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Dad: Remembering Vernon U. Miller

My father died nine years ago March 26. I still remember how I got the call from my sister Pert in the middle of our Sunday morning church service with my phone set on vibrate, and I knew I had to go out to take the call. She ended up leaving me a message before I could answer her call. I saved that message on my phone until I had to give up that phone.

P1030982A painting made by my daughter, Michelle, as a child, in honor of her grandfather and his passion for the hungry.

He was a wonderful dad and he left an indelible mark and witness on our family and his world through the work I’ve written about related to “feeding the hungry people of the world” and his passionate embrace of “there has to be another way to solve the world’s problems other than fighting.” He battled racism and invited many international guests to our home, while at the same time made sure our family enjoyed vacations together every year. He and Mom took the “trip of a lifetime” by traveling around the world in 1967, paid for by his habit of not smoking (according to him). His hogs were actually what helped them visit so many of the organizations and missionaries he had supported all of his life.

P1030274Daddy sharing stories of faith and conviction with two of his grandsons while on family vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Another highlight of his life was meeting former President Jimmy Carter at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia and sitting in Jimmy’s famed Sunday school class. Jimmy posed with mom and dad as he does with many of those who stop by.

P1050660  Dad and Mom with Jimmy Carter, circa late 1990s, supported by his cane in his right hand and by Mr. Carter on the other.

My much longer tribute to Dad can be found here on my blog; my Another Way newspaper column written soon after Daddy died is being reposted here because of changes being made to the website which will no longer store archives back to 2006. If you’ve read this before, my apologies, but I wanted a place to store it, the better to remember the details of those last few precious weeks with Dad. I know he rests in peace and will be forever dancing in the presence of the Almighty, forever free of the cane he so longed to toss away.

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Another Way, 4/20/2006, reposted from Third Way Cafe.

Saying Farewell

Dad was going to church in heaven that morning. He died about the time many of us were saying prayers for him. And all I could really say as my husband and I made plans to go to Indiana for the funeral was a grateful, heartfelt “Hallelujah!”

    The first week of March, I wrote about grief in this column, based on the experiences of a close friend. Then on March 11, we got word that my dad, Vernon Miller in Goshen, Indiana, had subtle changes in his diabetic condition. He was 89 and a kidney specialist said neither dialysis nor surgery would help. He had a blockage, and they gave him two to four weeks to live.

    The information set my two sisters, brother, and I mentally spinning. Mom was stunned, too, but since she was his caretaker, she knew how much his health had deteriorated and had been preparing herself for many years. Seven years his junior, she was glad to be able to take care of him. Then one night she couldn’t get him very far into bed, his legs were so heavy with fluid. He fell out near morning and Mom called an ambulance.

    We three siblings who live out-of-state made immediate plans to visit Dad and Mom. Then a sudden high temperature and unexplained vomiting (and presumed aspiration of food and pneumonia) caused us all to speed up our plans, driving late into the night to get to Dad’s bedside. My sister, a nurse in the same hospital and same section where Dad was, stayed with him as much as possible.

    As often happens, Dad rallied. All of us kids had not been in the same room at the same time with him for about three years. My brother gave him a good shave, he downed hamburgers and fries, and declared on the morning he was checking out that he was feeling great.

    However, we knew down deep that the prognosis was not good. We took the advice of the doctor and planned for hospice care in the health care center at Mom and Dad’s retirement complex. The siblings and Mom all agreed on the decision and spent a tender minute or two holding hands in his hospital room feeling the immensity of this step. Dad had signed a living will. He didn’t want to keep having tests, X-rays and shots. The doctor took him off insulin and said he could eat whatever he wanted.

    As we checked him into his room in nursing care, Dad said, “I just wish I was on my way to glory.” At various times, we said our goodbyes, our “I love you’s” and “You were a great Dad.” My brother prayed with him and released him to God’s loving care, and told Dad that we would all be okay. I read him a Psalm. My sister sang songs. My other sister got out of him the proper Pennsylvania Dutch response to “Ich glicthe” (which kind of means “I love you a whole bunch.”) The proper response is a loving, “Ich glicthe ah” (which means, I love you right back.”) Our hearts were heavy, full and loaded with questions. How long would he hang on? Did Mom and Dad have enough money to last a year or more in nursing care, if it came to that? Should we go back home? All the questions that so many of my friends and relatives had faced over the years.

    On Sunday, March 19, he enjoyed one of his best days in years: we took him to the church where we had all grown up. He enjoyed the drive and the service, staying awake the whole time, alert, commenting, asking questions, telling Mom he wanted hot dogs for lunch. We had planned a large family gathering at noon for all who could come; he prayed a wonderful blessing, ate lunch, stayed awake all day (something he never did anymore) read books, talked, enjoyed the great grandchildren. He tossed a ball to one of them and fed another some ham for supper.

    It was wonderful, a gift. But of course we didn’t know if it was the beginning of a recovery, or one of those times the dying often have shortly before they bid us farewell.

    It turned out to be the latter, and the following Sunday morning, March 26, when most of us were in church, our cell phones vibrated with the news: Dad was going to church in heaven that morning. He died about the time many of us were saying prayers for him. And all I could really say as my husband and I made plans to go to Indiana for the funeral was a grateful, heartfelt “Hallelujah!”

    I feel very fortunate to have had him for a Dad, to have had a warning and to be able to say goodbye, to not feel a lot of guilt or anger or regret. He was not perfect: we all remember bad times with him. I do feel sad, lonely, and sorry that he won’t be able to experience a lot of the things I still hoped he’d experience with us. But most of all I’m glad he raised us in such a way that our goodbyes were really only fond farewells.

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RIP: Vernon U. Miller, February 13, 1917 – March 26, 2006.

 

European Peasant Artisan Bread: Wholesome and Hearty

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European Peasant Bread (Or artisan bread)

My friend Janet brought a tasty/crusty loaf of bread to our house church potluck a while back and shared the recipe when I asked. But it took me forever to get around to trying it, because I first had to acquire a stone, which I received for Mother’s Day last year. (I get the impression that most cooks under 40—at least if they are into cooking and baking at all—pretty much consider a stone to be an essential piece of kitchen equipment.) I also had to pick up some rye flour for this recipe (a huge bag from bulk food store that I promptly split with Janet).

I’ve baked standard bread loaves for so long that usually it doesn’t take my reading and re-reading all the instructions, but that is what I had to do here.

But it was a new learning experience for this cook and I loved the taste, texture and the fact that I could keep two unbaked blobs of dough in the fridge for up to two weeks to bake and have fresh bread for a meal, without doing all the mixing up work. The bread also carried me right across the big pond to so many lunches of bread, picked up in Spanish, French, or Belgian markets topped with sumptuous hunks of cheese.P1070224

And I LOVE Janet’s notations on her recipe page. She is a real note-kind-of-person.

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European Peasant Bread, adapted by Janet Slough

1 ½ tablespoons granulated yeast (1 ½ packets)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons salt
3 cups lukewarm water
½ cup rye flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
5 ½ cups all purpose flour
Cornmeal, for the pizza peel or cookie sheet

  1. Combine yeast, sugar and salt with the water in a 5 quart bowl. Let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Mix in remaining dry ingredients without kneading; use a spoon, large food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook—that’s what I used. If you’re not using a machine, the recipe says it is helpful to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.
  3. When combined, cover mixing bowl with a tea towel. Allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses or flattens on top, approximately 2 hours.P1070220
  4. The dough can be used and baked after the initial rise, but the dough is easier to handle cold. Refrigerate at least one hour before baking if doing the same day. Dough can be saved and baked anytime over the next 14 days.
  5. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 lb. (grapefruit-size) piece. P1070226Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go, to make a smoother ball. Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel or cookies sheet for 40 minutes.
  6. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees, with your baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray or any large pan on a lower oven shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread. (Later you’ll pour hot water into this pan to create the steam that helps make the crusty surface of the bread.)
  7. Sprinkle the loaf liberally with flour and slash a cross, scallops or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top of the loaf, using a serrated bread knife. Leave the flour in place for baking; (you can tap some of it off before slicing the baked bread).
  8. Slide the loaf onto the hot stone. Pour 1-2 cups of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until the top crust is deeply browned and very firm. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in baking time.
  9. Cool a while before removing from stone or slicing or eating, but you can still cut off and eat some slices while they are warm!

Store in refrigerator to keep from mold. I wrapped my loaf in a tea towel and put in an unclosed plastic bag. This bread makes great toast and is always good warmed up.

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I wasn’t sure if I had the cooking chops for using a stone but it turned out! Have you ventured into a new area of cooking or other hobby?

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See these Pinterest boards for more artisan bread ideas. 

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For more great bread recipes check my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner.

Whatever Happened to Dinner?

Tales of Two Toddlers

The Excellent Adventures of Sam and James

How nice when the kids and grandkids come to visit—or we go visit them—just for anyhow.

We enjoyed special weekends with both grandsons in the last five weeks, separately. What fun. We spent the only warmish weekend in February soaking up some rays in North Carolina and exploring simple things with Sam, then almost 17 months.

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First off to Krispy Kreme for marvelous, fresh, worth-every-calorie hot donuts, with his parents carefully pinching off the sugary stuff and just letting Sam have the inside bready part.

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And milk —plenty of milk.

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Sam watched donuts coming off the assembly line and you can tell he’s noticing and processing a lot about his young world these days.

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Then it’s on to Home Depot to pick up supplies for a Grandpa project later in the day. What’s not to love about driving a shopping cart made to resemble a hot rod! His mother marvels at how much fun she and her sisters would have had in such a hot rod as they accompanied Dad to what they used to call “every-kid’s-worst-nightmare-store” and they’d have to invent games to entertain themselves. (No electronic hand held games even after they came on the market. So deprived.)

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Last on our expedition, Renfro Hardware, an old timey hardware store (circa 1906) that’s like a trip back in time: folks can still gather ‘round a good old wood stove complete with somebody’s lunch or breakfast cooking in a cast iron skillet on top.

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It’s too early in Spring for the chicks they often have there, so we visit the grown up hens back of the store for Sam’s first up close look at a chicken.

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I like that this store mixes old fashioned wares with locally produced honey, onion and potato starts, and heirloom seeds for trendy chic/hip young gardeners as well.

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I think I’m beginning to understand that the beauty of grandchildren is that they take you back to your own early parenting days. No—you have the leisure and perspective to revel in and appreciate that these days are fleeting and so precious (they’re not babies any more—how fast that first year went) that you just savor it all and make memories out of a visit to Home Depot, Krispy Kreme and an old hardware store.

You also jump at the chance to help out their parents by “babysitting.” James and his parents visited the first weekend in March to help grandpa celebrate his birthday (not a big one like his 60th last year, which is one of my most frequently read posts from all last year, there’s a lot of online searching going on apparently for “how to plan a 6oth birthday party”). So I was tickled when his parents announced on Saturday afternoon, “We want to go to Costco. Is it okay if we leave James here?”

Ok? Ok? They trust me? Oh yes boy is it ok. I was to let him play until his nap and then put him down and then keep an “eye” on him with their marvelous video nursery monitor.

So, Grandma and grandson alone in the kitchen? What does grandson get into?JamesCrackers5

Both James and Sam are into helping mom or dad or whoever is in the kitchen, cook. They love to get out pots and pans, stir things on the floor, and generally get toted around the kitchen on the hip if someone is making something that smells good. This was the phase with my own toddlers that I developed such noticeable pains in my left arm and chest that I actually asked the doctor what could be going on. “Let’s see, how old are your kids?” When I confirmed they were like 12-18 months or so, he was sure it was lifting and carrying them so much.

These two toddlers have just recently really taken off on their walking skills, but on this afternoon, as I’m working on various dishes for my husband’s smallish birthday dinner, James takes up camp near a relatively safe cupboard collection of cereal boxes, chips, canned goods and odds and ends.

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He sorts through things, picking up packs of gum from one basket and tossing them onto the next shelf with dispatch as if to say, “Well I certainly don’t want/can’t have them.”

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Then he grabs a 10-pack of Nabs crackers I keep there to pack quickly into husband’s lunch. James works until he removes one pack out of the opened 10-pack, and then holds it like a gift.

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Hmm. Would mommy and daddy mind if he had one peanut butter cracker? It’s a long time til dinner, and he still has his nap coming up, and he ate a good lunch. Peanut butter is a good thing, right, in small doses, on crackers?

I help James open the pack and handed him the little cracker sandwich which he promptly put in his mouth, beaming. He chomped on that awhile and I watched him while also peeling my potatoes and I decided the next one, if he wanted another, I would break in half the better to avoid choking. I was pretty sure it was his first time enjoying that treat but he managed it just fine and soon picked up the pack as if to say he wanted another. I felt just plain naughty helping him sneak another half a cracker, and then another, until he had eaten 2 ½ crackers, and washed it all down with some water. That seemed like a reasonable snack for such a small pint so I put them up into a drawer he couldn’t reach. My husband discovered that partially eaten pack this past Saturday and asked “what’s this?” Of course I had told his mother about the “grandma and James cracker party,” so now I clued in the grandpa.

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What fun. Like I said on Facebook, it seems most of my photos from the weekend are of James eating, to which his mother exclaimed “Probably because it’s his favorite thing ever.” And I thought, hmm, yes, and it’s only the beginning, we hope, since I hear that adolescent and teenage boys are bottomless pits.

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This blog post is some pure grandma journal stuff mostly for family and close friends just so I have a record. Otherwise, over time our minds tend to forget the details, right? And I’m so happy to be on this journey.

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If this triggers any of your own grandma/grandpa and small person stories, so much the better. I’d love to hear your stories!

“Why Not Me?” – Unwanted Lessons in Suffering

When I think of people who can teach us volumes about suffering, I think of Laura from our congregation.

Laura was a beautiful young woman, inside and out, who died of cancer four years ago this spring. I think of her particularly in these weeks before Easter, because she died on Palm Sunday.

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She had a young son and a dear husband. I was privileged to interview her for a radio program I was helping produce at the time, Shaping Families, and you can still hear her lovely voice and fuller story here. Her story aired the weekend she died (we worked about 3 months ahead producing programs).

Many people suffer from pain, illness, accidents and emotional turmoil over many years. Most of us will deal with acute suffering at some point in our lives so we are wise to listen to the voices of those who travel the road before us.

I know many women who have died from breast cancer (and thankfully, many who’ve survived) but Laura’s story and testimony will always turn my head around.

The day she first learned of her rather dim prognosis, she said she spent approximately one half day locked in the bathroom—“my fists clenched, feeling something that the word anger can’t even describe. It was rage.” Her husband urged her to come out, and when she finally did later that evening, she found him trying to read to their almost-four-year-old son but struggling greatly. She knew she didn’t have time for despair or depression, and that she must carry on, for them. And for herself.

Instead of dwelling on asking “why me,” she said “the answer very quickly was obvious: why not me? You know, the world is full of suffering and obviously all of us are going to die,” she went on. “This is a condition of being alive. There are so many others in the world who deal with much greater suffering than I have experienced. It has nothing to do with who deserves it and who doesn’t. It would be arrogant of me to assume that I should somehow be immune to this,” Laura said.

Between treatments and while in remission, she spent her last years on some amazing travel opportunities—to the middle east to visit her brother involved in mission work there, and to Alaska with her son so they could experience the wild wonders of our 49th state together and he would have that as a memory. And she kept singing—often blessing our small congregation with her rich and lilting soprano solos or simply as another voice in the choir. Chills ran down our backs as Laura sang, especially as her tall and always trim frame gravitated toward gaunt.

I thought of Laura this week as I read a devotional in Rejoice!, written by pastor, author and blogger April Yamasaki. She wrote about Psalm 31 which includes both prayers for deliverance and prayers of rejoicing, cries for help and cries of thanksgiving. April notes that this particular psalm, while seemingly inconsistent or perhaps contradictory in its message, issues a call to commitment, “to pray, to remain faithful in all the ups and downs of life, and to trust God.”

April goes on:

“Our lives are like this psalm—not easily categorized as just one thing, but rather a composite of ups and downs, affliction and wonder, lament and praise. Through this glorious tapestry of life, God is faithful and calls us to commitment.”

What an apt description of Laura’s life and witness. She mixed affliction and wonder into her last years like no one I’d ever seen: enjoying the first graders she taught until she no longer had the strength—or rather wanting to conserve such strength as she had for the considerable intellectual and physical demands of her young son (he could ask questions like no kid could ask, in addition to being a typical four to six-year-old boy through her illness).

I remember Christmas caroling with Laura and her son in our group when she really didn’t have the strength to be tramping in and out of cars on a cold night as we traveled to several retirement homes. She said Ethan wanted to go caroling, so she came too. Laura demonstrated her commitments—to God first of all, to her husband and child and broader family and friends, but perhaps most of all to herself—to not spend the final years and months of her life wallowing in despair and self-pity, no matter how much she deserved to do that if she had chosen that path. No, she just kept on being Laura: wife, mother, valiant woman of God.

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Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live… John 11:25.

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This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog reflecting on suffering during the Lent season of 2015.  To read more articles in this series, go to http://mennonerds.com/tag/mennonerds-lent-2015/.  For more on MennoNerds, go to http://mennonerds.com/about.

 

 

Easy Enchiladas: Enough for a Tribe

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My oldest daughter first made these for the extended family when we were enjoying a summer vacation together at Lake Cumberland State Park, Kentucky. (If you go, beware that the campground and the resort part with cabins are in TWO DIFFERENT TIME ZONES!) Since some of the family was camping and some in cabins, that made for some interesting calculations the whole time.

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Bertha Miller front; children, in-laws, grands and great grands, Lure Lodge, Kentucky, July 4, 2012.

Anyway, it was our family’s turn to cook for everyone so Michelle volunteered, brave child, to make enchiladas. Some weren’t even sure whether they would like them but as far as I know, they were a hit with everyone. Michelle did not get her cooking chops from me—but from a gourmet cooking class she enrolled in soon after she and her husband got married. It gave her the nudge she needed to branch out and experiment far from the basics she grew up with: my Indiana-Mennonite farm fare and her father’s family’s Virginia cooking traditions.

Here is the recipe Michelle used, adapted from a recipe called Black Bean Veggie Enchiladas from Taste of Home, but she added chicken. I believe she quadrupled it for this crowd. She picked this recipe because it included some slightly healthier options.

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Black Bean Chicken Enchiladas

1 small onion
1 small green pepper
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 can 15 ounce black beans (drained)
¾ cup corn (frozen or canned)
1 can (4 ounces) chopped hot chilies (or as desired)
2 Tablespoons reduced sodium Taco seasoning
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro chopped or 1 teaspoon flakes
8 whole wheat 8-inch tortillas
½ cup canned enchilada sauce (or may use salsa)
¾ cup shredded reduced fat Mexican cheese blend
1-2 cups shredded chicken (canned or cooked)

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In skillet, saute the onion, green pepper (in this case I was using sweet red pepper) and mushrooms in oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Add the beans, corn, chilies, taco seasoning and cilantro; cook for 2-3 minutes or until heated through.

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Stir in shredded chicken to mix thoroughly.

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Spoon 1/2 cup bean/chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place seam side down in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. (In this case I was using one larger and one smaller pan; the larger dish to share with another couple, and the smaller dish for my husband and me.)

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Top with enchilada sauce and cheese.

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Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 8 enchiladas.

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Commenters at Taste of Home said they used sour cream and more cilantro on top.

Originally published as Black Bean Veggie Enchiladas in Healthy Cooking October/November 2008, p55

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There’s also a recipe for Enchiladas in my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner, using a homemade ranchero sauce instead of canned enchilada sauce I need to try sometime. Buy the book here!

Whatever Happened to Dinner?

Writer Wednesday: Have bag, will travel

My husband is an awesome gift giver. Over 38 years of marriage, he has frequently surprised me with gifts that have not only delighted me, but served me year after year. We aren’t jewelry kind of people so it is not diamonds and pearls I’m celebrating today. He got me one diamond; that was enough (and more than I wanted—not growing up in a tradition of diamonds). But he grew up that way. Before we got engaged and I argued against an engagement ring (most of my Mennonite engaged/married friends at the time did not have them), he countered, “I always imagined my wife with a diamond on her finger.” So that was that. He has gotten me maybe one or two necklaces that I expressed an interest in, but I’m the world’s best (or worst) necklace loser, so he has wisely steered clear of other jewelry. No, he gets me what men are not supposed to get their sweethearts: I should have seen it coming when, on my birthday right after we got engaged, he began buying me kitchen appliances: a blender (the only one I still use); a marvelous Sunbeam mixer for our first Christmas (which my daughter still happily uses); a surprise washing machine when we moved to our first home could not have been more appreciated; the following year, he got a dryer for us (not such a surprise, but just as welcome). One year he even purchased a battery powered weed eater for Mother’s Day. I’m serious. It was what I wanted, so I could trim where and when I wanted. (He still has and uses his bigger gas powered weed eater for the bigger stuff and places.) This past Sunday a friend at church asked me where I got my beautiful fuchsia winter coat and I was pleased to reply that my husband got it for me (L.L. Bean): a down coat that I knew was pricey, but it was his attempt to keep me warm since I (like the woman who asked me) am frequently cold. Stuart doesn’t steer clear of getting me clothes, but usually takes along a daughter for help, or corners a sales woman, or finds something on a mannequin he likes and then has a clerk help him find the outfit. Score Stuart!

But two of the gifts that meant the most to me over the years were briefcases. The first one is long gone (and I’m sorry I don’t even have a picture of it), but I’m still toting the second one. I think he hopes it will last me until retirement.

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Oh the tales it could tell. Oh the places it has gone! You think the deep crevices of a woman’s pocketbook are a scary place you don’t want to visit? You don’t want to dig too deeply into my briefcase!

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The briefcases have meant a lot because, you see, I’m a traveler at heart. A real wanderlust. I take after my mother. In addition to family travels and trips as a couple, I have loved traveling on business for the organization I’ve worked for. I always came back with a zillion ideas to write about, absorbed from the talks I’ve heard, the people I’ve met, the new scenery. People are the same no matter where you go, but also so delightfully different! It has been a lifeblood for a “new vistas” craving writer. Unfortunately, shrinking budgets and more video conferencing have greatly cut down on my current business travel.

While Stuart would much rather have me at home, he has always been so supportive of everything I’ve been able to do that when he got me my first briefcase while our children were still quite small and business trips were few and far between, it was an indicator to me that he believed in me and my future. The briefcase said to me: “Honey, I know you love to travel and even though you are pretty much tied to babies and preschoolers right now, here is something you might use in the future.” I felt like it was his blessing on my aspirations. I have a most unusual souvenir, too, on the bottom of my current briefcase. It is looking very worn, very road weary. briefcase4 My briefcase decoration is a string of sticky letters originally meant to be put on our minivan after a friend did some great bodywork for us. They languished on a desk for a long time and I must have put my briefcase on top of them and without my realizing it, the gum on the strip of letters attached itself to the leather. briefcase2 I’m still waiting for some TSA worker to question the meaning of my secret message: D.O.D.G.E. Of course that’s not really funny. Actually these days if I have the chance to travel, I usually carry much lighter cloth bags with just the papers or folders I need for that particular trip. You wouldn’t likely suspect my down-home-Virginia-born-husband who is into tractors, engines, welding, woodworking and all things traditionally “guy,” to have such an eye and heart for what might please his wife. Now you know. You could say at heart D.O.D.G.E stands for Dear Old Dad Goes Emotional. My husband, like my old bag, is a keeper.

Traveling with children on a business trip.An early business trip with the family for a Sunday speaking gig.

Not Lady Gaga: A Medley of Thoughts “Climbing Every Mountain”

I know I wasn’t the only Mennonite girl whose very first movie seen in a theater was The Sound of Music. No Saturday afternoons watching comics and westerns for this child of the 50s, no way.

From the Oscars this past Sunday night, I learn that the endearing classic movie is now 50 years old. And if hip Lady Gaga can sing (so beautifully) that medley of favorites from the movie in the year 2015 and still be cool, maybe I can reflect a bit on what “Climb Every Mountain”—the message of the movie—has meant to me over the years.

I was 14 when I went to that first movie. I mostly remember being blown away by how huge and big the film and screen were. Amazing! And fell in love with the movie and Julie Andrews. But I also guiltily recalled revival preachers who had pounded into my brain, “Would you want Jesus to find you at the movies?” More liberal preachers said that “good movies” may be okay to see but the next movie would not be quite so clean and next thing you’d know you’d be going to X-rated movies. I am not making schputt (as we used to say in Indiana, is that Pennsylvania Dutch?) of being raised in a home that was careful about exposure to “worldly” entertainments. There are definitely plenty of movies that I would not want in my memory bank, but thank goodness most Christians, even Mennonites, are trusted with making our own decisions about what is worth viewing, what is not. (See my daughter’s review at Third Way website about a movie she now wishes she hadn’t seen.)

But especially the song “Climb Every Mountain” is so spiritually inspiring that, like Maria, it has moved and stirred me often through the years. What girl hasn’t pretended she was Maria out enjoying a solitary walk or hike and belted out her best soprano solo beginning with “The Hills are Alive” and ending with “Climb Every Mountain”? (Lucky are the countless young teens who had the opportunity to play the Mother Abbess—or Maria—in so many high school musicals!)

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Austria’s Alps, image courtesy of meepoohfoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Rodgers and Hammerstein lyrics are really quite simple and the song repetitive, and one could now say, almost cliché (I’ll just excerpt my favorite parts):

“Climb every mountain,
Search high and low…

…Follow every rainbow,
‘Till you find your dream.

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.”

What’s not to love about a song and a movie that encourages people to yes, find their dream, and give all the love you can muster. Who doesn’t need a push like that sometimes?

I think of the mountains I have climbed, both literally and figuratively, starting right there on the farm where I lived when I was allowed to see my first movie:

P1060015 On our old Indiana farm

**The gently rolling hills (they hardly look like hills to me now) of our northern Indiana farm pasture where I would fling my arms wide to the sky, warble this or another song if I was getting over a failed crush or romance.

NorthFlaHomeEditedOur north Florida home, and the VW in which I learned to drive stick shift.

**Roaming the flatlands of north Florida when I lived there—or a deserted beach even better—mourning my homesickness, or lack of friends, or lack of direction for the future.

KentuckyEditedMe the “teacher” in Appalachia, heading to my classroom, with the Kentucky hills in the background.

**Exploring the mountains of Appalachia in the year I spent in the Mennonite church’s Voluntary Service program, pondering whether and when I should go to college, and why.

P1070247The night before beginning a long journey to Spain.

**The magical year I was able to spend as a student in Spain, and actually wandered the meadows between the Alps of Austria over Christmas break. You can bet I couldn’t help but break out in Sound of Music songs as I spent a somewhat lonely Christmas day at a genuine castle (Schloss Mittersill) there.

EditedHillsEMUThe hill behind Eastern Mennonite University, senior pictures.

**When I finally met the man I would marry, of course that also required some element of risk and pondering: is this my dream? I climbed the hills behind Eastern Mennonite University and weighed the future. Did we have what it takes to go the distance? Was this my rainbow?

leavingforhoneymooneditedStuart and I leaving on our honeymoon from the backdoor kitchen at Trinity Presbyterian Church, my roommate watching us head out.

**Then when the little ones started coming along, I truly discovered the need to give “all the love you can give.” During those years, I didn’t have a lot of time to go out to the hills and sing by myself.

TanyaChickenPoxEdited        DoreenChickenPoxEdited Miserable February when all the children got chicken pox.

**If I could grab a few minutes of peace in the shower, you might have heard me warbling about climbing that everlasting mountain between poor-me-sniffles and outright boo-hooing.

HighlandCountyVaExploring the hills of Highland County, Virginia.

**When the husband blew out his knee and spent weeks in a full cast way up his thigh and he needed help doing almost everything—but yet I knew things could be so much worse—I just tried to get through each day. There was not a lot of singing or mountain climbing going on. As he got better and was able to actually provide childcare for the youngest not yet in school, it proved to be a blessing in disguise as I went off to my part time job.

StuartCastKneeTherapyEditedUpper, Stuart and dog Wendy commiserating after he had knee surgery with a cast to his hip. We set up a bed in the living room. Lower, as he recovered, he did therapy at home and took care of three-year-old Doreen.

From this distance, with three daughters through college (one through grad school), two adorable grandsons (and sons-in-law), and nearing 39 years of married life where we’ve been able to follow many of our dreams for travel, involvement in the kids’ lives, having a close and committed church community and much more, it has been a sometimes bumpy journey (aren’t they all) but one filled with love, laughter and tears.

SmokeyMountainsEditedThe lines may feel cliché but oh so true:

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.

I feel very fortunate, and I thank God: not only for my strict and wise upbringing, but the faith community that has mostly shaped me and my family in the last 40 years, Trinity Presbyterian, and the extended family on both sides that supports us, no matter what.

Striebig Photography & Design: Davis Family &emdash; Striebig-8536http://bradleystriebig.zenfolio.com/portraiture

I feel richer than any pop star or the most famous “red carpet” Hollywood walker.

***

If you missed it like I did, here’s Lady Gaga’s lovely medley from Sound of Music.

***

What was the first movie you remember seeing? What do you remember about it?

***

What have you learned from the mountains you’ve climbed?

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