December 30, 2011

Fresh Hope

A lovely young woman, Ann Voscamp, is someone who has a natural gift for writing. I have received much inspiration for my own walk with God from this homeschooling mom, devoted wife, child of God, disciple of Jesus. I find her blog here at A Holy Experience.

Yesterday I was checking in with her blog when I found something that I have been needing since June 2010: An organizer for tending to the daily tasks which need accomplishing each day given by God for me to use in His will.

Free Daily Planner

It has been 18 months since I took on this new path in my journey of retired life. My days previous to leaving my career were fully scheduled. I didn't leave my desk every afternoon before I had sketched out the plan for the following day - things that were priority is and "must-dos", people to contact, materials to organize.

Since June of 2010, I have busy, to be sure. Voice lessons, music practice, bible study, phone calls, household management, travels domestic and international, the creation of this blog. 

Looking back, I moan about the priorities I gave in my choices of how to use my time. There have been days when I found myself in despair at the end of the day because of the waste of minutes and hours. What had I accomplished, other than self-serving ego massage? How had I focused on God and His priorities for me that day?

It is time for new habits! I have downloaded Ann's planner worksheet, jotted the definitions so I may use it properly, and have printed off my first copy.

I will plan my day today, I will give thanks to God for this tool to which I have been led. 

Something as simple as a sheet of paper has given me fresh hope.

December 23, 2011

Walking With Asthig

This afternoon there are chopped onions gently sautéing in hot olive oil. Their pungent aroma wafts throughout the house, mixing with the unmistakable tang of the hot oil. I take a deep breath and savor the smell. Nothing else can compare. Today I am preparing a special treat, Sarma, to serve to my special guests on Christmas Day.

Cooking the onions is the first step in the making of Sarma, one of my favorite Armenian dishes. Derevi Sarma, to be specific, is an appetizer made from onion, olive oil, rice, and spices, cooked together and then rolled into delicate grape leaves, creating cigar-shaped yumminess.

Back and forth in the kitchen, preparing all the ingredients, gathering the pan, spoons, plates for rolling.

I am half Armenian. "My better half!", I used to joke. I have always felt such a strong connection to my Armenian ancestors.

 My Polish-Russian mother had deferred to my Armenian father in her children's upbringing. We attended an Armenian Apostolic church, had Armenian friends, ate Armenian food on special occasions, learned traditional Armenian dances, listened to traditional Armenian folk music. When asked about my heritage, I always answered without any hesitation "Yes Hye em!!! Eench bessess?" to show off my rather limited skills with the Armenian language.

Proper Armenian daughters must know how to prepare so many tasty Armenian dishes. So my dad taught my sister and me how to prepare some Armenian foods. His own mother had taught him as a child. He passed that knowledge on to us, his three children. Shish-kabob was his specialty. (I try, but cannot make it as tasty as he could!!)

I find that I am crying and missing my father today. 

Then I am thinking very strongly of my Armenian grandmother, Asthig Telelian (who became Varjebedian, then Hagopian, then Kavorkian with her successive marriages. Grandmother outlived the first two.) Forced to leave the only home she had ever known, to say good-bye to people she loved, she walked and walked.

I never had the opportunity to meet her.

As I walk back and forth in my kitchen today, I am imagining her walking through the Syrian desert for day after day, weeks on end, watching all of her family members die one by one on this death march from the region of Van in what today is eastern Turkey, to the border of Syria. Asthig survived, one out of a large extended family who had lived together in their small village. She told my father how she hated having to walk away from her own grandmother when she was too weak to go on, had to walk away and leave her grandmother sitting beneath a tree, knowing she was seeing her for the last time, her grandmother was going to die. Asthig never knew if she died peacefully or was shot or stabbed to death by one of the Turkish or Kurdish guards. 

Can you imagine such a horror? I cannot.

Yet against all odds, Asthig survived the death march. A miracle she wasn't raped and murdered, or just murdered, or died of starvation. She was discovered in one of the orphanages by her father who had been in France when the massacres began. What are the chances? Only God can orchestrate that kind of circumstance, thank you very much.

Asthig was brought to the United States by her father, who sought out and found acquaintances from their village, and found her a husband. She was very young, maybe 14 or 15 when deported from her ancestral home. And was 16 or 17 when married for the first time. 

And the miracle lives on as I roll my Sarma today, thinking of how Asthig must have learned the proper rolling technique from her mother and grandmother. I couldn't learn from Asthig directly, as she had gone to God many years before I was born. However, because of my father's hands and instruction, my own hands are rolling Sarma this day.

And I am thinking of her, my grandmother Asthig, and wondering what kind of faith helps a person take the next step in the journey through trials many of us will never, ever have to face.

On Christmas Day I will serve this wonderful food, made with love with my hands, connected over the decades to my father's hands, also connected over many more decades to Asthig's hands, and to her mother's hands, and her grandmother's hands, and so on. And so on.

Asthig and I walk in my kitchen together.

November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks for the Gift of Time

Hurry, hurry!! Get through the final minutes of the school day so you can rush to the market and gather the final ingredients needed for Thanksgiving Day tomorrow! Oh no, look at the crush of people here..... I wish I could have taken off a day to do all this....

That used to be me. Rushing here and there, so exhausted for the holiday that I couldn't enjoy it.

The contrast of having the gift of time now available to do things both necessary and desired. What a treat to set a table with some "extras"! So pretty and inviting!

Last year at about this time of year my husband Larry and I were sifting through a box of paperwork which had been brought out of his mother Mary's house before it was sold. Mostly unneeded magazine and newspaper clippings, sometimes an advertisement from the 50's which was interesting for it's fashions and style.

Oh, but what's this?? I held a sheet of yellowed loose leaf paper, with Mary's handwriting upon it.

As I read, I realized that it was a recipe. 

Larry had long talked about his mother's cooking and baking talents, and how she never wrote down recipes or kept a collection of her family's favorite dishes and treats. He talked of Chicken Paprikash, and Pork Chops Baked With Potatoe Layers, and Torte, and Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.

And suddenly here in my hands was the recipe for Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. I could hardly believe our good fortune!! Here was the one dessert that Larry had talked about every time Thanksgiving rolled around....... the pie he would "die for"!

So last year I was able to make one for him to enjoy. What a blessing for him, and for me.

This year, I found my copy of Mary's recipe. Time to make Larry's pie.
 And as I worked, I thought of Mary, making her pies for years and years. As I made the graham cracker crust, I thought of Mary pounding her crackers. Today I used a plastic bag and my heavy meat tenderizer to crush the crackers into crumbs. How had she crushed hers? Layers of waxed paper, rolled and pounded with her rolling pin perhaps?
 Oh my, this is difficult! How do I get the mixture to adhere to the sides of the plate? How can I get it molded evenly? I bet Mary got so she could make a crust with one hand tied behind her back!
 Hmmmmm. I haven't used this egg separator in a long time. I remember watching my own mother separate eggs by shifting the yolk from one half of the shell to the other while the whites dripped into her bowl. She had no special egg separator, and I'll bet Mary didn't have one either!
 Who knew the filling had to be cooked?!! It's sort of a custard. Still heavy in texture. But wait.... whip those egg whites and sugar into huge mounds of glossy meringue!!
 Now the filling is so light and airy. There is so much filling that it rises above the edges of the crust. This pie is ready to be chilled and then brought out of the refrigerator to be admired and eaten the following day. 

(Larry enjoys a layer of whipped cream on his piece. Out of the Redi-Whip spritz can. Just like in the "old days", he says.)

I never could have the energy to bake like this when I was teaching. Kroger or Costco would provide dessert for Thanksgiving. It was all I could do to get a turkey in the oven, after all.

I thank God again and again for the opportunity to minister with my time and my hands. What a gift to give to my husband, to be able to serve him his most favorite pie from his  own mother's recipe. And what a gift to my own heart to have the time to research some pretty table ornaments (done at home, and not expensive at all!). I am able to be hospitable to my guests in ways I never could before now. A feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

Thanksgiving. Giving thanks for God's mercies, and His provision, and His love.

November 19, 2011

Giraffes and Such

Isn't this the most beautiful creature?

I have had a fondness for giraffes ever since I can remember. When I was a babe-in-arms, my parents would lay me in my crib for sleep, and tuck me in with a little stuffed animal. I loved that little guy! It was a (can you guess??) GIRAFFE!

You see, Dad had been disabled at the end of World War 2, and he had spent part of his healing and rehabilitation at a Veteran's hospital in Georgia, then had a transfer to the Veteran's hospital in Allen Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Through an interesting series of "circumstances" (which I don't believe in, if you haven't guessed by now) my parents met while he was hospitalized. They courted, married, and VOILA! there I was 3 years later.

Part of Dad's rehab was occupational therapy. One product of the time spent in therapy was the little stuffed giraffe in my crib.

This sweet little creature had been stitched by Dad's two hands in yellow cotton cloth, it had brown felt spots sewn on here and there in a random pattern, and I wish I could recall if it had button eyes or not! No matter.

I believe I imprinted on that little stuffed giraffe, made by my dad's own hands, loved until it fell apart and couldn't be salvaged.

When I had the opportunity to snap the photo above while I was visiting in Zambia, in that same instant I thought of the events which lead up to my dad serving in the US Navy, the events which led to my mom being introduced to him in 1950, their subsequent marriage, children, all the life events in the ensuing years, departures of loved ones (including dad), and then how in the world I came to be in Africa in the first place.

God "works in mysterious ways". Mysterious to us who are simply humans, perhaps. But never mysterious to His purposes.

I now find myself on the verge of new adventure. Every dawn brings breathless anticipation.

I have no doubt that life will come full circle once again, and put me face-to-face with another "giraffe".

God is so GOOD!

It's Time!!

It's time to get back to work here. This sabbatical has lasted long enough. There is so much of life yet to be explored.

God's hand is ever hovering over me, and He needs me to share the news of His goodness.

So, back at it, in a timely manner, carving out minutes here and there which will add up to a new posting.

"See you on the flip-side!"

June 14, 2011


Now that I'm not a slave to the alarm clock and school bell, I can enjoy other pursuits in the early mornings.

I visit a local Farmer's Market on Thursday mornings. For me, there's nothing that can compare to freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. And since I am prevented from growing my own by the local deer population, this Market is a favorite weekly destination.

One farmer brings tomatoes and lettuce grown hydroponically. Which explains why he has this produce and others who grow in soil do not.

Upon the table is a sign, "Ask to see Uglies". Under the table is a box of "Uglies" tomatoes. These fruits are shaped oddly, or have blemishes of one kind or another. But they are still perfect for kitchen use.

Last week I walked the market, and I spied lugs of early crop Michigan strawberries. Red, so ripe, fragrant, absolutely luscious-looking. Oh, how my eye feasted on those pretty things! I purchased 2 quarts, measured out by the farmer scooping his hands into the lug and filling quart containers.

At home, I carefully washed a large handful of berries, my mouth salivating in anticipation of that first bite of cut-up strawberry mixed in with some fresh vanilla yogurt.

But what's this? "Uglies" in my strawberries? I didn't pay any less for these fruits which didn't measure up to a certain standard of perfection. Hey, did I get cheated?

But, oh no! Carefully washed, cut, and tossed with a spoonful of sugar, the berries glistened and smelled pungent as only fresh strawberries can. Mixed with the yogurt, enjoyed to the last spoon scraping of the bowl. That which was declared to be "Ugly" tasted just as sweet as those looking "Perfect".

Can these strawberries be made a metaphor for the sinner saved when grabbed by the heart, where it doesn't show? Made clean and new, fragrant, sweet to the taste, to be enjoyed without paying attention to what shows on the outside skin? Made perfect for a God so holy that only perfection will be allowed. Perfection found only where the eye cannot see. 

And "fruit of the spirit" is holy indeed, and perfect for sharing with the world. To be enjoyed to the last spoon-scraping of the bowl.

I am blessed by the Farmer's Market.

June 9, 2011

My Hands In Service

One of the "Senior Saints" in our community of believers has gone on to meet his Savior face-to-face. Friends and family will gather soon to memorialize a long life. 

And there is a need for a meal. Time is needed to prepare the meal. And I have the time today.

And so many years have past by when my teaching duties had to be the priority, and my heart cried, "I want to serve through my kitchen today!" But God had decided He would keep me with the children. As it should have been.

So as I bake today, I will be using my hands to serve the brethren and, by extension, Jesus. How humbling. My breath catches in my throat and tears well in my eyes as I record these thoughts. One who is unworthy to touch His sandals is able to give Him part of herself.

The ability to touch fellow believers' lives through the simple act of baking a cake. 

As I crack the eggs, stir, blend, pour and bake in the oven, time to pray. 

Creating an offering to my God and my King.

Using the time given as a gift. That I may serve Him.

Loving my Creator. 

Loving His people.

Reaching out to the world from wherever I am. 

Using my talents, my treasure, and my time, in Him, for Him.

Jeremiah 29:11

June 8, 2011

It's Not About The Money

Retirement has its benefits and challenges. Having one's income cut by a little more than half means having to make adjustments in the monthly budget.

Dinner out once a week has become dinner out once every four to six weeks.

A new favorite shopping destination is a store which carries secondhand goods. (Just how many "things" does one person need, anyway?)

What was once "routine maintenance" of hair and body is now "for special only".

And which items haven't been axed from the line-item budget?

The giving of first fruits to God.

A few dollars set aside to enjoy coffee, lunch or dinner on occasion with loving and supportive friends.

The box of cards to mail to those who need encouragement.

And in return I have time available.

Time so special. And totally, profoundly priceless.

The time to reflect upon a lifetime of memories, and upon the new memories being made every day.

The time to help in the nurturing of grandchildren, and the care of an aging parent.

The time to have an unhurried meeting with the One who loves me above all else, my Lord and my God.

I am so blessed by this gift of time.

Jeremiah 29:11

Tea Time

My grandmother taught me how to drink tea.
Hot, strong.

Hers was sweetened in the Russian way with strawberry preserves stirred in.
Tea even on the hottest day of the year.
Fortifying, restoring tea.
I kept a box of tea in a cupboard of my classroom. Many cups of tea were sipped at my desk, accompanying my paperwork, the duties of the day. Tea time at home feels a bit different.

Interesting that I became a teacher, a life-calling that was forbidden to my own mother by this same grandmother.
She taught me how to drink tea.

And now I have begun to teach my own granddaughter how to drink tea. 
How to dunk the teabag, to give it a push with a spoon, to pull it up and against the bowl of a spoon and squeeze the last drops of liquid out.
To add a sweetener, perhaps milk, maybe a taste of lemon.
And look what happens if you mix lemon and milk in your teacup! Life lessons.
To take a sip and savor the flavors.

Sipping at life in a slower pace now.
Many pauses in my day.

This gift given to me, this time to use.
In service to Him.

June 7, 2011

A New Day

This morning's coffee was taken out of the house and into the warm mugginess that is Michigan in June. So many Junes during my "working life". 

This year is different. No rushing off to open a classroom to sweaty, excited children. Excited to see me? Hardly! There are only 8 more days of school! (Or 9 or 6 or whatever.) Making fans from recycled paper. Repeated trips to the water fountain and sink. Panting as the day's air temperatures progress upward and onward.

But this year: hot coffee with the kitty and cardinals. A soft breeze keeps the mosquitos at bay for a few minutes. Long enough to discern a God-glorifying sunrise. Time given to me as a gift to reflect upon the most important, distractions removed. 

Time given as a gift. Isn't that true of all life, first to last breath? Allow me to breathe in. And to breathe out my prayer in thanks.