Oh Say, Can You See?

Oh Say, Can You See?

No, this is not a post about our flag, although that is a perfectly deserving subject.  Believe it or not, it’s about recycling.  As the photo indicates, I’ll be able to see into my library closet a lot better once all those boxes are hauled to the recycling center.  The mudroom will look a lot tidier without the three huge trash bags of plastic, newspaper, magazine and cardboard items that fill them, as well.  And the trash guy who drives by my place every Friday morning doesn’t have to stop but about half the time, because I recycle so many things that I only have one bag out there to go to the dump about twice a month.  Food scraps get fed to my chickens, or put in a compost heap along with coffee ground, egg shells, dry leaves, grass clippings and no small amount of horse manure.  I guess the environmentalists would love me, along with the earthworms out by my garden spot.  One of these days I’m going to get industrious enough to actually plant a garden, use the compost, and let those little invertebrates return the favor.  In the meantime, there are several cubic feet of extremely fertile soil nearby, just waiting.

Sis and I were talking on the phone this afternoon, about this being a good time of year for cleaning up, clearing out, putting away, recycling and donating.  The Christmas decorations are coming down and being tucked back into their boxes and onto their shelves or attic or closet, or wherever you happen to store the things you only use annually.  Whether you made a New Year’s resolution to declutter your space or not, this seems to be the traditional time to consider it.  New Year, new beginning, all that rot.  So here’s me, cheering you on in the effort.  Recycle centers are popping up all over the place, and many towns are issuing recycle boxes to be taken out to the curb, which can save the municipality thousands on landfill charges and help keep the earth cleaner in the process.  And charities who collect clothing, shoes, linens and other household goods are endless.

So where does the title fit in?  Well, I have to thank Sis for that as well.  She mentioned that the pastor of her church talked about going on a mission trip when there was an optometrist in the group.  They went to a very poor part of the world, where eye doctors were not only spare on the ground, 95% of the people there couldn’t have afforded them, anyway.  The group he was with took along many dozen pairs of previously used eyeglasses that had been donated for reuse, and as the doctor examined each patient’s eyes, considered their needs and supplied them with a pair of glasses from the supply that most closely matched their need, the results were amazing.  To see the expressions on the faces of those folks, the first time they looked through lenses that enabled them to actually see things in focus–in some cases for the first time they could even remember–was a blessing for them all.  I almost cry just imagining this scene.  You see, my vision is far from perfect (something like “off the charts” nearsighted, seems to be the technical term).  So had I been born in one of those villages . . . well, as they say, there but for the Grace of God go I.

So think about it.  Got any spare pairs of glasses that are no longer a good prescription for you, just taking up space in a drawer or cupboard somewhere?  Maybe your church has a drop box for collecting these.  Your local Lions Club organization would probably have a pickup point available.  Let a part of your cleaning routine assist someone else to see you as their Angel of Blessing, even if they never get to see you in person.  It’s free to you, and priceless to them.

Here’s to Your Health!

Here’s to Your Health!

 

Recently I mentioned homemade yogurt and how much I am enjoying making that from local-sourced raw milk.  One popular add-in for yogurt is granola, and thanks to my friend Karen N., I can now make that myself, too!  Top off that combination with some apple butter, or a handful of blueberries, and you’ve got a great way to start the day that is as healthy as it is pleasing to your palate.

Here’s the recipe I used this evening:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups chopped nuts (I used 2/3 cup each of pecans, almonds & cashews)

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. cinnamon

a dash each of ground nutmeg and ground cloves

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

       Place all these dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir well to mix and break up the brown sugar.

       Then combine these in a measuring cup:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp. honey

1-2 Tbsp. maple syrup

1 tsp. vanilla

     Drizzle these mixed liquids over the dry stuff, then stir & turn to coat.  Pour the granola onto a large cookie sheet with sides, and pack it down with a spoon or spatula.  Bake 10 minutes, remove the sheet, and use a pancake turner to flip the mix over in sections; pack it down again and return to the oven for another 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool just a few minutes before removing from the pan.  Store in an airtight container.

This recipe is not exactly like the one from Karen, but I think it’s close.  The neat thing about granola is that you can adjust the taste to suit your own liking.  Don’t like cinnamon?  Leave it out, or decrease the amount.  You can even add dried fruits after it’s baked, such as raisins or chopped dates.  The possibilities are endless.  But you’ll know what’s in there, and it’ll be fresh and really, really good, with very little effort.

Wishing you good health and much happiness in the New Year.  Enjoy!

A Heaping Helping of Gratitude

A Heaping Helping of Gratitude

2013 marked the publication of my first book The Road to Kidneyville:  A Journey Through Diabetes, Dialysis, and Transplant, first in the Kindle format, then shortly afterward in paperback, and–by the very end of the year–as an audiobook.  My intention to have another book out by the one-year anniversary of any of those events has not materialized, but other goals have.  This blog/website is one of those.  And the primary goal of the memoir itself, that of helping other people, has officially been confirmed as a Work in Progress!

If you’ve read Kidneyville, you may recall the first page in which I supply an email address and invite reader feedback.  The email address was a new account set up especially for this purpose.  Items in the Inbox were so few and far between (and almost always junk mail) that I’d fallen out of the habit of checking it very often.  So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when a personal message appeared there a few weeks ago.  An excerpt follows.

Greetings Mrs. Crain – 
I purchased  an audible version of your book  yesterday, and could not put it down since downloading it.  I am filled with tears, but they are all tears of JOY!  Joy, because your book has brought me hope, support, and guidance. 
You see, this past weekend my husband of only three weeks was hospitalized with congestive heart failure after complaining about shortness of breath.  His blood work showed that his kidney was damaged and  he was at stage 5 due to diabetes. We were told this means dialysis. He was released from the hospital this past Monday, and we were directed to visit a dialysis clinic the following day to get some education on what all is involved (talk about no time to process what is about to  happen to our lives). After that visit, I came home feeling helpless, and not sure how I would support him through this, or what the future would be like for us.
I immediately started researching on what to expect with dialysis and the option of kidney transplant (since that was mention on the clinic tour), and came across your book. The title seemed to capture what I wanted to know, but it was your story that gave me a renewed hope and optimism about our future, and changed my outlook on living life with a diseased kidney. 
So when  you asked God why did Larry die? Well the answer was clear to me……So that He can use YOU to help others live with hope, through the guidance, resources, and positive outlook in dealing with kidney failure that you provided in your book through Larry’s story.  Had your book ended with a happily ever after ending, I would have just said, “Oh well, the story is about Larry surviving all life’s challenges and he was always a fighter”. It was his death that caused you to interview others, and provide real life examples that I, and many other readers can connect with. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!! I think your book needs to be in every endocrinologist office, dialysis center, and kidney transplant library. 
May God continue to bless you as you help others through your husband’s story.  (-June C.)”
To say that the message from Mrs. C. was gratifying is an understatement.  Her encouragement means so much, and not just because of my own personal goals.  You see, one of the primary character traits belonging to my late husband Larry was to be a Helper.  I can imagine him smiling about this email, and assuring June that he would be praying for her and her husband, just as I did.
So many thanks, again, to Kendall Wills Sterling for editing, to Jennifer Martinez for the cover art, to Greg Perry for publishing, and to Jayne Perry for reading the audio version.  Thanks to June C. for writing her email.  I wish each of them–and YOU, dear reader–a Happy New Year ahead, and the opportunity to be a Helper in your own way.  It does the heart good!
O Tannenbaum!

O Tannenbaum!

The following is a reprint of my Christmas holiday post on the Goodreads site from last year.  The sentiment remains! 

Everyone’s been busy with their holiday preparations and celebrations. Christmas is my favorite holiday, without doubt. The carols and cards and candles, the wrapping paper and (more recently) gift bags, garlands and bows and ribbons and wreaths and the spirit of giving, the Cookies!  And let’s not forget the Reason for the Season! But through all the years, almost every Christmas season, one of my favorite activities is decorating the Christmas Tree.

My siblings likely recall a few more fresh trees than I do, from the Boy Scouts’ sale corral on the parking lot at our church when we were young. By the time I’d turned 10 our parents had an artificial tree, which meant no one had to crawl underneath the sappy, pokey branches to put water in the bowl of the stand, and Mother didn’t have to battle so many pine needles in the living room rug. Even better, we could usually sweet-talk Daddy into bringing in the box that held the tree the evening of Thanksgiving, so that the holiday decorating could begin. Most of the year this box was balanced across boards in the open-ceiling area of the garage, so the extraction of it involved at least one ladder, some tricky balancing, and no small amount of dust which inevitably tried to halo Daddy’s head for his trouble, but choked his nostrils and dang-near blinded him instead. The air was blue from it afterward. . . or maybe from the comments it elicited in the process.

Once the box had been wiped off and brought into the house, though, the fun began. Sorting and assembling the branches, shaping them to look just so, disentangling the lights and testing bulbs on the strands that weren’t working, and then the Main Event: the ornaments. These days there’s a tendency toward “theme” trees, where all the decorations are coordinated to appear matching or complementary and quite lovely. Not me; I’m a sentimental traditionalist all the way. Almost no ornament is too shabby from age or humble in its design to pass muster for my tree.

I’ve often said that for only raising one child, we got a heck of a return on our investment: four grandchildren! Yesterday I really hit the jackpot when they helped to move things around to clear out a corner of my living room and put up the nine-foot tree that brushes the ceiling of this old farmhouse. As we opened the boxes and took out particular ornaments they heard the provenance for so many of them: “This one we bought as a souvenir on our first family trip to Colorado to visit Papa’s folks; this one was sent to your mama when she was just a baby; that stocking was mine when I was your age; these were made by your Great-Grandma; those came from the set my parents bought in 1955!” and so on. And yes, there were a few tears when I located the sack that contained a few more, including the last one that Larry had picked out himself, the memory of that occasion clear as a bell. The children and I agreed that Papa would be pleased to see us getting the tree up to enjoy and hanging that ornament while thinking of him.

And so, new memories are formed. My hope is that some day down the line, these precious ones will be decorating their own trees with the families they raise, and will cradle a delicate striped glass bulb or a hand-sewn stuffed felt dove in their hand and maybe relate something about it to their own little ones. If not, at least to see the old familiar bits mixed in with their own newer collections, and feel the family love that they symbolize, along with God’s love for us all. (see John 3:16)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

It must’ve been a sign.  The first song to play when I hit the “shuffle” button in the music app on my cell phone this morning was Lessons Learned by Aaron Lewis.  It’s a great tune, nice music, and showcases the rich, smooth lower range of Aaron’s singing voice very well.  A big thanks is due to my cousin Brian for introducing me to this guy’s music.  If you’d like to hear the song, one of the YouTube links is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BqSYUQI4Ck

While my day hasn’t turned out as rough as some of the things mentioned in the song, it is what came to mind just a few minutes ago, and I had to laugh.  You see, for the past year and a half, I’ve been buying fresh milk from a local Amish farm, and lately started using some of it to make my own yogurt in a crockpot.  This week’s batch didn’t set up as it should have.  Not wanting to waste the protein-rich yogurt-flavored milk (buttermilk?  not sure . . . never bought any), it seemed that using it in a fruit smoothie would be the next logical step.

My hand blender has a canister attachment for chopping small quantities of nuts and fruits and the like, so in went the frozen mixed berries, some flaxseed meal, a few chopped dates from one bag and the last few pitted dates from another.  I fit the lid on top with the connected handle that encloses a powerful mini-motor, and pressed the button a few times.  The contents were looking roughly pulverized.  But hey, wouldn’t they be easier to pour out if there was liquid mixed in?  (Yes, you can close your eyes and shake your head, here; this is indeed where it gets ugly).  I ladled in a bit of the liquid yogurt and quickly discovered why the canister is touted as good for dry ingredients . . . the lid is most definitely not of the tight seal variety.

OK, then, Plan B.  I grabbed a small mixing bowl from the lower cabinet by my knee, poured the remaining contents of the canister into it, and swapped to the wand attachment of the hand blender.  After all, it’s just like a regular blender, just smaller, right?  WRONG! Maybe one of the pitted dates got wedged underneath the edge of the blade guard and left too much space between the blade and the bottom of the bowl, I don’t know, but the resulting mess looked like an eruption of Mount Smoothie had taken place in the southeast corner of my kitchen.  Splotches and bits of smoothie ingredients were everywhere.  Why hadn’t I just gotten out the old reliable Oster blender in the first place?!

Suffice it say that after K.P. duty was complete, the real blender did a fine job.  The smoothie tasted good, was filling, and probably nutritious.  And maybe–just maybe–I learned a little something in the process.

 

On the Origins of Thanksgiving

On the Origins of Thanksgiving

For one week in October of 2013, I was fortunate to be able to travel–with my particular friend Peggy R.–to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  (That’s “particular” as in the old usage, meaning “very good or close”.  I read it in Patrick O’Brian novels, pertaining to Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin, and have been ever after enamored of the phrase.  But I digress).  We found a small local motel that was located smack dab in the middle of everything, so to speak, and walked all over that town.  There are so many historical sites to visit there, and we absorbed as much information (and fresh seafood!) as we could in the time we had.  The impressions are vivid memories, even after more than a year.

I learned that the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower were made up of two groups:  Separatists from the Church of England, who wanted the freedom to worship as they saw fit, and other folks who were simply willing to take a chance on the opportunities the New World might provide.  A group of English merchants helped fund the expedition, with the understanding that the travelers would work hard and (in the future) send back to England things from the colony that could be sold for a handsome profit.  It was a business arrangement, not religious charity.  The two groups were rather suspicious of each other while aboard the Mayflower.  Upon dropping anchor on December 16, 1620, however, in facing the vast wilderness, the reality of just how much effort it was going to take simply to survive sort of kicked in to the consciousness of all parties involved, and they agreed to work together as one community.

Originally they had set out in two ships, but the smaller Speedwell leaked like a sieve (possibly due to the captain’s decision to over-rig her), and after turning back for repairs twice, the decision was made to cram as many people as possible onto the Mayflower, and proceed on their own.  So by the day they arrived here, time and tides had worked against them, Winter was already in full force, and their stores of food were dwindling quickly.  Add to this the scavenging they did in some deserted Indian villages where the former inhabitants had all died of disease shortly before, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Of the 102 passengers transported, only 51 of them were survived that first Winter.  Can you imagine losing half of the population of your tiny group, just when you’re all struggling to build a town?

Incredibly, they hung in there.  They received help from some local Native Americans, and everyone worked hard to make the venture succeed.  The First Thanksgiving was a celebration upon the completion of their first harvest, and an opportunity to show their gratitude.  They celebrated basic survival, and the many blessings of this new land.  They celebrated hope, and freedom.   They celebrated unlikely friendships, and the satisfaction that working together toward achieving common goals can bring.

It seems like the Americans of today could take a lesson from those early Pilgrims.  I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was one of many blessings.  And I wish for us all, an Attitude of Gratitude.

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“American Story” Book Review

“American Story” Book Review

Although my thirst for books is fairly unquenchable, the years have seen a definite alteration in the format.  What began in infancy as strictly a page-turning habit (Thank You, Mother and Daddy!) graduated later to CDs and then Kindle versions and now even audio files that fit easily onto my cell phone and read to me from the comfort of my shirt pocket as I wash dishes in the kitchen, or (more likely) crochet an afghan while in my rocking chair.  My book addiction can be fed at practically any place or time now.  And since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving, I’ll mention again how absolutely grateful I am for public libraries!

One of the most recent audiobooks I checked out was by a TV journalist named Bob Dotson.  Titled American Story:  A Lifetime Search For Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things.   There weren’t many plot twists or big mysteries, but this book was fascinating.  Mr. Dotson–a native of Missouri, and a graduate of KU–has made a career of traveling around and interviewing folks, then broadcasting their true tales on his TV segments on NBC.  Being a bigger reader than I am a TV watcher, I haven’t seen those shows, but now I kinda wish I had.  This guy can really tell a story, and he can condense down the essence of a person as well as Campbell’s does soup.  Bob doesn’t bother with the sensationalist, expose type garbage that seems to clog the airtime of so many features.  Instead, he chooses to shine his spotlight on Real Folks.  Decent, quiet-living people who just happen to be special in some way.

This book is a collection of many of those stories, written from a selection of those interviews he conducted over the years.  My library offered the audiobook as an MP3 file, and it was read by Bob Dotson himself, meaning his own particular inflections and impressions come through all the truer.  And while there are many books I like, this is one I feel comfortable recommending to almost everyone.  It will give you a warm fuzzy feeling, and a renewed faith in people, or as Bob himself put it:  “A geography of hope.”

Well done, Bob Dotson.  Well done.

Nuts to You!

Nuts to You!

Please don’t take that title as an insult.  It’s really a compliment; let me explain just why.

Fall harvest means many different things to many people, but to most consumers here in middle-America, it’s the season when we start seeing big bins of nuts in the stores.  Usually they’re featured front and center at the head of the produce aisle, right there where God and everybody will be sure to see them.  Nuts in the shells, sorted by type and then mixed, loose in the bin with a big scoop you can use to shovel them into the waiting bags.  Shelled nuts in one-pound bags (or sometimes 12 ounces:  see my earlier post called “Size Matters”).  Almonds, English Walnuts, Peanuts, Hazelnuts (aka Filberts), Brazil Nuts, Pecans . . . probably the only common nuts I don’t find here are the pistachios and the cashews.  Is that because they’re purchased so often during the rest of the year as snacks that the Nut Society doesn’t feel the need to promote them for the holidays?  I don’t know.

While it’s true that bags of shelled nuts are available in the baking aisle year-round, there’s something special about those open bins of nuts in the shell.  It’s probably a tradition thing.  As I was growing up, our family had the ubiquitous Walnut Bowl (complete with varnished bark around the rim!) made from a three-inch slab of wood cut from a log and hollowed most of the way through into an open container for nuts.  It had a little spool in the center with drilled holes to hold the metal nutcracker and picks that helped us open and extract the hidden treasure from within those shells.  From Thanksgiving through New Years, that set was out on the coffee table in the living room, and Mother kept it filled and available for anyone who chose to crack and snack.  It was a treat of a tradition that followed me into adulthood and was carried forward into my own home.  I still smile when I remember Larry telling me (and Lily showing me) how–too small to grasp or squeeze the nutcracker–she had figured out how to use one of the curved-end metal picks to insert very specifically into a strategic spot at the top of the shell of an English Walnut, and then carefully wiggle and lever it just so until the shell popped open in two perfectly boat-shaped halves and the goody was exposed for her to eat.  She was two!

Speaking of boat-shaped halves, who else did the grade school project where they stuffed clay into the open Walnut shells, then stuck a stick mast upright into the clay, upon which was impaled a bowed paper sail with a Spanish cross to mimic the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, and floated them in a container of water while learning about Columbus and his discovery of the New World?  Or how about spreading glue on the interior surfaces of those halves and sticking them back together with a loop of yarn or rick-rack coming out of the top, then spray-painting them silver or gold to use as Christmas ornaments?  The possibilities are probably endless.

Nuts are neat.  Whoever figured out that the stuff inside those hard-covered things falling off certain trees were edible deserves a medal.  And from what many reports are saying, they’re good for us.  So believe me, I’m truly wishing you something pleasurable when I say:  “Nuts to You!”

Hibernation

Hibernation

Turtles are a common sight on the country roads around here during the summer.  In fact, one of the ways I discern the bona-fide Arrival of Spring is when the box turtles start their meanderings.  In late June, I spotted this one while traveling a gravel road on the county line, and had to stop and take his (?) photo.  I put a question mark there, because my abilities in identifying terrapins by gender is 100% nil, and this large example literally clammed up upon my approach.

There are more than a dozen types of turtles native to Missouri, including a few snappers, some water-lovers, and several different kinds of box turtles.  Children often beg to be allowed to bring home and keep these last varieties as pets, which seldom bodes well for the turtle.  My eldest grandchild (as a three-year-old) once gave us the silent treatment for all of an hour after I responded in the negative to such a request, and that was back in the day when she spoke practically non-stop!  The Department of Conservation website has an online Field Guide that provides detailed descriptions and photos.  The turtles are shown in the same category as the frogs, toads, and lizards–which don’t bother me in the least–but also with the snakes, which do.  Gives me the willies just to see them on the screen.

What struck me as unique about this particular turtle was his size.  I picked him up for a closer examination, momentarily forgetting to hold him head-up and at arm’s length, lest he have the pee scared out of him by this treatment.  Alas, I was quickly reminded.  After the Deluge, so to speak (big turtles evidently have big bladders), I was able to get a look at his lower shell, which was yellow with brown markings, and much prettier than the top part of his case.  Since I was alone, however, it wasn’t possible to get a photo of that, as it goes against my moral code to lay a turtle upside down, even temporarily.  Poor guy had been frightened enough already.

Before leaving him to his business and getting on about my own, though, I did snap a picture of him from above, with my sunglasses nearby for comparison of size (see below).  Impressive specimen, isn’t he?

This morning there was frost on the grass here, and in the coming weeks that will become more and more frequent.  Mr. Turtell  will undoubtedly be finding a place to hibernate for the winter.  And with the first blanket of snow or glaze of ice that covers the roads, I’ll be wishing I could do likewise.  Wake me when it’s Spring again!

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Saints and Sinners

Saints and Sinners

During my recent vacation in Scotland, I saw more stained glass windows than you could jiggle the proverbial broken branch  . . . no, wait.  I can’t use that phrase; it ends in a preposition.  And while my dear editor friend has informed me that this isn’t the Mortal Sin it used to be, I just can’t resolve myself that it is now OK to do so.  But I’m sure you get the drift.

Anyway, these beautiful works of art were found primarily in the churches (or kirks, as they say there), where the featured images were of a religious bent, for obvious reasons.  Many of the  lovely locations were named for various saints:  St Mungo’s Cathedral in Glasgow, St Andrew’s in Inverness, and the High Kirk of St. Giles in Edinburgh.  Everywhere we looked, it seemed, there were either castles, kirks, or kilts, all of which are fascinating, though for different reasons.

With today being All Saints’ Day, it seemed like the opportune moment to research the origin of that occasion.  So I did what most highly intellectual and independent-minded Americans do;  I “Googled” it.  (No, they did not pay me to write that, but I’ve no objection should they decide to send a little stipend my way)!  Of the thousands of options at my disposal after striking the “enter” key, one short article summed it up nicely, and the link is here:  http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2014/10/whats_the_difference_between_h.html  It juxtaposes Halloween, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and (as my sister mentioned to me earlier this week) The Day of the Dead.  Contrary to the hairy-scary macabre concept that often comes to mind when we consider these holidays, it began as more of a memorial idea.  People took the opportunity to honor those of their family or community who had gone on to God’s presence (they hoped) during the previous year.  My church still does this the first Sunday in November, and it’s a comforting tradition.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite Saint, canonized or otherwise? Or maybe there’s a Sinner who is heavy on your heart.  If you could light a candle at St Giles and say a short prayer for the repose of one soul, who would it be? Click the link just below the title of this post, or in the box below, share your thoughts, and we’ll pray together.

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