Jun 30, 2009

Mourning the loss of youth...

Back when I was in my mid 20's, I met some friends of my then new in-laws, who at the time were probably in their early 50's. This couple struck me as really odd...he had black hair that appeared to be dyed, well what there was left of it. And he seemed very uncomfortable with the aging process, as he was dressed in something that seemed far too "young and trendy" for his apparent age. She, on the other hand, looked older than what I thought her years probably were, with gray hair rolled up in a bun, and wearing pretty old-fashioned clothing and no makeup. They didn't seem to be a very happy couple and certainly appeared to be quite mismatched. Perhaps it was just a judgment on my part.

I just remember thinking that I hoped I would grow old more gracefully...that I wouldn't do anything to look silly by trying to be someone I wasn't, but at the same time, not wanting to look older or frumpier than I needed to!

Easy thing to say when you're in your 20's, thin, healthy, newly married with the best of life yet to come.

Last weekend we went to the wedding of the daughter of some friends of ours. There were a whole ton of beautiful young people in their 20's...mostly skinny, lots of beautiful hair, and fresh looking smooth skinned faces. Oh, and so energetic.

I realized once again what has been on my mind for some time now: I'm nothing like them. I mean physically. Its been decades since I saw the scale read 118#. And every 5 weeks or so, on goes some more hair color. Its a constant battle to work on smoothing out the crows feet around my eyes and those awful lines that have begun to appear around my mouth, to say nothing of the myriad of lotions and potions I've tried to tighten up the sags under my eyes.

I no longer engage in a lot of the activities I did 35 years ago either: tennis, bicycling, visits to the gym. Nor can I wear the cute little skirts, shorts, or high heels any longer. My mission when shopping for clothes, in order of priority, is this: fit, comfort, fashion. Trying on jeans and bathing suits is a traumatic experience, reserved for rare occasions when I am totally alone and have lots of time.

And speaking of energy, my husband and I were both pathetic last Friday night, as we were just too exhausted from our day to even eat supper or go on our typical Friday night coffee date at Borders.

But its not just the physical changes that have become so apparent that remind me I'm getting older. Its all the things about family life and mothering that I miss so much. I wrote in an early blog post about how hard it was to let go of my kids. But I realize now it's more than just letting go that is so hard. It's the realization that a significant phase of life is forever behind me: packing the kids in the car for a family vacation, dressing my little boys and combing their hair, watching them grow through so many stages and being so excited at each new thing they learned, each new big word they tried, the endless summers filled with swimming and baseball. I miss dinnertime where we always were together and my three guys would compliment me on the meal in their corny way: "we worship the linoleum you walk on" as they would make bowing gestures with their hands.

Just when I think I've adjusted well to the transitions life has brought me, something reminds me of the indisputable fact that no matter how many years I might have left on this earth, the majority of them are behind me. Does anyone else think like this, or is it just me?

Now, just to be perfectly clear: I'm not afraid to die. I know this earthly life is only a very small part of my existence, and I am totally confident that whatever lies ahead is nothing but good. Eternity is a long time, and I have full assurance that I will spend it with God and my loved ones who loved Him, and I do look forward to meeting all the saints from ages past. My faith in Jesus Christ and His Word have sustained me through all of life's trials, and will usher me to my eternal home. So, that's not the issue.

The word "entropy" is one I learned a few years back. It is a scientific term that has made its way into the realm of sociology and metaphorically means basically that all things tend toward decay, disorder, and chaos. That's why we constantly have to pick up the house after the grandchildren have visited. Or keep the weeds under control in our gardens. Entropy is the reason we don't look younger and younger the older we get. So my point is this: Our earthly lives will only last so long, and even if we live to be 100, that seems pretty short to me in the scheme of things. And with each year that passes, the aging process will take a toll.

I don't care so much about getting old, in fact it beats the alternative, huh? But I don't want what goes along with it. I don't want to have health issues; I don't want to ache every morning when I get out of bed. I miss some of the things that used to be very much a part of my life when I was younger. When I go to bed at night, I need to feel I was productive in some way, or my life held some kind of meaning. I don't want to arrive at a place where I'm just existing because my heart is still beating.

None of us knows how much time we may have left on this earth, or what the future may hold for us. We can't dictate that. So the only question that seems relevant is this: "What will I do with TODAY?" I can choose to squander my time today, wasting it on laziness or fear, or anger, or worry, or indulging a critical spirit, for example. Or I can choose to "follow after the Spirit" which produces good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) Praise be to God that He has provided a way to make each day meaningful as we go about our lives-- a way that pleases Him, helps others, and provides for our own satisfaction at the end of the day. Life is good, even as it quickly moves us through all its stages.

Jun 23, 2009

Jacque's Tortellini & Spinach Soup

Here's a really good recipe for a large pot of soup that only takes minutes to put together. I hope you will try it soon...You can always either cut the recipe in half if it looks like too much, or try freezing part of it.

1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
5-6 fresh garlic cloves, chopped
1/2-1 cup dry white wine
2 - 48 oz. cans low-fat, low sodium chicken broth
1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1-9 oz. bag fresh spinach, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. dry sweet basil (rub between palms to crush)
1 tsp. chili powder
2 - 16 oz. bags tortellini, either frozen or dry
1-2 Tbsp. butter
Parmesan cheese for garnish


Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in the wine, tomatoes, broth, and seasonings and bring to a boil. Cook for two minutes. Add tortellini and cook for six minutes. Add chopped spinach and cook till it wilts, about a minute. Add butter and cook till it melts. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese and crusty bread and butter.

Jun 21, 2009

Father's Day

It wouldn't be right for this day to pass without my thinking out loud about my dad. Spending this holiday without him is still very new to me. Last year was my first Father's Day since he passed, and thankfully we were out of state visiting our older son and his family. That helped so much. So this was the first year we were doing all the usual things EXCEPT going over to visit dad.

I went many years buying dad ties and shirts, and then he really did not need any more of those things. So a few years back I started a new tradition -- I got him black licorice and ginger snaps. I can still hear his voice..."ohhh, THANK you, Jacque" as if it were some new idea each year. I don't know why he loved black licorice so much, but there is a story that goes with the ginger snaps.

Back in the days of the Great Depression, dad used to go to the grocery store with his mother. So many times, he told us, she would get to the check out and not have enough money for what she wanted to purchase, and she would always put something else back and keep the ginger snaps for my dad. He continued to love them throughout his life, and always remembered my dear grandma's sacrifice of love every time he ate some.

As I've written before, there will never be another dad like mine. I miss him so much but I have so many really wonderful memories and I was unbelievably blessed to have such an awesome earthly father.

My dad worked for the B&O Railroad (Chessie System) for 39 years as a desk clerk. He never had a 401(k) or any other substantial money, but I can tell you he was a wealthy man and he knew it. His wealth was his loving family which gave him more joy than any bank account could. He also had a zest for life and learning that money couldn't buy. Above all, he possessed a faith in God which he lived out on a daily basis.

When my dad was 60 years old, he was given an option to retire early. He never dreamed he could do it. I clearly remember encouraging him to "go for it", and he did. It proved to be one of the best decisions of his life. He took up several hobbies he never had time for when he was busy putting food on the table for his large family, sometimes working very long hours. For one, he started to paint with acrylics. Most of his work he gave away as gifts to family and friends. He sold a few paintings along the way too, and even had a collection displayed at the local library and he got written up in the newspaper. Later, he had some printed for notecards, selling some and giving away many.
The clock tower in our home town, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Dad and Mom celebrated 50 years of marriage with a large party and a cruise we kids gave them. They also celebrated 60 years of marriage in 2007. We unveiled our plans for them on Memorial Day of that year, which consisted of a series of small trips with each of us (grown up) kids, spread out over 6 months. When November came we had one last celebration weekend--a family dinner and a party for extended family and their many friends. Dad was so sick that weekend, but no one outside the immediate family would have known it.

A weekend trip to Amish Country in Berlin, Ohio, June '07.

From left: My husband, Bob, me, Mom, Dad, my sister-in-law, Lynn, and my brother, Bob...

Whenever we had a family meal, my dad always was the one to return thanks to the Lord for our provisions. However, the baton was passed at the 60th anniversary family dinner, and my brother Don, the oldest son, stood to say the prayer. I quickly snapped a picture and didn't realize until later when I saw it that I had caught dad wiping away a tear. I think he knew his time with us was short.

Dad lived almost five more months. He enjoyed 24 years of retirement, mostly in very good health and without too many of life's struggles. He lived to see 12 grandchildren and 6 of the great-grandchildren. He knew he was a blessed man.

Elylah sharing her ice cream at her second birthday party,
December 24th, 2007.

Today while I remembered my dad, I also thought about my husband, and what a great father he has been to our two sons. They are both now fathers themselves. And so it goes...one generation passing on, the next growing older, and then the next and the next. I'm reminded that every day is a gift and the older I get, the more I try to live each day to the fullest.
Our two sons with their oldest children in the summer of '06.
Left: Sam and Elylah Right: Andy holding Deacon.

"Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city and spend a year there and carry on our business and make money. Yet you do not know the least thing about what may happen tomorrow. What is the nature of your life? You are really but a wisp of vapor, a puff of smoke, a mist that is visible for a little while and then disappears into thin air. You ought instead to say, If the Lord is willing, we shall live and we shall do this or that thing." (James 5:13-15 Amp)

Jun 20, 2009

The visit to Monticello and Montpelier

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

This is said to be the most well-known sentence in the English language. They are the opening words to the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, whose home at Monticello, in Charlottesville, VA, we enjoyed visiting for the first time this year.

Jefferson designed every aspect of Monticello ("little mountain" in Italian) and it is considered an icon of American architecture. It was a plantation, as well as a retreat and laboratory where Jefferson spent time applying the latest thinking to make life and labor more productive and efficient.

Here we stand with him at the new-this-year $43 million Visitor's Center which was quite impressive. There is an education wing, a fantastic gift shop, and a very nice cafe. A free shuttle picks up visitors from this location and takes them up the famous house on the hill.

The scenery from every direction is just fabulous...here are some of the gardens on the property.

One interesting thing we learned when we saw Jefferson's grave site, chosen by him in 1773, is that it is owned by an association of his descendants, and is still used as a cemetery.

Our next stop was to visit James and Dolley Madison's home at Montpelier, about 30 miles from Monticello, and nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. James Madison is considered the Father of our Constitution. Here we recalled some more famous words:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Though Montpelier was the life-long home of James Madison, his grandfather having acquired the land in 1723, his widow Dolley Madison (famous for saving the portrait of George Washington during the War of 1812 when the White House was burned during her husband's presidency) sold the home in 1844. In 1901 the duPont family purchased Montpelier and enlarged the house from 22 rooms to 55, and preserved the grounds. Finally in 1984 it was transfered to the National Trust, and in 2003 work began to restore the house to the way it was when the Madison's lived there.

Again, the scenery was breathtaking...

We didn't have nearly enough time to see everything at Montpelier, but we did have a tour guide to take us through the mansion. We both were awe-struck as we stood in the very room where Madison researched past democracies and conceived of the system of government that became our republic...and where our Constitution was drafted.

We seem to have a thing for these bronze statutes...which seem to be just about everywhere we visit! Montpelier is still undergoing restoration and it is facinating to see the quality and detailed care that is taken to preserve and restore this national treasure.

We would probably recommend seeing Monticello and Montpelier in two separate days instead of one like we did. We didn't have time to do a leisurely audioguided tour of the Montpelier grounds, or see many of the exhibits, which we regret.

Back in downtown Charlottesville, we enjoyed a free trolley ride ...

to the pedestrian mall...

and enjoyed a fabulous Italian dinner outdoors...a perfect ending to a really nice 5 day get-away!

Thus ends my ramblings about it and I hope you enjoyed touring with us!

Jun 18, 2009

We interrupt this program...

I've often said I want to write a book about my life in the sandwich generation, but I'm too busy living it. Thus, faithful readers, has been my plight recently as I've tried, without much luck, to keep my blogspot current.

In between babysitting two precious grandchildren about 4 days a week and helping my mom get around (she's just past her first anniversary of widowhood and suffering from macular degeneration), and all the other normal things we do in life, I've had two surgeries on my arm recently.

Well, it was supposed to be ONE surgery...I thought I was just having a small cyst removed from the crook of my right arm. So, extremely annoyed with this little life interruption, I had the procedure done and thought that was the end of it. Much to my surprise, when I went for the follow-up appointment, three white coats entered the room and advised me that the biopsy showed they needed to go back in and remove more tissue. (Groan)

The second time I had a general anesthesia so I had a chance to get a good "nap"! Today I go for the follow-up, and I'm fully expecting a good lab report so I can get back to my life between the buns, and sharing some of it with you. I'm very much looking forward to deepening my blogger friendships as well. Thanks for bearing with me!

"This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!" Psalm 118:24

Jun 9, 2009

Vacation Highlights, Part Two

Out of habit, we had mapquested the route from Somerset, PA to Charlottesville, VA before we left home, but didn't even look at it till we were well on our way. We also had our GPS and turned it on. We were surprised to see they had us going different routes. We decided to go with our GPS (fondly nicknamed "Dora" -- as in Dora the Explorer).

The travel time was basically the same, about 4 hours, but Dora had us driving on some very beautiful by-ways where we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, especially when we got into the Blue Ridge Mountain region.

The Bed & Breakfast we had booked in Charlottesville was (to our way of thinking) the pricey Dinsmore House. It is a historic Federal townhouse built in 1817 by Thomas Jefferson's master builder, James Dinsmore. We've never paid this much to stay anywhere, but bit the bullet for two nights since everything in this part of Virginia was high. From looking at the website (http://www.dinsmorehouse.com/) I thought we were really going to be in very plush and high end B&B. We actually were pretty surprised to find, while our accomodations were clean and very acceptable, it was more like staying in a small eight room hotel rather than what we've always experienced when we've stayed at "country" Bed & Breakfasts. And it looked like an "old" place, with some peeling paint, etc. (which it is) rather than a "restored" place (which the price would suggest) .Our room, however, (the Veranda room) was nice:

And I was impressed with the vase of fresh flowers on the mantle...

There was also a small semi-private courtyard...

and of course, the private Veranda...

Breakfasts were served in another part of the building, which we needed to access by going out of our room to the outdoors, walking a few feet, and entering another door. But it was a lovely, sunny porch...

and I loved the brass pineapple napkin rings...

While we thoroughly enjoyed the ammenities, we probably would not stay here again. The main difference between this B&B and any of the others we've stayed at (8 in several different states) is we sat at individual tables for breakfast, which was more like a restaurant, and our quarters were separate from where the common area of the house was. Also, the B&B's "office" was in the common area, so we didn't really feel free to hang out there and we didn't really even have any conversation with any other boarders. SOOO unlike country B&B's!
But enough about the Dinsmore House. This leg of our trip was really about sight-seeing!
Next: Monticello and Montpelier

Jun 7, 2009

We love B and B's and other vacation highlights, part one!

A month or so ago, we realized we were going to have a string of days without obligations and we decided it was a good excuse to take a mini-vacation. The only parameters we put around our planning were these: stay within our budget, plan for 4 overnights, do a good combination of resting and sight-seeing.
We had a book some friends had given us that listed Bed & Breakfast Inns all over the country which would honor a coupon for one free night, Bed & Breakfasts and Country Inns (http://www.iloveinns.com/ ). So we decided to first pick a destination and then work "backwards" with the accommodation plans.

We decided to visit Monticello in Charlottesville, VA, as we do love to see historical sites and neither of us had ever been there. We had heard they just opened a brand new Visitor's Center this year--there was a nice write-up in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on May 17. We were not disappointed! But more on that later.

What I found was many of the B&B's listed in the book have specified availability dates for getting the free night. So I did have to do some searching to find one that would honor the coupon since after Memorial Day seems to be the beginning of peak vacation season.

All the B&B's anywhere near Monticello were pricey, and I couldn't find a single one that would honor the coupon. So I looked over our route, and determined we would stay two nights in Charlottesville, and we would have to find another place to stay the first two nights where we could get the one free night. We took a chance on the Quill Haven Country Inn in Somerset, PA, about 3 hours from home. (http://www.quillhaven.com/).

This place was a real treat, and we highly recommend it to anyone. Innkeeper Carol Miller met us at the door and made us feel welcome right away. We told her we basically just wanted to rest for a couple days, and we knew we had found the perfect place. The circa 1918 home set back from the street on a beautiful and well cared for piece of property. It had a keyless entry system so we could come and go as we pleased without fear of inconveniencing anyone. We also enjoyed the outdoor whirlpool while we were busy relaxing!

Much to our surprise, we realized there were several important things we wanted to see while in Somerset:

1) Flight 93 National Memorial. The site of the crash of the hijacked plane is only about a dozen miles from the B&B. While there is only a temporary memorial right now, a permanent one is being planned. I cried when I signed the guest book as it was very emotional to witness the place where so many innocent people lost their lives. Very touching to say the least. Tax deductible contributions for the permanent memorial can be made at http://www.honorflight93.org/ .

2) Quecreek Mine Rescue Site. I well remember the national news coverage of the miraculous rescue of nine coal miners on July 28, 2002, so we were surprised to stumble into the location of the rescue, just 5 miles down the road from the B&B. The building of a memorial park is in progress, and again, it was with a sense of awe and emotion to realize what had taken place here, as the lives of ordinary people became world-wide headlines. (http://www.quecreekrescue.org/ )

3) Johnstown Flood Museum. Roughly 30 miles from the B&B, in Cambria County, we visited this very interesting museum that remembers over 2200 lives that were lost in the great flood of 1889. We learned a great deal about life before and after the flood, saw actual artifacts that were recovered, and watched an Academy Award-winning documentary of the event. The museum is operated by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. (http://www.jaha.org/ )

4) Heritage Discovery Center. While in Johnstown, we spent some time in this museum also. It basically tells the story of how Johnstown was rebuilt after the flood by immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe who settled there in the late 1800's. The interactive nature of the museum brought it all to life and it wasn't hard to visualize what the daily lives of those people must have been like. We found ourselves feeling grateful to the folks who care enough to preserve the memory of the heritage of the building of America. (http://www.jaha.org/ )

While I realize that everyone's idea of "vacation" is not the same as ours, this leg of our little trip was not only a much needed get-away, but a step back into a heartland area where ordinary, people live, love, and work day in and day out. A coal mining town that would probably never have been much noticed but for the historic events its people have endured, Somerset is now a popular stopping place off the PA Turnpike, exit 110. We are so glad we decided to visit here.

And before I close this out, I want to mention an eating place where the food was just out of this world. The Pine Grill Restaurant (www.pinegrill.com ) is right off the Turnpike Exit 110, at 800 N. Center Avenue in Somerset. I highly recommend their lasagna. It's more "cheesey" than "saucey", is baked, and the portions are large and the price is very reasonable. Their tossed salad with home made dressings are excellent, too. So if you're driving on the Turnpike in southwestern PA and it's lunch or dinner time, hop off and grab a bite to eat here. If you're tired and need a place to stay, drive up the road a mile or so and see Carol at the Quill Haven Bed and Breakfast. (Her breakfasts were great, too!) And please tell her I sent you!
Next: off to Charlottesville, VA

Jun 4, 2009

Remembering Grandma on her birthday

I could literally fill a book recalling precious times with my Grandma Lichi. But I just want to briefly remember her here today, on what would be her 109th birthday! I was so blessed to have awesome grandmas on both sides of the family, and will write about the other one another time.

Maybe that's why I enjoy grandmothering myself so much...I would like to think I am creating some good memories for my own grandchildren to cherish someday.
This picture is from the summer of 1921. Grandma is 21, Grandpa is 31, and their three children are ages 1, 2, and 3. Grandma is pregnant with #4 child (my dad was #5) and there would eventually be 8 altogether.

Grandma Josephine Lichi came over from Sicily as a little girl in 1906. She was only 49 when I was born, but I always remember her as "old". Not old in the sense of sickly, but just the way she dressed and mostly because of her Godly grace and wisdom. I lived next door to her until I was 11 years old, and fondly remember the path through her vegetable gardens between our house and hers. Her door was always open, and I was always welcome there.

I remember frequently finding her on her back porch, preparing vegetables and fruits for canning. Sometimes on Sundays after church I would get myself invited over to share dinner with my grandparents, and to this day I can taste and smell the chicken she slow-cooked on the stove in tomato sauce. On and on I could go, reciting wonderful memories that will never go away.

If I had to name a single thing about my grandma that forever impacted me, it would without a doubt be that she was a great woman of prayer. Because she was hard of hearing, she often would not hear me stumble into her bedroom or living room, finding her on her knees before the Almighty. I know she prayed for each and every one of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren by name, with a faith that was courageous and strong. Nothing was impossible for her God, and I felt a bit sanctified just by being in her presence.

Here she is as I remember her in her later years.

Oh how I fought it in my mind when it was time to let her go at the age of 93. I wanted my own children to know her longer, in ways that I had. But that of course was not possible. I will never forget the night before she passed on when I went to see her at the nursing home. I finally fell on my knees myself beside her bed and went through the "letting go" process with many prayers and tears.

I still love her, and I can with certainty say that in the "present" tense, because I know that she lives on. Her prayers for me and for many in our family no doubt have helped to bring us along in our own faith in her, and our, God. Until we meet again, Grandma, I want you to know I have kept the faith, and I miss you so much.

Jun 3, 2009

I'm back....

We just returned from a short but very sweet vacation, just the two of us!
I'll tell you all about it soon, and put up a few pictures. I just didn't think I should broadcast it on the internet before we left that we'd be away from home. Please check back soon! I've really missed this!