I took this picture in Oxford, England; I am not a professional photographer.  Here’s another England picture:

Notice the bright lovely greenery.  In “Christopher Robin,” the entire film is shot without sunshine.  Inside scenes: no lights/lamps:  I felt like I was at “Darkest Hour,” only more drab.   Was the intention to make the film look early 20th century? (Hopefully people who actually lived then had more light which I am certain they did.) Or did they have no budget for lighting?  If you like staring at a sepia (?) “grey/beige/brown” screen for 2 hours…

Second major problem, the story/writing.  I adore the British classic children’s literature (I own a copy of J. M. Barrie’s “The Little White Bird” which includes, in the middle chapters, the origins of the Peter Pan story).  Wind in the Willows, I own multiple illustrated versions.  I love the Pooh stories of A. A. Milne, for their sweet charm.  Often, American movie productions of these stories head into a completely different direction – look at what Walt Disney does.  Not always bad, just a completely different idea.

I stayed through to the end credits and it did look like this was a British production.  But, who is this film for?  Adults or kids?  The first 2/3rds of it are adult themes about losing yourself in work.  I couldn’t believe that my grandchildren sat so well through all that.  The stuffed animals, as characters and visually; boring.  Voices were annoying – especially Eyeore’s – a deep masculine voice?!

The last 15 minutes had a bit of action, and a happy ending… but I found the whole film excruciatingly dull.  And I love England and their books for kids.

 

This is not a food blog.  But, I got a serious request for the recipe for chocolate chip cookies I’ve been baking since I was in elementary school.  She reads my blog.  There may be others who want the complete, scientific instructions.

 

These technical details promise the cookies will turn out terrific every time.  The premier major alteration, which applies to most cookie recipes:  one egg.  Most recipes specify two eggs.  Most recipes do when the fat content is about 1 cup.  BUT only use one.  When you use two, you will get a flat, non chewy cookie.  My scientific theory is that eggs have gotten bigger over the years.  Even reliable places for recipes like “Better Homes and Gardens” magazines often have 2 eggs listed as the ingredient in the cookies when it should be 1!

One egg!  Second, quality ingredients.  Real butter.  Land O Lakes is my favorite.  Generic butters are better than margarine but still not as good.  Land O Lakes has introduced a new ‘European’ butter which has more fat.  This makes an even better cookie than their regular butter.  All butters are not the same.

Another tricky ingredient: brown sugar.  I use the Domino brand:  it kind of ‘cakes’ together and makes a better cookie.

And real vanilla.  Sorry no picture.  I love McCormick brand.  It’s ridiculously expensive right now.  But you need it for a delicious cookie.

Flour is important, too.  I buy King Arthur brand all purpose unbleached flour.  From my experience, with the white sugar, the salt, and the baking soda, which are in smaller quantities, brands don’t matter.

I almost forgot the chocolate chips!  Sometimes I want milk chocolate chips, sometimes I like semi sweet.  Or I mix them half and half.  Or I throw in mini semi sweet chips.  Nestles brand has been my favorite for fifty years.  This dough is also good for M & M candies.  Or my grandson likes to mix all the kinds of chips and candies into the dough.  Have fun.

Another precise direction:  use Airbake shiny aluminum cookie sheets, and only bake one tray at a time.  Mrs. Otis taught me that when a cookie recipe has 1 cup of fat, you don’t need to grease the cookie sheets.  She’s right.  There’s so much fat they won’t stick to the sheet.  Don’t over bake!  Depending on how hot your oven is, 12 minutes; maybe more, maybe less.  You have to watch them: when the tops are ‘cracking’ and the edges golden, they are ready to remove.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat together: (by hand or mixer – I usually do it by hand)

1 cup Land O Lakes butter

3/4 cup packed Domino brown sugar

3/4 cup white granulated sugar

Mix together until fluffy and the sugar has ‘melted’ into the butter completely. (My friend Katherine Johnson used that term; it’s correct.)  You could let the mixture sit for a few minutes, too .  Then beat in

1 teaspoon of McCormick’s vanilla

Beat in the ONE egg

Combine 2 and 1/2 cup all purpose unbleached flour with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Because you’re only using one egg, the dough may feel more stiff and thick than usual.

Stir 2 cups of chocolate chips or candies into the batter.

Mix together.  Sometimes I ‘drop’ the dough onto the cookie sheets, sometimes I roll them into balls.  Make them big enough but not too big… or you can make them quite big like they do at some grocery stores.  You have to flatten those giant ones so they bake properly.

Bake for 12 minutes (?), until the edges look golden and the tops are starting to crack.  Let them sit on the cookie sheet on a cooling rack for a minute so they hold together when you take them off.

There’s nothing worse than a stale cookie.  My mother used to keep cookies in a tin on the counter!  Not good.  Zip the ones you’re not going to eat into baggies.  Store them in the freezer.  When you thaw them, they’ll still taste fresh.  Not as great as right out of the oven.  Nothing’s as good as that…

 

“Remind me why I’m moving,”  Elizabeth looked up from the armload of stuffed animals she was packing.

“You found a wonderful new house,”  I reminded her.  One she and Mike had picked out. They invited Duane and I to see it.  We loved it.  Contracts signed, they were preparing the ‘old house’ for a showing.

” When you’ve spruced up your house so much that you wonder why you’re selling, then you know your house is ready to sell,”  I thought.  Duane and I have sold eight houses.

I never had a moment of sadness about leaving the old house behind.  I was always eager for the next blank canvas; the new dream.

Until now.  I walk through the quiet rooms of 4851 Cross Pointe Drive, where we’ve lived the last twelve years, and wonder if I could ever leave.  I remember the weekend Duane’s Mom flew here to visit; we drove to Jacksonville with her and my Mother to celebrate Mother’s Day at Pam’s house.

Family parties.

 

Holidays.

 

I painted every wall and trim in whites I love, displayed all the items in my life that bring joy, and even remodeled the kitchen with the handmade tiles we carried back from England.

 

I used to be restless for the next house to fix up.  I love new places.  I inherited that from my grandfather.  He brought his family from England to America.  To Philadelphia, then Minneapolis, then Australia, then Florida. Nana had penciled,  “Aren’t we smart looking in our new hats?!”  on the back of this picture, taken at the Newcastle train station the morning they left.  (April 1947; a family friend, Nana, Pawpaw, Aunt Ruth, Dad)

I like making things, like granddaughter Addi.  My hobby since childhood has been making houses beautiful.

I hand sewed red gingham curtains and hung them on strings at the windows of my playhouse in Abington.

Then, fixing up houses went into high gear.  In 1979, Duane and I moved into a condo in Rochester, Minnesota for three years while he was a Resident at the Mayo Clinic.  In those days before HGTV, we loved watching  “This Old House.”

 

“One day we’ll be able to buy our own house and fix it up,” we dreamed.   After being married seven years, we bought our first house:  7209 West Shore Drive, Edina.  We tiled the orange formica counter in the kitchen, removed the center cupboards, and painted them white.

Before:

After:

Hardly finished with this house,  I was dreaming of remodeling a house on Lake Cornelia, a mile away.  One day while I was biking along Cornelia Drive, I saw the “For Sale” sign.  I called our realtor the minute I got home.  His impression of the house:  “I won’t see you guys for six years.”  It needed work.  The kitchen floor was covered with pink bedroom carpeting.  The living room and dining room floors were tiled with thick brown Mexican tiles.  The owner smoked heavily; all the walls needed painting and screens scrubbed.  We had to replace the roof.  But the back of the house faced onto Lake Cornelia; and it was only two blocks from Southdale mall and six blocks from Duane’s office.

 

It did take us six years.  Then Florida beckoned.  We were finished with Minnesota’s 9 month winters.  We bought a house on a golf course with a swimming pool.  Mike and Jeff were in high school; we put a pool table in the living room and opened our doors for church  parties.

When Mike was a college freshman and Jeffrey a senior at Countryside High, we stopped in at an open house at a high rise condo out on the beach, and fell in love.  A former model, the views of the Gulf and Intracoastal were spectacular.  We lived there three years.  If you ever ask yourself about a new real estate purchase, “Is it too far?” it’s too far.

 

We moved back into North Pinellas, a maintenance free two bedroom with study villa home on a lagoon.

Mike and Jeff got married.  Our parents would visit.  We needed another bedroom and wanted our own pool.

After a huge fight, where Duane made me swear this was the last move and sign a contract in blood, he conceded we could contact a realtor about our next house.  “It has to be on a beautiful lot, with water behind it,” he insisted.  We prayed about it.  In four months, our realtor called.  “I think I found it.”

When we walked in, we knew immediately.  The house was light and bright with a beautiful lagoon and golf course view.  We put in an offer before we left.   I was excited about making all the changes that would make the house our own place.  The black and white checkerboard pool trim had to go.

One of my favorite Psalms is, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” (Psalm 84:1) We’ve lived in some lovely places.  I’ve enjoyed making them lovely; so has Duane.  We’re homebodies.  When asked, “What’s your favorite restaurant?” we both answer, “We’re not that ‘into’ going out to eat.”  We’re happy eating at home.

Lately I’ve started wondering why we’ve stayed at this address so long.   Wonder why I’m feeling sad about the day we’ll sell.  This isn’t like me.  I know this house is just four walls and a roof.  It’s the people that make it home.

Jesus said, “I am going to prepare a place for you.  I will come and get you… so that you will always be with me where I am.”  It’s being with the people we love that’s the big thing.

 

Grieving the loss of my parents,  and some close friends recently, has distracted me from dreaming about our next place.  Instead of checking out real estate online  I’m often staring at photos of past places and the family and friends I love who are gone.

I turned 63 this May.  I also realize that this next move may be my last.  Ouch.

The ability to change, to be flexible in all life’s events, is a mark of emotional health.  Look at the most emotionally healthy person ever:  Jesus.

“…he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.”  Philippians 2:7

The old chorus, “Out of the ivory palaces…”  reminds me that Jesus left an incomparably better home than the new one he had on earth.  He came, out of love, to give us life and hang out with us.  “The joy set before him,” the cross, meant he was excited about his plan to bring me into his life and home.

In March 1970 the Mitchell family gathered at Aunt Marian’s house for Sunday dinner and a family photo (Mother, Wendy, me, Jennifer, and Pam seated on Dad’s lap.)  We moved that week cross country, from Philadelphia to our new house on Abbott Avenue in Edina.

Mother’s attitude about the new house, which lacked a formal dining room  (one thing she really wanted) and had carpet so old it was like walking on linoleum, was:  “What joy for those who can live in Your house.”  (Psalm 84:4)  Since Jesus was with her, she couldn’t wait to go.

A while ago, on our bedroom wall I painted  “I AM here,” (John 6:24) in translucent white acrylic.  When the light catches the letters at a certain angle, the hidden message appears.   Where ever we’ve lived, and where ever we’ll live in the future, when Jesus is there, it’s  home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My grandmother, Mommom, with a shy smile on her face, stands beside my grandfather, Poppop, confidently holding his Bible.

“I thought you were going to tell the story about your grandfather’s book,”  a friend confided, after Share Night, the last session of Bible Study Fellowship’s study of Romans.

I intended to.  But writing a vignette about what this year meant to me would be like trying to critique Calvin’s theology in 71 pages.  Poppop did it, in his book, “Subjects of Sovereignty.

I discarded attempt after attempt to summarize my year in Romans.  Too complicated? Just whining?  Finally, I settled on a few jumbled words for Monday night.  “I hesitated to study one of Paul’s letters, because he’s so brilliant.  I saw God’s love in every chapter.”  True, but not the whole story.

The real story includes my grandfather and my most challenging year in BSF.

I’ve been in and out of BSF since 1984.  At Wheaton my major was Christian Education, so I was curious to see how this study worked.  They had a children’s program for our son Jeffrey.  My mother was the class Teaching Leader, too.   I loved it.  The following year I was invited to be a Group Leader.   The training I received at BSF reinforced everything I learned in college.  Using those skills,  I went back to my church and met ministry needs there.

Firsthand, I’ve seen people come to Jesus as they study the Bible in BSF.  Last year, in John,  I had a woman in my group new to Bible study.  Throughout the year, she did her lessons, participated honestly in the discussions, and let us know she was not sure about what she believed.  “I think people are arrogant who say they can know God,”  she shared once, with her quiet and gracious voice.

This year, at the closing Share session, she stood up and said, “I always thought I was a Christian, but this year, halfway through Romans, I knew I had to believe it for myself.”  Wow.  That testimony has been repeated over and over in BSF.

I knew Romans would be challenging.  I had briefly studied it in “Life and Letters of Paul,” written by Miss Johnson, BSF’s founder.  This time,  I was looking for answers to  why some people don’t believe in God.  I have family and friends who once said they were Christians, and now seem uninterested in him.  This year was more than dry theology.  It was painfully personal.

I began Romans as the leader of a group of 15 ladies, in September.

BSF discourages the use of commentaries.  But I’ve been doing family history research the last two years.  I had rediscovered my grandfather’s writing.  Poppop was a Bible teacher and pastor.  Here he’s preaching at  America’s Keswick Bible conference.

I pulled out Poppop’s sermon outlines on Romans.  Under ‘ROMANS’ he handwrote, “Not To Be loaned.”  Ha!  He would be thrilled to know his granddaughter  was studying Romans and using his notes, too.

“Read Romans to be grounded in Doctrine,”  Poppop had written in his Scofield KJV New Testament, copyright 1909.  Scrawled among other pithy sayings like, “Why study the word of God?  For the Final Exam,” he had noted, “Gift of David L. Cooper, Walton, Georgia.”   I loved reading his alliterations, squeezed in the margins.   I ended up reading through Romans in the KJV!  The meanings of some verses was more understandable in the KJV than in the NIV! See Romans 8:19.

 

Paul’s letter and writing did challenge my brain; “… his letters are difficult to understand…” (2 Peter 3:16) .  But being a BSF leader was more challenging this year than ever before.  Leaders attend an extra training meeting a week.  Our meeting was at 6 a.m. on Saturdays.  My cataracts are getting worse so driving in the early morning darkness made me nervous.  One of the goals of a small group leader is to build relationships with each woman .  Four ladies in my group slipped away after Christmas because … the BSF notes were too complex?  Wait, they were packed with information, and I learned a lot from them.  I can’t stand it when Christians, especially women,  walk away from Bible study because they think it’s “too hard,” boring or not applicable.   Maybe it was me?  They didn’t connect with me?  I felt bad.

Although sometimes I felt like a failed leader, the group that was left, the remnant (Romans joke), was alive with Spirit directed discussions on Thursday mornings.  We were honest with each other about our struggle to understand why some people believe in God and some don’t.  At home, I read and reread  Poppop’s “Subjects of Sovereignty:”

“I am not presenting these subjects for students in the theological workshop, but for the average Christian who sits in the church pew to hear the word of God presented with a spiritual application for the heart and soul.” (Preface)

One sentence from his book kept coming back to me:  “God’s actions are not based alone on His Foreknowledge but are based in the background of His attribute of love.” (p. 51)  I had noticed that every chapter in Romans mentions God’s love.  I won’t list them.  I still have questions, and wish – no, wish is not a strong enough word.  Paul said it better, “I have a great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart,” (KJV) that the people I love would receive God’s love, Romans 9:2.

I’m not alone.  That’s how God feels.  The wistful sadness of Sondheim’s Broadway song, “Not a day goes by, Not a single day, But you’re somewhere a part of my life…I keep turning and reaching…and no, not a day goes by, not a single day, but your still somehow a part of my life, and you won’t go away…” musically captured for me the heart of God about his wandering people. “I have reached out my hands to my people all day long.” (Romans 10:21)

My last struggle this year involves my relationship with BSF.  I’m conflicted.  I love BSF but at the same time, feel an underlying impatience with the Organization.  Their material is sound.  Their method works.  But, they need to continue to adapt in order to reach this generation; my friends, my kids and grandkids.  The changes this year were a beginning.  But they need to continue. People under 40 should be on the BSF Board.  Streamline leadership.  One example: the  Leader’s manual is too many pages and too complicated.  Too much bureaucracy? The notes, filled with excellent content, need to be written towards a new generation who don’t know religious jargon.

These life changing studies are for our children, and grandchildren, too.

It wasn’t an easy year.  But it was a worthwhile year.  I’m looking forward to BSF’s “People of the Promised Land” in the fall.  I may do it as a Virtual Class…

“Who has done such mighty deeds, summoning each new generation from the beginning of time?  It is I, the LORD, the First and the Last.  I alone am he.”  Isaiah 41:4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“How do I know who to marry?”  Mother was often asked, as a teacher of Young Adult Singles at Wooddale Church.

The woman of Proverbs 31 provided three distinctive clues for a great wife, according to Mother.  April 30 is Duane’s birthday.  I believe these traits point out a great husband, too, like Duane.

Before we started dating, I had heard Duane Rommel was very smart. We started dating.  As I got to know him, I saw why:  the first Proverbs’ trait, from verse 17. “He is energetic and strong, a hard worker”.

While Duane had a social life at Wheaton, he spent most of his time studying.  His major: chemistry.

“I’m not going to do very well on the P.Chem test,” he confided to me over dinner in the dining hall.  He wanted to achieve an “A.”  He intended to go to graduate school and knew he needed good grades..

For days he agonized over the exam.  I knew he was smart so I was puzzled at his level of concern.  Then I started to worry too, mostly by myself because he was in the chem lab getting ready for the test.

“How did it go?”  I asked, after the test.  His face looked tired.

“I don’t know,” he sighed.

Two days later, he approached me with a big smile, “I got the top grade in the class!”

He had earned it.

Mother often quoted,  “As now, so then.”  In high school I had a friend from church who said she would start coming to youth group on Wednesday nights, but for right now she was taking babysitting jobs.  My mother’s input on that strategy:  “As now, so then.”  In other words, people tend to be in the future what they are in the present.  It’s not a Bible verse, and doesn’t mean that people don’t ever change.

The quote became a joke in our family, “As now, so what.”

My friend never did come to youth group.

Duane’s still hard working.  His habits made him a great doctor.

Proverbs trait #2, verse 20: “He extends his hands to the poor and needy.”  He’s kind.

One spring afternoon after classes, I couldn’t find Duane.  Where was he?  Helping a fellow chemistry major, Dori, fix her bike.  Duane always loved bikes.

 

He was part of a Bible study with guys on his floor.  They wanted to do a service project for orphan kids.  They pictured themselves throwing catch with small boys on a baseball diamond.  Instead, their student ministry project turned out to be mentoring teens who were actually bigger physically, and kind of intimidating.

He’s still kind. (“As now, so then.”)  A few years ago he served in jail ministry to teens, where each Christmas our church volunteers held a big breakfast and gave out stockings to those kids.

The third trait of the Proverbs 31 ‘person:’  He loves the Lord.

This is the most difficult characteristic to detect.  I’ve seen guys attend church in order to ‘get the girl.’  One practical way to tell if he loves the Lord is, how does he treat his Mother? His Dad?  Duane did go to church, and we talked about what we believed a lot.  But I could tell, by how he loved and respected his parents, that he loved God.

When he graduated, he wore the suit that his parents bought for him.  They knew he would need a suit for interviews for medical school.

Duane and I started college in the same class year. Because I was in the Wheaton in England program my sophomore summer, and  Duane accumulated enough credits to graduate early, we were apart much of our college courtship.  Two boxes hold our love letters to each other.

Besides mushy stuff, Duane often wrote about how God was leading him and us.  He described a fellow med student who wasn’t a Christian:

“…I don’t think he is a Christian…. Then all of  a sudden I felt like I had so much…infinitely more than a lot of other people in my class right now – I can’t be sad – or at least I can’t stay that way for long.  Then all of a sudden I have a tremendous urge just to tell everyone – Hey – where is your life going? What meaning have you found? There is a person who loves you and care for you far beyond anything you can imagine.  Just look to Christ.”

Duane has grown into an excellent Bible teacher.  He spends chunks of his days off, and sometimes slow moments at work, preparing to teach our Adult Bible Class.  Last year he was part of  a team that taught on festivals of the Old Testament.

There aren’t  foolproof formulas for choosing a spouse.  Proverbs direct our lives with general principles. In affairs of the heart,  Proverbs 31 gives excellent direction.  I’m thankful God gave me someone who is kind, works hard, and loves the Lord…. and knows how to fix bikes.

“His children rise up and call him blessed, and his wife praises him.”  Proverbs 31:28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our house is filled with light.  Except our master bedroom, which is like a cave.

We’ve lived in the Cross Pointe Drive house for 13 years; a record for us.  I’ve repainted our  bedroom three times, trying to ‘fix’ the darkness problem.

“There should be a window there,” I muse as I turn on the bedside lamp, each Florida sunshiny day.

For years I put it off,  rationalizing:  “The rest of the house has lots of light; this is a room for sleeping.”   “We could give that money to missionaries.”  “In a hurricane, it’s one less window to cover.”

In translucent paint I lettered  Jesus’ words, “I AM here” (John 6:24) in that dim room.  When the light caught the letters a certain way, I could see the encouraging message.

Duane didn’t think the bedroom was dark.  He’s at work most days.  We debated,  back and forth, for years, trying to decide what to do.  I hung a painting of a window by Grandma Moses in the room, to compensate.

Duane and I are in our early 60’s.  We started thinking about downsizing.    Where do we want to be living in five years?  What things are we supposed to be doing?   The author of “In Defense of the Not-So-Busy Retirement,” (WSJ) wrote, “…decisions are not only about how to act but who to be.  Becoming someone is exactly the task in the open-mindedness of retirement.”

Move to something smaller?!  We realized that our house isn’t that big.  And we love it, even our dark bedroom.  Finally, we decided to  add that window.  Shine, light!

In ‘Peter Pan,’ the open nursery window symbolizes freedom to fly through the stars to adventure.

 A new  bedroom window  means we’ll see the morning sun and light throughout the day.  I don’t understand people who don’t open their curtains every morning.  Light energizes me.

 

The “After” is amazing, and it’s not even done!   The only place the window made visual sense was in the “I AM here” spot.  (Yes, we need to rehang that mirror higher.)

One new window has lit up our bedroom more than Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors.  I adore it!  Duane said, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”

I planned to repaint “I AM here” in a nearby spot when the window was finished.  With the morning sun shining across the bed, I’ve decided on something new.  I’ll  take my translucent white paint and calligraphy these words above the window :

” I AM the light of the world.”  John 9:5

 

Corrine Rommel holds her son, Duane.  ‘Corrine’ was not always her name.  This is her story, in her own words, presented at the Ladies Tea at Windsor Park Retirement Community a few weeks ago:

“I will start where I lived.  I was born on a farm in Hebron, Illinois.  I was born on February 5, 1931.  My real name is Norella Wilma Clara Warfel.  It was the Depression, so we were very poor.  Every spring we had to move as we did not make enough money to pay the rent.  We leased a farm.

My brother told me we had a large open wagon driven by our horses.  Little children like myself could ride on the wagon.  The older brothers and sisters had to walk alongside the cart.  If something spooked the horses they would take off.  Our furniture would spill off onto the ground.  That made my brother laugh and laugh.

The farm house did not have electricity or plumbing.  We had kerosene lamps and an outhouse.  If we little ones had to go to the bathroom, my mother would put a white porcelain pot outside the kitchen door so the smell would not go into the kitchen.  When we had a bath we had a large galvanized tub.  Only two at a time could fit in it.  When the water got too cool, they warmed it for the next ones.  I don’t know how they did this.

There were 10 children.  One brother died at age two of pneumonia.  My mother was pregnant with her 11th child.  My father took the boys on a fishing trip.  While they were gone, I don’t know how long they were gone, my mother went into labor.  My mother told my oldest sister, who was 13, to stay and help her.  She told my sister Grace who was 8 years old to take the younger ones to the barn.

I don’t know what happened after that.  I know our Dad deserted us for six months.

A neighbor or relative called the Lutheran orphanage in Addison, Illinois, and told them we were by ourselves.  The oldest of us was 13 years old, and the youngest one was 2 years old.  The home had a bus which picked us up.

The girls were on one big side, the boys were on the other side of this big building.  We could only stay in the orphanage till we were 13 years old.  My brothers were boarded out in nearby farms.  My older sister was on a farm to help with the children there, and cook and clean.

We had our jobs to work in the orphanage like make our bed every day, change sheets on Saturday, and set the table where our whole family would eat together in the main dining room.  We would be given a tablespoon of cod liver oil every day.  I guess that was our vitamins.  I did not like that.

I peeled potatoes when they told me to do it.  I would put some of the raw potatoes in my pocket.  When I went outside I would eat the raw potatoes.  My job was also to clean the toilets and sinks in the bathroom.  I didn’t like doing that so I would stand on top of the toilet so no one would find me.  They did.  So I would have to finish doing that, then iron pillow cases and wash down a long flight of stairs that led up to all our beds.

We went to school, single file; St. Paul’s Lutheran School.  For church, we each got a penny to put in the offering.  If we talked we had to stand in a corner through the whole church service.

We all had boxes connected against the wall where we were able to keep some of our things.  I had a large comb which I was so proud of.  For Christmas we all received one gift.  I got paper dolls.  That is what I kept in that box.

Our Father would come and see us once a year.  He told the home he only wanted the boys.  They told him NO.  They said, you take all of them or none.  He said “I don’t want any.”

My first foster home:

It was out in the country.  I went to school there.  The kids were mean to me.  No one would be my friend as they knew I was from an orphanage.  They would throw stones at me to and from school.  I told the lady of the home where I was.  She told me to fight my own battles.

The girl that sat in front of me had beautiful hair with long curls.  I thought to myself, “I would like that.”  So one Saturday morning, I took a comb and wound it up in my hair.  The lady called me for breakfast.  I could not get the comb out!  So I cut my hair, and put the hair behind the sink in the bathroom.  She found it when she was cleaning.  She pulled me by my hair down the stairs and showed it to her husband.  He beat me with a long razor strap.  I cried, and told them I wanted to go back to the orphanage.  I was happy to go back.

My second home:

My folks had the last name “Will.”  They came to the orphanage to get me.  It was 8 p.m. so I was tired because that is when the home had us go to bed.  I did not want to go by my new ‘dad.’  I was afraid of him because of what happened with the first people.

The first thing my Mother did was she took me downtown on the train and bought me all new clothes.

On Sunday we all went to church.  After the service, up in front of church I saw my sister Carol.  I ran up to her and hugged her.  We were in choir together.  On Fridays I would see her at practice.  My sister told me I was not to be with her.  We could not march together down the aisle.  So one Sunday morning her mother came to the choir room.

“Stay away from Carol!”  she told me.  That made me feel real bad.  I cried.  In their eyes, my folks did not ‘have money.’  My Dad was just a mailman.  Also, my folks let me go to the movies, which they thought was a bad influence.

But they were wonderful people.  The Lord really blessed me.”

 

“There’s more to your story,”  Duane said to his Mother when he called her after she spoke at the tea.  He had finished reading the hand written notes she had sent him.  “This isn’t very long.”

“I don’t like talking in front of a lot of people,”  his Mother answered.

We found a few family pictures that continue the story.

The Wills, the childless couple who adopted his Mother,  gave Norella a new name, “Corrine Joyce.”  She’s the one on the far left in the second row, in a school picture.

Despite being separated to different farms and homes, the sisters and brothers all settled in the Chicago area.  They remained close; celebrating birthdays and holidays together.  The Warfels still gather for family reunions each July.

Corrine was a bridesmaid at her sister Carol’s wedding, where she met Richard Rommel.  They fell in love, and married in 1952. Duane was six months old when she and Richard bought the house at 625 N. Hamlin Avenue in Park Ridge, Illinois.

Duane’s sister Joyce was born in 1957.  Brother Jeffrey in 1960.  Jeffrey cradles their dachshund.  Corrine loves dachshunds.

‘Norella’ moved a lot; Corrine stayed put.  She  lived at 625 for sixty years, before moving to  lovely Windsor Park.  From lonely orphan to the ‘wise woman’ of Proverbs 14:1, who ‘builds her home,’  Corrine’s greatest joy is when her family gets together.  Duane’s Mother loves her kids, grandkids and 10 great grandchildren!

In 2016, granddaughter Janelle and husband Erik had a baby girl.  To honor her grandmother Corrine, Janelle chose the name, “Norella.”

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!”  Psalm 84:3

 

This Easter I arranged for a photographer to take a family portrait.  I was trying, with a picture, to battle ‘the empty nest’ feeling.   Jeff, Heather and their kids live out of town.  Mike and Elizabeth are involved in a new church plant in Tampa.  Over the last three years my Dad and Mother died.

“Traditionally, photography is supposed to capture an event that has passed…but photography brings the past into the present when you look at it.”  – photographer Julian Schnabel

Here’s a professional portrait of Duane’s family circa 1966:

We still joke about the non-professional infamous ‘pink shirt’ Mitchell family portrait of 1982:

I looked for a Bible verse about the empty nest, and found, “He sets the lonely in families.” Psalm 68:6.   I used to think it meant, “God puts us in families so we won’t be lonely.”  But my parents lived out the real meaning.  They invited the lonely to join our family

Mother taught a Bible class of young adult ladies  at Berachah Church.  Those women married and her class morphed into the Young Marrieds.

Mother and Dad invited couples from the class for dinner.  Two reasons this was not easy:

  1.  Our split level house in Abington was small, all of 1746 square feet.  The dining room probably 10 feet by 10 feet.  The pine drop leaf table set in the middle of the room had two leaves that could stretch the table to squeeze  maybe 12 people around it, extending into the living room.
  2. Mother did not like to cook.  She did prepare simple suppers for us.  Mealtime was important and happy.  Her strategy, most afternoons, was to drive to the Food Fair, 10 minutes away, to choose ‘something’ for dinner. 

To overcome her dislike of preparing food, while still having people over, Mother rotated three simple, ‘set’ company menus.  The first, was a ham dinner.  The second dinner included a casserole.    A dessert created from a Jello box or ready made graham cracker crust.  The third, Golfer’s stew, used Campbell’s soup.  Layer Beef chunks with chopped onions, white potato chunks, and sliced carrots.  Pour a can of tomato soup and a can of mushroom soup over all and top with a can of peas.  It earned the name ‘golfer’s stew’ because you could bake it in the oven at 275 degrees for five hours, or long enough to play a round of golf.  Mother never played golf, but it was easy and served a crowd.  Add lots of rolls, and a tossed salad, and no one would go home hungry.

For her birthday one year, Mother’s best friend Grace Chittick gave her a white ceramic soup tureen and ladle dotted with blue flowers.   Golfer’s Stew became almost elegant when presented in that dish.

The evening of the dinner, Wendy, Jennifer and I sat segregated from the company, at our kitchen table.  The Young Married class was jammed around the dining room table.  They were laughing and talking, ignoring us kids, just inside the adjacent room.   Dad began ladling the Golfer’s Stew from the tureen onto each plate.

“Eat up!”  Dad encouraged, while he tried to make sure he retrieved an even amount of meat/potato/carrots from the stew onto each plate he filled.  Mother gave us our stew to eat in the kitchen, then stepped into the dining room and glanced at the stew in the tureen.  She was surprised at how little was left in the bottom.  Dad had three more plates to fill!

“Just a minute,”  Mother said to Dad,  leaning over to take the tureen.  “I’ve got more stew in the kitchen.”

She turned and walked into the kitchen.   She set the tureen on the counter.  She lifted the cooking pan with the stew, and scraped out the few remnants of carrots and potatoes.  Mother glanced at us, stabbing our stew with our forks.  “Wait, girls!”

Mother grabbed each of our plates.   She slid our uneaten portions into the tureen, and breezed back into the dining room.

“Here we are,”  Mother set the tureen back in front of Dad. “There’s plenty.”

We didn’t really like Golfer’s Stew that much anyway.

Our family moved to Minnesota in 1970.  At Thanksgiving dinner that year, Dad’s voice cracked with emotion when he gave the blessing.  It was just the six of us around the table.  We were used to celebrating with cousins, aunts and uncles.  Every year after that, Mother and Dad invited people from church who did not have family or a place to go for Thanksgiving.

Having people over for lunch or dinner wasn’t only about eating.  It was the ambiance and conversation.  The food wasn’t gourmet, but there was always a tablecloth, and lit candles.  Dad told funny stories.  Mother came across interesting dinner questions in her reading that would promote discussion and laughs.

“What are you looking forward to this week?”  was a favorite question.  Mother would go around the table, making sure each person had a chance to answer, and be listened to.

Mother and Dad taught me that the essence of etiquette was considering the other person and how to make them feel comfortable.  That hospitality was work but balanced with bountiful rewards.

Our Easter portrait session produced fun pictures:

But God’s serendipitous plan for the family with the empty nest, having people over,  is better.

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”  Hebrews 13:2

 

 

 

“We’re going on a Mystery Drive!”  With delight Dad dangled the idea in front of us on a rainy Saturday morning.  From our house in Abington, Pennsylvania, to where ever …  our family would be together in our Plymouth station wagon;  Wendy, Jennifer and I lumped in the backseat behind Mother and Dad.

I loved a planned adventure.

Where were we going?   We ended up at the Stangl Factory in Flemington New Jersey, an hour away.  Mother needed more of her ‘Fruit’ pattern cereal bowls or extra plates.    We didn’t catch on, until years later, that this was Dad’s way of Making Life Fun.

The sprawling store was a now an unused kiln surrounded by a maze of showrooms,   stacked high with dinner plates, cups, saucers, bread and butter plates, cereal bowls and fruit bowls.  I loved wandering among the colorful pottery dishes, free from my parents.   They took a long time when shopping. I liked choosing exactly the pattern I would buy when I grew up.

If Dad loved going for a drive, Mother loved dishes.  She had inherited her own mother’s bone china tea cups, made in England.  Mother didn’t like to cook.  But she had the gift of hospitality, and often invited friends and new people from church for a meal in our home.  The food looked more enticing than it was, because we ate on  such nice dishes.

This Mystery Drive combined the best of both worlds for Mother and Dad: cars and dishes.  Dad inherited his love of cars and driving from his Uncle Bertie, his mother’s only sibling.  Here’s Dad’s sister Ruth at the front of Bertie’s car, with two unknown children, and Dad, on the far right, leaning forward in the exact pose I’ve seen my own son Mike take.  Mike inherited Dad’s love for cars and driving.

To my Dad, Uncle Bertie was a family patron saint.  Wendy and I met him in 1975 when I was in college, on a Wheaton in England program.  She was traveling with a friend.  We stayed at the home he shared with his wife, Aunt Divinie, in Dumbarton, Scotland.  They took us for a ride in their car with a picnic lunch at Loch Lomond, the lake that holds the Loch Ness Monster.

Uncle Bertie was the older brother Dad never had.  Bertie was close to his sister, Dad’s mother Lily, and even included (seated on the right)  in this family portrait.  Look at the expression on Dad’s face!  I have a picture of Dad, age 19, in the Royal Marines, with hair that looks just like Uncle Bertie’s.

In 1939, Dad and his sister Ruth left their parents’ home in Newcastle England, to live with Grandma Wilson, his Dad’s mother, and Uncle Bertie.

People have heard of the blitz of London in WWII.  Many don’t realize other English cities experienced German bombing.  In Newcastle-on-Tyne, northern England; 400 people died, thousands were injured and homes destroyed.  Dad’s parents stayed; PawPaw was the pastor of his church and a neighborhood leader.  30,000, mostly children, including my Dad and his sister, were evacuated.

For the two years the Germans were dropping bombs on Newcastle, Dad and Ruth were safe in Grandma Wilson’s home, on Scotland’s west coast.  Uncle Bertie often dropped by and  told them stories before they went to sleep about “Blackie” and  “Whitey”, two fictional dogs.  Dad told us those stories.  Uncle Bertie took them to “Laurel and Hardy” movies.  Going to the ‘cinema’ was not off limits for Christians, like it was in America.

If Uncle Bertie was known for hijinks and fun, Grandma Wilson was a legend.  Christina Sutherland Wilson stood less than five feet tall, even in her Sunday shoes (far right).

“She could pick up hot coals with her bare hands and throw them back in the fire.”

“She could sing like a bird.”  Dad attributed my singing ability to Grandma Wilson.

“After cleaning up the lunch dishes, she would sit at the kitchen table, lay her head on its’ wooden surface, toss a dishtowel over her head, and have a rest.”

 

 

Fast forward to 2013.  Dad and Mother moved to Regency Oaks Senior Living, five minutes from  Wendy, Jennifer and me.   Because of Dad’s poor health, we sold his car.  He’d bought it,  a brand new Chrysler, the year before.

We took stock of all the dishes Mother had accumulated.  She still had all her Stangl ware, and her mother’s tea cups, which she began to give away to granddaughters.   On their many trips to England Mother had  chosen her own teacups and plates.  We found Nana Mitchell’s dishes from Scotland.  We ‘oohed’ and ‘aaahed’ over those dishes.  We placed dibs on who got what.  We wondered about who in the next generation would even want them?

Dad’s sister Ruth died.  She and her husband Donald did not have any children.  But Uncle Don wanted to keep Grandma Wilson’s china, that Aunt Ruth had inherited, in the family.  Wendy drove up to Penney Farms to pick it up.  Uncle Don had carefully packed the delicate white bone china, edged with red and navy swirls,  into boxes.

“I can’t find the soup tureen!”  he puzzled.  “I’ve looked everywhere.”

“Don’t worry about it,”  Wendy reassured him.   Wendy loved dishes, but she knew we had plenty.

Dad, who played tennis daily until he was 82, grew so frail he could hardly walk.   Our son Mike bought a brand new BMW convertible.  I think it was a BMW, I don’t know because I don’t care about cars.   Dad cared.  When he heard about Mike’s new car, he mentioned he’d love to go for a ride.  On a lunch break from work one day, Mike stopped by and took Dad for a spin.  I took a picture of Dad, seated beside Mike on the front seat.   Mother kept that picture on her dresser.  That drive lit up his final days.

Then Mother died. too.  We’re still shuffling the dishes she had between us sisters.  We display some of them.  Some are in drawers.  I treasure a tea cup I use for tea most evenings.  If it ever slips out of my hand and smashes, I will cry.

Besides enjoying our family china, I’ve been studying the family documents, letters and pictures Dad saved in organized manila folders. , After studying them, I have more questions.  Last week I telephoned Uncle Donald.  Maybe he would have answers.  He told me he’s in hospice care now, then carried on with as many stories as he could remember.

He  told me this story about Dad’s dad:

“A good friend of your grandfather said to him, “Ralph, if you were walking down the street, and a manhole cover was missing, and you fell down into that hole, you would come up with a fish!”

Instantly my sister Pam came to mind.

Later in our phone conversation, Uncle Don mentioned, “Guess what!  I found Grandma Wilson’s soup tureen!”

In a few days Wendy and I are planning a Mystery Drive, returning to Penney Farms.  In honor of Mother and Dad, and Uncle Bertie we’ll visit with Uncle Don, and retrieve Grandma Wilson’s soup tureen.  I want it!

“To understand and reconnect with our stories, the stories of our ancestors, is to build our identities.” – Irish author Frank Delaney

Grandma Wilson’s silver teapot that my mother accidentally left on the stove so that the knob on the top accidentally ‘melted’ to the side.  I watched Mother pour tea from this beauty.

 

 

“Most glorious Lord of Life, that on this day, didst make Thy triumph over death and sin…”   Edmund Spenser

I adore the fresh greens, pussy willow and flowers of spring.  On Easter Sunday, churches celebrate Jesus’ resurrection after his death on the cross with some of these same decorations.  But our joy is grounded in a more powerful reality than the prettiness of a new season.

We worship a Savior who conquered death.  Climbs out of his own tomb!  In his hand, the banner of a Victor.  Piero della Francesca captures these truths in his fresco of the Resurrection.  He painted what many art critics call the greatest painting of all time, in 1463, in Sansepolcro, Italy.

I usually think of angels in Resurrection art.  The sleeping soldiers are more common in medieval art, a reference to Matthew 28:13.  Notice the trees on the left look dead, in contrast to the trees on the right, filled with the green of life, just like Jesus.

Crown him the Lord of light,
Who o’er a darkened world
In robes of glory infinite
His fiery flag unfurled.
And bore it raised on high,
In heaven–in earth–beneath,
To all the sign of victory
O’er Satan, sin, and death.

Crown him the Lord of life
Who triumphed o’er the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife
For those he came to save;
His glories now we sing
Who died, and rose on high.
Who died, eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die.

– ‘Crown Him With Many Crowns’, Godfrey Thring, 1851

 

 

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