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It was a good night. A great night. A night I’ll always remember, not for its smiles but for its tears.
Yes, its tears. They belonged to my husband Doug, pictured below surrounded by his kids.
I snapped this photo later the same evening – precisely because I wanted to remember “the” moment that I saw those tears – forever. And since I didn’t have a camera on me at “the” moment, I settled for snapping this shot a couple of hours after the moment had passed.
I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband shed tears in the quarter of a century we’ve been married. It’s not that he’s not in touch with his emotions. It’s just that he is, typically, a pretty even-keeled fellow. It takes a lot to make him emotional to the point of welling up. But well up he did on September 17.
September 16 is his birthday. And while Jenna (our youngest) and I did our best to make it special this year – and Doug put on a brave face – we all knew it just didn’t feel like a birthday because almost half of our family of five was missing. With Stephanie and Mark – our two oldest kids – both out of town at different universities – he wasn’t expecting to see them until Thanksgiving.
But unbeknownst to Doug, the kids had cooked up a special surprise, and on the following night – a Friday – our two university students both managed to get into town without their dad knowing it. They’d reserved a private booth at his favourite restaurant (Japanese), and they waited there for our arrival.
When Doug got home from work, Jenna and I told him we’d planned some fun after a long hard week and he was not to ask questions. So we piled into the car, and drove to the restaurant. He was clearly charmed at being thus ‘kidnapped’ – and when we pulled into the parking lot he exclaimed, “Sukiyaki?!” with obvious delight.
But it wasn’t until we stepped into our private booth – and he saw Stephanie and Mark there, and heard their exclamations of “Surprise!” that shock yielded to those silent, joyful tears now etched permanently on my memory.
The three kids paid for dinner that night, a sacrificial gift for poor students. It was a wonderful evening, topped off with birthday cake and stories and laughter back home.
Why did their thoughtful present mean so much?
Because it was their presence that was the real gift. My husband loves our kids. He’s proud of them. And there’s little that brings him greater joy than to spend time in their company, hearing their news and telling them his.
I’ve been reflecting on that fatherly love ever since. And in the midst of my reflections, it occurred to me that maybe that’s just how it is with God.
The Bible tells us He loves us. It gives Him great joy when we spend time with Him.
And ultimately, what He wants more than anything is for all of His kids to simply come home.
Luke 15:20 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and … he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
- The Parable of the Prodigal Son, as told by Jesus to illustrate God’s amazing love for us
This oil painting has hung on the wall in the hallway of our home – in fact, on the walls of the hallways of every home my husband and I have shared – for 24 years. It was a gift from a former co-worker who painted it for us. His name was Joern.
Joern was a lovely man, quiet and soft-spoken, small and stooped of stature, with thin grey hair. He worked as a court artist for the same Toronto television newsroom I worked for in my 20s. Court artists are needed in Canada, because cameras aren’t allowed in courtrooms. So newspapers and television newscasts rely on these gifted folks to sketch the faces and profiles of the accused and their counsel, victims and Crown lawyers, to help tell the stories of the legal battles that rage on – far from the eyes and ears of the general public.
I remember the day, shortly after returning from my honeymoon, when Joern approached me. He said he wanted to paint my wedding portrait. “I like to paint,” he explained almost apologetically. “It’s good practice for me. Just bring in a photograph and I’ll make a painting for you.”
It was a generous offer – one that took me completely by surprise. But I told Doug – my new husband – excitedly of Jorn’s kindness and he helped me select a few photos that we thought might be appropriate for Joern’s work.
This is the photo I first offered to Joern. Our wedding album isn’t huge. Wedding photos were costly in those days – (are they still?) – and for budgetary reasons our selection was limited to the 20 or so photos that made it into our final album. But this photo has always been one of my favourites. There’s something about the moment it captures – on September 21, 1985 – which even today, can set my heart to soaring with a mere glance at it.
We’re laughing – obviously – over some long since forgotten joke – but there’s a warmth, a tenderness and an intimacy captured by the photographer that I’ve always loved.
But Joern didn’t love it. “No. This is not good,” he said when I offered the photo to him. “Twenty-five years from now, you will look at this painting and it will make you sad,” he said. “You will say to each other – you don’t ever look at me like that any more. We need a photograph of the two of you looking straight out at the camera.”
So I offered him this shot. It’s obviously a formal, posed photograph, and I loved the way the photographer had arranged my dress – and the fact that the flowers in the background were at their peak that September afternoon.
But “no,” said Joern. That photo wouldn’t do either. The shot was simply too wide. He preferred something closer – a shot that would be formal, and yet one that would capture our expressions. He needed practice, he explained, on painting faces. Our wedding portrait would help him to practice.
So of course, we gave him what he asked for. He was the expert – after all – and it was an incredible gift he was offering to us.
The portrait took Joern a year to paint. Throughout that year, he seemed to delight in giving me little updates as to its progress – and once, as if to tantalize me, brought in a photo of the painting – sitting half-finished – on his easel.
He presented his masterpiece to us as a gift – for our first anniversary. I remember having him and his wife to dinner at our little townhouse – when he brought the finished painting along.
A fascinating fellow – Joern had served as Rommel’s photographer in the Afrikakorps during the Second World War. My husband is a military buff and so enjoyed Joern’s company and stories enormously. We had a lovely evening.
I lost touch with Joern when I left the newsroom to take a job with another media company. But often, as I’ve passed by our portrait, I’ve thought of him and wondered what became of him.
If I could convey a message to my old friend? It would be this: “Thank you for your labor of love and friendship, Joern. It’s held a place of honour in our home from the day you gifted it to us, and we cherish it still.
“But you were wrong about one thing: it’s been 25 years, and we still look at one another with smiles on our faces and love in our eyes. And we can still set one another to laughing.”
It’s been a busy, glorious summer. A summer that held time and fun with family and friends, long lazy beach days and book days, BBQ’s and gardening, excursions and work. Now our two oldest kids (yes, two!) are settled at university and our youngest has begun high school. And I’ve started to think about posting occasional thoughts here once more.
As a way of “getting back into the swing of things,” I thought I’d share another favourite recipe. This is one my daughter Stephanie asked me to be sure to send her, when she headed back to her “second home” to prepare for the start of her third year of university.
Every year, my small backyard garden seems to outdo itself in producing one certain thing. There are years that are great for tomatoes. Other years will be outstanding for peppers, egg plant or cucumbers. But this year was definitely the year of the zucchini!
The whopper at left – held aloft by my daughter Jenna – greeted us in the garden after a two-week vacation. I promise – we were only gone two weeks – and I’m positive there were only fingerlings on the plants when we left for our holiday.
Over the past month, I’ve harvested at least eight mega-zucchinis and countless smaller ones besides. We’ve enjoyed them grilled, battered and stir fried, in soups and sauces, breads and cakes. I’ve also given several of the moderately sized vegetables to friends, and tucked away 21 cups of the stuff grated in the freezer for winter baking.
But I think our favourite way to eat zucchini has been whipped up in this recipe for zucchini muffins. Try them warm, slathered with thick, deli cream cheese. Heaven!
- 3 cups grated, fresh zucchini
- 2/3 cup melted, unsalted butter
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- pinch salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (I like to substitute half the all-purpose flour for whole wheat)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup walnuts (optional – but we enjoy them)
- 1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (again – optional, but the cranberries make these muffins prettier and seem a special treat)
Method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the zucchini mixture and mix in. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. Stir in walnuts, raisins or cranberries if using.
Coat each muffin cup in your muffin pan with a little vegetable spray or line with papers. Use a spoon to distribute the batter equally among the cups, filling the cups completely. Bake on a middle rack until muffins are golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press on them, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from the tin and let cool for another 20 minutes.
You might want to make a double batch as they’ll vanish quickly!