Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Mom

As the clock struck midnight and a new day dawned here on earth, my beautiful mom breathed her last breath on this earth and passed into heaven.  The clock in the dining room that plays a different song with each hour that passes was playing "My Way."

Family and friends have spent the last few months sharing their favorite stories and photos of my mom. I have treasured every one of them.

No story about my mom's life is complete without the mention of food.  From the time my mom was a little girl, she loved food and loved being in the kitchen.  She once told me that when she and my dad were first married, she found cooking to be hard work, since she was barely in her 20s and hadn't mastered very many recipes at that point.

I found that news to be shocking.  My entire life, she was the best cooker in the whole wide world!  It was difficult for me to imagine a time when she wasn't a consistently perfect homemaker who did it all: immaculate housekeeper, beautiful seamstress, wonderful cook.  Many wives and mothers master one or two of those skills, but few are the total package.  My mom was.  She perfectly balanced  housework so that her home was always "company ready," yet it felt warm and inviting, just like her.

As far back as I can remember, my mom had serious sewing skills.  She made a suit for my dad.  She made dresses for my sister and me to wear to her brother's wedding.  And 25 years ago, she pieced together three different patterns to make my wedding dress, hand sewing beads and sequins onto a lace trim so that everything would match.

The attention to detail that made her sewing projects so beautiful, paired with her warm and inviting demeanor, carried over into her cooking style.  In the 1970s and 1980s, when other moms were opening cans and boxes to feed their families, my mom was cooking from scratch, mostly without a cookbook. Growing up with a mom who got up before I did every single day, who made all of my school lunches, even when I was in high school, and who cooked lunch and dinner with love six days a week...well, I thought this was normal, and I took it for granted.

It wasn't until I began living on my own that I started to understand how hard my mom worked to make the magic for our entire family.  In my 20s and early 30s I would oftentimes find myself in the middle of a cooking quandry.  As often as I could, I would stop while in the middle of a cooking crisis and try to think back on advice she had given me.

Oven fire?  "Smother it - but NEVER with a towel!  Grab some flour and throw it on the flames."

Gravy not quite right?  "Taste it first.  Add a little fat/water/flour/seasoning until you get it right.  But just a little at a time - you can always add more, but you can't take it out once it's in there."

Making divinity and can't get the sugar off the side of the pan?  "Cover the pan and wait a few minutes.  The sugar will dissolve on its own.  Be patient."

It seemed I wasn't the only one calling her, asking her questions.  My sister and sister-in-law called too, with questions like, "Mom, how do you make ham gravy?  My mom said there's no such thing as ham gravy.  Brad said I need to ask you."

The first year Baird and I were married, I cooked Thanksgiving Dinner and invited my parents to join us.  I knew scalloped corn was one of my dad's favorite dishes, and we ate it a lot growing up, but I never watched closely enough to see how it was made.  It was 1989 - part of those mysterious years before The Cookbook.  I called and asked Mom how to make scalloped corn.  She said, "Well, you just put some corn in a well-greased pan, add some milk and crackers, dot with butter and a little salt and pepper, and cook it until it's done."

"How much milk?" I asked.  "How many crackers?"

"Well, you just kind of eyeball it," she replied.  "You'll know when it's right, when the crunched up crackers soak up the liquid, but it's not totally dry."

I wrote it out on a recipe card, just like that.

And then came the cookbook!  The first edition was a small binder with just a few copies made for family members.  Personally, I was thrilled to get the cookbook.  It was as if I had just received a book detailing a great magician's secrets!  Now, instead of having vague descriptions like, "enough crackers to soak up the liquid," or "you just add herbs until the pan is covered and when you stir there's color but it hasn't taken over," I had more exact measurements!

The cookbook did more for me than just unlock some of my mom's cooking secrets.  It showed me that like every daughter, she, too, would sometimes say, "My mom's is still better than mine."  I was also surprised to read the phrase, "I worked a long time before I could make consistently good divinity," as I never remember a bad batch of divinity coming out of her kitchen.  Ever.

The other thing the cookbook did for me was it opened my eyes to my mom's sphere of influence.  Four editions of her cookbook have been published.  So many people have written to say how they've been blessed by the cookbook.  One person echoed the sentiments of many when he wrote, "If our house was on fire the first thing we would grab is Jane Hunter's cookbook."  Many children have prayed the same way my friend's son prayed, "Dear God, thank you for Mrs. Hunter's cookbook and all the good things my mom makes from it."

What does a missionary in far away Gambia have in common with a food writer from Chicago?
What links world-class chefs at a two-star Michelin restaurant with regular folks living in Brazil?

The answer to both questions is:  Jane Hunter's cookbook.

She was a godly, extraordinary woman who taught and inspired many.

She was the real deal.

And she was my mom.  It's been seven hours since she died, and I already miss her like crazy.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Kelsey's High School Graduation Day

The day has arrived:  Kelsey's graduation from Oak Park - River Forest High School!  The weather held and the ceremony was held outdoors at the football stadium.  It was actually a perfect day for graduation:  high 70s and cloudy with a slight breeze.  It was so much fun to watch this group of kids close this chapter in their lives and celebrate with them as they "begin life as adults," as one of the speakers put it.
Kelsey and her friend Jake got to sit next to each other, which Kelsey said afterwards "made the whole thing bearable," as Jake was singing parodies to Pomp and Circumstance during the graduates' march to their seats.
She got her diploma and even managed a few smiles along the way!

When we caught up with Kelsey after the ceremony, she said she's glad the whole thing is over and done with.  She showed her silly side when we asked her to pose for pictures.
If you ever wondered why I call this blog The Five Ring Circus...

After the goofiness, we walked down to Klay Oven, Kelsey's favorite Indian restaurant, for a fabulous celebratory dinner.

C O N " G R A D"  U L A T I O N S   K E L S E Y ! ! !

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kelsey's Senior Prom

It's Senior Prom Night, and Kelsey's friends gathered at our house in the early afternoon to get dressed and work on their hair and makeup.  We invited a friend-of-a-friend, Caitlin, to do the girls' hair and wow!  Our house turned into a mini hair salon/beauty parlor as up-dos were created, nails were painted, and makeup was applied.

The result was three gorgeous senior friends on their way to an unforgettable evening at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Science Track Presentation

For the past seven months, Erin's been spending every other Saturday at Brookfield Zoo, participating in the Youth Volunteer Corp.'s Science Track Project.  Erin picked a project to work on, and then recorded her observations, wrote a paper, put her findings in graph form, and assembled a 3-fold poster board on her findings.  Today was her big presentation, and I was so proud of how hard she worked, and how well she discussed her project with those who were there.
Congratulations Erin, on a job well done!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Welcome Micah!

I was SO excited to get a text from my brother at 2:36 this morning, saying he and Julia were on their way to the hospital!  Micah Andrew Hunter was born at 9:16 a.m. today.  He weighs 8lbs 4oz, and is 20 inches long.

I cannot wait to get my hands on this little guy!

Congratulations Caleb, Julia, and big sister Lydia!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jubilee, Interrupted

Last year
In anticipation of this year
I was blissfully unaware
Planning with certainty for an upcoming Year of Jubilee.

Last year
In anticipation of this year
I was blissfully unaware
Of the ominous changes lurking in the outskirts of my world.

Last year
In anticipation of this year
I was blissfully unaware
Of the malevolent tentacles silently strangling Mom.

This year
She celebrated 70 years
We were blissfully unaware
And together we made merry by candlelight with food and laughs.

This year
I was looking forward to Easter
And was blissfully unaware
Thinking the disappointment of pneumonia was just that – not more.

This year
In the blink of an eye it all changed
Unawareness became stunned shock
The PET scan revealed the Invader had overtaken her lung.

This year
Blissful unawareness was shattered
Struck and consumed by the evil
Invader known as Stage IV lung/liver/lymph node cancer NO! NO!

Can the Year of Jubilee survive?

Friday, March 15, 2013


Erin's been talking about her surprise sweet 16 party since the day Kelsey turned 16 two years ago.  Let's be clear:  Erin's the organized party planner of our family, and she's super smart when it comes to sniffing out secrets.  So even tho we've known for two years that we were going to surprise Erin for her birthday, Kelsey and I still had our work cut out for us.

As a parent, I try really hard to be honest with my kids.  I can't even tell you all of the elaborate ruses and outright lies that I have created over the last three weeks, all in the name of surprising Erin.  It was totally worth it!  We got her good this evening - she had absolutely no idea that 30 of her closest friends would be silently waiting in our living room when she came home from a Best Buddies function this evening!