My lifelong friend Vic Graham died yesterday, and my first thought on waking this morning was of Vic in heaven, safely home. Less than a week ago he was bounding up the stairs of his son’s home, heading for three-generation Bible study and prayer for another son facing quadruple bypass surgery. But he fell and broke his neck and was paralyzed shoulders down, unable to breathe on his own. Just like that!
It’s so sad. Being aware we all live on the edge, that anything can happen at any time, doesn’t insulate us from the shock from news like this. Flashbacks to once frequent, now rare, connections to Vic and Romelle came flooding in.
I love this shot of Vic sitting in the back of Wheaton Bible Church. His daughter, Becky, was flower girl in my 1966 wedding with Paul; Romelle was my wedding overseer. So Vic had little else to do but wait and observe from this vantage.
As a loose “matchup,” I have this pic of Vic taken in 2010 during a short visit to his home in Wheaton. A more pleasant man you will never meet!
Mauri and I both have “Vic” stories that range throughout the 1960s. We hold them ever more precious now. Rest in peace and joy, dear friend. You will be sorely missed around here.
On Christmas morning I left on a jet plane for some adventures with my Anderson and Carlson “kids.” The Arizona family’s celebration was already in full motion, but they held off the fun gift exchange followed by a plentiful traditional Christmas dinner for my arrival.
By the end of this post you’ll understand the significance of this gift to me.
Any time I can feast my eyes on my Bentley is a highlight. He wasn’t exactly thrilled to receive Facebook notes from his Michigan friends reporting on higher temps than we had in Arizona, but he took it well.
I was invited to take a drive in Dusty’s new car. How would you open the door?
Sarah was brave enough to give the Tesla’s hands-free driving option (at 50 MPH) a try. I was not! I don’t even use cruise control!
Neil and Randee, Dusty’s parents, offered their guest quarters for my stay. You can see it was a pleasing environment, but way above that was their friendly hospitality and the time we aren’t usually afforded to actually get to know each other. Yes, we have our “kids” and grandkids in common, but it turns out we have a wide range of mutual interests.
Shame on me for not asking to pose a picture in their home, but here they are in another familiar setting on the Juarez job site last November. Good, good folks!
Even with all the holiday hubbub, life slows down enough to enjoy time together.
Always a highlight is getting to attend Redemption Gateway Church, but this Sunday stands out—not only because it was “Ask Anything” (four of the pastors answer questions on the spot) but because to my left sat Neil, Randee, and Ben; in front of me Dusty, Quinn, Bailey, Sarah, Marissa, Sean (her boyfriend), and Cassidy. I tell ya’—my heart was full!
Oh, did I mention I sent out a Christmas letter carelessly omitting two granddaughters? Forgiving myself has been a challenge, but here’s the amended letter with the two bridesmaid sisters added. I hope to never make such a horrific mistake again!
OK, moving on. Here’s an impromptu Anderson family shot. On January 2, Marissa celebrated turning 21!
The newlywed Andersons posed too. Sarah is freshly licensed as an occupational therapist and started a new job HERE yesterday!
Another highlight was a short (2+ miles) Sunday hike with Quinn at her favorite San Tan Mountain. I wore my new walking shoes from the Nike employee store, purchased for my daily walks to prep for an adventure Quinn and I are planning for the month of May.
Lord willing, we will walk the final 90 miles of the Camino de Santiago (from Sarria to Santiago). I have several friends who have walked the entire 500 miles. Brenda, a committed pilgrim, has walked it twice, and she is now my encourager and local foot traveler.
So now you know why Quinn wanted me to have the backpack she thoroughly researched for this purpose! Walking “The Way” will consume a week of our two-week adventure to Spain and Italy. When she and the family visited Bailey (in Spain) and Marissa (in Italy two years later) during their semesters abroad, she noted certain places she wanted me to see and experience. She’s doing all the planning and reserving, so my part is simply to prepare and anticipate!
My final evening with the Andersons looked like this. Neil and Randee, Seahawks fans, hosted Game Night. Randee’s interest was divided between football and her “Frenchie Bulldog Rescue” phone app. She had discovered a darling 9-month-old pup named Ivy in New Mexico and made contact with hopes of becoming Ivy’s new family.
A week later Neil and Randee drove one state over to claim Ivy as their own. Nobody cares that her bloodline includes at least two breeds—not with those eyes!
One final picture before Ben drove me to the airport for a redeye flight to DC. What was I thinking?
My dear ones followed me out to bless me on my way with a traditional white-hanky farewell. My imagination hears Sean asking Marissa, “We’re doing what?”
I survived the redeye and Taylor met my early arrival. They live a handy drive from the airport in a three-story townhouse, and in no time at all I was climbing into a comfy bed for a short snooze. I might still have a silly grin on my face from the enthusiastic greeting I received from these three as I emerged from the lower level. What more could a Gus want?
Before a visit I remind Taylor and Beth that I don’t need to be entertained, that I prefer just playing with the kids.
I packed WAY more winter clothes than needed for such mild weather.
Timing provided this exciting surprise! I wonder what it is?
Any guesses what Uncle Bentley got these lucky kids for Christmas?
Avery seems to think she’s driving Uncle Dusty’s hand-free Tesla! Actually, neither of the girls knows how to steer, but they both are expert with the gas pedal! Thus the helmets…
New Year’s Eve calls for special eating.
And special celebration!
The kids don’t need to know it’s really only 8 o’clock and they’re about to watch last year’s ball drop. Wait—do they understand the calendar and a new year/decade? Oh, who cares?
Happy New Year!!!!!
A family pose before the little girls hit the sack.
Speaking of—this is a photoless highlight. Try to imagine how joyful it was for me every night at bedtime to hear Mauri and me (and Barry) sing lullabies to the grandchildren we didn’t yet have when we recorded Wee Sing for Baby so many years ago. Joyful! (Yes, I believe it plays even when I’m not visiting.)
It seems the only time I can get a decent picture of the three of them together and semi-still is when they’re focused on a show, in this case Mickey Mouse clubhouse.
A new day and another highlight—watching Taylor be a little-girl daddy at The Little Gym. Beth took Declan to CrossFit, so it was just the four of us.
Another new day and another highlight. We traded Avery, who was under the weather, for her cousin Regan, who was also “under the weather.” Uh huh.
All smiles and no broken bones!
I snapped photos through the partition. Emery might not be ready for ice skating just yet, but she sure looked cute in her skates.
Yet another highlight—a drive into DC for an authentic Italian dinner at Napoli Pasta Bar, owned by Beth’s college friend Miriam and her Italian husband, Antonio. Their son, Marco, is Declan’s very best friend.
Miriam and Marco joined us for dinner. We arrived early, before the evening rush, and had a totally relaxing dining experience—appetizers to desserts. (Beth’s intent and part of Quinn’s eagerness for our May adventure is taking me to restaurants like this to indulge in my favorite cuisine.)
These buddies entertained themselves through the whole meal.
That mural behind us is Naples, Italy, created by Miriam’s sister, Chloe (left), who used her creative gifts to decorate the entire restaurant! That’s Trish in the center, Beth’s mom. Tim was along too, but I’m trying to be economical with the pictures (while not having to admit I didn’t get many good enough to share).
Farewells and thanks go both ways.
A dark drive down Constitution Avenue offered little satisfying sightseeing, but I bet you can guess this particular Washington monument—you’re right! Washington Monument! Tim’s years of working in the city helped us identify other familiar sites.
Declan caught on to “Follow the Leader” this time and I think the girls did too.
Are we really eating again? This was a final yahoo before I headed home the next day. Beth’s parents are a stone’s throw away and her sister Tara and her family live not far away. They are close knit and I’ve had multiple opportunities to grow to love them all.
Regan and Riley (age 7) indulged my invitation to play Cootie. Tim and Trish have three sets of twins in their collection of soon-to-be 11 grandchildren. Two sets of fraternal girls and one set of identical boys, who live in Texas.
I went to church with Beth, Declan, and Emery, while Taylor played hooky stayed home with not-quite-well Avery. I finished packing up then filled up my eyes with this serene scene. I wasn’t ready to leave these dear ones, but I was ready to head home for a few precious hours with my dear man before he headed back to the coast for another week of Sabbath by the Sea.
Bless their hearts, even the little ones sent off their Gus with a white-hanky farewell. The highlights just keep on going.
My new friend Marianne texted me last month: “Do you want me to take you to do pottery some day?” She included pictures of a box and a soap dish and a fish plate to show what she’s presently working on. So we made a date to meet at Chehalem Cultural Center’s art studio.
It’s quite a place, as you can see. Marianne was my teacher and let me use her clay to get me started. Some people have creativity in their pores. My pores are clogged with everything but! Still, I’ve manipulated Playdoh with enough kids and grandkids to know how to roll out a snake.
And by the end of the hour I’d produced this lovely snake bowl (a gift for Quinn), conjoined hearts for Mauri, and a headrow (one “head” for each of my 12 grandchildren).
This cherished masterpiece is on display in my home office, the creation of Quinn from her high school art class. You can see why I so highly value it and the six or seven other masterpieces she gifted me that year. She thinks I keep them in the closet and put them out only when she comes for a visit. Not true!
So to repay her generosity to me at such a young age, I decided I’d make her an equally beautiful piece to gift her for Christmas.
Once satisfied with the first step, I set the pieces to be fired.
Several weeks later we returned to glaze our work. Marianne had a red Sharpie, so I used it to write our “pet” names for each other on the hearts with a white glaze. For Quinn’s bowl, blue, and for the headrow…well, it apparently didn’t survive the kiln.
I’d be flying to Arizona on Christmas morning so Mauri and I had our breakfast and gift opening on Christmas Eve morning. I wasn’t ready with my camera to get a real picture of him with the hearts, but here you can at least see the final result (the names disappeared). I’m sure we’ll find a special place in our home decor to display them along with all of Quinn’s creations.
I did have my camera ready for her response to my thoughtful gift. She immediately recognized its reciprocal purpose.
Now that I’m experienced, I’ll be taking orders at email@example.com.
Thanks, Marianne! You’re a much better teacher than my results show and an even better friend for sharing this fun experience with me.
I was a little slow in catching on to what Leo was saying to the group of mothers and babies gathered at the Missions Ministries team center. Oh that I had studied harder in high school Spanish class! But here is part of the word they were saying to you (and all other donors to the work of Babies of Juarez).
It was overwhelming to actually witness (for the first time) the distribution process of the diapers and formula gathered or purchased from Babies of Juarez donations. So let me step back and illustrate what led up to it.
OK, so it might seem a little odd to start with an empty trailer, but there’s no way to show the many interior and garage spaces at the Anderson home that fill with donated and purchased diapers and formula between their trips across the Mexican border.
Here the faithful loading crew—plus Dusty, the presumed photographer—poses for my sake, since at this point Mauri and I were settled in our El Paso motel room.
Sage and Brynn are now old enough to ask why we add this “staging” step to the process of unloading the trailers. Quinn has answered the same question for the past 13 years: “We do it for the donors!”
Once the official photo is taken, we take everything back to the building dedicated to supplies.
Here the boxes are opened and shelved according to diaper size or formula type.
Every two weeks mothers and their babies line up at the entrance where Leonel checks his spreadsheet to see if any adjustments need to be made.
Supplies are pulled from storage.
Leonel’s spreadsheet recognizes names of all the mamas and babies and any specifics relating to their needs.
We mostly watched from the sidelines but stepped in where we saw a place to help.
Everything is laid out by diaper size. While this is accomplished, Pastor Martin shares the gospel with the waiting mothers.
Distribution was Susy’s “operation” until Leonel took over, but she remains fully interested and involved. (The soy formula pyramid was Sage’s design, eventually moved to the shelves.)
Once everything is in place, the moms line up according to diaper size. Here’s when they say gracias, knowing only that God through some generous Americans provided this help for them.
Leonel, himself a young daddy, lets his care show as he gives each mama her portion.
This chubby-cheeked boy is the image I hope you’ll keep in your heart as you receive our appreciation for your part in our matching-gift campaigns (Dorothy’s and Legacy). Please remember, our donations (and the volunteer efforts of many) are responsible for reducing the infant mortality rate in this area of Mexico from 25% to zero!
Speaking of chubby cheeks…
In 2016, Quinn named precious baby Amy the “poster child” for Babies of Juarez after learning she and all her siblings were raised on supplies provided through donations.
And just a few days ago, I got to meet this same girl who came to our food outreach with her mom and siblings.
Here she is, the bright-eyed and beautiful poster child — and so very healthy!
Cassidy was so happy to see everyone again!
On that happy note let me say a BIG thank you to those who participated in our “match madness” this year. All told, we gave $4,286, every penny of which went or will go toward the purchase of diapers and formula. Just in case you didn’t get around to donating, there’s still $3,221 waiting to be matched. Go to the “get involved” page on the Babies of Juarez website and be included in this good work. Be sure to designate your gift “Match Madness” so it can be doubled.
It’s hard to assimilate this year’s Thanksgiving build. Going into it I thought, as I often do, I’d go light this year on the pictures, then pick a few favorites to report here. After all, you who follow this blog have already taxed your scrolling finger through nine similar posts. What could this tenth post possibly add to your imaginings of this “thing we do” every year?
For starters, we’ve never dealt with pouring rain in El Paso!
The Ratays weren’t able to join our team this year, but they shopped as usual to provide household furnishings and decor and extras for two houses. They rented a truck, hauled it down to El Paso, transferred it to Mexico-bound trailers, then flew back to Phoenix.
We were a small but mighty team, similar in size to our first Thanksgiving in Juarez. That year Sage (orange jacket) traveled in utero! Erin noted that Brynn (pink jacket), now six years old, is the same age Cassidy (red hood) was on our first build.
The rain did not let up as three vans pulling three trailers crossed the border and headed toward the Missions Ministries team center. Some rooms needed to be reassigned to accommodate the unusual flooding there. Many (most? all?) of us wondered what we’d find at the job site the following morning, as more rain was predicted.
But even without a rainbow, God stopped the rain and we had perfect weather to accomplish the task at hand.
Please take a moment to admire the perfectly poured foundation, the work of Lencho.
Let’s give a round of applause to this faithful work crew we’ve grown to love! Leo, with his wife, Susy, heads up the Mexican side of the ministry. Leonel is their son. More lovable people you will never meet. Juan Carlos and his family visited Quinn and Dusty in Arizona last summer; Juan Carlos was baptized at their church.
Time to get down to business!
Sarah, on the left, and her husband, Colton, serve year round as ministry team leaders with Missions Ministries. They give up Thanksgiving with their own families to be part of our family every year.
Oh, look—it’s me! I take pictures more than hammer nails but make sure I do enough work to legitimately say I helped build a house. Dusty caught me pulling my camera (a.k.a. phone) out of my back pocket.
Here they are—the family whose home we built together. Mundo, Karem, and Ennis are so precious!
Part way through the morning Karem carried out food from a neighboring house—gorditas, oatmeal, and the following day sandwiches—to serve us! Their income comes from selling food at a local food cart!
My niece Krista and Leo.
Raising the first wall—a group undertaking.
Interior walls added for stability (meaning we can let go now).
The roof framing goes on next.
And the insulation team gets to work.
Cassidy entertains her younger cousins when there’s no more work for them to do.
Cutting windows takes no small amount of muscle and endurance!
The Macy men (and others) stood ready to caulk, insert, and trim them.
No caption needed!
The Anderson family team tackles the front windows: newlyweds Bailey and Sarah; Sarah’s brother, Seth; and Papa (grandpa) Neil. Sometimes it takes a village.
But once work at the job site is complete for the day, and we’ve filled our bellies with more delicious authentic Mexican food, we can finally unload the trailers because—look! Blue skies!
Sage helps sort and stage the diapers and formula collected or purchased from donations to Babies of Juarez. I’ll write a separate post about this (especially but not exclusively for the donors to the matching-gift campaign we ran in October).
Once the contents of the trailers were unloaded and sorted, we headed for Pastor Fransisco’s church to hold a food outreach.
I admit to significant joy in watching my grandchildren enter into this sharing opportunity. The impact it makes on them is immeasurable, the positive effect it will have on their adult lives profound.
Cassidy, for example, has been part of these house-building expeditions for 13 of her 16 years of life—no fewer than five a year. Here she greets a family she grew to love as she helped build a home for them a few years ago.
And here Sage uses her Spanish (she’s been learning it in school and at home for four years now) to help these women make attractive tissue-paper flowers to add color to their homes.
Here, grandson Bailey (a Spanish major) counts off a sack race for these boys.
You’re wondering about that mustache, aren’t you?
He’d been inside earlier, where Jonathan carefully peeled and placed each one.
When Dusty was nearby, he’d snap a picture so the boys could have a look.
My slap bracelets were a hit with both boys and girls!
Stickers and coloring. Something for everyone, inside and . . .
…outside. John made sure even the littlest guy made a basket.
And Quinn made sure the latecomers (and comers for seconds) got enough to eat.
“What craft did you bring, Dusty?” The answer is always “holding babies.”
To celebrate our 10th anniversary, the Missions Ministries staff invited all ten of the families to come to the team center for dinner. They even provided transportation!
Six of the ten families came and enjoyed games and conversation, thanks to the presence of two interpreters.
That’s what made it possible to set up photos with each family and those of us who worked on their house. This is our 2011 family—Jasmine and her three children.
Here we are in 2011! A sudden rainstorm washed away our fresh paint.
Fidencio, now 13 years old, makes some progress toward standing and maybe walking, with the help of a new walker and Sarah’s expertise as an occupational therapist.
We posed with all six families, but I share only one more comparison.
Here we are in 2017 with Karina, Luis, their boys Miguel and Javier, and their new home.
It’s always a treat to arrive at the job site the following morning and see what color we’ll paint the house.
Everyone jumps in, the brave ones taking the high parts.
There’s “high” work inside too that also requires bravery!
Daddy/daughter mud work. What could be better?
Don’t forget the baño!
Final step before moving in!
We do our best without the Ratays to direct us in their vision for decor and placement.
Here’s where we express blessings for Mundo, Karem, and Ennis, give a signed Spanish Bible, and pray for them in their new home.
But something happened in our blessings—Ennis had something special to give Bailey, now a coach for the Ottawa University Arizona football team! Ennis, a high school senior, was named MVP after a winning season for his school team and gifted his prized jersey to demonstrate his appreciation.
Pastor Francisco hands over the keys!
Finally, it’s time to go inside!
Karem squeals with delight!
Ennis discovers his desk and computer!
They are overwhelmed and just a cute as they come!
After lunch the team visits Bienvenida a Casa, a safe place for children at risk, overseen by Pastor Francisco and his wife, Eloisa.
With God’s direction and help, Eloisa manages to look after a flock of children.
Apparently we take off our shoes to use the slide.
Our next stop is a visit to a new-to-us orphanage to drop off food from Midwest Food Bank in Gilbert, AZ. Quinn’s non-profit “Blessing for Life” allows her to shop for their needs and haul it to Mexico. Victor, the man who oversees this orphanage, spends much time praying—and God always meets the need. Always!
Krista explains the three-legged race—in Spanish, of course.
After dinner we attend the Friday night church service. Sarah, fluent Spanish speaker, interpreted the whole service. We’ve dubbed her “Goodness and Mercy” because when Pastor Francisco preached on Psalm 23, he asked her to follow him across and around the platform while he illustrated how “Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life….”
A rousing game of foosball to end the day.
This is our granddaughter Esther, daughter to Leo and Susy. We’ve watched her grow up over the past ten years, and she invited us to come down for her graduation from high school in July.
Here she is (the next morning before we headed out) with all four of her U.S.A. grandparents.
We loaded up and headed toward El Paso, where we said goodbyes to most of our team. Mauri and I pace ourselves, staying over a night before the drive back to Phoenix, and arriving in time for evening church at Redemption Gateway.
Waiting a few days to fly home was easier on the checkbook and gave us a little more time with the Andersons. Cassidy led the student council Christmas decorating committee and we got to watch her in action.
I even got asked to make bows for the wrapped empty boxes.
We watched her in action on the basketball court.
A lopsided win is still a win!
Marissa, a junior at Grand Canyon University and employee at the Apple Store, missed out on our Thanksgiving trip because when you work in retail during the holidays you aren’t given a lot of choice. But here she is a long drive from school to cheer for her sister.
Quinn cooked a delicious dinner for us, but these cookies were devoured by the Gilbert Christian student council as they decorated the school for the Christmas holidays.
No need to feel sorry for us! We learned about Crumbl Cookies, a short drive from the Andersons’ home in Queen Creek.
We were kind and saved a few “crumbs” for Cassidy when she got home.
There’s no better finish to this story than a sweet look at a good man loving on a good dog. Having a few extra “chill” days before returning to our full December calendars felt luxurious and gave us time to process our remarkable and memorable days in Juarez.
I was the first “customer” to arrive this morning at the advent calendar-making event sponsored by my church and hosted by the Breithaupt family who live and work up on beautiful Chehalem Mountain. You can see the preparations for a fire and the oldest of five children who roam this wonderful property on a daily basis.
Inside the shop their dad, hidden behind the far pole, hangs more lights for the benefit of us woodworkers.
Here’s a better look at Chris Breithaupt, professional woodcrafter who loves to share this space as a means to build community. Since I’m the only one there, I got individual instruction for the task at hand.
Ooooooh! You pictured the kind of calendar we hang on our walls and are wondering what on earth we’re doing!
Well, it starts here. Tracing—a skill I started to develop as a six-year-old cutting out paperdolls! Little did I know I’d one day trace a stencil on wood that I’d cut out with …
… a scroll saw!
I was a rookie when I started and a rookie when I finished. But I did get a little better at turning corners with each piece.
Drilling the holes was a snap!
By this time others had joined the saw party.
Father/son work together.
I’m not the only one taking pictures!
Theresa is the mom of the afore-mentioned five children, the newest one still too teeny tiny to roam (as mentioned above).
And the baby’s older brother.
Some pictures need no caption or explanation; they tell a story all their own.
This could win a contest, though. Pretty cute, eh?
Here’s the grand sum of my morning’s efforts. I was provided a nifty box, some straw, a candle, and a brass holder that fits the drilled holes. The latter is spendy, so I’ll be ordering the rest on my own nickel.
Doesn’t look much like a calendar, you say? I promise we’ll get to that. But first…
… the original scene PLUS lots of children and mommies!
Kids who do what kids do when presented with a pile of fallen leaves!
Sometimes I wouldn’t mind being that six-year-old again.
Once home, I set up the advent calendar. I decided not to blur it in order to disguise my flawed cutting. Who knows if I’ll ever have another opportunity to use a scroll saw, but for this one project I feel accomplished!
My favorite piece was hidden in the other picture, so indulge my pride just this once (though I can see I need to do a little more sanding).
Here’s the example we were shown in advance. And the sound you hear is me swallowing my pride.
For fun, Mauri and I scheduled a photoshoot with our professional-photographer Macys, John and Erin, to commemorate twenty-five years of marriage. The designated day was cold and windy, but the sun setting on the autumn leaves provided a perfect backdrop for our “shoot” at Champoeg State Park.
Mauri carried his guitar for part of it so we could recreate a shot from our wedding rehearsal picnic, an especially bright highlight from our life together.