Hello December!

Here’s a Christmas Essay I wrote three years ago that still has great significance to me today. Many blessings to all who follow my blog and if you celebrate Christmas or don’t “make memories” to cherish forever and ever.

A Minnesota Christmas–A Ghost From Christmas Past (growing up in the 70s

 

Advertisements

Squash Varieties

Fall is really here in Southwestern Wisconsin with temperatures overnight of 40 and in the upper 50’s during the daytime. I was hoping to get a lot more accomplished this month, but colder than usual early October temps have dampened my plans. We’ve been trying to take a walk in a favorite spot for almost three weeks–rained every weekend. Now for almost a month, we’ve been trying to go to a corn maze and yes you guessed it, it has rained every weekend. This weekend is set to rain all weekend so I’m assuming we’re going to have to hang up what we want to do until next year. Once November hits long duration outdoor events come to a halt. We do hike in a local refuge all winter long, but only on days above freezing. Though last year we did take one brisk hike when temperatures were in the teens. My container garden is almost gone and it’s time to clean things up. Of course, I planted the pumpkins too late again. All the flowers on the plants that came up were male so no pollination happening this year. Next year I’m going to start my pumpkins when they’re supposed to be started and that’s in June. This weekend I am going to plant tulip bulbs in some of the dirt left from herbs I grew and mulch them with pumpkin plants. Our tree and my prairie grass will both be overwintering on our deck. I’ve brought in my beautiful rosemary plant and I am planning on trying to overwinter rosemary again.

It’s fall decor time and we’ve purchased squash (pumpkins) just as we do every year– but this year is a bit different. Thanks to someone I follow on Instagram I’ve learned how to identify squash varieties (way more than my lovely picture above) and also what each variety is good for. Usually, I buy pumpkins for decorative purposes. Not unlike many millions of other people. I know they’re food, but when they’re bought I have no intention of eating them as food. Once they look soft we chop them up and feed them to the birds. Sometimes I’ve dried/baked the seeds and fed them to the birds. This year I am going to carve one pumpkin and bake the other two for pie. I will still throw the seeds to the birds to give them extra energy for their flight south or to get ready for winter. Currently, I’m feeding nuts to a nut hatcher and several chicadees/titmice–that are storing them up for winter. The nuthatch, chickadees, and titmice live together in a small community all winter, watching each other’s backs and protecting their communal territory. Which of course I find so neat because prior to winter the nuthatch is all business/and a bit selfish and doesn’t look like he gets along with anybody. I am definitely the ant in the ant and grasshopper fable. I can definitely appreciate the planning and the storing of food/ winter preparation well before the snow flies.

Until next time–enjoy your fall and on the other side of the world happy spring!

The Month of September means–

Baking several loaves of banana bread (and freezing them), visiting the apple orchard for the first time and trying Paula Reds, and surprises like my new guinea impatiens blooming again. This pretty sherbet colored impatiens has been blooming off and on all season. It has outperformed EVERYTHING I planted this year. In the last 8 days, we’ve had between 20-30 inches of rain (depending on where you are located in this county). Everything is wet, saturated, and in most cases ruined. Luckily because of where we are located– second-floor apartment on a hill, we were not flooded. Summer is almost gone and then we will settle into fall with more apple picking and squash baking and then eventually await the spring seed catalogs. Where does time go? It’s lost somewhere between intent and actual doing–never to be held, never to slow down, never to be captured. Always lost.

A Minnesota Christmas- A Ghost from Christmas Past (growing up in the 70s)

559_image1

Photo Source

A Christmas Essay by Kim VanderWerf for goodfoodgreatdesign ™ (previously posted on my blog Feast 12/12/15)

I grew up in the 1970s in a little valley about thirteen miles from the nearest town and belonged to a family of five. Which was made up of mom, dad, a younger brother, and a younger sister. We lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse next to our grandparents’ on the family farm.  From our home, we could see our grandparents’ next door, our neighbors across the main gravel road in front of our home, distant neighbors by their barn light (known as a security light now) and the wisps of smoke from their wood stove.  Occasionally we would hear the bark of that distant neighbor’s coon hounds if the wind blew just right. As the year wound down and the holidays grew near, a certain mood took over in our household.  Christmas time was a special time in our home; a time when it seemed my parents’ moods brightened and even they had a child-like state of mind. You know the one I’m talking about. The happy, peaceful and hopeful feelings that every child has at Christmas time. My siblings and I didn’t have to be reminded to behave, nor do I ever remember being threatened that Santa would not come. Though no doubt we were anxious, and probably at times slightly giddy, we knew that Christmas was about more than just presents.  You see our parents’ weren’t like some of the parents’ of the time, they did not compete at Christmas time with the Jones’.

First and foremost in our home at Christmas time it was all about Christ. Christ was brought into our lives by way of the church we belonged to and its annual Christmas program. It was there that we learned the story of the baby Jesus as each year one of us took a turn participating in the play. Though I loved going to church and enjoyed watching the Christmas play, I really looked forward to the box of candy we were given as we exited the nave.  The play was held at night time so all the way home all you would hear from mom was “no candy before bed”. To which of course meant I had very little time to ever so quietly sneak out the biggest piece of peanut brittle I could find.

Christmas time meant a lot of time spent with the elder members of our family. I grew up with four step great aunts all in their 70’s and a step great uncle. There was also a reverend in our family along with a church choir director. So one could say I was brought up surrounded by Christian influence. Often my father would include bible verses in simple conversation even though he himself was a lapsed Lutheran. Whether it was the ever-present Christian influence or the spirit of the season, mom made sure that giving to others remained an important part of our Christmas festivities. She was ever busy trying to find just the right gift for the elders, wrapping them just right, and making arrangements from one to the other on when we’d come over to visit. Even at their ages each great aunt had their home warmly decorated for Christmas and all had made the customary goodies from their native country of Norway. Once the meal was ready we would enjoy Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, carrots, corn, and gravy. Desserts were varied but usually were cranberry salads, glorified rice and of course- lefse, rosettes, and sandbakkels.

After the meal we three kids would sit quietly amongst the adults as they visited. Then eventually we’d be handed our gift. From the elders, our gifts were usually homemade. Over the years my sister and I received hand knit Barbie clothes, stocking caps, mittens, and homemade Christmas tree ornaments. Never did we look down upon these gifts even though we knew our friends were receiving the store bought kind from their aunts and uncles.

Because of the different groups, my mom belonged to there was always the Secret Santa gifts to look forward to buying and receiving. It was fun to watch her get someone’s name and then have to go out and try to find the gift requested. It was even more fun to see her expression when someone who wasn’t shopper savvy would draw her name and ultimately give her a gift she hadn’t requested. But of course mom would make good use of it and the rest of us, well, we’d sure get a good laugh out of it.  My sister and I belonged to 4-H so we would also have a Christmas party and exchange gifts. I always asked for a Lifesaver’s Storybook for my gift and sometimes I would actually get one. For me, that was the ultimate gift and one I still asked for up to a few years ago. As a family, I think we enjoyed the giving of gifts way more than ever receiving them.

Christmas Eve was always spent at our grandparents’ home watching Doug Henning, the magician, on t.v. while grandma prepared her Oyster Stew. Neither of my siblings, nor I or mom, would eat the Oyster Stew so grandma prepared a casserole for us. Of course,  it goes without saying my eyes were constantly perusing the candy dishes because grandpa would usually have quite an assortment of hard candy at this time of year.  After the evening meal, we would present grandpa and grandma with their gifts. Grandpa was easy to buy for because like me he had a major sweet tooth. So he usually got a flannel shirt, some mixed nuts, and hard candy. Grandma liked the prettier things in life so her gifts were pretty knick-knacks, gloves, or her favorite– a gift set of Chantilly dusting powder. Before the end of the night, grandma would open a box of chocolates and each of us would be able to pick one. I always wanted the vanilla cream one but usually ended up with a caramel nougat. Then back to our home we would go where we would shortly be sent up to bed. After a few reminders that “Santa won’t come if you’re still awake”, we would settle down and go off to sleep.

Come Christmas morning we would wait for two (sometimes more) hours for dad to finish chores. While Mom was in the kitchen making a special breakfast of sausages and eggs we were allowed to open our stocking. Our stockings were stretched out old socks once worn by Dad now retired, clean, and full of goodies. Each stocking contained a handful of hard candy in cling film, a candy cane, and the ever traditional orange. You can read the story behind the tradition of putting oranges in stocking here, which I thought was very interesting. Having cared for many elderly people throughout my healthcare career, I know that getting an orange for Christmas during the Great Depression was a real treat and sometimes all a family could afford. Mom no doubt was carrying on a tradition started by her grandparents as she was born a few years after the final year of the Great Depression in Canada. Fruit at Christmas time and all through the holidays is a big thing throughout Europe, the U.S., and Canada. There’s fruitcakes, fruit baskets, and fruit of the month clubs to name just a few things that promote the giving and partaking of fruit during the Christmas holidays. Of course, as soon as I saw the hard candy or candy cane the orange I was given was soon lost to the world. Just kidding, it was set aside to eat AFTER the candy and breakfast was eaten.

Once dad was in the house we could open our bigger present; as we each got one big present. I usually asked for LP records, while my sister asked for games or clothing.  Our little brother always wanted whatever new John Deere tractor or piece of machinery was popular that year from the local farm implement.  Smaller gifts were Christmas nighties or slippers, new denim jeans or socks. After our presents were opened it was dad’s turn and I think all of us were most excited for his reaction. Each year he got the same things, yet, he was always thankful and happy to get new ones-socks, long underwear, and that ever-present winter staple in the Midwest– a flannel shirt.  And what about mom you ask? Well, she purchased her own Christmas gifts because she was ever so particular as to what she would want. Usually, she wanted a flannel nightgown, soft socks or slippers, and sometimes a soft sweater or housecoat. She bought the gifts I wrapped them and come Christmas morning they were a complete surprise to her.

Christmas decorations in our home were simple; our tree was always decorated with handmade ornaments. The traditions were abundant from the meal we ate on Christmas Eve with our grandparents’ to the oranges in our stockings Christmas morn. Christmas vacation was a time for sledding parties and ice-skating and one year even going for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Mom would spend two weeks every year making her famous homemade fudge and special Christmas Sugar cookies. Which of course meant that between all the Christmas break activities I was forever sneaking into the pantry eating fudge and sugar cookies. Christmas dinner was usually mom’s famous baked BBQ ribs but sometimes it was a ham with her delicious scalloped potatoes and creamed corn. I loved, loved, loved my Christmases growing up. It set in stone how I’ve spent each Christmas since I’ve left home. Steeped in tradition with its common theme in giving, Christ is still the reason for the season in our home.

Each year at this time I look back and the ghost of Christmas past is very present. It’s a great experience, I’m very thankful for the memories I have. As I grew into an adult I passed some of my family’s Christmas traditions onto others, and I am certain that if they’ve remembered the giving part rather than focusing on the receiving part their Christmases have always been memorable. When I first met my husband he was very stressed at Christmas time. His family celebrated, throughout his childhood in the states, Christmas on December 5th. That is the date that people from the Netherlands celebrate Sinterklaas Day. I’ve written about this day on my blog a few times. In short, it is a day dedicated to the children in the Netherlands where St. Nick arrives by boat and gives gifts and candies to all. As adults, my husband’s family drew names and then got together on December 5th to exchange the gifts.

When we got married I was expected to change my day of celebration to December 5th.  But I would not do that. Instead, I compromised and did both because there was no way I was going to give up the way I celebrated Christmas. Their celebration did not involve Sinterklaas arriving in their home giving gifts to kids but instead was each adult drawing names and then buying the gifts from that person’s list. Christmas dinner was the same meal served at family get-togethers throughout the year. And although we enjoyed getting together with family on Christmas day what inevitably happened between family members and gift giving made it a very stressful day for us. Let’s just suffice it to say what usually happened would definitely rival some of the Christmas movies made today where the entire family is having a meltdown.

By our second year of marriage, I had taken my husband home so that he could see how my family celebrated this special time. I wanted him to experience how warm, and friendly and giving centered my family made the special day. After that experience, he was sold on celebrating Christmas the way my family enjoyed celebrating it. By the third year of our marriage, we were celebrating in our home with some of the traditions I had grown up with and some new ones of our own.  Now twenty-one Christmases later Christ and the gift of giving is still the main focus of our Christmas time.

As your family gets ready to enjoy whatever celebration you have in the month of December don’t let how others choose to celebrate the day affect how you enjoy yours. Comparison really is the thief of all joy. Enjoy your traditions and make new ones. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Good Cheer!

Here are a few more Christmas decor pictures. Notice half-way through our little ham needed to get in on the action. He kept posing in front of the camera each place I stopped to take a snap. Finally, once I got the hint, I took his picture.  Our Christmas tree is decorated in Blue, White, and Red as a remembrance of those who lost their lives and the families of those whose lives were lost in Paris. You may also notice if you click on the photo that there are spaceships. Yes, spaceships. For nearly twenty-one years my husband has been collecting Star Trek ships (Hallmark Ornaments) and this year I promised him they could go on the tree. So they are there amongst the blue, white and red and if I may so I think they look just grand!

Joyeux Noel
IMG_1149
IMG_1147
IMG_1116
IMG_1119
IMG_1120
IMG_1121
IMG_1167
IMG_1145
IMG_1148 IMG_1152
IMG_1153
IMG_1156

Until next time always remember to eat good food!

Written by Kim A VanderWerf
12/12/2015

September and all its Splendor

It’s Apple Season–hello September!

Apple, cabbage and squash season around these parts. And lots and lots of Roma tomatoes. This next week’s prep list will include canning tomato sauce, freezing spaghetti sauce and at least a dozen frozen bags of homemade applesauce. I will definitely post pictures and share my recipes. Until then have a lovely Labor Day weekend.

Hello July!

311025-Hello-July

Typical summer meal–homegrown and/or local– total cost per meal- $1.22, two good-sized adult meals, or food for three! We eat three or four vegetables with every meal. This meal also included baked chicken and fish. I’ve started making homemade tartar sauce by cutting up a dill pickle in tiny pieces and adding it to our vegan mayo with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar-Yum!

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Light

img_4413

My word for 2017 is light.

I’ve started this post ten different times and each time I reread it I erased it.  How does one write about lightness and goodness without it coming off like a sermon? It’s been hard these past few weeks and I feel like things will just get harder. For those who are new to my blog, I’m an activist. If that brings pictures to your head of me tying myself to a tree you’re close. Unfortunately, I lack the kind of courage that kind of action needs. Instead, I donate my time, and money and do everything short of tying myself to that tree to fight for the environment, to fight against climate change, to recycle and reuse, and be the best activist I can for those that don’t have a voice–the animals that walk our earth.  I’m a food activist hence this blog and the many years of research I’ve got under my belt about it. I also volunteer at a homeless shelter and provide money, time and resources to those less fortunate than I.

I can’t turn the news on right now because I can’t handle everything I see being done that goes against everything so many people tirelessly worked towards. All of the work, effort, research and time being deleted, darkened and destroyed. It’s heartbreaking and I’m not sure what if anything I can do about it? I can protest sure, and I can give money and give more of my time. But what changes when programs against the things I believe become the new norm? Another thing I can’t wrap my head around is why it is always the very vital things to all our livelihoods always under fire? It’s hard for me to be full of light and goodness when people so blatantly bash the very things that give them light, and air and peace and life. It’s hard for someone like me who has been a nature lover for over 45 years to reason out other people’s disbelief in proven facts. It’s hard for me to understand the never ending plight and disgrace of racism. So that is where I am at. I’m always telling my husband he can’t keep coming at something from a defensive point of view. But that’s where I feel I’m heading and what I really want is for everyone to just sit down together and maybe agree to disagree, but let’s not go back 100 years or more to censoring everything that goes against the government’s opinions.

When someone acts or reacts from a  defensive point of view they aren’t listening to you. First and foremost to them is defending their opinion or points and really bashing you for having one opposite of theirs. More times than not this kind of conversation ends in threats from one or both sides.

Listening is an art. Communication involves both talking and listening. In a country that considers itself democratic all opinions should be on the table, but they are not. The opinions of one side are starting to be deleted, darkened and oppressed. Keywords to note- delete, darkness and oppressed.

Though I make a point of not talking about politics or religion on my blog, or in my real life, even amongst friends and co-workers.  I’m human. I’m trying as hard as I can to walk in the light, do the right thing and keep moving forward. The here and now is important but what I do, what we all do to ensure there is a future is equally if not more important. Many cannot see tomorrow or refuse to safeguard tomorrow over today. Even though tomorrow isn’t promised and never comes for some of us, it still comes. And I’ll be right here God willing to protect it because no matter how dark things get, there will be light.

What’s your word for 2017?

True North

Ask Wikipedia about true north and you’ll find–true north is different from magnetic north. True north lies a long the earth’s surface  towards the geographic north poles.  It’s quite a complex direction that is found by carefully  adjusting magnetic forces from the compass to remove compass deviations.

Metaphorically speaking someone’s true north could be made up of many things-lines they don’t cross, when they feel they are at their best when they feel right with the world and so many more possibilities. For me it is the best version of myself; when I feel I am representing the truest version of myself. My true north was discovered several years back during a self-imposed sabbatical. That it exists for me and I can feel it’s presence is what makes it such a beautiful and necessary thing for me.  My true north can and does get weighed down by certain “magnetic forces” around me. For example negative people, hurtful people, unjust circumstances or outcomes, and of course things I see happening in the world via the news, newspapers, news sources and the many documentaries I watch a year.

true-north

During times like these, the first thing I do is pray.  I pray for strength and I pray for forgiveness and I pray for more patience and tolerance. Prayer reminds me to stay focused and on course. Nothing can be gained by acting out or going against one’s own moral code. I don’t let anyone push me off center to the point I would cross a line that I’ve self-imposed or act out of character altogether.

Sometimes things happen in my life that kind of shake me off my course. During times like these, the first thing I do is gather my thoughts and decide if there is anything that can be done to change things. Part of what stresses people out during uneasy or challenging times is their inability to realize that they can change their reaction to them; they can change how they deal with something challenging. Their go-to maybe worry and worry until the challenge is over.  Instead, I try to think of a better way or a less stressed way I can react to this kind of times. Distraction also helps, as long as you don’t escape too long.

My true north is my center. I am grounded when I am centered.  When I am centered I am productive and I’m also the best version of myself.   Staying grounded for me means staying open, not closed. Open to talking, open to listening, open to understanding and open to dealing with fear, and uncertainty which are usually two things humans are challenged by the most. Uncertainty is hard for me–it seems like most uncertain things are dealt with by the passing of time. Thus why I pray for patience (ahem). Fear, well fear is a part of everyone’s life. Fear is often the unknown. Fear is sometimes the well known and your not being able to deal with something.  I take what I am afraid of and say aloud during the time I feel fear the most. This helps me to recognize what it is and then it becomes so much easier to deal with.

Soon my posts will be less philosophical and more about food again (promise). My seed catalogs just came in and I can’t wait to order seeds and start my seedlings. Until next time–be well!