A Different Kind of Mother’s Day

Alone.

A
Life
Of
New
Expectations

I’m not sure how she’ll do it. But I know she will.

My friend asks if she puts on a brave face. I answer yes. And then, no.

Because a face implies that it’s false. And it isn’t.

Her bravery is real.

Any joy she shows is true.

Her optimism is genuine. She has displayed this trait my whole life. It is her nature.

She is without her soulmate for the first Mother’s Day in 66 years.

And if you ask her how she is, she will answer, “I’m okay.” Which is not to say without grief, but acknowledging all she does have to be grateful for, understanding that, and working to embrace it. If you can learn gratitude, you can get through a lot of hard times. If you’ve seen it modeled so well, as I have, then it will go all the easier for you.

I couldn’t be more grateful for her example and influence on my life. My mother has taught me so many things it would be impossible to list them all. A short list would include character, consistency, kindness, thrift, the joy of cooking well and sharing it with others, the importance of paying attention to nature’s gifts, the names of birds, and flowers, wild and cultivated.

A friend of mine’s dad also passed away recently, so we talked about our moms for a little while this week. After I describe all the brave and positive ways my mom is dealing with this loss, my friend says, “I think you’re a lot like your mom.”

Best. Compliment. Ever.
I sure hope it’s true.
Love you, mom.
Happy Mother’s Day

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Apple Trees and Aprons

“I worshipped my grandpa.” My dad began his story with these words. We were on our way back from shopping for an apple tree to plant in the mini orchard at my parents’ country home. Our son, Joseph, and I had attended church with them the day before. This small group of believers has been supportive of my family from our early days serving as missionaries in East Africa. It was a warm December day, near the end of Lottie Moon season, a time when Southern Baptist churches focus on missions giving. So when the pastor asked me to share a few words, I spoke briefly and returned to my seat. “That was inspirational”, Joseph said. High praise from a 12 year old. Later that same day, my 88 year old father allowed that he had been thinking about sharing his testimony at church but had never felt compelled to do so. “But after you spoke”, he said, “I was inspired.” Because we now had this time alone in the car, it seemed a good idea to ask him about it. I love car conversations, don’t you?

My elderly father began to share, in perfect dictation about his childhood and about ancestors I do not know.

He told me that when he was young, he visited his grandfather every chance he got and followed him around constantly. Grandpa Joseph raised nearly everything they ate; vegetables, meat, honey, fruit. His grandfather was not so instrumental in his spiritual walk. But there was a houseworker there who was. Miss Eller was a passionate preacher and Dad worked hard to keep from being cornered by her. She was sure this young boy was a sinner in need of salvation. She shared in the same way Dad had heard the message in the nearby community church many times; with hellfire and damnation. It was to no avail. I am sure this dear lady spent many hours in fervent prayer for Dad.

Years passed and my dad continued to believe he was not as bad as all those preachers made him out to be. As ‘Sonny’ went off to college, he held on to this idea. One day, however, he he saw a group of students gathered on campus, talking. There was a young man who was leading the group. Dad decided to get closer and listen to find out what was going on. The young man shared the Gospel in plain speak. It was the first time our country boy had heard it proclaimed this way. It was also the first time he realized that, in fact, he wasn’t as good as he thought. It was during this moment, my dad says, that he became saved.

I had told my dad that my testimony was also his testimony. That my parents’ faithfulness and consistency in their faith walk was so influential in my own salvation and in my obedience to God’s calling. Their example of a consistent life has inspired me to continue the legacy in my children and grandchildren. I told him of my pledge to ensure his grand children and great grandchildren have the opportunity to believe, live and serve that I have had.

We weren’t successful at finding an apple tree that day. On the way home we decided to take in some antique shopping for entertainment. I purchased a couple of vintage aprons. But what I discovered while looking for apple trees is fruit that lasts forever. And the aprons are a reminder of strings that tie us from generation to generation. May the circle be unbroken.

Back to School

It’s that time of year when we hope for cooler weather and happily or reluctantly get the kids back to school. For some, this means getting kids up and out the door every morning, hopefully fed and appropriately dressed. Not for us. We home school. Which is not a verb, technically, but in modern day times, has become one. I digress.

Maybe you educate your child/ren at home, also. Follow along with me as I list the various things I try to do/not do.

Plan to have an iced coffee while you're planning

Plan to have an iced coffee while you’re planning

  • Get a really awesome planner. It will help you feel organized. New things are refreshing. Until they aren’t new anymore. Then they can be depressing, guilt-ridden pages of unfinished tasks.
  • Blow off that guilty conscious. You don’t need any negativity hanging around. It will sap your energy and leave you at a stalemate.
  • Have an iced coffee. You need to relax and recharge a bit so you can get started with a positive outlook. If you don’t believe it, how are you ever going to sell it to the young ‘uns?
  • Exhale. You do not have to teach your children everything in life they need to know. Teach them to learn. Lead them to love it. Help them become a good person.
  • Remember why you are doing this. If you’ve never thought about your goals for your children’s education, take some time and do it. Real goals, life goals. I used this article as a guide.
  • Stop paying too much for cold brew coffee and make your own concentrate at home. You don’t have time to go out anyway. You’ve got lessons to plan!

What else do you do to get ready? How do you refresh yourself during the rough patches? You do have rough patches, don’t you?

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Barefoot Gardening

ThBarefootere is a method of language acquisition that is referred to as barefoot language learning.  The idea is simple. Rather than a course of academic study, it relies heavily on an active learner who is able to get help from readily available local resources. (Donald N. Larson, Guidelines for Barefoot Language Learning) The learner doesn’t need to be an expert linguist, nor does his tutor.  It is more of a ‘walking with’ approach that lends itself to a natural environment…

A couple months ago, I did some barefoot gardening. I am not a gardener. But I like food; fresh food. And of all the vegetables in the world, few compare with fresh sweet corn. You simply cannot buy the same quality you can grow. So I loaded up the Accord and headed to Elwood.

Elwood is the place where my parents have roots, literally and figuratively. There are bois d’arc trees older than my dad, I’m sure. My dad is a gardener, extraordinaire.

The soil in dad’s garden had a good start as rich, sandy, loam located very near the Red River in far North Texas. Over the years, it has been lovingly tended and further enriched. I am convinced my dad can grow just about anything. He has been gardening as long as I can remember. Before retiring (back) to the country, he coaxed food out of the black dirt in our suburban back yard in Garland, Texas.

That spring day as I stepped into the garden plot and my dad began to instruct me, I sank deeply into that familiar soft soil. I quickly removed my shoes and like many times before was transported in my mind back to the days of my childhood. There is something about the dirt in this place that always takes me back. The smell, the feel, the warmth.

As my dad instructed me, I sprinkled the fertilizer, tilled the soil, planted the seed, covered it over and watered them in. He stood, watched, and taught me; I listened, looked, and worked.

We planted corn, beans, and a few squash seeds. He didn’t think the beans would come up. The seeds were old, he explained. He said the same about the squash.

But they did.Greenbeans

And some short weeks later, as my dad now lay in a hospital bed, I picked, then canned 21 pints of green beans.

Life happens a lot faster than we plan, sometimes.

I have learned a lot of good lessons from my dad over the years. How to love, how to live with integrity, how to persevere. I learned some good lessons during our barefoot garden session that day, too. Plan well, keep the soil worked, don’t forget to fertilize, and don’t give up on old beans. We didn’t then, and we’re not now.

Go farmer, you can do it. I love you.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Foundation Stones

None of us become who we are in a vacuum. We are surrounded by others who shape us and teach us. My mother has been an influential force in my life in ways I am still discovering. Everything I am doing in the world today I can trace directly to something or other she has taught me or some way that she has encouraged me. All the good that I ever have been or hope to be was exemplified in the home of my childhood. I do not know if my mother aspired to a particular skill or career, but she could not have aspired to be a better mother, for she is the best and I cannot think of a flaw or feature that I would change about the way she raised me.

She has made an impact not only on her own 4 children, but also on those around her. Many view hermom with respect and love and it is well deserved. All I am and all I know is built upon all that she is and has poured into me. What a privilege to have the head start in life that her rich character and Godly nature have given me. He has honored her desires to be more than she could on her own and I am proud to be her daughter.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. I love you.

PS – And as most of you know or suspect….she is, in fact, also a fabulous cook.

Remembering Grandma

Bridal-wreath-flower

The first time I saw my father cry was at his mother’s funeral. I was a little girl and I was crying, too. This was the first big loss of my young life. I loved her so much. It would take years before the memory of her clearwater blue eyes and braided silver tresses did not reduce me to tears.

Grandma Westbrook lived in a simple house in the country, surrounded by acres of pastureland. She never had an indoor toilet. I remember when my dad installed a pump and brought running water into the kitchen. Before that, they had always got their water from a hand pump in the yard. My aunt lived with her.  Alice Mae lived there for several more years after Grandma passed, until she, too, died. And with her went a way of life that will never be again.

These were hardy women who sewed their own quilts and dresses and grew their own food. My grandmother was a fabulous cook and my

With grandma 1962

With grandma 1962

mom says she taught her how to cook for my dad. And while I say the house was simple, that is by our modern standards. In fact, it was a lovely thing with a full front porch as well as a back one and a small one on the right hand side. It had two bedrooms, a sitting room, a large kitchen, and a dining room. At least that’s what I think they were originally. By the time I came along there were beds in three of the six rooms in their home. There was an amazing feather bed.

Do you know how lucky you are if you have ever slept in a feather bed?

I used to be scared of it because I was afraid I would sink down so far into it that it would swallow me alive and I would never come out.

Many of my favorite childhood scenes were played out at that old place. Outside Grandma’s kitchen door was a grand bridal wreath bush.  It was near a sandy spot in the yard where I remember sitting for what seemed like hours digging in the dirt with a metal kitchen spoon. “But not my good one”, she’d say. “Here, take this one.” As a grown woman with my own utensils, I now wonder what was it that made it her “good” spoon? Was it silver, stainless, a just-right size? I wish she were here for me to ask.

When dirt-digging became tiresome, I would strip a branch of its white flowers, all clustered in a circle and play here-comes-the-bride. Other times, I was given a needle and thread and shown some berries I could string. I would sit in the shade of an ancient pecan tree as big as a monster and do that for a while.

Grandma’s house was also free from television, but it was rich in food and dripping with deserts. My favorite were the sugar cookies she kept in a tin on top of the refrigerator, out of my reach. Pies and cakes were right down on the kitchen counter, under a glass dome. The container of cookies would have been safe on the counter, as well. Even if I could have reached the tin, its metal lid was impossible for my small fingers to pry loose. But I can still see it. And her, reaching up to get it for me. I always had to ask, but I don’t remember ever being told no. And maybe that’s the way homemade cookies should be dispensed; it seems the perfect way to teach good manners. (One is highly motivated to be polite when the reward is one of Grandma’s sugar cookies.)

I smell cedar and graphite as she digs in the old chest to hand me a carpenter’s pencil and a Big Chief tablet. The scent of almond and cherries wafts from a glass bottle of Jergens that occupies her dresser. I wonder why Grandma has such odd shaped pencils and I decide they belonged to Grandpa, who was gone before I ever came along.

Holden turns 3!

Holden turns 3!

Now that I am a grandma, I can honor her legacy. I will keep paper and pencil, needle and thread, and cookies in a tin. I will do the things a grandmother does. And I will strive to remember that, most of all, a grandmother should be love. Someone who takes the time to bake and listen, to teach you the names of flowers, bugs, and birds.

Sometime during the last few years, while I was living overseas, the old man pecan tree died or was blown over by a raging wind. I witnessed its absence only lately, during a Sunday visit to their tiny country church. The church is directly across from the old homestead. The home has also fallen prey to time. It was torn down some years ago. And even as adults, I think my brothers and I were all a little sad to see that happen.

But the legacy of love and faith that grew in that home remains. And like the pecan trees my dad has planted over the years to mark the births of his grandchildren, I pray it will continue to grow throughout the generations of our family. By God’s grace and for His glory, may it be so. Amen.

 

Shop Once, Eat 270 Times

trying to live sustainably during our time in kenya

Tending our small garden plot in Kenya.

When I tell people I used to live 8 hours from a grocery store and shopped every 8-12 weeks, they usually reflect on how they could NEVER do that. “I wouldn’t know how to plan or what to buy,” they exclaim. I didn’t either, at first. In the beginning, I planned out my menus and bought groceries according to whatever specific recipes I planned to cook.  We did buy things like tea, sugar, flour, margarine, shortening, and a few vegetables in town. And we had chickens, cows, and goats.

Our mama goat with twin kids.

Our mama goat with twin kids.

But I did buy all of our meat and canned goods, pasta, beans, rice, condiments, grains, etc. on these infrequent shopping trips. Enough to to fill 3 to 5 foot lockers and 2 ice chests.

Living in a remote location in rural Africa, there was a lot of cooking going on. Three months = 90 days x 3 meals/day = 270 meals to plan and cook. We had no restaurants to run to for back up; no convenience foods on which to rely. Needless to say, every meal was from home and from scratch. Consequently, I learned how to cook everything from scratch, and how to save time and money doing it. I learned to make my own “convenience” foods by canning, freezing, and doing as much advance prep work as possible. It is my desire to empower others to cook fresh food, from scratch. You can do it!

When you know that there is no other place to get food other than what you have in your own kitchen right now, you begin to make planning a priority. Proper planning doesn’t sound very exciting, but neither is panicking at the last minute when everyone says they’re hungry (and the cook is tired). Having a few key items on hand became an important part of my routine.

In another post I’ll share my standard grocery shopping list that I developed. It will show you all the things I kept in my pantry. Even though I am now in the land-of-plenty USA, I still stick pretty closely to this basic list. I just don’t need to buy as many of each item now that I grocery shop more frequently than 6 times a year!

Our Dreams, His Timing

Yesterday, we launched the retail venture that I never expected. Maybe. me-and-charlie

The plan was to stay in Africa another 5-7 years, buy a place in the Texas countryside and retire to a new career in food. With food. For people. “I’m going to teach people how to cook and eat well; teach them all the good things I’ve learned.”

But, God…

So many amazing stories that have happened throughout the centuries start with those 2 words. Bible search it.

Fast forward, and I’ve already told you how we are now semi-retired earlier than we had planned, but in perfect accordance with what God has been/is doing. We now are able to enjoy being on the same continent, in the same country with all our family. Which includes grandchildren. Who are amazing, by the way. If you don’t have any, I highly recommend you get some. They are delightful.

cerena-holden

And yeah, let’s move back to America and Dad can get a job and support us while we continue to homeschool. We’ll start a something that will eventually make an extra income. So we launched a YouTube channel and this blog, and wow, how about that? But as I kept talking to local foodies, they kept suggesting I sell at the market day here in town. Not one to ignore people that God brings into my life, I did a little investigating.

And the next thing you know, we’re baking granola all day and packaging mixes until what:oclock PM and loading up the new-to-me Honda with stuff to sell. Which we did!

This is not what I expected to be doing a year ago, or even 6 months ago. No; six months ago I was staring at tickets which would take me away from my African home and transplant me back in a USA that I didn’t recognize. It has changed a lot in the 14 years we’ve been gone. I don’t think you’ve noticed it quite as much as those of use who’ve been away.

But I don’t care. It is, obviously, still the land of opportunity and kind folk who want a good product and like the idea of supporting their neighbors.

What I’ve seen in my years is that God does give His people a vision. We don’t always know what it will look like in the completion or even in the preparation. Sometimes it happens later than we want, sometimes sooner than we think. But, in His time, He brings it to pass. Meanwhile, He has shown it to us, so that we recognize it when we see it.

Are you waiting for His timing? What is your dream?

 

A Beautiful Life

A beautiful life is made in the same way in which a beautiful tapestry comes together, one stitch at a time. It begins with a purpose and a plan. The skilled seamstress does not say to the shopkeeper, “Give me whatever fabric and threads you want, I’ll make do.” She doesn’t pick a random color to thread the needle, close her eyes and poke the fabric at any spot that’s convenient.

TapestryShe begins by deciding what the finished product should look like and carefully chooses the goods which will give the desired results. A quality end piece requires thoughtful preparation and quality raw materials. The beauty she creates depends on the care she takes along the way. If something isn’t right, she doesn’t throw it away; she carefully unpicks the threads and works the section over again until it meets her approval. Always being mindful of a beautiful finished product helps her persist as she encounters difficult sections along the way.

From time to time, the sewer changes her view from the small section on which she works so intently, and holds out the entire piece at arm’s length for a broader evaluation. Likewise, we should examine our lives to see if we are on course.

Consult the Pattern Maker and ask Him, “How am I doing? Is the tapestry of my life pleasing to you?”

The Good News is that we have a Redeemer who lives every day to intercede for us, to show us the way, and whose strength is actually perfected in our weakness. He will be a lamp to our feet, a light to our path.

God reminds us that He knows the plans He has for us, and they are good; perhaps not easy, but life here is not easy. It will always have difficulties somewhere, sometime. But the choice is ours; we can work our plan or His plan.

The surrendered life is the one who says, “Your plan, Your way, Lord.”

And that is the thing we are often too reluctant to say. It’s too scary, too out of control. We fear what it might mean; separation, hardship, poverty, heartache? Maybe.

We are likely to encounter these things anyway. The decision, then, is would I rather walk through my trials with Christ, or without Him.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:11, 13 NIV

Nostalgia Smells Like Strawberries

image“These strawberries smell like Nairobi,” he claimed. If you have ever been to Nairobi, you know that it definitely doesn’t smell like strawberries – but to him the fruity fragrance was linked with a memory. He had been born and raised in the bush in Kenya. And it was routine to drive 8 hours into the city every 2-3 months to resupply, physically and mentally. We would stay at a small guesthouse owned and operated by the Baptist Mission.

“Every time we were at Hampton House, we’d buy strawberries,” he explained.

And there it was. A sweet flashback to a different life – the same lifetime, but a world away.

It’s funny how a smell can transport you to a place 8,000 miles from today.

We had gone into the kitchen at his request. “I want something baked. What can we bake? I’m ready.”

Not wanting to shy away from a cooking lesson, I ruffled through my mental recipe files to think of something quick and tasty, using fresh ingredients we had on hand. Lemons, berries…lemon muffins with strawberries! Adapting this recipe from tastesbetterfromscratch would be simple. We could just substitute diced strawberries for the raspberries.

Like an experienced baker, he began to pull out the ingredients he knew we would need; sugar, milk, salt, eggs, strawberries, lemons, etc. Eggs revealed one short, but he quickly ran next door to borrow one and we began our lesson. I did none of the work and didn’t need to do too much advising. “I’ve watched you when you cook, and I’ve learned how to do it.”

We were rewarded with soft lemony glazed muffins, stuffed with chunks of sweet strawberries and memories. It was so worth it.

Sometimes I think that he doesn’t remember much about our life in Africa or I worry that he will forget too much of his 12 years living there. But here was a memory that was firmly planted; one that perhaps forever forward will be harvested whenever those bright red jewels appear.