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When You Experiment with Raising Watermelon

Another Way for week of October 23, 2020

Our Watermelon Story

We have a very good friend who was all excited about a watermelon he’d heard about: the best best best watermelon anyone ever tasted and didn’t we want to give it a try in our 30 by 90-foot Shenandoah Valley garden. We have pretty decent soil.

There are several things wrong with this proposal: you need a lot of space for meandering watermelon vines, and you need some sandy soil. Plus you need a very long growing season of days where soil temperature is at least 80 degrees.

In his work life (now retired), Joe was a crack salesman. Not the drug kind, but a really successful sales guy. You can guess what happened next: he convinced us to at least try. Maybe we’d learn something.

He sent for a packet of “Bradford Watermelon” seeds that cost $10 for about 20 seeds, give or take a few. Yes, you read right. They were the thickest watermelon seeds I’ve ever seen, and after fetching some cow manure off of a neighbor, we proceeded to spread the manure and mound up three hills. Finally, we planted the seeds on top with high hopes.

We could just imagine the lush sweet melons in late summer, for they required about 85 days growing time. We’d have a watermelon party! One of my nicknames from Dad was “Watermelody” because I was such a big fan of summer’s bright red treats. Dad grew numerous small varieties and even some larger ones in a mucky patch near a creek bed.

Our experiment would probably have benefited from some of that muck. We did water the plants almost every other day if it didn’t rain. The long sheet of directions said to “monitor the germinated seeds for vigor. Keep the strongest, cull the rest.” Only two seeds out of that pack ever germinated. What a bum deal. But finally, there were ample vines from those two seeds pushing up.

When blossoms actually started appearing on the vines I was ecstatic—you would have thought I was expecting a baby. My daughter had said I needed to be sure bees were pollinating the blossoms. I carefully hunted for the male and female flowers blossoming (and yes, they look sort of like actual male and female reproductive parts if you get my drift). You take a little pollen off of the male stemen that is a little stalk sticking up in the center of the flower, and rub it on a flower with a female stigma which is a sticky little knob. You know about the birds and the bees don’t you? Underneath the flower is a tiny immature melon that does not mature unless it is pollinated.

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When the vines were spreading everywhere and among our precious corn.

I went out 8:30 a.m., which was too early because blossoms weren’t open yet, but by 9:30 a.m., bees and their pollination activity was happening all over our garden and I didn’t actually need to help it along.

Half the patch suddenly ended up looking like you see above on the left side of this picture.

And then. One evening I discovered that half of the watermelon patch lay in ruin: wilted, the life drained out of the vines. I almost cried. Perhaps a vole or critter or bug or virus attacked our lush watermelon vines, which by this time were edging their way into the precious corn rows, crawling up the stalks, and making mayhem out of our otherwise neatly mulched (with straw) garden. I ran into the house both sad and irate because I felt it was the end of our watermelon patch.

Closer inspection made me wonder if moles or voles had disturbed the vines?

Well, the other half patch did survive and by late summer, we counted maybe 12 or 13 melons which were actually growing. Most ended up rotting before ripening. But one day in early October, we cut into the best of two surviving smallish melons. Just meh. Edible, but not sweet or ripe or delicious. Not really tasty.

The “meh” watermelon party.

The moral of the story? You can try raising watermelon if you want to for a wonderful learning experiment in gardening. Just don’t plan to eat any.

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What’s your worst gardening disaster story?

Have you grown watermelon successfully? I’d love to hear tips or tricks?

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My father-in-law was a prolific gardener, but he did not raise watermelon because they took up too much ground for the results. What have you learned from your parents or grandparents?

Comment below or write to me at anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

Oven Ham and Cheese Sliders

Old Order Mennonite favorite recipe

Darla Weaver is an Old Order Mennonite writer, gardener, and mother of three. A couple years ago I enjoyed getting to know her from a distance working with her on two books for Herald Press, the most recent one titled Gathering of Sisters: A Year with My Old Order Mennonite Family. (2018)

Sandwiches after baking. They’re gooey on bottom but delicious.

The Weavers, who own a greenhouse, live close enough to each other that the adult kids come home every Tuesday and spend it with their Mom on the farm with the greenhouse. They hitch up their buggies and bring along their children who aren’t in school. In summer they sometimes ride bicycles to get there.

When Darla first told me about their tradition each week I asked her if she would keep a journal of their experiences on those Tuesdays for a year, thinking of course of the bestselling book, Tuesdays with Morrie (and one of my favorites). Her other book for us was a devotional Water My Soul, which came out in 2017.

This recipe for Honey Mustard Ham sandwiches is one of their favorite dishes for these Tuesday gatherings when they each bring along items from their pantries or gas-powered refrigerators, (yes, sometimes leftovers, recipe fails, or things that are maybe getting a bit stale). But together they creatively fix a mostly wonderful meal enjoyed by all including picky toddlers and in summer, endlessly hungry adolescents.

You may have seen these at potlucks or perhaps parties or showers and there are numerous variations online, but here’s Darla’s recipe. And no, the store-bought honey mustard dressing is not used in this recipe, in case you were wondering.

Assembling the sliders.

Honey Mustard Ham Sandwiches

15 mini-dinner rolls (Hawaiian is a great choice for these)
1 pound sliced Swiss cheese
½ pound sliced ham

Topping

1 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons mustard

Cut rolls in half. Place bottom half in 9 x 13 inch pan. Layer with cheese, then ham, then another layer of cheese. Place bun on top layer.

To make topping

Combine ingredients and mix and melt in small pan.
Pour over rolls.

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

If you’re not cooking for an Amish or Old Order family, or going to any potlucks anytime soon during this pandemic, consider halving the recipe. And you might love this book as much as I did! Find here.

Gathering of Sisters: A Year with My Old Order Mennonite Family by [Darla Weaver]

Our Huge Vast Wonderful World

Another Way for week of October 16, 2020 

Our Huge Vast Wonderful World 

One of our daughters recently introduced us to the Our Planet series on Netflix. Blew. Us. Away. Now I discover that at least some of them are available for free on YouTube.  

Like most people, we love nature, animals, and plants, and while we don’t always love insects, have come to respect the role they play in this complex world. 

If anyone knows what kind of larvae this is, I’d love to know. We found these on stored pieces of plywood. The fine fine knitting of the next around this critter is what also drew my eye, which I felt the camera on my phone captured pretty well. Are they invasive? Harmful?

I can’t begin to describe what video cameras and technology and teams of hundreds (thousands?) shared through the Our Planet series, but I’ll try. The first we saw was called “Jungles,” about the rainforests that cover our globe. I was somewhat astounded to learn they are found in as many countries of the world as they are. Usually I think of rainforests being mainly in Brazil along the Amazon, but the true list is far longer: several parts of Africa, more in South and Central America, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Australia, British Columbia, and even islands like Puerto Rico. As the cameras glided over extensive miles and miles of rainforest, we may think, wow. Who says the world is running out of space? How vast and wonderful these important forests are for the production of oxygen which we all need to live.  

Shenandoah Mountain, part of the Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area near us. Read more about it here.

But the flip side is the knowledge that these forests overall have shrunk, according to The Nature Conservancy. “Of six million square miles of tropical rainforest that once existed worldwide, only 2.4 million square miles remain,” says livescience.com. Only 50 percent, or 75 million square acres of temperate rainforests (milder climates receiving plentiful rain where you find coniferous or pine type trees and some broadleaf) still exist. 

What do we find in those rainforests? Amazing, beautiful, astonishing creatures and plant life species that I had never heard of. Narrated by the unparalleled David Attenborough, the films bring out gasps, make you laugh, and maybe make you weep. In the first one we watched on the jungles which thrive in rainforests, the orangutan’s baby—so adorable and found only in Indonesia and Malaysia—watches his mother intently as she teaches him what he will need to survive. It takes at least ten years before he’s launched on his own. Clearing of jungles (deforestation) has reduced the population of these precious creatures by 100,000 in 20 years.  

I fell in love with this little fella.

We watch the exotic and amazing mating dances of fun and unusual birds, such as the bird of paradise. What an apt name. The male struts around showing his fancier features, like he was a new car: blinking his lights (eyes), changing his eye color, puffing out his sides in a way that truly excites the lady bird he’s courting.  

The film “Coastal Seas” demonstrates how the cycle of life depends on small fish like anchovies swarming the relatively shallow waters near our coasts. These and bigger fish thrive there partially because the shallower water lets sunlight reach them. Then bigger fish provide sustenance for still bigger fish like dolphins, who work wonderfully together to catch dinner. The smart, communicative dolphins (those clicks!) round up prey by stirring up mud in a circle and the smaller fish panic, jumping out of the water, to the delight and bountiful grazing of the dolphins. The great cycle of life: cruel and fatal for the relatively few victims caught in this muddy circle, and Attenborough assures us that most of the fish escape and live on.

Grizzly hunting for salmon in Alaska, 2019. My photo, from a school tour bus.

When we were in Alaska last year, we learned closer at hand of the salmon swimming upstream to spawn their offspring, and also how the great grizzlies of the northland await this season as if their lives depend upon it. That cliché, for them, is true. In the earlier BBC series “The Earth” we see how grizzlies lard up with live fish and munch them down for their long winter hibernation ahead; their “toddler” grizzlies also absorb the art of “Stayin’ Alive”.

Alaska wilderness near Seward.

Will we humans learn the art of staying alive? Do we have the will to do what we need to sensibly protect precious wildlife, plants, trees, birds, insects and effectively curb the invasive ones? Truly God spawned for us an amazing world.  

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My favorite segment from what we’ve seen so far: the mating dance of the Bird of Paradise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWfyw51DQfU

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What is your favorite season? Part of the world? Fav part of your country?

How about your own habitat: city or suburban lot, apartment, rural area?

Share here so we’ll all know!

Or send thoughts and comments to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

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Here’s the link to the nature documentary, Coastal Seas.

For an organization committed to helping businesses and large companies handle their corporate grounds with an eye to protecting habitat and wildlife, check out the services of Wildlife Habitat Council.

The Tree of Life (poetry)

Turnstone Press, Winnipeg, Canada, 2020.

By Sarah Klassen

A book review by Melodie Davis for FindingHarmonyBlog.com

First a confession: This is the first whole book of poetry I’ve actually read in years. Decades, even. Does that make me unqualified to write a blog post on this gem of a book? I hope not, for it grabs you over and over with lines and brief sketches that somehow marry the prosaic with the divine.

I used to write poetry. Didn’t every aspiring writer when they were in their teens? Later, I realized my free verse-style poems were frequently able to be cast in prose, and that people in general seem more willing to read—and buy—prose than poetry. How cool that Canada has several arts organizations that help fund the publishing of books and poetry and even magazines, I understand, which this publisher acknowledges in its publication data page.

This short collection is easily readable in a matter of days, not weeks, but restores my appreciation for poetic expression and leaves me in awe, really, of this woman in her late 80s still crafting gems which truly hang with you.

I especially like how you can be reading along and suddenly you realize what the writer is referencing comes straight out of the Bible: texts that most of us longtime Christians recognize—but she molds them into fresh thoughts.

Let’s get specific here with a few quotes from her work that I hope will make you want to pick up the book, purchase it, read it, share it.

One such is a poem which is a description of Eve. Don’t most of us think of the biblical story of both Adam and Eve as never-do-wells because of how they led the whole human race into sin? If it weren’t for that apple … we think.

With the book title The Tree of Life, which most of us know comes right out of Genesis, Klassen helps me see Eve as a mother who grieves over perhaps the world’s worst parenting outcome: having a son who kills your other son. Klassen’s stanza touches me, makes me sympathize:

“Eve weeps for her children: one son murdered,
the other a murderer. She grits her teeth
against temptation to throw in the towel,
falls to her knees, and with wounded hands
wrings from the grieving earth a garden.”

Some of Klassen’s writing may appeal especially to those who enjoy reading about the lives of women in the Bible. A chapter called “Half the Sky” opens with the well-known quote from 20th century Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, “Women hold up half the sky.” The chapter includes numerous poems looking at the sometimes scant descriptions of lives Bible women.

Author Sarah Klassen

Remember Zephathah’s daughter (the Bible doesn’t give her name)? In the book of Judges, this daughter has the misfortune of running happily to meet her father returning from a successful battle. She is not happy for long, as she belatedly learns her father had vowed to celebrate by sacrificing the first thing he saw upon his return to his camp. Zephathah postpones the sacrifice while the daughter and friends mourn and dance their heartache for a period of weeks. 

Numerous poems center on family life. In “The Tick of Time,” children on an outing ask what children always do: Are we there yet? They picnic on folding chairs near a lake. Suddenly the adults realize there are white caps on the water and the children have gone out deeper than they should. Did the children survive safely?? We guess so. It is spare poetry calling forth our own scary memories.

In “The Road,” the author ticks off the many ways humankind travel and somehow her word “containers” aptly encompasses all the methods of travel, but something we rarely think of.

“At any point in time, in one hemisphere or the other,
a significant percentage of our planet’s more than
seven billion people are on the move, travelling on
air, land, water, in an overcrowded Zodiac, firm
or flimsy aircraft, flat on the wind-buffeted top of
a container.”

Some shorter quick lines that struck me for one reason or another: The poem “Name” clearly and provocatively brings up the seashore breakfast after Jesus has risen from the dead.

I’m puzzled by “Rise and Go” in the first chapter. Is she referencing a martyr killed for faith, I ponder? (This one gets answered in the notes at the close of the book, but don’t look there until you need to.)

Other poems that puzzle: “Higher” is difficult to decipher. Is “Refuge” about the author’s own family, or a random arriving refugee family? Does it matter?

Her poem “In Memoriam” is perfect for this child of the 20th century. And I loved “Night” where she refers to the blinking lights of an aircraft coming home to land. I take my dog out around 5:40 a.m. where I often see blinking lights of aircraft making their approach to Dulles Airport in Washington D.C., two hours from us.

“And Yet,” referencing Elijah telling the widow to go ahead and bake bread, is movingly evocative, especially in these Covid times.

Her poem “Arrivals” uses a perfect word for a flock of flying geese, calling it “A wedge of geese.” I loved it! And perhaps you’re like me not having heard of a musical instrument called a theremin. Google it, it’s most unusual.

I like Klassen’s frequent mixing of biblical story with modern day realities as in a poem titled “Travelling with Children,” (humorously subtitled “Sermon Series in a Mennonite Church.”) One biblical reference sounds like conversations between good friends: “Take! Take your unleavened bread and go—just go!” Or this: “In the parking lot we debated: lunch at Perkins or Olive Garden?”

I could certainly go on and on, but if that stops you from reading this volume for yourself, I wouldn’t want to do that.

Just one or two more of my favorite finds: Klassen turns a phrase around to delight the brain and the tongue. This from a poem on the various seasons of the church year: “In ordinary times, those tongues of fire whirl like fervent dervishes and dance.” In another poem, she questions, “By what means can death lose its sting?”

Finally, the quote she opens the book with from Revelation 22:2 is pretty cool at this time of worldwide pandemic: “On each side of the river is the tree of life … The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations” (italics mine). The last chapter on trees brings still wider and deeper meaning to the collection’s title: Tree of Life.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t find the notes until after reading the whole collection, where she helps readers (those of us less quick with such things) decipher some of the more hidden personages or words.

Klassen also writes fiction (The Peony Season), and her other books of poetry include Simone Weil: Songs of Hunger and Love, Dangerous Elements, Journey to Yalta. She was born in Winnipeg, a lovely city I’ve had the privilege to visit several times, and currently lives there. She has taught high school English and won many writing awards. I read this book thinking Sarah is a much younger writer than she is. Thus, her writing comes alive with the words and experiences of a seasoned poet.

Viva la collection!

The Tree of Life and other Klassen writings are available from Turnstone Press here. Also found on Amazon and other online outlets, or ask for it at your local independent bookstore.

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Any lines or thoughts here strike your fancy?

Make you feel like writing some poetry?

Comment here!

Melodie Davis has written a syndicated newspaper column, Another Way, since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted here at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

Chasing Hope: When Your Work is Just Staying Alive

Another Way for week of Oct. 9 2020

Chasing Hope: When Your Work is Just Staying Alive

Guest writer: Dennis Benson

Editor’s note: This week Dennis Benson wraps up Melodie Davis’s series on various aspects of “work.” Davis met Benson many years ago at a day long workshop on creativity when they both worked in the same general field—communicating Christian faith to a secular public. Benson has done radio interviews with hundreds of rock musicians such as John Lennon, Mick Fleetwood, and won many awards. He is also a former seminary professor, and author of 21 books.  

This story begins two years ago: I am very sick. The renal doctor is deadly serious. “Dennis, your kidneys are non-functioning. You must go into dialysis three days a week.” She pauses. “You are not a candidate for transplant. If you miss a week of treatment … you will die.”

Seagull at Lake Michigan

One of my weaknesses is that I am irrationally fearful of needles from a childhood hospital trauma. How does a chronically ill person maintain hope in light of such a diagnosis?

Here is how I try: using three R’s.

Routines: the practical. On the day of my four-hour dialysis, I get up at 7:00, eat my two cups of fresh fruit salad which my daughter freezes for me. I then apply a pain deadening salve to the arm where the cleansing needles go in. I cover the arm with a plastic wrap. Snatching my cane, I head for the door.

Ritual: connecting with my spiritual roots. Stepping out onto our porch, I survey the amazing vista: seasonal woods, and turbulent Lake Michigan. Gratitude floods me. I sing the first verse from “Of the Father’s love begotten” (adding in my second rendition: “Of the Mother’s love” to the ancient hymn). As I walk down the three steps to the driveway I take in this day, and I repeat the mantra from my friend, Fred Rogers: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Won’t you be my neighbor?” As I walk to my car, I sing, ‘Zip-a-Dee, Do-Dah.’

Rite: The Holy. I arrive at the dialysis clinic 45 minutes early in order to meet with two people in the lobby who are taken in for treatment before my appointment: Gloria and Miguel. An oddity of this treatment center is that we are unable to speak with others during dialysis. The fourteen patients are anchored in chairs by the blood pressure cuff on one arm (for testing every thirty minutes). The other arm must not move since it has needles connected to a refrigerator-sized dialysis machine. It takes a pint of blood at a time, and removes impurities in it. Then it returns the blood (but only cleansing 15 percent of it).

The rite encounter is my most sacred moment. The Holy Spirit bonds us as we visit and deal with our fear, depression … and hope. This small circle of spiritual empathy keeps us going. It is the source of our hope.

Most of all, this contact forces us to focus on the needs of others. It enables us to escape from being self-selfish by empathizing with the need of others. So many people have chronic illnesses. It is often difficult for the healthy to understand.

However, those being treated are heroes who may bless you.

(©️ 9/19/20 by Dennis C. Benson. All future rights reserved.)

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Dennis C. Benson is an award-winning media producer, former seminary professor, and author of 21 books. His daily writings can be found on his Facebook page.

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What part of Dennis’ story inspires you most?

Who do you call a hero?

Surfing kite at Lake Michigan

Comment here, or write to me at anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

Cherry, Apple, or Peach Cobbler?

I vividly remember the night (pre-Covid days) we were eating out with neighbors Harold and “Willie.” They have been married over 70 years and are both in their 90s, and I never fail to learn new things from them.

On the buffet there were countless desserts, but I had a hankering for cherry pie, a frequent treat in my Mennonite home growing up. But there was none among the selections I found. My husband is not into cherry pie so I never bother making it at home just for me.

Harold returned from the buffet with a dessert for his wife, who said she didn’t really want it, so I took a bite. And then another. It tasted similar to cherry pie but was its cousin: good old-fashioned cherry cobbler. Topped with a little vanilla ice cream, it was the combo of sweet and sour that finished off my meal perfectly. So I ate her whole dessert, with her permission. It was delicious. I don’t know why I had adopted an attitude toward cobbler as being a poor second cousin to actual pie, but my little attitude problem was corrected that evening.

So I went hunting for a good cherry cobbler recipe to share here, figuring they are legion and I was not wrong. I looked in four of my favorite Mennonite cookbooks, Mennonite Community Cookbook, More-with-Less Cookbook, Mennonite Country-Style Recipes and Kitchen Secrets and Mennonite Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley (all available on Amazon). I settled by modifying an old one from Mennonite Community Cookbook as follows:

Cherry Cobbler (Or any of several fruits)

¼ cup shortening (I used butter, softened)
¾ cup sugar (could easily cut to ½ cup)
1 egg
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup milk (I used sour milk)
2 cups sour cherries, canned or frozen; substitute fresh or canned apples, peaches, according to season or your pantry

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

Cut in butter (or other shortening) into dry ingredients.

In another bowl, beat egg and milk; combine with flour mixture. Stir until flour mixture is wettened throughout and clings together.

Pour cherries into a greased, shallow, 9 x 9 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

Drop cobbler batter [illustration below] in 6-9 large spoonfuls on top of cherries. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream, milk, or cream. Serves 6-9. (The suggestion for cream tells you how old that recipe is: most of us are not blessed to have cream on hand.)

Double recipe in large pan (9 x 12) of cobbler before baking.

Later I discovered a shorter recipe and concise instructions for “Quick Fruit Cobbler’” in More-with-Less. That recipe has you put the dough in the bottom of a greased baking pan, and then add fruit on top—which ends up on the bottom after baking. You could try making that with children or grandchildren and I’m guessing they’ll love the mystery of how the dough begins on the bottom and ends on top!

Note: I thought cobbler would surely be easier to make than making pie dough from scratch; the only thing that was less time consuming with the cobbler was not having to roll out the pie dough, which can be tricky depending on humidity, ingredients, and your own skill in rolling out dough. For a larger dish, try making a cobbler in a 9 x 12 inch pan with the recipe doubled, using any canned fruit you have on hand. That would make a far easier quick dessert than rolling out dough for two pies, and you have dessert for several meals!

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This recipe appeared earlier on Amish Wisdom blog, which closed down, so I’m sharing it here (just in case you’re wondering if you read this before.)

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Are there dishes you never tried but finally decided to try a bite and to your surprise it was yummy?

When Your Work is Volunteering

Another Way for week of October 2, 2020

When Your Work is Volunteering

(Editor’s note: Sixth in a seven-part series on the nature of work.)

Many people of all ages get a lot of inspiration and validation from volunteering: we feel good helping others feel better.

This is especially true in retirement when one’s work can be totally volunteer. Experts say it is wise to have interests to keep us motivated, involved, and helping society as we get older. Of course, the current pandemic has made a huge dent in what older people (especially) feel safe doing.

My mother has found fulfillment through a variety of volunteer jobs over the years. At 96 and not able to drive anymore, the options for volunteer work have changed, but not the will and opportunity. She nudged me to write about this topic because she hopes others might decide to get involved in volunteer work too.

Mom especially enjoyed her early years volunteering at her retirement complex. She greeted people who wished to visit the healthcare part of the facility, or helped them if they needed directions to a room. Mom had some scary challenges at times. One night a resident with memory issues wanted to go where he wasn’t allowed and she had to stop him. “You can’t tell me where to go,” he spouted.

But those were the exceptions. “I got a free dinner at the Sideboard [the in-house cafeteria for staff and guests] when I worked. They gave me a volunteer pass and I got all kinds of delicious meals!”

Mother also read to a blind woman—short stories from books like Chicken Soup for the Soul. She grew close enough to the woman and family to hug the daughter at the woman’s eventual funeral. “When you could hug in those days,” Mom reminisced.

Mom loves reading aloud with lots of energy and emphasis: here she is reading lines in a play put on by the Curtain Raisers, where she has acted in recent years, even into her 90s. All of the actors volunteer as free entertainment for their retirement community.

Then a good friend of hers from childhood couldn’t see to read, so Mom began reading for Mabel. “We grew up together, went to the same church and our mothers quilted together,” Mom said. In these later years in healthcare, Mabel couldn’t sing much but they sang together anyway and also cried together. “She lost two children,” Mom recalled sadly. And then her husband died after a fall on his head.

Earlier when our family lived in north Florida, Mom and women from our church drove to a facility where people needed help writing letters to their families. “Sometimes I just kind of made up stuff if they couldn’t think of what to say, and I read it to them and asked if it was ok.” Mother still enjoys writing letters.

Dad, Buster, and Mom in a photo taken by photographers for Mennonite Board of Missions “SOOP” volunteer program. Mother always hated the farm jacket she was wearing here, and Dad with his painty overalls. But with Buster looking up so adoringly at Dad, this is one of my favorite photos of the two of them. (Should I say the three of them.)

When my dad retired from farming, they volunteered for a couple months each winter in south Texas. They helped those with disabilities get in and out of a therapeutic pool, and played Bingo at a nursing home. My parents enjoyed the camaraderie with other volunteers in the SOOP program which at one point stood for Service Opportunities for Older People. Now it serves anyone—including families who want a short or long term service experience.

When Mother could no longer drive and couldn’t quilt because of arthritis, she began grading Bible correspondence courses for prison inmates through a program called Gospel Echoes. Since Mother lives nearby, someone delivers a pack of lessons to Mom most weeks. We are all very grateful for this outlet for Mom’s service at this point in her life. It helps keep her going and she talks about how much she has learned about prison life—and the Bible—through the questions they ask and the stories they share. She prays regularly for many of the students, and they express gratitude for her help.   

I hope you can find the opportunities that fit you in retirement or any age. It’s best to start young because of how it opens your eyes to acute needs and the life experiences of other people.

What volunteer work would you like to try that you have not done yet?

What was your best volunteering experience ever?

Were there volunteer opportunities that didn’t pan out as expected?

For more information on SOOP, go to mennonitemission.net/Serve/soop or call 866-866-2872 (toll-free); or gospelechoes.com or call 574- 533-0221.

***

For a free small booklet called “Work Therapy” with 35 tips on enjoying work, write to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

Butterscotch Squares – Mennonite Community Cookbook style

Butterscotch Squares

I feel embarrassed, chagrined, and sheepish.

In the cookbook I published in 2010, my recipe testers and co-authors provided an excellent recipe for “Blondies” or what my mother called Butterscotch Brownies or Squares. I’ve made them for years (as did the person who shared the recipe) and usually they get rave reviews, according to both of us, even if they are bit crumbly as they get older (even when I keep them in the freezer), and chewy. The dough is also a bit hard to spread out in the pan, and our recipe writer encouraged spreading the dough by hand because otherwise it sort of stays in clumps.

Well. My mother at 96 realizes she has a right to say nix to baking, and even though she tries now and then, it ends up being a big headache and mess to clean up after. So, she put in a polite request wondering if I could bring her some Butterscotch Squares/Brownies on my next visit.

“Sure,” I agreed. She hated to ask Nancy who is the oldest daughter who lives nearby and the rest of us depend on Nancy to help mother out as she needs it. My mother would be very alone if not for Nancy and we all know it. (Thanks, Nan!)

I knew from past experience that the brownies I made were not as soft as what Nancy made. Mom had even talked about how good Nancy’s were/are. I compared what I thought was a recipe I had gotten from Mom, to the recipe we printed in the Whatever Happened to Dinner book (WHTD).

Ta da!! I have some tweaks to announce and if you have a copy of the above cookbook, you might want to make notes in it, or just use the version now posted here. Next, I was also shocked to find I had never shared this recipe at all on my blog. I’m flabbergasted (mother’s word) but also pleased to share a really great version now!

The secret appears to be margarine. This old recipe from the long-heralded Mennonite Community Cookbook (MCC) says to use butter. I use butter for almost everything. So today I subbed margarine for butter because that’s what my oldest sister said to do. You can always trust your older sister with cooking hints, right?? I usually don’t even have any margarine on hand but happened to have some on hand but that’s another story.

The other small difference is that MCC says to use 1 teaspoon baking powder while the recipe in WHTD says to use ¼ teaspoon baking powder and ¼ teaspoon baking soda. I now think that was an error. What do you think? Wikipedia says something that makes sense here: “Baking powder is used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods. It works by releasing carbon dioxide gas into a batter or dough through an acid-base reaction, causing bubbles in the wet mixture to expand and thus leavening the mixture.” Allrecipes.com adds regarding margarine: “Margarine, which can contain more water and less fat, may make thin cookies that spread out while baking.” So … I’m guessing that both items together made the difference for this batch.

The blondies or butterscotch brownies shown here are delightfully soft. My sister’s other secret, which I’ve long followed, is to put a piece of bread crust into your storage container to keep them softer, and she specifies white bread crust. I’ve used both white and whole wheat type bread, when I freeze sweet treats like this. (Mom says she never did this. Hmm.)

Below, is the recipe doubled, as my sister does, originally from Mennonite Community Cookbook. I would advise using it rather than the one in Whatever Happened to Dinner. (And then maybe you won’t have to ask, “whatever happened to my dessert?”)

Butterscotch Squares

½ cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts
2 teaspoons vanilla

Melt butter and blend with sugar. Add egg and beat vigorously. Measure flour into sifter, add baking powder and salt. Sift into egg and sugar mixture. Mix well.

Add chopped nuts and vanilla. Spread dough in a greased 9x 11 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cut in squares or bars while warm. Makes about 24 squares.  

Original recipe by Barbara Stutzman, Kalona Iowa

And please, please, if you try them, tell us here how they turn out, and also inform me if you ever run into recipes from me that don’t work out like you wanted!

***

Do you use butter or margarine or both?

Mennonite Community Cookbook/65th Anniv

And here’s the cookbook where this recipe came from. I was privileged to write the history of this cookbook, published in this 65th Anniversary Edition, published in 2015. It can be purchased here.

Amish Work Habits Through the Seasons

Another Way for week of September 25, 2020

Amish Work Habits Through the Seasons

(Editor’s note: Fifth in a seven-part series on the nature of work.)

What do you want to be? What do you want to do when you grow up?

These are questions we often ask children. But most of us—unless we want to be the commonplace answers like doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, firefighter—don’t grow up with any idea of what kind of job or career we will end up doing for a bulk of our lives. Everyone wants a job that is so amazing that we marvel we’re paid for our efforts. But alas there are assembly line and mechanical and warehouse jobs that need doing too.

As little ones, most of us would never say when asked what we want to do: “prepare legal notices for the newspaper” or “coordinator of fellowships for future endocrinologists” or “conservation specialist.” Yes, these are all real jobs my daughters have ended up in. Mostly we don’t land in jobs we could have predicted or stated.

But, our children often follow the environment we’ve established from little up of expectation that they will work at various jobs and hopefully at something worthwhile. One Bible verse puts it, “If anyone isn’t willing to work, they should not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

As a culture, some admire the work ethic we see demonstrated in Amish groups. The old fashioned barn raising. Helping each other harvest wheat or hay. We see small children working in gardens—and not just playing in the dirt.

Danny Graber is a photographer from northern Indiana who has shot stunning photos of Amish at work. He always gets permission (coming from Amish background himself) and does not photograph faces upclose. This year he has authored a coffee table type book of heartwarming and incredible photos. The pictures and text also speak to how Amish children, from little up, are taught how to do various jobs on the farm or in the cottage industries many families run for their livelihood. Titled Seasons of Amish Life, the book was published by Herald Press and I was asked to help provide expanded captions which I enjoyed immensely.

Harvesting hay bales with a team of horses. Photo by Danny Graber.
Young girl plants potatoes. Photo by Danny Graber.
Some but not all Amish harvest their corn by hand.
All photos courtesy of Danny Graber. Just a small sampling of the amazing photos he’s shared in his book Seasons of Amish Life.

Growing up among the Amish myself, I was especially taken aback by one group which actually still harvests ice blocks for their refrigeration of food year-round. (Most no longer do this and use propane or solar to chill their refrigerators, but this is a very conservative group.) Gathering ice entails going out on the very coldest days of the year (below zero) to cut and heave cubes of ice weighing over one hundred pounds each. Young boys go along to begin learning what is involved and help as they are able. For instance, they use long poles to channel ice through a creek to be loaded onto the wagons pulled by horses. I’m sure many boys are proud to be old enough to help with such tough, freezing work.

The thing I wish to draw out for us as we train our children and grandchildren is that pitching in needs to be expected of even toddlers, as they learn to pick up and put away the toys they love. Older children can instruct younger ones as well. I have to chuckle as I recall two of my older grandchildren, ages 6 and 4, telling their younger brother emphatically “No drop puzzles! No drop puzzles!” He had purposely dropped a set of puzzles they had all just cleaned up. Their mother, busy with her own work did not join in to either pick up or scold the two-year-old. 

So, how do we get from picking up blocks and puzzles to conservation specialist? Sometimes a long and painful road, but as we teach and model day by day that being part of a family means joining in the work as well as the play, children get the message that work is part of life.

***

To see all of Danny Graber’s photographs, including the jaw-dropping photos of the ice block harvesting, you will want to purchase the book. It makes a great gift!

Seasons of Amish Life
Seasons of Amish Life: Rhythms of the Year available on Amazon and elsewhere. Published by Herald Press.

***

Comment here or write to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

Adulting: The Work of Young Adults

Another Way for week of September 18, 2020

The Work of Young Adults

(Editor’s note: Fourth in a seven-part series on the nature of work.)

In summer my husband likes to keep the garage door open just a few inches to cool things off. This summer a house wren made her home in our garage.

By the time we discovered it, Ms. Wren had laid her eggs. Babies were coming whether we wanted them or not. We couldn’t bring ourselves to move or dump the nest.

Wren nest–in coffee can–in our garage!

Then one day I crawled up to peek. The baby birds had hatched! Ms. Wren was flying in and out faithfully bringing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And depositing her own breakfast, lunch, and dinner all over the garage. Eww. I cleaned up the messes every other day or so. We were expecting our whole family to arrive for a staycation at our home and the last thing I wanted to worry about was my five grandsons tramping in the bird doo.

Would Ms. Wren be able to fledge her babies before our babies arrived? (They’re not babies, but range in age from “almost two” to “not quite seven”.)

I looked up the habits of house wrens and learned that most baby birds fledge two to three weeks after hatching. Then yay! The peeps DID get out just in time. I scrubbed the garage floor one last time.

If only helping our own children fledge the nest was as easy as it seems for house wrens. But wait a minute: it was actually pretty incredible how she not only taught them to leave the nest on their own and fly (without our dog chasing them), but also taught them to find food for themselves. In other words, to be adult birds.

While as parents we have a much longer fledge period for our offspring, we all hope they grow up to be fine adult people. There is also lots to teach—but an important time in parenting.   

I remember when our oldest daughter was graduating from high school. I suddenly became aware of things we hadn’t quite taught her about what it means to be an adult. Simple things, like say, ordering Chinese food to go. We (mom and dad) were gone for the evening and after Michelle got off work, she decided to just order Chinese take-out rather than cook dinner at home for herself and her sisters. She looked over the take out menu, and knowing that they enjoyed a variety of dishes when at Chinese buffets, ordered small containers of about 4-5 different dishes, plus rice, eggs rolls, and Chinese donuts. Needless to say, they ended up with leftovers for three or four meals, and a big bill.

What’s ahead as little ones grow up to launch out on their own?

Other things I remember: her surprise and disgruntlement when Dr. Greene, a children’s dentist, told her she needed to find a dentist for grown-ups. I think she would have preferred continuing to play Nintendo while waiting for checkups than reading old copies of People magazine. We talked about other rites of passage like signing in herself at the doctor’s office, ordering prescriptions, filing taxes, and much more.

Back to Ms. Wren: the two things most important to teach her little peeps was how to fly—their job if you will, and how to find food. The same with our young people. As they grow into adulthood, kids need to know the importance of working hard and holding a job—and learning to cook and take care of daily needs. Hopefully we teach them the importance of work while they are still young.

I have felt extremely sorry for young adults during this pandemic, especially those trying to start college. What a mess, in most places. My heart goes out to you and your parents. Adjustments to the normal fledging phase may have to be made but hang in there. I’m sure you’ll get there in the long run and find your way in the world. At least I pray that will be true. All the best to those in this difficult phase.  

For a free small booklet called “Work Therapy” with 35 succinct tips on enjoying our work, write to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

***

Or, for more on helping young adults launch, you or a friend might love this book by Brenda L. Yoder.

Fledge

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

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