Shower Day

Today was the day of Mercy’s bridal shower. I was up relatively early, roasting pecans and making bacon-wrapped dates for the shower. Later I made icing for the mini cupcakes and iced them. They looked so cute!

Lina made avocado deviled eggs and I also made a sandwich spread for later. I was finally able to use some of the lemon thyme from my garden to help flavor it.

Lina and I went up to Robin’s house early this afternoon to get started setting up—and also because I selfishly wanted to have some time to visit with Robin before things got too busy! The house was so nicely decorated and set up.

Eventually Mary and Lucy and Mercy arrived, and we got to work decorating some more and setting out the food:

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It was quite a feast!

Mercy didn’t want to do games so it was quite a laid-back party. The guests visited and ate and drank and had their photos taken. It wasn’t a huge crowd, but it was a lovely group. Mercy eventually opened her gifts and received several very useful things for her kitchen. It was such a pleasant evening and I am so thankful for Robin and her girls and everything they did to make it memorable for Mercy.

Tomorrow Daniel will be moving into his and Mercy’s apartment!

Parting Shot:

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I had to make a quick run to the Dollar General near Robin’s house to get something before the shower, and this is the sign that greeted me at the entrance. I have so many questions. What kind of incident created the need for this sign?

Making Do

Today was a busy day because we have been getting ready for Mercy’s bridal shower tomorrow. While the girls were still asleep, I was out the door doing the grocery shopping. In addition to Aldi, I had to go to a health food store and Walmart too.

After lunch, the food prep and baking began. Mary made two different flavors of gluten-free macarons. Then when she and Lina had to run some errands, I commandeered the kitchen to make low-carb cheese straws. At least that’s what I intended to make. Jasper helped with grating the cheese and then I made the dough and it looked great.

There was just one problem. The dough did not want to be made into cheese straws. Every time I tried to form it into any kind of stick-like shape, it fell apart. So I invented a new snack on the spot: sesame cheese rounds. I portioned the dough out into little balls, then smashed them flat with a bowl and dipped them in sesame seeds. They came out nicely and we just won’t tell anybody they were supposed to be straws!

I was battling a severe headache all day, which really slowed me down—especially on my walk. I didn’t even try to time myself. I counted it a victory that I made it through all my laps at all. At least I didn’t have to walk outdoors. It was 104 degrees this afternoon and the heat index was 112!

This evening my task was to make some gluten-free mini cupcakes. Baking gluten-free stuff from scratch is so much more complicated than “normal” baking. But the cupcakes look great and tomorrow morning I will ice them and also make a couple of other things. I’m pretty sure we’ll have enough food, but I still worry. Running out of food at a social event is one of my worst nightmares!

 

An Anniversary and a Returning Son

Today was our anniversary, but you’d hardly know it. The focus for now is on Mercy’s wedding, and we can celebrate our anniversary afterward! (Thirty-seven years, in case you wondered.)

This morning Walter went to the dentist, and when he returned, I went to choose the frames for my new glasses. We sure know how to party, don’t we! Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like my glasses will be done in time for the wedding. I had a terrible time picking them because I really love my current frames and I didn’t see any others I liked as well. The new ones will be purple.

While I was doing that, Mary took Lina to pick up her rental car for the next couple of weeks. It will definitely be nice to have so many drivers and vehicles available!

This afternoon I went to pick Jasper up after he returned from church camp. He was sweaty and tired and smelled like smoke, but he had a great time! He made chai for everyone over the campfire and they loved it. After he got home he slept all afternoon.

Meanwhile, I made a big batch of my spiced chai mix, because we are going to need it in the next week and a half. The kitchen smelled wonderful!

Mary took Lucy out for parallel-parking lessons this evening, while Walter and Daniel went to take a look at Daniel’s car, which has had a string of problems this summer. Then when Mercy came over, Lina, Mary and Lucy all tried on their bridesmaid dresses. They were all ordered from the same place, but guess what? They all are different in various details—and the other two bridesmaids’ dresses are also unique. So there will be five girls all wearing the same color of dress—but not one of them is exactly like any other one!

 

Unwelcome News

Over the last few months, I have had some vision problems and I knew the time had come to have my eyes examined and get new glasses. After all, I want to have clear vision when I see my daughter walk down the aisle!

Today I called about getting an appointment and was told they don’t take appointments—it is now walk-in only. And they only are open on Tuesdays and Fridays. So I drove right up there and then waited two hours to get in to see the doctor. I was afraid I might die of old age before I made it in!

My appointment seemed very rushed—she didn’t try nearly as many lenses as I remember from previous exams. However, it turned out she was more concerned about the fact that I have cataracts in both my eyes. They are in the very early stages, but still enough to cause the vision deterioration I’ve noticed.

This was not what I wanted to hear. She said I need to come in once a year to be examined so she can track the progression of my cataracts—but at some point I will no doubt need surgery. *sigh*

In other news, Lina is settling in and she and Mary have been busy planning Mercy’s bridal shower. There is still so much to do before the wedding!

 

She’s Home!

I am a very tired middle-aged lady. The pace of the past few days, coupled with lack of sleep, has taken its toll on me. Saturday I was stretching my brain at a writers’ conference all day and then that night, thanks to the late socializing at the chai party, I didn’t get to bed until 2:00 a.m., but I still had to be up early on Sunday to work on breakfast and make sure Jasper was all packed up for camp. I got him fed and then drove him to church with all his stuff, since the plan was to leave from church to go to his youth camp.

Then I drove home and finished making breakfast for us and our friends Marlan and Rachel, and we enjoyed a leisurely meal and time of fellowship. Walter offered to take them on a tour of campus, since they both had been students there back in the day, while I had to run a couple of errands. I came home and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. My husband’s tour lasted over four hours!

In the afternoon Rachel and I played a game of Scrabble for old time’s sake. When they were students here, Rachel used to come over one afternoon a week, and we’d play Scrabble or another word game. We are pretty evenly matched, and have a similar laid-back approach to the game, so it is very enjoyable for me. If you are a really serious Scrabble player, please don’t ever offer to play with me!

We finished off the day with a big dinner and more visiting. We said our goodbyes before Marlan and Rachel went to bed, since they’d be leaving at 4:00 a.m. to drive all the way back to Albuquerque.

We ourselves were up early this morning (not 4:00 a.m. early!) to get ready for our drive to the airport to pick up Lina. Her plane landed 40 minutes early, before we even reached the airport, but we were there and waiting by the time she got through customs. It is always good to be able to welcome her back home to Texas.

We stopped at the Hungarian restaurant on the way home for Lina’s first meal back on US soil, and then continued on to the house. Mary was out when we arrived, but she soon came back to welcome her sister, as did Spencer and Mercy. It was so great to have all four girls in the house for a while! After Mercy left, Mary and Lina and Lucy had fun looking at old photos as they tried to pick some for Mercy to use for a wedding-related project.

I went to the gym and dragged myself around the track the requisite number of times, but I’ve already decided that I really need to sleep in tomorrow so I’ll be up to the challenges of the next twelve days.

 

Satisfied

Satisfied

by Clara T. Williams

All my life I had a longing
For a drink from some clear spring,
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.

Refrain:

Hallelujah! I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings,
Through His blood I now am saved.

Feeding on the husks around me,
Till my strength was almost gone,
Longed my soul for something better,
Only still to hunger on.

Refrain

Poor I was, and sought for riches,
Something that would satisfy,
But the dust I gathered round me
Only mocked my soul’s sad cry.

Refrain

Well of water, ever springing,
Bread of life so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth,
My Redeemer is to me.

Refrain

A Warm Farewell

How do I even start to tell you about the thirty-seven years of tradition that came to an end last night?

My husband and I were married in July of 1981. I still had another year of college ahead of me, so we moved into a trailer that was provided for married student housing. As it so happened, quite a few of my friends from Africa days were attending the same university. Now that we had our own place, one of the first things I wanted to do was have everyone over for chai.

So we put out the word and I spent all afternoon making samosas and then everyone came and crammed into our tiny living room. I think we had a total of seventeen people. To newlyweds, that seemed like a lot! And I was amazed to find that a gallon of chai was not enough.

For the rest of that school year, we continued to have this same group of friends over every month—all of them African MKs or international students. Then my husband graduated, and we moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia for two years. During that time our friends PJ and CO Cooley kept the tradition going. (Both of them had gone to high school in Kenya with me.)

We moved back to East Texas in 1984, and our house once again became chai party central. The focus was still on MKs and international students from Africa, but after a while some other students became envious. We started getting questions like, “Can an MK from South America come?” “Can I come even though I’m from Papua New Guinea?”

I admit, I had to adjust my thinking a little. I had always thought of chai parties as our cozy little African group, and throwing it open would of course change the dynamic. On the other hand. I am so egalitarian by nature that I won’t even join an organization that I feel is exclusionary or snobbish in any way. So I could hardly defend the idea of keeping chai parties exclusive to Africans if others wanted in!

Almost overnight, it seemed, attendance jumped from fifteen or so to thirty or forty. We had a bigger living room now, but it was still strained to the limit. Those were fun days. Sometimes we’d pull out the kids’ Lego and let the students build with it. Other times we played games or made paper airplanes.

In 1993 we left again, this time to serve in Zambia for eighteen months. During that time, our friends and next-door neighbors Dave and Sylvia Ramaly hosted the chai parties at their house. Dave was an MK from Central America and Sylvia from the Philippines. When we returned in 1994, we went to a chai party at their house and they asked us if we’d be willing to take over hosting again. How could we say no? We had rented a house in the same neighborhood, still within easy walking distance from campus.

Our first chai party in the new house we realized we had a problem. Our living room and dining room were completely filled with people. You could not see the floor or walk through the sweltering room. The air conditioning couldn’t keep up! That night we made the decision to move the parties outside. We had a nice brick patio, a carport where we could set out serving tables, and a yard that was spacious enough to hold a hundred people or more.

Once we moved outdoors, some new traditions began—like having a fire for the students to sit around, and a grill where they could roast marshmallows. In 2001 we moved to this house (which shares a backyard boundary with our old rental house) and had even more yard space to share. My husband had salvaged some old wooden folding tables and plastic chairs the university discarded, and we have given them an honorable second life.

Students came and students went—hundreds of them. Some of them became like members of our family, only to vanish when they graduated, never to be heard from again. Some drove for hours to come back and attend chai parties after they graduated. Many contacted us at some point to tell us that our chai parties had been their lifeline in college—the one place where they felt accepted and welcome.

We even had the police called on us a couple of times over the years. You can imagine their bemusement when they showed up to check us out, only to find a yard full of wholesome college students drinking tea and singing worship songs!

At the “height” of our chai party years, we averaged 80-120 college students at each event. I often had to make 15-25 gallons of chai in one evening. Snacks became simpler because of the large numbers, but we always made brownies and rice krispy treats. Future married couples met and some later got engaged during chai parties. We feel a special fondness for them!

When we started in 1981, our guests were our own personal friends. Later, we were kind of a big brother/big sister to the college students. By the time our own kids started college, the relationship was more of a surrogate parent dynamic, but it still seemed to work.

Over the last ten years or so, however, things began to change. Attendance began to decline. The university at long last began doing more to acclimate and include international students. Social media made it possible for MKs to stay in touch with their home culture and thus avoid the traumatic re-entry that I and so many others experienced. More and more we realized that we were no longer meeting a true need. Chai parties were a fun thing that students came to if they had no other more exciting plans. They didn’t need them anymore. And with our own kids grown and no longer on campus promoting chai parties, attendance fell even more.

It was hard to make the call. After thirty-seven years, how do you stop? Instead of just announcing after the exam week party in May that we would no longer be doing them, we decided to do this one last “farewell” party this summer—and I’m so glad we did. I put the word out early and often. Almost right away I heard from our friends Marlan and Rachel in Albuquerque, saying they planned to drive in for the chai party.

A couple of days before the party, I received a message from a girl who was planning to drive in from Denton with her husband. Her church had given them several large pans of food and she wanted to know if she could bring them to the chai party. So we really went out in style with a sit-down dinner. She brought massive pans of sliced turkey, beef brisket, broad beans, and coleslaw (with barbeque sauce and a couple of quarts of jalapenos too).  We added some buns and paper goods and we had a great buffet set up!

Based on the Facebook responses, I was hoping for about 50 people. In actual fact, we had over a hundred during the course of the evening. It was one happy surprise after another as various friends from past chai parties walked into the yard. Marlan and Rachel arrived in good time and we were able to enjoy dinner on the patio with them before it became crowded.

Missionary friends came. Students who had attended ten or twenty years ago came, many of them with kids in tow. So. Many. Children. This is what happens when college students get married and have families and stay in the same area as the university! One mom told me her oldest son was very disappointed to realize chai parties would not be available to him when he attends the university in a few years.

We even received a couple of surprise gifts! One was a bar of heavenly-smelling handmade soap. The other was this beautiful inscribed tray:

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A gift from the university’s Office of Global Initiatives. Isn’t it beautiful? What a lovely memento.

The evening was so full of fun and laughter and good fellowship. Since it was also Bastille Day, we brought out some sparklers and passed them around after most of the very young children had left. Late at night Jasper and his buddies had a jalapeno eating contest. Jasper won.

Shortly after midnight, when we were getting ready to shut the party down, our friends Femi and Kristina finally arrived with their son Josef, so we stayed up to visit some more. I didn’t make it to bed until 2:00. Good thing we had already decided not to go to church this morning . . .

I don’t know what the next thing is. I can’t imagine not trying to do something to have a positive impact on our community, but I haven’t figured out what that might be yet. Meanwhile, I am just so grateful for the last amazing 37 years. That’s more than 300 chai parties and untold pans of brownies and gallons of chai—but most of all, it’s the people who came into our lives and enriched them, year after year. If you ever came to one of our chai parties, thank you. We’re so glad you came.

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So Much to Do

I’m posting early today because I won’t have time later. In fact I’m not sure how much you’ll be hearing from me over the next few days. I’m a little daunted, to be honest. I’m not a go-go-go kind of person. I’m the kind of person who likes to do something, then take a nap and have a cup of tea to recover, before even thinking about doing something else.

The rest of this month, however, won’t have a lot of downtime. Today I got up and went to the bank, followed by a sports store to get water shoes for Jasper (2 sizes too small because that was the biggest size they had), followed by my regular shopping at Aldi—this time shopping for our very last chai party.

After lunch I had to go right back out to Walmart to get the things I can’t get at Aldi, and I’m taking a breather (with tea) at the moment before I head out to drive to Waxahachie to pick up Lucy from her arts camp. I don’t expect that we’ll get back before midnight, just beating Mary, who is finally on her way!

Tomorrow I’ll be up early for my hourlong drive to a local writers’ conference, leaving the girls to do the advance work for the chai party. I should be back home by 4:00. Our out-of-town house guests should arrive in time for the chai party (which is why they’re coming) so I’m really looking forward to that.

Sunday we’ll be spending with our friends and Monday morning when they leave, I will also be leaving bright and early to go pick up Lina at the airport in Dallas!

I will blog when and if I’m able!

In Which Someone Doesn’t Come

After a really rough night last night, I slept in a little this morning. Then I ran errands all morning, trying to get some stuff done before a very busy weekend. (Let’s face it—life is just going to be insanely busy for the next three weeks!)

Mercy came over this afternoon and helped Jasper clean our guest bathroom. It looks much better now.

I also had a little bit of actual “author” work to do. One of my stories is being featured in another anthology, and I had to read through and approve the final version. I will let you know when it is published.

The big disappointment of the day was the lack of Mary’s arrival. First, she planned to come yesterday, then car trouble forced her to postpone her trip until today—except the car trouble wasn’t actually fixed so now we don’t know when she’s coming. This is one of the cars they just bought! And the needed repairs are not cheap. Can’t wait until things settle down for them, but meanwhile there is a lot of frustration and sadness. I hope Mary can at least make it on Saturday in time for the chai party!

For those of you who may read this and who don’t follow me on Facebook, Saturday we are having our very last chai party ever. The time has come, after 37 years, to move on. I’ll write more about it later. But anyway, if you’re local and want to come share one more mug of chai with us, you know where to find us!

 

Moving With the Times

Yesterday I did something I’ve been meaning to do for at least a year. I called and cancelled our land line. Today it was disconnected.  For years now, the only calls we’ve gotten on that phone have been from telemarketers. It was pointless to keep paying to be bothered several times a day!

Of course, this also means that Jasper can’t contact me if he is at home and I am not. Hmmm . . .

Today was one of those days when we really thought we were going to get rain but we didn’t. So I had to water my garden this evening when it was already dark—because I kept hoping!

Jasper made a promise to his youth group on Sunday that he would bring them some chai to drink today, since most of them had never tasted it. Well, they hadn’t tasted “our” chai, anyway. I don’t think he thought about the fact that he was committing me to make this happen!

So today we cleaned up the four thermoses we could find (two are still missing) and then I made a couple of gallons of chai for him to take. He managed to fit all the thermoses into his backpack!

Every drop of chai was drunk and Jasper had to bite his tongue when several people referred to the beverage as “chai tea.” (Chai is a noun that means “tea,” not an adjective.) He was also told he’d better not show up for camp this weekend unless he brings chai. I guess I’m going to have to teach him the formula . . .