Tag Archives: Middle Daughter

Easter Grace, Gravy and Gifts

Sunday mornings are crazy at this house, anyhow, but on this particular morning, I was making sausage gravy for the church breakfast, finishing up some French Silk Chocolate pies for lunch, getting my ladies up, showered, dressed, fed, medicated, and I had a new person filling in for my regular Sunday morning gal, who was off somewhere for Easter – AND we needed to be at church a whole hour earlier than usual.  (We did not want to be late because we had friends with four young sons visiting Laws Chapel for the first time.)

I kinda’ stumbled down soon after six thirty and started the Sausage gravy in a big heavy pan, then got on with the chocolate pie.  Our Girl Audrey came out, then, and wanted some breakfast, so I got her some cream of wheat. and yogurt and a banana, green tea and water and her morning meds  the usual) — and kept an eye on my sausage that was browning nicely in my big heavy pot.

When it was all thoroughly browned, I dumped in the flour, and stirred that until it was all absorbed into the pan drippings and stuck to the sausage, and then poured in the milk and stirred it some more.  I had a very heavy bottomed pot, and I decided that it could cook on low while I did other morning things, so I turned it all the way down, put the lid on it and went about my morning.  Several “stirs” later, I noticed that time was getting away, and decided to inch it up a notch on the heat, and purposed to stir it more frequently.  I kept after the other kitchen things of the morning, and stirred it several times before going to get Linda up.  All was well.  So I got Linda up and on the potty and ready for the shower, then went to check something on my computer in the study.  (I don’t know what was so important right then, but somehow, I thought it was!)  It was while I was in there that I suddenly got a whiff that vaguely smelled like something was getting a bit too hot

To show how incredibly distracted I was, I must confess that, initially, at least, I was puzzled.  I came out of the study, into the kitchen and was greeted by the lid on my big pot sputtering away and the gravy bubbling up and frothy around the edges. I flew over to the stove, cut off the gas burner, grabbed my trusty wooden spoon and began to stir.  Oh, no!  It was really sticking.  I gave the pot a good sniff.  I could smell “burned” if I tried hard enough.  Oh, dear, oh, dear!  This gravy was surely ruined!  I grabbed another heavy bottomed pot from my cupboard and hurriedly dumped the gallon+ of gravy over into the other pot.  The bottom of the first pot sizzled and refused to give up a thick layer of gravy that was obviously “stuck.”  I gingerly ran my spoon over the layer, getting off what came easily, while my head raced a hundred miles an hour.  There was no time to make new, even if I had the sausage needed.  Which I didn’t.  If the gravy already tasted burned, it would only be made worse by scraping the bottom layer into it.  How many people would be at church for breakfast?  Was this going to be enough?  I looked at the thick layer on the bottom and tried to see if there was any black showing through.  There was.  Oh, dear, oh, dear!!!

I plunked the lid onto the second kettle and set it on an unlit burner.  I carried the first kettle over to my big kitchen sink and ran some water in it.  Running the wooden spoon across the bottom only added to my dismay.  It wasn’t coming off any time soon.  The blackest of black showed where the spoon scraped along the bottom and I pondered what in the world I should do on this busy Sunday morning.  I hoped that my house didn’t smell like burned sausage gravy, but I was pretty sure that if I lit into that pan and started to clean it, there would be no doubt.  I didn’t have time, anyhow!  When there was about an inch and a half of water in the bottom of that pan, I plunked that lid right on it and carried it out to my back deck and set it down close to the side of the house and closed the door so that Certain Man wouldn’t see it when he came in from morning chores.  Back in the kitchen, I stirred the gravy I had left, smelled it repeatedly, and prayed!  “Oh, Lord Jesus, PLEASE–!!!

And then, because there was nothing else I could do, I finished up my Linda girl, gave instructions to my Sunday helper, sent the gravy to church with Middle Daughter so it would be sure to be there on time and got Love Bug (who had spent the night) combed and myself dressed and we were ready to go.  In between, I asked Certain Man and Middle Daughter and Sunday Helper and even Love Bug if they smelled burnt sausage gravy, and they obligingly sniffed the air and said they didn’t really think so.  It comforted me enough that I decided that I wouldn’t mention it unless coerced into it by someone saying something like, “This sausage gravy tastes kinda’ scorched, don’cha think???”

So we went to breakfast at church and everything went smoothly.  Our hospitality committee did a splendid job of planning and the tables were decorated very nicely and food was plentiful and fellowship was warm and comforting.  When all was said and done, and the Gathering Place was back in order and the leftovers were being claimed, I went to get the pot that still had some sausage gravy in it.  My good cousin, Donna, champion of the Hospitality Committee, busy with washing dishes and putting things away, stopped in the middle of what she was doing to say, “Honestly, Mary Ann!  That was some of the best sausage gravy I have ever had!”

I stopped, my heart quiet in the middle of all the hubbub and Easter bustle, and heard a snatch of melody from somewhere in my brain, that was singing “Grace, grace, Wonderful Grace!”  And I said to Donna, “I’m so relieved!  I was afraid it was ruined!  It stuck really bad this morning, and I put it into another pot and hoped for the best – but I didn’t know . . .”  She laughed and reassured me that it was fine, and I began to wonder if (just maybe!) it hadn’t stuck as badly as I thought it had.

After a worshipful Easter service, we came home, and the afternoon was very full with company and an Easter egg hunt on the lawn for the children of my Bible study gals, and finally, when everyone was gone, Middle Daughter and I cleaned up the kitchen and put things back in order.  When we were almost done, I remembered my kettle on the back deck and went to fetch it.  I brought it in and pulled out a scraper to see if I could scrape it clean.

There was absolutely no reason for that gravy to not taste terrible!  The pan was burned so black that I couldn’t just scrape things off.  Oh, the first layer came off okay.  Thick, gunky strips of browned gravy, soggy with water, and smelling “burnt” peeled off beneath my trusty plastic Pampered Chef dish scraper, but what was underneath took a Stanley Stainless Steel Pot Scrubber, and Middle Daughter’s elbow grease and finishing efforts before the pan was shiny again.

The leftover gravy that we brought home was eaten by the household of Certain Man without any notice of anything amiss.  And through it all, I’ve heard that Melody of Grace Given.  Ah, what an incredible, unexpected (and truthfully, undeserved!) Easter Gift of a desperately needed “common thing,” given to a distracted Delaware Grammy whose heart gives Grateful Praise.

 

 

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Designs on the Resolve

It had been a long day.  And as it got later and later, I felt some dismay creep into my soul.  I took a quick appraisal and decided that there were still some things that needed to be done before I climbed the mountain to my sweet, sweet rest. Middle daughter was home, but working, Certain Man’s day had been physically and emotionally taxing and the two of them were out of sight for the duration of the evening it seemed. Certain Man was within shouting distance, but Middle Daughter was documenting a complicated Hospice admission that she had just visited, and that rendered her pretty much oblivious to the goings on down in the main floor.

I sighed a bit (since Certain Man was NOT within sighing distance) and looked at the kitchen that I had just straightened a few hours earlier.  Since then, I had made a coffee cake for Certain Man, fed my ladies, picked and brought in some garden tea, and the kitchen was in disarray.  Over 50 containers of strawberry jam sat on the counter, ready to be taken to the basement and the tea hadn’t been made, so there was a small, green mountain on the cupboard where there were some small beasties crawling around.  There was still laundry to be sorted for the morning washing, and I was really tired.

There is only one thing to do in these situations, and that is to get busy QUICKLY and do what needs to be done.  But I’ve found that, while the sighs don’t help, and neither does feeling sorry for myself, it does help to look for things to be happy about. So I got busy and sorted some laundry.  Certain Man had already fetched the laundry from our side of the upstairs and brought it down to the laundry room.  (He’s always done that for me, ever since our children were little, and it is a big help!)  Our Girl Audrey had also gotten hers and Blind Linda’s into a big basket and pulled it out to the laundry room, which was another gift to be counted.  And Middle Daughter would bring hers down later.  In case you’re wondering, my angst was not at any of them.  It was just that this needed to be done and there was no motivation on the part of the one who needed to do it!  Uh-huh!

So.  Since I felt like I was supposed to stop sighing and be cheerful about things, I turned on one of my favorite CD’s and sorted the laundry that was available.  That was easy enough.  I like sorting laundry.  Especially to music.  And then I looked at one of those yet unappropriated laundry baskets and decided to use it to carry the strawberry jam to the basement.  I would need to make a couple of trips, but not FIVE.  So I started some water for the tea and then loaded my first sturdy basket with thirty jars of jam and headed on down to unload it.  The freezer needed some rearranging, but it wasn’t too bad, so I smiled at it and resolved to be cheerful and did what needed doing and got my first layer of jam jars into the freezer and then went back for more.  The water was boiling and I had managed to strip the leaves off of enough tea for a gallon, so I got that steeping, and then took the second load of strawberry jam to the basement and got it arranged where it belonged.  Wow!  That was satisfying!

Upstairs again, I found that Certain Man was off his chair and winding his clocks.  He was working his way around the family room, living room and then into the sun room.  I stirred about in the kitchen, finishing the tea and getting it into the fridge.  Then Certain Man said something about thinking it was time to go to bed.  Which suited me just fine.  He came out into the kitchen to see how things were progressing, while I finished arranging things in the laundry room for the morning’s chore of laundry.  He was saying something to me, and I was replying in my cheerfullest, brightest voice while I stacked some wash baskets around the corner from him when–!

Ker-thunk!!!

Down came a heavy wash basket right on my toe!  Right on my big toe.  Right on my toe that I had done surgery on to remove an ingrown toenail two nights ago!  It hurt so much that I couldn’t see straight, much less talk in a cheerful, bright tone.  I kinda’ stopped everything in that split second and didn’t say anything out loud.  (And NO! I wasn’t saying any bad words!)  But in my swirling head where all the stars were milling about I was saying, “REALLY???  (Oh ouch!!!)  All this concerted effort to not feel sorry for myself, (Oh ouch!!!) to count the gifts and to be cheerful, and this happens to me???(Oh ouch!!!)”  And of course, I had to say to my Heavenly Father, with my face all scrunched up and water standing in my eyes, “I just don’t get it! (Oh ouch!!!)  And why is this hurting so much?  REALLY much!!!  (Oh ouch!!!)  What sort of unholy design is there upon my honorable resolve???)  Thankfully, I was around the corner from Certain Man and he was sleepy enough that he never noticed the abrupt (long) pause in my cheerful, bright conversation.

After awhile he said, “You ’bout ready to go up?”

I took a deep breath, and discovered I was not going to die of toe-itis-meyeomia and decided to go for it.  “Yup!”  I said in my cheerfullest brightest voice while my poor toe throbbed and I gave thanks he couldn’t see my face, “I’m just finished.  Let’s go get some sleep!”

And so, we did!

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Another Part of my Heart

One year ago, Hortencia Mancilla and I were cooking together.

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In a facebook post, Middle Daughter, Deborah, noted that this picture is of “The mothers making the dishes they are famous for: fried chicken and mashed potatoes and chorizo y huevos.”  And she tagged Youngest Daughter, Rachel, and our “almost a daughter,” Yajaira.  Hortencia is Yajaira’s Mama.

What this post didn’t show was two breaking hearts, for it wouldn’t be too long until Hortencia and her husband would be moving from our rental trailer and flying to Guatemala to be with their 27 year old daughter, Yajaira, their son in law, Ervin, (whom they hadn’t seen in over seven years) and their two grandchildren, Nichole and Joshua (whom they had never seen).  On the night this picture was taken, Hortencia had come to our house, bringing the ingredients for one of Rachel’s favorite Mexican dishes, chorizo y huevos.  (We call it “eggs and pork,” but I don’t know if that’s literal or not.)  It isn’t something I enjoy, but it was eaten that night by Youngest daughter with big blue eyes bright with tears that wanted to spill over, and memories of happier times when it seemed like life could just go on like it was — forever.

And then there came the day that Hortencia and her husband came to tell us a final “good-bye.” The next morning, they would be leaving. It was an incredibly  difficult time in my life.  My Sweet Mama had already fallen and was in very poor condition. My heart was torn in a thousand directions. I could scarcely assimilate the pain that was crashing around my heart. Once again, prevented from saying what was truly on our hearts because of the ever present language barrier, Hortencia and I spoke heart language in hugs and tears and gestures.  Then finally, reluctantly, they began their last trek across the yard to their trailer home. I stood at the door of our garage, watching them go, tears flowing down my cheeks as I realized that the time of having them as our neighbors was coming to an end. And then I heard a sound that still wrings my heart and brings tears. I heard this little Hispanic Mama, sobbing huge wracking sobs as she picked her way across the lawn that we had shared for over twenty years.  America had been home to her for most of those twenty years, but her own homeland was calling.  She had children and grandchildren here.  Family in Mexico.  Her youngest girlie, in Guatemala.  Somewhat broken in health and saddened by life, she was heading towards a lot of unknowns.

I could not bear the sound.  Hortencia is feisty and loyal and determined.  She has been strong when I would have crumbled, resourceful when it looked like there was really no way through.  She held on to a marriage and made it work when lesser women would have given up.  And she has almost never allowed me to see her cry.  But that night, as I listened to the noise of her grief as she made her way through the twilight to a trailer that had already been pretty completely emptied except for boxes that were to be shipped, my heart ached with the sisterhood of motherhood and loving and losing and change and farewell.

She is often in my thoughts, even now.  And I realize that I am probably going to be judged for my stand on this whole thing.  I know that there are people who come into this country and live here illegally and collect undeserved benefits.  But I’m going to say it again.  Illegal immigration looks so different when it has a face that you’ve learned to love.  Illegal immigration tastes totally different in your mouth when it’s chorizo y huevos, made by people who feel like family.  Illegal immigration sounds totally different in your ears when it’s the laughter of a baby that seems like one of your grandchildren.  Illegal immigration is easy to dismiss unless you put faces, voices, fiber and family stories to the issue.

I didn’t do it on purpose.  I would probably been far more comfortable for these last twenty plus years if I had never rented my trailer to a family on a dark night when they came knocking on the door, asking for a place to live.  I didn’t realize how things were.  By the time I did, it was too late to undo my heart.

Tonight, this family I love is no longer in the USA.  Yajaira is in Guatemala with her husband and two children.  She is expecting her third.  She has made a life for herself and is happy.  Hortencia and her husband, Christino, are in Mexico.  Are they happy?  I don’t know.  I hope so.

Part of my heart is, and will always be with them and Yajaira.  And even though seeing pictures like this hurts, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I have loved and I’ve been loved back.

And that is good.

 

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Pickled Eggs and Chocolate Chip Cookies

I bought a five dozen case of eggs last week.  It’s getting on towards spring, and I like to make pickled (red beet) eggs.  I always do this with an eye towards the man of the house.  Certain Man does not like this particular delicacy.  In fact, I noted in a post back in 2008 that I had to endure persecution when I would “stink of the house”  making pickled eggs.  (You can read about that here; https://maryannyutzy.wordpress.com/2008/12/29/706/, as well as see a picture of a very young Lem and Jessica Yutzy, get the recipe for red beet eggs, as well as one for Graham Streusel Coffee Cake).

To be honest, not much has changed.

However, that beloved Eldest Brother, Clint Yoder, came to Delaware for a very fast trip this weekend, and he loves pickled eggs, so I weighed my options carefully and decided to make a batch on Tuesday.  I usually only make one batch a year, but some years I need more.  I suspected that without my Sweet Mama, I wouldn’t need more than one this year, though.  She was one who always loved them as well.  Perhaps that is one of the reason I make them  When the smell of beets and vinegar and cloves and cinnamon is “stinking up the house” it feels like I’m a little girl again, and it is almost Easter and my Sweet Mama is making up a batch of pickled eggs.  She always stored them in a big glass gallon jar, and the deep richness shone ruby-red through the refrigerator light at the back of our big old farmhouse fridge.  Something about that familiar jar with the same gold lid and the taste of pickled beets say “home.”  And so, probably for that reason more than any other, I feel compelled to make them.

Tuesday morning, the morning I decided that they needed to be made, was the same morning that Middle Daughter decided that she needed to replenish the supply of chocolate chip cookies in the freezer.  She baked over a hundred cookies while I moved around her and put together the beets. the  spices and hardboiled the eggs.  The eggs boiled and the beets simmered (well, in this case, pretty much boiled furiously) with the spices and Middle Daughter complained some about the fact that one of the smells that her Daddy hated the most was mingling with one of his favorite smells, that of Chocolate Chip Cookies.

“I know,” I said, trying to comfort her, “but by the time your Daddy gets home, the smell will be somewhat abated, and he will see that you made chocolate chip cookies and that will make him not fuss so much about the pickled eggs. I plan to have them out of sight by then, anyhow.”

We both know that he loves cookies or cake or baked anything with his breakfast.  His favorite thing is to put chocolate chip cookies into hot oatmeal and have the chips melt just a bit and then eat everything all together.  This is a Yutzy Family thing to do, although I suspect it may have its roots in their Amish heritage.  No matter what the baked good is, it is better with milk poured over it, maybe some fruit on top of that, depending on the baked good, but at least milk!  Yes, it’s a soggy mess, and yes, it can look pretty mixed up and disgusting, but that’s the way he likes it, and I’ve noticed when I’m with his family, that he’s not the only one that is of this persuasion.  I haven’t tried to change him.  It really doesn’t hurt anything.  And if a man can’t eat what he wants, the way he wants it, and when he wants it, in his own house, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs, if you ask me.  So Middle Daughter helps to maintain the supply and he eats chocolate chip cookies with his oatmeal and we are all content.  And he doesn’t eat pickled eggs, no matter what the supply, and as long as he isn’t called upon to defend his position, or smell them too long, or have anything to do with them, we are still all content.

And so the morning passed, both cooks accomplished their endeavors and by afternoon, the eggs were in the garage, cooling for the garage refrigerator, and the cookies were baked, packaged in morning breakfast bags of three each and in the freezer, and a plate for munching was sitting on the counter.

Mr. Yutzy was quite pleased with the beautiful cookies.  So much so that he didn’t say much about the pickled eggs.

But then there were several occasions to haul them out.  My Bible study gals and their children had some after Bible study on Thursday.  I had put two dozen eggs in that big gallon jug and I thought there was plenty to share.  The eggs and beets were exclaimed over and eaten and the jar went down considerably.  I checked my supply and knew that there were still plenty for today’s lunch, but not a whole lot more.  Maybe this was one year when I would be able to justify making a second batch!

Today’s lunch was another one of those wonderfully miraculous provisions for me.  Eldest Daughter has made Sunday lunch for us twice in the last few weeks, and the Sunday morning difference has been really special.  And this week at Bible Study, one of my gals said that she wanted to bring lasagna for lunch today, would it be okay?  Do we eat lasagna?  I was so excited, I hardly knew how to contain myself!  “Yes, we eat lasagna!  Yes, it would be okay!  Yes, please!  Yes, please!”  And so it was agreed upon.

She brought the lasagna, baked and ready to reheat, last evening.  And with it, a tray of homemade cream puffs.

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Wow!  What a treat!  With all the stuff that I  bake, these are something I don’t dabble with.  These looked absolutely delectable.

And so, at lunch today we had lasagna, a lovely tossed salad, the making of which was overseen by Middle Daughter, Deborah, Delaware Lima Beans, cooked the way we like them, and what was left of the pickled eggs.  Oh, and those cream puffs!  It was a wonderful dinner, shared by family and friends.  Oldest Brother, Clint Yoder, Eldest Daughter and Beloved Son In Law, along with our granddaughter, and Nephew Josh with his lovely wife, Lawina.  We had sweet conversation, enjoyed a dinner that was mostly donated, and got things cleared away in record time.  The company was delightful, the food was good, and one of the best parts of all was that the pickled egg jar was depleted of the last egg, and (almost) the last beet.

I looked at my almost empty jar and thought, “Wow!  This is one year I get to make another batch.  Maybe tomorrow I should get started on that, since Certain Man will be at work, and I can get it done early enough so as to not cause (too much) havoc.

So wish me the best, dear friends.  In this house of very little tolerance for the existence of pickled red beet eggs, I’m planning to courageously move forward and see if I can replenish my supply.  Easter is still three weeks off.  I might even have time for two more batches.  Especially is some of you would show up to help eat them.

Pickled Red Beet Egg Eaters Unite!  We are just as good as the others!  It’s time to let our preferences be heard!  Here’s to the glass gallon jar with the ruby red goodness shining through!  Here’s to the ones who eat them with relish!  May the tribe increase!

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The Lows, The Highs.

This week has been a roller coaster for me.  Monday morning I was talking it over with Jesus, and telling Him how sad I felt.  And telling Him that I just wanted to undo the last fourteen months.  “I want Frieda back, whole and healthy and alive and HERE!  I want our church to not be burned.  I want Mama to not fall full on her face on a cold tile floor at our “borrowed” meeting place on a Sunday morning in February (a pivotal incident for embarrassment and infirmity in her life).  I don’t want to think about the health issues and infertility issues in my family that were exacerbated this year.   I don’t want Mama to fall in May and break her femur.  I don’t want her to have suffered those four weeks.  I don’t want her to have died.  I want her here, healthy and alive.  I don’t want Youngest Daughter, Rachel, to struggle to find a job for six months, with all sorts of reversals and setbacks and disappointments.  I don’t want Middle Daughter, Deborah, to be diagnosed with a genetic liver condition (http://www.alpha1.org/) that has given great cause for alarm.  I’m just so tired of everything! And I’m just so sad . . .”

And (Believe me!) there were a few other things in there that I “didn’t want” that can’t be said here.


Where do we go when life is too much for us?  How do we choose life and hope and peace when it seems like an exercise in futility?  What do we do when the people we love are hurting and struggling and doubting and failing? And what makes us think that it will ever be okay again?
Listen, dear friends!  Here is where I’ve chosen to focus:


Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19a

 

If there is anything that I’ve learned on this sojourn, it is that praise makes the darkest night navigable.  And while there may be all sorts of things that make me sad, I still need to choose that He does all things well, and that He is to be trusted.  It probably won’t ever all be “okay” again.  That’s what Heaven is for.

And if I can’t sink my “trembling soul” onto that immovable rock, then I’m pretty sure there’s no hope for this season of my life, this time, this place and my future mindsets.

The last few days have been better than that terrible Monday.  For every one of the “I wants” there have been blessings that I can choose to look at, be grateful for, and acknowledge God’s hand, working for our good.

I’m as convinced as ever that faith is the key to having a life focus that gives courage and hope.

It didn’t end at the Cross, and our Sunday’s coming!

My heart chooses grateful praise.

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The Littles

We’ve started the new Sunday School year in our congregation.  Even before Mama fell in May, I had planned to take the month of June off from teaching The Littles because of family vacation and a Yutzy reunion.  With the passing of my Sweet Mama, it was easy to just let other people take care of things and to soak up time with my peers in an adult class of women.  I needed them.  I needed the time.  And it was healing and good.

But I missed my littles.

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We had many good times in the crowded room beside the kitchen at Grace Fellowship Church’s gathering place, where our church body has been meeting since the fire damaged out building on the corner of Carpenter Bridge and Canterbury Roads.  This picture was take the night we got together to pack a goodie box for another child.  It was only taken seven months ago (Actually seven months ago today!) but I cannot believe how much they have grown and matured in these short months.  Katie is a self assured kindergartener, Judah is talking and paying much better attention and Charis is more aware of the needs of her classmates and is less jealous of her Grammy’s attention.  All three are more participant.

The summer had passed so quickly, and I thought often and prayed that God would show me whether I should offer to teach the class for the year coming up.  We have some talented young blood coming up in our church, and teaching is a blessing that is often overlooked in the maturation process.  I know that not everyone is cut out to teach, but I also know that choosing to teach has been one of the ways that God has used in my life to encourage growth, personal study and reliance on HIM for wisdom and courage and strength and even results.  The blessings that I have reaped have been beyond what I have deserved.  And quite honestly, though I really wanted to teach this particular class again, I also didn’t want to step in and  volunteer when God had laid it on someone else’s heart to teach the class.  He may have had blessings abundant in store for someone else, I reasoned, and it would be wrong for me to grasp someone else’s opportunity.  And so, even though I thought the end of summer was coming quickly, I decided to hold my peace and wait and see.

Then one of our superintendents, Davey Burkholder, approached me last Sunday and asked if I would be willing to teach that class of Littles.  I was suddenly unsure of what I should do.  I asked for some time to think about it.  He said that was fine, and in the reorganization part of our Sunday Morning service, it was announced that they were looking for a teacher for the class and they asked for volunteers.

“Whew!” I thought.  “That will be a defining event.  If someone volunteers, I will know that it isn’t for me this  year.”

But I kept mulling it over and over in my head.  I asked Certain Man what he thought  I should do.  He didn’t know.  And he didn’t feel strongly one way of the other from what he said.  I asked Middle Daughter whether she had any advice for me.

“Well, Mom,” she said carefully, “I think that wanting to teach the class is a pretty good indicator of what you should do.  It’s something you enjoy, and if you want to, then I think you should!  I’m taking the year off from the young women’s class, and if you need me, I can help you out.”  And that pretty much did it for me.

So I waited a few days, then called and got the curriculum and found myself back in one of my favorite spots yesterday morning.  The lesson that we used on Sunday was one from the last quarter that hadn’t been used, and it was called “A song for walking outdoors.”  One of the activities that I decided to do was to take the three on a walk outdoors looking for different things that they could pick up in nature to put in their ziploc plastic bags to take home with them.  A flower, a leaf, a seed pod, bark from a peeling tree, a stone, berries. Grace Fellowship Church is located in an industrial park, and is surrounded mostly by concrete and asphalt, but there were stones, a few trees, lots of weeds, and  a couple of patches of grass.  Around a corner and past a chain link fence divider there were some landscaping bushes around another building that I hoped would provide some berries for variety.

I checked the time and then said, “Let’s go over there and see what we can find.  There might be something different over there!”  The three of them were delighted and we headed out across the asphalt patch that separated the us from the other building.

“We have rules,” said Katie confidentially.  “We aren’t allowed to go anywhere on this pavement over here without a grown up.”

“That’s a good rule,” I told her.  “You should never go anywhere without a grown up unless your Daddy and Mommy say it is okay.  And this isn’t a good place for you to go unless there is a grown up with you.”

“Yup,” she said happily.  “But you are a grown up!”

I laughed.  “Yes,” I said, “I guess I am!”

“You are a very old grown up.” She said. (Emphasis Katie’s.)

And I laughed again.

Oh, my Katie-girl!  If you only knew how it is.  Just yesterday, my own girlies were five years old and learning family rules.  The day before that, it was me.  I only turned around twice before I got “very old.”  But you and your brother and my granddaughter, all growing so fast, remind of once was and I feel the eternity of the spirit in these old bones.  You cannot imagine how it is to feel five years old in your heart, but almost 62 in a body that will not run and jump and dance to the music of our incredible world.   But I promise you this.  There is coming a day when this body will dance to the music of Heaven.  And my spirit, eternal and free, will be as young as yours.

And what is inconceivable to me now will be an actuality.

My heart sings grateful praise.

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Boys and Grapes and Helping Hands

So this week has been the week that everything seemed to get ready at the same time.

First, there were those wonderful Delaware limas that needed picking.  I picked a five gallon bucket to overflowing and brought them in on Tuesday morning.  Our Girl Audrey started in on shelling them as soon as she got home from center, and finished them before she went to bed.  I got them blanched and packaged. Four wonderful bags in the freezer.  So, so happy.

On the days preceding this, Certain Man was mentioning the fact that the tomatoes really needed picking and that someone should do something with them.  So Middle Daughter picked them all and brought them in.  There were some peppers and some onions, too, so they all went into a pot along with some celery and fresh basil and stewed for an afternoon.  The tomatoes from our garden this year are so good.  The 14 pints of tomato soup that I canned will be good eating this winter and it looks nice on the shelf of our “dungeon.”

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And then there was the mention, also, about the grapes on the arbor that divides our side yard.  I would stop and check them now and then, but realized that if we wanted to maximize our yield, we needed to move on it.  So Wednesday morning, Carson and Nevin came with their strong arms, sharp eyes and youthful energy and harvested our concord grapes. Youngest Daughter supervised the operation and they finished in good time.  Whew!  Was I ever unprepared for how many grapes we were going to have!

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I looked at their harvest and worried about my stamina and my ability to ever get this done.  There were two 5-gallon buckets and nine 10-quart buckets, plus a 6-quart ice cream pail.  I looked at those beautiful grapes and didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.  I have two wonderful steamers that produce concentrated grape juice for canning, but the thing is, I don’t like to steam the stems with the grapes.  There are various arguments as to whether or not it is necessary to strip the grapes, and my instruction book even says that it is unnecessary.  Well, I am here to tell you that if you really can’t tell the difference, you probably have a mouth that can’t tell the difference between canned tuna and fresh crab.  Or fresh squeezed orange juice and Tang.  Or a chocolate bar from Dollar General and Ghirardelli’s own.  The flavor is definitely different, and I’m always disappointed in the color/cloudiness when I don’t take the extra time to strip the fruit from the stem.

But that meant that every single grape had to be manually pulled from the stem.  And these grapes were picked in August, in Delaware, from a mostly undisturbed arbor.  There were crawly beasties in unexpected places.  Click bugs.  Stink bugs.  Centipede-looking little bugs with pinchers at both ends.  SPIDERS.  And though I knew that help from the daughters of Certain Man would be given if I asked, I also knew the magnitude of their other responsibilities and also the drama that would accompany such an endeavor.

“Probably,” I reasoned with myself, “I would be better off seeking help from the same stalwart young bloods who assisted with the picking of the grapes.  I think they would be amicable company, unafraid of the beasties and able helpers.”  So I texted their Mama and asked about the possibility.  She was glad to glad to have them assist, and they seemed willing, and so it was set.  I stripped twenty pounds off the first night and did two steam kettle loads.  That took ten pounds and left ten more pounds for the next morning.  I wanted to be ready!

My steamers take about five pounds per load and after an hour or so of steaming,  produces about two and a half quarts, more or less, of the highly concentrated purple liquid.  It is the purest, finest concentrate with no additives, no sprays.  And even though it is hard work, it surely is worth it.  However, I found that one person, working alone with the responsibility of filling the jars, keeping them and the lids hot until filling, dumping the pulp after the steaming, refilling the steamer, checking the water levels in the steamers, etc., just couldn’t keep up with the stripping process as well.  I went to bed very thankful for the promise of helping hands in the morning.

Thursday morning dawned bright and clear.  My helpers arrived, eager and willing and we set to it.  The steamers ran non-stop.  The bugs were abundant, and Carson and Nevin were delighted with the supply.  They kept a cup of hot water by their chairs and plopped the hapless victims into the stew whenever they discovered one — which seemed like it was every two minutes.  The grapes came off the stems and were put into the collection containers with unmitigated enthusiasm.  I remembered that these boys were sports enthusiasts, and this particular job lent itself well to exercising their basketball skills. The targets were usually right on, but sometimes missed, and the kitchen floor became hazardous to traverse.  Conversation was interesting, but when Middle Daughter came for a bit to lend them a hand, tell stories and discuss important issues, I realized that this 61 year old Auntie doesn’t really have the energy and enthusiasm that sustains young men in arduous jobs.  Deborah certainly was timely in her help, and much was accomplished by noontime.  We were well ahead of the steamers, and the grape-stripping process was to the half-way point.

Then Youngest Daughter took a break from studying for her GRE exam, and took the boys for lunch.  They brought their Chick-Fil-A bags home and took a much deserved “eat and refuel for the fray” break.  When their hour was over, they went back to work.  The afternoon moved right along, and along about 3:30, they pulled the last grape from their designated buckets and their Mama came and fetched them home again.

A large cup with a vast array of dead bugs sat on the table and made me smile.  The difference between these boys and my girls continually amuses me.  Where there had been chasing after bugs and exclaiming over sizes and determining the pedigrees of the spiders, ALL. DAY. LONG., there would have been great protests, probably shrieks, maybe even tears, and definitely shudders, over the wild life populating the picked grapes.  After the boys left, Youngest Daughter pulled up a chair to help finish the remaining small bucket of grapes and bravely stuck to it until the last grape was ready for the steamer.  Her Daddy got home from work just before we finished that task and looked with interest upon the scene.

I smiled at him over the bent head of Youngest Daughter.  “Sweetheart, what you are seeing here is sacrificial love in its purest form,” I told him.  He looked at me with that look of bemusement that I love so much.

“What do you mean?” he asked, fully knowing, but wanting to see her reaction.

“She’s right,” said Youngest Daughter, grimly.  “That’s the only reason I would ever do this!  I really cannot stand these bugs!  They’re hateful!

He teased her a bit, but we knew she was trying hard to be brave.  A most unfortunate situation in Thailand where she awoke to find tiny spiders, just hatched, crawling all over her, has left her with a severe case of panic when it comes to the bugs and spiders of any time and any place.  But she did persevere to the end and helped a bit around the kitchen before returning to her books.  Deborah had gone to work at this juncture, and Daniel went to chore.  I quickly made supper and kept the steamer going.  It was close to midnight when Youngest Daughter took the last buckets of pulp and stems to the composter and I finished washing the last bucket, steamer pan and accessory, wiped out the sink and surveyed the final yield.  About 45 quarts of juice sat on the cupboard, all sealed.  How beautiful it was!

How staggeringly tired I was!!!

The next morning, the same helping hands — Carson, Nevin and  Youngest Daughter, took off the rings, wiped the jars down and carried them to the basement.  When I got home from getting a tire repaired on the mini-van, the cupboard was clear, wiped off and there was no trace of the arduous work of the previous day.  I was still aching from the marathon of the day before, but I had to see these jars on the shelf.  So I betook myself to the dungeon and surveyed the work of the morning.

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Oh, those wonderful Helping Hands — Of Middle Daughter, Youngest Daughter, Carson and Nevin.  I was very satisfied with this result, quite delighted with what had been accomplished, but quite depleted in every way when that day was over.  It was very apparent that I would never have made it by myself.  No matter how good my intentions, how solid my martyrdom, how determined my self-sufficient heart.  I thought again about families, about the extra people that have come into my life that have none of my genes and chromosomes (as in Carson and Nevin) and those that do (As in Beebs and Rach — who, incidentally, are Middle Daughter and Youngest Daughter, respectively).

. . . and my humble heart gives grateful praise.

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On This Rainy Night

It was such a wonderful day.  The friends who came, the people who served by setting up, cooking, serving the wonderful food, those who were still cleaning up when we finally went home, all of these kind people gave us an inestimable gift.  They extended comfort in the form of memories, hugs, encouraging words and assurances of their prayers.

Tonight, at home, with some of the things (I felt) needed to be done finally finished, I sit in the comfortable circle of my family, some of the dear faces missing, some still here for awhile.  I feel bone weariness, soul weariness, and the sub-conscious grief that tugs at my heart.  I haven’t really had time to think clearly about much.

Today we buried my Mama.  I looked at her face before closing the casket for the last time, and put my cheek against her cold one, and told her once again, “Oh, Mama.  You were such a good Mama.  I will always miss you.”  And I know I will.

And then the rest of the day was a blur.  There was lots of music, and there were so many people.  Our cousins from both sides of our big family sang songs that brought back a thousand memories and gave me hope and comfort.  My brothers, nephews, a niece, a son, a daughter and a family friend all worked together and the essence of my Sweet Mama was captured in the laughter and the tears and the words of Eternal Life. Six grandsons carried her gently to the final resting place and another grandson spoke the final familiar words while we sang songs of triumph that exalted in the face of the loss that I could not think about.  And then, we covered the grave.  My mama’s body, the shell of the woman who gave birth to me, was at rest.  I shall never see that form of my Mother again.

Tonight, I sit in this comfortable circle and a sturdy thunderstorm has moved in.  It has rumbled and crashed.  The lightening has flashed, and the rain has poured down in buckets.  I think of that fresh grave and think of the rain pouring down and wonder about the dirt that our family carefully piled in and around and over the vault until it was full and even with the ground.  I think of my Sweet Mama’s body, there under the earth and wonder if the vault is waterproof.

And then I feel that searing, desperate grief as I think of the natural decay of the body that I knew as my Mama’s.  I think of the damp trickling in, and the pretty dress and carefully combed hair and even the perfume that we spritzed on her neckline when we did her hair, and I suddenly want it all undone. I sit in my chair, alone and quiet in my sorrow while I finally have time to think about how this all is, and the tears just won’t stop.  She hated to be wet and cold.  She hated to be alone.  She hated the dark.

I need to stop.  I need to find comfort and I need to think differently.

And then, clear as an angel’s chime, I hear my Sweet Mama’s voice in my head.  It is December 23, 2005, and we have just buried our Precious Daddy.  And someone asked Mama about how she felt about leaving the grave on that cold December day.

“It really was okay,” she said, even in her deep, deep grief.  “It wasn’t Daddy that we left there.  That was just his shell.  He isn’t there.  It isn’t something that he even cares about.”  And as the months and now years have passed, she has never had the need to go to his grave.  She went very occasionally at first but has long since stopped going.  She just hasn’t had the desire or the need.

I can’t say that I am like that.  I still go to my Daddy’s grave when I am troubled or sad or just missing him so much.  I know he isn’t there, but the physical remains of the Daddy I knew and loved are there, and I am comforted some how.  Mostly I talk to Jesus, but sometimes I will cry out my anguished heart and try to think how he would answer me.  And I know that I will do that some more in these next months.

One of the things that was hard over these last few weeks was that there were times when Mama seemed more reluctant to engage her children than she was (outside the family) friends or even strangers, and I found that so hard until the night that Middle Daughter, our resident Hospice nurse stopped me on my way out the door to go to Mama’s side.  I was so sad and confused and weary that night. I had just asked my husband to please pray for me, and he had held me gently and prayed for wisdom and strength and courage.  Most of all, I hated it that I was dreading the time with my Mama.  But Deborah stopped me.  She hugged me and she said something like this:

“Mama, you need to remember that Grandma’s emotions are still on ‘this side.’  She knows that she is slipping away and she is deeply grieving the separation from her beloved children. She cannot yet see Heaven and all the Glory that is waiting for her there, so she is living still with the emotions of this world.  And engaging with you all is a reminder to her of all she’s going to part with, and it is just too hard.  Don’t take it personally, and don’t think she is cutting you out.  She is just working through this business of leaving, and there is no set way that this happens. She loves all of us intensely.  She loved living so much and with the emotions from this life, all of this is probably giving her a deep, deep sense of grief.”

That helped me so incredibly much to believe that God would work in all or our lives to stay focused and steady and working towards the time when she could go HOME. That the less I expected or asked of her, the more she could concentrate on that other world.  It could be our gift to her in this time when it felt our hearts would break.  Truly a sacrifice of praise.  And so, we did.  We kept our heads and hearts where we knew that our Heavenly Father’s care could hold us tenderly and we found Him faithful, and our Mama did not disappoint us.

And tonight, Mama’s emotions are all on the other side.  She is home free.  She is not thinking about a deserted grave in a dark cemetery or the rain or the ones she left behind.  She’s alive and free and timeless and full of incredible joy.  The journey to Heaven was but a split second from that last peaceful breath, and she is only beginning this new adventure.

And this aching heart still offers grateful praise.

‘Weep not.  Weep not.  She is not dead!  She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus!”  (James Weldon Johnson)

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Keeping us guessing!

Well, she’s done it again!

Yesterday she was much improved over the day before.  She was awake — watchful, hungry some of the time, wanting water, wanting to get off her back, wanting to know how she got there, wanting to know if she was going home with me, wanting to go to her home, wondering how she was ever going to get up on the bus– interspersed with some very interesting proclamations (“God loves a cheerful giver!!!”).  So yes, she didn’t sleep nearly as much yesterday — but still not remembering a lot of stuff, very confused at times, and others quite with it.  Her family doctor came in yesterday and took out the stitches that should have come out ten days ago — (we haven’t seen her orthopedic guy since she had the heart attack in the hospital,  which was 17 days ago) — and she rallied to his presence like someone turned on a light, causing him to proclaim that she needed to work hard to get better so she could go back to her house and her bird!  This morning she doesn’t remember that he was there . . .

Frankly, we are so confused as a family.  Our Deborah, who is our household’s resident hospice nurse, tells us that this is not unusual — that there often are good days spaced between the bad.  So we don’t know if this is just a temporary spike or if it is a trend.  Whew!  It’s a roller coaster!

My youngest sister, Alma spent the night and she said that she had a good night.   Middle Sister, Sarah’s family is coming in for the weekend, and we want her to be able to enjoy them.  All my brothers and sisters gave me such an incredible gift last weekend to be able to be with my family even while keeping up with what happened with Mama, and I would like for her to be able to have the same privilege.  Nel and his wife, Rose were to go to Canada next week on a yearly vacation, but they have decided to stay home and come to Delaware instead.  This is a great comfort to us local siblings.  It will be nice to have them here.  Please continue to pray for us — for wisdom and courage and patience.

And that is the news from a sunny corner room at Country Rest Home, where our Merciful, Loving Heavenly Father keeps watch with us and only He knows what this day holds.  We choose to trust Him.

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As an Evening Proceeds

5:00 pm

Today I had to have a molar extracted.  This process went FAR BETTER than I expected, and I give thanks that I live in this era and that the time is now and not even the time of my childhood. The worst part of it was the shot.  The best part was that Dr. Otto Tidwell sings to his patients while doing procedures.  It is a most soothing and consolatory gesture.

“You’re doing very fine,” he sang.  “Hold very still, we are getting done.”  Anything he said to me was a quiet, musically framed intonation.   (He did stop and speak a few disquieting things in a normal tone to his nurse, but I tried not to listen because he wasn’t talking to me.)  Yesterday in my regular dentist’s office, Dr. Steward had told me about this peculiarity, and that it was an excellent diversion, but there was a whole lot more about the man than his singing prowess that inspired confidence.  I was particularly comforted by the fact that He has pulled over 160,000 teeth in his career.  Yes.  That!

But now?

Well, between a the roots coming out in three different pieces, an abscess that needed cleaning out, and some stitches, I suspect that the easy part really is over now, and that the rest of this might not be much fun.  Eldest Daughter, Christina​, (who was my kind and encouraging chauffeur) had Dr. Tidwell just a little over a week ago, (also for an extraction) and she was numb for 12 hours.  I’m less than two hours post and it is ANYTHING but numb. But ice and pain medication and Middle Daughter, Deborah​, as a willing and capable helper  — well, let’s just say that’s a pretty stellar health care package, and I’m looking forward to a quiet night.  (I can at least hope for such!)

Thanks for all the well wishes and prayers on my behalf. Having a tooth pulled feels like such a violation, and with this being the last molar I have on the upper right, it feels like a rather severe statement of my age.  Tonight I am feeling every one of my 61 years, six months and 15 days. I’m sorely tempted to huddle in my chair with my blanket and brood until I get to where I can just sleep these hours away.  But then I might miss something.  And these are exciting days at Shady Acres.

And even though it suddenly looks like it will be anything but quiet around here tonight (Deborah just got asked to work tonight because the on duty Hospice nurse just had a car accident) I think it is time to redirect my heart and choose offer some grateful praise.

8:15 pm
. . . And guess what else!?!?!  I got off my chair to help with supper, and suddenly felt absolutely wonderful.  So there has been no sitting on my chair tonight.  This has to be the easiest tooth extraction I have ever had!  I just cut our best cutting of asparagus out of the garden, and now want to package up some chicken for the freezer that we got in bulk.  Certain Man went to visit his friend, Gary Burlingame.  He has the day off tomorrow, and this gal is eagerly looking forward to a trip to the greenhouse, looking for tomatoes and other vegetables for the garden.  I just might get some hanging baskets of flowers for our pavilion.

What a wonderful day this has turned out to be!

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