Monthly Archives: December 2012

A goal for 2013: Work toward the common good. Care…love…

Last year as we approached New Year‘s Eve, a friend challenged us to determine what percentage of resolutions we’d managed to meet. I had a hard time with that one since I was pretty sure I hadn’t made any.

Here’s the thing: Why set oneself up for failure? Too many people focus their resolutions on thing like weight loss and we know how that usually ends up.

So instead last year, I decided to play along by listing three goals IF I were one to make resolutions. One was to track my running mileage, which I did successfully through April 15 — about 350 miles (some of that was walking.) After April 15…the journal pages are blank. Since I’m pretty regular in my mileage, I probably hit around 1,000 this year.

The second goal was to eat more dark chocolate. That I did. Oh so successfully. I don’t want to know how much money I spent on Endangered Species 88% cocoa dark chocolate. Just ask the staff at The Food Store in Bluffton, where I stock up on these:panther_pouch__05433_std



Each pouch contains 10 individually wrapped squares — a good way to control how much you eat.

The third goal was to write real letters. Sadly, this didn’t happen although I did a better job at sending cards.

So…for the record…I was 33.3333333333 percent successful at tracking mileage; 100 percent on eating more chocolate, and a flop at writing letters.

This semi-success did not convince me to make a practice of making  resolutions. Instead, this year I want to focus less on the “me” result of resolutions and more on doing things that impact and encourage others.

With a nod to Jim Wallis, the president and CEO of Sojourners and author of forthcoming book, On God‘s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, it makes sense to focus on the age-old concept of the common good.

To quote Wallis, “Work toward the common good. Care about those around you. Love.”

Re-purpose…again and again

Despite what all the crafters might have you think, the art of re-purposing isn’t new. Surely it dates back to a time when “disposable” was unthinkable. Those with memories of the Great Depression frequently speak — proudly — of how they re-used an item  over and over and just when it seemed destined for the dustbin some ingenious soul would determine a new use for the item.

My mom, who was born in 1922, often reminds me of how she used the wool from an aunt’s coat to make a coat for me. The coat is still in my attic — a gentle reminder that new is not always better.

Several years ago, when we moved my mom from her condo to an independent living center, I discovered some old cotton rice bags among her fabric stash. Back when we were kids, my parents bought large quantities of rice. Today those bags are usually made of some odd kind of fibrous stuff with a plastic feel.

But the “vintage” rice and flour bags were made of sturdy cotton and usually imprinted with the company name, amount and type of rice, etc. During the Depression, flour sacks were often made into clothing.

So when I found these bags, I decided to turn them into a two-layer shopping bag. I added a strap and it was perfect for the farmer’s market. One day, my aunt, who lived in Japan for 30 years or so, saw the bag and offered me her own collection of rice bags.

As Christmas approached, I realized the bags would be a perfect last-minute gift project, and ended up with four re-purposed market bags. This is really simple. All I did was turn one bag inside out so it would become the lining for the outer bag, then made straps from strips cut from an extra bag.

I sewed around the top of the two bags to hold them together, then sewed each end of the strap to the bag.1224121546  1224121545


Tell me about your re-purposed projects. I’m always up for new ideas!

Of memories lost, remembered and why to be grateful for them

Christmas is all about memories…remembering those from the past and making new memories. Can you imagine not remembering the Christmases of your past?

Jeff Ingram doesn’t have those memories, or at least he can’t easily conjure them up in his mind. Holding an old Christmas ornament in his hand doesn’t quickly transport him to a childhood night of decorating a tree with his family. Ingram suffers from a type of amnesia called dissociative fugue. When he has an attack, his memory is wiped clean. That’s when his wife, Penny steps in. She is his memory. In a recent episode of NPR’s Story Corps, Jeff and Penny explained how she fills in the blanks.

It’s an amazing story. After listening to the podcast, memories just flooded back…from early childhood to my teenage years to college, then marriage and my own children from their early years to present.

Of course, the fact that it is a holiday season, my memories focused on Christmases past. I’ll bet my memories from our childhood years differ from those of my brothers. Thinking about these memories made me sad that Jeff Ingram cannot simply pull out these random thoughts, but his situation also made me grateful that I do have such happy memories as these…

Breakfast on Christmas morning always featured semmel, a simple German roll best slathered with homemade strawberry jam.

My doll, Ruthie, who got a new head every Christmas — over the years, she had brown, black, and blonde hair.

Getting to spend Christmas at my grandparents’ home in Indiana, with cousins we rarely saw because their parents were missionaries in Japan.

The green and white gingham two piece swim suit my mom made for me the year we went to visit our grandparents in Florida over Christmas.xmas girls

Red barrettes from my brother, Tom, who spent most of December in bed because of Scarlet Fever. It amazed me that he somehow managed to get me a present.

Christmas 1972 — we were living in St. Pete, Florida. What I remember is a warm, sun-dappled screened in porch with the ubiquitous Christmas tree.

The first Christmas with our oldest daughter, who was just a month shy of her first birthday. Her grandfather had made her a rocking horse. She spent most of her waking hours on Doodah.IMG_0333[1]

The first Christmas with our youngest daughter, just four months old. She was too young to appreciate the holiday and clearly displeased with Santa. By her second Christmas, she too was entranced with her very own rocking horse.

Over the years, there were the annual elementary school Christmas concerts (third grade recorders were a standout year for each daughter), followed by band and orchestra concerts, and in their senior year, each took a turn lighting the candles during the Christmas Eve service.

Memories. So many memories. Last year’s Christmas was a first for us as we celebrated away from home. One year ago tonight, the four of us attended midnight mass at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, featuring a small orchestra of professional musicians.

We’ll be making more memories in a few hours. I hope Jeff and Penny Ingram are making some of their own.

My UFO — my story and I’m sticking to it

In middle school, our language arts teacher introduced us to — among other important topics and skills — propaganda (and how to recognize it), how to structure sentences, J.R.R. Tolkien, and unidentified flying objects (UFOs).
We thought Mrs. H was terrific because she always treated us with respect, was open-minded and encouraged us to read whatever most interested us — she had racks and racks of books we could borrow — and she was outspoken when it came to the subject of UFOs.

This was in the late 1960s, a good 17 years after the term was first seen in print, and there were frequently reported sightings of these unusual anomalies — sometimes referred to as “flying saucers.”

I never doubted that Mrs. H knew what she was talking about. She was wise and well-read. Not long after she first introduced us to UFOs, my friend, Karen, and I were sitting in the rear-facing back seat of our station wagon, feet stuck out the open window as we gazed up into the dark night. Suddenly we both screeched at my father to stop the car. We were sure we’d sighted some unusual phenomena. Fortunately, my dad, the scientist, acquiesced and in fact, joined us in our speculation.

Fast forward to December 2012…meteor showers were predicted for late night/early mornings. On our 6 a.m. run, my running partner and I counted four shooting stars. The next morning, I was alone and trying to keep an eye on the sky while avoiding bumps in the pavement.

And there it was…a slow-moving object flashing green and red. Moving so slowly that it appeared to be almost still. Over the next 20 minutes, I kept my eyes on it. At one point, an airplane flew directly over it — parallel to it.

And no…I didn’t see any alien green men. No one swooped down from the sky to take me to some unknown location. But for the rest of the day, I felt unsettled.

And this is where Facebook comes in handy…I sent out a message to my former 8th grade classmates and asked if they could guess what I saw in the sky that morning. Two of them knew exactly what I was talking about and that started a spirited discussion of our fond memories of Mrs. H.

And yes, I realize most of you are singing the “Twilight Zone” theme song right now. Go ahead and doubt. And snicker. I’ve got Mrs. H on my side.

The REAL pfeffernusse…all others must be faux

Pfeffernusse. Peppernuts. Did the Dutch know what they were doing when they created this tiny cookie that leaves such a powerful impression and incites such passionate arguments among those who love them.

With pepper or without? Anise? Cardamom? Cinnamon? Cloves? Nuts? Seems everyone has his or her own favorite recipe and is equally certain that his or her recipe is the best. But they’re all wrong. And I know this….how?

Because the Pannabecker version is the best. After all, we Pannabeckers are Dutch. We were tile bakers long ago.

Here’s the thing about pfeffernusse. They’re hard. Very hard. And while some claim that they soften over time…this is just not true. If you actually think they soften over time, then you’ve never eaten a one-year-old pfeffernusse. They’re hard….and in my family, harder means better.

For many years, my mother would try to see how long she could keep some in a jar before someone would finally filch the last few. I think they often lasted until late spring.

But at long last, I have beaten her record. Not on purpose, mind you. I just found a tiny baby food jar full of pfeffernusse made in December 2011. And they’re still excellent. And very hard.2012-11-20 12.15.56

Curious enough to try making them? Here’s my recipe…or actually, it’s my Grandma Pannabecker’s recipe. The trick to getting them very small is to roll them into pencil-like rolls and cut into tiny pieces.

5 eggs
3 c. sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. cloves
Pinch salt
4 c. flour (or a little more)
Sift flour three times until very light. Sift together sifted flour, cinnamon, soda, cloves, salt. Beat eggs until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar. The stir in the flour mixture. Using a small amount of dough at a time, roll into long, pencil-thin coils. Cut into tiny pieces and place on greased cookie sheets. Try to separate each piece or they’ll back together into big pieces. Bake approximately 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Watch carefully! Cool and store in airtight containers.

Let me know how long yours last!

Creating a gingerbread village: No kits allowed

We have the Brothers Grimm to thank for the popularity of gingerbread houses. Anyone who has read “Hansel and Gretel” remembers how hungry the two were after wandering for several days without food. When they came upon a gingerbread house in the middle of the forest, they began eating the roof of the house. How could they resist the scrumptious confection?
Making a gingerbread house always seemed daunting, despite the many kits available. But with my 11-year-old niece coming for a visit over Thanksgiving, I decided it was time to give it a try. Since I’ve never been much of a conformist, I passed on the fancy kits.

Instead, our local elementary school cook provided us with empty milk cartons. She even bleached them before dropping them off…yet another advantage of living in a small town. They turned out to be the perfect size.

We stocked up on all the essentials — gumdrops, miniature M&Ms, chocolate chips, colored sprinkles, tiny candy canes, peppermints, graham crackers, red hots, etc.

After the turkey and other Thanksgiving foods had been cleared away, we made a huge bowl of powdered sugar icing sans butter, we set about creating our own little gingerbread village. Perfection? Not at all, but creative and unique. Most importantly, the over-40 artists had as much fun as the 11-year-old. And probably ate as much candy.IMG_0313[1]