Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Sipping my almond raspberry tea and nibbling on coconut scones with clotted cream, it was easy to imagine I was in a small village in southern England, where I first experienced real Devonshire cream. It's hard to believe this lovely tea room is hidden away in an unimpressive strip mall of Virginia Beach!

It's not everyday you have an occasion to celebrate a 99th birthday. Our wonderful neighbor of more than twenty years, Elva Gerlach, turned 99 last week. She's been an adopted grandmother to me and my three brothers over the years, and we feel like she's part of the family. She's also been a special friend to my Grandma Jeter since she came to live with my parents. Elva is the only one of Grandma's friends around here who is anywhere close to her age, and the only one who can get away with calling her "Gertrude."

Today is also my mom's birthday, and so we decided to go out for a double birthday celebration. Since Grandma is still recovering from her hip surgery and it's very difficult to get in and out of a car, we asked a friend to come over and stay with her while my mom and Elva and I went out for an afternoon tea.

I never would have stumbled across The English Rose Tea Room if my mom hadn't seen it advertised in the paper. It's easy to miss, even if you're looking for it, tucked in next to a dental clinic and across from a dollar store. But once we stepped inside, it was easy to forget the somewhat drab outer appearance. Soothing instrumental music and cool pastel colors invited us to slow down and relax. A smiling hostess, bustling about clearing teacups and saucers, greeted us and led us to a quiet spot by the window.

Each of us had our own pot of tea. My mom chose the "Pucker Up Lemon" (or something to that effect), and Elva decided upon Orange Tangerine. The "Lite Lunch" had several options to choose from - soup, salad, 1/2 sandwich, fruit, pasta salad, and scones. The salad had fresh greens, mandarin oranges and feta cheese, with a light dressing that tasted like it might have been lemon poppyseed. There were coconut scones and cranberry/raisin scones, which were light and sweet. And the tea was wonderful, made to be enjoyed in small sips out of the delicate turquoise and gold or rose-patterned teacups.

The English Rose Tea Room is a lovely oasis from the frantic activity of everyday life, and I hope to return again soon!

Care For Some Tea?
English Rose Tea Room
Kempsville Plaza Shopping Center
404 S. Parliament Drive 103
Virginia Beach, VA 23462

(Open Tue - Sat, 11am - 4pm)

Thursday, March 1, 2012


The lunch I packed last night to take to work almost didn't make it til morning. It was the most scrumptious-looking salad, and my mouth was watering and my stomach growling as I washed the lettuce, chopped the peppers and sliced the avocado. It was a perfect blend of colors and textures and flavors: the dark purples and greens of the crisp lettuce and arugula, the juicy crunch of the red bell peppers and the smoothness of the perfectly-ripe avocado, the salty green olives and the mild creaminess of the fresh mozarella cheese...

It was beautiful and looked delectable. I even sprinkled a bit of grated parmesan cheese on top, then poured a bit of Italian dressing in a tiny Tupperware container with a tiny lid. Then I stowed it all carefully in the fridge. By the time I finished and went to bed, I was so excited I could hardly get to sleep. All I wanted to do was run downstairs and raid the fridge and dive into my amazing salad.

I have a friend who says she never thinks to make salads. She says it seems like too much trouble and it doesn't seem appealing enough to make the effort. I can't understand that. In our family, it doesn't matter what meal we're having, there's GOING to be salad. I often start with the salad if I don't know what else to make, and then build the meal around it. I've even been known to jump up from the table after we've all been seated and have prayed and started, because I realized there was no salad and I had to remedy the situation.

There are so many fabulous kinds of salads. I love tender dark green baby spinach leaves with sliced Granny Smith apples, walnuts and dried cranberries. Or sliced garden-grown tomatoes, still warm from the sunshine, with thick slabs of fresh, juicy mozarella cheese, and just-picked whole basil leaves on top, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. My mom makes an amazing kale salad - the kale leaves are stripped from the stalk and then drizzled in honey and olive oil, which is "massaged" into the leaves until they're softer. Then they're topped with sliced strawberries and toasted almonds. Sooo good, and with plenty of iron and vitamins in those dark green leaves!

And don't tell me that kids won't eat salads. That is purely up to the parents. If parents give kids salad to eat at a young age and don't give them the option of not eating it, they WILL eat salad, and even ENJOY it! My three brothers and I are scientific proof. Because we were raised like little rabbits on the leafy greens, we all crave the fresh vegetables. When I was in Germany for several months last year, my German friends used to laugh when they'd see me washing and chopping lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers for my lunch. "You're so healthy!" they laughed, "you're always eating salad!"

All this is making me hungry. We still have avocadoes and olives and peppers in the fridge - I could make a quick little salad for a midnight snack... :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


To celebrate my brother Stephen's birthday recently, I drove up to DC for a weekend and we went out for brunch at a locally owned restaurant just a block from his house - Busboys and Poets.

Steve recommended the Eggs Benedict, a favorite with local customers. The menu listed several tempting options. He chose the one with juicy crab meat and a side of roasted red potatoes and peppers with light seasoning.

I opted for the spinach version, with a side of fresh fruit - pineapple, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries. The eggs were perfectly poached, served over toasted English muffins and with a light Hollandaise sauce that wasn't overpowering.

The cafe is named after noted African-American poet Langston Hughes, who served as a busboy in the 1920s before gaining recognition for his literary talent. Busboys and Poets seeks to provide a place for sharing of local and ethnic art and literature, as well as a gathering place for ideas and discussion with people of all races and backgrounds. Be sure to check out the unique bookstore and gift shop, with work from international as well as local authors and artists.

There are four locations in the DC/Maryland/northern Virginia area:
For more information:


Quinoa (pronounced "kee-nwah") was an important staple of the ancient Incan diet, and still is eaten frequently in certain areas of South America. Containing more protein than most other grains, it's a healthy option that's gaining popularity.

Sunday night I stumbled upon a recipe clipped from a magazine for Quinoa-stuffed bell peppers, and decided to try it. I substituted a few items from the recipe, according to what we had on hand in the kitchen, and it turned out quite well! This is a one-dish meal, with grains, vegetables, and nuts all in one, and it's quite filling. I especially like the contrast of textures in this dish - with the crunch of the toasted almonds and the small grains of quinoa. And it's always fun to be able to eat your "bowl" - the bell pepper - as you go!


30 min. prep time, 30-60 min. cooking time
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 cup packed baby spinach, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 tsp paprika
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 green, red, orange or yellow bell peppers, tops removed, cored and seeded
1/4 cup toasted chopped almonds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute onion, red bell pepper, and carrots for 5 min. or until softened. Add mushrooms and saute for 5 min or until softened. Add spinach and parsley, saute for 2-3 min or until spinach is wilted. Stir in quinoa, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper.
3. Stuff bell peppers with quinoa mixture, gently packing it down. Arrange upright in baking dish. Sprinkle with almonds.*
4. Cover and bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour or until peppers are tender.**

*I chopped the whole almonds and toasted them on a tray in the toaster oven for a few minutes until golden. Then let cool a bit and sprinkle them on top of the stuffed peppers.
**I only baked for 30 minutes because we were all hungry and didn't want to wait! The bell peppers were a bit more crunchy than soft, but everyone liked it!

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Aunt Betty's fingers move gracefully across the keys of the piano as my mom, my dad, my grandma "Abuela" and I huddle around the shared hymnal. I've requested one last "hymn-sing" with my dad's sister Betty before she leaves in the morning to go home to Missouri. She's been visiting us for a week, and it's been so refreshing to have her cheerful presence here. I love to hear her play the piano, all the old hymns that you rarely hear anymore.

Oft times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear...

Holding the hymnal with my left hand, I run the index finger of my right hand under the words for Abuela to follow along. I can tell she is fading. It's the end of the day and she's almost ready for bed. Abuela taps her foot slightly and nods her head a bit with the tempo. But singing seems to be too much of an effort.

...We're tempted to complain, to murmur and despair...

What an appropriate song for Abuela. She has plenty of reason to complain. Several strokes that have left her right side weakened and forced her to become left-handed. A fading memory and a brain that gets muddled and confused with everyday details of life. Recent surgery to put two pins into the broken bones of her right hip, leaving her unable to stand or get up out of bed on her own. Yet she never complains. She always downplays her pain or difficulties with, "It's not so bad," or "I'm just plugging along."

But Christ will soon appear, to catch His bride away, All tears forever over, in God's eternal day.

Abuela's warming up to the song now a bit. I'm singing loudly in her ear, squeezing her hand occasionally and smiling at her encouragingly.

"You can sing with us, Abuela. You know this part!" I say quickly before we begin the chorus.

It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus

Her lips are moving now. I lean in close to hear her voice.

Life's trials will seem so small, when we see Christ

She's even singing the alto part! My mom and I smile at each other as we hear her. I want to record this moment firmly in my memory.

One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase

A hidden blessing of Abuela's short-term memory loss is that she doesn't remember that she fell and broke her hip last month. She doesn't remember her trip in the ambulance, or her stay in the hospital, or the pain after the surgery. She's cheerfully unaware of any reason to be unhappy. Those painful memories have been erased.

What a beautiful picture of the ultimate erasing of sorrows when we get to heaven. I can just imagine my sweet Abuela, who has served her Jesus whole-heartedly, uncomplainingly her whole life, gazing at her Savior face-to-face at last, joined by her faithful husband who went ahead of her several years ago, and others of her family who are already there. Why worry about minor things like broken bones and weakened limbs on this earth? When we reach the beginning of forever, I don't think we'll even remember those things anymore. They won't be important.

So bravely run the race, till we see Christ.

The chorus ends and Aunt Betty does a final trill of notes on the piano. Abuela smiles.

"That's a great song, isn't it?" I ask. She nods. I feel so privileged to be sitting here next to my grandmother who has served the Lord for the past century. The words of the hymn say it so well. This is what she lives for. And this is what I want to live for. Because it IS worth it all. When we are living for Jesus, it's always worth it.

Friday, February 24, 2012


We went for a walk today with Abuela (my grandmother). It was a gorgeous day today - I heard reports that it was 81 degrees! The sun was shining, there was a warm breeze blowing, and it certainly didn't feel like February weather. So we decided to get out of the house. My aunt and I got Abuela ready - sunglasses, hair fixed, tissues on hand - and then we took turns pushing her wheelchair the few blocks from our house to the park by the lake. We'd brought along stale bread for the ducks, if we saw any.

We finally found some ducks on the second wooden bridge along the path that cuts through the middle of the park. There were about six of them, lingering in the cool shade of some overhanging branches along the water's edge. But they came swimming right up when they saw us approaching. These ducks know that people often mean food.

Abuela was quite entertained by the ducks. I positioned her wheelchair at an angle close to the railing, so she could toss in small pieces of bread that I tore off for her. Splashing and diving, the ducks competed for the crumbs, to our great amusement.

My mom arrived after a few minutes. She had picked up our almost-99-year-old neighbor Elva, who's my grandma's buddy, and driven her to the park. Elva can walk with a cane quite well, but gets winded after a bit and has to rest on a park bench for a few minutes. When my grandma saw Elva, her eyes lit up. "Well, hello there!" she smiled, as Elva bent over to kiss grandma on the cheek. Then Elva asked if she could push grandma's wheelchair. "It helps me to have something to push," she explained, "like a shopping cart. It keeps me steady."

What a sweet sight that was, our 99-year-old neighbor pushing my 100-year-old grandmother down the path in the park, heading back home.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Don't hate me for this. I apologize in advance to any die-hard fans who may be offended. But I have to say that though it's heralded as our "national past-time" in the U.S., baseball is not my favorite sport. To be honest, I find it extremely boring. Now I confess that I'm not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination, and I'm not that interested in sports in general, but if I have to choose to watch or play any major sport, baseball would NOT be my first choice.

I've been to only a few live games over the years (of our local minor team), and I did get caught up in the excitement of standing up and doing "the wave" with the other fans in the stands, or singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at the top of our lungs. But the actual game down on the field seemed almost to be an after-thought. I never paid much attention to it.

I much prefer to watch soccer or basketball or rugby (which I don't understand at all, but which looks greatly exciting). I like sports that have a lot of action - running up and down the field, passing the ball, making goals. My younger brothers played on soccer teams when they were in middle school and high school, and I went to every game that I could. I was their biggest fan. I didn't understand all the rules of off-sides and why someone got a penalty kick, but I could get the concept of kicking the ball towards the goal. There was alwys lots of excitement.

Much of baseball, though, involves standing around and WAITING. I didn't mind that when I played softball in high school (not because I wanted to, but because I was homeschooled and needed a P.E. credit). I would have been quite happy to stay on the bench all season, but our coaches let everyone play a little bit each game. But if I HAD to play, I was thankful to be sent way out to right field, where I would stare at the clouds and pick dandelions and pray that no balls came my way. On those rare occasions when a left-handed batter came up to the plate, before the ball was even thrown I would yell to my teammates as I started to run away, "I don't got it! Cover for me!"

When I DID actually attempt to catch the rare ball that came my way, I would invariably either close my eyes at the last minute or duck my head, sure that the ball was going to knock my eyes out or break my nose. I seem to remember one fly ball that missed my glove and hit me in the face, but my siblings claim I'm making that up. Maybe I just imagined it happening so many times that I thought it really did happen. But I can't say for sure.

But besides my traumatic experiences in high school softball, I think the main reason I don't like baseball is just because of the slow pace. It's small bursts of activity followed by long stretches of nothing much happening. Hurry up and wait.

Today I was thinking of the similarities between baseball and caregiving for the elderly. Each day is filled with short flurries of activity, followed by long stretches of not a lot of excitement. Every day we help Grandma get out of bed - these days it takes at least two people and the "Hoyer Lift" - a sling we slide under her that attaches to an arm that gets cranked up to lift her out of bed and onto the toilet chair, then from the toilet to the wheelchair. And sometimes there are several people running around, bringing the toilet chair up, taking it back out, emptying the pot, bringing up the wheelchair, attaching the legs, adjusting the arms, putting in the back pillow, getting a blanket, giving her a drink, changing the sheets, getting her dressed, giving her medicine, fixing her hair, preparing her cereal, washing dirty pajamas, taking out the trash... And that's just before breakfast!

But then once she's sitting at the table with her bite-sized Shredded Wheat and sliced banana and orange juice and the weather page of the newspaper, we know that breakfast will take a looong time - sometimes two hours! But in this case there's not a lot of idle standing around waiting for breakfast to be done so we can do the next thing. Once Grandma's settled, we can all focus on the rest of our daily activities.

Every once in awhile, though, I think that sitting and waiting is not a bad thing. Sometimes if I have time, I try to sit with Grandma while she's eating and read my Bible, maybe reading bits of the passage aloud to her as she chews her cereal. And sometimes I point out the cardinals and chickadees and finches and woodpeckers that come to our birdfeeders just outside the back windows, positioned where Grandma can see them while she's eating. And sometimes I do a 100-piece puzzle of flowers and kittens with her in the afternoon after her nap, though it takes five times as long as it would if I were doing it myself. And I try to ask her questions about her girlhood on the farm in Kansas, or raising four boys and a girl in Cuba and Spain and Morocco, helping her when she gets stuck on a word mid-sentence and filling in the gaps when she can't seem to remember and trying not to make her feel self-conscious about it. And I let her take her time to fold the t-shirt or towel, though it takes twenty minutes, because it gives her a feeling of being useful and needed. There is value in waiting.

Next time I have the opportunity to watch a baseball game, I may look at it differently. It may be that the batter doing practice swings with his bat, or the pitcher winding up for the pitch are just as important as the soaring home runs over the fence and the frantic dash around the bases. Who knew that my grandmother could teach me something about baseball? I think I'll tell her about it. But first I have to wait for her to get up from her nap.