and become the focal point for Armstrongs from around the world who are interested in DNA and genealogical research into their past.

Gilnockie Tower Common Room

I don’t know if you’re an Armstrong or have any Armstrong blood, but it has been fascinating and fun to learn a little bit more about our family heritage, and I’m guessing you might enjoy exploring yours too, if you ever get any spare time!

Terry at John Armstrong’s Grave Site

Terry and Eileen (and their faithful dog, Maggie) are retired and are able to enjoy some leisure time traveling through Europe and exploring their history. Talk about keeping fit and being a lifelong learner!

They’ve spent several years adventuring, and I have to say, I lick my chops when I read of their travels and see the gorgeous places they’ve visited!

The Neil Armstrong Tea

Still, I am content, even if we didn’t make it to the moon and back for tea in July! God is good. Life is good. As my father used to say (quoting Aldous Huxley from Brave New World): “You pays your money and you takes your choice.” Are you happy with the choices you’re making? I hope so! If not, you are the only one who can change your choices!!

Only One Life
(—Avis B. Christiansen and Merrill Dunlop)

“Only one life to offer
Jesus my Lord and King.
Only one tongue to praise Thee
And of Thy mercy sing (forever).
Only one heart’s devotion
Savior, O may it be
consecrated alone to Thy matchless glory,
Yielded fully to Thee.

“Only one life to offer
Take it dear Lord I pray.
Nothing from Thee withholding
Thy will I now obey.
Thou who hast freely given
Thine all in all for me
Claim this life for Thine own to be used My Savior
Ev’ry moment for Thee.”

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Wear or Where Land’s End?

01What do you think of when you read the words “Land’s End”? When I googled them, the first entry that came up was the clothing store. That’s what I used to  03always think of. Right? Trendy, casual but classy clothes…usually mail ordered before heading out into the wild blue wilderness on a trip? When my son Joel worked in the clothing department at Sears before starting graduate school last fall, I was surprised to discover that Sears had bought the Lands’ End product line for US$2 billion cash back in 2002. I was even more intriqued when I 02discovered that Lands’ End was an American company, because I always assumed it was an English company named for Land’s End, the westernmost point in England. What I didn’t realize until we visited England was just how  09magnificent Land’s End is! It’s along the coast of Cornwall, and for any of you who are fans of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance…it’s only about eight miles southwest of that famous little port. It also gained some recognition last summer as the starting point for the 2012 Summer Olympics torch relay. 06Land’s End is noted for fascinating displays of rare flora as well as absolutely 05breath-taking views of the great northern Atlantic, so as you hike along the 04ridges and stairways, keep looking down at all the delicate flowers dancing under your feet as well as off into the distance where the winds are whipping the waves into a frenzy. But if you get a chance…please go! The wild wind, the salty air, the brilliant skies…its rugged splendor conjures up a feeling you’ll never forget!10My guess is that heaven will be even more glorious than we can ever imagine too… so much more than the clothing of this earth, as beautiful as that is. Worth infinitely more, and worth every bit of trouble it takes to find our way there!

“And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God'” (Revelation 21:2-3).

The Incredibly Creative Brontës of Haworth

Wuthering HeightsWhen I was a girl, few love stories moved me any more than those written by the Jane Eyre Brontë sisters: Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, and Anne’s The Tenant  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall….classic stories reflecting the anguish of seemingly impossible love relationships. I think in many ways they had a negative impact The Brontes 2
on my young mind as far as modeling what to look for in a healthy, wholesome 01husband, and it’s taken pretty close to forever to get my head straightened out! 05Naivety aside, on our trip to England with our British Lit aficionado, Kathy Kris, 04along, it just seemed right to visit Haworth, the tiny village on the English moors03 where the Brontë sisters lived in a little parsonage with their parents, sisters, and Bramwell brother, Branwell. The girls’ father was the parson at the “Church of St. Michael
and All Angels,” and the church still exists today. Truly, I know nothing about the doctrines of the church, and Rev. Brontë may have been a very godly man (despite his severe looks), but I do know that his son, Branwell, ended up having 06  an affair with “Mrs. Robinson” (the mother of the children he tutored) was summarily dismissed by the father/husband and returned home as a rather desolate alcoholic who died young from T.B. and dissipation. Like hisPainting_of_Brontë_sisters                three sisters, he was an extremely talented young man and a gifted artist, but unlike his sisters, he produced very little that has remained…even erasing his own likeness in the portrait he painted of himself and his sisters. (see above).03The sad plight of the family included the death of their mother to uterine cancer, and eventually  the death of all the children at young ages (none even reached 40) from tuberculosis (and other complications, such as early-stage pregnancy and probably typhoid fever for Charlotte [the only one to marry].)07Hundreds of thousands of “fans” still flock to the moors and museum each year,04and I have to confess that with seven lively offspring who love to write & create, 05the Brontë family has long been somewhat inspirational to us, although—after having visited—I found that the aura of the ideal gave way to a rather sad realization about the true nature of even the most gifted and privileged. We are all made of clay, and our best efforts at creating will be flawed. Without a strong commitment to walking in truth and light, we will ultimately produce little of lasting value.
09I pray that my own children (and Alan and I) will walk in the Light, and that our labors of love will produce enduring, good fruit…and I pray the same for you!10The summer I spent working with missionaries in Scotland (40+ years ago), the milkman delivered fresh milk (un-homogenized…with 2″ of cream at the top) every morning! 🙂 Imagine my delight in discovering that this marvelous tradition is still current today in Haworth! It made me stop and think: If we want to keep growing spiritually, we really need a fresh drink of the Word every day. May we never get to the point where we think we don’t need to meditate on the Bible…that we’ve outgrown it and can survive by indulging our brains in the wines of this world. To keep spiritually sound and emotionally robust, we need daily doses of the fresh, whole, creamy milk of the Word!

“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

Big Mike, Big Moors, and Sheep Sharing

04  Quintessential English romance—at least to me—is a stay in a snug B’n’B,  IMG_1145 a lavish “full English” (and the very best have fried toast), 03 and a long day’s hike out on the moors. 05We had just such an exhilarating experience near Haworth, England, 07 on the Pennine Moors of West Yorkshire. And, we also found “the perfect” B’nB:06“Big Mike’s” (note his ample frame in the background). His super-sized breakfast 09kept us entirely energized for our 7.5-hour hike across the grand, open country! 10On this particular escapade we had a specific goal: Top Withins, said to be the 11inspiration for Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, which was one of the first 23major novels I read as a child (besides every Nancy Drew I could get my hands 20on), and had a huge (and somewhat questionable) impact on me. In fact all three The Brontes 2Brontë sisters wrote classic romance novels set in these moors, and so Kathy   14was also very eager to experience their expansive, wild beauty.  12Although I’m sure you could get dreadfully lost out in these ancient, 13somewhat desolate hills, the path is well worn and in most places clearly marked. 16There were sheep grazing everywhere, and although we could walk freely 15 wherever we wished, the pastures were kept secure by a system of styles, gates, 24and old stone fences surrounding the edges of each farmer’s vast lands. 19When we finally reached our destination, we decided it was time for a break to 21rest up and enjoy some tea and  biscuits ( the English name for what we  08Americans call “cookies”). We watched the peaceful lambs, which were grazing 8 nearby, but what we didn’t foresee was that the sheep were keenly aware that  17  all travelers seem to follow this exact same ritual…and they were insistent that 25  we share our tea party with them! Well, what could we say? Sharing is a good thing, and aren’t we all the Lord’s sheep? 🙂 22“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7). (Like Emily, I may be vexed at times, but I am eternally grateful that the Lord is my shepherd, because he knows how to lead me to green pastures and beside still waters! I’d be totally lost and more barren than the moors without Him!)

Chatsworth: Grandest Country Home in England

01I’m sure those of you who enjoyed the 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride  05and Prejudice would love a leisurely day at Chatsworth House, the setting for 03Mr. Darcy’s “Pemberley.” In fact, Chatworth House often wins recognition as 04England’s most popular country home, hosting 300,000+ tourists each season 19on their 35,000-acre estate in North Derbyshire on the River Derwent. 14Construction on the present mansion began in 1553 by the Cavendish family, 11who have been the earls (and later Dukes of Devonshire) since that time. 17Perhaps the most famous was the Sixth Duke (known as the “Bachelor Duke”) 15who was an incredibly energetic and wealthy traveler and visionary. In 1811 (at 08  the age of 21) he inherited the title, Chatsworth, and 7 other major estates in 18England and Ireland that comprised a massive 200,000 acres! I think even Mr. 09 Darcy’s wealth would have been dwarfed by the Bachelor Duke’s holdings. Many 07 famous people are associated with Chatsworth house, including Mary, Queen of 13Scots (who was imprisoned there several times), and Sir Joseph Paxton, who was20 a gardener at Chatworth and also designed London’s Crystal Palace. If you have 06the chance to travel a bit in England, consider a day at Chatsworth. If that’s not 21 an option, but you’d like to see more, Chatsworth House is the subject of a 3-part 12documentary, Chatsworth, produced by BBC and broadcast as Chatsworth 10House in the U.S. by PBS last year (2012). There are many fascinating things to see there…such as this life-sized painting of a violin on a door (but both the violin and the door is simply part of one very realistic painting)! 16For our daughter, who had just earned her M.A. in literature and loves to write novels set in England, our trip was an especially treasured time of both pleasure and learning!

    “When wisdom enters into your heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto your            soul, discretion shall preserve you, understanding shall keep you.”   (Proverbs 2:10-11)

“The heart of the prudent gets knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15).