Thursday, May 10, 2012

First Lady Obama & Dr. Biden Honor Military Moms At Joining Forces Mother's Day Tea

Three generations visit the White House for crafts and celebration...
First Lady Michelle Obama
and Dr. Jill Biden treated military mothers, grandmothers and children to a special Joining Forces Mother's Day Tea at the White House on Thursday afternoon. Against a backdrop of lush flowers, presidential china, and tiny finger sandwiches, Mrs. Obama spoke movingly about the challenges of military families, and hailed her own mother's influence on her life. The 1:30 PM event also included a craft session for the kids, so they could make gifts and cards for their moms and grandmothers. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden help the kids make crafts)

The menu included Tuna Tartare and Blueberry Scones with White House jams, coconut cake and cookies shaped like First Dog Bo. The White House chefs were busier than usual: They led the craft session, too.

As her guests enjoyed the tea party in the East Room, Mrs. Obama, clad in a sleeveless shift with a sunshine yellow top and a pale gold brocade skirt, hailed the three generations for their homefront service.

"All of you are outstanding role models for your children, for your communities and for this country," Mrs. Obama said.

 She thanked the mothers and grandmothers for taking on the many challenges of multiple deployments and frequent re-locations to new posts.  Military parents and spouses, she said, are the first to volunteer at schools and in their communities, where they "fill in the gaps" when other parents won't step up.

"Service isn’t just something that you do once in a while or during the holidays, it’s how you live your lives," Mrs. Obama said.

The First Grandmother, Mrs. Marion Robinson, was seated at a table and nodded and smiled as Mrs. Obama hailed her as "my inspiration" and "my rock."

"It wouldn't be a Mother's Day Tea if I didn't thank my own mommy," Mrs. Obama said. "It's a big deal when grandma does anything--the fact that she's sitting in that chair is a big testimony to her respect and admiration for all of you."

"She is my rock. She has taught me to believe in myself, and more importantly, to pick myself up whenever I stumble...and she has always inspired me--to push myself to dream even bigger than anything she could ever dream for herself."

Grandmothers are 'mush'...
Mrs. Obama segued into praising and thanking the other grandmothers in the room, noting they have a special role in the lives of military families. Grandmothers are constantly on call for their grandkids, she said, whether their own adult children are busy on post or deployed across the world.

"Your sons and daughters, their choice to serve this country is really a reflection of your love," Mrs. Obama said. "It’s a reflection of your strength and all the good decisions that you made in raising them."

Mrs. Obama also kidded the grandmothers for spoiling their grandkids in ways that parents never do, which got a big laugh from her guests.

"You turn into just pieces of mush," Mrs. Obama said. "I tell my children to eat my vegetables, and Grandma is like, why. 'Why can't they have whatever they want?' And I’m like--these were your rules. Don't you remember? 'No, no, I don't remember ever making you eat vegetables. Ever.'"

The First Lady closed by toasting the children as "the real heroes."

"I want you all to know just how special you all are," Mrs. Obama said. "Today, we are here to celebrate all of you."

She added, to more laughter, "and no matter what Grandma says, eat your vegetables."

The event also marked Military Spouse Appreciation Day, which falls on May 11. May is National Military Family Month.

Sweet treats and Kitchen Garden gifts...
Before Mrs. Obama's remarks, Executive Chef Cris Comerford led the kids as they made "tea satchet" gifts in the State Dining Room. These were little bags filled with chamomile leaves plucked from the Kitchen Garden, then dried, and sweetened with honey from the White House beehive. (Above: Comerford and two assistant chefs at the satchet station)

"They worked very hard on them, they were very focused, very creative, very diligent," Mrs. Obama said of the kids.

At a different station, chief florist Laura Dowling helped the kids make flower gifts. These were 5-inch-tall pots of wheatgrass, embellished with green orchids and big orange roses. (Above: A boy kneels to write a card)

Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and Assistant Pastry Chef Susie Morrison helped the kids frost special cookies--and there was some nibbling going on, of course. Yosses was quick with a bottle of hand sanitizer, reminding the kids to clean up.

Staff also helped the children make Mother's Day cards, and tie their gifts with bows. There were many ooohs and ahhs as the boys and girls flooded into the East Room to present the gifts to the moms and grandmothers. There were about 32 kids, ages 5-12, and they were giddy but very well behaved. (Above: The kids were thrilled with the Bo cookies)

Dr. Biden also spoke, praising all, and said that as a military mother who endured a difficult year while her son Bo Biden was deployed in Iraq, she is honored to co-lead the Joining Forces campaign. Mrs. Obama was introduced by Jennifer Griffin Pilcher, the spouse of CDR Eddie Pilcher, a US Navy pilot currently stationed at VR-1 Joint Base Andrews, who has 16 years of active duty service. The family moved six times in 12 years, Biden told the audience. (Above: A longhsot as Dr. Biden speaks)

Pilcher co-founded, which offers online support and services for military families, and thanked the First Lady and Dr. Biden for the intense job-creating push that has been a part of the Joining Forces campaign since it was launched last year. The Pilcher children, Katie, 9 and Griffin, 6, joined their mother at the Tea.

The First Lady and Dr. Biden went from table to table to greet guests and pose for photos after their remarks. Floral arrangements on the eleven tables for ten were hot pink, mauve and violet roses with lilacs and greens in low vases. Tablecloths were soft green with an embroidered floral pattern. The china pattern was the George W. Bush State China. Each table had tiny pots of White House honey for the guests to use in their tea. (Above: A flower arrangement)

After the party, the First Lady and Dr. Biden went to the Naval Observatory, the Bidens' residence, where they joined Congressional spouses in making care packages for Mother's Day on behalf of deployed soldiers. These will be gifted to the soldiers' mothers and spouses.

Joining Forces 2012 Mother's Day Tea Menu

Shaved Ham on Buttermilk Biscuits
with orange Marmalade

Tuna Tartare
with Toasted Rice Crispies

Cucumber Sandwiches

Mini Chicken Sandwiches

Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Blueberry Scones
with White House jams

Fruit Tarts

Coconut Cake

"Bo" Sugar Cookies
with milk

Assorted teas and fruit juices

Above, a waiter carries plates with fingers sandwiches and baked treats to guests.

Update, May 13: On Mother's Day, the White House released a video of the kids doing crafts, and sending greetings to their moms, filmed in the China Room.

The transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks is here.

*Photos and additional reporting by Helena Bottemiller for Obama Foodorama