The Last Conversation
Spoiler alert: this might be personal.
The phone rang. My husband answered and it took me a few minutes to discern the caller from the side of the conversation I could hear. I could tell there had been a tragedy. I just could not tell who had been hit by the vehicle or what damage had been done.
It was our daughter. She was calling for reassurance and to hear a familiar voice. Her roommate’s father had been killed in a car accident. She had driven her roommate to the airport to fly the grueling trip home: several legs by air and then a long drive. Grueling hardly describes what was before her.
This was particularly personal for our daughter, because this roommate also has a special needs sibling. A parent left alone to do everything in a remote area. It struck our daughter between the eyes. That, and the fact her roommate didn’t get to say, ‘Good bye’ or ‘I love you’ one more time. Haunting notions and memories. Life will never be the same for her friend.
And, it dredged up some memories for her from many years before. She was the older sibling to her brother who had a traumatic brain injury. They were true siblings: loving and having fun with one another one minute and arguing over who got to drive the student vehicle the next second. She recounted her memories of such a discussion the morning of Matt’s injury. She went to his room to tell him she didn’t need the car and he could have it. He was taking a nap after his early morning Ironman work out. She didn’t tell him. Her last conversational memory was her need to have the car.
More than that, reality dawned that her parents will not live forever. This is our child who calls frequently: on a long drive home or a walk with her pet. This is the child who works constantly and doesn’t have much time for relationships that feed her soul so she depends upon familiar voices and tremendous wisdom from a father who is always patient and kind, insightful and gentle. This wake-up call was like a bucket of ice water in her face. Startling. Unnerving. Panic-filled. Unsure of what she would do if she were the daughter who lost a parent.
Our tragedy didn’t just affect her, it changed all of us. Many moons ago, impatience was more frequent in my life. Little things took disproportionate importance. Then, brain injury changed everything. It washed away the unimportant things. It brought clarity to what was important. It changed every conversation with each of my children. It reminded me to praise instead of correct. It ended every conversation with the words, “I love you.” Tragedy is a wake-up call. It sloughs away the foggy silly elements of life and solidifies what matters.
I know that grace and forgiveness come more easily for me today than they did before Traumatic Brain Injury came into our family. I know that it is easier for me to yield to the needs of others before my own. It is easier to be quiet and listen. It’s easier to remind myself ‘this too, shall pass’ when I don’t like a situation. It’s easier to see truth from fiction.
Life changes on a dime. Nothing will be the same ever again for this family, or ours, either. No one can change what has happened. What we can do is to make the most of every day: to see the best in people around us, even if they feel like sand paper next to the skin. We can be full of compassion for others in the midst of their own situations. Because we haven’t walked in their shoes and they haven’t walked in ours.
No one is a greater example than Jesus who urged his followers to live differently, love better, see beyond the circumstances into a reality of a more ‘real’ place than the world. We would all do well to see beyond where we are and be what we were called to be by a force greater than we.
Make today count. Say “I love you to those who matter.” Don’t wait to do something nice for another person. Send a note to someone who has crossed your mind. Make the phone call the Holy Spirit told you to make. You will never be sorry because tomorrow is not a guarantee for any of us.
Embarrassed as I glanced at my hands, I didn’t know what to do. How could I go looking like this? It would be easier to stay at home and not let others see. But, I felt the urge to go, so I did, with the hope no one would notice the stain. No one would recoil if they noticed.
We have black walnut trees in our yard. There are two. The squirrels love them but they cannot keep up with the production of nuts. As much as they hull, bury, leave notes for themselves in their nests or hallow logs, there are still some left in the yard.
We pick them up. We hull them. We dry them. We crack them. We separate the shell from the nut. We use them for baking or snacking. And by ‘we’, I mean, primarily I, except for the eating. Then, my family eats them if I use them for baking.
Black walnuts taste different from the traditional English walnut most chefs use in baking. The tannins in the black walnuts leave a strong after taste. But, it is addictive. For some of us.
The black walnuts are hard nuts to crack. Special tools need to be used. The little nut cracker you have seen on your grandparents dining room table will not work. The tool we use was a special order thing we bolted to a 2x6 board. It’s about 18 inches long, necessary for the extra leverage required to break the shell. But, oh, the reward for the extra muscle power!
The drawback of black walnuts, however, is the stain. Even though I wear a couple pair of vinyl gloves nested inside one another, my hands are still stained because of working with them. So, if I extend my hand to shake yours and you notice inky stain on my hands, I do not have a disease. I have washed my hands. I realize the appearance is not pretty.
The redeeming notion of my stained hands is this: it comes from an honest day’s work. I don’t mind the stain because I am using what God has given me: walnut trees. As I think about it, I know why gloves were a necessary accessory years ago. The farm women worked hard. Their hands were not anointed with oils. They scrubbed dirty laundry on wash boards with homemade soap. They dug in the dirt and planted seeds and weeded gardens. Their cuticles may have been uneven and cracked. So, gloves covered the hands. Maybe. I can understand why if that is true.
Now, let’s look at what is so good about walnuts:
A major benefit of eating walnuts is a healthy dose of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, the plant-based source of omega-3 fats. A steady diet of these omega-3 fats helps lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, decrease inflammation, prevent blood clots, strengthen bones, increase cognitive function and lower risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Although they’re high in calories, walnuts can actually help you lose weight because they are low in saturated fats and high in fiber.
From a handful of English walnuts, about 1 ounce or seven whole ones, you get 190 calories, 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber, along with high amounts of vitamin E, potassium, copper, phosphorus and magnesium, according to the California Walnut Commission. You can buy them unshelled, halved or in broken pieces.
One ounce black walnuts contains about the same amount of calories, protein and fiber. Also high in potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin E, black walnuts have less omega-3 than do English walnuts, but more arginine and selenium, according to the University of Missouri Center of Agroforestry. Often handpicked in the wild, black walnuts are a popular ingredient in ice cream. They are more expensive than English walnuts.
So, if, when you shake my hand, you notice walnut stains. Just know I’m very aware they are there. I’d like to hide them, but honestly, I don't mind an honest day's work.
You don’t have to be German…
Cabbage. Love it or hate it. It’s a vegetable many people spurn because of the strong sulfur taste. It’s part of the cruciferous vegetable family, alongside broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kohlrabi. They are recommended for anti-cancer properties. I like all those vegetables and we eat lots of them. I find them to be versatile and flavorful depending upon how they are seasoned. They can be eaten raw or cooked, put in stews, baked in Stromboli, or cut up for a salad. They are economical and nutritious.
One of my favorite things is sauerkraut. We have a lot of German blood in our family. Each of our paternal grandmothers was German, in part. So, maybe we love it because of our genetic makeup. I’m not talking about the canned vinegar and cabbage that is available in cans at the store. I’m talking about fermented cabbage, sliced, pounded, salted, fermented.
Just yesterday, I went to the garden to pick a small cabbage that had grown as an appendage after the first head was harvested. I needed just a little diced cabbage for the casserole I was making for dinner. I found more than one growing and picked three to bring to the house. I used what I needed for my casserole and decided to ‘put up’ the rest of it.
The making of kraut is quite easy, requiring the most basic kitchen tools. I wash and dry it; core and slice it. Then, the fun begins. I pound it. I use my meat tenderizer. The pounding ruptures the cell walls to release moisture from the cabbage. Then, I add salt which expedites the releasing of moisture. It also serves as a preservative. I add caraway seeds and pound a little more. After 10 minutes of pounding, I pack the bruised cabbage into quart jars, pressing the cabbage firmly. The goal is for the moisture to rise above the vegetable by at least an inch. I fill the jar three quarters of the way full, add a full cabbage leaf to the very top and then put a weight on it to keep the cabbage submerged well below the moisture.
It sits on the counter for days. I refrigerate it. Pioneers put it in crocks with weighted lids in root cellars or a cool environment and stored it for months.
Real, fermented cabbage, aka sauerkraut has exceptional nutritional benefits. Besides the good things that are in cabbage, the fermentation process increases the probiotics. These are the good bacteria that help digest our food. They are essential to a healthy digestive system.
In days of real food consumption, fermented foods were side dishes served at every meal to help the digestive process. A tablespoon or two of sauerkraut eaten with sausage was the norm, not just a barbeque treat. Pickled beets, dilled pickles, other preserved vegetables were part of every meal.
The Standard American Diet has substituted vinegar for the fermentation process so we can purchase ‘pickled’ food, ready to go at the store. But it doesn’t offer the same probiotic benefit.
If you are interested in healthy sauerkraut, the Bubbies brand, found in a refrigerated area in the ‘healthy’ area of the store is a good brand. You might try it to see if you can develop a taste of it. Once you do, serving a little kraut next to your meat will be a standard practice. And, your gut will love you for it. You can start with brats and kraut for safe measure.
Perhaps I’m the only one left who does this but I cannot stop myself. I bake bread. From scratch. I had a hiatus from bread baking when gluten intolerance came into our home and it nearly killed me (the ceasing of bread baking, not the celiac). I yearned to put my hands in yeast dough and push and pull and shape and form it. But, yeast breads were out of the question. We shipped every product with wheat off to St. Louis when our daughter moved there. Her bread baking friends were delighted with the buckets of wheat berries for their own flour making, bread baking endeavors.
Till we watched SUSTAINABLE, a documentary about growing organic food for restaurants by an Illinois farmer was recommended to us. One of the food craftsmen featured in the film was an artisan bread baker who nonchalantly commented that even his celiac customers could consume his einkorn sourdough bread. One sentence changed my life.
The story is long and I won’t bore you with the details today. It took a month to create a sourdough starter with organic einkorn flour. But, it put me back in the realm of bread baking and I was delighted. Even better, the celiac and gluten intolerant in the family could tolerate einkorn wheat. (This is one wheat that has not been altered by genetic modification or hybridization and kernels attaches differently on the stalk.)
Research was a long part of the month of beginning this trek for me and one person after another suggested letting the bread rise in a couche. This is a heavy-duty linen cloth. Till I am convinced I will need another gadget in my kitchen, I improvise. I had linen towels in my drawer and I doubled them to substitute as a couche. It worked just fine.
Another detail recommended was to wrap the bread in linen for storage. I did. It worked. Home-made bread is intended to be consumed quickly and it will usually last for a few days properly stored, at room temperature. Refrigeration causes the starches to crystallize, changing the texture and flavor. And, so my linen towels have also become the storage tools for the home baked bread.
You may question whether plastic is a better option for bread storage. Sandwich bread is sold in plastic. It is a soft texture and the plastic keeps any moisture from condensation in the bag allowing the bread to stay soft. Notice, however, that baguettes and crusty breads are sold in paper sacks, leaving the crust to the air to remain crusty. These are the breads that are ideally stored in linen, allowing the bread to remain crusty while not drying out.
Linen bags are expensive to purchase. They are available from vendors, Etsy, or can be made at home. Linen napkins can easily be converted into a bread bag. Linen napkins are easily available and not nearly so pricey.
If bread baking is a bucket list item for you, I’ll share a quasi- sour dough recipe. I showed my Hollywood son how to make this bread. He and I call it the ‘Five Minute Bread’ because that is how long it takes to mix it up. He volunteers to make bread when he is invited to a dinner and folks are amazed at his skill. He doesn’t tell them it took 5 minutes. He just puffs up his chest and thinks, ‘Be impressed.’
This is a rustic bread, a great companion for soups and fall gatherings. I do recommend using bread flour for this recipe. There is a higher protein content in bread flour and this allows the bread to rise and hold its shape better. Though this bread only takes 5 minutes to mix, it requires time to rise and bake. I used to mix it up before going to bed at night, letting it rest on the bread board and baking it the next day. You could make it in the morning, let it rest 8 hours, shape it, let it rest and rise and bake it as you fix dinner.
No knead Bread
3 cups bread flour
¼ tsp yeast
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 5/8 c. warm water (not too hot or cold or the yeast will not survive)
Mix these ingredients together. Let sit 12-24 hours.
Place on a lightly floured surface and fold over a time or two.
Rest 15 min. Shape into a ball.
Rest 2-3 hours, till it has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450*. As the oven is heating, place a greased, 6-8 quart, covered container in the oven to preheat. I use a cast iron Dutch oven or enamel covered cast iron.
Transfer the bread dough into the hot pan. Cover with a lid.
Bake 30 minutes. Remove the lid. Continue to bake 10-15 additional minutes
Yield: 1 loaf, 1.5#
Store in a linen bag at room temperature for 3-5 days for optimal flavor. It might not last long enough to worry about storage.
As temperatures drop this fall, make a kettle of soup, this bread, and invite someone for dinner or game day. Ask them to bring a salad or dessert and you are set for a night of delicious dining. They will never guess you only spent 5 minutes on the bread…better make 2 loaves!
Get your hands dirty
My family tells me I have a problem. I have several, in fact. The first: I like to finish projects. It is a problem because I will work frantically, well past the time my brain tries to tell me I should stop. I have worked into the night and sometimes to the dawn to complete things. I know I will pay the price later. But, I like to FINISH.
Last fall, I visited St. Louis where one of my children resides. One afternoon, I insisted we work in the yard. They had only lived in this home for a month and there was a mountain of work to be done outside: just my cup of tea!
My kids have the common sense to quit when their bodies tell them they have done enough. My daughter asked me to quit. I continued to find ‘one more thing to do’ about a dozen times. I urged her to go inside and call me when dinner was ready. She said she could not let her guest stay in the yard while she went inside. Then, she put her arm around my shoulders and led me out of the jungle of work and into the house. I felt like a child. I didn’t really want to quit. I still fight the urge to return and do some more work…there is so much to do. And if I didn’t live 6 driving hours from St. Louis, I’d probably be carving out some time to go help finish the project. It’s in my nature.
Back at home, there was a project needing completion. Last fall, it was left. Last spring, I dug it out and pushed it back under the garden sink. I knew it was there, lurking, waiting, beckoning to me to get it done. And, so when the humidity ceased, I decided I would dedicate some time to it. It is really never DONE. Because this project has something to do every season. Here is how it works.
In the summer, our black walnut trees grow nuts. They fall in August and September and we pick them up and let them sit. Before fall ends, I lay them all out on our overdrive and walk on them and wear heavy duty water resistant gloves to remove the green, staining hulls. The nuts dry for a few weeks or until I have time to engage the heavy duty nut cracker. Once they are cracked, the nutmeats are ‘picked’ out of the shell with a special tool. During the winter nights, I can work at picking the nutmeats out of the nuts while I watch a favorite television program or when I want to listen to music in my kitchen.
There they were: nuts to crack. I cracked 2 bushel baskets of nuts. A new project emerged: two bushel baskets of cracked walnuts, waiting for me to ‘pick’ the nutmeats out of them.
Another problem my family observes is that I don’t often ask for help. In an effort to amend this trait, I asked a family member to help with this project. The reply was, ‘I don’t want to get my hands dirty.’ It’s true: black walnut stains. Even when I wear gloves, the elements soak through the gloves and hands are soiled. Like the Little Red Hen in the children’s story book, I was undaunted and continued on with the seemingly endless project.
My mind instantly went to our church and I wondered how many times there is work to be done and positions to be filled and our excuse is ‘I don’t want to get my hands dirty’. I cringed.
The body of Christ needs willing workers who want to finish strong. And, as we pull together to do whatever we can to prepare the new facility for the worker bees that will install electricity, HVAC, walls, paint, details, decorating, ad infinitum, let’s not be afraid to dig deep and be willing to lend a hand, even if it gets dirty.
I want to be able to finish my life on earth strong. I want to finish the work I’ve been given to do. I want to do it well and do it until the end of my days. None of us know when the last day will be. And, I don’t care if my hands get dirty! And, just in case you are interested, my walnut job is done. Except, now it’s fall and we are collecting the nuts that are falling on the ground.
The beginning of …
My husband has summer benchmarks. July 4 means summer is half over. The State Fair means school is right around the corner. Labor Day means summer has officially ended. He’s not entirely wrong.
Since we are in the midst of State Fair, it means our minds need to eventually consider the back to school routine for young ones. Back to school really affects everyone because traffic patterns change; stores alter the layout to capitalize on the buying frenzy that comes with necessary supplies and a few ‘wants’ as well.
How many of us consider preparing the character of our children for a return to the classroom? Some children are secure enough in themselves to adjust easily. Others may struggle with knowing how to handle situations. It’s impossible to predict every single scenario children might face, but there are some general guidelines we can use with our children. Here are two well written articles other moms have done regarding preparing children’s characters for what faces them.
Just consider how to prepare your child to ‘read’ others and consider options for responding to them. This isn’t a once and done situation. As you hear about the day of your child, ask probing questions to see if you can unearth situations that give an opportunity for you to speak insight into your child’s heart.
Here is the article by momastery:
Another article on the power of words that come out of one’s mouth is similarly important for all children. I have shared this before. It has an exercise for the child to accomplish that serves as a valuable object lesson. I encourage you to read and apply it however you see fit. https://www.today.com/parents/mom-uses-toothpaste-teach-daughter-lesson-about-power-words-t101945
The most important thing about these articles is how we model them FOR our children. Do we ignore the downcast or try to minister to them? Do we hang with our clique of friends or are we outgoing and inclusive with those who seem less secure? Do I monitor my words or just open my mouth and let anything that comes to mind spill out?
Perhaps you remember the story I have recounted before of our youngest daughter. I used to scan the congregation on Sunday mornings for new families. When the children were dismissed to attend Children’s Church, aka Sunday School, I would encourage her to approach any new children and ask if they would like to go with her to class. She often objected only to be asked how SHE would feel if she were the new kid.
Fast forward 20 years in her life. She volunteered as an adult worker at the church youth program where she was attending. The first night, she noticed some guy playing pinball alone, seemingly without a friend in the world. She decided he needed a friend so she went to talk to him.
His side of the story is slightly different. He was also an adult volunteer. He looked at our daughter and thought she was very attractive but probably a high school student (he was talking when she introduced herself and missed that she was also a volunteer.) So, he went to play pinball as a way to distract himself.
Voila, a friendship became a courtship which evolved into marriage. It might have happened anyway. The point is that our daughter had learned to look for the individual who didn’t have a friend and stepped up to the plate. This didn’t happen overnight. It started small in a secure environment and gave her confidence on her own to think of others rather than herself.
This same child has developed ‘best friends’ by stepping outside her personal comfort zones to include others. All our lives have been enriched by her ability. It reminds me of the scripture when we are admonished to not despise the day of small beginnings. Little things practiced develop confidence and emit security.
How will you prepare your child to return to the classroom, whether they stay at home or move to a school building? How will you model for your child exactly what this looks like at church or other functions?
Prepare to have a fabulous year.
In small town Iowa, where cars are rarely locked and keys are often left in the car, this is the season of exception. Folks lock their cars on main street, in the grocery store parking lots, even at church. Why? It’s zucchini season and if there is an unlocked car, there might be a free bag of zucchini place in it.
This is probably a myth, but the fact that zucchini harvest is now is not. And, if you have it in your garden, you know what was 2 inches long yesterday, might be 12-20 tomorrow. Since ‘tis the season, it might be a good time to look at what we can do with the extra.
Zucchini falls into the category of summer squash. It’s high in water content. It’s an important ‘fact’ to keep in mind in determining what recipes or uses are best for it. It’s most tender when it is smaller than bat sized, but even if it gets too large, there are good uses for it. It’s a neutral flavor, so it assumes the taste of whatever seasoning with which it is paired.
Summer squash, including green zucchini and yellow squash, are lower in calories and much lower in natural sugars and starch, so they have lower scores on the glycemic index. All summer squash are technically picked before they fully ripen and become hardened. Both types of squash groups are a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C, plus potassium and fiber.
A favorite among low-carb dieters and anyone who wants to lose weight fast, zucchini has a very low score on the glycemic index. Due to its high water percentage, zucchini is low in calories, carbs and sugars, but high in essential nutrients like potassium, manganese, and antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin A. To add more filling volume to your meals with little extra calories, you can use zucchini in a variety of different cuisines and recipes
For those in the world where gluten is not acceptable, zucchini makes great ‘noodles’ under spaghetti squash or as a substitute for baguette for pizza boats.
Because of the high moisture content, it can be sliced and used beside cucumbers and other raw vegetables with dip. It’s great on the grill. Minestrone blends multiple vegetables at the same time on a cool evening for a delectable and filling ‘summer’ soup. And, there is always grated zucchini to add to quick breads or muffins.
Here are nine reasons to eat zucchini:
1. High Source of Antioxidants and Vitamin C
5. Low in Calories and Carbs
Despite the inadequate amount of moisture, my tomato crop is beginning to burst. While I don’t have enough red tomatoes to can all things tomato-y, we are eating lots fresh. One favorite for my husband is sliced tomatoes with cottage cheese. My grocery list always has cottage cheese on it during this season because so much is consumed.
But, I was looking for a more creative way to serve tomatoes as a side dish when I located the recipe I’m about to share. I found it in an old issue of Better Homes and Garden.
Colorado peaches were available last week at the store. There availability is small: 2 maybe 3 weeks usually the middle of August. I don’t waste my time or money buying peaches from some states, but when Colorado or Missouri peaches are available, we stock up and eat many.
This unusual recipe is a sweet, tangy combination of tomato and peach. I recommend using a tomato that is heavy in ‘meat’ and not too watery. I used Amish Paste. My husband who isn’t as big a fan of basil as I even liked the fresh herb.
Combine and whisk together in a bowl:
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 T. olive oil
1.5 tsp. honey
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
Wash, slice into wedges or bite sized pieces:
1 # tomatoes (3 for me)
1 # peaches, pitted
½ c. thinly sliced red onion
½ c. feta cheese
½ c. fresh basil leaves
½ c. toasted pecan halves
Combine the dressing with other ingredients. (I made this several hours in advance and let it steep to combine the flavors.)
This recipe fills the adage of ‘eat the rainbow’ with red, yellow, purple, white, green colors. It’s attractive, savory, sweet, and delicious. One cup is under 200 calories. There are 16 g. of carbohydrate, but they are the good carbs: the kind your body needs.
I hope you try it. Let me know if you like it. We did and my husband’s comment at the end of the meal encouraged me to make it again. “I could eat that whole bowl of salad.” High praise from a meat and potatoes man.
French or Dutch?
My St. Louis daughter wrote a note and asked for my Dutch Apple pie recipe. I have an original (from Holland) recipe. I sent it and as a disclaimer, told her that if she wanted the FRENCH apple pie recipe, that was different.
Some vague memory spurred me to write that caveat at the end of the note. It seemed to me that she called home a day when her dad was here alone and he sent the DUTCH apple pie recipe he found in the recipe box, but that was not what she wanted.
She informed me that GOOGLE called the crumble topping DUTCH apple pie. Unfortunately, for her, my version of Betty Crocker calls it FRENCH. And, so the debate will continue on what it really is.
Since my DUTCH apple pie recipe came from a homemaker in Holland, I think I have the trump card on authenticity. Google doesn’t really know…and frankly, if she had read more than one Google listing, she would have found the Betty Crocker version of Dutch apple pie.
Are you confused yet? The issue is authority. Who IS the authority? Is it Google or is it Betty Crocker? Have you ever discussed an issue with someone at work or in your family who used a different ‘authority’ as the point of reference?
It’s interesting to me that people will avoid believing God’s Word as the authority because they don’t agree with it. We have every confidence that His Word is true and we can depend upon it. There is confirmation from one end of the Word to the other and there is no conflict. Unless the individual doesn’t want to believe.
The Bible doesn’t offer us the final word on whether the pie with the crumble topping is French or Dutch but in eternity, it won’t matter. It’s a matter of semantics. The Word is the authority on eternity, though. As for me and my household, that’s our reference for truth.
And if you want my Dutch apple pie recipe, I’m glad to share it. Bertha Verveld won’t mind that I’m passing her recipe around.