I Want To Love You More.

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Cynthia Hurd was one of the nine people killed Wednesday during a Bible study inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As I listened to an interview on NPR days after, I heard Malcolm Graham, a former North Carolina state senator, and Cynthia’s brother, talk about his memory of her.

At 54, Cynthia was a mother figure to their family, having five siblings, she was the glue that held them together. Her brother went on and said that she loved the library and reading, having worked in a library for 31 years. As he spoke passionately about her it was clear that she loved God. Having grown up in the church, Cynthia sang in the choir and was at a bible study that fateful night.

His words struck me. She. Loved. God. As I drove and the interview closed, suddenly these words bubbled up inside of me, “I want to love you more”. I began to ponder, how do I love God? Why, sometimes is it hard to love God? This moment struck me so deeply that I began to examine my life. It caused me to consider my thoughts, my words, my emotions, my actions, and just how I spend my precious time. Am I loving God? What does that look like for me? Do I love him when it’s convenient, when it’s easy, only when I need him? These thoughts did not come from a place of condemnation but rather a place of going deeper in relationship with Him.

The words, I want to love you more continue to ring loudly throughout my soul. I want to love him more. I pray that I will have the courage to be obedient to his call every day, to be faithful in the little things. I don’t want to be a back seat driver to this life when it comes to loving God and loving people. I don’t want to ask why when He asks.

What would it be like to leave a legacy like Cynthia has? I want to be known for loving God, no matter what that means. I want my actions to speak it. My words to edify it. If I don’t do anything else well in this world, this is what I want most. Cynthia Hurd has inspired me. To be a better person. To love better.

Legacy by Nichole Nordeman

I want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to you enough
To make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who blessed your name
Unapologetically and leave that kind of legacy

Hear the story about Cynthia Hurd here on Here and Now:
http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/06/19/charleston-victim-hurd-brotherCross

The stories this table could tell.

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How many of us actually have meals at a table anymore? It seems to be a lost tradition. It’s not just a meal that is had at a table; it’s conversation, it’s listening, it’s sharing, it’s knowing, it’s loving.

I spent many years pulling up a bench to a farm table. When I was a little girl, my great grandmother Mimi hosted family meals every Sunday afternoon. I don’t know how she did it. She prepared a meal for at least a dozen people weekly, including dessert. I recall many days sitting on the ice cream maker. And then there was her fried chicken. Mimi was a wonderful cook.

Meals at a table have always been meaningful to me. I chose to purchase a farm style table about eight years ago, with the purpose of sharing food around it with people I love. Many have blessed me by their company over the years. I used to have my Granny and Mom over every month to test new recipes. Holidays are especially meaningful around this table. I cherish the conversations that have been shared around this table and all the laughs I’ve had.

Because of this table, I have entertained some of my best friends, hosting an annual Christmas brunch. I’ve tried my hand at some daunting recipes that I thought I’d never master, yet succeeded. Best of all, I’ve shared special times and grown relationships because of this table. From daily coffees and my quiet time with God, first dinners, a birthday party, and a stake holders fundraiser; to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Good Friday meals, and last suppers, this table is where it all happened. 

It still happens. While my mom no longer lives close enough to be at the table, I’m making a commitment to start inviting friends over monthly; to get to know each other, share stories, to know and to love.

My table.

My table.

 

In a letter to the Mayor of NYC

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Letter to The Honorable Mayor Bill de Blasio

This blog is about the sweet things in life, but I’ll warn you, this post is not so sweet. I have to divert for a moment and talk about something that is incredibly deplorable and heartbreaking to me. So much so, that I wrote a letter to the Honorable Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City. Ask me if I’ve written my own mayor in Austin? The answer is No, I haven’t. And shame on me.

I’m struck by the fact that a story about Kim Kardashian throwing Kanye West an epic birthday party receives far more coverage and hundreds of thousands of views by people, compared to the thousands who have viewed the news story of Kalief Broward. Who? Kalief Broward. What does this say about our society? The injustice that occurred should not go unnoticed and that’s why I felt compelled to write the NYC Mayor.

After hearing the story of the 22 year old boy from the Bronx, named Kalief Broward whose ordeal began when he was just 16. He was wrongfully jailed for allegedly stealing a back pack back in 2012. His mom could not afford his $3,500 bail. Therefore the boy spent more than one thousand days in Rikers awaiting a trial that would never happen. He was never convicted.

Kalief spent two years in solitary confinement and endured unspeakable violence while in Rikers, New York City’s jail complex, which you probably know is notorious for inmate neglect and abuse. He attempted to end his life several times and spent time in various psychiatric wards until finally taking his life this past weekend at his home at age 22. Undoubtedly Kalief experienced severe psychological trauma and depression.

In 2014, the Department of Justice reported about the “rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force” by guards against teenage inmates on Rikers.  Most of the inmates — about 85 percent — have not yet been convicted of a crime; they are pretrial detainees. Don’t get me wrong, a prison such as Rikers shouldn’t be a nice place. Nor should it be a country club. But it should be fair and no one, not even inmates should endure horrors as this. We have rights in this country to an expeditious and fair trial. There is something seriously wrong here.

The system failed Kalief Broward and who knows how many others. I can only hope that because of the media attention and perhaps even a pleading letter from a girl in Texas will make a difference.

I guess the moral of my post is, stay hopeful. Don’t give up. Even when it all seems impossible, don’t stop trying. You never know when what you do might make a huge difference to someone else. You could change history. You could change a heart.

References: The Huffington Post & The New Yorker

Food memories take me back.

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We all have food memories, some good and some not so good. The taste, smell, and texture of food can bring back memories not just of eating food itself but also of place and setting. Recently I made a 3-layer strawberry cake. It’s perfect for summer time. The taste of it brought back memories of the first time I had the pink delight.

I was a young girl and we had just learned of my Uncle Wesley’s untimely death at 18. I remember being full of questions. I didn’t understand. I grieved silently. My Uncle Wesley was suddenly gone. He was like a big brother to me. We always had fun together, life with him was adventurous. At his memorial reception, there was a smorgasbord of foods. One item in particular took my taste buds and took my heart, a strawberry cake. Over the course of a couple of days, I made multiple trips to the kitchen, sneaking a piece whenever I felt the need. It was comforting. It was sweet. Satisfying to my soul.

As I iced this masterpiece, it brought back sweet memories of my Uncle Wesley. He could be counted on to watch me from time to time. He made me laugh and he was always up for another round of board games (Monopoly, Sorry, Yahtzee). I hope you’ll try this Strawberry Cake this summer and make new memories that you’ll cherish forever. Don’t worry about making it multi-layered, make a sheet cake!

Tracy & Wesley

Tracy & Wesley

tracy w lunchbox uncle

Strawberry Cake

Strawberry Cake

Strawberry Cake

Cake Ingredients:
1 Box (18.25 Ounces) White Cake Mix
1- 3 Ounce Box Strawberry Jello
4 large eggs
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup flour
1/2 Cup fresh strawberries, finely chopped
1 Cup vegetable oil
1/2 Cup milk
Strawberry Buttercream Frosting:
1 Cup unsalted butter, softened
2 (16 Ounce) Packages powdered sugar
1 Cup fresh strawberries, finely chopped

Instructions
1.Make the Cake: Preheat the Oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 3- 9 inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray.  Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix all cake ingredients with an electric mixer on low until just combined.  Scrape the side of the bowl, and increase mixer to medium and beat for 3 minutes.
3. Pour cake batter into prepared pans and bake until a tooth pick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 23 minutes.
4. Cool cake in pans on rack for about 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool completely. If using the following recipe for Strawberry Buttercream refrigerate cakes until completely chilled.

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
In a large bowl, beat the butter at medium until it’s pale yellow and fluffy.  Add powdered sugar and strawberries and beat at low until well combined and creamy.  Set in the fridge fo about 5-10 minutes to firm it up slightly.

Spread one of the layers of cake with frosting then refrigerate.  Frost the second layer and refrigerate until the frosting on both layers has firmed up a bit.  Assemble all the layers and frost the top and sides. Decorate the top with sliced strawberries. Refrigerate!

Sweet Memories & Snickerdoodles

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Have you seen Still Alice? As you know it’s the story of a woman facing early onset Alzheimer’s. As I watched the movie recently, I was struck by the realization the human memory and the memories that we make throughout our lifetime are incredible gifts. The mind is a remarkable thing.

Our mind processes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in one day. You might compare this to Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” which is only 460,000 words long. This means 100,000 words cross our eyes and ears in a single 24-hour period through TV, radio, the Web, text messages, video games and other stuff. Incredible wouldn’t you say?

Out of all of this information we take in and process, just think about the memories you make, those that really make a mark on us. In the movie, Alice lost her sweet memories; of precious family, a successful career, and life adventures. She fought the disease that was stealing who she was, the life she had created.

As I reflect on some of my most precious memories. I think of my sweet Mimi, my great grandmother, a retired school teacher who I thought was Julia Child incarnate. After school my grandmother Pat would pick me up and we would be off to Mimi’s house for an after school snack and conversation. Many times she’d serve freshly picked pecans that I would lick, then dip into the sugar bowl and pop into my mouth. Boy were those the best! I guess Mimi didn’t mind that I double dipped into her sugar bowl, as she never mentioned it.

Many times after school, Mimi and I would play ‘school’. She was my student and I would teach her school lessons. Mimi played right along and she never tired of my teaching. She was attentive. She was present. Always engaged. Just she and I. I never doubted that Mimi loved me. Some days I’d walk into Mimi’s house after school and smell cinnamon wafting down the hall, drawing me to the kitchen. Mimi was making her melt-in-your-mouth Snickerdoodle cookies. I still have the recipe card that I transcribed that day from Mimi.

“The best portion of our lives will be the small, nameless moments we spend smiling with someone who matters to us.”–Someone who is much more articulate than me said this.

Mimi’s recipe. A sweet bake.

Mix:

1c soft shortening 

1 1/2c sugar

2 eggs

Sift & Stir In:

2 2/3 c sifted flour

2tsp cream of tartar

1tsp soda

1tsp salt

1tsp vanilla

Chill & roll in small balls. Coat in 2tsp cinnamon & 2 tsp sugar. Bake at 400.

snicker

The Life of Riley

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Grandaddy Riley

Grandaddy Riley

He flew B24s and B25s as a bomber pilot, serving in what was then called the U.S. Army Air Core in WWII and Korea. Lt. William P. Riley was my grandaddy. Born February 26, 1922, in Junction, Texas, he was one of five children to Minnie and William Patrick Riley, Sr. His siblings include Uncle Max, Aunt Jewel, Aunt Febajean, and Aunt Lenore.

Grandaddy attended Schreiner University, a private liberal arts college in Kerrville and then transfered to Texas A&M, earning his degree in Animal Husbandry. As a member of the Core and the Aggie Band, he was an avid trumpeter who had the responsibility of playing the daily bugle call, the “Reveille”; it’s the morning wake up call for the Corps. In his senior year, he thought it would be fun to sound the traditional wake up call for the freshmen at 3A.M.! That’s my Grandaddy’s spirit right there. All fun and making life grand.

In 1950, he married my Granny Beverly. Being in the service He and my Granny lived all over the world. At each place they landed, Grandaddy’s priority was always mounting the U.S. flag outside. Only then could they call it home.

He was a lover of, and a maker of life. A real adventurer. He had a thirst for knowledge and in so doing, he knew a lot about a lot of things. He loved history. In fact, my mom recalls that on many road trips as a kid, there wasn’t a Texas historical marker that they didn’t stop to read and talk about later. He loved Texas rivers, especially the Llano in Junction where Grandaddy took my mom and uncle on many expeditions. He loved the detail of life, he loved making life fun.

Grandaddy Riley’s greatest love was flying. He first fell in love with airplanes at the early age of 11. His Uncle Hez, a Veteran pilot of WWI  took him on his first plane ride. Determined to learn to fly planes, Grandaddy Riley’s passion took off. His military service lasted 10 years. He loved planes and flying. He loved his country.

Before retiring from the service, Grandaddy was a test pilot for Air Force planes being refurbished and repaired. I think it took just a little bit of crazy + courage to be this kind of test pilot since he was the one to determine if the planes were air worthy. That’s my Grandaddy, fearless.

To complete his career, Grandaddy Riley took a civilian job with the Federal Aviation Agency as the Chief of Weather, stationed at the Midland International Airport. Eventually he moved back to Junction to live out his life. Grandaddy loved the detail of life which probably accounted for him being an expert map reader. He loved people and was a master story teller.

I think Grandaddy Riley saw life as a canvas just waiting to be painted. His cup was always half full. I believe his positive spirit carries on in our family today, passed through to my mom and now me. By nature he was daring, fearless and adventurous. That was the life of Riley.