Category Archives: In the Company of Angels

There are some people who come into your life and are truly “angels” and such a blessing.

A Flood of Memories from The Icebox

This post was supposed to be about cookies. My Grandmother’s Icebox Cookies. But in the process of looking for a (as in one) picture of her to go with the recipe, I found myself spending the morning digging through hundreds of photos and remembering countless special moments from a childhood filled with them.

There are so many things that make me think of my grandmother. I lost her almost 30 years ago but rarely a day goes by that she isn’t with me. She was such a big part of my childhood and I have so many precious memories associated with her. She truly was my very first best friend.

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She was a wonderful lady and a good cook. The queen of the baked ham and Jello mold. A simple cook and not an overly confident one but her meals were always delicious, often prepared fresh from my grandfather’s incredible garden. My grandparents are the reason I didn’t know kids weren’t supposed to like vegetables. What is better than a carrot pulled straight from the ground and washed off with the garden hose? Not much.

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A foot wash after some barefoot gardening.

There is so much I remember about my grandmother. She was fastidiously neat, clean and tidy bordering on germ-a-phobic. How many times did I hear from the neighboring stall in a public restroom, “YOU’RE NOT SITTING DOWN ARE YOU?” In fact, the current state of my kitchen floors probably has her begging the Lord Himself to allow her 10 minutes in my kitchen with a mop and bucket. I’m also pretty sure she deserves at least some of the credit for my freakishly strong quads.

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Grandma and Grandpa having a little fun.

She was a lady and very proper but also funny with perfect timing, grace and poise. She never missed a beat. At least that is how I remember her. I remember how beautiful and pulled together she always looked. I also remember the nighttime routine of face cream, curlers and a foam/net hair wrap that were all paramount to her being fabulous the next day.

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I remember getting dressed up to go downtown and visit my grandpa at the bank where he worked as head of maintenance and then to lunch at the Crescent – a fancy department store with a wonderful cafe. Back in those days, you did not go downtown in black yoga pants and flip-flops; at least not in my grandmother’s world. Heck, I still don’t go downtown in black yoga pants and flip-flops and I go everywhere in black yoga pants and flip-flops. I’m a mom. In Arizona.

Santa-&-I-blog-readyThis picture is from one of our trips downtown where I was dressed to meet Santa in my taffeta skirt, lace tights and a beautiful butter yellow poncho and hat grandma had knit for me. How I cherished those outings with her. What I wouldn’t give for just one more.

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I remember how she would rub my forehead as I was falling asleep and how she sat and rocked me first thing each morning even when I no longer fit comfortably in her lap and the tips of my toes were starting to just brush the floor.

I miss her. I don’t think I realized how much until just this moment.

I’m sure by now you are wondering how all of this ties into cookies and where the promised recipe is. My grandmother may not have been Julia Child in the world of savory but when it came to baking, she was in her element. I spent a lot of weekends with my grandparents and I remember my grandmother always having a “little something” awaiting my arrival.  I remember the chocolate cake with white frosting she made so often because it was my dad’s favorite; and the cherry pie that was mine. I remember the amazing birthday cakes she made and decorated especially for me. Doll cakes, a horse cake, a beautiful yellow layer cake covered in handmade sugar flowers. All made with so much love and care for the sole purpose of making me feel special.

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At Christmas what I remember most were the delightful “spritz” cookies she made. Delicate perfect little cookies in the shape of trees, wreaths and stars beautifully decorated with holly leaves and berries. And I remember her Ice Box Cookies. The ice box cookies that started this whole post and the flood of memories that has come with it.

A week or so ago, In my preparations to get started on some Christmas cookie baking, I sought out a recipe I had discovered earlier on a wonderful blog called Piping Dreams. When I went back to the blog and found the recipe I was looking for, Fresh Cranberry, White Chocolate and Sea Salt Shortbread, I read through the comments and saw that another lady had asked about a recipe she’d been trying to find for quite some time. A recipe for “Refrigerator Cookies”, which sounded almost identical to my grandmother’s Ice Box Cookies that I remember from Childhood. I hadn’t thought about them in so long and had never actually made them myself. I did a little digging and found the recipe and went back and shared it in the comment section in the hope that it might be what she had been looking for.

And then I made a batch myself. With my grandmother standing right there next to me in my kitchen on my floors that are so in need of her attention. My rushed and busy spirit so in need of her attention. I don’t know if they were what that particular lady had been looking for but they were just what I had been looking for.

Seeing those cookies on the tray after baking was like looking through the eyes of my six-year-old self. They were just as I remember. They tasted just as I remember. A little bit of my Childhood recaptured through a recipe for a simple cookie. I will make them every Christmas from now on and I will think of my grandmother and remember how much she loved me and what she meant to me.

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My Grandmother’s Ice Box Cookie Recipe

shown above nestled alongside

Fresh Cranberry, White Chocolate and Sea Salt Shortbread from Lauren at Piping Dreams.

Oh, I also remember how she put my grandpa’s whiskey into a musical decanter that would chime out and alert her every time he poured a drink. Sorry, I just needed to laugh a little.

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Land of the Free Because of the Brave

Veteran’s Day is always a time of reflection in our home. We are a military family and the sacrifice for freedom is something we understand on a personal level.

My husband is an Air Force officer, commander and pilot. He has been “Air Force” since he first walked through the doors of the Air Force Academy 27 years ago in 1985. He has deployed countless times, flying the KC-135 Strato-Tanker in refueling missions all over the globe. He has always come home to me and that blessing is not lost on me. It is why every year, my heart is with those who have suffered such loss in sacrifice for our freedom and the freedom of those who can not fight for themselves.

My father-in-law, Gary Sr. is a decorated war hero who served three tours in Vietnam. He was gravely wounded and has spent his life overcoming the physical and emotional scars that his sacrifice left. But he is still with us. My kids have the privilege of knowing and loving their grandpa. That blessing is not lost on me either. It is why every year, my heart is with those who have come home broken in body, mind and spirit and why it is also with those who love them and are helping them fight their way “back”.

Today, though, my heart is also with Sonny, as it has been the last three years.

Sonny was my husband’s best friend in high school. He wasn’t a very big guy but he had huge personality and an even bigger heart. Larger than life. Sonny was a person so full of life that you couldn’t help but laugh whenever he was around. His real name was William but everyone called him “Sonny”, it was truly a fitting nickname. That is what I remember about Sonny – that and the Hawaiian Mess Dress shirt he wore under his uniform jacket at my wedding. That was so Sonny.

I also remember the day my husband told me he was gone.

We lost Sonny, CW5 Ret. William F. “Sonny” Hinchman, on July 17, 2009, in a helicopter crash just outside of Baghdad, Iraq. It was a Friday morning. He was 42.

Sonny had just retired the previous April after 25 years of service as a helicopter pilot flying Black Hawks, Cobras and Kiowas in the US Army. After retirement he returned to the Middle East to fly Kiowas for a private security company. It was a Kiowa he was flying that Friday morning.

Sonny by the “Little Bird” he loved so much.

Here is something else I want you to know about Sonny. All of the hours of flying gun ships, all of the dangerous missions, all of the years of service and I know without a doubt, one of the things he was most proud of was making a difference for the kids in war-torn Iraq. Sonny was part of a group of Kiowa helicopter pilots who started “Operation Soccer Ball”. These pilots took notice of the kids that would pick up rocks and hurl them at the helicopters whenever they flew over. Kids who were living through war, afraid, traumatized and angry. Kids very much in need of a little hope.

So, Sonny and a number of other pilots decided to start dropping soccer balls from their helicopters. Sonny told the story of one boy who was poised and ready to throw a rock at his chopper, a boy filled with hatred at all he thought that chopper stood for. When a soccer ball fell from the chopper, the boy dropped the rock, stood confused as he processed the moment and then grabbed the soccer ball and gave them the thumbs up and waved. It seems like such a small thing, a soccer ball, but that boy’s life was made better, perhaps even changed, for the brief moment Sonny was in it.

Thanks Sonny. Thanks for being someone my husband loved. Thanks for being someone I am proud to tell my kids about. Thanks for your heart and for your sacrifice.

We miss you.

Every day.

May God Bless America and the men and women who have fought and died in her defense. May He be with those who continue to answer her call and with their families who sacrifice so much.

Mama’s Girl

My mom is here! Well, actually she has been here since last Thursday but I am having trouble being a “timely” blogger. The point is, she IS HERE and we are happy campers – especially me.

I love having my mom around. I need her. No matter how old I get.

Mom, or Grandma as she is also known, swoops into town 3-4 times a year and whips things into shape around here. Within a day my fridge is purged of all things expired, questionable and/or downright unseemly. She organizes my freezer and makes room for the next Costco run. She catches my laundry up (for 34 seconds because laundry is never caught up for more than 34 seconds). She bakes banana bread and makes delicious meals from my childhood that always make me wonder “why don’t I make this more often?”; so far this trip it has been Chili-Stacks, Brats (not my children, bratWURST) with Apples and Sauerkraut and Hamburger Mac. I promise I will get all of the recipes out of her head and down on paper so I can share them with you.

What? you don’t like Sauerkraut. Yes you do, you just haven’t had it homemade like my dad used to make it or homemade from a farmers market. BIG difference, I promise.

Grandma and Nathan when he was just a little guy.

I LOVE having the extra set of hands (and a clean fridge) but I don’t expect her to do those things. She takes care of me, of us. Not because she has to. Not because we can’t or don’t do for ourselves. She does it because she has a servant’s heart (and because she can’t stand laundry piles). She is a caretaker. I have a servant’s heart too. It is the gifting God has placed on our lives and I believe it is so strong in me because she has modeled it for me my whole life.

Grandma and Sara, a special bond.

Whenever anyone – not just family, anyone – she knew of was sick or in need, my mom was always there to  meet that need. Sometimes it was just to drop-off a hot meal or care package but other times is was to nurse a sick family member through severe illness, a few even coming to live with us so that she could give them the 24-7 attention they needed. She has also been called to care for more than one loved one at the end of their journey. The most difficult for her was nursing my dad through a long and painful battle with emphysema. Watching someone you love weaken, suffer and ultimately pass is not easy but she wouldn’t have been anywhere else. God called her to this, she answered. He gave her the strength to do it all with grace and to model for her daughters selfless love.

I saw her have moments of difficulty, tears, stress.

She is not perfect.

But she never quit, no matter how hard it was.

I saw that too.

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is a slave or free.” Ephesians 6:7-8

When Sara and David came back to us so traumatized and hurting, my mom put her own life on hold and stayed with us so that we could focus on the needs of the kids; including Nathan, who at 18 months old had just had his quiet, peaceful life turned completely upside down. She managed everything else, cooking, cleaning, laundry – everything – with never a complaint or criticism, not one – which is saying something because she and I may have big servant’s hearts but we also have big sassy personalities (she modeled “don’t mess with me” well too). I honestly don’t know how we would have done it without her and believe me, it was hard stuff.

David and Grandma. The two people in my life who are always cookin’ something up!

I grieve for my friends who have lost their moms or don’t have the close relationship that I am so blessed to have. Just a few weeks ago, I sat in the park with a sweet friend and felt every bit of her anguish, as she wept over losing her mom a few months ago. I have lost both my dad and my step-dad and I miss them both very much, but my friend’s pain was a reminder of just how fortunate I am to still have my mom in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, my mom and I have challenges and we butt heads and get frustrated with each other (remember big, sassy personalities) but none of that really matters much. She is always there for us, especially when we need her the most. I can count on her and I appreciate her.

I have not always appreciated her, at least not as much as I should have.

But I do now.

I wish she would let me build a little “casita” for her on the back of our property so that she would be right next door. But she’s not ready for that. She’s independent too.

When she is here, my floors and bathrooms are cleaner, the dishes and laundry are done, things are picked up and in their place.

But that is not why I need her.

I need her because she is my mom and she still, even at my age always makes me feel like everything will be okay.

Keep your father’s commandments and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. Proverbs 6:20-22

She has made some mistakes and has some regrets, but I am who I am today because of what my mom taught me, modeled for me and expected of me. I pray my kids will say the same of me someday.

Disneyland, 2010

Maybe she’ll make cake after she reads all of the nice stuff I said about her.

In the Company of Great Teachers

This past week, David received an award at school,  a “Personal Achievement Award” for the quarter. In our world, this is a BIG deal!

So proud of my guy!

Anyone who knows David will be thrilled for him and so proud of him but I don’t think they will be surprised. Because anyone who knows David knows just how hard this kid works to overcome things that most of us can’t begin to imagine.

David is only eight. In his eight years, he has been unwanted, rejected, mistreated, neglected, abused, bullied, nearly broken, rescued, delivered, redeemed, wanted, accepted, valued, cherished, loved. To quote the beautiful song “What Love Really Means” by JJ Heller, “he’s the kid with the story no one would believe”. A story like that leaves scars. They are not always scars that you can see but they are there and they are painful and debilitating. Scars like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Anxiety and Attachment Disorders. Scars that on good days make “normal” functioning hard and on bad days, nearly impossible. Throw ADHD on top of all of that and you have a boy who fights a daily battle for self-control, focus and just a little bit of peace.

From the time this sweet boy first came into our lives at the age of 20 months, we have loved him. I have thanked God for the blessing of being his mom and have agonized over the struggles we have had. My husband and I have fought for him, worried and lost sleep over him, cried out over his loss and rejoiced at being reunited with him. We have protected him, rocked him when he cried or raged, sung to him, felt his pain, struggled to parent him, done battle with him, and celebrated small victories with him. We have cried with him, we have cried for him and we have cried because of him. We have laid hands on him and prayed, and prayed and prayed.

And, I have wrestled with my own fear, my own unwillingness to let go and with my desire to keep him protected and at home, safe in our bubble all the while knowing that God has a purpose for him in this world and I need to let him find it. He is not mine to keep.

I think most moms know what I mean when I talk about the “bubble” but I have no doubt that moms with children who have special needs or struggles know exactly what I mean; especially when it comes to education.

School. One word that strikes right at the heart of all moms with challenged kids. How do you fight so hard for them and then stand helplessly by while they walk out that front door into a world that doesn’t love them like you do? A world that doesn’t understand their needs, what they have been through or how they struggle.

At the beginning of each school year, my inner voice tells me “maybe I should just home school him. He’s been through so much. There will be time for him to learn to socialize, to make friends, to discover that home isn’t the only safe place … next year, we’ll do that next year.” And then the gentle voice in my heart whispering “trust Me, I will protect Him, I know what is best for him, I love him too, I loved him first, let go and just follow me.”

And so I am following and He has been faithful. I am trusting and He has provided, even when I have doubt and am not sure the next moment of grace will come. It always does. In spite of my uncertainty and my fear and in truth, my need for control (which is really just an illusion anyway, isn’t it?), He has truly provided and my son is thriving, even at school.

You see, David received this award not just because he deserves it but also because he has a teacher who sees beyond the challenging behavior of his hurts and special needs to his heart. She sees a child who fights hard everyday to do his best, even when his best for that day might just mean that he kept his hands to himself, didn’t pour milk on anyone’s head, did most of his work and only got out of his seat 6 times instead of 16.

When I heard that David would be receiving this award, I started thinking, reflecting and realizing just how blessed we have been by the teachers God has placed in his life. I thought about how David got this same award last year from his first grade teacher who also saw the perfectly beautiful child beneath the imperfect behavior. I thought about how four years of school (two years of kindergarten, first grade and now second) have brought into our lives not just one or two gifted teachers but many, including a few great aides, principals and support staff. I am overwhelmed to see how these people have not simply accepted the role of educating our son but have put in the time and care to reach out to him and to help him heal.

That is God at work.

That is the answered prayer of a mother on her knees giving her son to God, asking for His help and trusting in His provision.

“I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

These are people God has called to stand in the gap for us when we can’t be there to help our son self-regulate, or to diffuse the building anger and frustration or to bring him out of a dissociative episode that seems to come out of nowhere. When we can’t be there (because we can’t always be there), they have been. How do you thank someone for that?

They have accepted David for who he is and have met him where he is. They have expected his best and have not made excuses for him but they have also recognized his limits and given him the help he needs. They have worked with us to find the best solutions for him so that he can be successful. And most importantly, they have made school a positive place for him and have helped him to begin to realize that home is not the only safe place or the only place where he is loved, valued and wanted. How do you thank someone for that?

How can I begin to thank Ms. Vaudt, his first Kindergarten teacher at the wonderful little Christian school he attended right after he had come back to us and he was hurting so much. How do I thank her for holding him while he cried or for the countless tantrums she soothed through a year where his mind was not open to learning but his heart was open to healing. How do I thank the principal of that school for the day I came in to pick him up after he had been aggressive with another child on the playground. When I walked into her office expecting to hear how he was at the very least suspended or possibly wasn’t welcome there anymore but instead found her rocking him in her office chair and comforting him. When I apologized to her for his behavior her response to me was “there is room for God to work for all children in this school.” That school was a special place and it broke my heart to leave it when we moved out of the area at the end of the school year.

David & Ms. Vaudt, 2009

Our next school was also a small Christian school where we had David repeat Kindergarten. He was still having a very difficult time emotionally and had a lot of challenging behaviors that the school was not equipped to manage. His teacher, Mrs. Roach, however, loved him and never gave up on him. In the end, the school was not a good fit for us but I can never thank Mrs. Roach enough for her willingness to work with David and for helping him through such a difficult year. She is a wonderful teacher with a heart of gold and I will always consider her a friend.

David ran into Mrs. Roach at Disneyland, 2010.

After a lot of prayer, reflection, research, discussion and advice from friends with experience in IEPs and 504 plans, we decided that public school was the best answer for getting David the help and services he required. We are beyond blessed to live in an area with a fantastic neighborhood school and so, we enrolled David in first grade and were given one of the most remarkable teachers I have ever met, Ms. Alfonso. I can’t begin to tell you how this gifted teacher turned school around for my son. She is exactly what he needed; loving and kind but firm in her expectation of what he was capable of. He LOVED her (actually, he still loves her and so do I) and he started to love school. He continued to have trouble with less supervised times (lunch, recess, etc.) but thanks to a caring and accommodating principal, Mrs. K, he was allowed to keep a back-pack of Legos in the office so that he could spend those times quietly playing instead of being overstimulated in an unruly environment he longed to be a part of but wasn’t ready for.

David and Ms. Alfonso, 2011

Suddenly, our son began to excel. His needs were met, we had an IEP in place and he started Resource Classes to catch up on some reading challenges and get whatever behavioral support he needed. Which brings in Mrs. Walsh, David’s Resource teacher. Mrs. Walsh has advocated for David and has helped him to “catch up”. She is sweet and professional and puts him at ease by offering him a safe, calm and accepting environment to retreat to when he needs it – as all children with trauma issues do (I don’t have a picture of her yet but I will).We ended last year on a huge high and spent the summer swimming, fishing, relaxing, visiting family and gaining a little weight (sadly, not just David – his was needed, mine not so much) while he was off of the ADHD meds.

As the summer came to an end, second grade began to loom over us and my old fears began to creep in. What do we do? How will we make it without Ms. Alfonso? Can we beg her to teach second grade? Should we research every teacher and request the one that we determine is best? He’s had such a great summer, should we keep him off of the ADHD medication? Should I just home school (it is always in the back of my mind)? And here’s the kicker, we will have a new principal. Does Mrs. K not know what her leaving to improve her quality of life and increase her time with her own family will do to my son’s progress? Anyone who deals with special needs of any kind will tell you that when you have a great team in place and you lose a valued member of that team, it is haaaaard! Before she left though, she promised me that the new principal was great and that we would love him.

Him? A guy? Could you repeat that please?

All of our amazing teachers, our team, up to this point have been women. I’m not against him (or hims in general for that matter, I’m married to a pretty awesome him). I know some fantastic male teachers, I just don’t know this him. Will he have the compassion and understanding my son needs? Will he be too strict, too demanding, too unrealistic in his expectations? Oh, why does the summer have to end?

In the end, all I could do was have faith – which, as always, is what I should have done all along. I met with our new teacher (Mrs. Skinner), Mrs. Walsh, and the new principal (Mr. K), before the school year started. Mr. K was very nice, straight forward and to the point, very Mr. like but approachable and considerate. He didn’t even seem too uncomfortable when I established myself as a crier in front of him, which I hate and I’m pretty sure he does too; or too hurried when I talked A LOT longer than most Mr.’s normally allow time for. I left that meeting feeling pretty positive about the upcoming year, realizing that once again, God had provided for our son.

So now, we are through the first quarter of second grade and we have certainly had some difficulties. It was hard for David to begin a new school year. His fear and anxiety were high and we had decided to try school without his ADHD medication. Many children have great success managing their ADHD without medication. For David, trying to manage ADHD, anxiety and other trauma related disorders, proved to be too much. The first few weeks of second grade were terrible, old behaviors and anxieties resurfaced as did my fear and uncertainty and his anger and frustration. But through all of it, Mr. K, Mrs. Skinner and Mrs. Walsh worked with us and came up with solutions that have helped to get David get back on track. We did put David on a new ADHD medication which is working well for him and the school has provided him with a wonderful aide, Ms. Julie, for the transitional times he still struggles with. He is happy and has settled into a great routine. How do I thank Mr. K, Mrs. Skinner, Mrs. Walsh and Ms. Julie for what they do for my son everyday?

David with Mrs. Skinner and Ms. Julie his Aide, 2012

David and his buddy Reagan receiving their awards from Mr. K

How do I thank any of them? The truth is, I won’t ever be able to offer thanks enough. But David will.

That JJ Heller song I mentioned earlier also goes on to say “He prays every night ‘dear God won’t you please … could you send someone here who will love me?’

He will thank them by growing up to fulfill his potential. He will thank them by become the man God intends for him to be. He will become that man because of the people God works through to love him and that includes his teachers.

So often, we focus on the challenges that come with educating our children and become frustrated by negative experiences. No one likes standardized testing or timed tests, homework is always a battle, we’ve all had to look on math.com for the current methodology involved solving long division (methodology that seems to change on a yearly basis) and we ALL want to hang up the phone when we answer to hear “Hello, Mrs. __________, this is principal __________, we’ve had a little problem today …”.

But what we sometimes fail to recognize is that there are truly amazing teachers, people, out there who give so much of themselves for our kids and ask little in return. In fact on the numerous occasions I tried to find the words to thank Ms. Alfonso last year, her answer to me was always, “stop thanking me, you don’t have too, I’m just doing my job.”

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach …” Romans 12:6-7

I love her gracious and humble heart and I will say this because she won’t. A gifted teacher is not simply doing a job. A gifted teacher answers a calling and in so doing, allows God to work through her (or him) so that a little boy with a broken spirit can feel valued simply because he is doing his best.

Someday that little boy will grow into a loving man who values others because he was loved and valued in spite of his challenges and that will be thanks enough.