In the fourth year of our marriage, we stumbled on a practice that became a stronghold of our life together through the years to this day.
Trent and I—baby in tow—took a weekend for what we called a “marriage retreat”—time away from daily life to concentrate on our relationship as a couple and to discuss our new role as parents. Those few days were to be a mixture of fun, eating out, and deep communication, the kind that doesn’t always happen without intentional planning.
That first “retreat” was so fun and refreshing, we decided to make it an annual event. Now, at fifty-three years (and four more children), we have rarely missed a year. A few times—as the first one—we took along a nursing baby. Most of the time, it was, blessedly, just the two of us. We would discuss our children’s needs, our own, and our hopes and dreams for the future. But we would also play. And eat. And be renewed.
One particular year, well into family life in Germany with four children ranging from ten to three, we entrusted our darlings—without misgivings—to our two capable and eager staff women who worked with us in East Germany. Lianne was American and Chris, German. They seemed to look forward to this as much as we did. They planned activities. And food.
Upon our return home, we heard from our children about the games they’d played, created by Chris and Lianne, about the lost toothbrush (subsequently found), about the missing pajamas (likewise), and about The Food. The food, in particular, was interesting and exciting. Children are, in one way or another, about food.
“What was your favorite?” I queried the general public, hoping to gain some insights.
“Finished pancakes,” Justin, eight, promptly replied.
Me: “What do you mean, ‘finished’? Do you mean like those frozen waffles that you stick in a toaster?”
Justin: “No. They weren’t made in a toaster. I don’t know. They were just finished. But they were really good.”
Millay, ten, tried to enlighten me. “They were made in the oven. And we ate them with lemon juice and powdered sugar.”
Mystified, I called Chris. She laughed heartily. I can still see her eyes crinkling up as they did when she laughed. “Oh, he means Finnish pancakes! I’ll give you the recipe!”
Whether they are Finnish or Dutch (they are also known as “Dutch Babies”), they became a standard for us and a welcome, easy supper in the years when my children came home from their German school in the middle of the day for our main meal. Suppers, though, were meant to be simple, and this was simple but welcome, especially on cold winter evenings. Puffy and golden, tart and sweet, filling and satisfying, they warmed our hearts as well as our stomachs. We still call them “Finished Pancakes.”
Chris and Lianne were hardworking, persevering, and seriously dedicated as well as fun-loving people. They spent their adult years studying cultures and then teaching the rest of us—and the constant stream of Americans coming to join us—about cross-cultural understanding and relationships. Their concern was learning how to form working teams that could thrive, even with their cultural differences. They wrote and published on the subject and held seminars and training sessions.
They were in the final stages of one such project when Chris succumbed to cancer. She asked Lianne, “Are we done?” “Yes,” Lianne was able to answer, “we’re done.” Chris died shortly thereafter. A few years later, Lianne was also taken by the dread disease. Our loss was acute. Their work lives on and has benefitted hundreds.
The memory of that weekend also lives on. Lianne and Chris cared for our family with all the enthusiasm they gave to their work. After all, children are a “culture” of their own, and ours surely benefitted from knowledge these two women had gained and practiced.
And the Marriage Retreat? Though I can’t remember specifically what transpired on that particular weekend, I am confident that it was yet another bonding experience for our marriage. Indeed, some of those retreats resulted in life changes for our family, including surprising international moves that we had not anticipated. We have never regretted the time spent on those getaways or the major decisions that sometimes resulted.
We can heartily recommend Marriage Retreats and Finished Pancakes!
Fin(n)ish(ed) Pancakes (serves 6-8)
6 Tablespoons butter
1 cup flour
2 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. or 180 C.
Melt butter in oven in a 9x13 baking dish; should be sizzling when you take it out.
In a separate bowl, whisk together other ingredients till very frothy. Pour batter into pan with the hot melted butter. Swirl briefly.
Bake 40 minutes until puffy and golden.
Eat immediately, served with lemon juice and powdered sugar.
Alternatively, you can choose to make them savory, omitting sugar and serving with sausages or other savories as your heart desires.
Marriage Retreats (serves 2)
Take one spouse, find a (simple) getaway for at least two days (preferably parts of three), ask kind friends to (1) live in your home with your children (this works well with willing singles or a childless couple) or (2) ask kind friends to take your child or children into their home. Bring along enthusiasm and anticipation and a notebook for planning or brainstorming. Spend time enjoying your surroundings. Talk about things you normally put on hold. Go for long walks. Eat out. Come back recommitted to your marriage. Bring home little gifts for the kids and their caregivers. Do this yearly, if possible. And don’t stop when the children are out of the house! There are still things to talk about.