Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Parkers!

Christmas 2012
Dear Friends and Family,

Grace and Peace from our Lord Jesus Christ at the celebration of his birth!  Another year come and gone? Either I’m getting older or time is actually speeding up; wasn’t it just last Christmas a few weeks ago? My!  Well, what’s to report?  I think the theme this year is “Steady and Sure”.  This year, we only traveled to two countries as a family, we didn’t move, we had no other children, and we aren’t expecting any, either.  That’s kind of a banner year in the Parker family lately?  Instead, everything was just “steady and sure”.  Some of the highlights below:

Trip to Ireland.  Amelia and I made good on a lifelong dream and finally visited the Emerald Isle this past Easter.  With kids in tow, we drove to Liverpool for an overnight stay, stopping at the Beatles museum the next morning before jetting across the north of Wales to catch our ferry across the Irish sea.  By the end of the day, we made it to the west coast, just outside Galway to a cottage on the seaside.  We spent Holy Week there, picking shells and sea animals from the rocky shore, bracing ourselves amidst the ferocious winds, popping into Galway (traditional musicstreet performers; spotting live seals in the waterway next to us; at a local pub sipping my pint of Guinness beneath a local snapshot of Bono), driving along the narrow country roads of the Burren behind (slow) flocks of sheep, ruins and ancient tombs, and peering over the Cliffs of Moher, before finally ending our visit with a 3-hr church Easter service at a charismatic Anglican church in Dublin. A whirlwind of delights.

Receiving Visitors.  In April, David and Fran Roseberry from Christ Church Plano came to see us in Durham.  What a delight to get to show them our home and city, praying with them in the cathedral, spending time together!  We appreciate the love and support from them and from the church, so very much.  Later, in July, Amelia’s mom, Janet, came to stay with us for five wonderful weeks. It was packed full with both active and leisure time.  Highlights: visiting Chatsworth, the Lake District (the boys rode their 1st treetop zip line), Alnwick Castle, and seeing the Queen (60th Jubilee tour).  While she was with us, Amelia got to go with some friends to the Olympics!  (BTW, between the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics, one could feel the British swell with appropriate pride, somewhat despite themselves.)  She saw American beach volleyball, endless tennis, hung out in Hyde Park, and had some much needed time away from her 4 boys (refreshing!).  Later that August, my parents came to see us, and we made a week-long trip to Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands, including the Military Tattoo, Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness, dolphin gazing, and trout fishing (all from our cottage-base outside Dingwall/Inverness).  The boys especially loved Landmark adventure park, and we were all impressed by the Culloden Battlefield.  Nothing matches time with all the grandparents: hugs & kisses, snuggles & laughs, and making memories makes for rich living indeed!  In October, our dear friend, Leon Fillyaw came to see us, too!  We had great visits to York, Whitby, & London (National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, celebrity sightings in Leicester Square!), and hours of unbeatable conversation.

Back at it.  After such a busy summer, our whole family went back to normal with full force.  Amelia has taken up some part-time transcription work, on top of her weekly, free, intense exercise class.  Ewan (9) has markedly matured in his attitude and thinking over the year, is progressing in a much tougher gymnastics class (at Deerness gym), and is lately fascinated by space science.  Isaac (8) has taken up the violin and continues to devour books and stories (audio or written; often both at the same time!).  Graham (5) is in school 5 days a week now and is learning to write & read and is our resident artist.  Jude (2) has exploded with words in the last few weeks and is obsessed with Mommy’s new iPad, which, of course, he can navigate with a flourish.  All the boys are involved in our church kids program, for which we continue to be exceptionally grateful.  My part-time teaching has dropped off while my research (p.179) and dissertation-writing have increased.  The job search is on since I hope to graduate in 2013,but whether we move into church ministry or academic Bible teaching, here or elsewhere is all undecided.  We are praying and pursuing every lead at this point. Prayers welcome!

By His Grace Alone,
Jon (for Amelia, Ewan, Isaac, Graham, and Jude)

The Parkers (Ewan, Isaac, Jon, Graham, Amelia, Jude) at Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland
(August 2012)

And at Whitby Abbey (Isaac, Ewan, Graham, Jon, Jude, Amelia) (October 2012)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Homesick Texan - Kolaches!

Recently, my dear wife, Amelia (the principal author of this blog, though long absent from it), got a new cookbook: The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain (Hyperion, 2011) [check out here blog here].  Maybe I can convince Amelia to get back on here and write something about the book and how it makes her feel.

From my point of view, just owning the book makes her feel loved. Loved just by being known and understood in ways that any ex-patriot to their homeland can relate to, especially as it relates to food.  What is it about food that just grabs your heartstrings and yanks you 'home'?  Whatever it is, this book does it for my wife. And for me.  I am strangely weak-at-the-knees when I see full-blown pictures of 'Gorditas' and 'San Antonio Tortillas' and 'Brisket'....Yum. Mouth-watering, eye-glazing yum.

But this post is about yesterday's first venture into said cookbook, and what's on the menu is kolaches.

I can't say I know a lot about kolaches.  In fact, my first thought when I looked at these big pastries, was 'Huh, that's not what I had pictured in my head.'  Kolaches are Czech by origin.  Brought to Texas by that wave of Czech migration in about the 1860's (as I remember it; you can 'czech' my facts online, here or maybe here?, or chime in with your own link), the kolache of my memory is firmly rooted in West, TX, just north of Waco.  Anyone driving down I-35, will certainly notice the big signs at the gas stations by the roadside signaling, 'Kolaches For Sale'.  And while I'd have sworn I'd stopped and had one before I certainly hadn't had one like these.

So, a kolache is an almost donut-like, pastry with a big dollop of cream-cheese in the middle.  Amelia made these with just a hint of 'lemon' and they were good!  These were big and thick, but what I really liked about them was that they were just the right sweetness and just the right texture.  Not too sweet that I felt like I was eating a danish and not too flaky or spongy that I was eating a crescent roll or pound cake.  The experience was something in-between all these and it was nice.

Half of one was enough for me and even though our boys LOVE sweet pastries none of them ate the whole of theirs.  It was a bit too much for them.  So, maybe they could have been made smaller, but 'smaller' and 'Texan' don't go so well together, so I'll say they were just right.  Anyhow give 'em a try!

My parting note is less about taste and more about where this food 'takes me'/'yanks me':
My girlfriend in high school, her family hailed from this part of Texas, just a few miles north of West, from Abbott, TX.  She always spoke of Abbott like it was 'home' for them.  Catholic, small, and quaint; with a Truck Wash as its main highway presence.  I went there once with her.  You felt like everyone in the town knew you were a visitor and everyone knew I, at least, wasn't Czech.  (My girlfriend had blonde, super-curly hair that signaled her ethnic heritage, even if she didn't grow up there.)

But the key thing to know is that West and Abbott are joined by 'Willie Nelson Rd' for a reason: Abbott is Willie's hometown.  Now you know.  So, hey, if Kolaches are good enough for Willie, they're good enough for you and me, right?

They are if they're made this way, thanks to my wife and Lisa and Fain.  And if they're made a long way from Willie's house, they're even better still.